Survival of the fittest? Can Vladimir Putin Survive? Stratfor CEO George Friedman asks whether Putin will remain Russia’s prime oligarch, given that the “Russian economy will slide into recession sometime in 2014. The debt levels of regional governments have doubled in the past four years, and several regions are close to bankruptcy. Moreover, some metals and mining firms are facing bankruptcy. The Ukrainian crisis has made things worse. Capital flight from Russia in the first six months stood at $76 billion, compared to $63 billion for all of 2013. Foreign direct investment fell 50 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same period in 2013. And all this happened in spite of oil prices remaining higher than $100 per barrel.”
Earning entrance. You have to earn your way into one of New York City’s elite public high schools through results on a high-stakes admissions test. The test has rewarded those with talent who are willing to invest time and effort to do well on them. Now some people want to change the admissions process. In City Journal Dennis Saffran argues against those plans and shows why they will benefit city elites at the expense of poor and middle-class Asians.
Risk for art. Illustrator Maira Kalman is the subject of a 13-minute video focusing on Kalman’s creative work. The video is part of Gail Towey’s “Portraits in Creativity” series that includes jewelry designer Gabriella Kiss and clothing designer Alabama Chanin. Towey, former creative director for Martha Stewart, describes her goal with the videos: “I wanted to tell the story about how artists take risks and push themselves toward discovery and change. … I want the viewer to take that journey with the artist, so the sights and sounds of the studio become integral to the narrative.”
Unexpected surprise. The internet is efficient, but its efficiency comes with a cost. Ian Leslie’s essay “In Search of Serendipity” explains the benefits of surprise discoveries and how the internet makes it less likely we’ll encounter them: “A side-effect of this awesome efficiency may be a shrinking, rather than an expansion, of our horizons, because we are less likely to come across things we are not in quest of.”
Forgotten legacy? Music journalist Bob Stanley begins his essay on the the peculiar career of the Bee Gees, a band made up of brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, by describing how completely they owned the music charts in the late 1970s before falling into oblivion.
“The Bee Gees’ dominance of the charts in the disco era was above and beyond Chic, Giorgio Moroder, even Donna Summer. Their sound track to Saturday Night Fever sold 30 million copies. They were responsible for writing and producing eight of 1978’s No. 1s, something only Lennon and McCartney in 1963/64 could rival—and John and Paul hadn’t been the producers, only the writers. Even given the task of writing a song called ‘Grease' (‘Grease is the word, it’s got groove, it’s got a meaning,’ they claimed, hoping no one would ask, ‘Come again?’), they came up with a classic. At one point in March they were behind five singles in the American Top 10. In 1978, they accounted for 2 percent of the entire record industry’s profits. The Bee Gees were a cultural phenomenon.”
But disco was already a second or third act for the Bee Gees, and Stanley links to recordings of their songs so you can hear that changing style. Stanley sums up their legacy this way: “They wrote a dozen of the finest songs of the 20th century.”