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If Democrats win back the House in the midterms today, they'll owe an enormous debt to organized labor, which has spent more than $40 million--and sent millions of voters to the polls--to help the party take control of Congress. The AFL-CIO alone has targeted more than 200 contests in 21 states this cycle, and unions, despite their declining power, are still acting as difference-makers in many races.

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Open Net

Imagine you were choosing whether to buy a book from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble's website, and you knew that Amazon's site would load much faster, allowing you to scan books and sample their content much more easily. Or imagine that Fox.com's streaming video came up instantly and CNN.com's balked. Or that whitehouse.gov loaded quickly while the site of a contentious political magazine was plagued by delays.

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Now celebrating her twentieth year as the host of the world's most influential talk show, Oprah Winfrey is to television what Bach is to music, Giotto to painting, Joyce to literature. Time magazine hit the nail on the head when it recently voted her one of the world's handful of "leaders and revolutionaries." (Condoleezza Rice wrote Oprah's citation: "She has struggled with many of the challenges that we all face, and she has transformed her life. Her message is empowering: I did it, and so can you.") Like all seminal creative figures, her essential gift lies in her synthesizing power.

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Quiet Riot

What does Jerry Falwell have in common with Paul Wolfowitz and Howard Dean? What links columnist George Will with The New Republic? All, according to a recently issued "working paper," a shortened version of which appeared in the London Review of Books, are agents of an amorphous but incalculably powerful "Israel Lobby." That same inscrutable organization, the paper alleges, has dictated the decisions of politicians from George W. Bush to Jimmy Carter and determined the content of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The goal of the lobby?

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The Porn Identity

 IN THE MIDDLE OF MY SOPHOMORE year of college, my mother called and said she wanted to visit me — just to have lunch. My university was a six-hour drive from my parents’ house, so I knew something was wrong. We ate at a fancy Italian restaurant; over risotto, we chatted awkwardly about classes. I dreaded the moment when our plates would be taken away. And, sure enough, after the table was cleared, my mother began to explain to me that certain lifestyles were dangerous. “What are you trying to say?” I asked. There was a silence, and then she said, “I know about the porn.” THAT CONVERSATION CAM

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Bigger, Badder

You hear a lot of complaining, and rightly so, about Hollywood's tendency to churn out safe, unimaginative pabulum--the remakes, the sequels, the blow-everything-up movies. Less remarked upon is the opposite problem: The studios' inability (or unwillingness) to make B+ movies, competent, mid-sized genre films that are formulaic in the good sense. There was a time when Hollywood excelled at producing such solid but unexceptional fare--Westerns are the classic example--but no longer.

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Space Saver

Serenity, writer/director Joss Whedon's exuberant space opera, opens with one nod to the power of love and closes with another, the first concerning a brother's affection for his sister and the second, a captain's for his spaceship.

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Boxed Out

Damon Runyon called fighter James J. Braddock the greatest human interest tale in boxing history.  His once-promising career cut short by losses and injuries, Braddock and his family fell into poverty during the Great Depression. Though he took any available job working on the docks, he couldn't make ends meet. His children near starvation, he applied for federal relief and begged former colleagues for help. On a fluke, in 1934 he was offered a one-time fight against a contender, a fight he was given no chance to win.

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The Quiet Americans

In late July, news surfaced that Iran had executed two gay teenagers--ostensibly for sexual assault, but most likely for the crime of being gay.

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Sunken Cost

Americans do not capitulate easily to adversity, which is why President Bush's elegy last week--and his stirring promise to rebuild--comforted us. "Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome," he said, standing in front of the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, my hometown. "We want evacuees to come home for the best of reasons--because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love." It sounds uplifting. But, sadly, it is wrong. New Orleans should not be remade.

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