New York Times Magazine, June 29 The cover story investigates Europe’s “baby bust.” Contrary to the analysis offered by social conservatives, who believe secular lifestyles based on nontraditional gender roles are to blame, sociologists attribute rapidly shrinking European populations to a lack of support for working mothers. The theory plays out in the fertility rates—countries with “greater gender equality have a greater social commitment to day care and other institutional support for working women,” like the Netherlands and Norway, which have more births than more traditional countries like Italy, where “society prefers women to stay at home after they become mothers, and the government reinforces this,” even though fewer Italian women work outside the home than their Scandinavian counterparts. … A profile of 41-year-old Olympic swimming hopeful Dara Torres observes that even in middle age the three-time world recorder holder “loves to win, but not as much as she hates to lose.” Torres, who employs a retinue of stretchers, trainers, and a chiropractor to maintain her physique, will likely become the oldest female swimmer ever to compete in the Olympic Games.
Harper’s, July 2008 An essay delivers a play-by-play of competition at the triennial Magic Olympics, where champion-title hopefuls compete in two fields: up-close, sleight-of-hand magic and stage magic. While recounting his doomed performance, the author reveals, “There are many ways to lose at the Magic Olympics. You can fail to qualify, run out of time, get eighty-sixed on any number of technicalities but nothing compares to the disgrace of being redlighted in the middle of your act.”… A piece profiles the holder of the “World’s First Perfect Pac-Man” title—the be-mulleted Billy Mitchell, who “collected all available points—every dot, every energizer, every ghost (while energized), every bonus prize, for all 256 levels on his first man,” thus scoring the game’s maximum 3,333,360 amount of points during a six-hour game. Mitchell, who is in his early 40s, is of a generation of “classic gamers,” who “came of age in the early eighties” during the height of the arcade craze and “thinks of his Pac-Man prowess as a patriotic symbol, a matter of national pride not unlike the space race.”
Wired, July 2008 An article suggests that the “likely consequence” of growing numbers of Chinese learning English without “enough quality spoken practice” means that “more and more spoken English will sound increasingly like Chinese.” Already, nonnative speakers far outnumber native speakers, and in the next decade, native speakers will make up only 15 percent of those who use the language. English is “on a path toward a global tongue—what’s coming to be known as Panglish.” And, “[s]oon, when Americans travel abroad, one of the languages they’ll have to learn may be their own.”… A piece looks at Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan’s rejection of computer-generated visual effects for the upcoming stunt-heavy Batman flick. It notes, “While today’s action heroes routinely come dressed in shades of the giddy synthetic (à la Spider-Man and Iron Man), movie fans have gorged on digital eye candy—and, perhaps fearing retinal diabetes, now they’re cutting back. … Still, gritty naturalism is no small leap for the spandex genre. It’s a mood more identified with art noir and the prestige pic, the kind of cinema built to attract Oscars, not mass audiences.”
Economist, June 28 The cover story augurs the end of the Microsoft age. Now stepping down from running the company he founded, Bill Gates realized early on two now-obvious tenets about the industry: that “computing could be a high-volume, low-margin business” and that “making hardware and writing software could be stronger as separate businesses.” But the world’s richest man is “less well-equipped for the collaborative and fragmented era of internet computing,” the piece contends. “Watching Microsoft in the company of Google and Facebook is a bit like watching your dad trying to be cool.”… A piece on the Supreme Court’s recent handgun decision speculates on how it could affect Barack Obama’s chances in the election. If gun advocates feel that because of the decision, their “weapons are safe, it could help Barack Obama, since those gun-owners will feel safe to be swayed by other things they might like about him, such as universal health insurance.” But if the decision makes them feel like “big-city liberals want to grab their guns, that could hurt him badly.”
Time, July 7 An article examines the phenomena of female suicide bombers, revealing that they are “are uniquely effective in Iraq.” Because the “culture … forbids male police officers and checkpoint guards to frisk women—yet also frowns on women joining the security forces—many have easy passage to high-value targets like police stations and markets.”… An op-ed by Slate founder Michael Kinsley * cautions that just because “the Saudis would also like the price of oil to moderate … doesn’t mean their interests and ours are now aligned.”… A piece highlights some churches’ institutional encouragement of “frequent sex” between married couples. A few notes from a sex calendar passed out in a workshop include: ” ‘Sun: Worship together’; ‘Mon: Give your wife a full body massage’; ‘Tues: Quickie in any room besides the bedroom.’ ” But one critic of Christian “sexhortations” says they are just “another way of becoming the best Christian wife—to have tons of orgasms so their husbands can go to church the next day and tell people how they really made Jesus proud in the sack.”
A piece in The New Yorker details the shady dealings of the third-richest man in the United States, Sheldon Adelson.
Newsweek’s cover package on Cindy McCain reads like a summary of already published pieces on the GOP candidate’s wife.
Best Politics Piece
An essay in the New Republic’s cover package on China explains how the one-child policy has created a Wild West of “hopeless, volatile men.”
Best Culture Piece
A Harper’s pieceprofiles Pac-Man phenomenon Billy Mitchell.
Worst Fourth of July Issue
Time’s “Patriotism” cover package is bromide-heavy. If you must open it, skip the opening piece that features such banalities as: “Our patriotism shapes our responsibilities as citizens, how we navigate in the world and, ultimately, what it means to be an American.” Go straight to much better essay exploring the differences between how liberals and conservations view love-of-country.