It Is Time for Some Discipline Around Here

 

My brother called me from Nouakchott yesterday. We had a long talk. Mauritania’s been doing an outstanding job with the coronavirus, by the way. They took this seriously way before any country in Europe did. When I flew in, on February 11, they were already wearing masks, taking everyone’s temperature on arrival, asking detailed questions of every incoming passenger about where they’d traveled before, and behaving like a country that sees a lethal global pandemic on the horizon. When I flew back to France, on February 24, exactly none of that happened. By early March, Mauritania had test kits and was able to test anyone with symptoms and give them the results of their tests within six hours.

I was amused by the story of the Italian tourists who thought they could evade Mauritania’s strict quarantine on Europeans—which they imposed just after I left—by slipping out of the hotel to which they’d been confined and wandering off into the desert. I could have told them—ain’t gonna work, fellas. Mauritanians know everything that happens in their desert. The téléphone arabe would have lit up instantly with the news that a bunch of Europeans in Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses and designer desert gear were out there yelling at each other at the top of their lungs. “Ma siamo completamente bloccati nella sabbia, Bruno, quindi che cazzo vuoi che faccia?”Besides, there’s only one road from Nouakchott into that desert, and it’s paved with no-nonsense police checkpoints.

They were, of course, promptly apprehended and deported.

Anyway, Mauritania took the coronavirus dead seriously, right from the start. Their strategy for keeping it out of the country is actually very similar to their strategy for keeping jihadis out of the country, and both are a success. So now you’re much more at risk of being killed by a terrorist or the coronavirus in France, and when I speak to my father, I say things like, “Thank God they’re in Mauritania, where they’re safe.”

In the further annals of, “How quickly the worm turns,” 35 Italian tourists in Ethiopia, having overstayed their visas, have petitioned for asylum because their country of origin is not safe—giving rise to mirth among Ethiopians, of course, who have some experience of Italians overstaying their welcome. They’ve taken to referring to them as the “undocumented migrants from Europe.”


But that is not what we talked about. We talked about this newsletter. This is what he told me, and I think he’s probably right.

“Cut it in half. You’re just going on and on. Leo gets bored,” he said.

“Leo’s eleven.”

“Yeah, but he gets bored.”

“I am not going to start writing at a tenth-grade level because—”

“Eighth grade.”

“I am not—”

“Listen. It’s too long. It’s just not what I want from a newsletter. When Peter Zeihan’s newsletter shows up, I’m totally happy to see it. I know I’ll be distracted for exactly eight minutes. I want a newsletter to be eight minutes. It should be the same format, same length, same time of day—every morning, I wake up and it’s there. Twelve minutes at most. You could triple your success if you made it shorter. I will not read a 4,000-word newsletter—”

“But—”

“Claire. This is my literary judgment. The point of a newsletter is that between taking care of the kids and telecommuting, people don’t have time to make sense of all that information out there. They need someone to summarize it and give them the right perspective. It shouldn’t take more time to read a newsletter than the original research paper. That’s why it’s a newsletter, not a newspaper.”

He had a point.

“Here’s what you have to do.” He was on a roll. “You need five sections. Just five. Every day. The same ones.”

“Like what?”

“First, you need the daily denunciation. You gotta make people angry. People thrive on being angry. In most cases, you denounce Trump, but you’ve got to vary it—throw meat to the wolves. It shouldn’t be a long denunciation, but that’s how you have to start.”

“A daily denunciation. Okay.” I started taking notes.

“Then, second section, that should be the unusual question of the day. This is where you do your analysis. A paragraph. Like, ‘Why do people hoard toilet paper in a pandemic?’ …. No, I’m serious. That’s a fascinating question. Everything about it is fascinating. I want to understand this—sociologically, economically, psychoanalytically—”

“That will take more than a paragraph—”

“Well, okay, a long paragraph. But no more than that. Seriously, what’s up with Westerners and their toilet paper? Why do they love it so much? Why does it give them such a feeling of security to have a lot of it? Do you think it’s because using toilet paper gives them an outlet for their desire manually to stimulate their anuses?”

“Mischa, I can’t—”

“I’m serious.”

“And stop going off on tangents. You’ve got to be disciplined.”

“Right.”

“Oh, and you need a chart of the day. People love charts. But here you need one, just one, personal anecdote of the day—or, I know! A recipe. People go bonkers for recipes. ‘Here’s an easy recipe you can make in lockdown that your whole family will love. You can make it with just a turnip after the food supply chain breaks down.” Or advice about exercising at home. Tell them, ‘So, this is the lockdown workout I just did.’

“Personal anecdote. Recipe,” I wrote in my notes.

“Then you should focus on one county. This is how it should work: It should be in terms of people’s experiences. Like, ‘Lately, I’ve been really into following Balazs Csekö, who really makes the experience of living in Hungary as it descends into a personal dictatorship come alive for me.’ Don’t do it in the voice-of-God style, just focus on one person. Or one essay. Like that New York Review of Books article about Bolsinaro , did you read that?

“No—”

“It was excellent. It really made me understand Bolsinarismo. You should link to things like that. Or to a really great Twitter feed people don’t know about.”

“Okay.”

“And then you finish by sharing letters from your correspondents. And your reply to them. People really like. And the chart of the day.”

“No photo of the day?”

“No, that’s stupid.”

“Why? I like photos.”

“No, just a chart. A chart.”

“Okay.”

“And then you ask for money. At the end. The only limit is your pride.”

“Got it.”

“Then you it over to the audience. Always end with a question.”

“Good idea.”

“Never more than 1,200 words.”

“Okay,” I said glumly.

“Never.”

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    1116 words.

    (Oh, stop it. You knew some OCD twerp was going to count.)

    • #1
  2. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge
    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret
    @CarolJoy

    I used my last turnip yesterday, so P-l-e-a-s-e have the recipe be about something I am stocked up on. (Stores close in some 33 hours, so I doubt I will be going out to get turnips!)

    And if you need to do the denouncement route, don’t pick on us poor fools who still live in California. Some of us have tried to change things here, and are  also busy planning on getting the heck out.

    • #2
  3. NCforSCFC Member
    NCforSCFC
    @NCforSCFC

    Always start with the airing of grievances… sound advice!

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    NCforSCFC (View Comment):

    Always start with the airing of grievances… sound advice!

    I have a lot of problems with you people …

    • #4
  5. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    No no no no no no no!  

    When I get a Claire Berlinski email I want to be confident that it contains an excess of thoughts, well expounded and invariably interesting.  I do not want dot points.  I do not want a simplified pre-chewed set of highlights. I do not want an email version of one those irritating ‘Everything You Need To Know About Indian History in Fifty Pages (or less)’. If I got any of these I’d be disappointed.

    If you are Vikram Seth be Vikram Seth. Play to your strengths.

    Perhaps have an 8 minute snippet – an abstract – at the beginning? Think of the abstract as a gateway drug, if you will.

    Because I realise that The World Has Changed and even Vikram needs to adjust. 

    • #5
  6. SpiritO'78 Inactive
    SpiritO'78
    @SpiritO78

    So Mauritania figured out testing before a lot of others eh? who saw that coming? 

    • #6
  7. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    I was hoping this post would be about Claire bring some Discipline to Ricochet.  

     

    Nudge Nudge - Monty Python's Flying Circus GIF | Gfycat

    • #7
  8. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Seriously, what’s up with Westerners and their toilet paper? Why do they love it so much? Why does it give them such a feeling of security to have a lot of it? Do you think it’s because using toilet paper gives them an outlet for their desire manually to stimulate their anuses?”

    It’s possible they just don’t want to run out, don’t know how much they have on hand, and decide to buy more than usual in case the stores are closed or supplies in the future are greatly reduced.

    I mean, it’s possible that’s what they think. The more interesting question is what different cultures hoard in similar situations. What do the French hoard? The Germans, besides resentments?

    As for denunciations, we have them an abundance. Affirmations and appreciation, less so.

    • #8
  9. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    I was hoping this post would be about Claire bring some Discipline to Ricochet.

     

    Nudge Nudge - Monty Python's Flying Circus GIF | Gfycat

    We need discipline? Ok …Make people angry, bash Trump, pick on people because they like sanitation, i.e. toilet paper, throw in a recipe, ask for money…….it sounds like every news channel on TV, with some sad commercials thrown in, except for the recipe – you may have something there.  

    • #9
  10. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    I’m okay with the daily denunciation, I guess. I can skip it easily enough.

    I’ll live with shorter IF you provide a link to something you write on the subject that covers it the way you usually do now. Oh, I suppose I’ll live with it anyway. But I’d rather not have to. I know your brother is probably right about what the largest number of people want.

    I don’t like graphs. I like drawings and paintings and photographs. I sometimes like pie charts.

    Part of the thing with the toilet paper might be this: Toilet paper can be used, in a pinch, for almost anything else for which you use other paper products. It’s not safe for drains to use other paper products the way toilet paper is used.

    • #10
  11. Housebroken Thatcher
    Housebroken
    @Chuckles

    “Never” is not a question.

    • #11
  12. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Seriously the thing to cover is Tiger Kings.

    • #12
  13. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    Claire,

    I am amazed that the Mauritanians are so advanced when it comes to the containment of the virus. Call me a stick in the mud, but I am still turned off by their penchant for slavery and executing people for blasphemy. Go figure.

    As far as your brother, I think he is a nice guy with very good ideas. Listen to him. However, I would remind you to stay away from Catbert. He’s bad news.

    Don’t rule out listening to Leo. Although he is only 11, he is a Berlinski. Once you’ve realized how that can factor into the equation I’m sure you will find his input very useful.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
  14. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Seriously, what’s up with Westerners and their toilet paper? Why do they love it so much? Why does it give them such a feeling of security to have a lot of it? Do you think it’s because using toilet paper gives them an outlet for their desire manually to stimulate their anuses?”

    It’s possible they just don’t want to run out, don’t know how much they have on hand, and decide to buy more than usual in case the stores are closed or supplies in the future are greatly reduced.

    I was just thinking about it, and in my whole life, I have always had access to toilet paper except maybe twice when I went camping/boating, and forgot to bring some.  It’s disturbing to me that I made the mistake twice.

    • #14
  15. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    I am amazed that the Mauritanians are so advanced when it comes to the containment of the virus. Call me a stick in the mud, but I am still turned off by their penchant for slavery and executing people for blasphemy. Go figure.

    Do they have mud?  They obviously have sand.

    • #15
  16. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    After my initial disappointment finding out the title had nothing to do with whips and handcuffs, I read and enjoyed the post!

    • #16
  17. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I also had to look up where Mauritania was. It doesn’t come up often……or how about never.  I can’t imagine what a UN peacekeeping force is doing there – that might make a good story.

    • #17
  18. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The Germans, besides resentments?

    😂😂

    • #18
  19. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Stad (View Comment):

    After my initial disappointment finding out the title had nothing to do with whips and handcuffs, I read and enjoyed the post!

    OK, so we’ve got a suggestion for Claire’s next Halloween costume.

    • #19
  20. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Randy Weivoda (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    After my initial disappointment finding out the title had nothing to do with whips and handcuffs, I read and enjoyed the post!

    OK, so we’ve got a suggestion for Claire’s next Halloween costume.

    Halloween can’t get here soon enough for me!  I hope there are pics . . .

    • #20
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