Roving thoughts and provocations

A Zuccotti Park Education

Jeff Madrick

Henny Ray Abrams/AP Photo

Since the beginning of last week, the shift in the attitude of the press toward Occupy Wall Street—and the support across the country the movement is suddenly drawing—is remarkable. The occupation started on September 17 and grew from the beginning. But since two Sundays ago, unions have joined a large and boisterous march and few if any hesitate any longer to visit Zuccotti Park. Friends now bring their children. The press, almost uniformly derisive during the initial weeks, shows signs of understanding that the group touches a deep-seated anger and confusion in America. President Obama had to respond to a question about it last week, and said he understood the concerns. Occupy Wall Street is truly national—indeed international.

Killing Citizens in Secret

David Cole

Muhammad ud-Deen

Sunday’s New York Times reported that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has produced a fifty-page legal memo that purportedly authorized President Obama to order the killing of a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, without a trial. Last month, the US carried out that order with a drone strike in Yemen that killed al-Awlaki and another US citizen traveling with him. The strike was front-page news, and apparently was undertaken with the approval of Yemen authorities, yet as it was a “covert operation,” the Obama administration has declined even to acknowledge that it ordered the killing.

So now we know that there is a secret memo that authorized a secret killing of a US citizen—and both the memo and the killing remain officially “secret” despite having been reported on the front page of The New York Times. Whatever one thinks about the merits of presidents ordering that citizens be killed by remote-controlled missiles, surely there is something fundamentally wrong with a democracy that allows its leader to do so in “secret,” without even demanding that he defend his actions in public.

Putin’s Risky Course

Amy Knight

Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

On October 7, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin celebrates his birthday, which this year—his 59th—is probably an especially happy occasion for him. Two weeks earlier, on September 24, President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he would step aside so that Putin instead of him could represent the United Russia Party in the March 2012 presidential elections. This means that Putin—who after years of dominating the political scene is unlikely to face a credible challenger—could serve as leader of the Kremlin until 2024, when he will turn 72, in the age group of his predecessors in the Soviet era. But perhaps Putin should not celebrate too soon.

What’s Wrong With the Nobel Prize in Literature

Tim Parks

Let’s imagine that we have been condemned for life to making, year in year out a burdensome and near impossible decision to which the world increasingly and inexplicably ascribes a crazy importance. How do we go about it? We look for some simple, rapid and broadly acceptable criteria that will help us get this pain out of the way. And since, as Borges himself noted, aesthetics are difficult and require a special sensibility and long reflection, while political affiliations are easier and quickly grasped, we begin to identify those areas of the world that have grabbed public attention, perhaps because of political turmoil or abuses of human rights, we find those authors who have already won a huge level of respect and possibly major prizes in the literary communities of these countries and who are outspokenly committed on the right side of whatever political divide we’re talking about, and we select them.

Bob Dylan’s Fugitive Art

Richard Prince

David Michael Kennedy, Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Dylan’s studio. I think it was Dylan’s studio. I’m still not sure. It didn’t look like any artist’s studio I’d ever been in. It was on the second floor and was around five hundred square feet and furnished with furniture that looked like it had been found on the street. There was a small Casio keyboard on a keyboard stand. There was a store-bought easel and a carton of art supplies on the floor. Except for the art supplies, there wasn’t a single thing in this room that would tell someone, “Art is made here.” It was kind of astounding. It was like Dylan was painting in a witness protection program. Maybe that’s my way in. That kind of thought. “The Fugitive.” That’s how I should think about his art. I’m always looking for a way in, and I think I’ve found it. I know he paints on the road. In hotel rooms. And there are a lot of hotel rooms—he goes all over the world. And when he isn’t playing music, he’s painting. That day he showed me twenty paintings. The first thing that hit me was how complete they were. And the fact that he knew what he was doing.

Mitt, We Hardly Knew Ye!

Christopher Benfey

John Springs

We’re feeling vulnerable and surly these days in western Massachusetts, as the leaves turn yellow, the Red Sox fade, and winter looms. Our corridor of New England along the Connecticut River endured, during the summer months, a ruinous tornado in Springfield, an earthquake, of all things, and Hurricane Irene, which knocked out roads and historic covered bridges in our hill towns and across neighboring Vermont, and left a lot of people homeless and adrift. We don’t see much of Mitt Romney, our ex-governor, in these troubled times. Then again, we never did. Our most indelible memories are of Mitt leaving—“the sight of Mitt’s back,” as a friend of mine put it, as he went off to lay the groundwork for yet another campaign.

The Rick Perry Hustle

Larry McMurtry

Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty Images

What Perry has brought to the Republican muddle thus far is his abundant, if unfocused, energy. He rushes from debate to debate, gives many interviews, gets his picture on the cover of TIME; yet all his politicking is curiously affectless. He makes sounds, but where’s the personality? Hillary Clinton has a personality; so does Sarah Palin. Either of those women could cut Governor Perry off at the knees, and will if given the chance.

Obama’s Palestinian Veto: Let’s Be Honest

Henry Siegman

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Over the past few days, much has been written about the Palestinian bid for UN recognition of its statehood and Washington’s opposition to it. But the real importance of last week’s events at the UN does not lie with the US response itself, but with the effect that response has had on the international community. For now, the Palestinian bid must be reviewed by a special UN committee, a process that will take weeks or months, thus postponing any immediate reckoning with the veto threatened by the Obama Administration. But for the first time, there is a broad recognition of the emptiness of the American claim that the US is uniquely qualified to bring the Israel-Palestine conflict to an end, and that it may instead be the main obstacle to peace.

Post-Darwinian Experiments in Consciousness and Other Stories

Wells Tower and John Currin

Gagosian Gallery

“It just doesn’t make sense,” she said. “I mean, my sisters get pregnant looking at a cologne ad. They get pregnant in pollen season.”

For six months they had been trying to conceive, and still her period was as regular as the tide. She decided to see a doctor. He told her it would be a waste of money, that the fertility counselor would probably recommend treatments linked to uterine cancer. He went into obscure specifics about the effect of fertility drugs on “weak hydrogen bonds” in the DNA molecule. She listened because he was a very intelligent person who knew more than she did about most things, but in the end she arranged an appointment anyway.

Slide Show: Stony Places

Mariana Cook

Mariana Cook

At dusk on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day in 2002, my family and I returned to our home in Chilmark on the island of Martha’s Vineyard to discover fifty-six cows on our newly sown lawn. We turned the car around and drove to our neighbor’s house. She called the cow herder, who arrived banging the dinner pail. The cows stampeded to their field next door. The stone wall I share with my neighbor, a good friend, serves as a boundary between us. It had begun to fall, and where a thicket of brambles obscured the collapse, the cows found a place to cross.

I wanted to rebuild the wall. At first, my neighbor suggested repairing the electrical fencing on her side, but I was concerned that it might fail again. There were a few tense days while we decided what to do. During those days, I walked the wall on my side. It was the first time I had really looked at it intently. Who had built this wall and when? It was beautiful. Stones rested on each other, securely or tentatively, many covered with lichen. Branches cast their shadows.