Roving thoughts and provocations

Can Congress Rein In the Spies?

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the dramatic costs to journalists, lawyers, and US businesses of dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing.

Voter Discrimination Just Got Easier

Steven H. Wright

Felix Adamo/Zuma Press/Corbis

For almost fifty years, the US government has had an especially effective tool for preventing voter discrimination: sending federal observers to polling stations across the country. As recently as the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department dispatched more than 780 federal employees to 51 jurisdictions across 23 states. Now, that program has largely been suspended.

1914: Into the Fire

Béla Zombory-Moldován

German Federal Archive

The barrage rolls forward. Ten minutes. Then they start again from the rear. The continuous deafening explosions, the howling of the flying shell fragments have practically stupefied me. Beside me, between salvos, Miklósik frantically digs himself deeper into his hole. Then a blast quite close to me. Utterly helpless, I give myself up to my fate and, with no emotion, wait for the end to come.

Liberal Zionism After Gaza

Jonathan Freedland

Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Corbis

When Israelis and Palestinians appear fated to fight more frequently and with ever-bloodier consequences, and when peace initiatives seem to be utopian pipe-dreams doomed to fail, the liberal Zionist faces something like an existential crisis.

Russia Is Pregnant with Ukraine

Vladimir Sorokin

Honoré Daumier

Russia is pregnant with Ukraine. Birth is inevitable. There is more to come: the intensifying labor pains, the tearing of the umbilical cord, the newborn’s first cries… The infant’s name will be beautiful: Farewell to Empire. But what of the mother? The coming labor will be difficult, and there will certainly be complications. Will she survive?

Thailand: Revolution by Motorcycle?

Richard Bernstein

Apichart Weerawong/AP Photo

When 300,000 protesters from Thailand’s Red Shirt movement occupied Bangkok’s main commercial district in 2010, they were helped by an unusual ally: motorcycle taxi drivers. Able to navigate barricaded streets, the motorcycle taxis carried messages, money, and the makings of Molotov cocktails to protesters. Now the resilience of groups like the taxi drivers is likely to make it difficult for a new military junta to maintain control.

Raise Your Hand If You’ve Read Knausgaard

Tim Parks

Aubrey Beardsley

Raise your hand if you know what the actual sales are for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. This mammoth work of autobiography—presently running at three five-hundred-page volumes with three more still to be translated from his native Norwegian—is relentlessly talked about as an “international sensation and bestseller” (Amazon) and constantly praised by the most prestigious critics. Important newspapers carry frequent articles about Knausgaard and his work. In The Guardian, the academic Sarah Churchwell remarks that after sitting on the jury for the Booker prize she looks forward to being “the last reader in Britain” to tackle My Struggle.

The Children of Silicon Valley

Robert Pogue Harrison


Silicon Valley does not change the world as much as it changes my way of being in it, or better, of not being in it. It changes the way I think, the way I emote, and the way I interact with others. It corrodes the worldly core of my humanity, leaving me increasingly worldless. Thoreau wrote: “Be it life or death, we crave only reality.” If only that were unconditionally true.

NSA Surveillance: What the Government Can’t See

Sue Halpern

Abner Dean

In a July 2 report on the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of non-US citizens, the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board mostly found that the program is working as it was supposed to. But three days later, The Washington Post revealed the program is monitoring American citizens, and that the documents scooped up include baby pictures, love letters, messages between attorneys and their clients.