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Black and White

Newsweek on Michael Jackson’s weird, universal appeal.

Newsweek, July 13 The cover story remembers Michael Jackson as the “Peter Pan” of pop. Jackson, as a performer and as a black man, “surely knew that part of his own appeal to white audiences—who contributed substantially to the $50 million to $75 million a year he earned in his prime—lay initially in his precocious cuteness, and when he was a grown man, in his apparent lack of adult sexuality.” An article profiles Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, who “has long had an ambivalent relationship with exposure.” Though a reluctant spokeswoman for “capital-P Poetry,” her own poems “remain surprising and fresh, keeping the reader slightly off-kilter.” Jon Meacham hosts a roundtable discussion of writers championing their craft in the 21st century. Susan Orlean “just finished reading Madame Bovary on [her] iPhone,” while Robert Caro writes first drafts by hand and final drafts on a typewriter that “they stopped making about 25 years ago.”

Oxford American, June 2009 In the annual “Best of the South” issue, a writer recalls the story of a guide on a tour of civil rights memorials. Joanne Bland of Selma, Ala., had “been to jail thirteen times” by age 11; in prison, she and other children were “fed … dry beans with rocks as punishment for demonstrating to get our parents the right to vote.” Contrary to her name, Bland was the most memorable “living civil rights memorial” during the author’s pilgrimage through the South. An “Ode to a Soda Fountain” salutes “an old-fashioned ice cream shop” that opened in Roanoke, Va., decades after “Rickeys, Broadways, Hobokens, Canary Island Specials, and NY Egg Creams” had disappeared from menus. The local flavor extends beyond the menu: Patrons “could join a knitting group, participate in a rock-paper-scissors tournament, jam out to vintage LPs on record night, or catch a live band.”

New Republic, July 15 A feature draws parallels between Shiism and the reform movement in Iran. In the early 20th century, Ayatollah Na’ini believed his role was to make sure the law of the nation didn’t contradict sharia—not to govern Iran himself. But his successor, and later Ayatollah Khomeini, thought “the state was everything—and sharia was nothing but its legitimizing narrative, a narrative that could be suspended at the will of the leader.” Recent debates have continued to intertwine theology and government, so “the reform movement has been, from Na’ini to Mousavi, a thinly pious veneer for a country’s relentless quest for democracy.” An article argues that a wave of “deglobalization” triggered by the recession will hurt developing nations that opened their doors to foreign trade in the 1990s. Because 2001’s Doha Round international trade negotiations did not set any “permanent reductions of trade barriers,” now “wealthy governments are free to impose all sorts of restrictions.”

The New Yorker, July 6 A lengthy feature underscores “the grave problem within the chain of command” that led to the deaths of “five unarmed people” in Iraq during Operation Iron Triangle in 2006. At the center of the controversy surrounding the Iraqis’ deaths is Col. Michael Dane Steele: “A number of soldiers … believe that Steele set the conditions for a massacre by cultivating reckless aggressiveness in his soldiers, and by interpreting the rules of engagement in a way that made the killing of noncombatants likely.” Due to “a tragic misconception,” soldiers involved in the operation misunderstood the scope of their target, and some in the military (but not the courts, as of yet) find Steele culpable. Hendrik Hertzberg urges President Obama to look into recent proposals by nongovernmental groups to “order an immediate halt to involuntary discharges of gay servicemen and servicewomen under the same ‘stop-loss’ law that his predecessor used, less admirably, to force soldiers to extend their enlistments.”

The Nation, July 13 In advance of the G20 meeting at the United Nations, Joseph E. Stiglitz’s cover story outlines ways “to make our global economic system work better.” The economist and chair of the U.N. Commission of Experts supports the U.N.’s interest in “the creation of a global reserve system.” Stiglitz and his committee also advocate “providing additional funding for developing countries, creating more policy space for developing countries, avoiding protectionism, [and] opening advanced countries’ markets to the least developed countries’ exports.” A feature lauds “Salt Lake City’s queer community, whose smart, creative and coalition-building strategies could provide a model for gay activists across the country.” Activists in the largely Mormon state are trying to overcome the Utah constitutional amendment that bars any “marriage like” legal relationship between same-sex couples. Instead, one organization has drafted a list of legislative proposals for the equal treatment of LGBT and heterosexual citizens in all matters of civic life, not just marriage.