06/10/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This Week in Magazines : If The Economy is Driving You to Drink...

If the economy is driving you to drink, head to Trader Joe's for the Two Buck Chuck, then check, "Drink Up - The rise of really cheap wine" in May 18 New Yorker.

Dana Goodyear introduces us to Fred Franzia, 65 and twice-divorced, the iconoclastic populist whose company, Bronco, is our fourth-largest winery and who just sold his four-hundredth-millionth bottle of Charles Shaw, the $1.99 offering better known as Two Buck Chuck (or, as Goodyear reveals, "Two Buck Upchuck" to Napa Valley critics of Franzia). His goal seems stratospheric, namely producing 100 million cases a year, but one shouldn't sell the guy short, especially in a world where a once little-known Illinois state senator can.......

"The recession is likely to bring Franzia more customers," Goodyear writes, with what might seem a firm grasp of the obvious, given the link between lousy times and boozing.

"People are drinking more, and cheaper, wine; industry people call it 'trading down,' a sharp reversal after decades of aspirational consumption. From his own vineyards, Franzia has a ready supply to meet the increasing demand. In good times and bad, owning so many acres allows him to experiment with up-and-coming varietals, changing the character of his vines by grafting new shoots onto old root stock."

"'We feed the shortages,' he says. For instance, after the movie Sideway' created a boom in Pinot Noir, he converted thousands of acres of vineyards, through grafting, to Pinot Noir. 'Every year, the vineyards get refreshed,' he told me, explaining that this year he is grafting two thousand acres, or five per cent of his holdings -- not much risk, should his bets prove to be losers. 'The average farmer would shit in his pants. We're just adjusting to the market.' Another time, he said, 'I've got twenty-four million grapevines. My vines alone have a three­hundred­and­sixty­million­dollar value, not counting the land. That's why no one can catch us. Checkmate, we won.'"

If he succeeds, perhaps one should finance nearby laundromats for the garments of average farmers.

---Cable TV host Joe Scarborough tries to dissect the Republican Party's current ills in "They Only Look Dead" in May 18 Time. In sum, "If the GOP is to move toward victory, it must again find the middle of American political life and stop being seen the way liberals were viewed for a generation: as tone-deaf ideologues mixed with self-consumed radicals." But while saying he's not urging a search for the "mushy middle ground," it's still a tad unclear how calling for "a new era of responsibility" and a bit more government oversight of markets gets the party where it needs to be. He's not quite clear on what a new view of government should be.

Elsewhere in the issue, there's an excerpt from Elizabeth Edwards new book, touching upon husband John's affair with a photographer and unavoidably raising all the old questions about the private conduct of public people in our sadly Puritanical land. Eyebrows may be raised by disclosure that, after he announced for president in 2006 and told her a version of the dalliance, she agreed with him that he should not drop out of the race. "It would only raise questions, he said. "He had just gotten in the race; the most pointed questions would come if he dropped out days after he had gotten in the race. And I knew that was right...."

---May 18 Newsweek is worth Alissa Quart's "Listening to Madness," a look at a mini-movement of mentally ill patients who are largely casting aside both diagnoses and medication as they are

"trying to change the treatment and stigma attached to mental illness. Welcome to Mad Pride, a budding grassroots movement, where people who have been defined as mentally ill reframe their conditions and celebrate unusual (some call them 'spectacular') ways of processing information and emotion."

Some experts unexpectedly cringe, finding medication to be incumbent for those with bipolar disease or schizophrenia. And while Quart does note how this small group of activists "have taken their suffering and created from it an all-too-rare thing: a community," one can wonder about going a bit too far in lauding the creation of a community. There are lots of wayward groups, such the desperate and disenfranchised-turned-terrorists who can create communities of no vague potential merit.

---The May 9 National Journal's "Obama"s Ideal Justice" weighs into the always-intriguing parlor game of whom a president will pick for the Supreme Court. Here, Stuart Taylor Jr. gives his suspicion:

"What Obama needs, in short, is an intellectually stellar, not-too-old, Hispanic woman lawyer with empathy for the powerless; views on social issues that are predictably liberal but not so activist as to inflame the Right; views on presidential war powers that are predictably deferential but not so much so as to inflame the Left; broad real-world experience; and, of course, rapport with Obama."

"No such human being exists, I suspect. I also suspect that the president may come to see the opportunity to choose a new justice as a lot less fun than a law professor might imagine."

---June Bon Appetit gives us "15 Dishes in 15 Minutes," or how just a tiny bit of preparation can get you spicy orange chicken stir-fry; shrimp scampi with green onions and orzo; pasta with goat cheese, lemon and asparagus; chicken and watercress salad with almonds and feta; rosemary trout with cherry-tomato sauce; spice-roasted Cornish hens with cucumber-yogurt sauce; and a Portobello burger with peso, provolone, and roasted peppers, among others. This is not for ESPN-loving guys whose idea of preparation is opening the Nacho Doritos and throwing three beers into the freezer. Nor is it necessarily for the growing ranks of jobless with more time on their hands than desired.

---Hey, there's a little bit of Minnesota in Malibu, according to June Architectural Digest's "Midwest Meets Malibu," taking us to actor Richard Dean Anderson's home, where the former "MacGyver" star lives with his 10-year-old daughter in a house partly reflecting how the Minneapolis native always "swooned at the sight of the classic barn structure in central and northern Minnesota." It's a neat-looking, rustic combo of his Midwest nostalgia, the reality of a beach lifestyle and, presumably, "MacGyver" residuals.'s "Manny Being Woman-y" looks at the hormone taken by baseball star Manny Ramirez, now suspended for 50 games in a case apparently so egregious, not even the players union is appealing on his behalf (strong suggestion: Manny's a lying s.o.b). Ramirez says he was taking human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) to treat a "personal health issue." Juliet Lapidos asks as to just what that personal issue might be, if Manny is to be believed, and writes:

"Infertility. The hormone HCG is released naturally in women during pregnancy, when it serves to maintain the appropriate levels of progesterone. It's commonly prescribed to women undergoing IVF treatment to trigger ovulation. If taken by men, HCG stimulates the testicles' leydig cells to synthesize testosterone. Doctors prescribe the drug to boys as a treatment for delayed puberty (no secondary sex characteristics at 14, for example) and undescended testes. But a man of Manny's age -- he's 36 -- would take HCG if he's suffering from oligospermia, or a low sperm count. The hormone is generally administered via intramuscular injection."

---Photography buffs should check May 11 Sports Illustrated's "Slide Show," a primer on how the magazine's photographers worked in the pre-digital age, namely with the slide that accompanied every shot which ran in the magazine. Those slides tended to include scribbled notes, often a description of what was happening in the photo. And in the case of some much-used classic shots, you would see the slide mount "become tagged with so many stickers marking its repeated usage in the magazine that the slide would come to resemble a steamer trunk returned from a journey around the world in an even earlier time." Several pages of great shots and slides, and how the handiwork actually was published, are included here.

---"The Italian Solution" in May 7 Economist suggests that tiny Fiat may be going "merger mad" as it seeks to take over both Chrysler and GM's Opel unit in Europe. Some see Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat boss,

"an empire builder who has come to believe his own publicity. The charge exasperates him. 'It's just nonsense,' he says. "Fiat Group employs 200,000 people, but I'm going to carve out the car business and let the rest of it go its own sweet way. Look, I really hate the personal issue. It's not about me, let's just fix the industry. I'm only a conduit for change. You can't just have Toyota on its own, we need this to guarantee survival. Now it's up to others.'"

---June Money includes "When It Makes Sense Not to Buy," suggesting that, for now, renting may be a new American dream. It concedes that the case it makes is essentially short term and "over the long haul the arguments favor ownership." But it crunches numbers for cities with some of the lower and higher price-to-rent ratios and suggests that it's smart to rent in Seattle, Raleigh, N.C., Bridgeport, Conn., and Milwaukee, while buying is smarter in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

---May 28 New York Review of Books has a rather heated exchange on, ah, ants in the letters section as anthropologist Jeffrey Dickemann of Sonoma State University argues that Tim Flannery's "The Superior Civilization" opus in the February 26 issues reflects someone "so taken with the ants, and especially southern fire ants, that he is tempted to think that humans are becoming a superorganism, which he sometimes sees as a salvation from our destructive current path. But the human species is precisely not a superorganism; its Darwinian success is precisely due to that fact."

Flannery responds that he does note "fundamental differences between ants and humans" but, "Like us, ants have been shaped by Darwinian evolution, and if left unrestrained by predators and disease, they too would doubtless exhaust their resource base." He clearly disagrees with Dickemann that human societies can't be deemed superorganisms.

"The trend of human development over the last ten thousand years has been toward ever larger collaborative units, which entails economic specialization of the individual, enforcement of the rule of aw, and even greater interconnectedness between individuals. All of this is concordant with the superorganism concept."


---And this week's journey to the obscure, or stories recalling my five-year-old's declaration that something "makes my head hurt," comes via "Obscene Modernism and the Trade in Salacious Books" in Vol. 16 of Modernism/modernity via Johns Hopkins Press. There, Rachel Potter, a lecturer in modern literature at the University of East Anglia, delves into what we consider "obscene" and what we consider "pornographic" and what differences, if any, there truly are.

"The word obscene is from the Latin obscenus meaning ill-omened; but over time it has come to mean that which is off-stage. There are always important reasons for sidelining certain areas of representation. Ideas of obscenity depend on labeling and circumscribing particular kinds of language or representation. Nietzsche alters where we locate obscenity, but not the circumscribing logic that informs its assignation. The obscene is a kind of last resort, a limit beyond which a writer will not go; the reasons for the assertion of this limit are always revealing."

"It is partly from the desire to test conventional limits that obscenity plays such a central role in modernist writing. Like Nietzsche, modernist writers use obscene images because they want to reveal, and sometimes revel in, the uncomfortable limits of representation. Alternatively, there is a desire to attack a combination of an unhealthily repressed attitude to the body and hypocritical cultural norms, a theme present in novels from the late nineteenth century on. From Emile Zola's L'oeuvre (The Masterpiece [1886]), through to Ulysses (1922) and Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), it is the sentimental cant of the moral majority that is labeled as obscene, not the explicit references to naked bodies or sexual interaction. These writers attempt to overturn dominant cultural and legal understandings of obscenity. Thus, the rise of literary realism coincided with the rise in legal prosecutions of literary obscenity."

I won't give away the ending.