Roving thoughts and provocations

Obama and the Myth of Arm-Twisting

Elizabeth Drew

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The nonsense about what it takes for a president to win a victory in Congress has reached ridiculous dimensions. The fact that Barack Obama failed to win legislation to place further curbs on the purchase of guns—even after the horror of Newtown, Connecticut—has made people who ought to know better decide that he’s not an “arm-twister.” Ever since Obama took office, others have been certain about how he should handle the job and that he wasn’t doing it right.

China’s Sufis: The Shrines Behind the Dunes

Ian Johnson

Lisa Ross

Lisa Ross’s luminous photographs are not our usual images of Xinjiang. One of China’s most turbulent areas, the huge autonomous region in the country’s northwest was brought under permanent Chinese control only in the mid-twentieth century and its population of Uighur Muslims has long had difficult relations with Beijing. In 2008, 2009, and 2012, Xinjiang was the site of bloody protests. Instead of representing these political conflicts, however, Ross’s photographs reveal a little-known religious tradition in Xinjiang—its desert shrines to Sufi saints.

New York in Slow Motion

J. Hoberman

James Nares

James Nares’s Street, an engrossing and celebratory hour-long, oversized video projection of life in New York City, is a monument to evanescence. Now installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through May 27, the work was fashioned from sixteen hours of material, recorded in six-second bursts from a vehicle moving through city streets at a rate of thirty miles per hour. The molasses-paced tour opens in Times Square and, occasionally revisiting the midtown area, goes through Harlem, Chelsea, and parts of the Bronx, with extended crosstown trips to transverse busy 125th, 34th, and 14th streets, accompanied by Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore’s unamplified twelve-string vamping.

A Poet on the Road

Charles Simic

Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

After my first book of poetry came out in 1967 and received some favorable reviews, I started getting calls and letters from schools around the country inviting me to come and read. If the money being offered was acceptable, I’d say yes. Over the last forty-five years, I’ve been to colleges and universities, but also to high schools, libraries, bookstores, grade schools, bars, nursing homes, jazz clubs, coffee houses, movie theaters, abandoned malls, and places that don’t fall into any of these categories, like that storefront where I shared the bill with a magician and a local rock band. It was packed, I remember, with a rough young crowd who were there to hear the band and who were okay with the magician being the first act, but grew unruly once they learned that a poet was to follow.

Russia After Boston: A Free Pass on Human Rights?

Amy Knight

Pavel Golovkin/AP Photo

The close cooperation between Moscow and Washington on the Boston bombing investigation raises new questions about the issue of human rights in Russia. Will the US government now turn a blind eye to Russia’s increasingly brutal crackdown on its own democratic opposition because of overriding concerns about national security, just as it did after 9/11? Will the Kremlin wager that it can get away with its hard-line approach now that, as a result of the Boston attacks, the Obama Administration needs its help in counter-terrorism efforts? A test case could be the trial of Russian anti-corruption blogger and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny.

A Music of Overpowering Affection

Geoffrey O’Brien

Julieta Cervantes/BAM

With the heavy lifting of narration shifted elsewhere, Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s opera David et Jonathas is free to devote itself to almost nothing but high points. Characters and situations are isolated and offered up for consideration, giving us more a series of disjunctive pictures than a linear enactment of the whole story. Everything is of maximum intensity. Within a few moments of the beginning of the Aix-en-Provence Festival production of David et Jonathas now playing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the music had taken over with overpowering thoroughness.

A Khmer Rouge Goodbye

Stéphanie Giry

Stéphanie Giry

It could have been the setting of any Cambodian notable’s funeral. There was a large wooden house. There was a tall, terraced pyre in the dirt yard. The case for the coffin was topped with a silhouette of Angkor Wat. But this was Malai, a tidy little town in Cambodia’s northwest that for many years has been an enclave for Khmer Rouge holdouts. And the elder being commemorated was Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s foreign minister and a member of his standing committee, who died last month at eighty-seven while on trial for assorted mass crimes before a UN-backed tribunal.

Clearing the Men’s Room for Thatcher

Jonathan Mirsky

Pierre-Antoine Donnet/Getty Images

Why was I invited to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral? I had never been a parliamentary journalist. My career was as a foreign correspondent in China and Hong Kong. Her visits to China were brief and unsatisfactory. But I did have a little history with Mrs. Thatcher, including four personal encounters. Here’s how they happened.

The Unfinished Race

Hugh Eakin

Dick Raphael/Getty Images

Runners who have completed the historic race from the village of Hopkinton, in Massachusetts’s Middlesex County, to downtown Boston, 26.2 miles east, invariably have their own favorite parts of the course and those they dread. But it seemed beyond any runner’s imagination that the Boston Marathon finish line itself—the final moment of triumph—could turn into a nightmare, a zone of horror and devastation that stood the entire logic of the race on its head.

MoMA’s Act of Vandalism

Martin Filler

filler_1-052313.jpg
Giles Ashford

The only surprising thing about the Museum of Modern Art’s announcement in April that it intends to demolish Tod Williams and Billie Tsien’s American Folk Art Museum of 1997–2001—an architectural gem that abuts the Modern’s campus on Manhattan’s West 53rd Street—to make way for yet another MoMA addition is that this deplorable decision took so long to occur. When in 2011 the Folk Art Museum was compelled to sell its decade-old building because of the worldwide economic crash that had caused its default on $32 million in bonds that financed the $18.4 million scheme, seasoned observers fully expected that the superb structure’s days were numbered.