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Week in Review

WRM has been teaching a class on the public intellectual in the age of the internet at Bard College, and has been helping his students to hone their writing chops:

In the last couple of classes we’ve been looking at a strategy that many writers used at that time: writing about political and other non-lyrical subjects in heroic couplets (rhymed couplets of iambic pentameter lines). It was a way to show your mastery of English style and vocabulary and when done even reasonably well it made your work stand out and drew readers to you.

Back when I was trying to teach myself to write, I used to do quite a bit of this, and while the experience may not have led to any great poetry, it developed my ear for language and helped me get the kind of critical distance from my own work that is very hard for young writers to achieve.

To show the students what contemporary expository writing in heroic couplets might look like, and to polish up my old skills, I began to write a poem about American foreign policy and grand strategy. I’d forgotten how much fun this kind of thing is to do; it’s a very engaging way to write and forces a much tighter focus on meaning and word choice than prose.

Read the first part of the poem here.

There were two big stories in Asia this week. The first centered on rising tensions between China and Japan. As Japanese PM Shinzo Abe prepared for Friday’s visit to Washington, he delivered a sharp rebuke to China. China lashed out in response, prompting Japanese officials to quickly backtrack on Abe’s incendiary comments. A Chinese admiral didn’t help things by speculating that a war with Japan could be won quickly and decisively.

The other big story in Asia also featured China. A report by a security firm earlier this week accused Beijing of military-sponsored cyber attacks on Western states and businesses. Though China denied the allegations, on Wednesday the Obama administration outlined a new strategy for countering future hacking. This is a developing long-term story to watch.

A farming revolution may be underway in India (though as we wrote earlier today, Chinese scientists dispute India’s miraculous crop yields). But developing countries with many mouths to feed aren’t waiting around for miracles. In 2012 the developing world took the lead on the use of productivity-boosting genetically modified crops.

In Europe, the news from the UK was grim: the pound fell against the dollar—vacation, anyone?—as Moody’s downgraded the country’s credit rating. In France, Hollande faced the prospect of having to enact the kinds of cuts he swore he’d never undertake in order to bring the budget within the scope of EU requirements. If he doesn’t snip away at spending, he faces opening the schism between France and Germany even wider than it already is.

In Russia, a dead man went on trial while Putin yawned as the well-connected looted the country. Nothing to see here, move along.

In European environmental news, Estonia unveiled the world’s first national charge network for electric vehicles, an important milestone for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Nevertheless, adoption still has a ways to go: 619 electric cars roam the Estonian countryside, but about 500 of those are owned by the state. Meanwhile, Sinn Féin flexed its kelly green muscles in Ireland by rejecting fracking of a potential shale resource equivalent to 1.5 billion barrels of oil.

With the presidential election behind us, criticism of Obama’s foreign policy is mounting; the cover story of this week’s Economist backs up VM’s critique of the President’s handling of the Syrian civil war, even as a Hezbollah-Free Syrian Army shootout seemed ever more likely. In Israel, however, prospects for fruitful negotiations got a boost as Netanyahu appointed Tzipi Livni to lead future talks with the Palestinians. And even if that doesn’t pan out, the gesture might contribute to better relations between Jerusalem and Washington.

There was some top-notch healthcare-related writing going on around the web this week. An excellent piece by Steve Brill in Time exposed outrageous price-gouging in US hospitals. And a NYT op-ed by David Goldhill, author of a classic 2009 feature in the Atlantic, was also essential reading. Finally, two top conservative scholars outlined a market-based alternative to Obamacare, a good first step in getting Republicans to grapple with the fact that they’ve had no concrete proposal for years. May a productive national debate now begin in earnest.

Finally, in education news, the NYT editorial board seemed to be deeply invested in the existing higher ed model, viewing new forms of higher ed with sentiments similar to those with which the American Blacksmiths’ Association viewed the early cars. The federal government turned up the heat on expensive colleges by releasing its College Scorecard. And the GED got some competition for the first time in its 70 year career (though VM would like to see a college-level equivalent).

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