Karl E. Meyer

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The Chinese Want Their Art Back

Over the course of five days in March, Christie’s auctioned off the holdings of the dealer Robert H. Ellsworth, who, before his death last year at age 85, filled his 22-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan with what was said to be one of the world’s most comprehensive private collections of Asian art, earning him the nickname “King of Ming.” The sale fetched $134 million, nearly four times the presale estimate of $35 million.

Chinese art has become a prized liquid asset for superrich collectors, who, instead of putting their treasures on display, often deposit them in carefully guarded, climate-controlled warehouses.…  Seguir leyendo »

The unexpected timeout in the Syrian crisis offers President Obama a promising opening for creative diplomacy. He can now ask the whole world, as represented in the United Nations General Assembly, to condemn unreservedly the use of chemical weapons.

The same resolution could call upon Syria to surrender its acknowledged stockpile and urge an immediate cease-fire in the country’s horrific civil war. This would oblige delegates from the 193 member states to take sides openly when the 68th session of the General Assembly convenes in New York on Sept. 17.

Unlike the Security Council, there are no vetoes in the Assembly.…  Seguir leyendo »

The French language is justly renowned for its clarity and precision. Yet on a seemingly simple matter its speakers stumble into a fog — who or what can be defined as French? The question arose afresh in the wake of the Toulouse killings. No one doubted that the perpetrator was 23-year-old Mohammed Merah, a native son of Algerian descent. But was Mr. Merah French?

Impossible, declared four members of Parliament belonging to President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right party. In a joint statement, they insisted that Mr. Merah “had nothing French about him but his identity papers.”

Nonsense, retorted the left-wing journal Libération: “Merah is certainly a monster, but he was a French monster.”…  Seguir leyendo »

In a very British if widely unnoticed rite, the city managers of York last Feb. 4 unveiled a bust of a Roman emperor to mark the precise anniversary of his death in their town 1,800 years earlier.

Emperor Septimus Severus, a native of North Africa, had for three years vainly tried to subdue elusive Caledonian insurgents north of Hadrian’s wall. Then, in the year 211, he apparently succumbed to pneumonia at age 64, having devoted much of his 18-year reign to stretching his empire. On his deathbed, when shown his cremation urn, he is said to have exclaimed, “You will hold a man that the world could not hold!”…  Seguir leyendo »

With only perfunctory debate, the Bush administration is pressuring a divided Iraqi government to approve a security agreement that could haunt Washington’s relations with Baghdad for years to come. The “strategic alliance” that President Bush is proposing eerily resembles, in spirit and in letter, a failed 1930 treaty between Britain and Iraq that prompted a nationalist eruption in Baghdad, a pro-Nazi military coup and a pogrom that foreshadowed the elimination of Baghdad’s ancient Jewish community.

The outline of the deal, which has not been made public, has been described by a high-level Iraqi insider, Ali A. Allawi, a moderate Shiite who was a post-invasion finance minister.…  Seguir leyendo »