In praise of Frank Miller: “Through Daredevil, he taught us wisdom; through Batman, he taught us morality; through 300, he taught us fortitude; through Sin City, he taught us struggle; and through Martha Washington, he taught us patriotism. When talking about his own work and its expressions of heroism, he wisely noted that “doing the right thing routinely causes one great difficulties and one has to sacrifice a lot.” This is not just true for his heroes, but for Miller himself.”

Barbara Kingsolver has a new book, and judging by this interview, it sounds like it might be one of those “timely” novels that no one remembers five years later: “Her hope in Unsheltered was to explore ‘paradigm shift’. ‘What do people do when it feels like they’re living through the end of the world as we know it? Because that’s what it seems like we’re doing right now, and almost nobody disagrees.’” But who knows? Maybe it’ll surprise.

Antony Sher wonders if Shakespeare was a misogynist because of King Lear’s “disgusted rages against women.” He reminds us, too, that many people think Shakespeare was gay (it’s more like two people, and they are both wrong, but let’s not quibble) and that it is possible, you know, to be gay and pro-woman, believe it or not, so if Shakespeare were a misogynist, I guess Sher is saying, it’s not because he might have been gay. Sher is good actor (even if his Lear is too sickly in my view), and this article is the doing of a Guardian correspondent trying to meet his deadline and filling his column with whatever he can—in this case, a few off-hand remarks by Sher at a festival. But I am a little tired of this obsession with identity politics and with gender and race relations in contemporary criticism—and by the regularity with which we judge dead authors according to our supposedly superior ethics. It’s incredibly boring and largely beside the point. There are more interesting questions.

Jiayang Fan on China’s controversial novelist Yan Lianke: “Henan is ground zero for Yan’s mordant imagination, and in his fiction it becomes a world of remorseless venality—of corrupt local officials, amoral entrepreneurs, and peasants with get-rich-quick schemes that prey on desperation and run on an engine of betrayal. ‘Some of the most memorable events in history happened here, but, during my lifetime, it’s become one of the poorest places in the country,’ he told me. ‘There is no dignity left, and because of that the people of Henan have felt a deep sense of loss and bitterness.’ Yan does not exempt himself from his critique; his books often feature an alter ego, also named Yan Lianke, a hack writer who periodically goes back home to gather material.”

Why should you read the Aeneid? Because Aeneas is like us, Daniel Mendelsohn argues—a “survivor” not a “hero”: “What is the Aeneid about? It is about a tiny band of outcasts, the survivors of a terrible persecution. It is about how these survivors—clinging to a divine assurance that an unknown and faraway land will become their new home—arduously cross the seas, determined to refashion themselves as a new people, a nation of victors rather than victims. It is about how, when they finally get there, they find their new homeland inhabited by locals who have no intention of making way for them. It is about how this geopolitical tragedy generates new wars, wars that will, in turn, trigger further conflicts: bella horrida bella. It is about how such conflicts leave those involved in them morally unrecognizable, even to themselves. This is a story that both the Old and the New Worlds know too well; and Virgil was the first to tell it. Whatever it meant in the past, and however it discomfits the present, the Aeneid has, alas, always anticipated the future.” Hmm…I'm not sure I know what Mendelsohn means by “morally unrecognizable.” And can one not be a survivor and a hero? Thoughts?

Is Andrew Roberts’s biography of Churchill the best yet? It may be, Philip Ziegler writes.

Essay of the Day:

In Reason, Stan Liebowitz and Matthew L. Kelly argue that nearly everything about state education rankings are wrong because they are “riddled with methodological flaws”:

“You probably think you know which states have the best and worst education systems in the country. If you regularly dip into rankings such as those published by U.S. News and World Report, you likely believe schools in the Northeast and Upper Midwest are thriving while schools in the Deep South lag. It's an understandable conclusion to draw from those ubiquitous ‘Best Schools!’ lists. It's also wrong.

“The general consensus on education, retold every few news cycles, is that fiscally conservative states are populated by cheapskates. In those necks of the woods, people are too ignorant to vote in favor of helping their illiterate and innumerate children. Intelligent people understand that high taxes and generous pensions for public school teachers are the recipe for an efficient and smoothly functioning education system. If skinflint voters would just lighten up, the story goes, they too could become erudite and sophisticated.

“Paul Krugman rehashes this narrative regularly in his New York Times column, frequently bemoaning the country's purportedly miserly education budgets. Increasingly, he perceives libertarian barbarians at the gates of state governments, brandishing axes for dreaded spending cuts. In April, he wrote that ‘we're left with a nation in which teachers, the people we count on to prepare our children for the future, are starting to feel like members of the working poor.…One way to think about what's currently happening in a number of states is that the anti-Obama backlash, combined with the growing tribalism of American politics, delivered a number of state governments into the hands of extreme right-wing ideologues. These ideologues really believed that they could usher in a low-tax, small-government, libertarian utopia.’

“In Krugman's view, which reflects the education establishment's view as well, those attempting to keep the size of government in check are a danger to your child. To support this claim, education wonks and activists point to state rankings in U.S. News, Education Week, or WalletHub—outlets that grade states according to a few key measures, such as graduation rates, education spending, and test scores. When education is discussed in the news, these rankings are often cited to illustrate the havoc that restrained budget growth and right-to-work laws can wreak.

“Indeed, such rankings do seem to show that the highest-quality state educational systems tend to be in big-spending states in the Northeast or Upper Midwest. These places apparently honor and respect teachers, while Southern states inexplicably abhor them. But the cheapskates in cheap states get their just deserts: Sophisticated northern jurisdictions grow ever smarter, while stingy conservative backwaters sink into ever-lower depths of ignorance. The solution is obvious: Pay up or your kids will suffer.

“There's just one problem with this narrative: Traditional rankings are riddled with methodological flaws.”

Read the rest.

Photo: Three countries and Bodensee

Poem: Franz Wright, “The Rule”

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