ASK WHO IS THE most charismatic Conservative in Britain right now, and the answer will come straight back: Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, once shadow minister for the arts, now mayor of London, columnist for The Daily Telegraph, comic turn-taker, and coquette. And soon to be leader of the Tory Party? Not according to him.
A number of commentators have wondered why the rigging of LIBOR—the most widely used interest-rate in the world—hasn’t caused the uproar in this country that it’s provoked in Britain. The easy answer is that no U.S. bank has fessed up or been outed over its role in manipulating LIBOR, unlike in Britain, where Barclays has agreed to pay nearly half a billion dollars in fines and fired its top three executives. But, never fear, there’s every indication that American banks were up to similar hijinks, and that U.S. investigators are on the case. Names will be named here soon enough.
IF YOU FOLLOW international soccer, you might be familiar with the peculiar English compulsion to vastly overrate their national team. Before each major tournament, high expectations swarm the yellow and the-not-so-yellow press. The punditocracy asserts that the current generation, whatever it may be, is overdue for success. The fans book trips in the hope of a drinking holiday in some exotic place enhanced with national arousal.
EARLY IN Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, the unbearable Mr. Podsnap is shown instructing an “unfortunately born” foreigner. “We Englishmen are very proud of our constitution,” Podsnap observes portentously. “It was bestowed upon us by Providence. No other Country is so favored as this Country.” “And other countries? They do how?” asks the foreigner.
THE LAST FOUR YEARS have created what economists call a “natural experiment” in economic policy. As a consequence of deregulation and globalization, Britain and the United States experienced the financial crisis of 2008 in much the same way. Large parts of the banking system collapsed and had to be rescued; the real economy went into a nosedive and had to be stimulated. But after 2010, the United States continued to stimulate its economy, while Britain chose the stonier path of austerity. The British are no more wedded to the idea of fiscal austerity than are the Americans.
The Inner Life of Empires: An Eighteenth-Century HistoryBy Emma Rothschild (Princeton University Press, 483 pp., $35) BY A RURAL SCOTTISH river on an early summer’s day in 1771, someone makes a catch: a package wrapped in cloth, and inside the cloth, a baby boy, and on his tiny sodden body “the marks of violence” that may have caused his death. It does not take long to identify a suspect, the infant’s mother, who works in a nearby household. She is brought to the local sheriff’s court, interrogated, and charged with the murder of her son. Every suspect, by definition, invites doubt.
Europe’s Angry Muslims: The Revolt of the Second Generation By Robert S. Leiken (Oxford University Press, 354 pp., $27.95) After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent By Walter Laqueur (Thomas Dunne Books, 322 pp., $26.99) In two separate incidents in March, Mohammed Merah, a French-born French citizen who thought he was waging jihad, ambushed four soldiers around Toulouse, killing three of them. A week later, he shot dead three children arriving for morning classes at a nearby Jewish school, along with a young rabbi who was father to two of them.
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson, known simply as Boris to his ardent fans in Britain, seems all but certain to reclaim his post in the mayoral election scheduled for Thursday. But the enthusiasm Johnson inspires is only partly related to the policies he’s pursued in office; it has as much to do with his shaggy hair, quirky personality, quick wit, and idiosyncratic habits. Londoners, however, aren’t the only ones who have a quirky mayor to call their own.
Stardom isn’t normal. It’s familiar, even commonplace—ever-present not only in the realm of actors, singers, and other pop entertainers, but also in the overlapping circles of athletes, politicians, tech “visionaries,” and ambiguously skilled celebrities-as-celebrities whom Americans love to ogle, aggrandize, belittle, and resent. The impulse to idolize is as old as the gods, of course. Jesus was a superstar some time before Andrew Lloyd Webber came around.
To put it mildly, the latest round of redistricting has not been the most edifying experience. Over the past year, politicians have assembled throughout the country to carve districts that are equal in population, but that otherwise serve their own interests rather than the public’s. Protracted litigation has determined, on a case-by-case basis, which districts will be represented by minority groups. And the courts have been intimately involved not just with minority representation but also with every other aspect of the process.