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Democracy 2.0

Wired on Silicon Valley execs promoting social-networking technology in Iraq.

Wired, August 2009 An article follows a handful of Silicon Valley execs from Google, Twitter, MeetUp, YouTube, and others on a tour of Baghdad led by U.S. State Department policy planner Jared Cohen. Cohen “explains that using technology to spread democracy has become a cornerstone of what diplo-nerds are calling 21st-century statecraft.” In meetings with Iraqi government officials and students, the American executives first encouraged entrepreneurship but had to temper their expectations upon seeing the lack of infrastructure in Iraq. Still, they left with “a Google spreadsheet full of modest, plausible projects,” including building a Web site for the national museum. A feature suggests Google might be at risk for antitrust charges. As the company expands into online video, documents, and other Web services, the Department of Justice will be watching carefully, since “there is no way for competitors or partners to know whether Google tweaks results to direct traffic to its own properties over theirs.”

New York Times Magazine, July 26 The cover story profiles Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement. Jarrett is “the president’s closest friend in the White House” and his most trusted adviser. Her real estate background gives her “street cred with the private sector,” but Obama seeks her counsel on a variety of matters beyond business. “Jarrett’s shared experience with the Obamas is about race—and on a deeper level, about the coexistence, in the post-King African-American psyche, of conscience and ambition, activism and accommodation.” An article chronicles the plight of a West Virginia lesbian couple trying to adopt a toddler they have cared for from infancy. The couple has taken in “a total of 18 [foster] kids between the ages of 1 and 16,” but caring for the children isn’t nearly as difficult as adopting in a state with no law permitting gay couples to do so.

American Spectator, July/August 2009 A column celebrates an American artist’s revival of portraiture in a Florence studio. “The 20th century was a catastrophe for fine art, and at the beginning of the 21st we live in a wasteland dominated by the most brutal form of commercialism, ephemeral fashion, and cynical abuse of talent.” Today, painter Charles Cecil inculcates the techniques of the early 20th-century American painter John Singer Sargent, “the last of the great masters,” in his “bold venture” teaching portrait painting. A review slams Christopher Buckley’s recently published memoir about his parents and laments his frequent references to being “orphaned” at age 55, after his parents died within a year of each other. Losing Mum and Pop is just “the latest entry in a certain modern genre” of tell-alls that are “the literary equivalent of the strip joint. … [S]urely the point of all these narratives is not really their credibility but their buy-ability. Their terribility.”

Time, Aug. 3 The cover story delves into Bush and Cheney’s final days in the White House, when the vice president’s unyielding campaign to secure a presidential pardon for former aide Scooter Libby “became nearly as big an issue as the pardon itself.” Cheney’s persistence was a measure of his understanding of the Bush legacy, which rests on his belief “that the Commander in Chief and his lieutenants had almost limitless power in the war on terrorism and deserved a measure of immunity for taking part in that fight.” A review calls Richard Holmes’Age of Wonder“the most flat-out fascinating book so far this year.” The history of science during the Romantic Age explores discoveries made at a time when poetry and science “were seen as complementary ways of piercing the veil of everyday phenomena.” Even to amateurs, “[s]cience was like punk rock: if you had a basement, some free time and some hubris, you could do it.”

Economist, July 25 The cover story pinpoints the failures of “[t]he old pattern of Arab government—corrupt, opaque and authoritarian.” After failing “to make their people free,” “to make their people rich,” and “to keep their people safe,” Arab governments will soon be held accountable to the demands wrought by social change, the article argues. “[M]ore people, especially women, are becoming educated, and businessmen want a bigger say in economies dominated by the state. Above all, a revolution in satellite television has broken the spell of the state-run media and created a public that wants the rulers to explain and justify themselves as never before.” A piece memorializes Natalia Estemirova, an activist recently kidnapped and killed in Chechnya. “Much of what the world knew about Chechnya came from her and her colleagues at Memorial, a heroic group which started by documenting Stalinist crimes but continued to trace their modern-day consequences, especially in the Caucasus.”

Must Read
Upon first reading about the kidney donors featured in this week’s New Yorker, you might think they’re either crazy or saintly. But the article raises some thought-provoking questions about human nature and the bounds of both generosity and credulity.

Must Skip
Ben Stein’s Diary” in the American Spectator chronicles his trip through Virginia to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, the highlights of which were the “pleasant, friendly people” at the Super Target and the “super pleasant” people at his dinner with university chancellor Jerry Falwell—none of which seemed super interesting.

Best Politics Piece
The New York Times Magazine profile of Valerie Jarrett tries to pin down the source of the president’s ineffable trust in her but also does a fair job balancing its portrayal with criticisms of Jarrett’s role on the campaign trail and in the White House.

Best Culture Piece
National Geographic
’s piece on Venice describes the city in loving detail from the perspective of locals without leaning on easy clichés.

Best Art
The despondent drawings illustrating the Harper’s piece on the auto industry add as much, if not more, to its ominous tone as the narrative about the challenges facing Toyota’s Kentucky plant. The photo portfolio of noir-ish “scenes from the abandoned city” following the article is a hauntingly appropriate companion.