Roving thoughts and provocations

A Grim Warning from Science

Bill McKibben

Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

Days before Sandy came ashore we not only knew approximately where it would go, but that its barometric pressure would drop below previous records and hence that its gushing surge would set new marks. For science, it was a bravura performance. It should shame at least a little those people who argue against the computer modeling of climate change on the grounds that “they can’t even tell the weather three days ahead of time—how can they predict the climate?” They can tell the future too. And unless we get off fossil fuel with great speed, no serious climate scientist believes that the sea will rise less than a meter this century. Think about what that means—as one researcher put it this week, it means that any average storm will become an insidious threat.

How to Win the Election (Without Super PACs)

Mary Beard

HD Vision Studios/BBC/HBO

Roman elections were all a matter of personal connections, charisma, and favor, not of manifestos and paid-up party loyalty. No patron would have a houseful of clients if he only offered to help those whom he knew he really could. That’s a different claim from a modern political view that you promise anything you like to get elected. In fact, in other ways too, the twenty-first-century relationship between the political hopeful and his voters and “clients” is the mirror image of the ancient one. But the modern clients, in the shape of Super PACs and the like, call the political tune to an extent that most of the supporters of the ancient would-be consul could not.

Gaza: A Way Out?

Nicolas Pelham

Shawn Baldwin/Corbis

The arrival in Gaza of the Emir of Qatar was the latest step by Arab governments to shift hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the Palestinian Authority to the Islamist movement Hamas and could signal a historic shift in Palestinian politics. But a reconciliation with Egypt remains elusive, and Gaza’s economic recovery, largely dependent on underground trade to the Sinai, is precarious. And as Hamas turns away from its Islamist social welfare policies while struggling to contain more radical movements, there are new questions about its longevity. “We can’t keep ourselves imprisoned much longer,” a Hamas commander tells me as he slouches bootless under a makeshift tent at the tunnel mouths.

The Taming of Wuthering Heights

Francine Prose

Oscilloscope Laboratories

During the many dull passages—lengthy shots of fluttering insects and of birds wheeling over the scenic British countryside—in the latest Wuthering Heights, directed by the British filmmaker Andrea Arnold and now being released in the United States, I found myself wondering how anyone could have been convinced that what the culture needed was yet another cinematic treatment of Emily Brontë’s novel. If one counts feature films, TV mini-series, Luis Buñuel’s Abismos de Pasión (1954), and Kiju Yoshida’s Arashi Ga Oka (1988), audiences have had more than twenty opportunities to watch Brontë’s doomed lovers race across the wind-swept moors.

America Forgets the World

Jonathan Freedland

Alec Soth/Magnum Photos

Most of the time, the world outside America consisted of three Is and (toward the end) a single C: the threat of a nuclear Iran, the need to stand with Israel, the wisdom of going into Iraq nearly a decade ago and of maintaining a troop presence there now, and finally the menace of job-stealing, currency-manipulating China. Europe surfaced just once, and then only in a list of regions where the US had strong alliances, alongside Africa and Asia. India, home to a billion people and a rising power, was mentioned not at all.

The War We Aren’t Debating

Michael Massing

Marco Ugarte/AP

It’s a social policy that, many experts agree, has failed miserably since it was introduced more than forty years ago, tearing apart families and communities across the United States, consuming tens of thousands of lives abroad, and squandering huge sums of money. Yet hardly any national politician is willing to challenge it, and it’s been completely ignored during the 2012 presidential campaign. I’m speaking of the war on drugs.

Trick or Truth?

J. Hoberman

Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Every photograph is a fake from start to finish,” the photographer Edward Steichen asserted in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903. In what amounts to a backhanded defense of photography as art, Steichen explained that “a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph” was “practically impossible.” “Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop,” an exhibition now up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (later traveling to the National Gallery and Houston’s Museum of Fine Art), makes a vigorous case for understanding the medium as Steichen did.

After the Occupation

Zena el Khalil

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

My Grandpa Mohammad built our house in Hasbaya on top of a hill. It was a typical two-floor Lebanese-style village home. The façade was covered in cut limestone squares and the roof consisted of red shingles. The kitchen, dining room, and living room were on the lower floor. Talking to my father today, his fondest memories always take him back to the summers they spent in Hasbaya. He says that it was there that he learnt to become a man. It was during the long hot and dry days that his endurance and vigor were tested.

The Empty Chair That Keeps Me Awake at Night

Christopher Benfey

Corbis

I have no idea what Clint Eastwood had in mind when he dragged an empty chair up to the stage at the Republican Convention in Tampa last August. But I was thinking of that empty chair in Tampa as I watched Tuesday’s presidential debate at Hofstra University. Who do we want in the president’s chair, making decisions when the next crisis—and we know there will be a next crisis, and a next—erupts? An Oval Office occupied by Romney would suffer from a different kind of vacancy, a void of ideas or convictions, a sketchy foreign policy based on China-bashing and pandering to his old pal Bibi. That’s the empty chair that keeps me awake at night.

More Speech is Better

David Cole

“Free speech” is not free. It can have serious, even deadly consequences. When a Californian recently uploaded a primitive YouTube video depicting Mohammed engaging in oral sex, it sparked violence and riots throughout the Muslim world. And according to Malise Ruthven in his recent NYRblog post, at least sixty people are believed to have been killed in the 1988-1989 riots in Pakistan and India prompted by Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which satirized Mohammed and depicted his wives as prostitutes. But if we were to start prohibiting speech on the ground that some listeners, somewhere in the world, might be offended and react violently to it, we would be enforcing the worst kind of international “heckler’s veto,” and sanctioning the violence, which is surely more reprehensible than the speech itself.