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Archive for April, 2008|Monthly archive page

Defining Elitism

In Connecting the Dots on Wednesday, 30 April 2008 at 11:31

In the wake of Bittergate, the chattering classes are taking another look at America’s elite — and deconstructing what the term “elite” really means. Politicians eschew the label, of course — cue the whiskey shots and Budweiser chasers — though Fred Barnes argues that Barack Obama is the poster boy for elitism in the US. (The Harvard Law School line on his resume is a dead giveaway, man-of-the-people Barnes contends.) Meanwhile, David Rothkopf describes a “global elite” consisting of 6,000 leaders and influential people, while John Renehan recently took up some prime real estate in The Washington Post to implore the sons and daughters of privilege to sign up for the armed services. Even if Little Lord Fauntleroy doesn’t join the army, it may be of some consolation to everyone else that the better schools in the US are increasingly looking to make the tuition burden easier for everyone defined as non-elite.

A Surplus of Sachs

In Connecting the Dots, Uncategorized on Tuesday, 29 April 2008 at 11:57

Along with subsidized farmers, economist Jeffrey Sachs is one of the few people benefiting from the worldwide food crisis. He’s made a host of media stops for his ludicrously timely book, Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, including one on Talk of the Nation yesterday that featured vivid description of Haitian squalor from photographer Tyler Hicks. But between authoring two pieces in Time magazine and appearing on a stinker segment on The Daily Show, his spiel can get repetitive (even if it’s the most important argument ever labeled “spiel”). We recommend Sachs’ interview with Charlie Rose, where the economist gets down to specific solutions like affordable fertilizer for third-world farmers. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for an on-the-ground view of the food crisis, Bruce Wallace penned an excellent report from the Manila slums for the Los Angeles Times.

Dirty Laundry

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 28 April 2008 at 11:52

Money laundering alone may not grab headlines, but it’s playing an increasingly high profile role in all sorts of international criminal activity. A cocaine boom in Europe has fueled an increase in euro laundering — so much so that Jay-Z recently featured euros in a video, rather than greenbacks — while the rise of Macau as Asia’s Las Vegas has made it the go-to destination for money laundering in the Pacific Rim. Disgraced New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught paying for sex thanks to money laundering, and he could end up being charged because of his illegal wire transfers, rather than cavorting with a hooker. In fact, as the definition of laundering expands — and transfers of more than $3,000 must be reported — criminals are looking to new ways of moving large amounts of currency, including new forms of digital money (a favorite of child pornographers, Forbes reports), pre-paid credit cards, and good, old-fashioned cash.

Trapped!

In Connecting the Dots, Uncategorized on Friday, 25 April 2008 at 12:58

It’s finally spring, and here in DC, that means we have a few precious weeks before it becomes infernally hot and humid. It also means we’re trapped inside our offices, wishing we were frolicking outside. But there are worse places to be stuck — take the poor guy who was trapped in a NYC elevator for nearly two days. The security camera footage on YouTube is enough to make you carry around a stack of good reading, some snacks, and a chamber pot, just in case.

Actually, though, elevator-guy didn’t have it so bad, if you compare his tale to Marie Claire‘s story about the formerly subordinated Teressa Wall, whose testimony against Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint church leader Warren Jeffs has led to attacks from the church — and shaky custody of her children. Nor does it really compare to another harrowing story from the same mag, about “long-neck women” in Thailand who are forced to wear coils around their necks, trapped in the role of silent tourist attractions.

Maybe it’s time to head to the beach, so we can heed Adam Sternbergh’s surprisingly fun-to-read advice to un-trap our poor feet from their shoe-prisons — a lifestyle change we’re not likely to make if the ground is anything but sand.

Land of the Not-so-Free

In Connecting the Dots on Thursday, 24 April 2008 at 11:36

You won’t hear any US presidential candidate talking about it, but prison has been in the news lately. Marie Gottschalk, writing in The Washington Post, discussed the two societies now developing in the US as almost 1 in 100 American adults is currently incarcerated. Add to that a recent piece in The New York Times, which reported that one-fourth of the world’s prisoners are locked up in the US; the land of the free leads the planet in both the number of inmates (2.3 million) and the proportion of the population behind bars (751 per 100,000, some six times the world average). Of course, not everyone sees this as a problem: The same week as these numbers came to light, the law-and-order types over at The Weekly Standard reported that crime in prisons is dropping, along with the general crime stats. On the other end of the spectrum is Italy, where many federal cases are dropped because they’re tied up in court for too long, a work furlough program worked so well one jail had more guards than prisoners, and one crimelord was let out of the stony lonesome because he was too fat for the beds.

Did You Just Double-Dip That Durian Chip?

In Connecting the Dots on Wednesday, 23 April 2008 at 12:37

Only a few months late, Gourmet is jumping on the snack review bandwagon. Their rundown of Malaysian bite-sized oddities suggests replacing your Cheetos habit with famously stinky durian-flavored crunchies, but it doesn’t measure up to Patton Oswalt’s doomsaying proclamation for the KFC Famous Bowl. If you do venture into the land of fishy-sweet edibles, be sure to snack safely — read Harold McGee’s report about a Constanza-inspired study on double-dipping. If each subsequent dip transfers about 10,000 bacteria to the bowl, you might be better off sticking to MSG.

What’s the Matter with Being Bitter?

In Connecting the Dots on Tuesday, 22 April 2008 at 12:04

Barack Obama’s recent comments about how Middle Americans are “bitter” and cling to God and guns have given the chattering class plenty to bloviate about in the post-Spitzer, pre-Pennsylvania primary epoch. Obama sounded suspiciously like Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?, a 2004 book that expounded for a few hundred pages on the idea of cultural issues trumping economic disparity in politics. Frank pens a witty editorial for The Wall Street Journal, updating his thesis for the age of Obama and the 2008 election, while Bob Novak keenly suggests in The Washington Post that Obama keep the concept but ditch the rhetoric. Meanwhile, The Economist‘s man in Washington pragmatically suggests that voters will see through the petty controversy and consider the real issues at hand. Stay tuned — we’ll find out tonight.

Eye on the East

In Connecting the Dots on Monday, 21 April 2008 at 13:42

Monthly magazines take a while to assemble an issue, but National Geographic‘s stunning May issue — about China and Tibet — is more than a timely stroke of luck. A peek at the bylines reveals some very well-known writers, including novelist Amy Tan and River Town author Peter Hessler, who contributes two stories. What does this mean? One explanation is that a forward-thinking editor reacted to increased attention to the area a few months ago and tapped these reliable writers; if they’re already working on books about China, they must have material that could be speedily repurposed into an article.

The May issue also includes two reprints that offer brilliant perspectives from decades past: one from pre-Communist China in 1971 and a glimpse at a young Dalai Lama from 1955. But our favorite piece in the issue was Lewis M. Simmons’ must-read about the Tibetan-Chinese duality of life in Tibet. Kudos to National Geographic for putting together a sharp issue, right on the news.

Remembering the War We’re Still Fighting

In Connecting the Dots on Friday, 18 April 2008 at 12:42

The five-year anniversary of the Iraq war just passed — that’s longer than the duration of many marriages in the US — but it’s looking doubtful that Iraq will take the US out for a nice steak dinner any time soon. For one thing, Iraq is not only politically broken, it’s also physically shattered: 20,000 of the country’s 34,000 registered doctors have fled the country since the US invasion, the Wall Street Journal reports. Four thousand US soldiers have died, another grim milestone in a conflict whose “enemy” continues to shift. The Washington Post ‘s Harold Meyerson argues that the Iraq war is the first American war to have had several distinct enemies; first we fought Saddam and the Sunnis, then we fought side-by-side with them against Al Qaeda, now we’re fighting the Shiite forces aided by Iran. Plus, as Newsweek points out, our attempts at cultural diplomacy are in shambles — only three of 19 cultural embeds speak Arabic.

Well, at least it’s Friday.

Hot Writer-on-Writer Action!

In Connecting the Dots on Thursday, 17 April 2008 at 14:04

A.O. Scott’s tribute to film populist Roger Ebert in The New York Times was more than just a sop to cinephiles; it was a rare peek into the (apparently tight-knit) critics’ circle and a nice treatise on the philosophy of appreciation. It also got us thinking about other pieces featuring writers on writers, the king of which is Wyatt Mason’s hyperliterate criticism of John Updike’s review copies of books — all done in Updike’s own hyperliterate style. Whew.

For the tabloid crowd, you’ll remember when New York magazine’s Vanessa Grigoriadis took things personally after Gakwer mocked her on her wedding day. Commentary revives classical music critic Neville Cardus, and Salon‘s tribute to Norman Mailer was the best of the bunch that followed his death, as contemporaries like William F. Buckley and Marlon Brando (and the aforementioned Ebert and Updike) weighed in with fond, uproarious memories of the late rabble-rouser.

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