• Mort Zuckerman on the Widening Divide Between Public and Private Sectors  "There was a time when government work offered lower salaries than comparable jobs in the private sector," writes the Editor-in-Chief of U.S. News and World Report in the Financial Times. Those days are "no longer." In fact, the opposite is now true, to an alarming degree: "These days, government employees are better off in almost every area ... Public workers have become a privileged class--an elite," he contends. Even in the current recession, public servants continue to "gain annual salary increases" and also manage to retire earlier with "benefits paid for with the taxes of those very same private-sector workers." America needs to rethink its public workforce: there can be no faith in government if the public sector reaps "disproportionate" benefits.

  • David Weigel on the Politicization of September 11th  There is something new and dramatic about the way Americans are marking this year's 9/11 anniversary, contends Slate's David Weigel. It's being used by fringe groups, pundits and politicians in order to score political points. How did it come to this? "With a lot of hard work," he explains: "For nine years, supporters of an aggressive approach to terrorism as a response to 9/11 worked to make sure that they owned the anniversary. For nine years they got brushback from the media and from the political actors who had the most to lose if 9/11 was seen as proof that ultra-tough conservatives were right and that ultra-tolerant liberals were wrong. And the conservatives won."

  • David Brooks on the 'Genteel' Nation   America, it appears, may be currently suffering from a case of the "British disease," according to The New York Times columnist. He explains that Britain's birth as an empire occurred because of a cultural shift that spurred that nation to apply "practical knowledge" to better the lives of average individuals through scientific prowess. The subsequent decline of the nation occurred when citizens shifted their mindset once again and eschewed practical knowledge in favor of "more genteel attitudes about how to live." As America's infrastructure crumbles and 65 percent of citizens believe our nation is in "decline" Brooks finds some striking parallels. He concludes: "Personally, I'm not convinced we’re in decline...But the value shifts are real ... people are moving away from commercial, productive activities and toward pleasant, enlightened but less productive ones."

  • Bill McKibben on the White House Solar Panels  In 1979, solar panels were installed on top of the White House. Jimmy Carter, dedicating them, remarked that "a generation from now" they could "either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or ... just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people." The solar panels, writes McKibben, writer and environmental activist, in The Washington Post, were taken down during the Reagan administration. Two, in fact, are in museums. McKibben and others are arranging to reinstall, symbolically, one of the panels back on the White House roof. Mourns McKibben: "We wasted our technological lead in the most important industry of the future and handed it to countries like China."

  • R. Luke Dubois on 375 Days of Music  Gently confronted by a friend over his increasing inattention to his real love, composing, Dubois set himself a challenge: "to create a piece of music every day, for an entire year." Dubois, a distinctly modern sort of composer who writes with computer programs (his year's-worth of mp3s are online here), may not be everyone's cup of tea. But his account of his project may resonate anyway:

Within a few months, making music every day became not only second nature, but a necessary part of my routine, like a morning coffee or remembering to feed my cat. By six months in, it had become my favorite thing to do; the only hour or two of guaranteed privacy I would allow myself, to focus on something that I really enjoyed.