Roving thoughts and provocations

Escape From Microsoft Word

Edward Mendelson

David Levine

The original design of Microsoft Word, in the early 1980s, was a work of clarifying genius, but it had nothing to do with the way writing gets done. The programmers did not think about writing as a sequence of words set down on a page, but instead dreamed up a new idea about what they called a “document.” This was effectively a Platonic idea

Reality Fiction

Tim Parks

Abner Dean

It has long been a commonplace that fiction provides a way to talk about potentially embarrassing or even criminal personal experiences without bringing society’s censure on oneself. Put the other way round you could say that taboos and censorship encourage creativity, of a kind. But Taboo after taboo has fallen away. Homosexuality is no longer something to be hidden. Love relationships and marriages are no longer conceived of as fortresses of propriety. And everybody’s leaving traces of what they do or say on email and Twitter. What does all this mean for writers?

The Argument That Saved Paris

Ian Buruma

Jerome Prebois

In his new film Diplomacy, Volker Schlöndorff has expertly created the creepy, almost surreal atmosphere of two men discussing the ruination of Paris. The only risk of historical fiction, especially in the movies, is that it ends up replacing in the public memory the facts of what actually happened. But Schlöndorff is not a historian. The best way to look at his film is as a love story about Paris.

Turkey’s Double Game in Syria

Christopher de Bellaigue

Jacob Simkin/NurPhoto/Corbis

If ISIS captures the Kurdish city of Kobani, the militants could consolidate their control of a long stretch of the Turkish border, and establish a corridor between their stronghold of Raqqa in eastern Syria and positions further West. But for the Turkish government, the fall of Kobani might be a price worth paying for the sobering effect it would have on what Turkey deems a greater threat: Kurdish nationalism.

The Voter ID Mess

Steven H. Wright

Eric Gay/AP Images

One could be forgiven for being confused about where things stand with voter ID laws in this fall’s midterm election. Federal-court orders have altered voting rules in a number of states, just weeks before voters go to the polls. A larger concern is whether states can prevent confusion among poll workers themselves—the people who have the de-facto last word in determining whether you are eligible to vote.

Seeing Our Selves

Francine Prose

Amazon Studios

Most viewers, I’d assume, might hesitate to identify with the appealing, but maddeningly solipsistic Pfeffermans of the new Amazon series Transparent. At its center is the balding, thickset Mort/Maura, not exactly a wildly attractive exemplar of either gender. And yet I finished each installment eager to spend more time with the Pfeffermans, whose individual and collective predicaments seem at once entirely unique and universal.

New York in Eight Parts

Charles Simic

Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

On the corner of Fifth Avenue and 13th Street, a block from where I lived in the 1960s, there was a movie theater that showed a lot of foreign movies. I’d go to bed at night, toss and turn unable to sleep, and realize that I still had time to catch the late show. I remember exiting through the empty lobby at one o’clock in the morning wearing pajamas under my raincoat and finding that an inch or two of snow had fallen in the meantime.

Pakistan: The Allure of ISIS

Ahmed Rashid

Ishtiaq Mahsud/AP Images

The Pakistani Taliban’s new announcement of support for ISIS is a startling indication of how much ISIS is changing the jihadist landscape. For a younger generation of Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it suggests a readiness to bring ISIS-style tactics to their own campaigns.