THE BLOG

This Week in Magazines: Rahm Emanuel's Likability, the Truth about Yoga, Torture in America, Runners' Diets, and Affleck's Paparazzi Strategy

04/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

National Journal heralds a David (President Obama) vs. Goliath (D.C. lobbyists) mismatch...
Esquire tell us whether Rahm Emanuel is a tough S.O.B. or a "douchebag"...
The truth about whether yoga can help you stay in shape....
Why conventional diets don't work for serious runners...
Are 25,000 U.S. inmates in supermax isolation victims of torture?...
How Ben Affleck tries to fend off paparazzi.

President Obama and aides believe, in their heart of hearts, they must change the ways of Washington. Their Sisyphean struggle is made clear in the National Journal's special report on lobbying, "The L Word."

The "Obama Versus K Street" cover story details what would seem intuitive, namely that the historic spending on an economic stimulus plan and in trying to keep afloat reeling financial institutions is a gold mine for lobbyists. By sharply expanding the involvement in government in our lives, Obama is naturally, if unintentionally, spurring frenetic activity, and rising income, to influence peddlers.

It's a topic very much given to a caricature of saints and sinners (mostly sinners) and, taken together, the stories here give a sophisticated take on this world. And even if there clearly is a need for lobbyists as a species (in part to help educate our politicians and their aides), there's no doubt that many trade on a perception of influence and access which they sell cynically to unknowing clients, often exaggerating the impact of their labor to the clients.

Have no doubt that whether the subject is education, transportation or energy, among other topics, hundreds of lobbyists are claiming erroneously to clients that were it not for the lobbyists, certain provisions helping the clients in, say, the stimulus package would not have made it into the giant legislation.

One can almost hear the phone conversations in which the lobbyists talk with feigned excitement about how they personally convinced a certain staffer-buddy-former colleague on Capitol Hill to stick in a paragraph or two to specifically boost the client's cause (maybe coffers, too). Then, they may wait a week before trying to cajole the client into raising their woefully modest monthly retainer of $15,000 or so, in part to reflect their purported achievements. Poor babies.

But one also has to chide clients, whether big private corporations or idealistic nonprofits, for not doing the due diligence which might leave them to conclude they're essentially being conned by ever-smiling, accommodating, often six-figure D.C. contractors who are dining out these days on the filthy lucre coming their way.

One of the companion pieces in the package is an interview with longtime Washington Post reporter and editor Robert Kaiser, author of a book on the lobbying world, "So much Damn Money." It includes this response:

Kaiser: I knew all the superficial clichés about lobbying. I knew that it was a big business; I knew that people were making big money at it, but I didn't know how it worked. The fun of this was to find out how it works. When you really learn something like this, you learn the secrets of the temple. You learn how much of it is phony -- how many dollars are wasted by big corporations hiring lobbyists who claim to accomplish things that do get accomplished but the lobbyists didn't have a hell of a lot to do with. That is a common maneuver here. A lot of lobbying is bluster. Like all good salesmanship, you know, it's based on patter and charm.

And then the other side that I did not understand as well as I do now is the interdependency that has grown up between the Hill and downtown. I don't think many citizens understand the degree to which these two worlds do depend.

The special report also brings a close look at former registered lobbyists now working in important administration posts. "Locking the Turnstile," by Julie Kosterlitz, offers decidedly mixed early marks for Obama in keeping lobbyists in check. The magazines researched 267 individuals in senior Obama administration positions and found that 30 of them, or 11%, were registered lobbyists at some time in the last five years.

Those include Attorney General Eric Holder and Ron Klain, Vice President Biden's chief of staff. At the same time, this notes that Obama is "attempting to make good on his promise to keep lobbyists out of government employ in another way," via an executive order requiring lobbyists who want to work for him to agree not to take jobs at agencies they lobbied the past two years and stay away from issues on which they lobbied.

It's a start but it may do little to alter a very deep and growing culture of influence peddlers.

***

The April Esquire has a fun musing, partly on our political culture, in "Who's a Tough Guy Now?" It seeks to make this distinction: "The tough son of a bitch, rough but right, is distinct from both the piggishly callous douchebag and the offhandedly cruel asshole." It asks you to think at all times of actor Alec Baldwin; as the tough son of a bitch on "30 Rock," as an asshole on that real-life phone call with his daughter, and as the callous jerk in "Glengarry Glen Ross."

But it also asks you to think of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich as a douchebag and then of both presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a supposed paradigm of the tough S.O.B. (who replaced Blago as a congressman), and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. In the magazine's mind, "the country" (as opposed to 106,000 voters in the 5th Congressional District of Illinois) high-mindedly sent Emanuel (himself a victim of classic Washington caricature, one which misses a distinctly soft and generous side) to take over for Blago in Congress and Fitzgerald to later "hunt him down."

Thus, "Whenever the country produces a douchebag of epic proportions, it sends out a tough son of a bitch right after." Whatever.

Elsewhere in the issue, Tom Chiarella gets the making-lemonade-out-of-lemons award for "A Smart, Talented Man Trapped in Lindsay Lohan's Life," namely an engaging profile of Ben Affleck. He makes Affleck out to be a very smart, shrewd and intriguing fellow, despite the writer having precious little to work on, beyond a very press-wary actor's picking him up at Chiarella's hotel and driving him to a Mexican restaurant, ultimately divulging basically zilch about his personal life with wife Jennifer Garner and their kids. The most he discloses, really, comes in a somewhat droll, post-interview email, about the contents of his car:

"The car has two car seats in the back. On the floor is a lightweight screen which, when raised, blocks a view of the rear seats. Photographers and video paparazzi will cut me and my wife off in traffic trying to looking through the front window (the only one without a tint) to see if the kids are in back. The idea is, if they have no hope of seeing anything, they won't drive recklessly trying to look in."

Finally, one finds "50 Songs Every Man Should be Listening To." To be honest, I didn't know most but take pleasure in having seen No. 3 on the list, Dan Auerbach, in concert of late, thus barely maintaining my flimsy hold on pop culture.

The March 30 New Yorker includes "Hellhole," Atul Gawande's exploration of the distinctions without a difference we may make in discussing torture, in particular focusing on the 25,000 U.S. inmates in isolation at so-called supermax prisons. And Beijing correspondent Evan Osnos "Wastepaper Queen" is a vivid reminder that the well-oiled Chinese manufacturing machine is not quite so well-oiled, profiling China's biggest manufacturer of paper and her significant problems amid a "struggle for solvency" as foreign demand declines. A rather fascinating, Horatio Alger-like figure (who's been accused of overseeing sweatshops), she succinctly characterizes the world economic storm in which China is not immune:

"This time is really different. Large and small are all affected. In the past, the big waves would only wash away the sand and leave the rocks. Now the waves are so big, even some rocks are being washed away."

***

---Well, it might cost you several hundred bucks, and running out to your nearest airport, but the March Hemisphere, United Airline's in-flight magazine, does a nice job on "Save the Last Dance," on a resurgence in the Brazilian samba, and on why hotshot, young American golfers, like Anthony Kim, are increasingly splitting their time on the European tour. In part, it's because the European tournaments pay appearance fees, which are banned on the U.S. tour, so top players will make money for just showing up and, also, avoid having to compete against Tiger Woods.

***

April's Women's Health includes "Divine Bliss vs. Hot Body," a look at how yoga seems to have morphed from being a vehicle to reach inner peace to a mode of sculpting a neat body. What's the real deal?

Well, it may be more than "wimpy stretching," as some physical trainers suggest, but the conclusion here is that it's is a bona fide form of exercise. But even one big advocate concedes that it's got one significant shortcoming," namely it's just not intense enough to raise one's metabolic rate. So it won't burn calories in the same way more intense aerobic exercises will. So, fine, do yoga but perhaps also throw in a spin class and brisk walks, too.

***

Weight-obsessed athletes, or weekend warriors, should definitely check "The Runner's Guide to Weight Loss" in April Runner's World. Traditional diets just may not work for a runner so this is a must for realizing realities such as the utility of unsaturated fats for a runner (they are said to reduce hunger, lower so-called "bad cholesterol", reduce injuries such as stress fractures, and decrease joint pain. This takes a variety of assumptions about diets -- developing a distinct routine and sticking to it, cutting out carbs to lose weight, and dropping 500 calories a day to lose a pound a week -- and shows how they are just too simplistic for a runner.

The issue also includes "Forgive and Forget," a dandy Ben Paynter profile of Bob Timmons, one of the most influential and fabled track coaches ever (his most famous protégé was Jim Ryun, the high school legend and later Republican congressman). The longtime University of Kansas track coach, he was famous for being brutal in his demands of runners (he once had high schoolers he coached run barefoot in the snow). But while he achieved tons of championships and records, there are many tales of burnout and subsequent bitterness. This is a nifty exploration of the ambiguity of his career and methods, and Timmons' modest ability to come to terms with same. In the hands of the right person, this could have the makings of a great play.

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My fave obscure effort of the week is "Compelling Intimacies: Domesticity, Sexuality, and Agency" in Home Cultures (Volume 5, Issue 3) by Aaron Goodfellow and Sameena Mulla, anthropologists at Johns Hopkins University and Marquette University, respectively. Goodfellow has done lots of work on gay men who have formed families and raised children, while Mulla has spent lots of time in Baltimore researching sexual assault.

As their introduction lays out:

"This highlights what we call 'Compelling Intimacies'--the multiple desires, affects, and affinities that arise at the intersection of institutions, actors, technologies, and ethical discourses to exert persuasive pressures on subjects. Each article animates different facets of the intensities born of intimacy as they operate across social and relational fields. The authors separate agency from intention in their efforts to identify the vitality of human and non-human relations. Together, the articles demonstrate how domesticities arise through diverse sets of circumstances, emerging in multiple incarnations--often in the same household--in such a way as to generate a wide range of affects and affinities. Finally, each author turns attention to the so-called 'small events' that come to affirm or deny life as given form in everyday household arrangements, kin relations, friendships, and institutional settings, thereby suggesting the political stakes evoked by differing forms of care."