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Strange fruit and the stock market


For consistently outstanding writing and a thought-provoking mix of articles, few magazines do better than Harper's.

This month, Barry Lopez offers a fascinating and revealing piece on cargo planes and the odd things they carry. Most of the stranger items involve food and reflect the world's diverse cravings -- ostrich and horse meat and bear testicles. Then there are durians -- "pulpy, melon-sized fruit whose scent reminds most Westerners of vomit."

In the same Harper's and just in time for Halloween, don't miss Ted C. Fishman's frightening damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don't look at the stock market. Because Social Security may be just a memory in a few short decades, Mr. Fishman believes playing the financial markets is the only way to avoid going from the corner office to the poorhouse after retirement.

But predicting the future in stocks, bonds and mutual funds with any certainty is impossible and many so-called financial experts have been dead wrong more often than they have been right. So what's a future retiree to do? Close your eyes and roll the dice. "Risk be damned, retirement be feared; this is the way we live now," Mr. Fishman concludes.

Mob love

Ignore the cover story on Jay Leno and his late-night battles with David Letterman in this month's Esquire. We've read it before.

Instead, read Nicholas Pileggi's excellent account of a mob love story in Las Vegas. You'll want to shower afterward to wipe the sleaze off. It's the sordid story of mobster Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal; his wife, Geri McGee, a poor California kid who grew up to be a Las Vegas hustler; and her lover, Anthony (the Ant) Spilotro, Rosenthal's boyhood pal from Chicago who grew up to be a hired killer. Martin Scorsese has made it into a soon-to-be-released movie, "Casino," starring Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci.

Elsewhere in Esquire, Chip Brown provides an expose of Deepak Chopra, high shaman or charlatan, depending on whom you believe, of Eastern-style medicine. Dr. Chopra, a trained doctor, has turned his theory of meditation as a way to heal body and mind into a million-dollar industry.

Marsalis gets snide

In a rambling interview, this month's American Heritage gives Wynton Marsalis ample space to pontificate about the history, theories and ideology of jazz. The problem is that the interviewer, music writer Tony Scherman, is obviously a big fan and fails to challenge Mr. Marsalis when he dismisses the current crop of musicians with snide remarks. "Right now, we're trying to get back to people playing at a competent level of musicianship" is one example of Mr. Marsalis' biting tongue. He also seems to think he is the only one capable of bringing jazz to the masses. Mr. Marsalis has some thoughtful insights, but his overall tone is elitist and arrogant -- the same words critics use to describe him.

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