Bot or Not?

James Gleick

Philip Gendreau/Bettmann/Corbis
It’s understood now that, beside what we call the “real world,” we inhabit a variety of virtual worlds. Take Twitter. Or the Twitterverse. Twittersphere. Increasing numbers of Twitterers don’t even pretend to be human. Or worse, do pretend, when they are actually bots. “Bot” is of course short for robot. And bots are very, very tiny, skeletal, incapable robots—usually little more than a few crude lines of computer code. The scary thing is how easily we can be fooled.

Dante’s Dogs

Alberto Manguel

Tate, London

Of all the insults and derogatory comparisons Dante uses in the Commedia on both lost souls and evil demons, one recurs throughout: they are like dogs. The wasteful in the seventh circle are pursued by “famished and fast black bitches”; the burning usurers running under the rain of fire behave “like dogs who in the summer fight off fleas and flies”; a demon who pursues a barrater is like “a mastiff let loose.”

Iran: The Senate Strikes Back

Elizabeth Drew

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images

A vote by Congress to reject an Iran deal could lead to an end of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a possible Israeli military attack on Iran. The president could veto a negative resolution, but even if he weren’t overridden, the fact that there’d been a vote against it would seriously hobble his ability to implement the agreement without congressional interference.

Philip Guston: Hilarious and Horrifying

Robert Storr

Philip Guston/Private Collection

The tragicomic scenes in Philip Guston’s post-1968 work were filled with stubbly, cigarette-smoking, Popeye-like self-portraits mixed with hooded Ku Klux Klansmen (frequently self-portraits also), assigned roles equivalent to those of Babel’s marauding Cossacks. Those who grasped the significance of Guston’s challenge to established “high modernist” taste immersed themselves in the strange vision of contemporary life he portrayed in a tumultuous tidal wave of images.

Torture: No One Said No

David Cole

David Levine

Who bears ultimate responsibility for the US torture program? In a largely overlooked trove of newly declassified documents, the CIA leadership comes across as so skittish about the program that had anyone had the temerity to say no, they almost certainly would have halted it.

Netanyahu’s Churchill Syndrome

Jonathan Freedland

David Levine

Netanyahu has been re-enacting the Churchill story for more than two decades: as a junior member of the Knesset, he was warning that Iran was just “three to five years” away from a nuclear bomb back in 1992. He’s sounded the same alarm at intervals ever since. The great value of Churchill syndrome to one who suffers from it is that it is self-vindicating. The more Netanyahu’s warnings of the Tehran menace are dismissed, the greater his similarity to the cigar-chomping seer who was fatefully ignored in the 1930s.

Russia: Another Dead Democrat

Amy Knight

Alexandra Krasnova/Corbis Images

Not only was Russian politician and liberal activist Boris Nemtsov very close to the Kremlin when he was shot dead on Bol’shoi Moskvoretsky Bridge. He was also in an area that was under the intense surveillance of the Federal Protection Service (FSO), a security agency under the direct control of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lure of the Caliphate

Malise Ruthven

Art Resource

The challenge of defeating the Islamic State is a huge one. The group is formidably armed, and, above all, it has been able to attract unprecedented numbers of young recruits from the West—not least by drawing on apocalyptic currents in Islamic culture that have always appealed to people who are at the margins or who are seeking some new source of meaning.

What I Mean by Mexico

James Fenton

Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos
I must have landed in the foothills, for the first impressions I had were of piles of rocks, as if emptied casually from a bag. And among these rocks and cactuses, a leafless tree with yellow flowers, a profuse flowerer, unfamiliar to me. Well, some things have to be unfamiliar; I have never visited this part of the world before.

William Blake: Wonderful and Strange

Jenny Uglow

Tate, London

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has always been a place of surprises, which has made it an absolutely fitting place for “William Blake: Apprentice and Master,” an exhibition that is at once didactic and very strange. The exhibition left me dazed by the technical detail but aware that I would never look at a Blake work in the same way again.