Jeffrey Gettleman files from Somalia, the world’s “most failed state,” on the pirates who raked in $120 million in ransom hijacking almost 50 ships, from cruise liners to supertankers, in the Gulf of Aden last year. The September hijacking of the Ukrainian MV Faina and its $20 million cargo of tanks and weapons—which Gettleman covered for the New York Times—was an exceptionally risky capture. “It seemed, at the time, that the pirates were badly overplaying their cards, attracting too much notice to a problem that had been allowed to flourish for years largely because it remained under the radar,” he writes. Though most of the ransom money goes back to investors and warlords, many Somali women still want “pirate boyfriends,” as “[t]hey drive the best cars, they throw the best parties,” according to one woman. “We all want to marry them.” … A piece on the 10 most stylish men in America declares that Justin Timberlake has an eye for “targeting trends just before they crest,” making him the guy men “end up dressing like a year after he’s adopted the look.”
Time, March 9
David von Drele travels to Kansas City, Mo., to profile the plight of two hardworking homeowners forced into foreclosure by the “one-strike” economy—as in, one lost job or one emergency is enough to send a person spiraling into debt. “One-strike-and-you’re-out is a neck-snapping reversal for a culture accustomed to assuming that fate is a welcome friend,” von Drele writes. The pair, a former firefighter disabled in an on-the-job accident and a laid-off Gateway employee, were not house flippers and did not owe thousands in credit card debt, they were merely “unlucky bystanders dragged down by the economy’s undertow.” … Despite the downturn, America remains transfixed by Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise and other shows featuring conspicuous consumption, another article finds. “[T]he appeal of Bravo is not just about seeing the rich get theirs. It also helps us deal with the aftermath of getting ours,” the author writes. Unable to binge ourselves anymore, we admire the “beach houses and bling” of the “real housewives,” and cackle as their lifestyles are crimped.
New York Times Magazine, March 1
Matt Bai declares the second coming of Newt Gingrich, who has returned to a “zenith of influence” among conservatives a decade after leaving Washington shrouded in shame. Gingrich, a potential presidential candidate in 2012, is the only man around with experience bringing House Republicans back into power in the face of a popular Democratic president. “Gingrich thinks about ideas strategically, as a way of countering his opponents or wooing new constituencies, and this is something Republicans have failed to do almost from the day he left Capitol Hill,” Bai writes. … An article looks at how the downturn has affected the art market, following prominent New York dealer Jose Mugrabi and his two sons. While sales at three major auction houses were down to £43 million in February, compared to £250 million in 2008, Mugrabi maintains that art holds its value better than real estate or funds. “[T]he art business—the selling of taste, of authenticity, of goods that can be deemed by turns rare, innovative or irrelevant—is a squishy industry, even in the best of times,” the author writes.
Economist, Feb. 28
If Eastern European economies, fueled by rampant borrowing, eventually collapse, they could topple the EU or at least hamper any chance for future expansion, an editorial argues. “The strain of default, combined with atavistic protectionist instincts coming to the fore all over Europe, could easily unravel the EU’s proudest achievement, its single market.” To avert disaster, the editorial prescribes IMF debt restructuring and acceleration of “euroisation” of new member states. … An article hopes that Somalia’s newly elected president, moderate Islamist Sharif Ahmed, can create the first functioning government since 1991 for the failed state. To accomplish this, Ahmed must disarm a powerful group of jihadists called the Shabab and curtail piracy off the coast, all while working with a parliament that is unable to convene inside Somalia. Providing Ahmed with cash and support “would meet part of Mr Obama’s inaugural promise to put out the hand of friendship to those who unclench their fist.”
A profile of Andy Samberg, who is straight, celebrates the rakish SNL funnyman who stars in I Love You, Man, a “dude-on-dude” romantic comedy. The role is groundbreaking for mainstream cinema: “Samberg’s character is an unlisping, unfey, unqueeny gay man in a non-gay film.” While the role he plays offers a “sophisticated and subtle take on sexuality,” Samberg’s SNL skits have not shown as much nuance, tending toward the mocking and insensitive. Samberg maintains the skits are funny not because they make fun of homosexuality but because they highlight the “fraught relationship straight men have with it.” … Annie Lennox reflects on her 25-year career in a profile. From a working-class childhood in Aberdeen, Scotland, Lennox moved to London to attend the Royal Academy of Music. She found her voice only after dropping out and made a career singing on how love and loss are intertwined. “I’m always trying to find a fresh way to say the same thing, I guess—the same thing being a sort of language of the heart,” Lennox said.
Ryan Lizza’s profile of Rahm Emanuel in TheNew Yorker is awash with detail on the second-most powerful man in Washington. One example: In his White House office hangs a plaque reading “Undersecretary for Go Fuck Yourself,” a birthday present from his brothers.
An article in the Weekly Standard blames the current “crisis of authority” on Bill Clinton and Paris Hilton, giving Bush something of a pass.
In the New York Times Magazine, Matt Bai’s piece on the return of Newt Gingrich shows how the former speaker of the House now seemingly wields more power than the conservative think tanks of the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heritage Foundation combined.
Charles McGrath offers a thoughtful examination of the legacy of John Cheever, “the first suburbanite,” in the New York Times Magazine.
Best glimpse into the world of Somali pirates
New York Times East Africa Bureau Chief Jeffrey Gettleman’s piece in GQ was written with great joy and reported at great personal risk. He traveled to the pirate hub city of Boosaaso, where, diplomat friends told him, he “had about a 100 percent chance of being stuffed into the back of a Toyota or shot in the head” unless he was “extremely well guarded.”