America

In 1902, Australian feminist and social reformer Vida Goldstein met Theodore Roosevelt in the White House during her North American lecture tour. Marilyn Lake retells the story of their encounter in her important new book. Seizing Goldstein’s hand in a vice-like grip, the president exclaimed: ‘delighted to meet you’. Australasian social and economic reforms attracted Roosevelt and other Americans ...

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On the first page of her book Hope in the Dark (2004), Rebecca Solnit quotes from Virginia Woolf’s diary: ‘The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.’ Such optimism is, Solnit acknowledges, surprising. But it’s a persistent theme in her work and it finds ...

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The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1791, prohibits the use of ‘cruel and unusual punishments’. General Order No. 100 (the Lieber Code of 1863) declares that ‘military necessity does not admit of cruelty’ and explicitly bars American soldiers from torture. The UN Convention Against Torture ...

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During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama declared that the story of American history is of countless people striving toward ‘a more perfect union’, that most utopian of goals enshrined in the nation’s Constitution. In These Truths, a one-volume account of the entirety of American history since European settlement ...

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As he reminds his readers on numerous occasions in The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime, Harold Bloom is now well into his eighties. He has spent a lifetime teaching and writing about literature at Yale University, where he has long claimed to constitute a 'department of one'. The claim is part lament, part affectation, part boast. ...

Many of us would find it as hard as Shaw’s Ladvenu does to think of any good reason for torture. It seems medieval, it is abhorrent, it is internationally illegal, and it doesn’t work. Statements made under torture are legally useless, and their value as intelligence is not much better ...

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Tariq Ali, proclaims the Guardian, ‘has been a leading figure of the international left since the 60s’. If his latest book is the best the left can muster, I fear that its chances of influencing political debate are minimal – and, even worse, undesirable.

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On China by Henry Kissinger

by
September 2011, no. 334

Henry Kissinger has never seemed at home in the United States, although he has served in its highest councils and received its richest rewards. When I was one of his students at Harvard, we called him Henry, to distinguish him from professorial luminaries such as Galbraith, Riesman, and Schlesinger. He did not fit the insistent reasonableness of the Harvard faculty. His guttural voice, anxiety to please, mischievous, self-deprecating humour, and fearsome views on nuclear warfare made him an almost unbelievable figure of playful profundity.

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Early in this magisterial and exhaustively researched examination of Duke Ellington’s role in American music and society, the author offers a succinct summary of the musician’s significance as an American artist. It is worth quoting at length, as it encapsulates most of the questions addressed over the book’s 577 pages of text and almost 100 densely packed pages of notes:

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The federal government’s intervention in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory is, above all, an exercise of power. It illustrates for all to see that the government can interfere with the smallest details of domestic life in a blatantly discriminatory way, regardless of Australia’s international obligations and professed belief in racial equality. It declares to the world that adult Aborigines can be treated like children. Both the present and previous government would argue, in a time-honoured way, that it is for the communities’ own good.

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