Roving thoughts and provocations

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.

The Real Lesson of Lehman

Jeff Madrick

Thomas Nast

What would have happened if the federal government had saved Lehman Brothers back in September 2008? The nation would certainly not have passed the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Nor would there have been enormous pressure on other federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to become more vigilant.

The Books We Talk About (and Those We Don’t)

Tim Parks

Abner Dean

We tend to categorize novels as well or poorly written, popular or unpopular. Perhaps more usefully, we should distinguish those that make the conversation, and those that do not: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections became part of the national conversation; Lydia Davis’s short stories, for all their brilliance, did not.

The Birds of War

Christopher Benfey

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos

Is it to be war? It would seem so, now and for the foreseeable future. Yet the future seems, increasingly, unforeseeable, as the seers, convened around the tables at CNN or PBS, predict the most contradictory things. I myself have found that a few quiet minutes on the patio, facing the cloud-infested sky, give me a clearer sense of the future than the morning newspaper.

Taking Aim at Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky

Wally Santana/AP Images

Watching tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of Hong Kong, I have felt the same emotion I experienced on the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989. Again we are watching heavily armed police trying to disperse peaceful democracy protesters and they are possibly awaiting orders to do more than that.