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Film Essay

Lawrence's Star Rises in 'The Hunger Games'

March 24th 2012

Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence, By Tabercil

The Hunger Games novels by author Suzanne Collins are international best-sellers, and now the first film based on that trilogyis poised to become a worldwide hit, propelling lead actress Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom.

In a distant future, to commemorate an uprising quelled by the government, children from the rebellious districts are chosen as "tributes" who battle to the death in a broadcast for the entertainment of the wealthy elite. When her younger sister is selected, Katniss, a teenager, steps forward to take her place.

Lawrence, who stars as Katniss, enters The Hunger Games as a reluctant warrior but grows into a symbol of bravery and hope.

"She is this incredible character in this incredible story for our generation," explains Lawrence.

The actress, 21, admits to some misgivings when she won the role of an icon.

"Personally I was nervous obviously because I knew that everything would change," she says. "I didn't know what would change and if I would like it or dislike it. But I knew it would never go back to normal. Then as an actress it's always scary because you're afraid you're going to be too well-known for one thing and then whatever you do after that it's just going to be 'oh look, Katniss is doing a period drama.' You know, that's just not good."

Born and raised in Kentucky, Lawrence was 14 when she convinced her parents to let her try acting. She never took lessons, but her natural talent quickly won her roles in TV shows and then films. Her breakout performance was as a teenager searching for her missing father in the 2010 drama Winter's Bone. It earned Lawrence a best actress Oscar nomination. At the time, she tried to take it in stride. Read more ..

Film Reviews

The Kid with a Bike: A Story of Rejection through a Child's Eyes

March 23rd 2012

The kids with a bike

Le Gamin au Velo: The Kid with a Bike. Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne. Starring: Cecile de France, Thomas Doret. Length: 90 mins.

The worst thing that can happen to a child, at least from the child’s own point of view, is rejection by a parent. And maybe there is something even beyond that horror for a boy who is rejected by his father, since in that case the denial of love is compounded by a kind of denial of the child’s own existence. The man whose place you can’t help feeling you were born to take in this world tells you he doesn’t want you in his place anymore — or his world. It’s a bit like one of those "after-birth abortions," the apologists for which were recently shocked to learn had shocked even a culture inured, as our is, to abortion-on-demand.

Yet the story of such a rejection, like Le gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) by the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, may be robbed of a full portion of what would otherwise be its elemental power by having to be told, ex hypothesi, of a child, and through a child’s eyes. Much as we sympathize with any child who suffers such a ghastly rejection, we are still able to palliate the horror of the child’s experience to ourselves by reflecting that he is a child. He’ll get over it. Or, if not get over it, he will learn some coping mechanism and have a life of his own to compensate him for being turned out of others’ lives. The loss is not irrecoverable, as that of some deaths or a loss of position or reputation can be to an adult. Read more ..

Book Review

The Pilgrim: Illuminating the Genesis of America's Religious Preoccupation

March 23rd 2012

nissenson - the pilgrim

The Pilgrim. Hugh Nissenson. Sourcebooks Landmark, 2011. 368 pages.

The popularity of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, has drawn public attention to the role of religion in American life, and especially in politics. But author Hugh Nissenson says America’s focus on religion is nothing new. In fact, he says the country has been preoccupied with religion since its founding.

The importance of religion to the birth of America comes into sharp focus in Nissenson’s new book, The Pilgrim, which follows the story of a Puritan Separatist who left England amid religious persecution in 1622, and settled in British America’s Massachusetts Bay Colony.

“It is not an unfamiliar American experience that a group of people come and find what they consider to be salvation in the ‘promised land.’ It is a replication always of the identification that they have with the children of Israel, with the Jews who wandered in the wilderness and found a promised land,” Nissenson said in an interview.

“The Mormon story is not exactly the same, but follows along many of the lines of wandering in the wilderness, coming to Salt Lake, ‘this must be the place,’ and finding what they consider to be redemption.”

Nissenson, known for bringing history alive in such acclaimed works as Tree of Life, does it again with The Pilgrim. The novel is presented as a first person account of the life of one man, the fictional Charles Wentworth. It comes in the form of a “confession” that Wentworth writes as a part of the process of joining a strict Puritan church.

“I hereby publicly confess my sins and declare my regeneration …” he begins.

In the manuscript, Wentworth describes the trials of his early life in England. After being scarred by smallpox and enduring the death of his fiancée, he boards a ship for America. He joins a group of Puritan Separatists who split from the official Church of England in hopes of establishing a more “pure” religious community.

Wentworth encounters a different set of challenges: bitter weather, starvation, and attacks from hostile Indians, native people who were massacred at the end of the story. Read more ..

Edge of Architecture

Augustus Pugin: A Bicentennial Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

March 22nd 2012

Auguste Pugin
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin

It would not be a surprise if you have not heard of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (pronounced, in English, pew-jin). The BBC one-hour special in January observed that Pugin was far from being a household name in the UK – even though the UK is, as one of my professors who had studied at Cambridge declared, “Pugin Country” -- where the landscape is filled with buildings of his design: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, nine cathedrals, 100 Anglican and Catholic churches, monasteries, hospitals, barns, homes, railroad stations, and on and on. Not just the buildings, but everything inside the buildings: dinnerware, silverware, wallpaper, furniture, floor tile, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass windows. The Victoria and Albert Museum of London possesses hundreds of such artifacts and many of them can be seen online.

Born two hundred years ago, March 1, 1812, he died at age 40 just after his triumphal achievement at the first world’s fair, London’s Great Exhibition of 1851, visited by six million people, which made Gothic welcome throughout the world. You may not know Pugin’s name, but you have undoubtedly seen the influence of his Gothic Revival – wherever there is Gothic after 1840, even in America: St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (cornerstone 1858), the National Episcopal Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (foundation 1907), collegiate gothic at about 40 colleges and universities, including Duke, Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning, Washington University, Notre Dame, Princeton, etc. Events celebrating his bicentennial appear at: the PuginSociety website. Read more ..

Book Essay

Iran's Ancient Hatred for Jews

March 22nd 2012


Iran's supreme leader recently said his country would help any Muslim nation or group that attacks Israel. He's called the Jewish state a cancerous tumor that will be cut out of the Middle East. With Iran's nuclear weapons program advancing daily, that goal may be in sight.

This view of Jews as sub-human sounds a lot like Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, but it goes back much further. In author Andrew Bostom's book, The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, he describes Islam's early conquests of Jewish tribes in Arabia. Mohammed's frustrations in spreading his message were frequently recompensed by murderous attacks on the Jews," he stated.

Bostom explained that Mohammed demonized Jews because they rejected him as a prophet. "Mohammed himself invokes some of these themes," he said. "For example, one of the punishments of the Jews is their transformation into apes, or apes and pigs, the verses that are commonly heard now."

This "apes and pigs" imagery is found in Islam's core texts, like the Koran and hadiths. The most notorious is the following hadith, often quoted by al Qaeda, Hamas, and other Islamic terror groups. "Judgment Day will come only when the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, until the Jew hides behind the tree and the stone, and the tree and the stone say, 'Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.'" In some verses of the Koran, Jews are referred to as "perverse," "evil," "greedy," and the "heirs of hell." The Iranian regime takes these verses seriously, starting with the man who founded the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah Khomeini. "His image of wiping out the Jews was that all of the Muslims of the world should get together with a cup of water and simply wash it away. But again, annihilationism," Bostom said. Read more ..

Book Reviews

The Battle of Midway: A Superb Narrative of a Decisive Moment in History

March 20th 2012

battle of midway

The Battle of Midway. Craig L. Symonds. Oxford Univ. Press. 2011. 464 pages.

“In a series that focuses on historical contingency, it is appropriate, perhaps even essential, to include the Battle of Midway,” says Craig Symonds, a historian at the Naval Academy and author of Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History (one of which was, yes, the Battle of Midway) and the award-winning Lincoln and His Admirals. His book is apparently part of Oxford University Press’s series on “Pivotal Moments in American History,” which already includes military histories such as David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing (about the Battle of Trenton) and James McPherson’s Crossroads of Freedom (on the Battle of Antietam), along with treatises on civilian topics such as rock ‘n’ roll, Brown v. Board of Education, and the election of 1800.

But except for Symonds’s early remark, quoted above, and series editor McPherson’s 2-page introduction, one would never know this book was part of any series: there’s no mention of it anywhere on the cover or in the book.

Such an ambiguous introduction makes for a weird start (what is Oxford thinking?). But no matter. Symonds follows up his opening remark with a little over 350 pages of superb narrative, clearly, vividly, and energetically written, with attention to detail that is always relevant to his interpretation and almost never descends into minutiae for its own sake. I have read a fair amount of military history, but am hardly a specialist, so I can say confidently that this book will be read appreciatively by other non-specialists. Indeed, it demonstrates why military history should not be considered “merely” a “niche” subject, but part of the mainstream of the national narrative.

Not that the Battle of Midway has lacked for popular attention. Most notably, Walter Lord’s Incredible Victory (1967) and Gordon Prange’s Miracle at Midway (1982) both attracted many, many readers. As their titles suggest, however, they seemed to be saying that the U.S. Navy’s triumph on June 4, 1942, was so unlikely as to defy rational explanation—or, as Symonds puts it, that victory was “the product of fate, or chance, or luck, or even divine will.” Read more ..

Book Reviews

Hitlerland: Americans' Front-Row seats at the Nazi Rise to Power

March 20th 2012


Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power. Andrew Nagorski. Simon and Shuster, 2011. 400 pages.

Hitlerland: a term coined in the Berlin-based 1930s by International News Service writer Pierre John Huss to describe Nazi Germany. Huss. Huss, who later worked as one of the so-called "Murrow's Boys" assembled by the legendary broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, interviewed Adolf Hitler multiple times. William Shirer, who also knew a thing or two about Germany in the '30s, described Huss as "slick, debonair, and ambitious."

Some of Huss's peers grumbled at the time that he was a little to close the Nazi regime, which may or may not have been true. But as Andrew Nagorski makes clear in this often absorbing book, there were many Americans in Germany at the time who were open in their admiration of it, along with those who were confused, afraid, and angry about it.

In Hitlerland, former Newsweek journalist Andrew Nagorski finds a clever way to tell a familiar story. He's gathered up dozens of sources from Americans who lived, worked, or simply passed through Germany in the two decades following the Great War and sketched a compelling composite portrait. Among the most durable and informed observers we meet are Truman Smith, a military attaché to the U.S. embassy in Berlin, Hearst correspondent Karl Henry von Wiegand, and Chicago Tribune reporter (and later radio correspondent) Sigrid Schultz. More familiar names include future television broadcaster Howard K. Smith, future CIA director Richard Helms, and celebrity aviator Charles Lindbergh.

Lindbergh, of course, later became infamous for his isolationism, widely viewed as Naziphilia by another name. In Hitlerland, however, we meet him and his also famous wife Anne in their first visit to Germany before his views solidified. Ironically, Lindbergh's VIP tour of state-of-the-art German aviation yielded information that proved to be of considerable value to the American government. The far more repugnant figure in Hitlerland is Ernst "Putzi" Hafstaengl the half-German/half-American Harvard graduate who worked for a time as Hitler's propagandist before being dumped by the Fuhrer. In one of the more dramatic moments in the book, young Hitler takes refuge in the immediate aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 with Hafstaengl's wife, Helen, in their Bavarian home. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Moscow Girl Band Sets Kremlin’s Teeth on Edge

March 20th 2012

Pussy Riot

Just when politics here were starting to look boring again, along comes an outrageous girl band to rattle Russia. With their day glo balaclavas, bright tights and summer dresses on the white snow, the angry girls call themselves Pussy Riot. They’re starting to make President Vladimir Putin look like Dwight Eisenhower. He was the American president who took a dim view of Elvis “the Pelvis” Presley and his scandalous hip gyrations. Under Eisenhower, the King of Rock and Roll was drafted into the U.S. Army. Under Putin, the leaders of Pussy Riot are now in jail facing charges that could carry sentences of up to eight years. Russia’s generational clash was triggered by Putin’s announcement last Sept. 24 that he and President Dmitri Medvedev were going to switch jobs. For a group of Russian feminists, six more years of Putinism was six years too many. They formed a punk band, took vows of individual anonymity, agreed to perform only illegal concerts, and chose a deliberately rude and provocative name. In the old days (five years ago), Pussy Riot would have been a dead-end garage band, playing for friends in an abandoned warehouse. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

After Long Delay Tim McGraw Releases 'Emotional Traffic'

March 19th 2012

Emotional Traffic

It took more than one year and a high-profile court case to see the release of Country star Tim McGraw’s new album, “Emotional Traffic.” "Emotional Traffic” is Tim McGraw’s 11th studio album and his final release on Curb Records. Signed to Curb 20 years ago, Tim gave the label the tracks for his new album in late 2010. In May 2011, Curb filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Tim, claiming the songs weren’t recorded in the period of time set in his contract. Tim’s countersuit accused the label of holding the album hostage as a way to keep him under contract. Tim asked for a legal ruling to confirm he had fulfilled his contract with Curb. Last November, a judge ruled in Tim’s favor, which allows him to release future music on another label. "Emotional Traffic” debuted at Number One on the Country chart and Number Two on the all-genre Billboard 200. The collection includes a duet with R&B singer Ne-Yo and this track featuring Tim’s wife Faith Hill, “One Part, Two Part.” “One Part, Two Part” is a remake of a song recorded by rhythm-and-blues singer Clydie King in 1969. Tim refers to “Emotional Traffic” as the best album of his career and he’s eager to perform the songs for his fans in concert. Read more ..

The Edge of Fiction

Supernatural Romance, Action Attract All Ages

March 18th 2012


A movie version of Suzanne Collins' popular series of novels, "The Hunger Games," opens in U.S. theaters this month. It is expected to provide an even bigger boost to what has become one of the most lucrative segments of the publishing market: Young Adult Fiction. While book sales overall have dropped by five per cent, sales of these novels - many of which feature romance with a supernatural twist - have gone up more than 80 per cent. In the Houston suburb of Tomball, these women get together frequently to socialize and chat about the books they are reading. Cathy Clark says many of those books - targeted at teens - also attract adult readers like her. "You have those really strong authors in Young Adult and no matter what your age [is] they appeal and paranormal is something different," she said.

Some 70 kilometers away, in west Houston, fans of Young Adult Supernatural Romance novels recently packed the Blue Willow bookstore to meet four authors on a tour sponsored by their publisher, Harper Collins. Cynthia Hand, author of two books about Clara, a teenage girl with special powers, says she has found a bond with her fans. "I love the idea that we are sharing the same story, that we know the same people," she said. Courtney Allison Moulton's books are full of sword fights and other action that she says resonates with a lot of male readers. "I had a buddy who spent a couple of years in Afghanistan and he brought my book over there with him and he shared with the other - you know, these really tough Army guys reading my book and they are excited about the action," she said. Read more ..

The Edge of Theater

Children's Classic Gets Hip Hop Update

March 17th 2012

Imagination Stage

The children's classic, "Pinocchio," gets a hip hop update in a new theater production by Imagination Stage, a children’s theater in the suburbs of Washington. In this version, the main character’s name is P. Nokio, and he’s not a wooden puppet, he’s an animation in a video game, brought to life by the Graffiti Fairy. “For some reason Pinocchio has always resonated with me,” the playwright says. Psalm, who has written other plays inspired by hip hop culture, thought the story “really lent itself to that type of interpretation.” Psalm not only wrote the play, he also plays the main character. Like the wooden puppet, this P. Nokio chooses fun when he should be going to school. And he lies, which causes his nose to grow, a development which that is shown on video monitors above the stage.

“At its core, Pinocchio is really a story about redemption,” Psalm says. “We have this puppet who makes many mistakes. He goes astray many times, but at the end he finally does the right thing.” P. Nokio, like his predecessor, risks his own life to rescue his father. “We all make mistakes,” Psalm says, ”but you always have an opportunity to right your wrongs.” Read more ..

Edge of Architecture

Curvy Desert Home Designed by Iranian Students Mimics the Snail

March 16th 2012

Iranian snail building
Iranian Snail Building

If you think this curvy desert dwelling looks a bit like a snail, then you definitely aren’t going crazy! Tasked by the Biomimicry Institute’s Student Design Challenge with finding solutions to every day challenges by looking to nature, Elnaz Amiri, Hesam Andalib, Roza Atarod, and M-amin Mohamad from the Art University of Isfahan in Iran decided to design a house that is self-cooling – just like a snail. Step into our lair for more details about this very – ahem – cool home. Hesam Andalib told Fastco. Design that the snail has remarkable qualities that has allowed it to stay both cool and moist in even the harshest temperatures. He and the rest of the design team found its form, the material of its shell, and its coping strategies to be qualities worth emulating in architecture. To mimic the curvature of the snail’s shell, the students created crescent shaped panels that overlap one another. These prevent excess sunlight from penetrating the interior and its off-white color is thought to reflect sunlight. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Lester Young’s Smooth Tone

March 16th 2012

Lester Young

Lester Young was one of the most influential saxophonists of the swing era, introducing a unique approach to improvisation that provided much of the basis for modern jazz solo conception. He was known for his famous smooth tone and relaxed lyrical style. Many saxophonists have copied his style, and many others – including Dexter Gordon – were primarily influenced by him. Young was born in Mississippi in 1909. He played saxophone, violin, trumpet, and drums. He spent a great deal of his boyhood touring with his family’s band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. When he was 18 years old, he left the band, refusing to tour with it in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities. In 1927, Young started touring with regional dance bands, including Walter Page’s Blue Devils that formed the core of what became the Count Basie Orchestra. His style and sophisticated harmonies with Count Basie’s Orchestra gained him popularity and prominence.
He played with other jazz legends, including Nat King Cole, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday who gave him the nickname, Prez. I profiled Young in the early 1990s as part of my Jazz Club USA series on legendary Americans. I also talked about Benny Goodman and Oscar Peterson. Young, who held his saxophone out to the side when others held it upright, had an exceptional personality. Some considered him eccentric, but his eccentricity earned him recognition as the original hipster. His signature clothing style, including a “porkpie hat”, was part of his legend. This particular hat style inspired jazz bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus to write his elegiac tune “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”. The composition was later renamed “Theme for Lester Young” after Young died in New York on March 15, 1959. He was 49. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Grandmas to Represent Russia in Eurovision Song Contest

March 14th 2012

Piano Keys

A group of grandmothers has been chosen to represent Russia at the Eurovision song contest in Baku, Azerbaijan. Wearing traditional peasant clothing, an amateur group of grannies took to the stage in Moscow, winning the country’s place at Eurovision, an annually televised event watched by more than 100 million people. The eight ladies beat 24 other entries, including a double act with a pop star and 2008 Eurovision winner, Dima Bilan. The grandmas (known as "babushkas"), with an average age of 75, surprised and wooed the crowd with their catchy tune in Udmurt and English called, “Come On and Dance.” The ladies are from a remote village called Buranovo in Russia's Republic of Udmurtia.

Udmurt is a distant relation to the Finnish-Ugric language. It is spoken by more than 500,000 people. The grandmas swayed, smiled and danced in their red, green and white costumes, pleasing the crowd, who clapped and danced along. Russian TV Host Olga Shelest announced the Buranovo Grannies win on national television, saying they might have to start marketing themselves more. She said they are basically just beginning artists. Because they are not touring much, she says they are not on TV too often, and she is not sure if they have 10 music videos for rotation on music TV channels. Read more ..

The Edge of Art

Photos Offer Insight into Artist Frida Kahlo

March 13th 2012


Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954, is one of Mexico's best-known artists. She was the subject of the 2002 movie "Frida" starring Salma Hayek. The 240 photos in the new exhibit at Artisphere in Arlington, Virginia, were chosen from more than 6,000 discovered recently in the home Kahlo shared with her husband, Diego Rivera. Only four are known to have been taken by the artist herself, including one of her dog and a portrait of her nephew. “She actually wrote on the back of the photo: Frida Kahlo,” says Cynthia Connolly, Artisphere’s visual arts curator.

“It’s almost like a horse-drawn cart, where the horse is topsy-turvy and the person is on the ground," she says. "It makes me wonder if she is depicting her own accident in some Mexican toys.” Frida’s bus accident, dramatized in the movie "Frida," caused severe injuries to her spine. In the exhibit, several images show her in a hospital. “You can tell she had pain most of her life," Connolly says. "She was continually having surgeries to try and relieve her of that pain." Other photos show family and friends, including photographer Nickolas Muray. "What you see in his studio is very interesting, because with the magnifying glass, you can actually see there's a portrait of Frida Kahlo on the wall," Connolly says. There are also self-portraits of her father, who was a professional photographer. “There are about 20 self-portraits of her father, very formal photographs," Connolly says. "They lead us to believe that possibly her father was a great influence on her art.”

Frida collected photographs by other artists such as Man Ray. “When you look through this exhibit, I wonder what she saved and why she saved it. Was she planning on using it for a painting?” We may never know.

Susan Logue writes for VOA News, from where this article is adapted.

The Edge of Music

Remembering Davy Jones

March 11th 2012

The Monkees
The Monkees, March 1967

Davy Jones, lead singer of the made-for-TV band The Monkees and first crush of millions of girls worldwide, died of a heart attack in Florida on February 29, 2012. He was 66 years old.

Most of his fans first heard of Davy Jones in 1966, when the Monkees invaded living rooms worldwide. In reality, the then 21-year-old actor and singer from Manchester in the United Kingdom was a show business veteran. He got his start as a teen actor on British television, and later performed in the West End and Broadway casts of the musical “Oliver.”

While appearing in that show, Davy Jones found himself on The “Ed Sullivan Show” in the U.S. the same night that millions of people tuned in to see the Beatles’ American TV debut. In later years, Jones often told the story of hearing hundreds of teenagers screaming as the Beatles played, and deciding then and there that he wanted to be a pop star. Within two years, he was. And, almost 50 years later, the theme song to the show that made Davy Jones a household name is still burned into the brains of baby boomers around the world. Read more ..

Film Review

Coriolanus: The Dangers of Honoring Oneself

March 11th 2012


Coriolanus. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Gerard Butler, Brian Cox, Ralph Fiennes, Vanessa Redgrave, Lubna Azabal. Length: 122 mins.

Ralph Fiennes would be deserving of congratulations for bringing Coriolanus to the silver screen even if the film were less good than it is. This is among the least accessible of Shakespeare’s plays to a modern audience, because it deals with a subject, honor, which we hardly understand anymore.

Mr. Fiennes opens that closed subject up a little by making his movie version of the play into a more general drama of particularity: that is, of the now also-neglected but still vitally important question of loyalty and how far we may be justified in showing it or withholding it from individuals and groups which make demands on us that compete with universal principles as guides to behavior. The result is a satisfying portrait of a modern version of such a binary world, divided into the honorable and the dishonorable, the loyal and the disloyal, the noble and the ignoble, but one which would have been recognizable to Shakespeare himself.

On a rather simple level, the Roman general Caius Martius (Mr. Fiennes) who is subsequently given the title "Coriolanus" after a city of the rival Volscians he has conquered, simply makes the wrong choice of principles. For him honor — that is, his own personal honor — takes the place of a universal code. Read more ..

Edge on Film

Century-old Sci-Fi Adventure Now an Action Film

March 10th 2012

John Carter 1940 cover and ERB

A century ago, Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote a series of popular novels about an Earth-man’s adventures on the planet Barsoom, i.e., Mars. A new action film, “John Carter,” is based on those sci-fi books.

While prospecting in the Arizona desert, John Carter, a veteran of the Confederate Army, finds a mysterious gold amulet which transports him to another planet.

There he meets Tharks—green-skinned, four-armed warriors—and city-states populated by humans battling for control of the planet, a battle in which Carter becomes a key player.

Beginning with a story first published in 1912, Burroughs wrote 11 novels in the Barsoom series. Those books inspired writers from Ray Bradbury to George Lucas, as well as scientists like the late astronomer Carl Sagan, who hung a map of Barsoom outside his office at Cornell University. Andrew Stanton, who directed “John Carter,” read the books as a boy, but says making the film helped him understand the books are more than just adventure stories. Read more ..

Book Review

Digging into IBM’s Role in the Holocaust--A Disgusting Revelation

March 5th 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

IBM and The Holocaust. Edwin Black. Dialog Press, 2012. 592 pages.

If you think you’ve read enough Holocaust-related literature, and if you think there isn’t anything left that can upset you, buy IBM and the Holocaust by Edwin Black. It is at many levels terrible, filthy, and disgusting (other than the author, there is only one hero in the whole 592 pages), but it is an essential story of an American business operating in the cesspool that was Europe in the first half of the 20th Century before, during and after World War II. IBM and the Holocaust is a very, very big story—but its impact hits hardest in very, very small spaces: like two inches on a person’s forearm.

It is also a timely reminder of the potential harm that can come from collusion between big government and big industry, and from the profit motive unmoored from humanity.

IBM and the Holocaust tells how a nifty new twentieth century technology—IBM’s Hollerith machine and punch cards—became the driver for a racist ideology that had previously been technologically constrained in its ability to cause large-scale havoc. Anti-Semitism certainly wasn’t new in Europe, census taking wasn’t new in Europe, and trains weren’t new in Europe. What was new in Europe was the ability of the Nazis to match personal data (including address, business holdings, bank accounts, and church records to see whether someone had been baptized to hide his/her Jewish origin) to train schedules across the continent and to slave labor requirements in camps. To find ethnic Jews as well as religious ones, to find people whose grandparents and great grandparents were Jews, to find people who didn’t want to be Jews or didn’t know they were Jews, to steal their possessions and to exterminate them.

IBM President Thomas Watson’s chief personal ideology appears to have been control of markets and profit—he accepted a medal from Hitler in 1937 (returning it only when in mid-1940 it became a political liability) and had working relationship with FDR and Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He was a member of the “peace camp” to ensure that his German company could remain operative, and worked for U.S. occupation forces after the war. The company made profits in every Nazi-controlled country, but Watson convinced the U.S. government that it was a “victim” of Nazi control so it didn’t pay war reparations. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Documentary Looks Into Uganda's Activist Gay Community

March 4th 2012

Call me Kuchu Still

Two U.S.-based filmmakers have made a riveting documentary looking into the struggles and activism of Uganda's embattled gay community. The film is called Call Me Kuchu. Kuchu is the name used in Uganda to describe members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The film's trailer gives voices to some of them, like Stosh. "People want to know our stories. That is one reason I decided to come out, no matter what," said Stosh. Filmmaker Malika Zouhali-Worrall said she noticed most outside media coverage seemed to focus on the victimization of gays in Uganda, while she wanted to show a more complex reality. "Main stories that were getting out there and being reported on were stories of persecution to the LGBT community, all of which was of course happening and it was very important that that got out there," said Zouhali-Worrall. "But it seemed that no one was actually aware that there was this activist community there that was actually working very hard to change the situation and in some cases actually succeeding in making steps toward changing the situation there."

One victory last year came when a judge in Uganda ruled a tabloid newspaper violated the civil rights of gays whose pictures were published accompanied with the words "Hang Them." The film's other director Katherine Fairfax Wright says Uganda is losing a lot by marginalizing its vibrant gay community. "By and large this is a demographic that is highly educated, highly organized, highly energetic and really hard working. But they are not able to hold jobs, they are kicked out of their homes, they are just not able to be the active members of society as they would like to be," said Wright. Read more ..

Book Reviews

Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Lesser Evil of Two States

March 2nd 2012

israel jordan palestine

Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative. Asher Susser. Brandeis, 2011. 312 pages.

The relationship between Arabs and Jews as it relates to the modern State of Israel has always been examined through the lens of land, given the theological bond both peoples have to the land itself and how they define themselves. Since 1937, most thinkers on the topic saw the idea of the two-state solution revolving around the concept of partitioning the land between two indigenous peoples: Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Since the creation of the State of Israel the debate began to focus on the question of coexistence between a Jewish state and a Palestinian Arab state.

This model is the one advocated by most of the international community, spearheaded by Washington. Furthermore, its attainment is the official policy of both the government of Israel and the Palestine Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad.

Enter Prof. Asher Susser of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. In his latest book, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative, he tackles the notion of the two-state model and its relevance today. Susser has done extensive research on Jordan and the Palestinians and was the only Israeli academic in 1994 to accompany then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to his meeting with King Hussein of Jordan for the signing of the Washington Declaration before the US Congress. In addition, he authored a political biography of Jordan's prime minister Wasfi al-Tall.

Susser makes it clear that this model of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians is far from perfect. He writes, "For both Israelis and Palestinians, a two-state solution was not an ideal, but the lesser evil. The positions of both sides fractured the perfect symmetry of the two-state paradigm." Moreover, he underscores that the notion of "land for peace" that grew out of the 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 was intended for state actors like Egypt, Syria and Jordan, not the Palestinian state-to-be.  Read more ..

Book Review

Blood on the Tracks: A Psycho-Historical Memoir

March 1st 2012

Blood on the tracks

Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson: Psychohistorical Memoir. S. Brian Willson. PM Press, 2011

On September 1, 1987, S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran, was run over by a train outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station in Northern California while trying to block munitions shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. Willson lost both of his legs and suffered brain damage. After his miraculous recovery, he was greeted as a national hero in Nicaragua and also received a letter of apology from Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, who told him that she was sickened by her father’s “aggressively anti-Sandinista rhetoric” and “absurd reference to the Contras as freedom fighters.”

In Blood on the Tracks, Willson discusses his remarkable life-journey from a young conservative to a peace activist willing to sacrifice his body in defiance of the empire for which he once fought. Willson grew up in upstate New York where he had a conventional boyhood playing cowboys and Indians and starring on his high school baseball and basketball teams.

In the Air Force, Willson’s job was to document bombing casualties in Vinh Long province, which opened his eyes to the terrible suffering caused by the war. Before going overseas, he heard Senator Ernest Gruening from Alaska give a speech describing the Gulf of Tonkin attack as a fraud. At the time, he had been skeptical but now began to consider it in a new light, particularly as he witnessed U.S. pilots mercilessly strafe villages, killing women and children.

Near the end of his tour, Willson had dinner with a Vietnamese friend, whose family showed him a postage stamp honoring Norman Morrison, the Quaker peace activist who had immolated himself outside Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s office. By this time, Willson had come to feel a connection to Morrison, someone who grew up just miles from his boyhood home. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

IBM’s Role in the Holocaust—What the New Documents Reveal

February 28th 2012

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition

Newly-released documents expose more explicitly the details of IBM’s pivotal role in the Holocaust—all six phases: identification, expulsion from society, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination. Moreover, the documents portray with crystal clarity the personal involvement and micro-management of IBM president Thomas J. Watson in the company’s co-planning and co-organizing of Hitler’s campaign to destroy the Jews.
                Buy IBM here.

IBM’s twelve-year alliance with the Third Reich was first revealed in my book IBM and the Holocaust, published simultaneously in 40 countries in February 2001. It was based on some 20,000 documents drawn from archives in seven countries. IBM never denied any of the information in the book; and despite thousands of media and communal requests, as well as published articles, the company has remained silent.

The new “expanded edition” contains 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department and Justice Department memos, and concentration camp documents that graphically chronicle IBM’s actions and what they knew during the twelve-year Hitler regime. On the anniversary of the release of the original book, the new edition was released on February 26, 2012 at a special live global streaming event at Yeshiva University’s Furst Hall, sponsored by the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists together with a coalition of other groups.
Among the newly-released documents and archival materials are secret 1941 correspondence setting up the Dutch subsidiary of IBM to work in tandem with the Nazis, company President Thomas Watson's personal approval for the 1939 release of special IBM alphabetizing machines to help organize the rape of Poland and the deportation of Polish Jews, as well as the IBM Concentration Camp Codes including IBM’s code for death by Gas Chamber. Among the newly published photos of the punch cards is the one developed for the statistician who reported directly to Himmler and Eichmann.

The significance of the incriminating documents requires context. Read more ..

Book Review

Hollywood Left and Right: An Absorbing Account of Politics as Entertainment

February 28th 2012


Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics. Steven J. Ross. Oxford. 2011.

Long before Rupert Murdoch used his media empire to sway his first election, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer put Hollywood’s shoulder to the wheel of American politics. A close friend and advisor of Herbert Hoover (and Hoover’s first overnight guest at the White House), Mayer actively mobilized friends and associates to bankroll a string of Republican politicos through the 1930s and 40s.

Not satisfied with mere influence peddling however, Mayer also used the film industry’s cultural and technical resources to twist elections to the right, in one notorious instance producing and distributing a series of doctored newsreels that turned public opinion decisively against Socialist Upton Sinclair’s bid to become California governor in 1934. 

In this thoroughly absorbing account of Hollywood’s impact on American politics, Steven J. Ross argues that Mayer’s interventions were more typical than not. We have been made accustomed to viewing Tinsel Town as a hotbed of radical and liberal agitation. But in fact when measured more carefully over the hundred years of its history, the film industry’s political weight has leaned far more heavily to the Right than the Left. For every Jane Fonda, there has not only been a Louis B. Mayer (eulogized as “an ardent enemy of pseudo-liberals, Reds, and pinks” by one of his admirers), but also other studio execs the vast majority of whom ruthlessly protected their business interests by supporting Republicans for keeping taxes light, making regulations weak and turning a blind eye toward industry corruption.

Like Mayer, whom actress Helen Hayes declared “[n]ot just evil, but the most evil man I have ever dealt with in my life,” studio bosses practiced a thoroughly unscrupulous political activism, even forcing their employees (most of whom were politically neutral) to contribute to conservative Republican political campaigns. Read more ..

Film Review

Albert Nobbs: A Film on Self-Identity and Deception

February 28th 2012

Albert Nobbs

Albert Nobbs. Director: Rodrigo García. Starring: Glenn Close, Brendan Gleeson, Bronagh Gallagher, Aaron Johnson, Mia Wasikowska. Length: 90 min.

Insofar as Albert Nobbs, directed by Rodrigo García (Nine Lives), has found favor in the eyes of the Motion Picture Academy it is on account of the performance of Glenn Close in the title role, which earned her an Oscar nomination and which rivals that of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

The latter just got her nose over the finish line first for impersonating an actual person — and a famous one at that, so that savvy audience members could compare the original with her excellent copy — rather than a fictional character, but Glenn, who is female, may have had the more difficult task in taking on the role of a woman playing a man in Victorian-era Dublin. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Yo! Turkmen Rappers Flip The Script On Repression

February 28th 2012

Maksat "Maro" Kakabayev

Open your eyes, look in the mirror/Look at your surroundings/Do not stop, wake up/Enough is enough." These rap lyrics might not jump out as "gangsta" -- that is, if you're expecting profanity-laced rants and explicit calls for social and political change. But in Turkmenistan, one of the world's most closed and oppressive societies, even such carefully couched words appealing for change can be seen as a direct threat to the country's authoritarian regime that can lead to time in the joint. The threat of prison, however, has not slowed the rising number and popularity of Turkmen rap groups defying government restrictions in Turkmenistan. Production and distribution of rap music is not officially banned. But as evidenced by punishments handed down against those who crossed the line, it is clear that rappers have to watch their step. Many rap groups are finding new ways of spreading their message, with many opting to record their music in secret and share their music through YouTube and mobile-phone applications. Others groups risk the authorities' wrath by recording their songs in music studios, which are officially only allowed to record state-approved music. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

IBM and the Holocaust Expanded Edition--The Live Global Event

February 25th 2012

Award-winning author Edwin Black is slated to unveil the re-release of his blockbuster book IBM and the Holocaust in a new "Expanded Edition." Previous standard editions of the bestseller, orginally published in February 2001, went out of print following worldwide sales of 1.2 million copies. The new Expanded Edition will include some 32 pages of never-before-published internal IBM correspondence, State Department 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.

Buy IBM and the Holocaust here.

The live, globally-streamed event can be seen at various websites, including Spero Forum, The Auto Channel, Energy Publisher, History Network News, the book website at IBMandtheHolocaust.com, and here at The Cutting Edge News

The release will be 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 lecture, with questions taken in real time from a live worldwide audience, 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

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.

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.

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 ..

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