Monday, March 10, 2008

Harper's Magazine, March 2008, The Conversion

For the last couple of months, I've been dissecting Harper's magazine.

The clash between their "Summer Homes in The Hamptons" advertising and their "Liberate The Masses" content had started giving me headaches.

This month, I was emailing back and forth with Roger Kimball of The New Criterion about a slightly unrelated Harper's topic (how's that for name dropping....) and he gifted us with this Kimball-esque gem: "Curious what happy bedfellows anti-capitalist rhetoric and shameless capitalist practices make."

I wish I'd said that. But yeah. Roger Kimball. I've emailed him. He's answered. If you want to know more about him, go to Pajamas Media in the blogroll at right.

So a couple of weeks ago when I picked up the February Harper's, I was loaded for bear. I, The Whited Sepulchre, have gotten an email from Roger Kimball of The New Freakin' Criterion, dang it. I'm not a journalist, but I have an email from one. I was going to burn up some bandwidth once again explaining the clanging contradictions between Harper's ads and Harper's editorial policy.

First were letters to the editor about the infamous Meredith Broussard and the notorious Peanut Allergy scandal, which has been blogged about on this site ad nauseum. One of the letters was from an eleven-year-old allergy sufferer and activist named Reed. "Thanks for taking me so many steps back in my efforts to raise awareness," young Reed writes in outraged activist fashion. Some might think that young Reed's awareness of consciousness raising techniques confirms Ms. Broussard's statements that this controversy is mostly about the parents, not the kids. Either way, the Harper's Peanut Allergy Controversy is now over.

Lewis Lapham has a garbled editorial about steroids in baseball that might've been interesting had he not felt obligated to drag in Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and George Bush.

In the "Readings" department, they've excerpted an interview from a collection of interviews called "The Corpse Walker". This will be published in full next month, and it's about the horrors of Chairman Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. I'm going to buy it. "Here's an interview with a 71-year-old mortician: "During the famine of 1960 (self-inflicted, BTW), since everyone was busy following Mao's grand steel-producing plan, nobody tended the crops in the field. Severe food shortages occurred. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation in this county alone. The large number of deaths made it impossible to conduct burial services for each individual." The joys of Socialism. This all happened within my lifetime.

Scott Horton, a New York attorney, has a decent article about the Bush administration hijacking the Justice Department.

Next is a great one. Ken Silverstein's "Beltway Bacchanal" is about the joys of spending campaign donor money in Washington. When I read the next-to-last paragraph, I almost wept out of gratitude...."Last november, the Senate Finance Committee announced that it would be scrutinizing, as part of a probe of tax-exempt organizations, the compensation packages and perks enjoyed by leaders of some of the nation's top ministries. The committee expressed concern about religious officials granting themselves high salaries, huge travel allowances, private jets, and luxury cars, all paid for by donations to their ministries. "I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more," Senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) said at the time the probe was announced. "People who donated should have their money spent as intended."

Whether or not the ministers are a worthy target of investigation, the fact that a high committee of the U.S. Congress would be in charge of such an inquiry is, to put it mildly, ironic. For if there is any single group in America that lives high on funds donated for other purposes, it is our 535 members of Congress. Perhaps they should overlook the motes in the reverends' eyes until they have considered the beams in their own."

I don't think so. I think Congress should investigate. But the discussion of "Who will investigate the investigators" reminded me of a bizarre comment field discussion we had on this topic with someone called Reverend Dan way back in November.

"Mississippi Drift" by Matthew Power, is worth the cost of the magazine. Power meets up with an old anarchist friend named Matt, a "dumpster-diving, train-hopping, animal-rights-crusading anarchist and tramp". Matt has the idea of building a raft of 55-gallon drums, 2x4's, and some pink plastic flamingos. The idea is that several friends will ride this thing down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Here are a few quotes from the piece.

Matt and his friends saw stealing as a form of revolt, a means of surviving while they chipped away at the monstrous walls of the capitalist fortress.

After the journey, he (Matt) was moving to Berlin, a squatter's paradise he had visited once and found more livable than anywhere in the United States. "I hate America," he said, without the menace of a McVeigh or a Zarqawi but nevertheless with a feeling.
Then they start losing crew members. They realize that their boat motor has A Bigger Carbon Footprint Than Al Gore's HouseTM.

"This is my boat, and my trip, and nobody is going to tell me what to do," Matt snapped. "If it takes two years, it takes two years. I won't be rushed." The paradox of Matt's position had become clear to all but him: by building a raft to escape the strictures of society, he had made himself a property owner, and subject to the same impulses of possessiveness and control as any suburban homeowner with a mortgage and a hedge trimmer.

Eventually, everyone abandons Matt and his raft. Somewhere around Saint Lous, the raft if trapped between two barges and Matt is lucky to escape with his shorts and T-shirt.

The Annotation section of Harper's isn't dead ! ! ! It was simply recovering from Meredith Broussard ! ! ! This time, they look at a blueprint of the Google data center, somewhere in Oregon. The best part of it is in the top right corner, where they explain the tax breaks, givebacks, and subsidies that make Google, Youtube, and Co. possible.

"Lonely In America" by Wendy S. Walters, is one of the best things on slavery that I've ever read.

Then there's "Fear of Fallowing" by Steven Stoll - one of the best economic reviews I've seen in the magazine.
So, what's my point in all this reviewing and analyzing? I loved almost every word of this month's issue. The Harper's people excerpted an interview about the horrors of Chairman Mao's life and times. They rooted out Washington D.C. corruption. They floated down the Mississippi and became Capitalists. They decried Google subsidies.
I swear, all I did was harshly and savagely criticize them for just two consecutive issues, and they've become Libertarians.
I feel like Alexander The Great. I'm weeping because I have no worlds left to conquer.


Tim said...

I loved that Mississipi river piece too...not sure I see the point about capitalist ads vs leftist content -- I love the mag and I just skip the long dreary political pieces by Lapham or his stand-ins...I'm middle of the road but it seems like there's nothing like an American liberal for being intellectually inquisitive and looking for the other side of the argument.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Thanks for the comment.
What I find funny about the magazine is the laborious Laphamite leftist diatribes against capitalism, the unfettered free market, blah blah blah....sponsored by ads for mutual funds and Tahoes.
The argument can be found within the pages of the magazine. The leftist point of view is represented by your long dreary political pieces. The free market/capitalist point of view is ably represented by the geniuses who sell stocks and SUV's to Lapham's readers.

Anonymous said...

I don't get your (W. Sepulcre) compaint re Harpers. First of all, I've never see a ad for any place in the mag. Look at the ad section the usually consists of some very wierd private ads(toenail fungus) my most recent copy, I found one (1) ad for an inn in N.C.

So re those mags being supported by the running dogs of capitalism, have you had a look at the New Yorker in the past 50 years? This would be a mag against which you launch your diatribe. But, for me, so what! The NY'er is one of the best mags in the country, and many of the articles are slanted against the rich and the system that put them there. But, where ya gonna find enough advertising to keep a quality mag going? Obviously, Harper's is just about completely supported by subscription money. // So, we have some mags with no "capitalist" support, such as The Nation, which is a terrific institution. Only problem is, it's always on the brink of financial disaster. Why not let the high-rollers support leftist and progressive views? Do you not have even a modicum of irony in your soul. // Re Lapham, yeah, it gets a little tedious, I admit; but you'd be hard put to find another magazine writer with his erudition and grasp of the big picture. I'll give him a break.

Peter Hubbard

Anonymous said...

Please excuse all the typos in my comment to the W. S. Guess I'm a bit tired....


Anonymous said...

O.K., I'm sorry. I just seem to let it go.

Where does the W.S. get off presuming that the readers of Harper's sell stocks and SUV's to Lapham's readers? Does that proclamation imply that the WS is such a one. (And, boy oh boy, if you think stock brokers hang around with car salesman...well.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Dear Anonymous,
Check out the "Harper's" category tag at the bottom of this post. Read some of the earlier ones.

What was so funny about those were the Ultra-Leftist, anti-capitalist diatribes from Lapham and others, juxtaposed (without a drop of irony) amongst ads for SUV's, mutual funds, etc.

The point of this post? After I blogged about it for 3-4 months, the Yuppie/stockbroker ads and the socialist/Power To The People content went away. These were replaced by "green" ads and garden variety anti-Bush pieties.
There's still a slight discord in the magazine between the advertising and the content, but it no longer makes my skin crawl.

Thanks for commenting.....