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The Week in Magazines: Obama the "Self-Entangling Giant" and How to Have Sex During Dinner at a Restaurant

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No matter how much he might disdain the George W. Bush presidency, especially when it comes to misuse of executive branch power, Barack Obama may be a "self-entangling giant" who is going down the same perilous path argues no less an initial Obama sympathizer than journalist-historian Garry Wills in the Oct. 8 New York Review of Books.

Wills, a Northwestern University historian emeritus, argues in "Entangled Giant" that Bush left office unpopular and disgraced, with Obama set on ending illegal acts like torture and indefinite detentions, denial and legal representation to detainees, and nullification of laws by signing statements, among others. But he then contends that, "The momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked or even slowed."

Our entire post-World War 2 history "caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch," replete with a de facto monopoly on nuclear power, a vast worldwide network of military bases, the systems of classification and clearance, the "war on terror" and what Wills calls the "cult of the commander in chief." And while Obama has taken certain steps, like announcing the future closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, there are other actions and statements that give pause: the CIA asserting that it may retain the practice of sending prisoners to foreign nations; the Justice Department decision to abort a trial by invoking "state secrets"; refusing to release photographs of "enhanced interrogation"; the release of gay personnel from the U.S. military at rates equivalent to the Bush years; and what Wills deems Obama's defiance of the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause, mandating states to recognize laws passed by other states, via Obama's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing states to refuse to recognize other states' approval of gay marriages.

Most of his case involves national defense and he concedes, "It should come as no surprise that turning around the huge secret empire built by the National Security State is a hard, perhaps impossible, task." In sum, he argues that Obama will become a prisoner of the national security prison we've built over decades; an empire of military bases and imperial dealings largely unknown to the average citizen.

"He feels he must avoid embarrassing the hordes of agents, military personnel, and diplomatic instruments whose loyalty he must command," writes Wills. "Keeping up morale in this vast, shady enterprise is something impressed on him by all manner of commitments. He becomes the prisoner of his own power. As President Truman could not not use the bomb, a modern president cannot not use the huge powers at his disposal. It has all been given him as the legacy of Bomb Power, the thing that makes him not only Commander in Chief but Leader of the Free World. He is a self-entangling giant."

---Remember the passions elicited by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services' decision last year to remove 437 children from a fundamentalist Mormon compound in Eldorado, Texas? In "With God on Their Side," October's Texas Monthly returns to the scene of some initially alleged crimes after all the charges have been settled and nearly every child is back exactly where they were originally, and wonders whether justice was truly served. Katy Vine does a very fine job taking one through the history of the dispute, the seeming mix of Texas politics and bureaucratic spinelessness, and strongly suggests that the Mormons got off very easy. In particular, there is rather strong testimony from a respected family law expert who briefly worked for the clearly disorganized state on the case overseeing its legal strategy and urged strong action in some individual cases, including terminating parents' rights in some instances as a result of seeming underage marriages and child abuse.

But he was rebuffed, in the process coming to believe that key players simply did not understand the breadth of incriminating evidence, and quit. Even acknowledging that putting some children up for adoption would have been traumatic, the family law expert is left wondering if it was truly better "to return girls to families in which underage marriages had occurred and might occur again? 'They think they're going to wind up happily holding hands in heaven,' he said. 'That doesn't make it something we can tolerate in a decent society.'"

---The Sept. 26 Economist offers a knockout, 14-page report on "Mobile Marvels," or how, "Once the toys of rich yuppies, mobile phones have evolved in a few short years to become tools of economic empowerment for the world's poorest people. These phones compensate for inadequate infrastructure, such as bad roads and slow postal services, allowing information to move more freely, making markets more efficient and unleashing entrepreneurship."

This focuses on three trends: the spread of mobile phones in developing countries and the accompanying rise in home-grown mobile operators that exceed the heretofore Western incumbent firms; the rise of China's two leading telecoms-equipment makers from low-cost, low-quality operators to high-quality and innovative powers; and development of a raft of new phone-based services in the developing world, which go far beyond text messages and phone calls, with new data services including agricultural advice, health care and financial transfers. And whereas government-run phone monopolies do remain in places like Ethiopia, they are being dwarfed in impact and innovation by the real competition one finds in spots like war-ravaged Somalia, a poor nation with no real government where a dozen mobile operators seek market share and explain a far greater "mobile teledensity" (how many phones one finds per 100 people) than Ethiopia. As telling are the many ways in which it's now apparent that the spread of phones promotes economic development, especially money transfers or mobile banking, which derives from the custom in the developing world of using prepaid calling credit as an informal currency far more efficient than physically sending it from one place to another.

"In the grand scheme of telecoms history, mobile phones have made a bigger difference to the lives of more people, more quickly, than any previous technology. They have spread the fastest and proved the easiest and cheapest to develop. It is now clear that the long process of connecting everyone on Earth to a global telecommunications network, which began with the invention of the telegraph in 1791, is on the verge of being completed. Mobile phones will have done more than anything else to advance the democratization of telecoms, and all the advantages that come with it."

---The Oct. 5 issue of Business Week (which may, sadly, be a dead man walking among long-proud weeklies) inspects "Europe's New McCafe Culture," namely McDonald's' attempt to upend Starbucks as Europe's top coffee chain by opening coffee shops in existing franchises. Starbucks has about 1,200 stores in Europe, with McDonald's planning to have 1,300 by the end of 2010 and to try to undercut Starbucks on price. Can it do so, surmount its inherent double-edge sword of a fast-food image and succeed? Well, then, the comments from one Parisian quoted here best not be duplicated continent-wide: "I don't care how good their coffee is. The smell when you walk into a McDonald's is so greasy, it's nauseating."

---The Sept. 28 Sports Illustrated offers a hard-to-ignore headline: "At age 17, Bonnie Richardson won the Texas state track team championship all by herself. Then she did it again." Gary Smith does a typically lovely job profiling Richardson, one of three members of her high school track team and the only one to qualify for the state championship (in her division, namely the 380 high schools with enrollments of fewer than 200). Needless to say, to win the team title with just one person is, ah, difficult. And high rise dweller, please note: she can nail an eight-point buck with one clean shot from a bow and arrow (the head is stuffed and mounted on the family's living room wall).

---Finally, we have "Bad Girl Sex" from October's Cosmopolitan, or what is ever so delicately phrased as "Get Naughty Tonight" in a piece with a list of "12 taboo moves [that] should really drive him loco with lust." This highly empirical analysis includes the general topic ("Try a bit of bondage") and both a "naughty move" and an "even naughtier move." Thus, with bondage, there's either tying your hands together and "let him devour you" in bed or "have him tie your hands with a scarf and hang them on a hook on his door before he tantalizes you with oral."

This also includes beckoning your male friend from a restaurant table by telling him you forgot something in the car, then texting him that you need his help and, when he arrives, going at it hot and heavy in a presumably less-public area of the parking lot. It's unclear whether you're supposed to place your food order before or after the text message.