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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 ..

Book Review

The Arab Lobby Ruling America Exposed by Author Mitchell Bard

September 6th 2010

Book Covers - Arab Lobby

The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East. Mitchell Bard. 432 pages. Harper.

While the media and politicians engage in frenzied debate about the virtues and vices of building—or preventing the building of—a Muslim community center (cum mosque) near the "sacred ground" of 9/11, Iran continues to build a nuclear weapon, as the Israelis and Palestinians take a tentative step toward building a peaceful resolution to their age-old conflict. Inevitably, whenever Middle East issues take center stage, the question of the role of lobbies, particularly those that advocate for foreign countries, becomes a hot topic. This book by longtime Middle East authority, Mitchell Bard, is a must read for anyone who cares—and who doesn't?—about the role of lobbies in influencing American policy in the Middle East. Its thesis, which is sure to be controversial, is easily summarized: "If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends when they leave office, you'd be surprised how much better friends you have when they are just coming into office."

Yes Virginia, there is a big bad lobby that distorts U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East way out of proportion to its actual support by the American public. Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, author of the screed, The Israel Lobby, are right about that. But the offending lobby is not AIPAC, which supports Israel, but rather the Arab lobby, which opposes the Jewish state. Read more ..

Book Review

Live in the Future Now if You Can Prepare Today

September 6th 2010

Book Covers - I live in the Future

I Live in the Future & Here's How It Works. Nick Bilton. Crown Business. 304 pages.

Toward the end of Nick Bilton's stimulating and provocative new book, he quotes the visionary science fiction author of Neuromancer, William Gibson: "The future is already here — it is just distributed unevenly,'' and that's about right. Some of us readily embrace new technology and are early adopters. Others move more cautiously, either clinging to whatever older technology they came up with, or treading carefully with the new stuff, though only when forced to do so by bosses and/or clients.

It's pretty clear that we're still in the midst of a metamorphosis that's transforming the ways we live, play and work. Bilton, a talented journalist, is the lead writer for the New York Times ``Bits'' blog, a cool position that barely existed a few years ago. He also toiled in the Times' R&D Lab, which sounds like a fun gig, testing different technologies as the Gray Lady tries to stave off its extinction.

Bilton is a good writer and an inquisitive reporter. His book is sort of a quick survey of the changes in technology and its effects on the human interface. His palpable fascination with the digital landscape makes this an enjoyable and breezy read, despite the fact that some of the stops along the way are pretty serious indeed. Read more ..

Film Review

Life during Wartime

September 6th 2010

Film - Life during Wartime

We watch so you don't have to - not that you (or anybody else) would want to. I notice that, three weeks into its domestic release, Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime, a movie that cost $4.5 million to make, had grossed $154,455 at the box office. Anyone who saw Mr. Solondz's Happiness (1998), to which his new movie is something between a sequel and a remake, will have no difficulty understanding why. It is even more gloomy and miserable than its predecessor, though no less ambitious. In Happiness, the slightly saving grace was that you were just about able to glimpse a world outside the hell to which Mr. Solondz had consigned his characters - a world in which Happiness itself could have been something more than the savage irony he treated it as. He's still at it in Wartime, but now this patch of blue is no longer visible. The dark clouds of misery envelop everyone completely. Like Happiness, it is a movie about sexual perversion and, especially, child rape, but now Mr. Solondz attempts to equate these things with terrorism, at least as we fear it in the post 9/11 world. Hence the title. Read more ..

Book Review

Creating the College Man Will Educate About Education

August 30th 2010

Book Topics - Creating the College Man

Creating the College Man: American Mass Magazines and Middle-Class Manhood, 1890-1915. Daniel Clark. University of Wisconsin Press. 2010. 256 pp.

Daniel Clark begins by quoting a grumpy Andrew Carnegie: “A college education unfits rather than fits men to affairs.” Clark, a historian at Indiana State University, then spends the rest of his monograph showing how popular new, mass-audience magazines, including “Collier’s Weekly,” “Munsey’s Magazine,” “Cosmopolitan,” and the “Saturday Evening Post” contributed to dramatically changing that stereotype.

“American mass magazines,” says Clark, “spearheaded a cultural reconstruction of college and middle-class masculinity…in the years surrounding 1900, as they emerged as a central national cultural forum, our nation’s first truly national media.”

Clark thus posits an answer to the important question of how and why the undergraduate college experience, previously limited to tiny fraction of the population, increasingly came to be considered an important, even essential, part of middle class life. Read more ..

Film Review

The Extra Man Delivers a Gem of Propriety and Coming of Age

August 23rd 2010

Film - The Extra Man

Light-hearted, unpredictable, upbeat, and original. Enjoyable, sophisticated, witty and unexpected. Besides being incomplete sentences, these words succinctly sum up how I feel about The Extra Man. But what? You need more, you say? You don't trust catchy little blurbs that neatly fit on DVD covers? Well, I say "NO! That's enough!"

Okay, so Kevin Kline actually said that, in one of the many wonderful passing moments that infuse The Extra Man with charm and good nature. The film is a unique blend of sweetness and mature comedy with a strong literary style that manages to remain extremely tasteful in light of some of the subject matters it addresses. This is due in part to Kevin Kline's character of Henry Harrison but also to the young Louis Ives, his flat-mate, who fancies himself the protagonist of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. One of the key recurring themes of the movie is the concept of propriety, a word that has virtually lost all meaning in today's society.

Henry and Louis are both struggling to be gentlemen in a world that has made the need for them almost obsolete. It is refreshing to watch smart men who care about their appearance actually behaving considerately and modestly. The Extra Man is not only a throwback to 20's literature but to the early days of the silver screen when foul language and toilet humor were not the only elements necessary to produce well-liked movies. Not to say that the film doesn't have it moments of modernism and adult content, but they are not the focus. Rather, they serve to establish character, and are quickly moved on from as a means to an end. Read more ..

Book Review

Why the Dreyfuss Affair Matters and the Fragility of Civilization

August 23rd 2010

Book Covers - Why the Dreyfuss Affair still matters

Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters. Louis Begley. Yale University Press. 2009. 272 pages.

The Third French Republic (1870–1914) was no stranger to political scandals. One of these scandals, the famous “Dreyfus affair,” shook 19th century French society to the core and its reverberations filtered across a Europe beset by political and nationalist rivalries. This scandal has since entered the political lexicon as a cipher for abuse of power and unjust judicial processes yet it is unclear how many people today are aware of the basic facts underpinning the story.

Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an esteemed and efficient Jewish military officer in the French army. When it was discovered that an unknown traitor had been passing military secrets to the German army during the Franco-Prussian war, the military establishment closed ranks to lay the blame on Captain Dreyfus. The only evidence offered was a piece of paper with handwriting which was claimed, incorrectly, to be his. He was found guilty of treason and exiled on Devil’s Island off French Guyana, where his inhumane treatment would have left lesser men dead. Another military officer, Colonel Georges Picquart, had traced the real culprit, a Major Ferdinand Esterhazy, but Esterhazy was acquitted after a brief trial.

The acquittal of Esterhazy prompted the brave intervention of the French novelist, Emile Zola. Zola’s famous “J’accuse” article in the press in 1898 set out the reasons why Dreyfus was innocent of the charges laid against him and, controversially, declared that the army had acted illegally in charging Dreyfus. After a second trial and a timely intervention from the President of France, Emile Loubet, Dreyfus was finally cleared of all charges in 1906. He was subsequently reinstated into the French Army and regained his promoted rank, although failing health hastened his discharge from the army. He died in 1935. Read more ..

Book Review

Memories of “The Forgotten War” Invokes a Powerful Image

August 16th 2010

Book Covers - Korean War - Cumings

Bruce Cumings. The Korean War: A History. Random House, 2010. 320 pages.

Overshadowed by World War II and Vietnam, the Korean War has long been the “forgotten war” in American memory. Apart from a few notable exceptions, American historians have predominantly accepted the standard propaganda that the Communist North (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—DPRK) was singularly responsible for provoking the war by invading the Southern Republic of Korea (ROK) and carried out myriad atrocities, justifying U.S. action. Mainstream analysts and commentators similarly devour Washington’s line that North Korea today is a threat to humanity which should be contained and its leaders overthrown.

Bruce Cumings’s book The Korean War: A History shatters these conceptions and shows in vivid detail that the Korean War was among the most misguided, unjust, and murderous wars fought by the United States in its history, displaying many of the features of the Vietnam War that aroused mass public protest. Cumings, chair of the history department at the University of Chicago, writes: “Here was the Vietnam War we came to know before Vietnam—gooks, napalm, rapes, whores, an unreliable ally … untrained GIs fighting a war their generals barely understood, fragging of officers … press handouts from Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters apparently scripted by comedians or lunatics, an ostensible vision of bringing freedom and liberty to a sordid dictatorship run by servants of Japanese imperialism.” Read more ..

Film Review

Inception Will Make Your Brain Hurt

August 16th 2010

Film - Inception

Christopher Nolan makes my brain hurt. I mean that in the best way possible. Thank goodness there are still original ideas left in Hollywood. They are so clouded by storms of remakes, sequels, and adaptations that when an original script actually appears it is a ray of sunshine in the dark landscape of major motion pictures. Inception is just this, a shining beacon of hope that the money-hungry empire of Hollywood can still produce a blockbuster that is well written, thought provoking and visually stimulating.

Nolan's writing dares to make you think, hard and a lot. I understand that not everyone goes to the movies to be mentally challenged and forced to pay attention, but for those of us bored with formulaic actions flicks and the paint-by-numbers romantic comedies that even a small child could predict the outcome of, Inception is a dream come true. Oh no, is that a spoiler? Wink wink.

If you are at all familiar with Nolan's body of work you know that he is a master of tricks and surprises in his story lines, reminiscent of Hitchcock (ie: Memento, Batman Begins, The Prestige). With that said, I'm not really going to discuss the plot other than to tell you it could be called a psychological thriller based on the premise that a human's dreams can be entered by other sleeping beings. The main purpose of this mental invasion is to extract information locked in the dreamer's subconscious, but the conflict of the film occurs when the opposite action is proposed: to plant a foreign idea into the dreamer's mind that will hopefully affect their behavior in real life. Read more ..

Book Review

Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving the Crisis

August 9th 2010

Book Covers - Girls on Edge

Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls. Leonard Sax. Basic Books. 2010. 272 pages.

When Leonard Sax, doctor, psychologist and promoter of single sex education, wrote his second book, Boys Adrift, in 2005 he tapped into a widespread concern that boys were doing badly in education and social development. The girls are fine, people said, pointing to their superior academic performance, but the boys were in trouble.

After 15 years in family practice Sax knew that was not true. Sure, the girls were hardworking and achieving, but those traits often had an obsessive character that was the flip side of the boys’ retreat into their bedrooms with World of Warcraft and a bit of porn on the side.

Increasingly, girls he dealt with in his practice were fixated on some ideal -- to be the top student, the top athlete, the girl who’s really thin -- to the point where failure could bring on a major existential crisis, if not psychological collapse.

Beyond his office, observation, research and lots of contact with girls’ schools showed that an increasing proportion of girls were locked in a cyberbubble. When not honing their image on Facebook they were texting non-stop, keeping the cellphone under their pillow at night and under the desk at school, so that they could receive messages (“OMG, I thought you were Jason’s girlfriend but I just found out that…”) 24/7, and picking up a double-shot espresso coffee on their way to school to stay awake. Read more ..

Movie Review

No. 4 Our Lady Street: A Reflection of Grace Amidst the Holocaust

August 9th 2010

Film - Number 4 Street of Our Lady
No. 4 Street of Our Lady

It is not every day that we sit down to watch a documentary, especially one with such serious subject matter as the Holocaust. With work, friends, spouses, children, pets and the many other numerous tasks that make up our daily lives, it's hard to make time for anything besides recreational viewings. But if you find yourself with a spare 90 minutes, consider the award-winning No. 4 Street of Our Lady, a recent documentary produced by Judy Maltz that has been 65 years in the making.

The film will not only educate you on a little known event in the history of the Holocaust, but also will also move you emotionally and enlighten you to another level of respect for the strength of the human character. The world will never lose the need for remembrance of its past or of its heroes, and this film addresses both in an effective and stimulating manner. Read more ..

Book Review

The Insurgents and Patriots of America’s Revolutions

August 2nd 2010

Book Covers - American Patiots

American Insurgents, American Patriots. T.H. Breen. Hill and Wang. 2010. 252 pages.

Ask anyone when the United States became an independent nation, and many will answer with the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Others will cite the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775. Perhaps some will say not until victory at Yorktown in 1781, or even the Treaty of Paris in 1783. But in this compellingly structured and argued book, T.H. Breen asserts that a de facto nation came into existence between the spring and fall of 1774. It was in these crucial months that the people of the thirteen colonies -- not the Founding Fathers, not the Continental Army, not the maladroit British government -- executed a series of steps that collectively solved problems of governance and demonstrated how a republic could be successfully constituted.

What's even more surprising is that Breen makes this somewhat counter-intuitive argument, one rooted in a social history sensibility, in the form of a chronological narrative. He achieves this cohesion despite lacking a discrete sense of leading characters or a dramatic set of circumstances (the most consequential event of his story is actually a rumor). The result is a book that's highly readable as well as provocative.

Breen's story begins in the aftermath of the notorious Boston Tea Party of December 1773, when a group of colonists dressed as Indians dumped a shipment premium tea from the East India Company into Boston harbor. What matters about the Tea Party, Breen says, is not that a group of radicals -- he calls them, as they called themselves, "insurgents" -- destroyed imperial property by throwing it overboard. Nor is it that the government of Lord North responded with a series of laws that came to be known as the Coercive or Intolerable Acts (depending on which side you were on), which included the closing of the port of Boston and a series of new rules that denied local colonial governments long-cherished autonomy. What did matter is how the colonists reacted to the Intolerable Acts once they learned of them the following spring. They got mad -- and they got organized. Read more ..

Movie Review

Cyrus: Don't You Want Me, Baby?

July 26th 2010

Film - Cyrus

Cyrus, by Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), is an attempt to give a bit of an artistic edge to one of Hollywood's most successful commercial genres of recent years, the slacker comedy. It doesn't work. Though intermittently funny and provocative in its set-up, the brothers Duplass don't bother following through with the latter. Designed as a meditation on the fantasies of lonely men who are or seem to themselves to be for some reason shut out of normal sexual relations with women, the movie draws back from this fantasizing into a fantasy of its own in which social and sexual dysfunction prove to be no big deal after all and are given a facile commercial resolution. The trouble is that the rather troubling outlines of the picture's mise-en-scene are still visible through the bland conventionality into which it eventually sinks.

This retreat from its own edginess is summed up in the opening scene in which Jamie (Catherine Keener) is found knocking on the door of her ex-husband, John (John C. Reilly). Getting no answer, she enters through the unlocked door and finds John lying prone on his bed with his pants around his ankles and a pair of headphones clamped to his ears. His denials that he is doing what she assumes he is doing seem to match his state of denial about his relationship to her. She has come to tell him that she and her new boyfriend, Tim (Matt Walsh), have decided to get married, and John does not take it well. Jamie points out that they have been divorced for seven years. "It still stinks," says John. And: "I'm still surprised." Yet, though he professes to be surprised and shocked, at the same time he says, "I knew it!", as people will when accusing others of what seems to them treachery. Read more ..

Movie Review

'War Against the Weak' Movie Provides an Eerie Feeling During Visit to Czech Republic

July 19th 2010

Film - War Against the Weak Movie Poster

In 2007 I visited the town of Trebic, in the Czech Republic. It has the dubious honor of being the last totally intact Jewish settlement from the WWII era. It is listed on the UN World Heritage List (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1078/ ). The buildings stand, still, almost all vacant, just as they were during that nightmare week in the early 1940’s when first the men, then the women and children were forcibly taken from their homes and sent to concentration camps under Nazi occupation.

The genesis of the aberrant mental construct that led to this event was the subject of a new documentary directed by Justin Strawhand and produced by Peter Demas. The movie, War Against the Weak is a hard-hitting 90 minute journey through about 80 years of intellectual and public policy development in what came to be known as the science of Eugenics. This little known branch of biology can be defined as “the study and practice of selective breeding applied to humans, with the aim of improving the species.” It sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong. It was, in the worst possible sense, misguided science.

What this insightful documentary, adapted from a book by Edwin Black, does is take you through the step-by-step development of first the study of biometrics by Francis Galton in the U.S., then the application of these principles to “criminal elements.” This eventually led to funding for Charles Davenport by the Carnegie Foundation and the hiring of Harry Laughlin. Read more ..

Book Review

Producer and Impresario Jerry Weintraub Recounts His Steady Rise

July 19th 2010

Book Covers - When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man

When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man. Jerry Weintraub, Rich Cohen. 12/Grand Central. 291 pages.

Though generally wary of CEO memoirs for their patently self-aggrandizing bonhomie and vacuous, shameless — and endless — self-promotion, I'll occasionally take a look-see. In the case of this one, the subject is less a CEO and more of a show biz entrepreneur and personality. As a businessperson, he shook up the status quo and reinvented his chosen profession. Plus, his collaborator, Rich Cohen, is a veteran author whose tale of his own dysfunctional family, Sweet and Low, focusing on his artificial sweetener-inventing grandfather, is one of my all-time faves. Cohen's other books, profiling Hebrew shtarkers, gangsters and warriors, made him an ideal scribe for Weintraub's rambling tale.

Curious, star-struck (after a family trip to Hollywood) and not at all academically-inclined, a young Jerry Weintraub first sought and created opportunities for income generation in his Bronx neighborhood, joined the Air Force and found a few more odd jobs, then refused to go into the family business upon discharge. Weintraub's mercantile talent manifested itself in making connections and then building upon them. He became a talent manager, agent — whatever it took — then met and married star singer Jane Morgan, who became his entré to the world outside his New York show biz circle. Read more ..

Book Review

Schooling America--From Schoolhouse to Computer

July 19th 2010

Book Covers - Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning

Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010. 336 pages.

Paul Peterson, a prominent education scholar and professor of government at Harvard University, here takes on the daunting task of tracing the trajectory of almost 200 years of American school reform in less than 300 pages. The clarity and precision of his writing make his book engaging and provocative. However, the book’s narrow focus and revealing omissions leave it less than completely persuasive and make it emblematic of the limitations of the current education debate.

The book’s overall interpretive arc can be captured in the titles of its three sections: “The Rise,” spanning nearly more than a century, from the beginnings of public schooling for all to the desegregation era of the 1950s and 1960s; “The Decline,” embracing approximately the next two decades; and “Signs of Resurrection” in the most recent decades, a time featuring, most importantly in Peterson’s eyes, the emergence of “choice” as a tool for reform.

Each section includes extended treatment of two or three figures who, Peterson argues, “altered America’s educational system….Each [was] heroic in his aspirations and ideals, had a powerful idea, a loyal following, and an impact that changed the system, but each was frustrated, often for reasons of his own making.” Peterson makes clear, however, that he is not endorsing the “great man theory of history”; he hastens to say that “each leader was part of a broader wave of forces by which he was shaped and to which he contributed.” In fact, the men (and all are men, until he gets to the present) are more symbols than forces in and of themselves, a fact made all the more apparent when one considers the idiosyncratic roster Peterson chooses for analysis. Read more ..

Book Review

Baseball and Foreign Policy--Yes There is a History Here

July 12th 2010

Book Covers - The Empire Strikes Out

The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad. The New Press, 2010. 448 pages.

In The Empire Strikes Out, Robert Elias, who teaches law and politics at the University of San Francisco, interrogates popular assumptions of baseball as America’s pastime, while suggesting that perhaps William Appleman Williams provides insights into baseball and American life more valuable than the exploits of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds. Elias contends that Major League Baseball officials did, indeed, succeed in making the sport an integral part of American expansionism from the 1880s into the twenty-first century. By attaching itself to American empire and militarism, however, so-called Organized Baseball (in which American Major League Baseball assumes that it is the only legitimate voice for the sport in the global marketplace) has earned the ire and resentment of many in the world who might, otherwise, be attracted to the mental and physical challenges of the sport. As a true patriot and baseball fan, Elias, nevertheless, believes that the game has the potential to detach itself from the pursuit of empire and profit by pushing “the nation to live up to its ideas.”

In his chronological survey of baseball and expansionism, Elias points to Albert Spalding’s 1888 World Tour as establishing the pattern of baseball’s close connection with American exceptionalism and manifest destiny. Seeking markets for his sporting goods company in Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Ceylon, Egypt, and Europe, Spalding identified baseball with America’s civilizing mission in the world. Elias writes, “Spalding’s trip was a model for other industries going abroad. New markets were needed, and imperial conquests offered the solution; such interventions were rationalized by social Darwinism, in the ‘interests of civilization and humanity’ and to proliferate the American dream." Read more ..

Book Review

Edith Stein and Companions: Jewish Catholics at Auschwitz

July 12th 2010

Book Covers - Edith Stein 3

Edith Stein and Companions on the Way to Auschwitz. Paul Hamans. Ignatius Press. 2010. 320 pages.

"Come, we are going for our people” – St. Edith Stein to her sister Rosa.

Are all here Catholic? “Yes” it sounded as though in one voice. – Letter of Sister Judith Mendes da Costa, OP.

We are on our way to heaven. – Sister Hedwigis Lob.

The insanity of the Holocaust is brought into stark relief in this moving book Edith Stein and Companions on the Way to Auschwitz by Fr. Paul Hamans about the lives and fate of the Catholic Jews arrested in Holland on August 2, 1942, in retaliation against the Dutch Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter read the previous Sunday condemning the Nazis’ persecution and deportation of the Jews in the occupied Netherlands.

It is a great pleasure to be asked to write this review: St. Edith Stein’s writings and life both have impacted the spiritual life of the author, but the various biographies had only snippets of information about the other Catholic Jews arrested with her. This lack of information is now on its way to resolution with a marvelous book that gives us not only moving testimony from the victims, but also their conversion stories which would stand alone as spiritual testaments. Read more ..

Movie Review

Winter’s Bone: Honor-bound and Family-tied

July 5th 2010

Film - Winter's Bone

First let me say that I liked Winter’s Bone, the adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s novel of the same name by Debra Granik, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Anne Rosellini, though I thought it needn’t have been so sombre and depressing as it was. This was because the tone was not quite rightly judged, I think. Essentially, the movie gives us a woman’s—if not quite an explicitly feminist—perspective on what is represented, probably with some accuracy, as the patriarchal male honor culture of the Missouri Ozarks. But the result is almost unremittingly grim and miserable and so runs the risk of compromising that accuracy by making it look too much like a feminist caricature. Although I have no idea of Ms Granik’s political views, she could hardly have made a movie more dark and depressing if she occupied an honored place among the sternest sort of that’s-not-funny! feminists.

There are some rather half-hearted attempts in the movie to lighten this darkness. In one or two scenes we see these wild mountain men forget their propensity for violence long enough to engage in music-making along with the women who, for the moment, cease looking depressed and resentful of their lot in life. But these scenes are not enough to add any significant shading of grey to an otherwise starkly black-and-white representation of this bleak and frightening world. The mountain-man’s honor culture is doubtless a throwback and considerably debased from the time - only seventy years or so ago, as you can see from Howard Hawks’s Sergeant York of 1941—when it bore some relation to a national honor culture, but even today it would be an exaggeration to say that either the women or the men are prisoners of their ancient habits of clannishness and deference to paternal authority. The patriarchy could not have held on for so many centuries if it were the tyranny the feminists believe it to be. There must be good as well as bad in it. Read more ..

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