The publication of Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines in 1987 transformed English travel writing; it made it cool. For the previous half century, travel writing seemed to consist either of grim, extended journeys through desolate landscapes or jokes about foreigners. But Chatwin was as attractive as a person as he was as a writer. The New York Times review of The Songlines ran: “Nearly every writer of my generation in England has wanted, at some point, to be Bruce Chatwin, wanted to be talked about, as he is, with raucous envy; wanted, above all, to have written his books.” I was no exception. Aged twenty, I thought that even his untruths were immensely erudite.
Former New York Times editor Bill Keller thinks it sounds shocking that he agrees with the Catholic conservative Bill Donohue, but he need not be disturbed. Some of us have long thought he was closer to Donahue than he pretended. What he particularly liked is the way Donohue argues that half of Catholics should just leave the church they pretend to believe in. Keller puts the matter even more punchily. He tells the useless half, “Summon your fortitude and just go.”
One of the best traditions of English public life is the official inquiry, sometimes parliamentary, sometimes judicial. What gives inquiries their value isn’t the conclusions they come to, which can be perverse or distorted by partisanship, but the evidence they hear and place on record. And so with the Leveson inquiry into the press. Whatever recommendations Lord Justice Leveson eventually makes, we have been spellbound by the testimony he has heard. To add a certain amusement value, the last few weeks have been notable for utterly contradictory testimony from different witnesses, several of them present or former leaders of the country. Someone is being economical with the truth, or just lying.
“I told President Obama the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party are missing a part of the brain, the part that contains common sense,” the Dalai Lama said to me during our conversation in London Wednesday. “But it can be put back in. I am hopeful about the new Chinese leadership beginning late this year. The Communist leaders now lack self-confidence, but I have heard from my Chinese friends that after a year or two the new ones will take some initiatives, so more freedom, more democracy.”
Following the election of a pro-bailout party in Greece on June 17, the new Greek government being formed this week will try once more to negotiate a solution to its intractable debt crisis that will keep it in the eurozone. But how did Greece get into this situation in the first place? Are other countries at risk of falling into the same predicament? In a panel discussion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art earlier this year sponsored by the Review and Fritt Ord, these and other questions were explored by Paul Krugman, Edmund Phelps, Jeffrey Sachs, and George Soros. —The Editors
I first went to Hadrian’s Villa, the incomparably beautiful rural residence of that most cultured of all Roman emperors, in 1967 with my father. I was a teenager for whom the long country road from Rome to the spa town of Tivoli seemed endless, and endlessly mysterious. We climbed over vaults and crept through tunnels, watched the swans and carp navigate the murky green waters of the imperial reflecting pools, drank in the quiet and the breezes that softened the summer heat. If local and regional officials get their way, however, the villa may soon be remembered less for its ancient pleasures than for the stench of modern refuse wafting through its ruins.
Roberto Unger, descended from a famous Brazilian family, is a respected philosopher, a famous political activist, and a professor at the Harvard Law School. But he is best known now for having taught Barack Obama two courses at Harvard. The professor has released a special video saying that “Obama must be defeated” for failing to advance the progressive agenda. I freely admit that Unger’s principles are better than Obama’s. If I had to choose between them as men of probity, I would prefer Unger as quick as the eye can blink. But in politics we never choose men of much probity.
I hate dreams. I hate them for their absurdities and deferrals, their endlessly broken promise to amount to something, by and by. I hate them for the way they ransack memory, jumbling treasure and trash. I hate them for their tedium, how they drag on, peter out, wander off. Pretty much the only thing I hate more than my own dreams are yours.
Bao Tong is one of China’s best-known political dissidents. In the early to mid 1980s, he was director of the Communist Party’s Office of Political Reform and the policy secretary for Zhao Ziyang, the party’s former general secretary. I recently met Bao at a McDonald’s in Beijing, after secret police refused me permission to enter his apartment building in the city’s western suburbs.
Bao Tong: In America, if you’re corrupt you have to resign. Look at Nixon. He had Watergate and had to resign. In China does that happen? No. Why? Because everyone is in one boat. If that boat turns over, everyone ends up in the water. When I say “everyone” of course I mean the people in power. So in China everyone helps each other out. If you are in trouble, I’ll help you out and if I’m in trouble you help me out. So only in an extreme case like [recently deposed Politburo member] Bo Xilai can someone be pushed out.
Right now it’s nine guys helping each other out [the nine members of the Politburo’s Standing Committee]. That’s the political system. No one wants to rock the boat.
Ian Johnson: I think that group of men at the other table are watching us.
Forget them. They follow me wherever I go.
Ever since H.P. Lovecraft, archaeology has been an indispensable point of entry to the remotest reaches of the universe. In Ridley’s Scott’s new film Prometheus, space voyagers will travel to those reaches only to find echoes of earthly mythology, whether horrendous serpents recalling the fate of Laocoön or titanic forebears proportioned on the order of Gilgamesh. At his best (as he is in much of Prometheus) Scott can really do the romantic sublime. He continually suggests more than the movie’s plot and dialogue can quite live up to, and when he wants he can deliver a boreal blast of the “magnificent desolation” that Buzz Aldrin caught sight of when landing on the Moon.