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The Edge of Film

Estranged Family Gets Sports Fix in 'Trouble With The Curve'

January 3rd 2013

Hollywood veteran Clint Eastwood finds a new curmudgeon to play in a film set behind the scenes of professional baseball.

In Trouble With The Curve, Gus Lobel knows more about scouting new talent for baseball teams than anyone else in the business; but his failing eyesight and old-fashioned attitudes may end his storied career. "You're talking about one of the best scouts baseball has ever seen," the character Pete tells the team manager. "With all due respect, Pete, the game has changed. We need somebody to keep up with the times," the manager responds. "Gus couldn't even turn on a typewriter, let alone a computer. Look, we all hate to think it, but he may be ready for pasture [retirement]."

Thanks to a longtime ally in the front office, Gus has one more chance to prove his value; but he is surprised when his daughter Mickey, an attorney, shows up on the scouting trip. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

No End in Sight for Movie Mayhem

January 1st 2013

Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

The recent school shootings in Connecticut have again raised questions about the role of violent media in mass shootings. People in Hollywood are asking the same questions, but they say that violent action films are a staple in Hollywood and are not likely to disappear anytime soon. G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the kind of film that earns money for Hollywood by appealing to teenage boys with its action, fighting and explosions.

Tim Gray of the entertainment business publication Variety said the debate over violent entertainment goes back to the paper's founding 100 years ago, and even further. “It actually goes back 2,000 years, if you look at the plays that the Greeks wrote, the Greek tragedies, if you think about the gladiators in the Coliseum, violence and entertainment have always gone together, but it's so pervasive now. That's the big difference,” said Gray.

The famed shower stabbing scene from Alfred Hitchcock's film, Psycho, shocked viewers in 1960, but it was one short segment in a highly crafted film that relied on dialogue to tell its story. The upcoming Sylvester Stallone film, Bullet to the Head, uses action to hold the viewer's attention. Read more ..

China Rising

Chinese Movie Industry Debates Proposal to End Censorship

December 31st 2012

The East is Red

For a country that wants to project "soft power," China is wrestling with how to reconcile its censorship system with the need to create films the world will want to watch. Xie Fei, a professor at the prestigious Beijing Film Academy, recently sparked a debate on government control over the film industry when he called for abolishing the country’s censorship procedures in favor of a movie rating system similar to that used in the United States.

“In the past few years, there were so many unwritten laws when censoring movies,” Xie wrote in an open letter that was reposted tens of thousands of times online. “Unwritten laws such as: ‘ghosts are not allowed in contemporary settings,’ ‘extramarital affairs are not allowed,’ ‘certain political incidents are not allowed,’ etc. The censorship system [in China] is not defined by law, but done according to individuals.” Read more ..

Film Review

Hyde Park On Hudson

December 30th 2012

hyde park on hudson

Hyde Park On Hudson. Directed by Roger Michell and Richard Nelson. Starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Colman, Sam West.

That Roger Michell’s and Richard Nelson’s Hyde Park On Hudson opened on December 7th could be said to add a new dimension of meaning to Franklin Roosevelt’s dictum after Pearl Harbor that it was "a date that would live in infamy." Certainly, he would not have been pleased by the film’s portrait of himself — assuming it were possible (as, of course, it wasn’t) that any such film could have been made in his lifetime.

Yet in our 21st century world it will doubtless come across to many as an effort to "humanize" the great man — who will, accordingly, shed some of the characteristics of historical greatness and take on some of those of the celebrity, that new thing in the world which, since Roosevelt’s time, we have learned to desiderate in our presidents and even in lesser politicians. FDR’s "star power" or "charisma" can only be retrospectively enhanced by this movie — though it is, as I say, more than doubtful that he himself would have valued any such commodities.

The movie is, as Mark Tooley has pointed out on the American Spectator’s website, a "tall tale" which imagines the aristocratic FDR’s behaving more like such low-life successors as Jack Kennedy and Bill Clinton than there is any historical warrant for believing he actually did. Yet I would disagree with Mr Tooley’s characterization of the movie as "trash." Trash is, in any case, today’s cultural currency.

There is scarcely anyone now left alive who knew Roosevelt the man, so that if he is not yet he soon will be as much a subject for literary reinterpretation as the Plantagenet kings of England were by Shakespeare’s time, a century after the last of them had died. Shakespeare’s kings were probably as much at variance with their historical counterparts as Mr Michell’s FDR, but we may find an unexpected delight in what his picture has to say about the meaning and desirability of the celebrity culture which, as some of us believe, has had such a lamentable effect on our politics since Roosevelt’s time. Read more ..

Film Review

'The Impossible' Brilliantly Revisits Devastating 2004 Tsunami

December 29th 2012


The Impossible. Director: Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor. Length: 107 mins.

Eight years after the Indian Ocean tsunami which claimed 230,000 lives, a new film  depicts the trauma and devastation left in its wake. Based on a true story, The Impossible focuses on a vacationing family which is caught up in the chaos after the mammoth wave hits. Graphic images make the suffering and loss difficult to watch, but the film also depicts the triumph of the human spirit.

Juan Antonio Bayona's cinematic rendition of the gargantuan wave crushing everything in its path is neither entertaining nor escapist. It's a reminder of that horrific moment in 2004, the day after Christmas, when the tsunami snuffed the life out of hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. The film focuses on an upper class family of tourists facing nature's wrath.  Swept along by the waves, the mother, Maria, and her oldest son, Lucas, are separated from the rest of the family.  Read more ..

The Edge of Photography

The Eyes Have It: The Work Of Suren Manvelyan

December 29th 2012

Human Eye by Suren Manvelyan

Manvelyan, 36, is an Armenian photographer who's attracting quite a bit of attention for his sumptuous macro images of the human eye. The photos, which reveal intricate contours and ridges and complex weblike structures, don't so much resemble eyes as they do images of extraterrestrial worlds taken by the Hubble telescope. "We see thousands of eyes in our life but never suspect about the structure of the iris," Manvelyan says. "It is very beautiful and astounding. The surface resembles the surface of other planets, with craters, rivers, and valleys. It looks like something from another world. Every time I photograph the eye, I feel myself traveling through the cosmos."

Manvelyan, who has a doctorate in theoretical physics, won't reveal his technique, saying only that "maybe every photographer tries to shoot eyes -- the windows of the soul. I am not an exception to this rule, but I was lucky enough to find an interesting way to do that."

Manvelyan has also focused on the eyes of animals, which he says pose particular difficulties. "Sometimes I need to work for an hour trying to catch the still moment," he says, stressing that no animals (or humans) are ever harmed during his studio sessions. (A few of his animal eyes are included in this gallery.)

As for his next project, Manvelyan says he'll continue with his eye portraits but is interested in exploring the more down-to-earth world of wedding photography. Read more ..

Film Review

The Central Park Five: Racial Injustice and Media Hype

December 29th 2012

Central Park Five

The Central Park Five. Directors: Ken Burns and Sarah Burns. Length: 119 mins.

Ken Burns’s documentary, The Central Park Five, based on a book by his daughter, Sarah Burns, tells the by-now pretty well-known story of the false conviction of five New York teenagers for the brutal rape in April of 1989 of a woman who for years was known only as "the Central Park jogger."

Subsequently we learned — her own book, I Am the Central Park Jogger (2003) spilled the beans — that her name was Trisha Meili and that, having made a recovery from her injuries that was little short of the media’s favorite epithet, "miraculous," she might as well join in the public discussion that had surrounded her horrible experience from the beginning and that had during the same period, especially in the media, insisted on seeing it as somehow emblematic of all that was wrong with America.

In this respect, if in no other, Mr and Miss Burns are carrying on in the same tradition, except that it is now the fate of the five not-guilty teens rather than that of the poor jogger which is significant, and racism rather than crime and social breakdown what it is significant of. "Oh," as Homer Simpson says: "that."

The film rounds up the usual suspects, too, focusing on the fault of the police and prosecutors who brought the case against the teens, on the gap between rich and poor in New York in the 1980s and the fear of crime that gripped the city in the period between the coming of crack to the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem in 1984 (I would argue much earlier than that) and the crackdown on crime under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani a decade later — which, so far as the film-makers are concerned, may or may not have had anything to do with the relative peace and safety in which New Yorkers live today. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Talented Youngsters Going to School to Become DJs

December 28th 2012

DJ woman turntable

From hip hop parties in the suburbs to dance clubs in the cities, DJs are spinning and mixing music for audiences young and old. In recent years, some DJs have become international superstars - better known than the groups whose music they play! Those who aspire to a career in this growing field can now learn and hone their skills at DJ schools. One of them is called the Beat Refinery, the first such school in the Washington area.

"What I am doing is called beat juggling. Essentially you are taking one record and putting it on both turntables, so while this one plays I am getting this one ready to start back of the beginning of the loop," said Sean Johnson, who is in an advanced mixing class, his final course at the Beat Refinery. He's been taking evening classes at the DJ school outside Washington for about two years. By day, he works as an audio engineer. "I don't do that full-time anymore. I am slowly working on my way to be a full-time DJ. It is really just kind of making a dream come to life," Johnson said. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Navigating Iran: A Clear Picture of How Iran Views the United States

December 28th 2012

Navigating Iran

Navigating Iran: From Carter to Obama. Ofira Seliktar. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. 230 pp.

Israeli-born Ofira Seliktar, former professor of political science and current head of a conservative-leaning think tank dealing with matters Middle Eastern and African, is no stranger to controversy. Among her recent books are a study of American Jewish attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli peace process and others detailing American intelligence failures regarding the Soviet Union and Iran. Neither of these preached the conventional wisdom; rather they were organized around the central theme of what might be called willful blindness.

Now, in her latest book, "Navigating Iran: From Carter to Obama," Seliktar meticulously details American foreign policy and decision-making from Iran of 1979 all the way to the environment we find oursleves in under the Obama administration.

The Iranian revolution of 1979 is not only one of the main turning points in America's war on terror; in contemporary Middle East politics, it reflects the beginning of American foreign policy toward Islamism and Islamist thought at large. One of the major phenomena that the author skillfully dissects is how disciples of the late Palestinian advocate Edward Said and the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) at large misunderstood and consequently misguided American policy-makers under the false belief of an "Islamic reformation" or democratization. In contrast, others, like Bernard Lewis, had serious reservations about Khomeini especially after finding a printing of the "Welayat el Faqih," the theory of the Absolute Guardianship of the Jurist notion, which included Khomeini's lectures from the 1970s and now forms the basis for the Iranian constitution. Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Are Violent Games Linked to Violent Crimes?

December 27th 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

As video game images become increasingly more realistic and graphic, policy makers are debating if there is a link between the violence depicted in those games and violence in real life. 

A 20-year-old gunman's shooting spree at a school in the northeastern United States this month has reinvigorated discussions about violence, prompting lawmakers to call for greater examination of brutality in video games. But evidence does not suggest violence in games causes violence in life, says Virginia Tech's James Ivory, a professor in the university's department of communication who researches the effects of video games.

"The agreement is pretty well universal among social scientists that there is not a clearly established link between actual violent crime and violent media usage," says Ivory. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

'Mr. Cao Goes to Washington' Film Recounts an American Dream

December 24th 2012

Congressman Joseph Cao goes to Washington

One of the key parts of the immigrant experience is the journey itself. For two Asian-American filmmakers, moving to the United States provided them both opportunity - but under very different circumstances. Mingh Nguyen, a 40-year old filmmaker based in Los Angeles, arrived in the US from Vietnam in 1982 when he was nine years old. His travels began a year earlier as one of the Vietnamese boat people. Nguyen’s parents lost their business and home after the fall of Saigon. The decision was made to flee and done in secret. “Somebody would get a boat, and would calculate how many people would be on it, and at night you kind of sneak out and get on that boat,” Nguyen said. “You get out to sea and you try to reach one of the refugee camps in Thailand, the Philippines or Malaysia. We actually got to Thailand.” Read more ..

The Darkest Edge

Mass Murder in Newtown Renews Concern About Movie, Game Violence

December 23rd 2012

Sandy Hook Shooting

he shooting of 20 young children and seven adults has renewed discussions about gun control in the United States. Many say the availability of guns, however, is not the only factor that could trigger a deadly act. Though the industry disputes it, some experts say films glorifying violence and video games rewarding death can be equally lethal, especially in the hands of people with mental health issues.

When "The Dark Knight Rises" opened in July, the on-screen carnage served as the backdrop to a mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, theater. The shooter, James Holmes, 24, had dyed his hair red to resemble the Batman character, the Joker. Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.

Hollywood violence
Production of violent films continued after the massacre. ​​The graphic drama, "Killing Them Softly," about a hired gun with feelings, was released in late November.

The Edge of Film

Senators: ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Film a ‘Dangerous’ Mix of Fact, Fiction

December 21st 2012

Zero Dark Thirty

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says the film “Zero Dark Thirty” is a combination of “fact, fiction and Hollywood” that dangerously links the use of torture with the killing of Osama bin Laden. Feinstein and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are sending a letter to Sony Pictures, the film studio distributing the Oscar contender, to make their complaints known. “I thought it was terrible," said Feinstein, one of a handful of lawmakers to see the film ahead of its limited release this week. “It is a combination of fact, fiction and Hollywood in a very dangerous combination.”

McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said Tuesday that he was “sickened” by the film when he saw it, according to The Associated Press, saying the filmmakers fell hook, line and sinker for the torture storyline. “Zero Dark Thirty,” which has already been named the film of the year by the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review, opens with an extended waterboarding scene. Read more ..

Palestine on Edge

Palestinian Hip Hop Artists Decry Honor Killings

December 21st 2012


In cooperation with U.N .Women, a Palestinian hip hop group known as DAM, released a music video last month about the brutal reality of honor killing in Palestinian society. Entitled, “If I Could Go Back In Time,” the song describes the life of a young woman murdered by her family for refusing to go through an arranged marriage.

Suhell Nafar, a member of the Lod-based hip hop group, which has performed internationally, explained that “the song is not a specific incident but it describes the phenomena of honor killing in general,” as reported by WAFA news agency at a Ramallah press conference held for the music video in November.  According to the WAFA news report, 12 women were murdered by male family members in Judea and Samaria between January and August of 2012 in “honor” crimes.

Soraida Hussein, the general director of the Women’s Technical Affairs Committee (WATC) based in Ramallah and Gaza, stated that “we live in a society that is allowing its members to kill each other.” Read more ..

Film Review

Sinister: A Jump-Out-Of-Your-Seat Thriller

December 19th 2012


Sinister. Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance. Length: 110 mins.

Sinister? Definitely. As a reviewer who rarely really jumps at films (after all, ‘it’s only a movie’!), I will confess to jumping any number of times during Sinister - even at the last image. Not only the jumping, but frequent peculiar feelings of spine-tingling. It was the succession of things that were banging and bumping in the night, the eerie atmosphere from the opening shot of four hanged people, through the sense of ghosts and the mystery of why this was all happening. And the synthesizer score, the percussion, the pounding.

Which means that if you are prone to be unsettled during a film, you perhaps should be alert to the effects of this one.

Actually, the plot is well worked out and all explained (well not explained but story lines logically followed through. Perhaps another reason for the atmosphere is that it is all played straight, no winking at the audience or tongue-in-cheek ironies. And one can identify with the family at the centre of the story, ordinary enough but the victims of sinister powers.

Basically, it is the story of a writer who moves house so that he can do a true crime story on the spot. He does research, finds a mysterious box of old film which shows the family who have been killed, except for a missing daughter. Most of the action takes place inside the house, especially at night as the writer looks at the films and asks questions of himself. Then the bangs begin, boxes fall, loud sounds (quick cut editing with the synthesizer sounds) and he (and we) begin to be really jumpy. Read more ..

Film Review

Seven Psychopaths: The Potential of a Movie within a Movie

December 18th 2012

Seven psychopaths 2

Seven Psychopaths. Director: Martin McDonagh. Starring: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson. Tom Waits. Length: 90 mins.

Two people in the audience, sitting side by side in the cinema, could well be having opposite experiences. One might be thoroughly amused by the bizarre plot and characters as well as the black humour. The next might be finding it quite distasteful, a lot of violence, random and planned, too silly to enjoy. A bit of checking on the film is necessary to decide which seat one wants to sit in.

Martin McDonagh had a great hit with In Bruges. It was bizarre and funny, oddball criminal characters, black humour and wordplay - and the beauty of the city of Bruges. This time he is in Los Angeles, not so beautiful.

Seven Psychopaths is not only the title of the film, it is the title of the potential film within the film. It is being written by Irish screenwriter, Martin (Colin Farrell, this time rather quietly subdued). He is desperate to find some psychopaths to fill out a plot for his title, and he certainly finds them, especially among his friends.

The most psychopathic is actor, Billy, played cleverly with general nonchalance and an amoral outlook on life by Sam Rockwell. Rockwell can take on any kind of role with flair. He does so here. Although rivalry for the title of most psychopathic comes with thug, Charlie, Woody Harrelson. Harrelson is devoted above all people and all things to his pet dog, Bonnie. Billy teams up with Hans (Christopher Walken at his best) to abduct dogs and turn up for the reward. You can see the set-up when Bonnie is dognapped. Meanwhile, Billy offers all kinds of suggestions for Martin’s film - many played out on screen for the audience. Hans also has suggestions. In the meantime, we see Charlie’ search for his dog who scares the walker who lost his dog by shooting at her, then racially hostilely shooting someone for revenge (real killing, not a scare). It all builds up to a shootout climax, contrived by Billy. Read more ..

Film Review

Wuthering Heights: A Puzzling and Challenging Version of a Classic

December 17th 2012

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights. Director: Andrea Arnold. Starring: James Howson, Solomon Klave, Kaya Scodelario, Shannon Bear, Lee Shaw. Length: 129 mins.

Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte’s 19th century literary classic. There have been a number of versions, especially the romantic doom and gloom of William Wyler’s 1939 version with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. In a cinematic sense, Olivier with his theatrical delivery became the visual equivalent of the Bronte prose and Merle Oberon’s classic beauty was that of Catherine Earnshaw. The Internet Movie Database lists 15 version since 1920. Luis Buñuel made a version in Spanish (Abismos de Passion). Keith Michel and Claire Bloom in 1962 and Ian McShane was Heathcliff on television in 1967. Anna Calder Marshall teamed with Timothy Dalton (also a smouldering theatrical presence) in 1970. In the 1990s, Ralph Fiennes was Heathcliff to Juliet Binoche’s Catherine. Tom Hardy, who has proven himself a strong and versatile actor, was Heathcliff in a British television in 2009 with Charlotte Riley. Read more ..

Turkey on Edge

Turkey's PM Attacks Popular TV Show

December 16th 2012


Turkey is witnessing something of a battle royal. The country’s most popular soap television series, "Magnificent Century," is about Turkey’s most famous sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. The costume drama has been a hit not only inside Turkey, but also outside, from the Balkans to the Middle East. But Turkey’s prime minister sees the TV series as nothing short of historical heresy.

The legendary Roxelana, in an alluring dress, seduces Emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire’s most famous sultan. It is a scene from "Muhtesem Yuzyil" -- or "Magnificent Century" -- Turkish television's historical soap opera. The steamy mix of intrigue in the harem between the rival concubines of the sultan and political rivalry at the court have made the program a smash hit. But Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not a fan. Read more ..

Significant Lives

Remembering Iconic Sitar Player Ravi Shankar

December 14th 2012

Ravi Shankar

World-renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar, one of the greatest ambassadors of Indian music, has died in San Diego, near his Southern California home. He was 92 years old. Shankar, a master of the sitar, a multi-stringed, Indian classical instrument, helped popularize its use in the west.

Shankar was a recognized master of classical Indian music, an art form with roots that extend back more than 4,000 years. Through his contact with musicians of different cultures, Shankar was the first to introduce Indian music to western, mainstream audiences. Over his eight-decade career, he became a worldwide musical icon, especially through his work with the Beatles, and was labeled the “godfather of world music” by no less than George Harrison.

The Indian prime minister’s office confirmed Shankar’s death and called him a “national treasure.” Read more ..

Film Review

Silver Linings Playbook: A Parable on Jealousy

December 13th 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook. Director: David O. Russell. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Brea Bee, Robert DeNiro, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver, Jennifer Lawrence. Length: 90 mins.

In order to like David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook as it ought to be liked, it helps to see it as a movie about jealousy, even though that's not quite the obvious way to see it. We learn in flashback that, when Patrick Solatano (Bradley Cooper) came home unexpectedly one day and found his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), in the shower with another man, he beat the guy so severely that he had to be sent away to a mental hospital for eight months, as he was deemed to be suffering from "undiagnosed bipolar disorder."

The movie doesn't make a big deal out of it, but it tells you something significant both about Pat's subsequent history and about the state of our culture that the obvious cause of his behavior was seen as something to be ignored or rejected in order that it might be dignified, or made more socially and legally more acceptable, as a clinical condition - and that Pat himself accepts this medicalization of a moral matter as the only feasible way for him to make sense of his life.

The movie begins with his release from the hospital, in Baltimore, whence he is picked up and delivered back to his working class neighborhood in Philadelphia by his mother, played by the wonderful Jacki Weaver. Mom's long practice in making the best of things it's not easy to make the best of finds its echo in Pat's now relentlessly upbeat belief in his own therapeutic successes. He is convinced that, having left his pathological jealousy behind him and having undertaken to read her recommended book-list (they are both high school teachers), he and Nikki can now get back together and be happier than ever. He has adopted the motto Excelsior! - Higher! - as his own. Read more ..

The Musical Edge

Remembering Iconic Sitar Player Ravi Shankar

December 12th 2012

Ravi Shankar

World-renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar, one of the greatest ambassadors of Indian music, has died in San Diego, near his Southern California home. He was 92 years old. Shankar, a master of the sitar—a multi-stringed, Indian classical instrument—helped popularize its use in the west.

Shankar was a recognized master of classical Indian music, an art form with roots that extend back more than 4,000 years. Through his contact with musicians of different cultures, Shankar was the first to introduce Indian music to western, mainstream audiences. Over his eight-decade career, he became a worldwide musical icon, especially through his work with the Beatles, and was labeled the “godfather of world music” by no less than George Harrison.

The Indian prime minister’s office confirmed Shankar’s death and called him a “national treasure.”

Ravi Shankar was born in India and began his musical career in the 1930s, studying music and dance. At the age of 10, he moved to Paris to join his brother, the leader of a respected Indian dance troupe. Read more ..

Book Review

The Midnight Swimmer: Fiction Enhancing our Comprehension of History

December 10th 2012

midnight swimmer

The Midnight Swimmer. Edward Wilson. Arcadia Books. 2012. 300 pp.

Can fiction enhance our understanding of the past? In his latest novel, Edward Wilson -- a U.S. Special Forces officer in the Vietnam War who subsequently became an expatriate, a British citizen, and a teacher in the UK -- does help to illuminate the Cold War crisis of the early 1960s.

The Midnight Swimmer, a combination of spy novel and thriller, follows the activities of William Catesby, a fictional British intelligence operative, through some very real developments. These include the 1960 Soviet missile explosion that killed Marshall Mitrofin Nedelin, the election of John F. Kennedy, the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the growing paranoia of James Angleton (the top CIA counterintelligence official), the mafia’s keen interest in U.S. policy toward Cuba, and, above all, the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Like John le Carré, with whom he has sometimes been compared, Wilson provides a dark view of the Cold War. Here, to use Matthew Arnold’s famous phrase, “ignorant armies clash by night” and, at the least, nothing is ever what it seems. For most Americans, steeped in comforting patriotic nostalgia, The Midnight Swimmer will be deeply disconcerting.

Although Wilson never glorifies the Soviet Union, he does provide vignettes revealing a boyish, charming Ché Guevara, a remarkably polite Fidel Castro, and a very sympathetic, peace-oriented KGB general. By contrast, the U.S. government is depicted as reckless and, thus, in a time of nuclear confrontation, very dangerous.

At one point, Wilson has Catesby ruminate on the idea that what “made the Cold War so dangerous was that the Russians were playing chess and the Americans poker. The Russians deployed an elaborate defense with layers of deceit to protect their vital squares. The Americans responded with upping antes, calling bluffs and flexing muscles.” Read more ..

Inside Africa

Afropean Women Raise the Bar in Contemporary African Music

December 10th 2012

One of the things I learned quickly when I started doing my Music Time in Africa radio show last April was that there always seems to be a shortage of good female artists. “How can this be?” I asked myself and colleagues in our English to Africa Division. I know from experience living on the continent that women sing everywhere, and with beautiful voices, too. One Ghanaian co-worker explained to me that of course there are so many great female singers around, but they prefer to keep their talents in the church. That brought me an ah-hah moment! Sacred music is a safe zone for female artists that consequently creates a vacuum of female talent in the secular music domains. To perform in anything outside of that religious arena is risky business for women in Africa. Popular performing artists such as singers, dancers, and actresses are often in danger of losing their credibility as faithful and obedient mothers, sisters, wives and co-wives. They often travel, which puts the burden of their domestic duties on others in the family. The majority of the members of their bands or troops are also usually men, too, which causes suspicion. Furthermore, women who put themselves on public display, regardless of how gifted and talented they may be, rub many families, communities, and sometimes even larger social entities like regions, states, or nations the wrong way. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Hollywood Celebrates Holidays With Great Films

December 9th 2012


Lights, Camera, Action. Hollywood often puts out its best work to celebrate the holidays and to prepare the stage for the Oscars. From action-packed thrillers, to rich classics, and larger-than-life fables, these films transport audiences for a few hours into far away and fantastical worlds.

Director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, based on the Tolstoy novel, is a quintessential holiday production. It offers rich costumes, enchanting music, and stellar actors.

“The rules of a period film have been completely broken. Anna Karenina is a story that has been done a lot. What is the point in doing a safe adaptation?” asks Keira Knightley, who plays the doomed Karenina. She is a married woman of social stature, who falls in love with cavalry officer Count Vronsky. Their affair goes against the grain of a seemingly virtuous society and Anna pays the consequences. In his film, Wright emphasizes the pretense of 19th century Russian aristocracy. He stages Anna Karenina’s world in a controlled space that is lavish, but claustrophobic, and tragic. Read more ..

The Edge of Art

AOTA’s Israeli Painters Bring Rich Symbolism to Manhattan

December 6th 2012

The Seven Sefirot

Liora Rosenman is an Israeli artist whose work infuses the trappings of modernity with ancient wisdom of the Kaballah.

“The world today allows one to believe life is about growing up, getting an education, having a job, buying things, but then we find that is not enough,” she explained to a packed hall of a hundred enthusiastic patrons who attended a private opening art reception, called “Art Tel Aviv,” at the beautiful Ana Tzarev Gallery, on Fifth Avenue and 57th St., last Thursday evening.

“What I’ve learned in eight years of studying our ancient wisdom in Kaballah is that there can be a greater purpose to the world; that we may go through many years of life doing just the every day, but everyone, at some point, realizes there is an inner need to do something greater, to impact what is around us, and this is to get back to the original energy that we speak about in Kaballah, bringing that light into our lives, and that is what I aim to show through my work.”

One of her most enduring motifs is the ladder. Not necessarily Jacob’s ladder, from Genesis, with angels ascending and descending from Heaven, but riffs on the ladder of the 10 Sefirot, the divine structure of all beings, that Kabbalists interpret from Genesis. Rather than a geometrical “tree of life,” as its often depicted, Liora’s ladders are built from ersatz piles of modern materials which she infuses with symbolic meaning. In “The Colours Ladder,” she stacks 11 multicolored paint cans towards the sky, itself painted in vibrant hues of orange, red, blue, green and purple, swirled in a ribbon of Hebrew letters bringing the wisdom from above to our Earthly plane. Read more ..

Film Review

Lincoln: Emotional Kicks and Apologia for Political Processes

December 5th 2012

Lincoln 2

Lincoln. Director: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Fields. Length:

The first thing to be said about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is what a brave idea it represents. It is that rarest of cinematic creatures, a movie about political processes (as opposed to political generalities and fine-sounding aspirations) which somehow manages to avoid the otherwise certain danger of boring its audience to death. The movie could have been made to remind us of Enoch Powell’s dictum that "All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure, because that is the nature of politics and of human affairs." This is about the "happy juncture" Lincoln had arrived at before his sad end — which takes place off screen — and so ends up as a movie about another most rare thing, political success.

Yet all of Mr Spielberg’s considerable powers as a showman, all of the dark, claustrophobic interiors of his brilliant d.p., Janusz Kaminski which seem to extend even to the rarely glimpsed battlefields of the war, all of the facility with clever dialogue of his screen-writer, Tony Kushner, and all of the acting talent of Daniel Day-Lewis in the title role, may have been necessary to keep us from getting bogged down in back room horse-trading and deal-making involved in the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlawed slavery forever. The main thing is that they succeeded, though the result is curious and worthy more than it is noble and soaring in the manner now traditional for Hollywood representations of the 16th president. It also manages to produce a genuine emotional kick as well as a subtle apologia for the Obama presidency. We shall return to that presently.

Of the top talents involved, the most important is that of Mr Day-Lewis, who makes his Lincoln completely believable without diminishing the mystique which has always made his character’s story such a favorite with the movies. I am rather a skeptic about the "method" acting that he seems to go in for, but it has certainly paid off in this case. Even the convoluted legal explanation of why Lincoln needs to pass the Amendment during the lame-duck session with Democratic support when he would find the task far easier if he waited for a more sympathetic Republican Congress two months hence briefly makes sense, coming from his mouth. Read more ..

Film Review

Skyfall Continues the Saga of Cheating Reality

December 5th 2012


Skyfall. Director: Sam Mendes Starring: Javier Bardem, Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Bérénice Lim Marlohe. Length: 153 min.

For my generation of adolescent boys growing up in the 1960s, the appeal of Sean Connery’s James Bond lay in his exemption from those ordinary rules of civilized life by which we were feeling every day more and more reluctantly bound. The fabled "License to Kill" was of course very cool, but pretty academic to most of us, I like to think. Much more to the point of our own lives, Bond also apparently enjoyed the license to engage in sexual relations with women who were miraculously unconstrained by the rule and custom which, as we had had to accept, necessarily prevented us and the girls we knew from doing likewise.

How lovely to think that one might free oneself from that social context in order to go down what Philip Larkin, enviously looking at young people like me a decade later, called "the long slide/To happiness." By that time, of course, we had been delivered from the old rules by the upheavals of the 1960s and Larkin was looking at us the way we had once looked at James Bond.

By all rights, you would think that the sexual revolution should have put an end to the Bond franchise. But the ever-less plausible willingness of beautiful women to sleep with him on little or no acquaintance for nothing but the pleasure and excitement of the experience itself somehow managed to remain an ideal state in spite of being unattainable in practice for those of us who, although theoretically "liberated," remained unlicensed by the British Secret Service. Now that the series has arrived at its half century anniversary with the latest instalment, Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, there is something rather perfunctory about the seductions of the current Bond, played by Daniel Craig — as if he regarded it as one of his duties to guard the reputation of the character for sexual magnetism as much as to guard that of poor, militarily enfeebled Britain for force projection. Read more ..

Before Islam

Saudi Arabia's Pre-Islamic History Revealed

December 4th 2012

Pre Islam art

The mention of Saudi Arabia often leads people to envision an oil-rich, nearly-empty desert where Islam originated. An exhibit in Washington, D.C., offers insight into the real history of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing on its pre-Islamic role as a trade route, the influence of nearby cultures, and the evolution of language.

"Roads of Arabia” opened at the Smithsonian’s Arthur Sackler Gallery. The exhibit, the first about Saudi culture in the U.S., showcases more than 300 objects ranging from ornate pottery and monumental statues, to the jewelry that adorned the remains of a young girl buried nearly years ago.

Many of the objects have never been seen in Arabia, where they came from. “Some of the earliest objects go back to the Neolithic period, like the 6th, 7th millennium BC," curator Massumeh Farhad says. "And I think the most recent ones date to the early 20th century.” Read more ..

Book Review

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation

December 2nd 2012

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation

In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation. Melinda L. Pash. NYU Press 2012. 349 pp.

In 1950, a scant five years after the end of World War II the United States entered into yet another of its interminable wars by sending its military to fight in Korea, a war which lasted from 1950 through 1953, though the Korean War era officially ended in January 31, 1955. This so-called “Forgotten War” cost the lives of 36,940 Americans, with 92,134 wounded, many grievously, and 8,176 missing in action (that's not to mention the over two million Koreans who died on either side). The GIs returned home without victory parades. A conservative veterans organization, Melinda L. Pash writes in her new book, In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War, at first turned its back on them. They were, critics charged, “soft on communism and morally weaker that the veterans of other wars,” as Pash writes, quoting Paul Edwards’ 2000 book To Acknowledge a War: The Korean War in American Memory. Other detractors insisted they were the first American army to lose a war. Thirteen POWs were later charged with collaborating with their captors and twenty-one refused repatriation. Writers like Eugene Kinkead in The New Yorker, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Betty Friedan and others wrote that Korean POWs were morally and educationally weaker than previous POWs, lacking the backbone to deal with their Chinese captors. Even “coddling mothers” were blamed. Few of the explanations advanced, however, made much sense and few if any asked why so savage a war was ever fought in the first place.

In all, there were 6.8 million Korean War-era veterans, but only 1,789,000 served in Korea according to Pash (quoting Tom Heuertz’s “The Korean War +50”) A disproportionate number of casualties were conscripts. Several million or so Koreans, military and civilian, died and North Korean cities were leveled by U.S. bombers. Read more ..

The Edge of Art

Sculptor Finds Beauty in Mathematics

December 2nd 2012

Helaman Ferguson

Helaman Ferguson's new sculpture is a tribute to the beauty of math. Recently dedicated at Stony Brook University near New York City, the piece was assembled at his studio in Baltimore. Like all of Ferguson’s sculptures, it was inspired by a mathematical formula.

“This is a description in terms of a mathematical structure called a fiber bundle,"  Ferguson says. "It’s more than what the sculpture is. It’s how I created it.”

Ferguson isn't the first artist to embrace mathmatics. During Europe's  Renaissance, artists like Leonardo DaVinci recognized math's importance in painting and the ancient Greeks investigated musical scales in terms of numerical ratios. Today, math is an important component of digital graphics and animation. And for some artists, like Ferguson, it is the inspiration and subject of their work. Read more ..

Book Review

How We Forgot the Cold War

November 28th 2012

How We Forgot the Cold War

How We Forgot the Cold War. Jon Wiener. California, 2012. 384 pp.

Jon Wiener has spent much of his career at the intersection between journalism and academe, in the process enriching both. Actually, his specialty has long been chronicling the life of the mind in the contemporary United States in books like Politics, Professors and Pop (1991), Historians in Trouble (2005), and the recently published e-book, I Told You So, a collection of interviews with the late Gore Vidal. In his latest book, How We Forgot the Cold War, Wiener makes his most systematic foray into the historiographic sub-discipline of collective memory with a counterintuitive look at a recently concluded chapter in American life.

The book is counterintuitive in a number of ways. One is that you don't often find a historian who can barely contain his glee over the way an entire society seems engaged in a process of "forgetting" the Cold War. As he makes clear, however, what's being forgotten is not the Cold War itself so much as a neoconservative interpretation of it. Which is also counterintuitive, given the way the political right has dominated national discourse in the last generation and has been able to literally institutionalize its views. Insofar as it has been remembered, Wiener shows how Cold War memory has in many cases been displaced -- folded into the history of World War II, for example, or cast in terms of a saga of (radioactive) environmental sustainability. This, too, is counterintuitive: Wiener shows us a series of historical sites that say they're about one thing but in fact show themselves to be about another.

Finally, what's counterintuitive here is that way Wiener takes a collection of what are essentially travel pieces -- the heart of the book consists of 20 approximately ten-page essays on specific Cold War museum exhibitions (plus one on the 1998 CNN documentary Cold War) and fashions them into a cohesive piece of scholarship. These essays range from the amusing "Hippie Day at the Reagan Library," where the counterculture lives on in the land of the Gipper, to "Cold War Elvis," where Sgt. Presley makes an appearance at the General George Patton Museum (and, we learn, scares the East German authorities more than the Third Armored Division ever did). He also includes a number of pieces involving nuclear waste that suggests anxieties continue to linger long after the reasons for such weapons, and their supporting infrastructure, have been dismantled. Read more ..

Book Review

Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain

November 27th 2012

Harold:The Boy Who Became Mark Twain

Harold: The Boy Who Became Mark Twain. Hal Holbrook. Farr, Straus & Giroux, 2011. 468 pp

At age 87, Hal Holbrook has been Mark Twain longer than Sam Clemens was. For over half a century, his one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight!,” has been packing them in. For someone like me, who saw him in the early ‘60s (when I was in high school), bought the recordings, saw the 1967 television special, then saw him again in person in 1984 and again in 2009, his presence has been as constant and welcome as Twain’s books. It was always reassuring to learn the lengths to which Holbrook went to make his performance authentic, from getting the “look” just right (it took three hours to get the make-up on when Holbrook was a young man) to his faithfulness to the texts. It would probably satisfy him to know that when I read the first pages of Huckleberry Finn or many of the other pieces of Twainiana he employs, it’s his voice that I hear.

So it was with no little anticipation and some trepidation that I launched myself into Holbrook’s memoir -- anticipation because of all I hoped to find out about the stagecraft and scholarship that allowed Holbrook to immerse himself so thoroughly in Twain’s persona, and trepidation because so often the authors and actors we admire emerge as less interesting or engaging than we hope. As it turns out, this book merited a little of both.

Holbrook takes us from his unsettled and unsettling childhood, through an equally challenging adolescence and young manhood, to the night in 1959 when “Mark Twain Tonight!” made its successful debut in New York. His goal all along, he tells us, was a simple one: survival, in some of the most basic senses of the word, not least the psychological one. His early years seem straight out of Dickens: at age two, he and his two sisters (ages one and three) were deserted by his parents. Except for a brief glimpse a few years later, he never saw his mother again; she seems to have changed her name and descended into the more obscure reaches of show business. His father, a wanderer who spent years on the road or in asylums, would turn up periodically, like Pap Finn (although he was never violent), and played no role in Holbrook’s upbringing except to raise the terrifying question of whether his particular brand of mental illness was hereditary. Read more ..

Holywood on Edge

TV, Film Production Leaving Los Angeles

November 23rd 2012


Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood, is what many people call the entertainment capital of the world.  But much of the city's television and film industry is leaving Los Angeles for other cities in the United States and other countries.

Steve Michelson is part owner of a catering company that feeds the cast and crew of several Los Angele-based shows.  He says that in recent years, business has not been good.

"I have individuals doing jobs that two or three people used to do," said Michelson.  "A company yesterday called me; they have five catering trucks they want to sell me.  They want to go out of business."

Some caterers for the television and film industry are leaving Los Angeles, following productions to other cities. The president of Film LA, Paul Audley says there has been a dramatic change, particularly in the television industry. "This year, for example, we know of the 23 new television dramas," Audley noted.  "Twenty-one of them are going out of state and they used to virtually all be filmed here.  We had more than 80 percent of television, and now we're down to about 40 percent." Read more ..

Book Review

Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide

November 22nd 2012

Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide

Rape: Weapon of War and Genocide. John K. Roth and Carol Rittner, Editors. Paragon House. 2012. 308 pp.

After co-editor Carol Rittner’s comprehensive overview (she is a Roman Catholic nun and Distinguished Professor of Holocaust & Genocide Studies at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey), ironically entitled “Are Women Human?” Eva Fogelman and Dagmar Herzog, relying on survivor testimony, study rape during the Holocaust. Fogelman sees the rape of women by the Nazis as a form of terrorism but not intentionally or systematically a weapon of genocide or ethnic cleansing. Interestingly, Fogelman spends time on “entitlement rape” practiced by Nazis as well as liberators and concludes that rape during the Holocaust was much more widespread than normally understood. Herzog analyzes “rape as punishment” handed out to male homosexuals in German concentration camps. She points out that between 10,000 and 15,000 male homosexuals were sent to concentration camps for same-sex activities which would remain criminal offenses in West Germany and Austria until 1969 and 1971 respectively.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia estimates that during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) Serb, Croatian, and Bosnian soldiers raped between 20,000 and 50,000 mostly Muslim women and girls. Using survivor testimony and a trial transcript, Christina M. Morus and Tazreena Sajjad relate these horrors where rape is clearly a weapon of genocide. They stress too that many of these rapes took place in “rape camps” where women were held captive and raped repeatedly.

Jessica A. Hubbard reports on the 100-day period from April 6 to July 16, 1994 in Rwanda when the Hutu-led genocide took the lives of between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. During that time, between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped, approximately 70% of whom were thereby infected with HIV and AIDS. As in Bosnia, rape was the rule, not the exception, and it was central to the genocide. Carl Wilkens, an aid worker with the Adventist Church who was the only American to remain in Rwanda throughout the catastrophe, adds his thoughtful reflections about helping others during the genocide. James E. Waller begins by speaking about the situation in Rwanda but, in “Rape as a Tool of ‘Othering’ in Genocide,” shows, more generally, how in genocidal situations the common ground between perpetrators and victims is deliberately obliterated by systematic “us-them” thinking, moral disengagement, dehumanizing and then, finally, blaming the victims. Here and elsewhere, as Waller concludes, “it is safer to be a soldier than a woman.” Read more ..

The Edge of Film

How True is 'Lincoln' to the Real Lincoln?

November 21st 2012

Daniel Day Lewis Lincoln

With history-minded Americans flocking to see Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln movie, many are beset with questions about the accuracy of some of the neglected facts and episodes featured in the film.

Lincoln focuses closely on about five weeks in early 1865, when the House of Representatives was debating the 13th Amendment and Confederate peace commissioners explored a way to end the Civil War. Weaving the two stories together with an intimate view of President Lincoln, his official family and his real family, the movie presents a compelling portrait of a leader in a time of extraordinary strain and challenge. Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of Lincoln distills the man’s humor, intelligence, sadness, and power. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

'Gangnam Style' Boosts S. Korean Tourism

November 21st 2012


The South Korean pop song and music video "Gangnam Style" has gone viral worldwide. And now the South Korean tourism industry is hoping to cash in on the song's international success.

Alexis Martinez, 14, is in a tour group that is learning the dance made famous by South Korean musician Psy in his video. Martinez says even back home in Texas the song is a big hit. "It was basically my whole school knew about it, it was crazy," said Martinez. "There was a flash mob in our school that did it, the Gangnam Style."

"Gangnam Style" is one of the most viewed videos ever on the Internet, and it has spawned a multitude of parodies. It has ranked high on music charts in Asia, Europe and North America. And is what many say is South Korea's most successful cultural export. For those reasons, some believe "Gangnam Style" can be used to import many foreign visitors and money. Read more ..

Film Review

Argo: Grasping for Hollywood American Supremacy of Yore

November 13th 2012


Argo. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston. Length: 120 mins.

Ben Affleck’s Argo is, in a great Hollywood tradition, a movie about movies more than what it is ostensibly about, which is a based-on-fact story of international intrigue and derring-do. Mr Affleck directs and also plays the CIA agent Tony Mendez who was given the job of exfiltrating six American diplomats hiding out in the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Teheran after the invasion of the US embassy by an Iranian mob and the taking hostage of 52 of their colleagues. The better-known hostage story, which dragged on for 14 months and ended with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in January of 1981, offers little for a movie dramatization to bid with for an American movie audience’s cheers, but those who were sheltered for three months by the Canadians presented a more promising scenario — not only did they put one over on the Iranians, but they did it with a wacky stratagem worthy of screwball comedy.

When Mr Mendez turned up in Teheran, it was with a cover story in which the Canadians’ "houseguests" were said to be part of a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a science fiction B-picture — presumably the Iranians would not have known that, as such, its budget was unlikely to have run to foreign location shooting — to be called Argo. The CIA had got the guy who did the prosethetics for Planet of the Apes, John Chambers (John Goodman), on board to form a front company, and the movie version adds a delightfully profane Alan Arkin as the fictional producer Lester Siegel who, as a fake himself, becomes the spokesman for Hollywood fakery. His is the best line in the picture when he explains to Mr Affleck’s Tony Mendez why he was such a bad husband and father. "It’s a bull***t business, like coal mining; you come home to your wife and kids, and you can’t wash it off." Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black Chronicles IBM's Complicity in Genocide and Arab-Nazi Farhud in Nine-Event Las Vegas Kristallnacht Scholar-in-Residence

November 9th 2012

Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will chronicle how IBM co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust, and the roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust as the highlight of a nine-event Kristallnacht scholar-in-residence in Las Vegas November 8-14. Black's trademark "campus-community-congregation" series is broadly sponsored by Temple Beth Sholom, the Las Vegas Jewish Federation, UNLV College of Liberal Arts, William S. Boyd School of Law, Phi Alpha Theta Psi Sigma at UNLV and the UNLV Department of Communications. All events are open to the public, some with an admission fee.

Black kicks off the Temple Beth Sholom series November 9 with a Friday night services presentation entitled American Corporate Complicity in the Holocaust, How they Hid It, and How we Can Preserve the Truth." His remarks will tie pivotal involvement of Ford, GM, IBM, the Carnegie Institution, and the Rockefeller Foundation with the Nazi Holocaust. Black wrote a bestseller book, Nazi Nexus, summarizing the indispensible involvement of those five corporations in determining the size and shape of the Holocaust as we now know it.

Saturday morning's topic will be devoted to "The Farhud--the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust and What it Means For Today's World" based on Black's award-winning bestseller, The Farhud--Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Black makes brief remartks during the service, and then takes questions in a reception afterword.

The temple's main event will be held Sunday morning, with Black's signature presentation, "How IBM Co-Planned and Co-Organized the Holocaust--What the New Documentation Shows" based on the award-winning global bestseller IBM and the Holocaust. Black has blazed 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 genocide-for-profit record 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. Black has garnered numerous awards for the work and frequently speaks on the topic worldwide. Despite hundreds of requests, IBM has never denied the details of the book. Newsweek called the book "explosive" and "stunning." The Washington Post's review proclaimed the book was "beyond dispute." Der Spiegel declared the work "devastating." Read more ..

Book Review

Obama and the Middle East: Whither Four Years of Obama Idealism has Led Us

November 9th 2012

Obama and the middle east

Obama and the Middle East The End of America's Moment? Fawaz A. Gerges. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 304 pp.

It has been a bumpy road in the Middle East during the course of Barack Obama's term in office. Nearly two years ago the Arab uprisings began in Tunisia and spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in some cases tossing decades-old dictatorships aside. A year ago America's war in Iraq officially ended with the U.S. military pulling out in full. It has been two years since Israeli and Palestinian leaders last sat down at the negotiating table and nearly four years since President Obama extended an open hand to Iran. It is natural to now tally the scorecard and examine Obama's legacy in the Middle East. Some suggest recent events signify the end of America's influence there.

"Today America's position in the region resembles that of Great Britain at the end of World War II, before its sharp decline in the 1950s. We are witnessing the beginning of the end of America's moment in the Middle East." So writes Fawaz Gerges, professor and director of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, in the introduction to his new book, Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment?.

Gerges argues that American influence in the Middle East is in decline; its desires for the region will be increasingly challenged and overruled by both friend and foe in pursuit of "policies that mostly cater to public opinion." For Gerges, America's waning influence in the region results from decades of poor policies that President Obama continued rather than changed, as many in the Middle East had hoped. Far from the president's idealist promises—to politically engage with America's enemies and embrace a multilateral approach—Gerges finds that Obama has favored a realist approach by basing policy on preserving America's security interests. Read more ..

Book Review

The Prague Cemetery: A Satanically Dangerous Novel

November 6th 2012

the prague cemetery

The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco, trans. Richard Dixon HoughtonMifflinHarcourt, 2011. 464 pp.

The center of this novel is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a catastrophically influential fabricated account of the minutes of a meeting (which never took place) in Prague’s ancient cemetery of “learned Elders of Zion” organizing Jewish bankers and trade unionists, rabbis and atheists, capitalists and communists, to conspire in perfect harmony to eradicate Christianity, steal the wealth of Gentiles, and take over the world. Concocted by order of the Paris branch of the Czarist secret police between 1899 and 1902 to disseminate the “secret protocols” of the World Zionist Congress that had been held in Basel in 1897, it was published in 1905 and, after the mass slaughter of World War I and the Russian Revolution, became the deadliest document in the history of antisemitism. “When this book becomes the common heritage of all people,” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, “the Jewish peril can then be considered as stamped out.”

The Protocols are a gross and clumsy fabrication, ending with the Jews’ declaration: “Ours is an ambition that knows no limits, a voracious greed, a desire for ruthless revenge, an intense hatred.” This monument to stupidity’s influence in world affairs was exposed as “forgery” in 1921, yet became a perennial bestseller in Europe and then the Arab world. Henry Ford printed excerpts in his Dearborn newspaper and distributed 500,000 copies free of charge.

Originally a favorite of right-wing politicians eager to blame Jews for secularism, democracy, communism, psychoanalysis, and pornography, Protocols ideology, outside of Islam, is now an obsession of “progressives,” including Jewish ones. Writers in Tikkun, for example, warn of “conspirators” who run our government on behalf of “Jewish interests,” and they invoke “the industrial sized grain of truth in the Protocols.” Noam Chomsky alleges that the only reason antisemitism is now an “issue” is that “privileged people want to make sure they have total control, not just 98% control.” Thomas Friedman charges that any congressional support for Benjamin Netanyahu is “bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby.” Read more ..

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