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

Summaries of what's in Time, Newsweek, etc.
May 5 2009 6:50 PM

Animal Farm

Newsweek on the swine flu scare.

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Newsweek, May 18 An article traces the history of the new strain of swine flu and finds that the cramped quarters of modern pig farms enable the virus to mutate more rapidly than ever. "This virus has been evolving for a long time, no doubt aided in its transformation by the ecology of industrial-scale pig farming in North America." As more of the developing world begins to eat a meat-rich diet, the prevalence of pigs could create a pandemic more deadly than the Spanish influenza of 1918. A reporter follows a Wal-Mart manager around a store in Denver, noting that the aisles can serve as economic indicators. "Wal-Mart managers are often the first people to sense a recession is coming because they'll notice an increase in items discarded near cash registers." Wal-Mart's sales are up now, but some worry that they will tank when the economy rebounds and high-end consumers return to their usual haunts.

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New Republic, May 20 A dispatch from Beirut, Lebanon, casts a wary eye on Hezbollah, speculating about the group's parliamentary fortunes in the June elections. Regardless of whether Hezbollah wins or loses, Tehran's influence is waxing in Lebanon, and it will only grow across the Middle East if Iran goes nuclear. Ordinary Lebanese people "inhabit a world that has been torn into pieces, and is now being handed to a gang of bearded medievalists, backed by the bright promise of an Iranian nuclear bomb." Jeffrey Rosen faults Obama for trying to "split the difference" on torture by allowing prosecution of the lawyers who penned the memos but not the officials who commissioned them. Prosecuting government lawyers is both difficult and dangerous: "When lawyers are threatened with prosecutions for giving politically controversial opinions, witch hunts inevitably result that can deter the sharing of candid legal advice in the first place," Rosen argues.

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Weekly Standard, May 11 An article accuses the Obama administration of mishandling the Taliban's advance in Pakistan. Soft power will not be enough to deal with the problem, the author argues, especially as the Islamists build safe havens inside Pakistan. "[U]nless the president and the secretary of state understand that soft power and accommodation are about as effective at countering Islamism as lollipops are at curing cancer, the march to Buner may become the symbol of the Obama presidency, played out repeatedly, from Baghdad to Basra to Beirut." In an editorial, William Kristol sheds no tears over the departure of Justice David Souter from the Supreme Court and Sen. Arlen Spector from the Republican Party, even though their exits make things difficult for the GOP. "[I]f the fundamental conservative task is to present alternatives to Obama's governance, then this week's news is not all that bad," he writes. With Democrats "unambiguously in charge," conservatives will be able to "clarify an alternative to Obama-ism."

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The New Yorker, May 11 Malcolm Gladwell examines how underdogs have won since David beat Goliath. The weak cannot win by playing by the rules, because the strong make the rules. "When the world has to play on Goliath's terms, Goliath wins." Underdogs—including T.E. Lawrence, who beat the Turks with a scrappy army of Bedouins—win when they put more effort into the fight and do the unexpected. Gladwell cites the example of a basketball team of 12-year-old girls from California who made it to the national championships because they surprised their more skilled opponents by always playing a full-court press.... What do you do if a piece of elephant dung falls off your Chris Ofili painting? You call contemporary art conservationist Christian Scheidemann, and he'll track down another piece to replace it, according to an article on a New York-based conservation studio. The rise of artists using nontraditional materials means conservationists like Scheidemann are kept busy making "fat and felt last as long as bronze or marble."

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New York, May 11 To mark the 30th anniversary of then-6-year-old New Yorker Etan Patz's disappearance, an article recaps the story and sheds new light on possible suspect Jose Antonio Ramos, who is serving a 20-year sentence for molesting another boy. Patz's father sends Ramos a poster with his son's face twice a year with a note: "What did you do to my little boy?" Two jailhouse snitches planted by an assistant district attorney almost extracted a confession from Ramos. Patz's parents are hopeful that a new district attorney will take the case before a grand jury. The cover story on home design takes readers inside the one-bedroom apartment of Jason Wu (the designer of Michelle Obama's inauguration night gown), the Bowery Hotel apartment of ad man Richard Christiansen, and the Drew University dorm room of senior Maximilian Sinsteden. Sinsteden, a budding decorator, decked out his room with Persian rugs and a chandelier to create "a space fit for Thurston Howell III."

Sonia Smith is an associate editor at Texas Monthly.

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