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Film Review

Margaret: A Coming of Age, Long in the Making

May 18th 2012

Margaret

Margaret. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan and Martin Scorcese. Starring Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo. Length: 150 minutes.

"Spring and Fall" by Gerard Manley Hopkins — which begins (accent marks signifying Hopkins’s artificial or "sprung" rhythm)

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?

is probably his most famous poem and the one that, if you know anything about Hopkins, you must have heard and admired. But for all its admirable qualities, it sounds rather cynical and solipsistic. Musically it definitely has something to be said for it, but the conclusion in particular seems a bit too neat.

Death, change, transition, the passage of time, all these are the "It" which, the poem tells us, are "the blight man was born for," but if Margaret is cast into melancholy reflection or even grief by these things, then to go on to say as the poem’s last line does that "It is Margaret you mourn for" suggests the girl is, as we all are, trapped in the prison of self. Surely, it’s not just Margaret she mourns for? For most people, in fact, it is not even primarily themselves they mourn for. When we lose something or someone we love and mourn the loss, it is the thing or person lost which is the object of our mourning, if you want to call it that. We mourn for ourselves only in the banal sense that we are the ones who have suffered the loss. That’s not at all the same thing as saying we’re mourning for ourselves. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

The Essence of Israel on the Silver Screen

May 17th 2012

Yoni and Tuti Netanyahu
Yoni and Tutti Netanyahu

Now that Israel’s early elections have been called off, there may be a sigh of relief among supporters of the Jewish state who feel that a new order will form in the country.  The fact that a new so called unity government has now been formed, with the needs of the religious and the secular communities allegedly being addressed equally, could offer the stability the country needs to handle its external enemies without having to worry as much about the internal strife tearing it apart.  That remains to be seen, but the hope is being restored. 

When events such as the reformation of the government occur, it behooves the country to do as good a job as it can to spread the word far and wide proclaiming the positive.  Too often some media and forces opposed to Israel harnesses morsels of negativity and portray those as the driving forces of the people and government of Israel.  Israel is often its own worst enemy when it comes to public relations; its Hasbara, as it is referred to, is often too defensive and focused in shades of black and white, and therefore can seem harsh and selfish. Read more ..


Book Review

Castro's Secrets: More Obfuscation of the Kennedy Assassination Story

May 17th 2012

Castros Secrets

Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine. Brian Latell. Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. 288 pages.

History is quite frequently distorted by ideological bias, and nothing shows this better than the corpus of JFK assassination books. Written by people on the political left, they almost uniformly want to blame some group on the right for John Kennedy’s death. Of course, it’s far from the case that all voices to the left of center have claimed a right-wing conspiracy. The liberal mainstream media have had little truck with conspiracy theories, and hard left voices like Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn and The Nation have often insisted that Lee Harvey Oswald did it all by himself.

But pick up your average conspiracy book and most likely the culprits will be some of those bêtes noires of the left: the CIA, the FBI, anti-Castro Cubans, rich Texas oil millionaires, and so on. The conspiracists’ fruitless half-century fixation with these groups makes Captain Ahab’s obsession with the Great White Whale look like a passing summer afternoon fancy.

In this context, this volume from longtime CIA Cuba analyst Brian Latell has some value as a corrective. Conspiracy theorists, typically in thrall of Camelot and, if not outright fans of Castro, then at least rather mellow toward the Caribbean dictator, have downplayed the enmity between Castro and Kennedy.

But Latell gives a full account of the incendiary mutual denunciations that the American president and the Cuban leader directed at each other. Likewise, he makes it clear (in the tradition of writers like Gus Russo and Max Holland) that the impetus behind assassination attempts on Castro came from the highest levels of the Kennedy administration, with Bobby being John’s chief honcho in dealing with the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans.

Where assassination writers have wanted to believe that Kennedy, at the time he was killed, was preparing to make nice-nice with Castro, Latell makes it clear that Kennedy would only accept a “Tito solution.” Castro would have to end his alliance with the Soviet Union and quit trying to export revolution. But of course, Castro was never going to do that. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Tim Burton Revives the 1960s Vampire Soap Opera ”Dark Shadows”

May 14th 2012

Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins in ”Dark Shadows”
(photo courtesy Warner Bros.)

Dark Shadows. Director: Tim Burton. Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter. Length: 133 min.

A soap opera from the 1960s gets a makeover in director Tim Burton’s new horror-comedy: ”Dark Shadows,” which features his favorite lead actor, Johnny Depp.

In the 1770s, a curse turned Barnabas into a vampire. In 1972, a construction crew digs up his coffin and the denizen of the dark finds his way back to what remains of the Collins estate. His cousin Elizabeth, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, thinks he can restore the Collins line to its former greatness. But Barnabas soon discovers that Angelique, the witch who cursed him, is still around.

Johnny Depp plays Barnabas, angst-ridden by his fate and confused by the world in which he awakes. “The idea of this very elegant gentleman who is brought back to probably the most surreal era of our times, the 1970s. How he would react to things like ‘pet rocks’ and troll dolls and lava lamps,” explains Depp. “What was most interesting in terms of Barnabas was to make that guy, clearly a vampire, fit into this odd society and this dysfunctional family,” the star adds. Read more ..


Book Review

The Changing Face of the Israel-Islam Conflict

May 14th 2012

The Transforming Fire - Jonathan Spyer

The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel–Islamist Conflict. Jonathan Spyer. Continuum, 2010. 227 pages.

“People walked from tank to tank, shaking hands with friends, wishing each other luck. I remember standing with my friend Ariel Ronen and exchanging a few brief words before we boarded. Blond Ariel, in civilian life the owner of a marketing business in Petah Tikva, was a tank driver from platoon 2. Unlike me, he had a practical, military bent to him, and was standing, watching affairs with a worried furrow to his brow. ‘We aren’t ready for this,’ he said, as we shook hands. I looked at him quizzically, but he declined to elaborate, adding simply, ‘Not all of us will be coming back.’ ‘We will,’ I reassured him, assuming the fatherconfessor role that I had awarded myself in the previous days. He didn’t reply.” (p. 13).

With this passage, and others like it, Jonathan Spyer recounts his experiences serving in the Lebanon War of 2006. A soldier in an Israeli armored reserve unit, a columnist with The Jerusalem Post, and a research fellow in civilian life, Spyer deftly interweaves his battlefield recollections with a sustained assessment of the strategic challenges facing Israel. The result is an insightful, important, and at times pensive volume, one that is part memoir and part sophisticated political analysis. The main threats facing Israel today, Spyer asserts, are Islamist states and organizations—enemies that not only loom on the horizon, such as Iran, but ones such as Hamas and Hizbullah that lurk closer to home, raining down rockets into the nation’s heartland.

The Jewish State operates within a daunting strategic environment. In confronting those challenges, Spyer rightly draws strength from his comrades-in-arms in the Israeli Defense Forces, whose powerful and poignant stories he sympathetically retells. Israel, too, can draw strength from their stoic determination as it formulates and executes a national strategy for defeating the Islamist threats arrayed against it. Read more ..


Book Review

Who's Publishing What These Days—and How?

May 13th 2012

Merchants of Culure - John B. Thompson

John B. Thompson. Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century (2nd ed.). Polity Press, 2012. 440 pages.

John B. Thompson begins this book with a publishing anecdote that will be familiar even to those on the margins of the business: the story of how Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, gave a talk in 2007 as part of a series at the university with the title “The Last Lecture.” As it turned out, Pausch was dying of pancreatic cancer, giving his well-received presentation an element of poignance that generated a wave of national publicity. What proved truly stunning, however, was how eager New York publishers were to acquire the book that became The Last Lecture: Pausch, a first-time big-time author was paid a $6.75 million advance by Hyperion, a Disney company. How could that possibly make sense?

In 400 chiseled pages, Thompson explains why such an offer came about, and why it made sense—indeed, The Last Lecture proved to be a lucrative acquisition for Hyperion. He does so with the methodological acumen of the sociologist he is (at the University of Cambridge). Thompson conducted hundreds of interviews for Merchants of Culture, supplemented by new interviews with many of his sources for this newly released second edition of the book (the first was published in 2010). Much of Thompson's analysis builds on that of his 2005 book Books in the Digital Age, which focused on scholarly publishing. Here he focuses on trade publishing, the hyper-commercial industry focused in New York and London.

It's in the nature of any project of this sort that it stands to date quickly. But Thompson has done a notably good job of keeping his findings timely—the figures here run into mid-2011, capturing the arrival of the e-book transformation of the industry at that moment it shifted from an abstract possibility to an increasingly evident reality. In some sense, however, the book feels fresh and up-to-date because of an intuitive grasp of temporal proportion; his perspective dates back to the corporate consolidation of the publishing industry in the 1970s, and he traces trends that in many cases have been decades in the making. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Home on the Rails: Ringling Brothers’ Rolling Community

May 12th 2012

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey circus train, 1992
The circus train in 1992 (credit: James G. Howe)

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is America’s longest-running circus company. It began performances in the early 1890s, and more than a century later, the company maintains many of the traditions of the circus, including travel by train, which is home to hundreds of performers. Its newest show is called “Dragons.” Ringmaster Jonathan Iverson, a former opera singer, joined the circus about 10 years ago. He was drawn by the history and mystique of the company which calls itself “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

“The part of that mystique is the world’s largest privately owned train. I love the train,” Iverson says. “Three hundred fifty performers and cast and crew and animals are actually traveling on rails across America. That is the world’s greatest carpool.” That car pool—with 60 cars—is more than a kilometer-and-a-half long and crisscrosses the country for 11 months a year.

Iverson shares his train car with his wife, a dancer in the show, and their two children. Like the other families on the train, they cook and eat, take showers and do laundry—live their lives—in the privacy of their own car. “It is so much fun. It gives us sort of like a mini-vacation every week,” Iverson says. “We really see the country. America is really, really beautiful.” Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Ancient Mayan Artwork, Calculations Discovered

May 11th 2012

Mayan Art

Archeologists working among the ruins of a 9th century Mayan town in Guatemala have discovered a room filled with extraordinarily well-preserved artwork. The colorful wall paintings provide new insights into how Mayan astronomers charted the cosmos. 

Xultun was the largest city in the ancient Mayan empire in Central America, where, at its height, an estimated 90,000 people lived and worked among pyramids, inscribed monuments, water reservoirs and sport fields. But by the 14th century, the Mayan civilization had collapsed and this great city fell with it. In 1920, Xultun was rediscovered, overgrown with vegetation. Work to map the 31 square-kilometer site and decode the myriad inscriptions on its monuments continues to this day. In 2008, Boston University archeologist William Saturno was exploring tunnels in the Xultun ruins that had been opened by looters in the 1970s.  One day his student assistant, Max Chamberlain, discovered the entranceway - close to the surface but hidden by vegetation - to a room-like structure. “Max thought he saw the remnants of paint on the walls of this fairly small Maya structure,” Saturno says.
Read more ..


The Edge on Art

New Exhibit Shows Africa’s Influence on Diaspora Art in US

May 11th 2012

Self-portrait, Malvin Gray Johnson
Self-portrait, Malvin Gray Johnson
(photo Courtesy of Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The West African man is dressed in the khaki uniform and red fez worn by French colonial soldiers of the era. But he wasn’t a French soldier—he was a famous Senegalese dancer based in Paris at the time, François Benga.

Now immortalized in James A. Porter’s 1935 painting, “Soldado Senegales,” his portrait today hangs among the many art works on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era and Beyond” exhibit. Though not all of the exhibit’s works claim African influence, the portrait by Porter is one of the many examples of the close relationship between the U.S.-based Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude movement in France.

The Harlem Renaissance, which began in the U.S. around 1919, emerged as a movement to challenge racism and stereotypes through the arts. Just a decade later, Africans living in France, who were influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, developed their own style— Negritude—as a way to use art to throw off French colonial racism.

“There’s a very close relationship, because these artists, particularly those who are in France in the 1930s and into the 1940s, were very much connected with what was going on in French art, literature, thought,” said Virginia Mecklenburg, a senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “The poet Langston Hughes is also talking about things like tradition and heritage and how something that was originally African, how it transforms in a sort of river as it flows into and is the source really for culture in other countries in the diaspora, including in the United States.” Read more ..


Human Trafficking

Film-Makers use Girls Gone Wild to Stop Human Trafficking

May 11th 2012

girls gone wild

A creative pair of Dutch film makers are taking on one of the world's worst crimes: human trafficking. Konraad Lefever and Duval Guillaume directed a video (see here) for YouTube to promote StopTheTraffik - a human rights advocacy group based in the UK that seeks to criminalize the sale of human beings, who largely end up in the international sex trade.

Set in Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District, the pair filmed scantily clad young women who posed behind glass at street level as passersby to evaluate them as prostitutes. For decades young women, and some men, have posed at the street-level brothels in displays reminiscent of department store windows. The film-making pair used this to another purpose as they filmed six women who at first appear to beckon the men who pass by on the street with come-hither glances and beckoning gestures. Read more ..


The Way We Are

The Internet’s Archive

May 8th 2012

grateful dead at barton hall poster

May 8, 1977. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University’s barn-like Barton field house, specifically. On that particular Sunday evening, for the princely sum of $7.50—$6.50 for students—you could buy one general admission ticket (assuming you could find any for sale) to hear a performance by the Grateful Dead.

For the Dead it was just another gig on an unending tour; the Ithaca stop was sandwiched between New Haven’s Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum and Buffalo’s War Memorial Coliseum. Fairly to form, the band played 20 songs that night, starting with “New Minglewood Blues” and wrapping with the classic “One More Saturday Night.” Along the way they hit a number of fan favorites like “Fire on the Mountain,” “Not Fade Away” and “Morning Dew.”

At the time, May 8th was just another performance by the Dead, an enduring American band that had long attracted its own rolling culture of scruffy fans, hippies, dope-smokers, and assorted others who followed the band from show to show. But for true “Deadheads,” it’s much, much more than that. For Deadhead Nation, May 8 is forever known simply as “Barton Hall.”

35 years later, the Dead’s spring 1977 tour is now the stuff of legend, with the Barton Hall show the most celebrated performance of the band’s career. “I started hearing from other Deadheads that the Barton show was famous,” Brad Krakow tells the Cornell Chronicle. One of the lucky attendees that night, Krakow characterized the Dead’s performance as “tight, no mistakes and inspired. It is funny now when friends ask if that is ‘The’ Barton Hall when visiting. It is an icon.”

But don’t take Krakow’s word for it. Download the entire concert and decide for yourself. In fact, why not download every concert the Grateful Dead ever played to compare and contrast? Go ahead—you can do it all for free, and without any copyright worries, thanks to a website called The Internet Archive. Read more ..


Book Review

Iron Coffin: A New Look at the USS Monitor and How it Changed History

May 6th 2012

Iron Coffin

Iron Coffin: War, Technology, and Experience abord the U.S.S. Monitor. David Mindell. Johns Hopkins Press. 2012. 208 pages.

Almost exactly 150 years ago, two warships fought the battle of the future.

The duel was the Battle of Hampton Roads, just off the coast of Virginia, during the U.S. Civil War. The ships were the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia, representing the Union and the Confederacy, respectively; it was the first time that two iron-clad ships engaged in combat.

As such, the iron ship constituted a “high-tech super-weapon,” changing the nature of battle, as MIT historian David Mindell asserts in the preface of a new edition of his book on the subject, Iron Coffin: War, Technology, and Experience aboard the U.S.S. Monitor (Johns Hopkins Press).

The Monitor was supposed to settle battles through its technological superiority, with vaunted innovations such as its armor and a rotating gun turret. Yet the ship also placed punishing new physical demands on its crew. In this way, the Monitor was “a prototype of modern military technology, with all of its apparent benefits and limitations, fighting new kinds of wars on new kinds of battlefields and forging new kinds of heroes,” Mindell writes.

Mindell, the Frances and David Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, began researching the book soon after the Gulf War in 1991, a conflict featuring advances in missile technology. He concludes that even newer military technologies, such as pilotless drones, have only increased the significance of studying how military leaders expect technology to settle battles — and how new weaponry changes the role and ethos of the solider. Read more ..


Book Review

Molotov: Stalin's Warrior in Cold Blood

May 6th 2012

Molotov: stalins cold warrior

Molotov: Stalin's Cold Warrior. Geoffrey Roberts. Potomac Books. 2011. 254 pages.

Geoffrey Roberts introduces us to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov in 1976, long after he has left power. Molotov tell us, “Not often, but sometimes I dream of Stalin. In extraordinary situations. In a destroyed city. I can’t find a way out. Then I meet him, in a word, strange dreams, very confused.” Such disturbing dreams are not surprising. The twentieth century was, in many ways, the most awful time in human history: two world wars, famines, genocide and, for the latter half of the century, the specter of utter nuclear annihilation. Molotov, as premier of the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1941, Soviet foreign minister from 1939 to 1949 and again from 1953 to 1956, was more times than not at the center of it all.

Roberts presents a more nuanced picture of Molotov than other biographers, someone whose mind and meticulousness suited him to the exacting demands of representing the Soviets in the realm of foreign policy. Robert’s Molotov is not absolutely slavish to Stalin -- though when push comes to shove he falls into line -- and he is even less cowering in front of Khrushchev. Regardless, to review Molotov's life is to walk a tightrope, and Geoffrey Roberts does a fine job of doing so.

There is Molotov, the committed Communist selflessly sacrificing for what he saw as a more just world, only to end up in a position of authority during the Great Purge of the late 1930s with its effort to solve real, perceived, and imagined problems through the most horrific and unconscionable means. Then there is Molotov the face of Soviet foreign policy -- a policy that, when stripped of its socialist and internationalist pretenses, is too often driven by fierce nationalism.

Molotov’s pivotal role was during World War II, and it's here that things become most complicated -- and dire. When the Soviets could not broker a deal with England and France to stave off ascendant Germany in 1939, they made a deal ... with Germany. Negotiated by Molotov with the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, it meant Germany and the Soviets would not attack each other -- for the time being. The ink had hardly dried when the Germans took their then-cleared path to invade Poland, ushering in World War II. The Red Army followed seventeen days later, dividing Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union and paving the way for the Soviet annexations of the Baltic states, as well as the disastrous Winter War with Finland. Read more ..


Film Review

Monsieur Lazhar: A Film with Insight into Children and Education

May 5th 2012

monsieur lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar. Director: Philippe Falardeau. Starring: Fellag, Marie-ve Beauregard, Nicole-Sylvie Lagarde. Length: 90 mins.

One of the best moments of Monsieur Lazhar by the Québécois writer-director Philippe Falardeau comes when 12-year-old Marie-Frédérique (Marie- ve Beauregard) rises in the midst of an impromptu (and forbidden) class discussion about the suicide of a teacher and says this: "Everyone thinks we’re traumatized by Martine’s suicide, but it’s the adults who are really."

The discussion has been forbidden on the advice of the school psychologist (Nicole-Sylvie Lagarde), acting as specialist grief counselor. She, by teaching them that grief is the province of some "expert" prepared to treat it as a pathological condition, would have robbed these children of the vital experience of learning how to deal with a normal but painful part of life. That the discussion breaks out anyway is thanks to their new Algerian teacher, the eponymous Monsieur Lazhar (Fellag) who, uncorrupted by specialist educational training, is generally prepared to disregard unnecessary and harmful rules laid down by those more expert than he.

To get the full impact of Marie-Frédérique’s moment of blinding insight, you have to take it in the context of an earlier discussion between her insufferable yuppie parents (Stéphane Demers and Nathalie Costa) and Monsieur Lazhar at a parents’ evening. Clearly, they have not come to learn anything from him about their daughter but rather to instruct him, in an offensively patronizing way, about how he should do his job. Equally clearly, Marie-Frédérique understands her parents and the adult world generally far better than they understand her or the educational process that must increasingly take place out of their sight, if it is to take place at all. One gathers that parents like these are not untypical these days, though they or anything like them would have been almost unheard of when I was a teacher. Read more ..


The Edge of Environment

Ungreen Facts about e-Reading Devices

May 4th 2012

e-book

It’s estimated that the environmental impact of a single “eReader” (Kindle, iPad…) equals that of 100 books.

Whether the motivation is to truly improve environmental performance, or simply garner positive press, seems every business is jumping on the low carbon bandwagon. Nowhere is exempt from the pressure to green up, not even the beleaguered (and beloved) book industry.

Three years ago, a group called the Book Industry Environmental Council (BIEC) set environmental targets for the American book business, aiming to reduce its baseline carbon footprint by 20 percent in 2020 and by 80% in 2050. The plan was hatched during the infancy of eBooks: Kindle had been around just over a year.

BIEC goals seem attainable. Technological advances slashed the volume of in-house printing. Editors move towards a paperless workflow. Publishers began to reassess traditional processes of creating, transporting, and storing books. The resultant enviro-friendly efficiencies could be replicated worldwide. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

'Game-powered Machine Learning' opens Door to Google for Music

May 4th 2012

Music

Can a computer be taught to automatically label every song on the Internet using sets of examples provided by unpaid music fans? University of California, San Diego engineers have found that the answer is yes, and the results are as accurate as using paid music experts to provide the examples, saving considerable time and money.  In results published in the April 24 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers report that their solution, called “game-powered machine learning,” would enable music lovers to search every song on the web well beyond popular hits, with a simple text search using key words like “funky” or “spooky electronica.”
 
Searching for specific multimedia content, including music, is a challenge because of the need to use text to search images, video and audio. The researchers, led by Gert Lanckriet, a professor of electrical engineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering, hope to create a text-based multimedia search engine that will make it far easier to access the explosion of multimedia content online. That’s because humans working round the clock labeling songs with descriptive text could never keep up with the volume of content being uploaded to the Internet. For example, YouTube users upload 60 hours of video content per minute, according to the company. Read more ..


Edge on Archaeology

Ancient Hebrew seal Bearing the name 'Matanyahu' found in Jerusalem

May 3rd 2012

hebrew seal

In archaeological work in the 2,000 year-old drainage channel between the City of David and the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, remains were discovered of the building closest to the First Temple exposed so far in archaeological excavations.

The remains of a building dating to the end of the First Temple period were discovered below the base of the ancient drainage channel that is currently being exposed in Israel Antiquities Authority excavations beneath Robinson’s Arch in the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden, adjacent to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. This building is the closest structure to the First Temple found to date in archaeological excavations.

In the excavations, underwritten by the Ir David Foundation, a personal Hebrew seal from the end of the First Temple period was discovered on the floor of the ancient building. The seal is made of a semi-precious stone and is engraved with the name of its owner: "Lematanyahu Ben Ho…" ("למתניהו בן הו..." meaning: "Belonging to Matanyahu Ben Ho…"). The rest of the inscription is erased. Read more ..


The Edge of Art

Birds, Snakes and Rodents Become Objets D’art

May 2nd 2012

D'Art

Road kill, for most people, is something you try not to look at too closely and leave behind. But for Walter Ferguson these misfortunate animals could be a prized treasure. Ferguson, one of the world’s preeminent wildlife artists, would never wish for a little creature to be maimed. However, if such an occurrence does happen, he sees the potential of bringing the animal back to life in his work.

“Art can contribute to the awareness of animals,” Ferguson says. “If you want to preserve an animal you need to show it.” Nearly all of the animal kingdom can be found in Ferguson’s work. His home in Beit Yanai — overlooking the Mediterranean coastline — is a private jungle with pictures of animals, birds and rodents lining the walls. Read more ..


The Edge of Urban Art

Murals Brighten Baltimore Neighborhood

May 1st 2012

voa image

A neighborhood in the East Coast city of Baltimore is getting a facelift. Artists from across the United States and around the world are painting murals on buildings, some of which have been vacant for years. Freddy Sam is putting the finishing touches on a large mural with an elephant at one end and mountain in the center. “This is Table Mountain from back home,” he says. “I wanted to bring some nature to Baltimore.”  Sam came from South Africa to participate in the program known as Open Walls. He’s painted murals across the world. “I get to learn about the world through painting art. If I came here as a tourist, I would never have seen Baltimore the way I saw it painting a mural.”

In fact, few tourists see this neighborhood, known as Station North. It fell on hard luck decades ago. But 10 years ago, it was designated an arts and entertainment district. Ben Stone, executive director of the Station North district, hopes the murals will attract more visitors. “Penn Station, our main train station, is in the district, so it's an easy area to get to, and this is another reason to come here.” Baltimore street artist, Gaia, curated Open Walls in the city’s Station North Arts and Entertainment District. His mural was one of the first to be completed.
Station North is also home to artists like Gaia. He’s curating Open Walls. “I wanted to choose people that weren’t necessarily the brightest stars, but were doing remarkable work throughout the world.” Like Interesni Kazki, a duo from Ukraine. Their mural features a fantasy walled city painted in bright yellow, red and orange. Individually the artists are known as Oleksii Bordusov and Vladimir Manzhos. Read more ..


Book Review

Swagger: Ten Urgent Rules for Boys in America's Mass Culture

May 1st 2012

Swagger

SWAGGER: Ten Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness and Thug Culture. Lisa Bloom. Vantage. 2012. 288 pages.
"At this very moment, through no fault of their own, our boys are caught in the vortex of four powerful, insidious, often invisible forces which conspire to rob them of their future.” Thus begins a provocative new book (on sale May 2012) from New York Times bestselling author, attorney and mother Lisa Bloom: SWAGGER: Ten Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness and Thug Culture.

We medicate, discipline, suspend and expel our boys from school at quadruple the rate of girls, attorney Lisa Bloom argues. We let double the number of boys drop out of high school than girls, and of those boys who do graduate, they are far more likely than their sisters to be illiterate, to fail to go to college, or to drop out of college if they do go. “Reading is girly,” many boys now say.

The unemployment rate for our teen boys and young men rivals that of Arab Spring countries. And because the fundamentals of our economy have changed dramatically in the last decade, boys without college degrees are not only left behind in young adulthood, they’re virtually guaranteed to be shut out of the middle class all their lives. Traditional “male” blue collar jobs? Mostly gone, and they’re not coming back.

As our failing schools and decaying economy batter boys, Bloom argues, our “thug culture” promotes an unprecedented level of viciousness and drug use. No longer on the fringe, “slap the bitch” music has gone mainstream. Our boys’ favorite video games have never met a problem they couldn’t fix with gun violence or carnage. In film and television, heroes prevail through murder and mayhem. And the most popular word in music over the last decade? Swagger.
Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Iran's Oscar-Winner To Screen Film In Support Of Afghan Refugees

May 1st 2012

Irainian Film Director

Iranian film director Asghar Farhadi is reportedly planning screenings of his Oscar-winning film, "A Separation," to express solidarity with Afghan refugees in Iran. A number of other prominent Iranian filmmakers are also planning expressions of support amid reports of new restrictions targeting the country's Afghan population. Earlier this month, Iranian media quoted officials as saying that Afghans will be banned from the province of Mazandaran, a popular tourist destination. The reports also said Afghans living in the province had been given a June 20 deadline to vacate. Recent limitations imposed on Afghans have been reported in other cities as well, including Isfahan, where on April 1 -- Nature Day in Iran -- Afghans were barred from entering a park to celebrate. “Such inappropriate behavior toward immigrants in Iran -- a country that has one of the highest number of refugees in the world -- is bitter,” Farhadi was quoted as saying on April 29 by “Shargh” daily. Read more ..


The Performing Arts

Historic Theater Reopens in Washington

April 29th 2012

Howard Theater, Washington, DC

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 ..


Film Review

Comic-Con Episode IV: Comix Geeks Living in a Fantasy World

April 26th 2012

Comic-con

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

Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' Returns to German Schools

April 25th 2012

Mein Kampf Ein Volk Ein Reich Ein Fuhrer

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

“Creatures of Light” Glow in New Exhibit

April 25th 2012

Fluorescent corals
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

Author Edwin Black Reports New Findings Showing North Carolina Engaged in Nazi-linked Campaign of Eugenics and Genocide

April 23rd 2012

Edwin Black
Edwin Black

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

Kenya's 'Slum Drummers' Make Beautiful Music With Scrapped Objects

April 22nd 2012

Slum African Music

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

'One Day on Earth' Delivers Global Message

April 22nd 2012

One Day on Earth

"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 ..


Film Review

Bully: A Movie that Does Nothing about a Serious Problem

April 21st 2012

Bully

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 ..


Book Review

The Homer Enciclopedia: The Ticket into the World of the Iliad and Odyssey

April 19th 2012

homer encyclopedia

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 ..


Author Tours

Author-Historian Edwin Black Speaks to Interfaith Crowds in Regina

April 15th 2012

Edwin Black

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 ..


Book Review

My Peace I Give You: A Spirituality of Recovery from Sexual Abuse

April 15th 2012

my peace i give you

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 ..


Theatre Review

The Soap Myth: A Harsh Play about Holocaust Survivors and Deniers

April 15th 2012

the soap myth poster

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 ..


Book Review

The Great Divergence: American Inequalities Confirmed and Explained

April 15th 2012

The great divergence

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 ..


Book Review

Enemies: How the FBI Shaped America

April 14th 2012

Enemies

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 ..


Film News

Gibson Jewish Film Project Cancelled Amid Charges "You Hate Jews"

April 13th 2012

Mel Gibson mug shot
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 ..


Film Review

Damsels in Distress: Hope Arising from Despairing Culture

April 12th 2012

damsels in distress

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:

Gaudeamus igitur,
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 ..


Book Review

America's First Great Depression: Uncle Sam Prints Cash and Sings the Blues in 1837

April 12th 2012

americas first great depression

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 ..


Book Review

Thinking, Fast and Slow: How we Fool Ourselves, Rationally

April 11th 2012

thinking fast and slow

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 ..


Book Review

Camp 14: A Flight from the North Korean Gulag

April 10th 2012

Escape from camp 14

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 ..



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