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The Edge of Hate

Anti-Met Opera Movement Gathers Steam Protesting Hate Music

September 22nd 2014

Death of Klinghoffer

A coalition of organizations will protest at Lincoln Center on Monday evening, Sept. 22, at 4:30 PM, across the street from the Lincoln Center Plaza at Broadway & 65th Street to protest the Metropolitan Opera House’s decision to air the “The Death of Klinghoffer.”  Thousands are expected to gather on the first night of the gala opening of the Metropolitan opera season.  Dignitaries and elected officials will raise a voice of outrage  against this opera which promotes terrorism and anti-Semitism.

Confirmed participants include George Pataki, New York’s former Governor, Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General of the United States, Dr. Bill Donahue, President, Catholic League, criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman, Rabbi Avi Weiss, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Nissim Ze’ev, Actor Tony LoBianco, Debra Burlingame (the sister of Charles "Chic" Burlingame III, the pilot of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11), and others. Read more ..

Book Review

Essays Treats Important Topics

September 15th 2014

Moral Imagination

Moral Imagination: Essays. David Bromwich. Princeton University Press. 2014. 376 pp.

In Moral Imagination’s dozen essays David Bromwich focuses on important topics: terrorism and war, patriotism, cultural identity, 9/11, the American character, Abraham Lincoln, Edward Snowden and the decline of privacy, and the arrogance of U.S. foreign policy as demonstrated by Dick Cheney and others. But the book’s first essay, “Moral Imagination,” is the most significant of all.

Bromwich is mainly interested in this quality on a national scale, and he identifies it as “the power that compels us to grant the highest possible reality and the largest conceivable claim to a thought, action, or person that is not our own, and not close to us in any obvious way.” It involves compassion and empathy. He traces the concept back to the eighteenth-century Irish-English statesman Edmund Burke, the subject of his The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke (2014). But he then outlines its development through others like the English Romantic poets and Lincoln down to Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech “A Time to Break Silence.” In it “King imagines himself in the position of the Vietnamese under the bombing sorties of B-52s, or the casualties of what was called the ‘pacification program.’ ” Bromwich has had much more to say about this great speech in his “Martin Luther King's Speech Against the Vietnam War,” but unfortunately this essay is not included in Moral Imagination.

Just a year after King’s speech, Kentucky writer Wendell Berry in “A Statement against the War in Vietnam” (1968) stated, “We have been led to our present shameful behavior in Vietnam by this failure of imagination, this failure to perceive a relation between our ideals and our lives.” As I have indicated in a previous essay, Berry has subsequently lamented our lack of imagination, what Bromwich would call our moral imagination, “in government, in the corporate economy, in the universities,” and in our foreign policy.

Although the essays in Moral Imagination were written for different occasions over the past two decades, Bromwich believes that they are united by their concern with power, conscience, and moral imagination. In the post-Cold-War era, he thinks that too often the U.S. government has wished “to stand unopposed at the center of the world. This ambition is conventional, not particularly democratic, and in no way imaginative.” Read more ..

The War on Terror

Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel's War on Hamas

September 12th 2014

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Hamas quickly produces photographs of dead babies to be shown around the world, while at the same time preventing the media from showing its rocket launchers in densely populated areas.

Unless Hamas's "dead baby strategy" is denounced and stopped -- by the international community, the media, the academy and all good people -- it will be coming soon "to a theater near you".

If Hamas's dead baby strategy works, why not repeat it every few years? And why shouldn't other terrorist groups, like ISIS and Boko Haram, adapt this strategy to their nefarious goals as Hezbollah has already done?

On June 13, 2014, the commander of the Gaza Division of the Israel Defense Forces took me into a Hamas tunnel that had recently been discovered by a Bedouin tracker who serves in the IDF. The tunnel was a concrete bunker that extended several miles from its entrance in the Gaza Strip to its exit near an Israeli kibbutz kindergarten.

The tunnel had one purpose: to allow Hamas death squads to kill and kidnap Israelis. The commander told me that Israeli intelligence had identified more than two dozen additional tunnel entrances in the Gaza Strip. They had been identified by the large amounts of earth being removed to dig them. Although Israeli intelligence knew where these entrances were, they could not order an attack from the air, because they were built into civilian structures such as mosques, schools, hospitals, and private homes.

Nor could Israel identify their underground routes from Gaza into Israel, or their intended exit points in Israel. Israeli scientists and military experts had spent millions of dollars in an effort to develop technologies that could find the underground routes and intended exits for tunnels that were as deep as a hundred feet beneath the earth, but they had not succeeded in finding a complete solution to this problem. The planned exits from these tunnels in Israel were also a Hamas secret, hidden deep in the ground and incapable of being discovered by Israel until the Hamas fighters emerged. At that point it would be too late to prevent the death squads from doing their damage. Read more ..

Oil Addiction

PUMP Changes Everything About Fuel Addiction

September 10th 2014


Submarine Deluxe, in association with Fuel Freedom Foundation and iDeal Film Partners, have announced the limited theatrical release of PUMP this fall. The film will open in select cities on Friday, September 12th, 2014, and will expand to additional markets on September 19th.

see the PUMP trailer

Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and narrated by Jason Bateman, PUMP is an inspiring, eye-opening documentary that tells the story of America's addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how we can end it – and finally win choice at the pump.

see the PUMP website

Today oil is our only option of transportation fuel at the pump. Our exclusive use of it has drained our wallets, increased air pollution and sent our sons and daughters to war in faraway lands. PUMP shows us how through the use of a variety of replacement fuels, we will be able to fill up our cars – cheaper, cleaner and American made - and in the process, create more jobs for a stronger, healthier economy.

The film features notable experts such as John Hofmeister, former President of Shell Oil US; Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors; Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation; bestselling author Edwin Black, and other noteworthy figures who share their passionate views and knowledge. An important film for anyone who drives or owns a car, PUMP will inform the audience how to change their lives for the better: save money, create jobs and improve the environment. Read more ..

Book Review

Hitler's Pact with Stalin 1939-1941

September 5th 2014

The Devils' Alliance

The Devils' Alliance. Roger Moorhouse. Basic Books. 2014. 432 pp.

“On August 23, 1939, Stalin drank to Hitler’s health. Although the two dictators would never meet, the agreement that they had forged that day would change the world.”

So begins Roger Moorhouse’s outstanding and revelatory book about the startling and  shocking story  how Nazi Germany and Communist Russia teamed up to divide eastern Europe, allowing Moscow to absorb large swathes of Poland and the Baltics while granting Berlin a free hand  to attack Poland and successfully invade western Europe. As good as it is, he exaggerates a bit in claiming that “ignorance of the subject is surprising” and the “pact remains largely unknown,” which is certainly not true among historians of the era.

Bitter ideological enemies, the two behemoths had recently fought as proxies in Spain’s Civil War.  But on August 23, 1939, prompted by unapologetic realpolitik  and mindful of what might be gained from linking up, and in spite of some skepticism within their inner circles, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed. The Soviets had signaled their intent when it replaced its moderate Jewish foreign minister  Maxim Litvinoff, a symbol of anti-Nazism and the Popular Front, with Vyachaslav Molotov, Stalin’s classic poodle. “Fascism,” he said after dismissing criticism, “ is a matter of taste.” Hitler, meanwhile, reluctantly bought  the arguments of his foreign minister Joachim  von Ribbentrop and members of his eastern-oriented  foreign office that German national interests would best be served by such a pact.

For communists and their sympathizers throughout the world the news of the signing  was nothing less than a bombshell. Long devoted to the principle that  the Soviet Union and not the appeasement-minded west was the greatest bulwark against the Nazi evil, they were now suddenly forced to become  instant ideological acrobats, overnight shifting its messages and policies from spirited anti-fascism to isolationism. In the U.S., the Party directed its loyalists to its new catchphrase “No, the Yanks are Not Coming”— a throwaway slogan once Germany invaded Russia in 1941 and a connection to the west was imperative. Read more ..

Film Review

Calvary: An Exercise in Trolley-ology

September 3rd 2014

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Calvary. Director: John Michael McDonagh. Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Orla O'Rourke, Chris O'Dowd, M. Emmet Walsh. Length: 90 mins.

John Michael McDonagh's Calvary is, among other things, a bit like one of those exercises in what moral philosophers call trolleyology. This takes its name from a classic problem originally proposed by the philosopher Philippa Foot about whether or not it's OK to re-route a runaway trolley so that it kills one person, who would not otherwise have been killed, rather than the five people it will kill if it's not re-routed. In other words, the problem’s being far-fetched to the point of fanciful is of its very essence.

They say that hard cases make bad law, but these hard cases were invented for the sake of the bad law. Bad law can be good intellectual fun — though of course it still is bad law. Those who engage in such moral speculations openly dare you to object that the situation they propose is so improbable as to make them ridiculous rather than serious.

Sticking to the cinema, we might find another sort of comparison in a post-modern movie like Speed (1994), which likewise dares you to make fun of its bizarre set up. The city bus in that movie, you may remember, has been rigged up (never mind how) with a fiendishly clever bomb set by a pyrotechnical genius (played by Dennis Hopper), which is set to go off the instant the bus's speed drops below 50 miles per hour as it travels on L.A. roads and highways where such speeds can rarely be obtained. It's utterly absurd, but it so calls attention to its own absurdity as to disarm criticism and all but draw us in every time it, or Keanu Reeves, says, "What do you do? What do you do?" Read more ..

Film Review

Boyhood: It Should Have Been a Divorce

September 1st 2014

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Boyhood. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Patricia Arquetta, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke. 165 minutes.

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a movie, like most of those made by the late Stanley Kubrick, which is almost inseparable from its critical reception. Both directors, I think, predispose critics to see them as making socially significant statements about the world we live in — and by "we" I mean, of course, those of us who, like the critics themselves, come from the great American middle classes. Thus, although Boyhood has won golden opinions from almost all the critical fraternity, it seems to me that, insofar as it is about boyhood, it is rather a bust.

There is nothing in its exiguous story of a boy growing up that we haven’t seen before, or nothing of much intrinsic interest. The interest is, rather, in the movie’s production — its gimmick, if you will — which (in the unlikely event of your not having heard of it) is that it was shot over a twelve-year period and the boy named Mason shown growing up in it is actually growing up before our eyes with the actor, Ellar Coltrane, who plays him.

Everybody seems to think it wonderfully clever of Mr Linklater to have managed this, though François Truffaut did it in a less deliberate way and over multiple pictures with Jean-Pierre Léaud as Antoine Doinel, beginning with Les Quatre Cent Coups in 1959, when his star was only 14, and ending with L’amour en fuit in 1978. Though I admit the device required a certain amount of luck and a lot of patience, I think the fuss about it is a bit overdone. Surely what matters is not the innovation in production, if it is one, but what is done with it, and what is done with it in Boyhood seems to me pretty unremarkable for what it is, though it’s a bit more interesting for what it is not. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Artworks Tell Story of American Culture, History

August 31st 2014

ocean of American flags

“Allies Days, May 1917,” an impressionistic scene of flags fluttering over midtown Manhattan, was painted by Childe Hassam to celebrate the United States' entry into World War I.  It is currently on display at the National Gallery of Art, and throughout August at a bus stop in downtown Washington and in hundreds of other locations across the country.

It’s part of Art Everywhere, the largest outdoor art campaign in the U.S. The open-air art galleries present reproductions of 58 American paintings, photographs and other works of art spanning 230 years of history in 50,000 unexpected locations.

“It’s really educating people about the foundation of the American visual culture,” says Charles Brock, associate curator of American and British painting at the National Gallery of Art. “The idea of using public spaces to advertise great artworks of American art and to bring attention to works in parts of the country that might not even know about these paintings or their locations.” Read more ..

Book Review

Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby

August 30th 2014

Careless People

Careless People. Sarah Churchwell. Penguin Press. 2014. 432 pp.

Sarah Churchwell is Professor of Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia, which I assume means that part of her academic mission is to write for that endangered species, the “general reader.”  If so, her new book—a highly readable study of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby that combines biography, literary analysis, and what might be called “contextualization"-- fulfills that mission admirably.  It will also appeal, in particular, to historians.  By placing the author and his “invention” in their time and place, she demonstrates the importance of historical context—and also the interpretive limits of that context when trying to explain artistic creativity.

After publishing, in short order, two novels--This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922)—and two collections of short stories, Fitzgerald had already become the public personification of “The Jazz Age,” a promotional coup that he and his wife, Zelda, did nothing to discourage.  Indeed, as Churchwell’s close examination of the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks shows, they watched the press as closely as it watched them.

In the fall of 1922, while Scott waited for the ideas and inspiration for his next project—the one that would eventually become Gatsby—the Fitzgeralds rented an impressive home in Great Neck, Long Island, where they could “party” (a word that, appropriately for the “Roaring Twenties,” was about to become a verb).   Churchwell begins her own project here:  “Using newspaper reports, biography, correspondence, the Fitzgeralds’ scrapbooks, and other archival material, I piece together a collage of the Fitzgeralds’ world….a kind of two-part invention in which fact and fiction are in contrapuntal relation.”  She is appropriately restrained about what she might achieve:  “Instead of trying to be definitive, what follows mixes explication with intimation, trying to suggest how inspiration might have worked.” Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Yiddish Tango Reflects Jewish Life in Argentina

August 28th 2014


For most people, tango evokes a passionate dance form. For Argentine-born Gustavo Bulgach, tango is music with an attitude. 

“Tango means the blues. Tango is not just tango - it means - it’s an attitude that you want to express," he said. "In every language, in Yiddish, in Spanish - in whatever language - Tango represents that kind of attitude of losing or having your heart broken by life.”

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. 

Fusion of melodies, culture
The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Bulgach is the band leader of the Yiddish Tango Club, a group that fuses a form of Jewish dance music known as "klezmer" with Argentine tango. 

“Tango is not only Argentinian. It’s a loop from Europe also. It’s like something dramatic, and it’s the count…maybe one, two, three,” says vocalist Divina Gloria. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Hit Song Delivers Ebola Message in Liberia

August 23rd 2014

Ebola health workers and corpse

In Liberia’s capital, Ebola has captured the airwaves, and it's not just news about the often-fatal disease. The hit song Ebola in Town has a danceable beat, while also conveying a serious message about avoiding infection.

The idea for the song was conceived back in May, by three Liberian musicians who thought people weren't taking the Ebola outbreak seriously enough. People thought it was a government trick to get aid money.

The musicians wanted to get people’s attention. It worked. Just a few days after they recorded it, Ebola in Town was a hit all over Monrovia.

Musician Samuel “Shadow” Morgan says he and his fellow artists didn't want to produce the typical awareness song: slow, mellow and serious. They wanted something people could dance to. “Since everybody wants to dance these days, they will first dance to the beat," Morgan said. "And the next thing is, they will learn the chorus. From the chorus, you start going into the verses and what the song is actually about.” Read more ..

Book Review

Commodore Levy Comes Alive in a Passion of History

August 20th 2014

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Commodore Levy: A Novel of America in the Age of Sail. Author: Irving Litvag. Publisher: Texas Tech University Press. 2014

The late Irving Litvag had a passion for history. He liked nothing more than to immerse himself in meticulous research on various topics, including the lives of remarkable people. That passion is in full display in Litvag’s posthumously published historical novel “Commodore Levy: A Novel of America in the Age of Sail” (Texas Tech University Press, $45).

Litvag was a former news writer for the CBS Radio Network and a public-relations executive, along with being a former editor of the St. Louis Light, predecessor to the St. Louis Jewish Light, in the early 1960s. The lifelong St. Louis resident published two earlier books: “Singer in the Shadows,” about the famous St. Louis case of a young woman named Pearl Curran, who seemed to “channel” the poetic and literary voice of a young English girl from centuries ago; and “The Master of Sunnybank: A Biography of Albert Payson Terhune,” the dog breeder and noted novelist of canine adventure stories (about his beloved collies).

Litvag manages to strike just the right balance with “Commodore Levy,” whose life was so filled with actual drama that it keeps the reader’s attention as it moves through the turbulent true story of Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862).

Levy’s life spanned the lives of some of the greatest presidents of the United States. He was 5 years old when George Washington died in 1797. He worked with, and greatly admired, Thomas Jefferson and provided the funds to restore Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. Levy also lived long enough that when he was almost 70, he pleaded with President Abraham Lincoln to let him rejoin active naval duty during the Civil War. Lincoln politely refused. Read more ..

Russia on Edge

Russian Rocker Called a 'Traitor' For Performing for IDPs in Ukraine

August 18th 2014


Some Russian lawmakers are supporting a campaign against rock musician Andrei Makarevich, threatening to strip him of state awards after he performed for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the eastern Ukraine last week. 

Makarevich, founder of rock group Mashina Vremeni, or "Time Machine," was invited by a pro-Kyiv Ukrainian volunteer foundation to tour eastern Ukrainian cities ravaged during the conflict between separatist insurgents and the government forces.

He gave a charity concert on August 12 to IDP children in Donetsk Oblast's war-stricken town of Svyatogorsk. Makarevich posted a photograph on his Facebook page of a Svyatogorsk hall full of excited children standing and clapping.

"Andrei Makarevich has been partnering with fascists for a long time," lawmaker Yevgeny Fyodorov of the ruling United Russia party told the pro-Kremlin daily "Izvestia" on August 18. "He made this choice a fairly long time ago, back when he sided with the Russian Federation's enemies." Read more ..

Film Review

The Giver: Dark Secrets in a World of Perfection

August 15th 2014

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The Giver. Directed by Phillip Noyce. Starring: Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Odeya Rush, Katie Holmes. Length: 94 minutes

What if we could erase violence, pain and discord? Could a society regularize emotions, eliminate suffering and end war? What if reproduction and sexuality could be completely divorced from the messiness of family life? Wouldn’t it be lovely? In the soon-to-be released movie-from–a-book, "The Giver," an ideal community is based on this premise. There is a price, of course.

The film is based on Lois Lowry’s novel which has become a literary fixture in American schools. "The Giver" is one of those rare books loved both by teachers and students. Our guess is that the movie version produced by Walden Media will have similar success. For one reason, it has a built-in audience of the millions who read the book as students. For another, it is visually spectacular.

In the movie, inhabitants of a highly controlled and regimented world are smiling, uniformly handsome and beautiful. All happily work on various state-run activities. They are fed, clothed, recreated and quietly controlled by the smiling and seemingly benevolent dictator (played chillingly by Meryl Streep), who at one point says, "When people have the freedom to choose, they choose wrong."

The inhabitants also live in a perfect climate, but live a flat and colorless existence. Since they daily receive injections to suppress their emotions, they, too, are colorless. They don’t bear their own children. Only those designated as “birth mother” carry this out. After delivery biologically unrelated host families inculcate the children into society’s soft totalitarian ethos. Presumably there are no squabbles at the dinner table, no complaints about veggies or sulky teenagers Read more ..

Significant Lives

Broadway Pays Tribute to Robin Williams

Robin Williams

The bright lights that welcome people to New York's Broadway theater district will dim Wednesday to pay tribute to American actor-comedian Robin Williams.

The marquees of the Great White Way - as Broadway is often called - will go dark for one minute at 7:45 PM local time (23:45 GMT). Williams performed in a one-man show on Broadway titled Robin Williams - Live on Broadway in 2002.

Law enforcement authorities say the 63-year-old entertainer committed suicide by hanging himself at his California home this week. Williams' personal assistant found him dead in his home on Monday. His publicist said Williams had been battling depression. 

Williams' longtime struggle with drugs and alcohol was well-known.  Just last month, he admitted himself into a rehabilitation facility to help maintain his sobriety.

Williams started as a stand-up comedian and went on to entertain fans of all ages during his decades-long career in television and movies. He won acclaim for numerous films, including "Mrs. Doubtfire," "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Good Will Hunting," which earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998.

Williams acted on Broadway and continued performing stand-up comedy even after becoming a movie star, delighting audiences with his rapid-fire, improvisational routines. 

U.S. President Barack Obama has praised Williams as a "one of a kind" performer who touched "every element of the human spirit." Born in Chicago in 1951, Williams made his television debut in the late 1970s, playing an alien in the situation comedy "Mork and Mindy." Read more ..

Book Review

The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South

August 9th 2014

Sharing the Prize

Sharing the Prize. Gavin Wright. Belknap Press. 2013. 368 pp.

The Civil Rights Act is fifty years old this year. Though assessments will differ regarding the impact of this law and of the Civil Rights Movement that brought it to bear, to many this signature achievement feels a part of modern U.S. history. Liberal historians argue that the end of overt white supremacy led to the emergence of a more insidious variety of purportedly color-blind racialism, while conservative writers articulate dissatisfaction with the rise of what they diagnose as a “culture of victimization” stemming from the movement’s successes. Both camps implicitly agree, however, that the Civil Rights Movement represents a dividing line between “then” and “now.” The fact that it plays a primary role in defining the terms of the modern era, however, can blind us to the fact that the movement is part of the distant past rather than the recent one. We are as far removed today from the Civil Rights Act, for example, as those who fought to pass that measure were from World War I. The assumption that we can evaluate the movement in light of modern-day values frequently undermines our ability to understand its effects and to evaluate the plausibility of alternative approaches.

Gavin Wright’s focused and well-argued book, Sharing the Prize, provides a clear-eyed corrective to this tendency. Granting that the movement was “a moral and legal revolution,” (2) Wright asks the provocative and important question whether it can be declared an economic one as well. Now that enough time has passed to allow for both sufficient historical distance and the accumulation of enough relevant data, he is able to argue convincingly that the “record shows strong gains…for African Americans in the South—relative to earlier levels, relative to southern whites, and relative to national standards.” (26) To those who do not specialize in economic analysis or the history of the Civil Rights Movement, this point might seem fairly obvious: It would seem difficult to argue that blacks’ economic situation has not improved since the days of Jim Crow. But to emphasize that point is to commit the fallacy–so often warned against by economists–of confusing correlation with causation. The fact that African Americans have enjoyed economic improvement since segregation does not necessarily mean that they have done so because ofthe Civil Rights Movement. Read more ..

Film Review

America: Imagine a World Without Her and Dinesh D'Souza's Self-Serving Suggestions

August 8th 2014

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America: Imagine a World Without Her. Director: Dinesh D'Souza. Length: 90 mins.

The exhortation in the title of Dinesh D’Souza’s new movie — America: Imagine the World Without Her — suggests that it is going to be an exercise in what they call "counter-factual" history. In other words, imaginary history. History as it didn’t happen. And the opening of the film appears to bear this out, since we watch as an actor (John Koopman) portraying George Washington is shot and killed by a British sniper.

Thereafter, however, the alternative history of our country, a history in which (presumably) the Revolutionary War was lost and the United States as we know them never came into existence as a single country, is forgotten, along with all other forms of idle speculation. Instead, we are taken straight into quite a different movie, one consisting of a rapid survey of real American history, organized so as to constitute a refutation of the late Howard Zinn’s People's History of the United States.

It should be said that Mr D’Souza’s movie is all the better for abandoning the counter-factual. Every unfortunate student who has been assigned by some left-wing professor to read Zinn’s deplorable and politically tendentious book should see this movie in order to detox. It takes up and answers, one by one, five heads of the progressive indictment of America, as popularized by Zinn, according to her supposed victims. They are, in order, the Indians, Mexico, African slaves — who, after slavery, were also victims of segregation — and the worldwide multitudes suffering to this day under the yoke of American "colonialism" and "capitalism."

Together, they make up what Mr D’Souza calls "the Zinn narrative of American shame," and he’s here to prove to us that there is no need for us to be ashamed of it after all. On the contrary, America’s history is something for us to be proud of, just as it was once usual for people to think before the ideologues began writing it. Read more ..

Books and Authors

Book Excerpt: The Silence of Our Friends: the Extinction of Christianity in the Middle East

August 7th 2014

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The Silence of Our Friends: the Extinction of Christianity in the Middle East. Author: Ed West. Amazon Kindle, 2014.

The first Iraqi contact with Christianity came very early. Within Mesopotamia was a small vassal state called Osrhoene, its capital at Edessa, modern-day Turkey, the population of which was largely Aramaean.

Legend has it that the incurably ill Abgar V, King of Osrhoene, heard of Jesus and wrote a letter offering to let him stay in the country, as he was being persecuted at home. Jesus replied that he couldn’t go but he would send over his apostle Thaddeus, who arrived after the Crucifixion and cured the king of his disease.

Offering asylum to the Son of God gives the country a certain moral status, but the historical reality is that Christianity had reached Edessa very early, most likely in the first century, and in the second century its King Abgar VIII converted. Edessa would remain Christian for another 18 centuries, until the First World War brought that world to an end.

Christians in Syria and Iraq at first welcomed the Arab invaders because they were persecuted by Byzantium and Persia, and felt an affinity with fellow Semites. And the Arab world flourished during the Islamic Golden Age, when Muslim rulers mixed and advanced the knowledge of Roman, Egyptian, Greek and even Chinese cultures. Yet this relied heavily on Christians who translated Greek philosophy into Syriac and then Arabic, which survived and arrived in Spain and Italy in the 12th and 13th centuries where they were copied into Latin, helping to influence the Renaissance (which was also sparked by the exodus of Greeks from Constantinople to Italy in 1453).

As Dr Suha Rassam wrote in Christianity in Iraq: “Neither the Persians who lived in Iraq, nor the Arabs that ruled the state, were conversant with Greek. In fact, translation of Greek philosophical works to Arabic was almost exclusively performed by Christian scholars. [Academic George] Qanawati enumerates over sixty translators, all of whom were Christians, except for one Sabian [a religion that focussed around the worship of angels] and one Jew.” Read more ..

Book Review

An Anxious Age: The Fading Religious Landscape of a Post-Protestant America

August 7th 2014

An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America. Author: Joseph Bottom. Publisher: Image Books, 2014. 320 pp.

Joseph Bottum, the former editor of First Things magazine and a top-flight observer of the American religious scene, has written an intriguing book entitled An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

This book is not an easy read, but worth the trouble in order to understand the collapse of America as a largely Protestant country with a Catholic minority. In its place, we see a nation that seems to be following the once largely Christian Europe into what one can call practical atheism, i.e., people may believe in God, but he plays no important role in day-to-day living in worship or morality.

The first part of the book details how all of this happened, mostly by tracing the thought and effects of various intellectuals such as Walter Rauschenbusch and William James, who began the process that turned traditional Protestant religion into a quest for social justice rather than primarily worship of the Creator, moral living and personal witness and evangelization.

Bottum intersperses his history (to my mind, unnecessarily) with descriptions of people he knows to show how they are affected in the present day by the teachings of these Protestant revolutionizers of the 1800s and early 1900s in the United States. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

South African Female Drummer Grooves to Her Own Beat

August 6th 2014


There are plenty of talented women in South Africa's burgeoning music scene. But a woman playing drums in a heavy metal band is still a rarity. Yet that's exactly how Courtney Gibson, 24, is making a name for herself. She fronts Johannesburg-based band, Mizera, that plays death and thrash metal, two highly aggressive subgenres of heavy metal, typically using distorted guitars, deep, growled vocals and supercharged drumbeats.

A blue haze of smoke engulfs the crowd at a music festival in Mpumalanga Province. The stage is swathed in purple light. Three big men dressed in black denim and leather step forward, wielding droning electric guitars.  They launch a tidal wave of sound.

One concert-goer - bearded, adorned with multiple tattooes and silver nose-rings  - exclaims when he realizes the drummer is woman. Courtney Gibson's long brunette hair cascades over her thin arms in a blur as she pounds the drums at furious speed. She's living her childhood dream of being a metal bland drummer. Read more ..

Book Review

Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht Was Not An Innocent Bystander at the Holocaust

August 4th 2014

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Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus. Waitman Wade Beorn. Harvard University Press, 2014. 314 pages. $39.95

It is a deeply held belief in some circles that the German military was a professional fighting force largely blameless in the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews in World War II.

But a University of Nebraska at Omaha history professor takes a close look at the German army’s complicity in rounding up and executing Jews in Belarus in the opening months of the Eastern Front in 1941.

“Marching Into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus” by Waitman Wade Beorn, assistant professor of history and the Louis and Frances Blumkin professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at UNO, ought to be on the reading list of anyone interested in the German army or battles on the Eastern Front in World War II.

The writing style is more academic than in popular histories, but this book can be highly recommended for anybody interested in military ethics, and in the importance of strong and principled military leadership.

Beorn, a 2000 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and an Iraq war veteran, paints a complex picture. Most German soldiers in the region were, at the very least, willing to do nothing as Belarusian Jews were murdered. Others were willing to actively take part.

But there was a minority who refused to take part and even hid Jews. In many cases, these officers and soldiers were not punished — information that refutes postwar claims of German veterans that they had to go along or face dire consequences. The difference in many cases came down to leadership at the company level. Some commanders simply refused to allow their units to take part. Company commander 1st Lt. Josef Sibille refused an order for his unit to take part in a mass execution of local Jews, telling his commander he would not “expect decent German soldiers to dirty their hands with such things.” Major Alfred Commichau asked Sibille when he would “be hard for once,” to which the lieutenant replied, “In this case, never.” Read more ..

Book Review

The G.I. Bill and the Vietnam Generation

August 4th 2014

Failling Our Veterans

Failing Our Veterns. Mark Boulton. NYU Press. 2014. 288 pp.

In 1932, a former army office living in Oregon was so infuriated by the failure of the federal government to award WWI vets their promised bonuses that he managed to inspire several hundred of them to join him and undertake a march on Washington. They traveled in autos, trucks and box cars only to be denounced by their government as communists. (Their trek and arrival was vividly described in Paul Dickson and Thomas B. Allen’s 2005 book “The Bonus Army: An American Epic”) The vets ultimately received their bonuses in 1936 but before then American soldiers led by the imperious General Douglas MacArthur acting under the orders of President Herbert Hoover assaulted the vets in sight of the nation’s capital. It was a shameful but memorable event and remained very much in the minds of later politicians forced to grapple with the needs of those who later served in war and peace.

Mark Boulton’s book “Failing Our Veterans” is a comprehensive and compelling legislative history which skillfully details how ideology, economics and personal and political biases have shaped the way vets have been dealt with from the Revolutionary era to Vietnam

Disabled Revolutionary War vets, foe ample, were granted half-pay for life though some politicians opposed the grant on the grounds of expense, War of 1812 and Mexican War vets received land grants and wounded vets some compensation. But the process was torturously slow. The 1812 group received their reward in 1871 – long after many of hem had died—while Mexican War vets finally received their grants in 1887, decades after most of General Winfield Scott’s men had passed from the scene.

Civil War union soldiers did much better because of the political pull of the newly-organized Grand Army of the Republic, much as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars had developed and pushed the landmark G.I. Bill of 1944 for WWII vets, certainly one of the most momentous pieces of legislation ever enacted. Vets received the famous 52-20 payments to help them adjust to civilian life together with munificent educational and housing benefits. The resulting impact on society was huge. “These provisions helped forestall a widely feared economic depression, expanded the home-owning middle class and helped democratize higher education,” writes Bolton. In 1952, Korean War vets were granted roughly similar benefits. While some thought the laws was overly generous, most Americans did not, believing that the years spent in uniform, fighting or behind he lines, were worth the rewards. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Aging New York Piano Virtuoso Looks Back

July 29th 2014

Nashville Symphony

The peaceful atmosphere in the Upper West Side apartment where 92-year-old Walter Hautzig plays his piano amid family photographs and framed honors is many worlds away from the pre-war Vienna where he grew up. In 1938, when Hautzig was a 16-year-old prodigy, the Nazis took power in Austria.

Hautzig says Jews were routinely beaten in the streets. Their businesses were closed. “That was the Austria I grew up in. You can’t imagine,” he said with a grimace.

Music was the boy’s only refuge. After authorities closed the state music academy he attended, Hautzig made a forbidden visit there, only to find the place filled with German soldiers. Their rifles covered the pianos. And then a miracle happened.

Hautzig learned that the director of the Jerusalem Conservatory of Music was coming to Vienna to hold auditions for new students. Not knowing where they were to be held, Hautzig arrived at the man’s hotel at eight in the morning and waited. The director arrived at two in the afternoon, only to offer his regrets and leave to hail a taxi. Desperate, Hautzig made his move. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Billy Joel to Receive Library of Congress Gershwin Prize

July 26th 2014

Piano Keys

The Library of Congress has announced this year’s winner of the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song: singer, piano-player and songwriter Billy Joel.

Library of Congress Librarian James Billington calls Joel a "storyteller of the highest order."  Billington said his songwriting carries "an intimacy" that bridges the gap between the listener and the worlds in his songs. With a career spanning five decades, Joel, known for his piano-driven compositions, is one of the most popular recording artists in the world.

On his current tour, Joel has been poking fun at those lyrics to “The Entertainer,” noting that he has broken all the rules for success he sings about.  Now he’s being honored with The Gershwin Prize for a career that includes 33 Top-40 hits, and six Grammy wins out of 23 nominations.  His hits, including "Piano Man," "New York State of Mind" and "Uptown Girl," have made him the sixth top-selling artist of all time. Read more ..

North Korea on Edge

North Korea Insists Leader is Nothing to Joke About

July 23rd 2014

Kim Jong-Un

In the United States, mocking political leaders is national pastime that most Americans enjoy. Even the targets of ridicule usually laugh along or ignore it.

In North Korea, poking fun at the Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, appears to be viewed as an existential threat.

For example, in April, North Korean officials dropped by a London barber shop, which mocked Kim Jong Un’s hairstyle in a promotional poster. The poster showed Kim famous coiffure and read “bad hair day?”

Earlier this month, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ja Song Nam, filed a formal complaint urging the body to force the U.S. block the release of an upcoming movie, “The Interview.”

The comedy, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco in a plot to assassinate Kim, mocks North Korea’s ruler.

The complaint read that “to allow the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent Head of a sovereign State should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war."

Now this week, North Korea asked China to stop the spread of a viral video that lampoons Kim. According to the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, the North says the video, which shows Kim in a variety of silly situations, including being knocked out by President Barack Obama, "seriously compromises Kim's dignity and authority." Read more ..

Book Review

The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

July 22nd 2014

Black Against Empire

Black Against Empire. Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin. University of California Press. 2013. 560 pp.

The Black Panther Party (BPP) is a growing topic of interest for scholars with numerous dissertations being produced on various party programs and local activities, but in Black Against Empire, Joshua Bloom, a Fellow at the Ralph J. Bunche Center at UCLA, and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., Professor of History at the University of California Berkeley, seek to provide a synthesis of Panther political history—focusing upon the meteoric rise and fall of the BPP between 1967 and 1972. This is a well written narrative and analytical history that does not overwhelm the reader with theoretical references, but it is also a book that may antagonize some readers with its sympathetic portrayal of the BPP and its revolutionary ideology.

Essentially, Bloom and Martin write their history from the perspective of the BPP, relying upon oral histories of the party as well as a close reading of the party newspaper, The Black Panther. The authors also devote considerable attention to the turbulent historical context in which the Panthers rapidly grew and declined. Bloom and Martin argue that the core ideological construct provided by the party’s founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale was the concept that black Americans in the nation’s inner cities constituted internal colonies exploited by capitalism and controlled by the police. Thus, colonized and exploited black Americans needed to make common cause with people of color around the world, such as the Vietnamese, Algerians, and Cubans, who were resisting American imperialism. Based upon their experience in Oakland, California, Newton and Seale concentrated their attention upon the police as tools of state oppression, and seizing upon California’s law allowing the open carrying of weapons, the Panther leaders urged the black community to arm themselves against the police and monitor their activities in the ghetto.

The image of the armed Panther with black berets and trench coats resonated in the black community and terrified the political establishment, resulting in a proposed law to limit the open brandishing of weapons in California. The Panthers gained considerable national press when they entered the California state legislature with their weapons. The law restricting the open carry of loaded weapons passed, but the stature of the BPP was certainly elevated. Bloom and Martin do not make analogies to the current gun debate in America, but it is ironic how the National Rifle Association today often employs coded racial arguments to justify the arming of American citizens. Read more ..

Movie Review

Ida: A Jewish Nun Confronts Personal and National History

July 20th 2014

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Ida. Director: Pawel Pawlikowski. Starring: Agata Trzebuchowska, Agata Kulesza. Length: 90 min.

It’s hard to imagine anything more different from Pawel Pawlikowski’s wonderful My Summer of Love (2005) than his new film, but Ida is just as wonderful in its own way. It is essentially a meditation on and unpicking of a paradox, that of a Jewish nun, as a kind of synecdoche for the Polish experience of World War II and its aftermath. The burden of the past always weighs heavily on those who try, and the victims of those who try, to remake the world, and the past of Poland, subjugated by both the Nazi and the Communist attempts at reinvention of European reality, is particularly burdensome.

Set in 1961 and shot in black-and-white and a 4:3 aspect ratio to make it look rather like a low budget "art film" of the same period, Ida tells the story of eighteen-year-old novitiate Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska), an orphan who has been raised in a convent and is on the point of taking her vows, who suddenly discovers that she is Jewish and that her birth name was Ida. She learns this from an aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), a state prosecutor under the communist regime of Wladyslaw Gomulka.

Wanda has never hitherto wanted to have anything to do with her niece, and it is not entirely clear why she has now changed her mind. It seems to have something to do with preventing Anna from taking her vows without knowing her own background. As Wanda is a heavy drinker and sexually promiscuous, she also asks why the girl should be prepared to promise to sacrifice what she, Wanda, regards as such indispensible experiences without really knowing what they are. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Blues Legend Johnny Winter Found Dead

July 18th 2014


Johnny Winter, an American blues rock guitarist, vocalist and band leader known for his virtuoso slide-guitar solos and raspy vocals, was found dead in a hotel room outside Zurich, Swiss police said on Thursday. He was 70.

Along with his brother, Edgar Winter, also a well-known blues musician, the Texas-born Winter revered African-American blues tradition and began performing in his teens.

Johnny, distinctive because he and brother Edgar were albino, broke into national fame in 1968, when Rolling Stone magazine dubbed him the hottest musician outside Janis Joplin.

In 1969, he played the Newport Jazz Festival, where he performed with B.B. King, one of his musical idols, and at Woodstock. He also produced albums for his idol, Muddy Waters, in the 1970s, helping to burnish the reputation of the legendary bluesman. Among Winter's best known songs was “Still Alive and Well” -- a blues rock stomper recorded after he resurfaced from heroin addiction in the 1970s. Read more ..

An Edge of Music

Guitars Make Art in Addition to Music

July 14th 2014

Itamar Erez

Artists have created musical masterpieces with guitars for centuries, but at a music shop in Maryland, the instruments became canvases and were transformed into art.

The idea came to the store's owner, Tony Litz, after he bought an artistically enhanced guitar at an auction. He calls it the "Beatles' Guitar."

"We call it that because it got a bunch of Beatles on it and [I] thought on drive home, let's have a guitar decorating contest," Litz said.

Decorating a guitar was a collaborative effort for Jim and Laurie Williams and their daughters Christina and Michelle.

They decorated part of the guitar using an art technique "Alcohol Ink", which allowed them to create very specialized patterns with a variety of colors. They arranged and colorized different images of Jimi Hendrix using a simple modge podge technique. Read more ..

Book Review

Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship Puts and End to Debate

July 5th 2014

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Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate. Greg Lukianoff. Encounter Books, 2014.

To set an appropriately Orwellian, dystopian tone for the true tales that follow, recall the opening moments of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” (The young and uninitiated can go to this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b5aW08ivHU. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

Okay, you’re back. Now: “Submitted for your consideration…”

On September 17, 2013 (Constitution Day), Robert Van Tuinen, a student at California’s Modesto Junior College, is told that he cannot hand out copies of the U.S. Constitution anywhere on campus except at the college’s tiny, designated “free speech zone,” and then only after getting permission well in advance.

In 2007, Hayden Barnes, a student at Valdosta State University in Georgia, is informed that he has been “administratively withdrawn” from campus because his online collage protesting the university’s plan to spend $30 million on parking garages referred sarcastically to the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage” and was thus deemed an “indirect threat” to University President Ronald Zaccari.

Also in 2007, Keith John Sampson, a student and janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUIPUI), is found guilty of racial harassment without a hearing because some co-workers are offended by the cover of the book he was reading, Todd Tucker’s Notre Dame versus the Klan. The cover included photos of KKK rallies (in addition to Notre Dame’s Golden Dome). Neither the book nor the cover could reasonably be described as pro-Klan. And even if they could, should it matter? Read more ..

The Edge of Film

To Russia With Love: Muscovites Flock to James Bond Show

June 30th 2014

Drive-In Movie

During the Soviet era, watching a James Bond film could lead to a jail sentence.  Despite the ban, many were able to catch bootleg copies during the thawing of the Cold War in the 1980s.  This developed into a Russian love affair with the foreign agent.

In 1964, when the James Bond movie From Russia With Love was packing theaters in the United States, Moscow and the West were locked in the deep freeze of the Cold War.

Fast forward half a century. Relations between Moscow and West are again in a deep chill - this time over Russia’s arming of rebels in Ukraine.

But disregarding geopolitics, Muscovites are streaming to a new museum show here called “Designing 007.” Five floors and 500 props, sets, gadgets and costumes draw crowds to the Multimedia Arts Museum. “Really huge, a lot of visitors, around 15,000 in three, in four days,” said Katrina Inozemtseva, the curator of the Bond show in Moscow.  Read more ..

Financing the Flames

US Funding Palestinian Terrorists

June 27th 2014

Financing the Flames

Obama administration officials have praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as someone with whom Israel can do business.

See the Video Report

Yet he recently chose to do business with those committed to Israel's destruction, Abbas struck a deal with Hamas making the U.S.-designated terror group part of a united Palestinian government.

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Although that unity deal may soon be dead following Hamas's alleged kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers, Abbas's initial embrace of the terror outfit raised serious questions about his commitment to peace.

Financing the Flames

"Peace doesn't have a chance because peace doesn't pay," said award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black. "Because anytime that they want some income, all they've got to do is commit an act of terrorism."

In his latest book, Financing the Flames, the New York Times bestselling author details how the Palestinian Authority rewards terrorists who have killed Israelis.

"As soon as a terrorist commits an act of terrorism against an innocent civilian in Israel -- whether that's cutting the throat of a child or stabbing a man standing at a bus or blowing up a building," Black said. "As soon as that man does that, he goes on a special salary from the Palestinian Authority, under Palestinian law -- a law known as the Law of the Prisoner."

The more Israelis killed, the bigger the financial reward.

"He gets a graduated salary depending on how heinous the crime is," Black continued. "If he kills five people and gets five years, he gets one salary. If he kills double that number and gets double the sentence, he gets double the salary. And so this actually incentivizes the misery, mayhem, and carnage that the terrorists commit." Read more ..

Book Review

The Limits of Partnership: Understanding the Deterioration of US/Russia Ties

June 27th 2014

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The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-first Century. Angela Stent. Princeton Univ. Press. 2014. 384 pp.

In early May 2014 Angela Stent, Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, testified before a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the United States, Ukraine and Russia. She was a logical choice because the book under review here provides needed background to understand the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations that we are now witnessing. (I should disclose that I did my graduate work at the center that Professor Stent now heads, but this was before she arrived at Georgetown and we have never met.)

Stent’s book covers more than its title indicates, for it is a history and analysis of U.S.-Russian relations during the post-Soviet period from late 1991 until late 2013. Unlike Stephen Cohen’s Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (2001) and subsequent writings, Stent’s book is not a strong indictment of U.S. policy toward post-Soviet Russia. Although both approaches have their value, Cohen’s indictment approach is not in keeping with Stent’s style. She is more the prudent, balanced scholar, often presenting contrasting views without revealing, except tacitly, how she feels on a particular subject.

Having held important positions at both the State Department and the National Intelligence Council, Stent is much more a Washington “insider” than is Cohen. Currently, she also acts as a senior advisor to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

In addition to 34 pages of notes and bibliography (about one-tenth of her book), there is a four-page list of interviewees, among whom are many of the important U.S. government foreign-policy and Russian experts. Among the latter are Strobe Talbott, who served President Clinton, and Michael McFaul, who for two years under President Obama was the U.S. ambassador to Russia. In addition, two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, are there. She has also interviewed important Russian foreign-policy figures including two former ministers of foreign affairs, Evgeny Primakov and Igor Ivanov. And she has ample contacts with other Russians. She has taught a course on U.S.-Russian relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and she has been a member of the Russian-sponsored Valdai International Discussion Club, which holds annual conferences, where President Putin speaks and answers questions. Read more ..

The Edge of Theater

Why Bernard-Henri Levy Wants His New Play To Help Bosnia

June 26th 2014

Bosnia mourner in cemetery

Bernard-Henri Levy is hoping that a two-hour monologue pushes Bosnia-Herzegovina into the European Union.

The French public intellectual is opening his new play, titled "Hotel Europe" and starring the French actor Jacques Weber, on June 27 in Sarajevo.

"Our aim here with this play is not only to give a play, it is to try to use this play in order to help to change something in the terrible situation which Bosnia is still living," Levy told RFE/RL's Balkan Service in an interview, speaking in English. He said his hope is that "this play could be [a] push which helps Bosnia to enter at last [the] European Union before Serbia."

The play is two hours long in real time, according to Levy. The main character is preparing to deliver a speech about Europe to the National Theater in Sarajevo. The speech, set to begin in two hours, is meant to mark the centenary of the June 1914 assassination in Sarajevo of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which led to World War I a month later.  Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Jazz Pioneer Horace Silver Dies

June 22nd 2014

Piano Keys

Jazz pianist and composer Horace Silver, 85, has died in New Rochelle, New York.

Throughout his remarkable career that began in the 1940s, the pianist, composer and arranger always had one goal in mind.

“I try to make people think with my music,” he said in a long, biographical interview from 1981 with jazz writer and photographer Bob Rosenbaum. 

Speaking recently, Rosenbaum recounted the highlights of Silver’s life, which started as the son of an immigrant from Cape Verde. “He grew up in a musical household," he said. "They used to throw parties for the family - you know - on Saturday afternoons - people would come over and play the music that they grew up with in Cape Verde islands.

While he was successful as a pianist, throughout his career, Silver was most revered as a composer and arranger.  His strength was drawing from multiple sources and putting them together in the jazz idiom. “I've always taken a bit of this and a bit of that and blended it together," Silver said. "In the beginning, and I still do dig the Blues, gospel.  I love Latin rhythms.  I love Broadway show music.  Classical music.”   Read more ..

Book Review

Book Review: Jonathan Swift Biography

June 21st 2014

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Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World. Leo Damrosch. Yale University Press 592 pp., 2014

The art of biography, as it is practiced today, nearly always involves the biographer as mediator between past and present, a bridge over the ever-widening gap between the two. As history has more and more become the record of what we feel we ought to be ashamed of our ancestors for, the biography-worthy great men of centuries gone by require new champions to explain why they, at least, weren’t so bad as most of their benighted contemporaries.

The biographical apologia, like the debunking, was already well-established 30 years ago, when Irvin Ehrenpreis completed his three-volume biography of Jonathan Swift after two decades of work. The vogue in the 1960s, when Ehrenpreis began his work, was for psychological, often Freudian, analysis of one’s subject, and the undoubtedly weird figure of the 18th-century dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and author of Gulliver’s Travels (1726) must have offered one of the more tempting subjects in English literature for such treatment.

Yet, since Freudianism lost favor and patronizing the past in other ways became popular, it has taken another generation for Ehrenpreis’s sometime-colleague at the University of Virginia, Leo Damrosch, now of Harvard, to write a Swift biography in the more up-to-date manner. The result is enlightening and amusing, and it is enlivened by the inclusion of stories and anecdotes about Swift that Ehrenpreis had omitted because they were insufficiently well-attested in his overscrupulous view. But there is no denying the challenge Damrosch has taken on in trying to make Swift a more palatable subject for the 21st century.

Take, for instance, his penultimate chapter, called simply "The Disgusting Poems." Here, his sympathy for his subject is more evident than his conviction in advancing any of the multiple excuses for Swiftian scatology that have occurred to previous biographers and commentators. The reader may presumably pick his own favorite. For what it’s worth, mine is the one separately suggested by two different writers who, though neither mentions the comparison, seem to see the poems of excrement and sexual disgust as ironic anticipations of Winnie Verloc in Joseph Conrad’s Secret Agent, who "felt profoundly that things do not stand much looking into." Read more ..

Book Review

U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century

June 16th 2014

The Limits of Partnership

The Limits of Partnership. Angela Stent. Princeton University Press. 2014. 384 pp.

In early May 2014 Angela Stent, Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, testified before a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the United States, Ukraine and Russia. She was a logical choice because the book under review here provides needed background to understand the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations that we are now witnessing. (I should disclose that I did my graduate work at the center that Professor Stent now heads, but this was before she arrived at Georgetown and we have never met.)

Stent’s book covers more than its title indicates, for it is a history and analysis of U.S.-Russian relations during the post-Soviet period from late 1991 until late 2013. Unlike Stephen Cohen’s Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (2001) and subsequent writings, Stent’s book is not a strong indictment of U.S. policy toward post-Soviet Russia. Although both approaches have their value, Cohen’s indictment approach is not in keeping with Stent’s style. She is more the prudent, balanced scholar, often presenting contrasting views without revealing, except tacitly, how she feels on a particular subject.

Having held important positions at both the State Department and the National Intelligence Council, Stent is much more a Washington “insider” than is Cohen. Currently, she also acts as a senior advisor to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

In addition to 34 pages of notes and bibliography (about one-tenth of her book), there is a four-page list of interviewees, among whom are many of the important U.S. government foreign-policy and Russian experts. Among the latter are Strobe Talbott, who served President Clinton, and Michael McFaul, who for two years under President Obama was the U.S. ambassador to Russia. In addition, two former secretaries of state, Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, are there. She has also interviewed important Russian foreign-policy figures including two former ministers of foreign affairs, Evgeny Primakov and Igor Ivanov. And she has ample contacts with other Russians. She has taught a course on U.S.-Russian relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, and she has been a member of the Russian-sponsored Valdai International Discussion Club, which holds annual conferences, where President Putin speaks and answers questions. Read more ..

Film Review

Under the Skin: Scarlett Johansson in Disguise as Herself

June 11th 2014

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Under the Skin. Director: Jonathan Glazer. Starring: Scarlett Johansson. Length: 90 mins.

A friend of mine once described an eerie noise as being "like a spaceship landing." Of course no one — really — knows what a spaceship landing sounds like. But not-really, everyone does know. Spaceships and the aliens who arrive on them are now such familiar parts of our culture, mainly through their representation in the movies, that no one anymore has to bother to make such creatures from another planet appear, as they once were expected to appear, "incredible." Now they are all too credible to a movie audience raised on such fantasy. We are so used through mere repetition — and through living a greater portion of our lives than ever before in the fantasy-land of popular entertainment — to finding them credible that one may even find oneself occasionally criticizing the latest manifestations of their presence among us for being less than entirely realistic.

One of the things that, going back to H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds in the 1890s, we used to take for granted about these wholly mythical creatures we have learned to call "aliens" is that they were warlike and hostile to human-kind. Steven Spielberg, following on from The Day the Earth Stood Still of 1953, began with Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the immortally awful E.T., to explore the alternative theory that they might be friendly or else sent from a higher civilization to warn us to mend our ways. Read more ..

Broken Bookselling

Amazon Spat with Publishers Escalates as Contracts End

June 8th 2014

Amazon Box2

Amazon.com Inc.'s sales contracts with some of the world's biggest publishers, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, are next up for renewal, signaling that skirmishes over e-book pricing are set to spread.

The world's largest online retailer is already feuding with Hachette Book Group and Bonnier Media. CBS Corp.'s Simon & Schuster and News Corp.'s HarperCollins will soon come up for renegotiation, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the contracts are private. That means best-selling authors such as HarperCollins' Veronica Roth, writer of the Divergent trilogy, and Simon & Schuster's Stephen King could be entangled in the controversy. Read more ..

Art and Science

Scientists Rush to Save Vanishing Iconic DaVinci Self-Portrait

June 4th 2014

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One of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpieces, drawn in red chalk on paper during the early 1500s and widely believed to be a self-portrait, is in extremely poor condition. Centuries of exposure to humid storage conditions or a closed environment has led to widespread and localized yellowing and browning of the paper, which is reducing the contrast between the colors of chalk and paper and substantially diminishing the visibility of the drawing.

A group of researchers from Italy and Poland with expertise in paper degradation mechanisms was tasked with determining whether the degradation process has now slowed with appropriate conservation conditions -- or if the aging process is continuing at an unacceptable rate.

To do this, as they describe in Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, the team developed an approach to nondestructively identify and quantify the concentration of light-absorbing molecules known as chromophores in ancient paper, the culprit behind the "yellowing" of the cellulose within ancient documents and works of art.

"During the centuries, the combined actions of light, heat, moisture, metallic and acidic impurities, and pollutant gases modify the white color of ancient paper's main component: cellulose," explained Joanna Łojewska, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. "This phenomenon is known as 'yellowing,' which causes severe damage and negatively affects the aesthetic enjoyment of ancient art works on paper." Read more ..

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