Roving thoughts and provocations

Downing Street Liars’ Club

Geoffrey Wheatcroft

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.

Why the Dalai Lama is Hopeful

Jonathan Mirsky

Rosie Hallam/Getty Images

“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.”

Greece and the Rest of Us: A Discussion

Paul Krugman, George Soros, Jeffrey D. Sachs, and Edmund S. Phelps

C-SPAN

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

Trashing Hadrian’s Villa

Ingrid D. Rowland

Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos

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.

The Curse of Political Purity

Garry Wills

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.

Why I Hate Dreams

Michael Chabon

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.

The Sublime Horrors of Ridley Scott

Geoffrey O’Brien

20th Century Fox

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.

Most Favored Nations

Tim Parks

Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

About 56 percent of Europeans speak a second language, and for 38 percent of them that language is English. In Scandinavia and the Netherlands the figure is more like 90 percent. Even where the percentage is smaller we are nevertheless talking about the most educated part of the community, those more likely to be reading novels, particularly literary novels. Inevitably, as the number of people speaking English increases, so do the sales of novels in English. But not enormously. The surprise is that increased knowledge of English has also brought a much more marked increase in sales of literature written in English but read in translation in the local language.

Why 2012 Matters

Garry Wills

Chuck Kennedy

This election year gives Republicans one of their last chances—perhaps the very last one—to put the seal on their plutocracy. They are in a race against time. A Democratic wave is rising fast, to wash away the plutocracy before it sets its features in concrete, with future help from the full (not just frequent) cooperation of the Supreme Court.