Roving thoughts and provocations

New York in Eight Parts

Charles Simic

Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos

On the corner of Fifth Avenue and 13th Street, a block from where I lived in the 1960s, there was a movie theater that showed a lot of foreign movies. I’d go to bed at night, toss and turn unable to sleep, and realize that I still had time to catch the late show. I remember exiting through the empty lobby at one o’clock in the morning wearing pajamas under my raincoat and finding that an inch or two of snow had fallen in the meantime.

Pakistan: The Allure of ISIS

Ahmed Rashid

Ishtiaq Mahsud/AP Images

The Pakistani Taliban’s new announcement of support for ISIS is a startling indication of how much ISIS is changing the jihadist landscape. For a younger generation of Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it suggests a readiness to bring ISIS-style tactics to their own campaigns.

The Real Lesson of Lehman

Jeff Madrick

Thomas Nast

What would have happened if the federal government had saved Lehman Brothers back in September 2008? The nation would certainly not have passed the Dodd-Frank financial reforms. Nor would there have been enormous pressure on other federal agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission to become more vigilant.

The Books We Talk About (and Those We Don’t)

Tim Parks

Abner Dean

We tend to categorize novels as well or poorly written, popular or unpopular. Perhaps more usefully, we should distinguish those that make the conversation, and those that do not: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections became part of the national conversation; Lydia Davis’s short stories, for all their brilliance, did not.

The Birds of War

Christopher Benfey

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos

Is it to be war? It would seem so, now and for the foreseeable future. Yet the future seems, increasingly, unforeseeable, as the seers, convened around the tables at CNN or PBS, predict the most contradictory things. I myself have found that a few quiet minutes on the patio, facing the cloud-infested sky, give me a clearer sense of the future than the morning newspaper.

Taking Aim at Hong Kong

Jonathan Mirsky

Wally Santana/AP Images

Watching tens of thousands of protesters fill the streets of Hong Kong, I have felt the same emotion I experienced on the nights leading up to the killings in Tiananmen Square on June 3 and 4, 1989. Again we are watching heavily armed police trying to disperse peaceful democracy protesters and they are possibly awaiting orders to do more than that.

In the Cage of Memory

Michael Greenberg

Pascal Victor

I was twelve years old when I saw my first Peter Brook production, and the effect of entering his concentrated world, of experiencing the actors as a personal presence, of feeling myself to be part of a spectacle rather than the watcher of one, has never left me. It remains an artistic ideal: spare, attentive, incendiary, mystical.

A New Plan for Syria

Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson

Dusan Vranic/AP Images

The most realistic short-term US policy goal in Syria is to find ways to limit the areas of the country in direct conflict. This goal is not as far-fetched as it sounds, and there is already a basis for pursuing it: through a series of local cease-fires that could, if properly implemented and enforced, provide a path toward stability in several regions of the country, even as conflict continues elsewhere.

The Unstoppable Soprano

Martin Filler

Ira Nowinski/Corbis

How old is too old in opera? It all depends on the voice and the role, of course. Beverly Sills, who had a relatively light instrument, retired at fifty-one. Birgit Nilsson, the Heldensopran, bowed out at sixty-four. The tenor Plácido Domingo is still onstage at seventy-three. But few have lived up to the standard set by the Italian soprano Magda Olivero, who died in Milan this month, at the age of 104.