James Warren: This Week In Magazines: Helping the Ill with Robots and an Academic Classic – Gays and Coastal Resorts

Goldman Sachs, poster child for the double-edge sword of mega-success, now finds that even an act of seeming charity brings rebuke.

The Oct. 30 The Week notes that Goldman boss Lloyd Blankfein "tried to pre-empt the angry backlash" over its $3.19 billion in third quarter profits and dispensing of $16.7 billion in bonuses by making a $200 million donation to its education foundation. Hey, $200 million for education is nothing to sneeze at, correct?

But to the magazine, "It brought to mind John D. Rockefeller handing over spare coins to tattered street urchins." Ouch. "Rockefeller's greed eventually backfired, leading to 'Teddy Roosevelt's trust-busting crusade,' which broke up Standard Oil. But Goldman has Washington wired with its friends, from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to the new head of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission -- a Goldman alum. In the new era of greed, the trusts and the government play for the same team."

It's painting with a rather broad brush but there's an arguable qualm in there, given our taxpayer largess.

---The Nov. 2 New Yorker is definitely worth "Robots That Care," Jerome Groopman's inspection of experiments in using robots to deal with patients of various sorts, especially those with brain injuries, Alzheimer's and autism. Some of the fascinating questions raised by the early work include ethical ones. For example, if a patient gets emotionally close to a robot but it then breaks down or, for some reason, is taken away, what does one do? Or what if a patient treats a robot like a servant, then begins treating friends and family members the same way as a direct result of the interaction?

---Nov. 2 ESPN's "4 Days, 3 Nights, and $1 Million" profiles Phil Ivey, apparently the world's greatest poker player, and not a bad gambler when it comes to any game, as reporter Chad Millman finds out as he follows Ivey to various casinos, justifying the story's title without even playing his favorite game, poker. He's 32, very rich and runs about in his own jet; in this case traveling from Los Angeles to Connecticut, then to Montreal and Austria, mostly playing craps and winning big and fast. He's so big that at one point "he is escorted to a back room at the Casino de Montreal, where a crap table, with a plaque engraved with his name on top of it, awaits. The casino paid $40,000 to have the table custom-made just for him. It's partly explained by achievements such as these: winning $16.6 million over three days playing Texas hold 'em and apparently winning about $7 million online last year."

---Nov. 2 Time's cover makes a case for California being our green, global future, going over lots of old ground but making a solid case, nonetheless. The best here may be a look at one of hundreds of issues in the health care debate in Congress -- how many years of monopoly protection should be given drugs known as biologics -- and how it will be a good barometer for whether lobbyists and the status quo win out, despite the strong public policy arguments to be made for change.

---There are clearly second, and third, acts when it comes to a magazine about Asian and South Asian women living in the United States. Thus, welcome back Eastwest Life + Style, which started as a Website, then become a print publication given to multiple logo changes and, then, died. It's back and while it won't be confused with the New York Review of Books, it's a generally very upbeat look at a distinctly growing demographic group.

The one distinctly somber piece, and perhaps the best here, is "Cancerous Disregard Leads to Startling Statistics," a look at how Asian American women "make up the only American racial or ethnic group in which cancer is the leading cause of death." Still, they "remain the least likely of any ethnic group to receive screenings for breast and cervical cancer." Elsewhere, there's a distinctly lighter profile of actor John Cho (Harold & Kumar, ABC's new Flash Forward), who opines on the casting of Asians (he's Korean American). "The landscape has change -- with the exception of Harold, I haven't played a character written as Asian for many years. But that's not something to brag about either."

---To the growing library of obituaries, or at least melancholy musings about the state of the American newspaper, please add November Harper's "Final Edition" by Richard Rodriquez, a wonderfully crafted but mournful look at the advent and role of newspapers in San Francisco. Now, the papers around him are so thin, even charging to run obituaries. Community, he's convinced, will be weakened. "We will not read about newlyweds. We will not read about the death of salesmen. We will not read about prize Holsteins or new novels. We are a national dismantling the structure of intellectual property and all critical apparatus. We are without professional book reviewers and art critics and essays about what it might mean that our local newspaper has died. We are a nation of Amazon reader responses."

---November-January Organic Gardening's conversation with author Michael Pollan on the glories, and limitations, of gardening, noting that an estimated 27 million American homes did some sort of vegetable gardening last year. "The people who are vegetable gardening are cooking," he says. "I don't think you garden unless you're going to cook. Fifty-eight percent of Americans are still cooking, but the numbers are trending downward. The trends are away from home cooking and towards convenience food. Yet, if people garden, they will cook, and vice versa."

---This week's Journey to the Obscure takes us to Winterthur Portfolio and "Secure from All Intrusion: Heterotopia, Queer Space, and the Turn-of-the-Twentieth Century American Resort" by Kevin Murphy, an art historian at the City University of New York.

As turn-of-the-century American resorts became more socially stratified, historicist projects provided a refuge for men and women who avoided participating in the courting rituals that characterized seacoast summer places. Renovated historic houses, or new residences in the style of the old, represented an alternative to the mainstream resorts of the New England sea coast for men and women whose loving relationships were not bound by the contemporary categories of heterosexual and homosexual. The formal characteristics of these houses cannot be understood apart from their owners' unique positions with regard to the mainstream social life of the resorts.

Got it? If not, he concludes:

Theodore Corbett has observed that the emergence of resort life is an underexamined historical transformation of the nineteenth century with far-reaching implications.

Recent scholarship has attended to many aspects of the emergence of the resort in North American culture, including the dynamics of race, class, and gender relations at the new watering places, as well as the importance of historical identity in the promotion of various vacation spots. At the same time, sexuality has been treated in the history of resorts in relation to both the prominent role of heterosexual courtship in the social lives of many such places, as well as in the context of the relatively few get-away spots that catered increasingly to gay and lesbian tourists from the turn of the twentieth century onward.

Knowing more about the houses discussed here complicates all of these stories. On the one hand, we learn that historicism can be more than a marketing strategy or a means of excluding nonwhite vacationers; on the other, we find out that some old places became refuges for those who resisted the rigidity of social roles at the resorts, that they were venues for staging identities that went well beyond the polarities of heterosexual and homosexual and were properly ''queer.'' Although they shared certain characteristics with artist colonies and gay-friendly resorts, the towns examined here were distinguished from them by their overriding historical characters. Those identities were first established by the queer and heterotopic spaces constructed out of old buildings or from whole cloth by men and women whose projects at the margins of their watering places eventually became their defining elements.