The Performing Arts
|Chris Simkins||April 29th 2012|
The Howard Theater, a Washington, DC landmark, is reborn.
Some of the greatest African-American entertainers—including Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington—have performed at the Howard Theater. Some of them even launched their careers there. However, by 1980, The Howard, which is located in a traditionally African-American neighborhood, had fallen into disrepair and was set to be torn down.
But the arts community joined forces to save the building and restore it to its previous grandeur, and now the sound of music once again fills the historic venue, which has played—and continues to play—a big part in black history.
Built in 1910, it was the largest theater in the world for African-American entertainers and audiences. In the 1930s, Washington-born composer and big-band leader Duke Ellington made his mark at the Howard. Black artists like Diane Ross and the Supremes also graced its stage. Grammy award winning singer Marvin Gaye was discovered here. Read more ..
|James Bowman||April 26th 2012|
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope. Directed by Morgan Spurlock. Starring Stan Lee, Seth Green, Seth Rogen.
The most interesting thing about Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope, a new documentary by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), is how shy and even shamefaced its author is about those ironies which, in his hands, would once have been piquant if not slashing. Comic-Con, the annual gathering in San Diego of the nation’s most fanatical aficionados of comic books and the various forms of cartoon or cartoon-like entertainment that are made from them, is a natural subject for satire, but Mr. Spurlock’s satirical sword appears to be blunted and his lance broken. Never hitherto reluctant to push himself in front of his own camera, here he hides from it like a nymph surprised at her toilette. We may deduce from this unaccustomed reticence that he is himself enough of a comix geek — or else he is so much in need of the cooperation of those who are — that he has to treat with the utmost sympathy and affection grown-up people who dress as superheroes or who travel thousands of miles to buy an "action figure" doll or those with real jobs who aspire, mostly in vain, to draw comic books for a living.
Satire, it’s true, is often at its most effective when the satirist can reveal a sneaking sympathy with his victim, but there’s nothing sneaking about Mr Spurlock’s sympathy. It’s rather the satire that sneaks. Having reined in his sense of the ridiculous for most of the film, he lets it have its head only very briefly at the very end in a series of interview comments made by some of those who have appeared, up until this point, as geek-like as himself.
The film ends with a comment by Kevin Smith, the barefoot and obese director of Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jersey Girl et cetera, who could also be the prototype of Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons," to the effect that, if he had been alive in the 1940s, he would perforce have had to concern himself in some way with the fact that the world was at war. Not anymore. "Now it’s: ‘Did you see they changed Wonder Woman’s pants?’ That’s f***** up." Not that there’s anything wrong with that. F***** up it may be, but one suspects that that’s sort of what he likes about comic fandom. The same goes for Morgan Spurlock. Read more ..
Books and Authors
|Martin Barillas||April 25th 2012|
Cutting Edge Senior Correspondent
Adolf Hiter's autobiography Mein Kampf is poised to be published again in Germany, where Nazism took root and once flourished- some 67 years after it was last published in the country. The copyright for the hate-filled and racist book has been kept out of public view since the end of the Second World War by law, but will make a comeback in 2015 when the copyright expires. At that time, an annotated version will be made available to school across Germany.
The state of Bavaria, which became the heir to all of Hitler's works, property and money following his 1945 suicide in Berlin, claims the children should have copies available that include expert analysis and comments from historians which refute Nazi ideology, the Daily Mail reported. Even though it is legal to possess a copy of Mein Kampf, any printing or prominent displays of the book are prohibited out of concern that it may still inspire racism and Nazism.
Bavaria has now given permission for the rest of Germany to freely print the book, with includes diatribes against Jews and Slavs and the prophecy of a German war of conquest in the east. Mein Kampf, which translates as My Struggle or My Battle, is a combination of Hitler's autobiography and political ideology. Mein Kampf was written while he was in jail following the failed 1923 Munich Putsch and was published in 1925. The book includes racist diatribes against Jews and their 'twin evil', communism. Read more ..
Art in Nature
|Adam Phillips||April 25th 2012|
|Fluorescent coral Scolymia cubensis|
(credit: Twilight Zone Expedition Team 2007, NOAA-OE)
Of all the wondrous survival strategies nature’s creatures have evolved, one of the most dazzling is the ability of some animals to generate light to find their prey, avoid becoming prey and to attract a mate.
A museum exhibit in New York explores this ability, known as bioluminescence. The American Museum of Natural History’s “Creatures of Light” exhibit features jellyfish that glow green, anglerfish whose lantern-like bulbs dangle from their foreheads, and luminous glowworms that hang mucus-like strands from cave ceilings to attract and ensnare their prey.
“Some of the stuff is just incredible,” says museum provost Michael Novacek, who's especially intrigued by the bioluminescent creatures that inhabit the deep oceans. “They are probably the most inventive of all the bioluminescent creatures because they have to be. Because it’s totally dark. So that’s probably where the greatest potential for discovery is, too. There are so many things down there we haven’t even described.”
Up to 90 percent of the habitable earth is underwater, and most of the animals that live in the pitch black water below depths of 700 meters are bioluminescent. That’s where the anglerfish and hatchetfish live. Read more ..
War Against the Weak
|Martin Barillas||April 23rd 2012|
Investigative journalist and author Edwin Black will launch the new expanded edition of his award-winning bestseller War Against the Weak during a live global event in the North Carolina General Assembly’s Legislative Auditorium in Raleigh, NC, at noon on April 25.
See the Live Global Launch here
The book has a special appendix on North Carolina’s program. During the launch event, Black will present his new findings on North Carolina’s program of eugenic genocide against its own citizens, which, he states, was executed in lockstep with national and Nazi eugenic leaders throughout America and in the Third Reich. After his presentation, Black will answer questions live from both audience members and remote participants worldwide. Advance requests have already come in from concentration camp scholars in Poland, genetic study groups in San Francisco, and from survivors of the North Carolina program.
NC State Rep. Earline Parmon of Winston-Salem will introduce the program and Black's presentation. Rep. Parmon, along with Rep. Larry Womble, has championed the cause of compensation for the state's surviving eugenic victims. More than 27 states joined the shameful decades-long utopian campaign of medically and legislatively engineered racial supremacy. But only one state, North Carolina, is now readying a massive plan of financial reparations to its surviving victims. Just how much North Carolina should pay—and who should write the check—is now the subject of a historically wrenching debate. Many suggest the legislature will vote $50,000 for each surviving victim.
The new appendix to War Against the Weak reveals that North Carolina eugenic officials in the 1930s and 1940s were less concerned about the state’s population than doing its bit to advance the worldwide campaign to create a Master Race. Raceologists at the apex of American eugenics were working with North Carolina officials. These include Harry Laughlin of the Carnegie Institution’s Eugenics Record Office. In 1938, Laughlin had set into motion Connecticut governor Wilbur Cross’s plan to declare thousands of Connecticut’s residents “unfit aliens,” and “deport” them to their “ancestral states,”including North Carolina. Under the state plan, never executed, Connecticut citizens would be stripped of their assets before deportation. It was presumed these “displaced” Americans would be so numerous and without funds, that they would be housed in receiver state confinement camps where they would be mass sterilized. Euthanasia, long a cause celebre of eugenicists, was also explored if a way could be found to make it legal. Laughlin’s plan was aborted when Governor Cross failed in his 1938 re-election bid. Nazi eugenics collapsed when the Third Reich fell in 1945. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Cathy Majtenyi||April 22nd 2012|
In the informal settlement of Dagoretti in Nairobi, Kenya, a 13-member group called “Slum Drummers” builds drums, xylophones, and other musical instruments out of materials from dumpsites and metal scrap yards. They use their music to encourage young people to stay away from drugs and to stay in school.
It's hard to imagine that this instrument, called a kalimba, is actually an old cooking pot, that has been fished out of this place. But Nairobi’s "Slum Drummers" are masters at making beautiful music from less-than-beautiful objects. Like these tubes that produce a distinctive twanging sound when hit.
“It is called the tubaphone, from the word “tube,” because it is made of the tube," said Joel Muiruri, a singer and percussionist with Slum Drummers. "You see, we use the recycled things. The tubes that are normally used in the sewages and everything, we recycle them and use them as a tubaphone. In our group, the tubaphone is like a piano: it gives us the pitch and the notes.”
Band members make all their instruments using materials they collect from dumpsites, metal scrap yards, or even their neighbors. Muiruri says this differentiates Slum Drummers from all other bands and sends a powerful message to the poor. “You cannot show them that we are buying instruments - how will they be able to buy instruments? We want to show them that, [by using] what you are living with, you can make a difference with that," said Muiruri. Read more ..
The Edge of Film
|Penelope Poulou||April 22nd 2012|
"One Day on Earth," a film created by Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Littman, documents one day in the life of humanity from every country on the planet.
More than 15,000 people contributed footage from their ethnic communities and helped to create a global patchwork of universal themes - including birth, love, creativity, war and death - all filmed on the same day, Oct. 10, 2010.
The film will be presented in 170 countries on Earth Day this Sunday, April 22. The filmmakers describe in their own words how the film was made.
According to director Kyle Ruddick, the idea for the film was inspired by music. "You can take music from all over the world and you can combine it," he says, "and I thought that cinema should have something that immediate, that in the moment, and I had this idea that basically, what if as many people across the world filmed at the same time during one day."
The film is roughly based on the cycle of life. "There is definitely a story to this movie, there is a narrative," Ruddick says. "But the way that we found it, was to really listen to all the perspectives and go through 3,000 hours of footage. It was a very laborious and enjoyable process, actually. It was about the discovery of what people have sent to us. And that was really an exciting process because every day you are discovering something new you didn’t know about that was beautiful and profound and from a place in the world you hadn’t seen before.” Read more ..
|James Bowman||April 21st 2012|
Bully. Director: Lee Hirsch. Writer: Cynthia Lowen. Length: 90 mins.
When former Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois went to prison last month, Jay Leno inevitably made a couple of jokes about the fact in the monologue to his late night show on NBC. One of them had to do with Mr. Blagojevich's chances of finding another former Illinois governor as his cell mate. The other went something like this. "Rod Blagojevich says he guarantees his conviction will be overturned, but I have a guarantee of my own. I guarantee that within days of his going into prison, it will be Rod who is overturned. . ." If, that is, you catch his drift. No one seems to have protested against Mr. Leno's making a joke about one of the most horrific forms of bullying imaginable, anal rape, so perhaps we can take his and his audience's inclination to mirth on such a subject as a good illustration of the difficulties of persuasion lying in the way of Lee Hirsch's documentary, Bully. I think it's also an illustration of what is wrong with the film.
What's wrong is that there are so many ways of distancing ourselves from the problem that it can hardly be said to be a problem. That Rod B. is a corrupt former governor caught out in an incredibly clumsy attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat and who subsequently made a buffoonish attempt to capitalize on his fame doubtless helps to distance him, in Jay's mind, from Jay himself and those who laugh at his jokes. They're not the ones being raped.
Another form of distancing was summed up by the South Park kids: "Let's all join together and make bullying kill itself. Bullying is an ugly thing, let's shove its face in the dirt." The point is that you can't really treat bullying as a problem in the abstract, apart from the context in which some particular act of bullying takes place. The only way history shows of fighting bullying is by fighting back against the bully - which, in our faulty modern way of looking at things makes the bully indistinguishable from the bullied. That must be why Mr. Hirsch acts as if fighting back were not an option. His victims all have to retain their pure victimhood. Read more ..
|George Hunka||April 19th 2012|
The Homer Enciclopaedia (3 vols.) Margarit Finkelberg, editor. Wiley-Blackwell. 2011. 1160 pages.
Homer, one of the most famous poets of all time, is firmly entrenched in the Western canon as a master of classical literature. His two most renowned works, the Iliad and the Odyssey, are core texts for students and scholars alike. Now, Prof. Margalit Finkelberg of Tel Aviv University's Department of Classics has created an illuminating new tool, the world's first Homer Encyclopedia.
Published in three volumes by Wiley-Blackwell last year and more recently in electronic form, the encyclopedia is an invaluable window into Homer's life and work, elucidating the characters and settings of his work from primary characters to the smallest village mentioned in passing. The volumes also examine the pre-history of Homer and the period in which he lived and wrote, and how the text has been received and transmitted by various cultures and societies throughout history to the present day. One of its groundbreaking areas of research is the reception of Homer in the Jewish and Arabic traditions, a subject that has rarely been explored.
With contributions from 132 scholars worldwide, this three volume work is a universal exploration of all things Homer. "Through this encyclopedia, you can enter Homer's world and get lost in it," says Prof. Finkelberg, who was recently awarded the 2012 Rothschild Prize in the Humanities. "It is unique for its comprehensive view -- the entire field is seen as vibrant, alive and contemporary. Homer's work is put in a modern living context, rather than approached as an impenetrable classic monument." Read more ..
|Diego DiGhero||April 15th 2012|
Bestselling author and investigative journalist Edwin Black will address the interfaith community of Regina, Saskatchewan in Canada to observe Holocaust Day this week. In a six event scholar-in-residence, Black will present his latest findings on IBM’s role in co-planning and co-organizing the Holocaust under the micromanagement of its president Thomas J. Watson.
As part of his main interfaith lecture series, Black will address a group of several hundred Catholic high school students and several hundred Lutheran college students, as well as the Beth Jacob Synagogue, and then business students at the University of Regina. The culminating event will be the community’s official Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Day observance. The author’s emphasis will be on corporate misconduct and the hidden aspect of Holocaust facilitation undertaken by IBM during the 12-year Holocaust. Black’s five communitywide interfaith events are sponsored Sask Culture, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Jewish Council and the Beth Jacob Synagogue in association with The Regina Catholic Schools, Regina Public Schools, Luther College High School, University of Regina, Paul J. Hill School of Business and the Kenneth Levene Graduate School of Business, and cosponsored by the 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, and the Jewish Virtual Library.
IBM and the Holocaust enjoys more than a million books in print in more than 14 languages. It has been lauded worldwide for its detailed documentation. Newsweek reviewed the award-winning volume as “An explosive book... Backed by exhaustive research, Black's case is simple and stunning: that IBM facilitated the identification and roundup of millions of Jews during the 12 years of the Third Reich... Black's evidence may be the most damning to appear yet against a purported corporate accomplice.” Read more ..
|Hillary Senour||April 15th 2012|
My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Dawn Eden. Ave Maria Press. 2012. 256 pages.
In her new book, author Dawn Eden helps bring healing to victims of childhood sexual abuse while clearing up common misconceptions surrounding the sainthood of the chastity martyrs. “It's our duty as members of the faithful to really seek out truth about what the Church teaches and to correct inaccuracies when they arise on this,” Eden said.
Although she found peace within the Catholic Church after her conversion from Judaism, Eden faced “despair” when she first learned about St. Maria Goretti, a 19th century Italian girl who was stabbed to death while fighting off an attempted sexual assault. Initially, Eden – who suffered childhood sexual abuse herself – thought that the young girl was a saint simply because she died and was successful in preventing sexual assault from occurring. “For an abuse victim, that's terribly painful because when the story is presented that way it can give the impression that if you have actually been abused then it means God didn't love you enough to let you be a saint.”
But Eden says she eventually found great solace when she realized that the Church “has always taught that virginity resides in the will to remain a virgin.” “According to St. Augustine's City of God and St. Thomas Aquinas's 'Summa Theologiae' – and this remains official doctrine today – a virgin,” Eden explained, “who was raped is still a virgin in the eyes of the Church. He or she is not a 'secondary virgin,' but a true virgin.”
In the case of St. Maria Goretti, Eden clarifies in her book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints (Ave Maria Press),” that Goretti's sainthood comes not from the fact that she “wasn't violated,” but “because she lived a holy life and was always making of herself, body and soul, a gift to God.” “Because of her recognition that her body was a temple of the Holy Spirit,” Eden said, “she resisted her attacker. But her sanctity came from her will to resist." Read more ..
|Bruce Chadwick||April 15th 2012|
The Soap Myth. Written by Jeff Cohen. Directed by Arnold Mittelman. Playing at the National Jewish Theater, Steinberg Center, New York.
I try to read, watch, and see as much about the Holocaust as I possibly can, and the most horrific disaster in human history still startles and disgusts me. How could it possibly have happened? What did the world learn from it?
Yet another chapter in the story unfolds in The Soap Myth, a gut-wrenching play by Jeff Cohen about the longstanding myth that the Germans used the fat of dead Jews to make bars of soap during World War II. In the play, concentration camp survivor Milton Saltzman, after failing in several attempts to get Holocaust museum officials to accept his contention, based on his first-person account of a casket full of the soap bars at a funeral, corrals a reporter. He tells her the story and she goes to officials at a museum. They tell her that they had met with Saltzman but concluded that there was not enough evidence to support his claim.
The play, produced by the National Jewish Theater, is a tough examination of the Holocaust and its survivors. No punches are pulled. It is an emotional drama and an eye-opening history lesson. Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||April 15th 2012|
The Great Divergence: America's Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It. Timothy Noah. Bloomsburgy Press. 2012. 272 pp.
Timothy Noah is a reasonable person. Like many reasonable persons, he tries to bring people around to his point of view -- a point of view informed by statistics and expert opinion -- by supporting it evidence and anticipating objections. This is typically how informed analysts like himself assert the reality of climate change, for instance. It's also why people like him are sometimes baffled by the indifference, if not hostility, with which their opinions are met. It's not that they don't comprehend denial or cynical short-term self-interest. But can't their fellow Americans understand this is serious -- and that in the long run (which really isn't all that long) indifference and cynical self-interest are naive?
Noah believes they can understand (or at least some people can, and will). And so in The Great Divergence he marshals a great deal of evidence and sculpts it into an impressively svelte book to demonstrate that income inequality in the United States is real, growing, and dangerous. I believe him. Of course, I believed that income inequality is real, growing and dangerous before I ever picked up the book, and in this regard I'm like most of the people who will ultimately read it (or previously read the essays from Slate on which the book is based).
Which is not to say that I didn't learn a good deal from him: I gained more clarity on which societal forces explain income inequality more credibly than others (women in the workforce and immigration are not really major factors, while the increasing costs of college education, the decline of unions, and Republican presidents really are major factors). Noah understands perfectly well that many of the measures he advocates, like raising taxes, re-regulating Wall Street, and improving education, are not likely to happen overnight. But as he shrewdly asserts, one need not have a detailed blueprint for every proposal, nor hope to resolve every issue, to still assert that problems are real and can at least be ameliorated. The Buffet Rule raising taxes on "millionaires and billionaires" (to quote President Obama's favorite meme of the moment) would not come close to erasing the national debt. But it's still a worthwhile start. Read more ..
|Susan Rosenfeld||April 14th 2012|
In the Author’s Note prefacing his book on the FBI, Tim Weiner describes Enemies as the “history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a secret intelligence service,” its major mission, according to Weiner, for most of the past hundred years. The book chronicles the “tug-of-war between national security and civil liberties”—except that as Weiner portrays the FBI, with rare exceptions, there is no tug-of-war. “Security” far outweighs civil liberties and the Constitution.
This book is not an objective study of FBI history. Instead it selects examples that bolster the contention that the FBI put its wars against anarchists, Communists, the New Left, and foreign and domestic terrorists ahead of any consideration for the Bill of Rights. Weiner concedes that proponents from all these groups actually committed acts of espionage or violence. But for the most part, he features perpetrators who were never punished.
Weiner also oversells the role that surveillance played in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and beyond. As former foreign counterintelligence (FCI) agent Robert Lamphere noted in The FBI-KGB War, “only a small fraction of the New York field office [in the 1940s]—fifty or sixty men out of a thousand—was concerned with Soviet espionage and few agents outside the squad really knew or cared much about Soviet spies.” Add to that, foreign counterintelligence work was secret and could go on for years without resulting in any arrests or glory for its agents. That discouraged them from pursuing careers in FCI. By the post-Hoover era, foreign counterintelligence had become a backwater where one could place agents with the least ability such as Richard Miller, the first FBI agent to be accused and convicted of espionage.
At the same time, Weiner either minimizes Bureau successes or turns them into reasons for criticism. Prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, for example, the FBI had identified potential Japanese, German, and Italian spies and saboteurs and secured their arrest. Hoover opposed the 1942 internment of West Coast Japanese because in Hoover’s mind, everyone who posed a danger had already been detained. Instead, Weiner chose to emphasize whatever illegal techniques the FBI used to identify some of these enemies. Read more ..
|Mel Gibson mug shot|
It seems that Mel Gibson has not changed his ways.
In a letter to the Hollywood star, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas told Gibson, "you hate Jews," and detailed the numerous occasions on which Gibson referred to Jews as "Hebes" and "oven dodgers" and "Jew boys." The occasion for the letter was the cancellation of the project for a planned movie about the Jewish Maccabees. Gibson had hired Eszterhas to write a script for the movie, which movie studio Warner Bros. recently shelved.
According to an exclusive report at The Wrap Web site, which published the letter from Eszterhas to Gibson in full, the screenwriter questioned Gibson's intentions for the project entirely.
"I've come to the conclusion that you never had, or have, any intention of making a film about the Maccabees. I believe you announced the project with great fanfare -- a 'Jewish Braveheart' -- in an attempt to deflect the continuing charges of antisemitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career. I've come to the conclusion that you used me. More exactly, you used my credentials ... I've come to the conclusion that the reason you won't make 'The Maccabees' is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews."
Eszterhas, who has written two movies that dealt with antisemitism, "Music Box" and "Betrayed," then goes on to detail the many instances in which Gibson referred to Jews in a derogatory manner, insulted the Jewish religion or questioned the veracity of the Holocaust.
"You said the Holocaust was 'mostly a lot of horseshit.' You said the Torah made reference to the sacrifice of Christian babies and infants. When I told you that you were confusing the Torah with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, one of the most scurrilous antisemitic tracts ever written, you insisted, 'it's in the Torah -- it's in there.' (It isn't.)" Read more ..
|James Bowman||April 12th 2012|
Damsels in Distress. Director: Whit Stillman. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Carrie MacLemore, Analeigh Tipton, Zach Woods. Length: 90 mins.
The splendid new movie by Whit Stillman, Damsels in Distress, begins with a musical allusion to "Gaudeamus Igitur," the medieval student song that formed a leading motif of Brahms’s "Academic Festival Overture" and is still sung in some European universities today. The song’s real name is De Brevitate Vitae and it begins like this:
Iuvenes dum sumus;
Post iucundam iuventutem,
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
[Let us therefore rejoice,
While we are young;
After our joyous youth,
After an irksome old age,
The earth will have us.]
You can hear Mario Lanza singing it, with male voice chorus, in a version from the 1954 movie of The Student Prince here. He and the boys only sing the first verse, but it is enough to remind us of the point of the word igitur, or "therefore." Life is short, therefore we should rejoice — and youthful rejoicing gains both in joy and poignancy from a glance forward to life’s melancholy terminus. Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||April 12th 2012|
America's First Great Depression: Economic Crisis and Political Disorder After the Crisis of 1837. Alasdair Roberts. Cornell. 2012.
By now, the scenario is a familiar one: a sovereign state, deeply indebted by many years of public sector spending, is making foreign lenders nervous. The state needs more money; lenders insist on austerity. But government officials, chary of offending voters, prevaricate while various schemes for restructuring get floated and clamor builds in the streets. Eventually, the underlying realities assert themselves and retrenchment takes place.
We know this as a story of Greece and Ireland. But the states Alasdair Roberts are talking about are Illinois, Pennsylvania and Mississippi, among others. And the financial crisis in question erupted not in 2007, but in 1837. Welcome to what he calls the First Great Depression.
As he explains in his note on method, Roberts comes to this history from a relatively unusual angle. A professor of law and public policy at Suffolk University Law School, his previous three books have dealt with contemporary subjects. This well-documented tale, grounded in primary sources, is embedded between discussions of the current economic crisis. His larger point is geopolitical: Americans today fret about finding themselves at the mercy of foreign powers for the first time in its history. In fact, he says, in the broad sweep of U.S. history, autonomy has been the exception, not the rule. The past is prologue.
Roberts begins America's First Great Depression with an impressionistic survey of hard times, rich with anecdote. He does not outright reject the widespread view that the Panic of 1837 resulted from the foolish actions of the Jackson administration, which in destroying the Bank of the United States created a boom and bust by channeling cash to smaller banks that lacked the experience to manage it properly. But, he says, the origins of the crisis are closer to London than Washington; Great Britain had its own problems with credit, food supply, and a global marketplace that was far less well understood and fluid than it is today. And since Britain essentially underwrote the economic development of the whole western hemisphere, a Barings sneeze caused American flu. Read more ..
|Jeremy Rosen||April 11th 2012|
Thinking, Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2011. 512 pages.
I must recommend Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. I was won over at the very start when he describes his conversations with his late friend and collaborator Amos Tversky in the Rimon restaurant in downtown Jerusalem, just off Ben Yehudah. Ah, the memories flooded back of the many times I sat there for a quick lunch. But unfortunately it was one year before them; otherwise I might have become a wiser man.
The Israeli Nobel Prize winner for economics has written a popular analysis of how we fool ourselves into believing that we think rationally and our actions are logical, most of the time. It would fascinate me anyway because of its insights into human behavior. But, as always, I look for a religious angle and a rationalization for my own religious behavior. Many of the examples are old chestnuts. But I want to focus on two of them that relate to the function of religion.
The first is a much argued about study. In the 1960s, the psychologist Walter Mischel and his students exposed preschool children to a dilemma. They were given a choice between a small reward, one treat they could have right away, or a larger reward of two treats if they waited 15 minutes under stressful conditions–alone in a room facing a table with a single treat and a bell that the child could ring if it wanted the one treat. No toys or books or other distractions. The experimenter then left the room to return only if the bell was rung, or after 15 minutes to come with the other treat. Meanwhile the children and their antics during the waiting period were observed through a one-way mirror and recorded.
About a third of the children managed to wait 15 minutes for the bigger reward. Ten or fifteen years, later, a gap had opened up between the “resisters” and the “indulgers”; the resisters registered a higher degree of executive control in cognitive tasks, especially the ability to redirect their attention effectively, and they were less likely to take drugs. The children who resisted had substantially higher scores on college entrance exams and better “emotional intelligence”. Researchers from the University of Oregon took the experiments further and demonstrated a close connection between children’s ability to control attention and to control their emotions. Read more ..
|Melanie Kirkpatrick ||April 10th 2012|
Escape from Camp 14. Blaine Harden. Viking Press. 2012. 416 pages.
There is no dispute about the existence of the North Korean gulag. Anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can go to Google Earth and zoom in on a string of vast prison camps located in the unforgiving, mountainous center of the country. The U.S. State Department and international human-rights organizations put the number of inmates at about 200,000. As many as one million North Koreans are believed to have perished there. Only three people are known to have escaped.
One is Shin Dong-hyuk, a young man who defied the odds and managed to flee, first from the gulag and then from North Korea itself. He made it to China and eventually reached safety in South Korea in 2006. His remarkable story is told by Blaine Harden, a former Washington Post reporter, in "Escape From Camp 14." It is a searing account of one man's incarceration and personal awakening in North Korea's highest-security prison.
The book is also an indictment of the barbaric regime that rules North Korea, the world's most repressive totalitarian state. Mr. Shin is roughly the same age as Kim Jong Eun, who took over as North Korea's dictator after his father's death in December. Mr. Harden notes that the ruler and Mr. Shin "personify the antipodes of privilege and privation in North Korea, a nominally classless society where, in fact, breeding and bloodlines decide everything."
Mr. Shin was born in Camp 14, the offspring of two inmates who had been rewarded for good behavior. The prison authorities assigned his mother to his father and allowed them to sleep together five nights a year. The boy barely knew his father, living with his mother and older brother until he reached his early teens, when he was moved to a dormitory. Mr. Shin told the author that he had no experience of maternal love. He viewed his mother not as a source of affection but as a competitor for the limited amount of food that was available to them. Read more ..
Arts on Edge
|Madeeha Anwar||April 9th 2012|
In a scene that would be familiar to generations of artisans from the past, Anthony Corradetti shapes molten glass in the same way glass blowers before him have done for centuries. Working in a Baltimore, Maryland, studio converted from an historic 19th-century foundry building, Corradetti is not making ordinary household items. Instead, he creates works of art.
The craft of glass blowing dates back more than 2,000 years. In the United States, it can be traced back to the early 1600s and the earliest European settlers. In the last half-century, glass blowing has enjoyed a resurgence, but this time as an art form.
“It was a kind of a field that got taken over by industry,” Corradetti says. “And they needed less glassblowers because everything was made by machines. But in the late 60s or early 70s, people started treating it more as an art form and teaching it in art schools. And now there’re just some amazing things being made out of glass in small studios, such as mine, all over the country.” Read more ..
The Edge of Film
|Penelope Poulou||April 8th 2012|
The documentary “Bully” is a bleak movie that focuses on the ordeal of bullied kids in America. Originally, the film received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association which meant that millions of kids 17 and under would not have been able to watch it. And that sparked a controversy. Now, the MPAA has changed its mind. VOA’s Penelope Poulou talked with the filmmaker and with a bullied teen who drafted a petition against the MPAA.
Tyler Long was a happy little boy. But at 17, he committed suicide because he was bullied at school, says his father David Long. "We had heard that he had his head shoved into a wall locker. So kids had told him to go hang himself. That he is worthless. And I think he got to the point where enough was enough," he said.
Tyler's story is one of five family accounts director Lee Hirsch presents in Bully, a harrowing documentary about bullying in schools.
"It happens in urban schools, it happens in rural schools. I don't believe that the problems the families in this film experience are unique to small town America," he said. From the Long family in Georgia, the film takes us to Alex Libby and his family in Iowa. For years, Alex endured abuse at the hands of his schoolmates. "They'd punch me, strangle me, sit on me," he said. Read more ..
|James Bowman||April 8th 2012|
Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Directors: Mark DuPlass and Jay DuPlassStarring: Jason Segal, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon.
The title of Jeff, Who Lives at Home announces a movie that must be a variation on a now common theme: that of the young male slacker in his late 20s and approaching middle age who somehow can’t manage to get off his parents’ couch and grow up, as generations past have done from necessity. This character shows signs of becoming the great comic archetype of our time, as the drunk was of the 1950s, and for the same reason — namely that he is a kind of cultural memento mori, a reminder to us all of what, even if we aren’t already, we might easily become. We laugh at him partly to put some distance between us, but he’s getting to be a very familiar figure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, "In spring 2011, 5.9 million young adults age 25-34 (14.2 percent) resided in their parents’ household, compared with 4.7 million (11.8 percent) before the recession, an increase of 2.4 percentage points."
Jeff, the movie, belongs to a sub-genre of its kind in which the slacker meets the holy fool or demon lover. Others with a similar theme include Our Idiot Brother and Hesher and, perhaps, in another way, Cyrus of two years ago by the same auteurs, the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay (Baghead, The Puffy Chair) who are loosely associated with the independent film movement known as "Mumblecore."
As I understand it, this is a term used to describe movies that seem to be not only about but by pot-smoking slackers. They look back to the original slacker, Richard Linklater, whose 1991 movie of that name first popularized the term. In Cyrus, the presence of a teenage son in loco parentis, as it were, to the love-life of his single mother, together with the weirdness of the son, played by Jonah Hill, gave the movie its edginess, but Cyrus himself turned out to be only slightly scary without being charismatic. Read more ..
The Edge of Architecture
|Sarah Williams||April 6th 2012|
Read more ..
Hutongs are a traditional form of architecture in Beijing that once dominated the city, but are now found mostly near the Forbidden City in the heart of the Chinese capital.
But China’s economic boom, as well as the decaying nature of many of the structures, have made the hutongs, with their central location, prime candidates for destruction. “A hutong is actually an alley, however the meaning is much greater than a physical space,” said Beijing-based American filmmaker Jonah Kessel. “In Beijing, and China, it kind of refers to a way of life, almost a communal atmosphere.” Kessel decided to make a documentary about the decline of the hutongs. “I moved into the neighborhood where the issue exists, so it was in front of my face before I actually went full-forward with the project,” said Kessel.
The result is “The Fate of Old Beijing,” a documentary exploring the city’s hutongs. “It is a complicated issue,” said Kessel. “They are incredibly old structures and they haven’t been maintained, the people who have been living in them for extremely long periods of time, family after family, generations, haven’t had money to actually modernize them and take care of them.” Many of Beijing’s hutongs date back to the 13th century.
World Jewish Daily
Emma Thompson is one of three dozen English actors, directors, and writers who are urging a ban of Israel's national theater company in an upcoming Shakespeare festival.
High drama, indeed.
Thompson and her cohorts say Israel's Habima theater company hasn't done enough to distance itself from Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank. “Habima [sic] has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” says a letter published March 29 in England’s Guardian newspaper. What really miffs the actors is that Habima did not participate in a boycott of a cultural center that opened in Ariel, a West Bank settlement. Therefore, say the artists, “by inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law. "We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so that the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land."
Now that they have made this momentous decision, these same British actors, writers and directors will surely ban all Palestinian theater companies from ever participating in any British festival on account of the P.A.'s enthusiastic endorsement of terrorists and terrorism generally.
In fact, they will surely protest when any theater company from any country that has been accused of human rights violations comes to England. The Chinese theater company might be a good place to start.
Wait, stop the presses, this just in: Other companies participating in the festival include the National Theatre of China, which will perform “Richard III” in Mandarin, and the Ashtar Theatre, a Palestinian company that will perform “Richard II” in Arabic. Read more ..
Watergate: The Novel. Thomas Mallon. Pantheon. 2012. 448 pages.
Even when it was as fresh as as the latest edition of a newspaper, Watergate was complicated. Yes, the essence of the story -- failed attempt to break into the opposition's headquarters leads to cover-up and eventual resignation of a president -- is clear enough. But the cast of characters in the saga is enormous, and the various contexts for the story include the botched Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Vietnam War, and an entirely separate scandal involving the Vice-President, among others.
The saga has been widely dissected, beginning of course with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men (1974), the movie of the same year that followed two years later, and countless subsequent accounts that stretch from the journalism of Jonathan Schell to the the multi-volume biography of Stephen Ambrose to the biopic of Oliver Stone (in which Anthony Hopkins does a pretty good Richard Nixon). Should you ever wish to wade into the that water, there's plenty of people waiting to guide you. Read more ..
|Lawrence S. Wittner||April 1st 2012|
The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources. Michael Klare. Metropolitan Books. 2012.
Is it possible to cope with the immense dangers posed by the rapid consumption of the world’s resources? In The Race for What’s Left, Michael Klare claims that it is -- but only through a significant change in behavior. Klare is the author of fourteen books, the most recent of which focus on resources and international conflict. He is also the defense correspondent for The Nation and the director of the Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts.
In The Race for What’s Left -- a book displaying his stunning knowledge of drilling and mining techniques, obscure minerals, geology, and remote regions of the world -- Klare argues that “the world is entering an era of pervasive, unprecedented resource scarcity.” Both government and corporate officials “recognize that existing reserves are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.” In their view, “the only way for countries to ensure an adequate supply of these materials, and thereby keep their economies humming, is to acquire new, undeveloped reservoirs in those few locations that have not already been completely drained. This has produced a global drive to find and exploit the world’s final resource reserves” -- not only energy and mineral resources, but arable land. Thus, a great scramble by private corporations and government entities is now underway to own or control resources in the Arctic, in northern Siberia, in the deep waters of the Atlantic, in remote regions of Africa, and in other previously inaccessible, largely undeveloped regions of the world.
Of course, there has long been a competition for resources among nations. But, as Klare shows, the current struggle is becoming fiercer. “Whereas previous centuries generally witnessed conflict between just a few dominant powers,” he notes, “today many more countries are industrialized or on the path to industrialization -- so the number of major contenders for resources is greater than ever before.” Moreover, “these new challengers also often harbor large and growing populations, whose desire for consumer goods of all sorts cannot be long denied. At the same time, many existing sources of supply are in decline while few new reservoirs are waiting on the horizon.” Consequently, “with more nations in the resource race and fewer prizes to be divided among them, the competition is heating up and governments are being pressed to assume a more active role.” Read more ..
Music on Edge
|Katherine Cole||March 31st 2012|
Earl Scruggs, whose distinctive style of bluegrass banjo picking influenced countless players and helped to shape the sound of modern country music, died in a Nashville hospital Wednesday, March 28. He was 88 years old.
Before Earl Scruggs, most banjo players used a two-fingered picking style. But all that changed after the 21-year-old North Carolina native joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in 1945, and brought his three- fingered rolls to Nashville. “I used to play with just the finger and thumb, which they call two-fingered style. Then I started playing a tune when I was about 10 or 11 and this third finger started working, which filled in some spaces. And that excited me because I could play some other tunes that I couldn’t play with the two finger style. So I just kept working with what I had.”
Before Earl Scruggs, the banjo was often considered a novelty item in a band. It was usually played by a comic character, not a serious musician. As fellow banjo player Béla Fleck explains, Earl Scruggs changed all that. “I think it was a combination of an incredible rhythmic approach with a very simple and beautiful harmonic language,” he said. “He plays the banjo and it grabs you just like the lead vocal would. An amazing technique. They called him ‘the Paganini of the banjo’ in the New York Times when he played at Carnegie Hall. And I think he was just a beautiful, beautiful player. I think the lessons that you learn from someone like that transcend bluegrass and are just about music.” Read more ..
|James Bowman||March 30th 2012|
Friends With Kids. Director: Jennifer Westfeldt. Starring: Megan Fox, Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt. Length: 90 mins.
The thing I always think about movies like Friends With Kids — movies in which two people who are obviously made for each other resolutely maintain to themselves and the world that they are just good friends until the moment of epiphany when they discover they are totally hot for each other — is to wonder if such stupidity really does exist in nature or if it is entirely made up for ideological reasons. I lean toward the latter explanation. Feminists, I think, suffer from the terminal naiveté of always being ready to believe in the irrelevance of sex in human relations — even relations between lustful males and the nubile females. It’s just something they have to believe, like "the personal is the political" or "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." What they mean is that’s how it should be. They state it in the indicative rather than the imperative in order to pretend to themselves that what should be already is — even though it often isn’t and sometimes never could be.
But the long-delayed romance between best friends Julie (Jennifer Westfeldt, who also wrote and directed the picture) and Jason (Adam Scott) is set in a movie with much larger ambitions. This is not just a romance but an essay in the thing to which romance was traditionally a prelude, namely family formation. If the two things had never been separated by the sexual revolution, a movie like this could never have been made. And for all its many faults — about which more in a moment — it does have the very large virtue of reintroducing the two to each other and making its intended audience of hip urban singles — and those who aspire to be or are nostalgic about having been among them — to think about what still seem to some of us the natural links between romantic love and families. Read more ..
The Edge of Film
|Thomas Doherty||March 28th 2012|
A lot of movies are important and admired—the National Film Registry list is a testament to just that—but only a handful are truly beloved. At the mention of their titles, the eyes get all moist and faraway and the mind’s projector unspools favorite scenes, frame for frame, the dialogue verbatim. We admire the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick. We get mushy over The Wizard of Oz, Shane, and E.T.
To Kill A Mockingbird, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, belongs in that rarified realm. Based on Harper Lee’s equally beloved novel, one of the few works of American literature high school students will read without a gun pointed to their heads, the Alan J. Pakula-produced, Robert Mulligan-directed, and Horton Foote-scripted adaptation is the perfect companion piece to the book, so in tune with the sensibility of Lee’s dappled prose, so evocative of the visionary gleam of childhood, that it shuts down all those dreary book-or-movie arguments: Atticus Finch is Gregory Peck is Atticus Finch. Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||March 25th 2012|
|Author Jonathan Haidt|
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt. Pantheon. 2012. 448 pages.
This book, the product of a powerful mind, integrates cutting-edge research from the disciplines of biology, psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, and other fields. It attempts to answer a deceptively simple question: How do people determine what is right, and how are we to understand the differences between them? Haidt's answer is that morality is largely a function of processes autonomous of conscious thought. To use a metaphor in a book chock full of mnemonic devices, our minds are like elephants on which reason is the rider -- but that the rider serves the elephant, not the other way around. And that we cannot really begin to have a meaningful political discourse until we recognize that the basis of our disagreements are never really about formal logic.
Haidt's assertion that explicit arguments are literally rationalizations for our deepest instincts has become something of a truism in recent neurological research (and a foundation of his last book, The Happiness Hypothesis). But this observation is merely the point of departure in The Righteous Mind. It turns out that Haidt's real agenda is to deconstruct the liberal secular disposition that he's clearly calculating is the default setting for readers of his work. This deconstruction involves pointing out the striking degree of parochialism on the part of those who consider themselves enlightened. He notes that most of the people who design social science assessments, along with the volunteers who participate in them, are WEIRD -- Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic -- and that such people are in fact a tiny minority of the global population. Gaining critical distance on this subset, which he acquired by spending time in India, has helped him to understand the world beyond the elite institutions (Penn, Chicago, the University of Virginia) where he has done most of his work. From there, Haidt goes on to posit that morality consists of a series of discrete sensors akin to the way those on our tongues determine our sense of taste. They are spectra of care/harm; liberty/oppression; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity/degradation. Liberals, he notes, have a very high degree of sensitivity to care criteria, along with aversion to oppression and and an emphasis on fairness (typically defined in terms of equality). Read more ..
|Alan Silverman||March 24th 2012|
Voice of America
The Hunger Games novels by author Suzanne Collins are international best-sellers, and now the first film based on that trilogyis poised to become a worldwide hit, propelling lead actress Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom.
In a distant future, to commemorate an uprising quelled by the government, children from the rebellious districts are chosen as "tributes" who battle to the death in a broadcast for the entertainment of the wealthy elite. When her younger sister is selected, Katniss, a teenager, steps forward to take her place.
Lawrence, who stars as Katniss, enters The Hunger Games as a reluctant warrior but grows into a symbol of bravery and hope.
"She is this incredible character in this incredible story for our generation," explains Lawrence.
The actress, 21, admits to some misgivings when she won the role of an icon.
"Personally I was nervous obviously because I knew that everything would change," she says. "I didn't know what would change and if I would like it or dislike it. But I knew it would never go back to normal. Then as an actress it's always scary because you're afraid you're going to be too well-known for one thing and then whatever you do after that it's just going to be 'oh look, Katniss is doing a period drama.' You know, that's just not good."
Born and raised in Kentucky, Lawrence was 14 when she convinced her parents to let her try acting. She never took lessons, but her natural talent quickly won her roles in TV shows and then films. Her breakout performance was as a teenager searching for her missing father in the 2010 drama Winter's Bone. It earned Lawrence a best actress Oscar nomination. At the time, she tried to take it in stride. Read more ..
|James Bowman||March 23rd 2012|
Le Gamin au Velo: The Kid with a Bike. Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne. Starring: Cecile de France, Thomas Doret. Length: 90 mins.
The worst thing that can happen to a child, at least from the child’s own point of view, is rejection by a parent. And maybe there is something even beyond that horror for a boy who is rejected by his father, since in that case the denial of love is compounded by a kind of denial of the child’s own existence. The man whose place you can’t help feeling you were born to take in this world tells you he doesn’t want you in his place anymore — or his world. It’s a bit like one of those "after-birth abortions," the apologists for which were recently shocked to learn had shocked even a culture inured, as our is, to abortion-on-demand.
Yet the story of such a rejection, like Le gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, may be robbed of a full portion of what would otherwise be its elemental power by having to be told, ex hypothesi, of a child, and through a child’s eyes. Much as we sympathize with any child who suffers such a ghastly rejection, we are still able to palliate the horror of the child’s experience to ourselves by reflecting that he is a child. He’ll get over it. Or, if not get over it, he will learn some coping mechanism and have a life of his own to compensate him for being turned out of others’ lives. The loss is not irrecoverable, as that of some deaths or a loss of position or reputation can be to an adult. Read more ..
|Dave DeForest||March 23rd 2012|
The Pilgrim. Hugh Nissenson. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 368 pages.
The popularity of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, has drawn public attention to the role of religion in American life, and especially in politics. But author Hugh Nissenson says America’s focus on religion is nothing new. In fact, he says the country has been preoccupied with religion since its founding.
The importance of religion to the birth of America comes into sharp focus in Nissenson’s new book, The Pilgrim, which follows the story of a Puritan Separatist who left England amid religious persecution in 1622, and settled in British America’s Massachusetts Bay Colony.
“It is not an unfamiliar American experience that a group of people come and find what they consider to be salvation in the ‘promised land.’ It is a replication always of the identification that they have with the children of Israel, with the Jews who wandered in the wilderness and found a promised land,” Nissenson said in an interview.
“The Mormon story is not exactly the same, but follows along many of the lines of wandering in the wilderness, coming to Salt Lake, ‘this must be the place,’ and finding what they consider to be redemption.”
Nissenson, known for bringing history alive in such acclaimed works as Tree of Life, does it again with The Pilgrim. The novel is presented as a first person account of the life of one man, the fictional Charles Wentworth. It comes in the form of a “confession” that Wentworth writes as a part of the process of joining a strict Puritan church.
“I hereby publicly confess my sins and declare my regeneration …” he begins.
In the manuscript, Wentworth describes the trials of his early life in England. After being scarred by smallpox and enduring the death of his fiancée, he boards a ship for America. He joins a group of Puritan Separatists who split from the official Church of England in hopes of establishing a more “pure” religious community.
Wentworth encounters a different set of challenges: bitter weather, starvation, and attacks from hostile Indians, native people who were massacred at the end of the story. Read more ..
Edge of Architecture
|James M. Thunder||March 22nd 2012|
|Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin|
It would not be a surprise if you have not heard of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (pronounced, in English, pew-jin). The BBC one-hour special in January observed that Pugin was far from being a household name in the UK – even though the UK is, as one of my professors who had studied at Cambridge declared, “Pugin Country” -- where the landscape is filled with buildings of his design: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, nine cathedrals, 100 Anglican and Catholic churches, monasteries, hospitals, barns, homes, railroad stations, and on and on. Not just the buildings, but everything inside the buildings: dinnerware, silverware, wallpaper, furniture, floor tile, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass windows. The Victoria and Albert Museum of London possesses hundreds of such artifacts and many of them can be seen online.
Born two hundred years ago, March 1, 1812, he died at age 40 just after his triumphal achievement at the first world’s fair, London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, visited by six million people, which made Gothic welcome throughout the world. You may not know Pugin’s name, but you have undoubtedly seen the influence of his Gothic Revival – wherever there is Gothic after 1840, even in America: St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (cornerstone 1858), the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (foundation 1907), collegiate gothic at about 40 colleges and universities, including Duke, Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, Washington University, Notre Dame, Princeton, etc. Events celebrating his bicentennial appear at: the PuginSociety website. Read more ..
|Erick Stakelbeck||March 22nd 2012|
Christian Broadcasting Network
Iran's supreme leader recently said his country would help any Muslim nation or group that attacks Israel. He's called the Jewish state a cancerous tumor that will be cut out of the Middle East. With Iran's nuclear weapons program advancing daily, that goal may be in sight.
This view of Jews as sub-human sounds a lot like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but it goes back much further. In author Andrew Bostom's book, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, he describes Islam's early conquests of Jewish tribes in Arabia. Mohammed's frustrations in spreading his message were frequently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews," he stated.
Bostom explained that Mohammed demonized Jews because they rejected him as a prophet. "Mohammed himself invokes some of these themes," he said. "For example, one of the punishments of the Jews is their transformation into apes, or apes and pigs, the verses that are commonly heard now."
This "apes and pigs" imagery is found in Islam's core texts, like the Koran and hadiths. The most notorious is the following hadith, often quoted by al Qaeda, Hamas, and other Islamic terror groups. "Judgment Day will come only when the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind the tree and the stone, and the tree and the stone say, 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'" In some verses of the Koran, Jews are referred to as "perverse," "evil," "greedy," and the "heirs of hell." The Iranian regime takes these verses seriously, starting with the man who founded the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Khomeini. "His image of wiping out the Jews was that all of the Muslims of the world should get together with a cup of water and simply wash it away. But again, annihilationism," Bostom said. Read more ..
|Luther Spoehr||March 20th 2012|
The Battle of Midway. Craig L. Symonds. Oxford Univ. Press. 2011. 464 pages.
“In a series that focuses on historical contingency, it is appropriate, perhaps even essential, to include the Battle of Midway,” says Craig Symonds, a historian at the Naval Academy and author of Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History (one of which was, yes, the Battle of Midway) and the award-winning Lincoln and His Admirals. His book is apparently part of Oxford University Press’s series on “Pivotal Moments in American History,” which already includes military histories such as David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing (about the Battle of Trenton) and James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom (on the Battle of Antietam), along with treatises on civilian topics such as rock ‘n’ roll, Brown v. Board of Education, and the election of 1800.
But except for Symonds’s early remark, quoted above, and series editor McPherson’s 2-page introduction, one would never know this book was part of any series: there’s no mention of it anywhere on the cover or in the book.
Such an ambiguous introduction makes for a weird start (what is Oxford thinking?). But no matter. Symonds follows up his opening remark with a little over 350 pages of superb narrative, clearly, vividly, and energetically written, with attention to detail that is always relevant to his interpretation and almost never descends into minutiae for its own sake. I have read a fair amount of military history, but am hardly a specialist, so I can say confidently that this book will be read appreciatively by other non-specialists. Indeed, it demonstrates why military history should not be considered “merely” a “niche” subject, but part of the mainstream of the national narrative.
Not that the Battle of Midway has lacked for popular attention. Most notably, Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory (1967) and Gordon Prange’s Miracle at Midway (1982) both attracted many, many readers. As their titles suggest, however, they seemed to be saying that the U.S. Navy’s triumph on June 4, 1942, was so unlikely as to defy rational explanation—or, as Symonds puts it, that victory was “the product of fate, or chance, or luck, or even divine will.” Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||March 20th 2012|
Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power. Andrew Nagorski. Simon and Shuster, 2011. 400 pages.
Hitlerland: a term coined in the Berlin-based 1930s by International News Service writer Pierre John Huss to describe Nazi Germany. Huss. Huss, who later worked as one of the so-called "Murrow's Boys" assembled by the legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, interviewed Adolf Hitler multiple times. William Shirer, who also knew a thing or two about Germany in the '30s, described Huss as "slick, debonair, and ambitious."
Some of Huss's peers grumbled at the time that he was a little to close the Nazi regime, which may or may not have been true. But as Andrew Nagorski makes clear in this often absorbing book, there were many Americans in Germany at the time who were open in their admiration of it, along with those who were confused, afraid, and angry about it.
In Hitlerland, former Newsweek journalist Andrew Nagorski finds a clever way to tell a familiar story. He's gathered up dozens of sources from Americans who lived, worked, or simply passed through Germany in the two decades following the Great War and sketched a compelling composite portrait. Among the most durable and informed observers we meet are Truman Smith, a military attaché to the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Hearst correspondent Karl Henry von Wiegand, and Chicago Tribune reporter (and later radio correspondent) Sigrid Schultz. More familiar names include future television broadcaster Howard K. Smith, future CIA director Richard Helms, and celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh.
Lindbergh, of course, later became infamous for his isolationism, widely viewed as Naziphilia by another name. In Hitlerland, however, we meet him and his also famous wife Anne in their first visit to Germany before his views solidified. Ironically, Lindbergh's VIP tour of state-of-the-art German aviation yielded information that proved to be of considerable value to the American government. The far more repugnant figure in Hitlerland is Ernst "Putzi" Hafstaengl the half-German/half-American Harvard graduate who worked for a time as Hitler's propagandist before being dumped by the Fuhrer. In one of the more dramatic moments in the book, young Hitler takes refuge in the immediate aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 with Hafstaengl's wife, Helen, in their Bavarian home. Read more ..
Russia on Edge
|James Brooke||March 20th 2012|
Just when politics here were starting to look boring again, along comes an outrageous girl band to rattle Russia. With their day glo balaclavas, bright tights and summer dresses on the white snow, the angry girls call themselves Pussy Riot. They’re starting to make President Vladimir Putin look like Dwight Eisenhower. He was the American president who took a dim view of Elvis “the Pelvis” Presley and his scandalous hip gyrations. Under Eisenhower, the King of Rock and Roll was drafted into the U.S. Army. Under Putin, the leaders of Pussy Riot are now in jail facing charges that could carry sentences of up to eight years. Russia’s generational clash was triggered by Putin’s announcement last Sept. 24 that he and President Dmitri Medvedev were going to switch jobs. For a group of Russian feminists, six more years of Putinism was six years too many. They formed a punk band, took vows of individual anonymity, agreed to perform only illegal concerts, and chose a deliberately rude and provocative name. In the old days (five years ago), Pussy Riot would have been a dead-end garage band, playing for friends in an abandoned warehouse. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Mary Morningstar||March 19th 2012|
It took more than one year and a high-profile court case to see the release of Country star Tim McGraw’s new album, “Emotional Traffic.” "Emotional Traffic” is Tim McGraw’s 11th studio album and his final release on Curb Records. Signed to Curb 20 years ago, Tim gave the label the tracks for his new album in late 2010. In May 2011, Curb filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Tim, claiming the songs weren’t recorded in the period of time set in his contract. Tim’s countersuit accused the label of holding the album hostage as a way to keep him under contract. Tim asked for a legal ruling to confirm he had fulfilled his contract with Curb. Last November, a judge ruled in Tim’s favor, which allows him to release future music on another label. "Emotional Traffic” debuted at Number One on the Country chart and Number Two on the all-genre Billboard 200. The collection includes a duet with R&B singer Ne-Yo and this track featuring Tim’s wife Faith Hill, “One Part, Two Part.” “One Part, Two Part” is a remake of a song recorded by rhythm-and-blues singer Clydie King in 1969. Tim refers to “Emotional Traffic” as the best album of his career and he’s eager to perform the songs for his fans in concert. Read more ..
The Edge of Fiction
|Greg Flakus||March 18th 2012|
A movie version of Suzanne Collins' popular series of novels, "The Hunger Games," opens in U.S. theaters this month. It is expected to provide an even bigger boost to what has become one of the most lucrative segments of the publishing market: Young Adult Fiction. While book sales overall have dropped by five per cent, sales of these novels - many of which feature romance with a supernatural twist - have gone up more than 80 per cent. In the Houston suburb of Tomball, these women get together frequently to socialize and chat about the books they are reading. Cathy Clark says many of those books - targeted at teens - also attract adult readers like her. "You have those really strong authors in Young Adult and no matter what your age [is] they appeal and paranormal is something different," she said.
Some 70 kilometers away, in west Houston, fans of Young Adult Supernatural Romance novels recently packed the Blue Willow bookstore to meet four authors on a tour sponsored by their publisher, Harper Collins. Cynthia Hand, author of two books about Clara, a teenage girl with special powers, says she has found a bond with her fans. "I love the idea that we are sharing the same story, that we know the same people," she said. Courtney Allison Moulton's books are full of sword fights and other action that she says resonates with a lot of male readers. "I had a buddy who spent a couple of years in Afghanistan and he brought my book over there with him and he shared with the other - you know, these really tough Army guys reading my book and they are excited about the action," she said. Read more ..
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