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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

What Happened To Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

If you were living in Russia, you’d get your news from state-controlled television and radio, and here’s what it would tell you: That MH17 is actually MH370, the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared in the Indian Ocean; it was secretly held at an American military base on Diego-Garcia for re-use. The plane was filled with corpses, not passengers, when it left Amsterdam; and flown on autopilot. Russia was framed (1,540 words)

Gridlock Capital Of The World

Welcome to Dhaka in Bangladesh, the world’s fastest-growing and densest city, with 15 million people and only 60 traffic lights. There is no planned road network, no subway, and 60 separate bus networks. At peak times cars and buses move at twenty feet an hour. The overhead in terms of social and economic costs is crippling. “Alleviating traffic congestion is one of the defining development challenges of our time” (1,450 words)

How Bad Can The Iraq Situation Get?

Interview with Thomas Ricks. Iran has played its long game very well; it’s going to end up dominating a Shiite rump state in Iraq, with a fair amount of oil. America got out just in time; if it still had troops in Iraq, it would be using them to defend Prime Minister Maliki, who is a big part of the problem. Obama has handled this part of the crisis smartly; perhaps because Joe Biden, the usual point man on Iraq, was busy with the World Cup (2,280 words)

Our Libertarian Age

Essay on the decay of ideology. “Ours is a libertarian age by default: whatever ideas or beliefs muted the demand for individual autonomy in the past have atrophied. Since the Cold War ended we have found ourselves in a world in which every advance of the principle of freedom in one sphere advances it in the others, whether we wish it to or not. The only freedom we are losing is the freedom to choose our freedoms.” (4,690 words)

The Temptation Of Despair

Review of “The Temptation of Despair” by Werner Sollors, a “melancholy, disjointed, awkward, but deeply powerful book” about the aftermath of World War II in Germany. Sollors tells of “a society in ruins and a people at the edge of psychic collapse”. He attempts no apologia for Nazism, quite the reverse; but his point is that deserved suffering hurts just as much as undeserved suffering (2,880 words)

Who Killed Shamus?

It’s forty years since “Chinatown”. What killed the classic Hollywood detective movie? Perhaps China: “Detective movies are talky. And often a studio won’t greenlight a film unless it can play in China, which means too much talk is out.” Perhaps Google: “With the Internet everybody thinks of themselves as a detective. Now that everyone can go online and dig up stuff, they’re not as interested in watching other people do it” (990 words)

Churchill’s Last Surviving Daughter

Evelyn Waugh called Winston Churchill “a most unsuccessful father”, which was largely correct. “All three of the elder children went wrong, all of them had failed marriages, all of them were undone by drink”. One died of drink; another committed suicide. The exception was the youngest, Mary, who died in May aged 92 — “the only one who had grown up safe and sound, to live a long and fulfilled life” ( words)

The Writers Who Fell In Love With Fascism

Review of “The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940″, by Frederick Brown, on the intellectuals and ideologues who pulled France towards fascism during the last decades of the Third Republic. “It is as if the culture that, perhaps more strongly than any other, celebrated reason and geometrical order, also provoked within itself a deep, wild, and willfully primitive reaction, a return of the repressed” (2,850 words)

We Need Strong Prisons, But Fewer Prisoners

Expert review of “Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment” by Robert A. Ferguson, law professor at Columbia University. “The solution lies in decriminalization of much conduct that is now criminalized, in fewer and shorter prison sentences, in a more generous social safety net, in greater willingness to learn from foreign penal policies and experience, and in more attention to the mental health needs of inmates” (4,000 words)

AIDS In America: Why So Much Death? Pick of the day

AIDS has taken more lives in New York City than in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined. Even now, AIDS kills 15,000 in the US each year; in Germany and the UK, fewer than 800. America’s greater suffering is due to the cost of healthcare; the clustering of high-risk populations; the stigmas attaching to AIDS and to drug abuse. “We’re a much bigger, much more complex, and much more unjust country” (3,700 words)

The False Promise Of The Digital Humanities

The term “digital humanities” has passed into the language of academia even before its meaning is clear. The minimalist version means simply the application of computer technology to traditional scholarly functions, such as the editing of texts. The maximalist agenda insists the availability of digital technologies should lead to a revolution in the field to which they are applied — that the primacy of writing is over (4,337 words)

Hell Is An Understatement Pick of the day

Report from the “bloody, crumbling” Central African Republic, where Christians and Muslims are at war. The danger is “unequaled anywhere in present-day Africa”. Street lynchings “are so common that they cease to be news”. In the capital, Bangui, the Red Cross operates “an on-demand sanitation service that, within an hour of being called, will show up to collect human bodies, whether chopped up or left intact” (6,070 words)

Four Years Later: Haiti’s Heartbreaking Failure Pick of the day

Notes from Haiti four years after the earthquake that killed 200,000 and left a million homeless. Port-au-Prince was going to be “built back better” by now: That hasn’t happened. “You see the country’s terrible wear and tear, the old buildings in various states of collapse, the mountains turning gray as the topsoil washes away. On bad days, I think Haiti might be a sinking ship, too far gone, too used up to save” (1,725 words)

How Kafka Actually Lived

Another biography of Franz Kafka. But an exceptional one. Reiner Stachs does an “honest and honorable” job of telling the story without trying to impose his own meaning on it. He “offers no key, no code, no single-minded interpretive precept. The ‘Kafkaesque’ is mercifully missing … The biographer excavates, he does not transcend; and through this robustly determined unearthing he rescues Kafka from the unearthliness of his repute” (7,100 words)

The Greatest Ex-Nazi Writer

Who has heard of the German poet Gottfried Benn? Where is he in the anthologies? Nowhere. Yet Benn was “one of the great German poets of the twentieth century”, and the “equal of Eliot or Montale”. The problem is “not the work but the life”. He was a Nazi — if not for long. He writes “from a cancelled perspective”. A new selection of his writing translated by Michael Hofmann transmits his genius (4,580 words)

The Unwisdom Of Crowds

People-powered revolutions are overrated. Protesting crowds provide good newspaper copy and great photographs. But they may not represent the majority, and they are the antithesis of the highly structured institutions — courts, legal systems, bills of rights — which functioning democracy demands. The crowd may have its moment, but the key to building durable democracy is long negotiation, as in Chile and Poland (1,570 words)

How Silence Became A Luxury Product

Technology has “increased our perceived need for silence and created (or at least improved) the means of attaining it”. From quiet cars on trains, to noise-cancelling headphones, to super-quiet Lexus cars, “there has never been quite so great a premium placed on silence”. We crave quiet as a way “to push back against the gnat-like ticking of technology”. Silence, especially in cities, has become “the ultimate luxury” (1,800 words)

Dmitri Simes: We Carry A Small Stick

Interview on the crisis in Ukraine, critical of US tactics. “Yanukovych is a despicable character. He also is inept. He was the principal architect of his own demise. Yet he was legally elected. He commanded a clear majority in the Ukrainian parliament. And essentially the United States and the European Union have decided to side with the protesters. We clearly were rocking the political boat in Ukraine, a country deeply divided” (3,000 words)

Q & A With Michael Ignatieff

Excellent interview in which Ignatieff talks about “the romance of politics”, the realities of power, the place of intellectuals, Iraq, Obama, and the lessons learned from his own brief political career. “A lot of the demands are about keeping some core non-tradeable inner self that doesn’t get sold in the process of pursuing power. That turns out to be really difficult, you just get really bent out of shape” (1,600 words)

Exit Interview: Michael McFaul

Sad on several levels. McFaul resigns after two years as US ambassador in Moscow. He spoke out for gay rights, democracy; which may well have been counter-productive. As he says: “It’s easy to overestimate the coercive power of outsiders when dealing with Russia. Many times I’ve heard from civil-society leaders and members of the opposition that, in the name of a nice sound bite or photo op, we have done damage” (2,250 words)

Matthew Barney’s Mailer Mash-Up

Matthew Barney’s new film, River of Fundament, is a work of “pharaonic immodesty” loosely based on Norman Mailer’s “universally reviled” novel, Ancient Evenings. The “scatalogical excess” will “leave moviegoers covering their eyes”. It’s a mess, particularly towards the end, but an interesting one. “Barney, like Cocteau before him, understands that an element of camp or porn can be just the thing to recharge the old myths” (1,750 words)

Generation War

A German attempt to make a TV miniseries about WW2 hits all the wrong buttons. “The manipulation of sympathy, the defiance of historical realities, the insistence on showing the exception rather than the rule: These are practically requirements when it comes to making a middlebrow war movie. America has made plenty of them; but when the Germans do it, the rest of the world has a right to be concerned” (1,340 words)

Rediscovering Bartók’s Quartets

“There are moments in Bartók’s String Quartet No. 1 when the gloom lifts, when the densely woven musical lines pause for a spot of pure, consonant sunniness. In Beethoven or Brahms these rare and radiant episodes would bring the argument to a conclusion, or summation, before moving on with a new idea. But in Bartók the effect is almost visual. The music has been pierced, like sun through a canopy of trees” (1,620 words)

Sticker Shock In Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is one of the poorest countries on the planet. But the prices of goods and services are up there with New York City. A five-minute cab ride to the grocery store costs $7. Coke: $2. Peanut butter: $4. Yogurt: $5. Haircut: $20. Two-week gym membership: $60. Why? Partly because of hyperinflation followed by dollarisation. People have lost their sense of what goods, or money, should be worth (5,240 words)

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