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Trolling for Trouble

The New York Times Magazine on the menace of Web 2.0.

New York Times Magazine, Aug. 3 An article enters the morally murky realm of “trolls,” a term that describes a usually anonymous person “who intentionally disrupts online communities.” Since the Web has burgeoned into a “mass medium for defining who we are to ourselves and to others” rife with discussion boards and social-networking sites, “[t]rolling has evolved from ironic solo skit to vicious group hunt.” A piece reveals that the solution to traffic congestion lies with army ants, “the earth’s most accomplished commuters.” They manage “to get from one place to another in large groups without cutting each other off, deciding their time is more valuable than everybody else’s, or—apparently this is the fast-lane domination method for certain traveling land crickets—eating anybody who gets in the way.” Lessons from the animal kingdom include making sure drivers move at an even pace, stay in their own lanes, and allow enough space for would-be mergers to enter smoothly. (Slate V also looked at research into ants solving traffic jams recently.)

Believer, June 2008 An essay studies the 1950s Gidget-induced surfing craze, which birthed the marketing concept of “a sports lifestyle,” and the unlikely Austro-Hungarian influences behind it. The blond “girl-midget” was the “barely ficitionalized” Kathy Kohner, the teenage daughter of a Czech film writer living in Brentwood, Calif. She wanted to write a book about her summer spent learning to surf from a “collection of great-looking young men riding the waves”—her big Kahuna was a Hungarian who “brought European nihilism to the beach.” But her father decided he should write it instead and “appropriated his daughter’s life … to sell it as a transmedia property to publishing, film, and television.” A piece reflects on John Cheever’s late-in-life alcoholism. “Aside from an Ibsenesque genetic factor,” the celebrated writer “drank to ease a terrible dread that his family and friends would discover his bisexuality—a secret that sometimes filled him with an almost suicidal self-loathing.”

New York Review of Books, Aug. 14
A piece by Jane Mayer looks back on the consequences of Bush administration’s “extralegal approach to fighting terrorism.” Mayer observes that “one of the most remarkable features of this struggle is that almost from the start,” even administration loyalists warned that such an approach “would have tragically destructive long-term consequences both for the rule of law and America’s interests in the world.” Now, despite wars in Iraq and Afganistan and negative views of America’s support of Israel, “no subject was described by Muslims … as more deeply disturbing than America’s abuse of the detainees.” An essay considers how the war in Iraq has destroyed much of the country’s archeological heritage. Some sites in southern Iraq, which “withstood centuries of violence, from the arrival of Cyrus the Great in the sixth century BC to the Mongol invasion in 1258,” have “been destroyed beyond recognition” since the 2003 invasion. Highly organized plunderers, taking advantage of the country’s instability, have funneled their loot into a “booming antiquities trade.”

Economist, Aug. 2 In the cover package on the Bejing Olympics, a piece observes that though the Games have “disrupted, sometimes massively, the lives of hundreds of thousands,” Beijing-ers “still seem proud and delighted that their country is staging the Olympics.” But this “nationalist wellspring” might prove troublesome for the country trying “to convince the world that China’s rise poses no threat to Western interests.” It could provoke a “virulent outburst of anti-Western fervor” like one that occurred after the recent violence in Tibet. An op-ed argues that “[g]iven … so much unnatural tampering takes place,” athletic doping regulations should be determined not based on whether a drug gives an unfair advantage but on its safety for athletes. Such a policy would actually level the playing field by requiring competitors to “disclose all the pills they take, just as they register the other forms of equipment they use, so that others can catch up.”

Time, Aug. 11 In the cover package on the economy, a piece details Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s “quick passage of a massive housing bill in late July over the objections of many Republican lawmakers and even some White House aides.” But it’s not “at all certain” if Paulson’s legislation will do what it’s supposed to—“revive housing, prevent recession and avert a future mortgage bailout of epic, trillion-dollar proportions.” In an interview, the German inventor of the spray-on condom says he got the idea from going to a car wash: “In Germany [at a car wash], you drive through a tunnel, and there’s water coming from all sides. I was sitting in my car, and I said, ‘Yes! This is the idea! I will try this with a condom.’ “ An article considers different pop-cultural portrayals of China, wondering whether the country is “a rival? A partner? A repressive authoritarian state? An engine of prosperity? A sinister force that tortured Jack Bauer? Or a delightful panda that likes to gobble dumplings?”

Must Read
The New Republic’s cover story on the shifting demographics of urban centers—with wealthy suburbanites moving inward, immigrants and the poor relocating to the outskirts—provides a glimpse of what could be a major change in the American landscape.

Must Skip
Time’s piece on the “recession election” recycles what pundits have been saying about the candidates’ policies since the primary season ended: McCain’s more of the same with “occasional courageousness.” Obama’s a risk but promises “a real break from the recent past.”

Best Politics Piece
An essay in the New York Review of Books contemplates the wartime ransack of Iraq’s ancient artifacts.

Best Culture Piece
An article in the New York Times Magazine examines the online misbehavior of “trolls”—the most famous of which is Lori Drew, the Missouri woman who created an online identity to taunt her daughter’s 13-year-old friend—and why prosecuting them could limit everyone’s freedom on the Internet.

Most Unanticipated Factoid
The Believer’s piece on surfing reveals that “like fellow icons Mr. Spock and the thing from the Fantastic Four, Gidget is Jewish, but nobody knows.” This also means, by the way, that Malibu Barbie (who was named after the co-founder of Mattel’s Jewish daughter and for whom “Gidget is the obvious inspiration”) “is a double secret-crypto-Jew.”