In 1219, Saint Francis traveled to Egypt to carry the words of Jesus to the Sultan al-Kami, a nephew of the great Saladin. While others were trying to make converts with the sword, he communicated the words of Jesus by dialogue. The sultan heard him out, and though he was not converted, he sent him safely back through the lines. Pope Francis, too, communicates with Muslims, and is trying to prevent a modern holy war. When he was elected, Pope Francis chose a name no other pope has used, for a very good reason.
Part of what’s fascinating about the Broadway adaptation of Fun Home is how closely it adheres to the outline and details of Alison Bechdel’s story—yet so differs from the book that it seems to be a related but entirely original work. Together, the memoir and the musical argue for the fact that plot and character are just a part of what affects us when we experience art. Our response is also determined by form, genre, setting—not only by the story but by the way the story is told.
If Edward Snowden had not revealed the NSA’s sweeping surveillance of Americans, Congress would have simply renewed Section 215, the USA Patriot Act provision that the NSA relied on—as it had done on seven previous occasions since 2001. Instead the Senate has passed the USA Freedom Act, which will bring an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
In Georges Simenon’s The Mahé Circle, translated now into English for the first time, François Mahé is suffering from a sense of general dissatisfaction. It is a quintessential Simenon crise, in which a man who has spent his life in servitude to family, work, society, suddenly lays down his burden and determines to live for the moment, and for himself.
In early May, Breaking the Silence, the organization of Israeli ex-soldiers, published a report on the Israeli army’s campaign in Gaza last summer. It revealed that the large number of civilian casualties on the Palestinian side was a consequence, among other things, of military tactics and orders explicitly adopted by the IDF.
“Back then, you couldn’t even find a book on how to make documentary films. I felt that the problems in society were so serious, but the media was just broadcasting propaganda. There was such a gap. I thought then: Why don’t those journalists tell the truth? Then I thought: Why don’t you try yourself, try to say something true?”
The fall of the ancient city of Palmyra before the brutal forces of ISIS last week raises the terrifying prospect of damage that could potentially eclipse the recent destruction at Mosul, Nimrud, and Hatra in Iraq. The tragedy of all this is the calculated disregard of a tradition of Palmyrene achievements that really means something to the Arab world.
In her May 9 commencement address at Tuskegee University, the historically black institution, Michelle Obama actually said (what I bet the students already suspected) that she is black. How dare she? In her own quiet way Ms. Obama was breaking all of the four rules of racial discourse the right wing now wants to enforce.
As the events in Burundi suggest, US support of ugly regimes may ultimately undermine the very stability we are supposedly seeking. In many cases, austerity programs, intended to lead to more efficient government, instead encourage unprecedented corruption.
Was the Declaration of Independence a powerful indictment of British austerity policies? Does America’s founding document need to be seen as part of an economic debate about the British Empire? These questions may seem jarring, almost anachronistic. But eighteenth-century political argument, like that of our own day, often revolved around responses to fiscal crisis.