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Chill Bill

New York Times Magazine on the new, mellowed-out Bill Clinton.

New York Times Magazine, May 31 The cover profile finds Bill Clinton “doing his own thing”: “traveling the globe, pushing his favorite philanthropic programs, collecting six-figure checks for speeches, dining with foreign leaders and in his own way speaking for America.” After last year’s divisive primary, “his anger appears gone” and he has patched things up with President Barack Obama, who, one old Clinton hand says, “does not need” Clinton. “He still lights up at the attention of people on the street and happily shakes every hand that comes his way,” the author reports, “but he does not seek them out as much.” A profile of red-bearded, New Balance-wearing comic Zach Galifianakis observes, “his routines are, arguably, the most unpredictable in contemporary comedy,” with everything from “carefully composed, conceptual one-liners” to “profanity-drenched tirades” to “Andy Kaufman-esque attacks on the genre.” Sarah Silverman calls him “[p]art of the excitement of this shift, this idea of comedy as art.”

Time, June 8 A profile of Sonia Sotomayor, Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, cautions that she may not turn out to be “a two-fisted progressive to trade punches with Justice Antonin Scalia.” The author sums up the GOP’s strategy thusly: “[W]alk softly and carry a big magnifying glass.” An essay argues that Obama’s praise of Sotomayor’s “empathy”—informed, Obama says, by her Latina heritage—reflects Obama’s “unfortunate tendency to conflate personality and principle.” Additionally, Sotomayor’s support for racial preferences, the author argues, involves “a way of looking at the law that is sophisticated rather than commonsensical”—“the kind of fairness you learn at Yale Law School, not the kind you learn in the South Bronx.” A profile observes that travel guru Rick Steves’ patented “Europe Through The Back Door” philosophy, in which you seek to live like a local for “a more casual and authentic journey,” is perfectly suited to recession vacationing.

Economist, May 30 An editorial on North Korea’s recent nuclear test warns that unless Kim Jong-il pays a high price for his defiance, there will be no stability in East Asia. “[T]he message heard by others, particularly Iran … is that they too can have a bomb—if they are prepared to be belligerent enough.” Kim has survived because “whatever he does, some food aid will keep flowing in” and because China, fearing a refugee crisis, props him up. “If China is at all serious about joining America as a global leader, this is the time for it to shoulder its responsibility.” A dispatch from “the first newly developed oilfield … to have come on stream anywhere in Iraq for 30-odd years” focuses on its location: Kurdistan. Though the Iraqi oil minister “loathes the Kurds’ success,” a cash crunch prevented him from stopping the Iraqi provinces’ production-sharing agreements with foreign companies.

GQ, June 2009 According to a report by Robert Draper, George W. Bush loyalists believe Donald Rumsfeld’s “most enduring legacy will be the damage he did to Bush’s.” Rumsfeld’s military intelligence digests typically juxtaposed brutal war photographs with Biblical quotes. (Slide show here.) Rumsfeld delayed the “surge,” sabotaged U.S.-Russia relations, and initially prevented active-duty troops from dealing with the fallout after Hurricane Katrina. An un-summarizable profile notes that Levi Johnston, the ex-fiance of Bristol Palin, has in the past year experienced “(a) having dad leave home; (b) seeing mom get arrested and face incarceration, in national news; (c) watching own son be born, with Sarah Palin also in room; (d) dropping out of high school and taking electrician job; (e) losing fiancée, son, job for reasons that mystify him and may be political; (f) becoming instantaneously megafamous.” Levi and a private investigator named Tank are currently “working to contain and reduce in frequency Levi’s homophobic outbursts.”

New York Review of Books, June 11 An article foresees “a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis” in Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban controls or contests more than 10 percent of the country. Now it is penetrating Punjab, “Pakistan’s political and economic heartland.” The author blames the government for not shutting down Punjabi extremist groups, for acceding to the Taliban’s harsh rule in the Swat Valley, and for “never protect[ing] the Pashtun tribal chiefs and leaders who were pro-government.” A review praises the San Francisco County Jail’s Resolve to Stop the Violence Project, which seeks to implement “restorative justice”—the idea “that offenders must also try to repair, as far as possible, the harm they have caused others”—through intimate sessions reminiscent of AA meetings. RSVP “is consistent with conservative notions of personal responsibility, while the more conservative faith-based programs accept the liberal notion that lack of education and job opportunities must also be addressed.”

Must Read
New York
Times Magazine depicts President Bill Clinton as the Lion in Late-Autumn with fairness, wit, and verve. On top of that, Clinton’s meticulous, typically brilliant discussion of his own legacy (see here for his extended disquisition on the economy) is essential to understanding the context in which Obama will craft his.

Must Skip
, you think, happening upon the Weekly Standard’s article on gay marriage, someone will go beyond empty tautologies to articulate a genuine, respectful case against gay marriage. Several thousand words of illogic, condescension, and misogyny (“This most profound aspect of marriage—protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex—is its only true reason for being”) follow.

Best Politics Piece
Christopher Caldwell’s Time essay doesn’t dismiss Obama and Sotomayor’s support for jurisprudential “empathy”; it takes it on their own terms and then makes a provocative case against it.

Best Culture Piece
The Nation
’s cover story is respectful of “literary Darwinism” even as it indicts its “impoverished view.” The piece concludes with an inspiring defense of literature: “It will not be definitive; it will not be universally valid. It will be a product of its times, though it will see beyond those times. It will not satisfy the dean’s desire for accumulable knowledge, the parent’s desire for a marketable skill, or the Congressman’s desire for a generation of technologists. All it will do is help us understand who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going.”

The Divinity of Forgiveness
“Yet if Clinton has a powerful memory for slights, he also has a remarkable capacity for reconciliation. …
’You know, I’m a Baptist,’ Clinton explained. ‘We don’t give up on anybody. We believe in deathbed conversions.’
How about Ken Starr? ‘Well,’ he said, then paused. ‘That’s another kettle of fish.’ “