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The Music Edge

Rock Musicians 'Carry On' in Pakistan

March 26th 2013


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. 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.


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


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


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


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


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. 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.


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 ..

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