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The Way We Are

Maryland Community Becomes Patron of the Arts

July 6th 2013


Artists would like to devote all their effort on their craft, but the need to make money often forces them to focus on creating works that can be sold. A small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has become a patron of the arts, and the community hopes its burgeoning patronage will give local artists creative freedom.

Vicco von Voss has been making wooden furniture from salvaged materials for 20 years. “When I get a tree that has been blown over by a hurricane or strictly taken down by a tree company, I have the opportunity to give this tree a second life,” he said. Von Voss is known for creating elegant, yet functional pieces.  “Part of my philosophy is that if it took a tree 80 years to grow, I need to build something that will last for that same duration.” Read more ..

Book Review

Disinformation: Soviet & Russian Assaults on Israel, America and Religion

July 5th 2013


Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism. Co-authors: Ion Pacepa and Ronald Rychlak. WND Publishers. 2013. 362 pp.

In an exclusive interview, Ronald Rychlak, co-author of a new book entitled Disinformation, offered further insights into the Soviet era campaign to enflame worldwide passions not only against the United States and Israel, but also the Catholic Church. Rychlak said that the Soviet Union engaged in an “evolutionary process” since the time of the Second World War and into the present day to undermine U.S. relations with Muslim and Mideast oil-producing countries by casting it as the guarantor and promoter of supposed designs by Israel and Jews to expand their economic power and territorial claims. Moreover, said Rychlak, targeting the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations for its program of infiltration and disinformation, the Soviets and successors in Russia sought to eliminate opponents to violent revolution.

Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, is the product of meticulous research and collaboration. Rychlak is a professor of law at the University of Mississippi and the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope, and Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis. Ion Pacepa remains a mysterious figure. Pacepa served in the spy services of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and worked closely with the Soviets. Having experienced a change of heart, Pacepa sought asylum in the United States in 1977 during the Carter administration. While he is the author of several books, including Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption, he remains in hiding and in fear for his life. Read more ..

Book Review

FDR and the Jews: What More Should He Have Done?

July 1st 2013

FDR and the Jews

FDR and the Jews. Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman. Belknap. 2013. 464 pp.

Years after World War II ended I often visited Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fourth Reich” because of its large number of Central European Jews who had escaped the Nazis, the Kissinger family among them. Whether they were eligible to vote or not, they overwhelmingly supported FDR, grateful for having been welcomed into the country. Nearby, a goodly number of them lived on the Upper West Side, all well-served by German-Jewish cultural and social societies and Aufbau, a literate, once-thriving German language Jewish newspaper.

Since then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected four times with overwhelming American Jewish support, and revered by millions of other Americans for his New Deal reforms and efforts to win the war, has for decades been ironically subjected to revisionist, often bitter criticism for allegedly having forsaken European Jews in their time of greatest need.

Arthur Morse’s While Six Million Died in 1968 caused a sea change among many American Jews, when he charged that FDR had done far too little to rescue Jews caught in Hitler’s deadly trap. The non-Jewish David Wyman brought his condemnation of FDR’s supposed failures to the pages of Commentary, where he wrote that hundreds of thousands of imperiled Jews might have well been saved had the U.S. acted early and with courage. Read more ..

Book Review

Still More to Learn about Corporate Complicity with the Third Reich

June 28th 2013

The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler

In 2000, while an editor at Crown Publishing, I acquired a book that later became an international sensation and a bestseller in the US. It was IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black. I believed it was imperative that the book be published because it documented hitherto unknown revelations such as the fact that IBM’s punch card tabulation system was licensed to the Third Reich which then used the technology to catalog and keep track of Jews and others under its rule they deemed undesirables. Turned out that corporate complicity with Hitler was as American as cherry pie.

In the years since Black’s book was published, I’ve seen a lot of other histories of the Third Reich, but few have struck me as packing the same historical punch as the book on IBM. Until today, that is. Reading the NY Times on the web, I saw this headline, “Scholar Asserts That Hollywood Avidly Aided Nazis,” tipping an article about a forthcoming book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand, a 35-year old historian from Australia.

The story by Jennifer Schuessler reports Urwand has found copious documentation showing how very willing Hollywood executives were to make their movies in ways that would please Nazi officials, including Hitler himself. Some of these execs were Jewish, but they cooperated anyway.

The Times reports that in Urwand’s book, “On page after page, he shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.” Read more ..

Book Review

History is Only Inevitable in Retrospect

June 27th 2013


Hitlerland. Andrew Nagorski. Simon & Schuster. 2012. 400 pp.

Asking readers not to think about World War II in a book about the rise of Hitler is a tall order. But if you can read the public and private correspondence of American diplomats and journalists in Berlin between the wars as they were written—as contemporaneous commentary—Andrew Nagorski's Hitlerland is not only compelling, it is a warning.

Nagorski reminds us, "The unfolding of history only looks inevitable in retrospect," and "in retrospect" is how we learn. As the United States and its allies contemplate the war between radical Sunni expansionists and radical Shiite expansionists as it affects the Middle East and the West, Hitlerland has lessons.

The inter-war period of the 20th Century was a Golden Age for American journalists in Europe, and Berlin was the best seat in the house. Every major newspaper and radio station had a foreign correspondent. Dorothy Thompson, William Shirer, Bella Fromm, Howard K. Smith, Sigrid Schultz, S. Miles Bouton and others lived well and cultivated close social and working relations with American diplomats and German officials. Ernest Hemmingway, Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Wolfe dropped in. They began to arrive in the early 1920s, and they saw the privation of war, and the depression and chaos born of defeat. Ben Hecht, still a future star, wrote to his editor at The Chicago Daily News, "Germany is having a nervous breakdown. There is nothing sane to report."

Edgar Mowrer of The Chicago Daily News and his wife Lilian confessed to puzzlement over aspects of German behavior, such as the 150,000 organized German nudists about whom they wrote. Lilian Mowrer was troubled by the "loose emotional fervor" and "ardent yearning for something 'different'" among the nudists and concluded that their feelings "could be just as easily canalized and turned in any other direction by an unscrupulous leader interested in using it for his own ends." She asked Edgar, "Do you think Germans are madder than any other peoples? They seem so unbalanced…so hysterical." "They lack coherence," he replied. "They are so rich in intellect and poor in common sense. And there is almost nothing they can't persuade themselves to believe." Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Arab-Israeli Singer Bridges Cultures Through Music

June 25th 2013

Mira Awad

Arab-Israeli songwriter and pop star Mira Awad began her weeklong run at New York’s Metropolitan Room by singing a traditional tune from the Arab village in northern Israel where she was born in 1975 to a Palestinian father and a Bulgarian mother.

“It comes from the belly. It doesn’t come from thinking," Awad said of her music. "It doesn’t come from a planned way of singing like opera or like the Western kind of singing which is very calculated. This is much more passionate like flamenco, like these things that come from the blood. Like we say: 'We have hot blood.' It’s not by accident.”

There is a different sort of heat in the soulful Europop songs Awad’s fans are most familiar with. All My Faces is the title song from her 2011 album. “It only tackles the level of my womanhood, but it’s like that about everything," Awad said. "We all have many faces. No one is one thing. That’s boring. We are all made out of many many many many layers.”     Read more ..

Book Review

The Commercialization of Higher Education

June 23rd 2013

What’s Going On at UAardvark?

What's Going On at UAardvark. Lawrence S. Wittner. Solidarity Press. 2013. 243 pp.

What if the trend toward commercialization of higher education continued and accelerated? What would the fully commercial university look like? Lawrence Wittner presents UAardvark: every building named after a corporation; TV sets that can’t be turned off, broadcasting commercials in classrooms, dorms, and offices; and a president negotiating to store radioactive waste in the New Technology Center.

Wittner taught history for thirty-six years at the State University of New York at Albany, and has widely published on peace movements and nuclear disarmament. His recent memoir, Working for Peace and Justice, identifies him as an activist intellectual; he serves on the national board of Peace Action. This is his first novel.

Administrative malfeasance, corporate greed, and faculty passivity spin out of control at UAardvark, when a burnt-out, hard drinking, lone wolf, formerly radical English professor, Jake Holland, decides to take on the military-industrial-academic complex that is ruining American education. Defending academic integrity and the liberal arts ideal is crucial in an age when private charity replaces public investment in higher ed. The danger of commercialization is real. Therein lies the attraction and the weakness of this parody. In What’s Going On at UAardvark?, commercialization is a simple story of good versus evil.

The bad guys are mercilessly lampooned by Wittner. UAardvark boasts the Fox News School of Communications and Hilde’s Beauty Salon Department of Women’s Studies. A Vice President for Surveillance sends spies into classrooms. The Joint Chiefs of Staff discuss their newest weapons system, CRUD, the Complete and Robust Underground Destroyer, designed to tunnel underneath Mexico to end the threat to U.S. national security posed by Costa Rica. Read more ..

Book Review

An Inner History of the New America

June 20th 2013

The Unwinding

The Unwinding. George Packer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2013. 448 pp.

Though probably unfair, my graduate school recollection of the three books comprising the John Dos USA trilogy of novels -- The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936) -- is that of a better idea than reality. The sheer sprawl of the work, a veritable scrapbook of experimental prose that sought to encompass a broad swath of American experience, was impressive in ambition, but a bit tedious in execution. In terms of scale, at least, George Packer's The Unwinding is a more modest enterprise. It's also a piece of reporting rather than fact-based fiction. But the effect of such relative trimmed sails is a tighter, if more melancholy, book. And one at least as resonant in capturing its historical moment.

Coming in at over 400 hefty pages, The Unwinding offers a granular, empirical confirmation, at the level of lived experience, of what many of us experience as the defining perception of our time. And that is that we are moving backward, that the hard-won gains of the welfare state -- a story whose lineaments Richard Hofstadter sketched in The Age of Reform (1955) and whose trajectory extended into the Great Society -- are unraveling at an accelerating rate. This unspooling, or unwinding, became discernible during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and its effects have been shaping the lives of an ever-greater proportion of Americans. For the few (i.e. those at the top), this has been an experience of liberation; for the many, it amounts to a dismantling of the American Dream among people reluctant to relinquish their loyalty to a myth that is ossifying into a lie.

Like Dos Passos, Packer's signal strategy is biographical. He gives us a kaleidoscopic array of characters centering on a three not-quite undistinguished Americans: North Carolinian Dean Price, a southern entrepreneur pursuing the promise of biodiesel fuels; Tammy Thomas, an Ohio factory worker turned community organizer; and Jeff Connaughton, a Washington DC political operative who struggles to maintain his optimism amid his growing disillusionment with American government (and, in particular, his disillusionment with his one-time hero, Joe Biden). These three portraits are augmented by others, among them Michael Van Sickler, a Tampa-based journalist with a front-row seat for the real estate crash of the last five years, and the Hartzells, also based in Tampa, a family perpetually poised on the brink of poverty-induced disaster. Read more ..

Book Review

Time for Reconciliation?

June 19th 2013

FDR and the Jews

FDR and the Jews. Allan Lichtman. Belknap Press. 2013. 464 pp.

Years after World War II ended I often visited Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fourth Reich” because of its large number of Central European Jews who had escaped the Nazis, the Kissinger family among them. Whether they were eligible to vote or not, they overwhelmingly supported FDR, grateful for having been welcomed into the country. Nearby, a goodly number of them lived on the Upper West Side, all well-served by German-Jewish cultural and social societies and Aufbau, a literate, once-thriving German language Jewish newspaper.

Since then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected four times with overwhelming American Jewish support, and revered by millions of other Americans for his New Deal reforms and efforts to win the war, has for decades been ironically subjected to revisionist, often bitter criticism for allegedly having forsaken European Jews in their time of greatest need.

Arthur Morse’s While Six Million Died in 1968 caused a sea change among many American Jews, when he charged that FDR had done far too little to rescue Jews caught in Hitler’s deadly trap. The non-Jewish David Wyman brought his condemnation of FDR’s supposed failures to the pages of Commentary, where he wrote that hundreds of thousands of imperiled Jews might have well been saved had the U.S. acted early and with courage. Soon after, his well-received book The Abandonment of the Jews set the tone for other books and articles. As a result, many readers and commentators, some far less temperate, soon began claiming that FDR was an anti-Semite (wrong) and that he and a cadre of State Department officials were motivated by intense dislike of Jews (right).

None of these charges of apathy and indifference and worse should have been surprising given the enormity of what later came to be called the Holocaust. In the midst of the most devastating and destructive war in recorded history, Europe’s Jews were singled out, slaughtered, gassed, and far from the concentration camps in Eastern Europe, vast numbers of Russian Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen, German death squads. The historian Christopher Browning called them Ordinary Men, "working-class German volunteers who executed tens of thousands of Jews," most likely many of my father’s family among them. What was most difficult to believe, at least at the beginning of their carefully planned, systematic mass butchery was that it was conceived and carried out by a nation once known and respected for its historic cultural and intellectual achievements. Read more ..

The Music Edge

Music Inspires Embattled DC Students

June 18th 2013

school kids

Inner-city schools in the United States are in crisis, plagued by high drop-out rates, crime-infested neighborhoods and underfunded programs.

Kid Pan Alley, a small, creative non-profit that conducts songwriting workshops for students nationwide, recently visited a school in Washington's tough Anacostia neighborhood.

Songwriter and recording artist Paul Reisler founded the organization in 1999, working with more than 35,000 students and producing over 2,200 songs since then.

An influential musician who has performed widely since the 1970s, Reisler founded and led the influential folk band Trapezoid and continues to perform with his new group Paul Reisler & A Thousand Questions. He said music's transformative power can teach children skills they would not otherwise receive in an American educational system that relies increasingly on standardized tests to measure success. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Investigative Author Edwin Black in Toronto Details Iranian Nuclear Warhead

June 17th 2013

Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will detail the design specifics of the Iranian nuclear warhead in a special broadly-sponsored community event in Toronto, June 19, 2013, entitled “Inside Iran’s Nuclear Warhead.” In original research for a syndicated series, Black revealed the three-step detonators, and hi-tech warhead configuration Iran had painstaking developed in its years-long march toward nuclear confrontation with Israel. This information along with update specifics will be presented at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue, 7 PM, June 19.

In a special leadership event sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada, Black will also chronicle IBM's robust 12-year alliance with Nazi Germany detailing how the company co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust. Black has established a track-record of riveting sessions documenting the conscious involvement of IBM in co-planning and co-organizing all six phases of Hitler's Holocaust: 1) identification; 2) exclusion; 3) confiscation; 4) ghettoization; 5) deportation and 6) even extermination. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

IBM's program of complicity in genocide, purely for profit, was first exposed in Black's international and New York Times best-selling book, IBM and the Holocaust, now with more than a million copies in print in 14 languages in 80 countries. The author has garnered numerous awards for the work and speaks on the topic at campuses and Holocaust museums across the United States and overseas. Despite being flooded by more than a decade of requests from media and communal leaders, IBM has never denied or explained the details of the book. Read more ..

Book Review

Making War at Fort Hood: the Unsettling Cost of Armed Conflict

June 12th 2013

Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community.

Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community. Kenneth T. MacLeish. Princeton. 2013. 280 pp.

Fort Hood, in Texas, is named after Confederate General John Bell Hood, who lost his arm and leg at Gettysburg and Chickamauga but was defeated at Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. It employs 50,000 troops and civilian employees and is close by the city of Killeen, population 130,000, and which, like most military satellite cities and towns, thrives because of its location, selling food, goods of all sorts, housing, and loans, some no doubt predatory. In fact, as Kenneth T. MacLeish writes, Killeen is “more prosperous than Austin, the state capital, home to a large university and a booming tech sector.” When he asked soldiers what impression off-base civilians mistakenly held of them he was told “That we have a lot of money.”

What McLeish, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society at Vanderbilt University, has done is explore the impact of our recent wars on the military men and women and their families and loved ones. For those who have never served in the military and been burdened by its demands, Making War at Forth Hood is a humane and penetrating look in some depth at a huge military base and its military and civilian inhabitants. Some of his material is very familiar, given the combat experiences of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But what he does that is different is put it all into context.

MacLeish frankly admits at the outset that we -- presumably himself too -- Americans “don’t know as much as we think we do about what the violence done by and visited on soldiers means for them or for us “ Dime -- a pseudonym, like all his interviewees -- is a thirty-five-year-old veteran of Iraq, married with kids, who joined up at age thirty-one so his kids would have health insurance, who tells MacLeish the first time they met,” Don’t fuckin’ leave any of this shit out.” Read more ..

The Edge of Broadway

Best of Broadway to be Honored Sunday

June 8th 2013

Tom Hanks-Tony Awards

It’s spring in New York and that means it’s time for the Tony Awards, which recognize the best musicals, plays and actors on Broadway.

Sex is in the Heel is one of the show-stopping tunes that garnered Kinky Boots a Tony nomination for Best Musical. David Cote,  theater critic for "Time Out New York," says its 13 nominations are well-deserved.

“Kinky Boots is a bright, funny, silly but sentimental show about drag queens in a shoe factory in England,” he said. “It’s an underdog story. So in that sense it’s a good show, it’s a fun show, it’s a crowd-pleaser, it’s an American show." Kinky Boots faces stiff competition from Matilda, a Royal Shakespeare Company production based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Analyst Fleishman Launches book 'Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era'

June 7th 2013

Latin America in the post-Chavez era

U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade has been focused on its response to the challenges posed by Venezuela’s efforts, in the person of President Hugo Chávez, to set Latin America on an independent course. Under Chávez, Venezuela beefed up its military with help from Russia and Iran, while also influencing elections and policy throughout the region. Now that Chávez is gone, it remains to be seen just what shape his legacy - Bolivarian Revolution – will take under his successors.

Under Chávez, Venezuela took an ever-increasingly leftist course in its foreign policy as the red-shirted military man drew closer to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and became critical of U.S. policy in Latin America. His domestic tactics drew criticisms from both sophisticated Venezuelan elites and international observers who became increasingly concerned over strong-arm tactics used by the Chavez government. Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s hand-picked successor, gives every indication that he will continue on the path set by Chávez, even to the point of making bizarre accusations against the U.S. and his neighbor, Colombia. Maduro recently drew ridicule for suggesting that the U.S. plans to “poison” him with the help of President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.

Luis Fleishman, a scholar of Latin American security issues, tackles Chávez’s legacy and what it holds for the future in his new book, Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era: The Security Threat to the United States. He will launch this important work at The Fund for American Studies in Washington D.C. on June 10. It is published by Potomac Books.

Since Chávez’s 1998 election, the entire political landscape of Latin America has undergone a sea change. Ignoring a finding by the Organization of American States approving Paraguay's 2012 impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo, for example, South America's republics closed ranks against Paraguay and shut it out from the MERCOSUR regional trade bloc. It was then, over the objections of Paraguay, that Venezuela was admitted as a member. Chávez influenced the region by supplying Cuba and Nicaragua with subsidized petroleum, while he also subsidized the election of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to the presidency of Argentina. Read more ..

Film Review

Frances Ha: Chanelling Francois Truffaut

June 7th 2013

frances ha

Frances Ha. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner. Length: 90 mins.

The title of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is an allusion to something at the very end of the film, a visual suggestion that part of the heroine has been amputated during the course of what we have seen during the previous 86 minutes — a part that has something to do with the youth, exuberance, innocence, enthusiasm, idealism and a powerful attachment to one other person that we see in her in the beginning. The danger of pointing up this moral to the story, however, is that it invites the rejoinder: what did Mr Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) think was involved in growing up? In order for a movie like this to work very well, you have to put in something that shows how the central character’s learning and maturation process, otherwise so ordinary, is in fact special and not just what pretty much everybody goes through — or else how it can stand for something bigger and more important than itself.

As it happens, Frances Ha is put together as, among other things, an hommage to François Truffaut’s greatest film, Jules et Jim (1962), a movie which did exactly that by projecting the friendship of its two central characters and their rivalry for the love of the same woman against the backdrop of twenty eventful years of European history, including the modernist movement in art, World War I and the rise of Hitler. The learning process of Jules and Jim, their growing up if you want to put it that way, is that of a whole culture which shared their youthful illusions about beginning the world anew. Mr Baumbach accompanies Frances’s adventures with music by Georges Delerue taken from several Truffaut films, including Jules et Jim, which is further recalled by its quaintly retro black-and-white stock and several Truffaut-like tracking shots of Frances (Greta Gerwig) running, skipping or bicycling in the free-spirited manner associated with that film’s heroes. Read more ..

Film Review

What Maisie Knew: About Adult Foibles and Selfishness

June 7th 2013

what maisie knew

What Maisie Knew. Directing: Scott McGehee and David Siegel. Starring: Julianne Moore, Steve Coogan, Alexander Skarsgard, Joanna Vanderham, Onata Aprile. Length: 99 mins.

Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s film version of Henry James’s novel What Maisie Knew (the screenplay adapted by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright) is worth seeing if only for the best performance by a child actor, in my view, since Freddy Highmore’s star turn in Finding Neverland back in 2004. Indeed, seven-year-old Onata Aprile’s achievement as Maisie is in some ways even more impressive than Master Highmore’s Peter Llewelyn Davies, as he was ten at the time Neverland was filmed. Hers is also a more passive character than his, which means that she has the harder task, particularly for a child, of doing most of her acting with her face alone. Her job is to make our hearts break, and she does it with seeming effortlessness.

Complementing her performance are those of Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the parents from hell — she a fading rock star and he an international art dealer — both of whom tend to forget about Maisie’s existence even when they are together and make a habit of it once they have split up. Each then marries a much younger person — he Maisie’s nanny (Joanna Vanderham), she a bartender (Alexander Skarsgard) — and their new partners prove to be much more concerned for Maisie’s welfare than her parents are, if no better suited to them as spouses than the parents were to each other. Maisie’s watchful waiting at the center of so much marital and emotional turbulence which she is ill-equipped to understand makes of her an unforgettable portrait of childish innocence, if not altogether the one James intended her to be Read more ..

The Music Edge

Musical Prodigy Emily Bear Wows Audiences Worldwide

June 6th 2013

Emily Bear

Emily Bear has performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, world-class festivals, with symphony orchestras, and on an album produced by Quincy Jones - all before the age of 11.

While most kids her age are hanging out at the mall, playing video games, or carpooling with friends for a weekend of movies and soccer games, Emily is preparing for her next television or concert appearance, composing songs, launching a tour or sharing the studio with seasoned musicians.

Among them - Quincy Jones, who worked with Emily on her new album Diversity. A friend of Quincy’s heard the young pianist play one night and convinced him to meet her.  Working with the legendary producer, Emily says, was one of the biggest thrills of her life. Read more ..

The Music Edge

'God Didn’t Choose Sides' - Civil War Songs About Real People

June 4th 2013

God Didn't Choose Sides

The American Civil War, with brutal fighting from 1861 to 1865, is known as the most deadly time in American history. It’s also known for its music, most famously the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung by people in the North, and “Dixie,” the best-known song of the South.  But, those aren’t the songs you’ll find on a recent Civil War collection called “God Didn’t Choose Sides.” 

Sam Passamano, II, head of the Rural Rhythm Records label, is a Civil War buff. When he got to work producing an album of songs inspired by the Civil War, he had something different in mind, something other than recording the traditional tunes of the era.

“The real people who were in the trenches. The men and women who were a major part of ‘The War Between The States.’" he said. "There are some amazing stories that need to be told about acts of kindness and brotherhood and faith and selflessness that this project really brings out and it’s a major part of what makes it special and unique.” Read more ..

The Way We Are

Off-Broadway Plays Draw Audience Into Action

June 3rd 2013

Off Broadway

Theater is designed to engage the heart and the mind, but it's mostly a passive experience. Now, three off-Broadway shows in New York have created interactive environments that engage the audience physically as well. 

Several years ago, when rock star David Byrne considered doing a musical on the life of Imelda Marcos, the wife of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, he made an interesting discovery.

"When I heard some years ago that Imelda Marcos really loved going to discos and that she had a mirror ball in her New York townhouse and  turned the roof of the palace in Manila into a disco, I thought well, here’s a powerful person who lives in that kind of a bubble, but also brings her own soundtrack to it,” Byrne said. He collaborated with Fatboy Slim, the British musician, on an album a couple years ago. Now it's been turned into a musical at the Public Theater in downtown New York. Read more ..

Book Review

American Military Brutality in Vietnam

June 2nd 2013

Kill anything that moves

U.S. commanders wasted ammunition like millionaires and hoarded American lives like misers, and often treated Vietnamese lives as if they were worth nothing at all. --Nick Turse, "Kill Anything That Moves"

In March 1968 U.S. infantry troops of the Army’s Americal Division massacred five hundredVietnamese civilians, mostly women and children, in the village of My Lai. The military described the massacre as an anomaly, an aberration, the result of a few bad apples in the ranks, and the mainstream media embraced that explanation.

In 1971, decorated Navy veteran (now Secretary of State) John Kerry testified before the Senate that such atrocities in Vietnam were not “isolated incidents, but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command.” Kerry told of U.S. veterans who “relived the absolute horror” of what their country made them do.

He said that veterans had described instances in which “they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown [sic] up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in a fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam.”

The military dismissed Kerry’s testimony at that time, but his contentions are confirmed now in historian Nick Turse’s meticulously researched new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (Metropolitan Books). The book is based on over a decade of research sparked by Turse’s discovery of the papers of the Pentagon’s “Vietnam War Crimes Working Group.” Read more ..

Book Review

Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s

June 2nd 2013

Working Class Heroes

Wokring Class Heroes. David Simonelli. Lexington Books. 2012. 324 pp.

For anyone coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Working Class Heroes will evoke the rock soundtrack of youthful rebellion. But unlike the many memoirs by musicians which tend to dominate rock music literature, awash with accounts of sex and drugs, David Simonelli, associate professor of history at Youngstown State University, employs the British rock scene from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols to make important observations on the politics, economics, and social class attitudes of Britain during the 1960s and 1970s.

Beginning as a doctoral dissertation at Tulane University, Working Class Heroes is certainly an academic work, but one which is readily accessible to the discerning general reader who takes music seriously. To place the music scene within historical and cultural context, Simonelli draws upon commentaries from music journalists and critics during the 1960s and 1970s. In pursuing these sources, many from periodicals which only enjoyed a short run during the heyday of British rock following the emergence of the Beatles, Simonelli found the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) newspaper archive at the Edinburgh University Library as well as the National Sound Archive at the British Library to be indispensable archival collections. Simonelli also discovered the History of Rock series, detailing the rise of British rock into the new wave bands of the 1980s, at the National Sound archive to be an essential source for examining the growth of the British rock scene.

Drawing upon these sources, Simonelli fashions a complex argument regarding how rock and roll, which evolved into the seemingly more sophisticated concept of rock music by the mid-1960s, defined class attitudes more than pocketbook issues. Simonelli argues that rock music provided an environment in which young people were able to redefine their perceptions of class identity, writing, “People who grew up with rock and roll in the 1960s and 1970s made class more relevant to their own circumstances in an increasingly professionalized, post-industrial world by basing their ideas of class in cultural tastes as opposed to wage packets and living circumstances” (xiv). Read more ..

Book Review

College (Un) Bound: What the Future Holds for Academia and Critical Thinking

June 1st 2013

College unbound

College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. Jeffrey Selingo. New Harvest. 2013. 256 pages.

My teeth were on edge a few pages into the introduction of College (Un)Bound when Jeffrey Selingo first deploys the term he uses repeatedly to describe higher education in the United States: he calls it an "industry." The first sub-heading is called "A risk-averse, self-satisfied industry." A few pages later, he writes, "Colleges [by which I think he means administrators, or perhaps more specifically admissions officers] now view students as customers and market their degree programs as products." The proposition that students might be the product, and that this product might be civic, as opposed to simply economic, never appears to have crossed his mind -- or, at any rate, taken seriously.

But of course I'm speaking from the point of view of a vanishing species on the cusp of virtual irrelevance, if not extinction in this ecosystem (even though I don't happen to be a member of it myself): the liberal arts professoriate. Whether or not such people actually deserve their marginality is in any case beside the point: change is coming. Actually, it's already here: barely a third of all college students today are 18-24 year-olds attending traditional college institutions. And that, Selingo seems to believe (and seems to believe most other people with skin in the game also believe) is a good thing. They're right -- to a point.

The title of this book is indeed apt: Selingo describes an educational landscape in which the traditional bundling of educational services into a single collegiate experience is replaced by one in which an à la carte menu of goods and services gets procured in a way comparable to one buys an airline ticket or telecommunications services. Actually, the book itself seems redolent of the same logic: Selingo is an editor at the Chronicle of Higher Education, where parts of this book first appeared. It's published by New Harvest, an imprint of Amazon.com, and distributed through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Read more ..

Film Review

The Great Gatsby: Borne Back Ceaselessly to an Unescapable Present

May 30th 2013

Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby. Director: Baz Luhrmann. Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton. Length: 142 mins.

Everybody remembers the last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most celebrated novel, The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." I’ll come back to those words in a moment. But how many of us remember the novel’s first lines? "In my younger and more vulnerable years," Fitzgerald wrote in the voice of his narrator, Nick Carraway, "my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’"

Nick then goes on to compliment himself for generally following this advice and "reserving judgments" about people but also to point out that, like his father, he does so condescendingly (he says "snobbishly"). He then adds that his tolerance has a limit and implies that Gatsby, in the story he is about to tell, is it.

For the most part, Baz Luhrmann’s new movie version of the novel sticks very closely to Fitzgerald’s words. Sometimes too closely. In several scenes, set in a completely un-Fitzgeraldian asylum at some unspecified later date where Nick, played by Tobey Maguire, has been instructed by a psychiatrist to write his story down, we see the words actually on the screen (and, like the rest of the movie, in 3-D).

But in the case of the opening lines, there is a subtle change. Instead of advising his son to reserve judgment of the less fortunate, the movie’s account of the senior Mr Carraway has him telling his son not to make any judgments of people at all. It’s a crucial difference which can stand for what, above all, distinguishes Fitzgerald’s world — a world in which morality and principle were things people of all classes were expected to take an interest in, as well as to behave in accordance with — and our own non-"judgmental" present where the only good is inclusiveness and the only evil is discrimination. Read more ..

Book Review

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey Brings Baseball

May 28th 2013

Summer of Beer and Whiskey

Edward Achorn, who wrote the justly-praised Fifty-Nine in ’84, an illuminating exploration of early baseball and a pitcher named “Hoss” Radborn, child of English immigrants, who won 308 games and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939, offers yet a new exploration of the nineteenth century game, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Race Made Baseball America’s Game -- a mouthful but a suggestive subtitle. Achorn is editorial page editor of the Providence Journal and a frequent book reviewer for The Weekly Standard.

Much of the book is focused on Chris Von der Ahe, an owner virtually unknown today but who played an absolutely crucial role in preserving and spreading the gospel of baseball. He was a German-born immigrant with little knowledge of baseball when he arrived in the 1870s in St. Louis, where so many Germans immigrants had come to live following the failed German liberal revolution of 1848. Once settled, he bought a grocery and saloon, not far from the local ballpark. He spoke English with a heavy German accent, wore lavishly colored clothing to draw attention, married and divorced with some regularity, and paid piles of money to ex-wives and lovers.

Von der Ahe loved the publicity and newspaper stories about him but he was also a shrewd businessman interested in making money, which he did by selling beer and spreading the gospel of baseball, about which he knew little. Smart, pushy, selfish, competitive and tough, he was very different from the usual run of today’s undistinguished and dull billionaire baseball owners. Achorn compares him to George Steinbrenner, whose constant interference and multiple firings of manager Billy Martin became part of baseball lore, and Charles Finley, who once fired his second baseman for daring to make an error in a World Series game. Read more ..

Film Review

Love is All You Need: So Little from So Much

May 28th 2013

Love is All You Need: Den skaldede frisør

Love is All You Need (Den skaldede frisør). Director: Susanne Bier. Starring: Kim Bodnia, Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Kim Bodnia, Molly Blixt Egelind. Length: 90 mins.

Susanne Bier’s Love is All You Need is a disappointment. This is not because the title (the Danish title translates as The Bald Hairdresser, but that was thought a turn-off for the American market) promises the Beatles and delivers Dean Martin. On the whole, I’d rather have Dean Martin — even in That’s Amore which runs like a leitmotif throughout the movie — than the Beatles at their left-wing soppiest anyway. No, what I found disappointing was that the brilliant director of the searing dramas Open Hearts and In a Better World contented herself with this bit of fluff when she came to direct a romantic comedy. Half in English and half in sub-titled Danish, the movie is not bad or contemptible and it’s even quite enjoyable at times — as how could it not be from such a source? But one knows from her past form that Ms Bier could have done so much better.

The main problem is that she makes the work too easy for herself. In bringing together her two damaged characters — rich widower Philip (Pierce Brosnan) and cancer-suffering hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm) — under a pizza-pie moon above the Bay of Naples, she surrounds them with such dreadful people that the basis of their attraction seems less likely to be love than desperation to find the only other decent person around. Having met cute with a fender-bender at the Copenhagen airport, they proceed to Philip’s long-neglected lemon plantation in Sorrento for the wedding of his son, Patrick (Sebastian Jessen), and her daughter, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind). A sub-plot about Patrick’s "doubts" about the relationship — doubts of a highly recognizable and rather tiresome kind in today’s movie culture — is an annoying distraction.   Read more ..

The Way We Are

Star Trek Influence Lives Long and Prospers

May 27th 2013

Star Trek

Academics, professionals and Star Trek fans are once again discussing the iconic franchise's influence on society, science, and technology, as the dazzling new sci-fi adventure Star Trek Into Darkness plays in theaters.

The starship Enterprise is well-known to viewers of the iconic Star Trek TV series and visitors to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, where the original model is on display in the gift shop.  The fictional craft - whose long-running mission has been to explore the farthest reaches of "space, the final frontier" - even inspired the name of NASA's prototype space shuttle, said museum curator Margaret Weitekamp. 

"Well, the very first space shuttle was actually named Enterprise as a result of a write-in campaign orchestrated by Star Trek fans of the 1970s," she explained. Weitekamp, who recently took part in a panel discussion at the museum about Star Trek's relevance, noted the television series began airing in the 1960s as women and minorities pressed for equal rights.   Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Fake Tanks, Ghost Army Helped Defeat Germans During WW ll

May 25th 2013


Life is often stranger than fiction as filmmaker Rick Beyer found out when he learned that an American Ghost Army helped defeat the Germans during World War II.

The story was classified for decades, and after it was declassified it took Beyer eight years to piece the story together with hard-to-find footage, interviews with selected veterans, and artwork created by soldiers at the front.

Beyer created the first documentary account of this specialized unit that was charged with helping defeat the enemy by waging a war of deception. In March 1945, after months of bitter fighting, the Germans had retreated behind the Rhine River, their natural frontier, to mount their final defense. Read more ..

Art News

Mega-Rich Use Tax Havens to Buy and Sell Masterpieces

May 24th 2013

Watermill-Van Gogh

Famed Spanish art patron uses island haven in South Pacific to manage her collection. Tourists who come to Spain’s capital often make a pilgrimage to the museums in Madrid’s so-called Art Triangle. After the Prado and the Reina Sofia, the next stop usually is the Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Spanish state owns the majority of the paintings inside this museum, but it also holds much of the private collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of the world’s biggest art collectors.

What visitors don’t know as they look at these Monets, Matisses and other masterpieces is that many of them are legally owned by secrecy-guarded companies in tax havens: Liechtenstein, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Cook Islands.

Van Gogh’s 1884 painting, Water Mill at Gennep, is one of the works Thyssen-Bornemisza purchased with the help of an offshore operative based in the Cook Islands, a South Pacific haven more than 10,000 miles from Madrid. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

A Filmmaker's Effort to Reveal the Power of Money over Ethics

May 20th 2013
Jonathan Gruber, a filmmaker who recently toured his touching film Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story, which chronicled the short, tender and heroic life of one of Israel’s great military leaders, is trying to complete a film that has been close to his heart for a long time.  The story of one of the world’s largest companies, I.G. Farben, and how it not only profited from Hitler, but was a major reason that Germany was able to execute its war in the first place, is one that we all need to know.

I.G. Farben was perhaps the first true “multinational corporation”; it was the very model of a modern major conglomerate: brilliant, inventive, diversified—and ruthless in its pursuit of the bottom line. As the largest company in Europe during World War II, its rise and fall provides a shocking example of a profit-driven culture run amok.

We already know about corporate greed and its impact on the Holocaust from bestselling author and historian, Edwin Black. Black’s poignant works exposed how multinational corporations had profited from the Nazi’s genocidal campaign to eradicate Judaism from Europe first, and then if they had been successful, the world over time. Read more ..

Book Review

Their Untold Constitutional Legacy

May 18th 2013

The Forgotten Presidents

The Forgotten Presidents. Michael J. Gerhardt. OxfordUniversity Press. 2013. 336 pp.

In The Forgotten Presidents, University of North Carolina law school professor Michael J. Gerhardt looks at a dozen presidents, beginning with Martin Van Buren and ending with Jimmy Carter, and argues that each had more of an impact than many people -- not simply a public at large that may only be vaguely familiar with their names, but also professional historians more likely to interested in more prominent figures -- and suggests their impact has been greater than is commonly recognized. As his subtitle makes clear, Gerhardt is not arguing that these presidents had compelling personalities, or that their political gifts or tactics were especially notable. Instead, he argues that each made essentially administrative decisions that either marked a precedent in the history of the presidency itself or quickened a tendency in the nature of office. Much of Gerhardt's analysis focuses on topics like presidential appointments, vetoes, and relationships with other branches of government, especially the courts and the U.S. Senate.

Insofar as there's a narrative trajectory in this series of profiles, it's that presidents of all times and parties have tended to guard and strengthen the prerogatives of the office. To be sure, there have been any number that have been avowedly in favor of limited government. But, as Gerhardt shows, these figures (Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland the first time around) are among the least successful in U.S. history. He also shows that the two Whig presidents elected to office, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, began their terms avowing deference to the legislative branch, in large measure as a reaction to the perceived high-handedness of Andrew Jackson. But both men, as well as the vice presidents (John Tyler and Millard Fillmore) who succeeded them, found this theory of government wanting. Indeed, even those executives who did profess a federalist approach to governing, from Cleveland to Coolidge, nevertheless fought hard to maintain and extend their power in their own domain when it came to things like removing cabinet officers or naming Supreme Court justices. And others, notably Cleveland the second time around -- he gets two separate chapters for each of his administrations -- became increasingly convinced of the need for presidential initiative in lawmaking. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Flamenco Band Has Arabic, Islamic Influences

May 15th 2013

La Ruya-band

In a nation of immigrants, with a 'melting pot' culture, it should not be surprising that American music is also an international blend.

That's especially true of Flamenco, brought to southern Spain by 18th-century Romanis-Gypsies from North India, and performed today by a California band that incorporates Arabic and other Islamic influences from Turkey, the Black Sea, Persia and North Africa. 

The unmistakable sound of flamenco - Spanish guitar and heels - is transformed by the members of the San Francisco band, La Ruya.

One of the band’s founding members is Sam Foster. He’s a rock and jazz drummer who became fascinated with Arabic and Turkish percussion, and from there to Flamenco. He brought in flamenco dancer and choreographer Melissa Cruz, and other musicians to create La Ruya’s unique sound. Read more ..

Book Review

How 1965 Changed America

May 13th 2013

Eve of Destruction bk cvr clear

The Eve of Destruction. James Patterson. Basic Books. 2012. 344 pp.

When did “the Sixties” begin? The answer, James Patterson says, is 1965, after which “life in the United States would never be the same again.” When President Lyndon Baines Johnson lit the national Christmas tree in December of 1964, he declared that “these are the most hopeful times in all the years since Christ was born in Bethlehem.” One year later, Watts was still smoldering while thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the White House to chant “Hey, hey, LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?” The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Changed America tells the absorbing story of how we got from the promise of Bethlehem to the nightmares of Vietnam and race riots.

The Sixties usually unfold in a frenetic montage of iconic moments, from JFK’s assassination to Jimi Hendrix’s burning guitar. Patterson should be applauded for rescuing the Sixties from the conventional sex, drugs and rock n’ roll treatment. Rather than focusing on the counterculture, Patterson brings us into the nation’s central corridors of power, re-centering the era on the “commanding figure” of LBJ and the machinery of the federal government.

Patterson portrays LBJ as a hugely ambitious man, with “epic strengths” and “epic weaknesses.” Charming and generous one moment, he could be crude and domineering the next. A man without hobbies, “politics was his religion.” Obsessed with outdoing the legislative accomplishments of his hero, FDR, Johnson pursued his domestic agenda with a relentless and imperious energy. He was a difficult man to refuse. He would buttonhole colleagues whose votes he needed, his six-foot, four-inch frame looming over them, his piercing eyes boring in, while he harangued and cajoled his targets with such force and at such length that they were rendered “stunned and helpless” (this overwhelming technique became known simply as “the Treatment”). Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Youth Orchestra Bridges Worlds of Music

May 11th 2013

Nashville Symphony

For nearly 60 years, young musicians have gotten help in starting their careers from the Young Musicians Foundation.  The California-based foundation's orchestra is a bridge between the worlds of amateur and professional music.

There are high school students in the group as young as 15, and young professionals up to age 25, and conductor Roger Kalia says they all bring passion to their music. “There is a certain amount of energy and excitement, which is just contagious, and I love seeing that," said Kalia.

The musicians prepared for a recent performance at a local middle school that included selections from Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. 70 young musicians get to work with the best in the field. Flutist Mira Magrill recently performed a solo as the orchestra played a selection from John Williams' score for the film War Horse. “And it starts and ends with a huge flute cadenza, which I got to perform, with John Williams conducting.  It was probably the best performance I have ever been a part of," said Magrill. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

'Reluctant Fundamentalist' Explores Cultural Myths

May 10th 2013

Muslim American girl with flag

Indian-born filmmaker Mira Nair has made acclaimed films on multiculturalism: mixed marriages amid racial intolerance and U.S. immigrants grappling with ethnic identity.

Her most recent film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, deals with the mistrust and alienation of a young Pakistani immigrant in the post 9/11 world. Her film, based on Mohsim Hamid’s 2007 novel by the same name, was released days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

Changez, a son of an intellectual Pakistani family and a brilliant financial advisor, has everything going for him: a great job on Wall Street, a beautiful American girlfriend, connections. After 9/11, everything changes. He is heckled at the airport and profiled as a potential terrorist. Nair says people like Changez were forced to take sides.

“They were encouraged to because Bush said, ‘Either you are with us or you’re against us.’ He set up this so-called Axis of Evil," she said. "He taught people to look at ‘us' and 'them.’ And I don’t think that that reaction has led to greater understanding or peace."  Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Songwriter Looks Back at Rock and Roll Repertoire

May 8th 2013


The songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller was at the birth of rock and roll. Among other hits, the duo wrote the Elvis Presley hit "Hound Dog" and the rhythm and blues classic "Kansas City," recorded by dozens of artists.  Jerry Leiber died in 2011, but Mike Stoller is still composing in Los Angeles, and he spoke with Mike O'Sullivan about their legacy.

"Jailhouse Rock" was one of more than 20 Leiber and Stoller songs that Elvis Presley recorded.  Another Presley record, written by Leiber and Stoller, was an even bigger hit. Along with Elvis and other artists, Leiber and Stoller were at the heart of the rock and roll revolution.  Mike Stoller says he started writing music with friend Jerry Leiber when they were 17.

"I'd be jamming at the piano and he'd be walking around shouting phrases out, anything that came into his head," said Stoller. The pair wrote and produced a series of popular songs by The Coasters, including "Yakety Yak," "Poison Ivy," and "Charlie Brown." Read more ..

The Movies' Edge

India’s Popular Bollywood Film Industry Turns 100

May 7th 2013


India’s hugely popular Hindi film industry known as Bollywood celebrates its 100th birthday Friday. With a loyal following not only in India, but several Asian countries, Bollywood is evolving from making extravagant, romantic films to more experimental cinema. But its primary mission remains entertainment for movie-mad Indians.              

It is a special day for 33-year-old Ekta Kapoor as she gets ready to watch Bollywood’s newest release - Bombay Talkies - a collection of four short films commemorating 100 years of Bollywood.  Kapoor is like millions of Indians - passionate about Hindi movies. "Excitement. I love anything to do with Bollywood right from childhood. Can’t think of life without Bollywood," said  Kapoor. Read more ..

Book Review

New Menachem Begin Bio Provides a Clear Picture

May 6th 2013

Menachem Begin book

Menachem Begin: A New Life. Avi Shilon. Yale. 2012. 584 pp.

In Menachem Begin: A Life, a new biography of one of Israel's more multifaceted leaders, Avi Shilon succeeds in portraying a fervent and uncompromising Zionist whose political brilliance usually compensated for his lack of military experience. Shilon shows that for Begin, anti-Semitism was at the root of everything. It was Begin's realization of the threat that posed by anti-Semitism that motivated his actions and led to his political career.

When the Holocaust destroyed the Polish-Jewish world from which he had emerged, the need for Jewish independence became clearer to him than ever before. Ensuring that another Holocaust would never take place was his paramount concern, even when he was Prime Minister of Israel, pursuing Yasir Arafat in the PLO leader's Beirut bunker. While many of Begin's critics have deplored the ways in which this frame of mind led him to take what they consider politically inappropriate actions, Shilon's biography focuses not on criticizing the man in this respect but in showing the reader where Begin "came from."

Shilon also shows just how important symbolism was to Begin. In the 1940s, when he was the leader of the underground Etzel, an acronym for Irgun Zvai Leumi, or National Military Organization, his operations against the British rulers of Palestine always included symbolic elements that stressed the importance of Jewish sovereignty and self-determination. For example, Etzel's "Operation Wall" was a response to a British prohibition against blowing a shofar at the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. This action, Shilon observes, "was not the most important in the history of Etzel, but it emphasized Begin's main approach in the organization's initial operations: symbolic declarative acts, not necessarily with any real military content." Read more ..

Book Review

Choosing Life in Israel

May 5th 2013

Choosing Life in Israel

Choosing Life in Israel. P. David Hornik. Freedom Press International. 2013. 260 pp.

The first two words of the title Choosing Life in Israel, by P. David Hornik,  are fraught with double meaning for any literate Jew.  In  Deuteronomy 30: 19, Moses calls heaven and earth “to witness against you this day,  that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life.” In 1 Kings 18:21 the prophet Elijah tells all the children of Israel that they cannot vacillate, but must choose sides: “’How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” For  Hornik the choice was between the American corner of Diaspora, where he grew up (near Albany, New York) and Israel, to which he made aliyah (i.e., “went up”) at the age of 30 in 1984. He had  come to the conclusion  that, whatever the attractions of life in America might be, however tangible the possibility of  still living a Jewish life here–the Jewish future  lay elsewhere, in the Land of Israel.  Although Hornik’s columns deal with a dizzying variety of topics, they are unified by this theme of choice, and in several different ways.

The book comprises sixty short newspaper columns previously published in  American Spectator,  Frontpage Magazine, and PJ Media. (He has also written for the Jerusalem Post,  Moment, and Israel National News.) The first,  shorter section of the book, called Living in Israel,  is intensely personal, and centers on the author’s decision to depart for Israel. Despite its omnipresent difficulties and dangers (unlikely to diminish greatly in the foreseeable future), Israel has afforded Hornik  what Hillel Halkin recommended in Letters to an American-Jewish Friend: A Zionist’s Polemic (1977), the most powerful plea for aliyah from America ever written: “a land and a language! They are the ground beneath a people’s feet and the air it breathes in and out. …you cannot even buy cigarettes in Hebrew without stirring up the Bible; you cannot walk the streets of Tel Aviv without treading on promised land.”  The immediate causes, or  antecedents, of Hornik’s choice of  aliyah were outrage at the way in which the great powers treat Israel, and—who knows  why any of us do what we do?—Theodore Bikel’s Folk Songs of Israel. Read more ..

Movie Review

Pain & Gain

May 4th 2013

Pain and Gain

Pain & Gain. Director: Michael Bay. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony Mackie. Length: 90 mins.

Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, based very loosely on a true story as told in a series of article in Miami New Times by Pete Collins, comes to its too-long delayed ending as the closing credits are played out to the tune of Coolio’s "Gangster’s Paradise" of 1995 — the same year in which the events dramatized in the film took place. The lyrics, insofar as they can be understood, are rather introspective for a rap song:

Too much television watchin’ got me chasin’ dreams
I’m an educated fool with money on my mind. . .

Nothing unusual about that, of course, though the educated fool — an ironic designation? — is at least slightly unusual for saying such things (ostensibly) about himself. The characters in Pain & Gain are not blessed with even this degree of self-awareness. When the muscle-bound lame-brain Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), the leader of the film’s ad hoc criminal gang, explains to Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson): "I’ve watched a lot of movies Paul; I know what I’m doing," he doesn’t know that we’re laughing at him. Yet he and the other gang members — the third of the trio is Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) — are not incapable of learning either, and the movie, which shares some of its characters’ shallowness, is at least capable of laughing at itself.

But it doesn’t always succeed in walking the delicate line between a becoming self-irony and mere fakery. In fact, it almost never succeeds. Another bit of Coolio’s rap goes: Read more ..

Book Review

Looking at the First 75 Years of Cambridge Computing

May 4th 2013

Cambridge Computing

Cambridge Computing. Haroon Ahmed. Thrid Millenium Pub. 2013. 176 pp.

“Cambridge Computing: The first 75 years”, written by Prof Haroon Ahmed, Professor of Microelectronics at the University, charts the development of computing in Cambridge from 1938 when the staff and students of the Anatomy School at the University of Cambridge moved to a new site with a two man “Mathematical Laboratory”. From there EDSAC was developed in 1949, the first programmable computer ever brought into general service, and microprogramming was pioneered by Maurice Wilkes, the Lab’s second Director, using EDSAC 2.

Cambridge’s Computer Lab was the home of the world’s first webcam. It was the place where Michael Burrows, the leading computer scientist in search engine development, learned his trade, and where Bjarne Stroustrup, inventor of the C++, did his PhD. Without the Lab, early home computers like the BBC Micro, or the low-power chip technology used in iPads and mobile phones, or the Raspberry Pi, might well never have emerged.

“Today, the establishment mentality seems to be that you can industrialise innovation, or innovate on demand,” said Andy Hopper, Professor of Computer Technology and the current Head of the Lab. “You can’t do that any more than you can ask an artist to paint the next brilliant masterpiece. The success of the Cambridge Computer Lab has come about because we created a culture of innovation and nurtured innovative people within it.” Read more ..

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