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Author Interview

Nazism: How It Could Happen Again

September 27th 2016

Holocaust cattle cars

Eduardo Szklarz is a journalist based in Buenos Aires who covers political and economic news. In his new book, which is available currently in his native Portuguese only, he shows his prowess in explaining to Latin American writers that there remains fertile ground in the world where crazed national socialism of the sort that gripped Germany and much of Europe during the second two quarters of the 20th century.

Szklarz does a yeoman's service and brings his scholarship to bear by referring to multiple sources in multiple languages to show how a civilized nation -- Germany -- sank into barbarism and then savagery but always with terrible purposefulness and efficiency. He cites the work of Edwin Black, the author of "IBM and the Holocaust" and "War against the Weak", as a warning against those who all too easily fall into the trap of seeking to create a heaven on earth but ultimately create a hell like Auschwitz and Dachau. It was American social reforme Read more ..


Book Review

High Hitler: Nazi Drug Abuse and Germany's leader

September 26th 2016

Hitler

Blizted by Norman Ohler. Allen Lane Publishers. 2016. 16 BP. 368 pages.

The German writer Norman Ohler lives on the top floor of a 19th-century apartment building on the south bank of the river Spree in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Visiting him there is a vertiginous experience. For one thing, he works – and likes to entertain visitors – in what he calls his “writing tower”, a flimsy-seeming, glass-walled turret perched right on the very edge of the roof. (Look down, if you dare, and you will see his little boat moored far below.) For another, there is the fact that from this vantage point it is possible to discern two Berlins, one thrusting and breezy, the other spectral and grey. To our left, busy with traffic, is the Oberbaum Bridge, where there was once a cold war checkpoint, and beyond it the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, its doleful length rudely interrupted by the block of luxury flats that went up in 2013. As for the large building immediately opposite, these days it’s the home of Universal Music. Not so very long ago, however, it was the GDR’s egg storage facility.

Read more ..

Book Review

The Pigeon Tunnel -- A Forceful and Absorbing book

September 10th 2016

The Pigeon Tunnel

John Le Carré's forceful and absorbing book The Pigeon Tunnel is a quasi-memoir and predecessor to a possible future and fuller version. In a series of recollections he says virtually nothing about his two wives and four sons while leaving his last chapter, the longest in the book, to the people who have colored his life, his conman, thief and twice-convicted father Ronnie, and Olive, his mother, who fled her abusive husband, and abandoned five year old David (Le Carré's real name is David Cornwell), leaving reviewers and critics to analyze forever the psychological price of parental desertion and absence of love.

Devotees of his unique genre of novels, as I am, admire Le Carré for his exemplary spy stories that evoke the lies and myths of our ambiguous, confrontational  and bewildering times. Here he writes about  men and women, ordinary and Very Important, like  Yasser Arafat, Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, Rupert Murdoch, Josef Brodsky, Nicholas Elliott, Le Carré's fellow spy and double agent Kim Philby's best friend, a Major Kauffmann, the woman warden of an Israeli  supermax prison for convicted Palestinians and their allies, Alec Guinness, his brilliant if diffident and reticent George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy who detests "flattery and mistrusts its praise,"  and Hollywood's  Richard Burton, Martin Ritt, Sydney Pollack  and Fritz Lang.

"Men and women of power drew me because they were here, and because I wanted to know what had made then tick.... Only afterwards, back in my hotel bedroom, did I fish out my mangled notepad and attempt to make sense of what I had heard or seen."

 Murat Kurnaz a Turkish-German raised in Germany was no one special and quite powerless except he was a classic victim of the disastrous American invasion of Iraq. Accused without trial or evidence of being a terrorist, he was shipped to Guantanamo, held for five years, and Le Carré writes,"electrocuted, beaten senseless, waterboarded and hung from a hook" by low-level American thugs acting on orders from American thugs in high places. With German help Kurnaz was eventually proven innocent. Le Carré spent time in Bremen with Kurnaz and describes how he was finally freed with only a pair of jeans, underwear and a T-shirt, guarded on the flight home by ten US soldiers who then offered handcuffs to the Germans who met their plane, "to which," comments Le Carre, with obvious pleasure, "the German officer, to his eternal glory, replied: 'He has committed no crime. Here in Germany he is a free man.'"

For three years Le Carré served in Britain's spy service during the Cold War, mainly in Austria and Germany. "Having made a negligible contribution" he resigned to write full-time after the extraordinary success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Looking back, now well in his eighties, he offers his personal "Rule One of the Cold War," just as true in today's emerging New Cold War: "Nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it it seems. Everyone has a second motive, if not a third."

Spies, he tells us, "spy because they can," whether Putin's Russia or Obama's US, and their spy agencies love seeing themselves mythologized, which is something Le Carré avoids. Neither the British nor the Americans predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the USSR. But he reserves a special dig at his own country, "But the Brits are a class apart. Forget our dismal showing in the Cold War when the KGB out-witted and out-penetrated us at every turn."

Having served in Bonn and Hamburg, he wrote A Small Town in Germany which criticized the British Embassy and the Bonn interim government, but he admits to having mistakenly predicted the emergence of a far-right post-Nazi Germany. Still, he captures the post-WW II Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union when the US welcomed Nazi war criminals.  Hitler's former military intelligence Chief General Reinhard Gehlen was embraced by the CIA, "the pampered favorite of his new best friends, the victorious Americans." And more. "Old comrades from Nazi days form the core of his staff. Controlled [American] amnesia relegates the cost to history." The US housed Gehlen in Martin Bormann's mansion and "gave him his rations, and clean bedding, and his Nazi-era files and card indices, and his old Nazi-era staff, while uncoordinated teams of Nazi hunters chased around after Martin Bormann, and the world tried to absorb the indescribable horrors of Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and the rest."

He turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which resulted in a cinematic mishmash of The Little Drummer Girl, and where the film's Diane Keaton's character was inspired by his radical younger half-sister Charlotte Cornwell. He interviews some regional specialists and then Yasser Arafat invites him to visit at a meeting where he is scheduled to speak but never does and he never gets to interview him.  It's 1982, Israel has invaded Lebanon, Arafat and the PLO have been expelled from Lebanon, and their next refuge is Tunisia where Le Carré chases after him for that interview but never gets to talk with the hard-to-pin down Palestinian.

Still looking for background material for The Little Drummer Girl, he returns to Israel.  Because of his acquaintance with a high-ranking general he is allowed to visit a top secret prison in the Negev desert to interview Brigitte, a radical young German woman, who with a group of Palestinians tried and failed to shoot down an El Al plane as it neared Nairobi's Kenyatta airport. Possibly taken with her, he describes her as a "tall, beautiful woman in prison tunics ... her long blonde hair combed freely down her back. Even her prison tunic becomes her." He says he wanted to talk about her motives, none of which she cared to share with him save to denounce Germany, some of  her family and the US, while mentioning the influence of Jurgen Habermas , Herbert Marcuse and Frantz Fanon.

After Brigitte is returned to her cell, Major Kauffmann, perhaps, he suggests, an assumed name, asks him, "Did you get what you came for," and then adds, "I only speak English with her. German, never. Not one word. When she speaks German, I cannot trust myself. You see, I was in Dachau."

Invited to speak at Moscow State University, the questions from students are about spying, the Cold War, ratting on one's colleagues.(Le Carré mentions early on that when he was with M-I5 they had him spy on left wing Oxford students.) A final question comes from a woman student. "Please, Mr. Le Carré, What do you think of Marx and Lenin, please? Greeted with laughter, he comes back, 'I love them both.' " "It doesn't strike me as my best line, but the audience treats it with prolonged applause and howls of merriment." Later, students ask about the once-banned Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which many tell him they had read. But, he asks, weren't they scared  reading forbidden books, and again howls of laughter.  (When I visited my WWII surviving family in Russia in the sixties, my two uncles, former Red Army conscripts, stood on their barely standing balcony and loudly cursed Lenin and Stalin's memory. "Are you scared," I  asked. My surviving family members just laughed.)

Back in London, he lunches with the exiled Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, thought of by admirers as "the very soul of Russia." Brodsky,  who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote an appreciative essay about Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet who Andre Zhdanov, the Leningrad Party boss, once called "a cross between a nun and a whore" but who has left nothing of note for future Russians to remember him by except repression and cruelty.

Obsessed with spies and spying he spends time with  Nicholas Elliott, Kim Philby's best friend. Elliott had worked for the British spy service until 1969.  About Philby, Le Carré writes: "The scale of Philby's betrayal is barely imaginable  to anyone who has not been in the business. In Eastern Europe alone, dozens and perhaps hundreds of  British agents were imprisoned, tortured and shot." (There were other British double agents he omits, especially George Blake.) While Le Carré recommends Ben Mcintyre's first-rate account of Philby in A Spy Among Friends, he reminds readers of another  famous spy, James Jesse Angleton, the "delusional alcoholic head of the CIA's counter-intelligence arm, who convinced himself that the red web of the KGB had spread itself into every corner of the Western world. While stationed in Washington, Philby had counseled him, over liquid games of chess, introducing him to the art of running double agents."

He travels to Dublin where Spy is being filmed. Hollywood director Martin Ritt, once blacklisted by American Torquemadas in Washington and Hollywood, preferred hiring former blacklisted actors Sam Wanamaker and Claire Bloom. Mention anyone's name from that mad and ugly era and Ritt instantly responds, "Where was he when we needed him?"  About Richard Burton, the film's star, Le Carré is generous, portraying him as "a literate, serious artist, a self--educated polymath with appetites and flaws that in one way or another we all share."

But for me the most meaningful part of The Pigeon Tunnel occurred after he joined a group celebrating François Bizot, "the only Westerner to have been taken prisoner by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and survive" and whose memoir, The Gate, Le Carré drew on in part  for The Secret Pilgrim. It was there he met Jean-Paul Kauffmann, a French journalist, who had written The Dark Room at Longwood about Napoleon's years in exile.

Kauffmann had been grabbed in Beirut by Hezbollah gunmen he described as "conceited fools, brutal cynics who used religion and the credulity of young militants to satisfy their appetite for power." In three years of captivity Kauffman had been tortured, feared for his life, felt deserted by all. He wrote Le Carré that he had found a tattered paperback copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in one of his secret prisons. In that book Kauffmann said he "found reasons to hope.  The most important is a voice, a presence. Yours. The jubilation of a writer who describes a cruel and colorless world and delights in rendering it so grey and hopeless. You feel it almost physically. Someone is talking to you, you are no longer alone. In my jail, I was no longer abandoned. A man came into my cell with his words and his vision of the world. Someone shared their power with me. I would make it through...."

No more powerful and praiseworthy words about a writer and his book were ever written.

- See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163810#sthash.1xy4WqV1.dpuf

John Le Carré's forceful and absorbing book The Pigeon Tunnel is a quasi-memoir and predecessor to a possible future and fuller version. In a series of recollections he says virtually nothing about his two wives and four sons while leaving his last chapter, the longest in the book, to the people who have colored his life, his conman, thief and twice-convicted father Ronnie, and Olive, his mother, who fled her abusive husband, and abandoned five year old David (Le Carré's real name is David Cornwell), leaving reviewers and critics to analyze forever the psychological price of parental desertion and absence of love.

Devotees of his unique genre of novels, as I am, admire Le Carré for his exemplary spy stories that evoke the lies and myths of our ambiguous, confrontational  and bewildering times. Here he writes about  men and women, ordinary and Very Important, like  Yasser Arafat, Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, Rupert Murdoch, Josef Brodsky, Nicholas Elliott, Le Carré's fellow spy and double agent Kim Philby's best friend, a Major Kauffmann, the woman warden of an Israeli  supermax prison for convicted Palestinians and their allies, Alec Guinness, his brilliant if diffident and reticent George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy who detests "flattery and mistrusts its praise,"  and Hollywood's  Richard Burton, Martin Ritt, Sydney Pollack  and Fritz Lang.

"Men and women of power drew me because they were here, and because I wanted to know what had made then tick.... Only afterwards, back in my hotel bedroom, did I fish out my mangled notepad and attempt to make sense of what I had heard or seen."

 Murat Kurnaz a Turkish-German raised in Germany was no one special and quite powerless except he was a classic victim of the disastrous American invasion of Iraq. Accused without trial or evidence of being a terrorist, he was shipped to Guantanamo, held for five years, and Le Carré writes,"electrocuted, beaten senseless, waterboarded and hung from a hook" by low-level American thugs acting on orders from American thugs in high places. With German help Kurnaz was eventually proven innocent. Le Carré spent time in Bremen with Kurnaz and describes how he was finally freed with only a pair of jeans, underwear and a T-shirt, guarded on the flight home by ten US soldiers who then offered handcuffs to the Germans who met their plane, "to which," comments Le Carre, with obvious pleasure, "the German officer, to his eternal glory, replied: 'He has committed no crime. Here in Germany he is a free man.'"

For three years Le Carré served in Britain's spy service during the Cold War, mainly in Austria and Germany. "Having made a negligible contribution" he resigned to write full-time after the extraordinary success of his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Looking back, now well in his eighties, he offers his personal "Rule One of the Cold War," just as true in today's emerging New Cold War: "Nothing, absolutely nothing, is what it it seems. Everyone has a second motive, if not a third."

Spies, he tells us, "spy because they can," whether Putin's Russia or Obama's US, and their spy agencies love seeing themselves mythologized, which is something Le Carré avoids. Neither the British nor the Americans predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall or the collapse of the USSR. But he reserves a special dig at his own country, "But the Brits are a class apart. Forget our dismal showing in the Cold War when the KGB out-witted and out-penetrated us at every turn."

Having served in Bonn and Hamburg, he wrote A Small Town in Germany which criticized the British Embassy and the Bonn interim government, but he admits to having mistakenly predicted the emergence of a far-right post-Nazi Germany. Still, he captures the post-WW II Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union when the US welcomed Nazi war criminals.  Hitler's former military intelligence Chief General Reinhard Gehlen was embraced by the CIA, "the pampered favorite of his new best friends, the victorious Americans." And more. "Old comrades from Nazi days form the core of his staff. Controlled [American] amnesia relegates the cost to history." The US housed Gehlen in Martin Bormann's mansion and "gave him his rations, and clean bedding, and his Nazi-era files and card indices, and his old Nazi-era staff, while uncoordinated teams of Nazi hunters chased around after Martin Bormann, and the world tried to absorb the indescribable horrors of Belsen, Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and the rest."

He turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which resulted in a cinematic mishmash of The Little Drummer Girl, and where the film's Diane Keaton's character was inspired by his radical younger half-sister Charlotte Cornwell. He interviews some regional specialists and then Yasser Arafat invites him to visit at a meeting where he is scheduled to speak but never does and he never gets to interview him.  It's 1982, Israel has invaded Lebanon, Arafat and the PLO have been expelled from Lebanon, and their next refuge is Tunisia where Le Carré chases after him for that interview but never gets to talk with the hard-to-pin down Palestinian.

Still looking for background material for The Little Drummer Girl, he returns to Israel.  Because of his acquaintance with a high-ranking general he is allowed to visit a top secret prison in the Negev desert to interview Brigitte, a radical young German woman, who with a group of Palestinians tried and failed to shoot down an El Al plane as it neared Nairobi's Kenyatta airport. Possibly taken with her, he describes her as a "tall, beautiful woman in prison tunics ... her long blonde hair combed freely down her back. Even her prison tunic becomes her." He says he wanted to talk about her motives, none of which she cared to share with him save to denounce Germany, some of  her family and the US, while mentioning the influence of Jurgen Habermas , Herbert Marcuse and Frantz Fanon.

After Brigitte is returned to her cell, Major Kauffmann, perhaps, he suggests, an assumed name, asks him, "Did you get what you came for," and then adds, "I only speak English with her. German, never. Not one word. When she speaks German, I cannot trust myself. You see, I was in Dachau."

Invited to speak at Moscow State University, the questions from students are about spying, the Cold War, ratting on one's colleagues.(Le Carré mentions early on that when he was with M-I5 they had him spy on left wing Oxford students.) A final question comes from a woman student. "Please, Mr. Le Carré, What do you think of Marx and Lenin, please? Greeted with laughter, he comes back, 'I love them both.' " "It doesn't strike me as my best line, but the audience treats it with prolonged applause and howls of merriment." Later, students ask about the once-banned Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which many tell him they had read. But, he asks, weren't they scared  reading forbidden books, and again howls of laughter.  (When I visited my WWII surviving family in Russia in the sixties, my two uncles, former Red Army conscripts, stood on their barely standing balcony and loudly cursed Lenin and Stalin's memory. "Are you scared," I  asked. My surviving family members just laughed.)

Back in London, he lunches with the exiled Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, thought of by admirers as "the very soul of Russia." Brodsky,  who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, once wrote an appreciative essay about Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet who Andre Zhdanov, the Leningrad Party boss, once called "a cross between a nun and a whore" but who has left nothing of note for future Russians to remember him by except repression and cruelty.

Obsessed with spies and spying he spends time with  Nicholas Elliott, Kim Philby's best friend. Elliott had worked for the British spy service until 1969.  About Philby, Le Carré writes: "The scale of Philby's betrayal is barely imaginable  to anyone who has not been in the business. In Eastern Europe alone, dozens and perhaps hundreds of  British agents were imprisoned, tortured and shot." (There were other British double agents he omits, especially George Blake.) While Le Carré recommends Ben Mcintyre's first-rate account of Philby in A Spy Among Friends, he reminds readers of another  famous spy, James Jesse Angleton, the "delusional alcoholic head of the CIA's counter-intelligence arm, who convinced himself that the red web of the KGB had spread itself into every corner of the Western world. While stationed in Washington, Philby had counseled him, over liquid games of chess, introducing him to the art of running double agents."

He travels to Dublin where Spy is being filmed. Hollywood director Martin Ritt, once blacklisted by American Torquemadas in Washington and Hollywood, preferred hiring former blacklisted actors Sam Wanamaker and Claire Bloom. Mention anyone's name from that mad and ugly era and Ritt instantly responds, "Where was he when we needed him?"  About Richard Burton, the film's star, Le Carré is generous, portraying him as "a literate, serious artist, a self--educated polymath with appetites and flaws that in one way or another we all share."

But for me the most meaningful part of The Pigeon Tunnel occurred after he joined a group celebrating François Bizot, "the only Westerner to have been taken prisoner by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and survive" and whose memoir, The Gate, Le Carré drew on in part  for The Secret Pilgrim. It was there he met Jean-Paul Kauffmann, a French journalist, who had written The Dark Room at Longwood about Napoleon's years in exile.

Kauffmann had been grabbed in Beirut by Hezbollah gunmen he described as "conceited fools, brutal cynics who used religion and the credulity of young militants to satisfy their appetite for power." In three years of captivity Kauffman had been tortured, feared for his life, felt deserted by all. He wrote Le Carré that he had found a tattered paperback copy of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold in one of his secret prisons. In that book Kauffmann said he "found reasons to hope.  The most important is a voice, a presence. Yours. The jubilation of a writer who describes a cruel and colorless world and delights in rendering it so grey and hopeless. You feel it almost physically. Someone is talking to you, you are no longer alone. In my jail, I was no longer abandoned. A man came into my cell with his words and his vision of the world. Someone shared their power with me. I would make it through...."

No more powerful and praiseworthy words about a writer and his book were ever written.

- See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/163810#sthash.1xy4WqV1.dpuf

John Le Carré's forceful and absorbing book The Pigeon Tunnel is a quasi-memoir and predecessor to a possible future and fuller version. In a series of recollections he says virtually nothing about his two wives and four sons while leaving his last chapter, the longest in the book, to the people who have colored his life, his conman, thief and twice-convicted father Ronnie, and Olive, his mother, who fled her abusive husband, and abandoned five year old David (Le Carré's real name is David Cornwell), leaving reviewers and critics to analyze forever the psychological price of parental desertion and absence of love.

Devotees of his unique genre of novels, as I am, admire Le Carré for his exemplary spy stories that evoke the lies and myths of our ambiguous, confrontational  and bewildering times. Here he writes about  men and women, ordinary and Very Important, like  Yasser Arafat, Andrei Sakharov and Elena Bonner, Rupert Murdoch, Josef Brodsky, Nicholas Elliott, Le Carré's fellow spy and double agent Kim Philby's best friend, a Major Kauffmann, the woman warden of an Israeli  supermax prison for convicted Palestinians and their allies, Alec Guinness, his brilliant if diffident and reticent George Smiley in Tinker, Tailor Soldier Spy who detests "flattery and mistrusts its praise,"  and Hollywood's  Richard Burton, Martin Ritt, Sydney Pollack  and Fritz Lang.

"Men and women of power drew me because they were here, and because I wanted to know what had made then tick.... Only afterwards, back in my hotel bedroom, did I fish out my mangled notepad and attempt to make sense of what I had heard or seen."

Murat Kurnaz a Turkish-German raised in Germany was no one special and quite powerless except he was a classic victim of the disastrous American invasion of Iraq. Accused without trial or evidence of being a terrorist, he was shipped to Guantanamo, held for five years, and Le Carré writes,"electrocuted, beaten senseless, waterboarded and hung from a hook" by low-level American thugs acting on orders from American thugs in high places. Read more ..


The Ivory Tower

Award-winning Historian Innovates Global Conference Call to Answer Reader Questions

August 8th 2016

Edwin Black at Nabi Selah

On July 20 at 4:15 PM ET, New York Times bestselling historian Edwin Black conducted a global Q-A conference call for readers of his syndicated investigation Nazi Policy and Black Victims—Before, During, and After the Holocaust— from Africa to Berlin to North Carolina. The 10,000-word opus ran in various highly-condensed lengths in about 30 publications, but was published in full by just a handful of long-form platforms such as History Network News, The Times of Israel, and Spero News. The teleconference may be the first time a historian has organized a global conference call to respond to reader questions on a published essay and comments.   This reporter and Spero News monitored that session.

By way of background, Black is the author of numerous award-winning books such as IBM and the Holocaust, War Against the Weak, and The Farhud. Earlier this year he began researching in depth the impact of Nazi policy on Black victims before, during and after the Holocaust, spanning a century of genocidal and discriminatory episodes from the 1904-1908 Herero massacres of Southwest Africa to the post-WWI and post-WWII eugenic sterilization and persecution campaigns in the United States. In February 2016 Black delivered globally broadcast lectures on the topic at Michigan State University and University of Michigan, earning a Plaque of Tribute from the Michigan State legislature.

Black then expanded his research to create his syndicated 10,000-word essay. Many editors routinely inserted their own headlines, Black states. The HNN version prompted Iowa State University professor Jeremy Best, who specializes in the history of nineteenth-century German missionaries, to write a lengthy critique asserting Black intended to draw a direct line of causation between the genocide in Southwest Africa and the Holocaust. Black rejected this interpretation and offered to answer any questions from readers in the global conference call held July 20. Read more ..


Inside Books

Small Copyright Claims Court Legislation Foreseen

July 26th 2016

Stacks of old books

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill, entitled the Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act of 2016, H.R. 5757, that would establish an accessible and efficient forum to resolve “small” copyright claims. The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA), would allow individual authors to protect their intellectual property rights without having to file expensive and complicated federal lawsuits.

The Authors Guild has been actively advocating for a small copyright claims court since 2006, when we testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the need for such a venue, citing an Authors Guild survey that revealed most authors do not have effective access to the courts for many of their copyright infringement claims. As the threats to authors’ copyright incentives have increased since that time—due to the growth of digital book piracy and courts’ reluctance to enforce digital rights—so have our efforts to establish a small claims court. Read more ..


Book Review

Islamic Spain in Middle Ages Was No Paradise for Christians, Jews, or Women

July 10th 2016

The Myth of Anduslian Paradise

The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise: Muslims, Christians, and Jews Under Islamic Rule in Medieval Spain. By Dario Fernandez-Morera. ISI Books, 336pp, $59.95 (HB).

There is a widely held belief that in Spain, during the European Middle Ages, Islam, Christianity and Judaism co-existed peacefully and fruitfully under a tolerant and enlightened Islamic hegemony. Dario Fernandez-Morera, associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Northwestern University in the US, with a PhD from Harvard, has written a stunning book that upends this myth.

The myth itself has been a comforting and even inspiring story that has underpinned the so-called Toledo Principles regarding religious tolerance in our time. It has buttressed the belief that Islam was a higher civilisation than that of medieval Europe in the eighth to 12th centuries and that the destruction of this enlightened and sophisticated Andalusia should be lamented.

The great Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, a century ago, saw it that way. US President Barack Obama and The Economist magazine have both very recently cited Muslim Andalusia as evidence that Islam has been a religion of peace and tolerance. In short, the myth of Andalusia has been a beacon of hope for working with Islam in today’s world with a common commitment to civilised norms.

This vision was spelled out in Maria Rosa Menocal’s The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain (2002) and reinforced by David Levering Lewis’s God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (2008). But it has deep roots. Edward Gibbon, in his famous 18th-century history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, wrote in glowing terms of the 10th-century Umayyad caliphate in Spain as a beacon of enlightenment, learning and urban living, at a time when Europe was plunged in bigotry, ignorance and poverty. Read more ..


Author Interview

How The Structure of Global Oil Markets Fuels Authoritarianism and War

February 6th 2016

Arab Oil Derick

Almost every day, even if you don't own a car, you probably buy something made from oil. Usually we don't think about where that money goes — because the answer, at least some of the time, is that it ends up lining the pockets of some of the world's deadliest people. The problem, in fact, may be bigger than we think. According to a new book by Leif Wenar, the chair of philosophy and law at King’s College London, the way the global oil trade is set up means that oil isn't just passively funding bad guys — it actively encourages them. In his book Blood Oil, Wenar sets out to explain a striking fact: Much of the world has seen a decline in authoritarianism and war, but oil-rich countries have been left behind. Wenar blames the oil itself: Its profits allow authoritarian states to more effectively repress dissent than non-oil states, and helps militant groups fund their war machines.

Read more ..

Book Review

Meant to Be: A True Story of Might, Miracles, and Triumph of the Human Spirit, by Roslyn Franken

January 31st 2016

Meant to Be

Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is surely not as inspirational. True stories of courage, true stories people battling against the odds, inspire us to be determined, never to lose hope. That is undoubtedly the most important take-away from Roslyn Franken’s book, Meant to Be. It is the story of her parents, which came to define Roslyn’s own life. Roslyn is the unlikely child of survivors - her father John, who endured and survived the horrors of being a Prisoner of War in Japan, and her mother, Sonja, who survived Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

How they got together in spite of this great geographic divide between Europe and the Far East is a remarkable story in itself. But that in itself is hardly remarkable, as the book itself is replete with remarkable stories. 

Were they coincidences? Did they just happen, or were they ‘meant to be’? In truth, we can never really know for sure. But the author is less interested in this philosophical quest. She is more interested in how we understand what happens to us in life.

What is clear from reading the book, and it is a wonderful read, is that we gain so much from trying to give meaning to what happens to us, to think of these life experiences as meant, as having meaning, rather than dismissing them as meaningless.

The upshot of taking seriously what happens to us, the cards we are dealt, is that we are likely to learn useful lessons and employ these lessons in how we deal with what we are dealt. There is no better example of this than the author herself. Roslyn Franken has herself been faced with a gloomy reality, the reality of cancer. She shared in common with her parents the scary question - will I have a tomorrow? Read more ..


Media on Edge

Glenn Beck Empire Faces Possible Demise

January 31st 2016

Martin Barillas

The Daily Beast reports that another change in Glenn Beck’s top staff came as Kraig Kitchin has resigned as CEO of The Blaze. While Kitchin will remain in another position in Beck’s empire, it is Stewart Padveen who will take over as the fourth CEO of The Blaze since the latter part of 2014.
 
Kitchin had taken charge of The Blaze – Beck’s subscription digital and cable television enterprise in June 2015 after two previous CEOs departed within six months. According to The Daily Beast, senior executives Jeremy Price and Liz Julis also resigned. Several other senior employees are also departing, according to the report, including two producers from Beck’s New York operations. Corporate headquarters are in Texas.
 
The Daily Beast quoted an un-named source predicting a “mass exodus” of Beck’s staff from the New York studios. The site claims that the 35,000 rented by the Beck organization is setting him back $2 million each year in rent. It was reported that Beck has called on employees to cut costs because of debt. Estimates of the debt ranged from $3 million to $5 million.
 
The website also claims that multiple sources say that Kitchin was frustrated with friction he had with Jonathan Schreiber, who was named president of Beck’s company Mercury Radio Arts in April 2015. Sources to the Daily Beast said that Kitchin had taken the job with the understanding that Schreiber would not interfere with The Blaze. People familiar with the troubled relationship between Kitchin and Schreiber said that the latter’s meddling became intolerable.
Read more ..

Book Review

Peter Hayes Disappoints in Overcompiled Compilation "How Was it Possible?"

January 20th 2016

How Was It Possible

How Was It Possible?, edited by Peter Hayes, 920 pages, University of Nebraska Press, April 1, 2015

 

Holocaust readers and compilations can be precious tools in the struggle to enlighten the world about the twelve-year genocide. The key is make them cohesive, accessible, and sized correctly. Several excellent volumes come to mind. A Holocaust Reader--Responses to the Nazi Extermination, by Michael L. Morgan, published by Oxford in the year 2000, included penetrating essays by Elie Wiesel, Hanna Arendt, Martin Buber, and others. The compilation by Rita Steinhardt Botwinick, Holocaust Reader: From Ideologies to Annihilation, has for years been well received.

Lately, much shorter compilations have also been useful. My own anthology, Nazi Nexus, offers five brief essays from several of my other books such as IBM and the Holocaust. Pearson's Death by Design is another collection, containing essays from such respected writers as Robert Proctor, Robert Lifton, and the single most respected expert on IG Farben, Joseph Borkin. This brings us to the University of Nebraska Press compilation How Was It Possible? edited by Peter Hayes. The University of Nebraska is known for outstanding volumes in Judaica and Holocaust studies. Unfortunately, this edition is a big disappointment. It clocks in at 920 pages, a four-pound oversized volume--that is almost triple the size of better volumes published by Pearson and Oxford.

In a word, this compilation by Hayes struck me as over-compiled. Read more ..


Book Review

The Tail Wags the Dog Dispels the Myths

December 13th 2015

Sunset in Jerusalem

The Tail Wags the Dog International Politics and the Middle East by Efraim Karsh Bloomsbury, 2015. 256 pp.

Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King's College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth.

"Britain's 'original sin,' if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but in its attempted over-unification." Overall, the blunders of the great powers were in trying to impose their own wishful thinking instead of obtaining a real understanding of the Middle East. Read more ..


Book Review

Understanding the Intifada

November 3rd 2015

Palestinian Rock Attackers

Intifada by Zeev Schiff and Ehud Ya'Ari, Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, 1990.

The Palestinian struggle for legitimacy has been embodied in one phrase — intifada — that is supposed to lead to global Palestinian redemption. Intifada, literally to "shake off," is a reminder to "shake up" Israel and alert the world to all the wrong that is done to the Palestinians as a result of the Israeli "occupation." Past intifadas, including the uprisings in the pre-state era between the 1936-1939, increased Arab-Palestinian consciousness — but brought Palestinians no closer to statehood. Above all, intifada crosses the social barriers between upper, lower and middle classes; are all one when it comes to this national duty. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

How ISIS Makes Money From The Art Market

July 27th 2015

Islamic State Destroys Nimrud April 2015

Imagine: you are window-shopping on a quiet street, perhaps in London or Paris or New York. Something remarkable catches your eye: an ancient coin, a gold chain, a tiny figurine. Impulsively, you enter the shop, where the owner explains to you that the sculpture comes originally from Mesopotamia, that the necklace is Byzantine. It isn't inexpensive, but the shopkeeper has guaranteed its provenance and the price seems fair; and besides, you quite love it. You say yes, and leave the shop with your new treasure tucked safely in a bag.

You may have just handed your money over to the Islamic State. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble is Going to Kill the Nook

July 25th 2015

E-book readers

The future of Barnes and Noble Nook e-books, e-readers and tablets looks to be in jeopardy. The Nations largest bookseller has just hired Fred Argir to run the Nook division and e-commerce division, replacing Mahesh Veerina who had run it for the last two years.

The Barnes and Noble Nook division is in serious trouble. They recently unveiled a massive upgrade to their website. The new design gives us a sense on what the bookseller is hoping to sell more of, which are lifestyle products, print and e-books. Unfortunately there are a number of bugs with e-books and Nook that are preventing people from reading and this is resulting in a fair amount of apathy.

When you are looking to buy a new book and haven’t heard much about it, likely you want to check out the first few chapters with a digital sample. Barnes and Noble has an online reading platform called Nook for Web. Sadly, this system is totally broken and has not been revised to work in conjunction with the new B&N website. Users have also reported a myriad of problems with logging into their accounts and purchases randomly disappearing. Read more ..


Book Review

Book on Prewar Concentration Camps Well-Written But Not Well-Published

July 21st 2015

Before Auschwitz

Before Auschwitz -- Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps, Kim Wunschmann, Harvard University Press 2014, pp 376.

Nazi concentration camps—eventually thousands of them sprang up—were known for their cruelty and human degradation. Historians have noted that the first of these camps to open was Dachau on March 22, 1933, accompanied by fanfare and international press releases. Actually, local Stormtroopers in Prussia had opened a camp on disused factory grounds at Oranienburg the day before Dachau’s inaugural media event. Oranienburg later became one of the Reich’s most pivotal camps by virtue of hosting Section D-2, which in its “T Building” supervised all camps throughout Nazi Europe via a complex array of IBM Hollerith machines. 

The hellholes of Nazi Germany have been written about in many scholarly works. Since the war, these monstrous camps have been characterized by the sheer scope of the tens of thousands incarcerated within their evil perimeters. Now comes Kim Wunschmann in Before Auschwitz -- Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps to deliver an important, needed insight into the personal human suffering experienced at these inhuman sites.

Whereas many prior analysts and chroniclers, including myself, have taken the 50,000 foot view, recording the misery where high math intersects prodigious war crime, Wunschmann peers into the individual experiences of ordinary Jewish prisoners. She describes the torture and humiliation that accompanied their unjust incarceration. In other words, she describes these camps from the inside looking out. Wunschmann names victims’ names, and connects the dots of the specific agony experienced by these unfortunate prisoners. More importantly, Wunshmann’s cohesive narrative maps specific events in the day-to-day vicissitudes of the German Reich and then depicts how camp guards and administrators retaliated against their hapless prisoners as a matter of national sport, Nazi movement policy, and pure individualized cruelty. Thus the camps become more than monuments of inhumanity; they become burning infernos of hate and degradation. Read more ..


Book Review

The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President.

May 26th 2015

Click to select Image

Aaron David Miller. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 288 pp.

"Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not..."

"I doubt many readers will agree with all of his arguments – I don't..."

"You may disagree with him at times, as I did..."

That's three out of the four book jacket blurbs on Aaron David Miller's new book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. And it is the first clue that this book is an invitation (challenge) for you to go where Miller goes and envision American history as he envisions it — or not. In a political era that demands followers — left or right — it is refreshing to read a book that doesn't worry about what you think, but provides a clear and compelling picture of what the author thinks.

Best known as a Middle East policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, Miller takes on American political history, ranking Presidents as Indispensable, Near Great, Politically Astute, and the Rest of The Guys. Along the way, he wonders if the U.S. is ungovernable.

There are only three Indispensables: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Non-controversial. Most Americans would, and in fact do, say the same when asked. But why? According to Miller, these presidents fundamentally changed the country through a confluence of crisis, character, and capacity to shape events. "We assume inevitability for the American enterprise because of where we now sit, a kind of inexorability that everything was destined somehow to turn out the way it did. We should not." Read more ..


Book Review

Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief: the Arsenal Opposed to Israel's Survival

May 26th 2015

Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief. Asaf Romirowsky and Alexander H. Joffe. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2013. 254 pp.

Romirowsky and Joffe trace the involvement of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—a Quaker organization founded long before 1948 to assist civilians caught up in the maelstrom of war—in its pivotal role as relief provider to Arab refugees in Gaza under the auspices of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees (UNRPR). Painstakingly combing through personal memoirs, cables, and diplomatic communiqués, the authors construct a rich history of the immediate post-1948 period. The AFSC was determined that its relief mission be short-lived to thwart any "moral degeneration" that might occur from a continuing refugee status.

Its preferred solution was "repatriation" (return to homes in the territory that became Israel) but quickly changed to resettlement in adjacent Arab states, such as Jordan, Egypt, and Syria, as a more judicious option. This approach was also seriously considered by the U.S. government—then and now the principal source of monetary aid to the refugee operation—along with a program of political and economic development in the Middle East directly connected to larger Cold War policies.

But the idea of refugee resettlement in Arab states soon fizzled out. As the authors illustrate, both field personnel and those at the policy-making level within AFSC understood that the refugees were being used as pawns by the Arab governments in their propaganda war against Israel.

Once UNRPR's mandate expired in 1950, the United Nations established the U.N. Relief and Work's Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as its replacement, and from then on, the fix was in. For reasons ranging from bureaucratic inertia to self-interest, but most importantly Arab governments' clear desire to maintain the refugee problem, UNRWA has, for the last sixty-five years, provided "relief" to a population that has increased nearly ten-fold and whose questionable refugee status is handed down to each successive generation as their prized—and lucrative—legacy. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

Bin Laden's Bookshelf: In the Shadow of Anders Breivik

May 23rd 2015

Osama bin Laden in mufti

On July 22, 2011, the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik killed seventy-seven people in and near Oslo. Not long before he attacked, he emailed a 1,500-page document titled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," which included conservative critics of radical Islam among his sources. Immediately, some in the media, academic, and think tank worlds declared these persons guilty by association and charged them with shaping Breivik's thought, even though the manifesto cited about the same number of liberals and conservatives.

Yesterday we were given a look inside the mind of another mass killer when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released Bin Ladin's Bookshelf, a "sizable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin." The 409 items range from publicly available U.S. government documents to personal letters from bin Laden to family and fellow terrorists. Read more ..


Book Review

The Fall of the Ottomans: No Paradigm Shift in Thinking about the Mideast

May 15th 2015

Click to select Image

The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East. Eugene Rogan. Basic Books. 512 pp. 2015

A century after the catastrophic blunder that led to the destruction of the then longest-surviving empire on earth, culpability is still ascribed to the European powers. Rather than view the Ottoman entry into the First World War on the losing side for what it was – a failed imperialist bid for territorial aggrandizement and reassertion of lost glory – the Muslim empire has been portrayed as the hapless victim of European machinations, driven into the world conflict by overbearing powers eager to expedite its demise and gobble up its lands.

Emblematic of the wider tendency to view Middle Easterners as mere objects, whose history is but a function of their unhappy interaction with the West, this conventional wisdom has proved remarkably resistant to the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and Eugene Rogan's The Fall of the Ottomans (2015) is no exception to this rule.

To begin with, in an attempt to underscore the Ottoman Empire's untenable position on the eve of the war, Rogan reproduces the standard depiction of the protracted period preceding the empire's collapse, or the Eastern Question as it is commonly known, as the steady European encroachment on Ottoman territory. "The looming prospect of a European general war", he writes, "raised the imminent threat of a Russian annexation of Istanbul, the straits, and eastern Anatolia – and the ultimate dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire among the Entente Powers. France was known to covet Syria, Britain had interests in Mesopotamia, and Greece wished to expand its grip over the Aegean."

Far from setting their sights on Ottoman lands, European powers had consistently shored up the ailing empire. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

What Zombie Movies Tell Us About Us

May 5th 2015

Click to select Image

The zombie invasion is here. Our bookshops, cinemas and TVs are dripping with the pustulating debris of their relentless shuffle to cultural domination.

A search for “zombie fiction” on Amazon currently provides you with more than 25,000 options. Barely a week goes by without another onslaught from the living dead on our screens. We’ve just seen the return of one of the most successful of these, The Walking Dead, starring Andrew Lincoln as small-town sheriff, Rick Grimes. The show follows the adventures of Rick and fellow survivors as they kill lots of zombies and increasingly, other survivors, as they desperately seek safety.

Generational monsters

Since at least the late 19th century each generation has created fictional enemies that reflect a broader unease with cultural or scientific developments. The “Yellow Peril” villains such as Fu Manchu were a response to the massive increase in Chinese migration to the US and Europe from the 1870s, for example. Read more ..


Book Review

Why Place Matters: Identity and Civilization in Modern America

May 2nd 2015

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Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America by Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister, eds. New York: Encounter Books, 2014

In any collection of essays, the most important objective is choosing the right topic that will open up and stimulate further discussion. The contributors on their part must represent diverse views, yet propose solutions that point in the same general direction.
In this respect, editors Wilfred M. McClay and Ted V. McAllister achieved success in their excellent book, Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America. It is a collection that challenges the reader to enter into discussion, yet also points toward organic solutions outside the box of modern academia. Read more ..


Book Review

The End of Greatness: and Why it Doesn't Matter Any More

April 30th 2015

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The End of Greatness Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. Aaron David Miller. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 288 pp. $28

Grading Presidents

"Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not..."

"I doubt many readers will agree with all of his arguments – I don't..."

"You may disagree with him at times, as I did..."

That's three out of the four book jacket blurbs on Aaron David Miller's new book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. And it is the first clue that this book is an invitation (challenge) for you to go where Miller goes and envision American history as he envisions it — or not. In a political era that demands followers — left or right — it is refreshing to read a book that doesn't worry about what you think, but provides a clear and compelling picture of what the author thinks.

Best known as a Middle East policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, Miller takes on American political history, ranking Presidents as Indispensable, Near Great, Politically Astute, and the Rest of The Guys. Along the way, he wonders if the U.S. is ungovernable.

There are only three Indispensables: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Non-controversial. Most Americans would, and in fact do, say the same when asked. But why? According to Miller, these presidents fundamentally changed the country through a confluence of crisis, character, and capacity to shape events. "We assume inevitability for the American enterprise because of where we now sit, a kind of inexorability that everything was destined somehow to turn out the way it did. We should not." "Nation-encumbering crises," the sort that make the country markedly different by their end, are ones that Miller finds can call forth the character and capacity of Great Presidents. Read more ..


The Edge of Terrorism

French TV5Monde Hit by Islamic State Hackers

April 9th 2015

IS with Missile

French television network TV5Monde said Thursday that it had been hacked by individuals claiming to belong to the Islamic State group, who brought television broadcasts to a halt and and hijacked its websites and social networks. The Paris-based company was able to partially resume television broadcasts by 1:00 am (2300 GMT) after a three-hour blackout, the network's director-general Yves Bigot told AFP, but added its systems had been "severely damaged" by an "unprecedented attack".

The hackers posted documents on TV5Monde's Facebook page purporting to be the identity cards and CVs of relatives of French soldiers involved in anti-IS operations, along with threats against the troops.

Read more ..

The Edge of TV

'House of Cards' Renewed for Fourth Season

April 7th 2015

House of Cards

The popular Netflix original political drama, 'House of Cards', was renewed for a fourth season. Kevin Spacey won a Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild award for his portrayal of Francis Underwood, a ruthless politician who hungers for power.

In the first season as a member of Congress, Underwood strangles a suffering dog with his bare hands. In the second season, Underwood is elected as Vice President and by the third season he becomes the President. The series, filmed in Washington, DC and Maryland, is an adaptation of the BBC series with the same name. President Obama has said that he is a fan of the show.

Netflix has scored major nominations and awards since the show started in 2013 but has kept the statistics hidden. The internet-only video company gambled whether internet viewers would watch a scripted show that was available only online while viewers were abandoning cable in record numbers. Netflix posts the seasons in entirety, allowing consumers to binge-watch the shows. Read more ..

The Circus Edge

Matriarch of Wallenda Family of Circus Performers Dies at 87

April 6th 2015

Baby Boomer

Jenny Wallenda, 87, the matriarch of the famous family of high-flying circus performers, died late Saturday at her home in Sarasota, Florida, according to family members.

Wallenda's nephew, Rick Wallenda, said his aunt died following a lengthy illness.

"She had a great life in entertainment, a very rewarding and rich life," he said.

Wallenda was the oldest daughter of high-wire walker Karl Wallenda and grandmother of daredevil performer Nik Wallenda.

Jenny Wallenda's husband, Richard Faughnan, died in 1962 when a human pyramid collapsed. Karl Wallenda fell to his death in 1978.

Jenny Wallenda survived the invasion of Berlin by Soviet forces in 1947 and returned to the United States to perform with her family. Her parents sent her to Germany to live with her grandparents in 1934 at age 6.

Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Documentary Raises Curtain on Global Warming Acrimony

March 31st 2015

Hurricane Isabel

Merchants of Doubt, Robert Kenner’s latest documentary, argues that global warming deniers aim to sow doubt and confusion about the science on global warming because they have a financial agenda.

The film contends that these so-called climate experts are paid by the fossil fuel industry to mask the truth that global warming is happening and is primarily cause by CO2 emissions. The film accuses global warming contrarians of using the same strategy that was originally used by the tobacco industry when it tried to quell concerns about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

Kenner claims that some of the same people the tobacco industry used to spread doubt about tobacco’s harmful effects are now working for the fossil fuel industry to debunk climate change.

Read more ..

The Science of Art

New Method Reveals Unknown Details of Gauguin's Prints

February 18th 2015

French artist Paul Gauguin is well known for his colorful paintings of Tahitian life -- such as the painting that sold recently for nearly $300 million -- but he also was a highly experimental printmaker. Little is known, however, about the techniques and materials Gauguin used to create his unusual and complex graphic works.

Now a team of scientists and art conservators from Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago has used a simple light bulb, an SLR camera and computational power to uncover new details of Gauguin's printmaking process -- how he formed, layered and re-used imagery to make 19 unique graphic works in the Art Institute's collection.

Northwestern computer scientist Oliver S. Cossairt provided a a surprising new explanation of how Gauguin created one of these artworks at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in San Jose, last week. He provided the first report of the Northwestern-Art Institute study of the 3-D surface of the print "Nativity (Mother and Child Surrounded by Five Figures)," made by Gauguin in 1902. Read more ..


Book Review

America's Great Game and the Arabist CIA

February 13th 2015

America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East. Hugh Wilford. Basic Books, 2013. 384pp.

At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency.

In America's Great Game: The CIA's Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case.

Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency's three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit "Kim" Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of CIA covert action in the region; his cousin, Archie Roosevelt, was a Middle East scholar and chief of the Beirut station; while Miles Copeland was a covert operations specialist who joined the American intelligence enterprise during World War II.

Skillfully drawing on personal papers, autobiographies and other primary sources, Wilford illustrates the diplomatic history that created America's Great Game. More importantly, he underscores the political and ideological dogmas of these individuals – specifically, the rabidly pro-Arab and anti-Zionist views that shaped the CIA in its early years.

The CIA was created in 1947 and drew on the remains of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, which had been dissolved in 1945. Leaders of the new CIA were drawn from OSS veterans, but they were also members of a fading patrician class of American Protestants – with deep ties to elite universities like Harvard and Yale, and to missionaries with connections throughout the Middle East. Read more ..


The World on Edge

The Lunch Question

February 12th 2015

International Currency 2

At an event in Beijing last November, I had the good fortune to meet the French economist Thomas Piketty, who has sold 1.5 million copies of his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, since it was first published in 2013. Pacing up and down in front of a packed auditorium, Piketty explained that because the rate of return on capital is now higher than the growth rate of the global economy, the proportion of the world's wealth that is owned by a small elite will likely keep increasing; in other words, we should expect to see a divergence of wealth as the rich get much richer. As his book says, "capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based."

No strategic forecaster can afford to ignore this alarming prediction — or the enthusiastic response it got from the audience in Beijing. In the 20th century, the two world wars were the only force powerful enough to reverse the concentration of wealth in the elite and the mounting class conflict; in the 21st century, we seem to be falling back into a comparable world of revolution, political extremism and mass violence. Read more ..


The Arts and Society

'Fifty Shades of Grey' Perpetuates Violence Against Women

February 3rd 2015

Young adult women who read “Fifty Shades of Grey” are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster “Fifty Shades” erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in “Fifty Shades,” said Amy Bonomi, the study’s lead investigator. And while the study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, it’s a potential problem either way, she said.

“If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading ‘Fifty Shades’ might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma,” said Bonomi, chairperson and professor in MSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

“Likewise, if they read ‘Fifty Shades’ before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it’s possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors.”

The study, which appears in the Journal of Women’s Health, is one of the first to investigate the relationship between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women. Past research has tied watching violent television programs to real-life violence and antisocial behaviors, as well as reading glamour magazines to being obsessed with body image.

The researchers studied more than 650 women aged 18-24, a prime period for exploring greater sexual intimacy in relationships, Bonomi said. Compared to participants who didn’t read the book, those who read the first “Fifty Shades” novel were 25 percent more likely to have a partner who yelled or swore at them; 34 percent more likely to have a partner who demonstrated stalking tendencies; and more than 75 percent more likely to have used diet aids or fasted for more than 24 hours Read more ..


The Way We Are

'Gone With the Wind' Remains America's Favorite Film

January 19th 2015

It might be 75 years old, but the American Civil War saga Gone With the Wind remains firmly in the hearts of American moviegoers.

Based on Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning historical romance, the film premiered in 1939 and followed the tumultuous love story of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler against the backdrop of the burning cities and hardships of war in the American South.

Films from a mix of genres–Star Wars, Titanic, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings–round out the top 5, according to a survey of 2,276 U.S. adults who were asked, “What is your favorite movie of all time?”

AMERICA’S TOP 10 FAVORITE FILMS

1. Gone With the Wind
2. Star Wars
3. Titanic
4. The Godfather
5. Lord of the Rings
6. Sound of Music
7. Dirty Dancing
8. Wizard of Oz
9. It’s a Wonderful Life
10. E.T.

Source: Harris Interactive Poll Read more ..


Book Review

Marching into Darkness: A German Army Bent on Genocide

January 16th 2015

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Marching Into Darkness:The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus. Waitman Wade Beorn. Harvard University Press, 2014. 314 pages

It is a deeply held belief in some circles that the German military was a professional fighting force largely blameless in the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews in World War II.

But a University of Nebraska at Omaha history professor takes a close look at the German army’s complicity in rounding up and executing Jews in Belarus in the opening months of the Eastern Front in 1941.

Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus by Waitman Wade Beorn, assistant professor of history and the Louis and Frances Blumkin professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at UNO, ought to be on the reading list of anyone interested in the German army or battles on the Eastern Front in World War II.

The writing style is more academic than in popular histories, but this book can be highly recommended for anybody interested in military ethics, and in the importance of strong and principled military leadership.

Beorn, a 2000 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and an Iraq war veteran, paints a complex picture. Most German soldiers in the region were, at the very least, willing to do nothing as Belarusian Jews were murdered. Others were willing to actively take part.

But there was a minority who refused to take part and even hid Jews. In many cases, these officers and soldiers were not punished — information that refutes postwar claims of German veterans that they had to go along or face dire consequences. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Selma, Birdman and American Sniper Nominated for 2015 Oscars

January 15th 2015

Hollywood has named its 2015 Academy Award nominees for the coveted Oscar statuettes, with a mix of dramas, comedies and historical biographies dominating the list announced Thursday.

Two movies led the selections, each with nine nominations, including for best picture. The show business satire Birdman tells the story of a struggling actor trying to reinvent his career as a Broadway director, while a comedy, The Grand Budapest Hotel, recounts the tale of a European concierge framed for murder as he tries to prove his innocence.

Two other best picture nominees are British biographical dramas, The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game, which portray the lives of, respectively, scientists Stephen Hawking and Alan Turing.

​​The other best picture nods went to Selma, a U.S. civil rights drama; the Iraq war-based American Sniper; Whiplash, about a young jazz drummer looking to achieve professional acclaim; and Boyhood, a coming-of-age tale filmed over 12 years that traces a boy's youth.

​​Hollywood watchers say Boyhood could walk away with the Best Picture award. It has already won the top award for the best drama in the Golden Globes competition.

The best actor nominees are Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, Steve Carell in Foxcatcher, Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, Michael Keaton in Birdman and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything.

Marion Cotillard was a surprise nominee for best actress for the French-language film Two Days, One Night. She was joined by Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything, Julianne Moore in Still Alice, Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl and Reese Witherspoon in Wild.

Films from Poland, Russia, Argentina, Mali and Georgia were nominated for the Oscar as the best foreign-language movie.

Read more ..

Book Review

The End of Greatness: Grading the Presidents

January 7th 2015

Click to select Image

The End of Greatness Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. Aaron David Miller. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 288 pp.

"Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not..."

"I doubt many readers will agree with all of his arguments – I don't..."

"You may disagree with him at times, as I did..."

That's three out of the four book jacket blurbs on Aaron David Miller's new book, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President. And it is the first clue that this book is an invitation (challenge) for you to go where Miller goes and envision American history as he envisions it — or not. In a political era that demands followers — left or right — it is refreshing to read a book that doesn't worry about what you think, but provides a clear and compelling picture of what the author thinks.

Best known as a Middle East policy adviser to both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, Miller takes on American political history, ranking Presidents as Indispensable, Near Great, Politically Astute, and the Rest of The Guys. Along the way, he wonders if the U.S. is ungovernable.

There are only three Indispensables: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Non-controversial. Most Americans would, and in fact do, say the same when asked. But why? According to Miller, these presidents fundamentally changed the country through a confluence of crisis, character, and capacity to shape events. "We assume inevitability for the American enterprise because of where we now sit, a kind of inexorability that everything was destined somehow to turn out the way it did. We should not." "Nation-encumbering crises," the sort that make the country markedly different by their end, are ones that Miller finds can call forth the character and capacity of Great Presidents. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Author Road Warrior Looks Back on 2014

December 31st 2014

Edwin Black

If you’re award-winning bestselling human rights author Edwin Black, much of your life is spent on the road in book tours, lectures, media events, and scholar-in-residence sessions — scores of them each year. With 1.4 million books in print worldwide, why does he keep doing events?

"Because, even with a million copies," Black explains, "people have questions — shall we say a million questions about my work — issues I wrote about, and quite often, issues that I have not yet written about. That means, I must connect one on one, face to face. I never stop doing that, and never stop enjoying that."

Black wrote IBM and the Holocaust documenting Big Blue's coordination with the Third Reich in its war against the Jews, War Against the Weak about the medical crime known as eugenics, and nine other prize-winning volumes.

He adds, "My inbox receives hundreds of messages each year. In many ways, the book is just the beginning of a relationship. There is always so much more to communicate."

In 2014, Black embarked upon several major "themed" book tours. The publication of his bestselling human rights volume Financing the Flames found legislators worldwide startled at his discoveries about Palestinian terrorist salaries and the conduct of leading Israel-based NGOs, such as the New Israel Fund. Black alleged that NGOs in Israel that were purportedly pursuing peace and reconciliation were in fact misusing taxpayer monies to promote agitation and confrontation in Israel that promoted anything but peace and reconciliation.

Financing the Flames launched in November 2013 at the U.S. House of Representatives live on C-SPAN. That led to his "Parliamentary Tour" in February and March 2014. In a whirlwind effort, Black appeared at four parliaments in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and as a sworn witness before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress. Read more ..


Book Review

41: A Portrait of My Father - The Dynamic Duo of the Bush Family

December 27th 2014

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41: A Portrait of My Father. George W. Bush. Crown Publishers. 2014. 304 pp.

In November 2014, George Walker Bush, forty-third president of the United States (hereafter “43”), published a book about the forty-first president, George Herbert Walker Bush (hereafter “41”). He is the second former president to have written a book about another (Herbert Hoover’s book on Woodrow Wilson). Few associates of either man -- father and son -- seemed to have had any inkling of this project until 43 announced in July that its release would coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 41: A Portrait of My Father includes as frontispiece a photograph of an oil portrait the author has painted of his subject. The author narrates an audio version of the book as well. He has produced a compelling account of the life of a thoroughly decent man.

The first two-thirds of the book cover the period leading up to 41’s inauguration in January 1989. The reader learns of such things as the high standards of waltzing in Greenwich, Connecticut, where 41 first met Barbara Pierce at a country club dance in December 1941. And that, upon setting out to West Texas after World War II, young 43 in tow, the family once shared a house with a “mother-daughter pair who made their living by entertaining male clients throughout the night.” There is additional folksiness and a tale about an office party where 41 placing a rubber onion in a colleague’s martini.

There are also wrenching accounts of the two defining experiences in the lives of the author’s parents: 41’s surviving the 1944 downing of his Grumman TBM Avenger, when his two crewmembers did not; and the loss of three-year-old Paula Robinson “Robin” Bush, who succumbed to leukemia in 1953. Whether or not journalists covering 41 over the course his political career comprehended the magnitude of these devastating moments, they focused more on his privileged background than his humanity. 43 recalls an arresting moment in the 1980 presidential campaign when a reporter asked if 41 had ever experienced “personal difficulties.” The latter responded: “Have you ever sat and watched your child die? I did, for six months.” Read more ..


Film Review

Critics Hate 'The Interview'

December 25th 2014

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Movie critics say the controversy surrounding “The Interview” is much more interesting than the movie itself.

The movie is scoring just a 50 percent positive review from critics on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

It’s fairing even more poorly with top critics, who give it a measly 32 percent positive rating.
The film is doing better with regular fans, however. It gets a 73 percent “liked it” audience score from Rotten Tomatoes.

Critics say the satire about a television host and producer asked by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-un doesn’t deliver the goods. Read more ..


Author's on Tour

NY Times Bestselling Author Explains IBM's Pivotal Involvement with the Holocaust

December 21st 2014

Edwin Black

Newsweek called it “Explosive and Stunning.” The Washington Post called it “Beyond Dispute.” The Milwaukee Journal asserted it was “Impossible to Refute.”

Buy IBM and the Holocaust
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Now New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black comes to Tallahassee’s Holocaust Education Resource Council to deliver an electrifying presentation entitled “How IBM Co-Planned and Co-Organized the Holocaust,” based on his global bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. Black’s presentation is scheduled for 7 PM January 21, 2015 at the FSU Alumni Center Grand Ballroom, 1030 W. Tennessee St., Tallahassee, sponsored by the Florida State University College of Law & the Holocaust Education Resource Council.

More than 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust are in print in numerous editions in more than 14 languages in more than 65 countries. The author has lectured around the world explaining how IBM’s punch card technology, a precursor to the modern computer, organized and systemized the Nazi identification and extermination of six million Jews and millions of other Europeans. The custom-made processes for the Third Reich were micromanaged from the company’s New York headquarters and later its overseas offices after America entered WWII. Black explains how IBM programs organized all six phases of the Holocaust: 1) identification; 2) exclsuion from society; 3) confiscation; 4) ghettoization; 5) deportation; and 6) even extermination.

Brad Pitt and recently optioned the book for a major Hollywood feature film, according to press reports. Read more ..


Book Review

Syria and Lebanon International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East

December 13th 2014

Syria and Lebanon International Relations and Diplomacy in the Middle East. Taku Osoegawa London: I. B. Tauris, 2013. 246 pp.

Trying to understand and explain the ins-and-outs of the Lebanon-Syria relationship is a difficult and often bewildering task. This new attempt by Osoegawa of the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies provides useful information to students interested in case studies applicable to general courses on international relations. It is not recommended for those seeking answers about the dynamics of Lebanese political subservience to Syria.

The book's format suggests it was adapted from a doctoral dissertation that was insufficiently revised for more generalized audiences. Its structure is somewhat mechanical and comes with too many subtitles and redundant summaries. Most importantly, the book does not provide enough background information about Lebanon.

The contours of Lebanese politics and the country's interactions with the outside world date back to its independence in 1943. By focusing on Lebanese-Syrian relations from 1970 on, the author glosses over other important factors in the development of that relationship. Viewing Syrian influence on Lebanon in isolation from the changing patterns of foreign influence that went hand-in-hand with the creation of an independent Lebanon does a great disservice to anyone trying to understand the topic.

Despite this, the book is rich in factual information, illuminating not only the formation of expedient alliances with Syria by Lebanese politicians from different persuasions but also the ease in which they come to infelicitous endings. However, there is little analysis until the work's conclusion when the author explains the nuances of the sectarian divisions in Lebanon and how these shape perceptions towards Syria.

Hilal Khashan writes for the Middle East Quarterly, from where this article is adapted.


Book Review

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan: the Result of Competing Priorities

December 12th 2014

Derailing Democracy in Afghanistan in an Unstable Political Landscape. Noah Coburn and Anna Larson. Columbia University Press, 2013. 304 pp.

The international intervention in Afghanistan that began after the attack on the United States on 9/11 has taken on many forms, some more successful than others. Coburn, a political anthropologist at Bennington College, and Larson of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, focus on elections, critiquing that effort not only in its Afghan specifics, but in its larger context, as part of other and similar international interventions.

The authors provide a detailed analysis of what went progressively wrong with the implementation of elections in Afghanistan, which were supported and funded by the international community. Democracy-promoting "workshops," for example, complete with flip-chart presentations attended by drowsy participants were largely pointless but, nevertheless, were favored by aid agencies because attendance figures produced an easily quantifiable result. Even more troubling is the authors' description of funding "spikes" for elections shortly before they occurred, which were offset by substantial underfunding between campaigns of efforts to sustain democratization.

Yet while the authors demonstrate the problems in international efforts to create a viable electoral democracy in Afghanistan, the images that emerge of its successes are at least as compelling. Campaign posters prominently featured both male and female candidates while the sight of former warlords competing for office alongside academics and average citizens presents a dramatic and hopeful contrast to what prevailed under the Taliban. That the wealthy and well-connected tend to win such elections is hardly unique to Afghanistan. Read more ..



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