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James Warren

James Warren

Posted: July 12, 2009 03:55 PM

This Week in Magazines: Eric Holder Mulls Investigating Alleged Bush-Era Torture


Let's call it survival of the feeblest.

Just as one shouldn't be shocked if Dick Cheney did order the CIA to hide a secret intelligence project, don't do a double-take if Cheney's generation openly approves of online dating. In fact, an academic paper on the latter may be more interesting than the former allegation, especially if the Cheney flap inspires revelation of just another unimpressive clandestine effort by the CIA.

"Partner Preferences Across the Life Span: Online Dating by Older Adults" is found in Vol. 24, No. 2 of Psychology and Aging. There, University of California-Berkeley psychologist Sheyna Sears-Roberts Alterovitz and Gerald Mendelsohn, assert that stereotypes of older Americans as withdrawn or asexual "fail to recognize that romantic relationships in later life are increasingly common."

I'm not sure if this dramatically advances Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection but, at minimum, it is one of the first academic dissections of Yahoo! Personals. The professors looked at ads supposedly placed by 600 mostly non-Hispanic Caucasian heterosexual men and women from four different age groups. Ultimately, they found that as men age, they seek women increasingly younger than themselves, while providing more data about themselves than women at every age. Men were more likely than women to request physical attractiveness but women are more selective across all age groups.

"We found that evolutionary predictions about partner preferences held true for men throughout the life span," they conclude.

At all ages, men sought physical attractiveness and offered more status-related information than did women. As they aged, men desired women who were increasingly younger than themselves. Whether this indicates that the age of maximum fertility exerts a downward pull on the slope, that men are compromising between their fantasies and their sense of reality, or that this is another example of age segregation, we cannot say. However, the finding that there is no maximum age at which women cease to be desirable is interesting in light of the current cultural emphasis on the connection between youth and beauty. Many women experience a negative transition to later life that is related to concerns about their age (Barrett, 2004); it would be valuable to study how older women's perceptions of their own aging relate to their sense of desirability as a mate."

"For women, predictions from evolutionary theory did not always hold true in later life. As predicted, women at all ages sought status-related information more often than men. However, we found that across the life span, women did not offer physical attractiveness more than men did. Perhaps the online format of personal ads, which encourages the ad writer to include up to five photographs, obviates verbal descriptions."

---In Newsweek's "Independent's Day" cover, Dan Klaidman raises the possibility that Attorney General Eric Holder might not heed what seems to be the White House preference not to look back and investigate allegations of Bush-approved torture of detainees and enemy combatants. One might just be in for a clash between seeming historical necessity and political expedience. He writes:

"Holder, 58, may be on the verge of asserting his independence in a profound way. Four knowledgeable sources tell NEWSWEEK that he is now leaning toward appointing a prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's brutal interrogation practices, something the president has been reluctant to do. While no final decision has been made, an announcement could come in a matter of weeks, say these sources, who decline to be identified discussing a sensitive law-enforcement matter. Such a decision would roil the country, would likely plunge Washington into a new round of partisan warfare, and could even imperil Obama's domestic priorities, including health care and energy reform. Holder knows all this, and he has been wrestling with the question for months. 'I hope that whatever decision I make would not have a negative impact on the president's agenda,' he says. 'But that can't be a part of my decision.'"

---August Architectural Digest may generate some vicarious pleasure to those who cannot afford "Exotic Homes Around the World," with some stunners in Kenya, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Morocco, Hong Kong, Bali, Mexico, Croatia, Panama and Egypt. My personal fave is recounted in the estimable writer Susan Sheehan's "Living Green amid the Blue," an account of the home built in Bali by movie director Rob Cohen and his wife. In case you missed The Fast and the Furious or Dragonheart, they're his handiworks.

He asked his designer for "oversize and comfortable" and he got it on his seven acres, mostly via a main residence with three traditional Minang rumah gadang (big houses), with thatch roofs and multitiered upswept gables. The various guest pavilions on the location are placed around "a continuously flowing and oxygenating lake created by diverting water" from the nearby river. The homes sit about 10 feet above ground on huge stones, apparently making them less vulnerable to earthquakes. Whatever, it's pretty snazzy, with a nice view of an active volcano from their "commodious tented bed in the master bedroom pavilion."

--In July 2-27 Nation, Erick Alterman, discussing "How Bold Is Barack?" notes some of the imprecision in the frequently analogies to Franklin Roosevelt. "FDR did not face an army of lobbyists seeking to thwart his every move. Perhaps more important, he did not have to succeed in today's media environment, in which nut cases like Limbaugh/O'Reilly/Hannity manage to set the terms of debate."

---As the sun will rise in the east, Michelle Obama fronts July-August Ebony's "The It Factor" cover, or 25 women "who make us sit up and take notice." It's mostly usual suspects from a female elite including Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Condoleezza Rice, Oprah, Diana Ross and Beyoncé (interesting that the pioneering African American publication doesn't find "It" in any doctors, lawyers, ministers or social workers). Unrelated, "The Cash Sta$h" focuses on a study indicating that "29 percent of people say that they lied to their partners about finances and approximately 25 percent withheld financial information about personal spending or spending on children."

---In National Review, editor Rich Lowry clearly doesn't buy into the notion of a second stimulus.

Confronted by the inadequacies of the current program, its advocates have a predictable solution -- a new one. Since the worthiest projects were presumably already covered in the first stimulus, a second stimulus would have to fund even more marginal priorities, and it would get into the economy even later. In other words, it would replicate rather than rectify the failures of the first stimulus.

August Kiplinger's Personal Finance offers "Stocks that Pay Rising Dividends," led by politically incorrect tobacco giant Philip Morris International; food distributor Sysco Corp.; health care biggies Abbott Laboratories and Becton, Dickinson; consultant Accenture; and French energy giant Total. Elsewhere, it sizes up potential profits in investing in coffee companies and opts for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), which it tabs "the big winner in the coffee wars" since its share price has doubled in the past year. As for goliath Starbucks, it notes the impact of the recession on the company and says that despite big cost-cutting, it needs a new source of growth.

---August Bon Appétit is loads of culinary fun, first with "Happy Birthday, Julia," a reminder of some of Julia Child's greatest recipes on the event of a movie inspired by her life and commemoration of her birthday in mid-August. But there's also, "A Week of No-Cook Dinners," namely a week's worth of food without a need for a grill or oven. The pretty easy-to-make fare includes summer tomato and bell pepper soup; a meze platter with hummus and shrimp and cucumber salads; Chinese egg noodles with smoked duck and snow peas; and roast chicken and mango salad with yogurt. And if you're not initially motivated, some of the photos of the end results may steer you away from your microwave popcorn or soggy, takeout sushi.

---Slate.com's "Logo on Steroids" touts Microsoft's new video game, Kodu, for those nine years old and up and will help teach a child to think and even, alas, think like a computer programmer in a fun way.

---June 9 Economist does a nice, succinct job contrasting the currently dramatic differences in California and Texas, with the former starting to pay creditors with IOUs and the latter coping far better than most states with the recession. And while noting that "American conservatives have seized on this reversal of fortune," especially when it comes to lower taxes and less business regulation in Texas, "the truth is that both states could learn from each other."

"Texas still lacks California's great universities and lags in terms of culture. California could adopt not just Texas's leaner state, but also its more bipartisan approach to politics and its more welcoming attitude towards Mexico."

---Much was written about Former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's errant oversight of the Vietnam War after his death last week. But July 20 Time is still worth the recollection of Leslie Gelb, who way back when directed the Pentagon Papers study.

And as I now contemplate the departure of a life so central to my own and that of my country as Bob McNamara's, one overriding lesson bombards my mind: nationalist wars, civil wars, tribal and religious wars----they can never be won by Americans. As long as we're there and willing to fight and die, we won't lose. But in the end, we can't win either unless we realize that it must be their war---a war for the South Vietnamese to fight for their freedom and a war for Afghans to fight for theirs. We can help, but it must be theirs.

---August Popular Mechanics treads into territory you wouldn't necessarily associate with it via "The Truth About Forensics," a fine primer on all the reasons to doubt the metaphysical certitude of fingerprinting, fiber analysis and ballistics analysis, among other staples of criminal "evidence." As newspapers like the Chicago Tribune have helped to reveals in recent years, more than 200 people have had convictions overturned as a result of DNA testing, with lousy forensic work initially contributing to wrongful imprisonment in many cases.

Bite marks, blood-splatter patterns, ballistics, and hair, fiber and handwriting analysis sounds compelling in the courtroom but m much of the 'science' behind forensic science rests on surprisingly shaky foundations," as this explains. For example, "Fingerprints are believed to be unique, but the process of matching prints has no statistically valid model.

And as the 40th anniversary of his historic walk on the Moon with Neil Armstrong approaches, long-retired Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin vents about the state of our space program, bashes a "myopic" NASA and argues that we're wasting our time with getting back there and should instead focus on getting to Mars. He argues that a human presence there "will maintain U.S. leadership in human spaceflight, avoid a counterproductive space race with China to be second back to the moon, and lead to a permanent American-led presence on Mars by 2035 at the latest."

---Finally, kudos to Eric Effron, an executive editor at The Week, for noting how the rest of the country need not gloat over California's current fiscal and governmental disarray. That's especially true if you live in New York, where state government confronts an epic, self-inflicted mess amid partisan bickering in the legislature. "It has gotten so ridiculous that at one point Democrats and Republicans staged rival sessions; Democrats even remained seated during the GOP-led Pledge of Allegiance, standing only during their own rendition. The crises in New York and California have distinct homegrown origins, but in both cases, the public interest has been sacrificed to petty, entrenched partisanship." Yup, yup, yup.

It makes Illinois -- remember Rod Blagojevich? -- look vaguely sane and honest.