Southeast Asia

Before 2013 begins, catch up on the best of 2012. From now until the New Year, we will be re-posting some of The New Republic’s most thought-provoking pieces of the year. Enjoy. Zona By Geoff Dyer (Pantheon, 228 pp., $24)   NEVER MIND the writing, as superb as it so often is: as agile, as subtle, as witty, as funny, as brilliantly insightful. Never mind the breadth—a book about jazz, a book about photography, a book about a film, a book about D.H.

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McGovern's death reminds us of the longing for unapologetic good-government liberalism and its decimation in a fallen political world.

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Compared to most of its Asian neighbors, Japan seems like a very different society. Unlike in Bangkok or Rangoon or Jakarta, schedules run on time in Japanese cities, and essential services, from street cleaning to tax collection, work effectively. Though it slipped this year from the second largest to the third largest economy in the world, Japan remains, on a per capita basis, far wealthier than China, and, despite years of economic stagnation, its manufacturing firms remain among the best in the world.

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During the Vietnam war, the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in Saigon hosted daily press conferences aptly known as the "Five O'Clock Follies." Every afternoon, an officer would step up to the microphone and announce that up was down north was south, and charcoal-gray skies were perfectly blue. The highlight of these tragicomedies tended to be the recitation of "body counts"—daily tabulations of the numbers of enemy killed.

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The Belligerents

Each year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its affiliated organizations hold hundreds of meetings, at which officials from countries across Asia come together to issue bland, verbose communiqués about everything from agriculture management to the handling of spiny dogfish and to listen to interchangeable speeches by government officials. Along with an inevitable level of boredom, the meetings feature exaggerated, affected displays of courtesy that would not have been out of place at the Tudor Court.

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Over the last few months, China has had several fairly nasty public rows with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State Robert M.

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The Reactionary

Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers By Arundhati Roy (Haymarket Books, 230 pp., $20) In 2009 The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, published a study on death by fire. In the country under review, approximately one hundred thousand women perished over the course of a single year. Victims of domestic violence and participants in dowry disputes were being murdered, and the government was doing hardly anything to intervene.

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The Reactionary

Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers By Arundhati Roy (Haymarket Books, 230 pp., $20) In 2009 The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, published a study on death by fire. In the country under review, approximately one hundred thousand women perished over the course of a single year. Victims of domestic violence and participants in dowry disputes were being murdered, and the government was doing hardly anything to intervene.

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First, Do No Harm

This is the most recent item in a debate about humanitarian intervention.

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Washington—Why is it that every Memorial Day, we note that a holiday set aside for honoring our war dead has become instead an occasion for beach-going, barbecues and baseball? The problem arises because war-fighting has become less a common endeavor than a specialty engaged in by a relatively small subset of our population. True, some people slipped out of their obligations in the past, and military service was largely, though never exclusively, the preserve of males. The steady growth of opportunities for women in the armed forces is a positive development.

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