Counterparties: Is Newsweek real?

October 8, 2012

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Newsweek/Daily Beast has become something of a media whipping post in the last several months. Editor Tina Brown, Michael Wolff wrote last month, is “the most famous magazine editor of her generation”, “engaged in a desperate and operatic struggle.” This summer, the family of the late Sidney Harman stopped pouring money into the company, and Barry Diller suggested that Newsweek could move into online-only mode.

If Newsweek has had trouble figuring out what it is, it’s also had difficulty determining what is. First, there was Niall Ferguson’s essay on Barack Obama, which featured elided quotes from the CBO, and amounted to “counterfactual history” that Paul Krugman called  “deliberately misleading“. Then there was a cover story on Muslim rage, which Twitter mercilessly mocked. There was also a recycled cover on vegetables and a story on the 10 best presidents in history in which Newsweek printed “an entirely different version of the list than the one historians submitted.”

So, if you’re confused about facts, have faith: This week’s cover story is unequivocally titled “Heaven is Real“. Former coma patient and Harvard doctor Eben Alexander has a book to sell called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. After Alexander fell into a seven-day coma, he had a unique experience: “as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.”

Heaven, it turns out, looks a lot like the airbrushed side of a ’70s stoner van. Alexander says his coma experience was “a vast, and incalculably positive, journey”. There was a ride on “a wing of a butterfly” and an-attractive-but-not-necessarily romantically inclined woman who said: “We will show you many things here”. All of the things Alexander did witness were beautiful and perfect and contradictory:  
It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming a part of it – without joining with it in some mysterious way. Again, from my present perspective, I would suggest that you couldn’t look at anything in that world at all, for the word “at” itself implies a separation that did not exist there. Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else, like the rich and intermingled designs on a Persian carpet … or a butterfly’s wing.

As Choire Sicha notes, “Heaven is Real” sounds a lot like the slightly less definitively titled best-seller Heaven Is For Real by Todd Burpo and Lynne Vincent. Vincent, who’s profiled in this week’s New Yorker, seems to be unsure, if wings actually exist in heaven. But, remember, facts are tough, even in heaven: As Alexander points out, “reality is too vast, too complex, and too irreducibly mysterious for a full picture of it ever to be absolutely complete.”

If you’re looking for a slightly different take on existence, Einstein’s letter questioning the existence of God goes on sale on eBay today. The bidding for Einstein’s skepticism starts at $3 million. — Ryan McCarthy 

On to today’s links:

Creative Destruction
A concise explanation of why Zynga failed – TechCrunch

EU Mess
The preferred-stock scandal that robbed Spanish depositors of billions – WSJ

73 members of Congress have championed bills that could directly benefit themselves or their families – WaPo

Apple and Google have recently spent more on patents than they have on developing new products – NYT

The Fed
Whom would Obama appoint to run the Fed after Bernanke? – WaPo

Legacy Assets
Monsanto says it has a patent on all descendants of its genetically modified beans – Businessweek

Inefficient Markets
The problem with high-frequency trading – Felix
The best way for the SEC to catch up to high-frequency trading? Pay others to help – NYT

Crime and Punishment
Wells Fargo offers a $25,000 reward over the killing of an ATM customer – LAT

Friends don’t let friends pay attention to unrevised jobs numbers – Matt Yglesias

Vandal defaces Rothko work at the Tate Modern, calls it art – WSJ

Foxconn is having more labor unrest – Bloomberg

Twitter’s CEO used to be a stand-up comedian, may or may not be funny – NYT

GE Capital may be nearing the dreaded too big to fail label – Bloomberg

Evaluating effectiveness based on hours worked is a “remnant of the industrial age” – NYT


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