Roving thoughts and provocations

Letter From Rome: Scandal Among the Plutocrats

Ingrid D. Rowland

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Italy, from many standpoints, is in dreadful shape. The news is out and inescapable. People in the rest of the world wonder why, in the face of a stagnant economy and pervasive corruption, the country continues to keep Silvio Berlusconi as its prime minister. The reasons are many, from inertia to resignation to the conviction that at last the man can stew in his own juices—and he certainly looks awful enough to suggest that he is no longer enjoying the position to which he clings with limpet-like tenacity.

The reasons for Italy’s inaction also, however, include a well-founded fear that the left will not be able to do much better. Take, for example, Piero Marrazzo, the former presidente (governor) of Lazio— the region (roughly equivalent to a state in the US) that includes Rome. A member of the Partito Democratico, the largest party of Italy’s center-left, Marrazzo gave an interview on August 15 to journalist Conchita de Gregorio of La Repubblica, addressing the scandal that pushed him out of office two years ago.

China’s ‘Liberation’ of Tibet: Rules of the Game

Robert Barnett

Xinhua

China’s Vice-President Xi Xinping’s speech in Lhasa marking ‘the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Tibet’ was broadcast live on Chinese state television, an exceptional event and an indication of its national importance. Watching Xi deliver it gives a much more complex impression both of him and of China: the visual information largely conveys the opposite of Xi’s words.

Anselm Kiefer, in Love with Loss

Sanford Schwartz

Sophie Fiennes

Over the years, Kiefer’s work, continually summoning up Bible stories, wartime legends, and mystical awarenesses, has become woozily grandiloquent. He is an extraordinary showman, however. His pictures, where model ships or women’s frocks are often placed atop images of endless fields, the sea, or forests, can have a phenomenal physical presence. He is a master transformer of materials. From the first he made lead, steel, straw, glass, or crumbly clumps of cement with rebar sticking out bespeak fragility and delicacy.

The Troubled Life of Nim Chimpsky

Peter Singer

Project Nim

Project Nim, a new documentary by James Marsh, tells the sad story of a scientist’s irresponsible treatment of Nim, the chimp he tamed—or more strictly, whose upbringing in a human family he organized—and it raises important issues about the distinction between humans and animals, about our attitudes toward animals, and about scientific objectivity (or the lack thereof) in behavioral research.

As Ohio Goes: A Letter from Tea-Party Country

Timothy Snyder

Peter van Agtmael/Magnum Photos

The notion that the federal government ought to be starved of resources is not patriotism: it is right-wing anarchism, which corrodes not only the American state but the American nation. America is defined by its middle classes, and these are ceasing to exist. Belonging to the middle classes means that, without enormous wealth, you do not need to be concerned about the security of your pension, the quality of your children’s education, and the reliability of your family’s health care. At this point few people in Clinton County, Ohio can say (despite some good public schools) that they are worried about none of these.

I’m not interested in them; I wish they weren’t interested in me’: An Interview with Liao Yiwu

Ian Johnson

Larry Roibal

The 1980s were a golden age for Chinese thought and literature. Then came 1989. Then came the reforms and the economic growth. No one thought the Communists would be so tough and strong. Now there’s a new wave of people leaving, even though the economy is so good. At least among many artistic people it’s like this: You can’t do anything meaningful in China.”

Here’s What I Hate About Writers’ Houses

April Bernard

writershouses.com

On the subject of Writers’ Houses, that dark genius Robert Frost would have understood the paradox I find myself inhabiting: that I hate them in general, but soften to something like affection in the face of particular places. Frost enjoyed mocking his own, and others’, ambivalences, especially when personal feeling interfered with principle. Whether or not he also would have enjoyed hearing my footsteps in his old parlor and study is another matter; I would guess not.

Toleration and the Future of Europe

Timothy Snyder

Historisches Museum, Vienna

In Anders Breivik’s manifesto, the ostensibly Christian defeat of the Ottoman armies at Vienna in 1683 is the central historical event. He imagines a European rebirth in 2083, four hundred years later, and names the Polish king Jan Sobieski, whose troops were crucial to raising the Ottoman siege, as one of his heroes. Breivik thinks Europe today is again under siege from Muslims, and that Europeans must resort to “atrocious, but necessary” violence to defend it. It is unsurprising that what Breivik has to say about European history is trivial. But since the reference to Vienna has largely passed without criticism, it is worth recalling for a moment what actually happened in 1683.

The New European Far-Right

Malise Ruthven

Rex Features/AP Photo

In the flurry of commentaries about the July 22 Norway killings, certain features stand out. Commentators on the right are more inclined to dismiss Anders Behring Breivik as a deranged lunatic. By contrast, writers and bloggers on the left are more likely to take the view that there is some linkage between his monstrous crimes and new versions of far right ideologies that have been leaching into mainstream European politics. These divergent interpretations have brought fresh urgency to the question of whether highly charged political rhetoric can play a part in motivating extreme forms of violence.

A Revolution Stalled? Scenes from Mubarak’s Trial

Yasmine El Rashidi

Yasmine El Rashidi

We all watched the proceedings mesmerized, shaken by the irony that on the very same podium where Mubarak once was applauded now sat Ahmed Rifaat, head of the Cairo Appeals Court and the judge appointed to try him. For the first time that day, State TV dropped “former,” and referred to Mubarak as the “deposed” President. He was now a man officially behind bars.