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I don’t remember when I came across the site for the NYRB. I find usually that one of their pieces will last one or both rides to work and back on MARTA. I’m linking to a couple of long-ish reads, but I found them particularly valuable.
First, The Surge, an assessment of the almost current state of Iraq, vis-a-vis the Sunnis vs. the Shiite coalition of Mahdi Army and SCIRI vs. the Kurds. The “almost” is that this was published before this week’s announcement that (Surprise! No really, it’s an actual surprise) the US will sit at the same table as Iran and Syria, along with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others in the region, at a conference ostensibly organized by the Iraqi government. A worthy backgrounder on the upcoming conference. There are bits of Bush-bashing in the piece; the writer knows whereof he speaks with regard to the Middle East, and seems to have a clear-eyed view of the positions of the players and what they stand to gain or lose, depending on who does what. The bashing, regardless of one’s partisan position and based on the circumstances explained in the article, seems justified here.
And for dessert, The Master Builder, a review of two new biographies of Orson Welles, with reference to other recent boigraphies and very thoughtful comments on the films:
Perhaps the deepest contradiction with Welles lies in the disparity between the stories he wanted to tell and the way he filmed them. His great theme was how a person’s worth is judged, how a life is summed up, and his conclusions are frequently raw and unsettling. Uninterested in the transforming power of love or the answers of religion, unconcerned with acts of courage or altruism, and, on the other hand, never merely cynical, he sends nearly every one of his protagonists off to his end in a state of loss, bafflement, or rage. Most played by Welles, they are cosmic losers but not exactly victims. The tug of war Welles’s major characters enact with their respective worldsâ€”the way this or that one is fully prepared to start yanking his world apart as he finds himself losing his place in itâ€”makes moot possibilities of victimhood or heroism.