Roving thoughts and provocations

Mesmerized by Brubeck and Desmond

Jeremy Bernstein

Bettmann/Corbis

One winter a lanky fellow with glasses appeared. I took him for a fellow academic and when I introduced myself he said, “Paul Desmond.” I was a jazz fan but had never seen Paul Desmond in person. His song “Take Five” had become the anthem of the Dave Brubeck quartet. It has a very unusual 5/4 rhythm and Desmond’s alto saxophone solo stays in your mind forever. We went to a local jazz club where there were some Jamaican kids playing. Desmond couldn’t resist and asked to borrow a saxophone. The kids had no idea who he was but I explained that he was pretty good. When he began to play they were mesmerized.

Protecting Powerful Men

Jonathan Freedland

On Thursday, after some sixteen months digesting a vast outpouring of written and oral evidence, Sir Brian Leveson, the judge appointed by British Prime Minister David Cameron to investigate “the culture, practices and ethics of the press,” delivered his two-thousand-page verdict. Given what he had heard in his courtroom, Leveson could plausibly have delivered damning judgements about the police, politicians—including Cameron and his ministers—and, especially, News Corporation and the Murdoch family who run it. Yet much of the report’s immense length is taken up by filling in the background, setting out the facts rather than apportioning blame.

It’s Time to Stop Killing in Secret

David Cole

Pete Souza/Official White House Photo

What would President Romney do with a drone? The New York Times reported Sunday that this question apparently haunted the White House so much that in the weeks before the election it raced to establish “explicit rules” and “clear standards and procedures” for the use of unmanned drones for targeted killings. As one candid, though anonymous, official stated, “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.” But the real problem is not that there are no guidelines written down—though the administration itself seems now to acknowledge that what it has is insufficient—but that we the people don’t know what they are.

Modern Oslo’s Hidden Colors

Martin Filler

Espen Johnsen/Norsk Folkemusum

It has long been a commonplace that no region on earth embraced modern design more eagerly or fully than Scandinavia. During the early twentieth century, a host of reform-minded pioneers in the Nordic countries demonstrated how contemporary architecture and furnishings could both shape and respond to a changing society that was becoming closely attuned to the dignity of the common man.

Creating and Destroying the Universe in Twenty-Nine Nights

David Shulman

Hashim Haroon

Kudiyattam performances are never short. In their natural form, they range from twelve hours to over one hundred and fifty hours. This summer I spent all of August in central Kerala with my Sanskrit and Malayalam students, witnessing one of the great compositions of this tradition, the so-called Anguliyankam, or Drama of the Ring, which went on for some 130 hours spread over twenty-nine nights.

Lincoln’: A More Authentic Wonderment

Geoffrey O’Brien

DreamWorks

Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is a work of sufficient richness to instantly invite repeat viewings. It is a history film that dares to pile on verbal and visual details thickly and rapidly enough that a second viewing may be necessary simply to register all that is going on. Dropped right into the heart of the Congress of 1865, you scarcely have time to be introduced to the representatives busily attempting to drown each other out, or to be given much backstory on the alliances and resentments in play in one private parley after another, as Lincoln and his operatives try every form of arm-twisting and patronage short of outright bribery to enlist political support.

The Artist I Grew Up With

Tim Parks

It’s always exciting to think about works of art or literature in relation to the person who made them, especially if you have some direct acquaintance with the artist. The usual order of events, of course, is that you grow familiar with the work and later meet the man or woman behind it, at an opening or a reading or some social event. What matters, then, is that the artist be on a par with the art, and for a serious admirer, disappointment is almost inevitable. But things are quite different when you know the artist well before you see the work, and even more so when you actually grew up with him.

Memory Traps

Charles Simic

Werner Bischof/Magnum Photos

Henry James called them “traps to memory” in The American Scene, the book he wrote about his visit to the United States in 1904 after a twenty-year absence. Walking on West Fourteenth Street and Lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, he shuddered at how much the neighborhood had changed. His parental home, the massive stone church that stood nearby, the old building that housed the original Metropolitan Museum of Art, and much else in the city had now “vanished as utterly as the Assyrian Empire.” What remained were these “traps” which “baited themselves with the cheese of association,” and into which anyone who had once known the city might fall.

The Legacy of Murderous Regimes’

Hor Nam Hong

It is difficult to define the legacy of murderous regimes. While it is easy (and just) to unleash a torrent of the bitterest denunciations of the Khmer Rouge, stepping back, language always fails to rise to the occasion. The most appropriate way to describe the legacy of the Khmer Rouge was the utter nothingness that was left in the wake of the regime.