No one needs better health care more than the South, but it fights it off so long as Obama is offering it, its governors turning down funds for Medicaid. This is a region that rejects sex education, though its rate of teenage pregnancies is double and in places triple that of New England. It fights federal help with education, preferring to inoculate its children against science by denying evolution. No part of the country will suffer the effects of global warming earlier or with more devastation than the South, yet its politicians resist measures to curb carbon emissions and deny the very existence of climate change.… The South has decided to be defeated and dumb.
Garry Wills, Dumb America
President Obama has nominated his adviser John O. Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan has operated behind closed doors at the White House for four years, and has been perhaps the single most important person shaping the administration’s counterterrorism policy. Before he moves to the even more secretive confines of Langley, here are twelve questions he should be asked to answer on the public record.

Twelve Questions for John Brennan by David Cole

Photo: White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Arlington, Virginia, December 21, 2011. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

President Obama has nominated his adviser John O. Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan has operated behind closed doors at the White House for four years, and has been perhaps the single most important person shaping the administration’s counterterrorism policy. Before he moves to the even more secretive confines of Langley, here are twelve questions he should be asked to answer on the public record.

Twelve Questions for John Brennan by David Cole

Photo: White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan, Arlington, Virginia, December 21, 2011. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Zero Dark Thirty was constructed to bring viewers to the edges of their seats, and for many viewers it has succeeded in that respect. Its faults as journalism matter because they may well affect the unresolved public debate about torture, to which the film makes a distorted contribution.

Steve Coll: ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures)

Zero Dark Thirty was constructed to bring viewers to the edges of their seats, and for many viewers it has succeeded in that respect. Its faults as journalism matter because they may well affect the unresolved public debate about torture, to which the film makes a distorted contribution.

Steve Coll: ‘Disturbing’ & ‘Misleading’

Photo: Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal on the set of Zero Dark Thirty (Jonathan Olley/Columbia Pictures)

The Oscar nominations have been announced. Here’s what our critics had to say about several films in contention.

Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western about slavery got nominations for best picture and for supporting actor Christoph Walz. Christopher Benfey found it a film ”in love with European allusions,” from Wagner to Dumas.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The first installment of Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s The Hobbit earned a nod for best visual effects, which J. Hoberman predicted. The movie “features endless digital battles predicated on space-warping virtual camera moves and chute-and-ladder sudden escapes.” 

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The fantastical tale of a young New Orleans girl is up for best picture and best adapted screenplay. The film’s star, Quvenzhané Wallis, is up for best actress for her portrayal of Hushpuppy which Geoffrey O’Brien called "intense, unflinching, incapable of meek submission."

Amour
Michael Haneke’s film portrays a happily married Parisian couple dealing with "the shocks, the cruelties and indignities" of old age, writes Francine Prose. She said the French film, up for best picture, “stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.”

The Master
Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for best actor, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for best supporting actor, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s story of a cult leader. The character of Freddie Quell, Geoffrey O’Brien writes, is “a mass of tics and sexual compulsions who improvises his life from second to second. As played by Joaquin Phoenix—‘played’ seems too light a word—he inhabits his body as if it were ill-fitting armor he’d been saddled with.”

Lincoln
Steven Spielberg’s epic had the most Oscar nominations with twelve, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. “The combination of Lincoln’s many elements is effected with a deliberation and exactness that consistently skirts the abyss of empty heart-stirring sentiment, the favorite destination of patriotic epics,” writes Geoffrey O’Brien of its depiction of the early months of 1865. Daniel Day-Lewis also received a nod for his portrayal, which David Bromwich called "a commanding performance and a credible one."

The Oscar nominations have been announced. Here’s what our critics had to say about several films in contention.

Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western about slavery got nominations for best picture and for supporting actor Christoph Walz. Christopher Benfey found it a film ”in love with European allusions,” from Wagner to Dumas.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The first installment of Peter Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s The Hobbit earned a nod for best visual effects, which J. Hoberman predicted. The movie “features endless digital battles predicated on space-warping virtual camera moves and chute-and-ladder sudden escapes.”

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The fantastical tale of a young New Orleans girl is up for best picture and best adapted screenplay. The film’s star, Quvenzhané Wallis, is up for best actress for her portrayal of Hushpuppy which Geoffrey O’Brien called "intense, unflinching, incapable of meek submission."

Amour
Michael Haneke’s film portrays a happily married Parisian couple dealing with "the shocks, the cruelties and indignities" of old age, writes Francine Prose. She said the French film, up for best picture, “stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.”

The Master
Joaquin Phoenix was nominated for best actor, and Philip Seymour Hoffman for best supporting actor, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s story of a cult leader. The character of Freddie Quell, Geoffrey O’Brien writes, is “a mass of tics and sexual compulsions who improvises his life from second to second. As played by Joaquin Phoenix—‘played’ seems too light a word—he inhabits his body as if it were ill-fitting armor he’d been saddled with.”

Lincoln
Steven Spielberg’s epic had the most Oscar nominations with twelve, including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay. “The combination of Lincoln’s many elements is effected with a deliberation and exactness that consistently skirts the abyss of empty heart-stirring sentiment, the favorite destination of patriotic epics,” writes Geoffrey O’Brien of its depiction of the early months of 1865. Daniel Day-Lewis also received a nod for his portrayal, which David Bromwich called "a commanding performance and a credible one."

Jonathan Mirsky: I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in Southern Weekend, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. It is all too similar to the disciplining in April 1989 of another Chinese paper, The World Economic Herald in Shanghai, and its editor, Qin Benli—events that played an important part in the gathering unrest in Tiananmen Square.

The Old Fears of China’s New Leaders

Photo: Students protesting in Tiananmen Square following the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, Beijing, April, 1989 (Rene Burri/Magnum Photos)

Jonathan Mirsky: I felt a shudder of déjà vu watching the mounting protests inside China this week of the Communist Party for censoring an editorial in Southern Weekend, a well-known liberal newspaper in the southern city of Guangzhou. It is all too similar to the disciplining in April 1989 of another Chinese paper, The World Economic Herald in Shanghai, and its editor, Qin Benli—events that played an important part in the gathering unrest in Tiananmen Square.

The Old Fears of China’s New Leaders

Photo: Students protesting in Tiananmen Square following the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, Beijing, April, 1989 (Rene Burri/Magnum Photos)

Happy birthday, Stephen Hawking

Martin Gardner had this to say of the legendary physicist back in 1988: “He is already a legend, not just because of his brilliant contributions to theoretical physics, but also for his courage, optimism, and humor in the face of a crippling illness. Lou Gehrig’s disease may be gnawing away at his body, but it has left his mind intact.”

The Ultimate Turtle by Martin Gardner

Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is the ultimate horror film. With its portrayal of the shocks, the cruelties and indignities to which old age and disease subject a happily married Parisian couple, it’s far scarier and more disturbing than Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ or Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and like those films, it stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.

Francine Prose: A Masterpiece You Might Not Want to See

Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’ is the ultimate horror film. With its portrayal of the shocks, the cruelties and indignities to which old age and disease subject a happily married Parisian couple, it’s far scarier and more disturbing than Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’ or Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ and like those films, it stays with you long after you might have chosen to forget it.

Francine Prose: A Masterpiece You Might Not Want to See

It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here what further escalation means to the people of Sderot, and the surrounding region, what it means to live in a war zone constantly. It’s easier to endure three weeks of war than to survive a never-ending conflict. It’s the continuum, the passing years, the cumulative experience, the resurfacing anxieties, the trauma with no post-trauma.
Nomika Zion, in a letter to Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu she wrote during the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in November. She is the founder of Migvan and member of a grassroots organization of citizens from Sderot who call for a nonviolent solution to the ongoing conflict.
One measure of how complicated Egyptian politics has become is that hardly anyone was surprised by the outcome of the constitutional referendum in late December. Amid the largest anti-government protests since the 2011 revolution, and following defections from his own cabinet and supporters, President Mohamed Morsi orchestrated a 64 percent approval vote for a new constitution. It had been hastily drawn up by his political allies and subjected to withering criticism; and there was low voter turnout and widespread indications of tampering. Nonetheless, the result seemed to show that, for all the millions of Egyptians who have lost patience with the new leadership, there are many others who continue to crave stability, even if the price is another authoritarian government.
Yasmine El Rashidi, Egypt: Whose Constitution?
The tidy little endings in sitcoms are reassuring us, much of the time, that the characters are not alone even when they remain romantically unattached and hapless; they have friends, family, colleagues—stability, in other words, even without being married. Sitcoms offer a salve for the bruises of urban single life.

Elaine Blair: Single Women and the Sitcom

The tidy little endings in sitcoms are reassuring us, much of the time, that the characters are not alone even when they remain romantically unattached and hapless; they have friends, family, colleagues—stability, in other words, even without being married. Sitcoms offer a salve for the bruises of urban single life.

Elaine Blair: Single Women and the Sitcom

The strenuous debate between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner over how to stave off the $700 billion or so of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled for 2013 is obscuring a larger and far more disturbing issue: whichever way the negotiations go, the result will be slow economic growth next year at best, and possibly outright recession.
Heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery, The Hobbit has also been ballyhooed for introducing a new technology. Projected at forty-eight frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four, Jackson’s movie bombards the retina with twice the visual information of a standard film. Does it matter? It does seem as though this innovation has solved the problem of the dark polaroid glasses needed for stereo visions. The 3D struck me as brighter, if disconcertingly sharp. Others have described the image quality as thin or shiny. (The critic Dave Kehr called it “a heightened video look.”) In any case, this improvement was overwhelmed by the repetitive violence of the digital carnage and the ugliness of the CGI.

J. Hoberman on Tolkien vs. Technology

Photo: Martin Freeman, left, and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Heavily dependent on computer-generated imagery, The Hobbit has also been ballyhooed for introducing a new technology. Projected at forty-eight frames per second rather than the usual twenty-four, Jackson’s movie bombards the retina with twice the visual information of a standard film. Does it matter? It does seem as though this innovation has solved the problem of the dark polaroid glasses needed for stereo visions. The 3D struck me as brighter, if disconcertingly sharp. Others have described the image quality as thin or shiny. (The critic Dave Kehr called it “a heightened video look.”) In any case, this improvement was overwhelmed by the repetitive violence of the digital carnage and the ugliness of the CGI.

J. Hoberman on Tolkien vs. Technology

Photo: Martin Freeman, left, and Andy Serkis on the set of The Hobbit (Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Exactly two years have passed since the self-immolation of a fruit-seller in a depressed provincial town spurred Tunisians to topple their authoritarian president. But the mood on the anniversary of that richly symbolic martyrdom is somber, even defeatist. To many Tunisians, the goals that animated the revolution no longer seem within reach.

Christopher de Bellaigue, Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’

Photo: Protesters against the UGTT labor union and the former ruling party, Tunis, December 8, 2012 (Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/Corbis)

Exactly two years have passed since the self-immolation of a fruit-seller in a depressed provincial town spurred Tunisians to topple their authoritarian president. But the mood on the anniversary of that richly symbolic martyrdom is somber, even defeatist. To many Tunisians, the goals that animated the revolution no longer seem within reach.

Christopher de Bellaigue, Tunisia: ‘Did We Make the Revolution For This?’

Photo: Protesters against the UGTT labor union and the former ruling party, Tunis, December 8, 2012 (Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/Corbis)

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience.
Zadie Smith on joy