This Week in Magazines : An Homage to Awful State Legislators

Citizens across America, especially
New York and Illinois, must read the July Texas Monthly so they
can be reassured that their state legislators aren't the biggest idiots. 

For the 19th time, the arguably
best regional magazine unveils its annual"The Best and Worst Legislators."
This will give instant pause to fans of impeached Illinois Gov. Rod
Blagojevich's political soap opera, and observers who somehow think
"pay-to-play" is in endemic to Illinois, as well as to those following
the utter chaos in the New York legislature, where Jack Bauer may be
needed to figure out which nincompoops are in charge of the state senate. 

"The Eight-First Legislature
was like "Seinfeld": a show about nothing. It achieved nothing,
other than an endless succession of dying bills, forlorn hopes, and
bitter recrimination in the closing days," writes the magazine, in
a line perhaps of some cheer to libertarians, wary of virtually any
government action at all. 

There's the social conservative
Republican who tried to cut all funding for the unit that oversees state
ethics laws; the Democrat who treats her committee vice chairman "like
a leper by not allowing him to occupy the customary seat" next to
her;  the Democrat who "seemed to be suffering from parliamentary
post-traumatic stress disorder" and killed a bill to honor an Austin
policewoman killed in the line of duty because the sponsor was holding
up one of his bills; the Democrat who ran an opponent against his own
aunt because she stood between him and control of a school board; the
state senator who seeks revenge against the Houston Rodeo because it
booked alternative Latin music, not the Tejano bands he prefers; and
the lady who opposes a shield law for the media because it would give
journalists, she said, more rights than the pope.  

There's more, as well as
a sidebar on "furniture," namely those lawmakers who are the least
consequential. In some ways, one exits this piece with some sympathy
for this cadre since, well, at least they did no real harm. 

Elsewhere, the issue commemorates
the 40th anniversary of our landing on the moon with "Walking
on the Moon
," a very Houston-based compendium of interviews with key
players, including Christ Kraft, the flight director, Gene Kranz, the
chief of the flight control division, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin and
Neil Armstrong. If you're too young to recall and appreciate this
momentous event, this does underscore an astonishing, quickly-executed
feat inspired by President Kennedy, as well as informing one as to
how much we really did not know as we crossed our fingers and headed
to the Moon. 

---Elizabeth Kolbert"s "The
Catastrophist" in June 29 New Yorker is a different take on
government science, profiling controversial James Hansen, the director
of NASA's New York-based Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who's
been arguing that global warming is not just real but a dramatically
growing hazard we must take more seriously. But one does come away both
impressed by him and perhaps understanding his own suspicion that the
Obama administration has reason not to fully embrace him or his claims.   

"Hansen argues that politicians
willfully misunderstand climate science; it could be argued that Hansen
just as willfully misunderstands politics," writes Kolbert, who has
reported convincingly in these same pages about the reality of global
warming. "In order to stabilize carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere,
annual global emissions would have to be cut by something on the order
of three-quarters. In order to draw them down, agricultural and forestry
practices would have to change dramatically as well. So far, at least,
there is no evidence that any nation is willing to take anything approaching
the necessary steps. On the contrary, almost all the trend lines point
in the opposite direction. Just because the world desperately needs
a solution that satisfies both the scientific and the political constraints
doesn't mean one necessarily exists." 

This issue also has estimable
Connie Bruck's "Angelo's Ashes" (nice headline, guys), a profile
of Angelo Mozilo, son of a Bronx butcher who built Countrywide Financial
Corp. into a giant and, partly fueled by a bonafide desire to lower
barriers to  home ownership, got caught in the predatory lending
scandals. When the housing bubble burst, he was in big trouble , and,
as she details, the problems were exacerbated by ego, ambition for market
share, emails at variance with various relevant public statements and
changes in internal stock sales rules at Countrywide which made him
very wealthy, and somewhat inappropriately so.  This is a good

---Just in case you inexplicably
haven't been thinking of Thomas Jefferson of late, June 29 Newsweek"s

letter from the editor assures us that

Jefferson keeps coming to
mind as the drama in Iran unfolds. The events there seem to be a chapter
in the very Jeffersonian story of the death of theocracy, or rule by
clerics, and the gradual separation of church and state. In one of the
last letters of his life, in 1826, Jefferson said this of the Declaration
of Independence: "May it be to the world what I believe it will
be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the
signal of arousing men to burst the chains, under which monkish ignorance
and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves.


When it comes to separation
of church and state, or lack of, Jefferson might have been interested
in "Christian Soldiers," the magazine's website look at one distinctly
religious trend in the U.S. military. Writes Kathryn Joyce:

The effort is an example of what critics
call a growing culture of militarized Christianity in the armed forces.
It is influenced in part by changes in outlook among the various branches'
2,900 chaplains, who are sworn to serve all soldiers, regardless of
religion, with a respectful, religiously pluralistic approach. However,
with an estimated two thirds of all current chaplains affiliated with
evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, which often prioritize conversion
and evangelizing, and a marked decline in chaplains from Catholic and
mainstream Protestant churches, this ideal is suffering. Historian Anne
C. Loveland attributes the shift to the Vietnam War, when many liberal
churches opposed to the war supplied fewer chaplains, creating a vacuum
filled by conservative churches. This imbalance was exacerbated by regulation
revisions in the 1980s that helped create hundreds of new "endorsing
agencies" that brought a flood of evangelical chaplains into the
military and by the simple fact that evangelical and Pentecostal churches
are the fastest-growing in the U.S.

---Quick, who's the United
Nations secretary general? 

  Well, it's South Korea's
Ban Ki-moon and, knock on wood, July 6 Nation includes "Ban"s
," Barbara Crossette's helpful update on what this low-profile
fellow is up to. In fact, he's doing a lot and, she writes, "feels
most comfortable and useful in the role of global noodge and pivotal
player among nations and nongovernmental actors." She notes that he's
actually been pretty tough and nervy, such as dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian
mess, proving to apparently be the first international personage to
see the damage in Gaza after recent Israeli attacks. He'll apparently
spend a big chunk of the rest of 2009 trying to bring feuding parties
in line for a global agreement on carbon emissions. Good luck. 

---July Popular Mechanics

is terrific with "25 Bold Ideas," a looking at what hotshot scientists
and engineers say are quick fixes or longer-term ideas to deal with
some of these challenges: turning trash into power; fix crumbling pipes
with sinuous robots; using unused highways (mostly medians) to support
elevated roadways to ease road congestion; breeding super rice to feed
the world, including flood-tolerant rice already developed by one California
genetic engineer; building homes not needing furaces; creating a "Lilliputian
robot doctor," or combing diagnostic imaging with very targeted drug
delivery while precisely navigating a patient's digestive track.  

---No surprise, July Cosmopolitan
offers a "Naughty Q&A," namely answering "every dirty
thing you want to know--in 20 words or less,"  including the
best position for shower sex and, "Are there any wild  techniques
I can pass along to my guy while he's giving me oral?" But 
it also profiles young women who are merely showering in the shower
in "Why They're Still Virgins." This suggest that it's their
abstinence so far is not necessarily tied to religious or moral 
reasons, or perhaps being prudes, but may simply be not having met the
right fellow. "Yet holding out can put a girl in a weird gray zone,

creating awkwardness when guys
(and even other women) learn their status," the magazine claims.
This prompts musings from seven women, several of whom claim it's a
function of bad luck so far in finding a guy. 

---July Redbook, which
is among the many to follow the Cosmo lead toward explicit bedroom counsel,
and  thus gets reader evaluations of various sex toys and techniques,
does have its more vanilla offerings, including its beauty director
checking out the men's aisle with her husband and finding the right
cologne, after shave, shampoo, and deodorant. Elsewhere, Jada Pinkett
talks about life with husband, Will, in a benign profile-interview
clearly tied to her new cable TV show, "HawthoRNe," 
while Gabrielle Anwar (a single mother of three) stars in a modeling
spread leaving little doubt why viewers of cable's hot "Burn Notice"
are agog over her. 

---July Good Housekeeping
revives a parenting stalwart, "Lying to Your Kids," answering
questions about when honesty isn't necessarily the best policy. The
toughest challenge may be dealing with questions of  truly scary
events and figuring out what children really want, or need,  to
know about them. For example, if it involves a school shooting, and
is not directly tied to a child's life, one expert here claims to seriously
consider not saying anything, especially if the child is not yet in

---July Vogue"s "The
Spectrum's Ends" proclaims that the fashion pendulum "is swinging
from a very discreet extreme to its polar opposite: the downright daring."
It presents new handiwork from Luis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Chanel, Miu
Miu, John Galliano, Lavin, Prada, Rodarte, Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler,
Calvin Klein and Balenciaga to bolster an argument that extravagance
is gone but gives way to a "search for a new aesthetic" in
which a desire to spend less money but still be distinctly provocative
are melding.  Oh, one also finds a full-page ad with Brooke Shields
touting "the first and only  FDA approved prescription treatment
for inadequate or not enough lashes"  and one full-page ad
with Brooke Shields touting sunscreen lotion. Does one put the lotion
on the lashes while at the beach? 

--And this week's Journey
to the Obscure takes us to the Body Image
and "The relation between women's body esteem and friendships with
gay men" by Canadian academics Nancy H. Bartlett, Heather M. Patterson,
Doug P. VanderLaan and Paul L. Vasey. 

In sum: 

Women who associate with
gay men are often portrayed as physically unattractive and lacking in
both self-confidence and attention from straight men. However, many
women report enhanced self-esteem and feelings of attractiveness as
a result of attention from their gay friends. It is well established
that body esteem can be negatively impacted by certain peer processes,
yet there is a dearth of quantitative research on positive peer influences
on women's body esteem. We tested two hypotheses: (a) women with gay
male friends have poor body esteem and are rejected by heterosexual
men, and (b) more contact with gay men is positively related to body
esteem. Participants were 154 heterosexual women, who completed measures
of their friendships with gay men, straight men and women, body esteem,
relationship involvement and break-ups. Results supported the hypothesis
that women's body esteem, specifically feelings of sexual attractiveness,
is positively associated with friendships with gay men.


I won't leave you totally
hanging. Near the end, the authors tell us: 

It is certainly possible
that women who are drawn to the friendship of gay men do not conform
to the ''heterosexual ideal'' of beauty, and do not receive
positive attention from straight men. However, this does not necessarily
mean that such women are unattractive. It would be interesting to know
whether gay men perceive female beauty differently than do straight
men, perhaps seeing beauty in a woman that straight men may not perceive
as particularly beautiful. This would be a fascinating line of inquiry
for future research.