As the UN’s Climate Change Conference opens in Copenhagen this week, much attention will focus on China and the United States, who are, by a wide margin, the world’s two leading emitters of greenhouse gases. The success of the conference will depend in part on whether both countries can live up to recent pledges by their leaders to curb emissions. Just as important for China, however, is the need to address repression—until now ignored by the Obama administration—of citizen activists trying to call attention to the country’s environmental problems.
The horrific November 27 bombing of the Nevsky Express halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg could have serious political repercussions for the Kremlin. News of the explosion, which killed twenty-six and injured around a hundred passengers aboard the luxury, high-speed train, sent shockwaves throughout Russia. Adding to the sense of danger were the deaths of two high-level federal officials in the attack, as well as a second bombing at the site many hours later, which injured Alexander Bastrykhin, the head of the powerful Investigative Committee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office, and several of his subordinates, who had come to examine the damage. These bombings were followed by yet another explosion, on a railway track in the North Caucasian republic of Dagestan, on November 30. As Yulia Latynina, one of Russia’s top independent journalists put it: “The feeling of war, of a complete and total disintegration of the state, is hanging in the air.”
As a political analyst, the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti is hard to rival, even if he painted rather than wrote, and did so towards the middle of the fourteenth century. The frescoes he executed for the city council of Siena in 1338–1339, showing The Effects of Good and Bad Government on the City and Countryside, mark what may be a unique achievement in the history of art: making Heaven, (or at least Heaven on earth), look infinitely more interesting than Hell.
After all the talk about how many different audiences President Barack Obama had to satisfy when he finally outlined his strategy for Afghanistan on Tuesday night, he probably satisfied no more than one—the American audience who will support a continued US war effort only if there is a fixed deadline for starting to pull out US troops. Those who feel the war is futile were bound to be disappointed. But the reaction in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been equally skeptical.
I did not think he would lose me so soon—sooner than Bill Clinton did. Like many people, I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president. I had written op-ed pieces and articles to support him in The New York Times and The New York Review of Books. My wife and I had maxed out in donations for him. Our children had been ardent for his cause.
To western officials who have spent months trying to slow down Iran’s nuclear program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s announcement of plans to build ten new uranium enrichment plants is deeply unsettling. But the real worry may be the nuclear facilities already in existence. In mid-November, the Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko announced that, for “technical reasons,” the Russians will not finish this year the reactor they are constructing for the Iranians at Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. Since the reasons were not given, one may speculate that, despite Russian denials, this is a message of displeasure sent to the Iranians.
Just because you grow up on bad food, it does not follow that you lack nostalgia for it. My own gastronomic youth was firmly bounded by everything that was least inspiring in traditional English cuisine, alleviated with hints of Continental cosmopolitanism occasionally introduced by my father’s fading memories of a Belgian youth, and interspersed with weekly reminders of another heritage altogether: Sabbath evening dinners at the home of my East European Jewish grandparents. This curious melange did little to sharpen my taste buds—it was not until I lived in France as a graduate student that I encountered good food on a regular basis—but it added further to the confusions of my youthful identity.
It can’t happen often that citizens of one country gather to honor someone who was the president of two other countries, all the while claiming him as their own. But so it was on November 18, 2009, twenty years after student protests in Prague that began the Velvet Revolution led by the playwright Václav Havel. Now the former president of both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic had come to Bratislava, the Slovak capital, to talk with Slovak students about the events of 1989. Although these young people remember neither those events nor the dissolution of Czechoslovakia that followed three years later, they greeted him with standing ovations and sincere expressions of respect.
Sometime in the fall of 1958, an old fellow came up to me late one night on MacDougal Street and said, “Mister, I’m writing the book of my life and I need a dime to complete it.” I gave him my last dollar and went off happy. This kind of inspired, seemingly spontaneous panhandling differs from what professional beggars do. They employ props: crutches, head-bandages, wooden legs, or have a skinny, sad-eyed dog accompanying them. They stage a theatrical performance for your benefit and hope for the best.
More than fifteen months have passed since war broke out between Georgia and Russia. The war lasted five days, the amount of time it took for the Russian army to rout Georgia’s tiny, American-trained defense forces. It was the most serious military conflict in Europe since the Balkans. And yet, although tens of thousands of people are still displaced, and Russia is posing an increasing threat to Georgia’s oil pipelines, both the EU and the US may be powerless to prevent further threats to the country.