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James Warren

James Warren

Posted: November 9, 2008 08:16 PM

This Week in Magazines: Obama-Mania


Not all's lost for the Republicans: John McCain apparently took the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria.

Or so says the Global Electoral College, an online poll by the London-based Economist, the newsweekly whose U.S. edition's growth seems to run counter to American media's tactical penchant for shorter and more "utilitarian." Alas, it exhibits no signs of turning to "charticles," celebrity coverage, or holograms showcasing its reporters. How quaint; seeking profits without pandering.

Given the negative American image in many parts, it's no great surprise that Barack Obama won most of the 53,000 votes cast, with landslides in 56 of the 136 countries casting votes. But McCain did win the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Algeria, as well as Iraq and Cuba. He also had decent support in Andorra and Namibia. Minnesotans awaiting the Al Franken-Norm Coleman final tally, be informed that the Economist recorded absolute ties in Macedonia and Myanmar. As you await your outcome, realize that things could be worse.

Meanwhile, Obama partisans might find a cautionary note in the Economist's lengthy special report on Spain. The fiesta inspired by the Socialist Party's general election win in March is clearly over amid an economic mess. Things began to hit the fan in August. "Spaniards went on holiday in party mood and came back to find there was no champagne left, nor even any decent wine," says one former International Monetary Fund official who runs a university near Madrid.

---There appear to have been 2,346,862 words written last week about Obama and the role of race in his life and his victory, including a fair bit of fact-free, self-indulgent opining on "post-racial" politics. Nov. 17 New Yorker includes one of the more-nuanced, and actually reported, efforts, by multitasker par excellence David Remnick, the magazine's editor. He looks closely at how Obama both celebrated it and pushed race aside at the same time; and how certain black politicians were embraced and others kept at a distance. Interestingly, there is a comparison to how Chicago political consultant Don Rose played candidate Jane Byrne's gender (or didn't play it) during her historic 1979 campaign for mayor of Chicago (a campaign covered, though not noted here, by young Chicago Tribune reporter David Axelrod, now Obama's chief strategist). There are some usual-suspect voices here, but one of the most intriguing is that of historian David Levering Lewis, who finds in Obama's books "a young man almost alone in the world, trying to find a place." It's hard not to consider that comment and recall Obama's at-times decidedly serious air during the Grant Park celebration last week. Amid the celebration, there was a man who sensed the moment and the huge challenges ahead as he tries to find his place.

---So Karl Rove, President Bush's David Axelrod, can find some solace in November Harper's, despite editor Roger Hodge's somewhat screechy essay on the Republicans possibly stealing the election (obviously written before), with McCain "not only a liar but a menace to our children's future." Rove exacts an apology for a sloppy error in an August essay by Thomas Frank in which Rove was quoted as saying, "We can now go to students at Harvard and say, 'There is now a secure retirement plan for Republican operatives.' " It's actually a Grover Norquist comment and was misidentified in the Washington Monthly, then apparently regurgitated by Frank. "For the record, I have never worried about the retirement needs of Harvard graduates," Rove writes. As senior reporters and copy editors get bounced everywhere, it's a reminder that checking original sources is a dying practice.

But Harper's is worth a bunch of short analyses in "How to Save Capitalism," including ones from Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, New American Foundation's Roger Lynn, and economist James K. Galbraith. Stiglitz is very good on the duplicities of rating agencies that are obviously paid by the firms whose products they evaluate. Lynn suggests that altering the practice of stock options could tighten focus on next-generation products, not generating short-term cash. And perhaps the most intriguing concept floated is for a financial equivalent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, perhaps a Financial Product Safety Commission, with a civil-service-protected staff, and, among other goals, forcing companies to reveal the true cost of credit. The idea comes from Harvard Law School's Elizabeth Warren, and Amelia Tyagi, co-founder of the Business Talent Group.

---Democratic media consultant Bill Carrick and Republican communications strategist Todd Harris can jack up their hourly rates after winning the National Journal's pre-election "insiders poll." Both hit the electoral tally on the head, while Carrick went against his party's consensus and did figure Obama would win Indiana. Harris bucked his fellow GOP insiders by going for Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue in the North Carolina gubernatorial race. And they were both right, and thus in a minority of the smarty pants participants, that the California gay marriage ban initiative would pass.

---If Carrick and Harris are looking to celebrate, November Coastal Living includes staff writers' fave five locals. They are McWay Falls in Big Sur, Calif.; the fishing pier in Naples, Fla.; the 90-minute catamaran cruise from Beaufort, N.C., to Cape Lookout National Seashore; a four-seat seaplane over Tongass National Forest and down into Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska; and perhaps "the Caribbean's most eccentric dining experience" at Bogles Round House in Carriacou, West Indies. It's said to resemble a displaced igloo, stocked with recycled and found materials, including a whale jawbone.

--- Nov. 30 Sports Illustrated writes a letter to Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, bemoaning how the Phillies-Rays matchup was the least-watched ever and suggesting that he move up the start times so kids can watch; insist that news stadiums are built with retractable roofs to avoid October cold (next year's series could actually end on Nov. 4); and cut out most of the off-days during the playoffs. As for neutral venues, a la the sun-filled Super Bowl, it's unequivocal: "screw neutral sites. Could you imagine if the Cubs get to the World Series and it's not in Chicago?"

Hey, it may be distinctly moot since, after their post-season collapse last month, it's now even harder to imagine the Cubs in the series. And, to further frustrate their fans, an unequivocally diehard White Sox fan will take the presidential oath on Jan. 20.