Joseph Stalin

Alexei Slapovsky’s 2010 novel, March on the Kremlin, opens with a young poet being accidentally killed by a policeman. Not knowing whom to blame and what to do, the poet’s mother picks up the body and, cradling her dead son in her arms, walks almost unconsciously toward the Kremlin. Her son’s friends trail close behind. Across the city, just as the mother is starting her long trek in pursuit of justice, an aging drunkard decides that his brother, who died the previous night, deserves to be interred by the Kremlin walls. So he, too, heads toward the Kremlin.

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During the brief war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, one of the earliest targets was Gori, a nondescript industrial town near the border of South Ossetia, one of the two separatist provinces over which the conflict was fought. Russian jets bombed the city, hitting apartment buildings and a school. A missile thudded onto the grounds of the city’s hospital; cluster bombs exploded in the square. According to the Georgian government, at least 60 people died. It was curious, therefore, that two local landmarks escaped the bombardment entirely.

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Embarrassment is an important element in the pedagogy of experience. There are mistakes I will never make again because I made them once and was usefully shamed. In the winter of 1974, when I was a bright and callow student, and did not yet grasp the difference between knowledge and knowingness, I endured such a lucky education at the hands of Diana Trilling. The subject was the danger of simplification in the intellectual engagement with politics.

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The Waxman Cometh

  Save, perhaps, for his mustache, there's nothing about Henry Waxman that would lead anyone to mistake him for Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s rise to general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party included stints as a Bolshevik bank robber and a commissar in the Red Army; Waxman was elected to Congress after representing an affluent West Los Angeles district in the California State Assembly. Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization resulted in a famine that killed six million Ukrainians; the only person Waxman has ever starved is himself—and then only on Yom Kippur.

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On October 28, 82-year-old screenwriter Paul Jarrico was driving to his home in Ojai, east of Santa Barbara, when his car veered off the Pacific Coast Highway and crashed into a tree. Jarrico was killed. "tragedy," read the headline in The Los Angeles Times. "crash kills hollywood blacklist victim paul jarrico the day after historic apology was made." Almost 50 years ago, Jarrico refused to tell the House Committee on Un- American Activities (huac) whether he had ever been a member of the Communist Party. Jarrico was, in fact, a party member, from the early '30s until 1958.

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