Middle East Peace: Not The Same Old Same

America’s motives in the Middle East have changed. Peacemaking there was a necessity in the days of Henry Kissinger. Now it is a hobby; America has its own energy reserves. John Kerry’s latest mission is “less an act of strategy and more an act of deep friendship”. The White House thinks he is on a “suicide mission”. Israel thinks he is a “nuisance”. If he gives up, Israel and Palestine will be the losers (Metered) (1,030 words)

Parental Involvement Is Overrated

The claim is limited to parental involvement in children’s schooling and schoolwork, not life in general. Even so: “Most forms of parental involvement, like observing a child’s class, contacting a school about a child’s behavior, helping to decide a child’s high school courses, or helping a child with homework, do not improve student achievement. In some cases, they actually hinder it” (Metered) (1,120 words)

Why No One Goes To Naples

The Amalfi Coast is “a magnet for wealthy Russians and romantic Americans”, but Naples itself is “a tourist wasteland” and the rest of southern Italy is “largely vacationer-free”. Why? Poor marketing is part of the problem. The Italian Tourist Board spends 98% of its budget on salaries, leaving “basically nothing” for tourism promotion. “Across the country, tourism is going from being a given to being a missed opportunity” (Metered) (880 words)

Global Warming Scare Tactics

Efforts to raise public concern about climate change by linking it to natural disasters are counter-productive. Alarmist tactics mobilise liberals but alienate conservatives. The way to build consensus is to promote popular compromise solutions. Renewable energy sources should be presented as a boost to the economy, and as a complement to — not a replacement for — carbon-based fuels (Metered) (950 words)

Israel: Sheldon Is Iran’s Best Friend

Iran hopes to ruin Israel by keeping it enmeshed in low-intensity warfare in the occupied territories: “The more Israel is stuck there, the more Palestinians and the world will demand a one-state solution,” What’s ironic is that American pro-Israel hawks, such as gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson, have much the same strategy, if different ambitions. They are Iran’s allies; they destroy the thing they love (Metered) (968 words)

Review: Redeployment

This “hilarious, biting, whipsawing and sad” collection of stories about America’s war in Iraq, by Phil Klay, a former Marine, captures “the myriad human manifestations that result from the collision of young, heavily armed Americans with a fractured and deeply foreign country that very few of them even remotely understand”. Redeployment is “the best thing written so far on what the war did to people’s souls” (Metered paywall) (1,360 words)

Philip Roth: My Life As A Writer

Interview, in which Roth looks back over his work, and declares its recurrent theme to be “masculine power impaired … My intention is to present my fictional men not as they should be but vexed as men are.” His work as a writer is done, he says: “Now I am a bird sprung from a cage. It is now truly a great relief, something close to a sublime experience, to have nothing more to worry about than death” (Metered paywall) (3,100 words)

The Mammoth Cometh

Stewart Brand and Harvard biologist George Church back a project to revive the extinct Passenger Pigeon though genetic engineering. The first step, now under way, is to reconstruct the Passenger Pigeon genome using decayed DNA taken from dead museum specimens; then inscribe the DNA into living cells; and the cells into a living embryo. And if it works for pigeons, why not for mammoths? (Metered paywall) (7,000 words)

A Guest Of Our Time

George Kennan’s newly published Diaries reveal “a cranky old man, trapped in nostalgia and ideology”. He was against immigration, the “mingling of the ­races”, capitalism and technology. But what made him a difficult man also made him a great strategist. “He could muster no empathy at all” for the America in which he lived; as a result, he could see its interests with the objectivity of a stranger (Metered paywall) (2,020 words)

Obituary: Mae Young, Lady Wrestler

“Mae Young — make that the Great Mae Young — who pulled hair and took cheap shots, who preferred actually fighting to pretending, who was, by her own account and that of many other female wrestlers, the greatest and dirtiest of them all, died on Tuesday in Columbia, S.C. She was 90, and her last round in the ring was in 2010 … She was a rough, tough broad” (Metered paywall) (830 words)

Restaurant Review: The Bistro At Villard Michel Richard

Glittering hatchet job. The food at this New York Palace Hotel restaurant is so bad that you have to suspect they are doing it on purpose, a satirical take on awful hotel cooking. “Slithering around the meat was a terrifying sauce the color of jarred turkey gravy mixed with cigar ashes. If soldiers had killed Escoffier’s family in front of him and then forced him to make dinner, this is what he would have cooked” (Metered paywall) (1,360 words)

Race And Democracy In America

John Dewey hazarded that “the best way to judge a culture is to see what kind of people are in the jails.” When you look in American jails — well, you may have some notion of the answer, but even so, the figures are shocking. One-third of black Americans have been convicted of felony. Almost 10% of the world’s prison population is black American. Is the law colour-blind? The results argue not (Metered paywall) (2,170 words)

Edward Snowden, Whistle-Blower

Times recants scepticism, calls for clemency. Snowden was “clearly justified in believing that the only way to blow the whistle on this kind of intelligence-gathering was to expose it to the public”. He “deserves better than a life of permanent exile”. Indeed, “he has done his country a great service” by virtue of”the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed” (Metered paywall) (1,130 words)

What I Did With My Lamborghini

Literary critic accustomed to “rusted-out Jeeps and Volvos” enjoys test-driving a Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4 Roadster. Accelerating from 0 to 60mph in 2.9 seconds produces a sensation “akin to horizontal bungee jumping”. At low speeds “the engine whines like a wedge of pit bulls kept on a choke collar.” Bonus tip: You can grill sausages on the flames from the exhaust (Metered paywall) (2,000 words)

My Dirty Life And Times

Pulled from the archive, because it’s so much better than any of the obituaries of Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw, who died this week. “Goldstein was the archetypal pornographer — bloated, goateed, cigar-chomping, apparently eczema-ridden.” In previous lives he was a radio car driver for Walter Winchell, a photographer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and “an industrial spy for a large corporation” (Metered paywall) (2,000 words)

Crazy Ants Terrorise Texas

Wonderful piece of writing and reporting. In ten years, a new ant species has infested half of Texas. “They effectively terrorise people by racing up their feet and around their bodies, coursing everywhere in their impossibly disordered orbits. They overtake beehives and destroy the colonies. They may smother bird chicks struggling to hatch. They swarm into cows’ eyes. So far, there is no way to contain them” (Metered paywall) (4,900 words)

What A Blind Chicken Can Teach Us About Humanity

Short, sweet blogpost about lessons learned from keeping backyard chickens. “Never assume chickens are stupid. They may be baffled initially by a sudden downpour, or by a short length of fence, but once these problems are figured out, they know what to do. They know the difference between a crow and a hawk overhead, they can tell if a fox watching them from 100 feet away is hungry or just taking stock” (Metered paywall) (500 words)

Q&A: Brian Eno

Interview. Interesting throughout. “By the mid-’60s, recorded music was much more like painting than it was like traditional music. When you went into the studio, you could put a sound down, then you could squeeze it around, spread it all around the canvas. Once you’re working in a multitrack studio you stop thinking of the music as performance and you start thinking of it as sound painting” (Metered paywall) (1,600 words)

Is Glenn Greenwald The Future of News?

Conversation between former NYT editor Keller, and Greenwald, leaker-in-chief of the Snowden NSA papers, about whether journalism can be objective. Keller argues that “aggressive but impartial” reporting requires journalists to suppress their opinions and let the facts speak. Greenwald argues that facts are elusive; it’s misleading for journalists to conceal their opinions; and engagement produces better journalism (Metered paywall) (5,100 words)

Ma’am, Your Burger Has Been Paid For

Fast-food outlets in North America say “paying forward” has become a daily commonplace: Drive-through customers pay the bill of the person next in line. “The anonymity of the drive-through makes it especially easy to pay it forward because it dispenses with any awkwardness and suspicion about motives. The payer pulls away before the next car pulls up and discovers a gift that is impossible to refuse” (Metered paywall) (900 words)

When Renovation Means Erasing The Past

The super-rich want big, white, minimalist apartments and new glass-box houses wherever they live — whether in Greenwich Village, Mayfair or Tuscany. Historic houses are being gutted and demolished to create huge new spaces far in excess of what any person might reasonably use. “Like Hamlet, the rich yearn for infinite space. In the end, even infinite space isn’t enough. It must be the kind of new space that eats away at the old” (Metered paywall) (1,653 words)

And Then Steve Said: Let There Be An iPhone

“It’s hard to overstate the gamble Jobs took when he decided to unveil the iPhone back in January 2007. Not only was he introducing a new kind of phone — something Apple had never made before — he was doing so with a prototype that barely worked. In truth, the list of things that still needed to be done was enormous. A production line had yet to be set up. Only about a hundred iPhones even existed” (Metered paywall) (6,050 words)

Dancing With A Black Widow

What it’s like to be bitten by a venomous spider. “I lay on my back with my teeth clenched and my hands gripping the sides of a hospital bed. A crowd of strangers in white coats filled the tiny room. Waves of pain lapped from my abdomen into my chest as the venom worked its way toward my heart. An experimental antivenin drug was about to be injected into my bloodstream” (Metered paywall) (1,500 words)

Washington Words

Glossary of current American political slang. A “Washington read” means “scanning the index of a book for your name”. Looking over your interlocutor’s head at a party in the hope of spotting someone more important is a “scalp stare”. To “litigate” — in a sense new to me — is “to resolve or avoid bureaucratic conflict”, as in, “We should cancel the speech, but I need to litigate that with the speaker’s office” (Metered paywall) (2,000 words)

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