Five Best Sunday Columns

On China, America as Europe's slum, and Bob Dylan's poetry

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Henry Kissinger on U.S.--China Relations. Henry Kissinger recounts his dramatic diplomatic mission to Beijing 40 years ago during Nixon's presidency. With stakes so high, both sides "decided to spend most of the time on trying to explore each other's perception of the international order... Nixon's visit to China had opened the door to dealing with these challenges; they are with us still." Now, as the U.S. and Chine attempt to define their current relationship, the "question ultimately comes down to what the U.S. and China can realistically ask of each other... The U.S. cannot be true to itself without affirming its commitment to basic principles of human dignity and popular participation in government... But experience has shown that to seek to impose them by confrontation is likely to be self-defeating". Forty years since his mission to China, Kissinger advises that "both countries pursue their domestic imperatives" but also evolve together by seeking "to identify and develop complementary interests."

Malise Ruthven on the Exceptional Case of Syria. "The turmoil in Syria," argues Malise Ruthven, " much more menacing than the generally peaceful revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, from which the Syrian protesters drew their initial inspiration." In Egypt, generals reportedly unseated President Hosni Mubarak after tank commanders refused his orders to fire on civilians. But the Syrian government's response has been "both violent and vacillating." And unlike Libya, Ruthven sets forth, "military action in defense of Syria’s beleaguered population would barely attract a shred of international support."  One feature of the revolts is that "the Facebook rebellion seems curiously faceless... There seem to be no controlling organizations or identifiable leaders, and the opposition’s ideological focus is unclear, beyond slogans calling for an end to corruption and repression." The enduring problem for the revolt in Syria is that "while the Facebook generation knows what it doesn’t like, it is far from clear that there are structures in place, or being planned, that could provide the basis for an alternative political system if the regime collapses."

Harold Meyerson on Europe's Exploitation of America. The Los Angeles city filed a suit against German Deutshe Bank for letting many of the more than 2,000 L.A. homes it has foreclosed on descend into squalor and decay, making it, by Harold Meyerson's estimation, the "newest slumlord" in L.A. "But slumming in America is fast becoming a business model for some of Europe's leading companies, and they often do things here they would never think of doing at home." He provides statistics that indicate that European companies are coming to the United States, particularly the South, because "labor is cheap and workers have no rights. In their eyes, we're becoming the new China. Our labor costs may be a little higher, but we offer stronger intellectual property protections and far fewer strikes than our unruly Chinese comrades."

Michelle Alexander on Prison Reform. Michelle Alexander begins her column on prison reform by citing critical race theorist Derrick A. Bell, who "foresaw that mass incarceration, like earlier systems of racial control, would continue to exist as long as it served the perceived interests of white elites." The changed, now favorable attitude toward prsion reform, in that vein, is not because of a sudden care for poor, minority prison inhabitants, but because it suddenly suits the white middle class interests: "In this economic climate, it is impossible to maintain the vast prison state without raising taxes on the (white) middle class." So should civil rights activists ignore the motivation behind the reform, and just be grateful it is occurring at all? That is only a partial solution, writes Alexander. "We will not end mass incarceration without a recommitment to the movement-building work that was begun in the 1950s and 1960s and left unfinished."

David Yezzi on the Literary Legacy of Bob Dylan. In a review of two recent books on Bob Dylan, David Yezzi notes the fact that for all of his "ducking messianic labels," Bob Dylan remains for intellectuals "a subject fit for fine-grained, extended study... No other living musician has generated so much ink." Intellectuals who write about Dylan tend to err "on the side of idolatry," particularly with regard to dressing Dylan as a literary figure, "referring to him consistently as 'the poet.' But this just invites the question: If the subject were Byron, would it be necessary to constantly assert his designation?" But Yezzi finds a divide between lyrics and poems. "Whatever his verbal brilliance, Mr. Dylan is ultimately a songwriter—and one of the most influential and memorable of our age. Touting him as a poet overplays the hand and distracts from his unique power."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.