Books and Authors
|Martin Barillas||February 18th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
In a hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels, members of the deliberative body heard how a number of charitable organizations funded by public money are financing the flames that make peace in Israel more difficult.
The conference was organized by EP Member Michal Kaminski, who hails from Poland. The legislators heard from Edwin Black, an American investigative journalist and author of several books who specializes in human rights and the interplay between economics and politics in the Middle East.
Black presented his latest book on the subject, which shows how, instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do. In 'Fanning the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel', Black shows how tax exempt non-profits are actually funding terrorists and delegitimize Israeli authority.
Edwin Black said on February 12 of his investigation, "I was struck by the amount of money that’s going into the Palestinian Authority and the fact that it’s going to promote peace and reconciliation. But it’s actually accomplishing the opposite, funding a specific terrorism program which is actually administered by the Ministry of Prisoners in the Palestinian Authority, pursuant to a law, called the law of the prisoner, which creates monthly salaries for convicted terrorists which escalate by the number of people that are killed. This is open, it is known, it is not denied and they’re getting this money from the EU and from the United States tax payer." Read more ..
|Bernard von Bothmer||February 17th 2014|
The Man He Became. James Toobin. Simon & Schuster. 2013. 384 pp.
In The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, James Toobin, who teaches in the Department of Media, Journalism and Film at Miami of Ohio, shows that, above all, Roosevelt’s is a great story, one full of drama, multiple what-ifs, incredible highs, and unfathomable lows. Toobin vividly brings FDR’s journey to life.
Yes, Roosevelt’s tale has been well told by a wide variety of accomplished historians. But Toobin’s book is unique in that it focuses on the crucial period following his 1921 polio diagnosis up until his election to the presidency in 1932. This is the story of not only FDR’s struggle with polio, but of the Democratic Party in the 1920s, and Roosevelt’s tenuous place in it.
How much did polio shape the essential character of the man? After reading this account, one can only come to the conclusion: a whole lot—and probably even more than anyone will ever know.
Everyone experiences setbacks in life. But Roosevelt’s was one of the most dramatic in American political history. Before polio, FDR had it all: health, wealth, charm, education, and an unlimited future. “Had he ever been unnerved, even seriously frightened?” (79) Toobin asks. Probably not, it is safe to presume. After the onset of polio, he would need assistance the rest of his life with everything that he did. When FDR was told he had polio, Eleanor Roosevelt recalled, his face took on an expression that she said she saw but one other time: when he was informed about the Pearl Harbor attack.
Yet as Toobin notes, polio might have, rather astonishingly, actually made him president; had Roosevelt remained in politics and public life in the early-to-mid 1920s, during the Republican ascendency, and during Al Smith’s reign as New York’s governor, he would have surely lost many elections. Timing is everything, and he had the good fortune to be elected governor of New York in 1928 and then reelected in 1930 just as the Depression began. The wilderness years actually benefited FDR, politically speaking. Read more ..
Iran on Edge
|Charles Recknagel||February 11th 2014|
When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in Iran 35 years ago on February 11, Iran's filmmakers had good reason to worry.
The strict code of censorship ushered in by the Islamic Revolution convinced many that creativity and film were no longer compatible in Iran.
Yet today, despite the continuing strict censorship rules governing them, Iran's artistic films -- as opposed to the country's commercial-release films -- are universally acclaimed as among the most innovative and important participants in international film festivals.
The filmmakers' ability to overcome the suffocation of censorship, while still working under it, is one of the rare successes in the daily struggle ordinary Iranians wage to have greater personal freedom under an authoritarian regime. At the same time, the battle against censorship has had a great influence in forging the look and style of Iranian art films, which have earned a place of distinction in the eyes of film lovers worldwide. Read more ..
|James Bowman||February 11th 2014|
Lone Survivor. Director: Peter Berg. Starring: Mark Wahlberg. Length: 90 mins.
After only six weeks in release, Lone Survivor is closing in on the box office record set last year by Zero Dark Thirty for movies about our post-9/11 wars. Yet it has received little publicity compared not just with Kathryn Bigelow’s film, which courted controversy with scenes of torture that portrayed the torturers sympathetically, but also with the string of anti-war flops that came before it. Hollywood and the media desperately wanted people to like those movies for the sake of their political agenda, but people didn’t like them and didn’t go to see them.
Zero Dark Thirty at least looked to people like it was pro-American. Lone Survivor, directed by Peter Berg, has carefully removed the (allegedly "right-wing") politics in the true-life account by the actual lone survivor, Marcus Luttrell (played in the movie by Mark Wahlberg), of a Navy SEAL operation in Afghanistan in 2005 that went badly wrong, and people are flocking to it. The critics and the media generally have taken a somewhat more sour view, sometimes supplying their own political subtext out of frustration with Mr Berg’s reticence. Richard Corliss’s clueless review in Time was headlined: "Why Are We in Afghanistan?"
The movie itself is the best argument for regarding that question as supremely irrelevant from the point of view of the SEALs and those, still the majority of Americans, who identify themselves with such brave men rather than the intellectually stateless moralists. Ever since the media and the film industry were captured by the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era, it has been almost impossible for us to see war in the movies or on television as combat soldiers see it, which is with more or less complete disregard for the political or diplomatic side of things, except where that prevents them, as increasingly it does, from doing their job. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Carla Babb||February 10th 2014|
On February 9, 1964, the Beatles made their U.S. television debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Millions of viewers rocked to the performance that sparked a musical revolution. In fact, Nielsen ratings say nearly half of all U.S. television sets in use at the time were tuned in to the broadcast of the variety show.
Fifty years after Beatlemania began, tributes to the band can be seen from the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles to JFK International Airport in New York, where the band first landed on American soil.
Karen Gromada, a teenager when the Beatles hit it big, showed up at JFK Airport with a poster of band member Paul McCartney in hand to celebrate the anniversary. "I was watching the TV that night on the 9th and taking pictures of the TV as a 13-year-old just rapt," Gromada said. "I've been a fan always." Others at the JFK anniversary celebration included John Lennon's sister, Julia Baird, and Jillian L'Eplatenier, one of the Pan Am flight attendants on the Beatles' first flight to New York. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Greg Flakus||February 9th 2014|
In the early 1900s, a sound came out of African-American communities in the southern U.S. states that came to be called the blues. Some of the deepest roots of the music come from the rich farming region known as the Mississippi Delta.
A little over a century ago, poor African-American laborers in Mississippi took up European instruments like the guitar and harmonica to play soulful and expressive music called the blues.
It was a time when the rich fields of the Delta region required many laborers. Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the Delta Blues Museum, was a transportation hub then, according to museum director Shelley Ritter. "With so many farms, there was an opportunity for a lot of work and then we had the river here and the railroad was here," she said.
One of the largest exhibits in the museum is the reassembled farm cabin where famed bluesman Muddy Waters once lived. He and other bluesmen honed their skills in Clarksdale, which offered workers music and more. "On Saturdays or on weekends, when the laborers were given time off, they would all come into town and avail themselves of all the vices, if you will, as well as the wares," Ritter said. Read more ..
|Luther Spoehr||February 8th 2014|
Breaking the Line. Samuel G. Freedman. Simon & Schuster. 2013. 338 pp.
First on this review’s agenda, a note to the publisher: For many years, a common approach to nonfiction titles and subtitles was to have an attention-getting, but somewhat mysterious, phrase as the title, followed by a subtitle that explained what the book was really about. Recently, however, the marketing departments have evidently taken charge, especially of the subtitle, and a remarkably creative lot they are not. Little known people or events are invariably being hyped as “transformative,” as “changing the course” of history. (This morning’s spam from Amazon.com about “New and Notable History Books” brought news of both Tomorrow-Land: The 1964-65 World's Fair and the Transformation of America and Ping-Pong Diplomacy: The Secret History Behind the Game That Changed the World.) But you, Simon & Schuster, by using BOTH “transformed” and “changed the course” in your subtitle, have finally exhausted my patience. Enough, already! Stop it!
Samuel Freedman’s books—this is his seventh—don’t need that kind of crude hyperventilating. His The Inheritance: How Three Families and America Moved from Roosevelt to Reagan and Beyond (1996)—note the non-bloviating subtitle-- was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The subtitle of Small Victories (1991), an engaging exploration of urban education, was helpful and modest: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students, and Their High School.
Freedman doesn’t try all that hard to deliver what the subtitle promises, and it’s just as well. His story about the paths that brought Jake Gaither’s Florida A&M Rattlers and Eddie Robinson’s Grambling Tigers to the 1967 Orange Blossom Bowl, widely viewed as the championship of black college football, is well told. But despite the author’s rhetorical gestures towards defining it as a turning point, it’s clear that the event, which drew a large crowd to Miami’s Orange Bowl, was just one more step on the long and winding road to black equality. Indeed, Freedman tacks on a chapter about the Tampa Classic of 1969, which pitted Florida A&M against the all-white University of Tampa—and was arguably more of a turning point than the Orange Blossom Bowl: “Such a contest had never taken place in the South.” Read more ..
|Murray Polner||February 7th 2014|
The Burglary. Betty Medsgar. Knopf. 2014. 608 pp.
During and after World War I, and especially after the notorious Palmer Raids, the government and a legion of vigilantes went hunting for “subversive” left-wingers. Phones were tapped and postal workers opened mail, which led an old-fashioned traditionalist named Henry L. Stimson, Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State, to close down the government’s cryptological section in 1929 with a quaint warning, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” How charming, how innocent, how calming.
In late 1970, however, William Davidon, “a mild-mannered physics professor at Haverford College,” writes Betty Medsger, decided to issue a frontal challenge to government snoopers (full-discloser: I interviewed him several times about another case) and “privately asked a few people this question: ‘What do you think of burglarizing an FBI office?’”
Davidon hated the Vietnam War and a draft which forced reluctant kids into the military, which he believed had helped make the country an imperial, warrior state. Inspired by pacifist men of action Dan Berrigan and A.J. Muste, he wanted to do more than march and picket and lend his name to antiwar ads.
To do so, he recruited six like-minded men and two women who “were looking for more powerful nonviolent ways to protest the war.” Betty Medsger’s striking and well-paced investigative reportage in The Burglary, sympathetically describes the burglars, and unkindly to say the least, J. Edgar Hoover and his relentless pursuit of political opponents.
On March 8, 1971, ironically the day of the epic and widely-viewed Ali-Frazier bout, eight otherwise commonplace people, led by Davidon, forced open the door of an FBI office in Media, a suburb of Philadelphia, with a homemade crowbar and snatched about a thousand confidential files, which when publicized, sent Hoover and his supporters into shock. Never before had the unchallenged FBI been so violated. The burglars’ unprecedented catch revealed what Hoover’s FBI had been up to for decades. As Medsger carefully outlines the raid and its consequences, she reveals that Hoover had been running a “secret” and illegitimate FBI program called Cointelpro, whose purpose was to destroy dissent and dissenters. The burglars also discovered a long-established “Security Index,” aimed at rounding up and detaining “subversives” in the event of a “crisis.” Read more ..
|James Bowman||February 5th 2014|
The Invisible Woman. Director: Ralph Fiennes. Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Felicity Jones, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Hollander.
The epigraph to Ralph Fiennes’s The Invisible Woman, adapted from Claire Tomalin’s biography of Ellen Ternan, is naturally taken from Charles Dickens, of whom the latter was mistress during the last years of his life: "A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other." The context, in the Tale of Two Cities, is of love and death. The "profound secret and mystery" is another way of expressing the individuality that we love, when we love, and that we mourn in those we love after their death — at least partly because the elusive promise of discovering the secret and plumbing the mystery must now be acknowledged as forever to be unfulfilled.
How far that opinion was held by Dickens the man and not as a narrative or thematic convenience for the author is, perhaps, his own mystery, taken with him to the grave. But a fascination with and a need for secrecy itself becomes for Mr Fiennes the key to unlock the mystery of the great man’s love affair, which wasn’t generally known about until long after his death.
The trouble is that Felicity Jones, who plays "Nelly" Ternan to Mr Fiennes’s Dickens, is so lovely and charming that she makes the affair virtually self-explanatory and quite without any need for mystification of any kind. Why wouldn’t he want to possess her? And, as he already had a wife and ten children, not to mention a position of social prominence much like that of the celebrities of today, why wouldn’t he also want to keep their relationship a secret from the world? Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Jeff Lunden||February 4th 2014|
From the early 1920s to 1940, Harlem’s Cotton Club was the showplace for African-American performers in New York.
Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith and the Nicholas Brothers are just a few of the artists whose work is interpreted in a new revue on Broadway called After Midnight.
New York University History Professor David Levering Lewis, author of When Harlem Was In Vogue, thinks the show does a pretty good job of recreating the legendary nightclub.
"I thought it captured the flavor of what would have been one night - the best ever - at the Cotton Club," he said.
After Midnight began as a collaboration between Wynton Marsalis, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Jack Viertel, artistic director of Encores, an organization that puts on concert versions of old musicals. Viertel says they both feel close to the subject.
"I have a fixation with Harold Arlen, who started his career, or early in his career, wrote songs for the Cotton Club," Viertel said. "And Wynton has a lifelong obsession with Duke Ellington, and, while Arlen was writing songs for the Cotton Club, Duke Ellington was the house band of the Cotton Club." Viertel and Marsalis drew on old photographs, YouTube videos and classic recordings. The Cotton Club was owned by a Chicago gangster named Owney Madden as a way to sell liquor at inflated prices during Prohibition, when the sale of alcohol was banned. Read more ..
Financing the Flames
|Martin Barillas||February 2nd 2014|
New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black has departed for a un international parliamentary tour to brief legislators overseas about the revelations in his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Black is due to brief lawmakers in the House of Commons February 5, then the European Parliament in Brussels February 12, and finally the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on Febnruary 19. Financing the Flames blows the cover off of U.S. tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies that foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorism in Israel. In a far-ranging international investigation, Black documents that it is actually highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible.
Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames
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In his explosive revelations about non-profits and Israel, Black sheds new light on key charitable organizations such as the the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, and many others, as well as American taxpayers as a group. Instead of promoting peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis, he writes, a variety of taxpayer-subsidized organizations have funded a culture where peace does not pay, but warfare and confrontation do.
Black chronicles how some rioting protestors are actually compensated by charitable organizations when they riot—riots that can and do occur on a scheduled basis in a highly orchestrated fashion. In this enterprise, sponsored American and European activists frequently provoke, incite, and harass Israeli soldiers as they video the choreographed riots, he writes. According to documentation in Financing the Flames, taxpayer money is being used to further entrench a human-rights double standard where abuses and mistreatment of Jews by Palestinians are tolerated, ignored, and even promoted. In this system, Jews are singled out for discrimination in their own country in a fashion that taxpayers would never tolerate in America. Read more ..
|Jim Sleeper||January 31st 2014|
The Watchdog That Didn't Bark. Dean Starkman. Columbia Journalism Review Books. 2014. 368 pp.
In 1920 the New Republic ran “A Test of the News,” a special supplement to the magazine (published soon after as the book Liberty and the News) by Walter Lippmann and Charles Merz showing that in the three and a half years since the Bolshevik revolution, the New York Times had reported “not what was, but what men wished to see.” On ninety-one occasions, the paper had reported that the new regime was on the verge of collapse, although the only real “censor and . . . propagandist were hope and fear in the minds of reporters and editors” themselves.
Lippmann later claimed to identify something more profoundly problematic than bad reporting: “the very nature of the way the public formed its opinions,” as his biographer Ronald Steele put it. He despaired of a public of citizens with enough time and competence to weigh evidence and decide important questions, and in 1922 he published Public Opinion, which contended that experts needed to be insulated from democratic tempests when making decisions, which could then be ratified by voters. Lippmann’s contemporary John Dewey called it “perhaps the most effective indictment of democracy as currently conceived ever penned.”
Public Opinion has never gone out of print, and it’s still easy to imagine elites at Davos telling one another that while “the people” should be consulted, ultimately they must be ruled. But what if the experts and media watchdogs can barely rule themselves? What if they haven’t kept faith with a public that responds more constructively to reporting and education better than what Lippmann encountered?
Ninety-two years later, the Columbia Journalism Review has outdone Lippmann’s indictments of both the press and the public—along with Dewey’s democratic response—with an excerpt of the veteran Wall Street Journal and CJR journalist Dean Starkman’s subtle, devastating The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism. CJR first published the extensive survey that seeded Watchdog, “Power Problem: The Business Press Did Everything But Take on the Institutions that Brought on the Financial Crisis,” three years ago, but the book goes much farther than that. Read more ..
The Music Edge
|Katerine Cole||January 28th 2014|
Pete Seeger, the legendary folk singer-songwriter who fought for social change and played a major role in the American folk revival, died Monday at the age of 94.
For many, Seeger will be remembered as America’s most-famous, and infamous, folk singer.
Banjo player Tony Trischka first heard Seeger’s banjo-playing and singing as child and later became his friend. When he was 14 years old, Trischka wrote Seeger a fan letter. He didn’t have an address, so he just addressed it to Pete Seeger, Beacon New York and hoped that it would reach his hero.
“I wrote something to the effect ‘Dear Pete, I think you’re the greatest banjo player who ever lived.’ Two weeks later, I received a postcard back from Pete Seeger saying ‘Dear Tony, music’s not like a horse race, there’s no such thing as best, but I’m glad you like my music.’ And he signed it Pete Seeger, as you would, and he drew a little banjo. And that just became a relic, this iconic thing that helped inspire me,” he said. Read more ..
|Shoshana Bryen||January 27th 2014|
Implosion. Ilan Berman. Regency Publishing. 2013. 256 pp.
It takes a certain chutzpah to write a book that announces something will—or won't—happen, and that if it does or does not happen the world will look considerably different than it does today—or not. This is not like predicting snow for Thursday. But Ilan Berman's Implosion: The End of Russia and What it Means for America is up to the challenge. Berman reads economic, demographic and military trends to determine whether Russia will undergo its second major transformation in less than 100 years. Or not.
Either way, the trends provide a blueprint for policy makers who want to maximize American national interests in Russia, Eurasia and the Pacific. Part of the blueprint is translated directly from the Russian. The last 75 pages of this slim volume consist of "The Foundations of Russian Federation Policy in the Arctic Until 2020 and Beyond," and the "National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation to 2020." Both are windows into current Russian thinking, particularly regarding the Arctic, which is covered in some detail in the body of the book.
A bit of history: The collapse of communism and the demise of the USSR was a surprise to a lot of people who saw the Soviet Union as an unstoppable juggernaut. Economist and demographer Murray Feshbach was not among them. Chief of the jaw-breakingly named USSR Population, Employment and Research and Development Branch of the Foreign Demographic Analysis Division of the Census Bureau for more than 20 years, Feshbach, who might have served as Berman's muse, toiled largely in obscurity. He noted rampant alcoholism, diseases (such as diphtheria) that had been eradicated in the West, abortion trends, and life expectancy in Russia. He took his findings to the Pentagon, where only a handful of people were interested in a back story to Soviet domination—but those who paid attention saw cracks in the mighty edifice. Then, seemingly in an instant —but not really—the USSR was gone. Read more ..
The Edge of Film
|Jane Friedman and Penelope Poulou||January 24th 2014|
The Egyptian uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak, a decades-long autocrat, is three years old.
An unusual documentary, The Square, takes an intimate view of the events and has been nominated for an Oscar, the first Egyptian film to receive this honor.
The uprising began in January 2011 with a burst of optimism. Thousands of Egyptians of all stripes converged on a central square, demanding the departure of the military-backed ruler.
After 18 days, the unbelievable happened; Mubarak stepped down.
The Square focuses on several characters who guide us through the joy in Tahrir Square and the rollercoaster that followed Mubarak's departure. Most, like Ahmed, are secular young people who launched the revolution. But there’s also Magdy, a Muslim Brother who joined early on, and Egyptian actor Khalid Abdalla, from the intellectual upper class. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Katherine Cole||January 22nd 2014|
On Bruce Springsteen’s 18th studio album, “High Hopes,” old favorites are given new twists and some previously unreleased songs finally see the light of day.
Fans will recognize the album’s title track from the live version performed in the 1996 film “Blood Brothers,” which documented Springsteen’s reunion with the E Street Band.
The new studio recording of “High Hopes” is a much fuller version of the song, complete with horn section and a chorus of background singers. It also features Tom Morello of the band Rage Against The Machine.
Morello played guitar on the Australian leg of Springsteen’s most recent tour, and quickly became an asset to the group. In his liner notes to the album, Springsteen goes as far as to call him “my muse, pushing the rest of this project to another level.” Morello’s guitar is featured on eight of the 12 tracks, and he sings on “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” trading verses with The Boss. The song was first heard as the title track to a solo acoustic album Springsteen released in 1995. Read more ..
|Jack Cheever||January 21st 2014|
Act of War. Jack Cheevers. NAL Hardcover. 2013. 448 pp.
On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo, a lightly-armed diminutive spy ship was boarded by heavily- armed North Koreans near the North Korean port of Wonsan and the American crewmen and their commander taken prisoner. The unpredictable North Koreans claimed the Pueblo had been in its territorial waters while the Pueblo’s officers and the US insisted it had not. In a new and mesmerizing book, Act of War: Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo (NAL Caliber), Jack Cheevers, a former Los Angeles Times political reporter, painstakingly and dramatically describes the seizure of the ship and crew and how close the U.S. came to becoming involved in a second Korean War.
With no American ships or planes nearby, the Pueblo was literally abandoned. Unable to resist 57mm cannon and machine gun fire and desperate to save the lives of his crew, one of whom had been killed by the attackers, Commander Lloyd Bucher surrendered the Pueblo without a fight, for which a court of inquiry of admirals would later want him court martialed (John Chafee, Nixon’s Secretary of Navy, would eventually throw out the charge).
A few days earlier, on January 21, the traditional hostility between both Koreas was further inflamed when a North Korean raiding party managed to reach Seoul, trying but failing to kill the South Korean president, his family, and close aides in the Blue House, the presidential residence and executive offices. Seoul demanded that the U.S. join them in striking back at the North. Both Koreas began mobilizing for a fight and the U.S. reinforced its forces in the region and came close to fighting two Asian land wars simultaneously. “The greater the preparation for war, the greater the chances that war would break out, perhaps by mistake,” Cheevers shrewdly observes. Read more ..
|James Bowman||January 19th 2014|
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Director: Adam McKay Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate, Steve Carrell. Length: 120 mins.
During the two very long hours of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, I think I chuckled three times. Meanwhile, all around me were cracking up. They, obviously, were more in tune with the general audience responsible for (at the time of writing) the $100 million in box office receipts earned by this sequel to the equally dreadful Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). Not that I’m not used to being in the minority in my view of popular movies, but I can’t help asking myself why so many people think this one, which is by the same creative team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay that produced the original, is funny when I do not.
I don’t think it can be because I lack a sense of humor, or that it has atrophied with age, since I do laugh at quite a lot of things. Scott Foundas, the critic for Variety likens the new Anchorman to "Network as directed by Mel Brooks, and starring Gene Wilder," thus comparing it to some movies that I do find funny. Does he, then, think they are funny in the same way as Anchorman 2?
I doubt this. The Brooks-Wilder team appealed to a common culture in a way that movies can’t anymore. Mr Foundas also calls the Anchorman franchise "a cherished cultural totem" — to which the only possible answer is "not in my culture." But then that’s the point. It’s the common culture that we’ve lost. In the days of The Producers or Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein the contemporary audience still imagined it was laughing at a plausible version of reality — even if it was only, as in the case of the second and third of these, a movie reality.
The old-fashioned Western (Blazing Saddles) or horror flick (Young Frankenstein) may have been an easy target for 1970s sophisticates who were not at all like their contemporary, Ron Burgundy, but they were enjoying Mr Brooks’s making fun of things, not originally intended to be funny, whose latent absurdity more or less everybody by then was able to recognize. Read more ..
|Jesse Norman||January 18th 2014|
Edmond Burke. Jesse Norman. Basic Books. 2013. 336 pp.
In both Great Britain and the United States, it is something of a tradition for politicians aspiring to high office to polish their intellectual credentials by writing a book. Although often this results in little more than a series of wonky policy statements, occasionally things are different. Most famously, Profiles in Courage, written (sort of) by John F. Kennedy, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1957. On the other end of the quality spectrum, Sarah Palin’s Good Tidings and Great Joy recently fired an angry fusillade in the ersatz war over Christmas and included recipes for Rice Krispies treats.
Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke: The First Conservative stands very much alone in what is undeniably a motley collection. Norman, described as a “Tory rising star” in the Huffington Post, is a Member of Parliament and a practicing Conservative politician. Holding a B.A. from Oxford and a doctorate from University College London, he has taught philosophy and written a number of political works, including one titled (bravely or foolishly, given the bad vibes that accompany the phrase in the post-George W. Bush era), Compassionate Conservatism.
His subject, Edmund Burke, was born in Dublin in either 1729 or 1730 (Norman says 1730; some sources give the earlier year), just as Jonathan Swift was responding to the latest human catastrophes in Ireland by publishing his (in)famous satire, “A Modest Proposal,” suggesting that the solution to famine was to eat the babies. Thirty years later, Burke was well on his way to fame as a spokesman for more temperate, careful, even (yes) modest solutions to social and political problems -- solutions aimed at reforming, not rending, the fabric of society.
Although Burke served only briefly in Parliament, he was continuously involved, as pamphleteer and propagandist, in partisan battles. Best known for his “Reflections on the Revolution in France” (1790) -- Norman calls it his “masterwork” -- which warned of excesses that would inevitably result from France’s utopian fervor, he had already fought for better treatment of Catholics in Ireland (he was himself a Protestant), for limitations on monarchical power (he was an ardent defender of the settlement resulting from the Glorious Revolution of 1688), against the abuses perpetrated by the East India Company (which turned private enterprise into imperialism), and against the slave trade. In the United States, he still appears in U.S. history textbooks as an advocate for the American Revolution, which he viewed as a defense of traditional English rights: “This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies, probably, than in any other people of the earth,” he said. Read more ..
|James Bowman||January 16th 2014|
Her. Director: Spike Jonze, Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde, Scarlett Johansson. Length: 90 mins.
Bodies are optional - and therefore dispensible. That has been the subtext of the utopian dream of rationalists from Descartes to the present day. The trouble is that we know it isn't true. We need our bodies. Without them, we are nothing, at least so far as we can know.
The rationalists nowadays, however, have become so confident about the advance of technology, and especially the technology of artificial intelligence, that they tend to take for granted that it is only a matter of time until "science" - perhaps, as disembodied as its future creations - is able to synthesize humanity itself.
To be up front about it, I don't think so. Humanity is embodied and, the advance of technology notwithstanding, it always will be. That is part of what humanity means - along with all that bodies imply about the inevitability of pain and loss and failing faculties and death, which are among the bugs that the rationalists seek to eliminate from our human software.
Yet we may imagine a world, as Spike Jonze has done in Her, in which computers have grown so skilled at playing what Alan Turing called "the Imitation Game" that the question of their humanity seems almost moot. If they are somehow less than human, they are so much like the real thing that whatever they lack of actual humanity, including bodies, is not missed by those who choose to treat them as human.
The latter, some might say, have themselves compromised their humanity by treating as human that which is not human, but then why would we suppose that they care any more about their own artificiality than they do about that of the creatures with whom they engage in human-type relationships? Read more ..
|James Bowman||January 16th 2014|
American Hustle. Director: David O. Russell. Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper. Length: 90 mins.
The best line in American Hustle comes in an exchange between Bradley Cooper's FBI agent, Richie DiMaso, and Irving Rosenfeld, the small time crook played by Christian Bale who is bargaining with him to get a reduced sentence by helping to entrap several U.S. congressmen in what was to become known as the Abscam bribery sting. In the spirit of post-Watergate self-righteousness that must have affected the FBI almost as much as it did the media and the political Carterism that played to it, Richie tells Irving that he is the kind of person who is ruining America. Irving replies in high dudgeon: "No, you're the one who is ruining America. People just got over Watergate and Vietnam and you're going to s*** all over politicians again!"
Irving, of course, recognizes some sense of fellow-feeling with the politicians. "As far as I can tell," he says at one point, "people are conning each other all the time to get what they want" - the law and the FBI very much included. But he also has a point about how civic virtue and public service do not cease to be important when they become masks for baser motives.
The same point is made in a different way by Jeremy Renner's pompadoured Mayor Carmine Polito of Camden, the most sympathetic of those caught up in the scandal, who says: "Everything I do is for the good of the people of New Jersey. Tell me I'm lying." Even Irving develops a conscience about Carmine's entanglement with the law which he has helped to bring about. It is tempting to ask what possible civic purpose can be served by the prosecution of such a man for attempting to smooth the way for Arab investment in Atlantic City casinos? Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Richard Paul||January 15th 2014|
December 18, 2013, was the 149th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the United States. The fight to end slavery did not begin with the American Civil War. For more than 80 years before then, people used the tools at their disposal to fight for and against the enslavement of African-Americans. One of those tools was music.
When the United States became a nation, African slaves weren’t just picking cotton in Alabama. They were also cleaning houses in Pennsylvania and tending bar in New York City. But by the early 1800s, Northern states largely outlawed the practice and were pressing the South to do the same.
“Get Off The Track” was a song written and made famous by the most popular United States singing troupe of the 1840s and 1850s, the Hutchinson Family Singers. Scott Gac wrote a book about the Hutchinson Family called “Singing for Freedom.” Read more ..
Authors on Tour
|Martin Barillas||January 13th 2014|
Cutting Edge Contributor
Edwin Black, veteran human-rights investigative reporter and New York Times bestselling author, launches his 2014 book tours with two special events in Miami.
On January 15 at 2 PM, he will speak on the topic 'American Eugenics – from Long Island to Auschwitz' – at the School of International and Public Relations at Florida International University. His lecture will be based on his blockbuster bestseller, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, which recounts corporate funded and government-sponsored sterilization of so-called inferior races and classes of people. American eugenicists gave rise to Nazi eugenics and enabled the quest for Hitler's master race.
Also on January 15, Black will appear at 8 PM at the Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies at the University of Miami to lecture about his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Financing the Flames blows the cover on how U.S. tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-ranging international investigation, Black documents that it is actually the highly politicized human rights organizations and NGOs themselves—all American taxpayer supported—which are financing the flames that make peace in Israel difficult if not impossible. For more information about the Miller Center lecture, click here.
Black's lecture at the University of Miami inaugurates a major new initiative and 2014 series by the sponsor, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP). ISGAP has established a track record of benchmark lectures at Fordham, Stamford University, the Hoover Institution, Harvard, and other academic centers.
Black has presented evidence before U.S. and European lawmakers about the complicity of U.S.-based non-profits with Germany's National Socialist-inspired Holocaust to eliminate those they considered “unfit” for existence. He has appeared at campuses worldwide on the topic, and his book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race has been course-adopted at schools throughout North America. Read more ..
|James Bowman||January 12th 2014|
Inside Llewyn Davis. Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring: F. Murray Abraham, Oscar Isaac, John Goodman, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake. Length: 90 mins.
You know how, sometimes, when somebody says something really funny or clever and you want to tell somebody else about it but you can’t quite remember the exact words or what it was in the context that made it so funny or clever? Anyway, when you say it, it doesn’t sound so clever or funny as when the funny or clever person said it, and you add, rather lamely, "You sort of had to be there"?
Well, some such form of words as that ought to have been appended by the Coen brothers to their new movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. They seem to have been counting instead on an audience that was there, or at least that thinks it was there or wishes it had been there, and so is willing to come more than halfway to meet them in their half-hearted attempt to recreate the alleged magic of Greenwich Village in 1961. But for those who aren’t folkie or media-culture wannabes, it’s a local-interest story for America’s media capital, and it doesn’t, as they say in the business, travel very well.
To me, the most interesting thing about the movie is the complete excision from it of any political element. The story, as the Coens admit, is loosely based on that of musician Dave Van Ronk, who was politically a sort of leftover from the 1930s Popular Front days, being both socialist and anarchist — it somehow must have made sense at the time — and an actual life member of the IWW or "Wobblies." Who knew they were still around? Like most of his crowd, he wore his politics on his sleeve, but the Coens’ hero, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), apparently has no politics. That would normally be a good thing, but in his case the omission becomes the dog that didn’t bark: a presence on account of its absence. Llewyn is just a hang-dog merchant mariner who fancies himself as a folk-singer and who, in the movie, is not quite making a living at it. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Greg Flakus||January 11th 2014|
Among Mexican-Americans in the United States, mariachi music has maintained its popularity for more than a century, especially in states that border Mexico, like Texas. But there are now mariachi groups in all parts of the United States and in some European and Asian nations as well.
Mariachi music has long been popular with San Antonio's large Mexican-American population.
But among the young people performing at this event was 12-year-old Anani Rhames, an African-American girl who fell in love with the songs she heard in Mexican restaurants and on local radio stations.
"I like 'Las Margaritas,' which is about daisies and I like 'El Pastor,' which is about a shepherd," she said. Anani can relate to rural themes because she lives on a ranch and sometimes sings to her horses. "You can actually connect with them. You can build a bond with them," she said. "When they hear you their ears kind of perk up and they are like [it is as if they were saying] 'hmmm, interesting." Read more ..
The Edge of Art
|Julie Taboh||January 11th 2014|
When Lynda Slayen first discovered fused glass about 10 years ago, she immediately fell in love with the technique.
“I’ve always loved glass. I collect glass. I have a lot of antique glass…and then I went and I saw some fused glass and that was it," Slayen said. "I took a class and that was it.”
She became a fused glass artist, which involves fusing multiple pieces of glass together to form a single object. Her vibrant, one-of-a-kind art is both practical and aesthetic.
Five years ago Slayen decided to share her passion by teaching others the technique. She holds fused glass art classes at local schools as well as in her home studio both for children as well as adults. Brothers Luka and Hugo Bryne, ages 12 and 9, showed up at one of her workshops on a cold winter afternoon recently, eager to make some fused glass art for their family. Both had taken the workshop before. Read more ..
Hollywood on Edge
|Joshua Levitt||January 10th 2014|
Hollywood actress Meryl Streep blasted Walt Disney as an anti-Semitic misogynist in an unusually long and scathing speech at a film awards dinner on Tuesday night, Variety reported on Thursday.
Ironically, Streep’s nine-minute speech was to honor the actress who portrayed ‘Mary Poppins’ creator P.L. Travers in The Walt Disney Company’s ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’ Emma Thompson, who the Zionist Organization of America denounced on Thursday for her letter in the Guardian advocating for a boycott of Israel’s Habima Theater troupe, which is to perform later this year at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, in London.
Variety aptly described the scene at the awards dinner on Tuesday night: “The National Board of Review dinner is like the big pre-game to the Golden Globes, where wine bottles are uncorked in New York and don’t stop flowing until the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s gala on Sunday. But this year’s ceremony will forever be remembered for its nine-minute tour-de-force speech from Meryl Streep.”
“There was plenty of effusive Thompson praising in the speech — with phrases like ‘she’s practically a saint’ and ‘she’s a beautiful artist’ — and it ended with a poem that Streep had written for her friend titled ‘An Ode to Emma, Or What Emma is Owed.’ But Streep also made a point of blasting Walt Disney for his sexist and anti-Semitic stances.”
According to Variety, “Streep talked about how Disney ‘supported an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group’ and called him a ‘gender bigot.’ She read a letter that his company wrote in 1938 to an aspiring female animator. It included the line, ‘Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as that task is performed entirely by young men.’” Read more ..
|Luis Fleischman ||January 8th 2014|
The Americas Report
My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Ari Shavit. Spiegel & Grau, 2013. 464 pp.
Ari Shavit's recently published My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel attempts to cover a number of important issues related to Israel, past and present. Shavit talks of the formation of the Israeli state, society, and economy and how they have changed throughout the years. He talks about Israel and its transformation. Going from a collectivist-socialist society, where the state had primacy over social life, to a modern capitalistic society, where the state in essence, washes its hands of everything concerning society. He discusses the transition between past Israeli societies where individual and civil rights were secondary to the present society where the individual is above collective goals. He also talks about a transition between past, unified Israeli societies with a common purpose to an anarchical, radical, pluralistic society where there is no collective purpose at all.
Shavit praises Israel's spirit of entrepreneurship, industrialization and resilience. He also talks about Israel's repression of past identities including those of Holocaust survivors and those immigrants from Arab lands, which the Zionist establishment was not properly prepared to absorb and treated them as inferiors.
Shavit discusses Israel's nuclear project in Dimona, supporting the idea of such a project for a country that lives under constant threat from its neighbors. Furthermore, Shavit supports the so called "Begin Doctrine" that asserts that Israel should have a monopoly on nuclear power in the region. As such, contrary to the views of many on the left, Shavit believes that stopping a nuclear Iran is crucial.
Shavit is a Zionist preoccupied not only with the future of Israel, but also with the future of the diaspora Jewish communities. He believes that with the increasing secularization of Jews throughout the world it is only Israel that can provide Jewish continuity to non-orthodox Jews. He sees Judaism in the diaspora as being threatened by assimilation and indifference and believes that Zionism is not only a national liberation movement for the Jewish people but also the only hope of halting the process of Jewish decline. Read more ..
The Music Edge
|Richard Hall||January 5th 2014|
A new opera, written by a second-generation Nigerian-American, tells the story of Harriet Tubman, who, a century-and-a-half ago, escaped from slavery and led others to freedom.
When Nkeiru Okoye was a little girl, she spent a lot of time shuttling between the United States - her mother’s home country - and her father’s homeland, Nigeria. While she found the culture shock disorienting, there were some things that remained constant. For one,
“I don’t remember ever not knowing about Harriet Tubman," she said. "My mother used to love to read my sister and me stories, so my mother probably told me about her even before I learned about Harriet in school.” Those early stories turned into a fascination that Okoye has now turned into a work of art. Read more ..
|Jeremy Kuzmarov||January 3rd 2014|
The Brothers. Stephen Kinzer. Times Books. 2013. 416 pp.
In one of the most compelling pieces of twentieth century political art, Glorious Victory, Diego Rivera depicts Secretary of State John Foster Dulles shaking hands over a pile of dead corpses with Castillo Armas who deposed Guatemala’s left-leaning President Jacobo Arbenz in a 1954 coup. CIA director Allen Dulles stands next to the pair, his satchel full of cash, while Dwight Eisenhower’s face is pictured in a bomb.
Stephen Kinzer’s book, The Brothers, provides a detailed portrait of the Dulles brothers, who dominated foreign policy making in the 1950s and helped transform the CIA from an “intelligence agency that carried out occasional clandestine plots into a global force ceaselessly engaged in paramilitary and regime change campaigns.”Along with Guatemala’s Operation PBSuccess, the brothers orchestrated the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh after he threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, backed a separatist rebellion against Indonesia’s socialist prime minister and a vicious counterinsurgency against agrarian reformers in Philippines, molded a secret army in Laos after rigging elections, and built up a police state in South Vietnam after boycotting the Geneva conference. The brothers also sanctioned assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and Patrice Lumumba, trained opium-growing soldiers in an attempt to undermine Maoist China and sent Saudi soldiers into the oil-rich Buraimi Oasis in the Persian Gulf which they sought to wrest control of from Great Britain.
To pull all of this off, the brothers bought off congressmen, set up dummy corporations, planted stories in the press, and drummed up fears about the Soviet “threat,” which historians now recognize to have been exaggerated. CIA agent Harry Rositzke wrote that “the image of [the Soviet Union promoted by the Dulles’] was an illusion. The specter of a powerful Russia was remote from the reality of a country weakened by war, with a shattered economy, an overtaxed civilian and military bureaucracy and large areas of civil unrest.” Read more ..
|Ron Briley||January 2nd 2014|
William Wyler. Gabriel Miller. University Press of Kentucky. 2013. 520 pp.
It is surprising that Hollywood filmmaker William Wyler is not better known today. In a career that stretched from the 1920s to 1970, Wyler directed such critically acclaimed and commercially successful films as Jezebel (1939), The Little Foxes (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Detective Story (1951), Friendly Persuasion (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and Funny Girl (1968). Wyler won three Academy Awards for Best Director with twelve nominations, while his actors earned thirteen Oscars. Yet, Wyler’s name is not nearly as recognizable today as Alfred Hitchcock, “the master of suspense,” or John Ford, who directed such Westerns as The Searchers (1956). Gabriel Miller, professor of English at Rutgers University and the author of several books on American cinema, argues that Wyler’s lack of recognition is due to the eclectic nature of his film subjects which ranged from Westerns to historical epics to filmed versions of Broadway plays and musicals. Thus, Miller laments that film critics have failed to consider Wyler as an auteur as his body of work failed to revisit or expand upon a set of abiding themes.
In his examination of Wyler’s life and films, Millers begs to differ with these critics and presents a strong case for Wyler as one of Hollywood’s greatest auteurs. While Orson Welles and cinematographer Gregg Toland are often credited with introducing the concept of deep focus, in which both the foreground and background are in clear focus, with Citizen Kane (1941), Miller argues that the cinematic technique was already prominently displayed in the cinema of Wyler, who carefully positioned his actors “to indicate the complexity of their emotional and psychological relationships” (6). In exploring repressed emotions, Wyler often employed narrow, cramped interior spaces and used staircases to demonstrate the power or authoritative position of characters. In addition, the director preferred properties such as popular plays, which guaranteed an audience and a dose of melodrama so that he could introduce his manipulation of space. Realism and story construction allowed Wyler to get excellent performances from his actors. Nevertheless, Miller observes that Wyler’s demands for perfection and multiple takes proved taxing for many stars. Nevertheless, Bette Davis proclaimed that the final product was well worth the stress of working with Wyler. Miller also finds a thematic consistency in the diverse film projects pursued by Wyler. Arguing that Wyler was a liberal with a strong interest in politics and social issues, Miller concludes, “From the early 1930s, Wyler was either planning or directing films that tackled such issues as capitalism, class struggle, war and pacifism, and repressive politics, notably the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)” (13). Read more ..
The Music Edge
|Katherine Cole||January 1st 2014|
As we close out 2013, it's time to share some highlights of American Roots music highlights for the year.
They include Slaid Cleaves’ 10th release-“Still Fighting The War.” The original inspiration for the song came to Cleaves from a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Iraq War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s a song that ended up taking him four years to write.
“I’d seen stories in the news about Vets coming back and having a hard time and you know, frankly, I knew…I remember writing down in a notebook when we went to war in Iraq… I said ’10 years from now, we’re going to have Iraq War Vets on every street corner, they’re going to be homeless," Cleaves said. "They’re going to be having a hard time adjusting. It’s going to be the Vietnam situation all over again.’ I wanted to write a song that kind of told their story. Not to advocate or anything. But just tell their story-that people are having a hard time coming back.” Read more ..
|Juda Engelmayer||December 30th 2013|
Financing the Flames: How Tax-exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. Edwin Black. Dialog Press, 2013. 288 pp.
Read more ..
At a recent meeting with Fatah leaders in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stated what Israel and Israel’s true supporters have been claiming is his position for a very long time: “We don’t accept the Jewish state or the Jewishness of the state.… This is something that we won’t accept.”
This is a position taken by Palestinian and Moslem leaders throughout the Middle East since Israel was declared a country in 1948. The news is that it fails to raise eyebrows or concern among the liberal media and those who profess to support Israel while claiming that Israel is the obstacle to peace in the region.
When news reports claimed Egypt’s closure of tunnels used to smuggle weapons and other goods into the Gaza strip caused monthly losses of $250 million to Gaza’s economy, all that was heard was that commerce and trade was cut off, not that weapons and munitions trafficking was halted.
More recently, Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon called for an end to funding of the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it genuinely stops funding terrorism. Danon spoke as an investigation found that the PA has given a $50,000 grant to each of the 52 convicted terrorists released by Israel as part of a deal to encourage the PA to pursue peace negotiations. The released prisoners, many of whom were convicted of killing Israeli civilians, are said to have also been assigned senior positions within the PA government.
Edwin Black, in “Financing the Flames,” published on Nov. 1, outlines a troubling pattern by Jewish groups such as the New Israel Fund which claim to be supportive of Israel. The book shows that there is a broad consensus of Israeli military men and Knesset members that the New Israel Fund (NIF) and its NGO grantees are systematically destabilizing the Israel Defense Forces.
|Asaf Romirowsky||December 29th 2013|
State of Failure Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State. Jonathan Schanzer. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. 256 pp.
'If you build it, they will come," was the line that made Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams famous, as his Ray Kinsella was called upon to build a baseball field that would allow Shoeless Joe Jackson and the seven other players banned in the 1919 Black Sox scandal to play again. The phrase should be modified in this key way: "If you build it to that end, actual work needs to be put into any enterprise to make it alive and sustainable" – especially if we are talking about state-building.
In the Palestinian case study, Palestinians have attempted to circumvent the building phase in favor of "instant statehood," that is to argue that because we think we should have a state, we will.
Enter Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who specializes in Palestinian politics. In his latest book, State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State, he methodically details the corruption, lack of leadership and countless excuses by the Palestinians to avoid building a viable state, in favor of Jewish rejectionism at large. As the author correctly describes Arafat's leadership, "While Arafat was revered by his people for almost singlehandedly focusing the world's attention on the Palestinian cause from the 1960's until his death, the problem of corruption would, to some extent, define his legacy."
Historically, the notion of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state existing alongside Israel was never part of Arafat's vision or the Palestinian worldview at large.
Furthermore, Palestinians continuously rejected the notion of a single bi-national state. Palestinian society has never seen Jewish sovereignty or Israel's existence as a "right"; the only right in their narrative is their sole connection to the land. Read more ..
|Murray Polner||December 28th 2013|
Seymour Hersh. Robert Miraldi. Potomac Books. 2013. 448 pp.
Scoop Artist tells the story of Seymour Hersh, the quintessential American investigative reporter whose exposés over the past 50 years have shocked America and the world and shaped American public policy. Beginning in 1969 when he exposed the massacre of innocents at the village of My Lai in Vietnam to 2008 when he revealed the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Hersh has been America’s foremost modern muckraker. A fierce and unrelenting investigator and a self-described “wildman,” Hersh is reviled by the political right and the darling of the political left.
Author Robert Miraldi follows Hersh from the streets of Chicago to the newsrooms of the most powerful newspapers and magazines in America, chronicling the work of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, who for five decades has been a fiercely independent, outspoken and controversial thorn in the side of a half dozen presidents. Three of his eight books have been best sellers; all have caused heated controversy. While becoming arguably the best investigative reporter in the country, Hersh, now 76, has won virtually every prize in American journalism.
In 1969, when he made My Lai into a household phrase, Hersh became, as the author argues, the journalist the political right loved to hate and the father of a conservative movement against a “liberal” media. His exposés have drawn the fury of targets from Richard Nixon for his administration’s spying on American citizens to Henry Kissinger for illegal bombing in Cambodia to George W. Bush for a war in the Mideast gone awry.
Hersh’s work — as captured by Miraldi in lively prose — is a snapshot of some of the biggest stories in America through its most turbulent decades – episodes that have put the reporter in the headlines because of his frequent use of anonymous sources and the controversial nature of his exposés. His work has revealed America’s hidden arsenal of biological weapons; Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons; the drug-running illegalities of Panama strongman Manuel Noriega; John Kennedy’s sexual exploits and the risks they posed to his presidency; General Barry McCaffrey’s alleged war crimes in the waning days of Gulf War I; and, not least, horrific torture at Abu Ghraib. When the Watergate scandal stalled in 1973, Hersh, reporting for the New York Times, discovered the “hush” money and got the story back on track, leading to Nixon’s resignation. Hersh’s reporting for the past decade on the Mideast for The New Yorker has made him the man Americans turned to get an unvarnished and inside “scoop” on a roiled foreign policy since the attack on the World Trade Center. Read more ..
The Musical Edge
|Jeff Lunden||December 25th 2013|
Great pianists need great pianos. Vladimir Horowitz, the famous Russian pianist, used to travel with his own personal Steinway when he played concerts around the world.
For 160 years, the pianos of Steinway & Sons have been considered the finest in the world thanks to superior craftmanship and performance.
Most concert halls and conservatories in America own Steinways, and pianists from Lang Lang to Billy Joel are Steinway artists. This fall, Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein used a Steinway when he appeared with the New York Philharmonic.
“I think generations of pianists’ muscular/nervous systems have been shaped by how the action feels and how the action and the sound merge into this playing experience," Gerstein said. "And for the listeners, it is this experience of listening to the Steinway sound that has really cultivated what we think piano sound is.” Read more ..
|Jim Cullen||December 24th 2013|
Rome. Greg Woolf. Oxford University Press. 2012. 384 pp.
It seems fitting that a short book about the rise and fall of the Roman empire is a triumph of engineering. Greg Woolf distills 1500 years of history, bisected by the birth of Jesus Christ, into exactly 300 pages of main text, cased with a robust editorial apparatus. He accomplishes this with eighteen chapters that alternate between narrative history and a thematic overviews that include the ecology of the Mediterranean basin, the role of slavery, Roman religion, and other topics. (Oddly, one omission is a chapter on Roman engineering, a surprising oversight given the magnitude and durability of its accomplishments.) The effect of this book is a squared circle: Woolf surveys a history that is very difficult to grasp as a whole, and yet also manages to suggest a sense of texture and continuity in the values, institutions, and practices that stitched together a world for a remarkably long time.
With a similar sense of economy and leverage, Woolf endows his narrative with an interpretive dimension that rests on the indefinite article of its subtitle: an Empire's story. When it comes to the Romans, Woolf is not an exceptionalist. He is able to repeatedly and convincingly juxtapose any number of practices -- tax policy, war-making, identity formation -- with reference to earlier and later empires around the globe, both contemporary to Rome and those temporally on either side of it. He sees the key of Rome's success is the way in which the ad-hoc conquests of the late Republic, culminating in the career of Julius Caesar, gave way to the tributary empire of Augustus, in which an army loyal to the emperor maintained civil as well as military stability. This stability was severely tested in the third century CE, but successfully reorganized before a series of waves eroded and finally broke it down, a gradual process culminating with the the rise of Islam in the seventh century. This is not an original argument, of course, as Woolf, a professor of Ancient History at St. Andrews and the editor of The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Roman World, readily makes clear. Indeed, his masterful sense of historiography suggests a lifetime of learning worn lightly. But his assertion that it's Rome survival, not its fall, that's hardest to explain is a point worth remembering. Read more ..
The Edge of Painting
|Emilie Lob||December 21st 2013|
Esther Mahlangu is almost 80 but she's still going strong. For decades, she has practiced the traditional art of her tribe, the Ndebele, located in northeastern South Africa.
"This was the old way of doing it, when it was done with black and white soil mixed with powder," Mahlangu said, "and you would draw the pattern with your fingers."
Today Ndebele art is colorful with symmetrical patterns. Mahlangu learned to paint from the elders in her home town when she was a little girl. Soon, people realized she was talented. She could draw straight lines without rulers and mastered the colors.
"We mix soil and water to make the pigment," she said. "And we use chicken feathers to paint. We Ndebele don't use rulers.Rulers are in our mind." One day in the late 1980s, two French researchers came to the village. They noticed her paintings and asked her to travel to France to display her art. That marked the beginning of travels that took Mahlangu to more than 20 countries to exhibit her work. Read more ..
The Edge of Music
|Richard Paul||December 19th 2013|
California has long been seen as the place in the U.S. where new ideas are tested. A group of young artists in San Francisco are continuing that trend, giving new life to an old field: opera and European classical music.
There’s a well-worn path that conservatory students take after graduation. Amy Foote, a newly minted opera singer, says normally it was expected that…“I would perform in community opera productions and that I would audition for young artists programs and getting a church gig. Also, for instrumentalists, I think it is expected that you would take orchestral excerpt auditions.”
But like most artists, Foote had bigger dreams. “I wanted to perform new classical chamber music, so I made sure that I could,” she said.
Foote is not alone, either in her drive or in her desire to seek a new way to make a career in the field of European classical music. In fact, she’s part of a trend among her former classmates at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Read more ..
|James Bowman||December 18th 2013|
You may find that you have, as I do, a slight problem with Stephen Frears's Philomena, which is in many ways - chief among them the fine performance of Dame Judi Dench in the title role - a lovely and a touching film about a mother's search for her lost child 50 years after being forced to give him up for adoption by the sisters of an Irish convent who had taken her in. The problem can be summed up in the words of Martin Sixsmith, who wrote the true-life "human interest" tale on which it was based at the urging of the true-life Philomena.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, he notes that her secret, kept from even those closest to her until she finally decided to reveal it, was that she "had been a teenage single mother in Ireland at a time when sex outside marriage was considered a sin." Believe it or not, Martin, it still is considered a sin. It's just that, nowadays, neither the Church nor anybody else appears to think that this particular sin is anything to get very upset about.
Obviously, that was not the case in 1952, but the change in social norms flatters Mr Sixsmith's unconscious assumption of moral superiority. That is, like most progressive-minded folk, he assumes that, as time has gone by, we have learned that right and wrong are not what we thought they were a generation or two ago. In many cases they are the opposite of what we thought they were. And those who lived in those benighted days can only be condemned for their failure to be as virtuous and enlightened as we are.
Mr Frears and the other film-makers behind Philomena - including Mr Sixsmith and Steve Coogan, who plays him in the film and who co-wrote the screenplay with Jeff Pope - thus align themselves with the kind of secular moralists of today who are outraged by the treatment the Catholic Church once gave to single mothers and their babies but are entirely unperturbed by the millions of abortions that are our own way of dealing with the same problem. Read more ..
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