The Deeply Dedicated State

Michael McFaul

Former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, arriving at the US Capitol to testify as part of the ongoing impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump, October 11, 2019

The State Department does not have a reputation for producing heroes. On the contrary, the department is commonly maligned in both elite and popular stereotypes as the stomping ground of drab, cautious bureaucrats. But President Trump and his inner circle have taken disregard for our career diplomats to a new level, one of outright trashing. Now, though, the disruption of the Trump–Giuliani “drug deal” is a crucial victory for diplomacy—and the American national interest. Ambassadors Yovanovitch and Taylor both championed the fight against corruption and strengthening of the rule of law in Ukraine. Ironically, their courageous actions have also helped thwart corruption and reinforce the rule of law in their homeland.

Why Gay Reparation’s Time Has Come

Omar G. Encarnación

A view of Cibeles Square taken during the annual Pride parade in Madrid, Spain, July 6, 2019

Compared to its democratic peers in Western Europe, the United States is a gay reparation laggard. Despite the overwhelmingly positive press the United States gets on its LGBT advances, the contrast with Spain is striking: although same-sex marriage finally arrived nationwide in 2015 (imposed by the courts), in many other areas of American life, LGBT rights are either weak or under attack. At least when compared to the Spanish experience, the struggle for same-sex marriage in the United States failed to engage the public into a larger debate about the history of homosexuality in the country and about the contributions of LGBT people to society today. One price of the narrow marriage equality victory has been to leave intact and largely unexamined the long history of anti-gay animus, discrimination, and homophobia in American culture.

Saving ‘New Sounds’

Julia Wolfe

The Bang on a Can All-Stars (David Cossin, percussion; Mark Stewart, guitar; Robert Black, bass; Ashley Bathgate, cello; Vicky Chow, piano; Ken Thomson, clarinet) performing at the Bang on a Can Marathon at the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place, New York, on June 22, 2014

So many times, over the years, friends have called me up, and then, in more recent years, emailed or texted, to say they had heard my music on the radio. They’d share their impressions, their experience of listening. I am always fascinated by the different ways listeners hear and interpret music—the chemistry between the listeners’ ears and what I put on the score. Just days ago, when it seemed that John Schaefer’s radio show New Sounds might be cancelled by WNYC, there was a public outcry. Listeners wrote in, artists spoke up, and the incredible thing is that the station listened. I was amazed to see the outpouring of emotion: people talking about the importance of the show, how it was an essential and beautiful part of their lives. Music mattered. Music in New York City mattered.

When Climate Change Moves Center-Stage

Kate Maltby

Matt Smith as M, and Claire Foy as W, in Lungs, directed by Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic Theatre, London, 2019

Duncan Macmillan, the author of Lungs, is one of the most interesting playwrights working in Britain today. American audiences may know him from People, Places and Things, a bleach-bright drama about a young female addict that transferred from London to New York’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2017. With his characteristic talent for fresh dialogue, Macmillan also wrought from Rosmerholm, one of Ibsen’s less performed plays, a darkly resonant commentary on the twenty-teens’ clashes between principle and populism. But where Rosmerholm depicted ideological struggles in a small Norwegian town during the industrial revolution, Lungs, now at the Old Vic, feels as though it could have been written about a pair of Extinction Rebellion activists on London’s streets today.

Lapid’s Complaint

J. Hoberman

Tom Mercier as Yoav in Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, 2019

“Let the Jews find their Jerusalem in France,” so Napoleon said. It’s a proposition that Nadav Lapid’s quasi-autobiographical new film, Synonyms, takes literally, dropping an alienated Israeli expat down in France. Or at least inside a French movie. The last words of its protagonist, Yoav, delivered through a locked front door as an unanswered farewell to the friend he has estranged, are: “You have no idea how lucky you are to be French.” I see no irony here, only pathos. Forget the Israeli “sickness.” The unspoken corollary to Yoav’s complaint is the Yiddish saying, Shver tsu zayn a Yid: it’s hard to be a Jew.

‘You Got Eyes’: Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank’s Shared Vision

Joyce Johnson

Joyce Johnson and Jack Kerouac, New York City, 1957

Robert’s black-and-white prints immediately reminded me of Jack’s word pictures in On the Road. Here was the reality beyond the sidewalks of New York that I hoped to see one day with my own eyes, if only Jack would take me along on one of his cross-country road trips. I didn’t know that he was becoming far too famous to make them anymore. Years later, the images I saw that day would become famous themselves: the trolley in New Orleans with the lineup of white and black faces in its windows that told the story of Southern segregation; the unforgettably stony expression of a lunch-counter waitress in Hollywood. When I came to the empty highway in New Mexico, with its mysterious radiance and its white stripe leading toward some vanishing point in the descending dusk, I thought to myself, Wow! There’s Jack’s Road! “Jack has to see these,” I told Robert. As soon as Jack came out of his meeting, I introduced them.

Bowling with Melville

Christopher Benfey

A pair of ‘pinboys’ posing for Lewis Hine with a bowling ball and pins, New Haven, Connecticut, 1909

In White-Jacket, Melville, surely drawing on his own experience as a pinsetter in a bowling alley, has his narrator compare a theatrical performance on shipboard to bowling a strike: “Ah Jack, that was a ten-stroke indeed!” Three chapters later, however, in one of many violent metaphors in the book drawn from bowling, some cannon balls stowed on board are loosed in a violent storm, and the midshipmen are turned into pins: “The rolling to and fro of the heavy shot… on the gun-deck, had broken loose from the gun-racks, and converted that part of the ship into an immense bowling-alley. Some hands were sent down to secure them; but it was as much as their lives were worth. Several were maimed.”

‘This Is Ethnic Cleansing’: A Dispatch from Kurdish Syria

Khabat Abbas

Mourners attending the funerals of Syrian Democratic Forces’ fighters killed in battles against Turkish forces, Qamishli, Syria, October 14, 2019

Turkey’s plan is to wipe out the Kurds from the border region and, in their place, resettle millions of Syrian refugees, mainly from other parts of the country, such as Ghouta near Damascus, Homs, and Aleppo. They are not Kurds, they are Arabs. If Erdoğan succeeds in this scheme, there will be a vast and radical demographic change. We Kurds will be forced out of our homes, and we have no place to go. Approximately 200,000 people have already been displaced, the latest refugee crisis of the Syrian civil war, thanks to America’s president. And whether Erdoğan wins or Assad regains control, thousands of ISIS prisoners will have fled.

How Brexit Put a United Ireland Back on the Map

Sadhbh Walshe

Murals in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2018

Although the Good Friday Agreement brought an end to the violence in the North, the issues of national identity, civil and political rights, and religious differences that lay behind the Troubles are far from resolved. But without Brexit, it’s quite probable that the people of Ireland, North and South, would have happily gone on as they were, even though that required a significant papering-over of cracks. Now that Brexit is threatening to shatter the illusion, reinforcing the separation of the two parts of Ireland—either by restoring a hard border in the worst scenario, or by placing the North in a customs zone apart, in the best case—people in the South are engaging with the Northern question in a way very few did during the Troubles.

Meriem Bennani’s Party for the Internet

Erin Schwartz

From Meriem Bennani's

Although Meriem Bennani’s early work overlaps with Internet art’s preoccupations—it appropriates the idiom of reality TV, for example, and her one-off videos match the pace of online production—her work remains relevant even as the Internet’s social role has changed dramatically. To net artists of the DIS era, the threat posed by the commercial Internet was primarily aesthetic; it was banal, stultifying, and homogeneous, which made hijacking its visual language to produce, say, a stock image of a Gallery Girls star chugging beer out of a baguette koozie feel incisive and funny. Bennani’s latest work, “Party on the CAPS,” an exhibition of video and sculpture at Brooklyn’s Clearing Gallery, captures an experience of postcolonial dispossession and rage.