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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

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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.

"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
Learn More About IBM and the Holocaust

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 ..


Books and Authors

Author Edwin Black Schools Students on American and Nazi Roots of Racism

December 11th 2014

Edwin Black appears with University of Michigan-Flint students.

Nearly all modern genocides “begin on the campus,” the author of notable books on the Holocaust and U.S. indirect financing of terrorists told an audience at the University of Michigan-Flint. Edwin Black, an investigative journalist and human-rights activist, assailed academics who fail to adequately teach students the historical facts they should know. Black is touring in support of his latest book, Financing the Flames, which documents that American taxpayers are effectively subsidizing terror and instability in the Middle East through public support of nongovernmental organizations.

Black outlined the specific elements of international law in the Middle East, treaty by treaty, chapter and verse. Black then asked rhetorically, “How come you now know more than all the teachers in this city about the history of international law in the Middle East?,” referring to professors in general during a Q&A session. Read more ..


Book Review

The Good War: Why We Shouldn't Have Gone to War in Afghanistan

November 29th 2014

The Good War: Why We Couldn’t Win the War or the Peace in Afghanistan. Jack Fairweather. Basic Books. 2014. 416 pp.

The American war in Afghanistan goes on and on and on. General Martin Dempsey, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was quite honest when he said that to get rid of ISIS, our latest enemy in the never-ending War on Terror, 80,000 US troops will be needed.

While few in Washington will publicly admit that we are in a trap from which we cannot easily extricate ourselves, unable to withdraw or “win” in so complex, varied and perplexing region, there’s something about the place that has attracted would-be conquerors’ passion to control and change so poor, largely illiterate, intensely religious and tribal poppy-growing country as Afghanistan.

Many veteran journalists have been on the scene and written about their experiences. Among the latest and best are the Wall Street Journal’s Anand Gopal’s new, fresh, and biting No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, in which he reveals over and again the failures of America’s military intervention, perhaps even worse than even cynics back home believed. General (ret.) Daniel Bolger’s Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, places much of the blame on US Generals – A bit too much, since he omitted politicians, lobbies and our bellicose home front warriors. Still, his NY Times Op Ed put it best when he defined insanity and US military policies in Afghanistan “as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think we’re there.”

Other worthy books detail how our two wars have badly damaged, even broken so many of our troops. Among the more haunting are Anne Jones’ They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Returned from America’s Wars, the Untold Story and Yochi Dreazon’s new book The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War. Read more ..


Books and Authors

How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street America

November 25th 2014

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Seventy-five years ago, paperback books returned to the United States with the brandname Pocket Books, which began publishing its mass-market paperbacks, sold at a quarter each, with ten titles, among them: Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive, Bambi by Felix Salten, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Returned, because nineteenth-century printers often bound books in paper, yet the practice had all but disappeared during the early part of the twentieth century. It may seem odd to commemorate the advent of cheap pulpy books instead of the far more significant anniversary: the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact on August 23, 1939.

But the saga of cheap paperbacks’ arrival on American soil is intimately tied to the Second World War and its aftermath in a number of ways, deriving from and contributing to wartime innovation, necessity, mobility and censorship. Read more ..


The Edge of Art

Young Nigerian Sculptor Explores Hair, Her African Roots

November 19th 2014

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The young Nigerian sculptor scanned the gallery with satisfaction. Drinks and snacks were laid out neatly on a corner table while her works of sculpture lit up the white walls of the gallery like art on a canvas. Her solo exhibition was about to open and she expected guests from all over Lagos.

Taiye Idahor had mounted her three-week exhibition at WhiteSpace in Ikoyi Lagos Nigeria to display her own exploration of the themes of reincarnation, culture and identity. She used her hair as a navigator to find her roots and her voice, and to bring back memories. So, she called the show Hairvolution. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Tifereth Israel Stages Edwin Black Series on New Israel Fund, IBM and the Holocaust, Oil Addiction and Iran Warhead.

November 7th 2014

Edwin Black

New York Times bestselling investigative author Edwin Black will feature some of his best known investigations at a widely-anticipated Kristallnacht weekend scholar-in-residence at Tifereth Israel in Bensalem outside Philadelphia, November 7-11, 2014.

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames

His six events kick off with November 7 Friday night report detailing the exact design of the Iranian nuclear warhead, and the latest information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, reportedly released just hours before the event.

See the Weekend Program

Saturday afternoon, November 8, Black will chronicle how America and the world became addicted to oil and what might happen if the oil supply is interrupted by Iranian or terrorist action. The presentation is based on his award-winning books, Internal Combustion and British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement, as well as the Plan. Black recently appeared in a Hollywood documentary on oil addiction, called Pump.

Saturday night, Black will reveal newly discovered information about how IBM co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust, based on his New York Times bestselling book IBM and the Holocaust soon to be a Brad Pitt blockbuster. IBM has never disputed his explosive findings which Newsweek called “explosive” and “stunning.”

Sunday morning, November 9, 2014, Black will conclude his scholar-in-residence with the latest revelations about the New Israel Fund’s involvement in the effort to boycott Israel and obtain prosecution of its leaders for war crimes. He will also detail how terrorists receive salaries [paid by American taxpayers. The presentation will be drawn from Black’s recent bestseller, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel, and related research. In February and early March 2014, Black delivered his findings before four parliaments in four weeks: The British House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and finally the U.S. House of Representative Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. Read more ..


Books and Authors

'What Would Lincoln Do?: Wrong Question

November 2nd 2014

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While on a speaking tour for a new book on Lincoln recently, appearing in bookstores and museums and libraries from Washington DC to Mill Valley, California, one question has been repeatedly asked of me in venue after venue: What would Lincoln do? Of course, it isn't phrased precisely that way, but the content is the same: If Abraham Lincoln were president today, do you think he would be striking ISIS? Would he endorse universal health care? What would be his policy towards immigration, privacy, campaign finance, global warming, gay marriage? Would he detain enemies at Guantanamo? How would he respond to the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, to the outbreak of the Ebola virus?

I usually beg off these pleas. Lincoln, after all, had a hard enough task determining policy for his own time, much less generating a blueprint for problems 150 years hence and, anyway, I am uncomfortable with such responsibility being thrust upon me, as if writing a single book about Lincoln makes me capable of channeling his thoughts. Still, there is something poignant in the repeated asking: Americans so desperately want someone to lead them, to make sense of the confusing world they inhabit, to impose sturdy values upon the confusing array of options before us. Who better than Abraham Lincoln?

The fact that we so revere him today would have amused many in Lincoln's own day even - perhaps especially - Lincoln himself. He had been elected in 1860 with the lowest voting percentage (39.8) of any president in American history and it would be many years before he would be etched into the nation's consciousness as the savior of the Union and the Great Emancipator, our most respected president. Americans were judging him in the moment and many of them – in the North as well as the South – judged him unfavorably. Read more ..


Book Review

Death of a King: MLK's Final Year

November 1st 2014

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Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year. Author: Tavis Smiley. Little, Brown & Co), 2014. 288 pp.

Television and radio talk show host and author Tavis Smiley plays an important role in our culture. The mass media’s discussions are so limited in scope and distorted by prejudice that most people have little opportunity to become well informed. Smiley provides that opportunity. As an avid reader and provocative thinker, he keeps pressing in new directions through his Public Broadcasting and Public Radio programs, his sixteen books on various subjects, and his book tours and town hall meetings. His new book, Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year (Little, Brown, and Co., 2014) now moves us toward reconsidering the legacy one of the most important human rights leaders of the twentieth century.

Those of us who lived our lives in the movement or who write about it now have often commented on the startling trajectory of King’s last year of life. On April 4, 1967, at a speech in Riverside Church in New York City, he excoriated the American war in Vietnam as a travesty; he named U.S. policy as state-inspired murder, economic imperialism, and racial and political arrogance. All of it, he warned, could lead the U.S. down the path of great nations that wasted their resources and moral authority on the mass violence of war.

Often titled “Beyond Vietnam,” King’s speech remains the most powerful indictment of the interplay of American militarism, racism, and poverty. Leading to the deaths of over two million Vietnamese and a cascading series of tragedies in Laos and to mass genocide in Cambodia, American policy was not a “mistake,” as both liberal and conservative commentators often supposed. Rather, in King’s view, it represented the systemic illness of an American capitalism hooked on war. Read more ..


Author's on Tour

Human Rights Author Focuses on Money and the Mideast Crisis in North Carolina Series

October 29th 2014

Edwin Black

New York Times bestselling investigative author Edwin Black will detail the financial undercurrents of Mideast conflict during an eight-event, multi-campus scholar-in-residence in Greensboro, North Carolina, sponsored by Guilford College. The presentations will be drawn from Black’s recent bestseller, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel, and related research.

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames

On November 3, 2014, Black will open the series at Greensboro College exploring the challenge of the ISIS terrorism threat with an emphasis on the group’s financial resources, including oil smuggling.

On November 4, 2014, reflecting the findings of Financing the Flames, Black will explore the health impacts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and their relationship to human rights organizations and finances, during a speech at Winston-Salem State University School of Health Sciences. That same day he will also answer general questions about the Mideast crisis for African-American leadership at the Winston-Salem Urban League. The evening of November 4, 2014, Black will deliver the main lecture of the series, “Financing the Flames -- Money and Human Rights in Israel” at Guilford College in Greensboro.

On November 5, 2014, Black will provide a breakfast briefing for Guilford’s international studies majors, emphasizing international law and the Israel crisis. Later that day, he concludes the series with an open discussion for Guilford students about all aspects of the Mideast crisis.

While in the area, Black will also deliver two events for journalism students. “Journalism in the Misinformation Age” is for Guilford College journalism students. The second event, which will be videotaped for the Charlotte Law School Viewpoint Project, will be a memoir about “becoming an investigative reporter” along with insights into oil addiction. Read more ..


Books and Authors

The Long Forgotten History of Tolerance for Religions of All Kinds in the Middle East

October 28th 2014

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The Middle East is fertile ground for religions. Its deserts, mountains and marshes have inspired mystics and prophets; its tribes have provided followers and fighters who can form a new prophet’s core following; and older, persecuted religions can find refuge in its impassable topography. Also, although much of that region seems today to be suffused with cruelty and violence beyond our imagining, it has historically often been a place of intellectual freedom and creativity - a place for the exchange of ideas, and for their intermingling to create new and startling creeds. The survival there of some of the world’s smallest and most remarkable faith communities proves that.

From the Mediterranean as far as the Zagros mountains that divide Iran from Iraq, there are peoples who believe passionately in reincarnation: one of these, the Druze of Lebanon, will sometimes settle inheritance cases with the help of the dead man’s supposedly re-embodied spirit. A belief, inherited from pre-Christian religions, that the essence of God can be manifest in earthly form means that the Alawites of Syria can regard the Greek philosophers, and also the sun and moon, as worthy of religious reverence. In Iran, the Zoroastrians have clung on to their country’s ancient, pre-Islamic customs: as late as the 1950s they were waging regular war on flies, as creatures of darkness, while they treated dogs (which in the Avesta, are seen as allies of good) with great respect and kindness, giving a dead house-dog an almost human funeral. Underlying these customs are philosophies whose origins lie millennia back in time.

Until the eleventh century AD, the Middle East’s Muslim rulers were disinclined to enforce their religion on their subjects. In subsequent centuries, this changed; many non-Islamic communities were brought close to extinction. But those minorities have never been so threatened as they are today. Iraq’s Christians have declined in number by over 50% in twenty years. The Mandaeans, whose religion was actually founded in Iraq in probably the third century AD, have almost all left their country and are scattered across the world. Even Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who form the region’s largest surviving religious minority, have begun to leave their country in accelerating numbers. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

NYC Mayor De Blasio Slams Protest Against Controversial 'Death of Klinghoffer' Opera

October 20th 2014

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday criticized his predecessor Rudolph Giuliani for objecting to the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of The Death of Klinghoffer and defended the Met’s right to stage the controversial performance that has been labeled anti-Semitic, the New York Daily News reported on Monday, hours before the play was set to open.

“The former mayor had a history of challenging cultural institutions when he disagreed with their content. I don’t think that’s the American way. The American way is to respect freedom of speech. Simple as that,” de Blasio said at an unrelated press conference.

Giuliani plans to lead the latest protest against the opera outside the Met on Monday, as the show opens. Critics have labeled the performance anti-Semitic for glorifying the murder of Jewish-American cruise ship passenger Leon Klinghoffer, 69. Wheel chair-bound, Klinghoffer was shot in the head by Palestinian hijackers on the Achille Lauro cruise ship 29 years ago. The terrorists threw his body, along with his wheelchair, overboard into the Mediterranean Sea and his corpse washed up on the Syrian shoreline a few days later. Read more ..


The Edge of Art

MOMA Hails Henri Matisse With 'Cut-Outs' Exhibition

October 15th 2014

MoMA

Blue figures swim around walls, dancers prance in a circle and flowers sprout on a huge canvas in an exhibition of the cut-out works of French artist Henri Matisse that opened this week.

The show, “Henri Matisse: the Cut-Outs,” which runs from Oct. 12 through Feb. 8 at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), includes 100 works from private and public collections, drawings, textiles and stained glass from the final years of the renowned artist, who died in 1954 aged 84.

“It is the most extensive exhibition of this period of Matisse's work ever mounted,” said Jodi Hauptman, a curator of the show, which was organized in collaborations with the Tate Modern in London. Matisse was already famous for his vivid paintings when he began to draw with scissors, cutting colored and painted paper into various shapes, then mounting and pinning them on paper, canvas and the walls of his studio.

Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Tony Bennett Breaks Own Record as Oldest Artist Atop Billboard Chart

October 3rd 2014

Music

From the VOA comes this Reuters report:

At 88, veteran crooner Tony Bennett broke his own record as the oldest living artist to land a No. 1 record on the weekly U.S. Billboard 200 album chart on Wednesday with his latest compilation of duets with Lady Gaga.

“Cheek to Cheek,” which features New York singers Bennett and Gaga singing classics such as “Anything Goes” and “Let's Face The Music And Dance,” sold 131,000 copies in its first week according to figures from Nielsen SoundScan.

Bennett previously set the record for becoming the oldest-living artist to land a No. 1 album in 2011 aged 85, with his compilation “Duets,” which included a track with Gaga.

“Cheek to Cheek” is the second compilation of classic songs to top the Billboard 200 chart for the second consecutive week, after fellow New York songstress Barbra Streisand's “Partners” debuted at No. 1 last week.

Read more ..

Books and Authors

Family Stories Were too Good to Be True are Found by Author to Be True

September 22nd 2014

On a warm fall day in the 1850s, a young man named Washington Duke, after whom Duke University would later be named, visited the courthouse in Hillsboro, North Carolina, looking for a file. The court clerks were unable to locate the file so he left the courthouse empty handed. Upon leaving, Washington noticed a large number of slaves standing in two groups, males to the right and females to the left. As he walked between the two groups, he heard a woman call his name. He turned to see a beautiful female slave, close to his own age, whom he recognized as someone he had met briefly many years earlier.

The young woman explained that her owner had died and that she was going to be auctioned later that day. Noticing her sadness, Washington asked her to tell him her greatest desire. She replied that her greatest desire was to be free from slavery. Washington lowered his head then walked away. Later that day, during the bidding, Washington purchased her for $601 then immediately set her free. Having no place to live Caroline moved into the Duke home where she was provided room, board and a salary in exchange for housekeeping services.

The foregoing story was told to me, when I was a child, by my grandmother Sarah Taylor Duke. She had heard this, and other stories, from my fourth generation great grandfather, William P. Duke. William was a cousin and a contemporary of Washington Duke with whom he spent a great deal of time when they were boys. Many years later, when I was in college, I learned that the Orange County Estate Records in North Carolina, show that on October 15, 1855, Washington Duke purchased a slave named Caroline. Later Census records show that she lived in Washington’s home as a free woman. Read more ..


The Edge of Hate

Anti-Met Opera Movement Gathers Steam Protesting Hate Music

September 22nd 2014

Death of Klinghoffer

A coalition of organizations will protest at Lincoln Center on Monday evening, Sept. 22, at 4:30 PM, across the street from the Lincoln Center Plaza at Broadway & 65th Street to protest the Metropolitan Opera House’s decision to air the “The Death of Klinghoffer.”  Thousands are expected to gather on the first night of the gala opening of the Metropolitan opera season.  Dignitaries and elected officials will raise a voice of outrage  against this opera which promotes terrorism and anti-Semitism.

Confirmed participants include George Pataki, New York’s former Governor, Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General of the United States, Dr. Bill Donahue, President, Catholic League, criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman, Rabbi Avi Weiss, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Nissim Ze’ev, Actor Tony LoBianco, Debra Burlingame (the sister of Charles "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11), and others. Read more ..

Book Review

Essays Treats Important Topics

September 15th 2014

Moral Imagination

Moral Imagination: Essays. David Bromwich. Princeton University Press. 2014. 376 pp.

In Moral Imagination’s dozen essays David Bromwich focuses on important topics: terrorism and war, patriotism, cultural identity, 9/11, the American character, Abraham Lincoln, Edward Snowden and the decline of privacy, and the arrogance of U.S. foreign policy as demonstrated by Dick Cheney and others. But the book’s first essay, “Moral Imagination,” is the most significant of all.

Bromwich is mainly interested in this quality on a national scale, and he identifies it as “the power that compels us to grant the highest possible reality and the largest conceivable claim to a thought, action, or person that is not our own, and not close to us in any obvious way.” It involves compassion and empathy. He traces the concept back to the eighteenth-century Irish-English statesman Edmund Burke, the subject of his The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke (2014). But he then outlines its development through others like the English Romantic poets and Lincoln down to Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech “A Time to Break Silence.” In it “King imagines himself in the position of the Vietnamese under the bombing sorties of B-52s, or the casualties of what was called the ‘pacification program.’ ” Bromwich has had much more to say about this great speech in his “Martin Luther King's Speech Against the Vietnam War,” but unfortunately this essay is not included in Moral Imagination.

Just a year after King’s speech, Kentucky writer Wendell Berry in “A Statement against the War in Vietnam” (1968) stated, “We have been led to our present shameful behavior in Vietnam by this failure of imagination, this failure to perceive a relation between our ideals and our lives.” As I have indicated in a previous essay, Berry has subsequently lamented our lack of imagination, what Bromwich would call our moral imagination, “in government, in the corporate economy, in the universities,” and in our foreign policy.

Although the essays in Moral Imagination were written for different occasions over the past two decades, Bromwich believes that they are united by their concern with power, conscience, and moral imagination. In the post-Cold-War era, he thinks that too often the U.S. government has wished “to stand unopposed at the center of the world. This ambition is conventional, not particularly democratic, and in no way imaginative.” Read more ..


The War on Terror

Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel's War on Hamas

September 12th 2014

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Hamas quickly produces photographs of dead babies to be shown around the world, while at the same time preventing the media from showing its rocket launchers in densely populated areas.

Unless Hamas's "dead baby strategy" is denounced and stopped -- by the international community, the media, the academy and all good people -- it will be coming soon "to a theater near you".

If Hamas's dead baby strategy works, why not repeat it every few years? And why shouldn't other terrorist groups, like ISIS and Boko Haram, adapt this strategy to their nefarious goals as Hezbollah has already done?

On June 13, 2014, the commander of the Gaza Division of the Israel Defense Forces took me into a Hamas tunnel that had recently been discovered by a Bedouin tracker who serves in the IDF. The tunnel was a concrete bunker that extended several miles from its entrance in the Gaza Strip to its exit near an Israeli kibbutz kindergarten.

The tunnel had one purpose: to allow Hamas death squads to kill and kidnap Israelis. The commander told me that Israeli intelligence had identified more than two dozen additional tunnel entrances in the Gaza Strip. They had been identified by the large amounts of earth being removed to dig them. Although Israeli intelligence knew where these entrances were, they could not order an attack from the air, because they were built into civilian structures such as mosques, schools, hospitals, and private homes.

Nor could Israel identify their underground routes from Gaza into Israel, or their intended exit points in Israel. Israeli scientists and military experts had spent millions of dollars in an effort to develop technologies that could find the underground routes and intended exits for tunnels that were as deep as a hundred feet beneath the earth, but they had not succeeded in finding a complete solution to this problem. The planned exits from these tunnels in Israel were also a Hamas secret, hidden deep in the ground and incapable of being discovered by Israel until the Hamas fighters emerged. At that point it would be too late to prevent the death squads from doing their damage. Read more ..


Oil Addiction

PUMP Changes Everything About Fuel Addiction

September 10th 2014

Pump

Submarine Deluxe, in association with Fuel Freedom Foundation and iDeal Film Partners, have announced the limited theatrical release of PUMP this fall. The film will open in select cities on Friday, September 12th, 2014, and will expand to additional markets on September 19th.

see the PUMP trailer

Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and narrated by Jason Bateman, PUMP is an inspiring, eye-opening documentary that tells the story of America's addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how we can end it – and finally win choice at the pump.

see the PUMP website

Today oil is our only option of transportation fuel at the pump. Our exclusive use of it has drained our wallets, increased air pollution and sent our sons and daughters to war in faraway lands. PUMP shows us how through the use of a variety of replacement fuels, we will be able to fill up our cars – cheaper, cleaner and American made - and in the process, create more jobs for a stronger, healthier economy.

The film features notable experts such as John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil US; Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors; Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation; bestselling author Edwin Black, and other noteworthy figures who share their passionate views and knowledge. An important film for anyone who drives or owns a car, PUMP will inform the audience how to change their lives for the better: save money, create jobs and improve the environment. Read more ..


Book Review

Hitler's Pact with Stalin 1939-1941

September 5th 2014

The Devils' Alliance

The Devils' Alliance. Roger Moorhouse. Basic Books. 2014. 432 pp.

“On August 23, 1939, Stalin drank to Hitler’s health. Although the two dictators would never meet, the agreement that they had forged that day would change the world.”

So begins Roger Moorhouse’s outstanding and revelatory book about the startling and  shocking story  how Nazi Germany and Communist Russia teamed up to divide eastern Europe, allowing Moscow to absorb large swathes of Poland and the Baltics while granting Berlin a free hand  to attack Poland and successfully invade western Europe. As good as it is, he exaggerates a bit in claiming that “ignorance of the subject is surprising” and the “pact remains largely unknown,” which is certainly not true among historians of the era.

Bitter ideological enemies, the two behemoths had recently fought as proxies in Spain’s Civil War.  But on August 23, 1939, prompted by unapologetic realpolitik  and mindful of what might be gained from linking up, and in spite of some skepticism within their inner circles, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed. The Soviets had signaled their intent when it replaced its moderate Jewish foreign minister  Maxim Litvinoff, a symbol of anti-Nazism and the Popular Front, with Vyachaslav Molotov, Stalin’s classic poodle. “Fascism,” he said after dismissing criticism, “ is a matter of taste.” Hitler, meanwhile, reluctantly bought  the arguments of his foreign minister Joachim  von Ribbentrop and members of his eastern-oriented  foreign office that German national interests would best be served by such a pact.

For communists and their sympathizers throughout the world the news of the signing  was nothing less than a bombshell. Long devoted to the principle that  the Soviet Union and not the appeasement-minded west was the greatest bulwark against the Nazi evil, they were now suddenly forced to become  instant ideological acrobats, overnight shifting its messages and policies from spirited anti-fascism to isolationism. In the U.S., the Party directed its loyalists to its new catchphrase “No, the Yanks are Not Coming”— a throwaway slogan once Germany invaded Russia in 1941 and a connection to the west was imperative. Read more ..


Film Review

Calvary: An Exercise in Trolley-ology

September 3rd 2014

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Calvary. Director: John Michael McDonagh. Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Orla O'Rourke, Chris O'Dowd, M. Emmet Walsh. Length: 90 mins.

John Michael McDonagh's Calvary is, among other things, a bit like one of those exercises in what moral philosophers call trolleyology. This takes its name from a classic problem originally proposed by the philosopher Philippa Foot about whether or not it's OK to re-route a runaway trolley so that it kills one person, who would not otherwise have been killed, rather than the five people it will kill if it's not re-routed. In other words, the problem’s being far-fetched to the point of fanciful is of its very essence.

They say that hard cases make bad law, but these hard cases were invented for the sake of the bad law. Bad law can be good intellectual fun — though of course it still is bad law. Those who engage in such moral speculations openly dare you to object that the situation they propose is so improbable as to make them ridiculous rather than serious.

Sticking to the cinema, we might find another sort of comparison in a post-modern movie like Speed (1994), which likewise dares you to make fun of its bizarre set up. The city bus in that movie, you may remember, has been rigged up (never mind how) with a fiendishly clever bomb set by a pyrotechnical genius (played by Dennis Hopper), which is set to go off the instant the bus's speed drops below 50 miles per hour as it travels on L.A. roads and highways where such speeds can rarely be obtained. It's utterly absurd, but it so calls attention to its own absurdity as to disarm criticism and all but draw us in every time it, or Keanu Reeves, says, "What do you do? What do you do?" Read more ..


Film Review

Boyhood: It Should Have Been a Divorce

September 1st 2014

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Boyhood. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Patricia Arquetta, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. 165 minutes.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a movie, like most of those made by the late Stanley Kubrick, which is almost inseparable from its critical reception. Both directors, I think, predispose critics to see them as making socially significant statements about the world we live in — and by "we" I mean, of course, those of us who, like the critics themselves, come from the great American middle classes. Thus, although Boyhood has won golden opinions from almost all the critical fraternity, it seems to me that, insofar as it is about boyhood, it is rather a bust.

There is nothing in its exiguous story of a boy growing up that we haven’t seen before, or nothing of much intrinsic interest. The interest is, rather, in the movie’s production — its gimmick, if you will — which (in the unlikely event of your not having heard of it) is that it was shot over a twelve-year period and the boy named Mason shown growing up in it is actually growing up before our eyes with the actor, Ellar Coltrane, who plays him.

Everybody seems to think it wonderfully clever of Mr Linklater to have managed this, though François Truffaut did it in a less deliberate way and over multiple pictures with Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, beginning with Les Quatre Cent Coups in 1959, when his star was only 14, and ending with L’amour en fuit in 1978. Though I admit the device required a certain amount of luck and a lot of patience, I think the fuss about it is a bit overdone. Surely what matters is not the innovation in production, if it is one, but what is done with it, and what is done with it in Boyhood seems to me pretty unremarkable for what it is, though it’s a bit more interesting for what it is not. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Artworks Tell Story of American Culture, History

August 31st 2014

ocean of American flags

“Allies Days, May 1917,” an impressionistic scene of flags fluttering over midtown Manhattan, was painted by Childe Hassam to celebrate the United States' entry into World War I.  It is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, and throughout August at a bus stop in downtown Washington and in hundreds of other locations across the country.

It’s part of Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor art campaign in the U.S. The open-air art galleries present reproductions of 58 American paintings, photographs and other works of art spanning 230 years of history in 50,000 unexpected locations.

“It’s really educating people about the foundation of the American visual culture,” says Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery of Art. “The idea of using public spaces to advertise great artworks of American art and to bring attention to works in parts of the country that might not even know about these paintings or their locations.” Read more ..


Book Review

Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

August 30th 2014

Careless People

Careless People. Sarah Churchwell. Penguin Press. 2014. 432 pp.

Sarah Churchwell is Professor of Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia, which I assume means that part of her academic mission is to write for that endangered species, the “general reader.”  If so, her new book—a highly readable study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that combines biography, literary analysis, and what might be called “contextualization"-- fulfills that mission admirably.  It will also appeal, in particular, to historians.  By placing the author and his “invention” in their time and place, she demonstrates the importance of historical context—and also the interpretive limits of that context when trying to explain artistic creativity.

After publishing, in short order, two novels--This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922)—and two collections of short stories, Fitzgerald had already become the public personification of “The Jazz Age,” a promotional coup that he and his wife, Zelda, did nothing to discourage.  Indeed, as Churchwell’s close examination of the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks shows, they watched the press as closely as it watched them.

In the fall of 1922, while Scott waited for the ideas and inspiration for his next project—the one that would eventually become Gatsby—the Fitzgeralds rented an impressive home in Great Neck, Long Island, where they could “party” (a word that, appropriately for the “Roaring Twenties,” was about to become a verb).   Churchwell begins her own project here:  “Using newspaper reports, biography, correspondence, the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks, and other archival material, I piece together a collage of the Fitzgeralds’ world….a kind of two-part invention in which fact and fiction are in contrapuntal relation.”  She is appropriately restrained about what she might achieve:  “Instead of trying to be definitive, what follows mixes explication with intimation, trying to suggest how inspiration might have worked.” Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Yiddish Tango Reflects Jewish Life in Argentina

August 28th 2014

Music

For most people, tango evokes a passionate dance form. For Argentine-born Gustavo Bulgach, tango is music with an attitude. 

“Tango means the blues. Tango is not just tango - it means - it’s an attitude that you want to express," he said. "In every language, in Yiddish, in Spanish - in whatever language - Tango represents that kind of attitude of losing or having your heart broken by life.”

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. 

Fusion of melodies, culture
The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Bulgach is the band leader of the Yiddish Tango Club, a group that fuses a form of Jewish dance music known as "klezmer" with Argentine tango. 

“Tango is not only Argentinian. It’s a loop from Europe also. It’s like something dramatic, and it’s the count…maybe one, two, three,” says vocalist Divina Gloria. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

August 23rd 2014

Ebola health workers and corpse

In Liberia’s capital, Ebola has captured the airwaves, and it's not just news about the often-fatal disease. The hit song Ebola in Town has a danceable beat, while also conveying a serious message about avoiding infection.

The idea for the song was conceived back in May, by three Liberian musicians who thought people weren't taking the Ebola outbreak seriously enough. People thought it was a government trick to get aid money.

The musicians wanted to get people’s attention. It worked. Just a few days after they recorded it, Ebola in Town was a hit all over Monrovia.

Musician Samuel “Shadow” Morgan says he and his fellow artists didn't want to produce the typical awareness song: slow, mellow and serious. They wanted something people could dance to. “Since everybody wants to dance these days, they will first dance to the beat," Morgan said. "And the next thing is, they will learn the chorus. From the chorus, you start going into the verses and what the song is actually about.” Read more ..


Book Review

Commodore Levy Comes Alive in a Passion of History

August 20th 2014

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Commodore Levy: A Novel of America in the Age of Sail. Author: Irving Litvag. Publisher: Texas Tech University Press. 2014

The late Irving Litvag had a passion for history. He liked nothing more than to immerse himself in meticulous research on various topics, including the lives of remarkable people. That passion is in full display in Litvag’s posthumously published historical novel “Commodore Levy: A Novel of America in the Age of Sail” (Texas Tech University Press, $45).

Litvag was a former news writer for the CBS Radio Network and a public-relations executive, along with being a former editor of the St. Louis Light, predecessor to the St. Louis Jewish Light, in the early 1960s. The lifelong St. Louis resident published two earlier books: “Singer in the Shadows,” about the famous St. Louis case of a young woman named Pearl Curran, who seemed to “channel” the poetic and literary voice of a young English girl from centuries ago; and “The Master of Sunnybank: A Biography of Albert Payson Terhune,” the dog breeder and noted novelist of canine adventure stories (about his beloved collies).

Litvag manages to strike just the right balance with “Commodore Levy,” whose life was so filled with actual drama that it keeps the reader’s attention as it moves through the turbulent true story of Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862).

Levy’s life spanned the lives of some of the greatest presidents of the United States. He was 5 years old when George Washington died in 1797. He worked with, and greatly admired, Thomas Jefferson and provided the funds to restore Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. Levy also lived long enough that when he was almost 70, he pleaded with President Abraham Lincoln to let him rejoin active naval duty during the Civil War. Lincoln politely refused. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russian Rocker Called a 'Traitor' For Performing for IDPs in Ukraine

August 18th 2014

Music

Some Russian lawmakers are supporting a campaign against rock musician Andrei Makarevich, threatening to strip him of state awards after he performed for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the eastern Ukraine last week. 

Makarevich, founder of rock group Mashina Vremeni, or "Time Machine," was invited by a pro-Kyiv Ukrainian volunteer foundation to tour eastern Ukrainian cities ravaged during the conflict between separatist insurgents and the government forces.

He gave a charity concert on August 12 to IDP children in Donetsk Oblast's war-stricken town of Svyatogorsk. Makarevich posted a photograph on his Facebook page of a Svyatogorsk hall full of excited children standing and clapping.

"Andrei Makarevich has been partnering with fascists for a long time," lawmaker Yevgeny Fyodorov of the ruling United Russia party told the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia" on August 18. "He made this choice a fairly long time ago, back when he sided with the Russian Federation's enemies." Read more ..



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