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Book Review

Appreciation of the Earth

April 20th 2013

House of Earth

House of Earth. Woody Guthrie. Harper. 2013. 288 pp.

House of Earth is a novel written in 1947 by folksinger and political activist Woody Guthrie.  Although Guthrie wrote what many scholars describe as two autobiographical novels, Bound for Glory (1943) and Seeds of Man (published in 1972 five years after Guthrie’s death), House of Earth remained unpublished until the seemingly ubiquitous Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley discovered the manuscript and arranged for its publication under actor Johnny Depp's new Infinitum label with HarperCollins.

Thus, House of Earth is edited by the unlikely duo of Brinkley and Depp, who also provide an insightful introductory essay for the novel. The editors insist that they made few changes with the original manuscript, and for those who have enjoyed the pleasure of listening to and reading Woody’s songs, letters, and voluminous journals and notebooks, the published novel remains true to the voice of Guthrie, who consistently championed the cause of the common people against the entrenched interests of privilege and wealth. House of Earth tells the story of Tike and Ella May Hamlin, a young farming couple in the Texas Panhandle, who decide to battle the Dust Bowl and predatory interests by staying on the land and not undertaking the exodus to the promised land of California. While John Steinbeck chronicled the ordeal of Dust Bowl refugees in California, Depp and Brinkley write, “Guthrie’s own heart was with those stubborn dirt farmers who remained behind in the Great Plains to stand up to the bankers, lumber barons, and agribusiness that had desecrated beautiful wild Texas with overgrazing, clear-cutting, strip-mining, and reckless farming practices.”

Of course, Guthrie was not one of those farmers who stubbornly stayed on the land.  He was born July 14, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. After the family suffered financial setbacks, the tragic death of his older sister in a fire, and the hospitalization of his mother diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, Woody joined relatives in the Texas Panhandle community of Pampa. Woody married and began a family, but it was difficult to make ends meet as Pampa was engulfed by dust. Accordingly, Guthrie, unlike his fictional protagonist Tike Hamlin, abandoned the Panhandle to see what was happening to his people in California. Read more ..


Book Review

Author Edwin Black Scores Another Victory in The Farhud

April 13th 2013

Farhud book

The Farhud: Roots of the Arab Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2010. 464 pages.

Edwin Black, a prolific investigative author and historian, has scored another victory in his book The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance to the Holocaust.  Although his chief focus is on the Arab-Nazi collaboration during the Holocaust, he also covers a multiplicity of topics that will be captivating for both the scholar and general reader. These include crucial background information on The Zionist Moment, the Jihad, and the turbulent history that has led to the current Arab-Israeli relationship.

Buy The Farhud by Edwin Black

Quickly, The Farhud convinces that the incomprehensible horror of preceding Arab mass killings of Jews in Hebron and elsewhere was meticulously researched. We therefore understand the bloodshed better when the story culminates in the 1941 massacre of Jews in Baghdad. As Black writes, “the Arab-Nazi alliance was a complicated mixture of political ingredients that had been stewing for decades.” The lust for oil was a major catalyst in this plot, and the book’s leading characters include Winston Churchill, the imperialist Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and other prominent icons of petroleum history.  In this vein, one particularly insightful chapter is the one titled “Peace and Petroleum.”

Black documents how pro-Nazi policies of the Arabs, with the supervision and leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, led to mass murders of thousands of Jews throughout the Middle East and beyond. The exile of an estimated one million Jews from Arab and Iraqi lands after the State of Israel was born in 1948 is center stage in the book’s explosive finale. This revealed history is particularly compelling especially in the light of today’s political events and protests that either gloss over or mask the fact that 800,000 Jews were expelled penniless to Israel. Therefore, his early chapter on the 2,600 Years of Iraqi Jewry, and a section towards the end of the book on its demise, bring the history and the present full circle. Black writes, “Household by household, Jewish families finally—almost unanimously—realized that their precious 2,600-year existence in Iraq was over. In wave after wave, groups of refugees left the country via the overland route.” Those stateless, dispossessed Arab Jews ended up in Israel. Read more ..


Book Review

Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism

April 10th 2013

A Renegade Union

A Renegade Union. Lisa Phillips. Univ Illinois Press. 2012. 256 pp.

I was introduced to District 65, the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, in the 1950s, when I was in college and employed part-time as a sales clerk by the Gimbel’s department store in Manhattan. Union membership was required, for which I received benefits, including inexpensive prescription eyeglasses. From my vantage point, the store’s full-time unionized employees received low wages, but also protection against arbitrary dismissal, something the store’s executives evidently did not enjoy. With the union behind them, the store’s “65ers” possessed a sense of dignity.

Lisa Phillips, an assistant professor of history at Indiana State University and the author of Radical Unionism in the Midwest, 1900-1950, has written A Renegade Union: Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism, the story of this organization.  Begun early by immigrant Jews on New York’s Lower East Side early in the twentieth century, and called Local 65 in 1933, it sought to provide “better pay and working conditions for low-paid workers” in “non-factory-based settings throughout the United States.” Rather than organize according to such divisions as craft or ethnicity, it targeted those who were the most poorly paid, who were shunned by other unions. Local 65’s approach was on an “area,” or “catch-all,” basis, which was different from what was used by such other unions as the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers’ Union, for example.

Despite an increase in the unionization of American workers and a boost for many of them into the middle class by the 1950s, the kind of jobs Local 65 organized have remained “low wage, unstable, and dominated by people of color, some US citizens, some recent immigrants, and some here illegally.” In brief, Local 65 failed. The author in part blames this lack of success on union presidents Arthur Osman and David Livingstone, alleging that they concentrated too much leadership in their own hands without permitting leaders of the groups they were attempting to assist to have “greater influence.” Read more ..


Book Review

Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda

April 9th 2013

TakeDown USE THIS 1

Takedown. Philip Mudd. Univ Penn Press. 2013. 224 pp.

The current administration has loosed a cataract of disclosures about how this nation tried to protect itself after 9/11, even as it resolutely refuses to recognize that it is the ideology of Islamism that we are trying to protect ourselves against. The disclosures have ranged from the release of classified legal memos describing interrogation techniques used by the CIA (and the legal justification for them) to the details of the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound and the intelligence gathered there (which, revealed, became useless). Paradoxically, these stories and leaks have been long on provocation and short on any appreciation of the most critical component of our defense against terrorism: intelligence gathering.

Philip Mudd played a large role in that world, spending 24 years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA and FBI. He was part of the small team sent to aid anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan in the days after 9/11 and then, in January 2002, was appointed second-in-command of the CIA's new Office of Terrorism Analysis, the division of the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) where hundreds of analysts were assembled to gather information about al Qaeda. Although the CIA generally is divided between those who evaluate and report on information and the operators who run clandestine activities and cultivate sources of information abroad, the CTC combines the two functions. In 2003, Mr. Mudd became deputy director of the CTC, and then in 2005, FBI Director Robert Mueller asked him to join the newly created National Security Branch, which aimed to combine intelligence gathering with the bureau's traditional counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Mudd's memoir, "Takedown," is a detailed account of the actual activities of intelligence gathering. (Ironically he is a descendant of that Mudd, the physician who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg the night of the Lincoln assassination and was later convicted of conspiring to kill Abraham Lincoln.) CIA officers generate daily briefs for the executive branch, each tailored to the particular concerns of an agency head, but integrating the latest terrorism-related information. Mr. Mudd and his boss at the Office of Terrorism Analysis, Pattie Kindsvater, traded off weeks managing the information about terrorism in the "holy grail" of U.S. intelligence: the President's Daily Brief. Read more ..


Entertainment on Edge

Long-running Broadway Shows Keep It Fresh

April 8th 2013

Wizard of Oz

The Phantom of the Opera recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, making it the longest-running Broadway musical ever. 

Hugh Panaro, who plays the phantom, has a unique perspective. His first stint with the show was 22 years ago, when he played the young lover Raoul. Over the years, Panaro left the show to do other roles, but has returned several times, portraying the phantom in more than 1,700 performances. 

Part of what keeps things fresh for him is playing opposite different actresses in the lead role of Christine. "You know, 15, easily," Panaro said. "And that’s not counting understudies. That’s counting girls that have held this contract from the time I was Raoul until now. I get two Christines a week and no two Christines are alike, which is the beauty of it." Read more ..


Book Review

America's Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals

April 7th 2013

Useful Enemies

Useful Enemies. Richard Rashke. Delphinium. 2013. 621 pp.

When new employee John Loftus first arrived at the Office of Special Investigations, a component of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice formed to track down some of the thousands of war criminals who had entered the country after World War II, his supervisor greeted him -- so he reports in his 2010 book America's Nazi Secret -- by saying “welcome to the Department of Justice. You now represent the most corrupt client in the world -- the United States government”

An exaggeration, of course, but it’s a judgment  replicated in many ways in Richard Rashke’s Useful Enemies: John Demjanjuk and America's Open-Door Policy for Nazi War Criminals, a meticulously researched and nuanced study explaining how, in the name of furthering the holy war against communism, the U.S. deliberately allowed Nazi war criminals to enter the country while deliberately ignoring their complicity in mass murder and torture. Rashke is the author of The Killing of Karen Silkwood, about the labor organizer and reputed whistleblower who died in a puzzling auto accident, and Escape From Sobibor, which dealt with the break out of hundreds of Jewish prisoners in 1943. In Useful Enemies, he relies heavily on trial transcripts, interviews, whistleblowers, documents wrested from FOI requests, and assiduous study of available texts:

Several thousand SS and SD officers; Gestapo officers, agents, and chiefs; Abwehr intelligence officersl Nazi propagandists and scientists; Einsatzcommandos [specialists in mass killings of civilians, especially East European Jews]; Waffen-SS volunteers, Vlasov’s legions [captured ex-Red Army soldiers, who fought for the Germans]; Nazi quislings and ethnic cleansers, all were welcomed and protected. Read more ..


Film Review

Identity Thief: Progressive Criminality

April 6th 2013

Identity thief

Identity Thief: Director: Seth Gordon. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, Genesis Rodriguez, Clifford Joseph Harris Jr. Length: 90 mins.

There is a gratuitous scene in the middle of Identity Thief that adds nothing to the plot but that is meant — I’m just guessing here — to add to the humor of the thing. Our heroes, the eponymous Identity Thief who sometimes goes under the name of Diana (Melissa McCarthy) and the man whose identity she has stolen, Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), are now teamed up together, as is the natural way of comic criminals and their victims, and on the run from three different pursuers.

Two of these, Julian (played by an actor, Clifford Joseph Harris Jr., who sometimes goes under the name of T.I.) and Marisol (Genesis Rodriguez), who are acting as agents of an unseen criminal to whom Sandy owes money, are also teamed up. Diana has recently had a comic sexual encounter with a man known as Big Chuck (Eric Stonestreet) whom she met in a bar in rural Georgia. Big Chuck turns out to be a real estate agent and Julian and Marisol visit his office pretending to be prospective house purchasers in order to pick up a clue as to which way Diana and Sandy have gone.

Got that so far? Big Chuck, taking Julian and Marisol at face value explains to them that his little Georgia town is a "traditional community" and then, perhaps because he thinks — not without some reason — that they are rather dim, he explains to them that "traditional" means they don’t like black people and foreigners. Julian is black and Marisol, being unspecified Hispanic, is foreign — and black, as Big Chuck also explains, since his fellow Neanderthal devotees of tradition thereabouts regard any complexion lighter than that of the Narcissus papyraceus as functionally black. Read more ..


Ancient Days

New Clues in the Search for the Mysterious 'Maya Blue' Formula

April 3rd 2013

Mayan mural at Bonampak

The recipe and process for preparing Maya Blue, a highly-resistant pigment used for centuries in Mesoamerica, were lost. We know that the ingredients are a plant dye, indigo, and a type of clay known as palygorskite, but scientists do not know how they were 'cooked' and combined together. Now, a team of chemists from the University of Valencia and the Polythecnic University of Valencia  (Spain) have come up with a new hypothesis about how it was prepared.

Palace walls, sculptures, codices and pieces of pottery produced by the ancient Maya incorporate the enigmatic Maya Blue. This pigment, which was also used by other Mesoamerican cultures, is characterised by its intense blue colour but, above all, by the fact that it is highly resistant to chemical and biological deterioration. Indeed, it was used centuries ago and when it is analysed now it appears virtually unchangeable. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Moynihan's Moment Spotlighted by Author Gil Troy

April 2nd 2013

Gil Troy

Gil Troy will be in Washington, DC on Thursday April 4, promoting his new book Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism, identified by Jewish Ideas Daily as one of "the best Jewish books of the year." The book, which offers the first full-length treatment of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's heroic stance against the UN's 1975 Zionism is racism resolution, also looks at the broader fight for Zionism and against Israel's delegitmization.

“The Zionism is racism resolution was the Rosetta Stone of the anti-Israel movement, shifting the attack from borders and actions to Israel’s very right to exist. It continues to do great damage, but we as Americans and as Jews were fortunate to have a courageous fighter like Daniel Patrick Moynihan as UN Ambassador in 1975 to oppose it. The arguments he made then, very much resound today,” says Troy, a Professor of History at McGill University, who has written seven other books about American history.

The book has generated great enthusiasm. Elie Wiesel called the book “superb” and said it demonstrates Troy’s “power of critical analysis as well as his commitment to what is eternal and noble in Jewishness.” In the most recent review,  a former Moynihan chief of staff, Robert A. Peck, called the book "...meticulous, well-woven and readable,” saying it “calls much-needed attention to an issue that reverberates still."  In last month’s Commentary Magazine former UN Ambassador John Bolton wrote: "Troy has written both a quasi-biography of Moynihan and a history of the evil resolution. Both are comprehensive, well integrated, and fluently narrated."  Writing in the New York Observer, Marty Peretz added: "...the new book by the deep and graceful historian Gil Troy...[is] a highly sophisticated intellectual history of liberal America in the last decades of the 20th century.” Read more ..


Destination Austin

In Austin, Film Offers Global Perspective

April 2nd 2013

Scene from Chaplin

International films often challenge American viewers to look at life from different perspectives. That was obvious at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas, where many films from other countries were being featured. Movies such as the Turkish film "Zayiat," or Casualties, is the story of a son searching for his father.

Staying with relatives in Istanbul and using friends as actors, New York-based director Deniz Tortum made what he calls a no-budget film. “The budget of the film was two thousand dollars, so it was pretty much no budget," he says, explaining that he shot in neighborhoods where people live and work, not near Istanbul's tourist sites.

“I just wanted to shoot in the places where I actually lived and spent most of my time in Istanbul," he says. "I have lots and lots of memories in those places.” For Andrea Thiele, a German filmmaker who lives in the United States, the act of driving a car represented a unique lens through which to view cross-cultural dynamics in a globalized world. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black in Five-City “Yom HaShoah” Commemoration

April 1st 2013

Edwin Black

Author Edwin Black will keynote “Yom HaShoah” commemorations of the Holocaust nightmare in 5 cities from April 4 to April 8, 2013. The noted bestselling author, with more than a million books in print on Holocaust topics, including his award-winning IBM and the Holocaust, will be appearing in Whippany NJ, then New York City, then Parsippany NJ, then West Hempstead LI, and concludes his junket with a return visit to the Embrey Human Rights program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
http://www.edwinblack.com/index.php?page=10190

“Yom HaShoah is the official Holocaust remembrance, and a time when the world needs a special reminder that what happened to the Jews can happen to others,” said Black. “Those of us who have dug deep are obligated to share our sad knowledge with the next generation. For me, it is not just remembering. It is about warning.” Black continued, “The injunction ‘never again’ seems to be less and less a compelling mantra.”

Black is known for his revelatory history chronicling the hidden American corporate complicity and the unlikely alliances that made it possible for the Nazis to efficiently mass murder six million Jews, and annihilate millions of other Europeans in World War II.
His week-long series begins at 7 PM April 4 at the Whippany JCC before the MetroWest Holocaust Council premiering a new lecture, "Detroit's Connection to the Holocaust--Ford and GM and the Nazis." In a recent interview, Black told the New Jersey Jewish News, “There is no other American city that has a special connection to the Third Reich like Detroit. This city had a special place in Hitler’s heart because of two leading Holocaust collaborators: Henry Ford and Albert Sloan, the president of General Motors.” Black will be premiering the “Detroit Connection” lecture, drawn from material in his bestseller, Nazi Nexus--America's Corporate Connections to the Holocaust.
http://www.edwinblack.com/uploads/cmimg_75425.pdf Read more ..


The Edge of Physics

Scientist Circus Performers Make Physics Fun

April 1st 2013

Circus

By day, Joe Ramas is an aerospace engineer. "I do mostly magnetic design and integration of test characterization of satellites." 

At night, though, he’s a strong man at the circus gym. "I hold people on top of me, either in a handstand, or sometimes they stand on my shoulders," Ramas said. "Sometimes there are multiple people standing on me."

When several people are standing on him, Ramas feels his knowledge of physics helps him balance. Acrobat and physicist, Ian Caldwell, said that’s just one example of how science adds wonder to circus acts.

"Circus is gorgeous, circus is beautiful, in its own right," Caldwell said. "But then to look at it through the eyes of a scientist, it adds more depth." Right after he graduated from high school, Caldwell traveled the world as a circus juggler and acrobat. Over time, though, he found that wasn’t enough for him. "I missed all the mental activity," he said. "Mental gymnastics, if you will." Read more ..


Film Review

Stoker: A Film Where More is Less

March 31st 2013

Stoker

Stoker. Director: Chan-wook Park. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode. Length: 90 mins.

In real life, as we’re often reminded, anything can happen. It’s one of the things that makes it so real. In the movies, however, that is not the case. In the movies, what happens determines, and is determined by, what kind of movie it is. What happens in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker for its first 90 minutes makes it into one kind of movie; what happens in its last ten minutes makes it into quite another. To be specific, it is, first, a Hitchcock-style thriller — and there are allusions to the great man’s Shadow of a Doubt of 1943, particularly in the central presence of a mysteriously sinister Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten there, Matthew Goode here) with an unhealthy interest in a young girl (Teresa Wright there, Mia Wasikowska there) — but without Hitchcock’s skill in plotting and suspense. Still, the movie manages to hold our interest for so long as the director is able to keep a tight grip on his materials, which he finally allows to get away from him in the end.

These materials include the erotic awakening of Miss Wasikowska’s character, the 18-year-old India, and her rivalry with her mother (Nicole Kidman) — both over her recently-dead father (Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks) and the recently-arrived Uncle Charlie — as well as a terrible but only gradually-revealed family secret. But in the last ten minutes it all falls apart and becomes just another boring fantasy, like (nearly) every other movie out of Hollywood these days. Psychopathology, once it has been revealed in all its horror, appears to become contagious and, therefore, not such a big scary deal as we might otherwise have supposed — and as Hitchcock would have portrayed it. Like zombies or vampires, these human beings are transformed by the bite of their predator into predators themselves, and the murders with which the movie is replete will presumably go on indefinitely, since this is a movie and movies love murder. Read more ..


Book Review

Why So Many Predictions Fail - But Some Don't

March 30th 2013

The Signal and the Noise

The Signal and the Noise. Nate Silver. Penguin Press. 2012. 544 pp.

This one almost got away. Though I was a faithful reader of Nate Silver's 538 blog in The New York Times in the months running up to the presidential election -- like a lot of Democrats it gave me a serenity I otherwise would not have had -- the release of his first book fell through the cracks. I kept meaning to get around to it, partially put off by its length and my numbers phobia, though I bought a copy for my University of Chicago economics-majoring son (Silver is an alumnus of UC). When my son left it behind for me after a recent trip home, I finally got around to it. The Signal and the Noise was published and marketed as a book for the political season, which I'm sure made sense from a publicity standpoint. But it has a vitality and durability far beyond that. The paperback edition appears to be months away; when that moment arrives, I believe it will become a perennial.

As much as anything else the book is a study of epistemology, and a brief for the necessity and reality of uncertainty in everyday life. That's not because humans are flawed (though of course they are), or because Big Data has limits (it certainly does, as the book is at some pains to explain), but because our world is one of probabilities rather than fixed laws awaiting discovery and decoding. And yet for all the mistakes of recent years -- the failures to predict the financial crisis and 9/11 principal among them -- Silver argues it is possible to think about, and calculate, predictions that have utility in everyday life (poker, weather, athletic events) as well as in broader realms (financial markets, earthquakes, climate change). One can get better at predicting the way that one can get better at playing baseball: great hitters only make it to base a minority of the time, and yet compile a productive of record of consistency that's difficult for others to duplicate. The comparison is not incidental: Silver started his professional career by developing a system of forecasting player performance. Read more ..


Film Review

Beyond the Hills: This too Shall Pass

March 29th 2013

Beyond the hills

Beyond the Hills. Director: Cristian Mungiu. Starring Valeriu Andriuta, Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan. Length: 90 mins.

One of the things I liked best among the many things I liked about Cristian Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2007, was that, while looking to liberals like the sort of liberal propaganda they have grown accustomed to from Hollywood, it was actually deeply subversive of the whole liberal project, at least so far as one of its central premisses, that of legalized abortion, is concerned. With his new film, Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri), he has repeated the trick, this time with religion.

And not with just any old religion, or the kind of anodyne God-bothering that now passes for religion in most Western countries but that succeeds chiefly in bothering the romantic New Atheist crusaders of the media. No, this is a much more obvious target: a genuinely medieval form of Christianity that can survive in few places in the world, or even within the generally pretty backward Romanian Orthodox Church - the nominal authority under which a nameless priest/monk (Valeriu Andriuta) and "Papa" to a covey of nuns runs his unconsecrated monastery a long way from anywhere.

Both the monastery's remoteness in the Romanian countryside and its failure to attract any higher ecclesiastical official to consecrate it - ostensibly because it remains unpainted, owing to lack of funds - are significant. One of the youngest sisters, the gentle, bovine novice Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), is visited by her best friend from the orphanage where they both grew up. Alina (Cristina Flutur) is a much more mercurial character who has emigrated to Germany to work as a waitress and now returned in the hope of persuading Voichita to join her in the West. Read more ..


Author's on Tour

"The Nazis Wanted Oil, and The Arabs Had It"

March 28th 2013

Edwin Black

The hidden history of the Shoah and its connections to American and Middle East affairs have preoccupied writer Edwin Black since the 1970s, when he wrote the first of 10 books of investigative journalism, including IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation. Born and raised in Chicago as the son of Polish Holocaust survivors, Black will be speaking at two venues in the Greater Metro­West area next week.

On Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m. he will discuss “Detroit’s Connection to the Holocaust: Ford, GM, and Hitler” at the Aidekman campus in Whippany, in a program sponsored by the Holocaust Council of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. A day later he will deliver the annual Joseph Gotthelf Holocaust Memorial Lecture at Temple Beth Am in Parsippany, as part of the synagogue’s Yom Hashoa commemoration. His topic will be the persecution of Iraqi Jews as detailed in his most recent book, The Farhud — Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, (Dialog Press).

Black spoke with NJ Jewish News by phone March 20 from his office in Washington, DC.

NJJN: What is Detroit’s connection to the Holocaust?

Edwin Black: There is no other American city that has a special connection to the Third Reich other than Detroit. It had a special place in Hitler’s heart because of two leading Holocaust collaborators: Henry Ford and Albert Sloan, the president of General Motors. Read more ..


Theatre Review

Breakfast at Tiffany's: Indigestible

March 27th 2013

Emilia Clarke in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Emilia Clarke as Holly Golightly

Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Director: Sean Mathias. Starring: Emilia Clarke. Cort Theater, New York, N.Y.

Anyone sitting in the Cort Theater in New York waiting for Breakfast at Tiffany’s to begin enjoys a wonderful montage of paintings and photographs of the city during World War II to remind you that the play is set in 1943. After ten or fifteen minutes of this luscious buildup, you are ready for a memorable play.

You don’t get one, though. You should send Breakfast at Tiffany’s back to the kitchen and try another restaurant.

The stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, adapted for the theater by Richard Greenberg and based on the incredibly successful 1961 movie starring Audrey Hepburn, has lost its luster. The executives at Tiffany’s should ask that they rename the play Lunch at Cartier’s Read more ..


The Music Edge

Rock Musicians 'Carry On' in Pakistan

March 26th 2013

Music

Rock and roll never really died in Pakistan. But it did fade away. Pop and rock bands used to play in clubs across Pakistan in the more liberal 1980s, but have largely receded from the public eye. One band is still playing and reaching out to other musicians, though, in an effort to keep Pakistani rock and roll alive.

Drummer Allan Smith of the band "RockLite" says 20 years ago there were dozens of bands playing in clubs, discos and parties across the country. Now he says there are only five.

"A lot of people went abroad from Pakistan. And, we have this whole new group of people that have come into Pakistan and have changed the idea, you know - totally believe that this music shouldn't be played, that you shouldn't have this outfit, you shouldn't have long hair, and we usually do get pressured by that. We've got nothing to do, we simply play music," said Smith.

Pakistan’s increasing conservatism and threats from some extremist groups have led sponsors to pull out of rock concerts. TV channels rarely promote bands. The shrinking audiences for Western-influenced music are part of a broader trend against diversity, said university professor and human rights activist Farzana Bari. Read more ..


Film Review

Stoker: A Danse Macabre

March 23rd 2013

Stoker

Stoker. Director: Chan-wook Park. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Teresa Wright, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode. Length: 90 mins.

In real life, as we’re often reminded, anything can happen. It’s one of the things that makes it so real. In the movies, however, that is not the case. In the movies, what happens determines, and is determined by, what kind of movie it is. What happens in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker for its first 90 minutes makes it into one kind of movie; what happens in its last ten minutes makes it into quite another. To be specific, it is, first, a Hitchcock-style thriller — and there are allusions to the great man’s Shadow of a Doubt of 1943, particularly in the central presence of a mysteriously sinister Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten there, Matthew Goode here) with an unhealthy interest in a young girl (Teresa Wright there, Mia Wasikowska there) — but without Hitchcock’s skill in plotting and suspense. Still, the movie manages to hold our interest for so long as the director is able to keep a tight grip on his materials, which he finally allows to get away from him in the end.

These materials include the erotic awakening of Miss Wasikowska’s character, the 18-year-old India, and her rivalry with her mother (Nicole Kidman) — both over her recently-dead father (Dermot Mulroney in flashbacks) and the recently-arrived Uncle Charlie — as well as a terrible but only gradually-revealed family secret. But in the last ten minutes it all falls apart and becomes just another boring fantasy, like (nearly) every other movie out of Hollywood these days. Psychopathology, once it has been revealed in all its horror, appears to become contagious and, therefore, not such a big scary deal as we might otherwise have supposed — and as Hitchcock would have portrayed it. Like zombies or vampires, these human beings are transformed by the bite of their predator into predators themselves, and the murders with which the movie is replete will presumably go on indefinitely, since this is a movie and movies love murder. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Tribal Languages, Economic Woes Inspire Nigerian Music

March 22nd 2013

Children gather water

Nigerian bands like Heroes Band International hope to break out of local circuits with pop songs inspired by traditional tribal music.  Besides ambitions of stardom and financial security, these musicians say they also hope to use modern entertainment to preserve ancient values and boost the economy. 

Success in the arts may be a long shot, but in a country where most people live in poverty, Nigerian musicians say it could be their best and only shot. Ifeyinwa Samuel Ndukwu, known to her fans as Ify De Diva, is the lead singer with Heroes Band International, an Afro-Pop band in the Nigerian capital, where the impoverished live side-by-side with the enormously wealthy.  She says young artists make guest appearances with her in order to pick up new gigs. Read more ..


Empty Entertainment

Previously on The Bible: It Doesn't Even Sound Right

March 21st 2013

I didn’t actually watch the whole program on The History Channel, as my penchant for televised versions of Biblical accounts kind of waned once I learned that Cecile B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” was not a literal depiction of what supposedly went down in Egypt some 3,500 years ago.  As I was a yeshivah boy with a short attention span, Charlton Heston was Moses to me until I was able to appreciate my studies a bit more.  What a disappointment that turned out to be.   When I finally learned of the Exodus in school, I kept seeing the film in my head as we reached each scene in the Chumash (Five Books).

I heard Dathan sneer the name Moses, and I heard God call in his deep voice, “Moses.”  Alas, it was all an act.  I was told many times in shiur that the TV version was wrong.  So I stopped watching it, figuring at least for this part of my education I did not want to be totally misinformed.  

Yet, when I was flipping through the channels today, I landed on the History Channel right at the top of the hour as one episode of The Bible ended and another was beginning.  The intro, much like any other multi-part television show, proclaimed, “Previously on The Bible.”  It made me laugh, as if I didn’t know what happened previously in the Bible.  It was telling a world of young impressionable minds what happened previously in the Bible and there are people who watch it and say, “Wow, I’m glad it showed me that, I really didn’t know.” Read more ..


The Movie Edge

High-Tech Oz Prequel Courts Modern Viewers

March 19th 2013

Wizard of Oz

Written by Frank Baum in 1900, the magical story of The Wizard of Oz has weathered time, and many film and stage incarnations. Its most famous was MGM’s lavish 1939 production starring Judy Garland and her ruby slippers. Now, a prequel to the original is out to court 21st century audiences. 

Like the original, Oz the Great and Powerful opens in black and white. Circus magician Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, is taken to the Emerald City where he’s destined to claim the throne. First, he’s told, he has to kill the wicked witch. He meets three witches, who all deny they're wicked.

Franco says the original story inspired him. “I have been a fan of the world of Oz since I was probably eleven, maybe younger. So, I thought it was a really great opportunity to jump into the role of my childhood and imagination.” Sam Raimi’s 3D  film offers a good story, rich visuals, solid acting and great special effects. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

The Four Freshmen Celebrate Their 65th Anniversary

March 16th 2013

Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen are back.  Actually, the famed vocal group that began on a small college campus 65 years ago never really went away. The Four Freshmen’s current lineup features Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Vince Johnson and Bob Ferreira and they have a new album, “Love Songs.”

Founded in 1948 by two brothers, Ross and Don Barbour, at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, the group was first known as Hal’s Harmonizers, then The Toppers, and finally, The Four Freshmen.  Two years later, they signed with Capitol Records and produced a string of hits in the 1950s. Singer and drummer Bob Ferriera says the quartet became popular not only on the strength of their vocal harmonies but also on their original musical accompaniment. Read more ..


Book Review

The Supreme Court and McCarthy-Era Repression: One Hundred Decisions

March 15th 2013

The Supreme Court and McCarty-Era Repression

The Supreme Court and McCarthy-Era Repression. Robert M. Lichtman. University of Illinois Press. 2012. 312 pp.

Irving Adler was one of 378 New York City teachers ousted for violating the state’s Feinberg Law (1949), which made past or present membership in the Communist Party sufficient ground for dismissing public school teachers.  Fifteen years after Adler’s removal, in Keyishian v. Board of Regents (1967), the United States Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional, enabling his reinstatement and subsequent receipt of a pension. Ensnared in the Second Red Scare, a period dominated by the presence of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the fear his presence generated, Adler and other loyal Americans were injured in many ways.

Robert M. Lichtman, a lawyer who has already written on his subject, having co-authored Deadly Force: Harvey Matusow and the Informer System in the McCarthy Era, demonstrates that the Supreme Court itself was no exception. Between October 1949 and October 1961, he found, “the Court, under attack and seeking to placate public opinion and avoid court-curbing legislation, employed a wide range of strategies” to protect “unpopular dissenters ... while avoiding more confrontational decisions that would have jeopardized its independence.” Simultaneously it fought public school segregation, making it highly vulnerable to attack. Thus, the Court and its chief justices, from Fred Vinson to Earl Warren and Warren Burger sailed into the prevailing political winds, and in roughly one hundred decisions, kept their ship from breaking apart.

In his highly detailed account, Lichtman traces the Court’s winding path through the era.  First, he briefly reviews the historical background of judicial independence, beginning with the Founding Fathers, and then periods of “political repression,” notably the World War I era. He then concisely describes the onset of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the perception of an internal Communist threat, reinforced by the Supreme Court under the direction of Chief Justice Fred Vinson, most notably in Dennis v. United States (1951), which upheld the convictions of leaders of the Communist Party USA for conspiracy aimed at the forcible overthrow of the United States Government. Read more ..


Book Review

Bringing Mulligan Home: The Other Side of the Good War

March 13th 2013

Bringing Mulligan Home

Bringing Mulligan Home. Dale Maharidge. Public Affairs. 2012. 336 pp.

Ten years ago Tad Bartimus wrote War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Reporters Who Covered Vietnam and the effect that war had on its participants. She had reported from Vietnam but was also assigned to cover an R&R reunion in Hawaii of Vietnam combat troops and their wives. "I expected to find happy, vacationing couples reuniting" but instead she watched "traumatized men and distraught women," the soldiers crying "as their stricken wives sat beside them, unable to comprehend what had transformed the boys they’d married into these grim-faced soldiers returning to war." It has never been any different, as Dale Maharidge discovered.

From an early age Dale Maharidge knew that his father Steve, a Marine veteran of the battles of Guam and Okinawa, was different from other fathers. Often inscrutable, he was given to sudden eruptions of anger (once striking his mother), drank heavily and would be silent for long periods of time, so unlike the young man who went to war,  his family said. And then there was a photo of himself and a marine named Mulligan, which his father always kept near him. One day, after staring at the photo his son heard him scream, "They said I killed him! But it wasn’t my fault!"

Maharidge, who teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, set out to understand what had happened and why it had so changed his father in this engrossing, probing and painful memoir and "what occurred after the men came home. Many families lived with the returned demons and physical afflictions. A lot of us grew up dealing with collateral damage from that war -- our fathers," he writes. And so he began a twelve year journey to unravel his family’s mystery, inevitably involving other aging ex-Marines, a journey which led him to track down and interview twenty-nine former members of his father’s platoon, Love Company, of the 3rd Battalion, 22nd Marine Regiment, 6th Marine Division, men who had rarely spoken about the war after their discharge. Read more ..


Tunisia On Edge

Tunisia's Female Artists Fear Islamist Repression

March 12th 2013

Tunisia wailing woman

Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings. But on this International Women's Day, some Tunisian female artists say they feel less free than under the old regime.

Read more ..


Book Review

3:11 - The Fukushima Disaster in Perspective Two Years Later

March 11th 2013

3:11 Disaster and Change in Japan

3: 11 Disaster and Change in Japan. Richard J. Samuels. Cornell. 2013.

Around the world, people watched in horror as an earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, soon followed by the slow-motion meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Fukushima. In the days and weeks that followed, many observers expected to see a wave of political or social change sweep Japan as well.

“At that moment, it looked like everything was up for grabs,” says Richard Samuels, a professor in MIT’s Department of Political Science. “The Japanese themselves defined the moment that way. There was a paroxysm of claims that everything would change.”

Instead, as Samuels reflects, there was “nothing on the scale that most of us expected.” After a hiatus, several of Japan’s nuclear power plants came back on line, and more are likely to do so before long. Long-standing limitations on the role of the military, lauded for its relief efforts, were not lifted. Much-discussed changes in government structures did not come to pass.

Precisely how this turning point failed to turn is the subject of a new book by Samuels, the first full-length scholarly analysis of Japanese politics since the devastating events of 2011. The book, titled “3.11 - Disaster in Change in Japan,” after the initial date of the event, is being published this month by Cornell University Press.

And while it is focused on Japan, Samuels’ book may have an important lesson for observers of other countries at a time when states around the world seem beset by political, military and economic crises: Even during great upheaval, entrenched interests are hard to dislodge.

“Political entrepreneurs come into crises with preferences that don’t change as a result of a crisis,” says Samuels, the Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of MIT’s Center for International Studies. Consider that in all of Japan, he adds, “There was only one political leader in the entire drama who changed his view about an important policy issue, and that was the prime minister, Naoto Kan, who became anti-nuclear.” Read more ..


Book Review

Jewish Images in the Comics: Golem, Dybbuk, Anti-Semites and other Characters

March 7th 2013

Jewish images in the comics

Jewish Images in the Comics. Fredrik Stromberg.Fantagraphics Books, 2012. 304 pp.

Jewish humor and folklore have always been an integral fabric of Jewish survival throughout the centuries, affording the Jewish community another tool to rationalize the environment they found themselves in. A clear testament to this is the amount of Yiddish jokes and idioms that entered the American lexicon at the beginning of the 20th century.

Jewish folktales characters like the golem and the dybbuk were used to showcase the community's challenges and sensibilities. The folklore took on a new spin when it began to appear in the pages of comic books; as most newspapers and ad agencies would not hire Jews and most of the comic book publishers were Jewish, these books became a fertile ground for Jews to get out their message. Consequently, many of the creators of the most famous comic books, such as Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, and Batman, as well as the founders of Mad magazine, were all Jewish. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Asian-American Story In Dance

March 6th 2013

Asian-American dance

The modern American choreography of H.T. Chen is partly classical ballet, partly traditional Asian dance. But it is also something new and different, and it serves to tell the history of Asians in America.

"Mr. Chen's background is in Chinese dance, Chinese opera movements as well as modern dance and ballet," said Chen's wife, Dian Dong.  "He choreographs using his imagination, but you can't free yourself of your cultural roots, it's always there.” 

“The movement has a Chinese feel to it, but it's contemporary,” said Dong, who organizes and designs the educational programs for the Chen Dance Center, located in New York’s Chinatown community. Chen began creating works about the Chinese-American experience when he immigrated to the United States. Read more ..


Book Review

The American Dream: A Cultural History

March 5th 2013

the american dream a cultural history

The American Dream: A Cultural History. Lawrence R. Samuel. Syracuse. 2012. 256 pp.

This is a useful book, a troubling book, and a book tells us something about the strange state of contemporary publishing. I’ll try and deal with each of these in turn.

I’ll begin, speaking as a historian, by saying that the American Dream is surprisingly open editorial terrain. By my reckoning this is only the third recent history of the topic, following my 2003 book The American Dream and Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson’s Pursuing the American Dream the following year. (I still regard Harvard literary critic Andrew Delbanco’s brief collection of lectures, The Real American Dream, as the most evocative and wide-ranging book on the subject, though, as its subtitle – A Meditation on Hope – indicates, it is more suggestive than comprehensive.) Given how omnipresent the concept of American Dream is around the globe, how ambiguous its multiple meanings are, and how often in turns up as an aspect or subtext of so much scholarly discourse, one might think its history would have attracted more focused attention than it has.

I suspect this relative paucity has something to do with the orientation of the academy in the last half-century. We live in an age of particularity. Gone are the days when a major historians like Henry Steele Commanger and Merrill Petersen could publish books with titles like The American Mind or The Jefferson Image in the American Mind. (Which American mind? Whose American mind?) Our postcolonial mindset looks with suspicion on anything that smacks of a totalizing ideology, except as a symptom of, or an illustration of an intention to impose, a form of false consciousness.

The American Dream seems particularly problematic in this regard not only because of its prevalence in popular discourse as the essence of a national character, but also because of its concatenation with another idea that is in even worse repute: American exceptionalism. At the heart of any notion that the United States is a unique civilization in the history of the world -- and at the heart of any moral claim in that uniqueness -- lies an assertion that the nation offers historically unprecedented opportunities for individuals to forge their own destinies. Empires come and empires go, but this empire is special because (in the words of George Washington) it is an empire for liberty. Read more ..


Money and Art

Sotheby’s Exhibit Taps Into Art – And Money – Of Caucasus, Central Asia

March 4th 2013

Maneater of Kumaon-central asia

At the peak of his career in the early 1970s, Kazakh painter Salikhitdin Aitbaev was accused of “Picassism” and “bourgeois formalism” and forced to alter his work to win back the approval of Soviet art critics.

But Aitbaev, who died in 1994, is experiencing a resurrection of sorts. The avant-garde master is among nearly 50 artists from Central Asia and the Caucasus whose works will be featured in a new commercial exhibition by the world-famous Sotheby’s auction house.

The weeklong “At the Crossroads” exhibit and sale opens March 4 in London. It features a range of nonconformist, socialist realist, and contemporary artworks from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Joanna Vickery, the head of Sotheby’s Russian Department, says the art on display varies widely in style but is unified by the region’s slow emergence from a conformist Soviet school. Read more ..


The Edge of Movies

China's 'Hollywood' Stokes Anti-Japanese Sentiment

March 4th 2013

The East is Red

In 2012, the Chinese film industry produced numerous movies and television dramas with anti-Japanese themes, many of them dealing with the two wars between the countries. The trend seems set to continue in 2013, with at least nine anti-Japan productions in progress.

According to a report in the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News, Hengdian World Studio, known as China’s Hollywood, produced between 40 and 50 such shows last year alone. The newspaper estimated the number of deaths of Japanese depicted in the dramas to be one billion over the course of the entire year.

The newspaper said the production quality of many of the productions is not sophisticated, and that some the action shown is so preposterous as to elicit laughter from the audience. In one drama, for example, Chinese are portrayed as having the power to cut Japanese in half with their bare hands. Read more ..


The Music Edge

Van Cliburn, Pianist Who Bridged Cold War Divide, Dies

March 2nd 2013

Van Cliburn

A performance of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, as played by a young American in Moscow in 1958, has never been forgotten in the former Soviet Union.

The pianist, Van Cliburn, who died at the age of 78 on February 27 in Texas, was competing at the time in the first-ever International Tchaikovsky Competition.

Just 23 years old, he was a long-shot entry. But right from the start it became clear that despite the great divide between Soviet citizens and Americans, something special was happening. In the competition events, the audiences quickly warmed to Cliburn's youth, his modesty, and his extraordinarily warm, even romantic, rendition of the pieces. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Brits Fume over Inaccurate Portrayal in Oscar-Winning 'Argo'

March 1st 2013

Argo

Britons are calling foul over Hollywood’s treatment of the infamous takeover of the American embassy in Iran by Islamic revolutionaries in 1979 and the subsequent rescue of six American diplomats. British diplomats called Ben Affleck’s ‘Argo’ movie a “slur” for having depicted the desperate Americans being turned away by British colleagues as revolutionaries rampaged. Affleck won the Best Picture Oscar for his portrayal of an intrepid CIA operative who manages to get the six diplomats out of Iran being using a fictitious movie production as a ruse. In various interviews, Affleck was unapologetic for what the Brits are calling false portrayals.

In director Affleck’s telling, it was the Canadian government and the CIA that managed the rescue during the occupation of the American embassy in 1979. British media complained about the regularly negative portrayal of Britain by Hollywood. In ‘Argo’, the six Americans were refused refuge by British diplomats. ‘Brits turned them away,’ says a senior CIA character in the film. Similarly, movies such as Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ and ‘The Patriot’ portrayed Britons as sinister and murderous.

The Daily Mail, a UK-based newspaper, visualized “the outraged comments over industrial buckets of popcorn in movie theaters from Alabama to Alaska. ‘Goddamn Limeys! So that’s what we get for bailing them out during World War II’”, as a typical reaction on the part of Americans.

Britons point out that instead of villains, British diplomats in Iran were heroes and saviours during the Islamic revolution in Iran. Many of the Britons who witnessed the revolution, and rescue, are still alive. According to the Daily Mail, retired diplomat Sir John Graham (86) fumed, “When I first heard about this film, I was really quite annoyed,” while expressing concern that Hollywood’s version of events might become the definitive history in the minds of viewers. Read more ..


The Way We Are

MasterChef Israel Cooks Up International Interest

February 27th 2013

MasterChef-Israel

The finale earned the highest ratings for a single TV episode in Israeli history, capturing hearts and stomachs in Israel and abroad.

The televised cooking contest, MasterChef, is popular around the world and has been remade for 35 countries. But the third season of MasterChef Israel turned the international media glare on Tel Aviv – and on the contestants’ beef wellington, apple ravioli, Moroccan spicy fish, Quarkbaellchen, burghul maklouba, kadaif and awama drenched in lemon and sugar.

Hundreds of people auditioned for the show. Fourteen were chosen to fulfill tasks in the kitchen according to parameters set by the judges. The winner was awarded the title “MasterChef of Israel” and NIS 200,000 (more than $54,000). Read more ..


Book Review

Kill Anything That Moves: American Crimes in Vietnam

February 26th 2013

Kill anything that moves

Kill Anything That Moves. Nick Turse. Metropolitan Books. 2013. 384 pp.

On the same day in March 1968 that Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the Americal Division, massacred 500 women and children in the village of My Lai on orders to “kill everything that moves,” a different U.S. Army unit, Bravo Company, entered the nearby hamlet of My Khe.

Although they met no resistance and found only women and children in the village, Bravo Company’s commander, Lieutenant Thomas Willingham, gave orders to destroy it. One soldier shot a Vietnamese baby in the head point blank with a .45 caliber pistol. Others gunned down women and children, “like being in a shooting gallery.” When their work was done, 155 Vietnamese villagers were dead. Even though a U.S. Army investigation found “no reliable evidence to support the claim that the persons killed were VC [Viet Cong],” nobody was punished for these murders at My Khe. (141-42)

As Nick Turse explains in his depressingly important new book, Kill Anything That Moves, the Pentagon’s public relations strategy for dealing with the issue of U.S. atrocities in South Vietnam “centered on portraying My Lai as a one-off aberration, rather than part of a consistent pattern of criminality resulting from policies set at the top” of the U.S. military command. So when reporters later asked about this second massacre at My Khe, Pentagon briefers, not wanting to admit that two different U.S. Army units had slaughtered civilians in two separate villages on the same day, simply lied and blamed My Khe on South Vietnamese troops. The Pentagon then buried the evidence about the My Khe massacre by classifying the documentation as “top secret.” (230) Read more ..


Book Review

Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America

February 25th 2013

Grand Central

Grand Central. Sam Roberts. Grand Central Publishing. 2013. 320 pp.

Compared to shabby and uninspiring Penn Station, Manhattan’s other train station on the west side of Manhattan, the latest version of Grand Central Terminal in chic East Midtown Manhattan, which includes Madison and Park Avenues and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, is a stunning work of architectural genius. New York Times reporter Sam Roberts’s Grand Central: How a Train Station Transformed America is beautifully illustrated with a very readable text, an appropriate acknowledgment of the hundredth anniversary of the station’s past and present.

Roberts recognizes the critical importance of Cornelius III and Alfred Vanderbilt -- great-grandsons of the Commodore, the pioneering railway buccanee -- both of whom were instrumental in demolishing the old station and electrifying its railways. Most significantly, he recalls the sadly forgotten William J. Wilgus, the New York Central’s farsighted chief engineer, who a year following a fatal local steam locomotive accident, urged the existing Grand Central station be replaced and serviced by electric trains. It made Wilgus’ plan “revolutionary and, in the end, so inevitable,” writes Roberts. Bolstered by the backing of the Vanderbilts, William Rockefeller -- John D.’s older brother -- and J.P. Morgan, who gave Wilgus a green light in 1903, which, Roberts notes, allowed Wilgus “to proceed with his bold agenda for a regal terminal that would be a gateway to the continent,”

Railroads have always had a romantic grip on us, an affection never accorded air and auto travel. In his foreword, Pete Hamill, a native Brooklynite -- as is Roberts -- remembers his mother taking him to see Grand Central and being overwhelmed by its grandeur. Roberts recalls his father taking him to the station where he was allowed to sit in the cab of a New York Central train and “drive” the train -- at least for a few feet. My own memories of the terminal are many but they include accompanying a close relative off to war and then staring at families hugging the departing GIs and weeping. Read more ..


Book Review

The Afterlife of Empire: Britain's Lessons for America

February 23rd 2013

The afterlife of empire

The Afterlife of Empire. Jordanna Bailikin. University of California Press. 2012. 380 pp.

Most historical scholarship on the decline and fall of the British Empire deals with the diplomatic and political aspects of this transformation and ignores how imperial collapse affected everyday life in Britain after the Second World War. And historians have subscribed to the idea that “postwar” and “postimperial” themes are unrelated.

In her new book The Afterlife of Empire (University of California Press), historian Jordanna Bailkin offers an original assessment of postwar Britain that interweaves “postwar” and “postcolonial” concerns while focusing on how the end of empire changed social relations and individual routines in the emerging welfare state.

In her groundbreaking study, Dr. Bailkin investigates how the British welfare state in the 1950s and 1960s grappled with thorny issues such as migration, education, mental health, marriage and parenthood, race relations and crime in the context of decolonization. The welfare policies were often contradictory and were decidedly influenced by Cold War politics as the empire expired and former colonies gained independence.

Dr. Bailkin humanizes the story by exploring themes that range from the repatriation of West Indian migrants for mental illness and legal confusion over the treatment of polygamous marriages to the controversy over the care of African babies by white foster families, the treatment of students from former colonies, and the deportation of immigrants -- particularly the Irish.

The Afterlife of Empire is based on Dr. Bailkin’s extensive research with a wide range or resources from oral histories, court cases, press reports, social science writings, and photographs to files from the National Archives that were recently declassified at her request. Read more ..


Afganistan on Edge

Afghan Coming-of-Age Film Is Oscar Contender

February 21st 2013

Buzkashi

The Oscars will be presented Sunday night in Hollywood.  One of the nominees for Live-action Short Film is Buzkashi Boys, a coming-of-age story set in Afghanistan shows a side of life in Afghanistan seldom seen outside the country.

The film has vivid shots of the ancient Afghan sport called Buzkashi. It's a dangerous game played on horseback with a goat carcass. In this drama, filmed in Kabul, two Afghan boys dream of becoming famous Buzkashi players. The 29-minute film is a joint project of Western and Afghan filmmakers and was directed by documentary filmmaker Sam French.  He has lived in Afghanistan since 2008.

The two young stars were 12 years old when the film was shot.  Jawanmard Paiz is the son of a well-known Afghan actor and has acted before.  Fawad Mohammadi is a newcomer whom the director knew from Chicken Street in Kabul. Read more ..


Film Review

Les Misérables: Melodrama Redux

February 20th 2013

miserables

Les Misérables. Director: Tom Hooper. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Seyfried. 158 mins.

It's a pity that, culturally, we seem to have closed the book on melodrama. The Wikipedia entry for the word states flatly that "Melodrama has left the Western scene in television and movies," although it is said to be "still widely popular in other regions, particularly Asia." I think they might have Bollywood in mind. Here, however, the word has lately become nothing but a critical pejorative for something that we don't like, or that is seen as old-fashioned in its moralizing.

When the word is used, it is used without any non-normative, descriptive meaning independent of the critical impulse. Readers with long memories may recall my review of Giuseppe Piccioni's wonderful movie Fuori dal Mondo (Not of this World) of 1999 which marveled at a New York Times critic's use of "melodrama" to describe something about as little like a melodrama as it is possible for a movie to be, just because he didn't like it. Yet what is the enormously popular Les Misérables but a melodrama in its most traditional sense?

That is to say, it is a drama with music - and music throughout - which is used to express highly-wrought emotion in a radically simplified moral context wherein the good - who are characteristically in a state of imminent peril - are very, very good and the bad - who are characteristically predatory or threatening vis á vis the good - are very, very bad. Just setting it out in this descriptive way, if you didn't know what was being described, makes it sound as if it were bound to be a critical flop, yet "Les Miz," the movie, has been mostly as highly praised as its now 30-year-old stage version, and it has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. The condition for this praise is therefore, presumably, that we should not call it a melodrama but a pop opera or some such thing. Read more ..



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