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The American Scholar

Autumn 2011

Dubya despisers were chuckling heartily three years ago when his aide Karl Rove reported that the outgoing president had read not 20, not 50 but 186 books (!) for his own edification and enjoyment between 2005 and 2008. George W. Bush? He of the jumbled thoughts, careering sentences and malapropisms, the C+ average from Yale – a reader? Well, yes. And it’s a pleasure he continues to indulge, according to Walt Harrington, a journalism professor since 1996 but previously a writer with The Washington Post Magazine.

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Harrington’s been weaving in and out of Bush’s life since 1986, having first met Dubya when the prez-to-be was still on the booze, a wannabe Texas oil tycoon and his daddy Ronald Reagan’s vice-president. Although Harrington never voted for Bush, it’s clear he likes the guy and believes he steadily matured during his two terms in the White House – a maturity informed by Bush’s attention to “serious historical non-fiction.” Bush, notes Harrington, now seems to be seeking the consolations of history in his reading choices, taking comfort that historians continue to debate whether George Washington had been a good president more than 200 years after his death.

Vanity Fair

December 2011

Margaret Thatcher (a.k.a. Milk Snatcher) marked her 86th birthday last month, reportedly deep in the Mariana Trench that is Alzheimer’s. Not that there’s any mention of this in Charles Moore’s hagiographic tribute to the Iron Lady who governed Britain from 1979 to 1990. Vanity Fair has been a redoubt of anglophilia from the days of Tina Brown’s editorship through the current regime of Canadian-born Graydon Carter, so it’s hardly a surprise to find Moore, former editor of the rabidly Tory The Daily Telegraph, waxing eloquent here. Fulsomeness aside, the article’s timely not only because we’ll soon be seeing Meryl Streep’s impersonation of the baroness in theatres but because it provides a sort of relief to the seemingly intractable difficulties faced by Britain’s current Tory supremo David Cameron. As Moore reminds us, Thatcher’s three terms were nothing if not tumultuous, especially the first where the official jobless total soared to 3.1-million and Argentina occupied the Falkland Islands. Thatcher’s legacy, of course, remains deeply contested; she’s one of the few democratically elected politicians to have generated two nouns (Thatcherite, Thatcherism) for The Compact English Oxford Dictionary.

The Walrus

December 2011

Fracking. It sounds like some obscure sexual practice. But, in fact, it’s short for hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. hydro-fracking), the process by which millions of litres of compressed water plus additives like diesel and crushed nutshells are used to shatter shale beds thousands of metres underground, creating fissures that allow the natural gas therein to flow into a well.

It’s controversial, of course. While acknowledging its unconventionality, energy companies tout it as the North American economy’s new “energy mainstay,” as Chris Wood writes here, “a fossil fuel as cheap and plentiful as coal, only cleaner and greener.” Others – like environmentalists, groundwater scientists and farmers – aren’t so sure. They “link fracking to a host of injuries [earthquakes among them]to water, air, humans and wildlife, and to the integrity of ecosystems.” B.C.-based Wood, author of Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, presents a nicely balanced account of the debate while arguing the practice needs to be more thoroughly analyzed and regulated.

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