Why I Learned French

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Nineteen sixty-four, and I was flunking French. I don’t mean “doing badly,” but as in, getting straight Fs. The first assignment that freshman year was to read 70 pages of Le Rouge et le Noir of Stendhal, and to do it within 48 hours. They might as well have put me in an advanced Indonesian, for the preparation I had.

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Death Song for a Generation

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Promising English composer George Butterworth was killed at the Battle of the Somme one hundred years ago on August 5. He was just 31 years old.

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The Wisdom of Young Speechwriters


The problem with anyone young is that they have all sorts of positive qualities: energy, fresh thinking, ambition, confidence and so on. But they (necessarily) don’t have the experience that comes from knowing lots of things. From seeing how things play out over time. For grasping the deeper dynamics of any negotiation. From understanding relationships in all their baffling complexity. From grasping what the Serbs call duh situaciji – the spirit of the situation.

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Arounothay’s Tux

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Arounothay was a survivor of the Laotian holocaust of the 1970s. An economist, he was my upstairs neighbor at the university apartments in Brazzaville, the capital of the Little Congo. It’s hard to imagine a more misplaced individual, but he was teaching economics in a Marxist country. Marxist in name only. Of the horrors of the twentieth century, the Pathet Lao in Vientiane were up at the top in cruelty and murderous social engineering.

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Uh Oh, Nativism is not Only Offensive

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Challenges, Lagarde said, are low growth, rising inequality, and falling numbers of jobs. Resolve these three stumbling blocks and we may get the world to work better. The IMF alone cannot do it, nor even the IMF, World Bank, U.S. Government, OECD, European Union, United Nations together. We can’t channel the human mind to a higher level anytime soon, but we’d better tackle those three bugbears or we’re all sunk. The wealthy with the others.

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