In a Box and a Hard Place

Summaries of what's in Time, Newsweek, etc.
Aug. 23 2001 3:00 AM

In a Box and a Hard Place

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New York Times Magazine, Aug. 26
The cover story goes inside a jury's deliberations over the fate of an accused murderer. The case offers few hard truths: Two men, who may or may not have been lovers, enter an apartment. One man stabs the other to death, maybe or maybe not in self-defense. The author, the jury's foreman, writes, "In the jury room, you discover that the whole edifice of social order stands, finally, on handicraft." An article profiles Rebecca Gomperts, a Dutch abortion doctor who wants to pilot a ship around the world, stopping at countries that outlaw abortion, to offer women the procedure on board. (Her first trip to Ireland crumbled under bureaucratic snafus.) But there's a fundamental contradiction: Gomperts "wanted to give women the private choice to have an abortion while at the same time directing the world's gaze to the restrictive laws that normally barred them from such choices."— B.C.

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Washington Monthly, September 2001 U.S. News & World Report's college rankings need to measure how much students actually learn, argues a feature co-written by a former data cruncher for U.S. News and an editor at the Monthly (who critiqued the list last year in Slate). The peer reputation category—25 percent of the score—is the only metric aimed at learning itself; most categories look instead at the credentials of the faculty and the incoming students, akin, say the authors, to judging a restaurant by what it spends on food and silverware. A better alternative, which quizzes students on how much time they spend learning, has been dismissed by "top" universities as too subjective and costly. But the piece insists that it's neither and says that with U.S. News on board, all colleges would feel pressure to comply. (For more on the rankings' shockwaves in academia, see the article by James Fallows, U.S. News' former editor, in the current Atlantic Monthly.)— D.N.

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Time, Aug. 27
The cover story says home-schooling isn't just for religious fanatics anymore. Almost a million kids learn at home, more than twice as many as in 1994, and they score higher on standardized tests than public-schooled kids. But the piece suggests that home-schooling could ruin education. School districts lose money and the most devoted parents, while students miss out on the social aspects of school. An article claims that after eight months underground, Al Gore has returned to the public eye with designs on 2004. But Democrats are terrified of a Bush-Gore rematch; while the bigwigs like Gore personally, they hate the way he campaigns. A piece charts the re-emergence of Reebok. Nike still has triple the market share, but Reebok recently beat out the Swoosh for NFL and NBA contracts. If Michael Jordan comes back, he'll wear Nike sneakers and a big Reebok logo on his back.— J.D.

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Newsweek, Aug. 27 The cover story explains why Americans are choking on debt: We owe $7.3 trillion, twice as much as we owed going into the last recession. Credit cards are too easy to come by, and skyrocketing real estate prices during the boom fed a wave of mortgage refinancing. A piece profiles the growing slavery reparations movement. In the wake of settlements for World War II-era Japanese-Americans, Holocaust survivors, and Aborigines in Australia and New Zealand, a 10-year-old bill that would initiate a federal study of slavery may finally be debated in Congress. And high-profile activists (Johnnie Cochran and Randall Robinson) plan to file a reparations lawsuit next year. The biggest problem: How do they calculate a dollar figure?— J.D.

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Technology Review, September 2001 A story warns that "feature creep" in surveillance technology will make some police state fantasies come true. As hidden-cameras systems grow more ubiquitous and identification technologies become more sophisticated, everybody's privacy space will contract. Scary harbinger: To reduce voter registration fraud, Uganda has hired a tech firm to create a searchable face-print database of the country's registered voters. This 1984 ish technology will also make it easy for the state to track down political foes and dissenters. The Web isn't so decentralized that it defies control, says a feature. Even if Napsterlike Web sites take their business offshore, where intellectual property rights can be flouted, the site's assets can be seized whenever it does business in the rest of the world; despotic countries can force local ISPs to block subversive content from overseas; and hackers will be foiled by emerging cryptographic hardware.— J.S.

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Atlantic Monthly, September 2001
A chilling article on how the Clinton administration did nothing to stop genocide in Rwanda. The author relies on newly declassified documents and scores of interviews to show how an administration immediately aware of the brutality, if not scope of the killings, chose to evacuate Americans and leave the scene. Modest but potentially crucial measures (e.g., jamming radio signals) were avoided for fear of setting a precedent of intervention. With Americans out of harm's way, Clinton officials were so intent on staying out of the conflict that they consciously avoided "the g-word" (genocide), afraid it could obligate them to act. An article urges top colleges to abandon early decision programs, saying they work against the majority of students.—D.N.

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New Republic, Aug. 20 and 27 An article suggests the Bush tax cut may backfire sooner than expected. Senate Democrats plan to use their control over the calendar to hold up popular programs until the coffers have been emptied, forcing Bush to explain why there's no money left.... An article seethes at Robert Johnson. The CEO of Black Entertainment Television rescued Bush's tax cut with his delusional claim that the estate tax was racist. Trotted out by the White House to advise on Social Security, he's again in a position to play the race card against the poor.... The editors say Ariel Sharon deserves the moral high ground for his response to last week's suicide bombings. As the world waited for a violent retaliation, Israeli vengeance targeted buildings rather than people.— D.N.

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

Jeremy Derfner is a former Slate editorial assistant.

David Newman is a contributing editor at Legal Affairs.

Bryan Curtis is a staff writer for Grantland. Follow him on Twitter.