Franklin Foer

Editor

Simon Says

Highbrows widely regard the singing competition "American Idol"--and the contest's mascot, its tart English judge, Simon Cowell--as an omen of impending cultural apocalypse. To list the specifics of this grim forecast: Performing more-or-less karaoke, complete with shooting flames and ocean waves projected on a massive video screen behind them, contestants pay homage to the most irksome trifles in the history of pop.

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Nineteen eighty-six marked the height of Dolph Lundgren's powers. Following his triumphant portrayal of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Hollywood pundits touted Lundgren as the Swedish Schwarzenegger. With his girlfriend, the flat- topped Jamaican actress Grace Jones, he formed a muscle-bound glamour couple that paparazzi could hardly resist.

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Bad News

Two months ago, I began reading the newspaper with a new set of eyes. That's when The New Republic launched The Plank (www.tnr.com/blog/theplank), a crackling blog to which I regularly contribute. Before my new career, I had largely consumed the Times, the Post, and the Journal in search of information. Now I read them in search of items. This eternal quest for Plank grist has changed my relationship to these papers.

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Intelligence Design

The title of the book Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime hardly sings. But, like buried Civil War bullets or tarnished World War I medals, this fusty essay collection on the great political philosopher is a curio sought by war buffs. On Amazon.com, a used copy sells for as much as $200.

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Brain Trust

In 1994, the eminent evangelical historian Mark Noll wrote a scorching polemic about his own religion called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The book lamented the "intellectual disaster of fundamentalism" and its toll on evangelical political and theological thought. All around him, Noll saw "a weakness for treating the verses of the Bible as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and then fit together to possess a finished picture of divine truth." While many evangelicals reacted angrily to Noll's description, they tacitly acknowledged his argument with their actions.

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Proxy Fight

If Harriet Miers didn't exist, conservatives would need to invent her. Five years into the Bush administration, they are stuck with an uncomfortable fact: They have fervently supported a president who has not only failed to deliver many lasting victories to their movement, but who has also saddled the reputation of the American right with what will (in all likelihood) be regarded as a losing war.That's not to say that they don't have sound reasons for howling about President Bush's lackey-cum-nominee.

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Everyone who watched this summer's race for College Republican National Committee (crnc) chair with any detachment has a favorite moment of chutzpah they admire in spite of themselves. Leading the count are the following: speaking sotto voce of your opponent's "homosexuality"; rigging the delegate count so that states that support your candidate have twice as many votes as those that don't; and using a sitting congressman to threaten the careers of undecided voters. I can understand the perverse appeal of each of these incidents.

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Swimming with Sharks

Everyone who watched this summer's race for College Republican National Committee (CRNC) chair with any detachment has a favorite moment of chutzpah they admire in spite of themselves. Leading the count are the following: speaking sotto voce of your opponent's "homosexuality"; rigging the delegate count so that states that support your candidate have twice as many votes as those that don't; and using a sitting congressman to threaten the careers of undecided voters. I can understand the perverse appeal of each of these incidents.

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The Mole

The press has spent the past week congratulating itself for awakening from its long slumber. After years of credulously reciting administration talking points about WMD and candy-throwing Iraqis, the corpse-lined streets of New Orleans have spurred reporters to finally get feisty with mendacious officials and slippery politicians. The most celebrated hero of this resurgence is CNN's Anderson Cooper. When Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu congratulated her fellow politicians for their poised response to Katrina, Cooper cried bullshit.

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Bully Pulpit

Last fall, a Bush-bashing ad in The New York Times included among its signatories the name of Norman Pattiz, the celebrated creator of Radio Sawa, a radio network fashioned to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world. This year, some say as a result of the ad, Pattiz has found himself battling for his seat on the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent government commission that oversees the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/ Radio Free Liberty, and Radio Sawa and its sister TV network, Alhurra.

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