Category Archive 'Claire Berlinski'

02 Oct 2018

Claire Berlinski Tackles Molière

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Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme (Moli̬re РCompagnie Michel B) THEATRE ESPACE MARAIS (2)

Claire Berlinski was writing a book about Foreign Affairs (I forget the detail), and I guess it has not been going well, because apparently poor Claire has had to find another job. She’s auditioned to perform in the French theatre.

The French theatre tradition is genuinely unusual. It’s not the longest unbroken acting tradition in the world—that honor goes to China, with Japanese Kabuki in second place—but it’s the West’s longest uninterrupted theater tradition. Since 1690, when Molière and Racine were at their creative peak, not a single year has passed in Paris in which their works have not been played. Under Louis XIV, wastewater still drained in the open air. Voltaire remarked, bitterly, of Parisian priorities: “They will not begrudge money for a Comic Opera, but will complain about building aqueducts worthy of Augustus.” (Why a man who earned his living by his pen would complain of this schedule of priorities, I do not know.) If you want to understand French culture and literature—as well as the place of literature in French culture—the Comédie Française is the place to start.

Every French schoolkid can recite scenes from Molière and Racine. Come time for the annual baccalaureate exams, French Twitter lights up with hashtags like #niqueracine. Classic theater performs, for the French, the role of the King James Bible in English: Anglophones go to Church to expose themselves to the range and grandeur of their native language. The French go to the theatre.

I was telling myself all of this as I tried to work up the enthusiasm to walk out my apartment, turn left, and just knock on goddamned door of that verkakte theater. It will be so good for you. You will understand France, French, and the French so much more intimately. I opened the window and sniffed: Something about the atmospheric conditions felt wrong. I saw droplets of rain and high clouds. I sat down again.

What got me off my ass was checking my bank balance. It was horrifying. The anxiety that prompted vastly exceeded my stage fright. I had no choice but to march myself over there right then and there and cough up a story about becoming an actress.


Break a leg, Claire!

01 May 2016

Trump’s Paleocon Nationalism and Obama’s Anti-Americanism Sound Very Much the Same

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Claire Berlinski contemplates Donald Trump’s recent Foreign Policy speech and finds that he is really preaching the same doctrine of American withdrawal from world leadership and decline that Barack Obama was.

Trump’s speech made him seem to me Obama’s natural successor, and made me decide that neither are the aberrations I thought they were. Both reflect an external reality: the relative loss of American power. Both envision a limited role for America in the world. Trump’s wrapping Obama’s view of the world in the American flag, and making it palatable to people who weren’t willing to hear it from Obama, but it’s the same message. We’re no longer able to be a benevolent global hegemon. Indeed, we never were a benevolent hegemon. The world will be fine, and so will we, without our efforts to lead it. If we’re an exceptional country at all, our destiny is to lead by example, not force. “America First” is not an accidental slogan. Trump certainly knows where it comes from, and I suspect most Americans at least intuit it.

Trump in many ways echoes the themes of Obama’s first presidential campaign:

    We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.

    They have benefited so much, so sadly, for us. Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster.

Here’s Obama in 2008:

    … we have lost thousands of American lives, spent nearly a trillion dollars, alienated allies and neglected emerging threats – all in the cause of fighting a war for well over five years in a country that had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

And with just a few changes in tone,

    I am running for President because it’s time to turn the page on a failed ideology and a fundamentally flawed political strategy, so that we can be intelligent about keeping our country safe. I stood up and opposed the Iraq war from the start, and said that we needed to fight al Qaeda.

    Hillary Clinton says she’s passed a “Commander in Chief test” – not because of the decisions she’s made, but because of all the years she’s spent in Washington. But here is the truth, folks, believe me: there is a gap in this country – a gap between people who claim to be tough on national security, and how unsafe we are because of their stupid, disastrous decisions. Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster.

    The war in Iraq enriched Iran, continuing its nuclear program and threatening our ally, Israel. Instead of the new Middle East we were promised, we got nothing. The war in Iraq has enriched North Korea, which built new nuclear weapons and even tested one.

The above passage is Obama in 2008, with a few words changed so that the voice sounds more like Trump’s, although the meaning is intact.

A world — including me — that’s been looking at Obama for eight years and wondering if the American century is over is now watching the Trump campaign and realizing that it’s long since past. Come 2016, Trump or Hillary Clinton will be in the White House. Clinton is explicitly running on “more of Obama’s foreign policy.” Trump is implicitly running on the same promise, and proposing to get there at warp speed.

08 Apr 2016

Help Crowdfund Claire Berlinski’s Next Book

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Claire Berlinski

Claire Berlinski is a Balliol College graduate, who started her literary career by writing a spy novel featuring the kind of details of the CIA’s recruiting and training that persuade this reader that she is really a former spook.

A few years later, she had moved on to international journalism, covering European problems from a sophisticated perch at the continental crossroads in Constantinople. When the situation in Turkey deteriorated, she demonstrated her intelligence by moving to Paris.

These days, the old-school publishing industry is perishing because technology has made self-publishing, promotion, and distribution feasible, so it is not possible even for an accomplished and respected writer to get a book advance to cover travel and operating expenses for a project. Claire Berlinski (clever girl!), who writes most frequently these days at the group blog Ricochet, therefore, decided to try crowdfunding her next book.

Her pitch is here.

Her funding site is here.

The funding project has also been endorsed by the great Glenn Reynolds.

07 Jun 2015

Red Army Choir: “Sweet Home Alabama”

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Claire Berlinski finds Russians most endearing when they are found releasing their inner American redneck.

06 Dec 2014

Claire Berlinski Is Pro-Purge

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Resigned en masse.

Yesterday, Establishment liberals everywhere were sobbing into their Chardonnay over the demise of The New Republic, after the resignation of most of its Establishment staff followed the announcement of new owner Facebook-co-founder Chris Hughes’s decision to change “the editorial leadership, move the magazine to New York, and rebrand the venerable, century-old publication as a ‘digital media company.'”

Andrew Sullivan (who used to work there) collected a thoroughly representative sample of the bitching and the whining.

But expatriate writer Claire Berlinski wasn’t moved to tears. In her view, the sweeping away of the old Establishment means that now there is room for new perspectives, new talents, and hungry younger writers like herself to replace them and flourish.

By now the whole universe—or at least everyone in New York and Washington who reads The New Republic and thus thinks their universe is the universe—knows that some utterly vulgar Silicon Valley yutz marched into The New Republic, said something utterly vulgar about turning it into a “vertically integrated digital media company,” and made all the journalists there cry. Then they all resigned en masse, which prompted everyone on Twitter to talk about the death of a Great Institution and how awful these vulgar Silicon Valley yutzes are and how great it is that everyone resigned and how much they hate Buzzfeed. It was a really big deal, if you’re the kind of person in New York or Washington who reads The New Republic. …

What does that say to you? I know what it says to me. It says, “Some Silicon Valley yutz with more money than sense—and a magazine on his hands that somehow he’s got to publish—is hiring.”

So without further ado:

    Dear Chris Hughes,

    I like Buzzfeed. I agree that Leon Wieseltier was just becoming a total insufferable windbag. I like it that you made a lot of journalists cry. That, to me, says “This Chris guy’s got the right stuff.”

    So I wonder if you would kindly consider me for the position of editor-in-chief of The New Republic. If given a chance, I will use my proven skill in helping Silicon Valley yutzes vertically integrate their digital media companies, and I will help you to vertically integrate your media company digitally. I can also help you integrate your vertical company media, or digitalize the company of your media vertical. Or anything vertical, really—I’ve got the full compliment of Homo Sapiens talents. I’m totally bipedal. I eat, sleep, and breathe integration. Heck, I’ll vertically integrate every damned thing I see—I’ll vertically integrate your dog, your washing machine, your tax returns, whatever you want digitally verticalized and integrated, you just tell me and it will be integrated. Vertically. Frankly, the only really relevant point as far as I’m concerned is that you have a lot of money.

    I’m guessing the last thing you need is another fussy, self-important, hysterically-resigning prima donna of a journalist on your hands. So let me reassure you that I’m just not like that. I’m really cool. No-drama-Berlinski, they call me. Or someone did, once, before he got to know me for about five minutes. And never, ever, have I publicly described myself as “an intellectual.”

    So please, can I have some of the money? I would really like that.

    Give me a call, Chris. I’m down with the plan. I’m into your vision. Let’s disrupt things. I know that’s not how you put it, but I’m not allowed to explain precisely how you put it in this particular vertically integrated digital media vehicle. However, I am sure I can adapt to your new company culture and disrupt whatever you want in whatever vernacular you choose.

    Yours vertically,

    Claire Berlinski

    PS: I bet I could be a dance editor, too. I mean, how hard could that be?

10 Aug 2011

Stick a Fork in Obama, He’s Done

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Claire Berlinski reflects on how it must really, really suck to be Barack Obama right now.

What on earth must it feel like to wake up and see headlines like this:

Dashed Hopes: How Obama Disappointed the World

[Emphasis added] I reckon the President right now has the singular distinction of having disappointed more people than any man in history–this just by virtue of global population.

I doubt that Obama’s internal world resembles mine all that much, but when I imagine headlines around the globe to the effect of “Dashed Hopes: How Claire Berlinski Disappointed the World,” and imagine realizing that I am not dreaming, I imagine that I would feel quite murderously angry toward the world.

31 Jan 2011

An Optimistic Portrait of New Islamic Rule

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Claire Berlinski is a former CIA officer, now a professional writer, who lives in Istanbul and has consequently personal first hand experience of a democratic state ruled by an Islamic Party anxious to maintain popular support and stay in power. She predicts that new Islamic rulers of Egypt and Tunisia will model themselves on the Turkish Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, abbreviated AKP).

If the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda end up governing or playing a large role in the governments in Egypt and Tunisia, there’s a pretty good chance it won’t look like Iran circa 1979. Here’s why.

The model for both of these movements–explicitly, in the case of Ennahda–is the AKP. What they will probably wish to do above all, at first, is reassure. They don’t want a civil war that they’d lose; they don’t want to rule by terror; and they won’t have to. They know things will go much easier for them if they lead with temperate, inclusive, tolerant rhetoric and campaign–above all–on the economy. They’ll talk so much about the economy and democracy that the Western media will rise up as one and say, “Look, why are you so worried? They’re moderates. All that radical stuff is in the past. They just want the same freedom to practice their religion they would have in the United States, and wow, look at those growth rates! Tigers!” In power, they will focus intensely, like the proverbial laser-beam, on creating the appearance of economic growth. (Long term growth? Heck, who knows if tomorrow will ever come?) There will be no fulminating anti-Western rhetoric (except on special occasions), no hand-choppings, no stonings. Everyone will heave a big sigh of relief.

We won’t see anything all that alarming until these parties have solidly established themselves in all the organs of the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary. By then they’ll have figured out exactly how to win elections that look pretty free and fair: They’ll get a lot of help from the world’s best professional political advisers.

Then we’ll see subtle things, little feelers–they’ll wait to see if anyone in the rest of the world cares; they’ll notice that no one does (since they’re so busy being grateful that these governments haven’t yet introduced floggings and stonings). Women will slowly disappear from public life, but it will happen so gradually no one will really be able to pin it on them, and besides, it’s just women. In Egypt they’ll co-opt some very prominent Copts who will go out and shill for them, talking about the terrific reforms they’re putting in place to improve their status (until the shills quit in disgust, but that won’t get much media play overseas).

They won’t rip up the peace treaty with Israel. That’s stupid. They don’t need that kind of hassle. You don’t stay in power by bringing disaster upon the heads of the people you propose to govern, and of course they realize that what people actually want are jobs, not an apocalyptic war with Israel.

But right before every election–and yes, they’ll hold them–something odd will happen (a strange incident involving a ship full of unusually violent humanitarian aid workers, for example). Games like this have a terrible potential to get out of hand, so yes, we should worry about this. And these governments won’t do much on the diplomatic scene to stop Iran from, for example, swallowing other Middle East countries whole, or acquiring nuclear weapons. Not that they did much before, but they’ll do even less. The consequences of this won’t seem that bad until the day Iran announces it’s a nuclear power. (But who knows, maybe by then the Iranian regime itself will have collapsed–you’ve got to admit we just don’t know which governments are going to fall next.)

The good news: I predict this won’t happen overnight. If I’m right, that gives the Egyptians and Tunisians who don’t love this vision of the future a lot of time to organize and come up with a better alternative. If they want to know how to do it, they’ve got a great model in the Turkish opposition. Just look at everything they’ve done, and do exactly the opposite.

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