‘My favourite section of the mitigation statement makes the point that later in life, Ghislaine [Maxwell] set up a charity to save the oceans. It’s great to know she really cared about fish. Sadly, the oceans will not have the benefit of her altruism during her 20 years in jail. I think we can live with that.’

Nice writing from Dorothy Byrne on Maxwell’s long sentence.

More about the oligarch who thought he’d get off scot-free by giving millions of shekels to …

Yad Vashem.

Claims of Roman [Abramovich’s] pivotal strategic role in potentially ending the [Ukraine] war felt so fantastical that they might as well have cast him as some peacemaking chameleon, a very Zelig of international diplomacy. He was there at Westphalia in 1648, where he played some of his best treatying, and at Versailles in 1919, where he had an absolute shitter. And yet, many accepted and repeated the claims – performing ever more unpaid service in the reputation laundromat. Abramovich had bought himself yet another day of grace to add to the thousands and thousands of days of grace he has enjoyed in the UK since buying Chelsea [soccer club] in 2003…

Tomorrow Chelsea will host Newcastle, who are now owned by a group led by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia – but remember, those guys are the good autocrats, because they buy our weapons. And use them in a war in Yemen that has thus far gone on for seven years, killing or starving hundreds of thousands, the vast majority believed to be children under five. But of course, the sovereign wealth fund isn’t the same as the Riyadh government. They just have a good relationship with it, same as Roman Abramovich just has a good relationship with Putin. “Which owner knows the guy who’s killed more babies?” is a question you won’t be seeing on any banners at Chelsea-Newcastle.

Marina Hyde, The Guardian

Go for it.

Andrew Bates, White House Deputy Press Secretary, on Trubu and Putain:

Two nauseating, fearful pigs who hate what America stands for and whose every action is driven by their their own weakness and insecurity, rubbing their snouts together and celebrating as innocent people lose their lives.”

The essays in this …

book, especially the one about driving in foreign countries, made UD laugh hugely.

An excerpt.

P.J. O’Rourke has died.

‘Night Thoughts of a Classical Physicist’ has long been UD’s favorite book title…

… with its lyrical meter and meld of sentiment and science. Not that she’s ever read it – she only now, googling it, discovered it’s a novel, and not a long personal essay as she had all this time (pub. 1982) assumed. She had all this time assumed it was an end of life – or deepest night – dirge on the deepest themes: For creaturely beings, we know a lot, but we really know nothing; or, anyway, our cosmic knowledge, full of violent immensities, mainly frightens us.

In the other direction, the microworld pulses with pandemics; or, as merrily we roll along, masses against our hearts.

*******************

As in this brief night thoughts essay by a neuroscientist recently diagnosed with heart cancer.

I was absolutely white-hot angry at the universe. Heart cancer? Who the hell gets heart cancer?! Is this some kind of horrible metaphor? This is what’s going to take me away from my beloved family, my cherished friends and colleagues? I simply couldn’t accept it. I was so mad, I could barely see.

David Linden spins his anger, puzzlement, and despair into an intriguing riff on the permanent propensity of humanity to project eternal life. No real night thoughts, no real December 31.

I cannot imagine the totality of my death, or the world without me in it, in any deep or meaningful way. My mind skitters across the surface of my impending death without truly engaging. I don’t think this is a personal failing. Rather, it’s a simple result of having a human brain…

[B]ecause our brains are organized to predict the near future, it presupposes that there will, in fact, be a near future. In this way, our brains are hardwired to prevent us from imagining the totality of death.

… I would contend that this basic cognitive limitation is not reserved for those of us who are preparing for imminent death, but rather is a widespread glitch that has profound implications for the cross-cultural practice of religious thought. Nearly every religion has the concept of an afterlife (or its cognitive cousin, reincarnation). Why are afterlife/reincarnation stories found all over the world? For the same reason we can’t truly imagine our own deaths: because our brains are built on the faulty premise that there will always be that next moment to predict. We cannot help but imagine that our own consciousness endures.

Or, as a much earlier (1745) night thoughts thing (“The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality”) has it:

As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes; spin out eternal schemes,
As we the fatal sisters would outspin,
And, big with life’s futurities, expire.

Good writing is often very, very brief.

For instance, here’s a letter to the New York Times in response to a column urging secular Americans to try turning or returning to religious faith, because “religious ideas … provide an explanation for the most important features of reality… [T]he progress of science and the experience of modernity have strengthened the reasons to entertain the idea of God… [Our world] presents considerable evidence of an originating intelligence presiding over a law-bound world well made for our minds to understand, and at the same time a panoply of spiritual forces that seem to intervene unpredictably in our existence.”

In response, one reader, David Bonowitz, writes:

On a weekend when fundamentalist Muslims were winning a war against the United States, and as fundamentalist Christians demand the right to cause their fellow Americans to suffer and die from a preventable disease, Ross Douthat had the gall to tell me that I ought to accept the same primitive explanations that led directly to their fundamentalism. Hard pass.

Now, you can make the obvious point that Douthat wasn’t talking about fundamentalism, but on the contrary about a very tentative effort to move closer to religious faith generally; but put that aside. In response to Douthat’s rather long-winded and rather vague account of the possibility of faith, Bonowitz hits hard with a “hard pass,” pointing out in one beautifully structured sentence that the actual world – not the world of yearning, souls, and NDEs Douthat evokes, but the world of the present, the world of human history – suffers inordinately from the implications of quite a few forms of religious faith. Grounded and rational, Bonowitz’s brief brief against Douthat derives its power from the packed concision of his argument, coupled with his refusal to hide the anger (“has the gall”) that underlies his position.

Best Headline So Far

AMERICANS SHOCKED TO LEARN THAT GIULIANI HAD LAW LICENSE

(Onaccounta he just lost his law license.)

That’s A Moray!

A New York Times writer found this pun so nice, she used it twice.

Scathing Online Schoolmarm says:

Hana Schank’s essay about being in a car accident is first-rate.

Before the accident I went to yoga retreats and tried meditation. I said things like “I just need to unplug.” Apparently what I needed was to get hit by a truck. Perhaps I have discovered the secret to a peaceful mind, and it is traumatic brain injury.

‘“Here, you’ll be eating at a nice restaurant, then turn to the table next to you and there’s an Albanian with a star tattoo, then at the other table, there’s a thug from the Irish mafia,” said an agent from Greco. “The other day I was standing in line at the grocery store, and the kid in front of me turned around and he had a Kalashnikov tattooed on his forehead.'”

A long, beautifully written piece in The Guardian evokes the “it’s a small world, after all” charm of Marbella, Spain. The only thing missing from the picture is King Juan Carlos, currently in Abu Dhabi hiding out from the police.

The Zillow Diaries

University Diaries offers a variant of this; for years she has quoted from/commented on exceptional online real estate ad copy for super-grandiose houses in Bethesda, her home town. Now Defector, the successor to the much-missed Deadspin (thank you, Jay Smith, for telling me about this!) offers the hilarious Zillowing Out column, in which a struggling young DC writer shares her palace-envy. Her recent commentary on a six million dollar offering in the nation’s capital is adorably faux-simpleton throughout:

[T]he star of [the] outdoor area is this weird middle section which LIFTS UP FROM UNDERGROUND so that you can HIDE YOUR CAR FROM THE WORLD … [Then] you can have an al fresco dinner [on top of its hiding place]. Wow being rich seems great… On the second floor we have a room I would like to spend all my time in, as it has another fireplace and also seems to be a perfect marriage between a literature professor’s fancy study and a bar. There is a pool table but it is neutral, not green. I have never seen this. If you are rich, tell me, is this normal?…

Speaking of bars: UD has noticed that there are two places where large very visible tables loaded with luxe bottles with bronze liquid in them, oversized drinking glasses, and elegant extensive clinky serving equipment are standard: In soap opera living rooms, and in palaces and castles on the Netflix series The Crown. All interior conversations in these locations feature mucho clinky machinations and protracted blubblubblub pouring as alcoholic drinks are lengthily prepared. Tea, she notices, is nonexistent in the soap operas, and wheeled out in the castles/palaces only when rank outsiders have been granted audiences. In UD‘s wee houselet, no liquor and certainly no booze recharging station appears. Chez UD, moldering wine bottles, some left over from our wedding ceremony, clatter about on random shelves in the basement. OTOH, chez UD, tea cups, mugs, canisters, kettles, and pots abound.

Example of a Strong Lede

An Americus (Georgia) lawyer who entered the U.S. Capitol with hordes of fellow Donald Trump supporters last week said they were protesting an election purloined by rogue elements of the Italian military using Vatican satellites to change Trump votes into Joe Biden votes on American voting machines.

‘Liberty alumni and Virginia pastor Colby Garman tweeted on Monday night that the events which brought Falwell down “are not the public fall of a Christian leader into sin.”’

“They are the unmasking of a long-standing hypocrisy that has fed off the resources and goodwill of a Christian institution while despising the truths it was established to uphold.”

Rev Garman nails it.

“[T]he most important thing is for the G.O.P. to take such a shellacking in November that they will remember it as the political equivalent of an unsedated colonoscopy.”

Who knew Bret Stephens was capable of such great zingers?

I mean, okay, yes, you could argue there’s a whopper of a mixed metaphor lurking in there (shellacking/colonoscopy?). Who cares.

‘Decades of rot at every level of Lebanon’s institutions destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city, and far too many lives. It is precisely the banality behind the explosion that captures the particular punishment and humiliation heaped on Lebanon.’

There is a pervasive culture of negligence, petty corruption and blame-shifting endemic to the Lebanese bureaucracy, all overseen by a political class defined by its incompetence and contempt for the public good… Emergency aid will only magnify public humiliation and helplessness. Yesterday’s explosion made clear that Lebanon is no longer a country where decent people can live secure and fulfilling lives.

A very angry opinion piece that wisely keeps its anger under control. But just barely.

*****************

Another opinion piece, Washington Post:

[N]o one in government, no one with any responsibility for the care and well-being of Lebanon and its people, cares. They never have... People in government have brazenly stolen millions. The latest banking collapse had many reasons, but primarily it happened because we had a unified government that decided it was time to empty out the national bank and central reserves. Most parts of Lebanon have been getting no more than two or three hours of electricity a day because certain members of parliament have companies making millions selling and maintaining generators. Because of the lack of maintenance of the sewage system, the Lebanese are swimming in crap, literally...

We had a civil war that ended only when all the sides figured they could steal a lot more money if they cooperated.

****************

A third.

The Lebanese people have long suffered as a consequence of the actions and behavior of venal, incompetent individuals; of power-hungry politicians, businesspeople, and shadowy figures, and of geopolitical actors who have made the country their plaything at the expense of good governance… It’s not fate causing Lebanon’s tragedy. Perhaps the shared anger over this event can bring the Lebanese together to push back against the incompetent and the greedy, the functionaries, politicians, and outside players, who have hijacked their country and created conditions for the Lebanese people’s never-ending tragedy; admittedly a monumental task.

******************

We’re detecting a theme.

[E]vil has taken the form and character of a non-sovereign, irresponsible, criminal state that is hostile to its own population and the cultural urban fabric that makes Beirut a unique Mediterranean city.

… The prospect of a new uprising in the immediate aftermath of this incident is far fetched. But we should not delude ourselves into believing that this brutal, criminal state will succeed in making its populace a lifeless corpse.

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