What's new in The New Yorker, the Weekly Standard, and the New Republic.

Summaries of what's in Time, Newsweek, etc.
Feb. 3 2009 5:51 PM

Good Morning, Afghanistan

Newsweek on "Obama's Vietnam."

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Newsweek, Feb. 9
The cover story announces that two weeks into his presidency, Obama already has a Vietnam: Afghanistan. While acknowledging that analogies to Vietnam can be "tiresome," the authors find plenty of parallels—both countries were "semi-failed" states before the United States arrived, and in Afghanistan, like Vietnam, we have no viable exit strategy. "We may now be facing a situation where we can win every battle and still not win the war," they write. In the past, stillborn babies were quickly whisked away and parents grieved in silence. Today, many parents cope with the "vast and sudden sadness" by holding their babies after death and having them photographed, an article says. Volunteer photographers with the group Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep are dispatched to hospitals around the country to photograph stillborn babies or those who are expected to die soon after birth. The pictures allowed one parent to "savor a face that was fading from her memory."

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Weekly Standard, Feb. 9
The cover story sheds no tears over "our tragic national princess" Caroline Kennedy's failed attempt to get appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. The Clintons, angered by Caroline's endorsement of Obama, didn't want her to get the seat. The author wonders if this marks the end of the Kennedy dynasty. "Underlying the Kennedys' sense of entitlement … was the unspoken belief that reparations were due them, that the tragically truncated lives and careers of Jack and of Bobby ought to be paid back to them in preferential treatment to other family members." A story wonders what will happen to the 100 or so Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the majority of whom have strong ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. (A dozen were alleged to have worked as Osama Bin Laden's bodyguards.) An expert claims that the Bush administration, in reducing the prison's population from 750 to 248, got rid of the "easiest cases" a long time ago, leaving behind only dedicated jihadists.

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The New Yorker, Feb. 9
Adam Gopnik eulogizes John Updike, who wrote for The New Yorker for almost 60 years. Updike's 23 novels took on the "full weight of American social history," Gopnik writes, "tracking our experience from the parched Truman era to gray-and-white Eisenhower and beyond to smiling Reagan and shaky Carter and even sexy Ford." Updike, whom he terms one of the first writers to fully express himself since Henry James, tried to describe the "American attempt to fill the gap left by faith with the materials produced by mass culture" and attempted to set down on the page "all the sweetness of our common life." George Packer travels to Florida, home to some of America's "bigg[est] and gaud[iest]" suburbs, now transformed into "ghost subdivisions" by the real estate crash. One professor terms Florida's economy a "modern Ponzi scheme"—there's no income tax, and its growth is entirely dependent on "real estate and sunshine." Much of the inflation in real estate prices can be attributed to speculators who had no intention of ever living in the homes. "[A]nyone buying and selling real estate in Florida in the middle of the decade must have known that the system was essentially a confidence game," Packer writes.

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New York, Feb. 9
The cover story on Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III, the US Airways pilot behind the "miracle on the Hudson," explains how the military-trained pilot may be one of the last of his kind. Today, "great aviators may be being bred out of the system" because of low salaries, poor benefits, and an overreliance on automation. "Some experts worry that today's pilots—with their lack of military experience, their aversion to risk, their reliance on automation—are perhaps less capable of improvising in an emergency." A touching profile describes the "slowly closing world" of 29-year-old Rebecca Alexander, a New Yorker with Usher's syndrome, a genetic condition causing her gradually to go deaf and blind. Alexander, who works as a psychotherapist and also teaches spinning classes, is determined to live her life as normally as possible. "If you were in my shoes, you'd do the same thing," she explains. "If these were the cards you'd drawn, you'd play them." 

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New Republic, Feb. 18
A piece on the Russian government's overseas PR blitz chronicles how the country is attempting to "whitewash its increasing authoritarianism." The country retains high-dollar Western public relations firms and has created a flashy, multilingual satellite channel, Russia Today. Even though these current efforts lack the heavy-handedness of Soviet-era propaganda, it will be hard to portray Russia as a warm and fuzzy bear as long as the country keeps bullying its neighbors and suppressing press freedom and internal dissent. "Russia must sell a rotten apple by pretending it's foie gras," the author writes. Sam Tanenhaus pens conservatism's obituary in the cover story, arguing that the movement has "not only been defeated but discredited." Conservatism today has strayed from the ideals professed by the movement's founder Edmund Burke. Recognizing the movement is dead is the first step in taking conservatism back to its roots. "There remains in our politics a place for an authentic conservatism—a conservatism that seeks not to destroy but to conserve."

Sonia Smith is an associate editor at Texas Monthly.

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