To judge by the streets of Cairo on the morning of March 19, it seemed that a good chunk of my city’s 19 million residents were taking part in the constitutional referendum. The roaring old school buses that rattle my windows when they pass in the morning were not to be heard, there were hardly any cars on the usually clogged streets, and the daily flood of people making their way through the dense web of thoroughfares and alleyways was absent. The only signs of traffic or crowds were around the hundreds of designated polling stations. It had been nearly five weeks since protesters in Tahrir Square had brought down President Hosni Mubarak, and Egyptians all over the country were voting on an all-or-nothing package of nine constitutional amendments. A win for the Yes votes promised to lead to parliamentary elections as early as June, returning power to a civilian government following the military’s temporary takeover. If the No votes prevailed, it might start the process of political reform over again, or it might cause the military to pursue a different strategy.
The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup. In Mexico there was an incredible bookstore. It was called the Glass Bookstore and it was on the Alameda. Its walls, even the ceiling, were glass. Glass and iron beams. From the outside, it seemed an impossible place to steal from. And yet prudence was overcome by the temptation to try and after a while I made the attempt.
Shortly after the democratic uprising began in Egypt, a group of young Israelis led by freelance journalist Dimi Reider launched Kav Hutz (“Outside Line”), a Hebrew-language blog devoted to covering the events across the border. Unable to enter Egypt on short notice with his Israeli passport—a predicament all Israeli correspondents faced—Reider chronicled the insurrection by posting minute-by-minute updates culled from an array of online sources on the ground: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Egyptian bloggers. The tone of Reider’s blog was reportorial, but hardly detached. “Good luck,” he wrote on the eve of the huge “Day of Departure” rally in Tahrir Square—a sentiment rarely voiced in Israel’s mainstream media, which stressed the danger of a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood if the protesters prevailed.
It’s been startling to witness mass demonstrations in countries across the Middle East for freedom from autocracy, while, in the Tibetan community, a die-hard champion of “people power” tries to dethrone himself and his people keep asking him to stay on. Again and again the Dalai Lama (who tends to be more radical and less romantic than most of his followers) has sought to find ways to give up power, and his community has sought to find ways to ensure he can’t. It could be said that almost the only time Tibetans don’t listen to the Dalai Lama is when he tells them they shouldn’t listen to him. Now, on the eve of an important election for Tibet’s government-in-exile, he has announced he is relinquishing formal political authority entirely—and the Tibetan government has accepted his decision, even as the move has alarmed many around the world and struck some as the end of an era.
National Public Radio has taken a beating over the last two weeks: first its chief executive was forced to resign amid a scandal caused by a right-wing frame-up, and then, on Thursday, the GOP-dominated House voted to cut off all federal funding to NPR. For the moment, that bill seems unlikely to get far in the Senate, but it suggests just how much public radio has been undermined in recent weeks and months. What’s almost as disturbing as the persistent right-wing attacks on an institution respected and relied upon by the broad public is NPR’s seeming unwillingness to stand up for itself.
The life and death of buildings are more than just metaphors when it comes to one category of structure closely identified with modern architecture: the sanatorium. These facilities for the treatment of tuberculosis are as emblematic of changing attitudes toward architecture as they are toward shifting views on contagion.
For those who saw video footage of it, the tsunami that hit Japan’s north coast on Friday and then moved inland with overpowering force was a terrifying sight. Three days later, this wall of water, generated by a magnitude 8.9 earthquake offshore, is blamed for thousands of deaths and untold destruction in Japan. I am neither an oceanographer nor a hydrodynamicist, but I have learned a little about the physics of tsunamis that I would like to share.
In the latest episode of the podcast, Geoffrey O’Brien talks with Chris Carroll about Duke Ellington’s mid-career crisis and stunning comeback, revisiting his often-overlooked albums of the 1960s and 1970s.
I can’t remember when I last heard someone genuinely optimistic about the future of this country. I discount politicians, investment bankers and generals since their line of work requires that they offer upbeat assessments of everything from our deteriorating economy to our suicidal wars, and assorted narcissists accustomed to shutting their eyes to the plight of their fellow Americans. The outright prophets of doom and gloom among our friends and acquaintances tended to be a rare breed until recently.
This year is the centenary of the birth of Elizabeth Bishop, one of the most celebrated figures in American poetry, and several new collections of her prose, poems, and correspondence have been published to commemorate it. Her work is a widely recognized force in American poetry. Far less known is that Bishop was also an accomplished artist.