Roving thoughts and provocations

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.

Ukraine: A Catastrophic Defeat

Tim Judah

Sergei Grits/AP Photo

The scale of the devastation suffered by Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine has to be seen to be believed. On a sixteen-mile stretch of road from the village of Novokaterinivka to the town of Ilovaysk, I counted the remains of sixty-eight vehicles, in which a large but as yet unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers died trying to flee the area.

The Dying Russians

Masha Gessen

Gueorgui Pinkhassov/Magnum Photos

Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. “Vadim is no more,” said his father, who picked up the phone. “He drowned.” I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, “But he is dead, don’t you know?” I didn’t. I’d seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. “A helicopter accident,” she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.