Atlantic Monthly

I Say Qaddafi, You Say Qadhdhafiy

The Atlantic (online)

The first rule of foreign policy, says the adage, is never to invade a country where they use q’s without u’s. Besides saving the Republic from overseas boondoggles, I like to think this chestnut exists to rescue American copy editors from endless niggling over Arabic names. If war is, as Paul Rodriguez quipped, God’s way of teaching Americans about geography, it is also a way of teaching his humble servants at the Atlantic copy desk how to cram foreign words and phrases into an alphabet that manifestly doesn’t suit them.

Since terrorism and Iraq began to dominate our coverage, The Atlantic has crammed many Arabic names and phrases into our text, and some have not gone gently. The simplest cases demand fussiness and attention: We spell Iraq’s second-largest city Basra. But why not Basrah, as writers in English called it for hundreds of years before? And why no dot under the s, as scholars seem now to prefer?

Smart Set

Greetings from Abkhazia

The Smart Set

The forlorn seaside resort where Soviet rulers once frolicked.

The Republic of Abkhazia is one of the few countries, if you can call it that, where every tourist who shows up gets a handshake and a friendly chat with the deputy foreign minister. Or rather, it would be such a country, if it were a country at all. A wee seaside strip in the Republic of Georgia, Abkhazia hasn’t yet persuaded anyone to recognize its independence, even though it boasts many of the trappings of nationhood — a president, a parliament, and an army that guards the border in case the government in Tbilisi wants to invade again.

New York Sun

Divining Patterns in the Imperial Cycle

The New York Sun

Review of Day of Empire by Amy Chua.

Finding a kind word for Genghis Khan, the Mongol warlord who built towering stacks of the heads of his enemies’ children, is the sort of comically revisionist exercise that can nevertheless make old history fresh again.

For Genghis — and for all world-class empires, from Persia to the present — the unhelpfully kind word Amy Chua finds, in her new “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — And Why They Fall” (Doubleday, 432 pages, $29.95), is “tolerant.” Received tales of Genghis’s pitiless subjugation of the known world obscure what was, she says, a willingness to tolerate the practices of many local groups within his dominion — broadmindedness remarkable at the time, even if the bloodshed and brutality are all we remember today. Accept vassal status, Genghis said, and you can keep not only your indigenous ways and leaders, but your children’s heads, too.

Mental Floss

The Annotated Pig

I wrote a spread for Mental Floss on parts of pigs that you can now, or will soon be able to, install in your body for medical purposes.  Examples: fetal pig stem-cells, potentially injectable into one’s brain to fight the effects of Parkinson’s; transgenic pig skin, to treat burn victims; human sperm, produced in bulk by modified pig testes.

I don’t have an electronic copy of this graphic, but when I have one, I’ll post it here.


Prospects for the Kirkuk Referendum

Article in Jane’s Intelligence Review about what will happen when the referendum happens, or doesn’t, in Kirkuk.