A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions By Ian Parker

It’s not unusual for an artist to draw deep from their life story to produce a work with deep emotional resonance.  The value of one’s biography can often outweigh the quality of the work, so that our judgement of the work is made in context with our knowledge of the author’s life. Naturally this encourages a tendency to embellish one’s life story, even to the extent of inventing new details out of whole cloth.

This profile of A. J. Finn in the New Yorker is a deeply engaging look at how one of today’s best-selling authors has likely abused the practice of making up stories about himself in order to fulfill his aggressive ambitions in the publishing world.  The story is a window into this world of writers, editors and promoters in which identity, even if totally constructed, has more valuable currency than the stories themselves.

If San Francisco is so great, why is everyone I love leaving? By Diana Helmuth

Probably the most visible trend taking place in established cities that continue to prosper is the hollowing out of the middle class.  As the contemporary urban economy upgrades itself toward highly-paid technology and professional service jobs and away from manufacturing, the cost of housing rises and those who can’t afford it move elsewhere.

These changes can happen so radically that even seasoned professionals with prestigious degrees begin to realize that their relatively high salary can’t provide a modestly comfortable lifestyle, eventually leaving behind a city populated exclusively by the ultra-wealthy.  Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg took pride in declaring his home a “luxury city”, where an elite can come together and take over former working-class districts that gradually lose their authentic charm.

It’s not unusual for me to encounter someone who has just moved to the middle of the country from one of these “superstar” cities”, enjoying career success for a few years but then coming to the sad realization that there’s no place for them once they start having children. The story by Diana Helmuth resembles so many others I’ve listened to, and reminds us all how rootedness to a city can be so valuable to one’s well-being, and how that becomes increasingly hard to do in our changing world.

The Bolivarian God that Failed By Clifton Ross

Eventually, albeit painfully, true believers in revolutionary socialism see the light. Clifton Ross was fully invested in the rightness of the cause of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.  But unlike everyone else who enthusiastically supported the socialist revolution taking over South America’s most oil-rich country from the comfort of their own homes, Clifton traveled deep into the country to produce film documentaries that chronicled the newly-minted programs and initiatives.  

He soon realized that even the revolution’s noblest intentions would succumb to the Chavez regime’s rampant corruption and authoritarian tactics.  Lengthy articles such as this one are important to understanding the thinking of a socialist, and also at what point their worldview starts to collapse. It’s amazing how directly engaging and talking to people who are actually living under your ideal political system will render your abstract reasons for supporting it foolish.

Clifton’s story also serves as a good example of how travel, particularly the kind where you are immersed in daily life of the place, will harden your attitudes towards a foreign land just as much as it will make you open-minded.

How I was Kicked Out of the Society for Classical Studies Annual Meeting By Mary Frances Williams

Classics, which includes the study of the ancient Greek and Roman civilizations and their languages, is the key to understanding fundamental aspects of our contemporary culture.  Our understanding of nature, of law and justice, our place in the world, even how we communicate can be directly attributed to the accomplishments to ancient Greece and Rome.  

But even this noble pursuit for wisdom, a heritage that has empowered the lives of people throughout the world far beyond its Mediterranean origins, is under assault. Post-structuralism and critical theory, which initially promised freedom to academics craving for more diverse scholarship, has mainly proven to be a deeply nihilistic enterprise that devours them for the sake of identity politics.

Mary Frances William’s account of what transpired at the most recent meeting of the American Association of Classics seem to make it increasingly clear that the our colleges and universities are quickly losing relevance as places to learn about the ancient world, and ultimately ourselves.

The Greatest of All Novels By Gary Saul Morson

Though I’ve never read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, I’ve at least watched BBC’s nine-part miniseries of the novel, an engrossing drama that made my trans-Atlantic flight bearable, even enjoyable. Gary Morson’s analysis of the novel is just as engrossing, showing how the novel employs its range of characters and epic story to teach deep lessons about the power of ideas, our motivations, and where one can find real happiness. Just like another long tome, the Bible, War and Peace is not just a book, it’s an all-encompassing education that offers as much to readers today than when it was published in 1869.  The revelations in this article made me want to pick it up and actually read it.

The Real Problem with the Blue State Model By Steven Malanga

When I find myself in one of the fashionable big cities that people constantly talk about, I always take the time to absorb the details of daily life just as much as I do enjoying its famous landmarks. I like to hit the pavement, exploring obscure corners and wandering from one neighborhood to the next, getting a feel for the city’s series of pedestrian experiences.

My immersive approach forces me to deal with and reflect on the city’s more mundane aspects, such as its infrastructure and its services. I think about the value they bring to a city and also whether the people who live in the city get the best value for what they pay for.

Cities like New York and San Francisco are well-known to tax their citizens heavily in order to support their investments in robust transit and infrastructure systems, but does that square with reality? I find these places share in common poor roads, a neglected rail and metro system, inconsistent trash collection, tired old airports and bad public schools, and leads me to wonder where all the citizen’s tax money goes.

From my perspective of living in small suburb that is close to libertarian with regards to taxes and services, I feel that citizens that live in high-tax big cities seem to get a pretty raw deal.  Steven Malanga amply responds to this absurd idea that better services justify higher taxes, but it leaves me wondering why residents continue to vote for (usually) a democratic-controlled political monoculture that has shown itself to be wasteful, corrupt and damaging to its most vulnerable citizens.