Five Things to Understand About the Egyptian Riots
January 28, 2011

It takes some hubris to write about events unfolding as fast as the protests in Egypt, especially when it’s clear that nobody saw this coming. Mubarak is preparing to address the nation, and it's unclear what will follow. Here are five points that American observers should keep in mind whatever comes next, while consuming the blog posts, Tweets, and TV coverage of their choice. Revolutions often erupt with little warning. Explosions of popular anger on the “Arab Street” have become a cliché.

Sudan Dispatch: Can the South Reach Its Full Potential?
January 28, 2011

Malakal, Sudan—In the build-up to their historic referendum two weeks ago, all parts of southern Sudanese society united behind one goal: achieving independence from the north. Today, all signs point to this goal having been reached. The referendum’s success shows the promise of the soon-to-be nation of South Sudan: At its best, a diverse people can put their history of inter-ethnic violence behind them to pursue a common national identity.

David Thomson on Films: ‘The Last Command’ (1927)
January 22, 2011

It’s about time for this column to look back for a moment and delve into our library of DVD treasures. The reason is obvious: Most people passionate about film now spend as much time with that library as with new pictures. I’m talking about 1928, a very good year. An odd, sentimental gesture attended the first Oscars—but only those top prizes. The awards were held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929, when awards were being delivered for the years 1927-28.

The Paragon
January 13, 2011

Washington: A Life By Ron Chernow (Penguin, 904 pp., $40) Modern biographers have sought to rescue George Washington from his monumental stature by revealing a lively and conflicted man within. In the latest and best of these recent attempts to humanize the great man, Ron Chernow offers a “real, credible, and charismatic,” a “vivid and immediate,” and, best of all, a “hot-blooded” Washington.

Should the CIA Turn Against Pakistan's Spies?
December 26, 2010

The recent chief-of-station (COS) cover-shredding brouhaha between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate marks an ironic and possibly important shift in the historic affection that Langley has had for Pakistan’s premiere intelligence service.

Waste Land
November 10, 2010

This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that’s more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II—more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent. For most of that time, of course, the United States has been fighting two wars. Yet that’s not the cause of the defense-spending explosion.

In the Name of the Mother
October 09, 2010

To the End of the Land By David Grossman Translated by Jessica Cohen (Knopf, 577 pp., $26.95) There are three major Hebrew novels that record the anguished way-stations of the Zionist experience: S.Y. Agnon’s Only Yesterday, a masterpiece published in 1945, which deals with the early settlers in the first decade of the twentieth century, when he himself came to Palestine; S.

Why Are Athletes and Soldiers So Superstitious?
September 27, 2010

In baseball, streaks are something to write home about: Cal Ripken, Jr.’s 2,632 consecutive appearances; Joe DiMaggio’s 56 straight games with a hit, and—this one’s still alive—Ichiro Suzuki’s ten seasons in a row with at least 200 hits.

The Coming North Korean Coup?
September 09, 2010

In the next few days—perhaps Thursday—the Korean Workers’ Party will begin its national conference, the first since 1966. The meeting, according to state media, will “mark a meaningful chapter in the history of our party.” Some reports indicate that the gathering already started on Monday, with the registration of participants. The event, the third in the history of North Korea, is the result of a national mass mobilization. South Korean sources say military units have been converging on Pyongyang, presumably to take part in a show of might.

Pogroms of Words
August 28, 2010

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus By Frederick Brown (Knopf, 304 pp., $28.95) The phrase “culture wars” has a peculiarly contemporary and American sound. Its very hyperbole captures something about our over-excited political culture. It summons up images of Sarah Palin denouncing liberal elites to the Tea Party convention, or of hippies facing off against riot police. It triggers associations with a series of “hot button” American issues: gay marriage, abortion, gun control, prayer in schools. Yet “culture wars” are in fact endemic to Western modernity.