THE BLOG

This Week in Magazines: Bernie, Blago and Betrayal

Jul 15, 2009 | Updated May 25, 2011

This may be a golden era of betrayal. Bernie Madoff, Eliot Spitzer, Chris Brown, Rod Blagojevich, Alex Rodriguez and Mel Gibson are among the liars and cheats who've hurt their biggest fans and chums the most. It justifies July Town & Country's "How Could You?" a smart overview of being screwed by those one holds dearest.

Lynn Sherr, the former ABC News correspondent, suggests that, historically, most who break the basic bonds of trust are romantic cheats, with certainly many political traitors following behind. And, these days, there are the well-documented practitioners of "corporate greed and personal gluttony," the dominantly male cadre which has counted some good percentage of this magazine's own high-demo readers as their victims.

These folks hurt people. The self esteem of the victims plummets. It really is pretty crappy. No wonder what Dante's "Inferno" left the final and worst Circle of Hell for the sin of betrayal, actually after lust and murder. And Sherr herself concedes fury over being shafted by Wall Street and seen her modest holdings vanish, even though she knows she never had a guarantee.

She compiles a Betrayers' Hall of shame here. For example, the public figures include Blagojevich (not the strongest choice, since he may be proof of voter stupidity, not victimization), Brutus, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Marshal Petain (sad to say that most probably don't recognize this Nazi collaborator). A "strange bedfellows" category includes Bill Clinton, John Edwards, former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and Spitzer. "Turncoats" includes Benedict Arnold, John Wilkes Booth, Alger Hills, Julius Rosenberg and Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano."

This opus beckons psychologists, classics scholars and even a country music expert for wisdom. Their contributions include the notion of betrayal commencing with somebody's sense of entitlement and grandiosity; the near certainty that women are victimized more often than men; its centrality in country music simply stemming from its omnipresence; how Greek myths underscore the ways in which virtue is often not rewarded; and the double-edge sword of being able to avoid betrayal only by never taking any risks or trusting anyone.

Even Lucy of "Peanuts" fame got into the act, teeing up Charlie Brown's football for four decades, and then grabbing it away at the very end. It leaves Sherr with the conclusion that we should be careful about giving the football "to the Lucy in your life," while also reading your broker's statement every month and, perhaps the toughest thing, "move on when the guy--or gal---does you in."

"We've created a system that rewards those who win as opposed to those who care," says one shrink here. "There will always be people who will be betrayers." So, this shrink says, be smarter about how much risk we take and move on as quickly as possible once you get the shaft. Easier said than done.

---Town & Country cover girl Angie Harmon, a conservative diehard who loved the McCain-Palin team, best not read June 22 Time, which gives a platform to Republican consultant Mike Murphy, an adroit practitioner of the television-loving art of the provocative political assessment. In "The Ice Age Cometh, a man who once tagged me (and with some accuracy) "The Unabomber" for a somewhat scruffy (the hair was much longer back then) regular appearance on a CNN political talk show, makes the case that demographic change casts the Republican Party adrift, leaving them (as is well-documented) very white and needing to become more socially libertarian, willing to embrace dissent on abortion and not turn off Latinos via "the Republican congressional jihad on immigration."

It's pretty obvious counsel even if it pisses off Rush Limbaugh and the hard core, including that endangered species of gorgeous Hollywood conservative with three kids.

Meanwhile, June 22 Business Week wonders, "Time (inc.) For Parting?" with media columnist Jon Fine suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Time Warner might one day spin-off his magazine empire, as he plans to with AOL. That would be a pretty big deal, with Time being the largest magazine operation, with revenue last year of $4.6 billion. It's pretty obvious, though, that there'd be nobody around really interested in buying the whole operation intact, as opposed to picking off certain titles.

---June 13 National Journal is excellent on "Health Care Reform Faces its 'Super Bowl Moment,'" a look at key health industry lobbyists and how they're dealing with the prospects of change and their generally awful public image (notably health insurers). Some have clearly made conciliatory steps and talked the talk of compromise. But the rubber meets the road on a variety of issues, like some government health care plan, with the certainty of losing even more customers than they do amid the recession, rising premiums and an aging population. And if the Democrats and Obama administration employ the legislative tactic known (ironically so) as "reconciliation," bulldozing through a plan, it actually may just not matter what they think.

---June 22 New Yorker is worth "The Secret History---Can Leon Panetta move the C.I.A. forward without confronting its past?" by Jane Mayer, whose "The Dark Side" was a revealing and depressing account of various secret Bush-era anti-terror gambits. Her interview with the CIA boss is hitching post for a tale of instant moral ambiguity faced by Panetta, a longtime congressional fixture with no real intelligence experience and already surrounded by several folks with distinct ties to the Bush era's torture and secret detention and interrogation programs. One may be left wondering whether a very decent fellow, whose prime professional experience was in the compromise-filled legislative process, is tough enough to deal with the sharks both within his organization and those elsewhere in the bureaucracy seeking to undermine him.

---- "The Capitalist Manifesto: Greed is Good (to a point)" by Fareed Zarkaria in June 22 Newsweek weaves ongoing debate about seeming failures of the free market and the need for greater regulation with his own historically-based qualms and, possibly, slight wishful thinking that, partly as a result of unceasing globalization and its essence, the real answers are to be found by all of us, big and small, looking in the mirror:

"There's a need for greater self-regulation not simply on Wall Street but also on Pennsylvania Avenue. We get exercised about the immorality of politicians when they're caught in sex scandals. Meanwhile they triple the national debt, enrich their lobbyist friends and write tax loopholes for specific corporations--all perfectly legal--and we regard this as normal. The revolving door between Washington government offices and lobbying firms is so lucrative and so established that anyone pointing out that it is--at base--institutionalized corruption is seen as baying at the moon. Not everything is written down, and not everything that is legally permissible is ethical. Who was the last ex-president to refuse to take a vast donation for his library from a foreign government that he had helped when in office?"

"We are in the midst of a vast crisis, and there is enough blame to go around and many fixes to make, from the international system to national governments to private firms. But at heart, there needs to be a deeper fix within all of us, a simple gut check. If it doesn't feel right, we shouldn't be doing it. That's not going to restore growth or mend globalization or save capitalism, but it might be a small start to sanity."


---Issue 65 of the Oxford American, which now comes via the University of Central Arkansas, does really well by "Odes to the Best of the South," or mostly evocative, short essays about small events and places and rituals. Daisy Dodge captures the simple joys of coming home ("Even abandoned and forsaken and forsworn, it will love you"); Ander Monson is fun on a disco golf course in Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Alan Grant makes the case for the simple honesty of southern roads; Lolis Eric Elie on the best pecan pie in New Orleans; and, my favorite, Mark Winegardner on a supposedly legendary toast concocted by a very wealthy businessman (and segregationist): "Confusion to the enemy!" There's much more, including some very nice short fiction, and this would be an issue to take to the beach for some nice, very accessible writing.

----Chilling tale of the week is surely, "Why Did a Small-Town Girl Have Her Family Brutally Murdered?" in June Texas Monthly. It's a nice bit of reporting by Pamela Colloff to piece together the motives in the killing of Penny Caffey, a pianist at a Baptist church, and her two sons, a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader (the father was shot five times but survived). It was all masterminded by the 16-year-old daughter, Erin, with a boyfriend whom her parents didn't like and demanded that she break up with. The boyfriend and another man did the dirty deeds, including burning the family home, and were convicted, and are in prison, as is the daughter. The boyfriend, who tells the magazine that he's not spoken to her since the crime (and is barred from communicating with her again), opines that, "I don't know what's wrong with her head. She needs to have it looked at." Of course, is one surprised that he still claims to love her?

Hands-down winner of this week's Journey to the Obscure is "On using the DomWorld model to evaluate dominance ranking methods" by Han de Vries of the department of behavioural biology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. It's found in Issue 146 of Behaviour. Your handy summary:

"Recently, the DomWorld model was used to evaluate five dominance ranking methods. The suitability of the DomWorld model for this purpose is however not without question. The characteristic unidirectionality of most dominance behaviour observed in many monkey species is not found in DomWorld. Besides this, the current paper shows that the additive dominance value updating method in combination with the relative win chance, Pij = DOMi /(DOMi + DOMj ), gives rise to unrealistically large changes in win chance after fights among low ranking individuals. It is shown that this can be resolved by replacing the additive update rule by a multiplicative one. Moreover, this combination of relative win chance and multiplicative update rule is equivalent to the combination of a sigmoidal win chance and additive update rule as employed in the Elo-rating method. It is also shown that, contrary to Hemelrijk's recommendation, David's score is to be referred to the average dominance index. The paper concludes with presenting a differentiated list of recommendations on the use of ranking methods that takes into account the required premises and different aims for which these methods have been developed."

As my five-year-old says, especially as I'm watching Senate hearings on C-Span, "Daddy, this makes my head hurt."