Paris Pastoral: A City Recultivated

Mira Kamdar

Sheep grazing in Saint-Denis, Paris, November 2018

Located just north of Paris, the administrative department of Seine-Saint-Denis is France’s poorest and most ethnically diverse. Its Brutalist public housing complexes, once triumphant monuments to socialist modernism, are now sites of social marginalization. It’s the last place one would imagine seeing wandering shepherds tending their flocks. Yet here, and elsewhere in metropolitan Paris, an urban agricultural revolution is taking root. When I walked with the sheep of the Bergers Urbains on their migration to winter quarters in the Parc Georges-Valbon a few weeks ago, a group of young men stopped to take selfies with them, and a shopkeeper called out an offer to buy one for 600 euros (they’re not for sale).

Matthew Whitaker: The Ethical Mire of Trump’s Top Law Officer

Murray Waas

President Donald Trump and Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker at a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, December 18, 2018

When Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker accepted the role of overseeing the Mueller investigation, he failed to disclose to Department of Justice ethics officers that, as head of a conservative watchdog group, he had previously cooperated with senior White House aides of President Trump in finding ways to attack the work of the special counsel. If Whitaker had revealed these discussions with the White House and his actions on Trump’s behalf, they would almost certainly have compelled his recusal from oversight of the special counsel. According to a senior Justice official, Whitaker may face investigation by the department’s inspector general over his omission.

The Radical Empathy of Amos Oz

Jonathan Freedland

Amos Oz

Although I had come of age in Habonim, a Jewish youth movement dedicated to the ideals of the kibbutz and steeped in Labor Zionism, I could have decided that the whole thing was a sham, that the Zionist enterprise was rotten from the start and that everything I’d been taught was myth and propaganda. Plenty of my Jewish contemporaries made precisely that move. But then, at that very moment, along came Amos Oz and In the Land of Israel.

‘Roma’: Through Cuarón’s Intimate Lens

Caleb Crain

Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in 
Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, 2018

Roma is an act of understanding—an investigation by director Alfonso Cuarón of where he came from, and of what and who made him—and it’s moving in the way that an honest and generous investigation of that kind can be. The film’s juxtaposition of political violence so cruel and total as to seem almost an act of God, on the one hand, with tender and quiet appreciation of the gift that some people are able to make merely by their daily presence, on the other, made it feel to me like an act of mourning, as well—a pause to acknowledge the beauty of the world that we have lost and are continuing to lose.

The Tender Nostalgia of ‘Cold War’

Claire Messud

Joanna Kulig as Zula in Paweł Pawlikowski's Cold War, 2018

In Cold War, Paweł Pawlikowski deploys his artistic echoes skillfully—his allusions are deliberate, simultaneously affectionate and ironic—but his recreation, however deft, of an actual and artistic era (mid-century Paris and the films of that Paris) doesn’t rival the visceral power of the earlier Polish scenes. By the time the narrative regains a bleaker East, it seems that the artistic exhilaration of the film’s first twenty minutes cannot be retrieved, and that perhaps this is Pawlikowski’s point. But somehow, Wiktor, Zula, and their creator, find a way out, a return, if you will, to purity; and the film’s conclusion is as beautiful as its opening.

The Long War Against a Gay ‘Cure’

James Kirchick

Frank Kameny (center) and Mattachine Society of Washington members marching in the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, New York City, 1970

A Harvard-trained astronomer fired from his job in the Army Map Service in 1957 because of his sexual orientation, Frank Kameny was the first person to challenge the federal government over its anti-gay discrimination policies. Understanding that the rationale for barring highly qualified homosexuals like him from public service rested not only upon the McCarthyite claim that they were liable to subversion, but also that they were mentally unfit, he took it upon himself to change the scientific consensus. Kameny’s most consequential insight as an activist was that it was not the homosexual who is sick, but rather the society that deems him so.

How Slovakians Beat the Oligarchs

Ian Johnson

A protester commemorating murdered journalist Jan Kuciak at a Movement for a Decent Slovakia demonstration, Bratislava, May 4, 2018

Instead of joining Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic in sliding toward authoritarianism, hundreds of thousands of Slovaks have rallied around their fragile democracy. Protesters in Bratislava and fifty cities across this country of five million staged the largest demonstrations since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The government resigned. Reforms were passed. At a time when democracy is under siege around the world, Slovakia’s spirited response is an important counterpoint, a small victory built on luck, guile, and courage. 

Israel and Academic Freedom: An Exchange

Kenneth Waltzer and Mark G. Yudof, reply by Katherine Franke

US student Lara Alqasem at a court hearing in Tel Aviv after her detention on arrival in Israel by the authorities on the grounds that she supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, October 17, 2018

Kenneth Waltzer and Mark G. Yudolf: The most ludicrous claim by Franke is that anti-Israel advocates on campuses are being disrupted and “purged.” There is virtually no example of an anti-Israel speaker being silenced by protesters. Criticized, yes, but not silenced.
Katherine Franke: I imagine that Swarthmore Professor of Peace Studies Sa’ed Atshan would disagree. A speech he was invited to give at a Quaker school in Philadelphia was cancelled after some Jewish parents objected to his views on Israel. Not only that, the teachers who invited him were fired.

A Stay at Kings County

Charlie Gross

From Theo’s poem “Nonsequential”: The year death began to follow me. / In and out of every door… / The year memory is an ivy. / Slithering up my body. / Sprouting umbels of bitter fruit.

The psychiatry department of Kings County Hospital in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, serves one of the poorest, most at-risk, and most diverse populations in a borough that has otherwise become a byword for gentrification. Since 2017, I have been an artist-in-residence there, working on a photography project in its six-week partial hospitalization program for people transitioning from inpatient stays, getting to know the young adults in the program. I have focused on twenty-somethings out of an interest in youth culture, just as I work with adolescents in clinical settings on a daily basis (but not with a camera), and from my background as a photographer touring with rock bands. But it is really because I’m enlivened by the undimmed sense of youthful possibility lodged within the acute suffering found in the unit.

The Limited Virtues of ‘Vice’

David Bromwich

Christian Bale as Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s Vice

The impersonations in Vice are often inspired, and they could have supported major performances if the script had included dialogue of any substance. The gravity of the moral indictment is fatally undercut by the dispensable bright ideas that were not dispensed with, and creeping around the edges is the lazy conceit that we are a nation of morons anyway. More disheartening than all that is promised and not performed is the space on the shelf that Vice will now occupy. It takes the oxygen out of the subject and, for a few years to come, will discourage anyone from making the truer and more somber film the history deserves.