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Book Review

More than a Book on Downs Syndrome

August 18th 2013

Special Mother

A Special Mother is Born: Parents share How God Called Them to the Extraordinary Vocation of Parenting a Special Needs Child. Leticia Velasquez. Westbow Press, 2011. 256 pp.

Leticia Velasquez, mother of a cherished daughter with Down’s syndrome and co-founder of KIDS – Keep Infants with Down Syndrome – had a brainwave when she thought of this book: instead of concentrating on children born with special needs she decided to focus instead on their mothers, whose lives have been indelibly altered by the birth of their special children. By describing them as “special mothers,” Velasquez wants to emphasize the faith that is required in these circumstances: the belief that God has chosen a particular mother and a particular family for a particular child, despite all the demands and challenges that this child will bring.

So it is a book, first and foremost, of faith – in the teachings of the Church, and of trust, love and hope. That said, the stories related in its pages do not try to minimize the problems of giving birth to children with often multiple impairments, both physical and intellectual. The message is that if you accept the baby that you certainly did not plan and initially were afraid to welcome, you will receive unasked for gifts that you could never have anticipated.

Velasquez asked many women to relate their own experiences; their stories are most moving to read. They speak of struggles, confusion, fear, a sense of helplessness at the tasks ahead of them – but also of miracles, conversions, marriages healed, the love of siblings and of families made stronger and more united. She writes, “Every day hundreds of women are presented with an unexpected invitation to maternity and in order to give life to their child, must make nothing less than a heroic choice.” Read more ..

Book Review

Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution

August 16th 2013

Difficult Men

Difficult Men. Brett Martin. Penguin Press. 2013. 320 pp.

Historians of popular culture know the pattern: every so often a confluence of developments -- technological change, new revenue sources, emerging audiences, and last (and, mythology notwithstanding, very possibly least), artistic innovation -- converge to create an unexpected cultural flowering in an established medium. It happened in the publishing industry circa 1850, radio circa 1930, the record business in the 1950s, and in Hollywood in the 1970s. As we're all aware, we seem to be living through such a moment now with cable television, reflected in the excitement of dramas like The Sopranos (1999-2007), The Wire (2002-2008), Mad Men (2007-), and Breaking Bad (2008-). One difference that may distinguish this particular efflorescence from previous ones is the degree of self-consciousness in the breadth and depth of the cultural commentary. It usually took a while, for instance, for good books to show up on even as recent a phenomenon as the rise of independent cinema. But in the case of cable, we have Alan Sepinwall's highly regarded The Revolution Was Televised, which came out last year. And we now have Brett Martin's newly published Difficult Men as well.

The most obvious model for Difficult Men is Peter Biskind's now-classic 1999 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-Rock & Roll Generation saved Hollywood. As befitting the different cultural moments, Martin's subjects -- notably Sopranos creator David Chase, The Wire's David Simon, and Mad Men's Matthew Weiner -- are a notably more dour, business-savvy crowd than the manic Francis Coppola or Martin Scorsese. But they're comparably driven personalities able to take advantage of a relative vacuum in a medium and realize passionate artistic visions. In the case of Hollywood in the seventies, this was a matter of an industry that had lost its way commercially. In the case of a network like HBO, it was a matter of very low, if not confused, expectations about how to proceed. In both cases, early success pushed open a door for others to follow -- in movies, it was a figure like Steven Spielberg; in the case of cable, Vince Gilligan (of Breaking Bad fame). Both were more mild personalities who seem to be able to work within the system (in Gilligan's case, the once-benighted world of basic cable like AMC, which acquired Mad Men as well as his show). Read more ..

Book Review

A Rational Examination Asking Why So Many Chose to Escape

August 13th 2013

The Deserters

The Deserters. Charles Glass. Penquin Press. 2013. 400 pp.

In a nation where World War II is commonly celebrated in films and TV in an aura of triumphalism, Charles Glass’s book The Deserters” re-examines a phase of the war that has essentially been overlooked by extollers of the "Good War." (Glass was the chief Middle East correspondent for ABC News from 1983 to 1993 and also covered Africa and the Balkans.)

The unfortunate Eddie Slovik may have been the only GI executed for desertion during the Second World War, but his desertion in 1944 was hardly an anomaly (hence the executon, pour encourager les autres). In the Civil War, which took the lives of 750,000 soldiers, about 300,000 deserted from Union and Confederate armies, Mark Twain famously among them. During World War I, more than 300 British soldiers were executed, among them many deserters. Not until 2006, following a campaign organized by a citizen’s group “Shot at Dawn,” did the British government finally deign to pardon them. During World War II, the number of deserters executed by the German Wehrmachtnumberd in the thousands.

The Deserters is not a defense of desertion. It is a rational examination asking why so many chose to escape. Glass tells us is that during World War II, 100,000 British and 50,000 American soldiers deserted, several thousand Americans were punished and 49 received death sentences, though only Slovik's was carried out. Glass focuses on three deserters: the Americans Stephen Weiss and Alfred Whitehead and John Vernon Bain, a British soldier.

At age seventeen, Brooklyn-born Stephen Weiss volunteered and fought in Italy and France. Stranded behind German lines he joined a group of French partisans. When he reconnected with his unit, his buddies asked him why he even bothered to return. Tried and found guilty of desertion he was imprisoned, eventually freed and is today a psychiatrist in California. Read more ..

Book Review

Boilerplate Presentation of Libertarian Ideology

August 9th 2013

The Great Degeneration

The Great Degeneration. Niall Ferguson. Penguin Press. 2013. 192 pp.

I'm a sucker for lecture series books. For many years, Harvard University Press has published the William E. Massey Lectures in the History of American Civilization, which have included wonderful titles like Lawrence Levine's Highbrow/Lowbrow (1988), Richard Rorty's Achieving Our Country (1998), and Andrew Delbanco's The Real American Dream (1999). Louisiana State University Press's Walter Lynwood Fleming Lecture series is also very good, notable for Drew Gilpin Faust's The Creation of Confederate Nationalism (1989), among other titles. What's nice about these books is that they often distill a cast of mind into highly readable, short volumes that can be digested in chunks. They're typically small in terms of trim size and their number of pages.

What's not typical is for a major commercial press like Penguin to publish a series of lectures. But then Niall Ferguson is not exactly a typical author -- he's an academic superstar with appointments at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford and a veritable journalism and television brand. In The Great Degeneration, he offers a précis of his libertarian brand of thinking with an expansive view of Anglo-American society -- and why it's falling apart. It rests on a key insight, and a questionable prescription.

The insight -- a usefully provocative one -- is to view the United States and Britain (with occasional references to the rest of the West) through the lens of institutions. Actually, it's a little surprising this isn't done more often. In recent years we've tended to focus on things like climate/geography, brilliantly argued in works like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) or culture (the orientation of neoconservative intellectuals such as Thomas Sowell). Ferguson instead focuses his four chapters, bounded by an introduction and conclusion, by four institutional forces in everyday life: government, the marketplace, the legal system, and civil society (he's a big Tocqueville fan). In each case, he locates the triumph of Anglo-American life in the last three centuries to the way England and the United States have organized these institutions relative to their rivals. And in each case, he also cites the degeneration of the title, which he captures with brief, vivid strokes (and a few graphs). In diagnosing a problem, he's fairly persuasive. Read more ..

The Film Edge

Outdoor Movies Gain Popularity in US

August 7th 2013

Drive-In Movie

More than half a century ago, there were 4000 drive-in movie theaters in the United States, and watching a movie from your car was a popular way to spend an evening. But with the number of drive-ins reduced to just a few hundred, a new breed of outdoor movie has been popping up across the nation. Going to an open-air theater has become a modern summer pastime for many movie fans.

A huge inflatable screen is being erected in a park in downtown Rosslyn, Virginia, a busy suburb outside of Washington. It is for a film festival that night.

Brynne Magaziner came early with her husband. “We try to come at least a couple times every summer. Just nice to be outside in the beautiful weather and watch a movie. And it is free, which is a bonus.” Nick Donner came with friends. "I enjoy the social aspect being with friends and seeing movies that I haven’t seen in a while. It’s relaxing to be here.”

The Rosslyn Business Improvement District, known as BID, started the Outdoor Film Festival in 2007. It features a free movie every Friday night during the warm weather, from mid-May to the end of August. Lee Anne McLarty is the group’s acting director of communications. Read more ..

Book Review

Sleepingwalking into World War I

August 6th 2013

The Sleepwalkers

The Sleepwalkers. Christopher Clark. Harper, 2013. 736 pages.

At one point early on in The Sleepwalkers, University of Cambridge Professor Christopher Clark cites a perception—certainly one I had growing up—of the First World War taking place on the far side of a historical divide. "It was easy to imagine the disaster of Europe's 'last summer' as an Edwardian costume drama," he writes, attributing this view to Barbara Tuchman books. "The effete rituals and gaudy uniforms, the 'ornamentalism' of a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy had a distancing effect on present-day recollection. They seemed to signal that the protagonists were people from another, vanished world."

The Sleepwalkers—particularly the first of the book's three parts—bracingly, even joltingly, revises this view. We are introduced to a shadowy world of fanatical terrorist cells engaged in plots that range across state borders, funded and armed by secret organizations that are connected, with carefully constructed plausible deniability, to official government ministries. The fanatics in this case are Serbian nationalists rather than Islamic fundamentalists (though it should be said that Serbian nationalism has long had strong religious overtones), but their outlook and methodology seem startlingly modern. So too are the polarizing pressures and media attention their activities generate, especially in terms of a positive feedback loop in which even presumably moderate figures feel compelled to emphasize their militancy for fear of appearing weak. When, after a series of botched attempts, one youthful member of an organization known as the Black Hand finally succeeds in murdering the heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, it triggers a war in which many of the participants have only a peripheral relationship to its proximate cause. Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly don't seem so far away from the Balkans. Read more ..

Book Review

A Fascinating Life

August 5th 2013

Hedy Lamar

Hedy Lamar. Ruth Barton. University Press of Kentucky. 2012. 312 pp.

Described as “the most beautiful woman in the world” during her Hollywood film career from the late 1930s to the 1950s, Hedy Lamarr is less well known today among film fans, with the exception of viewers who enjoy Turner Classic Movies. Nevertheless, Lamarr is the subject of three recent biographical studies, perhaps due to her long overlooked status as an inventor. During the Second World War, Lamarr joined with avant-garde composer George Antheil to develop a patent for spread spectrum communication and frequency hopping -- an innovation necessary for wireless communication from the pre-computer era to modern times. Ruth Barton, a lecturer in film studies at Trinity College Dublin and the author of several books on Irish cinema, is a scholar who employs archival film research coupled with an exhaustive examination of secondary sources to create a profile of Lamarr as a European émigré who was never quite comfortable with Hollywood and her adopted country. While acknowledging that Lamarr’s 1966 controversial autobiography Ecstasy and Me, which focused upon her love life and six marriages, contains elements of truth, Barton seeks to understand Lamarr as more than just a sex symbol.

Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, which was then still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She was the only child of an affluent and cultured Jewish family that attempted to assimilate into Viennese society. As a young woman she displayed a passion for the theater and failed to complete her secondary education. She gained considerable notoriety when she appeared nude in the art film Ecstasy (1933) directed by Czech filmmaker Gustav Machaty. Barton notes that Hedy’s private life and many of her early Hollywood films were similar to the plot of Ecstasy. A beautiful young woman is married to an older man, but she is finally able to discover passion with a younger lover. Hedy’s career in German and Austrian film was cut short by her marriage to Austrian munitions maker and fascist sympathizer Fritz Mandl, approximately twenty years her senior. Although Hedy was allowed a generous expense account, Mandl controlled the movements of his young wife. With World War II looming on the horizon and her husband concentrating upon politics and business interests, Hedy was finally able to escape Mandl, fleeing to Paris and eventually Hollywood where she signed a contract with MGM and Louis Mayer. Read more ..

Book Review

Portrait of a Small Group of Immigrants to Shores

July 30th 2013

Little Ethiopia of the Pacific Northwest

Little Ethiopia of the Pacific Norhwest. Joseph W. Scott and Solomon Getahun. Transaction Publishers. 2013. 170 pp.

Often a book will be idly described as “timely” on one thin ground or another. This book on Ethiopians who migrated from their home country in Northern Africa (via Sudan?) and settled in Seattle fits the needs of all who are focusing on immigration policy at this moment and wish they knew a whole lot more about those who came here voluntarily and involuntarily.

Little Ethiopia is a detailed analysis of how the elite of Ethiopia reacted to Communist control of their North African country after the 1974 Revolution; how they fled (chiefly) to Sudan; how they got selected there as immigrants to the United States; how they settled in Seattle and hated, endured, or succeeded in Life there; and how after soul searching, some returned to the homeland where maybe the old ways would again prevail.

The newcomers from Addis Ababa and vicinity are by no means “typical” in the sense of the 11 million immigrants who worry policymakers (and a lot of our public) at this moment. The Ethiopians who came to “the Pacific Northwest” were “sojourners” who expected to return home before too long. Borderline “middle class” and/or “elite” at home, they were full of illusions about the life that suddenly faced them during what seemed likely to be a temporary stay in our land of freedom and opportunity.

Soviet meddling with their home country had blocked money transfers, produced threats of bodily harm and more, produced jail and exile, and changed lifestyles born through the distant centuries. Stranded, these new and definitely involuntary long term visitors to the U.S. (some 175,000 in all) began a long process that illusions indicated would bring some form of relief and even happiness.

The bedrock of this innovative sociological study is extensive and very carefully framed interviews with 70 individuals on topics that center on “the trials and tribulations of transplanted Ethiopians who came from an ancient, agricultural, low-tech poor society....” They hoped to “adapt, survive, and thrive” in their new environment, one that might well turn out to be a “young, industrial, postmodern, high-tech, rich society....” The ages of the sample were 20 to 53. Read more ..

Book Review

The Rebirth of Union City's Schools

July 28th 2013

Improbable Scholars

David Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and a longtime observer of American education, has written an invaluable book that is remarkable for its good sense and insight, and even more remarkable for appearing in the midst of an ongoing educational conversation that has long been marked by an almost willful air of unreality.  For at least thirty years, writing aimed at the general public and educators alike has embraced false dichotomies (skills v. content); false analogies (schools as businesses); dubious panaceas (vouchers, charters, high-stakes testing); and sloganeering disguised as curriculum reform (“21st century skills”).  A quick tour of the past three decades can remind us of how the atmosphere got polluted—and make clear why Kirp’s book is such a welcome addition.

In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” sounded its alarm about American public education, and popular narratives about what was wrong and how to fix it popped up like spring flowers.  Unfortunately, they were often simplistic and extreme.  Even the movies, which both influence and reflect what many people are thinking, got into the act.  Remember “Stand and Deliver” (1988), with Edward James Olmos’s uncanny impersonation of Jaime Escalante’s classroom heroics?  (Jay Mathews, the Washington Post’s excellent education writer, came out with a book shortly thereafter, showing that Escalante wasn’t exactly the Lone Ranger: he had help.  But Mathews’s book was dramatically subtitled, “The Best Teacher in America.”)  Hardliners were more taken with heroic principals.  Remember Joe Clark, his baseball bat and bullhorn, in “Stand By Me” (1986)?  He became a celebrity, even though, as Kirp notes, his school remained a mess and within a few years he was out of education and trundling around the “motivational speaking” circuit.

The penchant for the rhetorically grandiose seeped into policy with the standards movement of the 1990s (the standards were always to be “world class,” in schools that would “break the mold”) and then, most emphatically, with the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001.  Every child was to be taught by “highly qualified teachers” (often inflated by superintendents and commissioners into “great teachers”), and schools that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress were subject to being “transformed”—after all, schools were supposed to be in a “race to the top.” Read more ..

The Movie Edge

Lebanon's Arts District Brings Back Silver Screen

July 27th 2013

Elizabeth Cleopatra Taylor

The cosmopolitan district of Hamra was the intellectual center of Beirut until the Lebanese civil war drove many writers and artists to flee the neighborhood. The war also led to the closing of more than a dozen cinemas but now the silver screen has returned.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Hamra's café culture attracted Arab writers and artists from across the Middle East. It was also where you could watch the latest American movies in more than two-dozen neighborhood cinemas. 

Moviegoers even braved the first few years of the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990 and dodged gunfire to glimpse their favorite Hollywood stars. But that did not last. By the end of the conflict, even the small cinemas had shuttered. Some later re-opened but could not survive the arrival of videos and home entertainment.

Now the silver screen has returned to Hamra with the opening of the first neighborhood movie theater in the district in a decade. The Prime on Bliss Street has opened opposite the American University at Beirut and is equipped with big modern screens and the latest sound technology. The cinema’s manager, Jean Elhelou, says moviegoers like the surround-sound and big screens that capture the special effects of the blockbuster films.  Read more ..

Economic Jihad

How Entertainers Are Bullied Into Not Performing In Israel

July 26th 2013

Elvis Costello

Israeli fans of golden oldies won’t be hearing Eric Burdon grind out his signature House of The Rising Sun. The lead Animals singer canceled his appearance, a victim of intimidation including death threats to stay away from the Jewish state.

Welcome to the ‘pro-peace’ bullies of the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a movement whose public face is a “nonviolent pressure to end the Occupation”—but whose thinly-veiled tactics range from “shunning” to threatening celebrities who refuse to cave to the ‘big lie’ that Israel is an ‘apartheid state.’

BDS’ fixation on celebrities into taking outlandish positions on the Mideast makes perfect sense. In our world, Celebrity=Media coverage.

UK’s self-anointed celebrity Middle East activists have brought a certain panache and chutzpah to their hypocritical anti-Israel street theatre. Last year, a letter signed by three-dozen British celebrities, including actress Emma Thompson, followed unsuccessful demonstrations to force a cancellation at London’s Old Globe Theater of a Hebrew language performance of The Merchant of Venice by Israel’s renowned Habima Theater. Read more ..

The Music Edge

N. Korean Defectors to Perform at Concert for Peace

July 25th 2013

Piano Keys

Pianist Kim Cheol Woong and a young violinist are preparing for a special concert. She does not want her face shown in video because, like Kim, she is a North Korean defector to South Korea.

Kim is headlining a “Concert for Peace” in Seoul on July 26 commemorating the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War but also left the country divided. Kim hopes his music can help one day bring the two Koreas back together again.

“I want to provide an insight which can help South Koreans to understand North Koreans through my music," he said. "So South Koreans can understand better when they hold talks with North Koreans. I want to create a foundation where people can understand each other by understanding the culture through my music.”Kim is not a typical North Korean refugee. He was once part of the privileged in Pyongyang and, after living in Seoul for a decade, he has become a famous entertainer. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Rebels with a Cause Slam Corporate Greed

July 23rd 2013

Drain to ocean

Two new films explore fictional fringe groups that take social justice into their own hands. The capers, The East and Now You See Me, offer 21st century Robin Hood-type plots where young vigilantes target corporate greed.

The underground organization called "The East" warns before it attacks:  “Change your ways or pay the consequences.” Its members don't kill, not directly anyway.

Instead, they turn the corporations’ practices against them. They feed CEOs their tainted medicines. They force them into rivers their companies’ pollute. Ellen Paige plays Izzy, one of the radicals. Brit Marling plays Sarah, a corporate spy who goes undercover to infiltrate “The East” in order to expose its members. She ends up joining the group instead. “When we started shooting the film a week before Occupy Wall Street blew up, we were so excited," said Marling, who also co-wrote the script. "We felt like, ‘Oh gosh!’ We were telling a story that is really prescient and what people are feeling.” Read more ..

Book Review

America: Empire or Umpire

July 23rd 2013

Hoffman-American Umpire

Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman. American Umpire. Harvard University Press, 2013. 448 pages.

What role should America play on the world stage? What has been its exact role historically? Is our current position in the world a break from tradition—or a continuum? Is America a force for good—or is our international involvement the source of many of the world’s problems?

In American Umpire, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman offers a sweeping, wide-ranging, and remarkably in-depth overview of the history of American foreign relations. In a work bound to inspire fierce debate, Hoffman, the Dwight E. Stanford Professor of American Foreign Relations at San Diego State University and a National Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, argues that those that criticize America’s role in the world have it all wrong: “One of the most commonly held scholarly assumptions of our day—that the United States is a kind of empire—is not simply improbable but false.” (5) Above all, critics do not understand America’s history.

The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 started a process whereby “the world of monarchies and empires disappeared” (3), a trend that continued to the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. The birth of the United States “was the pivot of this worldwide transformation,” because of what it symbolized. To Hoffman, the accelerating trend towards democratic capitalism has been shaped by “access to opportunity, arbitration of disputes, and transparency in government and business.” Hoffman has an optimistic tone throughout; she writes that the second half of the past century “witnessed greater global economic development than any other period” in human history. Democratic capitalism, she argues, “brought down the world order known as empire.” Hoffman also asserts that “1898 to 1946 was the one and only period in which the United States sustained an Empire” (3–13). Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Playing "20 Questions" with Operatic Talent Soprano Rachel Black

July 22nd 2013

Rachel Black
Rachel Black

Kansas City Opera Institute (KCOI) recently played 20 questions with up and coming opera talent, soprano Rachel Black. The revealing interview follows:


To get to know our singers better, we’re playing 20 Questions. We asked each singer the same set of questions – but the answers are as unique as the singers themselves.

1. Rachel Black, what is your role with KCOI this summer?

I am singing in two scenes: Juliette in the final scene of Romeo et Juliette (Gounod) and the Cat Duet (Rossini).

2. When did you start singing? WHY did you start singing?

My first performance was The Little Mermaid in my first grade talent show when I was six. My mom made me fins. It was epic. For me, there is no why do I sing, it just is. From as long as I can remember, singing has been a huge part of my life and has brought me so much fulfillment and happines.

3. What brought you to Kansas City?

My husband and I got burned out on city life in New York and needed some “green” in our lives. I have family here and we made the big decision to move. We love it here and have never looked back! Read more ..

Book Review

The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England: A Social Revolution

July 21st 2013

The Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest. Mark Morris. Pegasus. 2013. 464 pp.

I didn't realize until after I had finished Marc Morris's The Norman Conquest that I had done so shortly after reading another book about a pivotal battle in the history of a nation, Allen Guelzo's new book on Gettysburg, The Last Invasion (see my review here). In that book, as in every account of Gettysburg, there are countless subjects for speculation -- what Robert E. Lee was really thinking; how many effective troops the two armies actually had at their disposal; who really should get the credit for the Union army's retention of Little Round Top (and if that really mattered). But whatever questions may arise about that or any other battle in the American Civil War, the documentary record is immense. We know, for example, what Abraham Lincoln was doing on any given day, often on an hourly basis.

In the case of the Battle of Hastings, an epochal event in the making of England, the amount we don't know is vastly greater than what we do. History in such cases rests on the slimmest of written accounts, which often contradict each other. At one point in his narrative, Morris compares such accounts with the visual depiction in the famed Bayeux Tapestry, and then quotes himself on some of the terms he used in preceding sentences: "seems"; "looks very much like"; "appears"; "as if." Though the battle took place was a "mere" 947 years ago, he has less to work with than even some ancient historians.

And yet Morris's professed uncertainty gives us confidence in him. He is as attuned to the historiography of his subject as he is the primary source record, which he deconstructs in some cases and affirms in others, often through a process of triangulation. Though clearly intended for a trade audience, and written by a non-academic (Morris is a magazine writer and broadcaster), The Norman Conquest is a tour de force piece of scholarship. Read more ..

The Edge of Crime

Stolen Masterpieces Feared Burned In Romania

July 20th 2013

picasso show on the road

One of the biggest art heists in years appears to have ended with a mother doing what she felt she had to do to save her son.

Olga Dogaru says she burned the art as criminal investigators turned their suspicions on Radu Dogaru, one of three Romanian suspects charged with stealing masterpieces from Rotterdam's Kunsthal gallery in October 2012.

The stolen paintings were: Pablo Picasso's 1971 "Harlequin Head"; Claude Monet's 1901 "Waterloo Bridge, London" and "Charing Cross Bridge, London"; Henri Matisse's 1919 "Reading Girl in White and Yellow"; Paul Gauguin's 1898 "Girl in Front of Open Window"; Meyer de Haan's "Self-Portrait," from around 1890; and Lucian Freud's 2002 work "Woman with Eyes Closed." It was the biggest art theft in the Netherlands in more than a decade. The stolen works have an estimated value of between 100 million and 200 million euros ($130 million-$260 million). Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Drive-In Movies in US Still Draw Crowds

July 19th 2013

Drive-In Movie

Drive-in movie theaters were once a vibrant part of American culture. The outdoor theaters with huge screens reached their peak in the late 1950s with more than 4,000 of  them across the US.  These days it's tough to find one.  However, some drive-ins still bring in big crowds just like the old days. 

Cars line up at the entrance to the Family Drive-In Theater in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. It's about 130 kilometers from Washington, D.C., where ticket attendant still great visitors cheerfully.

Shannon Scott and her family, like many others, arrived here more than two hours before the scheduled show. “You get the ambiance, you get the fun concession stand," Scott said. "You get to wait for the dark so there is family time together.”  

Since her family discovered Family Drive-In three years ago, Scott said they have often made the hour and a half drive to enjoy two movies for less than the price of one where she lives. “It's a beautiful drive," she said. "It is worth it to come here all the time. We love it." Read more ..

Book Excerpt

The New York Times' Favorite Imam: An Excerpt from 'The Brotherhood: America's Next Great Enemy'

July 18th 2013

Sheikh Abu Adam

"You are the first person I’ve given an interview to in a long time. The media, they tell lies about me.”

Sheikh Abu Adam spoke in an almost mournful tone as he led my cameraman and me down a dimly lit hallway in his Munich flat. His burly bodyguards, both dressed in similar al-Qaeda–like garb, flanked us on either side, as they would throughout the next three hours. Our destination was a small back room of the apartment where a Middle Eastern–style spread of chicken, rice, and pita bread awaited us.

This was Germany but it could have easily passed for Gaza—a fitting atmosphere for the Sheikh, an Egyptian native of Palestinian origin whose real name is Hesham Sheshaa. At the time of our meeting, his three wives and ten of his twelve (some say he has more) children lived with him in the cramped flat. Read more ..

Book Excerpt

Excerpt from 'The Brotherhood: America's Next Great Enemy'

July 17th 2013

The Brotherhood

The Brotherhood: America's Next Great Enemy. Erick Stakelbeck. Regnery Press. 2013. 256 pp.

The man they call “Islam’s Savior” appeared in desperate need of one.

Tariq Ramadan, darling of the European Left and arguably the West’s most influential Islamist, had just been informed that eight minutes still remained in our interview, which was scheduled to run a full half hour. He looked at me with a nervous, almost pleading smile and checked his watch, seemingly counting the seconds until he could bolt out the door and back into the warm embrace of his effete leftist admirers at Oxford University, where he’s comfortably ensconced as a professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies.

At that moment, I imagine Ramadan was wondering how in the name of Allah his handler at Oxford could have possibly scheduled our little sitdown. My line of questioning increasingly centered on his alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and while respectful, I kept probing. I had made the hour-plus trip from London to Oxford to learn more about the inner workings of the Brotherhood from Ramadan—a man who is literally heir to MB royalty—and I was determined to make my time with the notoriously evasive Islamo-spin-doctor worthwhile.

“I’m the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was a fact and is a fact and which is well known,” Ramadan told me, barely masking his annoyance. “And even when I was invited [to the United States] by the State Department, this is the way they were introducing me. So, this is something which is known. I’m not a member [of the Muslim Brotherhood], I never was a member—so this is something also which is known.”

Yet one needn’t be a “member” or formally tied, say, to the Brother- hood’s leadership in Egypt in order to promote the Ikhwan’s agenda. As we’ll see, that’s not how the organization operates. For instance, the Brotherhood’s former Supreme Guide, Mustafa Mashour, confirmed in a 1998 interview that belonging to the MB is about adhering to a specific ideology and way of thinking—no membership card required. He added that the work carried out by Tariq Ramadan and his brother, Hani Rama- dan, “is totally in keeping with the purest traditions of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Read more ..

American Lives

R.I.P.: Bookseller Karl Pohrt Passes Away as do Independent Bookstores

July 17th 2013

Karl Pohrt

Karl Pohrt was the founder of Shaman Drum Bookshop in Ann Arbor MI and a friend. He passed away on July 10 after losing a battle with cancer. Brain tumors made it impossible to continue blogging as of May of this year. The academic and broader community of Ann Arbor, which is home to the University of Michigan, mourned his passing. He was 65 years old and leaves his wife Dianne, daughters Tanya and Tasha, and three grandchildren as survivors. His brothers, Richard and Thomas, honor his memory. Brother Tom is a renowned author and illustrator in his own right.

Karl was renowned not only for his learning and business acumen, but also his kindness and vision. He served several terms as president of the American Booksellers Association, while in Ann Arbor he served on the boards of the Downtown Development Authority and the State Street Association for many years. Friends knew him for his gentle nature, which was peppered by a self-deprecating and acerbic wit.

His exequies were handled by the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Ann Arbor.

On May 10, he wrote in his well-regarded blog:

“A few days ago I had a seizure that the doctors discovered was due to three small brain tumors. I decided to end this blog--to exit the Hotel Karma (at least for the time being)--while I'm still in sound body and mind. I plan on being in sound body and mind for a while yet, but you never know.” Read more ..

Book Review

Jackie Robinson: A Civil Rights Pioneer

July 16th 2013

Beyond Home Plate

Beyond Home Plate. Michael Long, Editor. Syracuse University Press. 2013. 248 pp.

Ron Briley reviews books for the History News Network and is a history teacher and an assistant headmaster at Sandia Preparatory School, Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of "The Politics of Baseball: Essays on the Pastime and Power at Home and Abroad."

The courage and athletic ability demonstrated by Jackie Robinson in breaking Major League Baseball’s color line in 1947 and making the Brooklyn Dodgers a dominant National League club during the 1950s resulted in the ballplayer’s induction into the pantheon of baseball immortals at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Robinson’s career after he retired from the sport following the 1956 season is, however, less well known, but Robinson’s decision to take an active role in the civil rights movement provides ample proof that the courage displayed on the playing field carried over into the struggle for a democratic nation freed from the scourge of racial discrimination and segregation.

Robinson’s post baseball career advocacy for civil rights is well developed in this collection of the former ballplayer’s columns for the New York Post from 1959 to 1960 and the New York Amsterdam News from 1962 to 1968, both of which offered Robinson national syndication to air his views. This collection of columns is edited by Michael J. Long, an associate professor of religious studies and peace and conflict studies at Elizabethtown College who is the author and editor of several scholarly volumes including First Class Citizenship: The Civil Rights Letters of Jackie Robinson (2007), in cooperation with Jackie’s widow Rachel Robinson. Although Robinson enjoyed professional writing assistance at both newspapers, Long persuasively argues that the ideas presented in the columns were those of Robinson who was given considerable freedom to write on a variety of topics, offering considerable insight into his views on American politics and the civil rights movement. Read more ..

The Edge of Film

Nigeria's Film Industry Enters S. African Market

July 15th 2013

Nollywood Film Crew

Nigeria turns out full length feature films at a rate second to only India. Nollywood, the movie-making industry of Nigeria - known for shoe-string budgets and lax editing - is now maturing in quality and looking to expand its reach. iROKOtv, a website that streams movies and also a DVD distributor, has just entered the South African market - hoping to gain new interest, new customers and establish a strong African foothold for Nollywood films outside of Nigeria.

At the C.C. African Shop and Supermarket in central Johannesburg, there is a stand full of iROKO-branded Nollywood movies set up next to a heavily fortified cash register. Charity Udeze, the shop’s owner, says iROKO approached her to sell its movies because the neighborhood has a lot of Nigerian immigrants and she keeps her shelves full of Nigerian beans and plantains not always found in Johannesburg shops.

"They came and approached us that we should advertise it and sell it for them…. They have sold many of it anyway. From here we have sold up to 50 pieces," she explained. iROKO has offices in Lagos, London and New York - all places where it has a significant customer base. But now the company has turned its hopes to South Africa. Read more ..

Book Review

Channeling the Past: The Politicization of History--A Hard Look

July 14th 2013

Channeling the past

Channeling the Past: Politicizing History in Postwar America. Erik Christiansen. University of Wisconsin Press. 2013. 264 pp.

For many decades now, survey after survey has shown that American students learn little American history in their classrooms. So disappointed historians should be glad that, at least since World War II, popular history has been, well, popular. But, no. Instead, most academic historians who pay any attention to popular history at all spend much of their time lamenting its inaccuracy, its blandness, its frequent failure to conform to scholarly standards and to academics’ own particular interpretations.

Erik Christiansen, a historian and public history coordinator at Rhode Island College (Rhode Island is a small state, but we’ve never met), repeatedly registers these familiar complaints in his study of five organizations and programs that brought American history to the public in the two decades after World War II. Happily, despite its predictable (and presentist) fussing about their content and interpretations, the book adds valuable new insights into just how the History Book Club (still in operation today), the Du Pont Corporation’s “Cavalcade of America,” CBS’s “You Are There,” the Freedom Train (nearly forgotten today), and the Smithsonian presented the past to the American public in the two decades after World War II.

The “usable pasts” these programs created were not identical, but they shared many characteristics, including a tendency to rely on memory and nostalgia rather than critical analysis, and an unwillingness to rock the boat of Cold War consensus. Christiansen generally emphasizes the similarities, tracing them primarily to demands and limitations imposed by corporate or governmental sponsorship. Read more ..

Book Review

The Last Invasion--Unexpected Excellence

July 10th 2013


Gettysburg.--The Last Invasion. Allen C. Guelzo. Knopf. 2013. 656 pp.

I didn't expect to see a book about Gettysburg from Allen Guelzo. His early work focused on religious history; in recent years he has emerged as a Lincoln scholar of first rank on the strength of work like Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999) and Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Shaped America (2008).  Making a typical move for a senior historian seeking to bolster his credentials, he published Fateful Lightning, a survey of the Civil War and Reconstruction, last year. But Gettysburg: The Last Invasion is a work of straight military history.  I had my doubts that an essentially intellectual historian could really master a distinct subgenre. But the recent sesquicentennial prodded me to pick up this sizable tome, which I read during the anniversary of the battle. I'm glad I did.

Guelzo delivers the goods you expect with a book like this: an overview that sets the stage, a blow-by-blow account of the fighting, thumbnail sketches of the principals, counterfactual assessments of the might-have-beens. We get lots of active verbs: regiments and brigades don't simply attack; they "lunge," "bang"or "slap" each other. In his recent review of the book in the New York Times, David Blight criticized Guelzo for this, invoking the great John Keegan's complaint about a “'Zap-Blatt-Banzai-Gott im Himmel-Bayonet in the Guts' style of military history." I take the point. But overall I have to say that Guelzo's approach animates his narrative without really trivializing his subject. Indeed, Guelzo uses numbers to suggest the gravity of the three-day battle, noting that in the most conservative estimate, the damage sustained by the Army of Northern Virginia was equivalent to two sinkings of the Titanic, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888 and two Pearl Harbors -- and two and a half times the losses taken by Allied armies in Normandy from D-Day through August of 1944. Union losses were comparable. Read more ..

The Way We Are

Maryland Community Becomes Patron of the Arts

July 6th 2013


Artists would like to devote all their effort on their craft, but the need to make money often forces them to focus on creating works that can be sold. A small town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has become a patron of the arts, and the community hopes its burgeoning patronage will give local artists creative freedom.

Vicco von Voss has been making wooden furniture from salvaged materials for 20 years. “When I get a tree that has been blown over by a hurricane or strictly taken down by a tree company, I have the opportunity to give this tree a second life,” he said. Von Voss is known for creating elegant, yet functional pieces.  “Part of my philosophy is that if it took a tree 80 years to grow, I need to build something that will last for that same duration.” Read more ..

Book Review

Disinformation: Soviet & Russian Assaults on Israel, America and Religion

July 5th 2013


Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism. Co-authors: Ion Pacepa and Ronald Rychlak. WND Publishers. 2013. 362 pp.

In an exclusive interview, Ronald Rychlak, co-author of a new book entitled Disinformation, offered further insights into the Soviet era campaign to enflame worldwide passions not only against the United States and Israel, but also the Catholic Church. Rychlak said that the Soviet Union engaged in an “evolutionary process” since the time of the Second World War and into the present day to undermine U.S. relations with Muslim and Mideast oil-producing countries by casting it as the guarantor and promoter of supposed designs by Israel and Jews to expand their economic power and territorial claims. Moreover, said Rychlak, targeting the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations for its program of infiltration and disinformation, the Soviets and successors in Russia sought to eliminate opponents to violent revolution.

Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategy for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism, is the product of meticulous research and collaboration. Rychlak is a professor of law at the University of Mississippi and the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope, and Righteous Gentiles: How Pius XII and the Catholic Church Saved Half a Million Jews from the Nazis. Ion Pacepa remains a mysterious figure. Pacepa served in the spy services of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and worked closely with the Soviets. Having experienced a change of heart, Pacepa sought asylum in the United States in 1977 during the Carter administration. While he is the author of several books, including Red Horizons: The True Story of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s Crimes, Lifestyle, and Corruption, he remains in hiding and in fear for his life. Read more ..

Book Review

FDR and the Jews: What More Should He Have Done?

July 1st 2013

FDR and the Jews

FDR and the Jews. Richard Breitman and Allan Lichtman. Belknap. 2013. 464 pp.

Years after World War II ended I often visited Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fourth Reich” because of its large number of Central European Jews who had escaped the Nazis, the Kissinger family among them. Whether they were eligible to vote or not, they overwhelmingly supported FDR, grateful for having been welcomed into the country. Nearby, a goodly number of them lived on the Upper West Side, all well-served by German-Jewish cultural and social societies and Aufbau, a literate, once-thriving German language Jewish newspaper.

Since then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected four times with overwhelming American Jewish support, and revered by millions of other Americans for his New Deal reforms and efforts to win the war, has for decades been ironically subjected to revisionist, often bitter criticism for allegedly having forsaken European Jews in their time of greatest need.

Arthur Morse’s While Six Million Died in 1968 caused a sea change among many American Jews, when he charged that FDR had done far too little to rescue Jews caught in Hitler’s deadly trap. The non-Jewish David Wyman brought his condemnation of FDR’s supposed failures to the pages of Commentary, where he wrote that hundreds of thousands of imperiled Jews might have well been saved had the U.S. acted early and with courage. Read more ..

Book Review

Still More to Learn about Corporate Complicity with the Third Reich

June 28th 2013

The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler

In 2000, while an editor at Crown Publishing, I acquired a book that later became an international sensation and a bestseller in the US. It was IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation by Edwin Black. I believed it was imperative that the book be published because it documented hitherto unknown revelations such as the fact that IBM’s punch card tabulation system was licensed to the Third Reich which then used the technology to catalog and keep track of Jews and others under its rule they deemed undesirables. Turned out that corporate complicity with Hitler was as American as cherry pie.

In the years since Black’s book was published, I’ve seen a lot of other histories of the Third Reich, but few have struck me as packing the same historical punch as the book on IBM. Until today, that is. Reading the NY Times on the web, I saw this headline, “Scholar Asserts That Hollywood Avidly Aided Nazis,” tipping an article about a forthcoming book, The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, by Ben Urwand, a 35-year old historian from Australia.

The story by Jennifer Schuessler reports Urwand has found copious documentation showing how very willing Hollywood executives were to make their movies in ways that would please Nazi officials, including Hitler himself. Some of these execs were Jewish, but they cooperated anyway.

The Times reports that in Urwand’s book, “On page after page, he shows studio bosses, many of them Jewish immigrants, cutting films scene by scene to suit Nazi officials; producing material that could be seamlessly repurposed in Nazi propaganda films; and, according to one document, helping to finance the manufacture of German armaments.” Read more ..

Book Review

History is Only Inevitable in Retrospect

June 27th 2013


Hitlerland. Andrew Nagorski. Simon & Schuster. 2012. 400 pp.

Asking readers not to think about World War II in a book about the rise of Hitler is a tall order. But if you can read the public and private correspondence of American diplomats and journalists in Berlin between the wars as they were written—as contemporaneous commentary—Andrew Nagorski's Hitlerland is not only compelling, it is a warning.

Nagorski reminds us, "The unfolding of history only looks inevitable in retrospect," and "in retrospect" is how we learn. As the United States and its allies contemplate the war between radical Sunni expansionists and radical Shiite expansionists as it affects the Middle East and the West, Hitlerland has lessons.

The inter-war period of the 20th Century was a Golden Age for American journalists in Europe, and Berlin was the best seat in the house. Every major newspaper and radio station had a foreign correspondent. Dorothy Thompson, William Shirer, Bella Fromm, Howard K. Smith, Sigrid Schultz, S. Miles Bouton and others lived well and cultivated close social and working relations with American diplomats and German officials. Ernest Hemmingway, Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Wolfe dropped in. They began to arrive in the early 1920s, and they saw the privation of war, and the depression and chaos born of defeat. Ben Hecht, still a future star, wrote to his editor at The Chicago Daily News, "Germany is having a nervous breakdown. There is nothing sane to report."

Edgar Mowrer of The Chicago Daily News and his wife Lilian confessed to puzzlement over aspects of German behavior, such as the 150,000 organized German nudists about whom they wrote. Lilian Mowrer was troubled by the "loose emotional fervor" and "ardent yearning for something 'different'" among the nudists and concluded that their feelings "could be just as easily canalized and turned in any other direction by an unscrupulous leader interested in using it for his own ends." She asked Edgar, "Do you think Germans are madder than any other peoples? They seem so unbalanced…so hysterical." "They lack coherence," he replied. "They are so rich in intellect and poor in common sense. And there is almost nothing they can't persuade themselves to believe." Read more ..

The Edge of Music

Arab-Israeli Singer Bridges Cultures Through Music

June 25th 2013

Mira Awad

Arab-Israeli songwriter and pop star Mira Awad began her weeklong run at New York’s Metropolitan Room by singing a traditional tune from the Arab village in northern Israel where she was born in 1975 to a Palestinian father and a Bulgarian mother.

“It comes from the belly. It doesn’t come from thinking," Awad said of her music. "It doesn’t come from a planned way of singing like opera or like the Western kind of singing which is very calculated. This is much more passionate like flamenco, like these things that come from the blood. Like we say: 'We have hot blood.' It’s not by accident.”

There is a different sort of heat in the soulful Europop songs Awad’s fans are most familiar with. All My Faces is the title song from her 2011 album. “It only tackles the level of my womanhood, but it’s like that about everything," Awad said. "We all have many faces. No one is one thing. That’s boring. We are all made out of many many many many layers.”     Read more ..

Book Review

The Commercialization of Higher Education

June 23rd 2013

What’s Going On at UAardvark?

What's Going On at UAardvark. Lawrence S. Wittner. Solidarity Press. 2013. 243 pp.

What if the trend toward commercialization of higher education continued and accelerated? What would the fully commercial university look like? Lawrence Wittner presents UAardvark: every building named after a corporation; TV sets that can’t be turned off, broadcasting commercials in classrooms, dorms, and offices; and a president negotiating to store radioactive waste in the New Technology Center.

Wittner taught history for thirty-six years at the State University of New York at Albany, and has widely published on peace movements and nuclear disarmament. His recent memoir, Working for Peace and Justice, identifies him as an activist intellectual; he serves on the national board of Peace Action. This is his first novel.

Administrative malfeasance, corporate greed, and faculty passivity spin out of control at UAardvark, when a burnt-out, hard drinking, lone wolf, formerly radical English professor, Jake Holland, decides to take on the military-industrial-academic complex that is ruining American education. Defending academic integrity and the liberal arts ideal is crucial in an age when private charity replaces public investment in higher ed. The danger of commercialization is real. Therein lies the attraction and the weakness of this parody. In What’s Going On at UAardvark?, commercialization is a simple story of good versus evil.

The bad guys are mercilessly lampooned by Wittner. UAardvark boasts the Fox News School of Communications and Hilde’s Beauty Salon Department of Women’s Studies. A Vice President for Surveillance sends spies into classrooms. The Joint Chiefs of Staff discuss their newest weapons system, CRUD, the Complete and Robust Underground Destroyer, designed to tunnel underneath Mexico to end the threat to U.S. national security posed by Costa Rica. Read more ..

Book Review

An Inner History of the New America

June 20th 2013

The Unwinding

The Unwinding. George Packer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2013. 448 pp.

Though probably unfair, my graduate school recollection of the three books comprising the John Dos USA trilogy of novels -- The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936) -- is that of a better idea than reality. The sheer sprawl of the work, a veritable scrapbook of experimental prose that sought to encompass a broad swath of American experience, was impressive in ambition, but a bit tedious in execution. In terms of scale, at least, George Packer's The Unwinding is a more modest enterprise. It's also a piece of reporting rather than fact-based fiction. But the effect of such relative trimmed sails is a tighter, if more melancholy, book. And one at least as resonant in capturing its historical moment.

Coming in at over 400 hefty pages, The Unwinding offers a granular, empirical confirmation, at the level of lived experience, of what many of us experience as the defining perception of our time. And that is that we are moving backward, that the hard-won gains of the welfare state -- a story whose lineaments Richard Hofstadter sketched in The Age of Reform (1955) and whose trajectory extended into the Great Society -- are unraveling at an accelerating rate. This unspooling, or unwinding, became discernible during the presidency of Ronald Reagan and its effects have been shaping the lives of an ever-greater proportion of Americans. For the few (i.e. those at the top), this has been an experience of liberation; for the many, it amounts to a dismantling of the American Dream among people reluctant to relinquish their loyalty to a myth that is ossifying into a lie.

Like Dos Passos, Packer's signal strategy is biographical. He gives us a kaleidoscopic array of characters centering on a three not-quite undistinguished Americans: North Carolinian Dean Price, a southern entrepreneur pursuing the promise of biodiesel fuels; Tammy Thomas, an Ohio factory worker turned community organizer; and Jeff Connaughton, a Washington DC political operative who struggles to maintain his optimism amid his growing disillusionment with American government (and, in particular, his disillusionment with his one-time hero, Joe Biden). These three portraits are augmented by others, among them Michael Van Sickler, a Tampa-based journalist with a front-row seat for the real estate crash of the last five years, and the Hartzells, also based in Tampa, a family perpetually poised on the brink of poverty-induced disaster. Read more ..

Book Review

Time for Reconciliation?

June 19th 2013

FDR and the Jews

FDR and the Jews. Allan Lichtman. Belknap Press. 2013. 464 pp.

Years after World War II ended I often visited Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, nicknamed the “Fourth Reich” because of its large number of Central European Jews who had escaped the Nazis, the Kissinger family among them. Whether they were eligible to vote or not, they overwhelmingly supported FDR, grateful for having been welcomed into the country. Nearby, a goodly number of them lived on the Upper West Side, all well-served by German-Jewish cultural and social societies and Aufbau, a literate, once-thriving German language Jewish newspaper.

Since then, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, elected four times with overwhelming American Jewish support, and revered by millions of other Americans for his New Deal reforms and efforts to win the war, has for decades been ironically subjected to revisionist, often bitter criticism for allegedly having forsaken European Jews in their time of greatest need.

Arthur Morse’s While Six Million Died in 1968 caused a sea change among many American Jews, when he charged that FDR had done far too little to rescue Jews caught in Hitler’s deadly trap. The non-Jewish David Wyman brought his condemnation of FDR’s supposed failures to the pages of Commentary, where he wrote that hundreds of thousands of imperiled Jews might have well been saved had the U.S. acted early and with courage. Soon after, his well-received book The Abandonment of the Jews set the tone for other books and articles. As a result, many readers and commentators, some far less temperate, soon began claiming that FDR was an anti-Semite (wrong) and that he and a cadre of State Department officials were motivated by intense dislike of Jews (right).

None of these charges of apathy and indifference and worse should have been surprising given the enormity of what later came to be called the Holocaust. In the midst of the most devastating and destructive war in recorded history, Europe’s Jews were singled out, slaughtered, gassed, and far from the concentration camps in Eastern Europe, vast numbers of Russian Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen, German death squads. The historian Christopher Browning called them Ordinary Men, "working-class German volunteers who executed tens of thousands of Jews," most likely many of my father’s family among them. What was most difficult to believe, at least at the beginning of their carefully planned, systematic mass butchery was that it was conceived and carried out by a nation once known and respected for its historic cultural and intellectual achievements. Read more ..

The Music Edge

Music Inspires Embattled DC Students

June 18th 2013

school kids

Inner-city schools in the United States are in crisis, plagued by high drop-out rates, crime-infested neighborhoods and underfunded programs.

Kid Pan Alley, a small, creative non-profit that conducts songwriting workshops for students nationwide, recently visited a school in Washington's tough Anacostia neighborhood.

Songwriter and recording artist Paul Reisler founded the organization in 1999, working with more than 35,000 students and producing over 2,200 songs since then.

An influential musician who has performed widely since the 1970s, Reisler founded and led the influential folk band Trapezoid and continues to perform with his new group Paul Reisler & A Thousand Questions. He said music's transformative power can teach children skills they would not otherwise receive in an American educational system that relies increasingly on standardized tests to measure success. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Investigative Author Edwin Black in Toronto Details Iranian Nuclear Warhead

June 17th 2013

Edwin Black

Award-winning investigative author Edwin Black will detail the design specifics of the Iranian nuclear warhead in a special broadly-sponsored community event in Toronto, June 19, 2013, entitled “Inside Iran’s Nuclear Warhead.” In original research for a syndicated series, Black revealed the three-step detonators, and hi-tech warhead configuration Iran had painstaking developed in its years-long march toward nuclear confrontation with Israel. This information along with update specifics will be presented at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue, 7 PM, June 19.

In a special leadership event sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada, Black will also chronicle IBM's robust 12-year alliance with Nazi Germany detailing how the company co-planned and co-organized the Holocaust. Black has established a track-record of riveting sessions documenting the conscious involvement of IBM in co-planning and co-organizing all six phases of Hitler's Holocaust: 1) identification; 2) exclusion; 3) confiscation; 4) ghettoization; 5) deportation and 6) even extermination. The infamous Auschwitz tattoo began as an IBM number.

IBM's program of complicity in genocide, purely for profit, was first exposed in Black's international and New York Times best-selling book, IBM and the Holocaust, now with more than a million copies in print in 14 languages in 80 countries. The author has garnered numerous awards for the work and speaks on the topic at campuses and Holocaust museums across the United States and overseas. Despite being flooded by more than a decade of requests from media and communal leaders, IBM has never denied or explained the details of the book. Read more ..

Book Review

Making War at Fort Hood: the Unsettling Cost of Armed Conflict

June 12th 2013

Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community.

Making War at Fort Hood: Life and Uncertainty in a Military Community. Kenneth T. MacLeish. Princeton. 2013. 280 pp.

Fort Hood, in Texas, is named after Confederate General John Bell Hood, who lost his arm and leg at Gettysburg and Chickamauga but was defeated at Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. It employs 50,000 troops and civilian employees and is close by the city of Killeen, population 130,000, and which, like most military satellite cities and towns, thrives because of its location, selling food, goods of all sorts, housing, and loans, some no doubt predatory. In fact, as Kenneth T. MacLeish writes, Killeen is “more prosperous than Austin, the state capital, home to a large university and a booming tech sector.” When he asked soldiers what impression off-base civilians mistakenly held of them he was told “That we have a lot of money.”

What McLeish, assistant professor of medicine, health, and society at Vanderbilt University, has done is explore the impact of our recent wars on the military men and women and their families and loved ones. For those who have never served in the military and been burdened by its demands, Making War at Forth Hood is a humane and penetrating look in some depth at a huge military base and its military and civilian inhabitants. Some of his material is very familiar, given the combat experiences of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. But what he does that is different is put it all into context.

MacLeish frankly admits at the outset that we -- presumably himself too -- Americans “don’t know as much as we think we do about what the violence done by and visited on soldiers means for them or for us “ Dime -- a pseudonym, like all his interviewees -- is a thirty-five-year-old veteran of Iraq, married with kids, who joined up at age thirty-one so his kids would have health insurance, who tells MacLeish the first time they met,” Don’t fuckin’ leave any of this shit out.” Read more ..

The Edge of Broadway

Best of Broadway to be Honored Sunday

June 8th 2013

Tom Hanks-Tony Awards

It’s spring in New York and that means it’s time for the Tony Awards, which recognize the best musicals, plays and actors on Broadway.

Sex is in the Heel is one of the show-stopping tunes that garnered Kinky Boots a Tony nomination for Best Musical. David Cote,  theater critic for "Time Out New York," says its 13 nominations are well-deserved.

“Kinky Boots is a bright, funny, silly but sentimental show about drag queens in a shoe factory in England,” he said. “It’s an underdog story. So in that sense it’s a good show, it’s a fun show, it’s a crowd-pleaser, it’s an American show." Kinky Boots faces stiff competition from Matilda, a Royal Shakespeare Company production based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book. Read more ..

Authors on Tour

Analyst Fleishman Launches book 'Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era'

June 7th 2013

Latin America in the post-Chavez era

U.S. foreign policy for more than a decade has been focused on its response to the challenges posed by Venezuela’s efforts, in the person of President Hugo Chávez, to set Latin America on an independent course. Under Chávez, Venezuela beefed up its military with help from Russia and Iran, while also influencing elections and policy throughout the region. Now that Chávez is gone, it remains to be seen just what shape his legacy - Bolivarian Revolution – will take under his successors.

Under Chávez, Venezuela took an ever-increasingly leftist course in its foreign policy as the red-shirted military man drew closer to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and became critical of U.S. policy in Latin America. His domestic tactics drew criticisms from both sophisticated Venezuelan elites and international observers who became increasingly concerned over strong-arm tactics used by the Chavez government. Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s hand-picked successor, gives every indication that he will continue on the path set by Chávez, even to the point of making bizarre accusations against the U.S. and his neighbor, Colombia. Maduro recently drew ridicule for suggesting that the U.S. plans to “poison” him with the help of President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.

Luis Fleishman, a scholar of Latin American security issues, tackles Chávez’s legacy and what it holds for the future in his new book, Latin America in the Post-Chávez Era: The Security Threat to the United States. He will launch this important work at The Fund for American Studies in Washington D.C. on June 10. It is published by Potomac Books.

Since Chávez’s 1998 election, the entire political landscape of Latin America has undergone a sea change. Ignoring a finding by the Organization of American States approving Paraguay's 2012 impeachment and removal of former president Fernando Lugo, for example, South America's republics closed ranks against Paraguay and shut it out from the MERCOSUR regional trade bloc. It was then, over the objections of Paraguay, that Venezuela was admitted as a member. Chávez influenced the region by supplying Cuba and Nicaragua with subsidized petroleum, while he also subsidized the election of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to the presidency of Argentina. Read more ..

Film Review

Frances Ha: Chanelling Francois Truffaut

June 7th 2013

frances ha

Frances Ha. Director: Noah Baumbach. Starring: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner. Length: 90 mins.

The title of Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is an allusion to something at the very end of the film, a visual suggestion that part of the heroine has been amputated during the course of what we have seen during the previous 86 minutes — a part that has something to do with the youth, exuberance, innocence, enthusiasm, idealism and a powerful attachment to one other person that we see in her in the beginning. The danger of pointing up this moral to the story, however, is that it invites the rejoinder: what did Mr Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg) think was involved in growing up? In order for a movie like this to work very well, you have to put in something that shows how the central character’s learning and maturation process, otherwise so ordinary, is in fact special and not just what pretty much everybody goes through — or else how it can stand for something bigger and more important than itself.

As it happens, Frances Ha is put together as, among other things, an hommage to François Truffaut’s greatest film, Jules et Jim (1962), a movie which did exactly that by projecting the friendship of its two central characters and their rivalry for the love of the same woman against the backdrop of twenty eventful years of European history, including the modernist movement in art, World War I and the rise of Hitler. The learning process of Jules and Jim, their growing up if you want to put it that way, is that of a whole culture which shared their youthful illusions about beginning the world anew. Mr Baumbach accompanies Frances’s adventures with music by Georges Delerue taken from several Truffaut films, including Jules et Jim, which is further recalled by its quaintly retro black-and-white stock and several Truffaut-like tracking shots of Frances (Greta Gerwig) running, skipping or bicycling in the free-spirited manner associated with that film’s heroes. Read more ..

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