Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mag spotlight: Harper's Magazine

We're noting the current edition of Harper's Magazine in this entry (and remember, they have an event in D.C. this moring -- even if you can't go, you should be aware of it).

Nothing from the issue (August 2005) is available online (yet?) and the cover of the new issue doesn't yet show up when you click "current issue." Trisha e-mailed to complain about a magazine report elsewhere and asked that we do another one here. I'm currently reading three magazines (of which Harper's is one) but to get this entry up this morning, we'll just focus on Harper's. Three things stand out (my opinion). (And note, I'm only half-way through the issue. There may very well be more and there may be things that would stand out to you that didn't to me.)

Lewis H. Lapham's "Moving On" is worth reading (as Lapham always is) and he's addressing reality vs. "reality" and the state of our country (as he usually does). Here's an excerpt on the press' response to Mark Felt:

The television anchorpeople knew that the Watergate story once had been important, but they were hard-pressed to remember why. The cable news channels rounded up opinions from Nixon's prominent and still surviving associates, among them Henry Kissenger ("I don't think it's heroic to act as a spy on your president when you're in high office") and Charles W. Colson, who wanted "kids to look up to heroes" and thought it shameful that Nixon (that wise prophet and noble statesman) had been airlifted out of Washington in a cloud of undeserved disgrace. The bland hypocrisies met with no attempt to place them in either a past or present context; without objection they were allowed to float in the vacuum of virtual reality with the cartoon captions that bubble out of the mouths of late-night Hollywood celebrities. Nobody to cared to make the point that Kissenger in his capacity as Nixon's national security adviser routinely tapped Nixon's phone, or that Colson, as a White House special counsel, once proposed bombing the Brookings Institution and served seven months in prison for his work as a moonlighting thug.

Also worth noting is Bill McKibben's essay entitled "The Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong." Here's the opening:

Only 40 percent of Americans can name more than four of the Ten Commandments, and a scant half can cite any of the four authors of the Gospels. Twelve percent believe Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. This failure to recall the specifics of our Christian heritage may be further evidence of our nation's educational decline, but it probably doesn't matter all that much in spiritual or political terms. Here is a statistic that does matter: Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teachs that "God helps those who help themselves." That is, three out of four Americans believe that this uber-American idea, a notion at the core of our current individualist politics and culture, which was in fact uttered by Ben Franklin, actually appears in Holy Scripture. The thing is, not only is Franklin's wisdom not biblical; it's counter-biblical. Few ideas could be further from the gospel message, with its radical summons to love of neighbor. On this essential matter, most Americans -- most American Christians -- are simply wrong, as if 75 percent of American scientists believed that Newton proved gravity causes apples to fly up.
Asking Christians what Christ taught isn't a trick. When we say we are a Christian nation -- and overwhelmingly, we do -- it means something. People who go to church absorb lessons there and make real decisions based on those lessons, increasingly, these lessons inform their politics. (One poll found that 11 percent of U.S. churchgoers were urged by their clergy to vote in a particular way in the 2004 election, up from 6 percent in 2000.) When George Bush says that Jesus Christ is his favorite philosopher he may or may not be sincere, but he is reflecting the sincere beliefs of the vast majority of Americans.
And therein is the paradox. America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. That paradox -- more important, perhaps, than the much touted ability of French women to stay thin on a diet of chocolate and chesse -- illuminates the hollow at the core of our boastful, careening culture.

That's an excerpt. It's a seven page essay. If it hooked you or interested you, check your libraries or bookstores.

[Note: Although not currently available online, McKibben's previous article, "The Cuba Diet" is.]

Mark Crispin Miller has an important article as well, "None Dare Call It Stolen: Ohio, the election, and America's servile press."

How did he [Bully Boy] do it? To that most important question the commentariat, riskly prompted by Republicans, supplied an answer. Americans of faith -- a slient majority heretofore unmoved by another politician -- had poured forth by the millions to vote "Yes!" for Jesus' buddy in the White House. Bush's 51 percent, according to this thesis, were roused primarily by "family values." Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called gay marriage "the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a secon term." The pundits eagerly pronounced their amens -- "Moral values," Tucker Carlson said on CNN, "drove [. . .] Bush and other Republican candidates to victory this week" -- although it is not clear why. The primary evidence of our Great Awakening was a post-election poll by the Pew Research Center in which 27 percent of the respondents, when asked which issue "mattered most" to them in the election, selected something called "moral values." This slight plurality of impulse becomes still less impressive when we note that, as the pollsters went to great pains to make clear, "the relative importance of moral values depends greatly on how the question is framed." In fact, when voters were asked to "name in their own words the most important factore in their vote," only 14 percent managed to come up with "moral values." Strangely, this detail went little mentioned in the post-electoral commentary.
The press has had little to say about most of the strange details of the electorate -- except, that is, to ridiculde all efforts to discuss them. This animus appeared soon after November 2, in a spate of caustic articles dismissing any critical discussion of the outcome as crazed speculation: "Election paranoia surfaces: Conspiracy theorists call results rigged," chuckled the Baltimore Sun on November 4. "Internet Buzz on Vote Fraud Is Dismissed," proclaimed the Boston Globe on November 10. "Latest Conspiracy Theory -- Kerry Won -- Hits the Ether," the Washington Post chortled on November 11. The New York Times weighed in with "Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried" -- making mock not only of the "post-election theorizing" but of cyberspace itself, the fons et origo of all such loony tunes, according to the Times.
Such was the news that most Americans received. Although the tone was scientific, "realistic," skeptical and "middle-of-the-road," the explanations offered by the press were weak and immaterial. It was as if they were reporting from inside a forest fire without acknowledging the fire, except to keep insisting that there was no fire. Since Kerry has conceded, they argued, and since "no smoking gun" had come to light, there was no story to report. This is an oddly passive argument. Even so, the evidence that something went extremely wrong last fall is copious, and not hard to find. Much of it was noted at the time, albeit by local papers and haphazardly. Concerning the decisive contest in Ohio, the evidence is lucidly compiled in a single congressional report, which, for the last half-year has been available to anyone inclined to read it. It is a veritable arsenal of "smoking guns" -- and yet its findings may be less estraordinary than the fact that no one in the country seems to care about them.

(Since Harper's doesn't have any of the articles available online, I'll steer you towards another resource, FAIR, that has Miranda Spencer's "America’s Broken Electoral SystemGet over it, says mainstream press." Spencer's article is worth reading, so is a trip to your local library to read the August 2005 edition of Harper's.)

Note that any and all spelling errors are mine and not the authors we excerpted from. Tonight's Indymedia roundup night. Which hopefully means that there won't be time for another magazine report today. (One of the three, a magazine not on our permalinks, is one I expected to enjoy, after passing the last issue on to a friend unread. I'm not enjoying it thus far.)

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