Roving thoughts and provocations

The Witches of West End

Ingrid D. Rowland

Jay Brooks

The presence of a woman director at the Old Vic means that women are running the business of theater more actively than they may have in the past. It is not hard to search for one toppling tyranny in Britain, a tyranny that continues to threaten elsewhere around the globe: the tyranny of male over female. Arthur Miller can rest assured that The Crucible is once again speaking at a crisis point in society.

Bend or Break

Christopher Benfey

Jacob Aue Sobol/Magnum Photos

In art, it is generally more interesting to bend the rules (bend them like Beckham) than to break them. Bend is evolution. Break is revolution. What once seemed revolutionary (Whitman, Impressionism, Duchamp, Cage) often turns out to be evolutionary instead.

“She broke my heart.” In retrospect, she only bent it.

Confessions of a Soccer Addict

Charles Simic

Bob Thomas/Getty Images

I haven’t done a thing in three weeks except watch soccer. Mowing the lawn, paying bills, working on an essay whose deadline is fast approaching, answering dozens of urgent emails—all these have had to wait. Should an unexpected visitor come to the door, I would emulate the example of soccer players and fake an injury, dropping on the floor and writhing in agony until the person left.

ISIS: The New Taliban

Ahmed Rashid

Reuters/Corbis

Like the Taliban, ISIS’s political outlook is distinct from both traditional Islamic fundamentalist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and global terrorism organizations like al-Qaeda. The extreme version of Islam it imposes terrifies local populations and demoralizes armies and governments. But as the Taliban showed before it, this way of ruling cannot constitute a viable political program.

Revolt on the Polar Express

J. Hoberman

Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a madcap addition to the comic-book-derived movies that have dominated cinematic summer fare for much of the twenty-first century. At once streamlined and ramshackle, it doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise—or rather, a ruling metaphor.

Supreme Court: It Could Have Been Worse

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

Make no mistake about it. This is a conservative Court. Only a small handful of cases this term could be characterized as reaching liberal outcomes. But in each of the cases where litigants asked the Court to pursue the more radical course of reversing prior precedents, the Court declined, and instead resolved the cases more narrowly. In some cases, the Court may have planted the seeds for future reversals of disfavored doctrine, but for now, the Court’s approach is incremental rather than radical. Conservative, to be sure—but with a small “c.”

The Best World Cup Ever!

Alma Guillermoprieto

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

This is the best World Cup ever! There will no doubt be Scrooges on the sidelines contesting this solid fact, because this is soccer, but even skeptics must be mourning the end of the first stage of the cup, as each of the eight groups has now settled who’s in first place, who’s in second, and who is at the airport, ticket in hand, forlornly waiting for the long trip home.

Inequality Begins at Birth

Jeff Madrick

Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

America has the second highest child poverty rate of the thirty-five nations measured by the United Nation Children’s Fund. Yet only two fifths of poor children in the US have access to Head Start. Our political leaders have largely overlooked the connection between poverty, poor educational attainment, and even neural malfunctions—and the extent to which effective poverty reduction itself can correct the problem.

The Map ISIS Hates

Malise Ruthven

@albaraka_news

After sweeping into Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the Syria-Iraq border. This symbolic action against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which such groups are nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm and the Shias knew their place.

The Beltway Myth

Elizabeth Drew

Sarah Leen/National Geographic/Getty Images

The time has come to talk about “the Beltway.”

The term, a reference to the roadway that circumnavigates the District of Columbia and patches of its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, has long been in widespread use—as if everyone within the isolated island thinks alike, has the same amount of information and the same political opinions, simultaneously. But lately “the Beltway” has also become an epithet, hurled at those who live within it for some real or imagined transgression. As a concept of how information and opinion move between Washington and the rest of the country “the Beltway” is epistemological nonsense.