Time, April 27 Walter Isaacson declares, "Without national standards for what our students should learn, it will be hard for the U.S. to succeed in the 21st century economy." Not only should algebra "be the same for a kid in Albany, N.Y., as it is for one in Albuquerque, N.M.," but grade-based algebra standards should be "comparable to, and benchmarked against, the standards of other countries." No Child Left Behind disastrously left standards to the states, many of which lowered them to make meeting them easier. The good news: The stimulus package includes $4.35 billion for states that make "dramatic progress."… An article highlights open courseware, or videos of lectures and classes that universities post for free on iTunes and YouTube. Although the practice is "hugely expensive" and could cause "devaluation of élite degrees," many schools believe it "attracts prospective students" and "keeps alumni connected."
New York Times Magazine, April 19 An article examines a proposal that would protect half of Massachusetts from significant development. The region, however, would still remain privately owned. The prevailing paradigm now is to preserve public forests completely as wilderness, but Harvard paleoecologist David Foster "sees the choice as not between wilderness and managed woodlands but between managed woodlands and sprawl." The country's "midlatitude forests" are superb carbon capturers. "The forest is producing oxygen," says Foster. "You try to explain to people that this is a huge natural machine that is working for you, and that we have to invest in it because that's what we do—we invest in infrastructure."… One author advocates preserving nature "from the coldblooded standpoint of ... happiness." Since humans are hard-wired to respond favorably to nature, and since technology has been unable to simulate nature effectively, we must keep "the real thing."
Economist, April 18 The cover story hopes that Jacob Zuma, South Africa's soon-to-be president, will not be one "for whom government is the accumulation of personal power and the dispensation of favors." Zuma is "charismatic and canny," and spent "ten years as a prisoner on Robben Island, alongside [Nelson] Mandela." He is also a gay-baiting "illiberal populist" with a history of corruption who was once accused of rape. (He was acquitted.) … An article suggests that Latinos' crucial place in Obama's coalition and "labor's apparent change from hindrance to help" may be the alignment of stars necessary for immigration reform. There's broad consensus for better border protection and worker verification, a legalization process, and a temporary-worker program. But "when Obama may dip his toe in these choppy waters, let alone dive in, remains unclear." Might his current Mexico trip serve as diving board?
Atlantic, May 2009 The International Monetary Fund's former chief economist tackles the U.S. financial crisis. "If you hid the name of the country and just showed them the numbers, there is no doubt what old IMF hands would say": nationalize the banks, and "break the oligarchy"—that is, the financial elite. "In a society that celebrates the idea of making money, it was easy to infer that the interests of the financial sector were the same as the interests of the country." The fallacy persists in the government's "velvet-glove approach with the banks."… A review summarizes the central argument of Alec Baldwin's new book: "that American divorce laws are deeply flawed, and that Kim Basinger is a crazy bitch." The author says Baldwin's relationship with his daughter, at whom he notoriously and crudely screamed in a leaked voice mail, is "sui generis" yet "also limned by the same dynamics—of amorous engagement, maternal jealousy, and paternal protectiveness—as any other."
GQ, May 2009 A dispatch from eastern Afghanistan wonders whether General David Petraeus' "long war," boots-on-the-ground strategy is really a "sort of half-assed colonialism." Counterterrorism has become counterinsurgency, since "the people we were fighting were generally not the kind who would be plotting against America but were instead militaristic groups involved in their own power struggles. … [I]t's a place where the disparate and often warring factions have never united around much except their shared desire to get rid of foreigners."… A profile says that actor Paul Rudd's ascent demonstrates "that the likable will inherit the earth eventually, but they need to be very patient." A keystone member of Judd Apatow's acting troupe, Rudd is nonetheless "the odd one out." "If the rest [of Apatow's stable] look like the kind of men who might not ... get the girl, then Rudd looks like a guy who probably would."
The cover story of Harper's offers a persuasive root cause for what bloated the financial industry at the expense of others—high interest rates—and shows how the rest of the economic dominoes fell.
Best Politics Piece
The New Yorker comment on President Barack Obama's speech in Prague advocating the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons expertly makes that idealistic hope seem both doable and necessary.
Best Culture Piece
Pegged to the announcement that all 12 Beatles albums will soon be re-released in remastered editions, Time insightfully explores"[t]he relationship between record companies and reissue buyers." That relationship "has not historically been built on good faith," and "Boomers are fish in a barrel for improved nostalgia."
We Plan Your Weekend
The Atlantic's review of Alec Baldwin's new book is best read alongside two other works: The New Yorker's phenomenal Baldwin profile from last September and the five most recent 30 Rock episodes.