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Timothy Egan unleashed

Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan receiving the National Book Award. (New York Times)

The good news is that Seattle-based Timothy Egan – the author (The Good Rain, The Worst Hard Time), recent former New York Times national writer, and former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter – has written a guest column for the Times. The bad news is that, for those of you too cheap to subscribe, his work is behind the firewall of Times Select, the subscription-locked special content that includes columnists like Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich. (If you have home delivery, it’s free. Or you can sign up for a two-week trial here.) Today Egan has tough love for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which, with billionaire Eli Broad, is devoting $60 million to educating the presidential candidates about education, which is to say getting them to think about education at all. Egan thinks this is a worthy but ineffective effort in its present form because the organization, Strong American Schools, “cannot support individual candidates or legislation, by the rules of their organization. Thus, the world’s richest man has little leverage in a wide-open presidential campaign.” As newspaper writers go, Egan’s as good as they come. He’s got a National Book Award under his belt and shared in a Pulitzer Prize. And he has some zingers in this column that speak to a range of topics, not just the Gates education campaign. Following the life of Bill Gates himself, Egan notes, “has been like watching Pete Townshend go from smashing his guitar with The Who to the aging master who just wants world peace and a complex string arrangement of Tommy. He was the high-voiced bully boy of Microsoft, snarling at people with less intellectual bandwidth, a Napoleon Dynamite with money – idiots!” The foundation, Egan writes, is capable of upstaging the U.S. State Department and White House, as when Chinese President Hu Jintao “was feted at a grand dinner in the Gates’ home on Lake Washington. In the Capitol, Mr. Hu was snubbed by President Bush with a quickie lunch and a gaffe-prone reception complete with heckler – typical incompetence.” The education campaign is challenged by the fact “three of the Republican candidates don’t even believe in evolution. Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.” Egan also manages to skewer the “timber industry hacks who now guide the Forest Service after a decade of Republican contributions” and “bankers who bought a new bankruptcy law that makes it harder for poor people to stay out of credit card hell.” I am now pushing the envelope of the copyright law, but you get the idea. There’s pent-up opinion in Egan’s journalistic head, and it would be swell to read more. If you subscribe to Times Select, here are the links to Egan’s guest column and his full portfolio as a Times writer.

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