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One day in late January, the novelist, n 1 editor, and now self-taught Marxist political economist Benjamin Kunkel left Buenos Aires and flew to Rio.
He’d been living in Argentina more on than off since the recession hit, an enviably high-minded take-the-money-and-run expat in the frothy wake of his novel Indecision, and his travel schedule was like a con man’s, always shifting.
In Rio, he met the leftist playwright Wallace Shawn and his girlfriend of 40 years, the short-story goddess Deborah Eisenberg, who were staging a one-night-only performance of Shawn’s The Designated Mourner for the benefit of Glenn Greenwald, the national-security-state crusader and Edward Snowden accomplice, who lives there.
Not to benefit; for the benefit of. Greenwald couldn’t feel comfortable coming to New York to see the play, which describes the death of liberal culture at the hands of reactionary forces, so they took the entire Public Theater production to him—“A show of solidarity,” Shawn says. Kunkel calls it “a stunt.” But he says it lovingly, admiringly. “Maybe everything the left does is.”
Imagine the Empire State Building. Now imagine tipping it on its side, nudging it into the Hudson, and putting out to sea.
That was the scale of thing I contemplated one day in late November, as I gaped at the immense navy hull of CMA CGM Christophe Colomb, one of the world’s largest container ships, which stretched above and out of sight on either side of me, on a quayside in Hong Kong.
Nearly twelve hundred feet long, it’s bigger than an aircraft carrier and longer than the world’s largest cruise ships. On Christophe Colomb, all of that space goes to boxes.
The ship has a capacity of 13,344 TEUs—“twenty-foot equivalent units,” the size of a standard shipping container. These are stacked seven high above deck and another six to eight below. In cheerful shades of turquoise, maroon, navy, gold, and green, they look like a set of Legos designed for a young giant.
Trying to see where one even boards such a vessel, I noticed a steep aluminum gangway and went up its seventy-four steps, through two hatches, and into the eight-story “castle” that sits above the main deck and houses the ship’s living quarters, offices, and bridge.
This was to be my home for nearly four weeks, as I took passage on Christophe Colomb from Hong Kong to Southampton, England, via the Suez Canal. No passenger liners cover such routes anymore, but many cargo shipping companies still offer a handful of passenger cabins on their freighters, selling travelers what CMA CGM (the French company that owns Christophe Colomb) calls “a thrilling and unforgettable way to discover the great maritime trading routes” for around $130 a day. I had become interested in these sea lanes while writing a book about the world circa 1900 through the life of the novelist Joseph Conrad (1857–1924).
Before he became a writer, Conrad spent twenty years as a merchant mariner, sailing chiefly between Asia, Australia, and Europe, and his shipboard experiences informed books such as Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim. When I saw the itinerary of Christophe Colomb today—which plies a regular eleven-week circuit between China and Europe, taking in Hong Kong, the Straits of Malacca, the Suez Canal, the Straits of Gibraltar, and the English Channel—I saw a track that Conrad had often followed and wrote about in his fiction.
There is the Philadelphia you know and the Philadelphia you will never see. The first summons a cornucopia of familiar images: Benjamin Franklin, Rocky Balboa, cheesesteaks whiz wit.
The second is safely out of view from the cobblestone streets of Society Hill or the brewpubs of Northern Liberties. But if you wander north on Broad Street, well past the alabaster phallus of City Hall, you may glimpse the first hints of that obscure Philadelphia in the emptied husk of the Divine Lorraine Hotel, a sullied spinster with more than a century of stories but nobody to hear them anymore.
Shortly thereafter start the Badlands, North Philadelphia neighborhoods like Kensington, whose row-house lanes were once home to working-class whites whose modestly prosperous lives were circumscribed by the factory, the church, the union hall, the front stoop and the bar.
On a summer Sunday, a trip to Connie Mack Stadium or an outing to the Jersey Shore. Then cue the familiar midcentury forces: minority influx, white flight, factories moving to China, crack, crack babies, the end of welfare as we know it, here at the end of the land, the Philadelphia you will never know.
I drove through the Badlands with Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman, two journalists for the Philadelphia Daily News who shared a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting and are the authors of Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love.
The book is based on a newspaper series, “Tainted Justice,” that revealed such an astounding degree of corruption among Philadelphia’s drug cops that you would not quite believe it in a Martin Scorsese movie. But your belief, or lack thereof, is irrelevant, because this story is true.
In early 2007, as Iraq seemed to be slipping inexorably into chaos and President George W. Bush into inescapable political purgatory, Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli Mossad, flew to Washington, sat down in a sunlit office of the West Wing of the White House, and spread out on the coffee table before him a series of photographs showing a strange-looking building rising out of the sands in the desert of eastern Syria.
Vice President Dick Cheney did not have to be told what it was. “They tried to hide it down a wadi, a gulley,” he recalls to filmmaker R.J. Cutler. There’s no population around it anyplace…. You can’t say it’s to generate electricity, there’s no power line coming out of it. It’s just out there obviously for production of plutonium.
The Syrians were secretly building a nuclear plant—with the help, it appeared, of the North Koreans. Though the United States was already embroiled in two difficult, unpopular, and seemingly endless wars, though its military was overstretched and its people impatient and angry, the vice-president had no doubt what needed to be done: Condi recommended taking it to the United Nations. I strongly recommended that we ought to take it out.
Launching an immediate surprise attack on Syria, Cheney tells us in his memoirs, would not only “make the region and the world safer, but it would also demonstrate our seriousness with respect to nonproliferation.”
This was the heart of the Bush Doctrine: henceforth terrorists and the states harboring them would be treated as one and, as President Bush vowed before Congress in January 2002, “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
It was according to this strategic thinking that the United States answered attacks on New York and Washington by a handful of terrorists not by a carefully circumscribed counterinsurgency aimed at al-Qaeda but by a worldwide “war on terror” that also targeted states—Iraq, Iran, North Korea—that formed part of a newly defined “axis of evil.”
1 According to those attending National Security Council meetings in the days after September 11, The primary impetus for invading Iraq…was to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.
2 And yet five years after the president had denounced the “axis of evil” before Congress, and four years after his administration had invaded and occupied Iraq in the declared aim of ridding Saddam’s regime of its weapons of mass destruction, the North Koreans had detonated their own nuclear weapon and the Syrians and Iranians, as the vice-president tells us in his memoirs, were “both working to develop nuclear capability.”
Intrigued by a study showing parents were no happier than non-parents, Jennifer Senior, a contributing editor at New York magazine, travelled across the country to observe how - and maybe even ascertain why - too many parents make themselves miserable in a quest to raise smart, happy kids.
Newsweek spoke with Senior about her new book, All Joy and No Fun, which explores the many mysteries of the modern family, including why mothers can’t relax, and why neuroscience offers better child-rearing advice than any parenting book.
The Parent Trapped)
A new book by a self-proclaimed sociopath explores a successful life without empathy- and the sociopaths that live among us.
"I love watching animal movies on television, and they always say, don’t run away, and don’t turn your back, and don’t lie down flat. I love it—it’s from my childhood. How do you prevent dying? How do you prevent being eaten, or mauled, by a monster? I still worry about it!” - Maurice Sendak.
In honor of the illustrator and writer’s 85th birthday, Newsweek and Blank on Blank are proud to present this animated short about the beloved, late author, which is based off of audio we had left over from a 2009 interview conducted by Newsweek’s Andrew Romano and Ramin Setoodeh.