Atlantic Ascendant

The Atlantic, January/February, 2014


Perhaps Editor-in-Chief James Bennet has developed the complex touch of a successful pro sports team coach. Or maybe the world is handing him better and better stories. Whatever the reason, this issue of The Atlantic is one of the best balanced, most newsworthy, and downright interesting issues yet. And that’s with a minimal emphasis on things literary.

What does it take to find the next grand inventor? Derek Thompson writes, correctly, that such new gizmos are the thing of basements and garages. But how to make use of them? Technology sharing, says, Thompson, that’s the way to co-opt these gadgets for biz benefit. Only partly correct, I say; businesses are hidebound for the most part and resistant to new ideas and gadgets that compel change.

James Fallows talks cancer with Eric S. Lander, as well as new developments in the field of genomics. Is this the breakthrough approach? Lander says there are usually no “AHA!” moments in such things. It’s a process.

Why do the eminently cinematic Elmore Leonard books end up as crappy movies? Christopher Orr gives us a glance at both media. Justified is a hit now on TV, but why? I think there’s been too much devotion to every detail of Leonard’s work in cinema. Movies aren’t books, and movie adaptations need to be willing to do that: adapt the book. A TV series may very well be the better device to morph books such as Leonard’s into a cinematic format.

These Unites States have always looked the other way as criminal enterprises seek the bread to generate legitimacy. Taylor Clark gives us a look at Jesse Willms, a 26 year-old techie scam artist and a purveyor of technology and the Internet in doing just that.

Scott Stossel reveals the aches and pains of his life-long struggles with anxiety. Is there a solution here? Perhaps, but Stossel seems to be saying that the solutions are as varied as the persons afflicted with such anguish.

Too, there’s a glance back at poet Marianne Moore and her life.

More good things within, of course. And this is an issue that is to me an oddity – one I could read over and over.



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Oddside News That Works


 The Atlantic, September 2013


How to publish responsible journalism but appeal to the weirdness a sensationalism-loving public craves…hmmm…

Whatever you do, whatever you write, make sure technology is at the core of it.

This is what The Atlantic attempts in this edition, and it seems a success to this reader.

The lead story, “The Killing Machines,” by Mark Bowden, delves into Obama’s use of drones to combat jihad fighters in the Middle East. War has changed – it no longer involves traditional military strategy; it’s fought by non-state fighters and special forces. And drones are the centerpiece of this new type of war. How do the military, politicians, and the public adjust to this, the morality (or lack) of it? Read the article. It’s all there.


Are we addicted to work, an activity we seem to feel is anathema nowadays? In “The Work Addiction,” Jordan Weissmann compares work to alcohol usage, and claims the affluent are more heavily hooked on work that the less educated and affluent. And along these lines, there’s a conversation between Palul Theroux and Andrew McCarthy, “I Hate Vacations.”


James Fallows has displayed a significant curiosity regarding technology lately, and in his interview with Charles Simonyi, “Why Is Software So Slow?” we get a sense of the difficulties inherent in software development.


In “The Counterrevolutionary,” Sara Mosle explores Diana Ravich’s eschewing trendy tech-heavy education for a back-to-the-roots approach to educating kids.


Possibly the most intriguing article, especially for the social voyeur, is Hanna Rosin’s “Advertisement For Murder,” in which while middle-class males are targeted by a serial killer, “Jack,” through employment ads.


You get the drift. The Atlantic has decided to walk a fine line between sensationalism and responsible journalism, and it seems to be working.



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Personality Clash



The Atlantic, April 2013


I’m a little late with this post, but in this day of the personality cult, we feel obliged to know, not just about issues, but about the people who make the issues. As much as I dislike this, The Atlantic has done us a favor by giving us some in-depth reporting in this issue on such newsmakers.

One on these, the centerpiece of this issue, “Monarch in the Middle,” by Jeffrey Goldberg, shows us the hot seat King Abdullah of Jordan sits on, and explains – at least partially – how he’s reacted to  being caught between Shi’a and Sunni, between the U.S. and Israel and the rest of the Arab world.

Another, by William D. Cohan, “What’s The Deal With Donald Trump?” about the celebrity dumbass, explains just how clueless he is in trying to bully his way into having us believe he’s among the richest of the rich. I mean, as if we care, right?

Another, social article, “The Touch-Screen Generation,” by Hanna Rosin, gives us a peek at children’s growing attachments to iPads and similar gadgets and how they may change education and society forever.

Perhaps the most intriguing article is an interview with Eric Anderson by James Fallows, “Life on Mars,” in which space aficionado Anderson insists that we’ll be colonizing Mars by century’s end.

Yes, we’re a personality-absorbed world now, but The Atlantic is doing something good with it.



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Culture and Content


The Atlantic, March 2013

Maybe I’m guilt plagued for berating a magazine I’ve read for so many years, but I smile now, happy that The Atlantic has its journalistic mojo back. The magazine clearly has an excellent stable of writers, from Ta-Nehisi Coates to James Fallows, and magazine is the better for them.

Magazines such as this one have the ability to draw from troves of social and political data – and The Atlantic often presents such data in ways that stick out, that mean something to we the readers. Such data is present in this issue in a one-pager on the student-loan crisis.

One article that tickles social, political, and economic funnybones is “Anthropology, Inc.,” by Graeme Wood. Here, business reaches deeper than the generic approach to product development and marketing by realizing that different people from the same background react differently to products – and business is attempting to cope with that by adding an anthropological approach to product development.

Jonathan Cohn’s article “The Robot Will See You Now,” plays on the growing ability of computerized entities to do more sophisticated data analysis – in this case the work of analyzing patients’ medical symptoms and coming up with more astute diagnoses.

Perhaps the most galvanizing article here is Rich Shapiro’s “The Hanging,” in which the author delved into the case of William Sparkman, whose body was found hanged in a forested Kentucky cemetery. Shapiro has gone to great lengths to provide a deep study of this hapless man and his death. It’s not a sensational article – certainly not as sensational as one might have supposed, but it does depict the sad plight of lonely, down-on-their-luck people and the grave consequences their lives forebode.


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The New World Comin’ Atcha



The Atlantic, December 2012

Much talk transpired in the just-over election here in the U.S. about jobs, and James Fallows and Charles Fishman take up the post-election slack in this issue. Manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. for a handful of reasons, say these two. One being that the haul distance between raw materials and manufacturing plants has gotten long – and expensive. Too, there’s a lot lost in such outsourcing: inventiveness and efficiency. Jobs were originally outsourced largely for a single reason: lower pay for workers located elsewhere. But having the whole ball of wax near enough to home base more than makes up for the ensuing complications. And just to prove the point, I notice that Apple is moving some manufacturing back to the U.S.

Poor Jeffrey Goldberg. He can’t buy respect without taking on some Archie Bunker-like political positions. In this case that we’d be safer if everyone had more (and supposedly, even more) guns.

Another bit of election year fallout is the renewed social and political clout of women. Alexis Madrigal thinks women are at the technological forefront, that they use and adapt to technology quicker than men. And Ann Patchett, who some might see as a throwback after reading her article, The Bookstore Strikes Back, chronicles her attempts to bring indie bookstores back to her Nashville hometown.

It’s great that The Atlantic has begun to print regular fiction again, and it’s interesting that the editors seem to be favoring genre writers such as Walter Mosley, who has a story, Reply To A Dead Man, in this issue. I’ve been rather disappointed in this tack, since I’ve been expecting quality, readable literary fiction, but I certainly can’t quibble with giving U.S.-based writers their shot at such a magazine, even if they are genre writers. Mosley’s story seems a bit predictable, but it’s also a heart-warmer, and I guess that’s a good thing in this year-ending issue.

Altogether a stalwart, if not exceptional issue. But The Atlantic does seem to be learning some of the lessons I’ve been saying they should from Harper’s Monthly.



Serious Miscellanea

The Atlantic, November 2012

When I read the magazines I blog on, I’m always on the lookout for a common theme, no matter how tenuous. In this case, I found no satisfaction in that; still it’s one of the better issues I’ve read. It is, after all, the “Brave Thinkers” issue for this year, and that portion of the magazine  should give us all a lot to think about and emulate.

There’s a feature article here on Mike Bloomberg, hizzoner of NYC. Given a confidence that borders on braggadocio, I have to wonder how muted his responses would be following Hurricane Sandy.

Perhaps the best article in “The Shocking Decline in Army Leadership,” by military pro Thomas Ricks. From his reporting we see an officer corps that has calcified in a manner not unlike the Republican Party, in which officers are promoted to the general ranks, well, because it’s their turn. There’s little adaptation to new military situations and innovators are shunned. And Ricks backs up his claims with performance vignettes of a number of general officers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Big deal, you may say, we’re still the best. No, Ricks’ implications are enormous and important – with more innovation, less foot dragging by the generals who were ordered to perform the difficult and problematic tasks involved in stabilizing two countries, both wars could have been shortened significantly – along with a consequent reduction in lives lost and money wasted.

Then there’s the near-sci fi what-if of biologic hacking and weaponizing that could be the next terroristic threat.

And, of course, a super piece of short fiction by Edward J. Delaney, “Clear.” Here, the author uses a faux second person narrative of a boy/man who kills the suitor of a girl he has his own eyes on. His expertly spun tale builds suspense along with the narrator’s paranoia, this being both his punishment and his prison.




Atlantic Monthly Gets It Right This Time

I've commented infrequently on Atlantic Monthly, a magazine I've read for many more years than I wish to countI've had my problems with Atlantic; the editors have often tackled important subjects in the magazine, but all too often they've done so with provocative articles that did too little to inform. But the March 2012 issue deserves mention.


image via

James Fallows presents a very balanced and insightful view of President Obama's first 3+ years as president. Christopher Hitchens in his final essay presents an equally insightful review of a pair of books on the complex life of G.K. Chesterton. And Megan McArdle, with whom I rarely agree, writes astutely on the difficulties inherent in changing organizational culture within corporations such as GM. 

One can hope that this isn't an anomaly; magazines such as Atlantic Monthly can do much to inform in an environment in which much that's written is inflammatory and just plain destructive.