John Donne

Before Youdidn’tbuildthatgate progresses further, let’s call time on efforts by both conservatives andliberals to distort what it was that President Obama said. In case you’ve been living in a cave: On July 15, President Obama gave a campaign speechin Roanoke, Va., in which he defended the idea that the rich have a moral obligation to give something back to their country. Here is what he said, in its entirety: If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.

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Before Youdidn’tbuildthatgate progresses further, let’s call time on efforts by both conservatives and liberals to distort what it was that President Obama said. In case you’ve been living in a cave: On July 15, President Obama gave a campaign speech in Roanoke, Va., in which he defended the idea that the rich have a moral obligation to give something back to their country. Here is what he said, in its entirety: If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own.

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Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life By Lev Loseff Translated by Jane Ann Miller (Yale University Press, 333 pp., $22) Joseph Brodsky caught the attention of the outside world for the first time in 1964, when he was tried in Leningrad for the crime of writing poetry. That is not how the indictment read, of course: his “crime” was that he did not have a regular job, and was therefore a “parasite.” But a scurrilous article attacking Brodsky in the Evening Leningrad newspaper not long before his trial gave the game away.

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Recently reading Harper’s, I came across an advertisement for a mail-order audio course entitled Life Lessons of the Great Books. Over 36 lectures, it promises to teach “how great books...provide you with insights on how to conduct yourself in times of trouble, how to handle the joys and frustrations of love, how to appreciate the simple moments in life, and so much more.” Great idea, I thought! In fact, I’ve decided to start my own line of courses, mining the works of all forms of literature for lessons that can be directly applied to solve everyday problems.

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The protagonist of Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham, is a hatchet man for hire. The Omaha company that employs him, which goes by the Orwellian name Career Transition Counseling (CTC), rents him out to other companies to fire employees they don’t have the courage to fire themselves. He flies about the country, touching down briefly in Kansas City or Tulsa or Miami, to walk into offices he has never visited and tell workers he has never met that they are being let go.

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