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Book Essay

Yehuda Avner Takes a Close Look at Israel’s Leaders

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Prime Ministers

The Prime Ministers: An Intimate Narrative of Israeli Leadership. The Toby Press. 2010. 715 pages.

The Prime Ministers, Yehuda Avner’s riveting chronicle of the country’s diplomacy through the eyes of an aide and adviser to successive leaders, has now become an international bestseller.

Based on the copious notes and records Avner retained from the countless meetings he attended, observing firsthand the momentous events of that period, the book provides an unprecedented and fascinating insight into the thinking of the inner circles of the leaders of the day as they grappled with the burning issues confronting them. It enables a reader to become a fly on the wall, witnessing the most stirring discussions and negotiations related to the crucial decisions made during tumultuous times. The authenticity of the conversations and the prevailing atmosphere conveyed were endorsed by leading Israeli and foreign diplomats who had been participants.

Although it is a massive tome comprising more than 700 pages, Avner’s eloquent style and wry wit, with which Jerusalem Post readers have become acquainted through his columns, make it eminently readable for laymen no less than scholars, who I predict will all read it from cover to cover. Read more ..

Book Review

Churchill's Secret War: Revisionism for the Sake of Humanity

December 27th 2010

Book Covers - Churchills Secret War

Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II. Madhusree Mukerjee. Basic Books. 2010. 368 pages.

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality”, T.S. Eliot wrote in "Four Quartets." But only reality, however bleak, dignifies humankind. That is why we need revisionist historians who keep correcting our consoling and self-justifying narratives.

Two recent books have aroused controversy precisely because they set out to challenge versions of reality which have been the conventional wisdom for the past 50 or so years. One recounts how the man who has been acclaimed as the “Greatest Briton” who ever lived, carelessly sacrificed the lives of over one million Indians in the pursuit of victory in World War II. The book is Churchill’s Secret War by Madhusree Mukerjee.

Publishers Weekly describes this book as an important correction of the common picture of India as a “placid imperial bastion during WWII.” Rather, India was in fact racked by famine and insurrection, according to this searching history. Mukerjee surveys a country seething with violence, as Congress Party militants agitating for independence turned to rioting and assassination campaigns after bloody police crackdowns, and an army of Indian guerrillas fought alongside the Japanese against the British. Read more ..

Film Review

Cool It: A Movie that Sheds more Light on Audiences than the Environment

December 21st 2010

Film - Cool It

As I did with Davis Guggenheim's recently-released Waiting for Superman, I found that Ondi Timoner's Cool It tempted me to say that the movie is more revealing of the character and thought of the movie-going audience today than it is about its ostensible subject. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but not much. For both films are clearly designed to present to the hard core liberals and progressives who they (rightly) assume make up the overwhelming majority of those who will see or are ever likely to see them, what the film-makers hope will be the acceptable face of certain conservative ideas that otherwise they would never be willing to consider.

Thus Mr. Bjorn Lomborg, the hero of Cool It, believes devoutly, almost passionately in man-caused global-warming - even as he trashes both the Al Gore movie on the subject, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Al Gore approach to a remedy for global apocalypse through cap and trade legislation and other measures to reduce carbon emissions and wreck Western industrial economies. That's rather a lot for a liberal audience accustomed to idolizing Mr. Gore to take on board. It is also the reason, as I take it, for occasional human interest passages and excursuses by Miss Timoner.

In one such, Mr, Lomborg engages in a bit of self-psychoanalysis by positing that he is not a victim, like Mr. Gore, of global-warming hysteria because "I feel secure in the world; I know I am loved. That's my mom." Read more ..

Book Review

Jews & Money: Putting to Rest a Pernicious Stereotype

December 21st 2010

Book Covers - Jews and Money 2

Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype. Palgrave Macmillan. 2010. 256 pages.

Stereotypes about Jews and money—the notions that Jews are cheap and miserly, or that they hoard money, or control the banks and levers of international finance—have endured through the centuries and thrive even today.

The pernicious stereotype about an alleged connection of Jews to money is one of the main pillars of anti-Semitism, and one of the reasons that hatred of Jews has endured through the centuries and into modern times, according to a new book from Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Jews & Money: The Story of a Stereotype was released by Palgrave Macmillan this November, and examines the alleged connection between Jews and money and shows how the stereotype has been used from the Middle Ages into modern times to scapegoat and stigmatize the Jewish people. In the book, Foxman debunks the idea of cheap and miserly Jews, showing that philanthropy and social justice are at the core of Jewish values, tradition and practice. Jews & Money also looks at how recent events in the news, including the Bernie Madoff scandal and the recession, have unleashed a flood of anti-Semitic invective on the Internet, and how a conspiracy theory suggesting that “400 billion in funds were secretly transferred to Israeli banks” just prior to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in late 2008 spread like wildfire across the Internet and was reported as fact across much of the Middle East. Read more ..

Authors on the Road

Edwin Black to Speak in New York City on 'The Farhud' and the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust

December 13th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black
Edwin Black

Award-winning author and journalist Edwin Black is scheduled to speak in New York City on his latest book, The Farhud: Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, a book that adds to his body of work which includes volumes such as Banking on Baghdad and Internal Combustion that chronicle the intertwining of petroleum in the Holocaust. The Farhud  has been hailed as "monumental and exhaustively documented" by Mideast scholar Walid Phares, and "profound and insightful" by Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Black is also the author of the award-winning international bestsellers IBM and the Holocaust and War Against the Weak, the latter now a film showing in film festivals around the world.

Sponsored by the National Association of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors (NAHOS), Black's talk on The Farhud is scheduled for December 19 at 2 PM at the Park East Synagogue at 164 East 68th Street, New York NY. In its newsletter, NAHOS stated, "Black is a fascinating speaker and lecturer who keeps his audiences spellbound. His detailed knowledge of the topics he presents is unsurpassed." The December 19 event is also sponsored by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the State of California Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, Human Rights and Tolerance, Spero Forum, Jewish Virtual Library, and History Network News among others.

The Farhud was a failed Nazi-Arab attempt to completely exterminate the Jews of Baghdad June 1-2, 1941. While total extermination failed, hundreds were massacred, raped, and pillaged in the streets. In Arabic, Farhud means "violent dispossession." His book traces the centuries-long “legacy of hate.” Ultimately, tens of thousands of Arabs and Muslims fought shoulder-to- shoulder with the Nazis, from Paris to Palestine, creating three military divisions in Europe and manning concentration camps. Paratroopers, artillery brigades, espionage, infantry battalions, machine gun units, camp guards—it was all to help Hitler win the war and finish the job by exterminating the Jews in Palestine. In Yugoslavia, Arabs and Muslims comprised much of the monstrous Ustasha regime which committed the most heinous atrocities of the entire Holocaust. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Why I wrote "Jews and Money"

December 13th 2010

Book Covers - Jews and Money 2

It wasn’t any particular comment during the financial crisis that led me to write “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype.” Rather it was the cumulative effect of a host of anti-Semitic statements focusing on money matters together with the uncertain environment in which Jews were living that provided the imperative for me to return to the world of authorship, my vow never to return notwithstanding.

 Still, a number of the comments made a deep impression on me. One was the claim that Lehman Brothers, immediately before its collapse, transferred $400 billion to Israeli banks. It reminded me of the Hezbollah charge soon after 9/11 that they had “learned” that 4,000 Israelis did not show up for work at the World Trade Center that day.  These conspiracy theories are so outlandish that one is tempted to ignore them. But, as absurd as they are, they do take hold. There’s no room for complacency.

 Then there was a comment on an online news site: “Ho hum, another Crooked Wall Street Jew. Find a Jew who isn’t Crooked. Now that would be a story.”

 Or, “Just another Jew money changer thief.  It’s been happening for 3,000 years. Trust a Jew and this is what will happen. History has proven it over and over. Jews have only one god --money.”

 And so I embarked on this project to tell the story of how the stereotype about Jews and money came into being, what were its consequences through the centuries, and the impact and danger that it presents in our own time. Read more ..

Film Review

The American: Richly Filmed and Poorly Directed

December 13th 2010

Film - The American

The American. Director: Anton Corbijn. Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Bjorklund. Length: 105 mins. 

As a boy I marveled at the atmospheric album covers designed by Anton Corbijn the photographer. At a time when carrying albums to school was deemed cool it was Corbijn’s images that would stand out from the crowd. Corbijn used black and white to create ghosted edges of the bands he was promoting. U2 were defined as much for their haunting photos full of foreboding and introspection as they were for their music.

Now Corbijn has honed his photographic skills to sharpen their impact on the silver screen. His latest offering, following the critically acclaimed Control, a film about the life of Ian Curtis the lead singer of Joy Division, is called The American. It will divide joy in equal measure for all cinema goers wanting to get a glimpse of George Clooney’s starring role. It’s a very thought provoking film that makes the viewer think rather than relax as the story unfolds. It is uncomfortable and yet stimulating at the same time. It is billed as an action thriller and that is misleading. It does not sit comfortably in any genre and is as difficult to pin down as the moods conveyed all those years ago on fading album covers. Read more ..

Book Review

Standing Bear is a Person: A Parable of Courage and Peace in the Face of Injustice

December 6th 2010

Book Covers - Standing Bear is a Person

Standing Bear is a Person. Stephen Dando-Collins. Da Capo Press. 2005. 288 pages.

The Ponca Indians were agrarian, peaceful, self-sufficient and taught their children to speak English. But in the eyes of the law, none of them were "persons".  Standing Bear is a Person is the true story of the one Ponca man who challenged the federal government on behalf of his people.

Explorers Lewis and Clark met the Poncas as early as 1804, and even then found them friendly and well-settled in permanent houses. When the Poncas were rounded up in 1877, they numbered less than 1,000 people in three settlements in Dakota territory (later within Nebraska's boundaries), clustered around a Bureau of Indian Affairs government outpost. The outpost was commanded by General George Crook, one of the army's most successful Indian fighters.

In June of 1876, at Montana's Little Big Horn River, George Armstrong Custer and 266 soldiers of the 7th Calvary were killed in battle against the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. The Poncas had absolutely no part in this bloodbath. In fact, for years the Poncas themselves had been victims of Sioux aggression, a dispute created by the federal government in the 1860s when it drafted conflicting legal descriptions into separate treaties with the two peoples. Read more ..

Book Excerpt

The Arab Lobby: How Oil Riches Influence US Policy in Foreign Affairs and Energy

December 6th 2010

Book Covers - The Arab Lobby

Excerpt from The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance that Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East.

"That is the best-organized lobby; you shouldn't underestimate the grip it has on American politics-no matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats." This recent comment by the European Union trade commissioner and former Belgian foreign minister, Karel de Gucht, epitomizes the pervasive belief that a Jewish-Zionist-Israel lobby has undue influence on U.S. Middle East policy.

This idea predates the establishment of the state of Israel. For the most part, the discussion was kept behind closed doors and limited primarily to State Department Arabists, but it gradually became popular among those who held a grudge (such as Congressman Paul Findley, who blamed his defeat in a reelection bid in 1982 on the lobby) or who were open enemies of Israel (e.g., Pat Buchanan). The recent publication of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, however, gave a patina of academic legitimacy to the long whispered complaints of the anti-Israel establishment.

Walt and Mearsheimer cavalierly dismissed the possibility that U.S. policy might be subject to countervailing influences by those who believe the national interest is best served by distancing the United States from Israel and cultivating ties with the Arab states. They are not alone. Many analysts have ignored or belittled the notion that an Arab lobby exists or has any influence. Read more ..

Book Review

Understanding The American South Since World War II

November 29th 2010

Book Covers - The South and America since WWII

The South and America Since World War II. James C. Cobb. Oxford University Press. 2010. 392 pages.

Is the South—still—a place apart? Thirty years ago, in Place Over Time, Carl Degler argued for the persistence of a distinctive regional identity notwithstanding the successive waves of modernity that followed the “New South” of the post-Civil War era. Earlier in this decade, in Still Fighting the Civil War, David Goldfield argued that many Southerners insisted on seeing themselves as apart from the of the Union. Meanwhile, an array of scholars from Bruce Schulman to Michael Lind see recent American history as essentially a process of Southernization. In this ably written synthetic account of the region, veteran University of Georgia professor James C. Cobb shows how all these views can be seen as credible in a narrative trajectory that moves from that of a backward, isolated region to an assertive national presence. But for Cobb, the region and the nation have always been deeply intertwined.

The first half of The South and America moves at a brisk pace, describing the quickening effect of the Second World War on the region, the dawn of the Civil Rights movement, and the emergence of a steady—and increasingly sophisticated—strategy of resistance to it. We meet a familiar gallery of characters, from Gunnar Myrdal to Emmett Till, and a political spectrum that runs from the daring novels of Lilian Smith to the whites who said of their returning veterans, “Our heroes didn't die in Europe to give Negroes the right to marry our wives.” (Those Negroes, for their part, had their own ideas about what they were fighting for.) Read more ..

Book Review

Are You the Driver or the Passenger?

November 29th 2010

Art Topics - Rushkoff Book

Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age. Douglas Rushkoff. OR Books. 140 pages.

Having read and reviewed Rushkoff’s previous books, Think Outside The Box, which was good, and Life Inc., which was nothing less than brilliant, I wondered what was next for the media maven. This new one is short and concise, but a highly worthy successor. His mission is to raise awareness of the human implications of our technologies — the context (if you will) of our actions.

The author’s Decalogue here is a set of rules of conduct. To wit: Do Not Be ‘Always On;’ Live in Person; You May Always Choose ‘None of the Above;’ You Are Never Completely Right; One Size Does Not Fit All; Be Yourself; Do Not Sell Your Friends; Tell the Truth; Share, Don’t Steal; and Program or Be Programmed.” Each of the command(ments) comprise a chapter.

On the surface they seem pretty obvious, but like their Biblical counterparts, they add up to a wise and ethical way to conducts oneself, in this case, mostly within the online and virtual worlds. After all, many of us blithely mouse over, click and agree to website terms we’re asked to give our assent to, with little thought to the implications or the consequences, and whatever rights and responsibilities we may shed as we do. Beyond that, there’s an insidious role reversal, says Rushkoff, whereby the supposed programmer becomes the programmed. Our tools define us, whether we like it or not. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Read more ..

Movie Review

Movie Project Recounts Tragedy and Horrors of Migrants Passing through Mexico to the U.S.

November 22nd 2010

Film - The Invisibles

The Invisibles. Directed by Marc Silver and Gael Garcia Bernal. Distributed by Amnesty International.

Lucia Elizabeth Contreras watched as her brother Salomon set out for Mexico en route to the United States. The young man from El Salvador never made it to the destination of his dreams. Instead, his sister was later horrified to see pictures of her ill-fated brother tortured and murdered, recovered from a Mexican grave along with three other victims. The Contreras family's saga is among several personal stories showcased in a new Amnesty International (AI) campaign aimed at defending the human rights of the estimated 400,000-500,000 Central American and other migrants who travel across Mexico every year in an often tragic attempt to reach the Promised Land on the other side of the Rio Grande.

Organized around the theme of "The Invisible Ones," the campaign was strategically timed to kick-off during the Fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) held November 8-11 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. As part of the campaign, a photo essay and documentary directed by Marc Silver and prominent Mexican actor/director Gael Garcia Bernal will be shown in at least 9 Mexican cities in the coming weeks. Read more ..

Film Review

Client 9: The Fall of Eliot Spitzer and America’s Lack of Politicians of Good Character

November 22nd 2010

Film - Client 9

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Director: Alex Gibney. Length: 117 minutes.

Alex Gibney’s Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer begins with a portentous saying about how mankind occupies the middle ground between angel and animal. This is the movie’s way of suggesting that its subject, the disgraced former governor of New York who got caught patronizing a high-priced “escort” agency, was, or is, a little of both himself. This, of course, meshes nicely with Mr Spitzer’s own rather comical self-importance in speaking of his downfall as “a Greek tragedy” and comparing himself to Icarus who, flying too near the sun, was brought down by “hubris.” This might have sounded a bit better coming from someone else, but not a lot. Either way, the hyperbole is a smoke-screen of attempted human interest to mask an underlying political purpose: namely, the rehabilitation of Mr. Spitzer, who is now co-hosting a talk-show on CNN with Kathleen Parker, by casting him as the victim of a conspiracy to effect his ruin by Wall Street fat cats and Republican dirty tricksters. Read more ..

Film Review

Filmmaker Justin Strawhand Tackles Eugenics in ‘War Against the Weak’

November 18th 2010

Film - WarAgainsttheWeakFilmReview

Jersey City filmmaker Justin Strawhand explores eugenics in America in his latest film, War Against the Weak. Strawhand directed the film, which outlines the connection between the United States’ push to create a master race by eliminating the “unfit” and the Holocaust.

We caught up with Strawhand in advance of the film’s Thursday night screening at New Jersey City University, his alma mater.

Could you give us a quick primer on eugenics in America — how it started and how it ultimately ended?

The American eugenics movement really starts at the beginning of the 20th century on Long Island, in Cold Spring Harbor. It’s funded by some of the wealthiest families in the country, Rockefeller and Carnegie, and it really takes off like wildfire. Eugenics becomes taught in schools, it’s legislated all over the country, and the Supreme Court decides that eugenics sterilization is okay in 1927.

There’s really two things that kill American eugenics. One is that as the atrocities in Germany [are uncovered] — and more specifically, as America goes to war with Germany — eugenics gets a really bad name. Secondly, the very people that eugenicists were so terrified of, which were the waves of immigrants who were coming in from all over the place, but specifically from Eastern Europe, become a very powerful voting bloc, and so the politicians who had supported eugenics really run scared from it. That isn’t to say the ideas of eugenics don’t transform after the war because I think that they do, but they change names and they change tactics.

How did you become interested in this topic?

I had become aware of eugenics as a historical concept in 2001 or 2002. It just struck me, the idea that people in America were trying to breed a master race … how it seemed so similar to what was happening in Germany. I began doing research with a friend of mine and then a few years later I read Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak. Read more ..

Confronting the Farhud

When Arabs Massacred Jews Because they Sat While Praying

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Farhud book

Edwin Black is the author of IBM and the Holocaust. This article is drawn from his just released book, The Farhud, Roots of the Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust (Dialog 2010). Buy it here

As Israelis and Palestinians struggle with a twenty-first century peace process, the world must face the forgotten history that was so pivotal in determining the present crisis. In many ways, a turning point was the day Arabs massacred Jews because they dared to sit at the Wailing Wall while praying. This simple act of prayer was so unacceptable to Arabs that it helped launch a worldwide crisis of hate that provoked a global Islamic jihad, forged an Arab-Nazi alliance during the Holocaust, and still echoes today.

The year was 1929. Jewish Palestine was still being settled by torrents of eastern European refugees. The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine included the provision for a Jewish Homeland. The Balfour Declaration, widely endorsed by many nations, was a matter of international law. But the Arabs in Palestine refused to co-exist with Jews in any way except as second-class dhimmis.

Islam had been at war with the Jewish people since its defining inception in 627 when Mohammad exterminated the Jews of Mecca and launched the Islamic Conquest that swept north and subsumed Syria-Palestina. For centuries, Jews and Christians in Arab lands were allowed to exist as dhimmis, second-class citizens with limited religious rights. These restrictions were enforced by the Turks who, until World War I, ruled the geographically undetermined region known as Palestine, which included Jerusalem.

When the Ottoman Empire fell, after World War I ended in 1918, the British were obligated by the Mandate to maintain the Turkish status quo at the Wailing Wall. Read more ..

Book Review

Decision Points of George W. Bush Leaves a Lot to Be Desired

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - Decision Points

Decision Points. George W. Bush. Crown. 2010. 512 pages.

The newly released autobiography of former U.S. President George W. Bush makes for an intriguing read -- not least because of what it leaves out.

It’s a surprisingly good read, punchy and direct. He even admits a few mistakes -- something he was notably reluctant to do during his time in office. But if you’re looking for substantive second thoughts about the legacy for which he will be most remembered around the world -- his administration’s controversial conduct of the United States’s war against jihadi terrorists after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks -- you won’t find them here.

No question -- every political memoir offers a selective reading of events. Few politicians get where they are by constantly questioning their own beliefs; monumental self-confidence is a prerequisite for the job. So if it’s a balanced and objective account you’re looking for, you’re probably better off waiting for the historians to come out with their version.

Take the war in Iraq, for example. “I strongly believe that removing Saddam [Hussein] from power was the right decision,” writes Bush -- even though he admits that the U.S. invasion in 2003 revealed that the Iraqi dictator had no weapons of mass destruction, the reason for declaring war in the first place.


He defends his support for the waterboarding of captured Al-Qaeda operatives as a necessary tool to prevent attacks against the American homeland: “To suggest that our intelligence personnel violated the law by following the legal guidance they received is insulting and wrong.” That conclusion is likely to remain unpersuasive to many of his critics, who note that the U.S. soldiers were court-martialed for waterboarding prisoners during the Vietnam War, or that a Texas sheriff and three of his deputies were sentenced to jail terms for using this “enhanced interrogation technique” (i.e. torture) in 1983. Read more ..

Book Review

The World Turned Inside Out Will Keep People Arguing

November 15th 2010

Book Covers - World Turned Upside Down

The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century. James Livingston. (Rowman and Littlefield. 2010.

“Keep arguing.” James Livingston, 2010

Professor Livingston needn’t worry. His new book will keep people arguing. For The World Turned Inside Out is nothing if not maddeningly counterintuitive. Some of my friends and colleagues who have read it inform me that they agree with nothing in it. Of course, these same friends and colleagues also tell me they have never agreed with a single word Livingston has written. And yet, they keep reading. And they keep arguing.

In his first major contribution to intellectual history, Pragmatism and the Political Economy of Cultural Revolution, 1850-1940 (1994), Livingston argued against historians who made the Populists out to be history’s tragic, if fallen heroes, celebrated for their resistance to the corporate order. In contrast, Livingston marveled at the material surpluses offered by the new corporate order and, furthermore, contended that the emergence of corporations merited intellectual innovation in the eyes of pragmatists, especially John Dewey. “In the narrative form of pragmatism,” Livingston wrote, “the decline of proprietary capitalism loses its pathos, and the triumph of corporate capitalism appears as the first act of an unfinished comedy, not the residue of tragedy.”Livingston thus inverted the historical trajectory posited by Christopher Lasch in his 1991 The True and Only Heaven: whereas Lasch understood “progress” to be mere ideological cover for the bureaucratic and technocratic constraints of the corporate order, Livingston pointed to the newfound freedoms made possible by that order. Unfortunately for us all, Lasch died in 1994, unable to respond to Livingston’s provocations. Read more ..

Book Review

Cleopatra: A Life as Mythical Feminist Icon and Politician

November 8th 2010

Book Covers - Cleopatra: a life

Cleopatra: A Life. Stacy Schiff. Little, Brown. 2010. 384 pages.

Over the course of the past fifteen years, Stacy Schiff has emerged as one of the nation's most esteemed biographers. With France as a geographic crossroad, her subjects have ranged widely: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Vera Nabokov (a portrait that won her the 2000 Pulitzer Prize), and Benjamin Franklin. But Schiff's latest book takes her far afield in time and place. It's an audacious move, and as such is a form of fidelity to the life she limns.

In a way, Schiff's body of work is less a set of individual lives than an extended exercise in different kinds of biographical problem-solving. Saint-Exupéry was a shrewd choice of subject in that he's both famous and little-known to the general reading public that is Schiff's chosen domain; Vera is a foray into the fascinating life lived in the shadow of a powerful mate. Benjamin Franklin, by contrast, is almost too well-known (an issue Schiff finessed by focusing on his diplomatic career). So is Cleopatra; but while the problem for Franklin is essentially one of too much documentation, that of Cleopatra is a matter of having so little.

But of course this is also an opportunity, because the ambiguities surrounding Cleopatra's life give a biographer lots of license for informed speculation, a stratagem Schiff seizes frequently and boldly. (Was Caesarion really Julius Caesar's biological child by Cleopatria? Schiff acknowledges this long-running controversy in a footnote, but considers the child his and moves on.) In an important sense, the facts are really beside the point anyway; if ever there were a case where the truth resides in legend, this would be it. Read more ..

Film Review

Inside Job: A Film that Fails to Focus

November 8th 2010

Film - Inside Job

Inside Job. Director: Charles Ferguson. Narrator: Matt Damon Length: 120 minutes

There he goes again. Charles Ferguson, the software developer who made the documentary No End In Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq (2007) just as the end was coming into sight, has now, and with equal perspicacity, taken on the task of explaining, cinematically, the crash of 2008. With Inside Job, however, his political targets aren’t limited to the hapless George W. Bush and the Cheneys and Rumsfelds of his administration but include every president since (and including) Ronald Reagan. All are guilty, it seems, of contributing to the economic crisis — though the second President Bush is guiltier than the rest, naturally — through not being left wing in their economic views. Even President Obama is guilty for not being left wing enough. Also, and not coincidentally, for putting such other guilty parties as Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner on his economic team.

Apart from anything else, you’ve got to think that this is bad tactics, politically speaking. If everybody is guilty, then nobody is guilty. Much better to demonize only one or two or a handful of guys, as he did in his previous movie. But Hollywood political types have never been reluctant to spread the blame around pretty widely — probably because no administration has ever been left wing enough to suit them.

Mr. Ferguson’s film also loses focus toward the end when it takes up a whole litany of lefty complaints that have been outstanding for years, if not generations, beginning with excessive executive compensation, which at least might have some connection with his ostensible subject, and moving on to the decline in America’s manufacturing base, cuts in funding for public universities leading to higher tuition fees for students, the fact that (allegedly) for the first time the rising generation of Americans will be less well off than their parents and, inevitably, a federal tax policy which is said to favor the wealthy. Now where have we heard that before? Read more ..

Books and Authors

Humanist Mario Vargas Llosa: A Literary and Political Visionary of Latin America

November 8th 2010

Book Topics - Mario Vargas Llosa

Upon granting Mario Vargas Llosa (b. 1936, Peru) the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy declared that he deserved the prize “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt, and defeat.

What is that all about?

Well, gringos who live in well-educated, law-abiding, democratic, human rights-respecting countries north of the Rio Grande may have a right to be puzzled. But for Latin Americans, who know all too well the dark cruelties and cruel rages of dictatorships, it means a lot. Vargas Llosa is that rare specimen who is both an academic and a man of action, an artist and an activist, a complex, passionate personality and a hard-headed politician. In the dark days of tyranny, he stood for democracy; when the literary world was agog over the post-modern dissolution of the person, he stood for humanity. Vargas Llosa is above all a humanist.

Many novels from his voluminous corpus have been popular successes: The Time of the Hero (1963), Conversation in “The Cathedral” (1969), The War of the End of the World (1981), The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta (1984), Who Killed Palomino Molero (1986), Death in the Andes (1993) and Feast of the Goat (2000). But he has also written significant literary criticism, including Garcia Marquez: Story of a Deicide (1971), The Perpetual Orgy: Flaubert and “Madame Bovary” (1975), A Writer’s Reality (1990), The Language of Passion (2001) and The Temptation of the Impossible (2004), as well as his memoir, A Fish in the Water (1993). Read more ..

Book Review

Grant Wood: A Life, is American Gothic at Its Best

November 1st 2010

Book Covers - Grant Wood

Grant Wood: A Life. R. Tripp Evans. Alfred Knopf. 2010. 432 pages.

Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” is the most recognizable American painting.

Of all the paintings in the world, only the Mona Lisa has been more parodied. As Tripp Evans notes in his groundbreaking new biography of the artist, when it was first exhibited in Chicago in 1930, it made an instant global celebrity out of Wood:  “Never in the history of American art had a single work captured such immediate and international recognition; by the end of 1930, the painting had been reproduced in newspapers around the globe… Never before, either, had a painting generated such widespread curiosity about its artist.”

“American Gothic” was considered by most critics of that day as something of a national self-portrait, and it made Wood the icon of a new native American, regionalist art. The New Yorker wrote at the time, “As a symbol Wood stands for the corn-fed Middle West against the anemic East, starving aesthetically upon warmed-over entrées dished up by Spanish chefs in Paris kitchens. He stands for an independent American art against the colonialism and cosmopolitanism of New York.”

Wood, who was born in the small town of Anamosa, Iowa, in 1898 and spent nearly all his life painting in the Hawkeye State, depicting its countryside and inhabitants, was said to stand for the flinty, manly virtues of heartland America. The New York Times proclaimed that Wood, who styled himself a “farmer-painter,” had earned his “toga virilis” for, as Evans summarizes it, “ending Americans’ perilous fascination with impressionism.” Read more ..

Movie Review

Conviction: A Tangled Web Ensnares a Pursuit of Justice

November 1st 2010

Film - Conviction

Conviction. Director: Tony Goldwyn. Starring: Hilary Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo, Peter Gallagher, Juliette Lewis. Runtime: 107 minutes

Conviction lies in the middle of the tangled web that any film weaves for itself when it claims to be based on a true story. The true story in this case is that of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) who, following what she believed to be the wrong conviction of her brother, Kenneth ‘Muddy’ Waters (Sam Rockwell) for a murder in 1980, devoted the subsequent 20 years to putting herself through college and law school, becoming an attorney and taking on his case to prove his innocence.

The tag ‘Based on a True Story’, whenever it is attached to a film, is both a blessing and a curse in equal measure. On the one hand, it magnifies the emotional response of the viewer, who will take more delight in the happy moments or cry that little bit more at the moments of tragedy, because they really happened; who will lose or gain more faith in humanity based on the achievements or mistakes of the protagonist, because someone really reached those heights or depths.

The authenticity that the tag grants to the plot is obvious, and there are still other perks to the genre: to some extent, when the tale is one of suffering, any criticism thrown at the telling of it seems pedantic and unnecessary – not a watertight excuse on the part of the filmmakers when they come under fire, but something that might be at the forefront of a would-be critical reviewer’s mind. The grounding in reality also grants something of a carte blanche to gloss over the more mundane parts of a story – ‘we don’t need to bother factoring the logistics into the plot too much, everyone knows this must have been able to happen because it did happen.' Read more ..

Movie Review

Armadillo: A Documentary of a Pointless War on Real Victims

October 27th 2010

Film - Armadillo

Armadillo. Director: Janus Metz Pedersen. Cinematographer: Lars Skree. Runtime: 100 minutes.

It’s unlikely that you’ll want to watch Armadillo for kicks, but in future years it might be one of the films we look back on to help us remember that we lived in a time of war. The war in Afghanistan, to those of us who have no emotional ties to the people on either side, probably flickers in and out of our consciousness – the artificial seriousness at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions when the litany of the dead soldiers is read out, or the news that one of Alan Sugar’s potential apprentices has quit the show to be with his wounded brother in hospital. Armadillo is a documentary story that may, alongside films like Restrepo and The Hurt Locker, remain untouched by the fluctuations of more transient media and be regarded as a contemporary reflection on the wars that our governments have fought on our behalf.

Janus Metz Pedersen and his cameraman Lars Skree spent six months with a platoon of young Danish soldiers in Helmand province, Afghanistan. The access they were given was at times so intimate that I had to re-check that this was a documentary: not only do they accompany the young men on their patrols and on a dawn assault against Taliban fighters, but they have captured footage of the men as they wash, party, are shot, wounded, and eventually reunited with their families. As a database of life for foreign soldiers in Afghanistan it may well be invaluable, simply in its capturing of data that is unavailable to civilians: the processes and weapons involved in a war, the boredom and the terror, the total uncertainty until shots are fired of who is an enemy and who is a civilian. If nothing else, watching the film can only serve to educate those who watch it. Read more ..

Book Review

Pornland: How Porn Hijacked Sex and Our Lives

October 27th 2010

Book Covers - Pornland 2

Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality. Gail Dines. Beacon Press. 2010. 256 pages.

It’s a nasty job, but somebody had to show us just how powerful and destructive the porn industry is.

The Playboy bunny is the symbol, par excellence, of how the porn industry has co-opted mainstream culture. I will always remember the day I jumped into my friend’s car, only to realize that I was about to sit on a seat plastered with that insidious little rabbit. After a mild interrogation, my friend revealed that it was not the only piece of Playboy apparel she owned; a pencil case, t-shirt, and earrings were among her prized Playboy possessions. Without much thought, she had supported the porn industry via her purchasing power and by the fact that she was willing to be a walking advertisement for the porn world’s top brand. With countless naïve consumers doing the same thing as my friend, Hugh Hefner is laughing all the way to his Playboy mansion.

It is hard to believe that a mere fifty years ago Hefner had to fight for this sort of publicity. Nowadays, most of the soft-porn used by Playboy magazine in its embryonic years, can be easily accessed with a mere flick of the television remote; no longer is it considered risqué to plaster half naked women on billboards, in magazines, or on prime time television. Understandably, the porn industry has had to adapt also – porn, as a “genre”, is now characterized by sadism and outright abuse of women. Hard-core pornography is what keeps producers’ bank balances booming and their patrons engaged. Read more ..

Book Review

"The Chosen Peoples" Chooses Well on America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election

October 23rd 2010

Book Covers - Chosen Peoples

The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election. Todd Gitlin and Liel Leibovitz. Simon & Schuster. 2010. 192 pages.

My initial reaction to encountering a book with this title was to be be reminded of Randy Newman's camp-classic song "It's Lonely at the Top": a smug alert went off in my head. Turns out, however, that it's a deft little (192-page) piece of scholarship that takes up resonant questions in a notably fair-minded way. The book deserves wide consideration in a variety of contexts, and I will not be surprised if it becomes a fixture of undergraduate syllabi for many years to come.

After a brief -- and necessary -- introduction that notes many people throughout history have considered themselves chosen, the authors perform an elegantly simple piece of exegesis on the Book of Genesis, in which they tease out the many ambiguities that lurk in the covenants God made with Abraham and Moses. This analysis includes discussions of the repeated failures on the part of the Israelites to keep up their part of the deal, as well as the burdens, psychological as well as political, that being a chosen people imposed on them. Gitlin and Leibowitz note that Zionism emerged both as an ethnic alternative to the assimilationist thrust of post-Napoleonic emancipation as well as a secular alternative to diaspora Judaism. But the post-1948 fusion of people, faith and land created a spiritual cocktail that even the most hard-bitten pragmatists found impossible to resist after the Israel's territorial gains in 1967. The authors consider this a bad bargain, and criticize those who unstintingly embrace it as indulging in worship of "a golden calf," though they do not repudiate the idea of a Jewish homeland. Read more ..

Film Review

The Social Network: Unbelievable but True

October 21st 2010

Film - The Social Network

The Social Network. Director: David Fincher  Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara

The story of Facebook would be unbelievable if it wasn’t true. The social networking website conceived of just seven years ago by Mark Zuckerberg has altered the way in which people communicate irrevocably. Following in the footsteps of developments like the telephone system and air travel, Facebook has made the concept of distance still more insignificant and has again redefined, or at least re-qualified, isolation. Someone can take a photograph in Nepal and, via Facebook, it can be seen immediately by their friends. Equally, a Facebook user can at any time check up on their friends, be checked up on by their friends, and communicate directly with them.

The human crusade against loneliness and isolation has found a new weapon. The lure of these powers has proven powerful. In the seven years since Facebook was born it has accumulated over 500 million users (1 in 14 of the Earth’s population) and is worth an estimated $25 billion. The Social Network takes us back to the days and months leading up to the creation of Facebook, and undertakes the age-old task of telling the story of beginnings. Read more ..

Book Review

Looking at Lincoln and Darwin's Differences—And Commonalities

October 18th 2010

Book Covers - lincoln and darwin

James Lander. Lincoln and Darwin: Shared Visions of Race, Science, and Religion. Southern Illinois University Press, 2010. 384pp.

“Seek and ye shall find.”
Matthew 7: 7

The bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s and Abraham Lincoln’s births on February 12, 1809 has prompted a flurry of comparisons in the lives of two men who on the surface would not seem to have much in common, notwithstanding the fact that Darwin certainly knew of Lincoln and Lincoln, we can safely extrapolate, knew of (but probably didn’t read) Darwin. Perhaps the best of the lot is Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages, recently published in paperback. Gopnik’s book was a marvelously evocative meditation on how the power of good writing allowed both men to achieve gigantic aims. But if your interest lies in more systematically tracing the similar, and even shared, frames of reference that shaped the lives of the two men, James Lander’s deeply researched and elegantly executed study will likely become the standard work.

At the core of Lander’s study, as with many who have studied the two men separately and together, is a shared dilemma. Lincoln and Darwin were two men who almost miraculously rejected the racial prejudices of their time as well as conventional ideas about religion, and yet practiced a savvy pragmatism in remaining as diffident as possible on their personal feelings even as they advanced public discourse in terms of principle. Read more ..

Film Review

A Few Films Salvaged an Otherwise Dreary Summer

October 18th 2010

Film - Cairo Time

In a disappointing summer in which there were few really notable films, even among those meant solely for seasonal entertainment, there was one especially bright spot: an ever-increasing number of motion pictures—indie and mainstream—directed by women. Though male directors still far outnumber the women, the gap is narrowing.

Some women directors have already achieved well-earned reputations and power-status in a highly uncertain big-business industry that is also an art form. Most prominent is Nancy Myers, whose huge box-office successes include "It's Complicated" (2010) and "Something's Gotta Give" (2003). Myers wields unusual clout in Hollywood as a writer-director whose screen narratives are about single middle-age, middle-class women whose contented lives are altered by sudden, unexpected relationships with men.

Most honored, of course, is Kathryn Bigelow, whose 2009 Iraq War verite-drama "The Hurt Locker" won both the Best Picture award at the 2010 Oscars and at the U.K. Bafta awards ceremony this year in London.

Kimberly Pierce is another established director who, like Bigelow, takes on serious challenging subjects. Pierce's work has centered on psychologically distressed characters, as in "Boys Don't Cry" (2009) and "Stop-Loss" (2008); the former offers a poignant inquiry into the life of a Nebraska girl who convincingly poses as a boy, and the latter explores the personal trauma experienced by American soldiers forced into multiple deployments to Iraq. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Edwin Black Launches East Coast Leg of 'The Farhud' Book Tour

October 15th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

Renowned investigative writer and journalist, Edwin Black, the author of numerous books and investigations including War Against the Weak, is on the East Coast leg of a his multi-city book tour to launch his latest work: The Farhud: The Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust, which promises to rock the world with its account of the collaboration of Nazis and Muslim leadership to exterminate Jews long before the foundation of the modern state of Israel. The book is due to hit store shelves at the end of October.

Black will speak in the Washington DC area on Sunday October 17 at the Congregation Tikvat Israel in Rockville MD. Sponsored by the Greater Washington Area Chapter of Hadassah and Tikvat Israel, Black promises to elaborate on a series of lectures and film showings already held in Minnesota, Ohio, and North Carolina in recent days.

Farhud—a word that in Arabic signifies “violent dispossession,” describes an event in World War II Iraq that culminated years of machinations involving Adolf Hitler and Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the region’s Muslims.

It was on June 1, 1941 that Iraqi Arab mobs swept through the streets of Baghdad raping, burning, and killing in what Black describes as a “burning madhouse.” Based on research conducted in libraries and archives around the world and in consultation with renowned experts, The Farhud: The Roots of Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust offers insights into the geopolitical and genocidal underpinnings of conflicts in the Mideast and much of the world’s terrorism today. Read more ..

Book Review

Hitler's First War--Another Hitler Book Worth Reading

October 11th 2010

Book Covers - Hitlers first war

Hitler's First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War. Thomas Weber. Oxford University Press. 2010. 416 pages.

Early on in reading this book, I showed it to a colleague who teaches a course in Nazi Germany, offering to pass along the galleys when I was through. "No thanks," she said. "I'm kinda Hitlered out." It's an understandable reaction, even among those with a professional stake in the topic. Like his virtual antithesis, Abraham Lincoln, Hitler can be historiographically exhausting.

Yet this study is worth some attention for two reasons. The first is that it reconstructs, in a tour de force of scholarly research, an oft-noted, but dimly documented, chapter in Adolf Hitler's career. The second is that it uses this account of what happened -- or, more accurately, didn't happen -- in Hitler's wartime experiences of 1914-18 as a means of making a larger point not only about his political trajectory, but that of Germany generally. It's this second point that may result in some serious controversy.

Though it's a fixture of virtually all accounts of his life, including his own, situating Private (later Corporal) Hitler in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment -- sometimes referred to the "List Regiment," after its first commanding officer, Julius von List -- is in fact quite difficult. Partly that's because much of the documentary record has been lost, whether by design or in the destructive final days of the Second World War, when much of Germany was reduced to rubble. It's also because Hitler's wartime record has been the subject of a series of conflicting aims by friend and foe alike, both of whom have distorted it. In some cases, Thomas Weber of the University of Aberdeen, whose own grandfather volunteered for the Luftwaffe in 1943, is actually able to disprove minor points of conflict through extrapolation. He begins the book, for example, with a close reading of a famous crowd photograph taken on the first day of the war in which Hitler appears, a photograph which would seem to show both popular enthusiasm for the war and the future Fuhrer's place at the heart of the demonstration. But Weber documents the way it is in fact deceptive and that Hitler's position in the frame may have been doctored. Read more ..

Book Review

Makers of Ancient Strategy: the Weaving of Classical History with Modern Imbroglios

October 11th 2010

Book Covers - Ancient Strategy

Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome. Victor Davis Hanson. Princeton University Press. 2010. 298 pages.

Affluent Western democracies have “difficulty maintaining popular support for costly counterinsurgency wars,” laments Victor Davis Hanson, the accomplished historian of ancient Greek wars and fanatical insurgent in his own right, against what he considers the beleaguered American imperium’s fickle liberal elites. He means to restore the legitimacy of the unilateralist U.S. hegemony envisioned in George W. Bush’s National Security Strategy of 2002; writing in The American Enterprise Magazine in 2006, he attributed a dearth of popular support for that project to “ignorance of military history.” Now, in Makers of Ancient Strategy, he assembles ten military historians of classical Greece and Rome (including himself) to rectify that ignorance by showing how Athenians, Romans, and, even before them, Persians extended their sway and coped with challenges to it in ways that American grand strategists can learn from.

At the same time, though, Hanson is a geyser of vituperations in National Review, the conservative Pajamas Media website, and beyond, against challenges to America’s missions abroad from our liberal governing and cultural cliques, “the mindset of the faculty lounge,” and, naturally, the media. As Iraqi casualties rose in 2006, he accused journalists of sensationalizing setbacks in Iraq thusly: “I deeply love [California], but . . . imagine what the reaction would be if the world awoke each morning to be told that once again there were six more murders, 27 rapes . . . and 360 instances of assault in California. . . . I wonder if the headlines would scream about ‘Nearly 200 poor Californians butchered again this month!’ ” Here he’s blaming the messenger instead of reckoning with different kinds of carnage and their causes, but Hanson writes like this day and night–indeed, several times a day. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Author Edwin Black Culminates Tour At Forsyth Technical Community College on Corporate Connections to Nazi Holocaust

October 8th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

Renowned investigative writer and journalist, Edwin Black, the author of numerous books and investigations including War Against the Weak, is kicking off his multi-city book tour to launch his latest work: The Farhud: The Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust, which promises to rock the world with its account of the collaboration of Nazis and Muslim leadership to exterminate Jews long before the foundation of the modern state of Israel. The book is due to hit store shelves at the end of October.

On October 11, Black will give a community-wide lecture on his book Nazi Nexus: America's Corporate Connections to Hitler's Holocaust at the Forsyth Technical Community College at the Ardmore Auditorium in Winston-Salem. Sponsored by the Blynn Holocaust Collection, the event forms part of the college's 50th anniversary commemorations.

On his book tour, Black has promotied The Farhud in Cleveland, OH, where on October 10, he will deliver two lectures and book signings. The first will be at at Temple Beth Israel West Temple, a return engagement. The West Temple event is cosponsored by three other synagogues and Siegal College of Judaic Studies. The second presentation will be before the Midwest Jewish Studies Association under the auspices of Case Western Reserve University, also a return event.

Farhud—a word that in Arabic signifies “violent dispossession,” describes an event in World War II Iraq that culminated years of machinations involving Adolf Hitler and Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the region’s Muslims. 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.” Based on research conducted in libraries and archives around the world and in consultation with renowned experts, The Farhud: The Roots of Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust offers insights into the geopolitical and genocidal underpinnings of conflicts in the Mideast and much of the world’s terrorism today. Read more ..

Book Excerpt

'The Arab Lobby': the Insidious Influence of Big Oil

October 8th 2010

Book Covers - The Arab Lobby

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear that one component of his agenda would be to give a high priority to pursuing Arab-Israeli peace. Many Jews had some concerns about Obama, but his pro-Israel statements reassured them, and ultimately nearly 80% voted for him. Obama's appearance before the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and recitation of talking points from the Israeli lobby playbook were consistent with the popular view of a powerful lobby that demands the fealty of elected officials.

Within a few weeks of taking office as the nation's 44th president, however, Obama seemed to pick a fight with the Israeli government over its settlements policy. He began to publicly demand that Israel freeze all settlement activity. When Israeli officials brought up the fact that certain understandings had been reached with Obama's predecessor regarding what the United States considered to be acceptable construction, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied any such agreements had been made.

In July 2009, Obama invited a group of Jewish leaders to the White House who were content to hear the President's views and asked only that he refrain from public criticism. Obama made clear he would do no such thing.

Israelis tried to steer the administration away from the settlement issue toward what they believed was the most urgent threat to their nation and the stability of the region, namely, the Iranian nuclear program. Obama's [former] chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, coincidentally a Jew whose father is Israeli, said that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was the crux of solving the Iranian threat. Administration officials argued that the only way they could get Arab states to co-operate in the effort to stop the Iranian program was to solve the Palestinian issue. Read more ..

Book Review

The Journey: An Enigmatic Tony Blair

October 8th 2010

Book Covers - Tony Blair

The Journey. Tony Blair. Hutchinson. 2010. 718 pages.

Three things happen when senior politicians publish their memoirs: first, while denying it, those who have worked with them and for them scour the index in search of a foothold in history. Second, journalists gather to look for scandal that might have traction in the immediate present. Third, the book settles on to the bookshelves to be placed in a wider context as other memoirs emerge, followed by official papers in the years after that. Unsurprisingly, all three features of political life have exploded upon us in the aftermath of the publication of Tony Blair’s The Journey.

Geoff Mulgan, Blair’s long-serving and innovative Head of Policy does not merit a mention. This is regrettable as, unlike most previous Prime Ministers, Blair relied heavily on a cadre of personal advisors, most often from outside the committed ranks of his party, to protect, promote and implement his vision. For this reason the praise heaped upon (Lord) Andrew Adonis is notable and the careful delineation of fault lines between those advising Gordon Brown and himself remarkable. The camps were drawn tightly apart, despite protestations of public unity, with Brown breaking the confidences of his own team to create a culture of secrecy, insecurity and paranoia.

There were moments when Blair had had enough; at times he turned to drink (not very much by modern British standards) and at others he felt like resigning. In these times only Peter Hain and John Denham seemed to be able to talk to the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ of the party and so draw others into the mainstream. They were well worth keeping on board. John Prescott played his part but in one sense could not help assuming as he did, according to Blair, that in the end the Prime Minister and his Chancellor were made of the same policy priorities and driving principles. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Author Edwin Black Kicks Off Whirlwind Book Tour for The Farhud: The Roots of Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust

October 6th 2010

Contributors / Staff - Edwin Black

Renowned investigative writer and journalist, Edwin Black, the author of numerous books and investigations including War Against the Weak, is kicking off his multi-city book tour to launch his latest work: The Farhud: The Roots of The Arab-Nazi Alliance During the Holocaust, which promises to rock the world with its account of the collaboration of Nazis and Muslim leadership to exterminate Jews long before the foundation of the modern state of Israel. The book is due to hit store shelves at the end of October.

The first in a series of lectures and film showings will be held in Minneapolis, MN on October 7 at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies of the University of Minnesota where he will lecture on The Farhud. This will be followed by a screening that evening, at the Sabes Jewish Community Center, of the multiple prize-winning documentary film War Against the Weak, based on Black’s blockbuster book of the same name. Black will offer a question-and-answer session about the links between the American eugenics movement and Nazi racial policies.

While in Minneapolis, Black will do a Student Workshop and Discussion entitled: Investigative Journalism and Investigating the Powerful—A Conversation with Edwin Black at University of Minnesota, sponsored by University’s Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He will also conduct a class in public health and eugenics based on his book War Against the Weak.

Black will continue his book tour promoting The Farhud in Cleveland, OH, where on October 10, he will deliver two lectures and book signings. The first will be at at Temple Beth Israel West Temple, a return engagement. The West Temple event is cosponsored by three other synagogues and Siegal College of Judaic Studies. The second presentation will be before the Midwest Jewish Studies Association under the auspices of Case Western Reserve University, also a return event. Read more ..

Book Review

Terrorizing Women: Femicide in the Americas and Mexico's Penchant for Ultra-violence

October 4th 2010

Book Covers - Terrorizing Women

Terrorizing Women: Femincide in the Americas. Cynthia Bejarano and Rosa-Linda Fregoso. Duke University Press. 2010. 408 pp.

In a room hidden away in the basement floor of a campus building, gut-wrenching images greeted visitors. A life-size collage”constructed like a statue projected women's faces, missing persons posters, death masks and other snapshots of sexual violence. Nearby, a poster of a skeleton and blind-folded girl depicted the “duality” of femicide (also known as feminicide) in the form of a victim coming back to life to give a potential victim advice. The works of art were products of New Mexico State University (NMSU) students and staff.

"We just wanted to show (people) what femicides looked like," said student and collage creator Johana Bencomo. Jose Montoya, a retention adviser for NMSU's College Assistance Migrant Program, added that his art was meant to encourage people to visualize and think about femicide, the killing of women based on gender, as the “most extreme form of violence against women.”

The collage and poster were appropriate if disturbing backdrops to a recent presentation of a ground-working book at NMSU’s main Las Cruces campus. Terrorizing Women: Femincide in the Americas, is a book that examines women’s murders in Mexico, Central America and South America. Its chapters tell the personal stories of victims and their relatives, delve into femicide theories, portray the cross-border anti-violence movement, and explore the notion of transnational justice. Read more ..

Book Review

Stayin' Alive: A History of Class Struggles in the '70s

September 27th 2010

Book Covers - Stayin Alive

Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. Jefferson Cowie. New Press. 2010. 488 pp.

The decade of the seventies has become a historiographic cottage industry. For a long time, about the only study out there was Peter Carroll's It Seemed Like Nothing Happened; first published in 1982, it has held up surprisingly well. The consensus on the standard treatment now seems to be Boston University historian Bruce Schulman's 2001 book The Seventies; David Frum gave the decade a puckish -- and pointedly neocon -- reading in How We Got Here in 2000. More recent treatments have tended to focus on aspects of the period, like the Ford and Carter presidencies. In 1973 Nervous Breakdown, (2006) Andreas Killen made a compelling case for that year as a synechdoche for the seventies as a whole. And Natasha Zaretsky rendered a compelling gender reading of the period in No Direction Home: The American Family and Fear of National Decline.

Labor historian Jefferson Cowie, who teaches at the school of Industrial Labor Relations at Cornell, follows the recent tendency to render portraits of the decade through a particular lens. In Stayin' Alive, that lens is both specific and yet capacious: that of the American working class. Working-class culture figures prominently in all the above-mentioned works, but Cowie's focus on it gives his book an energy and coherence that will likely make it among the more useful and durable treatments of the period. Read more ..

Book Review

Sci-Fi Writers Go Boldly Where No One Went Before

September 27th 2010

Book Covers - Time and Space

Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television. David C. Wright, Jr., Allan W. Austin McFarland. 2010. 231 pp.

Gene Roddenberry. Rod Serling. Bill Panzer. Terry Nation. Glen A. Larson. Their names are synonymous with science fiction and fantasy television shows. Together, they have enabled generations of fans to “boldly go where no man has gone before’’ through time travel or by exploring the far reaches of outer space.

The visionaries behind Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Highlander: The Series, Battlestar Galactica, and many others relied upon their own creative impulses and talents to create their hit TV series. The writers and producers, though, also based some of their otherworldly episodes on their own understanding of history, current events, and the power of popular culture. Often influenced by liberal ideals, they addressed the Cold War, racism, technological change and other pressing issues of their day, according to the new book, Space and Time: Essays on Visions of History in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television.

Misericordia University professors David C. Wright, Jr., Ph.D., and Allan W. Austin, Ph.D., collaborated on the project to study an important genre that has been widely seen as “lacking academic legitimacy,’’ according to Dr. Wright. The MU colleagues developed the concept for McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, wrote individual essays, solicited chapter proposals, and edited the nine submissions they selected for their groundbreaking book. Read more ..

Book Review

The American Ad Industry--Tracing its Origins

September 20th 2010

Book Covers - The Man who Sold America

The Man Who Sold America: The Amazing (but True!) Story of Albert D. Lasker and the Creation of the Advertising Century. Jeffrey Cruikshank and Arthur Schultz. Harvard Business Press, 2010. 435 pages.

We take advertising for granted. Even as companies rush to implement the technology the Tom Cruise character experienced in Minority Report that immersed him in personalized ads, continuous commercial messages are a consistent part of our culture. Douglas Rushkoff's brilliant book, Life, Inc. eloquently explored the corporatization of our lives, but once upon a time, advertising itself was a minor part of things, and were mostly announcements rather than persuasive and pervasive pleas.

I was fascinated by this sprawling, old-fashioned biography of Albert Lasker, an important figure in the world of advertising and politics of whom I was only faintly aware. I recalled him being mentioned by David Ogilvy in his essential books, as someone who made a ton of money but knew little about his role in essentially creating the modern advertising agency and industry.

Among his accomplishments, according to authors Cruishank and Schultz, is the prominence given to content and copywriting; the consumer-centered ad; modern political advertising; branding commodities (particularly produce); selling previously unmentionable female hygiene products; and more, including the “creation” of orange juice. Read more ..

Book Review

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, For All of Us

September 13th 2010

Book Covers - Pops

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. Terry Teachout. 2009. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 496 pages.

Louis Armstrong (1901-71) is one of those artists -- his contemporary, Norman Rockwell, comes to mind as another -- who were very popular with the masses in their lifetimes but regarded with disdain, if not outright hostility, by the critical elite then and since. Like Rockwell, however, Armstrong has been the subject of increasingly respectful reappraisal in recent years. Armstrong revisionism dates back to the time of Gary Giddins' 1988 study Satchmo. So Terry Teachout's appreciative new biography of Armstrong, soon to be out in paperback, does not exactly break new interpretive ground in that sense. But it is a notably fresh reading of the man nonetheless.

There are a number of reasons why. The first is the quality of the research (though I will confess I found checking the citations to be clumsy). Teachout draws heavily on newly available writings and taped recordings Armstrong made in the last 25 years of his life. Armstrong's idiosyncratic prose voice, no less than his musical one, is delightfully off-beat. (I'll tell ya watcha do now," he instructed a group of musicians during a taped television broadcast. "Not too slow, not too fast -- just half-fast.") He also includes a bevy of previously unpublished photographs that bring his subject to life, along with excellent captions to go along with them. Armstrong's irrepressible personality -- funny, profane, subject to occasional rages and funks -- leaps off the page. Read more ..

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