Dizzy in the Daylight

Charles Simic

Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gerald Wilson, Monterey, 1963

In Jim Marshall’s Jazz Festival, we see dozens of the greats, musicians who made their names playing radically different kinds of music, performing or being caught by the camera schmoozing backstage between sets and enjoying each other’s company. Marshall had no idea while snapping these pictures, of course, that he was compiling a record of a vanished world, an America even more remote from us today than the one of the rock musicians and their fans that he covered in later years.

Egypt: Laughter in the Dark

Zadie Smith

Ahmed Naji

The prose of Egyptian novelist Ahmed Naji, who is currently in jail for “infringing public decency,” explicitly confronts what happens when one’s fundamentally unserious, oversexed youth dovetails with an authoritarian, utterly self-serious regime that is in the process of tearing itself apart. It’s very bad historical luck—of the kind I’ve never suffered. It’s monstrous. It’s ludicrous. But the fact that the punishment does not fit the crime—that prison is, at this moment in Cairo, the absurd response to the word “pussy”—is exactly what shouldn’t be elided.

Iran’s Game in Aleppo

Ahmed Rashid

Supporters of the Syrian regime carrying a poster of Bashar al-Assad and Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iran-backed Hezbollah, Ansar village, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

The advance of regime forces comes at a time when US President-elect Donald Trump has said that he would seek agreement with Russia on an end to the five-year Syrian war that has claimed more than 400,000 lives. Any such US-Russia deal would leave President Bashar al-Assad in place and now much strengthened. It would mean an American abandonment of the Syrian opposition and would give Russia a permanent presence in the Middle East. Yet one of the real victors in such an outcome would also be Iran.

The End of Fidel

Alma Guillermoprieto

Reflection of Fidel Castro on a window in a working-class neighborhood, Havana, Cuba, 2012

Castro is gone from the scene at the moment when he could have been useful. Outwardly a highly cultured man with exquisite manners, he had the inner constitution of a bully. In defeat he always hit back harder, because it was simply not in him to back down.

Trump: The Choice We Face

Masha Gessen

Boise, Idaho, 2016

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge. Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices.

The Magician of Manga

Christopher Benfey

The heavenly musician kalavinka; drawing by Katsushika Hokusai, 1823-1833

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, had long possessed—in its fabulous collection of Japanese art unparalleled anywhere outside Japan—an anonymous album of drawings long assumed to be by Hokusai. That album has now been persuasively linked to the artist.

Which Countries Will Get the Bomb?

Jeremy Bernstein

Scientists inspecting Iraq’s first nuclear reactor in Baghdad, supplied by the Soviets, February 1968

The US now has a president-elect who has openly suggested that our allies take responsibility for their own nuclear deterrence. If, say, South Korea or Saudi Arabia began to pursue a bomb, how likely might they be to succeed? History offers us a number of insights about this. Among the countries that succeeded were Israel and South Africa and among those that didn’t were Libya and Iraq.

The Challenge of Consciousness

Riccardo Manzotti and Tim Parks

Virna Haffer: Inside the Mind of Man, circa 1935-1942

Riccardo Manzotti: For most people “consciousness” will have various meanings and include awareness, self-awareness, thinking in language. But for philosophers and neuroscientists the crucial meaning is that of feeling something, having a feeling you might say, or an experience. It’s all very problematic. The truth is that we do not know what consciousness is. That’s why we’re talking about it as a problem.

Expendable America

Charles Simic

Harlan County, Cumberland, Kentucky, 2015

All of us who are familiar with rural areas and former industrial towns in this country know the impoverishment and hopelessness of many men and women who live there. Understandably, they are angry. These unfortunates, who’ve been cheated and swindled by bosses, mortgage banks, and both political parties, have put all their hopes in a billionaire who has a long record of not paying taxes, cheating his workers and contractors out of their pay, and seemingly using his own “charitable” foundation as a slush fund. They voted for a buffoon who doesn’t care whether they live or die.