Roving thoughts and provocations

A New Future for Iranian Physics?

Jeremy Bernstein

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

One of the most interesting parts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action reached between the P5+1 countries and Iran has to do with the enrichment facility at Fordow. According to the plan, the facility is to be wholly converted to peaceful purposes. But the important thing to know about Fordow is its underground location.

The Lost Purpose of School Reform

Diane Ravitch

Bruce Davidson/Magnum Photos

Fifty years ago, Congress passed a federal education law to help poor children get a good public education. As the House and the Senate now debate a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, it is crucial to understand the law’s origins and how it has evolved over time.

A Book in the Darkness

Charles Simic

Félix Vallotton

One of the compensations of being an insomniac in a snowbound house full of books is that I can always find something to read and distract myself from whatever mood I’m in. As a snooze-inducer, nothing comes close to poetry, or a story you’ve already read.

Yemen: The Houthi Enigma

Robert F. Worth

Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Safa al Ahmad’s remarkable BBC documentary, Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis, is a rare close-up look at the most mysterious player in this agonizing and complex drama. The Houthi movement, which grew out of a deep sense of victimization by the state, has long been an enigma, even to many Yemenis, and it defies easy explanation.

How to Play ‘Wolf Hall’

Hilary Mantel

The Royal Collection

Anne Boleyn: From the moment you enter public consciousness, you carry the projections of everyone who is afraid of sex or ashamed of it. You will never be loved by the English people, who want a proper, royal Queen like Katherine, and who don’t like change of any sort. Does that matter? Not really.

Tarot Dreams

Christopher Benfey

The Pierpont Morgan Library/Art Resource

It is not surprising that the images on Tarot cards, so vivid and mysterious, appeal to poets as a means of providing metaphors. Intrigued by Jessie Weston’s suggestion, in From Ritual to Romance, that the Tarot was related to fertility cults, T. S. Eliot inserted “Madame Sosotris, famous clairvoyante,” and her “wicked pack of cards” into The Waste Land.

Houellebecq in the Flesh

James Lasdun

Nicolas Guerin/Getty Images

At fifty-seven, Michel Houellebecq has the miraculous look of someone almost double his age. Etched, haggard, battered, half-collapsed, his face seems destined to become one of the great ruins of our literary era; something to measure up to Beckett or Auden—for druidic ancientness if not quite nobility. His mouth in particular is alarmingly caved-in, as though his mother had followed through on her notorious threat to smash his teeth in with her walking stick if he ever wrote about her again.

Ukraine: Divided and Bitter

Tim Judah

Tim Judah

In eastern Ukraine, civilians are suffering, as they do in all wars, but in this one, older people are suffering the most. Even when peace returns to Pervomaysk, it will have to contend with a fresh layer of bitterness. As in war-ravaged parts of the Balkans, buildings can be rebuilt, but if there is no work and no reason to return, then places like this will dwindle and die.

Israel: The Stark Truth

David Shulman

Dan Bar Dov/Demotix/Corbis

The Israeli electorate has given a clear mandate. There will be more antidemocratic legislation, more attempts to undermine the courts, more rampant racism, more thugs in high office, more acts of cruelty inflicted on innocents, more paranoid indoctrination in the schools, more hate propaganda, more wanton destruction of Bedouin villages, more war-mongering, and quite possibly more needless war.