Want to lose a million tons of ugly fat? From the defense budget? Then grab The Atlantic and read Gregg Easterbrook's amazing chronicle of the Divad antiaircraft cannon -- "the most sophisticated piece of equipment ever to roll onto a battlefield." We're about to pay $5 billion for this mega-tech wingding festooned with multiple radars, laser range finders, infrared sights, firing computers and more computers to back up those computers.
But, Easterbrook reports, the thing can't hit a maneuvering aircraft, won't work at night or in the rain, sends out a radar signal so strong that the enemy can pinpoint its position and aims less effectively than the human eye. And at a demonstration for top doggies last February, they switched on the electronic brain and "the gun immediately swung at full speed away from the target and toward the reviewing stand . . . Brass flashed as the officers dove for cover. Then the gun slammed to a stop, but only because an interlock had been installed the night before to prevent it from pointing directly at the stands."
* Find yourself fascinated but baffled by the dog-eat-puppy merger scrap between Bendix and Martin Marietta? Then don't miss Texas Monthly's splendid cover story "It's Time to Make a Deal," about how Texas petro-baron T. Boone Pickens, head of $2-billion Mesa Petroleum, tried last summer to seize control of $6-billion Cities Service. His Lone Star chutzpah "would take him to the heady pinnacle of American finance" where the stakes are titanic: Either "Mesa would instantly join the ranks of the second-tier oil companies," or "he might lose Mesa, his life's work. Even if he won, he would have to go more than $1 billion in debt." Author Joseph Nocera's richly textured account of the Park Avenue shoot-out moves at thriller tempo, but also explains the mechanics of an unfriendly tender offer, arcane plutocratic tactics like "the bear hug" and the "White Knight," and the mysterious machinations of "arbs." Must reading.
* As is Omni, with its six-story spread on the mind including brain transplants, Washington Post reporter Phil Hilts' journey inside Belle -- the silicon behemoth that holds the world computer chess title -- and the latest developments in the fast-expanding computer-games biz. The plethora of products (e.g.: Freeway, "in which the player tries to move his video chicken back and forth across a crowded freeway"), one game designer says, has created a national second language he calls "videoglyphs."
* See How They Run: Common Cause, often more powerful than Sominex, devotes most of its lively election issue to the cancroid growth of political action committees, due to dump an estimated $80 million into this year's election -- up 45 percent from 1980. Among the features are CC's "Leaders of the PAC" awards for most PAC swag taken in 1980. (Ranked by depth of pocket: Sens. Grassley, Abdnor, Symms, Quayle and Talmadge; and in the House Reps. Wright, Ullman, Corman, Fields and Wolf.) And we learn that PAC-mania has expanded to include even these unlikely entities: the Michigan Blueberry Growers Association PAC, the Cigar PAC, the Drum Reconditioner's PAC and the, uh, National Turkey Foundation. (Haven't we seen those guys at Clyde's?)
And Taylor Branch, in his Harper's story on homosexuals in politics, predicts that militant gays, outraged by the hypocrisy of in-the-closet gay politicos who take anti-gay public positions, will wage a "war of outage" to open the doors. (Among the first salvos: Perry Deane Young's new book "God's Bullies," which makes that allegation of NCPAC president Terry Dolan.) By Branch's estimates, the congressional closet is roughly the size of the Queen Mary -- promising a bumper year for the tabloids.
* Given the choice between reading about Barbra Streisand and taking out the garbage, most higher mammals will head for the Hefties. But Chaim Potok's Esquire interview with the reluctant pop diva is irresistible. Potok's deadpan reactions to her -- and to the cinemenagerie surrounding the movie she's filming, "Yentl the Yeshiva Boy," based on the story by Isaac Singer -- are the real subject of the piece. Especially when he finds himself up against Hollywood's mercenary nexus: "The message is clear: I give Barbra some days of work on the script; she gives me the interview." So she does, but Potok is the star.
* And in The Washingtonian, a trio of writers has done a truly creditable job of recreating the Air Florida disaster from the victims' point of view. The dialogue-rich, minute-by-minute story, interspersed with subsections on airline safety, includes detailed accounts of the pilots' takeoff dispute over the instruments ("God, look at that thing . . . That don't seem right does it?" "Yes it is." "Nah, I don't think that's right"), the instant of crash ("The cabin floor collapsed and virtually all the seats were ripped from their moorings, hurling the strapped-in passengers into a jumble of death") and the rescue scramble. Not for the faint-hearted. Psychology Tomorrow
Nicholas Charney has returned to take over Psychology Today -- the monthly he founded and then left 12 years ago for a career in video publishing.
As editorial director, Charney, 41, will honcho the wholesale "rebirth" of the magazine -- which had been snoozing a little -- with new "exciting visual and graphic packages," four-color availability on every page, and a complete restructuring of the content into two parts. The first will hold the major articles, "but instead of just articles, they'll be surrounded by little mini-packages, a series of sidebar treatments" on related aspects of the subject, "to encourage lateral thinking and a multiple perspective." Pandering to the notoriously Shorter Attention Span of Mr. and Ms. Newsrack U.S.A.? Au contraire: "What a magazine is today is changing. It's not a book. It has become a way to communicate quickly what's going on and to give the reader the resources to go beyond the magazine and get a more in-depth treatment."
The second part will resemble Omni's Continuum section -- a wrap-around amalgam of columns and short features on some 15 topics such as Work, Play, Help & Health and The Sexes. Letters and book reviews, instead of being grouped in one place, will appear in the appropriate topic area. There will be new standing features such as Ugly Facts ("only 10 percent of all pregnancies actually go to term" or "The Japanese watch more TV than we do -- 10.2 hours a day"); no articles in the magazine will jump; price and title will remain the same. Charney's voice reaches near-satori in discussing his "blockbuster" December issue, the first in the new format. "I'm having the best time I've had in a dozen years! My whole life was geared for this." Caution: Exploding Myths
For years, baseball oracles have nattered ceaselessly over how a curve ball "breaks" just before crossing the plate. Physicists have replied that it's impossible. Now Science 82 settles the matter with two Orioles pitchers and a set of strobe-light studies done at MIT. It is true that topspin on the ball's 216 cotton stitches produces a low-pressure system under the sphere which pushes it down faster than gravity would. But the strobe photos reveal that all curves drop in a smooth arc, and the celebrated "break" is a product of the batters' distorted perspective. (Joe Garagiola -- call your agent!)
Ask Mr. Science: A British engineer, cited in Discover, figures the Loch Ness Monster is actually a decomposing pine log which rises to the surface because of trapped gases. (Also in Discover: amazing micro-photographs of human sperm and egg meeting in conception. All right, we're impressed -- but frankly it looks like something you find in your sink trap.) And the Salem witchcraft trials could have been caused by food poisoning, according to Science 82. Those 17th-century Linda Blairs may have eaten some rye containing ergot fungus, which produces tingling, convulsions and hallucinations. But then, so does Pink Floyd. A Blast
From the Past: For the edification of younger readers, we present -- without comment -- the cover of the first issue of Gentleman's Quarterly, 1957. Where Are Standards?
Right there, sort of, in the premiere issue of The New Criterion ($3.50 at self-respecting newsstands). Behind the formidably austere cover, editor Hilton Kramer, former chief art critic for The New York Times, issues TNC's manifesto: excoriating modern culture for the "leftward" politicization of art; intoning that "criticism at every level" has "almost everywhere degenerated into one or another form of ideology or publicity or some pernicious combination of the two"; and promising "to identify and uphold a standard of quality."
But if this is the cure, give us back the disease! Admittedly, there is valuable work here: the adaptation from Elias Canetti's "The Torch in My Ear" and Norman Podhoretz's lucid and humane retrospective on F.R. Leavis. But too often the tone is so relentlessly hostile and the purported "criticism" so agonizingly abstract that the reader is simply repelled. Kramer's own denunciation of postmodernism -- for its lack of high seriousness, esthetic rigor and "stringent moral analysis" -- is a typhoon of derision which comes down to little more than a snipe at Susan Sontag's now 18-year-old essay on Camp, a loathing for the current modishness of salon painting and a detestation of Andy Warhol. (A literary critic who took shots at Rod McKuen would be laughed out of the faculty lounge.) And Joseph Epstein's caustic homily on "The Literary Life Today" is one long eclectic whine, chiding our writers for taking refuge in universities (thus producing novels of "fornication and fashionable ideas"), for intruding lefty ideology into their works, and for not producing a Voltaire or Samuel Johnson. If Kramer & Co. can develop positive, concrete agenda in future issues, TNC might achieve the indispensability to which it aspires. So far it threatens to become the verbal equivalent of acid rain.
And speaking of misplaced talent, can anyone explain why John McPhee is squandering his lavish gifts on this obsession with geology? His just-concluded and seemingly interminable series in The New Yorker (called "Annals of the Former World" but known on Publisher's Row as "Rocks II," in reference to his last book, "Basin and Range," also a geo-historical ramble) has marvelous revelations (we still live in an ice age, and one day a glacier will shove Toronto right down to Tennessee), a vast tonnage of information and occasional lyric flourishes. But the subject has an endemic redundancy and the prose soon becomes as impenetrable as the subject, thanks to McPhee's infatuation with abstruse jawbreakers like "Canadian craton," "Taconic Orogeny" or our personal favorite, "early Ordovician conodonts." (Sounds like either a monastic order or a dental problem.) Come back to us, John! This Just In
You say you've been RIFed, had all your savings in pesos and you've got a phobia about cheese lines? Well, help is on the way. Last week Davis Publications announced that it will launch "Sylvia Porter's Personal Finance Magazine" in the fall of '83 with a circulation of 250,000. Porter will write about one-third of the material in the $1.50 bimonthly. "But everything in the magazine will reflect her viewpoint," says publisher Carole Dolph Gross, who's thinking big. "She reaches 40 million people a day with her column . . . and they've been following her for years." The Ad-Man Cometh
The new Regardie's -- which contains a snappy history of Rosslyn's transformation from a "squalid little outpost of crookedness and sin" to the sterile promontory it is today -- informs us that the American Postal Workers Union will strike back against that nasty but hilarious Federal Express TV ad portraying the PWs as slothful zombies. The APWU is planning its own ad, with the slogan "We try to be letter perfect for you."
If you can swallow that, you'll buy garden apartments on Love Canal. And you'll love Access, the 40-page insert that subscribers found in their Harper's Bazaars this month. The worst new idea since lap cards, Access is a mail-order catalogue in story form. It follows Linda, a moody Gotham career gal, her family and her pals as they wallow through their conspicuously consumptive lives, in which some 246 products appear in supporting roles. Letters superimposed on the photos key their chattels to the surrounding ads, and the dialogue is thick with hucksterism. "Mmmmm--you smell good, darling," Linda purrs to husband Bob. "Don't ever run out of Halston for Men." Makes Nancy Reagan look like Mother Teresa.
"It blends the hard sell of a catalogue with the soft sell of a magazine environment," says John De Pasquale, head of New York's Direct Marketing Group, which hired psychologists to advise them on Linda's personality. The shrinks recommended violent mood-swings. "Subtly what we're trying to create is a rendition of the ups and downs of a working woman's day," says De Pasquale. "That's where there is a vulnerability to purchase." Worse yet, DMG is turning the glossy inanity into a talk show for cable TV, trying out rack sales at $2.50 and wants to offer subscriptions at $9 a year. P.T. Barnum wept. Goodbye, California
About to send the check for that condo out West? Maybe you ought to reconsider Ocean City. Discover reports that geologists expect action from a now-dormant monster volcano on the east slope of the Sierra Nevadas. The first time this thing went off, it "hurled 140 cubic miles of rock and ash -- 600 times as much as Mount St. Helens produced two years ago -- as far as Nebraska." Worse yet, a recent Science article on earthquake probability is bullish on The Big One: California has had a lot of moderate quakes since 1978, and "in the past, such periods have also been associated with major destructive earthquakes . . . the annual probability of such an event is now 13 percent in California." If the whole show goes in the drink, Magazine Column research shows, skateboards will form a land bridge to Australia and it will take 75 years to get the wheat germ out of the water. Around the Area
They're having a good cackle over at National Geographic about that ad Time's been running -- the one with the color photo of the big fern-festooned California house and the motorboat floating in front. Beneath the caption "Catching up with the Joneses," Time gloats about its ability to capture the affluent -- like the household pictured -- for their advertisers. But lo! the same shot first appeared as the lead photo in a December 1981 NG spread on Orange County. "If you want to catch up with the Joneses," twits one staffer in the marble palace, "read Time. But if you want to stay ahead of them, read National Geographic."
Investment banker and computer mogul William F. Gorog of McLean has been elected president of the Magazine Publishers Association. "I have no direct publishing experience," Gorog says, and "the last thing I consider myself is a guru to the industry." But he worked in the Ford White House, first as deputy assistant to the president for economic affairs and then as executive director of the Council on International Economic Policy. And these days, he says, "the MPA wants to seriously beef up its government-relations side," where he believes tax policy will be more important than postal rates. Gorog heads Charter Investment Corp., which finds foreign bucks for venture investment here, and another outfit that sells computer parts overseas. In the '60s he helped apply computers to publishing and pioneered the Lexis and Nexis information systems. Although reluctant to predict trends ("I've still got an awful lot to learn"), he expects the computer to revolutionize the industry -- especially digitally-programmed ink-jet printing that allows page-changes (for, say, different ads in different regional editions) without stopping the press run to change plates. "That's a mind-blower," says Gorog. "It'll have the impact of the Gutenberg press."
Still no word on the future of Forecast magazine, which hasn't appeared for three months. Early this summer owners Leonard and Dorothy Marks decided to seek a buyer for the monthly cultural calendar and arts review; and publisher T. Dean Reed fired the entire staff after the July issue went to press. Since then "nothing has changed," Leonard Marks says. Nothing, that is, except the blood pressures of disgusted subscribers who want their magazine or their money back . . . And a tip of the green eyeshade to John Sansing, who has been named executive editor of The Washingtonian. The 39-year-old criminal lawyer has written frequently for the magazine and served as senior editor since 1978. He will continue to edit the dreaded Capital Comment section, among other big-dome duties.
Just redesigned: Maryland, the state quarterly of historical heritage and regional culture, sporting a clean if sleepy layout and more color photos. The Autumn issue ($2.25 each, $8.50 a year) ranges from some handsomely illustrated puffery on the National Aquarium to the peculiarly worded profile of arms negotiator Paul Nitze ("he has a list of national accomplishments that glitter as firmly as the rows of maturing corn on his Maryland farm") to this flash from the Eastern Shore: "The first USDA-inspected rabbit-processing plant in the eastern United States will begin operations this fall in Greensboro." "There's a certain boosterism factor," says associate publisher D. Patrick Hornberger, who believes that his 30,000 mostly urban readers yearn for the pastoral and think of "Maryland as a state of mind." Look for future features on thoroughbred horses, the marine police and, yes, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. "Apparently," says Hornberger, "we're the only state with a state dog." And Finally
Remember Off the Wall Street Journal, the yucksome parody of the mighty morning paper? Well, editor Tony Hendra and publisher Larry Durocher are at it again. Next month they'll drop "Meet Mr. Bomb," a lampoon of a Civil Defense brochure (they call it the Futile Preparedness Agency) designed "to look just like a fake U.S. government pamphlet," Hendra says. And in December, it's "The Irrational Enquirer," their send-up of the noted fish-wrapper. "I felt it was unparodyable," says Hendra, "but then we got to working on the basic 12 elements -- aliens, decomposing bodies, human scum and so forth -- and it just became fall-on-the-floor time."