My Metropolitan Diary

Dear Diary,

This summer, I was reading my book on the steps in Union Square when one of the chess teachers came up and made me smell his cup of “tea.”  I’m pretty sure it was just gin.

Dear Diary,

One winter I was in the playground with my friends, and we wanted to make a snowman.  I scooped out a bunch of snow from the trash can.  I also scooped out a diaper filled with poop.

Dear Diary,

This summer, while waiting in line outside to sell books to the Strand, my line friends and I watched a homeless guy get in a fight with some garbage.  I thought nothing of it and went back to playing solitaire on my ipod, but the guy in front of me called the police, explaining that “he’s not really doing anything, he’s just scary.”  The police came, but by that point the homeless guy had moved down the block, so I didn’t technically see what happened.  But I imagine the homeless guy continued leading his life of grinding poverty, and the guy in front of me continued his life of being a complete jackass.

Dear Diary,

One time a girl in my high school met a guy on the subway, and she gave him a handjob.  True story.

Dear Diary,

Today I sat down next to a cute old lady on the M86 bus and smiled at her.  I didn’t realize I’d accidentally sat on a tiny corner of her Burberry Trench until she pulled it from under me, saying, “Watch it, fatty.”

Dear Diary,

A few years ago, I was waiting for the subway at Chambers street when I saw a rat run down the platform with a cheeseburger in its mouth.

Dear Diary,

Today I threw an empty soda bottle into a trashcan, and a rat jumped out at my face.

Dear Diary,

A few years ago I was running into the subway to get to school on time, and I was proud of myself to have picked a practically empty car.  As we rolled out of the station, I was filled with questions. Why is everyone crowded into that far corner away from me?  Why is the homeless guy next to me snoring so loudly?  And why is does that huge pile of human feces by the door have sneaker prints leading to my sneakers?

Dear Diary,

In the spring the ginkgo trees make my neighborhood smell like barf plus fart.

A List in Response to a News: Ladies’ Specials? That’s What She Said!!!!

toot toot!!! All aboard!!!!!!!!!!!!
toot toot!!! All aboard!!!!!!!!!!!!

In an effort to make travel safer and more pleasant for women, several new commuter trains in India are for women only.

Other Places I would Like To Be Only For Women

1. The women’s bathroom at the movie theater on 68th street last night.   That was really weird.

The end.


Gossip Girl


Kristol and the Uses of Religion

In my previous posting, I noted that Irving Kristol had a utilitarian attitude towards religion, viewing it as a necessary instrument of social control. For readers who might want more detail, I recommend this review of Kristol’s book Neoconservatism by Steve Vieux in New Politics.

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Irving Kristol, RIP

Kristol- Irving-HR

Irving Kristol died yesterday and I’ve been wrestling with the issue of whether I should write a note on his passing or not. When a political adversary leaves the scene, I’m inclined to follow the principal of “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” (of the dead, speak no ill). The passing of William Buckley, who had much the same baneful impact on the world as Kristol, was met by me with an attempt to capture the impact of his charming literary voice. That’s harder to do in Kristol’s case since his prose was bluntly utilitarian: effective at making a point but rarely memorable.

What good can be said about Kristol? He was by all accounts a genial personality and a good family man. He was smart enough to realize that he wasn’t as intelligent as his wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, a respected historian and the real intellectual giant of the family. He was a very gifted editor, with an eye for pressing issues and young writers (as witness his tenure at Encounter in the 1950s and The Public Interest from the mid-1960s until a few years ago). As an editor, he was at his best when he partnered with a co-editor with a more moderate and temperate sensibility (like Stephen Spender at Encounter or Daniel Bell in the early days of The Public Interest).

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A List in Response To A News: Take My Cats, Please. Seriously. I’m Going to Freak Out.


What’s that you say?  A cat lady on the Upper West Side?  How weird.

My Cats or My Future Baby?

  1. Barf on the floor
  2. Poop on the floor
  3. Pee on the floor
  4. Has a brain larger than a handful of grapes
  5. Sleep on my mom’s nice chairs so that I keep getting up with what Best Friend Lindsey calls a “diaper of cat hair”
  6. Not have such judgey-looking eyes
  7. Grow up to be a functioning creature capable of actual conversation and feelings
  8. Scream and claw at my locked bedroom door at 6am so that I will get up and feed them cat food
  9. Purr loudly like some kind of 4th grade nerd while I’m trying to research how Kim Kardashian lost so much weight
  10. Be cute and not annoying
  11. Not freak out when I want to dress it in a cute outfit
  12. Not be covered in hair
  13. Not cover everything I own in hair, causing drafts from opening and closing doors to blow cat-hair tumbleweeds across the floor
  14. Not be crouched on my bedroom floor glancing awkwardly from me to the pile of vomit under its chin
  15. Be worthy of my love
  16. Not barf into the box of old newspapers that I was about to put out with the recycling
  17. Not make me want to drown it
  18. Not chase its friend down the hallway, leap onto my computer desk knocking over my tea, run over my keyboard typing weird garbage into my email to my boss, then barf on the floor
  19. Love me back

Future baby: 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19

My Cats: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9

Great Moments in Selective Quotation

Winston Churchill: we don't need another book about him.
Winston Churchill: we don't need another book about him.

Not too many years ago, Andrew Roberts was a respected historian. He specialized in a very old fashioned sort of history, writing sympathetic biographies of conservative British bigwigs like Lord Halifax and Lord Salisbury. However conventional they might be, these volumes were based on original archival research and graced by a fluid prose style. The Salisbury biography won the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.


But in the last decade Roberts has degenerated into something much worse, a glib tabloid historian who writes vapid books celebrating the British Empire and its American successor. In this incarnation, Roberts has won some worldly success even as his scholarly reputation has been tarnished. Both George Bush and Dick Cheney are said to admire his pop histories, finding in them consoling lessons about how Anglo-American civilization has a duty to bring order to those ungrateful natives who live in faraway lands.


In the August 21 & 28, 2009 number of the Times Literary Supplement, the historian Richard J. Evans has a devastating review of Roberts’ latest book, The Storm of War: A New History of Second World War. As Evans notes, the new book and some of Roberts’ other recent works can be categorized as a “hastily written potboilers, widely criticized by reviewers for their inadequacies and inaccuracies.”

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Banner image: John Sell Cotman

Though few members of the public give much thought to ranking the prestige of different art forms, if forced to do so it is likely that watercolour painting would be granted an affectionate but decidedly second-tier status. We think of pretty landscapes formed with washed-out pigments: light browns, greens, yellows, pinks and reds that tend to pink, of Englishmen in sunhats sitting patiently in a field, enjoying a hobby for idle gentlemen. Meanwhile, in a stratum below all of this lies our childhood memories of dipping thin brushes in water, rubbing them against coins of hard paint, and applying the resultant mixture to soggy paper.

There is some truth to all of this, but it is at best a half-truth. The late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the emergence of painters who used watercolours to sublime effect: Thomas Girtin, John Constable, and J.M.W. Turner – who produced three times as many paintings based on watercolours as on oils — elevated landscape art to a position of dominance, at least for a time. Lesser known today but judged by earlier critics to have been one of the most innovative and artistic of the watercolourists was John Sell Cotman (1782-1842).

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Large and In Charge

Photo from Glamour.
Photo from Glamour.
Sophie Pollitt-Cohen writes:

Recently, Glamour magazine ran this photo in an article promoting healthy body image.

The majority of the online responses were positive, and even my male friend Baker commented on her nice smile and other weird, irrelevant things like that.  But my first thought when I saw it was “What is the dealie with the fat lady in Glamour?”

Why am I being such a hater?  I spend so much time thinking about body image and how the man keeps me down, so shouldn’t I be all for sisterhood and junk?  It would seem that men are the ones promoting these standards for women, as people in power are normally want to do to people without power.  As Hawthorne wrote in his story The Blithedale Romance about a particularly feminine character, “She is the type of woman such as man has spent centuries in making.”  If men are making the rules, why are women the ones enforcing them?

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It came from the desert, part deux

Readers of the Globe and Mail will already have seen today’s front-page-above-the-fold article on diplomat Robert Fowler’s return to Canada and his interview on national TV about his abduction last year by a splinter group of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — itself a splinter group of the Algerian insurgency of the 1990s), which adds some interesting first-person colour to this otherwise murky story. If you missed it the first time around, you may wish to read my August 7 post on the recent history and wider context of politics and insurgency in northwest Africa, and on the contested identity of AQIM itself.

The plausible deniability of M.I.A.

Daughter of a Tamil revolutionary, witness to civil war, refugee, pioneer of “global ghetto funk”, outspoken creator of a politically-charged debut album and of an even more creative follow-up album that she recorded in locations around the world after being denied a visa to work in the U.S. — a rebel’s badge of honour if there ever was one — to many, M.I.A. is nothing less than the street-slanged spokesperson of the twenty-first century Global South.

Yet Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam is also the woman who flew to Los Angeles in February to perform at the Grammy Awards (heavily pregnant, she gave birth to a son a couple of days later) and who is engaged to Benjamin Bronfman, son of Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. (previously the man responsible for — to be diplomatic — misplacing his family’s Seagram liquor empire) — and who will soon become, in tying this particular knot, a part of the establishment. She’s no Che Guevara.

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