Look Up Challenge

  Our school recently took the Look Up Challenge. This reminded me of a previous such challenge. I was at the National Gallery of Art admiring a collection of inkstands when the guard came over. Now, usually when museum guards approach me, it’s to hassle me about my cleats or cigarette. So I had to […]

Enjoy / Celebrate

  This week’s vocabulary words got me thinking that English could stand some joyous calibration of noun and verb. E.g. “Joy to the World” seems rather different from “The beverage you’re about to enjoy is hot.” You don’t get that imbalance with celebration and celebrate, do you. Anyway, to make it sticky, as we say in […]


  There’s a list of books I mean to write, and this one is somehow on it, even though I couldn’t bear to write it, let alone research it. It would be about how in one year three of the world’s worst tyrants – literal madmen – lost their jobs. In Equatorial Guinea, Macías Nguema […]

ObitCon VI

  I went to the sixth conference of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers in Washington, DC. Below are some highlights. I’ve left a lot out, but must record this: it was the best conference I’ve ever attended. Kickers The kicker is to an obit what the punch line is to a joke. Matt Schudel discussed […]

Arma Virumque Cano

  It is my twentieth year of teaching, and I shall share my accumulated wisdom with you now. First, popping into colleagues’ classrooms and telling them to hold off on starting their lessons because there will be a fire drill momentarily is an indisputably hilarious April Fools’ joke. Second … well. This one is so […]

How Bizarre

  Paul McCartney wrote “Lovely Rita” after getting a parking ticket The Bee-Gees got the beat for “Jive Talkin’” from the sound of driving on a causeway After being refused entry to Studio 54, Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards wrote “Le Freak” Let me stop here and ask: do any of the above excessively tax […]

Western Civilization

  Masha Gessen: We moved to Boston, not the smiliest city in this country. Tyler Cowen: Quite the contrary.   Summer brought me to Michigan, Illinois, Colorado, and Washington state, and I was once again reminded how much more pleasant people are when they’re not in the Northeast. I was chatting [see? Even he’s nicer […]


  My grandfather carved the beef and then a servant handed him a dish of potatoes baked in their skins. There are few things better to eat than a potato in its skin, with plenty of butter, but apparently my grandfather did not think so. He rose in his chair at the head of the […]