Friday, August 2, 2013 Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Recall the joke about the Jew stranded alone on a desert island? When rescued, it turned out he had built one hut and two synagogues. Why two? Well, he said, I worship in the first, and will never set foot in the second. Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger discuss why is it that Jews don’t and could not have a Pope in Newsweek.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 Friday, December 21, 2012

Longreads of the Year 2012: July-December

image"Marie Colvin’s Private War", by Marie Brenner, Vanity Fair, August 2012

For years in England, with its high tolerance of alcoholism and its reluctance to force confrontation, Colvin’s friends and editors often resorted to evasion—Marie is feeling fragile. Marie does not sound like herself. When they tried to intervene, she would tell them, “I have no intention of not drinking. I never drink when I am covering a war.” Her attempts to find help were always short-lived.

She would wake up drenched in sweat. The desperate reel of horrors that played over and over in her mind kept returning to the refugee camp in Beirut, where she saw the 22-year-old Palestinian woman lying in a heap with half her head blown off. As recently as last year, Colvin was staying with her nieces and nephews in East Norwich when the doorbell suddenly awakened her. The next morning Rosemarie discovered that Marie had gotten up and put a knife in her sleeping bag. When Rosemarie mentioned it, Marie said, “Oh, that,” and changed the subject.

image"Scientology Is Not a Religion"by James Kirchick, Tablet, July 24, 2012

Around the world, a handful of politicians have urged their governments to prosecute Scientology as a criminal conspiracy. Three years ago, a Paris court found the Church guilty of fraud and fined it $900,000. That same year, a member of the Australian Senate, Nick Xenophon, delivered a speech in which he described Scientology as “criminal organization that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs.” After calling for an investigation into the Church’s tax-exempt status during a television interview, he began to receive letters from ex-Scientologists across Australia detailing what he described as “a worldwide pattern of abuse and criminality,” including torture, forced confinement, and coerced abortions. (Xenophon’s call for a parliamentary inquiry into the Church was ultimately rejected by the Australian government.) In 2007, following a 10-year investigation, a Belgian prosecutor called for the Church to be labeled a criminal organization and recommended that up to 12 Church officials face charges for the illegal practice of medicine, violation of privacy, and use of illegal contracts. The State Department criticized the move, stating that the United States would “oppose any effort to stigmatize an entire group based solely upon religious beliefs and would be concerned over infringement of any individual’s rights because of religious affiliation.”

image"Obama’s Way", by Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair, October 2012

As I was still a little groggy and put my question poorly, he answered a question it hadn’t occurred to me to ask: Why doesn’t he show more emotion? He does this on occasion, even when I’ve put the question clearly—see in what I’ve asked some implicit criticism, usually one he’s heard many times before. As he’s not naturally defensive, it’s pretty clearly an acquired trait. “There are some things about being president that I still have difficulty doing,” he said. “For example, faking emotion. Because I feel it is an insult to the people I’m dealing with. For me to feign outrage, for example, feels to me like I’m not taking the American people seriously. I’m absolutely positive that I’m serving the American people better if I’m maintaining my authenticity. And that’s an overused word. And these days people practice being authentic. But I’m at my best when I believe what I am saying.”

That was not what I had been after. What I had wanted to know was: Where do you put what you actually feel, when there is no place in your job to feel it? When you are president you are not allowed to go numb to protect yourself from whatever news might happen. But it was too late; my time was up; I returned to my seat in the cabin.

image"The Disappeared", by Salman Rushdie, The New Yorker, September 17, 2012

The ironic truth was that, after two novels that engaged directly with the public history of the Indian subcontinent, he saw this new book as a more personal exploration, a first attempt to create a work out of his own experience of migration and metamorphosis. To him, it was the least political of the three books. And the material derived from the origin story of Islam was, he thought, essentially respectful toward the Prophet of Islam, even admiring of him. It treated him as he always said he wanted to be treated, not as a divine figure (like the Christians’ “Son of God”) but as a man (“the Messenger”). It showed him as a man of his time, shaped by that time, and, as a leader, both subject to temptation and capable of overcoming it. “What kind of idea are you?” the novel asked the new religion, and suggested that an idea that refused to bend or compromise would, in all likelihood, be destroyed, but conceded that, in very rare instances, such ideas became the ones that changed the world. His Prophet flirted with compromise, then rejected it, and his unbending idea grew strong enough to bend history to its will.

When he was first accused of being offensive, he was truly perplexed. He thought he had made an artistic engagement with the phenomenon of revelation—an engagement from the point of view of an unbeliever, certainly, but a genuine one nonetheless. How could that be thought offensive? The thin-skinned years of rage-defined identity politics that followed taught him, and everyone else, the answer to that question.

image"The Trouble with Valerie Trierweiler"by Tracy McNicoll, Newsweek, September 17, 2012

But some of the first lady’s old material documented in the new books plainly cheerleads for her champ. Some articles dissect Hollande and Royal as a couple in disturbing detail with hindsight. Cabana and Rosencher excerpt an old four-page Paris Match piece on the pair. “During the campaign, [Hollande] arrived home more than once from a rally on the other end of France after 2 a.m. only to leave again before 7 a.m. To have at least the sentiment of not neglecting the four children,” Trierweiler wrote in 2004. “Their mother sometimes stayed away 10 days without going home.”

image"Panic in Jerusalem", by Menachem Kaiser, Tablet, November 29, 2012

A community in the grips of a moral panic will, as a rule, first target its misfits. All who have been arrested or questioned by police in Nahlaot are very clearly outsiders in the community. They were, a neighbor told me, “atypical, easy to accuse, misfit, single older men.” Many, like Satz and Primashelanu, are mentally handicapped. Noach Friedman, who was institutionalized after being released, would barge into homes and break plates and has had to be rescued from his studio apartment twice after setting his bed on fire. Naftali Zilberman and Yaakov Weissfish, who were both arrested and released, are also mentally handicapped. Zalman Cohen is a belligerent South African immigrant married to a convert who used to interrupt walking tours of the neighborhood. Skippy is a non-Haredi senior citizen with a ponytail who was repeatedly described to me with terms like “obnoxious” or “asshole,” and is an exercise fanatic. (He was originally identified, I was told by a parent, after the kids said they were forced to do calisthenics. “These retarded guys were forcing the kids, as part of the molestation, to do exercise,” the parent told me.) Missionary Christians, of course, are the ultimate “other” in a Haredi community.

For my Longreads picks from January through June — from Vanity FairRolling StoneNewsweek, and The New Yorker — click here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 Monday, October 22, 2012

Defending Tina Brown

Tina Brown is more than capable of defending herself. But, such has been the glee at Newsweek’s demise – noticeable among the filthiest, bottom-feeding elements of new media to the point, in the case of John Cook of Gawker, of fairly open and visceral misogyny – that it would be most ungallant and unreasonable if someone did not stick up for her.

Turning around Newsweek was an almost impossible task. When Brown inherited the magazine (or when it was thrust upon her, depending on what you read) it was in a condition of neglect and dilapidation. IAC – run by Barry Diller, it half-owns The Newsweek Daily Beast Company alongside the estate of Sidney Harman – took on a publication with a $40 million debt and a circulation which had been cut from 3.1 million in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2010 under the editorship of Jon Meacham and ownership of The Washington Post.

Never let it said, however, that Brown didn’t get it the old college try. She hired a number of heavy hitters to work on her joint venture – Howard Kurtz on the media beat, for example – adding to the stable of talent The Daily Beast already had, including Eli Lake on national security. Andrew Sullivan and David Frum came on board to blog for the Beast and write longer-form pieces for Newsweek. Peter Beinart in the same vein started up Open Zion to facilitate discussion on Israel, Zionism, and the wider Middle East.

Brown also spearheaded a total redesign of a magazine that become somewhat staid and grandfatherly, giving it a modern edge with more white space, a sharper finish, better quality paper, and a more pointed use of photography and graphic design. Central to this attempted revival too were the much discussed and sometimes derided headlines: “THE FIRST GAY PRESIDENT”; “MUSLIM RAGE”; and “HEAVEN IS REAL”. Call them what you will, but for the first time in a good long while, there was actually a buzz surrounding Newsweek. The issue fronted by Niall Ferguson’s polemic, “HIT THE ROAD, BARACK”, doubled sales on newsstands and increased iPad downloads four-fold.

Read More

Thursday, October 18, 2012
As noted earlier, Newsweek is to cease publication as a print magazine, effective by the beginning of 2013, and will then become a digital-only publication available on Kindle, iPad, and the like. The success of this model as a saviour of the magazine has yet to be determined, but as Tina Brown noted in a statement to The New York Times with regard to the decline of print, “You can not actually change an era of enormous disruptive innovation. No one single person can reverse that trend.”
More from that Times piece:

The all-digital version of the magazine will be called Newsweek Global and operate on a paid subscription model. The name Newsweek, in spite of its trouble in print, still has value in terms of international licensing, as well as several conferences Ms. Brown has created.
Readers and media analysts have been puzzled by some of the covers Ms. Brown had chosen in an effort to distinguish Newsweek from other magazines and make it a talked-about publication again. Last November, she featured a cover story about sex addiction, and in May President Obama was shown wearing a rainbow-colored halo with a headline that read ”The First Gay President.”
But Ms. Brown defends her choice of covers.
“The magazine was incredibly moribund when we came in,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “It had taken so many knocks. We have been able to bring Newsweek back to relevance. I have always felt that the covers are about a conversation. The covers become a conversation starter.”

My hope is that Newsweek does indeed succeed — though I have my doubts — has a tablet mag, not just because Newsweek remains a good magazine (I have written for The Daily Beast, the online arm, if you will), but because its success or failure may determine what future there is for quality, long-form journalism in the digital age. Another digital outfit of an entirely different sort, Buzzfeed, has compiled a selection of Newsweek covers from down the years, by way of remembrances of things past.

As noted earlier, Newsweek is to cease publication as a print magazine, effective by the beginning of 2013, and will then become a digital-only publication available on Kindle, iPad, and the like. The success of this model as a saviour of the magazine has yet to be determined, but as Tina Brown noted in a statement to The New York Times with regard to the decline of print, “You can not actually change an era of enormous disruptive innovation. No one single person can reverse that trend.”

More from that Times piece:

The all-digital version of the magazine will be called Newsweek Global and operate on a paid subscription model. The name Newsweek, in spite of its trouble in print, still has value in terms of international licensing, as well as several conferences Ms. Brown has created.

Readers and media analysts have been puzzled by some of the covers Ms. Brown had chosen in an effort to distinguish Newsweek from other magazines and make it a talked-about publication again. Last November, she featured a cover story about sex addiction, and in May President Obama was shown wearing a rainbow-colored halo with a headline that read ”The First Gay President.”

But Ms. Brown defends her choice of covers.

“The magazine was incredibly moribund when we came in,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “It had taken so many knocks. We have been able to bring Newsweek back to relevance. I have always felt that the covers are about a conversation. The covers become a conversation starter.”

My hope is that Newsweek does indeed succeed — though I have my doubts — has a tablet mag, not just because Newsweek remains a good magazine (I have written for The Daily Beast, the online arm, if you will), but because its success or failure may determine what future there is for quality, long-form journalism in the digital age. Another digital outfit of an entirely different sort, Buzzfeed, has compiled a selection of Newsweek covers from down the years, by way of remembrances of things past.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 Monday, October 1, 2012