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Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression.

Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression. During the Great Depression over 250,000 young people left home and began riding freight trains or hitchhiking across America. Most of them were between 16 and 25 years of age. Many finally found work and shelter through the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government relief project that Franklin D. Roosevelt established in 1933 as part of the New Deal. From 1933 to 1942, CCC enrollees built new roads, strung telephone wires, erected fire towers, and planted approximately 3 billion trees. By 1935, the program was providing employment for more than 500,000 young men.
posted by matteo on Jul 7, 2006 - 25 comments

"The Holocaust is ultimately a ghost story, and Poles have many reasons to be haunted."

In 1945-46, some of the (very few) Polish Jews who had survived the Final Solution returned -- sick, poor, wounded -- to Poland. In Elie Wiesel's words, "they had thought all too naively that antisemitism, discredited 6 million times over, had died at Auschwitz with its victims. They were wrong." In 2001 Princeton professor Jan T Gross published the story of the 1941 destruction of the Jewish community at Jedwabne, Poland, and proved how Jews were rounded up, clubbed, drowned, gutted or burned to death not by German forces as previously believed but by mobs of their own non-Jewish neighbors. Now professor Gross tells the story of the Kielce pogrom in his new book, "Fear". Of course, the Kielce butchery took place in 1946 -- more than a year after the end of WWII and defeat of Nazism. More inside.
posted by matteo on Jun 25, 2006 - 107 comments

The Goats of West Point

The Goats of West Point
”...though only about twenty years of age, had the appearance of being much older. He had a worn, weary, discontented look, not easily forgotten by those who were intimate with him.”
A new book tells the story of Sergeant Major Edgar Allan Poe, Battery H (.pdf), First Artillery Washout, West Point, Class of 1834. And of other famous cadets.
posted by matteo on Apr 6, 2006 - 6 comments

He has cavorted naked with Charlotte Rampling [this is VERY NSFW] and covered himself in caviar for Marc Jacobs, but Jürgen Teller thinks "fashion is a wank". Teller's first solo show in Paris is entitled "Nurnberg", it consists of a sequence of images (annoying Flash site, sorry) taken at the infamous Zeppelintribune parade ground, site of Nazi propaganda rallies, which was designed by Hitler's favourite builder, Albert Speer. Over several months, Teller (.pdf) has photographed the monument, the podium and the steep, ruthless steps, all of which have been left to decay. Or not. "It wasn't really maintained, but if there was a broken step, or a smashed wall, it would be mysteriously replaced with a new one." Teller's photographs show the delicate weeds, flowers and lichen [NSFW] that have grown up around the stone blocks. "In Germany, there is a saying about letting the grass grow over things, meaning that events will eventually be forgotten".
posted by matteo on Mar 22, 2006 - 19 comments

"The drama of our times seems to have upstaged even you". "Not Booth".

America's First Superstar. He was the highest paid actor in the world, beloved by fans so passionate about his performances that a riot (23 people killed, more than a hundred wounded) ensued when a rival dared to perform the role that had made him famous. He enjoyed all the trappings of a superstar's life: portraits taken by America's most famous photographer, a large mansion (now a historic landmark), and of course a scandalous divorce trial (he lost). He was also one of the most prominent book collectors in the country. Edwin Forrest was born 200 years ago.
posted by matteo on Mar 21, 2006 - 19 comments

Ben Franklin Slept Here

Jefferson has his Monticello; Washington, Mount Vernon. Now, Benjamin Franklin's only surviving residence, Number 36 Craven Street, London, opened its doors to the public. More inside.
posted by matteo on Mar 16, 2006 - 13 comments

"It hit the public like a hurricane, like some uncontrolled primeval force".

The Riot of Spring. Théâtre Champs-Elysées, Paris, May 29, 1913. Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Proust, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy are among those present at the premiere of The Rite of Spring (the score is here), written by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by the great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. The music and the choreography shocked the audience with its daring modernism, ripping up the rulebook of classical ballet with its heavy, savage movements. Many in the audience promptly booed, then yelled, insulting the performers and each other. Then fistfights broke out. The police was summoned, but was unable to stop an all-out riot.
Now the BBC has made a TV movie about that night. More inside.
posted by matteo on Mar 11, 2006 - 27 comments

“Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution” -- an online exhibit

“Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution” -- an online exhibit
posted by matteo on Mar 7, 2006 - 10 comments

From the Diary of Adam Czerniakow on the Eve of the Deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942

"They are demanding that I kill the children of my people with my own hands"
On October 4, 1939, a few days after Warsaw's surrender to the Nazis, Adam Czerniaków was made head of the 24 member Judenrat, the Jewish Council (write "Czerniakow" in the linked page's search box) responsible for implementing German orders in the Jewish community (interactive map of the Warsaw ghetto). On July 22, 1942 -- Tisha B'Av, the "saddest day in Jewish history" -- the Judenrat received instructions that all Warsaw Jews were to be deported to the East (exceptions were to be made for Jews working in German factories, Jewish hospital staff, members of the Judenrat and their families, and members of the Jewish police force and their families. Czerniaków tried to convince the Germans at least not to deport the Jewish orphans). Czerniaków kept a diary from September 6, 1939, until the day of his death. It was published in 1979 in the English language as the "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniaków: Prelude to Doom", edited by one of the most prominent Holocaust scholars, Raul Hilberg. More inside.
posted by matteo on Feb 17, 2006 - 23 comments

Irie Takako: Establishing Oneself and Entering the World

In the Twilight of Modernity and the Silent Film (.pdf) Irie Takako was the most popular actress in 1930s Japan: film scholar Tanaka Masasumi locates the turning point of Japanese modernity in 1933, the year Kenji Mizoguchi's The Water Magician was made, arguing that Irie's transformation from radiant embodiment of moga(modern girl, the Japanese version of the flapper)-hood to suffering beauty in a kimono (.pdf) epitomized modernism's (modanizumu) defeat by nationalism in 1930's Japan. (via Camera Obscura; more inside)
posted by matteo on Feb 15, 2006 - 5 comments

Brownlow's and Mollo's Nazi Britain

"The German invasion of Britain took place in July 1940, after the British retreat from Dunkirk". We see, documentary-style, members of the Wehrmacht trooping past Big Ben and St Paul's Cathedral, lounging in the parks, having their jackboots shined by old cockneys, and appreciatively visiting the shrine of that good German, Prince Albert, in Kensington Gardens. Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's film "It Happened Here", with its cast of hundreds (.pdf), imagines what a Nazi occupation might have been like — complete with underground resistance, civilian massacres, civil strife, torch-lit rallies, Jewish ghettos, and organized euthanasia. Shot on weekends, eight years in production, made for about $20,000 with nonactors and borrowed equipment and Stanley Kubrick's help, "It Happened Here" was originally envisioned by Brownlow as a sort of Hammer horror flick about a Nazi Britain. Thanks in part to Mollo's fanatical concern with historical accuracy, however, it became something else. The most remarkable thing about this account of everyday fascism is that it has no period footage. Brownlow's 1968 book about the film's production, "How It Happened Here", has recently been republished. More inside.
posted by matteo on Feb 12, 2006 - 16 comments

Jean-Luc Godard's 'Histoire(s) du Cinéma'

The Man With The Magnétoscope.
"How marvelous to be able to look at what you cannot see... cinema, like Christianity, is not founded on historical truth. It supplies us with a story and says: Believe — believe come what may."
Jean Luc Godard's 'Histoire(s) du Cinéma' at UCLA.
posted by matteo on Feb 7, 2006 - 8 comments

The Return of Jerry Moses and the Jewish Migration to Shanghai

"Ala ZongGoNin! Ala YouTaNin!". Jerry Moses last walked on Gaoyang Road in 1947. It was called Chaoufoong Road then, and it was home to many of the 18,000 European Jewish refugees who had sought refuge from Nazi Germany in Shanghai's Hongkew District (today known as Hongkou) during the run-up to World War II. He casts his gaze at the lane, his brow loosens and he begins to nod. "This is it, this is it," he says softly. "I know this is it." One week into his first visit to Shanghai in almost 60 years, Moses has found his third home in an exile that lasted from 1941 to 1947. He strides into the space, his manner now much closer to that of the 12-year-old boy who had left than the 70-year-old man who has returned. More inside.
posted by matteo on Jan 19, 2006 - 13 comments

National Center for Jewish Film

"One could go on, and one will -- praising (...) the National Center for Jewish Film for releasing all four of Edgar Ulmer's Yiddish films in restored editions. But the DVD player is beckoning, and I think it is time for me to get back to the couch".
The National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) is a unique nonprofit motion picture archive, distributor and resource center housing the largest, most comprehensive collection of Jewish-theme film and video in the world. In their archives you can discover the works of Leo Fuchs, the "Yiddish Fred Astaire", restored gems (scroll down) like "Motl the Operator" and re-releases like "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg". (More on Greenberg, the Jewish kid who challenged Babe Ruth’s homerun record here, more on the NCJF inside).
posted by matteo on Jan 9, 2006 - 9 comments

Andrzej Munk: Wry Smiles, Suspicious Glances

Eroica. Film director Andrzej Munk’s tragic death at age thirty-nine might have formed the plot for one of his own darkly sardonic works: a Polish Jew and an active resistance worker during the war, he was returning home from shooting his film Passenger at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1961 when an oncoming truck struck his car. He left behind only four feature films, but his influence was prodigious. As one of the key figures of the postwar “Polish School” of filmmaking, along with Wajda and Kawalerowicz, he helped to shape a vision that broke with the official social realist optimism of Eastern-bloc dogma and cast a skeptical eye on official notions of heroism, nationalism, and life in the Stalinist-occupied state. Mentor to Roman Polanski and Jerzy Skolimowski, his influence can be felt even in the films of a later generation of Polish filmmakers — directors like Zanussi and Kieslowski. More inside.
posted by matteo on Dec 7, 2005 - 7 comments

The London Cage

The London Cage. Kensington Palace Gardens is one of the most exclusive addresses in the world. Between July 1940 and September 1948 three magnificent houses there were home to one of Great Britain'smost secret military establishments: the London office of the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, known colloquially as the London Cage. It was run by MI19, the section of the War Office responsible for gleaning information from enemy prisoners of war, and few outside this organisation knew exactly what went on beyond the single barbed-wire fence that separated the three houses from the busy streets and grand parks of west London. The London Cage was used partly as a torture centre, inside which large numbers of German officers and soldiers were subjected to systematic ill-treatment. In total 3,573 men passed through the Cage, and more than 1,000 were persuaded to give statements about war crimes. A number of German civilians joined the servicemen who were interrogated there up to 1948. More inside.
posted by matteo on Nov 12, 2005 - 12 comments

Wilhelm Furtwängler

The Wartime Ninth. "Berlin. October 7, 1944. In the Beethovensaal a concert is about to begin, but the theater is empty, relieved of its usual audience studded with Nazi elite. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is on stage, awaiting its cue. Conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler stands awkwardly on the podium. The vague meandering of his baton summons the first shadowy note of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. A Radio Berlin engineer starts his Magnetophon. The most extraordinary orchestral recording of the century has just begun". More inside.
posted by matteo on Oct 5, 2005 - 21 comments

Robert W. Funk, 1926-2005

We are going to inquire simply, rigorously after the voice of Jesus, after what he really said.
Robert Walter Funk, who died September 3, was the founder of the Jesus Seminar and one of the most influential New Testament scholars of his generation. The Jesus of Nazareth discovered by the Jesus Seminar was a wisdom teacher whose parables proclaimed the arrival of God's kingdom. He was not, in the judgment of the Seminar, the messiah of the end-times (.pdf file, go to page 5 and 6). Also: Funk's 21 theses.
posted by matteo on Sep 26, 2005 - 34 comments

Simon Wiesenthal, 1908-2005

Goodnight, mr. Wiesenthal
posted by matteo on Sep 20, 2005 - 68 comments

Amelie Nothomb's "Sulphuric Acid"

Novelist posits Shoah as reality TV show. In her new book titled ’Sulphuric Acid’ published in France, the successful Belgian author Amelie Nothomb describes a “concentration camp reality show”. It's the story of a reality show called “Concentration”. There are ’candidates’ which are arrested in roundups, tattooed and guarded before they are executed one by one following a vote by the spectators.
posted by matteo on Sep 14, 2005 - 19 comments

Aleksandr Sokurov's "The Sun"

The Emperor's Bunker. "The Japanese, with sadness and irony, stressed that Hirohito couldn't even speak properly. This was partly to do with the fact that he didn't have to speak - people spoke in his name and he was isolated from real life". "The Sun", the third part in Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov's 'Men of Power' tetralogy after the gloom of Moloch (1999), about Hitler and Eva Braun, and the despairing tones of "Taurus" (2001), focused on the wheelchair-bound Lenin in his death throes, "The Sun" seems almost upbeat. This, after all, is a film about reconciliation. More inside.
posted by matteo on Sep 13, 2005 - 21 comments

Edmund Wilson and American culture

"When I read his work, I forgive him all his sins". Edmund Wilson disliked being called a critic. He thought of himself as a journalist, and nearly all his work was done for commercial magazines, principally Vanity Fair, in the nineteen-twenties; The New Republic, in the nineteen-twenties and thirties; The New Yorker, beginning in the nineteen-forties; and The New York Review of Books, in the nineteen-sixties. He was exceptionally well read: he had had a first-class education in English, French, and Italian literature, and he kept adding languages all his life. He learned to read German, Russian, and Hebrew; when he died, in 1972, he was working on Hungarian.
Edmund Wilson and American culture. (more inside)
posted by matteo on Aug 25, 2005 - 12 comments

James Fee's Peleliu Project

The Peleliu Project. The tiny Micronesian island of Peleliu was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. The U.S. invasion of the Japanese occupied island began in September of 1944, and was expected to last only a matter of days. Casualties on this 5 square mile island reached 20,000 by the end of the two-month struggle. U.S. soldiers were forced to pour aviation fuel into caves and ignite them in order to end the standoff of those who refused to surrender. One determined group of 34 Japanese soldiers remained in hiding until they were discovered in April of 1947.
Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class Russell Fee returned from Peleliu with a fierce, uncompromising vision of America which would have a profound impact on the life and work of his son. Fifty-three years later, armed with his father's snapshots and diary which he had just uncovered, James Fee went to Peleliu to see with his own eyes the place where his father's vision had taken shape. The result of his five year quest is The Peleliu Project. more inside
posted by matteo on Aug 21, 2005 - 13 comments

"We could make this great land of ours a greater place to live"

"Approximately 250,000 persons viewed and passed by the bier of little Emmett Till. All were shocked, some horrified and appalled. Many prayed, scores fainted and practically all, men, women and children wept". Chicago Defender, September 1, 1955.
Federal officials this morning erected a white tent over the grave of Emmett Till in Alsip, Ill., in preparation to exhume the body to shed light on the Chicago teenager's death 50 years ago. Till, 14 years old at the time, was killed in a hate crime in Money, Miss., that sparked the Civil Rights movement. (previous Emmett Till MeFi threads here and here)
posted by matteo on Jun 1, 2005 - 5 comments

Images of the American Civil War

Images of the American Civil War
posted by matteo on May 20, 2005 - 23 comments

SAMMY: "That's democracy?"

"I am an American, so that is why I make films about America. America is sitting on our world, I am making films that have to do with America (because) 60% of my life is America. So I am in fact an American, but I can't go there to vote, I can't change anything. We are a nation under influence and under a very bad influence… because Mr. Bush is an asshole and doing very idiotic things."
Lars Von Trier introduces his new film at the Cannes Film Festival: «Manderlay» picks up where «Dogville» left off, with the character originated by Nicole Kidman -- now played by Bryce Dallas Howard -- stumbling onto a plantation that time forgot, where slavery still operates in the 1930s. The film (5 MB .pdf file, official pressbook) ends, as Dogville did, with David Bowie’s Young Americans played over a photomontage of images that range from a Ku Klux Klan meeting to the Rodney King beating, George Bush at prayer and Martin Luther King at his final rest, American soldiers in Vietnam and the Gulf, the Twin Towers. More inside.
posted by matteo on May 16, 2005 - 69 comments

Rebecca Protten and the origins of African American Christianity.

Rebecca's Revival. Rebecca Protten, born a slave in 1718, gained her freedom and joined a group of proselytizers from the Moravian Church. She embarked on an itinerant mission, preaching to hundreds of the enslaved Africans of St. Thomas, West Indies. Weathering persecution from hostile planters, Protten and other black preachers created the earliest African Protestant congregation in the Americas. University of Florida historian Jon Sensbach has written a book about Protten's life -- the interracial marriage, the trial on charges of blasphemy and inciting of slaves, the travels to Germany and West Africa. Later in her life, after she moved to Germany, Rebecca was ordained as a deaconess: "a former slave now administered Communion and practiced other claims to spiritual authority over white women, including European aristocrats." More inside.
posted by matteo on May 15, 2005 - 4 comments

Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking

The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail In the spring of 1919, when the father of American cryptography, Herbert O. Yardley, drew up a plan for a permanent State Department codebreaking organization — a "black chamber — he estimated that a modest $100,000 a year would buy a chief (Yardley) and fifty clerks and cryptanalysts. Yardley rented a three-story building in New York City: on East 38th Street just off Fifth Avenue, he put two dozen people to work under civilian cover—as the Code Compiling Company. His summary dismissal happened in 1929 at the hand of incoming Secretary of State Henry Stimson, who closed down the Cipher Bureau with the casual observation that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail". The son of a railroad telegrapher, a man with a lively Jazz Age interest in money, good-looking women, and drinks at five, Yardley not only taught his country how to read other people's mail but wrote two of the enduring American books—the memoir The American Black Chamber (1931), and The Education of a Poker Player (1957).
posted by matteo on Apr 22, 2005 - 6 comments

"To attract today's generation, glass boxes and yellow labels may not be enough".

"Calling it a museum is really a misnomer". The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum opens today in Springfield, Ill., with a silicone Lincoln posing in the rotunda and Tim Russert introducing mock TV attack ads from the campaign of 1860. In the Union Theater, an abolitionist roars "Lincoln was no friend of the black man" as hologram cannons boom to signal the start of the Civil War. Strobe lights flash; the plush seats jerk and rumble like a ride at Universal Studios. When Atlanta burns, the air feels hot. This is history, Hollywood style: A $90-million look at Honest Abe's life and times — with special effects created by the "Jurassic Park" and "Terminator 3" team of Stan Winston Studios (link with sound).
posted by matteo on Apr 16, 2005 - 14 comments

Alexander the Corrector

The Man Who Unwrote the Bible. In the mid-1720s, Alexander Cruden took on a self-imposed task of Herculean proportions: he decided to compile the most thorough concordance of the King James Version of the Bible (777,746 words). The first edition of Cruden's Concordance was published in 1737. Every similar undertaking before or since has been the work of a vast team of people. Cruden worked alone in his lodgings, writing the whole thing out by hand. Cruden's day job was as a "Corrector of the Press" (proofreader). He would give hawk-eyed attention to prose all day long. Then he would come home at night to read the Bible—stopping at every single word to secure the right sheet from the tens of thousands of pieces of paper all around him and to record accurately the reference in its appropriate place. He had no patron, no publisher, no financial backers: his only commission was a divine one.
Cruden's Concordance has never been out of print. A new book tells the tale of Alexander the Corrector's bizarre, sad life (scroll down to about half page).
posted by matteo on Apr 3, 2005 - 10 comments

Verne's Cerntury

Mythmaker of the Machine Age. In the statue erected above his grave in Amiens, in Picardy, Jules Verne, who died exactly 100 years ago, resembles God. He is, after all, the second-most-translated author on earth, after Agatha Christie. To celebrate the anniversary, there's a Verne exhibition at the Maritime Museum in Paris, one of a series of events from Paris to the western city of Nantes, where Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828, to the northern town of Amiens, where he died on March 24, 1905. His many fans, some of them quite famous, will be treated to exhibits, concerts, films and shows in Verne's honor. “Underground City”, a lost classic written by Verne and never before published unabridged in English, emerges this month in not one but two new unique editions.
100 years later, questions remain about his life: Why did he have two homes in Amiens? Why did he burn all his private papers? Why was he shot in the foot by his nephew, Gaston, in 1886? Gaston was locked in an asylum for 54 years after his attack on L'Oncle Jules. Was Gaston, in fact, Verne's natural son? More inside.
posted by matteo on Mar 23, 2005 - 8 comments

Sarah Robert's long walk

Sarah Roberts vs. Boston In 1848, five-year-old Sarah Roberts was barred from the local primary school because she was black. Her father sued the City (.pdf file). The lawsuit was part of an organized effort by the African-American community to end racially segregated schools. The book "Sarah's Long Walk: The Free Blacks of Boston and How Their Struggle for Equality Changed America" tells the story of the case of Roberts v. City of Boston, that remains a little-known landmark in the civil rights movement.
posted by matteo on Feb 24, 2005 - 4 comments

"I'd rather play a maid than be one"

Call her Madame. Among the old-timers, the story went like this: a woman known to everyone as Madame came to California from Kentucky with her children and her husband. But once they were in the Gold Rush State, her husband left her. Desperate to find work, she introduced herself to a movie director named D. W. Griffith. He not only cast her in his movie, but the two became friends for life. And with this woman, called Madame Sul-Te-Wan, what we now call Black Hollywood began -- as a new book by historian Donald Bogle explains. (more inside)
posted by matteo on Feb 7, 2005 - 6 comments

Rose Mary Woods, 1917-2005: Nixon's private secretary

"Rose . . . is as close to us as family". Rose Mary Woods, who died Saturday at 87, was Richard Nixon's private secretary. In 1973 Woods was transcribing secretly recorded audiotapes of Oval Office conversations , working on a June 20, 1972, tape of a conversation between President Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, that might have shed light on whether Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in three days earlier. While she was performing her duties (.rtf file), she said, the phone rang. As she reached for it, she said she inadvertently struck the erase key on the tape recorder and kept her foot on the machine's pedal, forwarding the tape. More inside.
posted by matteo on Jan 24, 2005 - 16 comments

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal / Like the structure of music

Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang / A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India / And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on foot. / Ten thousand miles... / Mountains and deserts, / In search of the Truth...
Traversing rivers and deserts, scaling mountains and passing through desolate lands with no traces of human habitation, 7th century Chinese monk Hsuan Tsang made his journey in 627 AD from Changan to India for religious purposes. His detailed travel journal is believed to be among the earliest reliable sources of information about distant countries whose terrain and customs had been known, at that time, in only the sketchiest way. He travelled over land mostly on foot and horseback along the Silk Road, west towards India. The Buddhist scholar’s pilgrimage (627-645 AD) contributed enormously to the cultural flow between East and West Asia. His "Hsi Yu Ki" or "Records of the Western World" is considered the most valuable book source for the study of ancient Indian history and culture. Italian explorer Marco Polo, whose travel writings fired the imagination of Europeans for centuries, was believed to have used Hsuan Tsang’s travelogue as a guide during his travels in the 13th century. More than 1,300 years after Hsuan Tsang’s historical journey, Taiwanese magazine Rhythms Monthly embarked on a project to retrace Hsuan Tsang’s 19-year pilgrimage through a road that, today, belongs to 11 different countries. more inside
posted by matteo on Nov 30, 2004 - 20 comments

Alexander inherited the idea of an invasion of the Persian Empire from his father

"We will come and kill you in your beds, cut your throats, and wipe you from the face of the earth... if Alexander the Great were alive today he would grind you gypsy dogs into the dust, dig your dead from their graves". Since Oliver Stone chose to make his first foray into historical epics with a biopic of Alexander (based on the biography by the Oxford academic Robin Lane Fox), rivers of blood have been spilt -- figuratively at least -- in a propaganda battle between Greek and Macedonian nationalists over who has the right to claim the all-conquering hero as their own. The movie also deals with Alexander's omnivorous sexuality, in particular his fondness for eunuchs. With such treacherous ground to negotiate, and amid thunderous lobbying from both sides, Stone has chosen a middle course (like giving Alexander and the men of the Macedonian phalanxes Irish accents, while the Greeks speak clipped English RP).
posted by matteo on Nov 18, 2004 - 41 comments

The Aztecs at the Guggenheim.

Memento Mori. The Aztecs made war almost tenderly, wielding wooden swords that were edged with bits of obsidian or flint and, in face-to-face combat, endeavoring not to kill their enemies but, commonly by striking at their legs, to disable and capture them. Later, the captives—thousands of them for a rededication of the Great Temple at Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) in 1478—were led to high platforms, where priests tore out and displayed their still-beating hearts. An especially respected prisoner might be allowed to fight for his life against Aztec warriors, at the last, with clubs and a sword, but his sword was edged with feathers.
The Aztec Empire,” at the Guggenheim in New York, is advertised as the most comprehensive exhibition of Aztec art ever mounted outside Mexico. More inside.
posted by matteo on Nov 6, 2004 - 16 comments

Paul Nitze, 1907-2004

A Walk in the Woods. Farewell to the original Cold War warrior: Paul Nitze, the college professor's son who went to Hotchkiss and Harvard and worked as investment banker before going to Washington in 1940, where he quickly became one of the chief architects of American policy towards the Soviet Union. His doctrine of "strategic stability" became its cornerstone for half a century (Nitze held key government posts in Washington, from the era of Franklin Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan's, when he was the White House's guru on arms control). By the end of 1949, Nitze had become director of the State Department's policy planning staff, helping to devise the role of Nato, deciding to press ahead with the manufacture of the H-bomb, and producing National Security Council document 68, the document at the heart of the Cold War: in it, Nitze called for a drastic expansion of the U.S. military budget. The paper also expanded containment’s scope beyond the defense of major centers of industrial power to encompass the entire world. (NSC-68 was a top secret paper, written in April 1950 and declassified in the 70's, called "United States Objectives and Programs for National Security"). More inside.
posted by matteo on Oct 22, 2004 - 7 comments

"Vote for Lindbergh or Vote for War"

"Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear." He is one of America's great novelists, but you don't expect Philip Roth to be barreling up the best-seller list with a book that hasn't even been published yet. And yet "The Plot Against America" is in the top 3 at amazon.com. It spins a what-if scenario in which the isolationist and anti-Semitic hero Charles Lindbergh runs for president as a Republican in 1940 and defeats F.D.R. "Keep America Out of the Jewish War", reads a button worn by Lindbergh supporters rallying at Madison Square Garden. And so he does: he signs nonaggression pacts with Germany and Japan that will keep America at peace while the rest of the world burns. The Lindbergh administration hatches a nice plan to prod assimilation of the Jews. Innocuously called Just Folks, it's a relocation program for urban Jews, administered by an Office of American Absorption fronted by an obliging and pompous rabbi of radio celebrity. The teenage Roth character is shipped off to a Kentucky tobacco farm, to finally live among Christians. The book is about American Fascism, but while Roth is no fan of President Bush ("a man unfit to run a hardware store let alone a nation like this one"), he points out that he conceived this book (LATimes registration: sparklebottom/sparklebottom) in December 2000, and that it would be "a mistake" to read it "as a roman à clef to the present moment in America." (more inside)
posted by matteo on Sep 28, 2004 - 10 comments

Pontius Pilate contracted his brows, and his hand rose to his forehead...

"Jesus?" he murmured, "Jesus -- of Nazareth?..." Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, is the only historical figure named in the Nicene Creed -- Coptic saint or eternally damned, his role in the greatest story ever told has been debated by many of history's greatest minds: St Augustine, Dante Alighieri, Tintoretto, John Ruskin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Monty Python. Unfortunately, there is very little historical evidence about him. His role in the death of a certain charismatic Galilean healer and apocalyptic preacher is still being debated today by theologians and historians alike. He is also, of course, the main character of The Procurator of Judea, the classic short story (complete text in main link) by Anatole France. (France's magnificent story has lately been tragically neglected by publishers, even if the author was one of his era's most acclaimed writers in the world -- he won the Nobel Prize in 1921 over Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Proust, and when he died in 1924, hundreds of thousands of people followed his funeral procession through Paris). These last 2,000 years of fascination with Pilatus can be explained, some argue... (more inside, for those unwilling to wash their hands of this post)
posted by matteo on Jun 24, 2004 - 37 comments

The Suicide’s Soliloquy

The Suicide’s Soliloquy August 25, 1838, the Sangamo Journal, a Whig newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, carried an unsigned poem, thirty-six lines long. It stands out for two reasons: first, its subject is suicide; second, its author was most likely a twenty-nine-year-old politician and lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin relates how historians regard a broken off engagement to Mary Todd as the trigger to his famous depression, but it was his perceived failure as politician, she maintains, that fed Lincoln's "black dog". (For his depression, Lincoln probably took "blue mass", a drug prescribed to treat "hypochondriasis," a vague term that included melancholia). Lincoln's medical history file is here
posted by matteo on Jun 7, 2004 - 12 comments

The Grace Of Wrath

"The people of Dogville are proud, hypocritical and never more dangerous than when they are convinced of the righteousness of their actions" (NYT link) "The movie is, of course, an attack on America—its innocence, its conformity, its savagery—though von Trier is interested not in the life of this country (he’s never been here) but in the ways he can exploit European disdain for it." (The New Yorker). Lars Von Trier's new movie, Dogville, is under attack from critics who consider it anti-American. Von Trier, of course, has never been to the US but he counters that he knows more about U.S. culture through modern media than, say, the makers of "Casablanca' knew about Morocco. Kafka hadn't been to Amerika either. Should non US-ian artists leave America alone if they've never been there? Von Trier says that "in my own country, I'm considered anti-Danish - again, that's more about politics than issues of nationality." (more inside)
posted by matteo on Mar 22, 2004 - 42 comments

The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard M. Helms, former CIA director, is dead.

The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard M. Helms, former CIA director, is dead. "We're not in the Boy Scouts," Richard Helms was fond of saying when he ran the Central Intelligence Agency. He was involved in many suspicious covert operations -- in 1970's Chile for example -- and JFK consipracy nuts even linked him to the president's assasination. George Tenet now calls Helms "a great patriot". He was fired by President Nixon when he refused to block an FBI probe into the Watergate scandal. Want to know more about the man? Check out Thomas Powers excellent story in "The Atlantic" Oh, and his niece was the semi-official Taliban ambassador to the USA
posted by matteo on Oct 23, 2002 - 14 comments

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