Roving thoughts and provocations

The Vatican’s Ask and Tell Problem

Garry Wills

In Arizona we have racial profiling. Now, around the world, wherever the Catholic church holds sway, we have sexual profiling. In The New York Times, Paul Vitello reports on the new screening tests the church is implementing to weed out would-be seminarians who are gay or who are considered prone to pedophilia. In Arizona, police are meant to demand papers from anyone they sense could be an illegal alien. In the church Rev. David Toups, director of the secretariat of clergy for the United States Conference of Bishops, says of his own gaydar: “It’s more like one of those things where it’s hard to define, but I know it when I see it.”

Iraq’s Summer of Uncertainty

Joost Hiltermann

A scorching summer heat is settling on Baghdad. The streets are calm and traffic flows, slowed only by the multiple checkpoints, especially near bridges and government buildings. Given that the policemen on duty cast only a cursory glance at vehicles and their passengers, it is perhaps surprising there haven’t been more frequent bombings in recent weeks. (The last series of bomb attacks across Iraq, on May 10, left at least a hundred dead.)

To security officials, the relative quiet suggests that many former insurgents and their supporters—including some Sunnis who in the past rejected the political process—have been biding their time. Having decided to participate in the March 7 parliamentary elections, they have been inclined to let the political uncertainty that has followed run its course in the hope that it might produce the change they desired.

Terror in Pakistan’s Punjab Heartland

Ahmed Rashid

The massacre of over 80 worshippers at two mosques in my hometown of Lahore by Pakistani Taliban militants has exposed, in the most extreme and brutal way, the half-heartedness of Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership in confronting homegrown terrorism and the failure of the country’s intelligentsia to recognize the seriousness of the crisis.

Among Leopards and Princes

Edmund White

A still from Luchino Visconti’s film adaptation of The Leopard

Everything in Palermo is slow except the traffic, which is as confusing as a video game and just as fast. But otherwise things pour as slowly as honey from a spoon. My bag was lost for twenty-four hours until a high official of the arts festival I was attending took the matter in hand; then it was found instantly. It had been at the airport all along. I won a nice little literary prize, the Premio Mondello, but I received it only after enduring a two-hour press conference in the morning and a three-hour ceremony in the afternoon, complete with local violinists sawing their way through a Baroque concerto in the beautiful convent cloisters of Palermo’s Galleria D’Arte Moderno. At one point, ten high school students got up to vote for another prize; each delivered a long-winded discorso, a sort of high-tone book report and a preparation for a lifetime of prolixity. That evening there was a banquet for thirty at which every other Sicilian man seemed to be a prince.

Peter Beinart vs. the ADL

An Exchange

Abraham H. Foxman: Peter Beinart offers a conveniently impressionistic view of the American Jewish community to frame his critique of Israeli policy trends. He should know better than to fall into the trap of generalizing about the Jewish state without giving proper context for what is going on.

Peter Beinart: Foxman’s letter illustrates the problem my essay tries to describe: an American Jewish leadership that publicly defends the Israeli government, any Israeli government, rather than defending Israeli democracy, even when the former menaces the latter.

The Kremlin’s Chechen Dragon

Amy Knight

In the summer of 2004, two years and four months before she was gunned down in the entrance to her Moscow apartment, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya made a bold visit to Chechnya to interview 27-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov, who had recently become (with the Kremlin’s blessing) the republic’s de-facto leader. It proved to be a harrowing experience. When they met face to face, Kadyrov could not contain his rage at Politkovskaya for reporting on his brutal rise to power, even threatening to have her shot. Politkovskaya concluded later that “a little dragon has been raised by the Kremlin. Now they need to feed it. Otherwise it will spit fire.”

Springtime for Stalin

Timothy Snyder

Three and a half months after a Ukrainian court convicted Stalin of genocide against the Ukrainian nation during the famine of 1932–1933, a new monument in honor of the Soviet dictator has been erected in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhia. Separating the two events was this year’s Ukrainian presidential election, in which Viktor Yushchenko, who had pursued a radically anti-Stalinist memory policy, was defeated and replaced by Viktor Yanukovych, who promised to avoid extremes and unite the nation. Though Yanukovych would prefer to steer clear of such ostentatious nostalgia for Stalin, he is responsible for a remarkable change in mood.

Talking About Tibet: An Open Dialogue Between Chinese Citizens and the Dalai Lama

Perry Link

Following is an English translation of an Internet dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Chinese citizens that took place on May 21. The exchange was organized by Wang Lixiong, a Chinese intellectual known for his writing on Tibet and for theorizing about how China might generate its own kind of democracy in the Internet age.

The idea of promoting “free dialogue” on the Web between the Dalai Lama and Chinese citizens is an extremely bold notion. To China’s rulers, nearly every word in the phrase “free dialogue with the Dalai Lama” is anathema. The Dalai Lama, in their language, is a traitor, a “splittist,” an “enemy of the people,” a “monster,” a “wolf in monk’s robes.” The word “dialogue” has not fared well in Chinese Communist history, either. It is what student protesters were asking for in spring 1989 just before tanks and machine guns settled the question by massacre.

From Venice to Vegas: The Back Stories of Buildings

Martin Filler

Wikimedia Commons

Every so often, writers outside the architectural profession publish works on the building art that capture the public imagination and make the best-seller lists, most lamentably Tom Wolfe’s wildly misinformed fantasia on early Modernism, From Bauhaus to Our House (1981). Far more benign was Tracy Kidder’s House (1985), a numbingly detailed report on the creation of an architect-designed dwelling for a Massachusetts family. More recently, the architect and educator Witold Rybczynski has mastered the art of explaining the commonplaces and arcana of the architectural process and its products in several books commendable for their lucidity and even-handedness. Now they are joined by Edward Hollis, a British architect and preservationist whose new book, The Secret Lives of Buildings: From the Ruins of the Parthenon to the Vegas Strip in Thirteen Stories, offers an advanced seminar for graduates of Rybczynski’s introductory courses. Hollis, who teaches at the Edinburgh College of Art, stands apart from other popular writers on the building art in his acknowledgement that architecture is anything but the immutable medium most people suppose it to be.

Dan Chiasson on Lydia Davis


Dan Chiasson reads from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, which he reviewed in the April 29, 2010 issue of The New York Review, and talks to Gabriel Winslow-Yost about accidental greatness, lonely translators, and reading at stoplights.