May 25th, 2021
‘“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.

February 20th, 2021
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.

January 15th, 2021
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.

August 26th, 2020
‘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.

August 10th, 2020
“[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.

August 5th, 2020
‘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.

March 16th, 2020
Excerpts from UD’s Pandemic Reading.

It’s Julian Barnes’ Nothing to be Frightened of.

The grammarian Pere Bouhours [on his deathbed] said: Je vas, ou je vais mourir: l’un ou l’autre se dit. (Loosely, ‘Soon I shall, or soon I will die: both are correct.’)


[L]ife is a matter of cosmic hazard, its fundamental purpose mere self-perpetuation… it unfolds in emptiness… our planet will one day drift in frozen silence… the human species, as it has developed in all its frenzied and over-engineered complexity, will completely disappear and not be missed, because there is nobody and nothing out there to miss us.


[A friend] consolingly quotes a study showing that fear of death drops off after the age of sixty. Well, I have got there before him, and can report that I am still waiting for the benefit. Only a couple of nights ago, there came again that alarmed and alarming moment, of being pitchforked back into consciousness, awake, alone, utterly alone, beating pillow with fist and shouting ‘Oh no Oh No OH NO’ in an endless wail, the horror of the moment – the minutes – overwhelming what might, to an objective witness, appear a shocking display of exhibitionist self-pity. An inarticulate one, too: for what sometimes shames me is the extraordinary lack of descriptive, or responsive, words that come out of my mouth. For God’s sake, you’re a writer, I say to myself…

October 3rd, 2019
The Art of Political Writing in L’Age de Trubu.

This is good.

Between calling Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) a panoply of Trumpish insults (and for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be held for treason), engaging in his usual hatred of the press, talking about Mike Pompeo’s intimate undergarments, and quite obviously scaring the shit out of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto—who looked like he was the very unwilling star of an ISIS hostage video—Trump spent the day rapidly decompensating, and it was a hideous spectacle. All the Maximum Leader pronunciamentos won’t change the reality that Donald John Trump, 45th president of the United States, has lost his shit.

In private, Republicans are in the deepest despair of the Trump era. They’ve got that hang-dog, dick-in-the-dirt fatalism of men destined to die in a meaningless battle in a pointless war.

August 28th, 2019
Why I read the New York Times rather than the Washington Post: Parul Sehgal.

You’ll never find so sharp and beautiful an evisceration of a book in UD‘s local paper, the Post. You’ll never find anything approaching it.

I’ve already talked about the stellar NYT music critic, Anthony Tommasini; next comes one of their book reviewers, who writes an informed, literate, playful take-down of Salman Rushdie’s latest novel. This is really good critical writing. Let’s see how she does it, with a few excerpts.

The novels are imaginative as ever, but they are also increasingly wobbly, bloated and mannered. He is a writer in free fall. What happened?

This will be her main point throughout: Rushdie retains his fantastic capacity to imagine, but has lost, over years of generating many novels, the structural and empirical grounding that made Midnight’s Children magic realism. Here’s her best paragraph:

That famous style has congealed in recent years; the flamboyance that once felt so free now seems strenuous and grating. “If he had a fault, it was that of ostentation, of seeking to be not only himself but a performance of himself,” Rushdie writes of a character in his novel “The Enchantress of Florence,” which could read like stinging self-critique. The later books — “Shalimar the Clown,” “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” “The Golden House” — are all tics, technique and hammy narration that try to toupee over patchy stories, exhausted themes, types passing as characters. For a writer so frequently praised for ingenuity, Rushdie actually follows a formula of sorts. You could make yourself a bingo card: Classic Novel or Myth used as Scaffolding, Femme Fatale, Story within the Story (recounted by a Garrulous Narrator), Topical Concerns, Defense of Hybridity.

Toupee, right? The image captures the desperate, theatrical (“hammy”), fakery of someone who has aged out of – if you will – a full head.

Rushdie’s narrative impulses are centrifugal; they lie in tossing in celebrity cameos and literary allusions, in sending new plots into orbit in the hope they might lend glitter and ballast to a work sorely in need of both, sorely in need of tethering to the world, the concerted thinking and feeling of realism, not magic.

Glitter and ballast: A poetic pair with their flowing Ls and matching syllables and stresses and double letters. (See also: diamonds and rust.) In a very short review, Sehgal demonstrates deep knowledge of Rushdie’s work and of contemporary literature; she explains with uncompromising logic why his latest novel fails; and she writes enticing prose rich with metaphor.

August 1st, 2019
‘If someone confides in you [about their depression], try not to say, “It’s all in your mind,” or “lighten up,” or, my personal favorite, “Happiness is a choice.” No, it’s really not. When I’m in a really bad place, I do my best to surround myself with positive people and upbeat music, but too often it feels as if I’m drowning in my own thoughts, while everyone else seems to be breathing comfortably.’

At the ridiculously young age of eighteen, a granddaughter of Robert Kennedy, Saoirse Kennedy-Hill, wrote a strong and confident opinion piece about her experience of depression.

Now, four years later, she has died of a drug overdose at the Kennedy compound. Her death will draw more attention to the opioid/overdose crisis among young Americans.

June 20th, 2019
‘Are politics regressing to premodern forms? Did they never really progress beyond them? It is possible to read too much into these rallies and rituals. But when a man is legally murdered by having bricks thrown at his head, in a country as recently advanced as Brunei, I think we will have our answer.’

The decision to kill gays as a matter of state policy, however abortive and hedged, is not one that lends itself to charitable interpretation from those who consider themselves broadly liberal. And indeed I find all these hedges as risible as they are sincere. They sound like cognitive dissonance: loyalty to a religion and to a sovereign, mixing uncomfortably with a cosmopolitan moral sense that says killing gays means killing gays, and is abhorrent under any circumstance…

But the Sultanate of Brunei is, by the standard of, say, Saudi Arabia (let alone the Islamic State), liberal.


Excellent writing by Graeme Wood, in which, with a nod toward “the King’s touch,” he invokes the weird premodern/postmodern mix of many countries.

February 10th, 2019
“We’re all carrying little pornography studios around with us in our pockets.”

Very nice sentence, from an amusing and well-written opinion piece by Dan Savage in the NYT.

February 4th, 2019
Uncomfortably Numb:

An occasional series of pain-pensées- — from the addicted and formerly addicted.

Somewhere along the way we all started to confuse — disastrously — the eradication of pain with the eradication of suffering. Freedom from suffering should, indeed, be a basic human right. No one should have to endure unbearable cancerous or post-operative pain, and the patients-rights movement was an undeniable marker of progress. Somehow that turned into let there never be a moment of discomfort. The problem there, of course, is that any mild irritant can become unbearable. We build no tolerance to life.

December 10th, 2018
When Brennan’s President or whatever, he’ll send out FAR better tweets than the current tweeter.

He sent this one today, in response to a tweet this morning from the current tweeter.

Whenever you send out such inane tweets, I take great solace in knowing that you realize how much trouble you are in & how impossible it will be for you to escape American justice. Mostly, I am relieved that you will never have the opportunity to run for public office again.


December 4th, 2018
Nice writing.

[W]hile Acosta’s record covering up for a depraved plutocrat makes him a good fit for the Trump administration, it should disqualify him from public service.

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