The New Yorker's George Packer on the lost "megacity."
Posted Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, at 4:55 PM
The New Yorker, Nov. 13 George Packer canvasses the Nigerian "megacity" Lagos, currently the sixth most populous in the world and moving up the ladder quickly. Most of its residents have come to seek opportunity but hover at the edge of survival, living in slums and working irregular jobs in its massive informal economy: extortion, prostitution, picking garbage, hawking goods at the side of the road. Most other cities with huge slum populations exhibit some planning and have downtown business districts firmly under the rule of law. Not so, Lagos: "The whole city suffers from misuse." Packer is critical of Western intellectuals dazzled by Lagos' legions of small entrepreneurs and its frontier spirit. Lagos is a wretched place to live and, despite new efforts toward planning and law enforcement since the return of democratic elections in 1999, it will probably become worse. He concludes, "The really disturbing thing about Lagos's pickers and vendors is that their lives have essentially nothing to do with ours. They scavenge an existence beyond the margins of macroeconomics."— B.W.
New York, Nov. 13 The war in Iraq is lost, so it's time for the United States to start acting like the "humble superpower" President Bush envisioned during the 2000 campaign, says Kurt Andersen. Bush has tried to counter his father's "Wasp wimp" image with one of swaggering entitlement, Andersen writes. His suggestion for a hubris-free foreign-policy plan: "[T]emper our long-standing sense of righteous superiority with our hardwired pragmatism—to maintain a clear-eyed view of what's practical and sensible, to avoid believing our own bullshit."… Yet another profile of Hillary Clinton weighs her chances at nabbing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. Surprisingly, it's not Chicago phenomenon Barack Obama who might derail the hardworking, collegial junior senator's shot the White House: It's Clinton herself. The piece reports that "the Warrior" could decide to stay put because she actually likes being a senator.— Z.K.
Weekly Standard, Nov. 13 An article warns that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would strengthen the insurgency and increase sectarian violence, plunging the strife-filled country further into catastrophe. The fledging Iraqi military is ill-equipped to pick up the slack left by vacating American forces, the author argues: "The Iraqi military cannot function with out significant American logistical presence. It cannot continue to improve in quality without a significant America training presence which includes a partnership between Iraqi combat units and coalition combat units conducting counterinsurgency operations."… The cover piece cheers Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for 20 years of "judicial excellence." The writer praises Scalia for his "textualist" and "originalist" approach to the Constitution; however, according to one Supreme Court chronicler, Scalia's vigorous stance on issues such as Roe v. Wade, Miranda, the death penalty, and gay rights "generally failed to win converts."—Z.K.
Time and Newsweek, Nov. 13 Time's cover story tackles the tension between religion and science. Several recent books claim that religion is, as prominent atheist Richard Dawkins claims, a "delusion," but members of the religious community deride them as "followers of 'scientism' or 'evolutionism' " who "hope science … can replace religion as a worldview and a touchstone." In an interview with Dawkins and Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian and the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, the two clash over the compatibility of faith and evolution. Collins doesn't think they're mutually exclusive, but Dawkins calls this "a tremendous cop-out."… Newsweek's cover story reports on the schism in the religious right—while some want to focus on contentious issues like gay marriage, others believe that the faithful should concern themselves with "a wider-ranging agenda, one that emphasizes reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised," the article says. One such pastor says, "I can't see Jesus standing with signs at an anti-gay rally."
Odds and ends: A Newsweek article illustrates how " 'potentially the greatest breach of national security' in decades" was discovered after trailer-park residents reported a domestic dispute. When the police arrived, they discovered a methamphetamine lab—and computer devices containing hundreds of pages of classified documents related to nuclear information. The trailer owner's girlfriend had worked briefly at the government's laboratory in Los Alamos, and she claimed that she "intended to destroy the material." It's just another security breach in Los Alamos—and the article blames the series of incidents on "laxness and budget cuts." …Time profiles George W. Bush's press secretary, Tony Snow, who is noteworthy for his ability to stray "past the safety of White House talking points." It seems to be working, though, as Snow's briefings are getting more media coverage than those of his predecessor, even if he is "more pundit than spokesman."—T.B.
Economist, Nov. 4 An editorial opines that "Republicans deserve to get clobbered next week." The midterm elections will serve as a referendum on a "simultaneously incompetent and cavalier" administration. But Bush is only partly to blame; the 109th Congress has "failed in its duty of oversight" on issues from Iraq to corruption to pork-barrel spending. "The party of small government has become the party of the absurd $223m 'bridge to nowhere' in Alaska," the editors lament. … The prospect of a "permanent Republican majority" seems to be waning as the elections approach, according to a special report. Republican incompetence, rather than a lack of party principles, will be their undoing: "Iraq is the prime example of a principled policy, poorly executed."… A piece calls John Kerry "the gift that keeps giving—to the Republicans." His recent comments on Iraq may hurt him more than other Dems, as the number of supporters for a Kerry presidential run in 2008 "just got a lot smaller."— C.B.
New Republic, Nov. 13 A piece examines former Secretary of State James Baker's new role as head of the Iraq Study Group, a secretive commission charged with devising a sustainable strategy for Iraq. Baker spent much of his career shuttling between diplomacy (he negotiated the 1985 Plaza Accord as treasury secretary) and grunt work (he helped manage the 2000 Florida recount). If the commission succeeds, it may represent a triumph of realist foreign policy over neoconservatism. But more importantly, it will secure the legacy of Baker the statesman over Baker the political hack. Meanwhile, his willingness to negotiate with Iran and Syria has raised eyebrows. … A piece discusses the delicate dance of anti-abortion Democrats during election season. Bill Ritter, a candidate for governor of Colorado, is part of a new breed of Catholic Democrats "standing up to both their church and their party by supporting birth control and insisting on a lower abortion rate."— C.B.
New York Times Magazine, Nov. 5
The cover piece examines former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi's role in the lead-up to the Iraq war and its aftermath. Chalabi contends that America could have avoided disaster by handing over control to Iraqis immediately after the invasion. He dismisses allegations that he misled the Bush administration about WMD as an "urban myth." The Iraqi National Congress, he claims, merely provided the defectors who described Saddam's alleged nuclear program: "We did not vouch for any of their information." But a recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report asserts that Chalabi's group "directly influenced" key judgments that led the United States to invade. … A piece traces the Oxford English Dictionary's expansion alongside an even faster-expanding English language. The original 1928 edition charted a large but seemingly limited linguistic territory. The third edition, still decades away from completion, faces a "larger, wilder and more amorphous" language that "no longer seems finite."—C.B.
The Atlantic, November 2006 A sweeping profile of Hillary Rodham Clinton suggests her successful Senate career may inhibit her presidential prospects. The author describes Hillary's rise as "a pattern of ambition, failure, study, and advancement." Since her health-care bill died in 1993, Clinton has played a cautious game, taking "small steps" without much political risk. Despite her name recognition and ability to reach across the aisle, critics see her latest incarnation—no longer the "brashly confident leader of health-care reform"—as unlikely to defeat a popular Republican like John McCain. … A piece examines the emerging genre of dramatic video games. Two programmers spent five years designing Façade, an emotionally charged "interactive drama" that breaks from the dominant action-thriller mold. The game, which features two characters in a marital crisis, may remedy the "real lack of meaning" in video games. But there's just one problem: "Façade is ingenious, but it is not fun."— C.B.
Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.
Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project from Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that covers emerging technologies and their implications for society and policy.
Zuzanna Kobrzynski is Slate's executive assistant.
Blake Wilson is a Slate contributor and former Slate editor.