Roving thoughts and provocations

China’s Way to Happiness

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson: Are people in China happy?

Richard Madsen: The happiness level is diminishing. The pace of economic growth is not continuing like it was. You still have people becoming fabulously wealthy and crassly displaying it, but that also feeds into a deteriorating moral climate.

Syrian Torture: What the US Must Do

David Luban

Esa Alexander/The Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The atrocities committed by all sides in the increasingly violent Syrian civil war cry out for some form of international accountability. The “Caesar” photos, released in late January, up the stakes dramatically by providing remarkably specific evidence of mass murder and torture by agents of the Syrian government.

To Kill a Child

Stig Dagerman

Arne Sohlström

For a meager fee of seventy-five kronor Stig Dagerman was commissioned by Sweden’s National Society for Road Safety to write a cautionary tale as part of a campaign designed to get Swedish motorists to slow down on highways. What could have been an ephemeral and gimmicky work of public service fiction became perhaps the greatest short short story in the history of Swedish letters.

Obama’s Toughest Job

Jeff Madrick

Jim Goldberg/Magnum Photos

By making jobs the centerpiece of the speech, President Obama gave one of his best State of the Union addresses. But the jobs situation is not merely a concern. It is a crisis. Minorities and the young in particular have been battered. And the most necessary measure of all—continued fiscal stimulus to encourage growth—is not being entertained.

Turkey: The Fakir vs. the Pharaoh

Christopher de Bellaigue

Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

Turkey’s political crisis has divided the two groups dominating Turkish life: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP, on the one hand, and an exiled spiritual leader, Fethullah Gulen, whose movement has sweeping influence in the police and the judiciary, on the other. The conflict could end a decade of political stability and economic prosperity.

Dickinson: Raw or Cooked?

Christopher Benfey

Private Collection. Image courtesy of Emily Dickinson Museum and Amherst College Archives

Was Emily Dickinson a radical poet of the avant-garde, challenging regularized notions of stanza shape, typography, visual and verbal presentation, erotic love? Or was she a poet of restraint, restricting herself to a few traditional patterns of meter and stanza? It is a conflict reaching back to “The War Between the Houses,” when Dickinson’s manuscripts were divided into two main collections.

Changing Our Stories

Tim Parks

Grandville

Until a couple of years ago, a reviewer observes, Tim Parks’s novels were remorseless in suggesting that we are who we are, can’t change, character is destiny, family is destiny, habits of mind are destiny; any thought of changing these things drags us toward madness and self-destruction. The reviewer feels a little let-down that in my recent work there is some movement away from this position.

Short Days and Long Nights

Charles Simic

Metropolitan Museum of Art

My favorite writing implement continues to be a stub of a pencil and my favorite writing surface the back of an electric bill. I like to sit at the kitchen table my wife uses to chop onions and shed tears on, because every time I’m unable to think of what to write, the refrigerator opens and here comes a plate of cold pasta.

The Hidden Face of Russian Security

Amy Knight

Abdula Magomedov/AP Photo

As the US prepares to send more than two hundred athletes to Sochi, concerns about terrorism continue to mount. The December bombings in Volgograd might have been anticipated or even thwarted if the FSB had not botched an earlier investigation. Meanwhile, continued threats provide a convenient pretext for more crackdowns on civil rights.

Ukraine: The New Dictatorship

Timothy Snyder

Danil Prikhodko/Demotix/Corbis

President Viktor Yanukovych, in having the deputies of his Party of Regions endorse an extraordinary packet of legislation, has arrogated decisive political power to himself. In procedure and in content the laws “passed” by the Ukrainian parliament this week contravene the most basic rights of modern constitutional democracies: to speech, assembly, and representation.