Vanity Fair, March 2009
James Wolcott examines baby boomer-lit’s fixation on mortality. The trend started with 1997’s Tuesdays With Morrie, a book full of “the spaniel-eyed bathos” that “stayed on the best-seller lists longer than seemed rational or seemly.” We now ask the dying to set a “gallant example at the exit ramp,” Wolcott writes, never mind that this “seems an awful lot to ask of a sick, dying person—admirable conduct plus a lifetime’s treasury of pithy lessons handed out like Wheat Thins.”… An article accompanying Annie Leibovitz’s portraits of Obama’s new team wonders whether they will be successful in their mission to make government “cool” again, create green jobs, and move toward energy independence. The author comes away skeptical of the officials’ “apparent belief that in this stratified and partisan town they will be able to effect a sea change in attitudes and get these programs up and running.”
Time, Feb. 16
The cover story prescribes online micropayments to save newspapers from near-certain death. Today, kids will pay “up to 20 cents when they send a text message but it seems technologically and psychologically impossible to get people to pay 10 cents for a magazine, newspaper or newscast.” As the success of iTunes has shown, people will pay for things online if the process is easy. … A dispatch from Lyudinovo, Russia, shows what the downturn looks like in provincial Russia. A drab factory town five hours from Moscow, Lyudinovo has been rocked by layoffs, and people are worrying that the crisis will be as bad as in 1998, when the ruble collapsed. Putin’s strategy so far has been to blame the crisis on America. But what Russia really needs is to move away from “its overreliance on energy and metals,” the author writes. “It wasn’t meant to turn out this way. The new Russia was supposed to replace poverty, money worries and grumbling mothers.”
Economist, Feb. 7
An obituary of Anastasia Baburova, the 25-year-old Russian journalist gunned down on the streets of Moscow with lawyer Stanislav Markelov last month, mourns the passing of a young woman who fought against the fascist elements of modern Russian society. Disturbingly, a day after her slaying, “a party of Russian nationalists brought champagne to the murder scene to celebrate the ‘elimination’ of their enemies.”… An article on the dissolution of binational marriages finds they are a windfall for lawyers in the growing field of international divorce law. Jurisdiction matters: Adulterers might not want to file for divorce in France, where the courts take dalliance into account. Anyone seeking alimony should steer clear of Texas, where payments are usually “minimal and temporary.” “[W]ho sues whom for divorce and where? How much money will be awarded to whom? Will it be collected? And how? The answers are far trickier than most non-lawyers would imagine.”
New York Times Magazine, Feb. 8 The magazine’s sixth annual “Great Performers” issue contains profiles of eight stars of the screen, accompanied by portraits by Paolo Pellegrin. … Despite spending much of his youth “wanting Richard Nixon to go away,” Christopher Buckley declares that Frank Langella’s comedic performance in Frost/Nixon has “managed to make me want more of him.” … Tom Perrotta profiles the “universally appealing” Kate Winslet, who played the lead in the cinematic adaptation of his Little Children and seems to have a penchant for “thorny, potentially unsympathetic characters.” … The author of a Brad Pitt profile declares she likes the “gnarled, wrinkled octogenarian” and young-boy stages of Benjamin Button more than Pitt-aged Button. She goes on to ponder the curious nature of male beauty. “Trends toward androgyny may have eroded the idea that men must hide a desire to ‘look good,’ but the ‘dandy’ can still slide easily into the ‘fairy.’ Striving to be physically beautiful is regarded as a feminine and feminizing preoccupation.”
The Nation, Feb. 23
The cover story collects voices from the “forgotten employed” around the country and warns that, this time next year, up to 8 million Americans could be without jobs. American society is “singularly ill equipped to take on a disaster that many of the people in power thought could never happen.” “[I]s the George W. Bush Library hiring yet?” one unemployed librarian wonders. “I’ll be the first in line.” … An article lauds Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, dubbing him a latter-day Tom Joad for halting evictions of families in foreclosed homes. Dart was compelled to stop after being asked to evict an apartment building of rent-paying Hispanic immigrants because the building’s owner fled the country after scamming the banks who loaned him the money for the building. “It was all about being more humane to the people who had no idea that there was even a foreclosure action against the property,” says one lawyer for the banking industry. “And it was the right thing to do, because people weren’t doing it right.”
In The New Yorker, George Packer illustrates how Florida became the “epicenter of everything that’s bad in America,” with its now-rotten subdivisions—”stucco ghettos”—and the bankrupt real estate scheme that built them.
Newsweek’s comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam is as tiresome as the article itself warns such analogies can be.
Best Politics Piece
In the New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus offers conservatives a helpful guide on how to return to their roots, which were abandoned outright by George W. Bush and company.
Best Culture Piece
James Wolcott’s essay on the “Grim Reaper as life coach” trend in book publishing is packed with gems like the following: “Only in America could the prospect of dying be promoted as a motivational tool to rack up frequent-flier miles. Bookstores and Web sites abound in self-help guides listing the 10 (or 100, or 1,000) things and places you must do and visit before you die … as if life were a race through the supermarket aisle to grab as many experiences off the shelves as possible before collapsing at the checkout line.”