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    Archive (chronological)

    Wednesday
    Apr232014

    In Defense of National Airlines

    ROADS & KINGDOMS - 23 APRIL 2014

    Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: How can 239 people just disappear? I fantasize about the plane itself: What it looked like, the color of the seats, the food. Will I ever fly on Malaysian Airlines? Will anyone ever want to again?

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    Saturday
    Mar222014

    A Life in Our Hands: Community, Crime, and Punishment - On Jesse Ball's 'Silence Once Begun'

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 22 MARCH 2014

    IN AND AROUND the Japanese fishing village of Sakai, in Osaka prefecture, a community’s elderly citizens are disappearing without a trace. Years later, after the community has tried and jailed (and worse) a man who confessed to the apparent crimes, a journalist named Jesse Ball sets out to write a book about what actually happened.

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    Saturday
    Mar012014

    Let’s Go Ride a Bike

    THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE - 28 FEBRUARY 2014

    Last fall, I moved from Beirut to Los Angeles with my wife, Kelly, a journalist, and our 4-year-old daughter, Loretta, who one evening was ready to get back on her bike.

    The sidewalk stretched out before us. We could hear the steady pulse of traffic on Lincoln and Venice Boulevards. The timing seemed perfect: just before dinner, no chill in the air — a moment to show Loretta how to enjoy her new life in America. Look, honey, you’re safe now!

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    Wednesday
    Feb122014

    Ye Who Enter, Abandon Hope: Hell Is a Hospital in Lore Segal's "Half the Kingdom"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 12 FEBRUARY 2014

    WE’LL ALL SOME DAY be crooked and shrunken, bent before the mercy of the medical system. Into a hospital, each of us will bring our own pains, weaknesses, history, and fate. The ER doesn't care how we measure beauty. We get a chart. There are certain hours we can be visited, and certain things we can expect from the people who are supposed to care.

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    Sunday
    Jan192014

    Anthony Is Dead

    GAWKER - 18 JANUARY 2014

    It was one of the first warm evenings of spring when my new neighbor Steve—leaning over his balcony and through the bougainvillea—suggested we should take the kids to Faraya, a ski town a few hours from what was starting to look like a war in Syria.

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    Thursday
    Dec192013

    Even More Recent History

    AMERICAN CIRCUS - 18 DECEMBER 2013

    1.

    Choire Sicha was one of the first editors at spit-balling rabble-rouser Gawker, and he later logged time at the genteel but influential New York Observer when that pink broadsheet was an incubator for talent now found across publishing's various august mastheads. In more recent years, he's made a new name as founder of The Awl, a curious but widely admired online magazine. Such is his and The Awl's influence, however, that when the editor of The New York Times Magazine stepped down one morning this November, it was Sicha who by 9 a.m. had assembled a list of suggested replacements, including novelist Renata Adler and Times India correspondent Ellen Barry. Unspoken but acknowledged, as media watchers admiringly linked to Sicha's list: some day, perhaps if a smart move was made by leadership, the new editor could be Sicha himself.

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    Thursday
    Dec192013

    LA Story

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 18 DECEMBER 2013

    I have just moved to Los Angeles from the Middle East, and everyone keeps asking me if the city is too quiet—Am I bored? Is it safe?—and the answer is, No, I am not bored; yes, it seems safe, and yes, that’s fine by me. Mostly I am in a state of awe, blown away by a grocery store, the knock of the mailman at the door, the speed of the Internet; the easy friends you can make on the sidewalk or on the bus or while watching your kids play soccer or walking down Venice Boulevard, waiting for a light to change, en route to the University of Southern California, where I found myself the other day, seeking out the next thing I might do with my life, right before things went wrong again.

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    Thursday
    Dec122013

    Reality Strikes: Mark Haskell Smith's "Raw"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 11 DECEMBER 2013

    SEPP GREGORY HAS GREAT ABS. He was a beach volleyball player, then a player on a reality TV show, and then has his heart was broken by a bronzed co-star named Roxy, whose diet required lots of tequila and sex. During a follow-up TV series, shown around the country, Sepp recovered and fell for a doctor, but she, too, broke his heart. Now he's on tour for his autobiography,Total Reality. Adoring fans, mostly women, form lines at bookstores in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. They want to see rippling stomach muscles. Some offer sex. But he can't get it up. And there's another problem. Sepp didn't write the book. (And someone's going to die.)

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    Thursday
    Nov282013

    A Former Soviet Union: Elliott Holt's "You Are One of Them"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IT'S THE SEASON of the expatriate. Caleb Crain's Necessary Errors concerns the city of Prague, and Elliot Holt's fast, electrifying debut, You Are One of Them, takes us to Russia. Her book is as convincing and absorbing a portrait of post-Soviet Russia as you'll read. But at its heart, it's also about America.

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    Sunday
    Nov102013

    Daniel Alarcón's Haunting Political Fiction

    THE NEW REPUBLIC - 9 NOVEMBER 2013

    The Peruvian-born novelist Daniel Alarcón has become one of the most important modern voices for the countries south of the border. His first major book was the ambitious novel Lost City Radio (2007), a haunting tale set in an unnamed South or Central American country, where a talk show host uses on-air time to broadcast the names of those who have mysteriously “disappeared.” But that first novel had the airless precision of an experiment. Something about the life and trials of its characters felt brittle and incomplete, the anonymity of its setting eerily cold. It was torn between being a keen sketch of political turmoil and a broad historical fable.

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    Thursday
    Oct242013

    Beached

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 24 OCTOBER 2013

    There is something brutal about Phillip Glass’s opera. The way it stops and starts, the taunting tease of a story, then the way it’s anything but narrative. Composed of nine twenty-minute scenes, the whole of Einstein on the Beach—first produced in 1976 and shown in L.A. for the first time this month—is interspersed by five so-called “knee plays,” in which two women sit or stand or writhe around on plastic platforms, or search dreamily inside gently moving glass boxes. It’s not easy to watch.

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    Wednesday
    Oct092013

    Bones

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 9 OCTOBER 2013

    You discover one day—while everyone else is doing whatever it is that makes them happy—that you can almost pop one of the bones in your hand right out of the skin. It’s awesome. First, you practice in secret, when you’re bored or exasperated by school. But one day, you are practicing out in the open when someone notices the little bit of white sticking out, and they say, Wow, how cool, and they ask you to do it again. Look at this guy, they say—when formerly you were ignored or marginalized or made to feel you were odd or would at any rate never to amount to much—and it occurs to you: maybe you’re on to something.

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    Tuesday
    Oct082013

    Total Eclipse of the Bar: Nathan Deuel on ‘Turn Around Bright Eyes’

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IN THE UNITED STATES, the magic happens in a bar, or — and this is the pro move — in private rooms rented by the hour: “The electric frazzle in the voices, the crackle of the microphones, the smell of sweat, mildew, vodka, and pheromones — [that’s] the full karaoke experience,” writes Rob Sheffield, in his devastatingly smart and heartfelt new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke. What’s more: “There’s a buzzer on the wall you can press for more drinks.”

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    Wednesday
    Oct022013

    Once Upon a Time in the Middle East

    THE MORNING NEWS - 2 OCTOBER 2013

     There was one day near the end, when I took a taxi up a hill, to see a man. We sliced through canyons, making our way into the mountains north of Beirut, riding a black strip of asphalt upon which no lines were drawn. The span of tar was sometimes wide enough for two cars, sometimes one. We drove fast, nearly hitting someone when the road narrowed, nearly hit by another car ourselves when we bisected a second road—no stop signs, no stoplight—and then I realized: Nowhere at any point had a sign indicated a sharp curve or steep drop-off. We were on our own. When we finally stopped, four black dogs came running. 

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    Monday
    Sep302013

    Rising Temperatures: On Maggie O'Farrell's "Instructions for a Heatwave"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 30 SEPTEMBER 2013

    "THE HEAT, THE HEAT." So begins the astonishing new novel by Northern Irish writer Maggie O'Farrell. Following one sprawling family over four days of searing temperatures in 1976 London, Instructions for a Heatwave – O'Farrell's sixth novel – is perhaps a perfect book.

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    Saturday
    Sep072013

    One man's journey from the Middle East to the Midwest 

    AL JAZEERA AMERICA - 7 SEPTEMBER 2013

    Ten thousand miles from the chaos of Lebanon and Syria, I'm riding a dead man’s bike along Illinois’s Sangamon River, where, some years, floodwaters cover everything, sending black fingers searching among dirt and oaks and cottonwood trees. They say you can't really live in the flood plain, that it's unsafe. But here I am, having fled the Middle East, wondering, “What's the point of being safe if you don't feel fully alive?”

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    Thursday
    Aug222013

    America by the Yard

    HARPER'S - 21 AUGUST 2013

    For half a decade, I’ve been away from the United States, following my wife, a foreign correspondent, across the Middle East. In Baghdad, in Beirut, we saw some of the worst things people can do to one another. But as Americans, it was impossible not to be preoccupied with the various ways our own country seemed from abroad to be in decline: obesity in the schools, gun violence in Chicago, financial trouble in Detroit, soldiers returning to homelessness and suicide. We knew that eventually these problems would be ours, too.

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    Saturday
    Aug032013

    The Hipster Brewmeister of ... Beirut

    THE NEW YORK TIMES - 3 AUGUST 2013

    LAST spring, at a public square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, about 1,000 revelers attended a rock festival sponsored by 961 Beer, a very rare Middle East microbrewery. Acts included the Wanton Bishops, a band that would have been at home in Austin, Tex. In the front row were stylish women in sundresses beside men who showed a strong preference for black T-shirts and trendy eyewear.

    Forget the idea that religion or the effects of war might preclude the success of a Lebanese brewery. It’s true that many Muslims abstain from alcohol. But plenty of people in the Middle East love to drink, and this is especially true in Lebanon, where the religious plurality includes a thriving Christian population — and besides, people seek alcohol during hard times, said Mazen Hajjar, a former investment banker and airline executive who started 961 Beer.

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    Tuesday
    Jul302013

    Senior Poetry

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 30 JULY 2013

    In Beirut, there’s a shovel-faced gremlin sitting in front of the whorehouse. I’m just passing by, and he eyes me from his perch on a coffee can, where he rocks back and forth, opening and closing his fists, one bloodshot fish-eye firmly closed, the other spinning wildly. He barks out suddenly, a sharp noise like the backfire of an old Mercedes, and I turn to see his massive feet slap the pavement in black sneakers, his chest splattered in wet cigarette ash. Checking my watch, I still have ample time before I meet Marilyn Hacker, the eminent poet, who’s agreed to an audience with my class of elderly writing students. The gremlin smacks his lips, the size and shape of small fish, and I’m happy to be rounding a corner.

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    Sunday
    Jul282013

    Life in Beirut

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 28 JULY 2013

    NOBODY DIED. But Beirut is engulfed in flames, cars are mangled, glass is under foot, dozens are bleeding, and a faction of rebels claims responsibility. Shopkeepers roll gates; kids are yanked out of school. A day later, however, traffic is so thick and life so normal that it can take an hour to get across town.

    It's Monday, and I am barreling on foot through the thick funk of morning commuter traffic, crossing the spine of Hamra. My wife is a foreign correspondent, and I was at one point an editor in New York, but then we moved to Riyadh and had a little girl. To keep the family together, we stayed together — first in Saudi Arabia, then shuttling between bases in Istanbul and Baghdad and Erbil, and finally this vision of semi-normality in Lebanon. But last spring there was a shootout on our street and then a rather significant bomb-assassination across town, and this latest Monday the car bomb. I did my part to remain, through a winter and another spring but then everything was heating up — gunfights and snipers and radical clerics to the north and south and then the darkness from Syria spilling across the border to the east, and then, one week, the beginning of a new season of explosions downtown. Another hot, crazy summer — but as the rockets go back and forth overhead and the snipers grease their guns and everyone waits for what happens next, I have to admit: I still care about my teeth. I still arrange a trip to the dentist.

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