Roving thoughts and provocations

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.

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.