This Week in Magazines -- Overestimating Ahmadinejad, What Ed Koch Says, and Viagra Loves Golf

11/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • James Warren Washington Bureau Chief, New York Daily News; Former managing editor, Chicago Tribune

There is "that one" and then there is That One, namely an unadulterated bogeyman of the presidential campaign: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. My friends, we tend to throw partisanship to the winds to all agree that he is an evildoer and that we'd best not directly negotiate with him.

And that's why, my friends, you should take a look at "The Latter-Day Sultan: Power and Politics in Iran" in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs, the ever-elite, but increasingly accessible (and profitable), bimonthly.

Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji, who was imprisoned in Tehran for six years and whose writings are banned in the country, argues that Western media and politicians, as well as Iranian opposition leaders, erroneously caricature Ahmadinejad as "the main culprit of Iran's ills today: censorship, corruption, a failing economy, the prospect of a U.S. attack."

He contends that many exaggerate Ahmadinejad's significance and underplay the role of Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who serves as the big cheese when it comes to the legislative, executive and judicial branches and as an influence on matters economic, religious and cultural. He'd not only agree with Barack Obama's assertion that Ahmadinejad "is not the most powerful person in Iran," but goes so far as to argue that he "does not even rank among Iran's top 100 leaders over the past 100 years."

"Blaming the country's main problems on Ahmadinejad not only overstates his influence; it inaccurately suggests that Iran's problems will go away when he does," Ganji writes, detailing why Sultan Khamenei is the guy to worry about when it comes to tensions in the Iran-U.S. relationship, including over Iran's nuclear ambitions. And it's his hand which has been needlessly strengthened by the macho rhetoric and policy of the Bush administration, he concludes.


---The estimable business-legal affairs reporter James Stewart's "The Omen" in Oct. 20 New Yorker is a knockout profile of Jerome Kerviel, 31, the likely-to-be-indicted trader at the heart of the respected French bank Societe Generale's $4.9 billion euro loss, the biggest trading fraud in banking history. It's a tale of ambition, greed, possibly madness, but seemingly a systemic breakdown leading to lax supervision interpreted as legitimization of his activities by the rogue trader. His own declarations to a court-appointed shrink are fascinating, as is word that the trading floor excitement depicted in 1987's Wall Street with Michael Douglas turned him on when he saw the flick. Read this and you may sell all your stocks and bonds and put them under the bedroom mattress.

---Oct. 13 Sports Illustrated informs that all the 49 skyboxes at the new New York Mets stadium, to open in the spring, have been leased to the tune of $275,000 to $500,000 per year for a three-year minimum. You'd hate to be the publicist of a Wall Street firm benefiting from a federal bailout if they're among those who've signed up (or those at the new Yankee Stadium, where the skyboxes will be $650,000- to $850,000-per-season and are likely accounted for, though the team's not saying).

--November Vanity Fair is worth the profile of actress Amy Adams, an all-too-typical tale of a young talent beating the odds; Tony Curtis recounting his intimate relationship with Marilyn Monroe when they were starting off in Hollywood; James Wolcott, an ever-engaging pessimist, on how even he feels beaten down by the media's unavoidable concentration on our depressing times (and all the pharmaceutical ads for various maladies!); and David Margolick's poignant look at David Levine, perhaps the finest American caricaturist of the past century, struggling with blindness at age 80 and feeling ill-treated by his longtime home, the New York Review of Books, during what is at least an awkward moment for the publication as it's unavoidably concluded that his work is just not the same.

---Forget Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson and bring in former New York Mayor Ed Koch to save the economy!!! Ah, well, that's a suggestion of sorts in "Ed Koch's Lesson for Today's Mortgage Crisis" on the online History News Network. Jonathan Soffer, historian at New York University-Polytechnic, contends that a longtern Koch program to renovate and build thousands of housing units promoted home ownership via a partnership with families and suggests how "this crisis can be turned into an opportunity." Hmmm.

---So are most American voters irrational fools? The autumn Wilson Quarterly includes "The Irrational Electorate" by Princeton University's Larry Bartels, in part rebutting historian Rick Shenkman's well-selling "Just How Stupid Are We?", a reminder of depressing opinion surveys about everything we don't know about history, government, world affairs, even geography. In sum, this argues that Shenkman (who edits the afore-mentioned History News Network) is mistaken to begin with the assumption that political scientists generally view voters as rational, with Bartels offering a broad overview of studies suggesting that "political ignorance matters." It may be less that we're stupid, Bartels concludes, than that they we're human and "predictably irrational," at times powerfully impacted by matters unrelated to a candidate's competence or policy positions. Which, of course, is no less inspiring that Shenkman's conclusions.

---October Health has tried-and-true counsel on keeping that belly of yours nice and flat, not to forget how to take care of your butt. But may come in truly handy with a very comprehensive look at breast cancer and its detection. If it's a worry, do check it out.

Finally, I was noticing the Viagra television ad in which the dashing, 60-ish couple is dancing up a storm before heading to an elevator and, presumably, a seven-hour session in the sack thanks to the trusty pill. At the bottom of the screen, it urges, "See our ad in Golf magazine." Does this inadvertently lead us to conclude that there's a higher rate of erectile dysfunction among golfers than, say, aging tennis players, yachtsmen or, say, former high school basketball forwards?