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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 ..


The Edge of Music

Orchestra Comprised of Afghan Street-Children Concludes US Tour

February 19th 2013

Orchestra-Afgan-street children

After travelling more than 10,000 kilometers in two weeks, the Afghan Youth Orchestra is heading back to Kabul - following performances in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. Hailing the group as “ambassadors of peace,” Secretary of State John Kerry said the young people used music to show the positive changes made in Afghanistan over the last 10 years. Now they are going home.

This is Boléro. It is an orchestral piece by Maurice Ravel, first performed at the Paris Opera in 1928. The composition is played here by Afghan students in Boston, Massachusetts. Classical violins and trumpets sound alongside a rubab and a sitar.

The Afghan Youth Orchestra performed this famous piece at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Carnegie Hall in New York City, and here at the New England Conservatory in Boston. This was their last stop on a tour of the United States, funded largely by the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Read more ..


Film Review

Amour: The Incarceration of Old Age and Death

February 18th 2013

Amour

Amour. Director: Michael Haneke. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert.
The fourth major character in Michael Haneke’s Amour, after the elderly couple played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva and their daughter, Eva (Isabelle Huppert), is the Parisian flat where the couple, Georges and Anne, have apparently lived for decades. Apart from one early scene in a concert hall — disconcertingly filmed from the stage so that the audience mirrors the cinema audience — where one of Anne’s star piano students is giving a recital, the film never leaves their apartment, even though they do.

The sense of inhabiting a confined space from which there is no exit becomes a living metaphor for Georges’s and Anne’s confinement in their failing bodies and their unfailing marriage. The apartment, like the marriage, is a lovely prison in which these people have willingly incarcerated themselves and grown comfortable from long familiarity. When Anne returns from a failed operation to correct a blockage in her carotid artery that is causing a series of strokes, she begs: "Promise me that I’ll never have to go back to the hospital."

She is asking to die at home, among her familiar things and comforted by the familiar relationship with her husband, though it turns out there is no comfort for either of them. "We’ve always coped, your mother and I," says Georges to Eva, rebuffing her unhelpful offer of help. Like everything else in the movie, there is a strong sense of inevitability about their estrangement from her, and not only because we already know how it will end. Up front, Mr Haneke puts a flash-forward to firemen breaking in to the sealed apartment to find a flower-strewn body on the bed.

But the whole presentation of the life of the couple as it unfolds from the earliest frames sets up the only possible ending. Also at the beginning, when the couple return home from the concert, they find signs of an attempted forced entry. Nothing is missing, but we can’t help feeling that death has broken in at last upon their life-long idyll. The hint of foreboding, as in a horror-film is not easy to shake off. Read more ..


Book Review

Politics of the Black Panther Party

February 16th 2013

Black Against Empire

Black Against Empire. Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. University of California. 2013. 560 pp.

In the summer of 1970, the North Vietnamese invited Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver to speak to black GIs from a radio station in Hanoi. Cleaver was the author of the best-selling memoir, Soul on Ice, which provided insights into the psychological effects of racial oppression in America and a sharp critique of the Vietnam War. He told the GIs that: “What they’re doing is programming this thing so that you cats are getting phased out on the battlefield. They’re sticking you out front so that you’ll get offed. And that way they’ll solve two problems with one little move: they solve the problem of keeping a large number of troops in Vietnam; and they solve the problem of keeping young warriors off the streets of Babylon. And that’s a dirty, vicious game that’s being run on you. And I don’t see how you can go for it.”

In Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. use Cleaver’s speech to show the internationalism of the Black Panther Party and its anti-imperialism. The Panthers considered African Americans as a colonized people within the United States, subjected to social and economic discrimination and the policing of their neighborhoods by racist police officers whom they likened to an occupying army. They promoted the writings of Frantz Fanon, the Algerian psychologist who analyzed how colonized peoples internalized their own oppression and rejected their cultural heritage. Freedom could only be achieved through revolutionary upheaval.

The Black Panther Party originated in Oakland California in 1966 following the assassination of Malcolm X. Huey P. Newton, the party’s co-founder with Bobby Seale, studied law at Merritt College and uncovered that it was legal to carry a loaded firearm in California in public. The Panthers began patrolling the streets of Oakland to defend their communities and recruited ghetto youth who might have otherwise joined street gangs. The Panthers built their ties with the community, first in Oakland, and then in cities around the country, by providing breakfasts to underprivileged youth, medical care and after-school programs. The breakfast program fed hundreds of kids per day and thousands per week, with local businesses often donating food (though sometimes they were extorted). Read more ..


Book Review

The Noir Forties: The Early Post War Years

February 14th 2013

The Noir Forties

The Noir Forties. Richard Lingeman. Nation Books. 2012. 432 pp.

Within American popular culture, the 1950s are viewed with some nostalgic longing for a simpler time as depicted in such television fare as Happy Days, Leave It to Beaver, and Father Knows Best. Yet, this era was anything but a period free from global and domestic turmoil. By 1950, the so-called greatest generation of the Great Depression and World War II journeyed from the euphoria of victory over Germany and Japan to the development of a national security state which supported the Cold War, the manufacture of nuclear arms, and a shooting war in Korea; while perceiving the New Deal, reform movements and dissent in general as a threat to the nation’s existence. In the work place and the suburbs, conformity was a cherished value that allowed one to get ahead at the job and mingle with neighbors in the pursuit of consumption. Not everyone, however, shared in the values of the American liberal consensus, which was challenged in the 1960s by alienated youth, women who refused to embrace the feminine mystique, and a civil rights movement that questioned the promise of American life for all its citizens. The veterans returned from the Second World War with the hope that their sacrifice would usher in a world free of totalitarianism, war, and depression. Many would find post-war America disappointing.

Richard Lingeman, a senior editor with the Nation magazine and a literary biographer with books on Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser, argues that the foundation for post-World War II America was established during the period from 1945 to 1950 as the United States evolved from celebrating the victories over Japan and Germany to a new Cold War military front on the peninsula of Korea. The Noir Forties is a rather eclectic book which employs elements of autobiography, history, and cultural studies to examine the early years of the postwar period, when the insecurities of the American people were often explored in the popular film noir genre; where a dark urban landscape was populated by cynical detectives, strong women usually described as femme fatales, and a darkness of the human soul. Read more ..


Unganda on Edge

Producer of Gay-Themed Play Deported from Uganda

February 13th 2013

David Cecil British Producer

David Cecil, a British citizen who produced a play last year about the plight of Ugandan gays, was deported from Uganda on Monday.  He had been arrested by Ugandan police Wednesday, and was flown back to Britain after having spent five days in detention at a Kampala police station.

Cecil had angered Ugandan authorities last year by staging The River and the Mountain, in which a group of employees kills their own boss when they learn he is gay.  Uganda's media council said it had not authorized the production, and Cecil was imprisoned for several days.  A Ugandan court threw the case out in January, citing a lack of evidence.

But authorities detained him again this month, and put him on a plane out of the country Monday evening. The Ugandan government claims the right to deport immigrants it considers “undesirable.”  But according to human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, someone can only be deemed undesirable if he or she has broken the law. Read more ..


Movies on Edge

Five Actresses Compete For Coveted Oscar

February 12th 2013

Oscar Poster 2012

Ask a bunch of people which actress will win the Best Actress Oscar this year and you're bound to get five different answers.  Some of the nominees are favored but not necessarily because they triumphed in their roles.

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhane Wallis plays Hushpuppy, the runt who survives the odds as her community becomes overwhelmed by floods.  The young actress could not have imagined she would get an Oscar nomination. But despite a soulful performance, Wallis is too new to win the golden statuette.

Naomi Watts is in the running for her performance in the The Impossible. She plays a mother of three caught in Thailand's 2004 Tsunami. This is the second Oscar nomination for Watts. The first was for her role as a grieving wife and mother in 21 Grams. 

So far, Watt’s performance in The Impossible has not gained enough momentum to put her in the lead. At 86, Emmanuelle Riva is the oldest nominee ever for a Best Actress Oscar. She's had a long and illustrious career in her native France. 

She became known in 1959 for her role in Alain Resnais' ground breaking film Hiroshima Mon Amour. Critics have hailed Riva’s performance in Amour, about an elderly woman who is slowly dying. But Riva's gut wrenching  interpretation of Anne may not yield an Oscar. Some say she is too old and the film too esoteric for Oscar voters.  Read more ..


The Way We Are

Gotye, Mumford and Sons Take Top Honors at 2013 Grammy Awards

February 11th 2013

Grammy Awards

The British folk rock band Mumford and Sons has received the top award of album of the year at the Grammy Awards for its recording Babel. The music honors in Los Angeles late Sunday were shared this year by industry veterans and independent artists.

Mumford and Sons earned the Grammy for best album. The group performed its hit I Will Wait at the annual music gala. Mumford and Sons lost the Grammy for best rock album to The Black Keys, which won for the album El Camino.  The Black Keys took Grammys for best rock performance and best rock song for Lonely Boy.

The Belgian-Australian musician Gotye took the Grammy for record of the year for Somebody That I Used to Know, performed with New Zealand artist Kimbra. The song also brought the pair a Grammy for best pop duo, and Gotye earned the Grammy for alternative album for Making Mirrors. Read more ..


Music on Edge

Sisters With Voices, The Grammy Comeback Kids

February 10th 2013

Sisters with Voices

At last year’s Grammy Awards, Adele was the big "comeback kid," triumphant after vocal cord surgery and a long recovery.  And while there is no such drama around the Grammys this weekend, there is a comeback to cheer for - the return of SWV, Sisters With Voices.

It’s been 20 years since we first heard from SWV. Originally a gospel group, the trio from New York City had a long string of R&B hits in the 1990s, including "I'm So Into You," "Right Here," "You’re The One," and "Weak." But their chart success wasn’t enough to keep SWV happy, and the band called it quits in 1998.

"It was a tumultuous breakup, actually. We spent years not even talking," said SWV's Tamara Johnson George, or Taj.  "We all tried different projects and we realized we weren’t being as fulfilled as we were as a group together. So we put our differences aside and put this album together. And it is really and truly one of the best albums we’ve ever done." Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Berlin Film Festival Offers Political Awareness

February 7th 2013

Berlin by Night

One of the most widely anticipated films as this year's Berlin Film Festival kicks off on February 7 is a tantalizing new work by Iranian director Jafar Panahi.

His film, "Closed Curtain," will be shown on February 10 with very little advance word of what it is about. The description in the festival program hints merely that it concerns a man, his dog, a young woman, and a filmmaker in a house by the Caspian Sea. All are wanted by the authorities but also are in search of each other.

Even without advance publicity, Panahi's latest film is sure to draw a crowd because he made it in defiance of his government. In 2010, Panahi was banned for 20 years from making any films after he was arrested over his support of the Green Movement's opposition to the regime. He also received a six-year jail sentence that was suspended after an outcry from the international community. The European Parliament made him a co-winner of its prestigious Sakharov Prize, which honors free thought, in 2012. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black in Miami Details How IBM Partnered with the Nazis in Mass Murder

February 6th 2013

Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will chronicle IBM's robust 12-year alliance with Nazi Germany detailing how the company co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust as the finale to his multi-campus tour in South Florida. Black will be documenting IBM's partnership with Hitler at two universities. The first event is 10 AM on Thursday, February 7, at Frost Art Museum as part of the Ruth and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series presented by Florida International University's School of International and Public Affairs. His lecture is entitled "How IBM Co-Planned and Co-Organized the Holocaust--What the New Documentation Shows." The public is invited.

Black reprises his presentation at a major interdepartmental and interdisciplinary event at noon on Friday, February 8th, at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. That presentation is broadly sponsored by the Miller Medical School, University of Miami Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Arsht Ethics Initiatives and University of Miami Ethics Programs in association with the Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies, and other groups. The UM event is open to the public. As he typically does, the author promises to present irrefutable documents at both presentations.

Edwin 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

The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge

February 6th 2013

Priests of Our Democracy

Priests of Our Democracy. Marjorie Heins. NYU Press. 2013. 384 pp.

In the fall of 1940 through the winter of 1941, as Europe passed into the second year of world war and the nation slowly climbed out of the Great Depression, faculty, students and staff from New York City’s municipal colleges were called before a tribunal of the New York State Legislature investigating Communist subversion. Before it was done in spring 1942, the Rapp-Coudert investigation, as this witch-hunt was called, had stripped dozens of people of their jobs, careers and reputations. Pearl Harbor had not yet happened. The Cold War would not start for another seven years. And yet something resembling “McCarthyism” had already begun.

At the time, few legal safeguards stood between academics and the prying and prejudiced eye of such inquisitions, which were especially intense in New York, known for its concentration of left-wing movements. City employees suspected of membership in Communist organizations could be deposed in secret without a lawyer, fingered by undisclosed witnesses and denied access to the record of their own testimony or that of their accusers. Mere suspicion of communism entrapped academics in the Hobson’s choice between lying about their political affiliations and being forced to expose friends and colleagues under the threat of contempt charges. Many chose the former, and eventually got fired for it. Because of a clause in the city charter, they did not even enjoy the weak protection of the Fifth Amendment. While state laws required the city’s Board of Higher Education to conduct a hearing before dismissing tenured faculty, the many staff and untenured lecturers and tutors involved, not to mention students, could be fired or expelled without due process.

As Marjorie Heins, a civil liberties lawyer, writer, teacher and founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, lucidly recounts in this excellent history of how the law has dealt with academic McCarthyism, at the time few courts, legislatures or academic institutions considered academic freedom a right protected under the Constitution. That situation only got worse in the wake of the war. In 1949, New York legislators, believing that “subversive propaganda” was being “disseminated among children in their tender years,” passed the Feinberg Law, requiring boards of education to dismiss any teacher belonging to an organization advocating the overthrow of the government by “force, violence or any unlawful means,” or having committed “treasonable or seditious acts or utterances.” Read more ..


Book Review

Citizen Soldier: Harry S. Truman, Success and Failures

February 5th 2013

Citizen Soldier 2

Citizen Soldier. Aida Donald. Basic Books. 2012. 288 pp.

John M. Barry, the eloquent independent scholar who wrote The Great Influenza about the deadly 1918-1919 pandemic, coined the felicitous phrase “fashions of interpretation” in his latest book Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul. It’s perfectly appropriate for how we consider past presidents. If Warren Harding was not what virtually all his detractors wrote (see John Dean’s Warren G. Harding for another view) and the forthcoming Why Coolidge Matters: America’s Most Underrated President by Charles C. Johnson (Encounter Books), then why not another evaluation of Harry Truman, who’s been scrutinized by Robert Dallek, Robert Ferrell, Alonzo Hamby, Michael Gardner, Zachary Karabell, David McCullough, Robert J. Moskin, and Gil Troy, among others. Does his stewardship need still another reassessment?

It apparently does, according to Aida D. Donald, author of a sympathetic biography of Theodore Roosevelt and former editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press. In Citizen Soldier she reassesses Harry Truman from his earliest years to his military service in World War I, his years as a U.S. senator investigating wartime profiteering, and his accidental presidency. Much that she tells us is familiar territory, though there is some new material.

Donald tracks his role in World War I and how this peaceful, spectacled, unimpressive man fell in love with military life because of the comradeship and respect he earned as an officer. Shocked by what he experienced during the war it nevertheless became “the petri dish for his later political leadership,” she writes. And while the war would destroy a generation of European men” -- and kill more than 100,000 Americans -- “it would make a man of Truman.”

We know about the time Truman spent with the crooked Pendergast Kansas City machine but Donald offers new information about his life as an “honest man in a den of thieves.” The new material is drawn from Truman’s Pickwick Papers, named after the hotel he regularly fled to escape the stress and personal doubts about his connection to the bandits running the wide-open city. The experience “plagued [him] with serious psychosomatic disorders,” which cursed him most of his life. At the hotel, far from the public eye, he wrote extensive notes to himself, only recently made available by the Truman Library. Read more ..


Film Essay

Zero Dark Thirty: Panetta Says Harsh Interrogation Scenes are Wrong

February 4th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Secretary Leon Panetta, who as CIA director oversaw the U.S. operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, said during a television interview on Sunday morning that the scenes in the Oscar-nominated motion picture, "Zero Dark Thirty," are inaccurate and that garnering intelligence from suspected terrorists could have been achieved without resorting to enhanced interrogation techniques that some call torture.

The outgoing defense secretary, in remarks aired Sunday on the NBC program "Meet the Press," said there had been many pieces to solving the "puzzle" that located bin Laden, who was held responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

"Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at that time -- interrogation tactics that were used," said Panetta, who served as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2009 until he became U.S. defense secretary on July 1, 2011. Read more ..


Book Review

Sasha and Emma: The Uncertain Odyssey of Two Celebrated Anarchists

February 3rd 2013

Sasha and Emma

Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Paul & Karen Avrich. Harvard. 2012.

Years ago Paul Avrich, my high school classmate and later a colleague in a college where he was a professor and I an adjunct, invited me to spend an evening with an aging group of Jewish anarchists. At the gathering a woman told me that other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s most remarkable woman had been Emma Goldman. Ahrne Thorne agreed. He was the last editor of the anarchist “Freie Arbeiter Shtimme” (Free Worker’s Voice, it was closed in 1977 after 87 years of publication when it had 1,700 subscribers). He said he had met Alexander Berkman and knew Emma Goldman well. It was hard for me to imagine these elderly men and women as threats to the Republic. They were also despised by Communists because anarchists had the temerity to reject their Soviet paradise.

These old men and women had devoted their lives to an unachievable, impractical utopia where governments would play minimal roles and be supplanted by voluntary communes or, as an old anarchist tune went, “there is no supreme savior, neither god nor king nor leader.” On that long ago evening they reminisced about strikes, picket lines, prison terms and battles against an oppressive American state as well as Soviet Russia, which had betrayed their long sought for “revolution.” The names of Goldman and her occasional lover and lifelong friend Berkman, known as Sasha, were lovingly recalled. “Red” Emma as her critics called her, loved America but was deported and died in exile in Canada. Ironically, her family needed governmental permission for her body to be returned and buried in the same Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago as the executed late nineteenth-century Haymarket anarchists. Sasha, seriously ill, committed suicide in France and was buried there. Read more ..


Book Review

China Goes Global: The Partial Power, From the Western Pacific to Hegemony

February 1st 2013

China Goes Global

China Goes Global: The Partial Power. David Shambaugh. Oxford University Press. 2013. 432 pp.

Here's a book that has its title right -- a statement worth making because so many stretch or bend them for marketing purposes. And that's only the beginning of the elegant distillation George Washington University political scientist David Shambaugh provides in this useful volume, which offers a detailed yet concise portrait of a nation widely perceived as on the cusp of what the Chinese government often ascribes to its American rival: hegemony.

But not that that fast, Shambaugh says. While it's clear that China's rise has been wide, deep and rapid, it has a long way to go before it's truly a global rival for the United States. An effective response to that rise, he says, requires one to understand its contours, which are surprisingly jagged.

Shambaugh surveys China's place in the world by a series of metrics: diplomacy, economics, culture, and military prowess, among others. In every case he notes that the nation has made tremendous strides since Deng Xioping's transformative changes following 1978, reforms whose impact appears to be accelerating. And yet for a variety of reasons China falls far short of global dominance or influence. So, for example, its goods are flooding the world -- but not in elite, high-tech products. Its navy has been growing by leaps and bounds -- but its impact is largely limited to the western Pacific. It has an increasingly visible profile in international institutions, but its role tends to be passive, if not contradictory.

A big part of the reason for this, as Shambaugh explains, is a deep-seated sense of national ambivalence. Nursing a lingering sense of grievance for its century and a half of humiliation at the hands of Japan and the West from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, the Chinese government and its people view the prevailing international order with the skepticism, even hostility, of a Third World nation, even though such a label hardly describes it. At the same time, China's millennial understanding of itself as the Middle Kingdom makes it reluctant to push far beyond its territorial frontiers -- or to interact with other nations on a basis of genuine reciprocity. Read more ..


Arts in America

Django Unchained: A White Abolitionist View of American History

January 31st 2013

Django Unchained still photo
Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman in Django Unchained

No one could possibly mistake Quentin Tarantino for William Lloyd Garrison, but the director's Django Unchained nevertheless belongs to the tradition of antebellum white abolitionism. The film powerfully evokes a South, and a people, entirely under the sway of slaveholders' sadistic passions. This intellectual lineage explains why its depiction of slavery is so potent, and so wrong.

At the film's core is an abolitionist representation of slavery as despotic, unbridled cruelty. As a consequence, Django does something no American film has done before: it places the experience of terror -- as a structural, daily, lived reality -- at the center of the experience of slavery. Horror films take latent fears and embody them in fearsome physical form; Django is, in this sense, a horror movie about slavery. It transforms slave society's overhanging threat of violence into actual monsters, most centrally the terrifying figure of planter Calvin Candie and the legion of white minions who collaborate and salivate along with him. Read more ..


Book Review

Sasha and Emma: The Uncertain Odyssey of Two Celebrated Anarchists

January 31st 2013

Sasha and Emma

Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Paul & Karen Avrich. Harvard. 2012.

Years ago Paul Avrich, my high school classmate and later a colleague in a college where he was a professor and I an adjunct, invited me to spend an evening with an aging group of Jewish anarchists. At the gathering a woman told me that other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s most remarkable woman had been Emma Goldman. Ahrne Thorne agreed. He was the last editor of the anarchist “Freie Arbeiter Shtimme” (Free Worker’s Voice, it was closed in 1977 after 87 years of publication when it had 1,700 subscribers). He said he had met Alexander Berkman and knew Emma Goldman well. It was hard for me to imagine these elderly men and women as threats to the Republic. They were also despised by Communists because anarchists had the temerity to reject their Soviet paradise.

These old men and women had devoted their lives to an unachievable, impractical utopia where governments would play minimal roles and be supplanted by voluntary communes or, as an old anarchist tune went, “there is no supreme savior, neither god nor king nor leader.” On that long ago evening they reminisced about strikes, picket lines, prison terms and battles against an oppressive American state as well as Soviet Russia, which had betrayed their long sought for “revolution.” The names of Goldman and her occasional lover and lifelong friend Berkman, known as Sasha, were lovingly recalled. “Red” Emma as her critics called her, loved America but was deported and died in exile in Canada. Ironically, her family needed governmental permission for her body to be returned and buried in the same Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago as the executed late nineteenth-century Haymarket anarchists. Sasha, seriously ill, committed suicide in France and was buried there. Read more ..


The Way we Are

Classical Sounds Invade Country Music Capital

January 30th 2013

Nashville Symphony

Nashville, Tennessee, home to the famous Grand Ole Opry, is perhaps best known as America's country music capital. But you're just as likely to hear the sounds of a violin as a fiddle because the world’s largest classical music label has its North American headquarters right on Nashville’s doorstep.

Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. The label has more than 7,000 recordings in its catalog, and stores more than four million CDs in the warehouse. Shrink-wrapped CDs and music DVDs are stacked on row after row of shelves 10 meters high and 100 meters long.

Naxos ships 1,000 customer orders from its Tennessee warehouse every day. It’s quite an accomplishment for a 25-year-old company that began life as a budget label with a reputation for recording minor works by obscure orchestras. Naxos Records is located in Franklin, Tennessee, stores more than four million CDs in its North American warehouse alone. Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black at Florida Atlantic University-Jupiter Chronicles How British Petroleum Made the Modern East

January 29th 2013

Edwin Black

Bestselling author Edwin Black will chronicle the complex saga of how the oil giant British Petroleum invented the modern conflict-ridden Middle East at a Florida Atlantic University presentation 7 PM, February 5, at the Elinor Bernon Rosenthal Lifelong Learning Complex, John D. MacArthur Campus, Florida Atlantic University. The event, Petropolitics, Oil and the Middle East, caps a day of "oil and history" events with the author who first coined the term "petropolitics" in 2005. 

The author says the lynchpin of BP’s statecraft in the Mideast was the legendary but secret pact known as “The Redline Agreement.” Black was the first to publish the secret agreement in his recent critically acclaimed book, “British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil.” The author was granted extraordinary unrestricted access to BP’s corporate archives where he uncovered the documents.

“The story of the Redline Agreement, the West’s secret pact to get Mideast oil,” says Black, “is a tortuous international escapade that travelled through World War I, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and a tense story of greed and personal conflict to secure control of Mideast oil fields, and the pipelines to carry the crude that were laced across Palestine and Syria.” The Washington Post, speaking of his historical research, said, “Black’s impressive analysis, which included looking at more than 50,000 original documents and hundreds of scholarly books and articles ... explains why the West's record in the region so complicates nation-building there today ... Many readers may find the breadth of analysis too ambitious.” See more information about the Redline Agreement here, and a the book trailer here.

The main evening event follows two campus sessions for students. A morning session "The History of Oil Addiction and a Plan for Interruption" is based on the award-winning bestseller Internal Combustion--How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. Internal Combustion won four major editorial awards: Best Book by American Society of Journalists and Authors, a Rockower, the Green Globes, and the Thomas Edison Award. See more information about Internal Combustion here. Read more ..


Book Review

The Anarchist Odyssey is a Cleared-Eyed Volume

January 28th 2013

Sasha and Emma

Sasha and Emma. Paul and Karen Avrich. Harvard University Press. 2012. 528 pp.

Years ago Paul Avrich, my high school classmate and later a colleague in a college where he was a professor and I an adjunct, invited me to spend an evening with an aging group of Jewish anarchists. At the gathering a woman told me that other than Eleanor Roosevelt, the country’s most remarkable woman had been Emma Goldman. Ahrne Thorne agreed. He was the last editor of the anarchist “Freie Arbeiter Shtimme” (Free Worker’s Voice, it was closed in 1977 after 87 years of publication when it had 1,700 subscribers). He said he had met Alexander Berkman and knew Emma Goldman well. It was hard for me to imagine these elderly men and women as threats to the Republic. They were also despised by Communists because anarchists had the temerity to reject their Soviet paradise.

These old men and women had devoted their lives to an unachievable, impractical utopia where governments would play minimal roles and be supplanted by voluntary communes or, as an old anarchist tune went, “there is no supreme savior, neither god nor king nor leader.” On that long ago evening they reminisced about strikes, picket lines, prison terms and battles against an oppressive American state as well as Soviet Russia, which had betrayed their long sought for “revolution.” The names of Goldman and her occasional lover and lifelong friend Berkman, known as Sasha, were lovingly recalled. “Red” Emma as her critics called her, loved America but was deported and died in exile in Canada. Ironically, her family needed governmental permission for her body to be returned and buried in the same Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago as the executed late nineteenth-century Haymarket anarchists. Sasha, seriously ill, committed suicide in France and was buried there. Read more ..


Film Review

Zero Dark Thirty: Morally Troubling Questions in the War on Terror

January 26th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty. Director: Kathryn Bigelow. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Joel Egerton, Chris Pratt. 157 min.

Judging by the reactions to it that I have read, the question about Zero Dark Thirty isn't so much whether it must be discussed or evaluated solely in terms of its scenes of CIA-conducted torture but whether it can be discussed or evaluated in any other. When Naomi Wolf can compare it to Triumph of the Will and its director, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker), to Leni Riefenstahl, then you know that the possibilities for civilized discussion are already at evaporation point. Yet, whatever you think of the torture scenes, you should recognize that that comparison is wide of the mark, even apart from its shameful rhetorical excess.

For Leni Riefenstahl was a propagandist, someone with an ideological parti pris which she sought to impose upon her material. In the case of Zero Dark Thirty, it is Miss Wolf and her fellow opponents of torture who are the ideologues and Miss Bigelow who is defying ideology for the sake of art. A reasoned moral opposition to torture, that is, must begin from the premise that it is wrong even if it "works" - that is, even if it produces the possibly life-saving or otherwise vital information for whose sake it is administered in the first place. Read more ..


Book Review

Petropoly Drills Deep Into Our Oil Addiction

January 25th 2013

Petropoly

Petropoly--The Collapse of America's Energy Paradigm by Gal Luft and Anne Korin. Createspace. 2012. 178 pages.

Those worried about the perilous state of our energy dependence, addiction, and insufficiency are confronted by a vast array of plans, treatises, predictions, and solution road maps to guide future thinking written by an army of experts both battle-tested and self-proclaimed. However, few authors possess the deeply-drilled depth of knowledge and understanding of both energy history and petropolitics as do Gal Luft and Anne Korin. Both Luft and Korin are two well-known warriors at the tip of the spear in the crusade for sensible energy policy. Their latest book, Petropoly--The Collapse of America's Energy Paradigm, tackles the world's energy predicament with a fresh viewpoint crafted for the present year and, indeed, for the present era of roiling Mideast upheaval and a paralyzed Washington establishment—all with rising seas, warming temperatures, and plummeting economies in the background.

Petropoly paints the big picture for the reader--not with broad strokes, but with laser-beam efficiency. The authors firmly understand the inner workings of the recent history of transportation, from the early nineteenth-century dependence on horses to the emergence of the tinker toy automobile. They confront the avaricious enterprises that make up the petroleum industry. These multiple wisdoms come together in a Braque-built expertise, making their sage insights so valuable in Petropoly. The book is brimming with high-octane brilliance and coherent thought.

With the benefit of hindsight, insight, and foresight, Luft and Korin trace our post-World War II oil policy from the contemporaneous context of Ike Eisenhower to the contemporaneous context of Jimmy Carter and on to the mispractices and malpractices of both Barack Obama and his "Drill, Baby, Brill" Republican opposition. With their keen understanding of commodities and cartels, from salt to cocoa to OPEC, the authors have successfully distilled America's own willingness to endow OPEC and the cars it supplies with a symbiotic global dynasty that they call 'Petropoly.' Their new nymic stands for more than a monopoly. It is, in fact, more than a cartel. Petropoly represents the collision and collusion of society’s moment-to-moment fuel addiction with the moment-to-moment supply and demand manipulation of the nationally endowed and enabled OPEC grand masters. Read more ..


Film Review

Anna Karenina: A Visual Feast and Moral Reasoning

January 24th 2013

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina. Director: Joe Wright. Writer: Tom Stoppard. Starring: Keira Knightlley, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. 117 mins.

Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourished?
Reply, reply.

It is engend'red in the eyes,
With gazing fed, and fancy dies
In the cradle, where it lies.
Let us all ring fancy's knell;
I'll begin it. Ding, dong, bell.

The Joe Wright-Tom Stoppard production of Anna Karenina certainly agrees with Shakespeare's opinion, in The Merchant of Venice, about where sexual passion comes from. "Fancy" in the sense of sexual longing - still the word's most common semantic association in the United Kingdom - is indeed bred in the eyes, both those of the characters and those of the audience. Accordingly, the film-makers offer us a visual feast of glittering surfaces to match the beauty of the actors playing its adulterous lovers, poor doomed Anna (Keira Knightley) and her ardent Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Perhaps by way of further stressing the superficiality as well as the fatal allure of this surfeit of beauty, they also set the whole drama in a theatre whose painted backdrops and backstage machinery are placed periodically on view, before dissolving into more realistic settings, in order to complement the highly-wrought artifice both of the 19th century Russian social context and, more surprisingly, the passion that beats itself to death against its constraints. Read more ..


Edge of Film

What's Right, and Wrong, about 'Zero Dark Thirty'

January 23rd 2013

Click to select Image

The critical commentary about the Bigelow-Boal movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” about the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden, is wrong. The chief criticism is that the movie condones torture. I think its portrayal of torture is likely to repel most viewers, to force them to look away from it. How is that condonation? As director Bigelow remarked, a movie’s showing something is not necessarily endorsing it. Exposure in drama is often, in the best cases, the best argument against it. Think of “Gentleman’s Agreement” or “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Portraying cultural anti-Semitism or racism did more to condemn it than condone it. The brilliance of “Dead Man Walking” was that it even-handedly dramatized both sides of the death penalty issue. It isn’t clear in this movie, or in any accepted historical evidence, that torture led to Osama bin Laden’s assassination. Read more ..


Book Review

Beyond Global Crisis: World Peace through Human Solidarity Rights

January 22nd 2013

Beyond Global crisis

Beyond Global Crisis: Remedies and Roadmaps by Daisaku Ikeda and His Contemporaries. Terrence Paupp. Transaction Publishers. 2012. 455 pp.

Terrence Paupp’s book, Beyond Global Crisis, is an important work not only for students, scholars, and academics, but for all those who should be interested in examining global issues from an East-West, as well as from a North-South perspective. Paupp addresses the issues of nuclear abolition, climate change, the role of the International Criminal Court, the need for a thorough reform of the United Nations, and the importance of human rights to peace and development.

In assessing these various challenges and the crisis associated with each of them, Paupp’s work stands in the intellectual tradition of F.S.C. Northrup (1893-1992). Northrup was a professor of both law and philosophy who was acquainted with many of the leading figures in philosophy, politics and science, including Bertrand Russell, Ludwign Wittigenstein, Mao Tse Tung, among many others.

Northrup engaged in comparative philosophy in order to analyze and solve the problem of world peace controversies by providing a method of philosophical anthropology to solving global problems which neither capitalist nor socialist economists were able to finish because of their failure to combine intuition with postulation. Northrup combined the two—as has the Japanese peace philosopher, Daisaku Ikeda. It is for this reason that Paupp chose Ikeda and the methodology employed by Ikeda to address the global problems and challenges that stand in the way of achieving peace in the 21st century.

Ikeda’s methodology employs three distinct but strongly interrelated concepts: (1) inner-transformation; (2) dialogue; (3) world citizenship. By using these categories—all from an Asian perspective—Ikeda postulates that we can develop the capacity to re-conceptualize the problems that beset the world and its dynamics which transpire both within and between people. It is through this methodology that Ikeda postulates, as did Northrup, that we can know whether the world in its universality and necessity, and work with predictability. Read more ..


Broken Bookselling

Barnes and Noble Continues Slow Slide to Extinction as Experts Predict the Worst

January 21st 2013

Barnes-and-Noble store shot

Wharton Marketing Stephen J. Hoch guru was blunt: "I don't think Barnes & Noble has a prayer," Hoch says. NY Racked wrote: "One of the few remaining Barnes & Noble bookstores downtown has abruptly shuttered, and it did so in the most depressing way possible. A sign on the doors of the Sixth Avenue location reads 'Closed Forever,' and there's a stack of Nooks sitting by a trash can. As far as Manhattan is concerned, there are still six stores in business—including the Union Square and Tribeca outposts. The other sign on the window doesn't say much, except that the location is dunzo (our words, not theirs), and offers a thank you for the last 12 years of patronage. That same sign also suggests customers shop online on the bookstore's website, though that might not bode to well for the other brick-and-mortar locations."

Barnes and Noble should have grown due to the bankruptcy of Borders, the expansion of Internet buying, and the explosion of e-books. Instead the dysfunctional book chain recorded an approximate 12 percent drop in all three areas--its retail stores, its BN.com website, and its Nook e-reader. The end is being predicted by critics and experts, and being hammered into reality by millions of Americans who are voting with their wallets and turning away from the collapsing giant. Read more ..


Book Review

Book Was There: The Tactile Dimensions of Book Reading in a Digital World

January 20th 2013

book was there

Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times. Andrew Piper. University of Chicago Press. 2012. 208 pp.

A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a dilemma: a lover of books, she received a Barnes & Noble Nook for Christmas. She was intrigued by the prospect of dipping into the world of e-books, but somehow felt it would be an act of disloyalty -- or, at any rate, a prescription for a messy bibliographic life. I replied by telling her that having both kinds of books was akin to having running shoes and boots in your closet: each has its advantages. A bound book is still my default setting, all things being equal. But if the reading in question is highly disposable, or is most cheaply and/or rapidly acquired electronically, I go that route.

Andrew Piper, who teaches German and European literature at McGill University, has clearly been thinking longer and harder about such things. The conclusions he reaches in this evocative little book are similarly pragmatic -- his analysis toggles between cold type and hot type, refusing to condemn the former to oblivion or the latter to inferiority, attentive to their convergences as well as divergences -- but he has a remarkable feel for the textures of reading as an experience, and the ways it has, and hasn't, changed over the centuries.

I choose the noun "feel" advisedly. The first of the seven essays that comprise Book Was There -- the title comes from the ever-quotable Gertrude Stein -- focuses on the tactile dimensions of reading, the way it literally and figuratively becomes an object of our attention. Interestingly, Piper shows that this is no less true of electronic reading, which is always delivered to us in some form that engages our hands (think of the swipe or tap as the digital analogue of turning a page). Reading is not only intensely tactile; it's also deeply visual in more than a lexicographic way; another chapter, "Face, Book," shows how a fascination with faces in the print medium long preceded Mark Zuckerberg's innovations in social networking. Read more ..


Film Review

Django Unchained: Otiose, Distorted, and Anachronistic

January 19th 2013

Django Unchained

Django Unchained: Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Leonardo DiCarpio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington. Length: 165 mins.

Beginning with the opening screen card, which informs us that people in Texas in 1858 were living "Two Years Before the Civil War," the historical errors and anachronisms in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained come thick and fast. As in Inglourious Basterds (2009) there is even an orthographical mistake inserted into the title to indicate the author's contempt for conventional ideas of, well, convention, at least as it relates to linguistic or historical accuracy.

In the film we are told that the "D" in the name of the film's ex-slave superhero, Django (Jamie Foxx), is silent. But the spelling of the name, presumably taken proleptically from the great French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) of the Quintette du Hot Club de France by way of Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti western Django (1966), was invented in the first place in order to signal to French speakers that the name was to be pronounced not in the usual French way but comme en anglais, avec un "D" avant (like Jim of Jules et Jim). In other words, the D is not silent but otiose. So, too, we have ante-bellum Klansmen and Jim Crow laws out of their time, an account of Wagner's Siegfried eighteen years before its premiere, and a lurid amalgam of "Mandingo fighting," Wild West-style six-gun shootouts and "Wanted, Dead or Alive" bounty-hunting all taken straight from the movies. Furthermore, we must listen to an elaborate theory of "scientific" racism based on an idiosyncratic version of phrenology from a slave-owner named Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) - the sort of thing that really belongs to the 20th century eugenics movement which did so much to launch the "progressive" era in America. Read more ..


Book Review

'Exit Zero': America's De-Industrialization and Class Inequality

January 18th 2013

Exit Zero

Exit Zero. Charles Walley. University of Chicago Press. 2012. 240 pp.

In March 1980, when the industrial firm Wisconsin Steel abruptly closed its main mill in southeast Chicago, longtime employee Charles Walley was among 3,400 people who lost their jobs. The plant closure — which led to protests, controversy and lawsuits — had an enormous impact on Walley, a third-generation steelworker. He found intermittent employment as a tollbooth attendant, a janitor and a security guard, among other things, but never landed a better job, and remained bitter and depressed about his situation until his death in 2005.

“Yeah, we thought we were middle class there for a while,” one of his daughters once overheard him musing aloud. “We were almost middle class.”

The daughter who heard that comment, Christine Walley, is now an associate professor of anthropology at MIT and author of a new book, “Exit Zero,” about the impact of deindustrialization on the lives of blue-collar workers in Chicago. In the book, published this month by the University of Chicago Press, Walley explores the lasting economic and psychological toll of such plant closings on her father and other working-class people like him. In the book, Walley also builds an argument that rapid deindustrialization in the United States was not simply the result of seemingly inevitable shifts in the global economy, but a consequence of corporate-friendly policies, and a new emphasis on raising short-term share prices, that pitted the interests of management against the long-term interests of companies and their workers.

“If you really want to understand why there is this expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization,” Walley says. “We have to think historically about how we got into this position and how we can come out of it.” Read more ..


The Edge of Film

US Officials Criticize Film's Torture Scenes

January 18th 2013

Zero Dark Thirty


Book Review

Fateful Lightning Overturns the "Lost Cause"

January 17th 2013

Fateful Lightning

Fateful Lightning. Allen Guelzo. Oxford University Press. 2012. 592 pp.

As we mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the publication of Allen Guelzo’s magisterial new account of that conflict is most timely. But given the fact that, by even the most conservative estimates, some 60,000 books and pamphlets have been written about what was once called the War of the Rebellion, the question naturally arises: Why do we need another one?

A very compelling reason is that Guelzo is one of our most accomplished Civil War historians, and one of the country’s foremost Lincoln scholars. He is the first two-time winner of the Lincoln Prize—in 2000 for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and in 2005 for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, the definitive treatment of that document. In addition, Guelzo’s prose is graceful and erudite—indeed, almost poetic. He is as comfortable with military topics as he is with the political, social, and economic aspects of the war and its aftermath.

But the most important reason for embracing Fateful Lightning is that it continues an important trend regarding how we understand the Civil War, by overturning the “Lost Cause” school of historiography. As Edward A. Pollard wrote in the 1867 book that gave this interpretation its name, “all that is left in the South is the war of ideas.” The Lost Cause thesis is neatly summarized in an 1893 speech by the former Confederate officer Col. Richard Henry Lee: "As a Confederate soldier and as a Virginian, I deny the charge [that the Confederates were rebels] and denounce it as a calumny. We were not rebels, we did not fight to perpetuate human slavery, but for our rights and privileges under a government established over us by our fathers and in defense of our homes." Read more ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black at Fordham University Traces Farhud and the Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust

January 15th 2013

Edwin Black

Award-winning, bestselling author Edwin Black will chronicle the centuries of intersection between Islam and Jewry that led to the Farhud pogrom in Baghdad in 1941 and the ensuing Arab-Nazi alliance in the Holocaust in a major address at Fordham University 6 PM January 31, 2013. Black's presentation is based on his recent bestselling and critically acclaimed book, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. The event at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham is sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Black's presentation will be followed by a 28-minute filmed testimony by actual victims in the documentary "The Farhud," screened by Professor Haim Shaked.

Dr. Shaked is flying in from Miami for the special event. He is the director of The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami. Black's presentation and the film are predicted to "completely re-define people's perception of mideast history, the Palestine conflict, and the basis for the robust international Arab alliance with the Nazis," said author Black.

Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad and Fox TV Terrorism Analyst, declared the book was "monumental in scope. The Farhud sheds light on the under-researched, 14-century-long confrontation between the Caliphate and the Jewish communities, and offers new exhaustively documented details of exactly how the Pan-Arabist and Jihadist movement of the Levant, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husseini, partnered with the Nazis during the darkest days of the Holocaust." Lyn Julius of the London-based Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa wrote, "As with other Black books, The Farhud is exhaustively researched ... Black takes his time setting the scene, not sparing the reader the graphic details. Graphic detail is what Black does best ... He also surprises us with little known facts ... Edwin Black’s The Farhud should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the Arab-Nazi alliance at the root of conflict in the Middle East."

Black is best known for his award-winning bestseller, IBM and the Holocaust, as well as his eugenic chronicle War Against the Weak. Read more ..


Book Review

Howard Zinn Bio Finds Career as Contested as Legacy

January 11th 2013

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn. Martin Duberman. New Press. 2012. 400 pp.

Howard Zinn’s academic career was as contested as his legacy. While teaching at Spellman College and Boston University, Zinn was in constant conflict with university administrators, pursuing an activist role with the civil rights and antiwar movements. Beloved by his students, Zinn attempted to model a relevant history which employed the past to shed light upon the present and promote a progressive agenda that would foster a more equitable society. Blending activism with scholarship, Zinn produced such books as SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964), Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967), and The Politics of History (1970), but he is best known for A People’s History of the United States, which was originally published in 1980 and has sold over two million copies. A People’s History is employed by many teachers as an alternative text and has helped launch the Zinn Education Project, which develops lesson plans based upon Zinn’s concept of viewing American history from the bottom up and privileging the working class, labor, racial minorities, and reformers. On the other hand, many professional historians denigrate Zinn’s history, noting, as Stanford’s Sam Wineburg argues, that A People’s History is based on secondary sources and projects an ideological approach which undermines creative thinking in the history classroom.

The conclusions of Wineburg and the historical profession in general -- in a 2012 survey by the History News Network, A People’s History was selected as the second least reliable history book in print -- is challenged in a new biography of Zinn by Martin Duberman, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Paul Robeson’s biography in addition to pioneering work in gay and lesbian history. As an activist on the political left, Duberman concedes that he tends to agree with Zinn’s historical and political perspectives. However, Duberman’s biography, while generally sympathetic to Zinn, is certainly not uncritical when it comes to analyzing Zinn’s scholarship. Duberman also laments that he is not better able to present Zinn’s personal life. Zinn was more comfortable discussing political rather than personal issues, and in this vein before his death Zinn went through his archival material located in New York University’s Tamiment Library and removed most sources relating to his personal life. Accordingly, Duberman has attempted to fill in the gaps through interviews with Zinn’s family, friends, and colleagues, who were also willing to share with Duberman their personal correspondence from Zinn. Read more ..


Book Review

All in the Family Sheds Light

January 11th 2013

All in the Family

All in the Family. Robert O. Self. Hill and Wang. 2012. 528 pp.

Contemporary liberal commentators and politicians often lament that conservative interests employ cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage to convince working-class Americans to vote against their economic interests. However, Robert O. Self, associate professor of history at Brown University and author of the prize-winning American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (2003), perceives this conventional political wisdom as a false dichotomy. In All in the Family, Self presents a complex and nuanced argument, tracing how breadwinning liberalism, focusing upon economic issues and the safety net, transformed into breadwinning conservatism with an emphasis upon the traditional family and cultural issues. This transformation, argues Self, explains contemporary political dialogue dominated by social conservatives and neoliberals.

Self asserts that President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society expanded to incorporate the black freedom struggle by bringing black Americans into the New Deal Democratic consensus. Drawing upon such sources as the 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action prepared by then Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Johnson administration believed that “ending racial discrimination and embarking upon on an ambitious antipoverty and affirmative action program would allow heretofore marginalized black men to become productive workers and heads of families” (19). This government effort to promote black masculinity through such programs as affirmative action, however, evoked a reaction by white males who perceived their status and families as under siege. This debate upon the nuclear family and male breadwinners failed to recognize the increasing number of households, both black and white, headed by women. Read more ..


Film and Politics

'Promised Land' Doesn't Energize Moviegoers

January 8th 2013

promised land

Fracking gets natural gas out of the ground, but it isn’t bringing people into movie theaters. Big stars and political controversy didn’t translate into a significant box-office haul as “Promised Land,” a new movie exploring environmental concerns about the gas-production method known more formally as "hydraulic fracturing," fared poorly in its nationwide opening.

The film, which Matt Damon co-wrote and stars in, took just 10th place at the weekend box office, with $4.3 million in ticket sales, according to The Los Angeles Times. The top weekend spot, with $23 million, went to the slasher flick “Texas Chainsaw 3D.” “Promised Land,” which cost $15 million to make and was directed by indie pioneer Gus Van Sant, delves into fears about water pollution from fracking.

Fracking is the increasingly common gas development method that’s fueling a U.S. production boom. It involves high-pressure underground injection of water, sand and chemicals to liberate oil and gas trapped in shale rock formations.

The movie stars Damon as an energy-company representative dispatched to a struggling farm town to convince residents to sell drilling rights on their land — an exchange in which they'll be paid handsomely. But he runs into moral dilemmas and an environmental activist played by John Krasinski, who co-wrote the movie with Damon. Environmental groups are using “Promised Land” as a platform for criticism of fracking, while some conservatives are attacking the film. Damon has noted that fracking is only a backdrop for the story.

“We went to the studio saying, ‘Who f--king wants to go see an anti-fracking movie?’ and were all in agreement,” Damon said in an interview with Playboy. “To us, the movie was really about American identity. We loved the characters because they felt like real people making the kinds of compromises you have to just to live your life,” he said.  Read more ..


Book Review

David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Renaissance

January 8th 2013

David Ben Gurion and the Jewish Resistance

David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Resistance. Shlomo Aronson. Cambridge University. 2010. 476 pp.

Historians of the past decades have looked at the legacy of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, in a less than flattering key: a utopianist turned statesman, a ruthless leader and, at times, tyrannical pragmatist, whose political failures—and successes—have frequently been interpreted as seeds of contemporary conflict.

In his recent book, Shlomo Aronson, an eminent Israeli historian, whose previous scholarship includes important works on the history of Nazi Germany and on the politics of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, turns to the figure of Ben-Gurion to offer a thoughtful and richly nuanced reassessment, even "rehabilitation," of his leadership. Ben-Gurion, Aronson argues from the start, was no ordinary leader, but embodied a particular type of "leader-intellectual," a "statesman-scholar," whose political and philosophical selves were so intimately entwined that one cannot be explained without the other. In itself, this observation, presents, of course, no radical revision, considering that scholars have long portrayed Ben-Gurion as a passionate disciple of Spinoza and Nietzsche, an intellectual kinship of epidemic dimensions among his generation.

To Aronson, however, this intellectual kinship was by no means one-dimensional. Rather, it must be viewed as emblematic of a state of mind Aronson describes as "renaissance." To understand the mind and statesmanship of Ben-Gurion requires us to understand him as a "self-proclaimed Renaissance man," whose affinities with the historical Renaissance were as deep as with the renaissance as an idea. Renaissance, for Aronson, is defined as "an extraordinary historical trend of thought, of psychology, and of behavior that allowed its adherents intellectual freedom of a kind not experienced before and after, a freedom that doctrinarians—both religious and secular—later present as heresy". Indeed, it is against doctrinarians— of any kind—that Aronson writes his portrait of the legendary Israeli prime minister, and it is the idea of the renaissance as a mindset of hybridity, "synthesis and renewal" that enables us to think of Ben-Gurion as anything but a doctrinarian. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

The Digital Music App That Turns your Page

January 7th 2013

Girls playing piano

Israel’s Tonara flips sheet-music pages automatically, and offers many other features to make learning an instrument easier. When Yair Lavi was a child, he dreamed of a way to automatically transcribe the music he was composing for the piano onto sheet music. Thirty years later, that technology remains elusive, but his new startup, Tonara, does something equally impressive: Its interactive iPad app tracks a musician’s playing in real time and flips the digital “pages” automatically.

Migrating sheet music from paper to tablet computers is nothing new – there are at least 20 other apps that do the same thing. But the others mostly require the performer to use a foot pedal to signal the device when to turn the page, Lavi, Tonara’s CEO, stated. “We’re the only app to actually interact with the performers by listening to what they’re playing.”

Tonara is smart enough to follow you even if you speed up or slow down, make mistakes, or play in a room full of other musicians. Tonara’s engineers are working on being able to track such musical intricacies as going out of key or “breaking” a chord. For now, piano is among the best instruments to use with Tonara. Read more ..


Film and Politics

'Promised Land': Hollywood's Intromission into the Politics of Natural Gas

January 6th 2013

Matt Damon in Promised land
Matt Damon in 'Promised Land'

The new Matt Damon film “Promised Land” is giving voice to critics of natural gas production, but the film faces opposition too as “fracking” goes Hollywood. The movie arrives in the middle of political and regulatory battles over fracking, the controversial oil-and-gas development method that's enabling a U.S. production boom. The Beltway has taken notice as green groups highlight the movie and conservatives attack it.

"Promised Land," which opened nationwide Friday to mixed reviews, boasts an all-star pedigree: Damon and John Krasinski (who plays Jim in the hit TV show "The Office") wrote it and star, while indie film pioneer Gus Van Sant directs. Damon plays an energy company representative dispatched to a struggling farm town to convince residents to allow development on their land, and get paid well for it. But he runs into opposition from an activist played by Krasinski, who sounds the alarm about water pollution from the technique called hydraulic fracturing. Read more ..



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