Roving thoughts and provocations

A Thieves’ Thanksgiving

Charles Simic

Joseph Keppler

It ought to be obvious by now that if we ever become a genuine police state, it will not arise from an authoritarian ideology necessarily, but as the end result of that insatiable greed for profit that has already affected every aspect of American life from health care to the way college students are forced into debt. No doubt about it, in the coming holiday season our crooks will have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to celebrate.

The Firing of Chuck Hagel

Elizabeth Drew

Kristoffer Tripplaar/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

The White House is stuck in a policy that has very little chance of working, putting the president and his national security aides in real peril. And Chuck Hagel, who watched all this with dismay, became the odd man out.

Tamburlaine’s Seductive Terror

Geoffrey O’Brien

Gerry Goodstein/TFANA

The career of Christopher Marlowe’s world-conquering Tamburlaine, performed by John Douglas Thompson at Theatre for a New Audience, progresses like a river in flood, rising steadily and irresistibly and spilling over into actions of spectacular destruction, sparing nothing that stands in opposition. Thompson has created a unified person of the most extreme contradictions.

Picasso: The View from Florence

Ingrid D. Rowland

Collection of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

A show on Pablo Picasso may seem an odd occurrence in Florence, but the exhibition Picasso and Spanish Modernism at Palazzo Strozzi makes a cogent case for its location. After succinctly opening with Picasso in his studio, the exhibition presents the artist in all his infinite variety, spanning more than fifty years, from 1909 to 1963, and various forms of media.

Ransoms: The Real Cost

Graeme Wood

Aris Messinis/Getty Images

The Obama administration’s announcement that it is reviewing US hostage policy has brought fresh attention to what Simon Critchley has called “The Case for Paying Ransoms.” But the brutal executions of US and UK hostages should compel us to the opposite conclusion: that ransoms are a terrible idea, and that by contemplating paying them we are risking a kidnapping pandemic.

Flight MH17: Will Russia Get Away With It?

Amy Knight

Alexander Ermochenko/epa/Corbis

Western leaders have until now avoided directly confronting Russia about its part in the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine. But a growing number of unofficial investigations show unambiguously that a Russian missile system was used to down the passenger jet, killing all 298 people on board.

The Opera Stalin Hated

Geoffrey O’Brien

Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The Met’s notes describe it as “towering tragedy,” but Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is equally a grotesque vaudeville, and Graham Vick’s intensely inventive production (which premiered in 1994 and is now revived for the first time in fourteen years) pays due attention to the grotesque component.

Falling for Photography

Martin Filler

The Francesco Scavullo Foundation

Beyond launching Robert Mapplethorpe’s career, Sam Wagstaff was a prescient curator of contemporary art, all-purpose tastemaker, and pioneering collector of photography. Now we are given a closer look at one of the most remarkable artist/patron relationships of the late twentieth century in Philip Gefter’s new biography, Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe.

Turner at Twilight

Jenny Uglow

Tate, London

At sixty, Turner was both admired and ridiculed, his work leaving critics and spectators baffled and sometimes angry. Many saw his shimmering canvases as a crazed denial of familiar rules. Was his eyesight failing? Was he going mad? Tate Britain’s Late Turner: Painting Set Free is a fittingly autumnal show. Seeing the exhibition with Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner is like watching a strange, exhilarating conversation.

The Case for Paying Ransoms

Simon Critchley

Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Is it better to remain morally consistent and refuse negotiation with an allegedly evil organization, but watch your citizens get beheaded? Or sign up to a principled agreement not to negotiate with “terrorists,” but then negotiate nonetheless, pay a large amount of money to release your citizens, and simply deny the fact publicly?