New York Times Magazine, April 5 In the cover story, James Traub wonders why Pakistan is still so ungovernable after all these years. President Asif Ali Zardari has been in power since September and is unpopular after mishandling a series of political crises. Despite this, Zardari “gives the impression of thoroughly enjoying what must be among the world’s least desirable jobs.” As “[e]xtremism flourishes in the absence of legitimate state authority,” Pakistan’s stability remains a top American priority. The United States will pour $1.5 billion in development aid into the country of 170 million over the next five years. … A new Australian study showing older men have children with lower IQs could cause men to start thinking about their own biological clocks. “All those silver-haired sex symbols and balding sugar daddies … what if all of them became, in women’s eyes, too darned old?” the article wonders. The findings may not change everything, but “it would be a satisfying start if men had to pause and see age as part of their biological equation, too.”
Economist, April 4 An editorial discourages lashing out at the rich during this recession. Governments should not react to the crisis by raising taxes in the upper brackets to untenable levels, as this will cause the economy overall to suffer. “Squeeze the rich until the pips squeak, and the juice goes out of the economy.” Instead, governments should hammer out regulations to fix the financial system. “Curbing the excesses of wealth, then, will be a side effect of regulations designed to make capitalism work better.”… Imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s second trial will reveal whether Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s pledged commitment to the rule of law was a serious one, an article says. Russia wants for a real legal system and is therefore unlikely to attract serious foreign investors in these tighter times. “Capital will be scarcer” in the future, so to attract capital Russia must create “a safer and more predictable legal climate.”
Time, April 13 Human beings are propelling the planet’s sixth great wave of extinction, an article warns. Without preventive action, 20 percent to 30 percent of all species could die off before the end of the century. “[T]his time the cause isn’t an errant asteroid or megavolcanoes. It’s us.” To avoid living on a “biologically impoverished” planet, conservationists are employing new strategies such as “avoided deforestation,” which allows countries to assign a value to the carbon in their standing rain forests and then trade the credits internationally. Everyone should care about biodiversity and a clean planet, since “[t]he same natural qualities that sustain wildlife—clean water, untainted land, unbroken forests—ultimately sustain us as well, whether we live in a green jungle or a concrete one.”… Americans are buying more condoms as the recession wears on, an article finds. Condom sales were up 10.2 percent in January and February, suggesting people were trying not to have kids and having more sex in general. “To cut expenses, consumers are going out less, a phenomenon retail analysts call cocooning. Among couples, cocooning can lead to canoodling, which can lead to … recreation.”
Wired, April An attempt to map out the human brain is under way at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science, founded and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, an article says. Brains are sliced until they are only microns thick, then dyed and photographed to uncover where particular genes express themselves. “Once the human atlas is complete, a scientist studying autism or Alzheimer’s or human intelligence will be able to quickly generate a snapshot of the brain that reflects the specific genes they’re interested in.”… An article reveals that Jill Price, a California woman with a “perfect memory,” is merely obsessed with her own personal history. While she can remember exactly where she was for every Easter since her childhood, she performs normally when tested on her recent memories. “Price has spent her whole life ruminating on the past, constructing timelines and lists. … Dates and memories are her constant companions, and as a result she’s really good at remembering her past. End of story.”
Oxford American, Issue 64
An issue dissects the “past, present and future” of race in America, particularly in the South. A writer from Chicago grapples with his lingering distaste for America below the Mason-Dixon Line, born of an unpleasant experience he had in eastern Arkansas at 14 and horror stories of racial strife told by his aunt. Race relations have improved in all of America since that trip, he writes, but intraracial violence is on the upswing. “Statistically speaking, then, I am more likely to be murdered by the descendants of Emmett Till’s relatives than by the descendants of his attackers. And yet … I suspect many Northern blacks would prefer to take a late-night stroll past a local housing project than through a rural Southern town.”… In a series of essays on the meaning of Obama’s election, one writer describes the elation she still feels hearing the words “President Obama” on the radio: “I would die happy breathing this, so happy it wouldn’t feel like death but a kind of effortless transcendence that religion always promises but that reality has slyly delivered ahead of it.”
One hopes David de Rothschild succeeds on his voyage across the Pacific on a recycled boat after reading this week’s piece (subscriber only) in TheNew Yorker.
The cover story in the New Republic on why Democrats stink at governing rambles too long on procedural issues in Congress and lacks punch.
Best Politics Piece
Seymour Hersh’s reportage on Syria in The New Yorker provides a vital glimpse of what Bashar Assad is thinking.
Best Culture Piece
A New Yorker “Talk of the Town” captures the weirdness of discussing Battlestar Galactica at the United Nations.
Best Justification of Obscene Wealth
Michael Osinski, the man who wrote the industry-standard software that slices up mortgages into bonds, describes in New York how he grappled with becoming so wealthy: “I was wondering why I was making more than anyone in my family, maybe as much as all my siblings combined. … I was very good at programming a computer. And that computer, with my software, touched billions of dollars of the firm’s money. Every week. That justified it. When you’re close to the money, you get the first cut. Oyster farmers eat lots of oysters, don’t they?”