Roving thoughts and provocations

Ukraine—The Way Out

Anatol Lieven

Jerome Sessini/Magnum Photos
As the first heavy fighting began in eastern Ukraine in early May, there has been a growing sense that a larger confrontation, one that could involve Russia and the West, may be unavoidable. Such a perception is a terrible mistake. There is nothing inevitable about the future course of the conflict. It is absolutely essential for Western governments to focus on what they can do to avoid war, preserve democracy, and keep Ukraine united.

The Limits of Lyndon Johnson

Elizabeth Drew

Evgenia Eliseeva

The new Broadway play All the Way presents President Lyndon Johnson dominating Congress and, through a combination of willpower, guile, wit, and near-bribery, browbeating it into passing the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. But this isn’t what happened.

Stupid Questions

Tim Parks

Abner Dean

Most writers complain about the people who come to hear them talk. Or rather the questions they ask. It’s time to wonder whether these people are really asking dumb questions. Why are writers so determined to focus exclusively on their novels, as if there were no continuity between writing and life?

Pakistan: Who’s Afraid of the ISI?

Ali Sethi

Fareed Khan/AP

Over the past week, a shocking debate has raged in Pakistan, in full view of the Pakistani people, about the nature and power of the Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, the country’s elusive, military-operated spy agency, which has been blamed for the attempted assassination of journalist Hamid Mir, who hosts one of Geo TV’s most popular current affairs programs.

How Many Have We Killed?

David Cole

Khaled Abdullah/Reuters/Corbis

According to credible accounts, Obama has overseen the killing of several thousand people in drone strikes since taking office. Why only admit to the four Americans’ deaths? Is the issue of targeted killings only appropriate for debate when we kill our own citizens? Don’t all human beings have a right to life?

Ukraine: Hate in Progress

Tim Judah

Tim Judah

Talk to people manning the anti-government barricades in eastern Ukraine, and one thing in particular is scary. They talk as though they were a long persecuted minority, as if they have forgotten that easterners under former president Viktor Yanukovych ran the country until February. All they seem to register is a hysterical drumbeat from Russia about the new Nazis of Kiev and their NATO masters.

Pain and Parentheses

Christopher Benfey

Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

“My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three,” Nabokov writes in Lolita. I found myself wondering how many other parentheses like this there were: windows in a wall of verse or prose that suddenly open on an expanse of personal pain. Masquerading as mere asides, they might hold more punch than parentheses are usually expected to hold, more even than the surrounding sentences, and have all the more impact for their disguise as throwaways.

Inequality Is Not the Problem

Jeff Madrick

Metropolitan Museum of Art

The powerful findings of Thomas Piketty and other economists have challenged long-held assumptions that America is a meritocracy. But the problem of inequality is an inadequate description of the situation. We now have stagnating incomes for a large majority of Americans and runaway incomes at the very top. This is not so much “inequality” as a complete lack of growth for much of the country.

The Great Poets’ Brawl of ’68

Charles Simic

David Levine

As soon as the fight started, Allen Ginsberg went down on his knees and began chanting some Buddhist prayer for peace and harmony among all living creatures, which not only distracted those fighting, but also startled a few puzzled couples who had discreetly retreated into the bushes and were now returning in a hurry with their clothes in disarray.

Obamacare: The Hate Can’t Be Cured

Garry Wills

Metropolitan Museum of Art
I fear that the president declared a premature victory for the Affordable Care Act. He made the mistake of thinking that facts matter when a cult is involved. Obamacare is now, for many, haloed with hate. Retaining certitude about its essential evil is a matter of honor for one’s allies and loathing for one’s opponents.