Speaking of videos of Russia… longtime readers of this blog will recall my Russian traffic updates from the past year, which began with the car-based assassination attempt on the president of Ingushetia and then went on to a video of the presidential motorcade whizzing through the streets of Moscow, as well as the sort of real-time updates readers of this blog used to rely on until Tumblr declined to sign me to an endorsement contract and I went on strike. Anyway, I finally condensed all my traffic observations into a hard-hitting article for the New Yorker, which appeared last week. It’s not online, unfortunately, but they made a pretty cool video based on it, which is above.

This is some video. Whoever did the captioning on it did an admirable job of contextual translation. In fact the guys never say “fire” or “look out” anything so specific—they just say “fuck,” “whore,” “cock,” and “bitch” with slightly different intonations, some of which mean “This is a pretty cool fire” and some of which mean “Turn this car around or we will all die right here.”

There are many YouTube geniuses, but this guy really has something. He drives around with a camera on his dashboard and takes in the situation on the roads in the Russian city of Tver. In this video, “The Migalov Bridge,” from May 13, 2010, he drives over said bridge. The caption says: “The reconstruction of the Migalov Bridge was completed on May 13, 2010. It is now fully open to traffic in both directions.”


event tonight


Elif Batuman (author of the best-selling [for real. -ed.] book, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them) and Eli Evans (author of, among other things, “Tiger, Alone”) will be reading this evening (Friday) at BookCourt in Brooklyn. Both of them live in California, and Eli in fact lives in a barn, so this is not something you’ll see every day. Come by if you can.

Sounds awesome, I’m there.

there was always something fishy about the Longmeadow dominance of Massachusetts lacrosse


William John Scott is a freshman at Drew University. He studies political science. He plays defense on the lacrosse team. He describes himself on Facebook as a night person who likes to party.

But federal prosecutors say he is something else: a busy archives thief who stole famous letters written by a founder of the United Methodist Church and world leaders, including Abraham Lincoln and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.

Mr. Scott pilfered the letters while working part time at the university archives, the prosecutors said. He sold some of them for thousands of dollars, and left others sitting in a dresser drawer, where F.B.I. agents found them after executing a search warrant of his dorm room on Saturday. (On Facebook, Mr. Scott says he likes to keep the room “not a complete mess.”)

Mr. Scott was arrested on Sunday as the bus bringing his lacrosse team back from spring break rolled into Drew’s campus in Madison, N.J.

“He looked utterly surprised, like we were,” said Tyler Morse, a junior on the team who saw Mr. Scott escorted off the bus by the university’s head of public safety, into the car of F.B.I. agents.

On Monday, he was still wearing a blue hoodie when he was led handcuffed into United States District Court in Newark for a bail hearing. He was charged with one count of knowingly stealing an object of cultural heritage from a museum. He faces as much as 10 years in prison, if convicted.

Looking down as he was brought into the courtroom of Magistrate Madeline Cox Arleo, he twice replied, “Yes, ma’am,” when asked if he understood his rights and if he had retained a lawyer. The judge authorized an unsecured $50,000 bond, on the condition that he surrender his passport and agree to be supervised by pretrial services while remaining in the custody of his parents, who live in Longmeadow, Mass.


I get it, T. Mercer, I really do. Last year I received a Kindle as a gift from my heroic and technologically savvy Webman (who has over the years carried several suitcases containing the works of our great historical graphomaniacs to and from the Stanford library on my behalf); today I, too, am loath to carry around any book with a thickness greater than 0.36 inches—or to wait five days to read a book that God clearly intended for me to receive instantaneously at 4AM in the bath, when I really need it.

But listen, T. Mercer, have you really considered all the angles? For example: whereas a new release on Kindle costs $9.99, The Possessed now sets you back only $9.00! $9.00! What will $9.00 get you these days? An eight-piece bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken? A five-pack of Gillette Mach replacement razors? A quarter of a tank of gasoline? A regular or Kindle edition of Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang? No! None of the above! But it does get you The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them: a remarkably lightweight paperback with not only front and back cover art by Roz Chast—Roz Chast!—but also a clearly marked list price of $15.00.

Classy readers! With International Women’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Lent either just around the corner or already upon us, think of what a great gift The Possessed would make for that special someone on whom you wish to appear to have lavished $15.00!

Elif weighs in on Kindle controversy, here. (via nplusonemag)

Elif’s book in danger of slipping from Amazon top 100. Buy now before it’s too late!


I wrote a long article on the jailed Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, here. Since this happened people have had occasion to ask me how to pronounce it. As with most Russian names, however you pronounce it is really just fine. It’s not like people don’t know who you mean. And trying to indicate pronunciation always ends badly—for example when the Times Magazine published their otherwise informative article on Khodorkovsky, they actually gave an incorrect pronunciation. Anyway, to make a long story short, just stress the first syllable, keep your o's flat, and try to roll the r as best you can.

On the front page of the Times right now, two out of the top three stories in “Business” and “Technology” are the same. At what point do they merge the sections? (Apologies to anyone who has already pointed this out.) (That should clearly be one of those internet acronyms: ATAWHAPTO.) (Apologies to anyone who has already invented and in fact copyrighted this acronym.)

On the front page of the Times right now, two out of the top three stories in “Business” and “Technology” are the same. At what point do they merge the sections? (Apologies to anyone who has already pointed this out.) (That should clearly be one of those internet acronyms: ATAWHAPTO.) (Apologies to anyone who has already invented and in fact copyrighted this acronym.)

tumblarity debate



good morning tumblr :)

what a great morning gift,

tumblarity is gone. HUZZAH!


In cooking on the computa on tumbla heheheh

no tumblarity? whoooooo

Man, I keep looking over at my tumblarity.

And then I realize it’s not there anymore, would I be a hypocrite if I said I kinda want it back?

hopefully this is only temporary . maybe theyre remaking an accurate system of tumblarity , so that it doesnt go up and down .. whatever it is ,


without tumblarity i feel lost and without purpose…

…i will forever be a tumblr nobody.

bitch, bring it back! please and thank you. =]

“We’re about to totally overhaul the Directory, along with the Activity page and Tumblarity which power it. In preparation, we’ve taken both of these pages offline while we make changes. More soon!”


Honestly you all should have read it because then you would know that Tumblarity and Activity will be back. It’s just offline for now.

Thank god Tumblarity isn’t really gone, I was about to rip somebody’s head off.

Tumblaritys gone?

I don’t give a shit tbh.

No tumblarity means Kyle no longer loves me. I just know it. XD

milyen parfümöt használsz?

tényleg, ha olyan volt, hogy mi a csengőhangod, akkor hadd legyen már ilyen is. én szeretnék valami férfiasabbat, mint ezt a versace dreamer, amit ezer éve használok (nem minden nap, csak alkalmanként), mert kezdem buzisnak, cikinek tartani meg unom is már. meg a tumblarity-m is alacsony.


I spoke a little while ago on this tumblr about the internet’s annoying inferiority complex and, well, I sort of believe that (that it has one). But today I was reading this Times article about Robert Caro and Robert Moses from 2007 and was taken aback by this sentence:

Unusual in an age when sentence fragments on a blog pass for intellectual argument and “definitive” accounts have half-lives measured in months, Mr. Caro’s 1,246-page tome has for three decades dominated our understanding of modern New York.

First I thought, “Is he talking about *my* blog?” But in 2007 I didn’t have a blog. OK. But what about my fellow bloggers? What do my fellow bloggers have to do with Caro’s 1,246-page book? Didn’t the author mostly want to say—“Caro’s book is long, exhaustive, and authoritative”? So it is. But what on earth do blogs have to do with it??

And then I shook my head and thought: We print people really haven’t handled all this very well.

better world books?

The question of whether to link to Amazon when you’re making a book recommendation is a vexed question. Not long ago a reader of this blog chastised me and said I should link to Powell’s instead. Powell’s is a physical bookstore and buying books from them helps keep them physical, over there in Portland. But I am a cheapskate, and my readers are also cheapskates, and Amazon has cheaper books. And while I think Powell’s is really remarkable—it’s the Fairway of bookstores—their phone system is impenetrable and we can never get them to restock their n+1s. Finally, I really like the customer reviews on Amazon. And the various algorithms. Say what you will, but Amazon has done a great job with that.

Then today someone sent me a book recommendation via Better World Books. “Mm?” I thought. And clicking through I saw that they *don’t charge for shipping*, do discount books, and also they have customer reviews! I love customer reviews, and maybe these would be better customers than the Amazon customers, and would review my books better? Also these guys give money to charity, to create a better world.

But I am a suspicious man, and so I looked at a book whose Amazon page I know well—this one, or at Powell’s if you prefer—and discovered that the customer reviews on Better World Books had been lifted from Amazon. I didn’t know how I felt about this. Plagiarizing from Amazon to make a better world? Well… And so then in order to get a second opinion I went and read an article about Better World Books on TechCrunch—here. TechCrunch was very positive about Better World, but off I went into the comments. Some of the commenters raised legitimate concerns, but a librarian who works with Better World defended the store, and she seemed to be winning, until the very final comment, from “Adam”:

Well i know a guy and his wife who both work for this company. The guy beat his 3 year old daughter and put her in the hospitol. He is back in court again for punching her in the ear

And on and on it went! Holy shit! So now I have to figure out if this Adam is telling the truth, what the deal is with this violent employee (if Adam *is* telling the truth), and figure out if he still works at Better World. Man. And then I’ll finally know who to link to when I make my book recommendations on this Tumblr.