Tokyo

Raymond Carver: Collected Stories By Raymond Carver (Library of America, 1019 pp., $40)   Raymond Carver: A Writer’s LifeBy Carol Sklenicka (Scribner, 578 pp., $35) In the summer of 1984, the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and his wife traveled to the remote coastal town of Port Angeles, Washington, to visit Raymond Carver in the glass-walled “Sky House,” overlooking the ocean, which he shared with his partner, the poet Tess Gallagher. It was more of a pilgrimage than a social call.

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Really, I don’t care if there is an American ambassador in Damascus. It’s true, given the environment, that he might be shot by terrorists. But, otherwise, why not? We had U.S. diplomats in Tokyo, Berlin and Rome until just after Pearl Harbor. Of course, they did no good. But probably, they also did no harm—except prolonging the illusion that America was at peace with the host countries.  Why doesn't the administration just say that we are returning to our embassy in Syria because Syria is a player in the Middle East?

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Making His Way

The Sun Lorber Films The Wedding Song Strand Releasing Act of God Zeitgeist Films   The pace is adagio, the temper contemplative, so it is all the more surprising that the subject is Emperor Hirohito of Japan during the brief period between Hiroshima and surrender. The Sun was made by the Russian director Alexander Sokurov, who is noted, among other reasons, for the slow tempo of his films. Except for his feature-length careering through the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (Russian Ark), he has often chosen to meditate on shots, making that meditation part of the picture’s progress.

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Before Sunrise

When President Obama arrives in Tokyo on Friday, he will confront a country that seeks to be an ally of the United States. For Japan has never been an American ally. It was first a rival, then an enemy, and finally, after it lost the war it foolishly started with the U.S., it became a protectorate, not an ally.   The distinction matters. An alliance is an institution negotiated between two sovereign governments in which each agrees to a series of reciprocal obligations that have the force of law.

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One afternoon in October, a blue and white jumbo jet flew high above the Pacific Ocean, approaching the international dateline. On board was the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, who was on an around-the-world trip that would end with a summit of NATO defense ministers, where the topic of the day would be Afghanistan. Gates was flying on what is often called “the Doomsday Plane,” a specially outfitted 747 that looks like a bulkier Air Force One and was built to wage retaliatory nuclear war from the skies.

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At the opening of this morning's special Security Council session on nukes, Barack Obama opened his remarks with this dramatic vision: As I said yesterday, this very institution was founded at the dawn of the atomic age, in part because man's capacity to kill had to be contained.  And although we averted a nuclear nightmare during the Cold War, we now face proliferation of a scope and complexity that demands new strategies and new approaches.  Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city -- be it New York or Moscow; Tokyo or Beijing; London or Paris -- could kill hundreds of thousands of people

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Tomorrow, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency will release a controversial report about Iran's nuclear program. This report nearly marks the end of 12 years of service by director-general Mohmaed ElBaradei, who, in a few months, will pass the torch to Yukiya Amano. But, curiously, there is little out there about Amano.

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How many times have you heard that the key to reviving the economy is fixing the banks? The thinking usually goes: If the banks are fixed--if bad loans are taken are taken off the books, and if regulations are put in place to prevent risky new loans--then they will resume lending to consumers who will buy cars and homes, and to businesses that will invest in plants and hire new workers. That's probably why Washington has spent the last six months proposing bank reforms, but not worrying about whether the first stimulus adopted is going to be sufficient. In my opinion, that's a mistake.

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To build a building is hard; to criticize a building is, by comparison, easy. For a serious critic, the impulse to write uncomplimentary things should always provoke a bout of preliminary introspection. Does one write from the lofty principle that truth must be spoken to power, or at least to fashion? Will the reader come away from this exercise in scorching criticism of buildings and urban spaces with a heightened appreciation for the built environment and its importance to our daily lives?

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This American Lie

'The events described in these stories are real," humorist David Sedaris wrote in the introductory note to Naked, his 1997 collection of nonfiction essays. The New York Times was convinced: When Naked hit the best-seller list, it categorized the book as nonfiction. The Library of Congress called it biography, and Sedaris assured several interviewers over the years that the book was essentially factual. "Everything in Naked was true," he told the webzine Getting It in 1999. "I mean, I exaggerate. But all the situations were true." Great.

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