Audacity, Freedom, Captivity

Thank you to Jim M., a regular reader here, who emailed me a link to something that I had written but completely forgotten. It is this, which is itself part of this.

Here is how that came about: About a year ago, my publisher asked me to meditate, in less than 500 words total, on people in the news at that time, in the style of Hannibal and Me. The idea was not to regurgitate anything from the book, but to extend the approach as one might in casual conversation. The exercise was meant as a teaser for book professionals.

So I banged out three haikus, each with a theme, a person in the news, and a person from the book:

  • Audacity – Sarah Palin – Sempronius/Flaminius/Varro
  • Freedom – Hillary Clinton – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Captivity – Larry Page – Albert Einstein

(Just to be completely clear: Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton and Larry Page are not in the book. My publisher and I were just having a bit of fun.)

Here goes:


The best defense is a good offense, and Sarah Palin has adopted this principle as her own. Wherever she appears, she attacks. When she feels cornered, she attacks harder. Palin might want to study the Roman generals Sempronius, Flaminius, and Varro. Each was ruined by this strategy when he met a shrewder opponent, the Carthaginian Hannibal. All three had only one approach: audacious attack. All had a history of success. But this made them inflexible. Hannibal turned this inflexibility against them. In three separate battles, Hannibal goaded them into attacking, then waited until their forces, through their own momentum, lost their balance. When they did, Hannibal fell upon them.


In one of her debates with then-candidate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton said, “Everyone here knows I’ve lived through some crises.” She could only have been referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. That humiliation could have shattered her marriage to Bill Clinton, his presidency, and her own life. That it didn’t and instead helped launch her onto a new path suggests that Clinton’s psychological journey paralleled that of another former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1918, Mrs. Roosevelt discovered love letters between her husband, Franklin, and her secretary, Lucy Mercer. She plunged into a deep depression. But in her rage and sorrow, she discovered a feeling of liberation. The Mercer affair freed her to redefine her life’s meaning and her options. It also freed her to view her husband honestly, and the two formed a new, very different but ultimately stable bond.

(Click for credits)


At age thirty-eight, Larry Page takes over as chief executive of Google. He cofounded it with Sergey Brin when they were both twenty-five and students at Stanford, after Page invented his revolutionary PageRank search algorithm. In 2001 they hired an older man to be CEO, but ten years later the apprenticeship is over: It is Page’s turn to run the company. He might want to review what happened to Albert Einstein at the equivalent juncture in life: At twenty-six, Einstein had produced four short but revolutionary papers that transformed physics. Einstein then kept refining his insights until he was thirty-eight, when he discovered general relativity. Although he did not know it then, this was a turning point. His imagination became a prisoner of its very success. A perplexing conservatism seized Einstein’s mind and never let go. Page must make sure that this does not happen to him—or to Google.

Sarah Palin: Monty Python could have written this

So says no less an authority than John Cleese. Palin (Sarah, not Michael), he says, is “a nice-looking parrot” that has been trained to utter a few phrases beautifully, without understanding what they mean…

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Sarah Palin: barracuda borealis

Maureen Dowd

Maureen Dowd

I’m trying to figure out how I feel about Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times today, half of which she writes … in mock Latin!!! That’s right. The language of Cicero and Caesar–and, of course, of my guys, Fabius and Scipio–to analyze Ioannes McCainus and Sara Palina.

You loyal readers will know that I am all for the classics, for various reasons including this one and this one. Perhaps Dowd’s column helps. Still, how close to a gimmick she comes, from a writer’s point of view. I get it, but I studied Latin for four years.

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The Republicans and language

And from that same issue of The New Yorker, this piece, which might well have telepathically come out of my mind.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I feel rather strongly about words and language–in more than one language, as it happens. So when a political movement arises with the apparent mission to abase and disdain language itself, you might be able to guess where my sympathies lie…

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