Roving thoughts and provocations

What Only Soldiers Understand

Christopher de Bellaigue

Outpost Films

Sebastian Junger’s new documentary Korengal follows the same soldiers over the same fifteen-month tour of duty in Afghanistan as his acclaimed 2010 film Restrepo, but it cannot be considered its sequel; it might be misleading even to call it a war film. Korengal’s subjects are youth and male friendship, and it deals in a peculiarly profound way with the unsettling sense that a young warrior experiences, after fighting alongside his brothers-in-arms, that he knows all the joy and agony that life can offer.

Conversations with the Dead

Alberto Manguel

Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur, Switzerland

Reading has always been for me a sort of practical cartography. Like other readers, I have an absolute trust in the capability that reading has to map my world. I know that on a page somewhere on my shelves, staring down at me now, is the question I’m struggling with today, put into words long ago, perhaps, by someone who could not have known of my existence. The relationship between a reader and a book is one that eliminates the barriers of time and space and allows for what Francisco de Quevedo, in the sixteenth century, called “conversations with the dead.” In those conversations I’m revealed. They shape me and lend me a certain magical power.

Syria: The Other Threat

Annie Sparrow

ACU/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The threat of epidemics spreading from Syria to surrounding countries has grown with frightening speed. Among the diseases that have spread most rapidly are measles, hepatitis, and leishmaniasis. Then there is polio, a terrifying disease of early childhood that had long been eradicated in the Middle East. In Syria, it was eliminated in 1995, yet since mid-2013 the country has faced an outbreak of polio that has spread widely across opposition-controlled areas of the north. And now polio, like the jihadists, has spilled across the border to Iraq.

Reading Upward

Tim Parks

From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

“Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.” How many times have we heard this opinion expressed? Needless to say the sentiment comes along with the regret that people are reading less and less these days and the notion of a hierarchy of writing with the likes of Joyce and Nabokov at the top and Fifty Shades of Grey at the bottom. Between the two it is assumed that there is a kind of neo-Platonic stairway, such that from the bottom one can pass by stages to the top, a sort of optimistic inversion of the lament that soft porn will lead you to hard and anyone smoking marijuana is irredeemably destined to descend through coke and crack to heroin. The user, that is, is always drawn to a more intense form of the same species of experience.

Wang Lixiong and Woeser: A Way Out of China’s Ethnic Unrest?

Ian Johnson

Sim Chi Yin

Why has the Chinese government relied so much on suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang?

Wang Lixiong: Simply put, it’s due to their politics, but they can’t say that. They say it’s due to hostile foreign forces. After troubles started in Tibet they said it was the “Dalai Clique.” You can see the situation getting worse year by year, so it’s only possible to say that it’s their policy.

Grim Fragments of the Great War

Gabriel Winslow-Yost

Jacques Tardi/Fantagraphics

It Was the War of the Trenches is one of the most passionately bleak works in the history of comics. French cartoonist Jacques Tardi is unremitting in his focus on the small, human details of the catastrophe of WWI—not just the look of uniforms and weaponry, but the way one soldier advances in an awkward, stiff-armed posture, “protecting my belly with the butt of the rifle,” and the way another makes sculptures and rings from discarded shells, to sell to his comrades.

Portable Hell

Charles Simic

Abner Dean

The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, I say to myself and think of people I know who care little about what goes on in the world. I have sympathy for them. It’s no fun starting one’s day or retiring at night with images of dead children.

When he was old, my father said that he could think of two ways to break his addiction to newspapers: enter a monastery or a lunatic asylum.

Palestine: The Hatred and the Hope

David Shulman

Alaa Badarneh/EPA/Corbis

Since the Gaza war began, an unprecedented wave of blood lust and racist violence has raged within Israel. Similar manifestations have occurred in earlier periods. What makes the present moment distinct is the incitement by politicians, including members of the cabinet, the Knesset, and other figures within the Israeli establishment.

Can Congress Rein In the Spies?

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the dramatic costs to journalists, lawyers, and US businesses of dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing.