• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Writing Sex and Gallows Humor

    Irish writer Anne Enright has won literary awards for nearly every book she’s published since her debut in 1991, the short-story collection The Portable Virgin (which earned her the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature). But for over a decade, the onetime television producer, who studied creative writing with Angela Carter and Malcolm Bradbury, lurked under readers’ radars. She prolifically published fiction that sometimes veers into the fantastic realm of her mentors—The Wig My Father Wore (2001), for example, features the angel of a man who killed himself many years earlier. Then, last year,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Pen and Wink

    As any medium matures, its practitioners inevitably start to question its inner workings. Comics have a history of self-reflexivity and metacommentary dating back at least to the panel border smashed like a wooden frame by Winsor McCay’s Little Sammy Sneeze in 1905 and continuing over the years in venues as varied as Harvey Kurtzman’s strip for children, Hey, Look!, and underground comics’ flagship anthology, Zap Comix. Each of the five books considered here are likewise engaged with testing and prodding the raw material of comics, stretching it in startling new directions.

    Art Spiegelman was

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Little Ideological Annie

    In the 1982 movie Annie, billion-aire munitions industrialist Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks arrives in Washington to meet the Roosevelts, whose calls he usually refuses to take. They want his help organizing the New Deal, which he thinks a preposterous scheme with no hope of success. But Warbucks goes for the sake of his ward, Annie—it’s her first chance to see the White House. A musical being a musical, all it takes to melt his heart is Annie’s singing of “Tomorrow,” that anthem of stagestruck preteen girls everywhere, with Franklin and Eleanor.

    FDR was certainly on the mind of Little Orphan Annie

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Twilight of the Spooks

    Since the cold war ended, the CIA has become a slow-motion bureaucratic sacrifice within the intelligence community. Like the chinook salmon, it has been shedding body parts every year as it struggles upstream to expire.With New York Times reporter Tim Weiner’s dismissive 2007 study, Legacy of Ashes, the fate of the agency seems sealed—whenever the world changes, the New York Times is traditionally the last to know.

    If studies such as Weiner’s supply the sources of the agency’s collapse, a pair of important new titles explore some of the hows and whys. In Failure of Intelligence: The Decline

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Roman Numeral

    One might say that the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), a massive gathering of bishops from around the world that launched the Catholic Church on a course of modernization and reform, was for Catholicism what the civil rights movement was for American politics. Enormously controversial at the time, both have since been reimagined as shining moments in recent history.

    Beyond that lip service paid to the past, however, lurk unresolved conflicts that often define the battles of the present. For example, virtually all Americans now invoke the ideal of equality before the law, but they’re deeply

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    DESERT STURM

    American foreign policy in the Middle East has reached one of those moments at which almost everyone agrees that things are going badly but no one can agree what to do about it. Passionate disputes regarding the American approach toward Iran make this lack of consensus abundantly plain. On one extreme, neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz demand war with Iran at once, some even saying it is long overdue. On the other side, a growing chorus, both liberal and conservative, argues that war with Iran is not an option given its high costs and limited benefits; instead, they counsel containment

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    SHOCK AND AWFUL

    To soldiers on the ground, most wars look like giant screwups. But the “Phase IV” aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom—intended to bring some semblance of civil order in the wake of the successful spring 2003 US invasion—eclipsed most running, jumping, and leaping records for military misfortune. Recently retired army colonel Peter R. Mansoor traces the trickle-down consequences of the Pentagon’s rosy insouciance in Baghdad at Sunrise, an insider’s account of his command year in Iraq at the head of thirty-five hundred personnel of the First Armored Division’s Ready First Combat Team, a mongrel

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    BLIGHT OF THE HUNTER

    The focus of Peter Beard’s unforgettably illustrated The End of the Game is the damage done by big-game hunting and the incursion of railways to wildlife and indigenous culture in early-twentieth-century Kenya. “The deeper [the white man] went into Africa,” Beard writes, “the faster the life flowed out of it, off the plains and out of the bush and into the cities, vanishing in acres of trophies and hides and carcasses.” This is very well put, but Beard’s chosen generation of white settlers was not wholly responsible, instead merely accelerating a process that had started centuries earlier, when

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    CONTINENTAL DRIFT

    Unbalanced tokens, check your syntax. Non-closure is at the end of this excerpt: tar players in the imperial drama; to suggest otherwise is largely beside the point480.463464
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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    WE OF LITTLE FAITH

    For all the wild exertions of fundamentalist and atheist chest beaters the world over, God seems to be on hold for much of the West. As religion threatens to plunge the twenty-first century into a reprisal of the seventeenth century’s Thirty Years’ War, it is tempting to smite the thing altogether, as many intellectuals sought to during the Enlightenment. But where would that leave us, not only culturally but in terms of “truthiness”? That recently coined term reveals much about our uneasiness and the gallows humor that helps conceal it during these unmoored times.

    We could turn to Denmark,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    CROSS PURPOSES

    Early in Mark Noll’s brief, smoothly paced exploration of “how religion interacted with race in shaping the nation’s political course,” Noll shares an observational nugget from André Siegfried. Nearly a century after his countryman Alexis de Tocqueville took a note-taking tour of the United States, Siegfried paid a similar visit to these shores. Whereas Tocqueville detected the underpinnings of a cult of individualism and a potential tyranny of the majority, Siegfried saw a nation of Calvinist pulpit pounders. “Every American is at heart an evangelist,” he wrote, “be he a Wilson, a Bryan, or

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    PREVARICATION NATION

    Jean-Michel Rabaté, Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, bookends The Ethics of the Lie with Jacques Lacan, the French psychiatrist who connected the anxieties of poststructuralism to those of psychoanalysis. At the beginning, we have the proposition, apropos Monica Lewinsky, that Bill Clinton may have been “the world’s first Lacanian president” because, as Lacan saw it, “there is no such thing as a sexual relationship” (and as Clinton tried to explain to a mortified nation, oral sex should be thought of as an aperitif rather than an entrée). At the

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