As the debt ceiling fiasco continues unresolved and increasingly dangerous, with no agreement among the House, the Senate and the White House yet in sight, an obscure and forgotten constitutional clause has suddenly come under scrutiny. The Fourteenth Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, provides that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.” Does that clause mean that it is unconstitutional for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling – the amount the nation is legally permitted to borrow – in our present circumstances, and that the President is therefore constitutionally permitted to borrow money on his own authority?
It may seem frivolous to speak of a favorite book in the Bible but mine is Jonah, by far. A sly masterpiece of four brief chapters, Jonah reverberates in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick,, where it is the text for Father Mapple’s grand sermon. Tucked away in the Book of the Twelve, with such fierce prophets as Amos and Micah, Jonah is out of place. It should be with the Writings—Song of Songs, Job, Koheleth—because it too is a literary sublimity, almost the archetypal parable masking as short story.
After the elder Murdoch declared how “humbled” he was by all that had happened, he told his questioners, in effect, that he’s always played a humble role in the running of his papers: he telephoned the editor of the Sunday News of the World only twice a month, each time saying, “I’m not interfering.” Having worked for four years, from 1993 to 1997, as the East Asia editor of Murdoch’s Times, I have my doubts about this. I watched our proprietor trying to blandish and spend his way into the People’s Republic, and for some years insure that his interests dictated the kinds of stories about China that appeared in his paper.
In early July the words “Hitler was right” were painted on the memorial stone to the 72,000 Jews who were murdered at the Ponary Forest near Vilnius in Lithuania. On another monument close by, a vulgar reference was made to the compensation the Lithuanian government has made to the descendants of murdered Jews. No one seems to have noticed.
The real story is not Murdoch’s papers and the repulsive methods used by their reporters: it’s the force and blatancy of Murdoch’s political influence through those papers. Although responsibility for the appalling conduct of his papers ultimately rests with Murdoch, the blame for the way he has exercised so much indirect political power lies with those politicians who have for so long knelt before him. Cameron is the latest, and may yet prove the greatest casualty. But it must be said that not even Cameron was as cynical and unprincipled in his dealings with Murdoch as Tony Blair had been.
Like many of the masterpieces of Western culture to which it humbly invites comparison—Ulysses, Endgame, Pierrot Le Fou—Michael Winterbottom’s new movie, The Trip, does not sound promising in paraphrase. Two successful middle-aged actors take a tour of high-end restaurants in the North of England in order to write an article for The Observer newspaper. The pair bicker, trade impersonations of their cinematic heroes, struggle to come up with interesting things to say about the finicky and pretentious meals they are fed (“Hotter than I would’ve expected,” etc.), and that is more or less it. It is hard to say exactly how Winterbottom and his two leading men transmute this rather lenten premise into the artistic feast The Trip becomes, but humor certainly plays a large part. After a comparatively tame first quarter of an hour, the theater where I went to see it was engulfed in a ninety-minute tsunami of laughter.
During the Cold War, Western nations supported numerous African tyrants who brutalized their own people and held economic and social development back for decades. This did our international reputation no good, and helped create some of the most serious foreign policy problems we face today. Now it seems, we are doing it again in Uganda.
Who knows in how many directorial breasts a conflict rages between a desire for intimacy and the yearning for the very grandest of effects? On the one hand, there is the ambition to mount, in the smallest of theaters, a drama of the most intense kind, in which the actors are never obliged to raise their voices to suit the acoustics of the space, because nothing is going to be missed. Working through improvisation, perhaps, or through other revered techniques of self-discovery, the performers arrive at dangerous levels of intensity and verisimilitude.
If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud—never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desired results.
If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.
Grover Norquist is the powerful president of Americans for Tax Reform (where reform means elimination). He issues to all Republican candidates and office holders Taxpayer Protection Pledges—a promise never, under any conditions, to support the raising of a tax—and then he monitors and reports the performance of those who have taken the pledge, as almost all Republicans in Congress have. That, in effect, puts a ban on congressional discussion of tax income, since the Republican bloc has pledged not even to consider it. The idea of committing candidates to a rigid position as a condition of their being elected seems to be catching on.