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The Phenom From Tehran

Time on the Iranian president’s political prowess.

Time, June 29
Joe Klein files from the streets of Tehran: “People began to run; some were knocked down; bodies were flying. And the Ahmadinejad crowd began to cheer.” Klein praises the president’s political skills: He “seemed to have been trained by some Iranian equivalent of Karl Rove.” Reformers “seemed as unyielding as Ahmadinejad, if more politely so, when it came to discussing what Iran would be willing to concede” to the United States. He concludes, “While Barack Obama should continue to press for negotiations, he shouldn’t be too optimistic about the prospect of success.”“So what?”responds one author regarding signs that the recession’s end is nigh. The post-downturn “new normal” will feature bearish stock and housing markets, lower consumer spending, a less stable business cycle, higher energy prices, and either higher taxes or higher inflation. “The free-lunch era is over.”

Economist, June 20 The lead editorial acknowledges that past Western meddling means Iran’s “prickliness, even paranoia, is understandable.” But the “crass debauchery” of rigging elections remains unjustified. And unwise: “Given that all four official candidates were sworn to keep the largely theocratic system going, the government’s performance was stupid as well as pernicious.” A dispatch from Kazakhstan reports that “a seemingly arbitrary wave of arrests—mostly on charges of corruption and embezzlement”—has cultivated a “climate of fear.” “Most observers see a political motive, even if it is unclear who is to benefit.” Kazakhstan assumes the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe next year, while “authoritarian” President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s term ends in 2012. One article observes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech endorsing Palestinian statehood (“with copious conditions”) ignited a surge in his approval ratings.

New York Times Magazine, June 21 The cover story profiles No. 1 tennis player Rafael Nadal.”People describe him as an evolutionary leap,” but tendinitis in both knees as Wimbledon approaches makes Nadal, as Gay Talese said of a cold-afflicted Frank Sinatra, like a Picasso without paint, a Ferrari without fuel. * He now outranks his idol, Roger Federer: “It must be unsettling for the very good No. 2 to adjust to the burden of finally having made it—of having achieved what he wanted, so that now the fight is no longer to get there but to stave off the hungry competitors behind him, one of whom is the master himself.” A journalist recalls his interactions with Jihad Jaara, a Palestinian who allegedly engineered the 2002 murder of a 71-year-old American who lived in an Israeli settlement near Bethlehem. The author’s reporting on the incident brought him to Jaara’s house in rural Ireland, where Jaara fears Mossad is coming to kill him, as well as before a federal grand jury.

GQ, July One article reports on NASA’s Constellation program, “an Apollo-dwarfing series of missions that entails going to the moon, building a base, and staying there as we get set for Mars.” “[Y]ou have no idea what NASA is doing,” the author writes wistfully. “And NASA, tongue-tied by jargon, can’t figure out how to tell you. But the agency is engaged in work that can be more enduring and far-reaching than anything else this country is paying for.” In an interview, comedy genius Harold Ramis informs us that Animal House’s climax—in which the Delta brothers disrupt the Faber College Homecoming parade—“takes place the day before Kennedy was shot. Because the day after, none of that mattered anymore.” Ramis calls Groundhog Day, which he directed and co-wrote, “the most meaningful film [of mine]. And the best crafted.” He praises estranged friend Bill Murray as “all the Marx Brothers rolled into one.”

Atlantic, July/August One article proposes that mutual enmity toward Iran could prompt an extremely productive alliance between Israel and Sunni Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The strange-bedfellow arrangement would, dialectically, be George W. Bush’s doing, since he enhanced the Sunnis’ enemies: “Bush is the inadvertent father of the first Arab Shia state. And the foothold he provided Iran in Arab Iraq has made Tehran a surging power.” Garry Wills remembers his old friend William F. Buckley Jr. “Bill was basically egalitarian,” Wills argues. Of Buckley’s rejection of racism and anti-Semitism, Wills says, “The real measure of Bill was the extent to which he overcame the prejudices he began with because of his family.” Enlisting in the CIA as a young man, Buckley didn’t disclose a family secret and beat the polygraph, later telling Wills, “I guess that if you think you have a right to tell a lie, it will not register as one.”

Must Read
No matter what the Atlantic says about the impending death of newsweeklies, Newsweek’s and Time’s cover stories this week—respectively, Fareed Zakaria’s grand analysis of the economy and capitalism’s future and Joe Klein’s dispatch from Iran—are both well worth the cover prices and your time.

Must Skip
Harper’s cover story, which draws out the at-times eerie parallels between Barack Obama and Herbert Hoover, and warns that Obama’s presidency may end similarly, reminds you why rhetoricians consider analogy to be a logical fallacy.

Best Politics Piece
The New Republic’s profile of Ezekiel Emanuel contains both the entertainment you would demand from any article on America’s first siblings and a sharp analysis of the new, meritocratic type of power center that exists in Obama’s Washington.

Best Culture Piece
With the movie version of the sixth Harry Potterbook set for release next month, the Atlantic examines past attempts at filming “this blend of teen drama and high fantasy” that constitutes perhaps the most beloved book series of all time.

The Times on Tennis
Whether or not Raphael Nadal will go down as greater than his idol and rival Roger Federer, the Times Magazine’s (very good) cover story on Nadal cannot compete with the now-defunct Times sports magazine Play’s 2006 article on Federer, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” by the late David Foster Wallace. That you must read.

Correction, March 25, 2010: The item about the Times Magazine’s Rafael Nadal article alluded to Gay Talese’s legendary Esquire article “ Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” without mentioning Talese or Esquire, or linking to Talese’s piece. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)