When the photographer Mani and I arrived in Homs, in mid-January 2012, the Syrian revolution was reaching the end of its first year. In the city and the surrounding towns, the people were gathering daily to demonstrate. They still believed that song, dance, slogans, and prayer were stronger than fear and bullets. They were wrong, of course.
The knowledge that I was only one of a crowd of children devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of American pioneer life could not have altered the intensity of my personal attachment to the brave, and often surprisingly lonely, heroine, the girl Laura whose travels with her family take her from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to Indian Territory (Kansas); then to Minnesota and, finally, Dakota Territory, in the years from 1869 to 1883. By fifteen, I was already nostalgic for Laura’s world and for my eight-year-old self who had first discovered it.
When Russian authorities rounded up five Chechen suspects in the assassination of leading opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, it appeared the Kremlin was following a predictable path. Instead, the arrests have led to new speculation about the Kremlin’s involvement in the murder.
We can admire a writer’s determination not to surf a wave of public acclaim, but all the same no one is isolated from the consequences of success. The work is clearly influenced by the attention it achieves. And since many admire a writer all the more for his intransigent refusal to cozy up to the reader, this hostile reaction actually feeds the public’s interest and esteem.
It’s understood now that, beside what we call the “real world,” we inhabit a variety of virtual worlds. Take Twitter. Or the Twitterverse. Twittersphere. Increasing numbers of Twitterers don’t even pretend to be human. Or worse, do pretend, when they are actually bots. “Bot” is of course short for robot. And bots are very, very tiny, skeletal, incapable robots—usually little more than a few crude lines of computer code. The scary thing is how easily we can be fooled.
Of all the insults and derogatory comparisons Dante uses in the Commedia on both lost souls and evil demons, one recurs throughout: they are like dogs. The wasteful in the seventh circle are pursued by “famished and fast black bitches”; the burning usurers running under the rain of fire behave “like dogs who in the summer fight off fleas and flies”; a demon who pursues a barrater is like “a mastiff let loose.”
A vote by Congress to reject an Iran deal could lead to an end of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and a possible Israeli military attack on Iran. The president could veto a negative resolution, but even if he weren’t overridden, the fact that there’d been a vote against it would seriously hobble his ability to implement the agreement without congressional interference.
The tragicomic scenes in Philip Guston’s post-1968 work were filled with stubbly, cigarette-smoking, Popeye-like self-portraits mixed with hooded Ku Klux Klansmen (frequently self-portraits also), assigned roles equivalent to those of Babel’s marauding Cossacks. Those who grasped the significance of Guston’s challenge to established “high modernist” taste immersed themselves in the strange vision of contemporary life he portrayed in a tumultuous tidal wave of images.
Who bears ultimate responsibility for the US torture program? In a largely overlooked trove of newly declassified documents, the CIA leadership comes across as so skittish about the program that had anyone had the temerity to say no, they almost certainly would have halted it.
Netanyahu has been re-enacting the Churchill story for more than two decades: as a junior member of the Knesset, he was warning that Iran was just “three to five years” away from a nuclear bomb back in 1992. He’s sounded the same alarm at intervals ever since. The great value of Churchill syndrome to one who suffers from it is that it is self-vindicating. The more Netanyahu’s warnings of the Tehran menace are dismissed, the greater his similarity to the cigar-chomping seer who was fatefully ignored in the 1930s.