What's new in the Economist, Wired, and Harper's.

Summaries of what's in Time, Newsweek, etc.
Dec. 12 2008 5:30 PM

Name That Slump

Time on what to call the economic downturn.

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Time, Dec. 22 Economists are grappling with how to describe the current downturn, which appears to be worse than a standard recession but not quite as bad as the Great Depression. Terms being considered include Mini Depression and Great Recession. "We won't know until it actually happens," the author writes. "A crucial aspect of every recession is the interplay between expectations and economic reality." With endowments tanking and families increasingly unable to shell out $50,000 for tuition, colleges and universities are scrimping to get through the recession, an article finds. Beloit College, facing a $1 million budget shortfall this year, is trimming wherever it can, laying off one-tenth of its staff and removing trays from its cafeterias to cut down on "dishwashing and food waste." Many schools that invested a lot in private equity or real estate could see their endowments drop as much as 30 percent.

Economist, Dec. 13

Economist, Dec. 13 A special report on India evaluates how the country, accustomed to nearly 9 percent GDP growth, will cope with the worldwide economic slump and the attacks in Mumbai. To improve life for the 42 percent of Indians who live in poverty—a big priority for Manmohan Singh's government—rapid economic growth is key. The rest of the world can learn from Iceland, which suffered "the biggest banking failure in history relative to the size of an economy," a piece says. Some are calling for ever-nationalistic Iceland, which has long spurned the idea of joining the EU, to move toward "euroisation." Such a move "could be as significant, in its way, as Iceland's decision to adopt Christianity and throw out its pagan gods 1,000 years ago," one banker said. Britain's economy has some troubling similarities to Iceland's—namely a large banking industry and a dependence on borrowing—leading some economists to worry that London could become a "Reykjavik-on-Thames."

New York Times Magazine, Dec. 14
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New York Times Magazine, Dec. 14 The annual "Year in Ideas" issue catalogs 54 ideas that left their mark this year, including the plants' rights movement, the science of goalkeeping, and an Israeli dog-poop DNA bank that aims to discourage irresponsible pet owners from not scooping up after their pets. An article on Meedan, a social networking site that translates between English and Arabic in real time, wonders how effective and nuanced computer translations can be. Sure, "Nebraska can now chat with Nablus," but when discussing sensitive issues involving the Arab world, will important pieces be lost in translation? "As with any dispute, language matters. Terrorist or freedom fighter? Martyr or murderer? Human editors and translators often wrestle with such terminology, so it is not hard to imagine a clumsy computer translation sparking an ugly—and unnecessary—row."

Wired, December

Wired, December The cover story profiles Ray Ozzie, who took over for Bill Gates as Microsoft's chief software architect in 2006 and now faces an uphill battle. "Microsoft used to be regarded with fear and respect—Lord Voldemort with market share. Now people downgrade their computers to avoid Vista … and the public face of the company is the hapless loser in the Apple ads." Ozzie hopes to make Microsoft relevant again by releasing a lot of smaller, service-based products instead of rolling out a behemoth product every few years. An article on diamond hunter and "rogue geologist" Chuck Fipke describes how he helped make Canada the world's third-largest producer of rough diamonds, now preferred over "blood diamonds" from war-torn African nations. In 1991, Fipke discovered that earth from an area in Canada's Northwest Territories contained 60 carats per 100 tons, setting off a diamond rush.

Harper's, December

Harper's, December The cover story slams the Bush administration for "waging war against the law itself" and declares that the administration must be punished for its most egregious transgression: allowing torture. The author considers the International Criminal Court and domestic courts unsuited to this task, advocating instead the establishment of a "truth and reconciliation commission" followed by special prosecution. A dispatch chronicles the New York Philharmonic's February 2008 trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, which the president of the Philharmonic dubbed "a nice Orwellian fantasy." At the end of the concert, foreign journalists ran out into the crowd to interview audience members. "I wondered why we kept asking questions," the author writes. "Our attempts were not unlike walking into Disneyland and pleading with the actress playing Cinderella to tell us about something other than her missing slipper."

Must Read
Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece on the difficulty of predicting who will be a good teacher could shake up classrooms around the country.

Must Skip
A Weekly Standard piece on how the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History bores museum-goers also bores readers.

Best Politics Piece
In Harper's, Scott Horton outlines the steps the Obama administration would need to take to set up a committee to investigate the outgoing administration's use of torture.

Best Culture Piece
A Newsweek piece on vampires in popular culture declares that their hold on our imaginations is "as deathless as the creatures themselves."

Best List of Superlatives
New York's annual "Year in Culture" issue contains smart and snarky superlatives on the year's television show, books, and movies ranging from "Best Hope for the Muppets" to "Best Grown-up Indie Bands."