Tokyo

The most cunning, odious and successful of Gore Vidal’s provocations was surely a mid-career contribution to a special issue of The Nation in 1986, marking the magazine’s one-hundred-twentieth anniversary. The essay was called “The Empire Lovers Strike Back” and is best read today in conjunction with a previous Nation essay from the same year, “The American Empire Ran Out of Gas,” and a clarifying subsequent commentary in The Sunday Telegraph in 1993 called “Race Against Time,” all of which he went on to reprint in his essay collections, perhaps under different titles.

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Aurora and Batman

How startling to see the speed with which the film business can respond to audience taste. Within hours of the massacre at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, (far quicker than the removal of the Joe Paterno statue), Warner Brothers were in action. Premieres in Paris and Tokyo were cancelled. Most of the players in the movie—writer-director Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, and Anne Hathaway—issued statements of sorrow.

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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. For any number of pundits, policymakers, and scholars, the new next hot thing, in countries developed and developing, is The City—or, more expansively and more precisely, the megalopolis and its little brother, the metropolis.

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It is increasingly well understood that cities are the primary location and mechanism of innovation and, in turn, prosperity (see “The Triumph of the City” or urban scaling). But which cities are the most innovative on earth? For a long time, getting sub-national economic data for a large number of countries was impossible, but no longer. New data from the OECD show which cities have the most inventors in the world, measured by those who apply for patent protection in multiple countries (under the Patent Cooperation Treaty).

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When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit northeastern Japan one year ago, triggering a massive tsunami that claimed close to 20,000 lives and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the government, relief agencies, and people around the world were quick to offer their support and aid. Many hoped for speedy rebuilding of the devastated region, while others saw the catastrophes as proof that Japan needed to rethink its energy policy.

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There is a temptation to think of the two Koreas as twins. But certainly not identical twins. After Japan surrendered to the United States and the Soviet Union in August 1945 (the Soviets had only been in the war for days … really just for days!), battered Tokyo relinquished the peninsula it had seized and brutalized from 1910 onwards. Korea had gone through nearly a half century of both imperialism and colonialism, quite different manifestations of similar instincts, and was left again as a captive nation. With a difference, of course.

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The Front Line Norwegian Wood Khodorkovsky It used to be said that, paradoxically, a war film, even if its intent was anti-war, unavoidably conveyed excitements that were attractive. This paradox has seemed in recent years to be dwindling. For prime instance, Clint Eastwood’s companion films Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima were as bareboned and glory-free (yet appreciative) as possible. Generalizations are risky in this vast genre, but at least some relatively recent war films have tried to be unseductive. Such is The Front Line from South Korea.

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Radiation in Tokyo has not reached anything like harmful or even worrisome levels. And, although packaged foods have largely disappeared from convenience stores and some supermarkets, fresh food continues to be widely available. Indeed, there may be too much of it. The chef at the sushi shop where I had lunch on Friday complained that he couldn’t sell all the fish he had stock-piled—people were going home early rather than stopping by for a couple of beers and a round of nigiri-zushi before heading for the station. But this crisis threatens Tokyo’s inhabitants in more subtle ways.

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Beijing, China—Despite nuclear, geological and logistical disasters unfolding simultaneously, deciding to leave Tokyo on Monday was not a quick decision. My departure was no reflection of the endurance of the Japanese people to overcome this disaster. No doubt, within the nuclear power plants, there are sleepless men, everyday working men, continuing at tremendous personal peril to ensure the safety of millions. Heroic seems an understatement to describe their efforts, and they are not alone. I left because, unlike so many people there, I could—a lucky privilege I did not take for granted.

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&c

-- A dispatch from a TNR contributor in Tokyo. -- Lobbyist and now Fox News pundit Evan Bayh may still have enough time free in his schedule to work in a side gig as baby seal clubber. -- "I know people say that I have a testy relationship with the media -- but how can that be? I hardly ever see you" - President Obama speaks to the Gridiron Club.

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