Posts Tagged ‘Literature’

The tax loophole Fifa imposed on the World Cup’s developing nation host country was what originally attracted me to this piece. As I read more though, the post became less about “the Death Star that is Fifa,” as David Smith of South Africa’s Mail & Gardian put it, and more about how bad of an idea it was for the country’s leaders to take on this tournament.

With South Africans’ dreams of soccer glory dashed by the elimination of their Bafana Bafana from the tournament today, fans may now be hoping that at least the World Cup will deliver on the economic boost its organizers have repeatedly promised them. They are likely to be disappointed again. 

“We want, on behalf of our continent, to stage an event that will send ripples of confidence from the Cape to Cairo—an event that will create social and economic opportunities throughout Africa,” former South African President Thabo Mbeki said in the run up to the tournament. While Mbeki touted the international attention the World Cup would bring to South Africa, the government of his successor Jacob Zuma has made much of the attendant infrastructure improvements. Following a victory by Bafana Bafana in a friendly against Columbia in the newly renovated Soccer City stadium on May 27th, the national spokesman of the ruling ANC party issued a celebratory press release suggesting that the upgrades would “make the country ready to meet the many demands of a growing economy.”

The headline figures in a report from accountancy firm Grant Thornton released on the eve of the tournament seem to support the politicians’ claims. Despite the dampening effect the recession and weak global recovery have had on attendance, their study predicted that World Cup could add as much as half a percentage point to South Africa’s annual gross domestic product. That would be a huge boost for a country where GDP is only expected to grow by some 2.5 to three percent in 2010.

But there is good reason to question those figures…

Click here to read the rest of the post for TNR‘s World Cup blog or to make a comment.

Photo credit: AfricanGoals2010 (via Flickr)

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When Mother Jones posts stories from the magazine to the Top Stories box, they like to have a post on the blogs drawing attention to the piece. This was my write-up of a long-but-interesting story I fact-checked for the November/December issue. Although the process was excruciating, the people it features and the author who wrote it were all pleasures to work with. Someday I’d like to venture up to Eagle–especially since I’ve already met most of the town members by phone! (I’m only slightly exaggerating.)

After the major emitting countries agreed to the hastily made Copenhagen Accord late Friday night, President Barack Obama rushed onto Air Force One and jetted back across the Atlantic. He was presumably eager to get to Washington, DC before the big winter storm that was due to arrive on Saturday. The president made it back just in time. But perhaps the US would have been better served had he hung around Copenhagen a bit longer.

As the UN climate conference wound down overseas, two corners of this country were buried by unusually heavy snowfalls. In addition to the foot and a half of snow that closed public schools, federal buildings, and many offices in the Capital (the DC bureau of Mother Jones excluded), Valdez, Alaska, experienced record snowstorms that dumped over 76.5 inches. The town located six hours from Anchorage along the state’s rugged southern coast managed the blizzard better than DC—amazingly, its 33-year streak without snow-day school cancellations lives on. But as the latest story from Mother Jones contributor Ted Genoways makes clear, the danger in Valdez isn’t passed until after the snow has melted.

Last May, a record-breaking heatwave caused the meltwater-swollen Yukon River to spill its banks. The resulting flood nearly wiped Eagle, Alaska, the oldest town in the interior of the state, off the map. Over the years, Eagle has captured the imaginations of explorers, writers, and romantics—among them, Jack London, John McPhee, and Genoways. In the “Last Breakup,” Genoways travels back to the historic town to tell the story of one heroic couple’s struggle for survival and to render a dramatic illustration of the danger climate change poses to even the most hearty and isolated Americans.

Skeptics are always keen to note that no single weather event can ever be directly linked to climate change. But the compelling body of anecdotal evidence from places like Eagle and Valdez only serves to bolster the rock-solid scientific and economic cases for taking immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the Copenhagen Accord proves a misstep on the path to preventing catastrophic climate change, citizens of Alaska and elsewhere should brace themselves for more extreme weather.

Click here to see the original MoJo post or to make a comment.

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The original title, which my editor changed in the last revision, was “SuperFreakonomics: Constructing Straw Men, Misrepresenting the Science, and How NOT to Sell Books.” It’s a little play on the actual title of the controversial follow up to Freakonomics and much more indicative of how I feel about the chapter-in-question. Oh well, below is the opening to another blog post that should have been an article.

UPDATE: My post has been promoted to the Top Story box–a first for me at Mother Jones! It has also been linked to by Brad DeLong, FireDogLake, and Climate Progress which was the original source of the story.

SuperFreakonomics-Corbin-HiarIt is still nearly a week before the follow-up to Freakonomics—the award-winning pop economics tome by journalist Stephen Dubner and University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt—hits the shelves. Yet already the book is generating controversy. A chapter on climate change—a new subject for the authors—has attracted the ire of Joe Romm, an outspoken expert on the subject. But with the provocative title SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, perhaps that’s what the authors intended.

The chapter on climate is titled “What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo have in common?” [PDF]. The author’s answer to this quixotic question is that both Gore and Mt. Pinatubo present solutions to global warming—but that Mt. Pinatubo’s are better. Dubner and Levitt conclude that Gore-style proposals to cap carbon emissions are ineffective and prohibitively costly. But they see the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo—a volcano in the Philippines that spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, lowering average global temperatures by half a Celsius degree for two years—as an example of the best way to combat climate change. The authors don’t advocate blowing up more volcanoes to avert a climate catastrophe, but rather geoengineering a similar result. The concept of geoengineering—a low cost but high-risk remedy to climate change—is highly controversial. And a closer reading of the chapter prompts a number of questions about the scientific evidence the authors cite to make their case.

Click here to read the rest of The Blue Marble blog post.

Photo credit: Chris Makarsky (via Flickr)

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This is a personal post entwined with a book review inspired by a radio interview. In other words, it was a good excuse to write about the Beastie Boys and score a free collection of essays that I was interested in reading. Next up is packing for the move to DC  into what I hope will be the warm embrace of Mother Jones. Stay tuned…

Like a discerning vinyl collector in a cluttered record shop, Peter Terzian has assembled an impressive and eclectic group of essayists to reflect on “the albums that changed their lives” in his new book “Heavy Rotation“. There is much to recommend in this literary compilation, especially for those whose towering stacks of books and periodicals hover by a similarly unwieldy music library.

The essays, which include James Wood’s reflections on The Who and Daniel Handler on the Eurythmics, are often more about the authors than the albums. But in the best pieces, such as Martha Southgate’s meditation on The Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits, the music is essential to the story.

“Heavy Rotation” is a tribute to that special moment when an album becomes life-altering, or at least a well-timed salve. Many of the authors recount a time of disorientation or a hormonally fraught period of adolescence, when an album resonated in a very personal way. After finishing this breezy book, my first instinct was to browse my neglected stack of CDs. In one bulky, faux-leather binder I found “Ten“, Pearl Jam’s debut, elegised as a record that “was a matter of life or death” in an mournful essay by Joshua Ferris. Neither he nor I have listened to this album since college.

One soundtrack looms especially large in my own record collection: “Hello Nasty” (1998) by the Beastie Boys.

Click here to read the rest of the blog post or add a comment.

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tommy gThis is a fun little post about a movie I have yet to see.  I hope to change that soon.


Over Independence Day weekend Michael Mann, acclaimed director of such films as “Heat”, “The Insider” and “Collateral”, released another beautiful crime drama about an infamous Midwestern bank robber, John Dillinger. Over the course of a 14-month crime spree during the Great Depression, Dillinger came to be viewed by much of the press and public as a modern-day Robin Hood. “Public Enemies“, based on the book of the same name by Bryan Burrough, a Vanity Fair correspondent, is the seventh film to be made about the short-lived bandit turned folk hero. By many accounts, it is also the most elegant. Aided by Johnny Depp’s star power, the film has raked in over $66.5m thus far at the domestic box office.

While the film is not a diatribe against the banking excesses that lead to both the Great Depression and what is now being referred to (perhaps optimistically) as our “Great Recession”, banks and their guardians have not taken its release lightly.

Click here to read the rest of the blog post and make a comment.


Photo credit: Aaron Landry (via Flickr)

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I was tremendously lucky to get this interview and, as you’ll see below, it went very well.  Mr. Lapham’s wonderful assistant Ann Gollin allotted a half-hour of his time but he let the conversation go on for nearly two hours, putting off a call to Dave Eggers in the process.  I had a tremendous amount of material to work with (nearly 6,500 words) and had to edit it down to some 1,400 words for the MIL blog post.  There was a lot of great stuff that I had to leave out, but I was pretty happy with the result.

UPDATE:  The interview was picked up by Bookforum in their “Omnivore” section. 


lhl cropFew people in America today have as much experience in media as Lewis Lapham. From his start as a self-described “copy boy” at the San Francisco Chronicleon a summer break from Yale University, Lapham worked his way to the editor’s easy chair at Harper’s Magazine, a seat he held for nearly three decades. Since becoming editor emeritus in 2006 Lapham has, through his “The World in Time” radio show and  Lapham’s Quarterly magazine, revisited his passion for history, which had originally led him to undertake a doctorate in the subject at the University of Cambridge.

At a lecture on June 2nd at the National Arts Clubin New York, Lapham fused his background in publishing and knowledge of history to deliver a compelling look “at the ever-changing role of the media”. Here he elaborates on the future of news, partisanship in the press and the art of blogging.

More Intelligent Life:  Speaking to the
San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, you said “The media is hand in hand with the government.” That paper currently stands on the verge of bankruptcy.  Would you like to see the government formalise its embrace of the media and offer subsidies to newspapers?

Lewis H. Lapham:  No. We’ve never in this country had a really oppositional press.  We did have at the turn of the 19th century when you had a very strong political division. There the newspapers were operated by political factions—there was the Whig paper, there was the Federalist paper, there was the Republican paper and they were strong in their opinions and very raucous in the insults that they would heap on the opposition. There were still those kinds of papers to some extent after the Civil War, but by the time we get up to the 20th century the big papers tend to be on the side of the status quo—whatever the status quo is—because they’re dependent on advertising. The newspaper comes up in the morning and all the advertising space is already blocked out and you fit the news columns around the advertisements.

MIL:  Do you think the foundation model employed by Harper’s Magazine, Mother Jones and a handful of other niche magazines can work on a larger scale? Can it be expanded into the ailing newspaper industry?

LHL:  I don’t think it can. The political implication is that it will be hard to maintain the notion of a classical democracy. I don’t know where we’ll get our common ground. There are people that only listen to  Rush Limbaugh, there are people that read the Nation. I had a history teacher once at Yale who told me that the important thing about history is not what happened but what people believe happened. 266325431_cf87935801 I talked to Arthur Schlesinger about that once and said that if you try to write history based on what was being reported in the papers at the time, you would be seriously misled. As a newspaper reporter at the [New York] Herald Tribune, I would go to a press conference, the mayor would give a statement and we all knew that the mayor was lying. If he was good at his job he would manage to deflect any questions. You were forced to write what the mayor said yesterday. That was the story. Whether or not what the mayor said was true… wasn’t your problem. [laughter]

MIL:  I think back to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” As someone who’s worked in a newsroom, do you see the implosion of the newspaper industry as a problem?

Click here to read the rest of the interview or make a comment.


Picture credits: canada.2020, melisdramatic(via Flickr)

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I needed to get a picture of the editor and publisher on the blog before I’m out the door.  Check that one off the list.

And, as far as the video goes, she actually does a very good job of puncturing Scarborough’s idealistic, ideological bubble.


Joe Scarborough discusses his book on American Conservatism The Last Best Hope with The Nation‘s Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Click here to watch the debate from Morning Joe.

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Although The Nation is legally registered as a for-profit company, it has lost money for nearly all of the magazine’s 144 year history and has only survived through the unwavering support of what are now some 30,000 Nation Associates. This profile was written for The Associate, the quarterly newsletter that goes out to all those rabid Nationistas.   Click here if you’d like to learn more about the Associates.

As one might expect of someone who donates to a for-profit corporation without the benefits of a tax deduction or voting shares, the Nation Associates are very passionate about the magazine so the content of each newsletter (the full PDF version of which can be downloaded here) is very Nation-centric.  The topic I wrote on, a profile of a Pulitzer Prize-winning contributing editor now living in Nepal, was already formulated when I agreed to write it up.  Although it was time consuming and uncompensated (!), I really, really enjoyed the experience–this is perhaps the first piece I’ve written since my “Green.view” articles where I was almost entirely removed from the frame of the article.  Kai Bird is the focus feature and he’s a fascinating subject.



 “George Orwell once pointed out that political chaos may be both a cause and an effect of the decay of language, adding, ‘A man may take a drink because he feels himself a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks.’ Nowhere is this semantic vicious cycle more apparent than in the American vocabulary of Middle East politics.”

This analysis could easily apply to the Israel lobby’s character assassination of Charles Freeman, the failed nominee for National Intelligence Council Chairman, or the Obama administration’s urge to double down the troop count in the failing war in Afghanistan, yet it first appeared in the opening article of a special issue, Myths of the Middle East, which was published on December 5, 1981. That unsigned editorial, like many written between 1978 and 1987, was authored by Kai Bird. During those nine years, first as associate editor in the New York office and four years later as a Washington editor, Bird played a major role in both the weekly production of The Nation as well as the broader progressive discussion about the focus of American foreign policy.


This was a role for which Kai was uniquely well suited. Bird was born in Eugene, Oregon, but at age four he moved to East Jerusalem in what was then Jordan and, with the exception of two years spent in Washington, DC, lived abroad until he returned to the US for college. The experience of growing up as the son of a Foreign Service officer sparked Bird’s interest in American foreign policy and led him to major in South Asian and Middle Eastern history at Carleton College. Before graduating he managed to get arrested protesting the Vietnam War with a young professor named Paul Wellstone and to do an independent study in India and Bangladesh during the tumultuous months that followed the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. His experience abroad helped him win a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship to return to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. After completing a one year master’s in journalism at Northwestern, Bird married his wife, Susan, who had also recently graduated from Carleton and been awarded a Watson Fellowship. The couple—who now live with their 16-year-old son in Nepal, where Susan is the country director for the World Bank—took their first trip abroad together using her Watson money to travel by land from Europe to Bangladesh for 15 months.


Throughout his time with The Nation, Bird, regardless of what it said on the masthead, was thought of as the “foreign editor,” as senior editor Richard Lingeman referred to him in an interview for this profile. Along with Max Holland, Bird wrote the “Dispatches” column from Washington about American foreign policy and even managed to string together a couple of trips abroad. (more…)

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cc1Rejected titles included “Postcard From the New New York” and “The Good Old Bad Days Are Here Again”

When I moved to New York, one of the first tasks I set out for myself was to find a few good novels to augment the limited knowledge I had of my new metropolis. The first book I picked up happened to be Salman Rushdie’s “Fury”, set in Manhattan a financial bubble or two ago (2000). He describes a city that “boiled with money. Rents and property values had never been higher, and in the garment industry it was widely held that fashion had never been more fashionable.”

I was sheltered in academia when the excesses of that dotcom-inflated era went pop, but by the time I had arrived, life in New York had once again begun to imitate Rushdie’s art. In 2006, the booming real-estate market deluded city leaders into approving a municipal bond-backed boondoggle, the controversial Atlantic Yards stadium/office tower/luxury condos complex. And in 2007, punk couture became more fashionable than actual punk rock: CBGB, the legendary concert venue and birthplace of punk in America, was bought by designer John Varvatos.

James Murphy, a New York native and the frontman for LCD Soundsystem, expressed his dissatisfaction with the city’s debt-driven frenzy on the band’s second album, “Sound of Sliver”. Released in spring 2007, the album concluded with a wallop: the bitterly heartfelt track “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down“. The song expressed Murphy’s sense of alienation from the culture of fast money that had taken over:

And so the boring collect—I mean all disrespect
In the neighbourhood bars I’d once dreamt I would drink
New York, I love you but you’re freaking me out

It wasn’t until the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy that I, like many other New Yorkers, realised that “the boring” people—the overleveraged real-estate developers and fashionistas and the derivatives traders—were poisoning more than just the local bar scene.

Click here to read the rest of the post.

Picture credit: SliceofNYC (via Flickr)

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