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5 Great Summer Literary Festivals

Looking for a smart, bookish destination this summer? Build a trip around these five great literary festivals, from Mexico to Prague to Brooklyn.

When President Bill Clinton called the Hay Literary Festival the “Woodstock of the Mind” in 2001, he was on to something. These days, literary festivals have so eclipsed their rock equivalents as places to hear the big names, to see and be seen, to pitch tents and to eat hamburgers (albeit organic ones), that it’s hard to remember what all that fuss over music was about. Authors are the new artists.

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The summer season starts this weekend with two very different kinds of celebration. The Guardian Hay Festival, held in the otherwise sedate village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales, is a 10-day hubbub of discussions and readings, featuring big names and big ideas: Martin Evans and John Sulston on the human genome; Ian McEwan on climate change; Nick Clegg—giving his first public presentation since becoming U.K. Deputy Prime Minister—on the Rule of Law. Meanwhile, the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, now in its 10th year, offers a more intimate gathering—three days of presentations by a small but select crew of authors, including Colson Whitehead, Russell Banks and Sudeep Sen. Where Hay is an industry unto itself, Calabash has struggled to raise funding. Where the Hay website induces mild panic (think of a schedule akin to SXSW), its Jamaican counterpart features one single list of events, gently spaced out over three days, and a picture of the director having a snooze on a sofa.

Whatever kind of groupie you are, it isn’t too late to join the party—as our list of the top five literary festivals this summer will testify. But before you book, remember: If you’re looking for somewhere to actually read, you’d be more likely to find a quiet corner in Woodstock.

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May 29, 2010 Posted by | Travel & Tourism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

25 Best Cities for College Grads

The Class of 2010 is heading into the real world but where should they live? Urban guru Richard Florida and his team find the best cities for the young and ambitious.

Congratulations, Class of 2010—and welcome to one of the worst job markets of all time. You’ve likely seen the litany of stories echoing the gloom and doom meme. Harvard grads grateful for the chance to wait on tables. MIT computer whizzes pioneering new ways to flip burgers. And then there are the terrifying statistics. Unemployment for people between the ages of 15 and 24 has passed 20 percent. You won’t just be competing with your peers—all 1.6 million of them—but with people your parents’ ages too, who lost their savings in the crash and have had to postpone their retirements for pretty much forever. “With the obvious exception of youngsters born during the Great Depression, no generation in American history faces more daunting obstacles,” writes a dour Joe Queenan in The Wall Street Journal. “Even the pasty-faced Pilgrim toddlers gamboling around Plymouth Rock in 1620 had better prospects.”

Click Image to View the Top 25 Cities for College Graduates

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Let’s not go overboard. That 20 percent plus unemployment rate includes high school dropouts and people who didn’t finish college. The unemployment rate for college graduates is actually less than 5 percent. And the unemployment rate in the professional and technical fields where you’re most likely to work—science and engineering, business and management, education and health care—is just under 4 percent. Make no mistake about it, times are tough—but it’s blue-collar workers and blue-collar communities that have borne the full brunt of the crisis.

Most recent college grads will find jobs, even if they have to look a little longer than previous classes did. And that’s not such a bad thing. With all those high-paying corporate entry-level jobs for the taking during the boom years, too many young people went for the bucks and landed in careers that were unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

Now more than ever, it’s really important to put serious thought into where you want to live. The place you choose to live is key to your economic future. Jobs no longer last forever. In fact, the average twentysomething switches jobs every year. Places can provide the vibrant, thick labor market that can get you that next job, and the one after that and be your hedge against layoffs during this economic downturn. Early career moves are the most important of all, according to Don Peck in the National Journal. He cites a prominent study that finds that “about two-thirds of all lifetime income growth occurs in the first 10 years of a career, when people can switch jobs easily, bidding up their earnings.” Sure you can move from place to place—and it’s true twentysomethings are three- to four-times more likely to move than fiftysomethings—but it’s a lot easier to manage a forward-looking career if you choose the right place with abundant opportunity to start out in.

So what do twentysomethings want in a community? To get at this, my team and I analyzed the results of a Gallup survey of some 28,000 Americans in their 20s. Some key things stand out. Jobs are clearly important—but just as clearly, they’re not all-important. When asked what would keep them in their current location, twentysomethings ranked the availability of jobs second.

Twentysomethings understand well they face not only fewer job options but dwindling corporate commitment—it’s not only harder to find a job, it’s also easier to lose it. So it makes good sense to pick a city where the labor market is thick with job opportunities as a hedge against economic insecurity. What twentysomethings value the most is the ability to meet people and make friends. This also makes very good sense actually. Personal networks are about much more than having fun, they’re among the best ways to find a job and move forward in a career.

Twentysomethings rank the availability of outstanding colleges and universities highly. Many want to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree or professional degree, and having these options available where you live is a big plus. Of course, young people value amenities, too—from parks and open space to nightlife and culture. It’s less about all-night partying though, twentysomethings prefer places where they can easily go for a run or bike ride, work out or walk their dog, grab a coffee, take in a concert, see interesting new art, or take in a good meal with friends.

With all this in mind, we compiled our rankings of the Best Places for Recent College Grads. These rankings are based on an index of nine statistical indicators for the more than 350 metropolitan areas (that is, core cities and their surrounding suburbs) across the United States. The core measures in the rankings include:

Presence of twentysomethings (20-24 year olds) in the population

• Singles—measured as the share of unmarried people

· Earnings potential—measured as average salary

• Unemployment rate

• College educated workforce—the share of the workforce with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

• Rental housing—having an abundant, available stock of rental housing is key. We measured this as the share of all housing made up of rental units.

• Youth-oriented amenities—like bars, restaurants, cafes, sports facilities and entertainment venues.

• Creative capital: We use this to capture the creative energy of a place. It’s measured as the share of employed artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, designers, and entertainers in the workforce.

• Openness: A region’s openness to new and different kinds of people reflects a lack of barriers and willingness to let newcomers, including young people, have a go. Our measure is the share of gays and lesbians and foreign-born residents in a community

Affordability: The overall rankings do not take housing costs into account. Generally speaking, new college grads are renters and can easily share apartments to reduce costs. It’s also difficult to get a handle on the full living costs borne by young people—some communities have accessible mass transit; in others, new grads must buy a car (and pay for insurance, maintenance, gas, and parking). So, we decided to break out an additional index to account for affordability. This index includes a variable for rent levels—median contract rent. It weights affordability at 25 percent of the overall index value, and lets the other nine indicators account for the remaining 75 percent. We mark cities that rank in the top 25 on this combined affordability index with an asterisk(*).

The data is the most current available, for 2008, 2009, or 2010 depending on the variables. All nine variables are equally weighted. The technical analysis was conducted by a Martin Prosperity Institute team of Charlotta Mellander, Kevin Stolarick, Patrick Adler, and Ian Swain.

College towns dominate the top spots. Ithaca is first followed by Madison, Wisconsin; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; and Boulder Colorado. That may seem a bit surprising to the legions of new grads who are off to the big city. Boulder and Austin are two of the country’s leading centers for innovation and high-tech business with great sports and music scenes to boot. And college towns—from Iowa City, Iowa to Charlottesville, Virginia, from Lawrence, Kansas to Lincoln, Nebraska, from Columbia, Missouri to State College, Pennsylvania—provide terrific “stay-over” locations for new grads who want to maintain their networks, try out their skills or develop new ones. They have high percentages of young, highly educated singles; they provide an affordable alternative to bigger cities while still delivering a high quality of life; and they’ve proven to be among the most resilient communities during the economic downturn.

The list also has its share of big cities. D.C. is the top big city on our list in seventh place; and it’s followed closely by New York City and Boston. San Francisco, San Diego, L.A., Seattle, and San Jose (the hub of Silicon Valley, still hands-down the best place for techies) all make the top 25.

But do remember: There’s no absolute best place for new grads—or anyone else for that matter. Different strokes for different folks: For every twentysomething that wants to head to the big city there are those who prefer some place closer to home or a smaller, more affordable community.

It’s best to think of this list as a general guide to help you orient your choices. When we were building our index we found that small shifts in the datasets we used and how they were weighted would reorder the cities near the top, but the picks in the top 25 remained surprisingly consistent. Ithaca, for example, always made the top 25, but adding the last two variables to the index raised its rank from 14th to first. So college grads should think of this list as a way to orient their own personal list, rather than a winner-take-all competition. That’s the key thing, really—to pick the place that’s best for you—that fits your own career outlook, your current situation, and your life plans. My team at the Martin Prosperity Institute has developed a tool called Place Finder that asks for some of your preferences and generates a custom list of places that might be right for you.

That choice is more important now than ever. While the place you choose to start your career and your life is always important, it’s taken on additional importance during the current economic downturn. This is no run-of-the-mill economic cycle recession but a full-blown economic transformation, the kind that comes around only once every generation or two. Great Resets like these give rise to the life-altering “gales of creative destruction” that the great economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote of—to new technologies, new industries, and whole new ways of living. If some cities may fall further and further behind, others—the most innovative, adaptive, open-minded places—may be on the brink of unprecedented prosperity. And you might just be a part of it. Choose wisely.

Richard Florida is Director of the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and author of The Great Reset, published this month by Harper Collins.

Kevin Stolarick developed the data; Charlotta Mellander conducted the statistical analysis. Patrick Adler and Ian Swain assisted with the analysis.

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May 29, 2010 Posted by | 25 Best Cities for College Grads, Off Topig | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

In her new book, Nomad, Hirsi Ali tells of escaping to America and says the Muslim world needs a revolution in how it treats women and modernity. Tunku Varadarajan salutes her necessary and powerful words.

BS Top - Varadarajan Ali

On a recent visit to Washington, I hopped into a cab at Union Station. Those who have used such transport in D.C. will be aware that the chances of landing an African cabbie are 9 in 10, and this African cohort is predominantly Eritrean, Ethiopian, or Somali. My driver on this occasion was Somali, and after a few pleasantries—How long have you lived in America? Do you still have family in Mogadishu? How old are your children?—I asked the man a less banal question: “What do you think of Ayaan Hirsi Ali… you know, the Somali lady?” He swiveled his head to fix me with his gaze, and then turned it back to the road. “Very bad person,” he said, after a strained pause. “We think she is a bitch. We hate her.”

“The Muslim mind needs to be opened. Above all, the uncritical Muslim attitude toward the Quran urgently needs to change, for it is a direct threat to world peace.”

We did not exchange another word for the rest of the brief ride to the Willard Hotel.

I had cause to recall this ugly episode when I read this week—in just one sitting, it is so brilliant—Hirsi Ali’s new book, Nomad: From Islam to America. (It is subtitled, with a very un-PC tip of the hat to Samuel Huntington, “A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations.”) If I had my way, and the resources to pull off the idea, I would commission translations of the book into Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Farsi, Turkish, Pashto, Kurdish, Bengali, and Bahasa, and air-drop thousands of copies into the Muslim lands (and arrondissements) where these languages are spoken. And with any luck, these books would find their way into the hands of some of the immiserated women who live there.

Book Cover - Varadarajan Ali

 Nomad: From Islam to America, A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations. By Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 277 pages. Free Press. $27.

Women, as the historian Bernard Lewis once told me (probably echoing a desert proverb), “are half the population, and mothers of the other half.” Educated mothers, he said, make a great difference to a society, and the Muslim world’s great drawback is that its women are benighted. Hirsi Ali’s mother was one such woman. Uneducated—and as unenlightened as it was possible to be, on earth, in the 1970s—she hit Hirsi Ali when she first got her period, a sickening blow that was part of an ongoing pattern of violence and misogyny that holds sway not merely in every Somali family, but, in the author’s contention, in almost every Muslim family in the world.

After all, she writes, male domination and female subjugation are Quranically prescribed, and who is Man to challenge the immutable Word of God—especially when God’s arrangements ensure perpetual male domination? This punitive patriarchy is not confined to Muslims in their own lands; it thrives, she points out, in the West, in the lands to which Muslims immigrate, but whose “degenerate” and “sinful” societies they abhor. In a blistering passage, written with the forthright elegance that characterizes the book, Hirsi Ali asserts that “the subjection of women within Islam is the biggest obstacle to the integration and progress of Muslim communities in the West. It is a subjection committed by the closest kin in the most intimate place, the home, and it is sanctioned by the greatest figure in the imagination of Muslims: Allah himself.” It is easy to see why Hirsi Ali has bodyguards, and round-the-clock protection. She would be dead if she did not.

These are powerful, polemical words with which it is very hard, in our present circumstances, to disagree. There will be many, however, who will shriek loudly in outrage, and not all of the fulminators will be Muslim. My great fear is that people will react only to fragments of this passionate book without having read the humane whole, and this will lead to distortions and imprecations, maybe even to book-burnings and fatwas. I am mighty glad Ayaan Hirsi Ali has police protection. And I am gladder still that she lives in our midst, in America.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | Book, Muslim world, Off Topig | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment