Roving thoughts and provocations

Netanyahu’s Churchill Syndrome

Jonathan Freedland

David Levine

Netanyahu has been re-enacting the Churchill story for more than two decades: as a junior member of the Knesset, he was warning that Iran was just “three to five years” away from a nuclear bomb back in 1992. He’s sounded the same alarm at intervals ever since. The great value of Churchill syndrome to one who suffers from it is that it is self-vindicating. The more Netanyahu’s warnings of the Tehran menace are dismissed, the greater his similarity to the cigar-chomping seer who was fatefully ignored in the 1930s.

Russia: Another Dead Democrat

Amy Knight

Alexandra Krasnova/Corbis Images

Not only was Russian politician and liberal activist Boris Nemtsov very close to the Kremlin when he was shot dead on Bol’shoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. He was also in an area that was under the intense surveillance of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), a security agency under the direct control of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lure of the Caliphate

Malise Ruthven

Art Resource

The challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, and, above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture that have always appealed to people who are at the margins or who are seeking some new source of meaning.

What I Mean by Mexico

James Fenton

Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos
I must have landed in the foothills, for the first impressions I had were of piles of rocks, as if emptied casually from a bag. And among these rocks and cactuses, a leafless tree with yellow flowers, a profuse flowerer, unfamiliar to me. Well, some things have to be unfamiliar; I have never visited this part of the world before.

William Blake: Wonderful and Strange

Jenny Uglow

Tate, London

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has always been a place of surprises, which has made it an absolutely fitting place for “William Blake: Apprentice and Master,” an exhibition that is at once didactic and very strange. The exhibition left me dazed by the technical detail but aware that I would never look at a Blake work in the same way again.

A Film Without a Country

Alexander Stille

Loris T. Zambelli

Rightly or wrongly, we expect something different from the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars—something specific to the country that produced it, something that takes us out of the usual Hollywood way of making movies. The case of Human Capital, which was Italy’s entry for this year’s Oscar but was not nominated by the Academy, may be instructive in this regard.

Looking Harlem in the Eye

Darryl Pinckney

Van Vechten Trust/Eakins Press Foundation

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), enthusiast of Modernism and ally of the Harlem Renaissance, had a swell time while the Roaring Twenties lasted and his home became something of a cultural clearinghouse for black writers and artists. But his photographs of black people are perhaps his most personal work. Van Vechten’s admiration for his subjects was unambiguous and the portraits speak of his talent for friendship. They knew who he was. Even when the subject’s gaze is averted, as in Van Vechten’s 1936 portrait of Lottie Allen, described as a domestic worker, her “dates unknown,” the viewer believes that she, who appears to be in uniform, trusts the white man behind that camera.

A Flophouse Symphony

Geoffrey O’Brien

Richard Termine/BAM

Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh needs its pauses and its slowdowns and even its moments when the whole play feels like an enormously heavy contraption that has slipped off its base and is about to come crashing down. It needs the nearly five hours of stage time that it takes up in Robert Falls’s exemplary production, now playing at BAM’s Harvey Theater.

Our Wars, Our Victims

Charles Simic

Siena Cathedral

President Obama’s new request for war authorization, now pending before Congress, to fight ISIS over the next three years with further airstrikes and “limited” combat operations, despite the complete failure of all our previous attempts in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen to do any good, may make our wars legal, but no less foolish.