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The Edge of Film

History Films Are Back at the Oscars

February 24th 2012

iron lady

William Faulkner famously wrote that “the past is never dead; it’s not even past.” He was right. The past is not dead. It is alive and well and will be present in force at the Academy Awards next Sunday. A history film seems certain to win Best Picture. The big favorite is The Artist, the unique and much heralded black and white “silent” film about the history of Hollywood as seen through the story of a veteran actor and an ingénue in 1927. If it fails to capture the prize, though, almost every other nominee for Best Picture is a history film (excluding The Descendants and arguably Moneyball) is a history film: War Horse is Steven Spielberg’s World War I epic; Hugo is Martin Scorcese’s love letter to film pioneer Georges Méliès; Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to the Lost Generation in Paris; The Iron Lady features Meryl Streep in the titular role of Margaret Thatcher; The Help is set in the civil rights-era South; The Tree of Life is Terrence Malick’s ambitious experimental film which intercuts the story of a family in 1950s Texas with the origins of life on Earth; and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the adaptation of Jonathan Foer’s novel about 9/11’s effect on a young boy who lost his father in the attack.

When The King’s Speech, the marvelous story of King George VI’s struggle to conquer his stammer with the help of a speech therapist in London in the 1930s, won Best Picture last year it ended an eight-year drought of history films as Best Picture. Now, perhaps, a new era of history Best Picture Oscars will start. It wouldn’t be the first. A study of the Academy Awards for Best Picture from 1927 to the present shows that over half (46 of 83) were stories about the past, be they war films (from All Quiet on the Western Front to Platoon), historical biopics (like The King’s Speech), epic dramas (Ben-Hur), or epic melodramas (Gone With the Wind). And then, of course, there are the Best Picture winners about then contemporary events that have become themselves historical documents (Casablanca and The Best Years of Our Lives to name but the two most famous examples). Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Digital Age Survivors, Japan’s Jazz Cafés Still Attract Fans

February 23rd 2012

Jazz Singer Anita O'Day
Anita O'Day

Since the late 1920s, Japanese coffee shops catering to jazz music fans have been a fixture in cities across the country. For decades, they disseminated cutting-edge Western culture and later, the counter-culture to students, intellectuals and music aficionados. Although the number of venues are dwindling, they have survived the digital age. It was never about the coffee. Long before customers had a choice of a double espresso or soy latte, Japanese flocked to coffee shops serving just a couple of kinds of beans, but an endless variety of bee-bop, swing and avant-garde. They are known as jazz kissa - short for kissaten - tea or coffee shops. "Tea for Two" sung by Anita O'Day accompanied by two Japanese jazz orchestras during a live 1963 telecast in Tokyo can be heard in one cafe. The original performance was a rare opportunity for Japanese to see and hear a famous American jazz star in their own country. It was also an era when an imported jazz album cost about one-tenth of the average professional’s monthly salary. Times and moods have changed.

One of the few surviving jazz kissa in Tokyo is Eagle, in the city’s Yotsuya district, near Sophia University. These days it mainly attracts businessmen and office workers on their lunch hour, who pay the equivalent of nine dollars to sip a cup of ordinary coffee. Eagle was started in 1967 by jazz fan Yohei Goto, the son of a bar owner, when he was a college sophomore. Goto says he understands that to foreigners a jazz kissa can seem like a strange place. He explains it is a library of music. You are not allowed to talk. Unlike in United States, he says, where people listen to jazz for pleasure, in Japan it is a kind of art appreciation. Goto says Japanese people seriously study jazz as a component of African-American culture.
Read more ..


Edge on Film

Silent Power of “The Artist” Leads Oscar Pack

February 22nd 2012

Oscar Poster 2012

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated nine films for best picture. A few are getting buzz for being top contenders.

By now, many moviegoers have seen Alexander Payne’s bittersweet drama “The Descendants,” about a busy lawyer who finds himself as the single parent of his two daughters as his wife lies in a coma after a boating accident.

Payne is known for finding humor in tragic moments and, once again, he delivers.

The film editing is superb and the dialogue heartfelt and intelligent. But the movie lacks grandeur and that could cost it the Oscar.

Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” offers a dreamlike vision of 19th century Paris.

It’s a complex story about an orphan who lives hidden inside a Parisian train station and keeps its clocks ticking. If he’s found out, Hugo could end up in an orphanage. This underlying threat gives the film the feeling of a Dickens novel.

The film leads the Oscar race with 11 nominations—including art direction, cinematography, and film editing. But “Hugo” has not received nominations for acting and, despite its elegance and lovely visuals, it lacks emotional energy.

“The Help” overflows with emotion. It’s about African-American maids who risk their lives to tell their stories of toiling in white households in the 1960s American South.

Viola Davis, who plays the maid Aibileen Clark, is nominated for best actress. Read more ..


After the Holocaust

IBM’s Incriminating Holocaust-era Documents to be Published in Author’s New Edition

February 21st 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Bestselling author Edwin Black has announced that a provocative, new edition of IBM and the Holocaust will be released in the coming days, on the anniversary of the book's original publication in 2001. Buy it here.

The new “Expanded Edition” will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State and Justice Department memos as well as concentration camp documents that will graphically chronicle exactly what IBM did and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. IBM has never denied any of the information in the book, and for years has claimed that it has no information about its Hitler-era activities involving the Third Reich.

The new Expanded Edition was necessitated after 1.2 million copies of IBM and the Holocaust sold worldwide and the book became completely out of print at the end of 2011.

The new edition is scheduled to be released on February 26, 2012, 3 PM during a special Live Global Streaming Event to be held at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall in New York City. The event is sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, co-sponsored by Yeshiva University’s Office of Pre-Law Advisement, Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, Beren and Wilf campuses, in partnership with StandWithUs, and in association with NAHOS--National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors, Generations of the Shoah International, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, The Auto Channel, History Network News, Spero Forum, the Jewish Virtual Library, together with other groups. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Chechen Separatist Leader Urges Actress To Prove Charitable Donation

February 20th 2012

Hilary Swank

When Hilary Swank humbly apologized for attending the birthday party of Chechnya's strongman leader last October and pledged to donate her six-figure fee to charity, the Hollywood actress hoped the PR disaster would die down. Swank had come under intense fire for enthusiastically endorsing Ramzan Kadyrov at his lavish 35th birthday party on October 5, hailing the "passion to make peace" of a man accused by human rights organizations of overseeing a campaign of abductions, torture, and murders. But some of Swank's detractors are not ready to let the matter drop so quickly.

The controversy reemerged this week when Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in exile in London, asked the Oscar-winning actress to prove she had made good on her promised financial donations. "Many directors of humanitarian and human rights organizations dealing with Chechen issues have asked me about it," he wrote in a letter dated February 13. Zakayev recommended five rights groups, including Russia's prominent Memorial, as possible recipients if it turns out that Swank failed to make the donations. "I strongly believe that celebrities like Hilary Swank have no moral right to encourage crimes committed by criminal regimes, regardless of where they are," he said.

While Zakayev expressed his "respect and gratitude" to Swank for acknowledging the paid trip to Grozny was a mistake, he cast doubt on the actress's claim that she had never heard of Kadyrov before attending the party: "This is what most outraged me and others who follow this situation. It's impossible for her not to have known. "This situation did not begin today or yesterday, it has been going on for 20 years. Newspapers have been writing about it. "People simply don't have the right to detach themselves like this from reality, from the world -- even celebrities." Read more ..


The Edge of Film

'Putin's Kiss' And One Teenager's Disillusionment With The Kremlin

February 19th 2012

Putin's Kiss

Masha Drokova, a compelling and articulate teenager, becomes disillusioned with the Russian youth organization Nashi after rapidly rising through the ranks to become one of its leading spokespeople in the documentary " Putin's Kiss," which premiered in New York on February 17. The film, which was directed by Denmark native Lise Birk Pedersen, premiered at Cinema Village in Manhattan. It begins in 2007, with Drokova speaking worshipfully of President Vladimir Putin -- even proclaiming that he was someone she would use as a model for a life partner. Pedersen said that when she met Drokova -- who joined Nashi at 15 -- she didn't realize that she would be creating a film critical of Nashi or the Kremlin. "Of course I knew that a lot of people -- you know, journalists -- were very critical toward Nashi, so I suspected that I could also end up being critical," Pedersen says, "but I didn't actually know this from the beginning."

But as the film progresses, teenage Drokova becomes friendly with a group of liberal journalists -- including Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, who features prominently in the film -- and eventually becomes disenchanted with Nashi and abandons the organization. The film's turning point occurs when Kashin is brutally beaten outside his home in November 2010. Protesters demonstrated outside the hospital for eight days, and on the third day Drokova appeared with a sign demanding that those who beat Kashin be prosecuted. She left Nashi soon afterward. Oleg Kashin spent months recovering from the attack.xOleg Kashin spent months recovering from the attack. ​​Kashin's attackers were never found. Read more ..


Book Review

The Operators: A Wild and Terrifying Look at the American Way of War

February 18th 2012

The operators 2

The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan. Michael Hastings. BlueRider/Penguin. 2012. 432 pp.

Michael Hastings is a young journalist who was assigned by Rolling Stone to do a profile of General Stanley McChrystal, who willingly agreed to be interviewed. For one month in Europe and Afghanistan he hung around the general and his devoted hand-picked team while they partied and drank before departing for the war zone. They must have been aware that, as they spoke freely and critically about their political and civilian bosses back home, Hastings’s tape recorder was running.

When the Rolling Stone profile was published McChrystal was fired and replaced by General David Petraeus, now head of the CIA. It reminded many, including President Obama, of President Harry Truman’s dismissal of General Douglas McArthur for insubordination during the Korean War. NBC News quoted Obama saying that Chrystal’s comments “undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.”

But had the general really gone too far in overstepping the line between civilian and military control? Whatever the truth, in Hastings’ eyes McChrystal was an admirable if complex personality, a scholarly military man someone once dubbed a Warrior Poet, and intensely loyal to his personal staff and troops under his command. Hastings confessed, “I’d liked hanging out with McChrystal and his team, yet I hated the war.”

McChrystal arrived after the intense controversy concerning the death of Pat Tillman, former Arizona Cardinal football player turned army volunteer who died of friendly fire and whose death the Tillman family rightly charged was initially fabricated by the Pentagon eager for some good publicity. Tillman’s father alleged the general was involved in a “falsified homicide investigation” and his mother complained to Obama, who—here I speculate—may not have wanted to confront the Pentagon, hoping that Robert Gates, his secretary pf defense and Republican holdover from George W. Bush’s cabinet, would protect him from Republican attacks that he was weak on “national security.” Still, the truth is that many inside Washington hardly cared very much and the Senate confirmed his appointment without a nay vote. On June 9, 2009 McChrystal was greeted by the mass media as our latest savior in Afghanistan. Read more ..


Edge of Film

'Outsider' Jolie Puts Bosnia's War Story On World Stage

February 17th 2012

land of blood and honey

Some 5,000 Sarajevans turned out on February 14 to watch Angelina Jolie's new film, "In the Land of Blood and Honey." Appropriately, the film's screening took place at a sports complex now surrounded by the graves of people who died in the Bosnian war. Jolie, her cast, and film crew received a standing ovation from the audience. Afterward, with tears in her eyes, the first-time director spoke a few words to the audience in Bosnian. Making the film was a life-shaping experience, she said. The next day, Jolie said she felt an enormous responsibility making the film. "I worked so hard to try to make what I thought was a good film but also a film that I know was going to be so hard for people watching here, because it is their history and it's such a painful time in their history," Jolie said. "And, of course, to do an artistic interpretation of something, of somebody's life, you feel you can never do somebody enough justice, so you do your best but you hope that you do good and you hope you do enough and you hope you do it right. I was terrified."

Set against the backdrop of the 1990s Bosnian war, "In the Land of Blood and Honey" is woven around a love story between Danijel, the soldier son of a Serbian general, and Bosnian artist Ajla, whose earlier peacetime romance takes on destructive and ambiguously moral dimensions in wartime. Ajla ends up in a detention camp where all the women are systematically raped. The camp is commanded by Danijel. Jolie, who was a teenager during the Bosnian war, said the world's inaction during the horrors of that conflict is a shameful time in history. "As I've grown up and gone to many parts of the world, this was one that I felt nobody had spoken enough about," Jolie said. "This was such an important time for our world history, what happened here, the fact that the international community turned its back and abandoned these people for so long is such a crime. It's something we should all be ashamed of and learn from and that we must show respect and remember." Read more ..


The Tragic Edge of Art

Whitney Houston Remembered as Trailblazer, World Class Entertainer

February 16th 2012

Music - Whitney

Whitney Houston, who died February 11 in Beverly Hills, California, is being remembered across the globe as a trailblazer.  Here's a look back at her rise to superstardom and the songs that made her one of pop music’s most celebrated divas. Among all of Houston’s groundbreaking achievements, including a tally of more than 400 career awards, her most significant feat was her record-setting string of seven consecutive Number One singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  It broke the previous record of six set by The Bee Gees and The Beatles.  The string began on October 26, 1985 with her Grammy-winning hit “Saving All My Love For You,” and ended on April 23, 1988 with her R&B ballad “Where Do Broken Hearts Go.”  It was the fourth single from her album “Whitney” to go to Number One, also a record for a female artist.  She sold more than 170 million albums worldwide and co-produced and recorded songs for one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time, The Bodyguard.

Whitney Houston was born the daughter of famed gospel singer Cissy Houston in Newark, New Jersey.  Dionne Warwick was her cousin and Aretha Franklin her godmother.  She began as a gospel singer and pianist in her mother’s church and sometimes performed alongside her in nightclubs.  At age 15, Whitney sang backup on Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” a tune she later performed on The Bodyguard soundtrack.  Her multi-octave vocal range became her signature sound, and led to her discovery by Arista Records’ president Clive Davis. Read more ..


Edge of Film

'Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore' goes for Academy Award gold

February 16th 2012

Film - flying books

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, is a unique short film directed by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, is one of five animations slated for consideration by the upcoming Academy Awards among the very finest of genre. (See the film in its entirety here) This the first animation project released by the newly opened Moonbot Studios.  Morris Lessmore draws its inspiration from classic American sight-gag comedy, like Buster Keaton, as well as films such as The Wizard Oz. Viewers will also note references to the devastation in Louisiana that followed Hurricane Katrina.

The short  uses a variety of techniques, including miniatures, computer animation, and 2D animation, as author and illustrator William Joyce and co]director Brandon Oldenburg present a hybrid style of animation that harkens back to silent films and MGM Technicolor musicals. Given the producers' Louisana roots, the use of ‘jambalaya’or ‘gumbo’ as metaphors come readily to mind for a film that is also a delightful melange of sights, flavours, and influences. The film also pays homage to New Orleans' famed French Quarter.
  Read more ..


The Tragic Edge of Art

In Whitney Houston's Hometown, Fans Pay Tribute

February 16th 2012

Music - Whitney Houston

American music and movie star Whitney Houston died February 11 in Los Angeles at the age of 48. Although she was known to struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, the cause of her death is still to be determined. Meantime, her body was flown to her home town in New Jersey for burial. And fans have come from near and far to pay respects to her talent. 

Outside the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, fans and friends left messages, flowers and other outpourings to say “goodbye” and thank you to the star. Scribbled notes said her voice had brought goose bumps and that her greatness will always be remembered. Houston sang as a child at the church, and it's where her private funeral will be held on Saturday. A few blocks away, Houston's body lay at the Whigham Funeral Home. Funeral director Carolyn Whigham said she knew Houston even before she was born.  She begged the media to respect the family's privacy in this time of grief. “Whitney has shared her entire life with the public.  This is her final farewell. Let her family share that time with her. It’s never easy and it’s not easy when it’s someone you know, that you respected and that you admired," she said. In East Orange, the Whitney Houston School for the Performing Arts, stands as testimony to the admiration for Houston in this part of America.

Gregory Whittle came to the school to pay his respects. He grew up with Houston and knows her entire family. "A lot of times in the basement you could hear her singing. Singing in the back by the pool. I remember when she was on the cover of Seventeen magazine. But I mean.. she was just Nippy, you know what I mean?" he said. "I didn’t think she was going to be that big of a star but she had a gift. It was strictly from God." Henry Hamilton is the school's principal. He also knew Houston well. His office is adorned with photos of her. He was fond of her. "She was real quiet, small, we called her Nippy but a very adorable youngster. All people have problems, obstacles in their life," Hamilton stated. "There were obstacles there, but before that obstacle was there, she was most successful. During those 48 years, all the records she made, the number one hits, the number of albums she sold, beautiful, on top.” Read more ..


Film Review

"Hugo" is Full of Images Recalling Film's Early History

February 13th 2012

Film - hugo

Hugo. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Asa Butterfield, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Monetz, Jude Law. Length: 92 mins.

The recent holiday season offered three highly touted movies about boys caught up in exciting adventures: "Hugo," "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin." Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" was also one of several "reflexive" films—movies about the movies. Other reflexive films included "The Artist" (about a silent screen actor at the onset of "talkies") and "My Week with Marilyn" (about Marilyn Monroe during the 1956 filming in England of "The Prince and the Showgirl").

Each of these films is built from an excellent script, and each has a strong, distinct style. Of them, only "My Week with Marilyn" could be regarded as rather traditional, unembellished film-making. "The Artist" returns to the glittering black-and-white palette of the silver screen era and unfolds almost entirely without spoken dialogue. "War Horse" and "Hugo" are gloriously colorful period films. Impressive digital technology and motion-capture techniques (a la "Avatar," 2009) were the basis of Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin"—shot in 3-D, as was "Hugo."

In 'Hugo', Martin Scorsese's camera pays loving attention to machinery, gadgets and clockworks, which become the embodiment of human ingenuity and creativity. Read more ..


North Korea on Edge

North Korean Accordionists are Smash Hit on Internet, and Didn't Even Know it

February 12th 2012

Korea Topics - trio in north korea
Moreton Traavik in Panmunjon, North Korea

Norwegian synthpop and North Korea are an unlikely combination. But that’s exactly the mix that has spawned the Internet’s latest viral hit. A video of five North Korean accordionists playing the 1980’s song “Take On Me” by a-ha has nearly one million views on YouTube. And that’s only in its first week online. Norwegian artist and director Morten Traavik shot the video in Pyongyang last December in preparation for the Barents Spektakel, an international arts festival currently underway in Kirkenes, Norway.  It was the culmination of multiple trips to North Korea over several years.

“I wanted them to play, since they would be playing in Norway, to include some Norwegian tunes in their repertoire,” Traavik said in a telephone interview with VOA. “I brought them three Norwegian songs that are more of a classical nature, and also the “Take On Me” by our only world-famous pop group a-ha on a CD.” Traavik says he was impressed by how quickly the young North Koreans, who attend Pyongyang’s Kum Song Music School, mastered the tune.

“I gave them the CD with no notes, no annotations, nothing whatsoever, only the song on a CD on a Monday evening, and the clip that you see was filmed on Wednesday morning,” he said. In the video, three men and two women sway to the beat of the music, their arms wrapped around the accordions. “I think this has been a revelation to quite some people around the world, you can actually have a good time in North Korea as well,” said Traavik, who is known for his sensational projects, including the Miss Landmine pageants in Angola and Cambodia Read more ..


Edge of Film

Oscar-nominated Music Helps Movies Soar

February 9th 2012

Film - john williams scoring indy
credit: Tash

Most people consider film to be a purely visual medium. Yet a movie’s music, or score, plays a key role in conveying the work’s message.

Joseph Rivers, who teaches film studies and music at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, says the musical theme for director Stephen Spielberg’s “War Horse,” the epic that opens in rural England, is a good example of the way music can enhance the audience experience of a place.

With “War Horse,” this is done through sustained harmonies, broad sweeping orchestrations, sweeping melodic lines, or even with folk-like melodies imposed on the harmonies.”

Five-time Oscar winner John Williams composed the music for “War Horse,” one of the five current nominees for best score. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Musicians Abound Under the Streets of New York

February 9th 2012

Music - Musicians
New York City Subway Musicians

The New York subway system is one of the largest in the world, ferrying nearly eight and a half million people around the city every week. Riders find more than transportation below the streets; amid the dirt and the grime and the screech of the trains, there is also music. The subway system is like a free concert hall, offering almost every kind of music, from West African kora to American bluegrass to Vietnamese string instruments and Mexican mariachi bands.

You never know what you might encounter, depending on the day of the week and the particular station. At a subway platform below Penn Station one afternoon recently, Rawl Mitchell, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, was playing the steel drums. He said he’s been performing in the subway since the mid-1990s.

Read more ..


Edgy Entertainment

Madonna: Marketing and Public Relations Genius!

February 5th 2012

Entertainment - Super Bowl XLVI

In what was clearly a great Super Bowl half-time show, Madonna did a great job of entertaining the millions watching the game – and in doing so scored a Public Relations coup in reaching a new generation of fans. The guest appearances by today’s pop stars including LMFAO, Cee Lo Green, Nicki Minaj and M.I.A, all enhanced the brand that Madonna has succcessfully built since launching her fantastic career with her first hit song, "Like a Virgin" in 1984. Madonna has always proved to be be not just a megastar,  but a true marketing genius.  As a lightening rod for controversy, her songs through the years, including her first, then "Papa Don't Preach", "Like a Prayer", "Vogue", and others, have attracted acclaim, but also outrage and anger, which all helped draw more attention to her.

Clearly this Super Bowl performance continued that upward trend, showing that her genius continues well into her third decade as a performer.  Only a rare group of people can make a similar claim.
Read more ..


Book Review

The Cult of Choice: An Unabashed Document of the Contemporary Left

February 4th 2012

Book Covers - myth of choice

The Cult of Choice: Personal Responsibility in a World of Limits. Kent Greenfield. Yale. 2011.

Some readers have compared this book to the work of Malcolm Gladwell. It's not hard to see why; the core strategy of Gladwell mega-bestsellers such as The Tipping Point -- arrestingly simple assertion illustrated with anecdotal information from a variety of fields -- is very much in evidence here. But in an important sense, The Myth of Choice, which is about as well-written as anything in Gladwell's entertaining oeuvre, proves to be a more satisfying experience. That's because the illustrations are enlisted in the service in a more focused world view: that the libertarian cast of our sociopolitical discourse is at best misguided and at worst plays into the hands of those who manipulate our false sense of sovereignty in the service of their often pernicious agendas.

It's apparent that Kent Greenfield's life experiences have served him well. Born in small-town Kentucky, the son of a Baptist minister and a schoolteacher, he went to Brown and clerked for Supreme Court justice David Souter before taking a position at Boston College Law School. Each of these elements -- plain-spoken eloquence, intellectual rigor, a methodical cast of mind, flinty New England skepticism -- blend in his first-person voice. He writes as engagingly about a childhood contest of wills with an elementary school teacher as he does in parsing legal opinions. This is a book that can be read in a single sitting -- but also dispensed as bite-sized assignments in any number of humanities or social science courses. Read more ..


Book Review

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: How America's Oil Addiction Created a Legacy of Deceit and War

February 2nd 2012

Book Covers - redline agreement

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. Edwin Black. 2011. Dialog Press. 277 pages.

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement: The West's Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil is the third and latest entry in an series of books written by award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black that tackles the issues surrounding automobiles, energy, and transportation. The previous two books are Internal Combustion and The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops. As with all of his other books, Black relies upon a crack research team to uncover and compile an exhaustive trove of heretofore unknown factual information and data.

Buy it here. See Book TV here.

To me, as a dedicated free-market capitalist and defender of American ideals, I would like to believe that the story of petroleum oil exploration should be one of entrepreneurial glory. Instead, the more I learn about the corruption and machinations employed by British Petroleum and its industry cohorts and competitors, the more I realize that we have been the victims of oil’s subjugation for well over 100 years.

With the rise of industrialization and the advent of the automobile and other forms of engine-powered transportation, the world needed a standardized source of fuel for the new machines. That fuel could easily have been a fuel produced by virtually anyone using organic materials. However, a fuel based on simple vegetation or human waste, and a common distillation process that couldn't be patented left little on the table for those who sought unbridled power and wealth. British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement reads like the most exciting Tom Clancy novel entwined with a devious international conspiracy worthy of Ian Fleming’s wildest James Bond adventure; although even for a 007 yarn it might run the risk of being considered too implausible a plot. Buy it here. Read more ..


Israel and Iran

The End of Days in Palestine

February 1st 2012

Book Covers - Palestine the Book
Palestine the Book, by Jonathan Bloomfield

What would we do if we lived in a flood plain with no egress at all, or along a hurricane evacuation zone that just prolonged the inevitable without taking you out of the path? It is probably something few really consider until the storm is bearing down on them and reality is about hit hard. Living in the New York metropolitan area, having experienced hurricanes, nor'easters and blizzards that destroyed property, wiped out beaches, killed people and devastated lives and families, many of us can imagine the sense of urgency when an emergency is near.

Most recently, last April and May we watched the 24 hour news channels as large regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi were hit by the largest storms since the early 1900s, and the Morganza Spillway was intentionally opened, destroying nearly 5000 square miles of inhabited land to spare total destruction of Baton Rouge and New Orleans, on the heels of the 2005 hurricane that nearly wiped out the whole Gulf region. What if the people who lived there or were visiting the area then had no way to escape?

The prospect is frightening and for just about all of us, unimaginable. Now imagine the threat is not a tidal wave, rushing floodwaters, a violent tornado or some other natural disaster, and something that can wipe out life as we know it for years to come, destroying not just property, but everyone and everything in its wake. Imagine the threat is a nuclear explosion, the mushroom cloud in the distance, the flash of light and the torrent effect of the ripple that tears through everything in its path, leaving death and darkness then nothingness.

This is a fear that we face living in a nuclear world, but one that we here in the United States feel is either so remote or could hit elsewhere, but not in my backyard. However, in Israel, the fear is real. With the entire country being just 8,019 square miles; extending about 200 mi north to south and just 70 miles east to west; with its narrowest point being only 12 miles across, there is nowhere to go to outrun a nuclear attack, nowhere to hide and nothing to do but watch the end of the world take hold. Read more ..


Theatre Review

Oswald: A Play about a Murder that Never Goes Away

February 1st 2012

Art Topics - oswald

Oswald: The Actual Interrogation. Write Act Repertory Theatre, Hollywood CA.

Last summer, I strolled into a small New York East Side playhouse and sat down to watch Dennis Richard’s play Oswald,a story about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, one of the most dramatic events in the country’s history.  I expected yet another drama filled with forensics investigations, sound analysis, movie clips and extended wild conspiracy theories, like all the others over the years.

Oswald was not like that at all. It was a riveting story about the police investigation of the Kennedy murderer based on the actual notes of Captain Will Fitz, the veteran Dallas police detective who talked to Oswald for most of the two days he was in custody.  The story unfolded from the time of the shooting to the moment Oswald himself was gunned down by Jack Ruby, live, on national television, two days after Kennedy died.

Throughout, Richard built a riveting story and created a devastating character in Lee Harvey Oswald, an angry young man trying to fast talk his way out of the interview. Hour by hour, though, day by day, Captain Fitz built an unassailable case against Oswald.  He proved, without question, based on evidence and eyewitness testimony, that Oswald killed Kennedy.

The beauty of Oswald was that even though you knew how the story ended, you were transfixed by the play.  Now Oswald has re-opened at the Write Act Repertory Theater in Los Angeles for a month-long run.  Its producers have been talking to other theaters across the country about staging the play in 2013, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination that shook the world.  Two screenwriters have talked to Richard about turning the play into a film. Read more ..


Film Review

Red Tails: Good but Disappointing Historical Drama

February 1st 2012

Film - red tails

Red Tails. Director: Anthony Hemingway. Starring: Cuba Gooding, Terrence Howard.

In the opening scene of Red Tails, the new film produced by George Lucas about the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, hundreds of computerized planes emerge on screen in a pitched air battle. The tension-filled battle sequence ends and the action drifts down to the ground, where member of the all-black and very segregated Tuskegee squadrons complain that because of their color the army will not let them fly combat missions. If they could, they tell each other, they would shoot the Nazis out of the sky from one end of Europe to the other.

The plot of the film, an action-packed historical drama that opened last week, flies off from there. Red Tails is a fine movie, but it is a bit simplistic, overly heroic, filled with made-in-Hollywood quotes. It’s (admittedly) yet another updated version of the old wartime action flicks. It’s a film that tells the courageous tale of the black airmen and their two wars—one against the Germans and the other against the racist Army Air Force brass. The film is long on sensational aerial dogfights. Lucas, who gave the world Star Wars (the space battles in the original were based off of aerial combat footage from World War II), is the master of film dogfights. Here, over Italy, American fighter planes zig and zag their way through blue skies, blasting German planes out of the air. The enemy aircraft don’t just fall to earth; they fall with long spirals, smoke billowing from the fuselage and explode in a huge ball of bright orange fire. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

$800 Israeli Film Appears at Sundance

January 30th 2012

Israel Topics - Adi Kutner
Adi Kutner

An award-winning Israeli student film made with a budget of just $800 has been chosen to appear at the Sundance Film Festival.

With a budget of just $800, Israeli film student Adi Kutner has proven that it's the story that counts and not the hoo-ha producers usually rely on to move movies forward. Kutner's 18-minute short, Barbie Blues, was chosen to screen at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, beginning today, and ending on January 29.

Barbie Blues is a coming-of-age story with a global appeal. It centers on Mika, a lonely teenager who lives in suburbia, and her new neighbor, Gershon. Through her encounter with Gershon, Mika discovers the boundaries of her femininity and sexuality for the first time, says Kutner. But like the Barbie dolls the film is named for, hers is a shallow and idealized version of what a woman should be.

"There's an awkward border that teens walk between adulthood and childhood," Kutner said, noting that teenage girls so often mimic what society tells them is "sexy" without fully understanding the meaning of their behavior. Read more ..


Book Review

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Greatness that Was Not to Be

January 30th 2012

Book Covers - Moscow December 25

Moscow, December 25, 1991: The Last Day of the Soviet Union. Conor O'Clery. Public Affairs. 2011.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin each ate hot cereal for breakfast, had loving and protective wives and children, rose through Communist Party ranks to become quintessential members of the nomenklatura, or bureaucratic elite. Above all, in this lively, stimulating account of the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union, Conor O’Clery, the Irish Times’s Moscow-based journalist, offers a mini-John le Carré treatment of constant warfare inside the once-secret walls of the Kremlin. Endemic corruption, ineptitude, and conspiracies, plus the loss of faith in the Soviet’s military-industrial complex, a failed war in Afghanistan, and a crumbling economy helped to destroy the Soviet Union. All it seemed to need was a push from the inside. Who did what to whom and why and its consequences is the heart of O’Clery’s portrayal. Stalin, Beria and the rest of the gang of murderers were gone but what they left in their wake was a predictable quest for power and privilege by those who followed them. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

Director Angelina Jolie Scorned by Serbia for Human Rights Movie

January 30th 2012

Film - land of blood and honey

She’s known internationally as one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses; she’s won praise from governments and NGOs across the globe for her work as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations; and she’s often reckoned to be the world’s most beautiful woman. But Angelina Jolie has been going by a few other titles lately in the Balkan country of Serbia, where prominent media outlets have taken to describing her as an American propagandist and all-around "jerk."

The nationalistic furor stems from Jolie's recent debut as a screenwriter and director with “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a fictionalized account of the Bosnian war. Jolie and the film are now at the center of a furious debate in Serbia over the nation’s most sensitive political issue: the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and the degree of Serbia’s responsibility for ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslim and Croat civilians during the Bosnian war.

Key voices in the Serbian media have said that Jolie’s story of a doomed wartime romance between a Muslim woman and a Serbian army officer unfairly denigrates ethnic Serbs and spins the conflict from a distinctly anti-Serb perspective. Film director Emir Kusturica recently told “Blic,” a Serbian daily, that Jolie’s new film is a work of “Hollywood propaganda.” His comments came as the Belgrade tabloid “Kurir” ran an interview with Bata Zivojinovic -- a veteran Yugoslav actor, former member of the Serbian parliament, and longtime Slobodan Milosevic ally -- under the blaring headline, "Angelina Is A Jerk." Read more ..


Film Review

W./E.: Wallis Simpson was Not As Dreadful as Madonna's Film Treatment of Her life

January 28th 2012

Film - W./E.

W./E. Director: Madonna. Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Abbie Cornish, James D’Arcy, Oscar Isaac, Richard Coyle. Length: 119 mins.

The Wikipedia entry for Madonna lists no fewer than ten professions to describe her ‘occupation’. Well, here is number 11: self-appointed Promoter of the Cause for the Canonization of St. Wallis of Baltimore. 

W./E. is not a film about Wallis Simpson; rather it is a film by a woman obsessed with Wallis about a woman obsessed with Wallis. In 1998, New Yorker, Wally Winthrop (Abbie Cornish) escapes her own marital difficulties by imagining a friendship with her namesake, played by Andrea Riseborough. An auction of the Collection of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Sotheby’s acts as a tenuous portal between the supposedly parallel lives of the two women.

Just in case the viewer struggles to spot immediately the similarities (names aside) between these two very different women, Madonna paints the picture for us, but it is more of a paint-by-numbers job than a masterpiece. The two women are both defined by their marriages (Wally, at an event to celebrate her husband’s extremely successful career in psychiatry, is referred to as ‘Married Lady’; Wallis’ three weddings are all highlighted). Both are victims of domestic violence, and brutal it is too. Read more ..


Film Reviews

The Artist: A Story of Love and Yearning for Articulacy and Understanding

January 27th 2012

Film - the Artist

The Artist. Director: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Penelope Ann Miller, John Goodman. Length: 90 mins.

The Artist, by the French director Michel Hazanavicius, begins with the noise of an old-fashioned projector and a black screen. Music then comes up, a jazzy tune reminiscent of the 1920s without being quite of the period. The titles which then appear are entirely of the period, known to us now as "the silent era" — as is what we are soon seeing on the screen, which is a lurid adventure yarn in living black-and-white. Called "A Russian Affair," the movie has reached a peak of excitement as the hero, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), is being tortured with an electrical current through his head, administered by a couple of sinister-looking Russians. "I won’t talk!" he cries to his torturers by means of a dialogue title printed on the screen. "I won’t say a word" — a promise which the film allows him to keep in spite of the word he has just supposedly spoken. "Speak!" the Russians command him, also by inter-title. But he remains silent — then and throughout both that film and the one we are watching.

It is a good joke and one that Mr. Hazanavicius returns to several times, as when he shows Valentin gathered with his fellow stars on the other side of the screen, awaiting their cue to appear for a curtain call at the film’s premiere under a sign reading "Please be silent behind the screen." Later, his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) ominously says — again in print, of course — to Valentin: "We have to talk, George." Alas, George has already told Al Zimmer (John Goodman), the studio boss of Kinograph pictures what he told the sinister Russians, namely that he’s not talking. Shown his first talkie, George tells Al via another dialogue title, "If that’s the future, you can have it." Well, Al does and he doesn’t. Sticking with silence, he takes a bath with a self-produced film in which we see his character sinking into quicksand at the end. Virtually overnight, he’s all washed up. Read more ..


The Edge of Film

New Short Film/Video, Rainbow in the Night, Expresses Triumph and Hope in Time for the U.N. Holocaust Remembrance Day

January 26th 2012

Jewish Topics - Ranbow in the Night
On set in Majdanek

January 27, 2012 marks the 7th Annual UN Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's purpose is to honor the victims of the Holocaust and establish ways for younger and future generations to learn about and remember the tragedies that occured.  The hope is that through learning from our history, we can prevent the darkest points from ever occurring again.

In honor of the U.N. Holocaust Rememberance Day, film producer and director Daniel Finkelman recently completed a scripted and reenacted music video, depicting the era of the Holocaust entitled, “Rainbow in the Night”.  The video offers viewers an emotional and visual outlook into life in Poland, 1939.

Read more ..


Edge of Film

'Hugo' Leads Oscar Race With 11 Nominations

January 25th 2012

Film - hugo

The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning in Hollywood. Martin Scorsese's 3D adventure movie "Hugo," a fantasy tribute to French film pioneer George Melies, leads the list with 11 nominations, including one for Best Director, numerous technical categories and the most coveted of all, Best Picture of the Year. Actress and previous Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence announced the top category. "The films selected as best picture nominees for 2011 are  "War Horse," "The Artist," "Moneyball," "The Descendants," "The Tree of Life," "Midnight in Paris," "The Help," "Hugo" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

The silent film, "The Artist," is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including best picture, best actor and best supporting actress. "The Artist," a French-made black-and-white silent film about old-time Hollywood, has 10 nominations, including writing and directing for Michel Hazanavicius, Best Actor for its star Jean DuJardin and Best Supporting Actress for co-star Berenice Bejo, who expresses the sentiment heard most often. "Just being nominated is already an honor and already unbelievable," she said. Read more ..


Book Reviews

The Sense of an Ending: Low-Key Suspense and Deft Spacing in a Novella

January 24th 2012

Book Covers - sense of an ending

The Sense of an Ending. Julian Barnes. Alfred Knopf Publishers. 2011. 160 pages.

This novella tells an extraordinary story about a very ordinary man. The Sense of an Ending won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for any number of literary reasons. But one of its most distinctive attributes is its power as a meditation on the way memory is a form of personal historiography. Our master narratives of ourselves change in light our changing circumstances -- and, every once in a while, when previously unknown information about the past prompts (sometimes painful) revisionism.

Tony Webster is a late middle-aged man: recently retired, not-so recently divorced, with a grown daughter and young grandchildren. In measured prose, he tells the reader the story of his life. Most of his tale is dominated by his youth as schoolboy with a group of three other chums in postwar England and in chronicling his first serious romance. These two strands intertwine briefly in early adulthood. That chapter of his life ends unhappily, but he gets on with it and decades later looks back with satisfaction on a career as an arts administrator and an ex-wife with whom he remains on friendly terms.

Then, most unexpectedly, he is informed of a small bequest and the existence of a document that he is apparently meant to see but which is also being withheld from him. Disoriented by this set of events, Webster re-opens old relationships that shake loose the cobwebs of his memory. It's hard to be more specific than this without ruining the distinctly low-key but undeniable suspense of the story. Read more ..


Film Reviews

Iron Lady is a Film not so much about Politics as it is about Pity

January 24th 2012

Film - iron lady

All the review of The Iron Lady that you really need is to be found in the headline to a recent article in The Times of London by Daniel Finkelstein: "Thatcher was not just strong. She was right." Unless this be granted, the case goes by default that the former British prime minister was the monster of left-wing caricature. The difficulty for the film-makers - Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia!) directed, Abi Morgan (Shame) wrote the screenplay - is that they don't want the caricature but they don't want her to be right either.

To get around this difficulty they have made a political movie from which the politics has been extracted as a taxidermist draws out the brain of an animal he is stuffing through its nose. If there were any politics in it, they would have had to pick a side and portray Margaret Thatcher as essentially right or essentially wrong, so offending a significant portion of their potential audience who are, more than 30 years later, still passionately committed to one view or the other. But there are two senses in which the Thatcher premiership was historic.

One is the political sense that the film avoids; the other, chosen by the Misses Lloyd and Morgan, is the merely journalistic sense of "historic" - that is, because she was the first woman to hold the office of the Queen's first minister. In other words she was strong; on the question of whether she was right or not, the film mostly tries to remain agnostic - and uncontroversial. Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Putin's List: 100 Books For Russian Readers

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - Tolstoy
Tolstoy

In his latest campaign article, published in the "Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily, Russian Prime Minister and presidential hopeful Vladimir Putin takes Russia's national question and breaks it in two. How do we deal with outsiders? he asks. And what does it mean to be an insider? Accordingly, Putin uses his piece to call for several hard-nosed policies for dealing with the "outsiders" -- the nation's growing immigrant population. But at the same time, he proposes a literary gateway for those who wish to become "insiders" -- a cultural canon of 100 books to serve as required reading for all students in Russia's schools.

Speaking on January 23 in the southern city of Kislovodsk, Putin acknowledged Russia's rich legacy as a multiethnic state, but said its inhabitants had much to gain from embracing a unified Russian identity. "No one who lives in our country should forget about their religion or ethnicity," Putin said. "But everyone should be, first and foremost, a citizen of the great country of Russia." Putin noted in his article that "every self-respecting" student at leading American universities has dutifully read their way through similar lists, such as the 51-volume Harvard Classics world-lit anthology or the works included in American educator Mortimer Adler's "Great Books of the Western World." Russia, Putin implied in his article, was not to be outdone. "Our nation has always been a reading nation," he wrote, and called on the country's leading cultural authorities to get cracking with a list of their own. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.xPrime Minister Vladimir Putin regards a book about himself during a visit to Penza in April 2011.
Read more ..


Edge of Film

New Documentary Illustrates Plague of Leftover Landmines

January 24th 2012

Art Topics - surviving the peace doc

Remnants of war, including unexploded ordnance and landmines, are still found in many countries around the world - even decades after conflicts have ended. Those dangers often devastate the lives of local inhabitants, who might not be aware they live in the middle of a minefield. An international organization that helps clear and destroy weapons left behind in war zones recently screened a documentary called Surviving the Peace, which shows how remnants of a conflict affect people’s lives, even after their country has emerged from war. In many regions of the globe, surviving a war is followed by surviving the peace. From Laos, where this new documentary was filmed, to Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and many other countries, local inhabitants live in daily fear of stepping on a landmine or unexploded ordnance left after a recent conflict.

Surviving the Peace, filmed in Laos in May 2011, reflects a situation found in many countries. It features a young father who is blinded when a bomb left over from the Vietnam War explodes in the fire he is making at his home. The guy had most of his face deformed and we were this close [to him]. They allowed us in and we were complete strangers. It felt like we were given a gift from these people to be allowed into their lives,” said filmmaker and cinematographer Rick Gershon. Read more ..


Book Reviews

Life Itself: Movie Critic Robert Ebert's Unselfconscious Memoir

January 22nd 2012

Book Covers - Life itself

Life Itself: A Memoir. Roger Ebert. Grand Central. 2011. 448 pages.

At one point in this memoir, longtime film critic Roger Ebert describes taking an undergraduate class at University of Illinois on the fiction of Willa Cather and being arrested by Cather's prose, which he describes "as clear as running water." Yes, I said aloud: that captures exactly what I've always so liked about Ebert. There's an artlessness to his criticism that could only be honed by decades of newspaper work. I admired Pauline Kael for her inimitable voice -- not that she's lacked imitators -- and the way I found her taste unpredictable. (I'd often try and guess in advance whether she was going to like a movie before I read her review, and as often as not was wrong.)

I'm less interested in trying to guess with Ebert than just to hear what he has to say in that sensible, fair voice of his. I think of his plain-spoken sensibility as quintessentially Midwestern by way of Chicago, land of Royko, Terkel and Eppie Lederer, a.k.a. Ann Landers, three of many Windy City scribes who make appearances on these pages. (There are some amusing Ann Landers stories here, including one about Ebert, a recovering alcoholic, trying to take her to an AA meeting and being rebuffed by the participants. Ebert also used her as a prop in trying to pick up the woman who became his wife.)

As regular readers of his work are aware, Ebert has been struggling with various forms of cancer for a decade now, and has undergone surgery that has left him unable to eat, drink, or speak. But, he explains, this involuntary silence seems to have triggered a flood of memory, leading him to start an autobiographical blog that resulted in this book. It does indeed read like an untrammeled river of prose; as an affectionate but frank Maureen Dowd complained in her review, "The effervescent Ebert doesn’t realize ... that for an autobiography, he doesn’t need to include the names of every childhood friend, parish priest, funeral attendee, and even his phone number when he was a boy." Read more ..


Edge on Books

Edwin Black Exposes War-Stained Oil History of British Petroleum on C-SPAN's Book-TV with 'British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement'

January 21st 2012

Book Covers - redline agreement

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement--The West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. Edwin Black. 277 pages. 2011. Buy it here.

Bestselling historian author and investigative journalist Edwin Black appears in three broadcasts on Book-TV over the January 21-22 weekend and January 23. Black will speak on his book British Petroleum and the Redline AgreementThe West’s Secret Pact to Get Mideast Oil. His main themes will be the fraud, deception, and decades of war machinations of the company now known as BP, and how it shaped the Mideast as we now know it and helped addict the world to oil.

His dynamic presentations were made before an international audience assembled at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement is only the latest of his several volumes on the geopolitics and diplomatic machinations that led to the carving up of the Mideast the creation of oil states following the fall of the Ottoman Empire nearly one hundred years ago-- and eventually to the two costly wars the United States fought in Iraq. Black is said to be the man who coined the term "petropolitics."

Some of his other widely-cited books on the topic, which have been well received by historians and analysts, are The Farhud, Banking on Baghdad, The Plan and Internal Combustion. These cover the intricate and deadly connections between backroom dealings by global powers such as British Petroleum and General Motors, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, as well as and their interveined relationship with America’s wars and oil addiction. Black is best known for his prize-winning volume, IBM and the Holocaust.

British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement has brought Black accolades from analysts who watch the Mideast and the current devolution of decades-old oil-sponsored dictatorships in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the possible rise of Islamist regimes. His work provides historical context to the troubles of the so-called Arab Spring that have led to the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Singing the Blues isn't Easy in the Land of Mariachis, Cumbia, and Narco-Corridos

January 19th 2012

Mexican Topics - Roberto Fernandez

Roberto Fernandez concedes that it's sometimes lonely being a bluesman in Culiacan. The capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, Culiacan is best known for the banda or grupera sounds that also provide the drum beat to the narco-culture and violence that's enveloped the region. "There's no blues scene," Fernandez chuckles. "We are the only ones." The frontman for the Malverde Blues Experience, Fernandez is a big man with a voice to match. His stage projection recalls in some ways Leslie West of the old US rock group Mountain, and Fernandez's band mates lay out a thundering sound with slices of heavy-metal, soul and the Texas boogie of ZZ Top.

As for the name of the group, Fernandez offers two explanations, both of them riddled with Mexican experiences of immigration, contraband smuggling, banditry and myth-making. The name "Malverde" (literally "Bad Green"), says the lead singer, is taken from an Indiana friend's bummer high on marijuana that could be considered a "blues experience." Pressed further, Fernandez accepts that Malverde, of course, is also the patron saint of Sinaloa's narcos and poor people who revere the outlaw figure outside the formal rituals of the Roman Catholic Church. "The name seemed perfect to me because it situates us in that mythic context, which in the final analysis is the basis of all societies," Fernandez muses. The music of Malverde Blues Experience, he adds, not only speaks to the realities of a violent hometown but to "universal situations that happen anywhere." Read more ..


Book Reviews

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists and Their Family's Trial of Faith and Socialism

January 18th 2012

Book Covers - Conscience

Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family - A Test of Will and Faith in World War I. Louisa Thomas. Penguin Press. 2011. 336 pages.

“Socialism” has been redefined, praised and denigrated by free marketeers, assorted liberals and conservatives, pandering politicians and Obama-haters.  But in the end, it never took hold in this country because of governmental persecution, corporate opposition, recurring internal divisions, the New Deal, and perhaps above all the “American Dream,” which led American workers to support capitalism.

Was it possible to reconcile socialism with capitalism?  In socialism’s heyday, Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate, received 6 percent of the vote in the 1912 election running against the Republican William Howard Taft, the pugnacious Bull Mooser Teddy Roosevelt and Democrat Woodrow Wilson.  Eight years later, in the 1920 election, while Debs was still imprisoned in Atlanta penitentiary for opposing World War I and the draft, he received one million votes.  It’s hard to remember that today’s consistently Republican/conservative Oklahoma once contained the nation’s second-largest socialist party.  The nadir of socialism’s national electoral popularity was when Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial candidate, won 140,000 votes in his final run in 1948, next to Harry Truman’s 24 million and Thomas Dewey’s 22 million.  In that last fruitless presidential campaign he railed against communism, Henry Wallace’s Progressive Party, and the bellicose foreign policies of both Democrats and Republicans.

Neither Debs, nor Thomas, nor for that matter once-prominent socialists Daniel DeLeon, Morris Hillquit, and even Helen Keller, are remembered today.  Nor are socialism’s historical ancestors:  Brook Farm, the Amana and Oneida communities, Robert Owen’s New Harmony colony, and Edward Bellamy’s late nineteenth-century Looking Backward, a hugely popular novel about a socialist and utopian America. Read more ..


Book Review

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Cold Comfort for America's Religious Right

January 15th 2012

Book Covers - roger williams 3

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State and the Birth of Liberty. John M. Barry. Viking Press. 2012. 441 pages.

John Barry has written one of the best and clearest books about Roger Williams that I have ever read, a book about the ideas of Roger Williams and their context. It is not a biography in the usual sense, but it tells what ideas, forces, and events shaped Williams’ thinking. Barry concludes that Williams was truly revolutionary and was the source of one of two major versions in the American “soul.” He was the fountain of the stream of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and political liberty. The other stream was represented by John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts. Winthrop presented America as a Christian “city on a hill” whose continued success required the state to be a “nurturing father” to the church. The government and the church had to be partners in curbing the human wickedness and preserving their covenant with God. If they failed, God would surely make an example of their city, treating it as if it were Sodom or Gomorrah. Williams, on the other hand, said that the state had absolutely no role to play in religion.

Barry devotes about a third of the book to the British context of Williams’ development, especially stressing the impact of Sir Edward Coke and Sir Francis Bacon. The greater influence was Coke, who plucked the boy Williams from obscurity, made him his amanuensis, and saw that he received the finest formal education available at Charterhouse School and Cambridge University. Williams accompanied Coke to Parliament, the Court of Star Chamber, Court of Common Pleas, the Privy Council, conferences with the King, and other high-level meetings. Williams learned about the law, government, and justice first hand at the elbow of England’s greatest jurist and legal thinker. Read more ..


Edge on Film

A Separation: An Iranian Film and Contender for Golden Globes Award

January 14th 2012

Film - A Separation still

The much-acclaimed Iranian film, "A Separation," headlined Prague’s inaugural Iranian Film Festival this week, in a showcase event highlighting the best of Iran’s distinguished film industry. Ashgar Farhadi’s film has received plaudits in Iran as well as in the international film community after being the first Iranian film to win the prestigious Golden Bear award at the Berlin International Film Festival and being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe Awards in the United States. The Golden Globes will be held on January 15.

"A Separation" explores the complex issue of migration and poses an uncomfortable question that has confronted a generation of Iranians living in Iran and abroad: to stay in Iran and be slowly strangled by the rigors of Iranian society or flee to the West and become irrelevant? The film tells the story of the strained relationship between a middle-class couple, Nader and Simin. Nader is driven by his duty to stay in Iran and take care of his ageing and ill father. Simin, meanwhile, is driven by a need for escape and longs to leave Iran, especially for the sake of their young daughter, Termeh. A series of heated arguments follow between the couple and a climax is reached when Simin leaves home and demands a divorce from Nader, which instigates a series of unforeseen and tragic events. Read more ..

Wine and Food

Michigan Sees Great Future in Ancient Italian Dessert Wines

January 14th 2012

Food / Wine - sabattini viticulturist
Michigan viticulturist Paolo Sabbatini

A Michigan State University researcher is working with vintners to introduce passito, an age-old Italian wine to the United States. Passito, traced to 800 B.C. in Italy, is also known as straw wine. The grapes for passito are typically hand-picked and allowed to dry on cellar racks or, more traditionally, on mats of straw. Many industry experts believe ice wine – dessert wine pressed from frozen grapes at the peak of ripeness and can sell around $90 per bottle – could be the signature wine for the northern United States. Passito, however, could be just as distinct but also a lower-risk option for wine producers, says Paolo Sabbatini, MSU viticulturist and native Italian.

“No one is making passito commercially in America, and this old Italian technique can be pivotal in cool-cold climate viticulture,” Sabbatini said. “It can save unripe grapes from being wasted in a challenging year as well as produce a high-quality, high-value product, distinctive to the northern U.S.” Typically, growers of ice-wine grapes need the perfect winter storm – the arrival of temperatures in the teens to freeze ripe grapes while they are on the vine. This year’s fickle winter, however, has put the entire North American ice wine crop on hold. In the last two months, weather has been up and down, switching from snow to rain and not delivering the successive string of cold days needed to harvest frozen grapes, according to an industry publication. Read more ..


Film Review

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: A Film of World-Weary Self Satisfaction

January 13th 2012

Film - tinker tailor soldier spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Director: Tomas Alfredson. Starring: Gary Oldman. Length: 92 mins.

Although I didn’t much care for Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I should begin by giving it its due. The movie does a fantastic job of conveying what Britain looked, sounded and even smelled like in 1973, which was the year I arrived there for what turned out to be a nearly 15-year stay spanning the transition from the Britain of the post-war era to the threshold of the post-Cool Britannia of today. The clothes, the cars, the general dinginess and shabbiness of everything is captured perfectly, so far as I can see, in spite of the odd false note like having George Smiley (Gary Oldman) and an associate dining in a Wimpy Bar. Obviously, the Wimpy Bar has to be there in order to give us the full flavor of the period, but men of their class wouldn’t have been caught dead in one. Movies these days are generally pretty good at re-creating the material past, but this one is a reminder of the importance of also getting the moral and intellectual and spiritual past right as well, for it cannot be understood apart from that cultural context.

In its case, that means the John Le Carré novel of 1974 and the 1979 BBC television adaptation of it starring Alec Guinness as well as the history of the Cold War on which both purport to be a distinctive gloss. Unlike Mr. Alfredson’s previous film, Let the Right One In, which was a completely original take on the vampire legend, Tinker Tailor places itself squarely in the middle of the now well-established tradition of cultural customs and concepts with which it deals — partly, perhaps, in order to suggest a continuity between that tradition and current political realities with which it would otherwise seem to have little in common. In other words, now not only Cold War spies but spies in general are seen as inhabiting that famously "twilit" world invented by Mr. Le Carré to express his own conviction of moral ambiguity and, in consequence, a near moral equivalence between Communist slave states and what used to be called "the West." Read more ..



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