New Yorkers

In the past several weeks, the New York Police Department has been confronted with a scourge it hasn’t had to face for years: critical press coverage. Judging from recent headlines, New York’s relationship to its cops has been changing subtly, but unmistakably. Indeed, the response to this week’s heavy-handed crackdown against the Occupy Wall Street protests serves as the crescendo of a period of mounting public skepticism. But this is one threat that the NYPD simply isn’t prepared for.

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Islam Without Politics

There is good news at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum’s “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands,” which have only been open for a few days, look as if they have been there forever. The ambience is warm and subdued, with frequently medium-sized rooms designed to underline the meticulous opulence of objects created to serve the needs of what were in many respects a succession of courtly cultures. There is no hype, no hyperbole. Museumgoers are urged to move in close, to take it all in.

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I was in bed at a New York hotel when my stock trader called to say that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by an airplane. “A horrible accident,” he surmised, adding “unprecedented” to the presumption. He told me to turn on the “tube,” such nomenclature dating him as middle-aged. The phone rang again: “The second tower is on its way down. And, of course, this means it is no accident at all.” Which was my intuition as soon as I’d heard the first terrible tidings. Moreover, I knew instinctively who’d done the dreadful deed; and it wasn’t a new version of the Unabomber.

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State of the state speeches usually have the feel of New Year’s resolutions. This year, say the governors, the state will be richer, smarter, better, happier thanks to new programs, new rules, and new ideas.

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I don’t know enough. Certainly not in comparison with what I would like to know. When a discussion about classical music demands even a rudimentary understanding of music theory, I am lost. And I lack the skills necessary to follow even a moderately demanding newspaper or magazine account of developments in science. When it comes to literature, a subject about which I know a few things, my knowledge is anything but encyclopedic. And, frankly, my knowledge of the visual arts, although pretty solid in some areas, is weak in others. I wish this were otherwise.

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Empty Garden

On the basketball courts of New York City, there may be no truer measure of a player's stature than his nickname. If a player is considered good, then his moniker will be something straightforward: "Pee Wee" if he is short; "Lefty" if he shoots with that hand. But if a player is viewed as great, then his talent can actually inspire poetry. He will be called "Half-Man Half-Amazing" for his superhuman dunks or "Skip to My Lou" for the way he hopscotches down the court as he dribbles past hapless opponents.

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Titanic

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. "Is he your only child?" I ask. "Yes," she answers. "Do you have a child back in England?" she asks me. No, I say. Her face darkens. "You'd better start," she says. "The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe." I am getting used to such moments, when holiday geniality bleeds into--well, I'm not sure exactly what.

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