In 1992 I was chairman of the History Department at New York University—where I was also the only unmarried straight male under sixty. A combustible blend: prominently displayed on the board outside my office was the location and phone number of the university’s Sexual Harassment Center. History was a fast-feminizing profession, with a graduate community primed for signs of discrimination—or worse. Physical contact constituted a presumption of malevolent intention; a closed door was proof positive.
Whatever else you might say about John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who drafted several memos in 2002 authorizing the CIA to commit torture, you have to admit that he’s not in the least embarrassed by the condemnation of his peers. On February 19, the Justice Department released a set of previously confidential reports by its Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) excoriating Yoo’s legal work—but stopped short of referring him for professional discipline by his state bar association. Since then Yoo has written Op-Eds for The Wall Street Journal and The Philadelphia Inquirer trumpeting his “victory.” In the Wall Street Journal piece, entitled “My Gift to the Obama Presidency,” Yoo argued that President Obama owes him a debt of gratitude for “winning a drawn-out fight to protect his powers as commander in chief to wage war and keep Americans safe.” Four days later, in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yoo called the decision not to refer him for bar discipline “a victory for the people fighting the war on terror.”
British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy.
One of the most well-intentioned artistic initiatives ever undertaken by the United States government has turned out to be among its least successful: the embassy design program meant to present America’s best architectural face abroad. The latest evidence of this effort’s often dispiriting outcome is the selection of the little-known Philadelphia firm of KieranTimberlake to create a new US embassy in London.
Since President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama on February 18, the details of the closely-watched encounter have been carefully parsed, from the history of the room in which the two men met (the White House Map Room, an apparent indicator that a meeting is private, yet not personal) to the absence of the First Lady (making the meeting more official), and the serving of tea (making it less formal). Even the garbage bags that the Dalai Lama passed on his exit (seen as either incompetence by White House staff or a veiled message to Beijing) and the Dalai Lama’s flip-flops (seen as a metaphor for his policies or a rebuttal to Rupert Murdoch’s claim that the Tibetan leader wears Gucci shoes) were debated.
In New Delhi last week the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan met for the first time since the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008; the official talks concluded with both sides arguing over what they should talk about. India demanded that Islamabad prosecute the Pakistani militants responsible for the Mumbai attacks more vigorously. Pakistan insisted that the core issue between the two countries remains the India-held Muslim majority valley of Kashmir, where, out of a population of some 7.6 million people, more than 80,000 people have died since an insurgency supported by Pakistan began in 1989.
In “The Anger of Exile,” from the March 25 issue of The New York Review, Colm Tóibín discusses two recent novels by writers from Lebanon now living in North America. One of them is Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati, set in a Lebanon that is, according to Tóibín, “rendered in luscious, luxuriant detail, with an extraordinary sense of felt life both in the present and in the remembered past, as though Bonnard were an abiding spirit here.” But in Alameddine’s novel, Tóibín writes, “always there is the legacy of war, like gray or black pigment, both in the narrator’s memory and in the very gaps between buildings, the ‘shards of metal, twisted rubble, strips of tile, and broken glass’ that are still ‘scattered across piles of dirt.’”
I am one of a team that has been redesigning the Greek and Roman Galleries in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. We’ve finished—and a couple of weeks ago the new display opened to the public. This is nothing on the scale of the new Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, of course. But, after the British Museum and the Ashmolean in Oxford (also recently “re-hung”), the Fitz has the best collection of classical antiquities in the UK—thanks to generous donations since the mid-nineteenth century from professors and alumni of the University.
I met a friend for lunch the other day at The Morgan Library. In honor of their Jane Austen exhibit, they are serving a Regency lunch. Whenever I hear the word Regency, I think not of Jane Austen, but of Dickens’s Old Mr. Turveydrop, celebrated everywhere for his Deportment, who named his son Prince. I don’t know if Old Mr. Turveydrop would have approved, but we thought it was a delicious Regency lunch—Poached Atlantic Salmon, Fricassee of Macomber Turnips & Mushrooms, Mustard Greens, Baked Apple Cobbler—though what exactly about the menu qualified as Regency is somewhat obscure. The turnips? I have never eaten more delicious turnips. I happily imagined Jane Austen eating delicate, sweet Macomber turnips, too. But at home, after a little on-line research, I came to realize how unlikely it is that she did—Macomber turnips seem to be a cross breed of radishes and rutabagas developed by the two Macomber brothers in Westport, Massachussetts in 1876.
Hitler’s Third Reich produced no great films. Leni Riefenstahl was a brilliant innovator and superb editor, with an extraordinary gift for visual effects, but I would hesitate to call Triumph of the Will, or even Olympia great films, unless greatness can be confined to technical prowess. Nazi Germany did not have the equivalent of an Eisenstein or Pudovkin, who still managed to create masterpieces out of political propaganda. Perhaps this reflects a difference between National Socialism and Communism, even though Stalin was no less murderous than Hitler. Great work can still emerge from the utopian ideal of the workers’ paradise. It is harder to imagine artistic excellence arising from violent racism. D.W. Griffith’s white supremacist movie The Birth of a Nation is a possible exception to this rule, but this film, too, is more remarkable for its technical innovation than anything else.