The Situation-Room Comedy

Francine Prose

HBO

Offhandedly mocking our inadequate, improvisatory foreign policy in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, The Brink, the little-known HBO series that aired this summer and has been renewed for a second season, is so funny, so inventive—and so fearless in what it has to say about geopolitics—that watching it would be pure pleasure were the events it depicts not so uncomfortably close to the perilous reality of the world in which we live.

A Brutal American Epic

Charles Simic

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Charles Reznikoff’s long poem Testimony: The United States (1885-1915): Recitative is a compilation of case summaries, a sequence of self-contained pieces. These “recitatives,” as he called them, tell the stories of some five hundred court cases from all over this country and deal with a broad segment of the American population, urban and rural.

Climate Change: A Warning from Islam

Bill McKibben

Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos

The real effect of documents like the recent Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change, or Pope Francis’s encyclical, is less immediate policy shifts than a change in the emotional climate. It’s not necessarily that we take what the pope says as Gospel, or decide that because our university sold its fossil fuel stocks we will do likewise; it’s that these things normalize action, moving it from the category of “something that activists want” to “something obvious.” That’s the phase we’re reaching right now in the climate fight.

2016: From Peculiar to Worrisome

Elizabeth Drew

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The presidential campaign has gone from peculiar to worrisome. This isn’t only because of who’s ahead in the polls at the moment, but also what an accumulation of polls and anecdotal evidence tell us about the state of the electorate, and what that portends. Of big concern is whether there can be any mediation between the “governors” and the stronger-than-ever anti-government forces. Will whoever is elected be able to govern?

Mexico: The War on Journalists

Alma Guillermoprieto

Stringer/Mexico/Reuters/Corbis

Given the almost complete lack of trust under which law enforcement authorities labor everywhere in Mexico, it is not surprising that the Mexico City District Attorney’s preliminary conclusion, that Rubén Espinosa and his friend, the activist Nadia Vera, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were murdered July 31, was met with general hoots of rage and derision.

Cuba: We Never Left

Esther Allen

Thomas Dworzak/Magnum Photos

The hoisting of the Star-Spangled Banner in Havana on Friday, for the first time in more than half a century, has been met with perplexing and contradictory reactions in the United States. Such are the two faces of our simplified understanding of the Republic of Cuba: that only we in the US can save it, or that, by our very presence, we will inevitably destroy all the things that make it appealing to us. Neither view is shared by the Cuban people I talked to on the island this spring.

Empty Cities

Pico Iyer

Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket/Getty Images

Any of us could list the differences between the two cities of mirages, Las Vegas and the North Korean capital Pyongyang. The one is a shameless efflorescence of capitalism that is, for its enemies, a glittering symbol of the decadence and emptiness of the West; the other the world’s last by-the-book, state-controlled monument to Stalinist brutality. Yet both cities are products of a mid-twentieth-century spirit that saw what power and profit could be found in constructing mass fantasies ab nihilo

Fukushima: The Price of Nuclear Power

Michael Ignatieff

The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Four years ago, the Japanese fishing town of Namie lived through an experience of malediction biblical in scope. It was struck by an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale, a fifteen-meter tsunami, and finally, a blanket of radioactivity from the nearby Fukushima reactor. As Japan resumes nuclear power this week, Namie is a reminder of the price we must be prepared to pay.

The Buckley Myth

Garry Wills

ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Today’s renewed interest in William F. Buckley, Jr. presents him as having an outsize impact on his time. With biographies in the works, a recent documentary about his televised clashes with Gore Vidal, Best of Enemies, and new book, Buckley and Mailer: The Difficult Friendship That Shaped the Sixties, the interest may, in fact, be fueled by overstatement. Buckley did not make history. He made good copy.

Syria: The Threat of Indifference

Hugh Eakin and Alisa Roth

Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Yet one more horror in a war that has delivered them almost daily, the mass exodus of Syrians through a narrow opening in a chain-link fence at the Syrian-Turkish border this past June nevertheless stood out for what it showed about the sheer complexity of the human catastrophe now unfolding in Syria. The US has accepted fewer than one thousand Syrian refugees so far—more made it through that hole in the fence during a few hours.