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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
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 ..
I Told You So: Gore Vidal Talks Politics -- Interviews with Jon Wiener. OR Books. 2012. 160 pp.
Readers of this brief book will lament the lack of wit and astute commentary which characterizes contemporary political debate. Gore Vidal, who died last July, was one of the last public intellectuals in American public life. Current viewers of our television wasteland may be shocked to learn that writers such as Vidal were once frequent guests on late-night TV like the Dick Cavett Show.
Vidal represents an era when the intersection among politics, literature, art, history, and entertaining conversation mattered. With the advent of 24-hour cable news channels, the quantity of political chatter has increased, but reading Vidal reminds us of how much the quality of political discourse has deteriorated. It is not so much that one will always agree with Vidal’s conclusions, but that we are missing a witty and healthy irreverence for power which Vidal at his best represents.
I Told You So includes four interviews with Vidal conducted between 1988 and 2007 by Jon Wiener, a professor of history at the University of California-Irvine and a contributing editor to The Nation magazine. The interviews are printed in reverse chronological order with the first conversation in April 2007 before an audience of several thousand at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus followed by a more intimate dialogue in December 2006 before the Los Angeles Institute for Humanities at the University of Southern California.
Vidal was also a political figure, which is quite evident in a radio interview he granted Wiener during the September 2000 Shadow Convention challenging the political assumptions of the Clinton administration and its heir apparent, Al Gore. Although appearing last in this collection, Wiener first interviewed Vidal for the Radical History Review at the writer’s Italian villa on July 12, 1988. Although sometimes repetitious, these conversations represent a critique of American empire and the threat of this monolith to the republic. Read more ..
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. Black will be main speaker at the Southern Methodist University's Embrey Human Rights Program in Dallas. As he typically does, the author promises to present irrefutable documents.
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 genocide facilitation, 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 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."
SMU has reserved a ballroom at the Hughes-Trigg Student Center for Black's presentation, which is expected to attract hundreds of students, faculty from SMU and nearby schools, as well as members of the Dallas community. Before the SMU event, Black will tour the Dallas Holocaust Museum and meet with its leadership. Black's Dallas event kicks off the author's latest multicity tour.
In October, Black delivered seven presentations to campus, congregation, and community during a three-day stint in Seattle and Tacoma. His keynote for the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, "How IBM Organized the Holocaust--Lessons Learned," was sponsored by Verizon, Comcast and a host of financial organizations, technology companies, and law firms in association with the Washington State Bar Association and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. Read more ..
Alliance Formation in Civil Wars. Fotini Christia. Cambridge. 2012. 352 pp.
When the Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan, in late 1996, they soon launched a sustained military offensive to the north, an area they did not control. The following May, however, Abdul Malik Pahlawan, an Uzbek leader of the so-called Northern Alliance, which had been defending the region, struck a power-sharing agreement with the Taliban — who marched right into Mazar-i-Sharif, a key northern city.
All of two days later, Malik changed his mind, recognizing that his group would not have as much power as he had hoped. Quickly joining forces with two other ethnic groups in the area, Malik and his Uzbek followers repelled the Taliban in a bloody battle, eventually regaining control of the northern provinces.
This episode contains a larger lesson: Contrary to the common perception, political alliances during civil wars are not formed along immutable religious, ethnic or linguistic lines, according to the research of MIT political scientist Fotini Christia. As she explains in a new book, “Alliance Formation in Civil Wars,” published this month by Cambridge University Press, such alliances are often created for balance-of-power reasons, and stretch across religious or ethnic boundaries. Moreover, factions can develop within homogenous groups — leading seemingly solid allies, representing the same identity groups, to oppose each other.
“We see a civil war as black-and-white, a two-sided conflict between a government and rebels,” Christia says. “But usually it is a more dynamic situation.” In these more fluid circumstances, she adds, “Two groups can be friends one day and bitter enemies the next.” Read more ..
NEW YORK -- Alexander Kargaltsev was bullied so severely in university for being gay that he transferred schools. He was beaten with batons and tased by police during a small gay-pride gathering in Moscow. Later, he and a friend were detained by police as they left a gay club.
But despite all the trauma the 27-year-old Russian refugee has been through, he refuses to be silenced. In 2011, Kargaltsev was granted asylum in the United States. On October 26 in New York City, he held his first American solo exhibition -- simply entitled "Asylum" -- in downtown Manhattan.
More than a dozen large prints adorned the small studio. Each portrayed a nude gay or bisexual Russian man, with New York City shown in the background. Each man wore a stern expression, and many were photographed provocatively in public areas, such as Central Park. Under each photo is a caption: "Granted Asylum" or "Asylum Pending." Read more ..
What would you do if you had escaped your oppressor, if you were offered a new life free of the perils of old? It’s probably not a hard question to answer; you’d get on with that new life, you’d try to forget the past and build something secure, something safe and removed from that former life of persecution. But then what if someone offered you the opportunity to avenge that same oppressor. You’d have to relinquish that new life you’d only just begun to build, but if all went well you could play a part in the defeat of your former foes. It’s a difficult decision, but one that was easily answered for the three men at the center of Min Sook Lee’s new documentary, The Real Inglorious Bastards, which is to air on Canada’s History channel in November.
The story centers around Hans Wijnberg, a Jew, who fled Holland as a teenager for America with his twin brother, leaving behind a family that would eventually perish at the hands of the Nazis. There’s also Fred Mayer, a German Jew who fled to America ahead of the start of the war. Both joined the American army as soon as they could. Because of their backgrounds they were identified as being exceptionally valuable to the Army’s overseas operations and signed on to the OSS, the Office of Strategic Service, an intelligence agency set up during World War II. After an intense period of training they were sent to Europe. Read more ..
From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia. Pankaj Mishra. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2012. 368 pp.
As Western economies continue to struggle, while China and many other large developing nations are now being looked to as potential saviors of indebted European nations, the idea that the twenty-first century will be dominated by the “rise of the rest” —i.e., non-Western nations, most of them in Asia —has only become more powerful. Indeed, from Goldman Sachs’ first landmark report predicting the emergence of the so-called “BRICs” (Brazil, Russia, India and China) to, more recently, the originator of the famous term “Washington Consensus” publicly wondering whether the Washington Consensus had been replaced by a Beijing Consensus, the “rest” already seem to have risen quite far, while the West has nowhere to go but down.
Yet in all the discussion of these dramatic global shifts, few people have examined the roots of Asia’s resurgence. Few have looked any farther back than the changes of the past twenty years, during which the Cold War ended and many developing nations democratized, new communications and shipping technologies allowed Asian nations to dominate manufacturing and build global companies, and the spread of free trade agreements has leveled the economic playing field.
In his ambitious new book From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, Pankaj Mishra, a globally renowned Indian writer known for his work in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, reveals how the intellectual roots of the “rise of the rest,” including China, actually go far deeper. To Mishra, the roots go back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and to a small group of reformist thinkers in China, Japan, India, Turkey, and other countries, who, confronted with Western nations’ domination of Asia, struggled to find a coherent alternative. Read more ..
Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground Press, Parts 1 and 2. Ken Wachsberger, editor. Michigan State University Press. Vol. 1, 361 pp. Vol. 2, 465 pp. 2012.
We can’t seem to shake the 1960s. It haunts our politics and presidential campaigns. It’s echoed in ideological battles in the Weekly Standard, National Review, New York Review of Books and The Nation, and in countless websites and blogs. The issues raised by the sixties always reappear when we engage in wars and then clash over the meaning of American exceptionalism and its imperial stretch.
We have always had underground papers, both legal and illegal. William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist “The Liberator,” Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s and Susan B. Anthony’s early feminist “The Revolution” and Ida B. Wells’ anti-lynching “Free Speech” stand out but there were also anti-slavery, anarchist, trade union and a variety of socialist papers. And preceding the sixties presses there were the above-ground trouble-makers such as the Village Voice, Paul Krassner's The Realist, and Bobby Seale’s The Black Panther.
The sixties underground press was no less confrontational and uncompromising and found their voice in spur-of-the-moment and belligerent independent papers that openly challenged, mocked and alarmed our guardians of “law and order.” Nearly every city and college town had alternative presses. The oppositional papers they turned out, often communally, were sometimes amateurish but always passionate. They were Marxist, Maoist, libertarian, liberal, New Leftish, brash, and utterly disrespectful of traditional centers of power. “Question Authority” went one well known bumper sticker. Above all, if they had a common denominator it was hatred for the Vietnam War. Read more ..
The Oranges. Director: Julian Farino. Starring: Hugh Lauri, Leighton Meester, Oliver Platt, Catherine Keener, Allison Janney. Length: 90 mins.
Sometimes it is a good idea to go to a picture that is an obvious flopperoo, a real stinker like The Oranges, just for the sake of the insight it can give you into the workings of the typical Hollywood mindset — which in this case extends to such very talented stars as Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt and Allison Janney, all of whom unaccountably agreed to appear in this gobbler. Who, I wonder, was the first person who thought that it would be a good idea to make a comedy about a family’s breakup?
Who, then, thought it sounded a fun addition to the mix to involve another family, close friends of the first, by having breakup dad, played by Mr Laurie, have an affair with his best friend’s twenty-something daughter, played by Leighton Meester of "Gossip Girl"? And who then persuaded a studio to finance it and the big stars to appear in it? The guy — I very much doubt that it could have been a gal — must be some kind of genius, although of an evil sort, naturally.
Dysfunctional families have been mined for comedy before, of course, but mostly under the carapace of unreality that protects "The Simpsons" or the Bluths of "Arrested Development" from the heartbreak that real families endure when this kind of thing happens. And both Homer Simpson and George Bluth, for all their faults, do manage to keep their dysfunctional families more or less together. The Oranges, named after West Orange, New Jersey, where the two families live, has nothing to put up against the emotional devastation it portrays but some feeble therapeutic platitudes about doing what makes you happy. Read more ..
Edvard Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ has gone on display at the MOMA today—but not without controversy. As the New York Post reported last week Rafael Cardoso, a Brazilian curator, claims the painting was owned by his grandfather, Hugo Simon, in the 1920s and 30s. He consigned the work to a Swiss gallery before fleeing Nazi oppression in Germany. It was later acquired by a wealthy Norwegian family. The current owner of the painting is New York billionaire Leon Black, who bought the pastel piece — one of four versions of “The Scream,” dated 1895 — for $119.9 million at auction earlier this year. When the painting initially went to auction Cardoso contested it, but was rebuffed, instead the New York Post report says he was offered $250,000 by the seller, Petter Olsen, to go to a charity of his choice—though the donation would have to be in his name.
He rejected the offer.
Cardoso told the New York Post: “We have no interest whatsoever in this except as a moral issue: in the general sense that the legacy of those who were wronged should be remembered and respected,” he said.
So far MOMA has declined to comment.
In an earlier report The Post revealed that many art institutions in the United States have failed to address controversies surrounding the lineage of some of their art works. The heirs of German painter George Grosz tried to get three works back from the MOMA but said the museum played dirty. Rather than denying guilt they successfully claimed the family had filed their 2009 lawsuit too late. Read more ..
Sister, by the Franco-Swiss director Ursula Meier (Home), achieves its considerable effects at least partly by misdirection. Set during the Christmas season, it offers up a bitter irony in its French title, L'enfant d'en haut or The Child from On High, which helps steer the more simple-minded sort of movie-goer (and movie critic - see Manohla Dargis in The New York Times for example) towards seeing the movie as a sort of political tract about that left-wingers' favorite subject, "income inequality." But it's not really about income inequality at all, except insofar as such inequality betokens a much greater, much more serious kind of inequality: the moral and spiritual kind whose American counterpart has recently been adumbrated by Charles Murray in his book, Coming Apart.
Ms Meier's hero, twelve-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives in relative penury down in a Swiss valley with Louise (Léa Seydoux), his slutty ne'er-do-well older sister. There are vague and uncertain accounts of what happened to their parents. With the help of a season pass, Simon daily ascends on high to the posh ski-resorts above, in which god-like realm he steals and sells expensive ski-equipment to support his and Louise's hand-to-mouth existence in the very different world below.
To a certain kind of mind, the very presence - on film, at least, since the actual place would be read somewhat differently - of a playground for the idle rich, particularly when there is a clearly-drawn contrast with the less fortunate outside its boundaries, contains within its splendidly visual luxury an entire political narrative that scarcely needs spelling out. But beneath this obvious surface, Ms Meier is actually doing something rather different and more interesting than illustrating why we ought to tax the rich.. Read more ..
Won't Back Down. Director: Daniel Barnz. Starring: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Oscar Isaac, Holly Hunter. Length: 90 mins.
There’s no doubt that Daniel Barnz’s Won’t Back Down is an exercise in political advocacy — as a lot of people have pointed out who never seem to mind about this when it’s their own politics that are getting a more or less surreptitious airing. But my usual objection to propaganda is softened, somewhat, by the fact that the movie’s politics have been forced upon it. Time was when a story of parents seeking a way to provide a good education for their children would have had no political dimension. This desire to do well for one’s issue was as much an ordinary human ambition as love, money or honor.
Now, quite as much as love, money and honor, education has been politicized, mainly but not exclusively by those teachers’ unions whose political clout has been shamelessly used to ensure that failing schools continue to fail, remaining open and unreformed so long as they are allowed to serve their teachers’ and administrators’ needs rather than those of the pupils who are trapped in them.
Yet somehow, those who call attention to what ought to be a national scandal — teachers standing in the way of education for the poorest and least politically powerful Americans — are the ones accused of having political motives. Moreover, the teachers’ unions are in cahoots with a political and educational establishment whose constraints upon teachers and whose ideas about what and how to teach are partly responsible for the failure of the schools in the first place. The other part of the responsibility lies with parents, very few of whom will be able to recognize themselves in feisty single mom Jamie Fitzpatrick (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the heroine of Mr Barnz’s movie, who leads the forces of reform in spite of her own lack of education. She is as completely right as the unions and the system they perpetuate are wrong — though that’s probably the way it has to be in a movie like this. Read more ..
Buzkashi Boys. Director: Sam French. Length: 30 mins.
The new Afghan film "Buzkashi Boys," has earned international critical acclaim for its poignant portrayal of two impoverished boys in Kabul struggling to realize their dreams. While earning accolades abroad, the film has also made waves in Afghanistan, where it has invigorated the small local film scene as it recovers from decades of conflict.
Afghan cinema had to endure particular hardship under the Taliban regime, when films were outlawed and movie theaters were burned down. “Buzkashi Boys” is one of the first major films to be set and shot entirely in Kabul. It is also the first to be produced by the Afghan Film Project, a non-profit production company that aims to rebuild the fledgling Afghan film scene by mentoring and training local filmmakers on major film productions. During the production of “Buzkashi Boys,” a dozen aspiring Afghan filmmakers, some with technical skills, the majority with only a passion for filmmaking, were tutored through the production and post-production process, with many getting their first opportunity to write, produce, and direct a major film.
'About, By, And For Afghans' Sam French, an American documentary maker who directed the film and founded the Afghan Film Project, says “Buzkashi Boys” is a testament to the success of those Afghan filmmakers. He hopes the endeavor will provide Afghan filmmakers with the know-how to produce their own films and spur the growth of the local film sector.
“When I came here I realized there wasn’t really a functioning film industry," he says. "I thought there was a need to build capacity in the industry. We wanted to find a way for [Afghans] to actually work on a production. We worked side by side to make a film that was about Afghans, by Afghans, and for Afghans.” French was without a job and had barely an understanding of the country when he moved to Kabul in 2008. He says he expected to be hunkered down in a bunker but soon realized the city was full of inspiring, untold stories. Read more ..
Argo. Director: Ben Affleck. Starring: Ben Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Bryan Cranston. Length: 120 mins.
"Argo," an espionage drama directed by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, tells the story of former CIA officer Antonio Mendez and his daring plan to free six American diplomats hiding in Tehran during the 1979 hostage crisis. On Nov. 4, 1979, U.S. diplomats did not anticipate the takeover of their embassy, but 52 of them were taken hostage. Six escaped. "Argo" focuses on the clandestine CIA operation to rescue those six diplomats. While the Americans hid in the Canadian ambassador’s residence, Mendez, a CIA officer based in the United States, hatched the plot to get them out.
With the help of a Hollywood producer and a makeup artist, Mendez concocted a fake movie and a trip to scout out locations in Tehran. The Americans-in-hiding had 72 hours to memorize everything about their new identities, including their biographies and supposed jobs in the film. "Argo," the film, is fascinating because it really happened.
It’s hard to imagine that the real Tony Mendez, a subdued gentleman living a quiet life in rural Maryland, who is the CIA officer who pulled off stunts like this throughout his career. “Overall some of the best ideas you see in fiction, in film, are based on real operations," Mendez says. "Bond is very much alive in clandestine operations, in real situations.”
For his services, Mendez received a top CIA award. But that information was classified until the early 1990s. “You may have saved the world, but you have to sit there and sort of smile and ‘Well, we did it again and no one will know,’” Mendez says. Read more ..
During the two years that Inna Bazhibina spent in a Russian detention center on contraband charges, she met many women who were transferred on to serve out their sentences in penal colonies. In letters back, her friends wrote of unpleasant conditions and grinding "moral" pressure.
But Bazhibina, who recorded her recollections in an essay for Russia's Public Post website, says it may be far worse for Pussy Riot members Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who are soon to leave relatively comfortable detention cells in Moscow for dismal penal colonies hundreds of kilometers from home. She predicted the women would be sent to one of Russia's more notorious penal colonies. Read more ..
As the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion, it's not surprising that many Armenians are proud of their religious heritage. With a national church that dates back to A.D. 301, as well as thousands of ancient churches and monastic sites across the country, it's fair to say that religion looms large over Armenia's physical and psychological landscape.
That's one of the reasons why Yerevan has in the past been quick to criticize Georgia and other neighboring countries for apparently neglecting their Armenian Christian heritage. Now, however, the conservation of Armenia's own religious monuments has come under scrutiny. According to a recent report by EurasiaNet.org, nearly 50 percent of the country's 24,000 Christian sites are in dire need of repair and almost one-third are on the verge of collapse. Read more ..
Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will detail how IBM co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust, and other examples of corporate misconduct, in a series of eight major events in Seattle October 15-18, 2012. Black will be Voices of Humanity scholar-in-residence for the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, addressing hundreds in a series of luncheons, seminars, and lectures. Black has 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 "devestating."
The author's Seattle scholar-in-residence visit is broadly sponsored by Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, and cosponsored by the Washington State Bar Association, in association with the WSBAs International Practice section, the WSBA's World Peace Through Law section, and additionally cosponsored by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, Schulkin Rein PLLC, Pacific Lutheran University and the Cardozo Society of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. Additional cosponsors include American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, as well as Pierce College.
Black's eight-event series kicks off October 15, 2012 with a luncheon keynote, "How IBM Organized the Holocaust--Lessons Learned," sponsored by Verizon, for 500 attendees assembling in the Grand Ballroom of the Seattle Westin. After lunch, in an adjacent hall, Black will hold a Continuing Legal Education seminar for attorneys, "IBM, the Holocaust, and the Ethics of Technology," sponsored by the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center and cosponsored by the Washington State Bar Association, in association with two leading lawfirms, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and Schulkin Rein PLLC, as well as Pacific Lutheran University and the Cardozo Society of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, in association the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists. Read more ..
Looper. Director: Rian Johnson. Starring: Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt. Pierce Gagnon. 90 mins.
One measure of the extent to which culture is undermined by unbridled recourse to fantasy lies in how blasé we have grown even about the most amazing ideas fantasy has to offer. In Looper by Rian Johnson, for instance, the once mind-expanding concept of time-travel has been caught and contained within a narrative framework so narrow that the remarkable notion of a loophole in the time-space continuum through which people might voyage between past and future becomes nothing more than a means for unseen criminals of the future to dispose of the corpses of their murder victims.
These are sent alive from the year 2074, trussed up and hooded with bars of silver strapped to their backs as their assassins' fee, thirty years into the past where the likes of Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are waiting for them with a scatter-gun. All Joe has to do is pull the trigger and collect his silver.
The conceit of Mr Johnson's story is so far out of proportion to the time-travel concept that the latter is merely ridiculous. That may of course be deliberate - an excuse for the nudge-nudge, wink-wink postmodernism that disfigures this movie as it did the author's earlier Brick (2006), which also starred Mr Gordon-Levitt as a high-school age noir-style detective. Here, the plot is set in motion because Joe and his brother assassins, or loopers, are starting to find that among their victims are their future selves, their usefulness to the crime lords of the future presumably exhausted, on whom they are expected to "close the loop." The hoods worn by the murderees are thus useful in disguising from the murderers the moment at which they are expected to confront, and kill, their future selves.
At least their doing so doesn't present any logical or metaphysical problems of the sort that arise when the tables are turned and Joe's future self, played by Bruce Willis, arrives without a hood and with the intention of using Joe's moment of hesitation on seeing before him an older Joe to escape his fate - and, having escaped it, to kill the little boy who he knows will grow up to be the man who will kill his wife (Summer Qing) in the future. Read more ..
In the lead up to the U.S. elections, two documentaries, one conservative the other liberal, are trying to discredit the presidential candidate of the opposite camp. Dinesh D'Souza's Obama's America 2016 criticizes President Obama, a Democrat, as un-American, while the liberal mockumentary Janeane From Des Moines pokes fun at the Republicans on issues such as health care, gay marriage and the economy. These films attempt to sway voters. But can they?
Dinesh D'Souza's film Obama's America 2016 contends that the U.S. president has a hidden agenda on religion, war and the economy. Since its premiere, the documentary has raked in over $30 million, making it among the top grossing political documentaries of all time.
Nina Seavey, director of the Documentary Center at George Washington University, says films like that aim to galvanize voters of the same persuasion. "You have to find a way to their heart so that they don't maybe give you $25, but they go and raise more money," she said. "They go out and they knock on doors and they go out and do voter registration and they go out and they get their passion on for whatever sort of political purpose, in this case to defeat Barack Obama." Read more ..
College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. Andrew Delbanco. Princeton. 2012. 240 pp.
Toward the end of this succinctly-titled book, American studies scholar Andrew Delbanco explains that he tried to avoid traditional typologies in rendering his story: it is neither a jeremiad, an elegy, or a call to arms. Nor, he says, does it conform to the most common type of writings about the state of liberal arts colleges today: the funeral dirge. Actually, the rhetorical form that most closely matches what he's doing here is History. The book is a meditation on the past, its relationship with the present, and how both may inform what may, for better and worse, yet be.
A truly interesting history of just about anything is going to affirm continuity and change. One of the more striking aspects of this book is the way that many of the things we think of as innovations, even improvements, in the traditional college experience are really quite old. Financial aid, efforts to diversify demographically, growth in the size and range of the curriculum: these trends are at least one hundred fifty years old, and recent developments are really more quantitative than qualitative.
Conversely, many of the less attractive aspects of college life have not disappeared, and have even intensified: economic inequality, discrimination (Asians have replaced Jews as the new "problem") and vague standards of admissions "quality" that accrue largely to the benefit those who are already privileged.
According to Delbanco, the main difference between what liberal arts colleges used to be and what they now are is a religious one -- or, more accurately, the disappearance of religion, and the attendant moral vision, that once went along with it. As he notes, this is not an altogether bad thing: all kinds of bigotry and exclusion attached to it. But if there was a saving grace in the origins of most elite colleges, it was in their Calvinist-tinged assumption that one's status was a God-given gift, the rendering of which neither fully understandable nor earned by human beings. Read more ..
End of Watch. Director: David Ayers. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña. Length: 90 mins.
Just as the trend in Hollywood, after decades of anti-Americanism and anti-military prejudice, may now be moving in the opposite direction in movies like The Hurt Locker, Act of Valor and the forthcoming Zero Dark Thirty, about the killing of Osama bin Laden, so we may hope that an even longer-lived if less-pronounced vogue for movies about corrupt cops may be giving way to movies like David Ayer's End of Watch, which is such a throwback to old-time movies about hero-cops that it will look positively corny to some.
Behind my badge is a heart like yours. I bleed, I think, I love, and yes, I can be killed. And although I am but one man, I have thousands of brothers and sisters who would die for me and I for them. We stand watch together. I am fate with a badge and a gun. The thin-blue-line, protecting the prey from the predators, the good from the bad. We are the police.
These are the voiceover words of one of the film's two heroes - in both senses of the term - Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal). As his old-fashioned movieish spiel suggests, he would presumably be impossibly straight-arrowish and therefore phony by today's standards, but for the fact that he is supposed to be making the movie himself. Or at least a movie which is not entirely separate and distinct from this movie. As a part-time law student, he is said to be taking an elective in film-making and so is recording his working life as a cop on film - or, rather, in digital form - as a student project which, we are to suppose, has been spliced together with the film we are watching.
It is, perhaps, a better idea in conception than it is in execution, but it allows Mr Ayer, who wrote the screenplay for the corrupt-cop movies Training Day (2001) and Harsh Times (2005) and who directed the latter, to put a certain ironic distance between himself and the remarkably uncorrupt, indeed heroic, cops we see in this latest movie. Brian Taylor is also an ex-marine, which produces a bit of pro-military messaging as well. Read more ..
Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power. Seth Rosenfeld. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2012. 752 pages.
For aficionados of the abuse of power, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI is a gift that keeps on giving. Every time it seems that there can’t be anything left to reveal, somebody turns over a rock and out crawls another law-breaking, ethics-ignoring, ignominious episode. Seth Rosenfeld, a prize-winning investigative reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, has turned over a quarry-full of rocks and uncovered an appalling amount of sleazy behavior in post-war California, particularly in the turbulent 1960s.
Perhaps the best place to start reading this lengthy but compelling volume is on page 505. That’s where Rosenfeld begins his brief background essay on “My Fight for the FBI Files,” which recounts his 30 years of filings under the Freedom of Information Act as he worked to bring to light the FBI’s intimate, decades-long involvement with California politics and higher education. The documents he obtained, he says, “show that during the Cold War, FBI officials sought to change the course of history by secretly interceding in events, manipulating public opinion, and taking sides in partisan politics. The bureau’s efforts, decades later, to improperly withhold information about those activities under the FOIA are, in effect, another attempt to shape history, this time by obscuring the past.”
Rosenfeld takes the story from shortly after World War II, when the Cold War clamped its icy grip on the American psyche, into the 1970s, when California governor Ronald Reagan was well on his way to becoming a national figure, and the two other primary figures in his narrative—Mario Savio and Clark Kerr—had been pretty much marginalized on the California scene. Read more ..