Washington Diarist

The Emptiness of Data Journalism

Nate Silver could learn a lot from those op-ed columnists he maligns

Nate Silver could learn a lot from those op-ed columnists he maligns

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We must mentally arm ourselves against a reality about which we only recently disarmed ourselves: the reality of protracted conflict.

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Montecito is an impossibly lovely and privileged town between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the sea, just east of Santa Barbara. The place shows no signs of strain of any kind. A handsome old mission church is all that disrupts the eternal present of the materially fortunate. The beauty almost eclipses the money. But for an hour or so it did, as I perched on a large rock facing the ocean and was thoroughly saturated in the noontime light. In the distance oil platforms, like ghost ships, rudely marred the pristinity of the marine expanse.

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The grim morality of our realpolitik stance on Syria

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For thirty years it was my custom at editorial meetings to begin my report on the next week’s issue with the words: “We have Kauffmann.” The last time I did so, I had a tear in my eye.

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"What I Saw Was a High, Gorgeous Pile of Figs"

Obama, Moustaki, and me

The futility of one’s thoughts is no reason not to think them. The truest protest is the involuntary kind, when outrage cannot be suppressed, and the failure of one’s arguments transforms them into obsessions, and one becomes tedious, almost gleefully so, in one’s criticisms and complaints. History disobeys even statesmen and saints, and eventually you wind up making speeches in your head. The other day I was making such a speech about the diminishment of America in the world.

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Idealism and Blindness

Of flaking paint and blemishes

Many years ago, as I was leafing through a book in which I had no interest, I found one of the saddest stories in the world. It was a new edition of a textbook on visual perception, the psychology and physiology of the eye, and there I discovered “the case of S.B.” S.B. was an Englishman who was blind from infancy to middle age, when, at the age of 52, he received a successful corneal transplant. “All his life he tried to picture the world of sight,” Richard L.

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Welcome to the Era of the Light Footprint

Obama finally finds his doctrine

Barack Obama's foreign policy: "light footprint," lightweight thinking. 

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“HE IS THE RARE man of sixty-two who is not shy about showing his ass—an ass finely sausaged into a pair of alarmingly tight black jeans—to twenty thousand paying customers.” This panting observation about a rock star was committed by the editor of The New Yorker. I miss Eichmann in Jerusalem, almost. David Remnick’s 75,000-word profile of Bruce Springsteen is another one of his contributions to the literature of fandom.

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Close To Zero

The problem with a moral vocabulary about politics and policy is that it not only makes politicians and policymakers feel bold, it also demands that they act bold. Eloquence creates expectations; and so in Washington, even for America’s first black, Jewish, and gay president, the goal is often to separate the high ground from its practical imperatives, so that an aura of rectitude may be acquired without recourse to significant action. Washington is the capital of idle talk about justice.

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