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James Warren

James Warren

Posted: June 21, 2009 07:10 PM

This Week in Magazines: An Homage to Awful State Legislators

Citizens across America, especially New York and Illinois, must read the July Texas Monthly so they can be reassured that their state legislators aren't the biggest idiots. 

For the 19th time, the arguably best regional magazine unveils its annual"The Best and Worst Legislators." This will give instant pause to fans of impeached Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's political soap opera, and observers who somehow think "pay-to-play" is in endemic to Illinois, as well as to those following the utter chaos in the New York legislature, where Jack Bauer may be needed to figure out which nincompoops are in charge of the state senate. 

"The Eight-First Legislature was like "Seinfeld": a show about nothing. It achieved nothing, other than an endless succession of dying bills, forlorn hopes, and bitter recrimination in the closing days," writes the magazine, in a line perhaps of some cheer to libertarians, wary of virtually any government action at all. 

There's the social conservative Republican who tried to cut all funding for the unit that oversees state ethics laws; the Democrat who treats her committee vice chairman "like a leper by not allowing him to occupy the customary seat" next to her;  the Democrat who "seemed to be suffering from parliamentary post-traumatic stress disorder" and killed a bill to honor an Austin policewoman killed in the line of duty because the sponsor was holding up one of his bills; the Democrat who ran an opponent against his own aunt because she stood between him and control of a school board; the state senator who seeks revenge against the Houston Rodeo because it booked alternative Latin music, not the Tejano bands he prefers; and the lady who opposes a shield law for the media because it would give journalists, she said, more rights than the pope.  

There's more, as well as a sidebar on "furniture," namely those lawmakers who are the least consequential. In some ways, one exits this piece with some sympathy for this cadre since, well, at least they did no real harm. 

Elsewhere, the issue commemorates the 40th anniversary of our landing on the moon with "Walking on the Moon," a very Houston-based compendium of interviews with key players, including Christ Kraft, the flight director, Gene Kranz, the chief of the flight control division, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. If you're too young to recall and appreciate this momentous event, this does underscore an astonishing, quickly-executed feat inspired by President Kennedy, as well as informing one as to how much we really did not know as we crossed our fingers and headed to the Moon. 

---Elizabeth Kolbert"s "The Catastrophist" in June 29 New Yorker is a different take on government science, profiling controversial James Hansen, the director of NASA's New York-based Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who's been arguing that global warming is not just real but a dramatically growing hazard we must take more seriously. But one does come away both impressed by him and perhaps understanding his own suspicion that the Obama administration has reason not to fully embrace him or his claims.   

"Hansen argues that politicians willfully misunderstand climate science; it could be argued that Hansen just as willfully misunderstands politics," writes Kolbert, who has reported convincingly in these same pages about the reality of global warming. "In order to stabilize carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere, annual global emissions would have to be cut by something on the order of three-quarters. In order to draw them down, agricultural and forestry practices would have to change dramatically as well. So far, at least, there is no evidence that any nation is willing to take anything approaching the necessary steps. On the contrary, almost all the trend lines point in the opposite direction. Just because the world desperately needs a solution that satisfies both the scientific and the political constraints doesn't mean one necessarily exists." 

This issue also has estimable Connie Bruck's "Angelo's Ashes" (nice headline, guys), a profile of Angelo Mozilo, son of a Bronx butcher who built Countrywide Financial Corp. into a giant and, partly fueled by a bonafide desire to lower barriers to  home ownership, got caught in the predatory lending scandals. When the housing bubble burst, he was in big trouble , and, as she details, the problems were exacerbated by ego, ambition for market share, emails at variance with various relevant public statements and changes in internal stock sales rules at Countrywide which made him very wealthy, and somewhat inappropriately so.  This is a good job. 

---Just in case you inexplicably haven't been thinking of Thomas Jefferson of late, June 29 Newsweek's letter from the editor assures us that

Jefferson keeps coming to mind as the drama in Iran unfolds. The events there seem to be a chapter in the very Jeffersonian story of the death of theocracy, or rule by clerics, and the gradual separation of church and state. In one of the last letters of his life, in 1826, Jefferson said this of the Declaration of Independence: "May it be to the world what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves.

When it comes to separation of church and state, or lack of, Jefferson might have been interested in "Christian Soldiers," the magazine's website look at one distinctly religious trend in the U.S. military. Writes Kathryn Joyce:

The effort is an example of what critics call a growing culture of militarized Christianity in the armed forces. It is influenced in part by changes in outlook among the various branches' 2,900 chaplains, who are sworn to serve all soldiers, regardless of religion, with a respectful, religiously pluralistic approach. However, with an estimated two thirds of all current chaplains affiliated with evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, which often prioritize conversion and evangelizing, and a marked decline in chaplains from Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, this ideal is suffering. Historian Anne C. Loveland attributes the shift to the Vietnam War, when many liberal churches opposed to the war supplied fewer chaplains, creating a vacuum filled by conservative churches. This imbalance was exacerbated by regulation revisions in the 1980s that helped create hundreds of new "endorsing agencies" that brought a flood of evangelical chaplains into the military and by the simple fact that evangelical and Pentecostal churches are the fastest-growing in the U.S.

---Quick, who's the United Nations secretary general? 

  Well, it's South Korea's Ban Ki-moon and, knock on wood, July 6 Nation includes "Ban's Way," Barbara Crossette's helpful update on what this low-profile fellow is up to. In fact, he's doing a lot and, she writes, "feels most comfortable and useful in the role of global noodge and pivotal player among nations and nongovernmental actors." She notes that he's actually been pretty tough and nervy, such as dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian mess, proving to apparently be the first international personage to see the damage in Gaza after recent Israeli attacks. He'll apparently spend a big chunk of the rest of 2009 trying to bring feuding parties in line for a global agreement on carbon emissions. Good luck. 

---July Popular Mechanics is terrific with "25 Bold Ideas," a looking at what hotshot scientists and engineers say are quick fixes or longer-term ideas to deal with some of these challenges: turning trash into power; fix crumbling pipes with sinuous robots; using unused highways (mostly medians) to support elevated roadways to ease road congestion; breeding super rice to feed the world, including flood-tolerant rice already developed by one California genetic engineer; building homes not needing furaces; creating a "Lilliputian robot doctor," or combing diagnostic imaging with very targeted drug delivery while precisely navigating a patient's digestive track.  

---No surprise, July Cosmopolitan offers a "Naughty Q&A," namely answering "every dirty thing you want to know--in 20 words or less,"  including the best position for shower sex and, "Are there any wild  techniques I can pass along to my guy while he's giving me oral?" But  it also profiles young women who are merely showering in the shower in "Why They're Still Virgins." This suggest that it's their abstinence so far is not necessarily tied to religious or moral  reasons, or perhaps being prudes, but may simply be not having met the right fellow. "Yet holding out can put a girl in a weird gray zone,

creating awkwardness when guys (and even other women) learn their status," the magazine claims. This prompts musings from seven women, several of whom claim it's a function of bad luck so far in finding a guy. 

---July Redbook, which is among the many to follow the Cosmo lead toward explicit bedroom counsel, and  thus gets reader evaluations of various sex toys and techniques, does have its more vanilla offerings, including its beauty director checking out the men's aisle with her husband and finding the right cologne, after shave, shampoo, and deodorant. Elsewhere, Jada Pinkett Smith talks about life with husband, Will, in a benign profile-interview clearly tied to her new cable TV show, "HawthoRNe,"  while Gabrielle Anwar (a single mother of three) stars in a modeling spread leaving little doubt why viewers of cable's hot "Burn Notice" are agog over her. 

---July Good Housekeeping revives a parenting stalwart, "Lying to Your Kids," answering questions about when honesty isn't necessarily the best policy. The toughest challenge may be dealing with questions of  truly scary events and figuring out what children really want, or need,  to know about them. For example, if it involves a school shooting, and is not directly tied to a child's life, one expert here claims to seriously consider not saying anything, especially if the child is not yet in kindergarten. 

---July Vogue's "The Spectrum's Ends" proclaims that the fashion pendulum "is swinging from a very discreet extreme to its polar opposite: the downright daring." It presents new handiwork from Luis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Miu Miu, John Galliano, Lavin, Prada, Rodarte, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler, Calvin Klein and Balenciaga to bolster an argument that extravagance is gone but gives way to a "search for a new aesthetic" in which a desire to spend less money but still be distinctly provocative are melding.  Oh, one also finds a full-page ad with Brooke Shields touting "the first and only  FDA approved prescription treatment for inadequate or not enough lashes"  and one full-page ad with Brooke Shields touting sunscreen lotion. Does one put the lotion on the lashes while at the beach? 

--And this week's Journey to the Obscure takes us to the Body Image and "The relation between women's body esteem and friendships with gay men" by Canadian academics Nancy H. Bartlett, Heather M. Patterson, Doug P. VanderLaan and Paul L. Vasey. 

In sum: 

Women who associate with gay men are often portrayed as physically unattractive and lacking in both self-confidence and attention from straight men. However, many women report enhanced self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness as a result of attention from their gay friends. It is well established that body esteem can be negatively impacted by certain peer processes, yet there is a dearth of quantitative research on positive peer influences on women's body esteem. We tested two hypotheses: (a) women with gay male friends have poor body esteem and are rejected by heterosexual men, and (b) more contact with gay men is positively related to body esteem. Participants were 154 heterosexual women, who completed measures of their friendships with gay men, straight men and women, body esteem, relationship involvement and break-ups. Results supported the hypothesis that women's body esteem, specifically feelings of sexual attractiveness, is positively associated with friendships with gay men.

I won't leave you totally hanging. Near the end, the authors tell us: 

It is certainly possible that women who are drawn to the friendship of gay men do not conform to the ''heterosexual ideal'' of beauty, and do not receive positive attention from straight men. However, this does not necessarily mean that such women are unattractive. It would be interesting to know whether gay men perceive female beauty differently than do straight men, perhaps seeing beauty in a woman that straight men may not perceive as particularly beautiful. This would be a fascinating line of inquiry for future research.