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Book Review

A Balanced Approach to the Splintering of Black America

April 4th 2011

Book Covers - Disintegration

Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America. Eugene Robinson. Doubleday. 2010. 272 pages.

By now, virtually every U.S. history textbook features African-American history in the mainstream of its narrative. The names and events are familiar, even iconic: the 20th century features Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey, followed by Thurgood Marshall and the Brown decision, Martin Luther King and civil disobedience, Malcolm X and black separatism, Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Once past the drama of the ‘60s, however, the narrative often loses momentum and focus, and the ongoing African-American story is blurred or even omitted.

Meanwhile, media commentary on contemporary racial issues usually pays attention only to dramatic incidents, to which commentators respond with flamboyant rhetoric. When African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates was arrested in his home by a white police officer, pessimists declared loudly that this proved that “nothing has changed.” When Barack Obama was elected president, optimists declared equally loudly that this proved, in effect, “everything has changed.”

Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington “Post,” aims to move beyond the rhetoric and paint a comprehensive, nuanced portrait of the condition of Black America today. His aim is straight and true. Based on careful reading of census data, demographers’ surveys, journalistic and historical sources, and his own family’s experience, Robinson’s book is clear, engaging, thoughtful, and persuasive, a brief yet thorough update on what has happened in and to Black America, for better and worse, in the past 40 years. Read more ..


Film Review

Animal Kingdom: Australian Gothic Tale of Family Crimes and Misdemeanors

April 4th 2011

Film - Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom. Director: David Michod. Starring: James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver. Length: 113 mins.  


Our appetite for watching unhappy families continues to be fed, and what family can be unhappier than the crime family? Indeed the crime family troupe as a source of drama has been a source of inspiration to Hollywood classics, like The Godfather's Corleones, and the British small-screen, Shameless's Maguires. From Australia comes a weighty addition to the genre, a suspenseful thriller called Animal Kingdom. Fascinatingly, the family that most resemble the one in the film is not any crime syndicate, but that of the English Catholic classic Brideshead Revisited, the Marchmains, an observation to be more fully explained after the plot. Read more ..


Film Review

Cedar Rapids: A Modern and Amusing Midwest Candide

April 4th 2011

Film - Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids. Director: Miguel Arteta. Screenplay: Phil Johnston. Starring: Anne Heche, Ed Helms, Sigourney Weaver.

What I take to be the bottom line of Cedar Rapids, directed by Miguel Arteta (Chuck and Buck, The Good Girl) to a screenplay by Phil Johnston, is pronounced by Bree (Alia Shawkat), a juvenile prostitute who figures only marginally in what is otherwise the story of a small-town insurance salesman, Tim Lippe (Ed Helms), on his first visit (age approximately 35) to the big city. The big city is the eponymous metropolis (pop. 128,000) in Iowa.

We know already that Tim must be shorn of his improbable innocence and instructed in the ways of the world without — for the sake of the audience’s sympathy — simply becoming cynical or corrupt. As a predictable part of this process he drinks and takes recreational drugs for the first time, has adulterous sexual relations with a colleague and is beaten up by a thug (Rob Corddry) during a wild and dangerous party at the home of Bree’s Uncle Ken (Seth Morris). To the sadder but wiser Tim, then, Bree says: "We’re all just selling something: "f***s, drugs, insurance."

One sees the point of course. As part of Tim’s introduction to the world outside Brown Valley, Wisconsin, he must learn, as the rest of us have already learned and as they learned in Hollywood a long time before everyone else did, not to be judgmental. Even back in Brown Valley, old Tim has made a pretty good start on learning this lesson by carrying on an affair with his remarkably well-preserved seventh grade teacher, a divorcée named Macy (Sigourney Weaver), to whom he now considers himself in consequence to be "pre-engaged." Read more ..


Book Review

The Columbia History of the Vietnam War: A Taste for Perpetual Warfare

March 28th 2011

Book Covers - Columbia History of Vietnam War

The Columbia History of the Vietnam War. David L. Anderson, editor. Columbia University Press, 2011. 488 pages.

In April 2000, nearly twenty thousand Vietnamese citizens gathered in Ho Chi Minh City –once known as Saigon—to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their victory over the American invaders and the creation of their relatively stable country. Since the end of the war American and Vietnamese officials have resumed normal relations, and exchanged visits to promote business ventures and tourism. “Business with an Asian Flair: New Service to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam” reads a full-page New Yorker advertisement placed by Delta airlines.

Looking back at the still highly politicized Vietnam War debate, sixteen historians, eminent scholars of the war at home and abroad, have drawn on recent scholarship for their conclusions about that calamitous conflict. The result is a brilliant collective exposition of what happened and why. Editor David L. Anderson, Professor of History at California State University, Monterey, and former president of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, explains: “The assumption behind this work is that many of the historical themes in the study of the Vietnam War have contemporary relevance” (my italics).

Do they! We need only consider our nation’s historical and unceasing addiction to war and military intervention and the abysmal failure to hold powerful decision-makers accountable for all those wars and the many deaths they incurred. When the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, was dedicated and thus became a sacred shrine to the dead in a war that should never have been fought, no one in authority who had dreamed up the bloodletting had ever been held accountable, thereby insuring that few if any future lessons would be learned. Read more ..


Book Review

Moral Combat: A Flawed and Snarky Assessment of the Second World War

March 28th 2011

Book Covers - moral combat

Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II. Michael Burleigh. HarperCollins. 2011. 672 pages.

There's probably nobody alive today who knows more about the rise and fall of the Third Reich than Michael Burleigh. His 2001 book The Third Reich was a landmark history, one notable in describing Nazism as a kind of religious experience. In the years since, he has explored similar currents in the history of other regimes and among terrorists. In his new book, he returns to his original grounding in the Second World War, and widens his scope beyond Germany, and indeed beyond Europe.

Much of Moral Combat is fascinating. Burleigh is particularly good at teasing out the nuances and dilemmas in the choices of people forced to dwell in collaborationist states like France and Denmark. And his regrettably brief chapter on resistance fighters -- regrettable because it leaves one wanting more, but also, as Burleigh makes clear, because such people were lamentably rare -- is superb.

But for all scope and unquestioned value, this is a flawed and distended book. And one whose vices seem to grow out of editorial arrogance.

The biggest, and immediately apparent, problem is the lack of a conceptual infrastructure through which to guide a reader through Burleigh's 500+ page narrative. He's clear at the outset that this is not meant to be a work of philosophy, and that the volume is meant to offer a moral map, not a moral compass. Fine. But how about at least offering a working definition of the word "moral?" How does he understand its relationship to religion or ethics? Is there a distinction to be made between individual or collective morality? Given the different value systems between Eastern and Western societies, does morality transcend cultures? Without such coordinates, it's easy to get lost, even when the map is richly detailed as this one is. Read more ..


Film Review

Howl: Excellent Portrayal of a Controversial Poet

March 28th 2011

Film - Howl

Howl. Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman. Starring: James Franco, Jon Hamm, David Strathairn, Bob Balaban, Jeff Daniels. Length: 85 mins.  
 

In 1955 at the age of 29, Allen Ginsberg, famed poet of the Beat Generation, wrote his first and most famous published poem: Howl. This film by the same name is an exploration of the poem, its creation and the controversy surrounding it.

The story is told in a series of black-and-white and color layers which weave together in an attempt to breathe life into the poem. The first layer is a portrayal of Ginsberg in his first public reading of Howl. The poem itself is made up of a series of images which are revealed in an animated interpretation. Throughout the film we are also treated to Ginsberg giving an interview about Howl, about his poetry and about his life and the influences surrounding the creation of Howl. The interview is peppered with old photographs and portrayals of episodes of Ginsberg’s life. The final layer is the obscenity trial regarding the poem’s publication.

All these layers come together in an exegesis of the poem. Howl is an intensely personal work, one which Ginsberg had not expected to publish and which, as he says, he would definitely not want his father to read. It is saturated with images of and references to events in his own life: his friends, his homosexuality, his mother’s mental illness and his own time in an asylum. And it is written in such a way that it can be difficult for the casual reader to access. Read more ..


Book Review

The Public and Its Possibilities: Malaise, Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City

March 28th 2011

Book Covers - Public and its possibilities

The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City. John D. Fairfield. Temple University Press. 2010.

John Fairfield is concerned about the health of the American body politic and the state of our national conversation.  His new book, The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City (Temple University Press, 2010) aims to improve both, offering a synthesis of the secondary literature on the idea of the public in American life.  An urban historian and director of the Institute for Politics and Public Life at Cincinnati’s Xavier University, Fairfield’s subtitle suggests that the American city is the hero of this story, but in fact it serves simply as scene-setting for the battles he describes.

The source of our public malaise, argues Fairfield, is in American liberalism itself.  In celebrating the majesty of the human individual and making personal liberty its primary concern, liberalism forgets that the elevation of the individual can only occur within a culture that recognizes the reciprocal responsibilities that connect citizen and society.  Failing to replenish the cultural resources which sustain it, liberal society starves itself.  We eat our own seed corn.

Fairfield’s strategy is to bring the historian’s resources to bear on this failure of vision, retrieving traditions of cooperative action on behalf of public good from the American past in order to “rekindle our political imagination.”  His goal is to redirect American efforts toward “the great unfinished tasks of American civilization . . . the construction of an economy and a culture that complement our civic aspirations.” Read more ..


Film Story

The Lightbulb Conspiracy—Why Consumer Products Don’t Last

March 21st 2011

Book Covers - Lightbulb #2

There once was a time when consumer goods were built to last. Then, in the 1920s, a group of businessmen realized that the longer their product lasted, the less money they made, thus ‘Planned Obsolescence’ was born, and manufacturers have been engineering products to fail ever since.

Cosima Dannoritzer’s documentary The Light Bulb Conspiracy beautifully separates fact from myth as it charts the rise and evolution of Planned Obsolescence from the early 20th century up to the present, and looks at its impact on our current society. The sight of thousands of tons of electronic equipment dumped in Ghana, Africa, in what used to be a natural reserve—which is now completely destroyed and polluted, is a harrowing reminder of the dark side of the consumer society.

What makes this film fascinating is that it goes beyond the environmental frame to tackle a much more fundamental aspect of the issue—the economic logic behind Planned Obsolescence. As an advertising magazine warned in 1928, “an article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy for business.” With examples ranging from light bulbs to nylon stockings, from cars to iPods and inkjet printers, the film deftly explores how Planned Obsolescence has become the basis for economic growth with a highly crafted combination of investigative research and rare archive footage. Read more ..


Film Review

Even the Rain: Juxtaposed Visions of Religion in South America's Water Wars

March 21st 2011

Film - Also the Rain

Even the Rain (Tambien la Lluvia). Director: Iciar Bollain. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal. Screenplay: Ken Loah and Scott Paul Laverty. Length: 103 minutes.

This was Spain’s nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2010. It was written by longtime collaborators Ken Loach and Paul Laverty. It was directed by actress turned director, Iciar Bollain.

Probably, the film is best described as three films in one. The first story is the making of a film in Bolivia about Columbus, his reports to Ferdinand and Isabella, his attitude towards the Indians, benign at first, but the greed for gold led to exploitation and Indian retaliation. The proposed film is based on the life and pro-Indian work of the historic Dominican friar Bartolomeo De las Casas and the crusading priest Montesinos. The culmination is the burning of a number of Indians fixed to crosses. These sequences are interspersed throughout the film.

The second story is the production personnel story, the idealism of the young director, Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal in a better role than in recent Hollywood comedies), inspired by Las Casas and Montesinos, wanting to condemn the Conquistador version of imposed Christianity and to show the more Gospel humanity of the Dominican friar. Luis Tosar appears as producer, Costa, pragmatic, a wheeler-dealer who is alert to trouble, aiming to forestall it. Read more ..


Book Review

The Dark Side of China’s March Towards Industrialization

March 21st 2011

Book Covers - billion chinese

When a Billion Chinese Jump. Jonathan Watts. Scribner, 2010. 448 pages.

The odd title of this book by the Asia environment correspondent for The GuardianWhen a Billion Chinese Jump—comes from a warning he heard as a child. If everyone in China jumped at the same time, he was told, the shock would knock the earth off its axis and kill everyone on the planet. You don’t have to read too far into the book before you realize that the world’s second largest economy may be killing all of us in its head-long dash to modernize with scant regard for our planet.

Jonathan Watts argues that Chinese have so deep a cultural prejudice against nature that even the central government’s efforts to protect and improve the environment are ignored.

The book is more a travelogue than a scientific tome. Watts peels the onion of environmental degradation as he journeys across China, from the village in Yunnan (which supposedly is Shangri-la in the novel “The Lost Horizon”) to the more developed and industrialized cities of the coast, to its hinterland, coal fields in Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia and the encroaching desert. He relates the environmental catastrophe through the voices of environmental activists, scientists, government officials and disenfranchised victims suffering disease and indignity. Read more ..


Confronting the Farhud

The Struggle for Memory of the Farhud

March 21st 2011

Islamic Topics - al-Husayni and Hitler

Since the vicious massacre in Iraq known as the Farhud—the Pogrom of 1941 in Baghdad following the Sack of Basra on 7–8 May, 1941, many scholars among the Jews who left Iraq had been trying, largely in vain, to keep it alive in the Jewish collective memory. The Jewish Holocaust is widely believed to be confined to European Jewry only, and it overshadows all other calamities of WWII outside Europe.

In the Arab World, most of all in Iraq, a conspiracy of silence was carefully maintained against the successive massacres committed against Jews since the Farhud of 1941 and the Arab defeat in 1948 War. In Iraq the conspiracy started immediately before the blood of the innocent victims dried, when army and police officers roved the streets of Baghdad, warning the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.Later, a few articles were published in Hebrew and English by well-known historians such as Dr. Haim Cohen of the Hebrew University in 1966 and Prof. Elie Kedourie of London University in 1970. These researches drew the attention of very few scholars. Read more ..


Film Review

Route Irish: the Road from the Insanity of War

March 21st 2011

Book Covers - Route Irish (movie)

Route Irish. Directed by Ken Womack. Screenwriter: Paul Laverty. Starring: Mark Womack, Andrea Lowe, and John Bishop. Length: 109 mins.

Route Irish is the latest work by director Ken Loach and is an intricately plotted thriller about the privatization of warfare in Iraq. The film deals with the human cost of the  commercialization of the war in Iraq in a story of an ex-soldier trying to uncover the circumstances of his best friend's death.

Fergus and Frankie met on the first day of school and the pair stayed close as they both joined the British military. When Fergus leaves the SAS and lands a lucrative job with a private security firm in Baghdad, he persuades Frankie to join him. By 2007 when the film begins, Fergus is back home in Wales and and learns that Frankie has been killed on Route Irish running between Baghdad's airport and the city's Green Zone.

Enraged and highly suspicious of the official explanation of events, Fergus begins his own investigation with the help of Frankie's widow. This is one of Loach's most accessible films to date. And it is one of his darkest. Read more ..


Book Review

Religion in America as Bridge—and Barrier

March 14th 2011

Book Covers - American Grace

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 688pp.

Harvard University political scientist Robert D. Putnam’s 2000 book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community was one of those books—like David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1950) or Daniel Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976)—that captured a zeitgeist. Its key concept of “social capital,” and the thesis that it was in gradual decline, has defined academic discourse across a series of disciplines for over a decade now. Though it may now be a little dated (my students routinely argue, to my mind unconvincingly, that social networking is in effect a new and effective form of social capital), it will continue to serve as an artifact of turn-of-this-century American life.

Putnam’s next two books, co-edited anthologies, deepened the inquiry into the issues he explored in Bowling Alone. But now he has teamed up with Notre Dame political scientist David E. Campbell to produce American Grace, a comprehensive look at the contemporary landscape of religion in U.S. life. Written in collaboration with other researchers, and based on two large-scale surveys in 2006 and 2007, it will likely serve as a widely cited landmark study for decades to come.

Read more ..

Book Review

The Civil War: A Concise History, at Last

March 14th 2011

Book Covers - Civil War Concise History

The Civil War: A Concise History. Louis Masur. Oxford University Press. 2011. 160 pages.

The Civil War is not a topic that inspires brevity. For a generation now, the standard one-volume work, James McPherson's magisterial Battle Cry of Freedom, clocks in at close to 900 pages (to McPherson's great credit, it reads faster than its length suggests). It's a measure of the marketplace that a forthcoming new edition of popular historian James L. Stokesbury's Short History of the Civil War is listed at 384 pages -- huge by non-Harry Potter standards. A decade ago, Reid Mitchell managed to cover the war in under 200, taking a thematic approach (and carrying an extortionate $26 current paperback price). The last few times I've taught a Civil War course, I've relied on the now-classic Ken Burns documentary as my primary narrative "text," packing a panoply of primary and secondary sources around it. Yet I've never regarded this as an entirely satisfactory arrangement for a number of reasons, not the least of which, interestingly enough, is a sense of video fatigue on the part of students.

So it's with a sense of real relief that I breezed my way through Louis Masur's svelte narrative, which manages to cover all the major bases in under 100 pages. This is important because, again, there is so much to talk about when the subject is the Civil War, and yet having discussions is difficult without some kind of factual framework as a touchstone for the rich political, cultural, social, economic, and military dimensions of the conflict, among others. The war is so much more than the Battle of Antietam, but without a concise account of what happened on September 17, 1862, all kinds of other things, from U.S. foreign policy to Abraham Lincoln's extraordinary political skills, will remain murky. Read more ..


Film Review

Rango: A Refreshing Animated Satire by Academy Award nominees

March 14th 2011

Film - Rango

Rango. Starring: Johnny Depp. Produced by: Industrial Light & Magic, Blind Wink, GK Films and Nickelodeon. Length: 107 minutes. 

While March may not be the sunniest of months in terms of weather, it is definitely looking brighter for movie lovers. In March's first weekend of cinematic offerings we get Rango, the latest made-for-adults-but-enjoyable-for-children animated film, which is thankfully neither a Pixar or DreamWorks production. While Pixar films are always pleasant, they have lost a bit of the cutting edge originality that made them so successful. DreamWorks long since sold their soul to the god of sequel franchising when they opted for quantity versus quality and a blanket approach to their animation design.

Rango is a breath of fresh air in the stalemate of Hollywood animation, not only in terms of production value but also with its superior screenplay thanks to John Logan. How many DreamWorks films are written by Academy Award nominees? While the term "original spoof" seems to be an oxymoron, Rango finds a way to be creative and refreshing while putting film buffs in satiric heaven with its hundreds of in-jokes. Even my fellow theater nerds will appreciate its updated Greek chorus and loving portrayal of thespians. No, not the kind that are illegal in 5 states; an apology to all the parents who will have to explain that line per Harry Dean Stanton's character to their kids at home. Read more ..


Film Review

True Grit: Lacking a Moral Compass

March 7th 2011

Film - True Grit _ Pic

One scene from the 1969 version of True Grit, directed by the journeyman Henry Hathaway, that is interestingly altered in the new remake by the Brothers Coen comes when John Wayne as federal marshal Reuben, "Rooster," Cogburn — who is played in the remake by Jeff Bridges — is giving his employer and protégé, Mattie Ross (Kim Darby), a résumé of his life since his disreputable service with Quantrill’s Raiders in the Civil War. He tells her without any sense of shame of having robbed both a Federal payroll and a bank in New Mexico. The story is somewhat abbreviated from the version given in the novel but is substantially the same, as is Rooster’s denial that what he had done in the two cases was the same as theft. "I needed a road stake and there it was," he says. "I never robbed no citizen, taken a man’s watch." Read more ..


Book Review

Missouri’s Clemens becomes California’s Twain

March 7th 2011

Book Covers - Twain Bio Lighting Out

Roy Morris, Jr. Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain. Simon & Schuster, 2010. 304 pp.

Most of us understand Mark Twain as a Western writer—whether “West” is defined in terms of his Missouri provenance (certainly the frontier at the time of his birth in 1835) or his crucial sojourn in the mining camps of Nevada and saloons of San Francisco. Twain chronicled this phase of his life in Roughing It (1872), a rollicking account that remains readable almost a century and a half later. But given the heft of that book, its avowedly questionable reliability, and the relatively thin biographical record of this period relative to the rest of Twain’s life, there is a lacuna that popular historian Roy Morris, Jr. has filled in this brief, entertaining volume, just issued in paperback as part of Simon & Schuster’s shrewdly packaged “America Collection.”

As one might expect, Roughing It, which chronicles the six years following Twain’s departure for Nevada in 1861, remains the core of Lighting Out for the Territory, whose title alludes to the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885). But Morris deftly packs a lot of context around it. This includes other Twain writings, like his letters, autobiography, and newspaper reportage, as well as accounts, both contemporary to his time and contemporary to ours, of people who had similar experiences as he did or who have their own angles of vision on the stories he tells (like irritated rivals at competing publications). Morris quotes liberally from Twain himself—the humor continues to leap of the page and make you laugh—as well as provides analysis of his deadpan lecture style and the narrative strategy of his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Twain’s first big literary hit. Read more ..


Book Review

Shining Still: Christmas Eve, 1941

March 7th 2011

Book Covers - In the Dark Streets

David McCullough. In the Dark Streets Shineth: A 1941 Christmas Eve Story. Shadow Mountain, 2010. 56pp+DVD.

Much was written about the state of Anglo-American relations last fall. The leaked diplomatic cables—dating from January 2009 to June 2010 and including commentaries sent to Washington from American diplomats overseas—caused a mixture of personal offense and political humiliation in the UK after Wikileaks laid bare what U.S. officials truly thought about the so-called special relationship.

Although predicted to have been a “bombshell” leak, an American assessment of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s personality and his prospects of winning the general election is as unimportant as the secret discussions on the return of the Lockerbie bomber to Libya are. The same can be said for the diplomatic wrangling pertaining to Gary McKinnon. Rejecting an appeal by Brown to try the computer hacker in London puts little strain on transatlantic relations; criticism of British operations in Afghanistan—rightly described as “devastating” —clearly does, however.

The same even goes for President Obama’s criticism of David Cameron. Describing the then-leader of the opposition as a “lightweight” pales into insignificance when compared with the damaging cable that reveals Obama has “no feelings for Europe” and prefers to “look East rather than West” to build relationships. Read more ..


The Edge of Art

Picasso’s Private Collection Draws Virginia Crowds

March 7th 2011

Art Topics - picasso show on the road

"This is Picasso’s personal collection," says Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "During his lifetime he kept all of the things he loved the best, thousands upon thousands of works of art. When his estate was being settled, the Musee Picasso was created." Works by Pablo Picasso, one of the most important artists of the modern era, have been touring the globe while their home in Paris is renovated. They recently arrived at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which is located in the state capital of Richmond.

There are nearly 200 works in the exhibition, spanning 71 years of Picasso's lengthy career from 1901 to 1972, the year before his death. Read more ..


Film Review

No Strings Attached: A Forgettable Movie about Unsatisfying Sex

February 28th 2011

Film - No strings attached

No Strings Attached. Director: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman. Length:  111 minutes

One line which people are likely to remember from the otherwise pretty forgettable No Strings Attached, directed by Ivan Reitman from a screenplay by Elizabeth Meriwether, is spoken by the disgruntled roommate of Emma (Natalie Portman) as the latter is engaged in one of her frequent bouts of noisy copulation with Adam (Ashton Kutcher), an old acquaintance. Adam, unsurprisingly, has readily agreed to Emma’s proposal that they should remain "sex friends" only, avoiding all emotional entanglements, but of course we know from the beginning how this is going to work out for them — as you, too, will know it even without having seen the movie. But this takes nothing away from the comic snap of the roommate’s line, which is delivered in the form of a complaint: "I can’t focus on my porn with all this sex going on around me!"

What may take away from it among the more thoughtful sort of movie-goers is this: in our culture today it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between porn and "sex," which is just one of the difficulties under which this movie labors. Shortly after Adam and Emma have sealed their deal for no-strings-attached sex, Adam notices a stranger walking his dog who has just seen the two of them parting. For some reason, Adam thinks he needs to explain their relationship to the dog-walker. "We’re sex friends," he says. "Friends who have sex."  Read more ..


Book Review

The Israel Test: A Warning to a World in Peril

February 28th 2011

Book Covers - The Israel Test

The Israel Test. George Gilder. Richard Vigilante Books. 2009. 320 pages.

Back in the sixties, I remember coming upon Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media" and recognizing the work of a prophet who was opening up a radically new way of looking at the world. It was he who gave us the now familiar expressions "global village" and the "medium is the message." McLuhan's writing caused a furious critical reaction among the best-known intellectuals of the time. The same thing happened in the eighties with Paul Johnson's revisionist history Modern Times.

I had the same experience in reading George Gilder's bok, The Israel Test. Gilder has now written over 15 books, including the incendiary Sexual Suicide (later reprinted as Men and Marriage), the ground-breaking Wealth and Poverty, which helped fuel the supply-side revolution, and more recently Microcosm, marking his emergence as high-tech guru. Gilder now directs Discovery Institute's Technology Program while practicing venture capitalism on the side.

So ideas indeed have consequences. And Gilder offers plenty of provoking ideas in his new book. The Israel Test employs passion and lively prose to explore the historical and present-day significance of the Jewish people, particularly in the context of capitalism and technology breakthroughs. The book is divided into three chapters. "The Israel Test according to Gilder" can be summarized by a few questions: What is your attitude toward people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to their excellence or do you resent it? Caroline Glick, the dauntless deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post sums it up: "some people admire success. The enviers hate Israel." Read more ..


Book Review

The Age of Fracture: An Intellectual of America and the Twentieth Century

February 28th 2011

Book Covers - Fracture

The Age of Fracture. Daniel T. Rodgers. Harvard, 2011. 360 pages.

In The Age of Fracture, Daniel Rodgers offers an elegant, often eloquent, history of intellectual life in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Primarily interested in the construction of ideas that shaped conceptions of history, society, and responsibility, he analyzes texts from an eclectic array of academic thinkers across the political spectrum. Rodgers argues that in the 1940s and 1950s, social scientists and political philosophers established the terms of the debate on a range of issues concerning the self and society, obligations and justice, morality and destiny. To these postwar intellectuals, ideas had severe consequences, contexts and nature constricted human action, and history loomed very large indeed. While the turmoil and chaos of the 1960s caused tremors, it was not until the quakes of oil embargoes, unemployment, and inflation in the 1970s, that fault lines in this ideological consensus emerged. Into this breach, a lexicon of microeconomic principles, which had been forming for decades in libertarian circles that stressed agency, contingency, and reason emerged, promising solutions to seemingly intractable problems of disco-era stagflation. Instead of focusing on property and production, workers and owners, these economists celebrated instead the slight of (an invisible) hand that produced wealth and fostered the virtues of competition. Read more ..


Film Review

The King’s Speech Brings us Real Life Heroism

February 21st 2011

Film - The Kings Speech

The King’s Speech. Director: Tom Hooper. Starring: Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush. Length: 90 minutes.

Although I very much enjoyed Tom Hooper’s sepia-tinted return to the 1930s, The King’s Speech, I was also conscious throughout of something very odd about the movie. It has to do with but is not limited to the fact that King George VI (Colin Firth), like all British monarchs since the Stuarts (or perhaps George III, so far as Americans are concerned) was a pretty peripheral historical figure to begin with, while the film’s pathographical aspect—the poor man suffered from a stammer—is also not exactly epic in scale. In the catalog of human misfortunes, even more severe speech impediments than his would not be numbered among the top ten, nor yet the top hundred and ten, probably, even for someone like the King whose fate it is to have to make public speeches.

The oddness does not end there. There is something faintly ridiculous about attempting to excite our pity for a royal personage in the cultural absence of the kind of tragic stature enjoyed by a King Oedipus or a King Lear—even if his fate were (as it is not) a tragic one. Moreover, in comparison to the world-historical significance of the outbreak of the Second World War, which is the film’s context and which is represented at its climax, the king’s affliction hardly looks like, well, a very big deal. The film works hard to suggest that the fate of the empire and, indeed, the free world depends on the King’s fluency but, really, we know it did not and could not. Yet Mr. Firth’s portrayal of the king, together with Geoffrey Rush’s of Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helps him, is so powerful that while we watch we are scarcely conscious of these difficulties—which, after all, the film has set for itself. Read more ..


Film Review

Another Year: A Parable of Love and Loss

February 21st 2011

Film - Another Year

Another Year. Director: Mike Leigh. Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen. Length: 92 minutes.

Perhaps the most significant moment of Mike Leigh’s Another Year comes near the beginning when we see the great Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) in a cameo role as one of the abandoned souls whom the film’s heroine, Gerri (Ruth Sheen), spends her work days as a therapist talking to. Miss Stanton’s character, Janet, has been having trouble sleeping, and Gerri is trying to probe gently beneath her embittered emotional surface for the causes. "What’s your happiest memory?" she asks as one of a series of questions trying to get at the invisible standard of comparison that is making Janet’s life so miserable. Janet either fails to understand these questions or refuses to answer them until Jerry asks, gently, "What is the one thing that would improve your life — apart from sleep?"

"Different life," says Janet between clenched teeth, using as few words as possible. Read more ..


The Edge of Art

Art Blooms in Russia Against Gray Political Backdrop

February 21st 2011

Russian Topics - Kremlin

Russia’s authoritarian politics may be gray and conservative. But Russia’s modern art scene is colorful and eccentric.

A Lenin head is offered up on a dinner table. A pig-like policeman swills a bottle of vodka. And a near-naked man sits in a transparent cube, reading a book.

Welcome to the vibrant land of Russian modern art.

Russian liberals say politics are authoritarian and stage-managed by the Kremlin. But a few blocks away, at the Central House of Artists, the motto is: "Anything goes!"

American artist John Varoli has seen Russia art flourish since moving here in the early 1990s.

"Russia is quite grey and conservative overall,” Varoli said. “There are islands of creativity, prosperity, of avant-garde.” Varoli was speaking on the sidelines of the Kandinsky Prize show, which draws big crowds every year. Here you can find a jarring variety of paintings, sculptures, and installations. Read more ..


Book Review

Washington Rules: American Path to Permanent War

February 14th 2011

Book Covers - Washington Rules

Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. Andrew J. Bacevich. Metropolitan Books. 2010. 304 pages. 

Andrew Bacevich’s provocative Washington Rules challenges the nonpartisan consensus which has dominated American foreign policy from the Cold War through the global war on terror and numerous military interventions. Bacevich argues that every American President from Harry Truman to Barack Obama has subscribed to four basic assumptions: the world must be organized or shaped in order to prevent chaos; only the United States possesses the power to enforce world order; the international order must be defined by American values which have universal validity; and despite opposition in some quarters, most of the world accepts and welcomes this role for the United States.

According to Bacevich, these fundamental principles of American foreign policy are implemented through what he terms “the sacred trinity of U.S. military practice;” international stability requires that the United States maintain a global military presence, this force must be prepared for global power projections, and potential threats must be addressed by military intervention. Thus, the United States is posed to project its interest in the world through military power and interventions, creating a condition of perpetual war. Echoing the refrain of President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the undue influence of the military-industrial complex, Bacevich concludes that by the early 1960s, “semiwarriors—those who derived their power and influence by perpetuating an atmosphere of national security crisis—had gained de facto control of the United States government” (33). Read more ..


Book Review

Zero-Sum Future: An Unsatisfying Future for the United States

February 14th 2011

Book Covers - Zero Sum Future

Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety. Gideon Rachman. Simon & Schuster. 2011. 352 pages.

A more accurate title for this book would be "The Rise and Fall of the Western Win-Win Theory of Globalization." It's not really until two-thirds of the way through the book that zero-sum theory of the title is broached. Which suggests that marketing considerations trumped editorial ones in positioning the book (the notion that American-led globalization has not exactly turned out as planned is not exactly a news flash, after all), or a lack of editorial supervision in telescoping the book into tighter, sharper parameters. Or both.

Not that this is a plodding read. Journalist Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator for the Financial Times, produces informed and readable prose. Almost too readable: the approximately 10-page, 24 chapters that comprise the book read a bit like extended "leaders," those finely crafted editorials one finds at the front of the Economist, Rachman's former employer. The effect is to make Zero-Sum Future feel like a collection of magazine articles. Perfect for a transcontinental flight, perhaps. But not a fully satisfying book.

Zero-Sum Future is transcontinental in other ways too. Like Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw's The Commanding Heights (2002), this is a view of the world at 30,000 feet. Rachman peppers his analysis with first-hand observations gleaned at Davos conferences and meetings with senior economic and political figures, which lends his analysis an air of authority. But his wisdom is thoroughly conventional. Read more ..


Film Review

Korkoro: A film on Freedom, Prejudice, and Genocide

February 14th 2011

Film - Korkoro poster

Korkoro. Director: Tony Gatlif. Starring: Marc Levoine, Marie-Josee Croze, and James Thierree. Length: 1 hr 51 minutes

Writer-director, Tony Gatlif (born in Algeria with a gypsy background and settled in France) has developed a cinema career of making arresting films with gypsy stories, themes of wandering peoples, and a focus on their music: Latcho Drom, Gadjo Dilo, Exils, Princes... Korkoro is his latest, but it is different from his other films insofar as it takes us back into World War II history.

In Vichy France there was legislation against the gypsies and their way of life, especially preventing them from moving around the countryside. As one of the bigoted and fascist characters says of them in the film, they are considered as vermin. With their poor reputation for being wandering thieves and scoundrels, they did not elicit a great deal of sympathy from the French countrysiders. Gatlif ensures that they do receive some sympathy from his audience. Read more ..


Authors on the Road

Edwin Black Brings Message of Arab-Nazi Alliance in Holocaust and "The Farhud" to San Francisco Bay Area

February 7th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author and journalist Edwin Black visits the San Francisco Bay area February 7-11, continuing his national book tour on his most recent bestseller, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. This book, lauded by critics such as Middle East expert Walid Phares as "meticulously researched and documented," chronicles the robust axis between Arabs and Nazis, on and off the battlefield, during the Holocaust. What the book documents is "a legacy of hate" by Arabs against Jews combined with the Nazi lust for oil that brought Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler into common cause with the Muslim Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and other Arab leaders. The stated goal at the time was to exterminate Jews not only in Palestine but also in Europe. Eventually, the shoulder-to-shoulder battlefield alliance of Nazis, Muslims and Arabs during World War II also created the Muslim-Catholic murder regime in Croatia known as the Ustasha, perhaps the most heinous killers of the Holocaust, according to Black.

“Farhud,” a word in Arabic that signifies violent dispossession, is used to describe the horrific events of 1941 in Baghdad when Iraqi Nazi mobs murdered and raped the Jewish community, seizing their property and wiping out their millennial presence in the country. Of his latest work, Black wrote, “This is a book I wish that I didn’t have to write.”

Edwin Black’s San Francisco schedule includes appearances at seven Bay Area locations, starting with a speaking event and book-signing February 7 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, and adds events at two temples, Kol Shofar in Tiburon and Sherith Israel in San Francisco. His campus events include lectures at San Jose State University, Oholone College and Sonoma State University. Black will also present his findings to Jewish organizations in three separate events.

The author will complete his tour with a major event for the Deaf Community on the topic of eugenics at Oholone College based on his book War Against the Weak.  Black will do a radio interview February 8 from 10:05 p.m. to 11 p.m. by radio host John Rothmann on KGO 810 AM. Read more ..


Book Review

Tolstoy: A Russian Life, and Myth

February 6th 2011

Book Covers - Tolstoy: a Russian Life

Tolstoy: A Russian Life. Rosamund Bartlett. Profile Books. 2010. 352 pages.

The dust-jacket of this weighty book (it is hardly possible to do justice to the life of someone like Tolstoy in less than 400 pages) shows the elderly writer in 1908, standing in peasant attire, with a stick and a pet dog, in a snow-covered avenue at Yasnaya Polyana, his country estate. The photo captures everything the author means by her sub-title: “Only Russia could have produced a writer like Tolstoy” she comments.

Indeed, to understand him and the forces that furiously propelled him in different, sometimes contradictory, directions during his long career, Rosamund Bartlett needed to master the complexities of Russian political, social and religious life in order to produce this comprehensive and readable book. If the reader does not learn anything new about this extraordinary figure, he will at the very least have entered anew into Tolstoy’s world with its vivid evocation of Russian aristocratic life lived before the Revolution.

Of course, Tolstoy was much more than merely a great novelist and social thinker from a noble background. The trajectory traced by Bartlett shows him as a profligate aristocrat, an army officer in the Caucasus, an educational and agrarian reformer, a famous writer, a Christian (but only at home in a faith refashioned by him) and the founder of a cult of “Tolstoyans.” Read more ..


Book Review

The Closing of the Muslim Mind Probed with Understanding

January 30th 2011

Book Covers - Closing of the Muslim Mind 2

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. Robert R. Reilly. ISI Books. 2010. 244 pages. 

Robert R. Reilly has written a book that may offer the key to both understanding and perhaps defeating the ongoing war of terror against the West. The book is entitled The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. As Angelo Codevilla's jacket blurb puts it: "Reilly shows what happens to a civilization when it fails to give reason its due. This book teaches and warns. Read it." Paul Eidelberg describes it as "a book surpassing in depth even the best efforts of Bernard Lewis. You will not only be enlightened, but you may also see how the West might prevent a new Dark Ages."

Reilly is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and a well-published writer with substantial government service, including a stint as Director of the Voice of America and senior adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Information in 2003. As a sideline, he is also one of our finest classical music critics. In this book Reilly explains "why the restoration of reason to Islam is the only antidote to the spiritual pathology driving young men to attempted terrorist acts." Read more ..


Authors on the Road

Edwin Black Speaks on Farhud before American Sephardi Federation in New York

January 24th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Author Edwin Black, author of the recently released bestseller The Farhud: Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, will present his findings directly to the Sephardic community of New York in a much-anticipated appearance before the American Sephardi Federation at 6:30 p.m. on January 31, 2011. Black appears in the auditorium of the Center for Jewish History, co-sponsored by the Federation and a coalition of social justice groups.

"Although I have addressed Holocaust and survivor groups across the United States about this painful topic," said Black, "I have been waiting to deliver this history to the one group of Americans most affected by the tragic alliance of Nazis and Arabs. That group is the Sephardic Jewish community, the Jews descended from communities in Arab countries."

A venue source said hundreds were expected to fill the auditorium and advance reservations were streaming in.

Black's book described the 1,400 year legacy of hate behind the refusal of Arabs to co-exist with Jews in Palestine during the 1920s. The Farhud shows the 1920s decade of extreme anti-Jewish violence was followed in the 1930s by an ever-tightening alliance between Arabs and Muslims worldwide and the Nazis. This alliance led to an abortive attempt by Arab-Nazis to exterminate the Jews of Baghdad. In the wake of that failed genocide, hundreds of Iraqi civilians, police, and military staged a two-day orgy of violence against the Jews of Baghdad, the book chronicles. Hundreds of Jews were murdered, maimed and raped. The pogrom was termed Farhud, which in Arabic means "violent dispossession." The Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was the central figure behind the anti-Jewish events. Read more ..


Film Review

'The Next Three Days' is Almost Believable

January 24th 2011

Film - The Next Three Days

The Next Three Days. Director: Paul Haggis
Starring: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde Length: 122 minutes  

Back in June of 2009, the French thriller, Anything for Her, was reviewed as a ripping, action-packed (and basically unbelievable) crime-drama about a literature teacher who takes to extreme measures in an attempt to liberate his (apparently) unjustly-convicted wife from jail. In Fred Cavayé’s film the teacher was a determined, practical man, who got entangled in the dark world of Paris’ banlieue, of illegal immigrants, forged passports, drug deals and messy deaths. This is the milieu of the legendary, appallingly shocking Irréversible. 

Anything for Her has recently been remade for English language audiences as The Next Three Days by Paul Haggis with Russell Crowe in the lead. It is currently on general release, and has been running fifth in the UK box office, having been similarly successful in the USA last autumn.

If you saw the original, Haggis’ version at first seems like a frame-for frame remake: it includes the same homages to Irréversible, with the back-to-front story-telling, and the same references to the violent possibilities of fire-extinguishers. However, it becomes a bit more than just a pedestrian re-make for an audience who can’t read subtitles: Haggis twists the screenplay keeping the interest of those who know the story, and drawing out some of the themes that are of characteristic interest to him, not least disappointment and cynicism. Read more ..


Book Review

Apocalypse Never: A Spirited Call to Forge a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

January 18th 2011

Book Covers - Apocalypse Never

Apocalyse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World. Tad Daley. Rutgers. 2010. 288 pages. 

Tad Daley's Apocalypse Never is a spirited, ringing call for nuclear weapons abolition -- including why it is imperative and how it can be achieved.

According to Daley -- a former member of the International Policy Department of the Rand Corporation, as well as a former speechwriter and policywriter for members of Congress -- he did not "intend to create an academic work for scholars, nuclear experts, and policy wonks." Instead, he sought to "write a book for ordinary folks," people who would come away ready and willing to bring an end to the danger of nuclear annihilation. Through colorful writing and a convincing argument, Daley accomplishes this task quite nicely.

If nuclear weapons are not abolished in the near future, Daley contends, nuclear catastrophes are likely to erupt in any (or all) of the following ways.

Nuclear terrorism, he argues, provides the likeliest of the forthcoming disasters. Although unscrupulous U.S. politicians have inflated the dangers of terrorism to further their own political careers, there is nevertheless a genuine danger of terrorist attack. And there remains little doubt that terrorists have attempted (and continue to attempt) to obtain nuclear weapons and weapons grade material to implement such an assault. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, if a single nuclear weapon of the Hiroshima type were exploded in Los Angeles, more than 117,000 people would perish instantly and another 111,000 would die sooner or later from radiation exposure. Moreover, that is a small nuclear weapon by today's standards. The U.S. government has a nuclear warhead with nearly a hundred times the explosive power of the Hiroshima bomb. As long as nuclear weapons and weapons grade material exist in national arsenals, terrorists and other madmen will have the opportunity to obtain them through theft, black market operations, or bribery. Read more ..


Authors on the Road

Author Edwin Black Embarks Upon Whirlwind South Florida Book Tour

January 10th 2011

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

Award-winning author and journalist, Edwin Black, is embarking upon a whirlwind tour of Florida as part of his latest multi-city book tour, this one mainly focusing on two books just released, The Farhud: The Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust and British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement. Both books have been published in the past 60 days to international praise.

Farhud—a word that in Arabic signifies “violent dispossession,” describes an Arab-Nazi pogrom in Iraq. It was on June 1, 1941 that Arab mobs swept through the streets of Baghdad raping, burning, and killing in what Black describes as a “burning madhouse.” The Farhud culminated years of machinations involving Adolf Hitler and Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the region’s Muslims. After the Farhud, an international Arab-Nazi alliance emerged that saw Arabs by the tens of thousands fighting in Waffen SS units. Many also worked in concentration camps. The goal of this alliance was to hasten Hitler’s extermination of the Jews in exchange for recognition of an Arab nation in Palestine, asserts the author.

Black's book on British Petroleum and the Redline Agreement chronicles BP's role in inventing the modern Middle East and as the basis for decades of bloody wars in Iraq, Iran, and Israel. The body of research has been praised by critics and reviewers as “impressive” and “fascinating.”

Black launches his tour in South Palm Beach, where he will speak on January 12 and 13 regarding America’s oil addiction and his plan for an alternative energy future and a recovery in the event of an oil interruption. Those two events will feature his several bestselling books on oil and alternative fuel, including Internal CombustionThe Plan and Banking on Baghdad. Read more ..


Book Review

Student Atheletes Take More Battering

January 10th 2011

Book Covers - Pay for Play

Pay for Play: A History of Big-Time College Athletic Reform by Ronald A. Smith. (University of Illinois Press, 2011), 360 pages.

The already-battered image of the “student-athlete” took more hits in 2010. The 2005 Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush, returned his trophy when it came out that he had been on the take at the University of Southern California. This year’s Heisman winner, Auburn’s Cam Newton, is already under a cloud after stories surfaced that his father had solicited money from at least one school in return for his son’s services. In addition to these high-profile cases, there were the usual eligibility scandals, felony charges, over-the-line recruiting tactics, and the like. It was enough to make one wax nostalgic for the good old days, when athletes were students first and intercollegiate athletics were untainted by commercialism and professionalism.

Of course, as historian Ronald Smith of Penn State is quick to point out, those good old days never existed. The very first intercollegiate competition, an 1852 boat race on Lake Winnipesaukee between Harvard and Yale, was essentially a promotional scheme concocted by the Boston, Concord, and Montreal Railroad. By the end of the 19th century, as football was becoming the dominant collegiate sport, concern about who was actually playing the games and why led to an outcry against “tramp athletes,” who moved from school to school and played for pay. Read more ..


Book Review

Toward the Setting Sun: An Introduction to the Trail of Tears and American Tragedy

January 3rd 2011

Book Covers - Toward the setting sun

Toward the Setting Sun: John Ross, the Cherokees, and the Trail of Tears. Brian Hicks. Grove/Atlantic. 2011. 416 pages.

The saga of the Cherokee in the first half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Trail of Tears, is a vaguely familiar one to those with a survey of American history under their belts (or anyone lucky enough to see "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" on Broadway before its closing at the end of the 2010 holiday season). Certainly the behavior of the federal government in this sorry affair is among its very worst failures to follow its own laws. In Toward the Setting Sun, journalist and popular historian Brian Hicks—who, according to family lore, is descended from key Cherokee figures—synthesizes this story, gives it a clear narrative arc, and positions it as a literal and figurative family saga.

Though only the chief who presided over the Cherokee migration, John Ross, is named in the title, Toward the Setting Sun has three principal characters spanning three generations. The first is Major Ridge, often referred to as “The Ridge,” who rose to influence among the Cherokees on the basis of his firm resistance to land concessions to the United States, even as he fought alongside General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-1814 and in the First Seminole War of 1817–18. The second is the Ridge's protégé, Ross, who was more of a financial and political leader. Ross was ultimately elected to leadership of the Cherokees on a platform of implacable opposition to concessions amid growing pressure from the state of Georgia and the federal government. Read more ..


Book Review

A World on Fire: Richly Detailed Work on British Role in the American Civil War

January 3rd 2011

Book Covers - A World on fire

A World on Fire: Britain's Crucial Role in the American Civil War. Amanda Foreman. Random House. 2011. 704 pages.

Much has been said about the Anglo-French military treaty.  Historian Andrew Roberts, writing in the Wall Street Journal, called it the “Entente Suicidal.”  John Bolton went even further, warning David Cameron that London’s defense pact with Paris could undermine its relationship with Washington.  Speaking to the Daily Mail, the former U.S. ambassador to the UN said that the deal to share nuclear secrets as well as aircraft carriers—dubbed the Entente Frugale given its cost-saving measures—would lead to a cut in transatlantic intelligence sharing.  

Let us hope it does not come to this, though, and that diplomatic sense prevails, since, as Bolton stresses, the special relationship “relies on intelligence sharing”—much of which, needless to say, the United States does not “share with France.”  You need only refer to the recent Yemen bomb plot to appreciate this, however, as President Obama evidently does given the rapidity with which he expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Cameron for his cooperation in helping to prevent U.S.-bound planes reaching its eastern shore with an explosive payload. Read more ..


Book Review

Edwin Black's 'The Farhud' Makes for Uncomfortable but Necessary Reading

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

The Farhud: Roots of the Arab Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2010. 464 pages. Buy it here.

“This book is a nightmare... I regret that I was the one who had to write it. I hope it never becomes necessary to write another like this one.’ These are among the opening words to Edwin Black’s new book, Farhud.

Much of Farhud does not make for comfortable reading. The central event is the two days of rioting in June 1941, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Jews – the exact figure is not known - destruction of property, mass looting, rape and mutilation. Farhud is the Arabic name for ‘ violent dispossession’. The pro-Nazis who planned it, however, had a more ambitious and sinister objective in mind: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Jews of Baghdad.

The Farhud was the Iraqi Jews' Kristallnacht. Samuel Edelman, in an afterword to Black’s book, admits he had never heard of this terrible event until 2003. Yet, as Black shows, the Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to achieve a shared objective: to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The killing sprees by Arabs continued into North Africa and Balkans: the Germans raised five Arab batallions in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Bosnian Muslims, personally recruited into SS divisions by the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem, entered into a grisly and murderous partnership with the Ustasha Catholic Croat nationalists to wipe out 100,000 Gyspies and Jews in Yugoslavia. After the war was over, the legacy endured: The mass exodus of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion. Read more ..


Movie Review

127 Hours: A Human Victory or the Chaos of Nature

December 27th 2010

Film - 127 Hours

127 Hours. Director: Danny Boyle. Starring: James Franco, Kate Mara, and Treat Williams. Length: 94 minutes

For his latest film, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire) has made the very odd choice of the true-life story of Aron Ralston (James Franco), the young engineer and outdoorsman who, in April, 2003, fell into a rock declivity in Blue John Canyon, Utah, where his arm was trapped by a fallen boulder. After five days of waiting and hoping in vain for help to arrive, he realized that he had to leave the arm behind or he would soon be dead. The result is probably the most fun you could have watching a representation of someone who cuts his own arm off, even though Mr. Ralston’s story—told in his memoir, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, on which the film is based—provides too slender a dramatic base to sustain a feature-length film. It’s a great news item or anecdote, of course, but there’s just not enough going on—or so, at any rate, it would seem—to fill more than ninety minutes of screen time.

That’s why it is stuffed with Danny Boyle-type technical wizardry. To break up the monotony, he resorts to much use of split-screen techniques, speeded up motion, hallucinatory dream sequences and, through it all, a lively pop musical sound-track to help make up for the lack of dialogue or movement in the story itself. The first and best of his tricks is that the title doesn’t come until a good quarter of an hour into the picture at the moment when, after its hero’s driving and biking and running and chatting up a couple of pretty fellow-hikers leads him to his fated encounter with the boulder—whereupon we see written on the screen “127 Hours.” Read more ..



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