Posts Tagged ‘money’


Monday, March 19th, 2012

Thrifty readers! I’m really happy to report that two of the Turkey-related stories I wrote for the New Yorker are now available for free! Click here to read about Neolithic man, here for restaurant criticism, and here to buy this man a sandwich:


“Information must belong to the people!”


Tuesday, February 28th, 2012


Sade logo

“Are all cell phones off?”


“Home phones unplugged?”


“The door?”

“Locked, as are all communication means.”

“Has ‘she’ been informed?”

“Couple of times. She won’t be in the way, won’t even approach the vicinity between 19.00 and 21.00 pm.”

So far, you expect Bruce Willis to blow up the place.

“Good. Which show is on?”


“Damn! She’s more into The Magnificent Century. What if she gets bored and feels the urge to barge in?”

“Mo–om! Don’t forget, the game is about to start!!”

“Alright, alright I won’t come to the living room… God!”

It sounds like a CIA operation, but it’s just the routine preparation to watch a Galatasaray match in our house. As a huge Galatasaray fan, my father has certain rules while watching a game, which I will discuss later. First, I would like to tell you my first words. “Mom?” “Dad?” “Pee?” No, no and no. They were “Ye-ye-ye, Ya-ya-ya!” This was my best try at repeating the GS anthem after my father.



Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Here is another installment of student writing, titled “The Way,” by a senior majoring in international relations. Because it mentions weed, a perennially delicate subject (when will I learn?), the author of this piece has asked me to redact her name and photo. I will mention only that the picture showed four very cute young people sitting on a futon.



Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Concerned readers! I was deeply moved by the recent international outpouring of sentiment, both pro and con, regarding the potential use of “douchebag” in my forthcoming essay on Dante. In the past week I’ve given a lot of consideration to the different views that were expressed. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve struggled more over any single mot juste in my whole career.

At first, I was feeling pretty good about “sleazebags.”  So was my editor.  He said he had intended “assholes” less as an actual substitution for “douchebags,” than as “a prompt to a third way”—and we had found it!


As the days went by, though, I started to feel less confident.  I was increasingly bothered by the connotation, with “sleazebags,” of criminal slickness—an issue raised by several readers. What if “the thousand and one sleazebags of Florence” was understood to play on some image of Italian corruption or, worse yet, greasiness?  That was the last thing I wanted!  And didn’t “sleazebags” designate a particular kind of behavior or vocation, by contrast with the more existential “douchebags” (the inevitable douchebags, regardless of class or income)?

I began casting about for an alternative.  Although I did appreciate the many piquant suggestions I received from readers, none, to my ear, was quite right in context. That is, the historical moment may come when it sounds OK to refer to “Homer, Moses, Judas, Jesus, Brunetto Latini, Beatrice, all the thousand and one asswizards of Florence,” but I’m pretty sure it isn’t here yet.

One night I lay awake “brainstorming” about all the nimrods, ass-hats, jerks, jerk-offs, knuckleheads, fuckups, fuckwits, et aliiad nauseam, but only succeeded in giving myself terrible dreams about an exboyfriend.

In the morning, I realized it was time to reevaluate the objections to “douchebag.” These seemed to fall into two categories:

  1. Shelf-life: We should avoid fad words of recent coinage, because they might go obsolete.
  2. Staleness/ annoyingness: We should not join annoying, repetitive people in overusing their favorite words.

Interestingly, Objection 2 has been around since at least 2006 when Gawker called a moratorium on “douchebags,” offering, as an reward for the reader who came up with the best alternative, a bottle of Balneol Perianal Cleansing Lotion (“it may not seem like much, but according to a commenter at, ‘it will last at least 6 to 8 months even in the most busy of households’”). What was the result? Choads, twatwaffles, snatches… nothing suitable. The unclaimed bottle of Balneol ended up in the Gawker lavatory.

In 2008-09, the death of “douchebag” was again announced/ called for by various publications, on revamped charges: the word was not only “completely played out,” but was now being bandied about for purposes other than its “true intention”; “the douches themselves” had sinisterly coopted it for use against less deserving candidates; its very transcendent historic-philosophical conditions had expired, along with the financial bubble that brought us the platonic douchebags; etc.

Oh readers—it’s a thankless, dreary task to separate the issues at hand. But did I go into this line of work for the yucks?  Let’s start with the “shelf life” objection. Here, I think there’s been a conflation of normative and prescriptive: people say that douchebag is on the brink of extinction, because they believe it should be on the brink of extinction. Yet the very insistence that it should be extinct is proof that it’s still here.  People have been trying to exterminate this word for 5+ years, and not even the massive incentive of a bottle of Balneol could elicit a viable alternative… these things mean something.

As for overuse: since when is being used a bad thing, for a word?  “Asshole” is obviously used way more than “douchebag,” and nobody says it’s time to retire “asshole.” The view seems to be rather that “asshole” is time-tested—a classic.



Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Frugal readers! Are you looking for a classy graduation gift that won’t break the bank?  Great news!  At the time of writing, The Possessed has become an Amazon bargain book and will set you back scarcely the price of a Venti Mocha Coconut Frappuccino!

In other Amazon news, it was recently been brought to my attention that the Possessed reader rating has dropped to 3-point-something stars. Looking over the stats, I saw that, although 5-star ratings has a large plurality (thank you, friends!), there are also quite a few 1-stars, which can’t all be from Orlando Figes.

I found myself wondering why the Amazon reader reviews were, on average, less positive than the reviews in the press.  My guess is that satisfied readers of a well-reviewed book are less likely than unsatisfied readers to post on Amazon.  One group thinks to itself, “Why should I write a good review when the Times already did,” while the other thinks, “Aha, a venue to express my outrage at the Times for hyping this book.”  I found support for this hypothesis in the fact that many particularly well-reviewed books tended to have relatively low reader ratings.  So… it’s the old dialectic of hype vs. backlash.

I remember when “hype” used to be a pre-publication phenomenon.  Hype was inherently unreliable, because it came out before anyone had actually read the book. Today, pretty much any good review counts as “hype,” which has thus become a codeword for any positive opinion that you don’t share – a way of disguising a difference of opinion as a conspiracy theory.