Roving thoughts and provocations

Why I Love Leonard Cohen

Ahmed Rashid

LeonardCohen.com

At Cambridge University in the 1960s, we marched against the Vietnam War to the songs of Bob Dylan, but romanced young ladies to the poetry and songs of Leonard Cohen. Together, the poetry of Dylan and Cohen was the epitome of good taste—demanding political commitment, spiritual yearning, romantic obsession, and a great deal of intense discussion.

The Khmer Rouge on Trial: Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry Responds

Koy Kuong, reply by Stéphanie Giry

Heng Sinith/AP Photo

Mr. Editor-in-Chief:

I wish to respond to an article written by Stéphanie Giry, published on your blog under the title: “Necessary Scapegoats? The Making of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” as follows: First, by saying that “[Cambodian Foreign Minster Hor Nam Hong] was the Ambassador to Cuba for the regime of General Lon Nol,” the writer is really insane and ignorant. Secondly, His Excellency Hor Nam Hong has never been a schoolmate with Ieng Sary for a simple reason that they are from different generations. Third, regarding a 2002 US Embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, His Excellency Hor Nam Hong has already sent a letter of protest to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 18 July, 2011.

Kiarostami’s Tokyo

Ian Buruma

Euro Space/MK2 Productions

Several Western directors have tried to make movies in Japan. Most are terrible. Now we have Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love. The actors are all Japanese, and the story takes place entirely in and around Tokyo. The ultimate modern metropolis, with its neon-lit commercial graffiti and buildings that look like a pastiche of everywhere and nowhere, it is perfect for Kiarostami’s story of closeness between strangers. To most foreign visitors, Tokyo looks uncannily familiar and yet deeply strange. Kiarostami is a stranger in Tokyo, but his depiction of the city is extraordinarily intimate and delicate.

A Victory Over Suppression?

Elizabeth Drew

Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Despite their considerable efforts the Republicans were not able to buy or steal the election after all. Their defeat was of almost Biblical nature. The people, Democratic supporters of the president, whose votes they had plotted, schemed, and maneuvered— unto nearly the very last minute—to deny rose up and said they wouldn’t have it. If people had to stand well into the night to cast their vote they did it. The lines were the symbol of the 2012 election—at once awe-inspiring and enraging. 

What Romney Lost

Garry Wills

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

What public service do we expect from Mitt Romney? He will no doubt return to augmenting his vast and hidden wealth, with no more pesky questions about where around the world it is stashed, or what taxes (if any) he paid, carefully sheltered from the rules his fellow citizens follow.

A Game Without Rules

Tim Parks

Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

In 1904, three years after the first Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to the French poet Sully Prudhomme, the English Football Association chose not to participate in the formation of an International Football Federation (FIFA). They could not see the point. Nor in 1930, the year in which Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel, did England participate in the first World Cup: the English objected to the prospect of a ten-day ocean crossing to Uruguay to play teams that meant nothing to them. The first international football game, they pointed out, had been between England and Scotland, in 1872—a time when Alfred Nobel was still focused on improving his dynamite. Who needs Argentina or Brazil when you have Scotland to play?

The Next Four Years: Avoiding a Standoff

Paul Volcker

Library of Congress

Americans have long been eager consumers and home owners. But there is no doubt we collectively overdid it during the years leading up to the financial and economic crisis of 2008. The personal savings rate dropped close to zero. Mortgage indebtedness grew to new (and ultimately unsustainable) heights. All that occurred as real income for average American households rose little if at all. That’s not supposed to happen in a growing, productive economy. High consumption maintained at the expense of saving and increasing indebtedness simply could not be sustained in the face of the stalled income of the “99 percent.”

Design from Disasters

Martin Filler

ARO/dlandstudio/Museum of Modern Art

As we contemplate the horrific damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, the world of design may seem remote from our most immediate concerns. Yet the urgent needs that follow large-scale catastrophes—the need for shelter, clean water, alternative sources of power—can be particularly conducive to creative solutions. I recently observed that breakthroughs in architecture and industrial design have emerged during wartime; now a remarkable new exhibition in Oslo shows that the same can hold true for natural disasters as well.

Virginia’s ‘Persuadables’

Nathaniel Rich

Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos

There are few acts more debasing than knocking on a stranger’s door and asking for his vote. Picture the scene: early afternoon, an empty residential street in Cleveland, Tampa, or, in my case this past week, Virginia Beach. The canvasser stands on the doorstep bedecked like a jester in colorful stickers. The stickers, which bear candidates’ names, are important; without them he might be confused for a bill collector or traveling salesman. He juggles clipboard, pen, voter information forms, and pamphlets (the “literature,” in campaign-speak) and forces a smile. Dogs growl as soon as the doorbell chimes. If the canvasser is lucky, the door opens. Small children and pets escape, attacking his legs. A wary figure appears: a woman on the phone, holding an infant; a dowager in a flowery housedress; a man in gym clothes who hasn’t shaved in a week.

Cloud Atlas’s Theory of Everything

Emily Eakin

Warner Brothers

Cloud Atlas, the unlikely new adaptation by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer of David Mitchell’s ingenious novel, should do well on DVD, a format whose capacity for endless replay will enable viewers to study at leisure the myriad concurrences binding the movie’s half dozen plots. Better yet, the directors should hire their friend the philosopher Ken Wilber to provide expert commentary. A sixty-three-year-old autodidact, Wilber is the author of an ambitious effort to reconcile empirical knowledge and mystical experience in an “Integral Theory” of existence. It’s easy to see how Mitchell’s novel, with its nested construction, mysterious connections, and perpetually recurring birthmark, could give off a Wilberite allure.