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Film Review

Her: Disembodied Spirits in the Cyber Age

January 16th 2014

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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 ..


Film Review

American Hustle: Sexier and Funnier than the Real Thing

January 16th 2014

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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

Songs Against Slavery Used as Tool for Abolition

January 15th 2014

sharecroppers Depression

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

Edwin Black Lectures in Florida on 'Financing the Flames' of Mideast Terror, and U.S. Eugenic Pseudo-Science

January 13th 2014

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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 ..


Film Review

Inside Llewyn Davis--a Complex Excision from Politics

January 12th 2014

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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

Mariachi Music Gains Popularity Across Ethnic Lines

January 11th 2014

Music

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

Students Fuse Art from Shattered Glass

January 11th 2014

Glass blowing

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

Actress Meryl Streep Blasts Walt Disney as Anti-Semitic; ZOA Condemns Actress Emma Thompson

January 10th 2014

Meryl Streep

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 ..


Book Review

Whose Promise? Whose Land?

January 8th 2014

My Promised Land - Shavit

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

Nigerian-American Turns Story of Harriet Tubman into Opera

January 5th 2014

Howard Theater, Washington, DC

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 ..


Book Review

John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War

January 3rd 2014

The Brothers

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 ..


Book Review

The Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director

January 2nd 2014

William Wyler

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

2013: The Year in Roots Music

January 1st 2014

Music

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 ..


Book Review

Financing Anti-Israel Flames

December 30th 2013

Financing the Flames

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.

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.

Read more ..

Book Review

State of Failure Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State

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 ..


Book Review

The Quintessential American Investigative Reporter

December 28th 2013

Scoop Artist

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

Finest Musicians Turn to Steinway Pianos

December 25th 2013

Girls playing piano

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 ..


Book Review

An Empire's Story

December 24th 2013

Rome

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

Ndebele Artist Popularizes Traditional Technique

December 21st 2013

South Africa Flag

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

San Francisco Musicians Create 'New' Classical Music

December 19th 2013

Nashville Symphony

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 ..


Film Review

Philomena: Facile Moralizing

December 18th 2013

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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 ..


Book Review

Examining Hezbollah’s Reach

December 17th 2013

Levitt: Hezbollah

Matthew Levitt. Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God. Georgetown University Press, 2013. 426 pages.

In the Fall of 2002, as the Bush administration was focused overwhelmingly on pursuing al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in response to the September 11th attacks, no less senior an official than then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage suggested that the attention of the United States might actually be misplaced. “Hezbollah may be the ‘A team’ of terrorism,” Armitage told a conference in Washington at the time. “Maybe al-Qaeda is actually the ‘B team.’”

Armitage’s assessment, it turns out, was well-deserved. The Shi’ite militia sustained by Iran and supported by Syria has become a terrorist powerhouse since its inception in Lebanon in 1982. Over the past three decades, it has transformed itself into a sophisticated international army of mercenaries while exporting Iran’s revolutionary Islamist ideology abroad and claiming political hegemony in southern Lebanon. It likewise has mastered the art of media warfare, utilizing social media and a dedicated television station, Al-Manar (literally, “the Beacon”) to spread its corrosive ideological message throughout the Arab world, and beyond. And while Coalition operations over the past decade have eroded at least some of al-Qaeda’s capabilities (although exactly how much is a matter of some dispute), Hezbollah has reclaimed international notoriety as a terrorist actor par excellence.

No one understands this better than Matthew Levitt, author of Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God. Levitt, a senior fellow and director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the prestigious Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Treasury Department, and before that as a counterterrorism analyst for the FBI. He now puts this extensive professional know-how to good use in his analysis of the terror group. Read more ..


Film Review

Nebraska: Touched by Grace

December 15th 2013

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Nebraska. Director: Alexander Payne. Starring: Bruce Dern, Stacie Keach, June Squibb, Will Forte. 90 mins.

Everybody’s second favorite quotation from the great 20th-century British poet Philip Larkin — the favorite is obviously "They f*** you up, your mum and dad" — is the final line of "An Arundel Tomb," and it is almost invariably quoted out of context. "What will survive of us is love" is placed in its emphatic, concluding position, I think, just in order that we may forget, for the moment, the severe, heart-breaking qualifications of the penultimate line: "Our almost-instinct almost-true."

In other words, it feels like an instinct, but it isn’t; and, in any case, it isn’t true. This is a revealing and typical rhetorical trick on Larkin’s part, but I wonder if a better, though a more banal truth doesn’t lie in a different qualification: what will survive of us is (at least some of) our "loved ones" — assuming that we have any, and that the term is understood in its fully euphemistic, funeral-directorish sense.

Love is certainly not the first word that springs to mind to describe the relationships explored in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, but in this extended sense of loved ones as the people we are closest to in our lives — whether by choice or by accident, whether we love them, tolerate them or hate them — they and whatever it is they preserve of us are what the movie elucidates. Most of what they preserve is of course memory, which is as unreliable as people are, as love is, and the movie’s comedy depends on this unreliability of memory — both, that is, the fading memory of its verging-on-senile hero, Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, and the hardly less dubious memories of his family and those who knew him long ago in his home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. But if everybody’s memories are nearly as evanescent as Woody’s, they are all anybody has. Read more ..


Book Review

Paying for Conflict -- Not Peace

December 11th 2013

Financing the Flames

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.

Americans tend to think of a 501(c)(3) tax exemption as a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" from the U.S. Government, indicating that the organization does work of which the government approves. Not necessarily.

In Financing the Flames, Edwin Black reveals his meticulous research on "human rights" organizations that use charitable funds for distinctly non-charitable purposes. Incitement, promotion of boycotts, lobbying, and the delegitimization of the IDF and the state of Israel among both Israelis and the international community are their common characteristics. B'Tselem and the New Israel Fund (NIF) are thoroughly dissected financially and ideologically; NIF's open political lobbying in the U.S. is particularly well documented and should call its tax-exempt status into question.

At bottom, these organizations are part of a broader effort to undermine Israel. The most fascinating types of cases in Financing the Flames are frequently reported without elaboration in the Western press: the uprooting of "Palestinian" olive trees and the apparent abuse of Palestinian women and children, both by the IDF.

There is a Talmudic prohibition against destroying fruit trees during war, based on a verse in Deuteronomy, so images of the IDF uprooting hundreds, of not thousands, of trees make people who are otherwise sympathetic to Israel just a little bit uncomfortable -- actually, a lot uncomfortable. The violation of a Talmudic principle is enough to nurture seeds of doubt about the IDF even in non-religious Jews.

But from "Rami," a Palestinian in Deir Istiya, Black discovers the image manipulation of left-wing foreign organizations who are planting olive trees in a nature preserve, "which is not allowed just because it is a nature reserve. So these trees would have to be taken out -- uprooted by the Israelis … So why do they do it? They are encouraged to make trouble." Read more ..


Obama's Second Term

Pro-Lesbian Super PAC Founder and Obama Bundler to Top Arts Post

December 11th 2013

Obama with baseball bat

President Barack Obama has named Laura Ricketts, a major Democratic Party donor and one of the his top campaign fundraisers, to be a trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., the White House announced Thursday.

Records released by the Obama campaign last year indicate that Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, raised at least $500,000 for the president’s re-election efforts. Internal campaign documents published by the New York Times put that figure at more than $750,000.

Ahead of the 2012 election, Ricketts, who is openly gay, also helped launch a hybrid super PAC called LPAC dedicated to “making a true impact for lesbians in politics.” As a hybrid super PAC, LPAC can collect unlimited donations to produce political advertisements. It can also accept limited donations to directly donate to federal candidates. Read more ..


The Way We Are

Researchers: Films with Gun Violence Have "Weapons Effect" on Kids, Teens

December 11th 2013

Ammo

With incidents of mass shootings taking center stage in the news media, a group of researchers released a study on the subject of youths being exposed to gun violence in their choice of motion picture entertainment which they call the "weapons effect."

The journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that violence in motion pictures that are rated PG-13 has more than tripled, especially violent scenes involving guns in a study titled, "Gun Violence Trends in Movies," which was released on Veterans Day.

According to the team of researchers -- Brad J. Bushman, Patrick E. Jamieson, Ilana Weitz and Daniel Romer -- several academic studies have suggested that just the presence of "guns can increase aggression, an effect they dubbed the 'weapons effect.'" Read more ..


The Holiday Edge

Chinese Sculptors Bring Their Talent to US Holiday Ice Show

December 10th 2013

Glaciers

No matter what the thermometer shows about the weather in your neighborhood - this next story will keep you cool.  For the Christmas holiday, a huge attraction at the Marriott Gaylord National hotel near Washington, DC is made entirely of ice.  Actually, more than 900,000 kilograms of ice! 

Walk inside a massive white tent and the noise hits you first, followed by the brisk air. You're hearing the sounds of forklifts and chainsaws, slicing through ice. 

The temperature is minus 12 degrees Celsius....the air turns a smoky color when someone exhales. But it must be this cold to preserve the 6,000 massive blocks of ice. Carvers are chipping the blocks into life-sized characters from a children's Christmas storybook. The carvers only speak Mandarin, like Xu Rui who is the art director of the exhibit. “We learn it since we were really young," said Xu Rui. Read more ..


Book Review

In Schooling, Context Matters--and Larry Cuban Provides It

December 9th 2013

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Inside the Black Box of Classroom Practice: Change Without Reform in American Education. Larry Cuban. Harvard Education Press. 2013.

Larry Cuban has been a voice of reason during the past thirty years of stormy debates over school reform. A former high school teacher, district superintendent, and now professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, he takes quantitative data into account without being hypnotized by it, doesn’t tie himself into knots with pedagogical ideology, and never confuses with policy with practice.

The titles of his books over the years tell you where his research has taken him. When the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report sounded its alarm and inspired yet another round of reform-through-technology panaceas, Cuban added a cautionary note with Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920 (1986)—and when the drumbeat for computers in the classroom continued, he added Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom in 2003. My own favorites include How Teachers Taught: Constancy and Change in American Classrooms, 1890-1990 (1993), The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can’t Be Businesses (2007), and (with historian David Tyack) Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1997), a remarkably precise, concise, and evenhanded overview of what the efforts to improve K-12 education have and haven’t changed. Today, in the age of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and now the Common Core, advocates of top-down reform (I’m looking at you, Arne Duncan, and you, too, Bill Gates) could still benefit enormously just from reading the chapter in Tinkering called “How Schools Change Reform.” Read more ..


Book Review

Financing the Flames: Documenting How Terrorists Undermine Israel and America

December 7th 2013

Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terrorism in Israel. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 2013

In preparation for a performance of The Defiant Requiem, a somewhat dramatized version of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem Mass, a video is shown months earlier to prospective donors. The video documents the heroic work of Rafael Schachter, a young Jewish composer incarcerated in the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin, outside Prague during the early 1940s.

Schachter, who was murdered along with millions of other Jews, used his years at Terezin to teach fellow inmates to sing this monumental piece of Catholic music as an act of hope and warning: there is a God and, while His mercy is great, He also promises a day of just judgment.

Edwin Black, a New York Times bestselling international investigative author, has spent a good part of his life’s work explaining human rights abuses that saw one of its most horrifying and efficient realizations at places like Terezin and Auschwitz but neither began nor ended there.

Black’s focus is forward as well as back. There can be no understanding of what happened to the Jews in Europe during the 20th century without appreciating the diabolical history of eugenics, which he wrote about in War against the Weak (2012). There can be no understanding of how a petty dictator like Hitler could achieve such power without appreciating his powerful allies, which he covers in Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to Hitler’s Holocaust (2009) and IBM and the Holocaust (2001).

And there can be no understanding of the current Middle East madness, spilling out over the entire world, without appreciating contemporary Israel’s extraordinary formation (The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine, 1984), the tremendous wealth to be had keeping the turmoil of the Middle East inflamed (Internal Combustion: How Corporations and World Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives, 2006; Banking on Bagdad: Inside Iraq’s 7000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict, 2004), and a cabal of parties who fancy themselves doing “good.” Read more ..


Iran on Edge

Art and Sanctions

December 7th 2013

picasso show on the road

Iranian culture is tremendously rich. Art museums dot central Tehran, prominent Iranian universities teach art, and Iranians have traditionally been fierce patrons and collectors of fine art. Decades of economic mismanagement coupled with sanctions have eroded the Iranian middle class. Iranian society today is increasingly divided into super wealthy and poor.

Against this backdrop, the Iranian approach toward Christie's Auction serves several purposes. Christie's has 32 offices and salesrooms across the world, but only two in the Middle East: in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The Iranian Ministry of Culture's attempt, however futile, to convince Christie's to open an office in Iran would, in its mind restore, Iran to its rightful place in the world's cultural landscape. While Kish Island might sound like a random location, the Iranian government has developed it as an outlet to the outside world, the only location in Iran where no visa is required and anyone is welcome, except Israelis. Many Iranians visit Kish for its duty-free shopping and, during the winter, for its beach resorts. Read more ..


The Edge of Music

Gospel Music Restoration Project to Add Flavor to New Museum

December 6th 2013

Bible

Through Baylor University’s Black Gospel Music Restoration Project a remarkable collection of music that’s been housed in Texas is poised to add flavor to a new museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. 

Today, Bob Darden is a college professor in Waco, Texas.  But in 1960, he was a small child whose father had just brought home the family’s first three LP phonograph records.  Two of them, he didn’t care about.

“The third was Mahalia Jackson’s Christmas album," he said.  "And my parents say that at about age six or so,  that I played Mahalia’s album over and over.”

Darden’s fascination lasted throughout his life.  He eventually became gospel music editor for Billboard magazine.  Then in 2005, Darden - frustrated that it was getting harder to find this music that he loved -- wrote a letter to The New York Times complaining that black gospel was disappearing.  A man named Charles Royce read the letter “and called that day and said, ‘Tell me what we need to do and I’ll help fund it.’” Read more ..


Book Review

Front Porch Politics: A Long Overdue Revisionist History of Politically-Engaged Americans

November 30th 2013

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Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s. Michael Stewart Foley. Hill and Wang (2013)

Most Americans tell an identical story of the last decades of the twentieth century: Around 1968 the heightened political activism we call “the Sixties” began to overreach itself. Unreasonable, utopian demands replaced the practical, reasonable goals that had driven the civil rights and student movements of the previous decade. Those excesses, found especially in the rhetoric of “black power,” multiculturalism and universal equality, reportedly provoked a “backlash” of conservative politics. Around 1979 or 1980 that surge of right-wing reaction took over national government, first in the White House and then in Congress. Meanwhile, frustrated with a decade of social and political turmoil, Americans retreated from civic engagement. The “Age of Reagan” thus began.

A good story perhaps, but not one fully supported by the historical record. Using that record, Michael Stewart Foley offers, in this very readable and adept book, an alternative account of the era, one that discards the “two now-tired tales” of rising conservatism and declining civic engagement at the heart of the Reagan-era myth.

Such tales are believable, Foley argues, only if we focus on the period’s electoral and party politics and if we fail to take a closer look at what was happening in America’s neighborhoods, on its city streets, and across its backyard fences as the millennium came to a close. Instead, Foley urges us to turn our gaze downward and outward in order to look more closely at "another kind of political experience,' one that was 'much more likely to propel Americans into action' and one that has had a much greater impact on our political life than generally assumed. Read more ..


Film Review

Blue is the Warmest Color: Nothing to See Here, Folks

November 26th 2013

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Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle). Director: Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring: Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. Length: 90 mins.

One of my favorite recent Guardian headlines — right up there alongside "Why do normal men turn sexist when they get in front of a barbecue?" or "Snowden's revelations must not blind us to government as a force for good" — is this one, to an article by Nick Dastoor: "A single man's guide to seeing Blue Is the Warmest Color." As self-parody, that could have topped even Julie Bindel’s "What straight men don’t understand about lesbians" of a couple of years previous except that, unlike her piece, Mr Dastoor’s turned out to have been a deliberate self-parody. I find that a hopeful sign. If even the unfailingly p.c. Guardian can recognize something of the absurdity in the political controversy surrounding Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or-winning movie — which, by the way, the Guardian’s critic absolutely loved — then maybe the islands of sanity in the sea of Media Madness are larger and more accommodating than I have hitherto supposed.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we can quite ignore the controversy or the politics in order to look at this very pretty and well-made movie as "just" a movie. No more can Mr Kechiche successfully renounce his or his camera’s "male gaze" at the naked bodies of two remarkably attractive young women who are apparently not lesbians in real life but are pretending to be lesbians in the movie. Or, rather, they are pretending to be what he, or they, or even certain authoritative lesbians themselves must imagine "authentic" lesbians to be.

A certain uneasiness on this point was doubtless what led the jury at Cannes, presided over by Steven Spielberg, to award the top prize not just to the director but also to the two young women in question, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, both of whom have since criticized Mr Kechiche for mistreating or exploiting them. That criticism is also, I suspect, at least partly politically motivated, since it forestalls any censure of themselves for acting like sexual performing seals at the bidding of a man with a camera. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Confronting the New Israel Fund

November 23rd 2013

Edwin Black

At a time of ceaseless budget crises, it may astound many that American taxpayers are deploying their precious dollars not to pay for peace in Israel, but to achieve the exact opposite: confrontation.

Each year, American aid, taxpayer subsidies of 501(c)(3) organizations, and other financial programs richly support political confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis, vocal critics say. Tax experts estimate that for every one million dollars in donations received by a 501(c)(3), US taxpayers must subsidize approximately $440,000.

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames
see The Edwin Black Show

Tax-exempt charitable organizations are supposed to be just that: charitable. But prominent Israeli critics claim that highly politicized American charitable organizations, including several operated by some of America’s most prominent Jewish personalities, are actually working hard to destabilize the Israel Defense Forces and erase Israel’s identity as a Jewish State. Rather than engaging in charitable programs, outspoken critics say, these charitable groups are focused on massive political lobbying and fomenting internal political upheaval that make peace between Arab and Jew seemingly impossible. Not a few of these critics point to the prestigious New Israel Fund (NIF) as the chief culprit.

NIF grants steer millions of US dollars to scores of confrontation-oriented Israeli NGOs. Among the controversial NGOs is one called B’Tselem, which circulates video cameras to Arab villages that are hotbeds for confrontation. Israeli military officials assure that they rely upon B'Tselem’s help to document IDF infractions. But many critics in the ranks charge the cameras are calculated to capture the scene after soldiers are taunted into finally reacting.

One such critic is Colonel Benny Yanay, who represents Consensus, an organization of several hundred IDF officers. "The New Israel Fund,” insists Yanay, “acts against Israel—against the soldiers of our country. It is important to me that people recognize the New Israel Fund for what it is. It is supported by foreign governments and organizations so that Israeli soldiers will be weakened." Yanay adds, "Their budget is more than anything we have—so it is not a fair fight. We are not a political organization. They are political." Read more ..


Film Review

Enough Said: Who Needs Good and Evil?

November 22nd 2013

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Enough Said. Writer and Director: Nicole Holofcener. Starring: James Gandolfini, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Catherine Keener. Length: 90 minutes.

Nicole Holofcener makes little movies about "relationships" and the anxieties of young to middle-aged women in a post-feminist, upper-middle class world where sex-defined social roles have become more or less impermissible. Her heroines must therefore live with a constant sense of anxiety that they are not living up to their lightly held feminist principles by continuing to look for love, to worry about their looks and by not being sufficiently self-defining. In such earlier pictures as Lovely and Amazing (2001) Friends with Money (2006) and Please Give (2010) she managed to tell funny and often charming stories of such women with few hints of any ambition to make a larger statement, either about feminism, its impact on society or the human condition generally — or at least not more than could be contained in one of the TV sit-coms she sometimes writes or directs in between movies. In her latest film, however, and even though she is ostensibly sticking pretty close to her formula and to female troubles, there are signs that she may be reaching for something bigger and more mythic.

In fact, the new picture, Enough Said, could be seen as a hip, updated version of the Adam and Eve story. You remember, the one in the Bible? Book of Genesis? Ring any bells? Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays Eve (or Eva as she is called here), an itinerant masseuse in Los Angeles. Divorced with a daughter, Ellen (Tracey Fairaway), about to go off to college, this Eva meets her Adam in the hulking shape of Albert, played by James Gandolfini in one of his last screen roles. At the same party she meets a new client, Marianne (Catherine Keener), who turns out to be the serpent in their garden, tempting her with something which is much more irresistible than a piece of fruit but which has definitely come straight off the tree of Forbidden Knowledge. And, like her namesake, Eva falls. Read more ..


Book Review

Lawrence in Arabia: A Biography of the Man who Made the Modern Mideast

November 22nd 2013

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Scott Anderson. Doubleday Publishers. 2013.

Lawrence in Arabia is not a traditional biography of the enigmatic T. E. Lawrence; instead, the story of Lawrence’s exploits in Arabia is rendered in great detail by veteran war correspondent Scott Anderson, who proves to be an excellent storyteller. While the book concentrates upon Lawrence, Anderson also examines the impact of Western imperialism on the Middle East through German academic and diplomat Curt Pruűffer, American Standard Oil representative and later diplomat turned scholar William Yale, and Jewish agronomist and Zionist Aaron Aaronsohn. This biographical approach makes for interesting reading and also includes, among others, in-depth portraits of British diplomat Mark Sykes and Arab leader Emir Hussein and his son Faisal ibn Hussein.

But the core of the book remains Lawrence’s adventures in Arabia in which the British soldier often found himself in conflict with the policies of his government. The British in an effort to tie down Turkish troops encouraged an Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire. The leader of this revolt was the respected religious figure Emir Hussein from Mecca, who was promised an Arab nation which would include Syria and Palestine.

Yet unknown to the Arabs, in 1916 the French and British negotiated the Sykes-Picot agreement which placed limitations upon any future Arab state by reserving Palestine and Iraq for the British, while the French, despite their lack of a significant military presence on the Middle Eastern front, were to be awarded the primary role in Syria and Lebanon. In addition, the 1917 Balfour Declaration committed the British to the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. In seeking to explain the double dealing of the European governments toward the Arabs, Anderson writes, “For many Europeans, steeped in the condescension of the late imperial age, independence didn’t mean letting native peoples actually govern themselves, but something far more paternalistic: a new round of the ‘white man’s burden,’ the tutoring -- and, of course, the exploiting -- of native peoples until they might sufficiently grasp the ways of modern civilization to stand on their own at some indeterminate point in the future” (183). Read more ..


Film Review

Captain Phillips: A Victim Hero and a Political Fable

November 21st 2013

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Captain Phillips. Director: Paul Greenglass. Starring: Tom Hanks

Somebody had to write it, of course. In the event it turned out to be Christopher Orr of the Atlantic, though any number of critics these days might have done the same. Here’s the lead of Mr Orr’s piece about Captain Phillips, Paul Greengrass’s true-life tale of piracy in the treacherous waters of the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia in 2009:

A tiny cohort of poorly organized insurgents, in a feat of terrible miscalculation, hijack an enterprise vastly larger than themselves, demanding a large and implausible ransom. Outnumbered and surrounded, they soon begin bickering with one another, their plans changing by the hour. Although repeatedly offered an out if they will simply release their hostage, they find themselves too deeply wedded to the self-destructive course they’ve charted. "I came too far," their leader explains. "I can’t give up." Is Paul Greengrass’s Captain Phillips the most inadvertently resonant movie of the year?

Oh, I get it. He means that those Wascally Wepublicans who are (or were when the piece appeared) brutalizing and holding hostage President Obama and his pathetic band of defenseless Democrats are just like the Somali pirates in Mr Greengrass’s film — except that the film feels a great deal more sympathy toward the gun-toting pirates than Mr Orr or his fellow partisans have shown any signs of toward the Republicans or tea-partiers. Here’s yet more redundant proof that movie criticism and left-wing idiocy go together like a horse and carriage. Or a vast container ship and piracy. Read more ..


Financing the Flames

Author Edwin Black Reveals Latest Terrorism Funding at IBC-TV Special Event at Beverly Hills City Council

November 20th 2013

Edwin Black

New York Times bestselling author Edwin Black will be the featured speaker at the IBC-TV Special Event being hosted in the Beverly Hills City Council Chambers by the Beverly Hills Forum November 25, 2013. He will reveal new information from his latest investigative book, Financing the Flames: How Tax-Exempt and Public Money Fuel a Culture of Confrontation and Terror in Israel. The IBC-TV Special Event accompanies a special 10-part broadcast series on Financing the Flames produced as part of the Edwin Black Show on the IBC-TV network.

Buy Financing the Flames
Learn More About Financing the Flames
see The Edwin Black Show

Financing the Flames pulls the cover off the robust use of US tax-exempt, tax-subsidized, and public monies to foment agitation, systematically destabilize the Israel Defense Forces, and finance terrorists in Israel. In a far-flung investigation in the United States, Israel, and the West Bank, human-rights investigative reporter Edwin 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.

Black spotlights key charitable organizations such as the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, the New Israel Fund, 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.

Financing the Flames has received a cascade of accolades since it was unleashed upon the public last month. Rick Halperin director of Southern Methodist University Embrey Human Rights Program and former chairman of the board of Amnesty International USA called the book “a jolt.” Halperin wrote, “Most people should and will be appalled to read the revelations in Financing the Flames. It is a jolt!” Read more ..


Book Review

What Price Gilad?

November 20th 2013

Gilad Shalit after Release

Gershon Baskin. The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas. The Toby Press, 2013. 283 pages.

It all began in June 2006 when a nineteen year old Israeli army conscript, Gilad Schalit, was kidnapped by Hamas loyalists -- “rogue groups” Gershon Baskin calls them -- in the continuing tit-for-tat violence between Israeli occupiers and occupied Palestinians. The Israelis have imprisoned thousands of Palestinians, some of whom committed heinous crimes and many others whose nonviolent challenges to their subjugators ended up in a prison cell, much to the dismay of their families and supporters. Schalit, nineteen, was only one Israeli Jew, but in Israel his capture was taken personally. To set the stage, Baskin tells us that one year earlier, his wife’s cousin was murdered in Ramallah by a Hamas member.

Enter Baskin, an American-Israeli, who has spent virtually his entire professional life in Israel working with other peaceniks for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, having co-founded with a Palestinian ally a public-policy think tank and where he now writes a column, “Encountering Peace” in the Jerusalem Post.

When he first heard of Schalit’s abduction he had what can best described as a revelation. He possessed one thing Israel’s spymasters and officials didn’t have, namely extensive contacts with Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza, which he had developed over the years in his peace work. Seated on the shores of the Dead Sea in neighboring Jordan, learning of the abduction, he reflected on the kidnapping’s possible consequences, asking himself, “How many innocent Israelis and Palestinians would be killed as a result of this attack?” -- retaliation being the name of the game. Read more ..


Book Review

The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide

November 19th 2013

Blood Telegram

In The Blood Telegram, Gary J. Bass, a former journalist who is currently a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, describes the 1971 bloodbath which destroyed East Pakistan and gave birth to the nation of Bangladesh – a series of events which Bass argues culminated in “a forgotten genocide,” overshadowed by events in Vietnam and Cambodia along with the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Bass asserts that the United States must bear responsibility for the Pakistani army’s violent response to calls for autonomy following the electoral victory of Mujib-ur-Rahman in East Pakistan.

The violence, which left at least a quarter million Bengalis dead and millions more refugees, was carried out with weapons supplied by the United States to its Pakistan military ally, while President Richard Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger refused to reign in their client General Ayha Muhammad Yahya Khan despite the fact that the U.S. consulate in Dacca provided detailed intelligence to the State Department and White House of the atrocities taking place in East Pakistan.

The chief protagonist of this story is career Foreign Service officer Archer Blood, who as head of the consulate at Dacca sacrificed his career to assure that the true story of the massacre in East Pakistan was communicated to Washington. Nixon and Kissinger were infuriated with the so-called “Blood Telegram,” and the career diplomat was recalled from his post. Bass also reserves praise for former New York Republican Senator Kenneth Keating, who served as Ambassador to India during the crisis and failed to share the animosities of Nixon and Kissinger toward Indian democracy. Read more ..



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