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On the stand: a weekly roundup of the best magazine reads Dec. 31

Foreign Policy

December 2011

What to make of an honour roll that extols with equal hyperbole the contradictory virtues of such figures as former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney and dissident Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, liberal economist Paul Krugman and far-right Congressman Paul Ryan? Trying to guess is part of the fun of FP's 100 Global Thinkers of 2011 list. Not surprisingly, the top 10 are all Arab, beginning encouragingly with Egyptian novelist Alaa Al Aswany. Also making a strong showing is the "I told you so" crowd, which includes such diverse figures as Japanese anti-nuclear activists Mizuho Fukushima and Yuichi Kaido, the Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown and various prophetically gloomy economists. Notably missing is any place for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whom the magazine dismisses as an anti-American maniac while nominating a Tunisian blogger who helped bring down his country's government by publishing documents leaked by the U.S. embassy. And what's this – no John Baird? Tut, tut.

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Border Crossings

Issue No. 120

After 119 previous issues published over a 30-year span, Winnipeg-based Border Crossings has finally published its first cheesecake cover. With all kinds of yummy pictures inside. But the articles are good, too – especially Robert Enright's long and illuminating interview with the creator of said cheesecake, New York artist John Currin. The artist explains that the paintings he is best known for – immaculate neo-classical renditions of scenes from contemporary pornography – are "as close as I've gotten to painting against lust." Illustrating its story with more tasteful stuff, the magazine likewise declined to reproduce Currin's take on Gustave Courbet's notorious L'Origin du Monde.

Elsewhere in the issue, artist Paul Butler documents his quixotic effort to reproduce the fabled bicycle fellow artist Greg Curnoe was riding when he was run down by a truck almost 20 years ago in his hometown of London, Ont. Resplendent with the famous slogan Curnoe hand-stencilled on the top tune of the original bike – "CLOSE THE 49TH PARALLEL ETC." – the reproduction was built by Mike Barry of Toronto, the same person who built the original in the early 1970s, and became the focus of an exhibition and community celebration in London. "Curnoe was and remains the hub in the bicycle wheel," Butler writes. "All the people he touched were the spokes and the wheel itself was his community."


January 2012

Can the little guy really beat the system? Probably not, as Christopher Ketcham ultimately concludes in this month's cover story, Stop Payment! A Homeowners' Revolt Against the Banks. But the fact that it might be possible – that U.S. homeowners threatened with foreclosure might not actually be liable for the mortgage debt they incurred – keeps us cheering all the way through. The article focuses on homeowner groups and lawyers that have enjoyed some success attacking the legitimacy of mortgages that were bought and sold so often at the height of the housing bubble that nobody knows who owns them now. If the aggrieved mortgagees' hopes are answered, banks will collapse. And sometimes, the author concludes, "cataclysm [is]not a threat to be feared, but an opportunity to be embraced."

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By contrast, real hope arises by the end of Cecilia Ballí's thoroughly reported, otherwise horrifying account of human rights abuses in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, which officially became the world's most violent place as the federal government swooped in to quell drug cartels. Almost 35,000 Mexicans have died in the government's "dirty war," according to Ballí, who sees hope in judicial reforms aimed at bringing renegade army officers and police to account.

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