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Politicians—They’re Just Like Us!

Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton campaign for their spouses in US Weekly.

US Weekly, April 21 In separate pieces, Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton argue for their spouses. Obama says she initially opposed her husband’s candidacy. “But when I took off my selfish hat, and I put on my mom hat and my professional hat and my woman hat and my citizen hat, I realized that if I weren’t married to him I’d want a Barack Obama presidency right now—not in four or eight years.” Clinton details his wife’s public service and devotion to their family, noting, “Even in the White House, being mom always came first, until Chelsea went off to college. Then she had to worry about me! I was so lonesome for our daughter, she got me a dog named Buddy. She always seems to know the answer to every problem!” In case you were wondering the latest on celebrity endorsements, Obama counts Ben Affleck, Amy Smart, Kate Walsh, and Pete Wentz (who thinks the Illinois senator is “awesome”) on his side. Portia de Rossi, Kelly Rutherford, Cheryl Hines, and Rose McGowan all support Hillary.

New York Times Magazine, April 13 The cover story profiles Chris Matthews and labels the loudmouth MSNBC anchor “as pure a political being as there is on TV.” But he also may be an endangered species: “Matthews’s bombast is radically at odds with the wry, antipolitical style fashioned by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert or the cutting and finely tuned cynicism of Matthews’s MSNBC co-worker Keith Olbermann,” all political commentators who cater to younger viewers. In an essay, a journalist explores the spirituality of Kabbalah. Unlike its New Age companion Scientology, which has “subverted the traditional relationship between spirituality and authenticity by insisting that authenticity itself is fungible or even beside the point,” Kabbalah has “wrapped its ardent ecumenical message around the kernel of a centuries-old, highly ritualized tradition.” There are “discrepancies and yawning gaps in scrutability” in the religion’s practice, but “who’s to say…[it isn’t] on to something more sustaining than kaballah-imprinted merchandise?”

Atlantic, May 2008
An essay reviews Bill Cosby’s activism to study the “unique brand of conservatism” in African-American communities. Cosby offers a seemingly hopeful message, that African-Americans don’t have to “wait on the consciences … of policy makers who might not have their interests at heart” to change their communities. But the comedian’s tendency to pit “the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the claims of American citizens for their rights” and his insistence on eulogizing a historically inaccurate “hazy black past” are troubling. A piece examines comedian Al Franken’s campaign for the Senate in Minnesota and concludes that though the “impulsive, unbridled responses that are his signature talent” are part of his appeal, they will hurt him in the election if he’s unable to develop the “instinctive caution and self-control” of a politician.

Time, April 21 The cover story probes the history of Barack Obama’s mother, S. Ann Soetoro. It notes that she read a draft of Dreams From My Father, Obama’s memoir, before she died and wasn’t “obviously bothered” by its focus on his father, who was absent from his childhood. Obama says: “She was very much of the early Dr. [Martin Luther] King era. She believed that people were all basically the same under their skin, that bigotry of any sort was wrong and that the goal was then to treat everybody as unique individuals.” A piece infiltrates a troop of Bonobos, an endangered primate that lives in the Congo only and resolves its “differences through sex—straight sex, gay sex and sometimes, when different bonobo troops cross paths, group sex.” The “peaceniks of the animal kingdom” may have inspired the violence and corruption-plagued Congolese government to take surprising measures to protect them with local, community-based conservation efforts.

Economist, April 12 A briefing in the cover package on the unofficial American recession estimates how long it will last. The piece says the duration “will depend on many things, from the strength of foreign economies to the degree to which American firms cut jobs and investment” and concludes that “the odds are against catastrophe but on a lasting headache.” An article reports the efforts of Middle Eastern women to enter the male-dominated world of investment. While there’s no Islamic law barring women from the field, “religious and tribal customs mean conservative families frown on women mixing with unrelated men, even for the dullest of business purposes.” Some banks have even created “ladies only” branches in Arab countries. Women also trade stocks online, which they can do without leaving home, or turn to wealth management firms run “for women, by women,” whose consultants they can speak to without the presence of prying male family members. A piece suggests ecotourism could save the Amazonian rainforest, noting it is “one of the few non-destructive land uses capable of generating an immediate, competitive cashflow.”

Smithsonian, April 2008 The cover story explores the black hole at the heart of our hometown Milky Way galaxy— “a three-dimensional cavity in space just ten times the physical size of our sun but with four million times the mass, a virtual bottomless pit from which nothing can escape.” Though astronomers have never actually seen a black hole, they know there’s one at the center of every major galaxy. But scientists estimate they could capture an image of the Milky Way’s black hole within 10 years, which they expect will look like a shadowy, “lopsided and squashed teardrop.” A piece that reviews Lyndon Johnson’s presidential legacy on the 40-year anniversary of his decision not to seek re-election—and Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, which came just three days after his announcement—challenges the notion that he “backed out of the 1968 race a broken man, undone by years of domestic division.” Instead, it argues that the beleaguered president was “emboldened by his withdrawal—only to be broken, finally and irreparably, by the King assassination and the riots that followed.”

Must Read
Time’s piece on Obama’s mother reveals a new side of the candidate and offers little-reported details of his childhood.

Must Skip
The New Yorker’s lengthy George Clooney profile is a yawn-inducing look at the actor. But it does provide a definitive recap of the infamous Clooney-Fabio showdown in a Los Angeles restaurant. (Clooney on Fabio: “And I have to say, he’s a big cat.”)

Best Politics Piece
In New York, West Wing writer Lawrence O’Donnell pens an entertaining teleplay of every Democrat’s worst nightmare: a gridlocked convention in August.

Best Culture Piece
Good investigates the phenomenon of America-mimicking gated suburbs in China—and what that means for the country’s burgeoning energy consumption.

Best Cocktail-Party Factoid
A piece in the Economist reveals that one of Google’s company chefs, adored by employees for “the kombucha tea that he ferments from scratch,” will now be brewing for Silicon Valley upstart Facebook: “On Wall Street, no doubt, the short sellers have taken note.”