Roving thoughts and provocations

My Carcass and Myself

James Gleick

In our time the transformation and transplantation of bodies are commonplace. The bionic woman, the bionic man—that’s us, more and more every day. We don’t have brain transplants yet, but we’ve thought about it. So what if a person could survive past his bodily death, to be reconstituted in another form? That is the question Marcel Theroux explores in his novel Strange Bodies.

Iraq: The Road to Chaos

Ned Parker

Mushtaq Muhammed/Reuters/Corbis

On the surface, the speed with which Iraq’s new political order has fallen apart is a puzzle. There had been relative stability since the spring of 2008, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki set out to disband the Shiite militias. But Maliki understood that the American-sponsored rules were temporary. Now, as it prepares for its first national election in four years, Iraq is falling apart again.

Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition

David Bromwich

It is clear from Lincoln’s speeches, writings, and actions that he struggled against ambition in order not to let it prevail over his sense of justice. From what familiar political sources might an American of Lincoln’s generation have come to suppose that ambition poses a moral and political danger? A commanding statement was the pair of speeches by Brutus and Mark Antony to the Roman crowd in Act 3 of Julius Caesar.

The Real Threat to Venezuela’s Democracy

Daniel Wilkinson

Jorge Silva/Reuters/Corbis

The damage the Venezuelan government is doing to the country’s democracy is happening now: jailing political opponents, intimidating judges, beating protesters, abusing detainees, censoring journalists, and filling the airwaves with mandatory broadcasts of the president denouncing his critics as “criminals” and “fascists.”

One Dollar, One Vote

David Cole

David Levine

As Senator Mitch McConnell, an outspoken opponent of regulating campaign spending, has conceded, trying to put limits on political donations is not easy. In McConnell’s words, it’s “like putting a rock on Jell-O. It oozes out some other place.” But if it was difficult before the Supreme Court’s decision this week in McCutcheon v. FEC, it is likely to be impossible now.

The Master of Fireproof Modernism

Martin Filler

Michael Freeman

If all politics is local, then much architectural history is also a neighborhood matter. Thus I harbor an abiding fondness for the Spanish émigré master builder Rafael Guastavino. Time and again in old New York buildings, it’s a delight to lift up your eyes and unexpectedly find Guastavino’s distinctive herringbone terracotta tile patterns overhead.

China After Tiananmen: Money, Yes; Ideas, No

Perry Link

David Turnley/Corbis

Deng Xiaoping, the man who said “go” for the final assault on thousands of Chinese citizens protesting peacefully for democracy, has died. But what happened in and around Tiananmen Square twenty-five years ago haunts the memories not only of people who witnessed the events and of friends and families of the victims, but also of those who stood, and still stand, with the attacking side.

Obama’s Putin Delusion

Amy Knight

Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

To anyone who has followed the Kremlin closely over the years, its actions in Ukraine should not come as a great surprise. To the contrary, the recent events bear out longstanding policy aims of the Putin regime, which for years has worked to roll back US and European influence and rebuild its own suzerainty over post-Soviet states.

New York Schools: The Roar of the Charters

Diane Ravitch

Bryan Smith/ZUMA Press/Corbis

New York City’s charter schools enroll only 6 percent of the student population. Contrary to popular myth, they are more racially segregated than public schools and performed no better on state tests. How, then, did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York families manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?