Roving thoughts and provocations

A Reunion with Boredom

Charles Simic

Jean Gaumy/Magnum Photos

Do people still suffer from periods of boredom even with computers, smart phones and tablets to occupy them endlessly? This and other thoughts came to me as I sat in a dark house for three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

The CIA’s Islamist Cover Up

Ian Johnson

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

The tenth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington will be accompanied by the usual solemn political pronouncements and predictable media retrospectives. But they shouldn’t distract us from a very precise and practical problem that hasn’t been addressed: the refusal of the CIA to disclose the details of its involvement with Islamist groups.

What the Taliban Want

Ahmed Rashid

An important message by Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, has been released on the occasion of Eid—the end of Ramadan. It is the longest and by far the most forward-looking political message he has ever sent, offering the Taliban’s latest views on several central issues that are uppermost in the minds of US and NATO leaders, Afghans, and governments around the region as the US begins a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Eyes Above the Street: The High Line’s Second Installment

Martin Filler

Photo by Iwan Baan/Courtesy Friends of the High Line

Rarely do additions to works of architecture or engineering by the same designers who created the originals attract as much comment as the initial installments. Thus there was some question as to just how much excitement could be generated by the debut this June of the second segment of the High Line, which runs between West 20th and West 30th streets.

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.”