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Food, Inglorious Food

New YorkTimes restaurant critic Frank Bruni on his struggle with eating disorders.

New York Times Magazine, July 19 Departing Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni narrates his battle with his weight and his deployment in that battle of the Atkins Diet, cleansing, competitive swimming, and, eventually, purging. “To be a successful bulimic,” he explains, “you need to have a firm handle on the bathrooms in your life: their proximity to where you’re eating; the amount of privacy they offer.” A celebration of 92-year-old Jack Vance, “one of American literature’s most distinctive and undervalued voices,” bemoans his relative anonymity, which is due to his status as an American genre writer. If a great Vance book “had the name Italo Calvino on it, or just a foreign name, it would be received as a profound meditation,” says novelist Michael Chabon. The article’s author asserts, “Vance worked exclusively in adolescent genres, if under that heading we include the transformative experience of falling in love for the first time with a beautiful sentence.”

Economist, July 18 The cover story begins, “Of all the economic bubbles that have been pricked, few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself.” The piece is not harsh on the discipline so much as its practitioners, too many of whom “cheered the party along”—the party being disastrous asset bubbles. An article reports that China’s stimulus plan helped produce an “astonishing rebound,” driving a 16.5 percent annualized rate of second-quarter growth. But “some economists are now worrying it may be working rather too well,” inflating a credit bubble that, as “America’s recent experience suggests,” is unsustainable. An article discusses Arab attitudes toward Iran’s recent election. They “tend to believe official Iranian claims that American and Western agents have been trying to stir up a ‘color revolution’ … [but] they [are] envious too. However flawed Iran’s version of democracy, it still looks a lot more real than the typical Arab one.”

Time, July 27 Why, a profile asks, did Cory Booker, mayor of “drug-infested, poverty-stricken” Newark, N.J., reject President Obama’s offer to lead his Office of Urban Affairs? Apparently because Booker, “a black kid from the lily-white suburbs,” remains intent on achieving Newark’s “elusive renaissance.” His primary obsession is crime—“very ballsy,” says a councilman—and, indeed, Newark’s murder rate fell 36 percent in the past three years. Booker’s 2010 re-election is “a foregone conclusion,” but further advancement may prove challenging: “Obama’s election has diluted the Booker brand.” Prominent black politicians must “separate themselves from Obama’s larger-than-life persona and not seem like Barack wannabes.” An article notes a paradox about the 500,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem and the West Bank: Many are there for cheap housing, not religion or ideology, and don’t think they’re “an obstacle to peace.” But “to much of the outside world, [they] are participating in an illegal land grab forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.”

The Nation, Aug. 3 The cover story proposes that Congress change the Federal Reserve from the “deliberately opaque and little understood … black hole of our democracy” into an institution subject to “the usual standards of transparency and public scrutiny.” The Fed should also focus on monetary policy, not regulation. For all the Fed’s “antiquated” mystique, its most basic power “relies on democratic consent—the people’s trust, their willingness to accept the currency and use it in exchange.” Not afraid to be service-y, the magazine presents“Ten Things You Need To Know To Live on the Streets.” “Let go of your pride—but hold on to your dignity,” it advises. And: “[T]he first truth of homelessness is sleep deprivation. Always have a blanket.” And: “The First Amendment protects your right to solicit aid (panhandling), especially if your pitch or sign is a statement rather than a request. To succeed, be creative, funny, engaging (’I didn’t get a bailout!’).”

World Affairs, Summer An article paints a portrait of a nerve-deadened Cuba. “The combination of fierce repression and a paternalistic state has squelched initiative and fostered a culture of passivity. Years of seeing privileges going to those Cubans most willing to mimic the party line have produced a deep and widespread cynicism.” Change is likely to wait until El Jefe departs the scene: Castro “is on a ten-president winning streak with Washington and is not inclined to start over.” An article considers the likely effects of immigration rates on U.S. foreign policy. Growing ethnic groups—Latinos, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans—tend to vote Democratic, while “those regions with the most hawkish and pro-military political cultures” are also the most stagnant. The author predicts something like “the World War I era, when ethnic constituencies operated as a brake on executive power and military intervention.” “American foreign policy will necessarily become less ambitious, more a product of horse-trading between ethnic groups.”

Must Read
Both newsweeklies run a fantastic profile of a brilliant black politician both taking advantage of and trying to break out from Obama’s shadow: Newsweek on Attorney General Eric Holder and Time on Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Must Skip
It would be too easy to pick the Weekly Standard’s double-ultra-sympathetic cover story on Sarah Palin’s resignation, except it may actually have achieved a new low. “Palin arrived at the conclusion that she didn’t want a second term as Alaska’s governor,” the author writes, paraphrasing her thoughts. “She had achieved what she had set out to do, so why bother with one more lame-duck legislative session in 2010?” One wonders what would happen if all elected officials acted on that thought.

Best Politics Piece
New York Times Magazine
finds a substantive basis for calling Obama the “iPod president”: the voraciously diverse and hyperactive nature of his agenda. “Obama is the nation’s first shuffle president. He’s telling lots of stories at once, and in no particular order. His agenda is fully downloadable.”

Best Culture Piece
The New York Times Magazine profile of Jack Vance says something important about the American literary canonization process, but mostly it just makes you want to curl up with one of Vance’s (apparently) bizarrely transcendent futuristic romance novels.

The Trouble With Brüno
The silliness of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie prompts the usually lighthearted New Yorker film critic to pen one of his most sober (and best) columns, condemning Cohen for lazy politics and humor. “First, it suggests that Baron Cohen, having sneaked his way into a discussion, seldom has the nerve to keep his side of the bargain, preferring to cut things short with a gibe. Second, his comfort zone of comic reference, predicated on the discomfort of others, begins at the waistline and ends at the kneecaps. In his relentless, unmistakably Anglo-Freudian insistence on the genital and the anal, Baron Cohen takes the double entendre and strips it to a single one, placing in full view what used to be a smirking aside. Forget satire; this guy doesn’t want to scorch the earth anymore.”