It's one thing to read debates about Navy budget decisions and the aging of our submarine fleet, and quite another to visit one of our 71 submarines and see what the fuss is about. This November, I spent 24 hours on the USS Georgia—one of four Ohio-class subs redesigned in 2004 for counterterrorism, with Tomahawk cruise missiles replacing nuclear warheads and some missile silos retrofitted as lockout chambers to allow Navy SEALs to exit in combat zones. I came away with a profound respect for the submarine culture.
Many of my expectations were wrong. Happily, I didn't feel claustrophobic for a minute.Read more
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) may be the best-kept literary secret in English—a secret hiding in plain sight. His collected works take up a long bookshelf: 47 novels and 18 works of nonfiction. Once, most educated English and American households owned some of those volumes; today, there are still plenty of Trollope boxed sets in bookstores—probably because his works are in the public domain so publishers needn’t pay royalties—yet he is culturally almost invisible.Read more
The Valley is marketed as a police procedural set in a remote American military outpost in Afghanistan, and it is a page-turner, all 448 of them. It’s also so cunningly constructed that I had to read it twice to be sure I understood everything that was going on—and there are still a few loose ends. But it’s also an ambitious, if reticent, novel about good and evil, friendship and leadership, courage and shame that mainly succeeds.Read more
In Ivanhoe, Prince John is thoroughly repugnant, displaying “a dissolute audacity, mingled with extreme haughtiness and indifference to the feelings of others,” as well as a “libertine disposition.” According to Stephen Church, Walter Scott’s character is “almost wholly a later concoction”—except, presumably, for the love of fine clothes and jewelry that Scott depicts and Church’s archival evidence proves. The reality revealed here is even rougher.Read more
‘Why does the United States fight terror in Syria, Iraq, and Africa but not in Libya?” Idris al Magreibi, 40, a tall, lightly bearded member of Libya’s House of Representatives in Tobruk, was pacing the floor in the offices of the Libyan Mission to the United Nations as he raised the question. He spoke in Arabic, and a member of the mission served as interpreter.Read more
When I finished The Kills, it was not with the sense of the world made right, or understood rightly, that the traditional novel aspires to, nor with the contemporary recognition that the author and I—ironists both!—share a cynical disillusionment. It was with a profound sense of loss, even anger, at Richard House, as though he’d invited me to watch him cook an elaborate dinner and then thrown it in the trash unconsumed.Read more
I'm poor in everything but ironies, and to be truthful, I’ve forgotten what’s so good about irony in the first place. It’s just the resting state of the universe. . . . Irony is not order, but it gives a shape to things.Read more
It’s become nearly dogmatic in academic history that the writer ought to focus as much as he can on the disenfranchised, the “marginalized,” to avoid “privileging” the viewpoints of the upper classes, of men, and of white people. And so anxious are the historians not to perpetuate injustice that there is little or no room for constructing a book that is also a work of art. Often the only pleasure for the reader is in cheering on the revelation of some forgotten unfairness, or the voices of some “oppressed” group—if that’s what rocks your boat.Read more
It wasn’t until I experienced swimming at a Parisian public pool that I understood certain aspects of the French mind. I’ve been visiting France occasionally for 30 years, have dated French men, and I read French well. But a few hours in the water has done more for my amateur anthropology than anything else.
Writing at age 35, on the cusp between youth and the rest of life, I wanted to know what to do about being a rock critic when I was no longer young. (Easy—quit.) Now, 20 years later, and on the verge of leaving middle age, I look to science fiction to help me master the imaginable sting of death: not knowing what is going to happen in the world once we are gone. Though not all science fiction is set in the future, it’s the only genre that can be used to extend the emotional resonance of memory to the future.Read more
Sex addiction may not exactly be an existential threat to the United States, but as this book makes clear, the cultural trend which created this farcical “illness” has much graver consequences. The medicalizing of what was hitherto seen as a moral issue and the promotion of a ridiculously broad notion of addiction aren’t just silly: In last year’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, the term “sex addict” was tossed around as though it explained something—homely maid walks into hotel room, and boom! Sex addict is ready to go.Read more
As shells fell around the Amazigh city of Zwara on the evening of April 3, the city’s five tanks thundered back at its Arab neighbors in Rig Dalin. Men, ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, fought and supported the fighters—and updated the Zwara Media Center’s very active Facebook page. Also, they talked incessantly about the meaning of democracy, minority rights, gun control, and other topics usually left to less urgent settings.
The future here was hard to discern when I was last here in November. Would it gradually descend into conflict between militias, or would it enjoy some level of security? Would the town’s Salafi contingent rule, or would Sabratha come under the sway of a more moderate Islam?
And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away. The superego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and your dreams; or better yet, it drifts into an ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades. It happens to all of us. It’s just a question of how many stops it takes.Read more
Libya—Here, west of Tripoli, the revolutionaries are fighting largely without direction from Benghazi's Transitional National Council. I’m traveling with three Sabratha fighters—Rowad, his brother Ahmed, and their cousin Mansur. The goal is to get to the frontline at Adjilat, where they plan to join a large force campaigning against one of the remaining groups of Qaddafi loyalists.Read more
Sabratha, Libya—I went to the Roman ruins here on Sunday, and they seem to be fine. But it’s true that Qaddafi’s forces were based here when they attempted to defend Sabratha on the 14th of August. And they left behind mattresses, parts of their uniforms, and lots of trash.Read more
Zwara, Libya—We’ve arrived in Zwara, which is about 70 miles from Tripoli and 35 miles from the Tunisian border. It’s impossible to get out in any direction, though one could get out to sea, if one fancied a long boat trip.Read more
Jadu, Libya—Yesterday, around 4 p.m., 10 Jadu fighters, who were attempting to cut off the retreat of a column of Qaddafi militiamen, were killed by an errant NATO missile strike near Badr, Libya. Two other fighters are missing. The loss of ten, who included two commanders, is an unimaginable catastrophe in this closeknit town of 10,000 Amazigh or Berber citizens, which until yesterday had lost just 4 men in the revolutionary war.Read more
Western Libya—Only about thirty volunteers of the three hundred strong Martyr Wasam Qaliyah Brigade are gathered around former Libyan army general Senussi Mohamed as he outlines the plan for the liberation of the coastal city of Sabratha, about 90 kilometers north from Qaddafi’s forces. Crouched in a pleasant pine grove in Jafara Valley, just north of Zintan, they listen intently. This morning, they struck their camp in Jadu, in the western mountains, to join the Sabratha Brigade and volunteers from other cities in what’s planned as a big operation for this Lilliputian war, where groups of 100 or 200 barely trained volunteers skirmish in the streets of rundown cities.Read more
Djerba, Libya—As Saturday night wears on, the young men talk more and more confidently about an offensive they anticipate the next day, the big move 100 km north that will allow them to liberate their city of Sabratha. The mood is exultant, with some speculation that we will move forward at dawn.Read more
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