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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 ..

Iran on Edge

Iranian Takes Novel Approach To Publish Book

May 8th 2014

Facebook page

After trying and failing for years to obtain a publishing license for his novel, Iranian writer and journalist Mohammad Motlagh finally had enough. 

Instead of taking the Culture Ministry's no for answer, on April 28, Motlagh began posting his novel -- one chapter at a time -- on Facebook.

"A book is like a child to [a writer]," Motlagh explained in an interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency on May 2. "One loses the motivation to write when it is considered illegitimate and it is not being issued a birth certificate. The writer cannot work on their next work."

The 42-year-old said he decided to post the novel, "In The Land Of White Eglantines," on Facebook so that he could move on and start working on his next book. As of May 7, he had posted six chapters. He described the novel as the story of a journalist who travels with his wife to Tehran, "where he faces a series of family problems and is banished by his wife to the basement." Read more ..

The Battle for Ukraine

Russia Jeered, Ukraine Cheered, But Both Advance To Eurovision Finals

May 7th 2014

MTV Music Awards

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have dominated headlines for months, and May 6 was no exception. The only difference was the battlefield: not Mariupol or Odesa, but the blue-lit Diamond Stage in the Danish capital Copenhagen.

It was there, before tens of thousands of fans, that Ukraine's Maria Yaremchuk and Russia's Tolmachevy Sisters met with cheers and boos as they advanced to the May 10 final of Eurovision 2014.

The Tolmachevys, 17-year-old identical twins, were the first of the two to perform. Balancing atop a giant see-saw and clutching clear plastic tubes of indeterminate function, their blond tresses intertwined, the sisters performed a flawless version of "Shine," their Filip Kirkorov-penned anthem calling on the world to "show some love." 

Minutes later, Yaremchuk took to the stage for her upbeat love song, "Tick Tock." Not to be outdone by the twins' balancing act, she came armed with a substantial prop of her own -- a human-size hamster wheel, kept in motion by an admirably fit dancer throughout the length of the 3-minute song.   Read more ..

Destination America

Hollywood-related Exhibits Give Museums a Boost

May 6th 2014

Wizard of Oz

For years, audiences have flocked to museums to see exhibits of film props and iconic pop culture artifacts.

For example, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are a major draw at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Some museums are going a step further, capitalizing on audience interest by creating exhibits around new movie releases to tell real-life stories. 

That's the case with the 2012 political thriller Argo, which won four Oscar awards last year.  The film tells the story of a covert operation led by CIA agent Tony Mendez, who created a phony Canadian film crew in a scheme to rescue six U.S. diplomats who were in hiding at the Canadian Embassy in Tehran after the Iranian revolution. Argo is the subject of a recent exhibit at the International Spy Museum, where visitors can see authentic photos and documents about the operation. Read more ..

Book Review

The Life Of Jimmy Carter

May 5th 2014


Redeemer. Randall Balmer. Basic Books. 2014. 304 pp.

As Rodney Dangerfield might have put it, “Jimmy Carter gets no respect.” He has always had plenty of critics since it appeared that from the time he entered the White House he preferred an administration dedicated to making a few genuine changes. In a recent TV  interview Carter told Andrea Mitchell of NBC that President Obama has never called on him for advice as had other presidents because, he said,  “the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.” Indeed, some American Jews have shunned him because the title of one of his books included the word “Apartheid”  supposedly describing Israeli-Palestinian relations.

His emphasis on human rights deeply offended conservatives and reactionaries here and abroad, especially in dictatorial Argentina and apartheid South Africa. Few can forget the searing Iranian hostage crisis where he bore unfair blame for “weakness” in responding effectively after a botched rescue attempt. Some of the criticism was in part justified given his holier-than-thou moralizing.  For too many, then and now,  Carter as President, somehow lacked the charisma that, we are told,  many voters demand from their admired politicians, such as Ronald Reagan, for example. 

In Carter’s losing 1976 presidential re-election  campaign his fellow evangelicals and fundamentalists, including  Billy Graham, Nixon’s close friend and religious counselor, turned against him in favor of the divorced, non-churchgoing Ronald Reagan.  “His [Reagan] life  seems to be governed by a few anecdotes and vignettes that he has memorized,” went a sour entry in  Carter’s diary about his rival. “He doesn’t seem to listen to anybody who talks to him.” That’s the popular verdict among liberals, yet  despite the disapproval of many in his party Reagan chose to meet Mikhail Gorbachev halfway and thus helped end the Cold War. Read more ..

Book Review

The Currents of War: How America and Japan Talked their Way into WWII

May 2nd 2014

Click to select Image

The Currents of War: A New History of American-Japanese Relations, 1899-1941. Sidney Pash. University Press of Kentucky. 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, The Currents of War: A New History of American Japanese Relations, 1899-1941, 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 ..

Books and Authors

The Magical Realist Contributions of Gabriel García Márquez to Latin America

April 30th 2014

The death of Gabriel García Márquez, on April 17, 2014, of pneumonia, probably the consequence of his long struggle with lymphatic cancer, brought a period of Latin American and, perhaps, world literature to an end. García Márquez was best known for One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), the work that popularized magical realism—a style characterized by the presentation of fantastic events as if they were ordinary.

This novel told the story of the jungle backwater town of Macondo, ‘a village of twenty adobe houses’ and of several generations of the Buendia family, and was redolent of the bizarre, stagnating world in which the writer grew up, one which he loved despite all but which he saw desperately needed to change. He was also the author of other widely admired novels, like Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), a story of honor killing told with such intensity that we read on even though the outcome of the story is revealed at the beginning, and Love at the Time of Cholera (1985), a moving and dignified story of love regained in old age. Autumn of the Patriarch, (1975) was the ultimate ‘dictator novel’ which is both riveting and strangely horrifying, an elegy for a despicable state of political being. Read more ..

Architecture as Art

Frank Lloyd Wright's Architecture Continues to Inspire in Arizona

April 28th 2014

smart exterior building panels

 Frank Lloyd Wright is known as the father of modern American architecture.

Two historic properties in the state of Arizona show the grand expanse of his designs. One is Taliesin West - Wright’s rustic winter home and architecture school. Half-an-hour away is a Wright-influenced hotel that’s filled with eye-popping luxury. 

The splash of fountains is a refreshing counterpoint to the dry sagebrush foothills that surround Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural masterpiece, Taliesin West. Wright broke ground on this 200 hectare property in 1939. The buildings include an airy theatre for live performances, an underground “kiva” for movie shows, and the residence where Wright lived until his death in 1959.  Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Edwin Black at Yom HaShoah Ceremony Links IBM's Methods in the Holocaust to Ukraine Outrage

April 25th 2014

Edwin Black

New York Times bestselling Holocaust author Edwin Black will keynote the nation’s oldest Yom HaShoah Holocaust commemoration, April 27, 2014, at a community-wide ceremony at Shomrei Torah, the Wayne Conservative Congregation in Wayne, New Jersey. In what is expected to be a riveting presentation, Black will not only explain how IBM consciously co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust, but he will link the methodology IBM invented for the Nazis to the recent headline-grabbing anti-Jewish events in the Ukraine. The event is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

For the first time, Black will allow more than a dozen smoking-gun documents proving IBM’s culpability to be used as a poster display. The enlarged documents include examples of IBM punch cards, the secret codes IBM used to quantify the pace of gas chamber murders, as well as examples of Big Blue’s “Extermination by Labor” program. The commemoration committee requested the documents as a public service.

In an interview in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Black stated, “The methodologies of the Holocaust that I document in ‘IBM and the Holocaust’ — including registration and property itemization — instantly come flooding back to our collective consciousness the very moment unrest subsumed the Ukraine,” he said. “I intend to remind the Wayne audience of this event as a prelude to my more specific revelations about IBM’s role in the Holocaust. And what was that role? A prime mission of IBM was to register all the Jews of Europe for the Nazis. You see that the impulse never dies. In this century, it would be accomplished not with punch cards, but with computers; not with a painstaking 1940s clerical process, but in the twinkling of a digital eye.” Read more ..

Book Review

My Promised Land: Deeply Disappointing Tour de Force

April 25th 2014

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My Promised Land. Ari Shavit. Spiegel and Grau. 2013. 464 pp.

I have just finished reading Ari Shavit’s tour de force “My Promised Land”. It left me deeply disappointed and angry.

Shavit is one of Israel’s most talented and erudite columnists. He is a passionate Zionist and proud Israeli whose patriotism cannot be challenged.

His superb portrayal of history and life in Israel has received extraordinary acclaim which even extended to the anti-Israeli orientated liberal media. His book was selected as one of the Notable Books of 2013 by The New York Times Book Review.

To qualify for this endorsement he paid a regrettable price. He included one chapter which is so far out of kilter with his otherwise laudable book, that one suspects it was deliberately written to achieve endorsement from the liberal glitterati for whom debasement of the Jewish state has become a key component of their liberal DNA.

As the Yiddish expression puts it, Shavit attempted to dance simultaneously at two weddings in order to ingratiate himself with all parties. To achieve his aim, he compiled this dark chapter which implies that the Jewish state was born of the sin of military victory and inflicted needless brutal suffering on the indigenous Arab population.

Titled “Lydda 1948”, the chapter effectively endorses the core of the Palestinian narrative of dispossession. It describes, inaccurately, the battle of the Arab town in central Palestine that would become the city of Lod and the expulsion of the Arabs from that town. In summary, it argues that the events which transpired during and following the battle prove that the Jewish state was born in sin. Shavit alleges that we are now obliged to come to terms with the misdeeds (“The Black Box of Zionism”), that our forebears inflicted on the indigenous Arab inhabitants in the course of our birth. Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

April 24th 2014


Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called Easy Gone with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe.

Bonneville's musical presentations are spare and focus on the mood, sentiment or story. Many of his songs have a blues quality, but he says he picked up all kinds of styles playing small clubs and bars across America.

“People call me a blues man, but really what I am is, I am influenced by blues music, but not just by blues music. I am influenced by country music and rhythm and blues,” Bonneville said. Bonneville’s music also reflects a life that began with his French-speaking family in Canada, where he first picked up a guitar. When he was 12, his family moved to the United States where he later worked as a cab driver among other things, playing music mostly for himself. Read more ..

Financing the Flames

NIF Parade Fracas Pushes Outraged Jewish Groups to Define Mainstream

April 23rd 2014

Edwin Black

If a small group of grass-roots Jewish organizations have their way, more than one hundred protestors will assemble in New York City on April 29, 2014, each carrying a shofar. On cue, at 5:30 in the afternoon, rain or shine, all will raise their curved rams' horns, long and short, and wail to the heavens in visceral unison producing a piercing spectacle of protest. The cacophonous alarums will continue their outcry until the shofar blowers feel they have made their point.

What are they protesting? It is their communal leadership.

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The dissident shofar blowers will assemble in front of the 59th Street headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York. The Federation's beneficiary, the Jewish Community Relations Council, is the chief organizer of the Celebrate Israel Parade scheduled for June 1. The upbeat procession of floats, runners, and marchers is normally a public show of Jewish unity in support of Israel. But this year, the parade has become a maelstrom of disunity over the participation of the controversial New Israel Fund and other groups which recent revelations now link to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement and the campaign to delegitimize Israel internationally.

The outrage in some American, Jewish, and Israeli circles over the NIF's inclusion in the highly visible parade, formerly known as the Israel Day Parade, may be more than just a passing horn blast. The discontent may be energizing a historic decision among American Jews. Just what constitutes the Jewish mainstream? Is American Jewry about to set limits on its open tent of inclusion, a precept the community wears as a badge of honor?

More than a few American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by such groups as the J Street lobby, the New Israel Fund, and other organizations that constitute a powerful, well-funded minority able to wage war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people. "These groups are anti-Jewish," says Judith Freedman Kadish, special project director of Americans for a Safe Israel, "and they are funding groups that are anti-Semitic. They just veil their actions by saying they are trying to influence public policy and an occupation." The accused organizations and their defenders in the Jewish media and within the Jewish activist community vigorously insist their activities are simply democratic dissent aimed at solving Israel's problems. Read more ..

The Edge of Theater

Synetic Theater Celebrates Shakespeare Anniversary with Historic Hamlet

April 21st 2014


April 23 marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of famed playwright William Shakespeare.

A Washington-area theater company recently marked the occasion with a revival of its original wordless version of Hamlet from its well-regarded “Silent Shakespeare” Series.

Synetic Theater Company's Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili kicked off their independent career in 2002 with this silent version of Hamlet - which earned several major local awards.

The immigrant couple from Georgia -- Director Paata Tsikurishvili and Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili -- started the Arlington, Virginia-based company 12 years ago. The husband and wife team starred as Hamlet and Ophelia in that first production. Paata Tsikurishvili says that is how Synetic’s critically-acclaimed “Silent Shakespeare” Series started.

“Hamlet opened the door for us in a theater community and brought us many awards and recognition. That was a start for Synetic Theater that spread the word about the theater company that we are doing Shakespeare without text which is unusual and the same time very accessible,“ she said. The company uses music, dance and pantomime to tell the story.

This time, Irina appeared on stage as Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother.  She says that Shakespearian language is universal -- and allows for a lot of creativity. “We’ve done Shakespeare in many different ways: we’ve done Shakespeare in ((the)) Twenties in Twelfth Night; we had also Shakespeare on the sand, it was King Lear; and we’ve done The Tempest in water," Tsikurishvili said. Read more ..

Arts of the World

Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

April 19th 2014

fruit basket

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. One artist lucky enough to be selected said sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.

Basket artist Jackie Abrams began making traditional, functional baskets in 1975. Today, she makes two lines of contemporary baskets using non-traditional materials.

“One are [is] coiled baskets using a very traditional coil technique where it’s stitched… and for that I use recycled fabric,” she explained. “I also weave other baskets with a heavy cotton paper and wire to make a form…reminiscent of a woman’s form,” said Abrams. She describes her coiled baskets as her "Spirit Vessels." "The exposed cores represent their essential beings, their solid inner cores, giving strength, always visible. Each stitch connects and reinforces the rows that came before. The frayed edges are a part of their lives," she said. Read more ..

The Edge of Religon

Early Hindu, Buddhist Works on View in New York

April 18th 2014

Ivolga Buddhist Monastery

Few traces remain of the early Southeast Asian societies that produced the Hindu and Buddhist sculptures in a monumental new exhibit opening April 14, 2014 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Five years in the making, “Lost Kingdoms” shows works from the 5th to the 8th century, an era when Hinduism and Buddhism took root in Southeast Asia.

"We're shedding a spotlight on the very early kingdoms of Southeast Asia, almost unknown," said Thomas Campbell, director of the museum. "This is an area from which the corpus is minute: It's only a few hundred pieces,” he said. “And we have essentially brought the greatest pieces here to the Metropolitan, so, for the first time, the public can really see the development, the evolution of culture in this early period in this region of the world."

Most of the 160 works have not previously been seen outside their home countries, he said. They include national treasures lent by Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and, for the first time, Burma, also known as Myanmar, in addition to Western collectors and museums. Read more ..

Books and Authors

After Anatevka: Tevye Finds a New Life in the Holy Land

April 17th 2014

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After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine. Mitchell G. Bard. CreateSpace. 2013. 380 pp.

After Anatevka follows Sholom Aleichem’s timeless character, Tevye the milkman, as he moves his family from Russia to Palestine. Tevye, the wisecracking, Bible-quoting man of God, tells the story of his family’s new life against the backdrop of the conflict between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land prior to the establishment of the State of Israel.

In After Anatevka, Tevye decides to take his wife and three youngest daughters (the three eldest remain in Russia with their husbands) to live on a kibbutz where he must adjust to a secular lifestyle and struggle with the tension between the kibbutzniks’ “religion” of labor and his Jewish beliefs.

While Tevye is uncomfortable with the lack of religiosity on the kibbutz, he is gratified to be the one who can teach the laws and traditions of Judaism to the members. As the most learned man on the secular kibbutz, Tevye takes on his long desired role to be the authority on Jewish law who is sought out for answers to difficult questions of law and religion. See video here.

The clash between tradition and life in Palestine manifests itself, however, in Tevye’s relationship with his daughters, who become assimilated in the kibbutz culture. For example, Tevye is thrilled to learn that one daughter wants to marry the son of a wealthy Jew from the city, but is dismayed when he discovers the young man is a socialist who is estranged from his family. Read more ..

The Edge of Books

Best-selling Author Malcolm Gladwell Leads Group Supporting Lawsuit Against Google’s Digital Theft of Books

April 17th 2014

google logo

Prize-winning authors, international rights organizations, and legal experts Monday joined the Authors Guild in fighting what they call Google’s dangerous and unprecedented violation of copyright law. They filed eight stinging friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the Guild’s appeal in Authors Guild v. Google, agreeing that Judge Denny Chin’s decision in the case should be overturned. The briefs can be viewed in their entirety at the end of this blog post.

“Google’s ambitions respected no borders,” said Authors Guild president Roxana Robinson. “Millions of copyrighted books by authors from every major country were swept in to Google’s scheme. As the new filings demonstrate, not just authors but also photographers, visual artists, songwriters, and publishers around the world find it particularly galling that a wealthy American company would try to find a way to use their creations for free.” Read more ..

Book Review

Future States: How the New World Order Will Come to Be

April 16th 2014

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Future States: From International to Global Political Order. Stephen Paul Haig. Surrey: Ashgate. 2013. 272 pp.

Stephen Haigh has written a comprehensive and provocative book on the future of the nation state and how the world order is likely to alter as governments and the global population become increasingly interconnected. He argues that “the novel pressures applied to Westphalian geology by universal, globalizing forces have resulted in major upheaval: there is no going back, since what was thought to be bedrock is proving infirm.”

The goal of this essay is to discuss Haigh’s thesis and major arguments from a Latin American perspective. Haigh explains that “globalization does not leave states untouched… the pressures it exerts are transforming states into political arenas that must accommodate universal and particular as true complements.” While one is not prepared to challenge that globalization is affecting the world order, some of his arguments are not fully applicable to Latin America.

Thesis and Sources

Haigh argues that the future of nation states will be the creation of a new global order, which he labels as neo-medievalism, where the Westphalian system will still exist, but will have adapted to a more interconnected world. He also acknowledges the benefits, and potential perils, of growing cosmopolitan societies, specifically the “thick” globalization and the role of transnational entities (be they corporations, ethnic movements or criminal entities). It should be stressed that this debate is carried out largely from a theoretical point of view, despite his utilization of brief case studies, such as, the future of the European Union regarding integration among its plethora of members or U.S. foreign policy after 9/11. Read more ..

Books and Authors

The Blue Man: Stories and Mysteries of Human Skin

April 15th 2014

The Blue Man and Other Stories of the Skin. Robert A. Norman. University of California Press. 2014. 160 pp.

In The Blue Man and Other Stories of the Skin, I try to reveal how lucky we are to have such a magical and amazing natural covering—our skin. Our skin and ourselves are partners in a world that thrives every day as one nourishes and protects and even learns from the other.

Yet at times there is a breakdown in our cherished skin barrier and in the pages of The Blue Man I try to explore both the reason and stories behind it. The book includes the agony of certain diseases and their attendant psychological toll, how the skin and our perception of it influence our social, cultural, spiritual and physical being—and how we can learn and grow from our new knowledge.

Step into my office. Each day I try to heal the pain, both psychological and physical, that illness of the skin causes people. On many days, my primary role is that of a nurturer, and I explain that many of the skin diseases are not only chronic in nature but at best only palliative care can be provided. Although there may be a general perception that patients are only minimally affected by their skin conditions, those that have protracted and severe conditions often endure serious psychosocial repercussions.

Not only can their occupational lives be harshly disrupted, but all activities of daily living, including sleep, hobbies and social contact may be disturbed. Using the Dermatology Life Quality Index (DLQI), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and other Quality of Life (QOL) studies, researchers have uncovered significant impairments of work, school, and personal relationships. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Simon Schama's 'The Story of the Jews': A Noble Past with Lessons for the Present

April 14th 2014

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A remarkable montage opens the fifth and final part of The Story of the Jews, the BBC documentary series written and presented by the historian Simon Schama. It is early morning in Tel Aviv, and Schama is pacing the streets as the city comes to life. Cars snake around a busy intersection, someone tunes a radio, an elderly lady sits on a public bench gazing at the passing traffic. And then, suddenly, the familiar hubbub is pierced by the sound of a siren. The proximate cause is not a surprise attack, but an annual act of remembrance.

It is Yom Ha-Shoah, and for one minute on this day every year, Israelis stop what they are doing to pay silent tribute to the millions exterminated during the Holocaust. As Schama’s visual representation of the siren’s impact unfolds, drivers step outside of their vehicles, while doctors and nurses scurrying around a busy hospital become motionless. High school students put their pens down and stand quietly at their desks. At an army base, IDF soldiers salute as an Israeli flag flutters in the breeze. In a retirement home, the residents shuffle to their feet; one woman, her arm marked with tattooed numbers, blinks with an air of disbelief as she stands, head bowed, deep in reflection. Read more ..

Film Review

Le Week-End: Baby Boomers in Love

April 11th 2014

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Le Week-End. Director: Roger Michel. Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, Jeff Goldblum, Judith Davis. Length: 90 mins.

You can’t not love and hate the same person," says Nick (Jim Broadbent) to Meg (Lindsay Duncan) — "usually in the space of five minutes, in my experience." It’s the kind of writerly line — the writer in this case being Hanif Kureishi — that looks good on the page but proves a real bear the moment you try to illustrate it dramatically. In the case of Le Week-End, directed by Roger Michel (who also collaborated with Mr Kureishi on The Mother and Venus, both about mismatched sexual partners), Mr Kureishi has made it even more difficult for himself by putting his characters through the kind of mutually self-lacerating dialogue that makes Nick and Meg reminiscent of George and Martha in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But sooner or later there comes out of nowhere — spoiler alert! — a plainly contrived peripeteia, after which love may be supposed to come on shift to take over for hate. It’s supposed to be a comedy, after all.

At the end you may find yourself asking, as I did, what was that about? The answer, I guess, is an excuse for an outpouring of liberal, or rather leftie, angst and disappointment at how the world has turned out for people of a certain age — Mr Broadbent and Miss Duncan are both elder baby boomers — compared with what they expected from it as young would-be revolutionaries in the 1960s. Hence the setting in Paris, which is where Nick and Meg spent their honeymoon and presumably imbibed some of the enthusiasm of the soixante-huitards — he as a self-proclaimed anarchist and minor-league academic philosopher and she as a member of "the feminist Taliban" (at least according to her now-disgruntled husband). "I was brilliant at school, a star at university; I’m amazed at how mediocre I have turned out to be," says morose Nick early on in the proceedings. You can see where this is going. Read more ..

Film Review

Noah: A Significant Departure from the Biblical Source Material

April 9th 2014

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Noah. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson. Length: 138 mins.

If there is anything that is clear about the occasionally unclear Judeo-Christian Scriptural account of the Creation, it is that it was an act of anthropocentrism. Mankind was seen by the author or authors of Genesis as the masterwork of God, who is said to have created man in his own image and to have given him dominion over the rest of the creation. All the rest of the Bible, in both Testaments, has to do with God’s relationship with men, not animals or any other part of the Creation.

Accordingly, if there is any doctrine or belief about or representation of the Biblical account which we can be sure is false to it and to its spirit, it is the fashionable view among the literary hangers-on of the environmentalist movement that mankind is a disease of nature or a bit of filth from which the properly natural world needs to be purified. “The world has cancer, and the cancer is man,” as the Club of Rome’s Mankind at the Turning-Point puts it.

That is not a possible point of view for anyone claiming to be “true to the essence, values, and integrity” of the Biblical story of Noah, as Darren Aronofsky and the other makers of Noah do. Yet their Noah (played by Russell Crowe) would be right at home among the Club of Rome types. In short, he is a nut job. J. Hoberman, who thinks the movie “the most Jewish biblical blockbuster ever made,” says that it “presents the spectacle of a literal-minded patriarch run amok.”

But to be literal-minded you need a literal text, a piece of writing, to be literal-minded about. Neither the Biblical nor the movie Noah has any such thing. The God of the Old Testament speaks directly to Noah and is all business about what the latter is to do and the exact dimensions of the Ark he is to build. The movie Noah gets his instructions from “the Creator” (as he is always referred to there) in dreams or agonized and picturesque meditations, just like the radical environmentalists of today whom he so much resembles. We don’t know exactly what these instructions are, but they apparently include what he believes to be an order to murder his own new-born grand-daughters. As A.O. Scott of The New York Times delicately puts it, “Noah’s instability — he walks up to the boundary that separates faith from fanaticism, and then leaps across it — is not, strictly speaking, in the source material.” Read more ..

Book Review

Communism and McCarthyism in Cold War New York

April 8th 2014

Red Apple

Red Apple. Phillip Deery. Fordham Universiy Press. 2014. 240 pp.

In June 1950, Edward Barsky went to jail. So did ten other members of the board of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC). Their crime? They refused to relinquish to the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) membership and other lists of their organization, which had been dedicated since its founding in 1942 to helping European anti-fascists in hiding and exile. This act of defiance by Barsky and his JAFRC colleagues was heroic and constitutionally justified, as the United States Supreme Court eventually confirmed in a case protecting NAACP membership lists from scrutiny by white supremacist state governments: According to the Court, the threat of publicity and reprisal compromised the right of political association. In the Barsky case that reprisal could be deadly. Among the names on JAFRC lists were those of former Spanish Loyalists still hiding out in Spain and elsewhere across Europe; exposure would potentially put them in the hands of Franco’s brutal secret police.

But until the Court decided the NAACP case in 1958, HUAC had its way. And what, after all, did the committee want with that list or any of the other membership lists it subpoenaed in the long nightmare we call “McCarthyism?” As this fine little book by Australian historian Phillip Deery makes clear, reprisal and intimidation were the whole point. Deery traces the campaign against JAFRC through the lives of five of its members, most of them relatively unknown in the history of McCarthyism. Their stories, heroic, tragic and painful, are well worth reading.

Barsky and the JAFRC’s ordeal began in 1945, when a newly reconstituted HUAC launched their first post-war inquisition of the American left. That date is important. This was the “first flexing of political muscle by HUAC,” Deery writes. And its successful attack on JAFRC established the “framework…for future congressional inquisitions that were to become such an emblematic feature of McCarthyism.” Moreover, the fact that the assault on JAFRC “commenced very early in the postwar period,” underscores an important truth about McCarthyism: It started a good two years before the beginning of the Cold War. So, as a new generation of Cold War historians is beginning to make clear, the Red Scare was not triggered by an unmistakable Soviet menace against the United States. That threat could not be plausibly identified until at least 1947. By that year, Barsky and his associates had already been convicted in a federal court. Among them were two New York University professors, Edwin Berry Burgum and Lyman Bradley, as well as the novelist Howard Fast and JAFRC executive secretary, Helen Bryan, a Quaker activist. Only some of them were Communists. All of them spent time in jail. Read more ..

Book Review

An Icon of the Black Freedom Struggle

April 5th 2014


Stokely: A Life. Peniel E. Joseph. Basic Cicitas Books. 2014. 424 pp.

Stokely Carmichael was an icon of the black freedom struggle during the late 1960s and early 1970s. His call for black power frightened many whites, while providing black Americans with a sense of pride and empowerment.  Yet today Carmichael is largely forgotten, unlike Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., who have maintained their iconic status in the history books and popular imagination. Peniel E. Joseph, professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Tufts University and a leading scholar of the black power movement, seeks to correct this oversight with a well-researched and written biography of Carmichael. Drawing upon extensive archival research internationally and in the United State (including declassified FBI surveillance), along with interviews from Carmichael’s associates and close analysis of the activist’s many speeches, Joseph crafts a sympathetic but not uncritical account of the controversial civil rights leader.

Born in 1941 on the island of Trinidad, Carmichael followed his parents to New York City in 1952. His father Adolphus was a carpenter who believed in the American dream, but Stokely always insisted that his stoic father worked himself into an early grave in pursuit of that elusive dream. The family lived in a largely white Italian neighborhood, and Carmichael was one of the few black students at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. He sought a different college experience, enrolling at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and becoming involved with the civil rights movement through the Nonviolent Action Group. Although critics of Carmichael later claimed that he was fond of radical rhetoric but was averse to the dangers of confrontation with the white establishment, Joseph illustrates that as a college student Carmichael spent his summers in the South where he was beaten and arrested, serving time in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm state prison. Read more ..

Film Review

The Lunchbox: A Lovely Film Where Less is More

April 1st 2014

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The Lunchbox. Director: Ritesh Batra. Starring: Nimrat Kaur, Sashiv Kondaji Pokarkar, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Irrfan Khan.

The word for "lunchbox" in Hindi is dabba, and the people who deliver lunchboxes, mostly from their wives at home to husbands working in the ever-growing office population of Bombay — which the politically correct are now commanded to re-name "Mumbai" — are called dabbawallahs. As we are reminded in Dabba or The Lunchbox, directed by Ritesh Batra from his own screenplay, the system devised by the dabbawallahs for getting the right lunchbox to the right recipient is world-famous for not making mistakes in spite of its not being the product of modern electronic information-management. Why, their system has been studied by Harvard University, as her dabbawallah (Sadashiv Kondaji Pokarkar) proudly informs lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) when she complains that he has been taking the lunchbox she prepares every day to a man who is not her husband. He is sure he could not have made the mistake she and we know he has made.

This is a vital piece of information in the film because it is against the background of the supposed infallibility of the system that both Ila and Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan), the sad widower who is receiving her husband’s lunchboxes, gradually come to see the mistake as no mistake at all. As the puppyish Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Saajan’s young protégé and designated successor at the company from which he is about to retire, quotes his mother as saying, "Sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station."

That Shaikh, an orphan, treats his mother as being still alive and continuing to dispense wisdom is, perhaps, a similar kind of mistake. The perfect system of the dabbawallahs thus stands for the dispensation of the gods or the fates in the film, who have a natural place in every truly romantic story and who may, likewise, be supposed to be right even when they are wrong. Read more ..

Film Review

Grand Budapest Hotel: Fun, Glib and Whimsical

April 1st 2014

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The Grand Budapest Hotel. Director: Wes Anderson. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Adrian Brody, Tom Wilkinson.

Wes Anderson’s long flirtation with whimsy has finally resulted in their tying the knot in The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m afraid that the union cannot be a very happy one, at least not for film-goers, though it does provide a certain amount of fun. In Bottle Rocket (1996), Rushmore (1998) and, to a lesser extent, The Royal Tenenbaums, of 2001, Mr Anderson still had one foot planted in reality, but since then he has been steadily losing this toehold, presumably on account of being told too often how delightfully whimsical are such subsequent productions as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), The Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) and Moonrise Kingdom (2012).

The last-named at least had something semi-serious to say about the kind of childish innocence which must have produced its whimsy in the first place, and if Grand Budapest Hotel has a similar saving grace, it is the performance of Ralph Fiennes in the role of Gustav H., said to be the Hotel’s legendary concierge in the 1930s. Mr Fiennes’s hitherto unsuspected talent for comedy makes the scenes he is in, which are most of those in the movie, a constant delight, in spite of periodic reminders that the dialogue is not natural to him.

You may frequently hear, for example, the characteristic British pronunciation of the distinctively American "swear" word "goddamn" with a single medial "d" instead of the authentic double-d of us red-blooded Americans. It’s a dead giveaway, not only to his own origins but to those of the movie itself. As his character is supposed to be neither British nor American but someone of indeterminate nationality living in the fictional country of Zubrowka, said improbably to have been once the seat of a great empire, in an even more fictional version of Mitteleuropa between the wars, the jarring effect of his Read more ..

Book Review

The Story of Eva Tanguay

March 31st 2014

Queen of Vaudeville

Queen of Vaudeville. Andrew L. Erdman. Cornell University Press. 2012. 320 pp.

In 1910, the most famous and highest paid woman in the most popular entertainment medium in the United States, vaudeville, was a leggy but not particularly attractive singer-dancer-comedienne who had no special talent for singing, dancing, or comedy. Appearing in an unkempt mop of blonde, curly hair and wackily flamboyant costumes, Eva Tanguay raced, pranced, skipped, and whirled across the stage, dancing hyperactively, telling jokes, and singing songs, often about herself, in a high-pitched, almost screechy voice that seemed always on the verge of breaking into her cackling laugh. Preceded and followed by wild publicity wherever she performed across America, she billed herself modestly as “The Girl Who Made Vaudeville Famous.” And today she is all but forgotten.

It is surprising that Andrew Erdman’s book is Tanguay’s first biography, popular or academic. Even the mid-twentieth century nostalgia industry, bent on making a profit from memories of “the good old days” all but overlooked Tanguay. Erdman discusses the biopic of 1952, “The I Don’t Care Girl,” starring the immortal Mitzi Gaynor but, as he rightly notes, the film not only makes a hash of her life, it was much more about Hollywood than it was about Tanguay. This book, in contrast, goes to great and admirable lengths to get the story right. In the end, however, like Eva Tanguay’s signature song and her act in general, The Queen of Vaudeville leaves us wondering why we should care.

Tanguay was born in Quebec in 1878, but grew up in the mill town of Holyoke, Massachusetts, a place that saw its share of late 19th century theatrical troupes, circuses, medicine shows, and variety performers. She took up performing as a child at amateur nights and local stage presentations, and began touring professionally at age 10 as the title character in a theater troupe’s version of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Tanguay’s activities in her teen years remain difficult to discern: she seems to have worked in various performing groups, and Erdman argues convincingly, if from circumstantial evidence, that she had an illegitimate daughter, born when Tanguay was around 18, who was then raised by her brother. Tanguay rose into public notice in the frothy popular musical stage shows when she was in her early to mid-twenties, playing flighty, bubbly characters. In these shows, according to Erdman, Tanguay discovered “the powerful appeal of freakish, kinesthetic energy mixed with a useful show of leg and curve.” (p. 55) In 1904 a producer decided to build a show around Tanguay called The Sambo Girl. The show was successful, and Tanguay scored a great hit with the song, “I Don’t Care,” that defined her stage persona for the rest of her life:

I don’t care, I don’t care,
What they may think of me,
I’m happy go lucky,
Men say I am plucky,
So jolly and care free . . . Read more ..

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