Posts Tagged ‘adam gopnik’

In this week’s New Yorker

November 21, 2012

Some great stuff:

* Adam Gopnik’s lead editorial, “Military Secrets,” which includes this brilliantly succinct comment: “Benghazi is a tragedy in search of a scandal; the Petraeus affair is a scandal in search of a tragedy”;

* Victor Zapana’s sad, brave “Personal History” story about his mother, who was famously convicted in a notorious/controversial instance of “shaken baby syndrome”;


* Nick Paumgarten (above) totally geeking out, at considerable length, about being a “Deadhead” — since he’s an editor at the best magazine in the world, he gets incredible access to cool stuff, and online he posts a list of his thirteen favorite live recordings available for free streaming or downloading from an amazing website I never knew about, archive.org;

* “Queer Eyes, Full Heart,” Emily Nussbaum’s detailed mash note to Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee, Nip/TuckAmerican Horror Story, and other TV shows (who knew Nussbaum could be so gay-savvy?); and

* Jill Lepore “Tax Time,” which takes one of the most boring subjects on earth and gives it her diligent reporter’s all, ending with this eloquent take-home:

“Taxes are what we pay for civilized society, for modernity, and for prosperity. The wealthy pay more because they have benefited more. Taxes, well laid and well spent, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare. Taxes protect property and the environment; taxes make business possible. Taxes pay for roads and schools and bridges and police and teachers. Taxes pay for doctors and nursing homes and medicine. During an emergency, like an earthquake or a hurricane, taxes pay for rescue workers, shelters, and services. For people whose lives are devastated by other kinds of disaster, like the disaster of poverty, taxes pay, even, for food.

“What’s surprising, given how much money and passion have been spent to defeat a broad-based, progressive income tax over the past century, and how poorly it has been defended, is that it has endured – testimony, perhaps, to American’s abiding sense of fairness. Taxes are a pact. That pact needs renewing.”

 

In this week’s New Yorker

August 11, 2012

By far the most compelling reading in this issue is Atul Gawande’s long fascinating study of how chain restaurants manage to produce tasty food — he uses the Cheesecake Factory as his case study — and the ways in which hospitals would benefit from reproducing such systems. If you’re like me, you probably think you don’t want to know too much about what happens in restaurant kitchens, fearing the worst. But Gawande’s account surprised and impressed me — of course, it makes sense for there to be strong accountability in restaurant management, otherwise they wouldn’t stay in business. And it’s accountability in several directions — to proper health standards; to the customer; to keeping costs affordable and waste to a minimum — that the author sees as key and makes a persuasive case for. As a physician employed by a hospital himself, he acknowledges the resistance that doctors have to systematizing procedures, but he also reports on several cases where hospitals have adopted these systems successfully. His article makes me realize that we, the public, have gotten accustomed to healthcare (the scheduling, the costs, the recommendations) running for the convenience of the doctors, when it should be the other way around.

Another healthcare-related high point in the issue: James Surowiecki’s Financial Page column, “Downsizing Supersize,” a very sensible analysis of Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to limit the size of sodas for sale. Some express outrage and consider this a form of governmental micro-managing, but I have to say I support the idea 100%, and Surowiecki lays out the case superbly.

What else? Having gotten caught up in various Olympics dramas, I found Ben McGrath’s report from London to be entertaining. I have a strange ambivalence about Lena Dunham — I can’t tell if she has real talent, or just a high tolerance for self-exposure — but I read her Personal History essay on “First Love” anyway. I’m intrigued with those writers who are managing to incorporate up-to-the-minute social media in their stories — Justin Taylor’s “After Ellen” is nominally fiction, and narrated by a man, but otherwise it’s in the same category as Dunham’s piece.


Steve Coll’s profile of Imran Khan, former cricket star now running for top office in Pakistan, gives me some hope that that country can avoid falling completely under the sway of Islamist fundamentalists. And Adam Gopnik’s book review/essay, “I, Nephi,” proves that no matter how intelligently you’re willing to discuss Mormonism, there’s no way that the religion doesn’t come off as absolutely crazy-pants.

And now that Mitt Romney has named his running partner, you may want to go back and read Ryan Lizza’s recent profile of Paul Ryan — yes, he’s handsome and well-spoken, but like Romney committed to economic policies that unavoidably benefit the 1% more than the rest of us folks.

In this week’s New Yorker

December 4, 2011


A lot of terrific stuff in this issue, starting with the cover by the great comic-book artist Daniel Clowes, “Black Friday” — notice the amount of shelf space in the “bookstore” available for actual books…. The ever-excellent George Packer contributes a closely reported piece focusing on a representative Occupy Wall Street regular (“All the Angry People”). Calvin Tomkins, one of my all-time heroes as an arts journalist, profiles Carl Andre, a once-prominent visual artist whose work most American art followers haven’t kept up with largely because of the mystery surrounding the death in 1985 of his wife, Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta. Andre was charged with her murder and acquitted, but many people harbor the belief that he was to blame. Tomkins, as usual, provides a clear-eyed 360-degree portrait of this artist.

I learned more about contemporary politics and economics from Nicholas Lemann’s Reporter at Large story on Brazil than I have from any other political reporting I’ve read this year. It is ostensibly a profile of Brazil’s current president, Dilma Rousseff, the incredibly smart protege who was hand-picked as successor by the hugely popular former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula. Rousseff, raised in an affluent family, was radicalized in reaction to the 1964 coup that established Brazil’s military dictatorship. She and her former husband, Lemann writes, “are said to have planned the single most financially successful operation of the militant resistance: the 1969 theft of two and a half million dollars from a safe in the home of the mistress of a former governor of Sao Paolo. In early 1970, the military finally caught up with her. She spent three years in prison, where she was reportedly subjected to extensive torture with paddles, electric cattle prods, and other devices.” And now she’s President!

Lemann’s piece serves more generally as a survey of Brazil’s journey from being a low-functioning democracy with an enormous poverty-level population to a country that become a world economic power while increasing political freedom and income equality. Lemann spends some time with Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the two-term president who succeeded in turning the economy around. “Cardoso has spent his life analyzing Brazilian society. He has an ability, rare in a politician, to pull back emotionally from the field of play. In his memoirs, he says that he first discovered that poverty existed, as a child growing up in an overwhelmingly poor country, by reading John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ But distance isn’t the same as dispassion. Another anecdote has George W. Bush, in one of their talks, asking him, ‘Do you have blacks in Brazil?’ Cardoso was shocked. About half of Brazil’s population is made up of people of African descent.”

I was impressed with this unflinching observation about American politics from Governor Sergio Cabral, who may be a future president of Brazil: “The Republican opposition is different from the opposition here. I think the anger against a black man as President should not be enough to put the country in trouble. They disrespect Obama because of his race. It’s not just bad for Obama — it’s bad for the country. In Brazil, the opposition tried tricks against Lula, but the people made solidarity with Lula. The worker, the black man, the workingman, the woman. The world is changing. Thanks God.” But I was most impressed with Lemann’s fascinating conversation with Lula, a straight-talking man of the people. I wish I could provide a link to the whole article, but it’s worth buying the issue or, if you’re a subscriber, not skipping over it but sitting down with this article for 45 minutes.

Elsewhere in the issue: I don’t get fantasy fiction, but I get the truth of what Adam Gopnik says in his long essay about the genre. “Of all the unexpected things in contemporary literature, this is among the oddest: that kids have an inordinate appetite for very long, very tricky, very strange books about places that don’t exist, fights that never happened, all set against the sort of medieval background that Mark Twain thought he had discredited with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” I also don’t really get hip-hop’s new superstar, Drake, whose chorus of praisers is joined by Sasha Frere-Jones, but he sure is handsome.

In this week’s New Yorker

October 16, 2011

Travelling abroad for two weeks, I finally got used to and even learned to like reading The New Yorker on my iPad. I don’t think it’s just because I was on vacation and had plenty of time to read that I found these last two issues to be really strong anthologies of articles. The most recent issue was chock full of good stuff, starting with Barry Blitt’s wonderful cover illustration of Steve Jobs checking in with the concierge at the ultimate Genius Bar.


And it continues with Nicholson Baker’s lovely tribute to the guy responsible for “being able to carry several kinds of infinity around in your shirt pocket” and the device Baker describes as “this brilliant, slip-sliding rectangle of private joy.”

Adam Gopnik contributes an illuminating salute to The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s book I’ve heard about, never read, and never knew that the great cartoonist Jules Feiffer had anything to do with. Adam Kirsch, writing about H.G. Wells, reveals him to be a bad writer but a prodigious fornicator (a similar conclusion reached by Joan Acocella in her piece the previous week about Georges Simenon). James Wood’s essay on Alan Hollinghurst manages to be admiring and respectful while mercilessly exposing the novelist’s tics and careless repetitions. The publication of a long-lost Eugene O’Neill one-act reminds me of everything I hate about O’Neill — the bloated, unnecessary stage directions and the corny, outlandish attempts at reproducing dialect.

The center of the issue contains three smart, riveting, vastly different fact pieces. Michael Specter reports on how Portugal treats heroin addiction as a medical issue rather than criminal activity. Tad Friend’s story about Andrew Stanton, Pixar’s star screenwriter-director, reveals lots of good moviemaking detail. “He read and reread Lajos Egri’s ‘The Art of Dramatic Writing,’ which taught him to distill movies to one crisp sentence before making them. For Finding Nemo it was ‘Fear denies a good father from being one,’ and for Wall-E  ‘Love conquers all programming.’ ”

Best of all is Evan Osnos’s long, detailed, scary “Letter from Fukushima,” which recounts every step of how workers at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Station dealt with the dangerous destruction to the plant by the tsunami in March. Besides dropping in some fascinating geeky tidbits (nuclear workers willing to jump in and jump out of high-dose conditions are nicknamed dose fodder, glow boys, and gamma sponges), the article traces a few half-forgotten pockets of Japan’s nuclear history. I was only dimly aware of the impact on Japan of US hydrogen bomb testing in the Bikini Atoll. Osnos reports: “The ordeal caused a panic in Japan; a petition against further hydrogen-bomb tests secured the signature of one in every three citizens. it was the start of what became known as Japan’s ‘nuclear allergy.’ In less than a year, Japanese filmmakers had released Godzilla, about a creature mutated by American atomic weapons. ‘Mankind had created the Bomb,’ the film’s producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said of his monster, ‘and now nature was going to take revenge.’ Godzilla’s radioactive breath and low-budget special effects were campy to the reset of the world but not to the Japanese, who watched the film in silence and left in tears.”

The previous week’s issue (cover date October 10) had a similar trio of quirky business articles at its core — Joshua Davis on the inventor of the currency of the future, the bitcoin; Akash Kapur’s “The Shandy,” about a cow broker in India; and Calvin Trillin’s droll coverage of duelling jewellers in Toronto’s cash-for-gold business. I couldn’t care less about Taylor Swift but read every word of Lizzie Widdicombe’s thorough profile of her. (Okay, I was on a bus Florence to Siena.) But if there are only a couple of must-reads in the issue, one is very long (Jane Mayer’s report on villainous Art Pope, one of the major funders of all the worst right-wing Republicans coming down the pike) and one is very short (Patti Smith’s memoir about shoplifting the World Book Encyclopedia and getting caught).

In this week’s New Yorker

June 20, 2011

I had the luxury today of sitting on my veranda for several hours this afternoon reading the entire issue of the New Yorker the day it arrived in the mail.  Unprecedented! A slightly guilty pleasure but a reward to myself after a period of many days hard work without a break.

Some good stuff I might have skipped on a busier weekday: Rebecca Mead’s profile of Alice Walton, the Wal-Mart heiress who’s building an American art museum in Bentonville, Arkansas; Joan Acocella’s profile of American Ballet Theater’s new artistic director, the Russian emigre Alexei Ratmansky, whose work I now feel compelled to check out; and Adam Gopnik’s personal essay about taking drawing lessons, a humbling experience for a seasoned art critic.

And then there’s Alice Munro’s short story, “Gravel,” as deft and light-handed and remarkable as any Munro story (with the ultra-casual introduction of the central character’s lesbianism a typical Munro touch). I would love to know which editor matches up the New Yorker’s fiction with the photographs that illustrate them — it’s almost always a mysterious and perfect selection.

And Margaret Talbot’s commentary in Talk of the Town, in contrast to most of the media whirl, speaks sensibly about l’affaire Anthony Weiner: “If you were Anthony Weiner’s wife, you’d have your own concerns. But if you were his constituent, and thought he was doing a good job representing you, maybe you’d just as soon ignore his Internet amusements. That’s different from saying that what a politician does in private is never our business. It’s more a tacit acceptance that some of the qualities that launch people into public office—self-regard bordering on narcissism, risk-taking—can also launch them into risks of a more personal kind, and that this doesn’t inevitably reflect on their ability to govern. Maybe it’s an acknowledgment that sometimes there are more important things to talk about. “

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