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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.

Buy Financing the Flames
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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 ..

Book Review

How UNRWA Perpetuates the Palestinian Crisis

June 2nd 2014

David Bedein

Roadblock to Peace. David Bedein. Beit Argon International Press. 2014.

UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, was created in 1949 after the Arabs rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and five Arab armies attacked the nascent State of Israel and lost. And yet, its role in enabling the ongoing Arab War on Israel is not readily understood nor publicized, but is the essence of David Bedein’s new book, Roadblock to Peace, How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNWRA Policies Considered.

Bedein, a prolific Jerusalem-based investigative journalist, author, and director of the Israel Resource News Agency, who hosts a blog, www.israelbehindthenews.com, is eminently qualified to report first-hand on the workings of this unique United Nations agency whose exclusive mandate is but one ethnic group. This stands in sharp contrast to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which works on behalf of millions of refugees from the rest of the world. The book is extensively documented with sources, citations, graphs, photographs, and footnotes. Read more ..

The Edge of Arts

Alleghany Meadows Offers Creative Workspace for Artists in Colorado

May 31st 2014

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Justin Donoforio and Brooke Cashion, residents of Santa Cruz, Calif. moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after they heard about Alleghany Meadows through their ceramics community. The pair contacted him to see if they could be a part of the shared workspace they’d also heard rumors of; both were looking for Colorado residency before applying to school. They’ll soon ship off to Fort Collins, but have high hopes of returning to the artists’ enclave they found in Carbondale.

“We wanted to be in this area, and because we were able to get studio space, we came here,” says Cashion. Their story is not unique for S.A.W. (Studio for Arts and Works), but it’s not the only story between its walls either.

Inside the 6,500-square-foot building in Carbondale, which used to house a mechanic’s shop, are 20-plus studio spaces for working artists — from ceramicists and sculptors to jewelers and painters. They can come and go as they please, simply paying a monthly rental fee to the building’s owner, Alleghany Meadows, who is also an artist. Read more ..

Book Review

A Story of Protest and Prison During the Vietam War

May 30th 2014


Register. Bruce Dancis. Cornell University Press. 2014. 384 pp.

“On December 14, 1966, at the age of eighteen, I stood before a crowd of three hundred people at Cornell University, read a statement denouncing the war and the draft, and tore my draft card unto four pieces.” Bruce Dancis, a college freshman, then dramatically walked to a mailbox and sent the mutilated card to his draft board. He was the first Cornell student to do so. “I made a stand against the war and the draft. I became part of a tiny minority of young men ---an estimated three thousand—who went to federal prison instead.”

Resister, Bruce Dancis’s absorbing portrayal of the tumultuous sixties from his vantage point as leader of Cornell’s Student for a Democratic Society, describes what it was like to challenge the world’s most powerful nation in the midst of a war that saw millions of Asians and 58,000 U.S. troops die, a failed war for which no-one at the highest level of our government has ever been held accountable.

Dancis and anti-war opponents like him were widely praised but also damned. Inspired by hatred for the war, the draft, black liberation and sexual freedom, the emergence of the New Left and Catholic Left and the possibilities it presented seemed a golden opportunity to seriously change the country’s direction. Many of their opponents believed the SDS and similar rebel groups symbolized the decline of order, stability, tolerance and civil patriotism, a frontal assault on values where people knew their place and politics stopped at the water’s edge.

Dancis was a Jewish kid from the Bronx and schooled at the Ethical Culture Society in Manhattan. His father had been a WWII conscientious objector and both parents, politically active, were ardent anti-Communists. By the time he arrived in Ithaca in 1966, the idea of student power was already alive on some campuses. But the more the war expanded, the more dead and wounded soldiers, the more the government fought the protestors, the more did Dancis become active with Cornell’s SDS branch. Kirkpatrick Sale’s definitive history, SDS, recognized Dancis’s role. “Inspired by SDSer Bruce Dancis’ draft card destruction,” Sale wrote, the SDS called for a controversial “burn-in” in Central Park's Sheep Meadow for April 15, 1967. Sale went on to depict the event as “an important symbolic moment for the anti-draft movement [because] combined with the beginnings of the West Coast group called Resistance, which was launched this very same day with a call for a mass turn-in of draft cards in the fall, this was to reverberate throughout ivied halls around the country.” The New York Times’ Tom Wicker went further, suggesting that, if the U.S. “had to prosecute 100,000 Americans in order to maintain its authority,” it would be more difficult to pursue the war since “It would then be faced not with dissent, but with civil disobedience on a scale amounting to revolt.” Read more ..

Book Review

Jewish Resistance: The Big Picture

May 27th 2014

jewish resistance against the Nazies

Jewish Resistance Against the Nazies. Catholic University Press. 2014. 640 pp.

What more is there to say about the Holocaust that hasn’t been said before?

Herded into concentration camps, one-third killed far from the death camps, dragged from their homes in the Baltics, Ukraine, Poland, Belgium, France, Greece, Croatia and every other country under Nazi and Fascist control, one- and a half million of their children slaughtered, their women and girls raped, and still far too many people believe that they didn’t fight back. But if anyone resisted and fled where could they find sanctuary? Who would hide them? How could my Ukrainian Jewish aunt and her family and neighbors in the small town of Lyubar have defied the einsatzruppen, Christopher Browning’s “ordinary men” and their homicidal Ukrainian and Romanian henchmen before she and others were hung and shot by them? Who actually believes that otherwise peaceable civilians could successfully battle an enemy who by 1941 had conquered much of Europe? Yet, in spite of all the obvious limits, many did fight back as best they could.

Richard Middleton-Kaplan, professor of English and Humanities at Harper College, has wisely observed, “Given the evidence that exists to disprove the myth [that Jews did not resist], a historian might consider the issue to require no further discussion. But if Jewish resistance has been amply demonstrated to specialists, public perception remains unaware of the proof.”

Patrick Henry’s masterly collection of cerebral and quite readable essays in Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis, proves that Jews fighting the Nazis and their allies, violently and nonviolently, was fairly common. Frequently relying on unfamiliar sources, Henry’s essayists depict all kinds of resistance, from futile skirmishes with a handful of axes, hammers and rocks as in the late 1944 revolt at Auschwitz, then the last remaining death camp, to the larger revolts in the Bialystok, Vilna and Warsaw ghettos. Read more ..

Book Review

A New History of American-Japanese Relations

May 25th 2014

The Currents of War

The Currents of War. Sidney L. Pash. University of Kentucky Press. 2014. 372 pp.

In recent decades the study of social history has superseded the investigation of more traditional topics such as political and diplomatic history. This trend has also been encouraged by the end of the Cold War. Nevertheless, the recent crisis in the Ukraine and Crimea re-emphasizes the significance of international diplomacy and how diplomatic failures and misunderstandings may lead to war. Within this contemporary context it is well worth taking a look at diplomatic historian Sidney Pash’s new book on the relations between Japan and the United States leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Pash, a former Fulbright Fellow in Japan and an associate professor of history at Fayetteville State University, argues that war between Japan and the United States was not the inevitable clash of two expansionist empires in the Pacific. Instead, Pash maintains that diplomatic miscalculations and assumptions, especially on the part of the United States, produced a conflict that might have been settled at the negotiating table.

Observing that following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 the victorious Japanese emerged as the greatest threat to the American Open Door in China, Pash asserts that beginning with the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt the United States developed strategies to contain Japanese expansion. According to Pash, this containment policy was based upon four pillars: maintenance of the balance of power, military deterrence, diplomatic engagement, and economic coercion. In the final analysis, Pash believes that the decision to abandon diplomatic engagement in favor of economic sanctions culminated in the Pacific War. Read more ..

Book Review

Extraordinary Women Who Shaped America's Environment

May 22nd 2014

RC and her Sisters

Rachel Carson and Her Sisters. Robert K. Musil. Rutgers University Press. 2014. 328 pp.

Despite the central role of women in the environmental movement, surprisingly little is known about them. Furthermore, what is known is usually limited to the work of Rachel Carson, whose powerful call to action, Silent Spring (1962), is widely credited with jump-starting the modern environmental movement. But, as shown by Robert Musil’s new book, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters, Carson is merely the most visible of numerous women who have had a powerful impact upon how Americans have viewed the natural environment and sought to preserve it.

Musil, who is senior fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University, first became intrigued with Carson’s life in 2007, when, 43 years after her death, rightwing talk show hosts launched vicious attacks upon her. “I wanted to know more about the roots of such venom,” he recalled. He soon “realized that there had been other Rachel Carsons long before she was born, and that many women have built on her legacy since her untimely death.”

Musil points out that, as the nineteenth century progressed, increasing numbers of American women obtained better education and the ability to travel, write, and take action. They hiked, explored, and botanized, while observing the encroachment of manufacturing and urban life on the countryside. Although restricted by gender discrimination from playing top roles in academia, the professions, and publishing, they nonetheless produced a flood of books, magazine articles, journals, and children’s stories, many of them about nature. In addition, Martha Maxwell began the development of natural history museums, while Susan Fenimore Cooper became active in the movement to stop the slaughter of birds for fashionable women’s hats. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Hollywood Company Deals in Gruesome, Ghastly Props

May 19th 2014

Human Skull

Skulls, skeletons and severed body parts - they are staples of horror movies. A Los Angeles company has found success making and marketing ghastly props for Hollywood studios and lovers of ghost stories.

Workers pour liquid foam rubber into molds to create the grisly products, including hands, heads and bloodied legs, says B J Winslow of the Hollywood business called Dapper Cadaver.

“You can come right in and grab body parts right off the shelf.  Or we can do custom project, custom fabrication for you," said Winslow.

Major movies, including the sequel to the adventure film X-Men, used these props. So did the the original and the sequel of the fantasy film 300. 

Dapper Cadaver also works with TV shows about crime, medicine and forensic science. It rents skulls and skeletons and scientific specimens in jars. But it specializes in rubber body parts.

“We work with pretty much anybody who needs a dead body.  It doesn't really matter.  We do a lot of stuff for film and television shows, stunt bodies, victims, stuff like that.  We also work with Halloween parties and events, haunted houses," said Winslow.

It takes about three days to produce a full body, after the cast is made. “A lot of times, we'll be working with a crime show where they'll send us very specific cause of death and we've got to do our gruesome research.  And some stuff is more just for fun," he said. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

New York Jewish Groups Hear Edwin Black on the New Israel Fund and BDS

May 18th 2014

Edwin Black

American Jewish groups concerned with the anti-Israel BDS movement, as well as other issues surrounding agitation NGOs in Israel, have scheduled lectures by renowned human rights author Edwin Black. The groups have summoned Black to hear revelations from his latest bestselling investigative book, Financing the Flames. That book has ignited international repercussions about the role of tax-exempt and taxpayer monies, as well as the human rights movement, in creating a culture of violence, confrontation, and paid terrorism in Israel.

Black’s previous works include the million-copy international seller IBM and the Holocaust and the award-winning JTA series “Funding Hate.”

In Financing the Flames, Black spotlights American taxpayer-supported monies funding salaries of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, as well as the organic connection of the New Israel Fund to the BDS movement, and the NIF's robust funding of “agitation human rights NGOs.”

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames

Black kicks off a three-event New York scholar-in residence beginning with a presentation May 19 at 7 p.m. at the StandWithUs-New York headquarters. StandWithUs is the lead sponsor of the tour. The next day, May 20, Black addresses a group of attorneys in a lunch-and-learn session co-sponsored by SWU and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, and other groups. He wraps up his visit with a school-wide assembly lecture to Ramban Mesivta High School in Lawrence, Long Island.

In February, Black embarked upon a parliamentary tour of four legislatures in four weeks: The House of Commons in London, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem, and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, D.C. At each stop along the way, Black astonished lawmakers with details of donor nation funding for specific terrorists under a Palestinian law called the Law of the Prisoner under the aegis of the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners. The author also spotlighted how the New Israel Fund has marshaled hundreds of millions of dollars to help establish the BDS movement and to finance confrontation NGOs, which, according to Israeli Knesset leaders and a broad swatch of Israeli military men, seem devoted to destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces and erasing the Jewish identity from the State of Israel. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

For Veterans with PTS, Battle Is Just Beginning

May 14th 2014

Troops in IED Training

Veterans can spend an entire lifetime dealing with the trauma of war.

While those with severe physical injuries can get help rehabilitating into society, those with emotional trauma often suffer in their own darkness.

Two films, one a documentary, the other a drama based on a real story, showcase the pain and loneliness of veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTS). But the films also illuminate how this darkness can be lifted.

Not Yet Begun to Fight
Steve Platcow's documentary Not Yet Begun to Fight follows Elliott Miller as he slowly heals from the physical wounds he received in Afghanistan.

“Yes, I do have some goals that I’m working towards," Miller says in the documentary, "and one is that I am working on improving my verbal communication abilities and two, I’m presently working towards getting able to legally drive again and three, well, that one I’m just going to save for myself.” Emotional healing will take longer. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

The Morning After Eurovision, Russia Gets Up On Wrong Side Of The Bed

May 11th 2014

MTV Music Awards

It was Austria's first Eurovision win in 49 years. But as dawn rose over the glitter-strewn living rooms of Europe, Russia was in no mood to offer congratulations.

"Fifty years ago, the Soviet Army occupied Austria.... We should have stayed there," harrumphed Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the voluble head of Russia's Liberal Democratic Party. "It's the end of Europe. It has turned wild."

Russia, which first joined the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, has long been one of its most enthusiastic members, embracing its ethos of kitschy pop like a natural.

But this year, as its relationship with Western Europe founders over its annexation of Crimea and separatist referendums in eastern Ukraine, it has suddenly found much to dislike in Eurovision. For one thing, its own contestants, the dewy-eyed Tolmachevy Sisters, finished a mere seventh, despite their upbeat calls for the "world to show some love." Read more ..

Film Review

The Other Woman: A Revenge Comedy that Takes Itself too Seriously

May 8th 2014

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The Other Woman. Director: Nick Cassavetes. Starring: Lesley Mann, Kate Upton, Cameron Diaz, Nickloj Coster-Waldau.

There are a few implausibilities at the heart of The Other Woman, Nick Cassavetes’s female revenge fantasy to a script by Melissa K. Stack. Everything depends on the appearance by Carly (Cameron Diaz) at the front door of the home in Connecticut shared by Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his wife, Kate (Leslie Mann). Carly is Mark’s girl-friend and, having no idea of Kate’s existence, has arrived from Manhattan to surprise him by helping, as she believes, with a household emergency.

To that end she has dressed herself up as a sexy plumber, which is in itself a fine comic idea as well as being a great set up for a funny film about the two women, later joined by a third in the scarcely believable shape of a second Mark-girlfriend, Amber (Kate Upton), teaming up to take their revenge on the love-rat. But if you’re anything like me you may be wondering how on earth did Carly know where Mark lived?

Obviously, that is, he has had to arrange his life with great care in order to keep a wife and multiple girlfriends — we later learn that there are others besides Carly and Amber — without giving any of them an opportunity to find out about the others. Is it remotely likely that he would have made the elementary, boneheaded mistake of telling Carly where he lived in Connecticut or, if she engaged in some sleuthing to find out for herself — and there’s no indication in the movie that she has done this — of telling her he was going there for the weekend? Read more ..

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