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Book Review

I Told You So: Witty Asides on American Polity and Empire

November 6th 2012

i told you so

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 ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black in Dallas Chronicles IBM's Partnership with the Nazis

November 3rd 2012

Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will chronicle IBM's robust 12-year alliance with Nazi Germany detailing how the company co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust. 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 ..


Book Review

Alliance Formation: How Civil Wars Evolve

November 3rd 2012

Alliance Formation

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 ..


The Edge of Art

A Refugee Portrays Strength, Struggle Of Gay Russians

October 29th 2012

Gay art

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 ..


The Edge of Film

The Real Inglorious Bastards

October 29th 2012

Inglorious Bastards Documentary
Inglorious Bastards Documentary

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 ..


Book Review

From the Ruins of Empire: Intellectuals and the Rise of Asia

October 27th 2012

From the ruins of empire

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 ..


Book Review

Insider Histories of the Vietnam Era Underground: Taking a Crack at the Powerful

October 26th 2012

Insider histories

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 ..


Film Review

The Oranges: Rotten Fruit

October 26th 2012

the oranges

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 ..


After the Holocaust

Screaming for Justice--Lawyer Seeking Return of Nazi Stolen Art

October 25th 2012

The Scream
The Scream

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 ..


Film Review

Sister: Moral and Income Equality in the Alps

October 24th 2012

Sister

Sister. Director: Ursula Meier. Starring: Gillian Anderson, Kacey Mottet Klein, Léa Seydoux. Length: 90 mins.

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 ..


Film Reviews

Won't Back Down: Defying Political Orthodoxy

October 23rd 2012

wont back down

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 ..


Edge of Film

Buzkashi Boys: Realizing Their Dreams in Devastated Afghanistan

October 21st 2012

Buzkashi boys

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 ..


Film Review

Argo: Hollywood Treatment for Real-Life Heroes

October 18th 2012

Argo

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 ..


Russia on Edge

Pussy Riot Moves to the Gulag and Reveals Plight of the Penal Colonies

October 17th 2012

Russian female prisoners

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 ..


Armenia on Edge

Armenia Seeks to Preserve its Millennial Christian Heritage

October 16th 2012

Sanahin monastery Armenia
Sanahin monastery, Armenia.

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 ..


Authors on Tour

Edwin Black Details IBM's Complicity in Genocide, Eight Major Events in Seattle Scholar-in-Residence

October 13th 2012

Edwin Black

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 ..


Film Review

Looper: Loopy and Unbridled Recourse to Fantasy

October 11th 2012

Looper

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 ..


The 2012 Vote

Political Movies Aim to Influence Voters

October 11th 2012

Romney Obama debate

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 ..


Book Review

College: What it Was and What it Should Be

October 10th 2012

College what it was is and should be

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 ..


Film Review

End of Watch: Cops and Bromance, Again

October 10th 2012

End of Watch

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 ..


Book Review

Subversives: The FBI and the Gift that Keeps on Giving

October 9th 2012

Subversives

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 ..


Book Review

Yamashita's Ghost: Japanese War Crimes and American Justice

October 7th 2012

Yamashitas ghost

Yamashita's Ghost: War Crimes, MacArthur's Justice, and Command Accountability. Allan A. Ryan. Kansas. 2012. 416 pp.

In October 1944, General Tomoyuki Yamashita was assigned to lead the Japanese forces in the Philippines. Ten days later U.S. army units began landing in Luzon and Leyte to open the campaign to liberate the Philippines. Before and after Yamashita’s arrival the Japanese had carried out the identical brutality they had too often meted out to civilians and POWs throughout Asia and elsewhere. Filipinos and foreigners living in the islands were singled out, especially in Manila, where a bloodbath was carried out.

It was called the Manila massacre, which Yamashita insisted he never ordered. He was arrested soon after the Japanese surrendered. In the first war crimes trial of the Pacific War, he was tried by five generals, found guilty, and executed. His chief counsel, Colonel Harry Clarke objected, saying he was not found guilty for having done something specific but rather “solely with having been something,” in this instance commander of troops who had committed war crimes. When the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and judgment denied, two justices, Frank Murphy and Wiley Rutledge, described the verdict as unjust.

What is most significant is that the Supreme Court has never rejected this principle, which holds that a military commander can be blamed for murder, rape, and other crimes carried out by troops under his command even if he had not ordered them to do so. Since then the “Yamashita standard” as it is known, has been upheld as the law of the land.

Allan A. Ryan, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White, was a U.S. Marine Corps judge advocate, as well as chief prosecutor of Nazis who fled to the U.S. and lied about their criminal past, has written an impressive and important book about the case in which he is unashamedly sympathetic to Yamashita and critical of the military judges and their superior, the imperious Douglas MacArthur. Read more ..


Film Review

The Master: A Picaresque American Tale

October 4th 2012

The Master 1

The Master. Director: Paul Thomas Anderson. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams. Length: 137 mins.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is an easy movie to like, or so I found it anyway. It stands in the great tradition of the American picaresque, going back at least to Huckleberry Finn, but with an Elmer Gantry cast. And, like Elmer Gantry, its larger-than-life hero is presented as a self-aware con-man. This is one Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), said to be loosely based on the real-life L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. The movie is also set in what were Scientology’s early years, the 1950s, and the period — as the original season of Mad Men showed — could have made a statement all its own. Mr Anderson chooses not to use it in this way, to create a pointed historical contrast with the present, although he might have done so. In fact, he has surprisingly little to say about the America either of the 1950s or of today. Dodd is presented as sui generis and not obviously a creature of the land where religious entrepreneurs and patent psychotherapies have so often come to thrive.

Moreover, although his portrait of Dodd is a brilliant one, Mr Anderson is really more interested in one of his dupes. This is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a no-longer able seaman mustered out of the U.S. Navy at the end of the Second World War with some kind of unspecified post-traumatic stress. More likely, Freddie’s only real affliction is being Freddie — which involves an overly powerful appetite for sex and strong liquor.

Mr Phoenix plays Freddie with a Popeye-the-sailor grimace and snarl that must be a deliberate allusion to that pop-cultural hero of yesteryear. But this is a Popeye stripped of his sometime uxoriousness and with a taste for home-made hooch instead of spinach. His skill, learned in the navy, at mixing up heavy-duty spirits out of paint thinner and developing fluid is what brings him to the attention of Mr Hoffman’s "Master," though it is not necessarily what sustains him there. Read more ..


Theatre Review

Chaplin: What the Little Tramp can Tell Us

September 28th 2012

Scene from Chaplin

Chaplin. Director: Warren Carlyle. Starring: Rob McClure. Writer: Thomas Meehan. Lyrics and Music: Christopher Curtis. Barrymore Theater, New York, N.Y.

Actor Charlie Chaplin, "the Little Tramp," was one of the most famous entertainers in history. With his round black hat, cane, tiny moustache, oversized shoes, sad eyes and odd walk, he shuffled his way through dozens of hit silent movies, earned close to a million dollars a year in the 1920s, helped found the hugely successful United Artists film company and thrilled audiences all over the world.

The Little Tramp is back again in the musical Chaplin, which opened last week in New York. The play is not only a good show but a searing look into American history during the McCarthy era in the early 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy and his henchmen used congressional committees to hunt down entertainers and others with any ties to the Communist Party and tried to ruin them. Read more ..


Film Review

Arbitrage: A Fraudulent and Saving Grace

September 27th 2012

Arbitrage

Arbitrage. Director: Nicholas Jarecki Starring: Richard Gere, Graydon Carter, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Laetitia Casta. Length: 90 mins.

The word "arbitrage," as I understand it, means taking advantage of the time lag with which information is transmitted between markets in order to buy in one market and sell at a favorable price in another to those who don’t yet know what you know. It has nothing to do with the new movie of that name by Nicholas Jarecki. His hero Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is not engaged in arbitrage but in out-and-out fraud, falsely representing by means of accounting chicanery the company he is trying to sell as solvent when it is not. The fact that — spoiler alert! — he gets away with this and that the person he sells the company to, James Mayfield (Graydon Carter), chooses to do nothing to bring him to justice suggests that Mr. Jarecki, who wrote the screenplay as well as directing, (a) has some very peculiar ideas about the way business works and (b) himself can see no important difference between legal and illegal transactions.

To him, it appears, they’re equally unpalatable. That rich people routinely swindle each other as well as the general public is simply a given, which I suppose makes it easy for him to believe that everything they do is more or less crooked. Yet he also rather admires Mr. Gere’s character for the success with which he pulls off a bigger swindle than his competitors are able to do. And this isn’t even the main plot of the movie! It is, rather, the framework within which a technical sub-plot is able to dominate our attention. For Robert Miller is not only a crook and a fraudster, he is also a love-rat and a hypocrite. In time-honored fashion, he is presented to us as an ideal family man, surrounded by wife (Susan Sarandon) and adoring child (Brit Marling) for about five minutes before we see him driving off with his French mistress (Laetitia Casta) in a Mercedes which he promptly crashes, killing her. Read more ..


Book Review

Lincoln's Hundred Days: A Book at the Intersection of Civil War Historiography

September 23rd 2012

Lincolns Hundred Days

Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War of the Union. Louis P. Masur. Oxford. 2012. 384 pages.

Louis P. Masur's latest book stands at the intersection of two important long term trends in Civil War historiography (and, by extension, U.S. historiography generally). The first a post-1960s emphasis on foregrounding the racial dimension of the conflict, asserting slavery was the precipitating cause and abolition as the primary significance of its outcome.

This would almost be so obvious among scholars to not bear mentioning if such emphasis was not primary before the late twentieth century, and if there didn't remain vocal segments in the culture at large that explicitly reject it. The other, more recent trend is a new emphasis on political history, in effect closing a circle that began with a move toward social history in the 1970s and '80s and cultural history in the 1990s and 2000s. In recent decades historians have tried to affirm their commitment to a democratic discourse by affirming the agency of individual actors at the ground level rather than the Words and Deeds of Great Men.

Like all well-intentioned (or perhaps just intellectual marketplace-driven) trends, however, such tendencies have perhaps reached the point where they conceal more than they reveal. Who's running the government at any given time really may matter after all.

Given this context, there may well have been a spate of Emancipation Proclamation books even if its 150th anniversary was not at hand (President Lincoln issued the preliminary Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and the final one putting it into effect on January 1, 1863). In recent years, a string of heavyweight scholars -- among them Allen Guelzo, Harold Holzer, and, going back a bit further, John Hope Franklin -- have made it the subject of volume-length studies. This is interesting when one considers the traditional perception of the E.P., captured most vividly by Edmund Wilson, who in Patriotic Gore famously described it as having "all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." But just as the center of gravity in the military history of the war has shifted from Gettysburg to Antietam, so too is the E.P. getting a second look as a document as carefully crafted, and eloquent in its own way, as the Gettysburg Address. Read more ..


Book Review

Sex and God at Yale: Eroticism and Nihilism in the Poisoned Ivy League

September 22nd 2012

Sex and God at Yale, author Nathan Harden

Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad. Nathan Harden. Thomas Dunn Books. 2012. 320 pp.

They say everyone is entitled to his fifteen minutes of fame. My mom had her brief moment in the spotlight a couple years back, when the New York Post called her for a comment about a new dorm policy at Columbia, where I was a sophomore at the time. As the article put it, “Columbia University students will soon be able to live in sin—on their parents’ dime. A new ‘gender-neutral’ housing policy . . . will allow boys and girls to shack up together in campus housing.”

My mom’s reaction was, I hope, the reaction most parents would have to such news. “I was shocked enough last year when we moved our son in and we saw that guys and girls shared a bathroom on the hall,” she told the Post. “If it had been our daughter, we would have turned around and walked straight out. As far as coed roommates go, that would be insane. If our child chose to do that, we would opt out.” Thankfully for my mom’s sanity, sharing a dorm room with a girl was never high on my college to-do list. But had she known what else Columbia had in store for us, I can guarantee she would have opted out anyway. Read more ..


Islam on Edge

Actress Shattered by Appearance in 'The Innocence of Muslims'

September 22nd 2012

Anna Gurji
Georgian actress Anna Gurji

Aspiring actress Anna Giorgobiani finally made the giant leap to Hollywood from her native Tbilisi. Now, with her excitement over landing a role in an "indie feature film" turned to disgust, the 21-year-old Georgian finds herself at the center of fundamentalist Muslim outrage that has sparked protests around the world and left more than a dozen people dead.

Cast members say the amateurish "Innocence of Muslims" was heavily dubbed and edited without their knowledge to mock Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.

It also appears to feature Anna Gurji (as Anna Giorgobiani is known in the business) chasing a man -- who is either "George" or "Muhammad," depending on your perspective -- around a tent with a shoe (at the 13-minute mark in the film's trailer on YouTube).

On September 17, English writer and comic-book artist Neil Gaiman published "A Letter from a Scared Actress," which Gurji is said to have sent him a few days ago. Read more ..


Film History

Treasure Trove of Tsarist Movies Soon to be Available

September 22nd 2012

Movie still 1908 Stenka Razin

Cineastes from Russia and elsewhere are licking their lips at the thought of a potential treasure trove of Tsarist-era movies finally being made accessible to the public after many decades. Russian news agencies have reported that an American businessman has donated more than 350 old Russian movies to a St. Petersburg film studio.

The films were shot before the 1917 October Revolution that brought Vladimir Lenin's Bolshevik Party to power. They were later taken out of Russia during the country's civil war. The movies eventually ended up in the collection of Steven Krams, the president of the American cinema technology firm Magna-Tech Electronic Co. Inc.

On September 21, he signed an agreement with Lenfilm that will see him unconditionally hand over these "movie relics" free of charge so that they can be transported to St. Petersburg for proper restoration. Read more ..


Arts in America

Long-Overdue Revision of New Grove Dictionary of American Music accomplished

September 19th 2012

Salvation Army girl

In the field of American music research, there is no more respected publication than The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. A team of University of Michigan music scholars contributed significantly to the first updated and revised edition to be published early next year.

Known as AmeriGrove, the dictionary was originally published by Macmillan in 1986 as the first comprehensive reference work dedicated to the music of the United States that was academically rigorous and written by a team of specialists. It quickly became the definitive scholarly resource on the subject.

Now, more than a quarter of a century later, the first revised edition of AmeriGrove is nearing completion, led by faculty members in the Department of Musicology and with strong support from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Scheduled for print and online publication by Oxford University Press (OUP) early next year, The Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition (AmeriGrove II) dramatically increases the breadth of coverage, growing from four to eight volumes, and affirms U-M’s role as one of the top research institutes in the world for American music.

Under the leadership of editor-in-chief Charles Hiroshi Garrett (associate professor of musicology) and project editor for design and development Mark Clague (associate professor of musicology and SMTD director of research), AmeriGrove II has been in development for more than six years. Utilizing the talents of U-M faculty, alumni and students, along with scholars of American music from around the world, the work now features close to 9,000 entries on the people, places, objects, practices, genres, concepts, themes and traditions that have forged America’s music.
Read more ..


Broken Justice

Scalia 'Furious' at Roberts for Healthcare Vote on law, says Toobin Book

September 18th 2012

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
Antonin Scalia

Jeffrey Toobin's latest book portrays Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as increasingly cranky and partisan — and infuriated with Chief Justice John Roberts over the court's recent decisions on healthcare and immigration. Toobin, who writes for The New Yorker and also covers the court for CNN, credits Scalia for a sea change in how both sides of the political spectrum think about the law.

But he says the justice's bombast has become off-putting to more even-tempered colleagues. Toobin's latest book, "The Oath," chronicling the Roberts court and the Obama presidency, is being released today.

Here are 5 key takeaways:

Scalia 'furious' over healthcare and immigration

The book confirms previous reports that Roberts changed his vote in the landmark case over President Obama's healthcare law after initially siding with the conservative justices. But Toobin reports — as others have implied — that what pushed Roberts away was the conservative justices' insistence on striking down the entire health law. Read more ..


Film Review

The Imposter: Weirdly Inspiring and Worth Seeing

September 15th 2012

The Imposter

The Imposter. Director: Bart Layton. Starring: Frédéric Bourdin, Adam O'Brian, Carey Gibson. Length: 99 mins.

The eponymous center of director Bart Layton’s attention in The Imposter is Frédéric Bourdin, the product of a fleeting liaison between a teenage French girl and an Algerian, who ran away from his not-much-of-a-home at an early age and made a youthful career out of inventing for himself new identities that he thought would enable him to fit in with those whom he appears, for some reason, to have thought of as more normal people than those he was used to — people, at least, who found it normal to believe his habitually monstrous lies. "For as long as I can remember," he tells Mr. Layton’s camera in this true-crime documentary with some re-enacted bits, "I wanted to be someone else, someone more acceptable." By the age of 23 in 1997, he had perfected his act as a shy and withdrawn teenager whose alleged history of horrible abuse made people want to help him.

In that year, finding himself in a home for wayward youth in Linares, Spain, and in desperate need of a stratagem to prevent himself from being fingerprinted and, as he thought, sent to prison, he telephoned the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia, and, pretending to be a Spanish policeman, asked if they had anyone on their books vaguely answering his own description, or the description he was now used to giving of himself. They came up with the name of Nicholas Barclay, who had gone missing from his home in San Antonio, Texas, three and a half years before at age 13. Frédéric thought, on the basis of a grainy, black-and-white fax of Nicholas’s photo, that he could impersonate the boy, though he was more than six years older than the latter would have been and spoke English with an undisguisable French accent. Read more ..


Africa on Edge

Uganda Jails Brit for Play About Homosexuality

September 14th 2012

David Cecil British Producer

Police on Thursday arrested the producer of a play about homosexuality in Uganda that was staged last month in Kampala. David Cecil, a British national, has been charged with disobeying lawful orders for failing to get official authorization to show “The River and the Mountain,” the story of a Ugandan businessman who comes out as gay and is later killed by his employees.

In Uganda, where homosexual activities are illegal, the staging of the play immediately sparked controversy. Government officials forced the cancellation of scheduled performances at the National Theater last month, but it was instead shown at two Kampala locations, including a cultural center that Cecil manages. After requiring Cecil to file a statement last week, police then released the producer. Reporting for a court arraignment Thursday, however, Cecil was denied bail for failure to produce his passport, which police had confiscated. Read more ..


India on Edge

Indian Cartoonist’s Arrest Sparks Protests

September 13th 2012

Cartoonist Arrest

Outrage has been sparked in India by the arrest of a cartoonist who produced satirical drawings protesting political corruption.  Aseem Trivedi's arrest on charges of sedition is being seen as an attack on freedom of expression. Anti-corruption activists, opposition politicians and citizens held protests in Mumbai demanding the release of 25-year-old Trivedi.

Trivedi was arrested Saturday on the complaint of a lawyer for a series of cartoons that satirized political corruption and allegedly mocked the Indian constitution. In one of his cartoons, he depicts parliament as a toilet bowl.  In another he replaces lions in India’s national emblem with wolves, and the words “truth shall prevail” with “corruption shall prevail.”  Read more ..


Film Review

Compliance: A Disgusting and Perverse Film

September 13th 2012

Compliance

Compliance. Director: Craig Zobel. Starring: Dreama Walker, Pat Healy. Length: 90 mins.

I don’t believe it. Blind Gloucester in King Lear, describing the naked man he does not know is his own son, says, "I’ the last night's storm I such a fellow saw/Which made me think a man a worm." Craig Zobel’s Compliance also has a naked person in it who made me think a man — and a woman too — a worm, which I’ve no doubt was the author’s intention.

But a man is not a worm. That is the truth which the careful label fastened on this disgusting movie, "inspired by true events," obscures with its qualified and, therefore, untrue truth — which, as I say, I don’t believe. For even if something like the events of the movie, or some significant portion of them, happened in real life, there is nothing true about them apart from their bare occurrence. Not if I know anything about the human animal.

Yet, at least among movie people, there are plenty of who want to believe the worst of our vermiform nature. Let’s put together a newspaper advertisement for movie featuring all genuine quotations from critics across the land. ". . .This psychological horror movie slithers rapidly from uncomfortable to unspeakable. . ." (New York Times). ". . . This stealth psychological horror film is at once tough to turn away from and, by design, extremely difficult to watch. . ." (Variety). ". . . Without a doubt, the most uncomfortable film experience of my life. . ." (Huffington Post). And these are the positive reviews! Feel like you want to see it yet? On the whole, the critics seem to think you should. As Peter Travers of Rolling Stone put it, "Craig Zobel's potent and provocative Compliance is torture to sit through. It’s also indispensable filmmaking." Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Fungus Treatment Makes New Violins Sound Like a Stradivarius

September 9th 2012

stradivarius

A good violin depends not only on the expertise of the violin maker, but also on the quality of the wood that is used. The Swiss wood researcher Professor Francis W. M. R. Schwarze (Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen, Switzerland) has succeeded in modifying the wood for a violin through treatment with special fungi. This treatment alters the acoustic properties of the instrument, making it sound indistinguishably similar to a Stradivarius.

In his dinner talk at the 1st ECRC "Franz-Volhard" Symposium of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) and Charité - Universitätsmedizin in Berlin-Buch, Schwarze reported on his research and gave a preview of what his wood treatment method could mean, particularly for young violinists. Read more ..


Book Review

Taking a Look at Jewish Concerns

September 8th 2012

The State of the Jews

Edward Alexander. The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal. Transaction Publishers, 2012. 264 pages.

As anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism have become more acceptable as “genuine” criticism within academic circles Edward Alexander’s latest book The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal could not be more relevant and timely. It was Hitler’s professors who were the first to make anti-Semitism both academically respectable and complicit in murder. In his previous book The Jewish Divide over Israel Accusers and Defenders Alexander’s describes this problem acutely saying,

“Jews who assign responsibility for anti-Jewish aggression to Jewish misbehavior not only save themselves from the unpleasant and often dangerous task of coming to the defense of Jews under attack but also retain the charms of good conscience.…”

Now in the in the State of the Jews, the author has put forth a collection of forceful essays and reviews spanning over a decade centered on the Jewish role in the war of ideas against the Jews.

Alexander’s most scornful analysis focuses on academic anti-Semitism and the collaboration of Jewish liberals in the demonization of Israel which has been strictly reserved for Nazi Germany. This phenomenon in practical terms is what has become known as the Auschwitz syndrome that is the belief that Zionism is in-fact the New Nazism.

By evoking Auschwitz, one can see how the inherent double standard is used as the ammunition against Israel and its supporters on a growing basis. Thus, detracting from the territorial dispute and marking the actions of the Israeli government as the heirs of Nazism.

The collective memory of the Holocaust has been used and abused by anti-Israel circles which include Jewish individuals and pro-Palestinian sympathizers. All breaking Cynthia Ozick’s cardinal rule that, “Jews are not metaphors—not for poets, not for novelists, not for theologians, not for murderers, and never for anti-Semites…” Read more ..


Book Reviews

Herman B Wells and the American Promise

September 6th 2012

Herman b wells

Herman B Wells: The Promise of the American University. James H. Capshew. Indiana. 2012. 488 pp.

The stereotypical Midwesterner: unpretentious, practical, hard-working, reliable, tough-minded, respectable, egalitarian, discreet. Positive adjectives, all of them -- at least at first glance. As we will see, however, discretion, at least, can be a mixed blessing, when practiced by both a subject and his biographer.

James Capshew, a historian at Indiana University, portrays the long-lived Herman B Wells, president of Indiana University from 1937 to 1962 (and interim president in the late '60s) and chancellor until his death in 2000, as embodying all of these Midwestern characteristics. These personal qualities, Capshew argues, made Wells a truly great university leader. He quotes higher education historian John Thelin, who described Wells as an exemplar of "an innovative style of presidential leadership ... central to the surge of the new American state university."

Capshew’s is an ambitious undertaking, highly successful in some ways, less so in others. At his best, he shows how Wells -- himself an Indiana native -- helped to transform a small provincial institution, drifting along in the backwaters of the Big Ten, into a highly visible research university with national and international reach. Drawing upon extensive primary research, secondary sources such as Thomas Clark’s four-volume history of the University and Mary Ann Wynkoop’s study of IU in the '60s, and his own memories of Wells (he first encountered Wells's "personal beneficence and institutional charisma" as an undergraduate in the late '70s, when he served as a "houseboy" in Wells's home), he paints a portrait of a man constantly in motion, who built, promoted, and protected the institution he loved as if it were a living thing.

Throughout the book, Capshew's admiration for this "extraordinary human being" never wavers. Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about Wells is that he introduced so much dramatic change to IU while becoming ever more beloved not just for his professional acumen, but also for his decency and thoughtfulness. Another transformative leader, whose presidency almost exactly coincides with Wells's, was Brown University's Henry Wriston, of whom it was said that he "took Brown by the scruff of the neck and shook it into greatness." Wriston was able and charismatic in his way, but didn’t generate the broad and deep personal affection that Wells did. Nobody seems to have imagined Wells taking anybody or anything by the scruff of the neck. Read more ..


Book Reviews

Back to School: A Second Chace for Everybody

September 6th 2012

back to school

Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Change at Education. Mike Rose. New Press. 2012. 224 pp.

The 2011 Tom Hanks film Larry Crowne isn't a very good movie -- it isn't even really a very good Tom Hanks movie -- but it is salutary in one very important respect. In telling the story of a laid-off retail worker who goes back to community college, the film focuses attention on the reality of higher education in contemporary life: that the typical undergraduate is not the 18-to-22 year old attending a four-year liberal arts institution who tends to get most of the attention in contemporary educational discourse. Instead, the middle-aged title character finds himself immersed in a polyglot community of adults (some young, some less so) striving to pick up lost threads or missed opportunities.

This is a story that Mike Rose knows well. Rose has spent a long and illustrious career chronicling the lives of working-class people striving for dignity in work, in school and in the connection between them. In Back to School, he focuses specifically on returning students, and passionate hopes as well as serious obstacles apparent in settings where the American Dream is won and lost most vividly.

Rose, who teaches at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, is a policy wonk -- he navigates debates between those who advocate college for all versus those who emphasize vocational training, among others -- but a strong empirical empathy animates his work. You'll find data-driven metrics here, but the heart of the book rests on close observation of the realities and aspirations of individual lives, which are limned with economy and insight. (In this regard, his work is strongly reminiscent of the work of my late father-in-law, education reformer Ted Sizer.) Read more ..


Film Reviews

Obama's America 2016: Do you Love Him or Hate Him?

September 3rd 2012

2016 the Movie

2016: Obama's America. Directors: Dinesh D'Souza and .John Sullivan Producer: Gerald R. Molen. Length: 1 hr 29 mins.
Near the end of 2016: Obama’s America, Dinesh D’Souza — who is the principal on-screen presence and co-director (with John Sullivan) of the movie based on his book The Roots of Obama’s Rage — interviews the former Comptroller General David Walker as part of an effort to sound the alarm about our country’s ballooning debt. There is, as you would expect, an on-screen graphic, in fact a graph, stacking up President Obama’s massive $5 trillion in new debt in only three and a half years against the more modest contributions of his predecessors — though his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, is lumped together with him for the convenience of making the point that these two presidents between them have piled up more debt than all their 42 predecessors combined. In any reasonably well-ordered democratic political culture this, you might think, would be scandal enough and to spare, but in our hyper-charged media environment today we have been mainlining scandal for so long that it apparently takes something a good deal more potent than looming bankruptcy to give us that longed-for high.

At any rate, Mr. D’Souza’s movie certainly gives us the hard stuff, as it imputes to President Obama an agenda culminating in nothing less than the prospective destruction of the United States. The bit about the debt comes across almost as an afterthought. Too obvious, I guess. Instead, with the promise of mystery and intrigue, the hidden truth that only they can get at which is always so congenial to the movies, 2016 concentrates on finding the clues in Mr. Obama’s not-quite-secret radicalism as to his secret agenda for his second term. Read more ..



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