Roving thoughts and provocations

Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda

Timothy Snyder

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos

Whatever course the Russian intervention may take, it is not an attempt to stop a fascist coup, since nothing of the kind has taken place. What has taken place is a popular revolution, with all of the messiness, confusion, and opposition that entails. The young leaders of the Maidan, some of them radical leftists, have risked their lives to oppose a regime that represented, at an extreme, the inequalities that we criticize at home.

No One Is Blameless

Christopher de Bellaigue

Sony Classics

Iranian director Asghar Farhadi seems to enjoy casting beautiful actresses and then making us forget their beauty, degrading them with their unhappiness and the ineptitude of their actions. Everyone becomes hypnotically normal under his gaze, and this is why one ends up feeling so intensely for his characters.

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law: The Missing Science

Helen Epstein

Rebecca Vassie/AP Photo

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni claims he signed an anti-gay bill into law because there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is determined by a person’s genes, and is therefore “deviant” behavior. But my own research suggests homosexuality, and all sexual preference for that matter, is probably at least partly genetic.

The Kingpin at Rest

Alma Guillermoprieto

Omar Franco Pérez Reyes/Demotix/Corbis

In the end the best-known, and possibly even the most powerful of Mexico’s many, many drug traffickers was pretty much where he’d always been: in his home state of Sinaloa. His capture was so easy one wonders if he was tired of the hard life, needing relief from the pressure of transporting thousands of tons of drugs and the daily agony of deciding whom to kill.

What’s Left of My Books

Charles Simic

Abelardo Morell/Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York City

These days, I look in disbelief at many of the books on my shelves, from thick novels and memoirs to works of great philosophers, wondering whether it’s really possible that I devoted weeks or even months reading them. I know that I did, but only because opening them, I find passages and phrases I’ve underlined, which upon rereading I recall better than the plots, characters, and ideas I encountered in these books; what has made the lasting impression on my literary taste buds, to use culinary terms, are crumbs strewn on the table rather than the whole meal.

Normal Nazis

Ian Buruma

Music Box Films

Millions of German and Austrian viewers thought Generation War, first broadcast in three episodes on German TV, and now released as a two-part movie in the US, was wonderful. So why has there been so much fuss about it, especially in Poland, where the filmmakers were accused of “falsifying history”?

All Blue

Michael Gorra

Patrick Zachmann/Magnum Photos

Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshoremen, that lead-like look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; the rotten rum or gin they call blue ruin and the blue devils of its delirium; Russian cats and oysters; Nova Scotians, hair rinse, bluing, bleach…

The Music of the Swindle

Geoffrey O’Brien

Sony Pictures

David O. Russell’s American Hustle declares what it is about with disarming bluntness. The two con artists around whom it revolves confide to us in voice-over right at the start: Sydney (Amy Adams), aka Lady Edith Greensley, wanted “to become anyone else other than who I was.” Irving (Christian Bale) acknowledges that “we even con ourselves.”

Is Christie Using Nixon’s Playbook?

Elizabeth Drew

Paul Beaty/AP Photo

On the basis of what we know and what seems conceivable, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not a Richard Nixon. But there does seem to be a pattern in Christie’s activities, and indications of corruption on a scale that could be unprecedented even for New Jersey. Christie has morphed from a “bully” into a man who has governed by creating an atmosphere of fear and retribution

Writers Into Saints

Tim Parks

Over the last ten years or so I have read literary biographies of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Hardy, Leopardi, Verga, D. H. Lawrence, Joyce, Woolf, Moravia, Morante, Malaparte, Pavese, Borges, Beckett, Bernhard, Christina Stead, Henry Green, and probably others too. With only the rarest of exceptions, literary biographers present their subjects as simply the most gifted and well-meaning of writers, while their behavior, however problematic and possibly outrageous—Dickens’s treatment of his children, D.H. Lawrence’s fisticuffs with Frieda—is invariably described in a flattering light. Special pleading is everywhere evident, as if biographers were afraid that the work might be diminished by a life that was less than noble.