Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s Concussive Collaboration

no joining of forces is more difficult to fathom than the partnership between two writers. Writing, like dying, is one of those things that should be done alone or not at all.

.. John Fletcher, a popular and gifted playwright, once hooked up with some old slacker named Shakespeare to bring us “Henry VIII,” which was first performed in 1613, and linguistic analysis can propose, scene by scene, who delivered which slices of the cake.

What Philip Roth Didn’t Know About Women Could Fill a Book

Only after becoming a novelist myself did I understand my discomfort. Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women.

.. Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.

.. The problem is literary: these caricatures reveal a lack of not only empathy, but curiosity.

.. Shakespeare bothered to give the hated Jewish moneylender Shylock a point of view; Mark Twain bothered to imagine emotions for the runaway slave Jim. Both portrayals still reflected popular prejudice, often horribly so. But they also included a glimmer of humanity beyond it, revealing the artists’ curiosity about lives they could only imagine.

.. His strength lay in those brilliantly rendered characters and voices like his. His weakness was that those voices denigrated just about everyone else.

.. how many of these women are, after all, precisely the people who made Philip Roth’s success possible. The Jewish New Jersey women I know are talented professionals in every field, and often in those two thankless professions that Roth quite likely required to thrive: teachers and therapists.

.. literature means little; the shared humanity that great literature inspires matters even less. What endures, sadly, is Roth’s lack of imagination, the unempathetic and incurious caricaturing of others that he turned into a virtue — and which now defines much of American public life.

.. we’re still talking about Roth, just like his works taught us to do. Yet in the years to come, the real meaning of his work will emerge not in how we judge Roth, but in how we judge ourselves.

What Happened to America’s Elite? Part II

Around the beginning of the 20th century, the common-sense realist professors were swept from academia by a political revolution in academia. Common sense realism disappeared from the curriculum. This academic political revolution was swiftly followed by the political revolution which laid the foundation of the ever-expanding Progressive federal leviathan we live under today.

.. In 1910, the government’s revenue looked much like it did in the time of George Washington: about 3 percent of GDP, earned primarily through tariffs. In 1913 the 16th Amendment changed all that. It introduced the Progressive Income Tax, overthrowing the limited government of the Founders by opening the door to the unlimited revenue needed to finance the central government’s unending expansion into every area of American life. Also in 1913 Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act, creating a central bank.

.. 1913 also gave us the 17th Amendment which changed the way Americans elected United States Senators. Before that, senators were chosen by state legislatures.

..  Today, academic standards have collapsed; it is possible to graduate from elite colleges with a major in English without ever taking a course in Shakespeare. Before the ’60s revolution, virtually everyone who attended college studied Shakespeare, not just the English majors.

.. formerly serious disciplines, such as geography, are now politically radicalized—if they are offered at all. What are we to call this period? Perhaps the best label is illiberal progressivism.

Even if we don’t love starlings, we should learn to live with them

They devour crops and cattle feed, and they nab other birds’ nesting sites. Still, starlings can actually show us how we can adjust our relationship to the natural world, says writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

.. Starlings are among the most despised birds in all of North America, and with good reason (TEDxRainier Talk: Encounter the everyday wilderness). They are a ubiquitous, nonnative, invasive species. There are so many that no one can count them — estimates run to about 200 million.

.. As deputy of the American Acclimatization Society of New York, Schieffelin, it is believed, latched onto the goal of bringing every bird mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to Central Park, and he zeroed in on the Bard’s single reference to a starling in Henry IV. In 1890, he purchased 80 of the birds, had them shipped to the US, and released them on a snowy March day in Central Park. Genetic research in sample populations across the continent leads ornithologists to believe that all of the hundreds of millions of starlings in North America are descendants of Schieffelin’s birds.

It took them just 80 years to populate the continent, and they’ve behaved atrociously in their New World. They feast on crops and lurk around farms and lots where they binge on feed in the troughs of cattle and swine. According to an estimate by Cornell University researchers, in the US starlings cause $800 million in agricultural damage every year.

.. In 1960, Eastern Airlines Flight 375 took off from Boston’s Logan Airport for Philadelphia and other points south. Seconds after takeoff, it collided with a flock of 20,000 starlings. Two of the four engines lost power, the plane plunged into the sea, and 62 people died. After the crash, officials tested seasoned pilots on flight simulators to see if any could have saved the plane in such a scenario. All failed. In other tests, live starlings were thrown into running engines. It was found that just three or four birds could cause a dangerous power drop.

.. Starlings are despised above all else by conservationists for their ability to outcompete native birds for food and a limited number of nest sites.

.. In 2015, US government agents killed over one million starlings — more than any other so-called nuisance species.

.. Yet these killings have made no dent in starling numbers, and they never will. There are simply too many starlings, and they are too good at reproducing and surviving.

.. while their populations have grown and spread exponentially, they have for the last thirty years or so been stable. Every species has a carrying capacity

.. at least some of their impact on native birdlife may turn out to be more perceived than real. Researchers at Berkeley conducted a years-long survey, published in 2003, that was designed to document the impact of starlings on indigenous species, and they were not able to determine quantifiable harm.

.. In 1939, a not-yet-famous Rachel Carson wrote an essay titled “How About Citizenship Papers for the Starling?” In it she argued that instead of seeing the bird as an invader, people should accept starlings as a regular species and give up talk of “invasive” and “nonnative.” This notion is echoed by some modern conservationists, who say there are many invasive species, like the starling, that are simply ineradicable. Instead of spending time and effort worrying about such species, we should accept them as part of the modern landscape and move on to issues we can actually do something about.

.. the most significant point to remember is that starlings thrive in areas that are disturbed by human presence, including dense urban environments — places where more sensitive species cannot survive in the long term. For now, it seems some birds go elsewhere when their nests are usurped.

.. We need to design human landscapes that are hospitable to more species of native birds. This means less grass and more trees.

.. even a few trees in urban neighborhoods will increase the diversity of bird species, and that people who live near trees are healthier — mentally and physically — than those who don’t.