Article archive

April 5, 2012

  • We’re So Exceptional

    Michael Ignatieff

    Since Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership in setting up the United Nations and the Nuremberg trials, the US has promoted universal legal norms and the institutions to enforce them, while seeking by hook or by crook to exempt American citizens, especially soldiers, from their actual application. From Nuremberg onward, no country has invested more in the development of international jurisdiction for atrocity crimes and no country has worked harder to make sure that the law it seeks for others does not apply to itself.

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  • A Master in the Shadows

    Jonathan D. Spence

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    Nanjing Museum
    Fu Baoshi: Prague Castle, 1957

    How should one assess the best ways to survive in a revolution? What exactly is the tipping point between obedience and outright sycophancy? When does one try to hold on to the values that gave meaning to one’s upbringing, and when is it best to just let it all go? When does moral commitment trump personal survival?

    Such questions do not always ...

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  • The Reporter Who Knew

    Max Rodenbeck

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    Corentin Fohlen/Sipa
    Anthony Shadid on the front line in Ras Lanouf, Libya, March 11, 2011

    Reporters are notoriously loud, nosy, and pushy. Anthony Shadid was different. The celebrated Middle East correspondent, who died suddenly in February from a suspected asthma attack while crossing the Syrian–Turkish frontier, had instead the patient, avuncular air of a village padre. Fortuitously blending a native Oklahoman’s openness with the supple coaxing manners ...

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  • They’re the Top

    Arlene Croce

    Now that The Artist has whetted our interest in the silent film and the revolutionary impact of sound, it may be time to reconsider the career of the man who made the conversion to sound the basis of a whole new kind of movie, Fred Astaire. Astaire and the difference he made to the film musical add up to more than the story of one career. No other film genre provided as perfect a synchronization of sight and sound or an experience as exhilarating, and that was very largely Astaire’s doing.

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  • Blood Sport Beneath the City

    Ian Jack

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    Chiara Goia
    Three boys from the Annawadi slum, one of whom is portrayed in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, February 2009

    What do we know of the poor? The question is connected to how we—by which I mean the relatively rich—write about them. Poverty first became a focus for literary investigation in the industrial cities of the nineteenth century, when its sights, sounds, and smells moved too close to ...

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  • Helmut Frielinghaus: Words in Farewell

    Günter Grass, translated from the German by Breon Mitchell

    Helmut Frielinghaus, who died on January 29, was for many years
    Günter Grass’s editor.

    His round back.
    His stubbornness, that he kept to himself.
    His freedom, asking only for a bit of space
    that flourished beyond publishing houses.

    The author’s editor has died.
    Now the self-centered child pities himself,
    as if his nursemaid has run away.
    Who now will be first to sense,
    and tactfully refrain from saying ...

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  • Tony Judt: The Right Questions

    Ian Buruma

    Tony Judt had a thing about railway trains. We even know from his last book, a brilliant compilation of his ideas on history and politics, distilled from a series of conversations with Timothy Snyder just before his untimely death, that he had wanted to write a history of trains, entitled Locomotion. This book, he explains, was to be about “the fate of modern sociability and collective life in our over-privatized ...

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  • The Terrors of the Woman President

    Hermione Lee

    There is a landscape of murk and junk, dark water and black mud, trash and detritus and debris, desolate woods, rickety bridges over ugly rivers, rust and barbed wire, that lurks under a lot of Joyce Carol Oates’s writing. It’s a landscape where human beings can barely survive and that they have to struggle out of, but it’s always there, waiting to suck you down and back. It’s a good location for a creepy Gothic writer like Oates, who loves dank basements, the slimy grasp of the unconscious, horrors in the night.

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  • The Gay Path Through the Courts

    David Cole

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    Carlos A. Martinez/Reuters
    John Lawrence (left) and Tyron Garner (right), who were charged with sodomy under a Texas statute in 1998, celebrating their Supreme Court victory with Mitchell Katine, one of their attorneys, at a Gay Pride parade in Houston, June 28, 2003. Garner died in 2006, Lawrence in 2011.

    In 1986, in Bowers v. Hardwick, the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger, drawing on the English ...

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  • The Heads of His Enemies

    Giles Harvey

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    Ellen Warner
    Edward St. Aubyn, London, 2001

    Saul Bellow once said that he could make his enemies very unhappy simply by describing them. Quite a boast; and yet, who among us would have been eager to find himself on the receiving end of a Bellow character sketch? The author of Herzog was probably not the first great comic novelist to have recognized the damage that can be inflicted simply by ...

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  • Science on the Rampage

    Freeman Dyson

    In my career as a scientist, I twice had the good fortune to be a personal friend of a famous dissident. Both of them were tragic figures, intellectually brilliant and morally courageous, with the same fatal flaw. Both of them were possessed by fantasies that people with ordinary common sense could recognize as nonsense.

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  • Can They Ever Make a Deal?

    Geoffrey Wheatcroft

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    Doug Mills/The New York Times/Redux
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at peace talks at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, November 2007

    On September 23, 2011, two national leaders addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. One spoke of

    while for the other, his country was

    No mastery of textual criticism or profound learning is required to distinguish these two. Mahmoud Abbas ...

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  • Who Is Peter Pan?

    Alison Lurie

    A few writers have the kind of power that believers attribute to gods: they create men and women and children who seem to us to be real. But unlike gods, these writers do not control the lives of their most famous creations. As time passes, their tales are told and retold. Writers and dramatists and film-makers kidnap famous characters like Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes, and Superman; they change the characters’ ages and appearance, the progress and endings of their stories, and even their meanings.

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  • Out of Contact

    John Terborgh

    Incredible as it may seem, and there may be no greater anachronism on earth, there are still “wild” human beings living in some of the remotest corners of the tropics. Most are around the fringes of the Amazon in the border regions of Brazil, especially in neighboring Perú where there are suspected of being at least fifteen uncontacted groups.

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  • Smiley Wins Again

    Russell Baker

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    British Broadcasting Corporation/Photofest
    Alec Guinness as George Smiley in the BBC miniseries Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, 1979

    Early in the cold war Soviet intelligence had an agent named Kim Philby embedded in the hierarchy of the British secret services. Philby was an Englishman of good pedigree (an important asset in London espionage circles) but troublesome habits (hard drinker, a bit too charming with women, including other men’s wives ...

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  • The Heart of the Obsession

    David Lodge

    The book begins:

    The scene is described by synechdoche—parts that stand for the whole—as it has to be in this kind of writing. The art is in the selection of details and the way they surprise and inform us. The default associations of “Plaza Hotel” for an American reader might at first be New York, but the round-faced women in ponchos immediately establish an exotic setting. It is ...

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  • A Struggle with the Police & the Law

    John Paul Stevens

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    Wilmington Police Department and Mayor James M. Baker
    Mug shots of the three defendants represented by Irving Morris in the Delaware rape case: Francis J. Curran, Ira E. Jones, and Francis J. Maguire

    The Rape Case: A Young Lawyer’s Struggle for Justice in the 1950s, by Irving Morris, tells us at least as much about its author as it does about the facts of the underlying case, which concerned ...

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  • Apocalypse Then

    G.W. Bowersock

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    Art Institute of Chicago
    Nicolas Poussin: Landscape with Saint John on Patmos, 1640

    The Book of Revelation, which closes the New Testament, describes a nightmare of apocalyptic visions. These famously include beasts, serpents, a bottomless pit, warfare in heaven, wild horsemen, and other horrors that are only partially relieved by the ultimate arrival of the New Jerusalem. (“And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of ...

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  • The Vigilantes of Vermont

    T.H. Breen

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    Granger Collection
    Ethan Allen capturing Fort Ticonderoga, May 1775; nineteenth-century engraving

    Like many ambitious people, Ethan Allen felt certain that his life contained the stuff of legend. A prolific writer and shameless self-promoter, Allen made much of his rise from a restless youth to revolutionary leader. Born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1738, he joined thousands of hard-working New Englanders in moving north to the region that would one day become ...

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  • Bold When It Counted

    Edmund White

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    Jeannette Seaver
    Richard Seaver and Samuel Beckett, Paris, mid-1970s

    No child daydreams about becoming an editor. A writer, perhaps. An inspiration, maybe, in the sense of a muse. How do people become editors?

    Richard Seaver suggests that editors are people who admire writers. He grew up near Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and at the University of North Carolina wrote a thesis on Hemingway. It was called “Ernest Hemingway: The Good Inner Feeling ...

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  • How Millions Have Been Dying in the Congo

    Neal Ascherson

    Jason Stearns does not believe in the glory of monsters. Neither does he accept a “Heart of Darkness” view of the Congo as a zone of hopeless, endemic monstrosity. This is a country he knows well (if it is possible to know well a place so enormous and so roadless). Stearns led the 2008 UN mission to study violence there, and worked on conflict and human rights in the Congo with a series of agencies and charities.

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  • My Europe

    Louis Begley

    My Europe begins with Poland before the war. World War II, of course. Soon, there will be no one left who knew Europe as it was before World War I, the Great War that destroyed the old order and gave the continent a new map, which, with relatively small changes, is its map today.… At the core of my first memories of Poland is a summer in the remote countryside where my grandparents had a small property. The low manor house was made of wood so weather-beaten that I thought of it as black. One reached it after a journey from the nearest railway station over blindingly white dusty roads that seemed to stretch into eternity.

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  • The Mysterious End of the Soviet Union

    Amy Knight

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    PIKO/AFP/Getty Images
    Russian President Boris Yeltsin gesturing toward Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev during a session of the Russian parliament in Moscow on August 23, 1991, the day after Gorbachev returned to Moscow following the failure of the coup

    With protests against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin continuing in the aftermath of his recent victory in the presidential election, the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow seems particularly relevant ...

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  • Chekhov: Behind the Charm

    Tim Parks

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    Granger Collection
    Anton Chekhov with members of the Moscow Art Theater, 1898. On his right is the director Konstantin Stanislavsky; on his left is his future bride, the actress Olga Knipper.

    Born in 1860, third of five brothers and one sister, in Taganrog, a port on the northeastern tip of the Sea of Azov, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was left to fend for himself in 1876 when his father, a grocer ...

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  • Whither China?

    Benjamin M. Friedman

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    Staffan Holgersson/Flickr/Getty Images
    The skyline of Shanghai, looking from the Haitong Securities Building toward the Pudong financial district, 2007

    Westerners have perceived a potential economic threat from China for a very long time. Their chief protection, they thought, was the distance. In 1750 David Hume wrote that “a Chinese works for three-halfpence a day, and is very industrious. Were he as near us as France or Spain, every ...

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  • A Grave Threat to Zionism’: An Exchange

    Jerold S. Auerbach, reply by Jonathan Freedland

    To the Editors:

    Jonathan Freedland captures the vibrancy of Arab Hebron [“An Exclusive Corner of Hebron,” NYR, February 23], with “its thronging market square” that “brims with life and trade” for 175,000 Arab residents. But he seems greatly troubled by the presence of seven hundred Jews, confined to 3 percent of the city, who require the constant presence of Israeli soldiers to protect them from their hostile neighbors.

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  • What Can We Learn From Finnish Schools?

    Kenneth Kolson

    To the Editors:

    Diane Ravitch’s “Schools We Can Envy” [NYR, March 8] persuasively argues against the last few waves of school reform in the United States by a close examination of the challenging case of Finland. During my time as a Fulbright lecturer in Finland (2006) I was struck by two features of the Finnish education system, neither of which Ms. Ravitch mentions.

    The first is that the schools ...

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  • A Solution for TV in Politics

    Richard C. Wald

    To the Editors:

    The modest proposal by Max Frankel [NYR, February 9] has a precedent.

    In the early 1970s, when the Federal Communications Commission was much more entangled than now in the production of news on television stations, it suggested that editorials on local stations were a Good Thing. Several stations embarked on presenting editorials, most of them condemning traffic jams.

    The FCC also suggested that stations might take what ...

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  • Egypt’s Future

    The Editors

    On April 12, from 10:00 AM to 7:30 PM, the Center for Public Scholarship at The New School will present “Egypt in Transition,” the 27th Social Research conference. The conference, which is open to the public, is intended to shed some light on the origins of the events in Tahrir Square, the deposing of President Mubarak, the changes currently underway, and what the future of Egypt is likely ...

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