Pol Pot

Our very last troops in Iraq have left for home. And, of course, Iraq is no longer ruled by the Ba’athist tyrant who murdered so many people both within his own country and in Iran that he should be counted in the bloody second circle right behind Hitler and Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.

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Write it down. Write it. With ordinary ink on ordinary paper; they weren’t given food, they all died of hunger. All. How many? It’s a large meadow. How much grass per head?

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From “Nocturnes”

Beautiful moon     the murderer begins to sing     The thief takes off his mask     to smell     the heliotrope A junkie steals asters from a rich man’s grave     And spreads them     on the modest mound of his mother A lone girl walks with moonlit haste     in the shadow of     the maquiladoras * Pol Pot sleeps     counting heaven’s lambs     His ex-wife is learning ikebana * A pretty boy dances naked in a cage Twelve or thirteen     he is brown and slender He sings     My father sold me to the hillside wolves For a snort of the white dragon * The sky does not judge     it’s black and starle

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The Counter-Thinker

 The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism By Pascal Bruckner Translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, 239 pp., $26.95) I. Once upon a time, it seemed an incontestable fact that the life of the mind radiated from the Left Bank outward. Within a small quadrant of the Latin Quarter in Paris, an intellectual elite labored to produce magisterial works that lesser minds all over the world received eagerly, gratefully—and by and large uncritically.

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I wrote that headline initially as a joke. In the decade and a half since it first started delivering to our doorsteps everything from bestsellers to diapers, Amazon.com has become so entrenched as an icon of evil business policies that any person who loves books can no longer look upon it with an unskeptical eye.

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Mock Trial

Yesterday, in Cambodia, a perpetrator of one of the twentieth century’s great crimes was sentenced. Kang Kek Lew, also known as Comrade Deuch, was the head of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and was at least partly responsible for the murder of more than 12,000 people.

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The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western MasochisBy Pascal Bruckner Translated by Steven Rendall (Princeton University Press, 239 pp., $26.95) I. Once upon a time, it seemed an incontestable fact that the life of the mind radiated from the Left Bank outward. Within a small quadrant of the Latin Quarter in Paris, an intellectual elite labored to produce magisterial works that lesser minds all over the world received eagerly, gratefully—and by and large uncritically.

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Genocide is much discussed and poorly understood. It is regularly decried, yet little is done to prevent it. It is seen to be one of the most intractable of modern phenomena, a periodic cataclysm that erupts seemingly out of nowhere, often in distant places--Indonesia, Guatemala, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur--where ethnic conflict or hatred is said to have spun out of control. So we can do little about it.

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Thomas Jefferson a film by Ken Burns (PBS) The Long Affair: Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800 by Conor Cruise O'Brien (University of Chicago, 367 pp., $29.95) Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy by Annette Gordon-Reed (University Press of Virginia, 279 pp., $29.95) American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis (Knopf, 351 pp., $26) I. Especially during his troubled second administration, Thomas Jefferson received a lot of hate mail.

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The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust, and Modern Conscience by William Shawcross (Simon and Schuster, 464 pp, $19.95) Great human disasters, natural or manmade, put bureaucrats to a test not only as public officials but as human beings. Normally insulated from the consequences of their actions by layers of government, and accustomed to the abstractions of statecraft, they suddenly are forced to deal with a problem in which every action (or inaction) can have an immediate effect on whether people will live or die.

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