Fun fact to know and tell: Forty-five percent of all shoplifters are female, one of the highest percentages of women in any category of crime. The fact emerges in the July/August New York Woman story about the lives of the rich and sticky-fingered -- and one pseudonymous and purportedly typical life in particular, that of "Martha Alcott," who has a wardrobe full of stolen merchandise and more than enough money to have bought it.
"The art of shoplifting is born of thrill, not necessity," Alcott says. When she confesses to details of her habit, she does little to disguise her pride. "I always stand around. I never leave right away. An extra thrill for vets like me is having a nice chat with a salesperson -- whether it's in a department store or a small boutique -- after your bag has been loaded with their merchandise."
Shoplifting by the affluent is not the same thing as kleptomania, the experts quoted here agree. David Finkle's story, in fact, comes close to glamorizing these criminals (responsible for $25 billion a year in stolen merchandise, according to one estimate), as if thievery from caprice or boredom were more benign than thievery from need.
Those who are tempted to try their own sleight of hand will find Alcott a source of practical tips and all-purpose rationalizations. "If I thought shoplifting was hurting somebody I wouldn't do it," Alcott says. "It has to do with my personal politics. It's my way of attacking the people who are keeping the money from everyone else. I am ripping off the military-industrial complex I learned about in college."
The Gentle Bazooka "An insult is a blatant, coarse, ugly thing," writes Aristides, a k a Joseph Epstein, in the summer issue of The American Scholar. "A put-down at least gives its target a fighting chance ... It is only the force of style that permits even the most outrageous put-down to elude the charge of pettiness, bad taste, or viciousness."
The essay that ensues (prompted, incidentally, by a humiliating incident in Washington's Jean-Louis restaurant) is a diverting excursion into the land of the devastating put-down, with Epstein's characteristically eccentric detours into the less refined precincts of one-upmanship and the practical joke.
The great put-downs of history may be familiar, but they can be savored again and again -- like George Bernard Shaw's note to Winston Churchill, enclosing two tickets to the opening night of one of his plays: "Bring a friend -- if you have one." And Churchill's response, regretting he would have to miss the opening night, but asking for tickets to the second performance -- "if there is one."
Some put-downs are more subtle, and less familiar. Epstein notes that the philosopher J.L. Austin once declared in a lecture "that while in most languages two negatives in a sentence were equivalent to a positive, in no language did two positives equal a negative, whereupon a voice thick with sarcasm from the audience called out, 'Yeah, yeah!' "
Epstein himself wields a respectably wicked lance. "When I learned that the literary critic Harold Bloom claimed, in Time magazine, to be able to read one thousand pages an hour," he writes, "it occurred to me to ask, What possible value can this have, except to permit me to read everything that Harold Bloom has written in fewer than two hours?"
Step Right Up The evangelical movement has penetrated corporate life, and its high priests are the likes of Zig Ziglar, who preaches "Zigmanship" and says "I'm in the life-changing business." For an hour of this, he gets $10,000, and some of his fellow fast-talkers get twice that.
Fortune's Jeremy Main explores the booming phenomenon of "Merchants of Inspiration" in the July 6 issue. His list of successful practitioners includes Charles Krone, who says things like this: "I would like to explore the relationship of both structural intelligence and associative intelligence to a framework depicting progressive levels of thought related to value-adding processes." Even Werner Erhard's est has been retooled as a management technique.
Does this sort of thing work? Client companies have only anecdotal evidence about the impact of motivational sessions on their productivity, but don't seem to mind. Apparently believing is believing. Zig Ziglar, Main writes, says his presentations are like baths and sermons -- "they have only a short-term effect, but that's no reason to give up bathing or churchgoing."
Table of Contents Hippocrates, the lively and intelligent new medical magazine, even makes house calls. In the July/August issue, Michael McRae reports that only a few American travelers take adequate health precautions before they go overseas, particularly to more exotic destinations with diseases to match. His guide (accompanied by a map of global health dangers) explains in straightforward fashion how to be forearmed with pills and inoculations.
In its July issue, M magazine showcases "notable contemporary egomaniacs -- which should please them no end, come to think of it." Maybe. Battered as he must be, Geraldo Rivera still won't like being called "the maddening macaw of TV journalism." Even if this pictorial feature suffers from heavy-handedness and terminal sophomoria, the list of (mostly predictable) victims includes some refreshing choices: Ed Asner, Felix Rohatyn, Bill Cosby, Sen. John Warner, David Letterman, Mario Cuomo, Ted Koppel, Willy Brandt and -- under the heading "Big Egos, but Who Cares?" -- Ed Koch.