Roving thoughts and provocations

Reading Upward

Tim Parks

From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

“Frankly, I don’t mind what they’re reading, Twilight, Harry Potter, whatever. So long as they are reading something there’s at least a chance that one day they’ll move on to something better.” How many times have we heard this opinion expressed? Needless to say the sentiment comes along with the regret that people are reading less and less these days and the notion of a hierarchy of writing with the likes of Joyce and Nabokov at the top and Fifty Shades of Grey at the bottom. Between the two it is assumed that there is a kind of neo-Platonic stairway, such that from the bottom one can pass by stages to the top, a sort of optimistic inversion of the lament that soft porn will lead you to hard and anyone smoking marijuana is irredeemably destined to descend through coke and crack to heroin. The user, that is, is always drawn to a more intense form of the same species of experience.

Wang Lixiong and Woeser: A Way Out of China’s Ethnic Unrest?

Ian Johnson

Sim Chi Yin

Why has the Chinese government relied so much on suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang?

Wang Lixiong: Simply put, it’s due to their politics, but they can’t say that. They say it’s due to hostile foreign forces. After troubles started in Tibet they said it was the “Dalai Clique.” You can see the situation getting worse year by year, so it’s only possible to say that it’s their policy.

Grim Fragments of the Great War

Gabriel Winslow-Yost

Jacques Tardi/Fantagraphics

It Was the War of the Trenches is one of the most passionately bleak works in the history of comics. French cartoonist Jacques Tardi is unremitting in his focus on the small, human details of the catastrophe of WWI—not just the look of uniforms and weaponry, but the way one soldier advances in an awkward, stiff-armed posture, “protecting my belly with the butt of the rifle,” and the way another makes sculptures and rings from discarded shells, to sell to his comrades.

Portable Hell

Charles Simic

Abner Dean

The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, I say to myself and think of people I know who care little about what goes on in the world. I have sympathy for them. It’s no fun starting one’s day or retiring at night with images of dead children.

When he was old, my father said that he could think of two ways to break his addiction to newspapers: enter a monastery or a lunatic asylum.

Palestine: The Hatred and the Hope

David Shulman

Alaa Badarneh/EPA/Corbis

Since the Gaza war began, an unprecedented wave of blood lust and racist violence has raged within Israel. Similar manifestations have occurred in earlier periods. What makes the present moment distinct is the incitement by politicians, including members of the cabinet, the Knesset, and other figures within the Israeli establishment.

Can Congress Rein In the Spies?

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the dramatic costs to journalists, lawyers, and US businesses of dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing.

Voter Discrimination Just Got Easier

Steven H. Wright

Felix Adamo/Zuma Press/Corbis

For almost fifty years, the US government has had an especially effective tool for preventing voter discrimination: sending federal observers to polling stations across the country. As recently as the 2012 presidential election, the Justice Department dispatched more than 780 federal employees to 51 jurisdictions across 23 states. Now, that program has largely been suspended.

1914: Into the Fire

Béla Zombory-Moldován

German Federal Archive

The barrage rolls forward. Ten minutes. Then they start again from the rear. The continuous deafening explosions, the howling of the flying shell fragments have practically stupefied me. Beside me, between salvos, Miklósik frantically digs himself deeper into his hole. Then a blast quite close to me. Utterly helpless, I give myself up to my fate and, with no emotion, wait for the end to come.

Liberal Zionism After Gaza

Jonathan Freedland

Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Corbis

When Israelis and Palestinians appear fated to fight more frequently and with ever-bloodier consequences, and when peace initiatives seem to be utopian pipe-dreams doomed to fail, the liberal Zionist faces something like an existential crisis.