Outsiders must be a little mystified as to why the Obama administration’s nomination of Jim Young Kim to lead the World Bank has kicked up so much dust in the development community. I suspect the casual observer thinks: “Such a nice man, a doctor devoted to HIV/AIDS and to the poorest in the poorest places. Why the fuss?” But picking a new World Bank head is a little like picking a new Pope. The process isn’t just about the individual candidates for the position, but about the overall direction of the faith. And so, the controversy over Kim’s nomination is not really about Kim himself.
You may recollect that at the Academy Awards show last year, the hosting job went to Anne Hathaway and James Franco. She was 29 and he was 33, and there was a vague hope that they were young and hot enough to pull in the junior crowd for the television marathon. It didn’t work: Franco seemed bored, while Hathaway was trying too hard. There was no chemistry between them, and very little fun. So this year the host was going to be Eddie Murphy, but he backed off when the producer’s job was withdrawn from Eddie’s chum, Brett Ratner, on account of anti-gay remarks.
George F. Kennan: An American Life By John Lewis Gaddis (Penguin, 784 pp., $39.95) I. George F. Keenan, who was born in 1904 and died in 2005, and served under presidents from Calvin Coolidge to John F. Kennedy, left as deep an imprint on American geopolitics as any intellectual of the twentieth century. But the exact nature of his achievement continues to elude full or even coherent description. One reason is that most of his very long life was spent in comparative obscurity.
In Washington, on both left and right, a new piece of conventional wisdom is hardening into place: Barack Obama’s presidency is slowly collapsing under the burdens of a bad economy, a rudderless foreign policy, and confusion about how the man who once twinkled with charisma wants to change the country. Even if the president manages to get re-elected, his chance to “win the future,” pundits agree, is probably over.
According to the tenets of current American military thought and practice—that is, “wars amongst the people” fought to win the hearts and minds of local populations—the capacity to have three cups of tea with a local sheik equals the ability to counter and coordinate artillery fires.
Bobby Thomson did not recognize his own renown. No matter that the home run he had hit in a Harlem horseshoe on October 3, 1951, remained 49 years later the unsurpassable highpoint of a national pastime, a life marker for a generation of Americans who remembered where they were when the Giants won the pennant (the Giants won the pennant!) as vividly as they did the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the assassination of Kennedy.
In my last column, I argued that Singapore and China, so often praised for their achievements in education, are terrible models, bad even at generating a creative and accountable business culture, and hopeless in forming the preconditions of stable democracy. Rejecting their guidance, however, does not mean that we should turn away from Asia for insight. The humanistic traditions of both Korea and India offer much that we should applaud. Korea today is the only nation in the world, outside the U.S., that strongly promotes a liberal arts model of college and university education.
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century By Alan Brinkley (Knopf, 531 pp., $35) I. Sometimes human beings bring sociological theory to life. Consider the career of Henry Luce. A child of Presbyterian missionaries in China, he pursued wealth and power with unremitting zeal, creating the media empire that dominated American journalism for much of the twentieth century: Time, Inc. Yet Luce never lost touch with his didactic origins, never abandoned the conviction that his magazines should teach Americans the right way of thinking about the world.
Whining about the World Cup ball is almost as old as the tournament itself. During the last Cup in Germany, scientists postulated that it might “unsettle goalkeepers.” In Korea and Japan, the ball was universally deemed too light and bouncy. This year the now typical smattering of complaints began during the final tune up matches, when most teams were given a first chance to get their touches on it—but the whingeing really got started with Robert Green’s blunder against the U.S. Green, to his credit, refused to blame the ball for his woes, but Capello was not so tactful.