Roving thoughts and provocations

NSA Surveillance: What the Government Can’t See

Sue Halpern

Abner Dean

In a July 2 report on the NSA’s warrantless surveillance of non-US citizens, the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board mostly found that the program is working as it was supposed to. But three days later, The Washington Post revealed the program is monitoring American citizens, and that the documents scooped up include baby pictures, love letters, messages between attorneys and their clients.

The Pope and the Pederasts

Garry Wills

Luca Zennaro/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has acted fast on his preferred issues—poverty and economic justice. He has been slower to apologize to victims of sex abuse by priests, authorize a panel to study the problem, and promise reforms. Is it because all these things are beside the point? Very likely, they are. Without addressing structural issues in the Vatican, meaningful action to restore trust in the priesthood and church authority cannot get far.

Kurdish Independence: Harder Than It Looks

Joost Hiltermann

Kamaran Najm/Metrography/Corbis

For Iraqi Kurds, the jihadist blitz through northwestern Iraq has offered an opportunity to take possession of areas they’ve long claimed as theirs and push for independence. At the heart of these “disputed areas” is the strategic city of Kirkuk, which the highly motivated Kurdish Peshmerga took over in mid-June. But the Kurds’ sudden gains may not be a panacea.

The Witches of West End

Ingrid D. Rowland

Jay Brooks

The presence of a woman director at the Old Vic means that women are running the business of theater more actively than they may have in the past. It is not hard to search for one toppling tyranny in Britain, a tyranny that continues to threaten elsewhere around the globe: the tyranny of male over female. Arthur Miller can rest assured that The Crucible is once again speaking at a crisis point in society.

Bend or Break

Christopher Benfey

Jacob Aue Sobol/Magnum Photos

In art, it is generally more interesting to bend the rules (bend them like Beckham) than to break them. Bend is evolution. Break is revolution. What once seemed revolutionary (Whitman, Impressionism, Duchamp, Cage) often turns out to be evolutionary instead.

“She broke my heart.” In retrospect, she only bent it.

Confessions of a Soccer Addict

Charles Simic

Bob Thomas/Getty Images

I haven’t done a thing in three weeks except watch soccer. Mowing the lawn, paying bills, working on an essay whose deadline is fast approaching, answering dozens of urgent emails—all these have had to wait. Should an unexpected visitor come to the door, I would emulate the example of soccer players and fake an injury, dropping on the floor and writhing in agony until the person left.

ISIS: The New Taliban

Ahmed Rashid

Reuters/Corbis

Like the Taliban, ISIS’s political outlook is distinct from both traditional Islamic fundamentalist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and global terrorism organizations like al-Qaeda. The extreme version of Islam it imposes terrifies local populations and demoralizes armies and governments. But as the Taliban showed before it, this way of ruling cannot constitute a viable political program.

Revolt on the Polar Express

J. Hoberman

Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a madcap addition to the comic-book-derived movies that have dominated cinematic summer fare for much of the twenty-first century. At once streamlined and ramshackle, it doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise—or rather, a ruling metaphor.

Supreme Court: It Could Have Been Worse

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

Make no mistake about it. This is a conservative Court. Only a small handful of cases this term could be characterized as reaching liberal outcomes. But in each of the cases where litigants asked the Court to pursue the more radical course of reversing prior precedents, the Court declined, and instead resolved the cases more narrowly. In some cases, the Court may have planted the seeds for future reversals of disfavored doctrine, but for now, the Court’s approach is incremental rather than radical. Conservative, to be sure—but with a small “c.”