1. Foreign Policy has a piece on the nine most annoying sky-is-falling clichés in American foreign policy, which is very much in line with the oped I penned (with Lionel Beehner) for the USA Today last year. My favorite line:
As for the pundits and prophets, well, nobody ever won an invitation to Davos or got a six-figure book deal by arguing that the world of 2050 will — in all probability — look pretty much like that of today. So, in a spirit of curmudgeonly exasperation, here is my personal list of the most infuriating failed predictions, perennial fallacies, and doomed proposals that never seem to go away, from nuclear apocalypse to bird flu.
Compare with what Lionel and I argued:
Doom-and-gloom makes for good copy. Predicting stability in Sudan, a reasoned 10% drop in the euro, or normal relations with a nuclear Iran is a snoozer. Or consider a recent Atlantic cover headline: “Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran.” Somehow, “Israel Will Take A Cautionary Carrot-and-Sticks Approach to Iran” seems less sexy.
2. The Understatement of the Year Prize is likely to go to William Skidelsky, who wrote the following in a piece in the Guardian about Niall Ferguson: “Ferguson is not, it seems, a man given to self-doubt.” No, he is not. But he is fun to read, and so is this profile of him.
3. A piece that is like, I mean, great. About vagueness in (American) English.
By autumn 1987, the job interviews revealed that “like” was no longer a mere slang usage. It had mutated from hip preposition into the verbal milfoil that still clogs spoken English today. Vagueness was on the march. Double-clutching (“What I said was, I said . . .”) sprang into the arena. Playbacks, in which a speaker re-creates past events by narrating both sides of a conversation (“So I’m like, ‘Want to, like, see a movie?’ And he goes, ‘No way.’ And I go . . .”), made their entrance. I was baffled by what seemed to be a reversion to the idioms of childhood. And yet intern candidates were not hesitant or uncomfortable about speaking elementary school dialects in a college-level job interview. I engaged them in conversation and gradually realized that they saw Vagueness not as slang but as mainstream English. At long last, it dawned on me: Vagueness was not a campus fad or just another generational raid on proper locution. It was a coup. Linguistic rabble had stormed the grammar palace. The principles of effective speech had gone up in flames.
4. For those of you who are prone to “rejection dejection” (the mental state many tend to get into after having a manuscript rejected by a peer-reviewed journal), hang on. This letter — from Random House telling Henry Miller his novel “hasn’t the faintest chance of achieving commercial success in America” — may help.