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Hit and Run

Texas Monthly examines what made Charlie Wilkinson kill his girlfriend’s parents.

Texas Monthly, June 2009
A gripping story tries to unpack what drove 16-year-old Erin Caffey to have her boyfriend kill her family last year in the small east Texas town of Alba. Homeschooled and active in her church, Erin “gushed innocence,” a co-worker recalled. The town is struggling to reconcile this image with the girl who begged her boyfriend, Charlie Wilkinson, for months to kill her parents, after they had put the brakes on the young couple’s relationship. Driving away from her burning house, Erin was “happier than a kid on Christmas morning,” Charlie’s accomplice recounted. Texas sportswriters, once great, have been replaced by a team of “dabblers, hacks, and homers,” a piece laments. While the crumbling newspaper industry can be blamed for some of this decline—the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram now share coverage of the Mavericks and Rangers—the problem goes deeper. The new generation of sportswriters lacks “the fundamental understanding that if you write about events that repeat themselves into infinity, you must first acquaint yourself with literature.”

New York Times Magazine, June 7
Matt Bai’s cover story looks at how the Obama team passed the stimulus bill for clues to how it will overhaul the nation’s health care system. Legislators want a sense of ownership of bills they pass. Bill Clinton, however, made the mistake of delivering a finished bill to them. The number of seats housing Democrats then and now are almost identical, so “if Obama is to succeed where Clinton did not, it will have to be a triumph of circumstance and political salesmanship rather than a reflection of simple math.” Slate’s Emily Bazelon pens a piece on how the self-employed are weathering the recession. A full 16 percent of New Yorkers are self-employed, and many are suffering as people cut back. But because many of these tutors, yoga instructors, and personal chefs are underemployed rather than unemployed, they are not eligible for unemployment insurance. Some are suffering from “the vertigo of falling out of the middle class.”

Time, June 15 Time discovers Twitter in the cover story, mentioning no fewer than six times how the service can be used to tell your friends in 140 characters or less what you had for breakfast. Twitter has also become a place to share links, we learn, and pass on new information faster than it can be found on Google. During large national events, Twitter provides a forum to have “a genuine, public conversation with a group that extends far beyond our nuclear family and our next-door neighbors.” The “halal economy” is growing, with $1 trillion worth of halal goods and Muslim-friendly services sold each year, an article finds. Moving beyond the traditional avoidance of pork and alcohol, some companies are now pushing halal cosmetics that don’t contain alcohol or animal fats and halal vaccines. Many products highlight the “seismic social changes” occurring in the Muslim world: “One of the reasons why halal frozen food, lunch-box treats and quick-fix dinners are growing in popularity is that many more Muslim women, from Egypt to Malaysia, have full-time jobs.”

Economist, June 6 An editorial examines the remains of GM, the “Detroitosaurus wrecks.” GM’s bankruptcy, announced Monday, was “so expected” that “America shrugged.” The company’s decline, beginning in the ‘70s, stemmed from its failure to match the “better, smaller, lighter” cars coming out of Japan. GM instead turned to the government for protection, which led to its eventual downfall. “By trying to keep their car industry big, America’s leaders ended up preventing it from becoming good.” A dispatch from Chelyabinsk, Russia’s “industrial armpit,” examines why, despite the severe economic contraction, the country remains relatively stable. While the government can finance its current budget deficit using the $400 billion it has squirreled away in reserves, future stability depends on the price of oil and gas. The current price of oil—$70 a barrel—won’t jump-start the economy, but “it is enough to preserve the current political system and lull Russia into stagnation.”

Wired, June 2009 Using smuggled cell phones, prisoners are reaching out from behind bars to harass their victims, take out hits, launch escapes, and participate in gang activity, among other nefarious activities, a piece says. One prisoner, Texas death row inmate Richard Tabler, used a contraband phone to call and intimidate a Texas state senator. A search revealed that the phone, one of 1,000 phones seized in Texas prisons last year, had been used for almost 3,000 calls and texts in the previous month. One Maryland prison has a “decidedly low tech piece of equipment” to root out the phones: a cell-phone sniffing Belgian Malinois. A piece on “Googlenomics” explains how AdWords generated $21 billion in revenue last year, becoming “what may be the most successful business idea in history.” For each search performed, a complicated algorithm determines which 11 ads are displayed as sponsored links. A company selling live mail-order lobsters bought the first Google ad in 2000.

Must Read
In Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff pens a chilling portrait of a teen who yearned to have her family killed and who compelled her smitten boyfriend to do the deed.

Must Skip
Time’s cover story rehashing the common wisdom on Twitter should have been limited to 140 characters or less.

Best Politics Piece
Members of the Obama administration should read Matt Bai’s piece in the New York Times Magazine on the battle to reform health care, which neatly condenses the lessons of the Clintons’ failed attempt in the ‘90s.

Best Culture Piece
Newsweek’s cover story dissects Oprah’s appeal to the masses, which endures despite the quacks who frequently appear on her show.

Best Headline
“The Puffington Host,” the headline for the New Republic’s cover story, gets to the heart of Arianna Huffington’s fickle philosophy: “She is just an adventuress, ideologically and socially; an impresario, with a practiced eye for the main chance; a media phenomenon, which is among the thinnest phenomena of all; a nimble brand.”