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Host to Coast

New York Times Magazine on Conan O’Brien’s new Los Angeles digs.

New York Times Magazine, May 24 The cover story follows Conan O’Brien as he moves from New York to California to take over The Tonight Show on NBC. His ideas for the first few episodes mostly “utilized the notion of O’Brien as an outsider, alien to the ways of Hollywood.” Although O’Brien cast himself as “a smart outsider” on his Late Night show, his new gig is “a different game for a different crowd.” NBC is banking on his success, and, fortunately, O’Brien has always had a “quiet confidence that if he applies himself, he will eventually succeed.” Matt Bai considers the changing national attitude toward gay marriage over the last decade. In the 1990s, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was an early supporter of gay marriage, but since then, no single politician has been as strong a proponent. Outside politics, though, “the fast-spreading acceptance of gay marriage” has affected the country so greatly that “the movement itself can now seem obsolete.” 

Economist, May 23 The cover story examines the ramifications of India’s recent elections, in which the Congress party triumphed, gaining the majority in parliament after “decades of decline.” Though the party had been “hobbled by the many venal and incompetent regional and Communist allies that it needed to make up its majority” in the past, it is now poised to pass “overdue economic reforms” and curtail corruption. An article explains why many independent films are economically suited to distribution via on-demand rental services on cable TV. While 5,500 films were promoted at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, last year American cinemas showed only about 600 movies. Now some independent film distributors are aiming for the small screen. In marketing to television audiences, “it helps greatly if films are susceptible to brief synopsis. … Other clear winners are films that have titles starting with the letter ‘A,’ which turn up first on video-on-demand menus.” 

Time, June 1 The cover story on Michelle Obama marvels at how, during the first 100 days in her new role, “she made it seem natural.” While she’s had fun playing with new dog Bo and dyeing the water in the White House fountain green for St. Patrick’s Day, she also has more substantive goals. Unlike some first ladies, “it is only of Michelle Obama that we ask, What does she mean?” Among her most demonstrative gestures so far was a visit to a D.C. high school to reach out to students “living inches away from power and prestige and fame and fortune, and they don’t even know that it exists.” An essay wonders why “for the first time, more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice.” More widespread information about abortion may be one reason, or perhaps young women confident in “their sexual autonomy” no longer “view limits on abortion as attacks on their overall freedom.” 

Harper’s, June 2009
The cover story considers new ways to eliminate world hunger. The number of hungry people worldwide has been rising since 2003. But it’s a lack of money, not food, that’s the problem. A recent global summit on hunger aimed “to foster entrepreneurial independence, not subservience” among recipients of aid. Bill Gates and others are partnering with the World Food Program to set up a $76 million program to buy food from small farmers. But, the author notes, “in the face of famine, a reliance on market economies is as ineffective as a reliance on loaves and fishes.” An article on Dubai looks for “glimmers of promise out there in the vast desert expanse.” An explosion in real estate development has slowed significantly during the recession. “Whatever [Dubai] may have lost in consumer confidence,” though, it is not without entrepreneurs, such as the world’s first manufacturer of camel-milk chocolate.

Vanity Fair, June 2009 An excerpt from an upcoming biography of Ted Kennedy focuses on the Massachusetts senator’s battle with brain cancer and his family’s responses to the possibility of losing the only Kennedy brother who “had lived long enough, in the words of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, to ‘comb grey hair.’ ” In Boston last spring, after the senator suffered two seizures, “[t]he hospital room throbbed with undisguised rivalry between Vicki and Joe Kennedy II, the third serious contender for the mantle of family leader,” along with niece Caroline. In an exclusive story, Bernard Madoff’s longtime secretary, Eleanor Squillari, reveals her surprise at learning of her former boss’s massive Ponzi scheme. When some of the Madoff family met with the FBI on the day of Bernard’s arrest, her first thought was: “A family member has been kidnapped, and this is an extortion attempt.” As the details came out, though, she realized Madoff, planning ahead, had “staged” his arrest.

Must Read
New York’s cover story on the effect of technology on our attention spans is so engaging, you can make it through all 6,000-plus words without distraction. 

Must Skip
Jon Meacham’s Newsweek interview with the president aboard Air Force One reveals nothing new about subjects ranging from the war in Afghanistan to his reading habits. (Time’s interview with the first lady digs a little deeper.)

Best Culture Piece
In a collection of satirical speculations in Harper’s, novelists and journalists predict a future in which “the Great Recession” wears out Obama before he can seek a second term, propels reality TV to new lows of self-centeredness, and drives one fictional interviewee to run away from it all and live in a cave.

Best Politics Piece
The best of a slew of Economist articles on new or incoming heads of state is the cover story on India’s recently elected coalition government, which examines the effects of the shake-up on all the country’s political parties.

Best Column
In his Vanity Fair column, James Wolcott immerses himself in the “rubble” of 1970s New York City, waxing nostalgic for “a metropolis on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”