Roving thoughts and provocations

Taiwan’s Master Timekeeper

J. Hoberman

Trigon Films

Although the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien has been making movies since the early 1980s, I first became convinced of his genius when I saw The Puppetmaster (1993) some twenty years ago. Until then I thought of Hou as the maker of extraordinarily fine, essentially contemplative, quasi-autobiographical youth films. The Puppetmaster went much further, demonstrating a profound and original sense of motion pictures as a way of exploring the passage of time.

The Soul of the Censor

Robert Darnton

David Levine

Reading is an essential aspect of censoring, not only in the act of vetting texts, which often lead to competing exegeses, but also as an aspect of the inner workings of the state. Not only did censors perceive nuances of hidden meaning, but they also understood the way published texts reverberated in the public. Despite its ideological function, the reworking of texts often resembled the editing done by professionals in open societies. To dismiss censorship as crude repression by ignorant bureaucrats is to get it wrong.

Stuck on Inflation

Jeff Madrick

Abner Dean

Despite a near perfect record of misses, inflation hawks that help set the Fed’s interest rate policies are making influential public pronouncements again. The public, policymakers, and the media should recognize not merely how flawed their judgment has been in the past, but that their conclusions are the same almost no matter the circumstances.

References, Please

Tim Parks

Honoré Daumier

In the age of the Internet, do we really need footnotes? For a book to be taken seriously, does it have to take us to the yellowing page of some crumbling edition in the depths of an austere library, if the material could equally well be found through a Google search? Has an element of fetishism perhaps crept into what was once a necessary academic practice?

Furnishing a Life

Martin Filler

Collection Mario Praz, Rome

Novelists have long been attuned to the psychology of interior design. But such connections were less common in nonfiction before the publication in 1958 of Mario Praz’s La casa della vita, which appeared (in Angus Davidson’s lustrous translation) as The House of Life a half-century ago this year.

Obama’s Unauthorized War

David Cole

Pete Souza/Official White House Photo

In his address to the nation, Obama made the case for a large-scale, long-term military offensive to “destroy” a group that now holds significant territory in two countries. Such a lengthy military intervention amounts to war, the very sort of engagement that the framers felt should be undertaken only if approved by the legislative branch.

Russia’s Dying: A Postscript

Masha Gessen

Associated Press

Over at Forbes, Mark Adomanis claims to have found eight errors in my piece on Michelle Parsons’ and Nicholas Eberstadt’s books on Russian demographics. I can go on and detail all the cherry-picking and misinterpretations in Adomanis’s piece, but the careful reader can easily do that herself. So I’ll concentrate on the substance of his criticism.

From China to Jihad?

Richard Bernstein

Stringer/China/Reuters/Corbis

Among the many stories concerning foreigners setting out to fight in Syria, the allegations about Chinese Uighurs arrested in Thailand—many of them women and children—stand out. They have triggered a quiet tug of war between China, which is pressuring Thailand to send them back, and the West, which has argued that deporting them would expose them to savage mistreatment.

Into the Trenches in Red and Blue

Adam Hochschild

Jules Gervais-Courtellemont/Taschen

Because of the photography of their day, we tend to think of the world wars in black and white. Peter Walther’s The First World War in Colour feels like looking at a familiar scene through a different pair of eyeglasses. The first thing that stuns you is the brilliant colors of the uniforms. The French army of 1914 was the most snappily dressed in Europe.