Roving thoughts and provocations

The War We Couldn’t See

Christian Caryl

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Americans never quite seemed to figure out what they thought of Iraq. Those who renounced the invasion engaged in few demonstrations once the war was underway, while those who approved of it seem to have largely tuned out the resulting conflict. Journalistic treatment of the war was spotty—the war coincided with a dramatic decline in the fortunes of US media organizations, which eroded resources for reporting. The Bush Administration promoted this indifference through its information-management efforts, including the overwhelming emphasis on “embedded” reporting at the beginning of the war, as well as the restrictions it imposed on the coverage of the arrival of those killed in action at Dover Air Force Base.

One Thousand Words

Tim Parks

A regular reader of The Guardian online, I often find its featured articles tiresomely long and rambling. You scroll down, imagining the piece almost over, and instead it goes on, and on. There should have been some warning at the beginning telling you how many words lie ahead. No sooner does the Internet give us oceans of space than we realize that length was never just a problem of column inches.

Pakistan’s Extremist Democracy

Ahmed Rashid

AFP/Getty Images

This spring was supposed to open a new chapter in Pakistan’s tenuous embrace of inclusive democracy. At midnight on March 17, following constitutional rules, the Pakistan government of Asi Ali Zardari stepped down and the national assembly was dissolved, in preparation for national elections in May, which will mark the first time the country passes from one elected leadership to another. And yet a terrifying escalation of extremist attacks against religious minorities and aid workers since the start of the year has shown the government and the security forces’ utter failure to deal with a festering culture of intolerance.

A Strike and a Start: Founding The New York Review

Jason Epstein

Of the four friends who met for dinner fifty years ago in Barbara’s and my apartment on West Sixty-Seventh Street during the New York newspaper strike, I am the sole survivor. Though we had no such plan in mind beforehand, it was at that dinner that Elizabeth Hardwick, her husband Robert Lowell, Barbara and I saw all at once the opportunity that would become The New York Review of Books.

A Rivalry With God

Ian Buruma

Sundance Selects

The Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s latest movie is about a young woman who is tortured to death with the highest intentions. That, at any rate, is one way to describe the story of Beyond the Hills, which is loosely based on an event that took place at an Orthodox monastery in Moldavia in 2005. The woman’s death was the result of a ritual exorcism, not uncommon in Romania, meant to save her soul from the devil. What makes the story tragic, instead of merely sad and sordid, is the way it shows two realities, the secular and the Orthodox, colliding.

Why Are We Funding Abuse in Ethiopia?

Helen Epstein

AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, the Ethiopian government began moving thousands of people out of the rural villages where they had lived for centuries to other areas several hours’ walk away. The Ethiopian government calls this program the “Commune Center Development Plan and Livelihood Strategy” and claims it is designed to bring scattered rural populations closer to schools, health clinics, roads, and other public services. But the Commune Center program has been marked by a string of human rights abuses linked to government attempts to clear huge tracts of land for foreign investors. According to testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and other groups over the past two years, the relocations have involved beatings, imprisonment, torture, rape, and even murder.

Why the Pope Wears Red Shoes

Massimo Gatto

Getty Images

Romans knew that the timetable for the papal conclave would be a quick one when the three sets of vestments prepared for the new pontiff—in small, medium, and large sizes—had already disappeared from the display window of Gammarelli, the ecclesiastical tailors, on Friday, March 8. The three white wool satin cassocks had appeared on March 4, along with one scarlet capelet, the mozzetta, trimmed in white ermine, versatile enough for one size to fit any aspiring pontiff, a single pair of red kangaroo-leather shoes in a medium size, and a white moiré silk zucchetto, the pontifical skullcap. Though they are loaded with Christian significance, many of these articles of clothing actually have a far more ancient pedigree.

Does the Pope Matter?

Garry Wills

With the election of a new pope, the press will repeat old myths—that Christ made Peter the first pope, and that there has been an “apostolic succession” of popes from his time. Scholars have long known that Peter was no pope. He was not even a priest or a bishop—offices that did not exist in the first century. And there is no apostolic succession, just the twists and tangles of interrupted, multiple, and contested office holders. It is a rope of sand.

Chasing the White Rabbit

Francine Prose

Literature is full of dreams that we remember more clearly than our own. Jacob’s ladder of angels. Joseph saving Egypt and himself by interpreting the Pharoah’s vision of the seven fat and lean cows. The dreams in Shakespeare’s plays range as widely as our own, and the evil are often punished in their sleep before they pay for their crimes in life. Kafka never tells us what Gregor Samsa was dreaming when he awakens as a giant insect, except that the dreams were “uneasy.” Likely they were not as uneasy as the morning he wakes into. By the end of the first paragraph of “The Metamorphosis,” Gregor has noticed his arched, dome-like brown belly, his numerous waving legs. “What has happened to me? he thought. It was no dream.”