Roving thoughts and provocations

Spring Is Far Behind

Christopher Benfey

Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos

So much of reading is anticipation. So much of spring is the longing for spring.

Chaucer says, “Aprille with his shoures soote” is the time when “longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.” I myself long to goon on a pilgrimage.

The CIA’s Poisonous Tree

David Cole

David Levine

The legal doctrine that precludes reliance on evidence obtained from torture is called the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule. But as the revelations that the CIA interfered with a Senate investigation of CIA abuses reflects, torture does far more than merely “taint” evidence. It corrupts all who touch it.

A Different Pakistan

Hugh Eakin

Abbas/Magnum Photos

After more than a dozen years of the US-led “war on terror,” as Pakistan has slid between military and civilian rule, crackdowns and suicide bombings, the cosmopolitan city of Lahore has struggled to maintain its old values. A group of Lahori intellectuals have decided to fight back in the way they best know how: with words and books and open debate.

News from Space

J. Hoberman

Cristina de Middel/Dillon Gallery

Does a museum show occupy space—or should it send us hurtling through it? Such is loosely the premise of two very different New York shows this winter, the New Museum’s “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module” and the Studio Museum in Harlem’s “The Shadows Took Shape,” both featuring art inspired by 1960s and 1970s science fiction films.

Decency Without Hope

David Shulman

Adopt Films

What does it take to remain decent under the conditions of the Israeli occupation, on either side of the Separation Barrier? Is it even possible? These are some of the questions explored in Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad’s powerful new film, Omar.

Crimea: Putin vs. Reality

Timothy Snyder

Yury Kirnichny/AFP/Getty Images

Just what does Russian President Vladimir Putin think he is doing in Crimea? The clues are there, in the language of the Kremlin’s non-stop propaganda campaign. The invasion was not a reaction to an actual threat, but rather an attempt to activate a threat so that violence would erupt that would change the world.

Putin’s Golden Dilemma

Amy Knight

Sergii Kharchenko/NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Corbis

The toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, an autocratic leader whose government was plagued by corruption, hits dangerously close to home for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The memory of large demonstrations in Moscow and continued allegations of Kremlin corruption are doubtless much on the minds of senior Putin advisers.

A Nuclear Ukraine

Jeremy Bernstein

AP images

Watching the crisis in Ukraine unfold, it is easy to forget how much worse it could have been. In 1991 Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Many of these weapons were stored in the Crimea. What might have happened if Ukraine had not disarmed?

To Tell and Not To Tell

Tim Parks

“I could never have written a book like that,” a friend and writer remarked to me of my first novel, “for fear of what my mother would say.” “Parks’s nearest and dearest,” wrote the novelist Patrick Gale, reviewing another book of mine, “must await each of his publications with growing trepidation.” The fascinating question about works of literature that risk arousing the hostility of the author’s loved ones is: Can a novel be written without any concern for the consequences? Will the story perhaps be “edited” to avoid the worst? Or is awareness of the possible reaction part of the energy feeding the book?

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.