Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin now asserts that she reads The Economist, at least to Fox News Channel. Such claims about The Economist are akin to claiming you saw Babe Ruth "call his shot" by pointing to center field at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series, then hitting a home run. Or swearing you read Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" in college.
Well, doggone it, if she does peruse the Oct. 4 issue of the terrific, London-based newsweekly, she'll find a 20-page report on the presidential election. The right-leaning publication, which has experienced impressive growth in the U.S. even as it's jacked up its price well beyond that of its competitors, is characteristically smart and critical, with its formal endorsement (which could swing five to six votes) set for the Nov. 1 issue.
It chides Barack Obama for "the thinnest resume of any nominee in living memory" and derides John McCain for lack of eloquence, volcanic temper, a potential "warmonger" tendency and shaky grasp of economics and finance. But it finds the latter politically brave and willing to upset those within his own ranks. It argues that "for all Mr. Obama's rhetoric about reaching across the partisan divide, he has never stood up to his party to accomplish anything substantial."
Still, don't assume they'll endorse McCain. This bastion of the free market does fret that McCain's tax plan would widen the rich-poor gap and, like Obama, is very short on details on reducing the gargantuan federal deficit via spending cuts. It discerns a foreign policy "schizophrenia" within the McCain ranks between the swaggering neocons and the more careful realists. When it comes to what it concedes is the "scandal" of our health-care system, it seems partial to Obama's almost-universal-coverage plan rather than McCain's cost-centered plan with its problematic ditching of the current tax advantages enjoyed by employer-provided insurance.
As for "America's decidedly mediocre schools," it correctly underscores that Obama has far more beef in his plan, especially regarding the neglected topic of early childhood education, though this section is rife with misunderstandings about the No Child Left Behind law (underperforming schools don't face actual financial sanctions, as this asserts, while lauding McCain for suggesting letting parents choose tutors for their kids is mistaken since the law already allows just that). On crime, it contends that McCain's maverick reputation is misplaced and constitutes thoroughly Republican orthodoxy (long prison sentences, bashing "overreaching" judges, pro-guns, etc.). As Obama proved in the Illinois legislature, with substantial work reforming death-penalty laws, he does step back and look at the entire system, seeing it as screwed up, while also weighing in against broken families in Cosby-like fashion.
Ultimately, this report pokes both candidates for selling themselves as antidotes to our divisive culture wars but personifying those wars during the campaign. Yet it suspects that the mess in our markets will rule on Election Day and "the winner is likely to be the man who shows he best understands and can help the anxious average American." Gosh, golly, maybe these guys endorse the Democrat this time!
Now, if you want some other reading:
--Lucky me! The New Yorker profiles Arianna Huffington ("The Oracle") in its Oct. 13 issue. Lauren Collins crafts a solicitous if not fully satisfying opus on a woman of nerve, energy, eclectic intellect and renowned networking aplomb. If there is a thesis, it surfaces late: "Huffington's decisions in life, contradictory as many of them have been, seem to have in common the conviction that the worst imaginable fact would be to have people not pay attention to her at all." But readers don't get much insight into how she's actually pulled off this impressively successful website and gained a distinctly new status amid the bloody competition of the Internet. Is it merely a mix of colorful journalism and the serendipity of finding a growing core of politically-active folks during a feverish presidential campaign? What about the future and how it might evolve? Finally, one might have made a potentially fascinating comparison, even if one which would have unavoidably come quite close to home, between Huffington and former controversial New Yorker editor Tina Brown, mentioned briefly here as a Huffington friend. They each operate on as many levels as a pricy wedding cake, as friends and foes would acknowledge, and swing for the fences in a world of mostly singles hitters.
--Salmon follows canned tuna and shrimp as the most popular seafood in the U.S., with 600 million pounds consumed annually, including five million of the primo lot, chinook. The October Smithsonian inspects the various theories purporting to explain the rapid disappearance of the Chinook, which, like aspiring presidential candidates, tend to stay at sea for about three years before heading home (to the Sacramento River for the salmon, to Des Moines for the pols). Reporter Abigail Tucker is especially good eviscerating the romantic notion of the salmon's indomitable determination as she details not just its man-made foes but also how natural-resource managers are starting to load huge numbers of juvenile chinook from hatcheries, drive them 200 miles, and dump them into San Pablo Bay, just above San Francisco Bay, to bypass the Sacramento River and related perils. It's one of many compromises to try to save the species even as the nation's craving for salmon grows.
---A minimally-conflicted Newsweek cover essay likens Sarah Palin to Chauncey Gardiner of "Being There" and Marge from "Fargo," along the way wondering if, well, that's an elitist take on her as it reviews historic arguments regarding the "capacity of the common man to serve in government." If you're Palin'd out, Jeneen Interland reports that there may actually be more to know about the sinking of the Titantic 97 years ago, namely that bonafide negligence (the builders knowing it's frailty) was at play, not just incompetence in construction. Meanwhile, Time has historian Niall Ferguson on why this is not the Great Depression redux and, for techies, astute Josh Quittner praising as "the ideal laptop" the new HP EliteBook 2530p, assuming you can swallow the price tag (about $2,500 with its fancy "solid-state" drive.
--Foodies, or lonely guy and gal microwave addicts who secretly clamor to know something about cooking, will find a feast in the November-December issue of Cook's Illustrated, one of the greatest publications in the history of Western civilization. Forget about CNN's "NO BIAS, NO BULL" claim. The real deal is here, where one finds a 30-minute, Chinese-inspired method for cooking a great, crispy roast chicken on a skillet; how to avoid having roasted sweet potatoes turn out mushy; ways to do nifty sautéed string beans without parboiling or shocking them; and the inside skinny on producing bona fide Hungarian goulash without a truckload of vegetables. Finally, its unsurpassed testing of equipment concludes that the best slicing knives are the Forschner Fibrox 12-inch Granton Edge Slicing Knife Model 47645 ($49.95); the Wusthoff Gourmet 12-inch Roast Beef Slicer Hollow Edge Model 4515 ($99.95); and the Messermeister 12-inch Park Plaza Extra Wide Kullenschiff Slicer Model 8096-12 ($49.95).
--The October Domino, which is crack cocaine for yuppie female shoppers, takes an absolutely gratuitous shot at all of us (referred to as "your parents") who did indeed rely on shag rugs once upon a time, especially in the 1970s, as it heralds the return of wall-to-wall carpet (which they could have asserted was used by "your grandparents"). It offers a bunch of reasonably priced alternatives, all of which do just what my immigrant parents desired, namely disguising unappealing floors and muffling sound. It's back to the future. Meanwhile, I loved my white shag rugs!!!
--Historical precision is not a hallmark of public-policy debates, so it's nice to see the brief exchange of letters in the Oct. 9 New York Review of Books involving former Barack Obama foreign policy aide Samantha ("Hillary is a monster") Power and United Nations official David Harland. It involves Power's Aug. 14 essay, in the same publication, on U.S. national security in which she asserted that the U.S.-led military intervention in Kosovo and Bosnia "largely ended ethnic cleansing in both regions." As Harland diplomatically demurs, it's not that simple, and for a period the impact was to accelerate and consolidate ethnic cleansing. Indeed, Slobodan Milosevic responded with greater ethnic cleansing, while the Albanians reacted by cleansing more than 100,000 Serbs. Power concedes she was a bit loose with her language and should have written that those interventions "largely ended the ethnic cleansing that Serb forces had been carrying out in both regions."
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