About a month ago, my partner showed me this article. Written by historian James Sweet, it is terrific, and the only thing I could possibly criticize the author for is his after-the-fact apology for what he had written (it appears at the link, prior to the main article). Why on earth did he grovel like that? He wrote nothing wrong and indeed, he was quite sensitive and considerate in his writing. (Of note: Sweet links to a 2002 piece along the same lines, published before we all went mad and utterly gutless.) A propos, Bill Maher’s rant from his show last week. I wish he were not so vulgar – he could make his point without any of that, but still, I admire his moxie here. He is strong on Israel, animal welfare and free speech. And now, it seems, on ahistorical nonsense.

When Journalists Could Write

We have seen deeply touching, solemn and bittersweet images this past week and in the coverage accompanying those images, references were made to this piece of writing:

Two rivers run silently through London tonight, and one is made of people. Dark and quiet as the night-time Thames itself, it flows through Westminster Hall, eddying about the foot of the rock called Churchill.

The paragraph above comes from Vincent Mulchrone’s coverage of Winston Churchill’s lying-in-state in January 1965, reprinted and linked here. The content is moving, of course, but what really strikes me is how well written it is. It’s what I notice when I read something from an old copy of Life, for example. Or an old New Yorker. People who wrote for a living could actually write.

Below, a video of Sir Winston’s funeral. The crowds may look different now, more multicultural, which is good – though they were not without diversity in 1965 – certainly more casual now, but the lack of cynicism is the same. We need more of this – more of recognizing people who make us better and who deserve our grief, more of admitting that they will be missed.


From David Remnick, whose book, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire, is on my current reading list, this analysis. I have very conservative friends who will say that Gorbachev does not deserve the praise he is getting. I disagree. Of course, he stumbled into the right path and it could be said that his mistakes – rather than his intentions – more than anything led to the fall of the Soviet Union, but I think Remnick is more accurate and fair:

Gorbachev, of course, made mistakes, serious ones. He tried, for too long, to reconcile irreconcilable ideas and power bases. He failed to reform the K.G.B., which led a coup against him, in August, 1991. And so on. Yet he possessed both the idealism and the political skill to generate something in the world that is, at this dark historical moment of global illiberalism and malevolence, exceedingly rare: a sense of decency and promise. Here was someone raised in a totalitarian system who came to believe in democracy, the rule of law, and the peaceful and orderly transfer of power. Imagine. The hope is that, around the world, his example will prevail.

A propos, here is a very good piece by an incredibly smart fellow (who happens to be my partner).