The Best American
Magazine Writing 2012

Sid Holt, Editor
(Columbia University Press)
Part Two
Which is not to say there are not a few bits of high art in The Best American Magazine Writing 2012. Luke Dittrich of Esquire Magazine does a serviceable piece on the tornado that demolished part of Joplin, Missouri in 2011. He follows twenty-three people who survived the storm in a oversized beer cooler (!) at a local mini-super. Wesley Yang examines "the bamboo curtain" to find out why --- in New York city schools --- 72% of the top scholars are of Asian descent but less than 20% make it into top management of national corporations.

And Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone offers us a rich commentary on the financial disaster of 2008 - 2009, how it was designed, pushed along, and made a nightmare reality by various banking institutions and Wall Street stars. Taibbi is a master of a clear-sighted, simple and direct style of writing championed by Strunk & White:

    But the bubble was overwhelmingly built around a single private-sector economic reality that had nothing to do with any of that [Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, etc.]: new financial instruments made it possible to sell crap loans as AAA-rated paper.

On policing the stock market: "The point being: we have a massive police force in America that outside of lower Manhattan prosecutes crime and imprisons citizens with record-setting, factory-level efficiency, eclipsing the incarceration rates of most of history's most notorious police states and communist countries."

    But the bankers on Wall Street don't live in that heavily policed country. There are maybe 1,000 SEC agents policing that sector of the economy, plus a handful of FBI agents. There are nearly that many police officers stationed around the polite people at Zuccotti park.

Some of us have vowed to protect our aging hearts from further damage by refusing to think (and read) about American's continual stupid fiddling around in stupid Iraq and stupid Afghanistan and various other stupid Middle Eastern countries. This eliminated for us several articles in The Best.

For instance, from The Atlantic, there are the murderous activities of "Our Man in Kandahar " --- a local police chief who was hired on as part of America's rent-a-war complex in Afghanistan. There is the "Encyclopedia of 9/11" from New York magazine, which includes chapters on "Dead, Accounting of the," "Torture" ("Once anathema, now a choice"), "Freedom Fries," (French fries removed from the House of Representatives menu to, presumably, punish the French for not following the party line on our wars), and "Cheney, Dick" --- which ends,

    He is being kept alive by a pump that makes his blood flow. The man who championed waterboarding (and gay marriage) no longer has a pulse.

There is, gack, further, "Arms and the Dudes," two young entrepreneurs who became Pentagon-sponsored arms dealers to the Middle East. Too, there's "The Invisible Army," an in-depth study taken from The New Yorker of the foreign workers who are recruited --- mostly from the Far East --- to work at American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan at miserable wages.

Finally, there is an awful (and awfully sad) article called "The Signature Wound" about the bodily damage to a soldier who steps on one of the small land mines (IEDs) in the war zones of Afghanistan. "The marine told me that the first thing you do after the blast is a facial check .... you see if your eyes, your nose, your mouth, your ears are still there."

    Then you grab your dick. He said that if you got that --- a face and a dick --- you're fine. Everything else is manageable.

Which set me to thinking that if the various anti-war factions in the U. S. could ever get their act together, all they'd have to do is to reprint several thousand copies of this article and start handing them out for free at store-front military recruiting stations around the nation. When the availability of military personnel for our overseas adventures dried up some, perhaps the people in Washington would get the message.

There is, at the very last, in Best Writing, a superb piece by the late Christopher Hitchins: a finely-tuned review of contemporary "revised" bibles which are mostly put out to serve a party line by this or that religious faction.

He dismisses all of them and their updated editions of the King James Bible with a wonderfully potent (and pertinent) finale:

    A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it "relevant" is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward," says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter?
--- Pamela Wylie

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