Friday, September 6, 2013

I only read it for the articles

Specifically, the obituaries.

The 'it' here is The Economist. Their obituary section, on the last page of the magazine, is far and away the most interesting part of the whole publication, and the part I always turn to first. It's not uncommon that this will be the only bit I actually read.

The reason it's so remarkable is that it pulls off an incredibly difficult feat - surveying a person's life in a way that manages to be respectful but even-handed. This is a fine line to walk - one does not wish to speak ill of the dead, but an obsequious hagiography will simply make for dreary and implausible reading. Consider their obituary for Osama Bin Laden if you want to see them take on an extraordinarily challenging subject for which to pull off this feat.

Most interestingly, they choose their subjects in a way that gives you insight into some or other aspect of society, while still being focused on the person in question.

For an example of a thoroughly unorthodox but excellent piece, look at their recent obituary for Elmore Leonard. Can you think of any other magazine that would publish something like that?

It left me glad I renewed my subscription recently after a long absence.

Then, of course, I flip to the front of the magazine and find masterpieces of grimly comic absurdity, such as endorsing Kevin Rudd in the Australian election. The role of Rudd's earlier 'liberal' policies towards asylum seekers feature several times in their reasoning. Personally, I would have thought that a magazine calling itself 'The Economist' might be able to give some nominal recognition to the fact that thousands of extra boat people have drowned as a result of responding to the incentives of this 'liberal' regime in an entirely predicable and obvious fashion. The dig at Abbott about homosexuality is particularly comical, given that Kevin Rudd's support of gay marriage dates all the way back to ... May this year. Now that's conviction! That, and praising Labor for passing a carbon tax with a price of carbon set at 3 times the world market price. Adam Smith would be proud.

And I get reminded of why I gave up my subscription in the first place.

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