The Beltway Myth

Elizabeth Drew

Sarah Leen/National Geographic/Getty Images

The time has come to talk about “the Beltway.”

The term, a reference to the roadway that circumnavigates the District of Columbia and patches of its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, has long been in widespread use—as if everyone within the isolated island thinks alike, has the same amount of information and the same political opinions, simultaneously. But lately “the Beltway” has also become an epithet, hurled at those who live within it for some real or imagined transgression. As a concept of how information and opinion move between Washington and the rest of the country “the Beltway” is epistemological nonsense.

The Drone Memo: Secrecy Made It Worse

David Cole


Now that we can finally see the memo authorizing the killing of a US Citizen in Yemen, the biggest question is why the Obama administration kept it secret. It offers a closely reasoned, thorough, and, most important, carefully limited defense of the killing. Had it been made public at the outset, the administration might have avoided much controversy about the drone program.

The Ninety-Minute Anxiety Dream

Simon Critchley

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the chorus interrogates the chained Titan as to what gifts he gave human beings. In addition to fire and thus technology and civilization, Prometheus says he sowed in human beings blind hope, as a way of forestalling doom. There is something of this in the soccer fan.

John Searle: The Philosopher in the World

Tim Crane

Tim Crane: Are you skeptical of the idea of universal human rights?

John Searle: No, I’m not skeptical about the idea of universal human rights. I’m skeptical about what I call positive rights. You see, if you look at the logical structure of rights, every right implies an obligation on someone else’s part. A right is always a right against somebody. If I have a right to park my car in your driveway, then you have an obligation not to interfere with my parking my car in your driveway.

Whose Palestine?

Nathan Thrall

Hatem Moussa/AP Photo

On June 2, seven years of division between Fatah and Hamas came to an end. Hamas ministers in Gaza surrendered their authority to a new Palestinian government of national consensus, which pledged to adhere to the three principles demanded by the US and its allies as conditions for receiving vital aid. But little has changed in Palestinian relations with the West.

Manchette: Into the Muck

James Sallis

Jacques Tardi/Fantagraphics

For French writer Jean-Patrick Manchette and the generation of writers who succeeded him, crime novels became far more than simple entertainment; they became a means of facing society’s failures head on. One after another the curtains are torn back. Pretense. Deceit. Manipulation. Till there in the small, choked room behind it all we witness society’s true engines—greed and violence—grinding away.

The Fall of the Vice-Pope

Ingrid D. Rowland

Agencia Rio Negro

A photograph taken in Argentina in 2007 shows two cardinals, Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Tarcisio Bertone, sitting side by side, although their chairs are on two different levels. Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, occupies his virtual throne with kingly complacency, with a sporty pair of aviator sunglasses to complement his gold-embroidered miter. Next to him, in Jesuit black under plain white robes, Cardinal Bergoglio, with his iron cross and his horn-rimmed spectacles, looks open-mouthed upon the radiant spectacle.

Making Schools Poor

Diane Ravitch

Ben Margot/AP Photo

Last week’s court ruling against job protections for California school teachers has distracted us from the genuine inequalities that harm minority children. It does not address the dire overcrowding of classes or the lack of resources for basic needs, including libraries, counselors, after-school programs, and nurses. Nor does it address segregation or poverty— root causes of poor academic performance.

Czech Winter

Francine Prose


Agnieszka Holland’s brilliant, ambitious, and moving new film, Burning Bush, begins at a violent and traumatic moment in Czech history, five months after Soviet tanks had brought an end to the Prague Spring. Part of what makes the film so affecting is the pace and patience with which it documents the gradual change undergone by its protagonists as they come to realize how unlikely it is that anything will change.

Reading: The Struggle

Tim Parks

Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos

The conditions in which we read today are not those of fifty or even thirty years ago, and the big question is how contemporary fiction is adapting. What I’m talking about is the constant distraction we live in and how that affects the special energies required for tackling a substantial work of fiction—for immersing oneself in it and then coming back and back to it over what could be days, weeks, or months. Of course long books are still being written. But there is a battering ram quality to the contemporary novel, an insistence and repetition that permits the reader to hang in despite the frequent interruptions to which we leave ourselves open.