Roving thoughts and provocations

Revolt on the Polar Express

J. Hoberman

Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer is a madcap addition to the comic-book-derived movies that have dominated cinematic summer fare for much of the twenty-first century. At once streamlined and ramshackle, it doesn’t have a plot so much as a premise—or rather, a ruling metaphor.

Supreme Court: It Could Have Been Worse

David Cole

Honoré Daumier

Make no mistake about it. This is a conservative Court. Only a small handful of cases this term could be characterized as reaching liberal outcomes. But in each of the cases where litigants asked the Court to pursue the more radical course of reversing prior precedents, the Court declined, and instead resolved the cases more narrowly. In some cases, the Court may have planted the seeds for future reversals of disfavored doctrine, but for now, the Court’s approach is incremental rather than radical. Conservative, to be sure—but with a small “c.”

The Best World Cup Ever!

Alma Guillermoprieto

AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

This is the best World Cup ever! There will no doubt be Scrooges on the sidelines contesting this solid fact, because this is soccer, but even skeptics must be mourning the end of the first stage of the cup, as each of the eight groups has now settled who’s in first place, who’s in second, and who is at the airport, ticket in hand, forlornly waiting for the long trip home.

Inequality Begins at Birth

Jeff Madrick

Alex Webb/Magnum Photos

America has the second highest child poverty rate of the thirty-five nations measured by the United Nation Children’s Fund. Yet only two fifths of poor children in the US have access to Head Start. Our political leaders have largely overlooked the connection between poverty, poor educational attainment, and even neural malfunctions—and the extent to which effective poverty reduction itself can correct the problem.

The Map ISIS Hates

Malise Ruthven

@albaraka_news

After sweeping into Iraq, the jihadists of ISIS tweeted pictures of a bulldozer crashing through the Syria-Iraq border. This symbolic action against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which such groups are nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence, when Sunni Islam ruled over an unbroken realm and the Shias knew their place.

The Beltway Myth

Elizabeth Drew

Sarah Leen/National Geographic/Getty Images

The time has come to talk about “the Beltway.”

The term, a reference to the roadway that circumnavigates the District of Columbia and patches of its Maryland and Virginia suburbs, has long been in widespread use—as if everyone within the isolated island thinks alike, has the same amount of information and the same political opinions, simultaneously. But lately “the Beltway” has also become an epithet, hurled at those who live within it for some real or imagined transgression. As a concept of how information and opinion move between Washington and the rest of the country “the Beltway” is epistemological nonsense.

The Drone Memo: Secrecy Made It Worse

David Cole

HO/Reuters/Corbis

Now that we can finally see the memo authorizing the killing of a US Citizen in Yemen, the biggest question is why the Obama administration kept it secret. It offers a closely reasoned, thorough, and, most important, carefully limited defense of the killing. Had it been made public at the outset, the administration might have avoided much controversy about the drone program.

The Ninety-Minute Anxiety Dream

Simon Critchley

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

In Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, the chorus interrogates the chained Titan as to what gifts he gave human beings. In addition to fire and thus technology and civilization, Prometheus says he sowed in human beings blind hope, as a way of forestalling doom. There is something of this in the soccer fan.

John Searle: The Philosopher in the World

Tim Crane

Tim Crane: Are you skeptical of the idea of universal human rights?

John Searle: No, I’m not skeptical about the idea of universal human rights. I’m skeptical about what I call positive rights. You see, if you look at the logical structure of rights, every right implies an obligation on someone else’s part. A right is always a right against somebody. If I have a right to park my car in your driveway, then you have an obligation not to interfere with my parking my car in your driveway.

Whose Palestine?

Nathan Thrall

Hatem Moussa/AP Photo

On June 2, seven years of division between Fatah and Hamas came to an end. Hamas ministers in Gaza surrendered their authority to a new Palestinian government of national consensus, which pledged to adhere to the three principles demanded by the US and its allies as conditions for receiving vital aid. But little has changed in Palestinian relations with the West.