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This Week in Magazines: Tone Deaf Republicans, Rock Stars, and Subprime Wolves

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These opening words are surely triggered by our current economic mess
and the flailing of a certain industry based in a very somber Midwest
metropolis:

"It's not uncommon for companies, from time to time, to reposition a
product. Occasionally, a company might even change direction,
completely reorienting its focus and line of brands. Such a marked
shift might indicate that the market for a given product has aged,
that the long-term prospects for that segment look unfavorable, or
perhaps that a more profitable market has been identified. Usually,
these attempted transformations are conscious and very deliberate."

Alas, alack, these are not written on the topic of politically
tone-deaf, creatively-hidebound General Motors Corp. by, say, the
wonderful Joseph Nocera of the New York Times. It's irrevocably sober
Charlie Cook on the Republican Party in the Nov. 22 National Journal's
"Missing: Seller's Remorse."

For now, the similarities when it comes to strategy, execution and
hubris are many, though the case for two domestically-based political
parties is stronger than for three domestically-based automakers. It's
unclear whether the GOP will convince itself that the panacea is a
plug-in hybrid of a politician, perhaps one to actually entice
green-leaning youthful consumers, as GM believes will the case with a
plug-in hybrid of a car, the Volt, if the company survives until the
car's arrival in two years.

---Dec. 1 Newsweek's "The Meaning of Michelle" cover by Allison
Samuels is a smart idea and heartfelt but, of necessity, doesn't go
far beyond speculative musings on the impact of a black First Lady,
including spending a wee bit too much on her attire. As intriguing is
Daniel Lyons and Daniel Stone on "President 2.0" and how Barack
Obama's adroit ways with technology could translate into connecting
with citizens during his presidency, with some thorny legal questions
arising when it comes to the privacy of information related to us all
and to Obama himself.

---Meanwhile, Dec. 1 Time is strong on "The Sorry State of American
Health
," especially in its graphic display of our undisciplined ways
when it comes to preventive care, overweight and other unhealthy
tendencies. So how do we spend more on health care than any country
and still live shorter lives than in many other lands and rank 29th in
infant mortality, tied with Poland and Slovakia? Oh, between us,
Michael Kinsley's column bemoans, ah, well, "blog gridlock." Yes,
there's the matter of the quality of information in a mostly
editors-less world, but "it's the quantity that's truly
remarkable---and oppressive."

--- The Nov. 22 Economist's "Economics focus: Health and Wealth" might
be checked out after reading the Time cover since it relays word of
several academic papers suggesting that improved national health
doesn't necessarily improve a country's economy. Increased life
expectancy can lead to a larger population using limited stocks of
land and capital, depressing per capita income in the process.
Elsewhere in the issue there's "Can the can," exploring how viewing
disorder, such as graffiti and garbage, can have a negative
psychological effect. It's not a new insight but researchers in the
Netherlands offer the latest confirmation, after deliberately creating
such settings and, in the process doubling the number of people
inclined to litter and steal.

---"The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time" is December Rolling Stone's
unavoidably alluring, debatable selection of the top of the pops, with
179 experts weighing in, including the magazine's boss, Jann Wenner.
Aretha Franklin is No. 1, Mary J. Blige is No. 100, and a few of the
winners write about why they love other winners (Blige about Franklin,
No. 32 Bono about No. 7 Bob Dylan, and No. 15 Robert Plant about No. 3
Elvis Presley).

The insights are more personal than empirical, more tell than show,
and inadvertently remind why it may be best to leave the music writing
to the music writers. Blige tells us Franklin is "a gift from God" but
not a whole lot about why she's the best ever. Ditto No. 24 Van
Morrison on No. 4 Sam Cooke ("He had an incomparable voice") Bill
Joel's a bit more descriptive with No. 2 Ray Charles ("Ray synthesized
the blues into a language everybody could relate to") but not much
more.

Jackson Brown's better on No. 5 John Lennon, underscoring the
"tremendous intimacy" in his handiwork, avoidance of "the polemic or
sappy." He concedes, "It's not the chops of a heralded singer---no one
goes on about his actual technique. He went right to what he felt,
what he had to say." And Lenny Kravitz is interesting on the
self-discipline of No. 16 Mick Jagger and how he remains so strong at
age 65.

The best is Bono on Dylan, with an opening reminder that, "Almost no
one signs like Elvis Presley anymore. Hundreds try to sing like
Dylan...You have to imagine a world without Tom Waits, Bruce
Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Lucinda Williams or any other
vocalist with a cracked voice, dirt-bowl yelp or bluesy street howl."
Bono finds himself using the following adjectives to describe the
voice: "howling, seducing, raging, indignant, jeering, imploring,
begging hectoring, confessing, keening, wailing, soothing,
conversational, crooning. It is a voice like smoke, from cigar to
incense, where it's full of wonder and worship."

For pop junkies, this is an especially strong package online, with
songs to listen to from each of the 100. And check it out all the way
down, since the bottom is an intriguing as the top, with one string of
No. 93 Annie Lennox, No. 94 Karen Carpenter, No. 95 Patti LaBelle and
No. 96 B.B. King.

---Here's a question to jumpstart a boring dinner party: Why don't we
take perfumes seriously?

"Smelly Masterpieces" is a nifty essay-review in the Times Literary
Supplement by Angus Trumble, curator of paintings and sculpture at the
Yale Center for British Art. He reviews "Perfumes" by Luca Turin and
Tania Sanchez. In sum, he muses, "Given the amount of time and effort
that curators, collectors, dealers, scholars and critics spend on
formulating acute judgments of taste in relations to oil paintings, it
seems odd that so few are prepared to apply some of the same skills in
exploring works of arts (some of them distinguished) which stimulate
another sense altogether: that of smell."

He concedes that an anti-corporate bias may play a part, with our
being dubious about "cynical bean-counters" who tamper with old
formulas and substitute "cheap chemical compounds." Thus, "Just as the
world is awash with terrible art, the fragrance counters are unhappily
cluttered with rubbish." He explains how one might try to
differentiate between good stuff and "something as pitiful as Heiress
by Paris Hilton."

The critic finds the authors a bit over the top in bashing Allure
Homme Sport by Chanel as "like being stuck in an elevator for twelve
hours with a tax accountant." He stands up for Poivre by Caron,
despite a "prickly, clovy, tacky-varnishy, old-upholsteryish,
neglected card-catalogue dryness," since "love has its blind spots"
and he wears it.

And he clearly is big on New York by Parfums de Nicolai. He likens it
to "meeting an old high school teacher who had a decisive influence on
my life: I may have moved on, but everything it taught me is still
there, still precious, and wonderful to revisit." Oh, as for the
smell, he cites an "exquisite balance between resinous orange, powdery
vanilla, and salubrious woods shimmering from moment to moment, always
comfortable but never slack, al ways present but never loud. It is one
of the greatest masculines ever, and probably the one I would save if
the house burned down."

---Back to our economic mess, even if you shudder to check your 401(k):

"Anatomy of a Meltdown" in Dec. 1 New Yorker is John Cassidy's
distinctly balanced profile of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke,
underscoring both his seeming passivity when faced with manifestations
of the subprime mortgage disaster and the reality that he's tried to
be flexible amid confounding complexity.

And, finally, there is this cheery cover from Dec. 1 BusinessWeek:
"The Subprime Wolves are Back."

"As if they haven't done enough damage. Thousands of subprime mortgage
lenders and brokers---many of them the very sorts of firms that help
created the current financial crisis---are going strong. Their new
strategy: taking advantage of a longstanding federal program designed
to encourage homeownership by insuring mortgages for buyers of modest
means."

Those programs involve loans backed by the Federal Housing
Administration, with the claim here that "FHA officials seem oblivious
to what's happening, or incapable of stopping. They're giving mortgage
firms licenses to dole out 100 percent-insured loans despite lender
records blotted by state sanctions, bankruptcy filings, civil
lawsuits, and even criminal convictions."