Thursday, October 1, 2009

Selected Thoughts on The New Yorker September 28

Selected thoughts on the 28 September 2009 edition of The New Yorker:

Read all about it (by Adam Gopnik)
Gopnik poses a somewhat sobering hypothetical in this talk of the town piece:
The new book is, as every speed-reading reviewer has noted, the same package as before—the wise if wooden professor, the cagey babe-scientist, the oft-naked assassin, and the ancient conspiracy newly brought to life in familiar tourist destinations, this time in Washington, D.C., rather than Paris, and turning on elusive Masonic mystics, rather than secretive Merovingian dynasts. But what, exactly, is inside the package? What spell does it cast and how does it cast it? Books are not so widely read without a reason. Surely future historians will look to Brown as an index of What We Were Really Thinking, and, turning the dense and loaded pages of his books, they may well ask, This they read for fun?

Gopnik ends up with an interesting contrast between the "sweet-tempered" conspiracy theories of Dan Brown style fiction and the hard edged, disturbing tenor of the proponents of real life conspiracy theories.

Ratings Downgrade (by James Surowiecki)
Surowiecki raises an important point about the role played by the ratings agencies our financial system. Ratings agencies are paid by those they rate, have quasi-government sanctionend monopolies, and many investors are legally oblicagted to only place thier money in holdings that obtain the agencies seal of approval. Also, as is now clear, the ratings were often nonsensical, and opaque. I fear that this is one of those situations when there is a clear reform that is politically impossible to implement.

The Last Mission (by George Packer)
Packer offers an interesting profile of Richard Holbrooke. This piece weaves together a recounting of Holbrooke's career with the current situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a precarious situation for which Holbrooke is now the United States's chief diplomat. This is the basic claim: Afghanistan is not like Vietnam or Iraq because it actually is important tothe country's national security interests to win there.

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