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Castro Anxiety

New York Times Magazine on what’s next for Cuba.

New York Times Magazine, Dec. 7 The cover story considers Cuba’s position “at a fulcrum of generational shift, from those formed by Fidel [Castro] to those who will hardly know him.” The author hopes U.S.-Cuban relations change under the next administration, although “Cuba is some way down Obama’s priority list.” Once “the winter playground of Americans, a place to gamble, rumba, smoke puros and sip mojitos, the land of every vice and any trade,” Cuba has become characterized by its isolation and stagnant economy. Case in point: A vendor waits in his store with nothing to sell until frozen chickens arrive from the United States, ironically “the largest exporter of food to Cuba,” despite the trade blockade. An article defends teasing, as schools, sports leagues, and workplaces try to ban it. Unlike bullying, teasing is essential because it teaches us to “transform the many conflicts of social living into entertaining dramas.”

Time, Dec. 15 The cover story considers the case for bailing out the auto industry. A “failure to learn” has been one of the Big Three’s greatest faults, but now “Detroit has closed the quality gap.” Although the “self-funded, full-employment, womb-to-tomb society” of old Detroit “is deader than the Studebaker,” American automakers could still be revived by, in part, cutting output. A feature recalls Southeastern Michigan “after the Motown era, which more or less coincided with the end of Detroit’s glory days as a city and an industry.” After advertising agencies and rock bands turned the car into a symbol as American as apple pie, it became harder for Michiganders not to take the failure of the car industry personally. Since the auto industry boom ended several decades ago, Detroit has “live[d] with a story line of decline so long … it [became] part of the culture.”

Economist, Dec. 6 An editorial argues that if Pakistanis were responsible for the terrorist attacks in India last week, then “the Mumbai plot is only the latest indication that this huge, nuclear-armed country is not under the full control of its newly elected government.” The attacks have been likened to those in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, but the author warns that “India needs to learn from America’s mistakes” and not jump into war against neighboring Pakistan. Another feature contends that “the bubble has now burst” for the champagne industry, “long … associated with luxury, success and extravagance.” After two decades of rising consumption, during which champagne houses earned returns as high as 13 percent, four of the five biggest producers have seen their revenues plummet in the third quarter.

The Atlantic, December 2008 In the cover story, Henry Blodget explains “why Wall Street always blows it” when it comes to predicting the next financial bust. The former tech-stock analyst points out that most “boom-and-bust cycles … take a long time to complete,” and no one working on Wall Street sticks around to see the whole process play out. A feature goes inside “one of the world’s most sensitive criminal investigations”: the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. A United Nations tribunal may convene at the Hague as early as January 2009 to prosecute those behind the plot that “bore the hallmarks of a government-sponsored assassination” and, insiders suspect, may have involved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. While toppling Assad’s regime could lead to even more instability in the Middle East, refraining from prosecuting him “could plunge [Lebanon] back into another round of sectarian violence, and send a message that the Middle East’s pattern of impunity remains unchanged.”

Smithsonian, December 2008 The cover story features a festival in southern Pakistan celebrating Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, a 13th-century Muslim mystic with a devoted following among Sufis. The festival, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people, highlights Sufism’s significance as “the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism” in Pakistan, at a time when the Taliban is becoming increasingly powerful. “Sufism’s message of moderation and inclusiveness” is a stark contrast to the strict, “authoritarian” example of “the modern-day mullah.” A feature examines the “lagging, intermittent campaign to stabilize the beleaguered” Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which has served as a Christian church, Islamic mosque, and, most recently, a museum. The monument that once sparkled with “four acres of golden glass cubes” on the ceiling, “forty thousand pounds of silver” in the sanctuary, “purple porphyry and green marble,” and “splendid figurative mosaics” now reflects “dingy neglect and piecemeal repair.”

Must Read
New York Times Magazine profiles Daptone Records co-owner Gabriel Roth, a soul enthusiast who shuns the spotlight.

Must Skip
The Atlantic has a “Best Books of 2008” list, but it’s brief and lacks explanation.

Best Politics Piece
The sprawling New Yorker feature on minority Hazara police in southern Afghanistan highlights the benefits of NATO involvement there but also shows how much improvement is necessary before Afghanistan can handle its own security.

Best Culture Piece
The intriguing Smithsonian feature on Sufism is equal parts armchair travel, cultural observation, and political analysis.

Crime Story Trend of the Week
Vanity Fair fixates on parents in disguise with two features, one about Brooklyn mom Doreen Giuliano, who goes undercover to catch a criminal, and one on cosmopolitan con man Clark Rockefeller, who kidnapped his own daughter this summer.