Saturday, February 28, 2009

Moguls and Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II

Here is Richard Schickel's review of a new book on how some of the Hollywood moguls (the most powerful being Harry Warner of Warner Brothers) braved the growing currents of anti-Semitism against "Hollywood" by making films starting in the late 1930s against Hitler and against Fascism in Europe and elsewhere.

The book is Moguls and Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II (John Hopkins Press, 2009).

Schickel's best point is that the more fascinating story is the fear among those in the American elite, including those with Jewish religious beliefs or Jewish by heritage, who feared stoking anti-Semitic backlashes while hoping America would enter the war in Europe to fight against Fascism and Nazism, and how that controversy about taking action played out in Hollywood and elsewhere, as well as Washington, DC.

Schickel may find the book, "Saving the Jews: FDR and the Holocaust" by Robert Rosen, to be of help here. Rosen ably defends FDR and shows FDR was far less silent, and more active regarding the fate of Europe's Jews than many now assume or conclude, but was still admittedly cautious to our 21st Century ears. Still, anyone who thinks Republican Presidential candidates of 1940 and 1994 (respectively Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey) would have done more for European Jews is ahistorical, and fails to recognize the deep connection between stuffy anti-Jewish opinions held in the State Department and the halls of Congress--not to mention the American "heartland."

Schickel's point also resonates with me because, outside of Warner Bros., most American elite business people were lukewarm to Nazism and often supportive of Mussolini and Fascism as a way to govern. See: "Trading with the Enemy" by Charles Higham; "The Splendid Blond Beast" by Christopher Simpson; and the latest entry on this subject, Edwin Black's "Nazi Nexus."

See also the outstanding journalistic book by I.F. Stone, called "Business as Usual," which Stone wrote to help Americans realize who was not preparing for the eventual war with Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.

What is important to know is that FDR saved this nation not so much from Communism as from Fascism--with the irony that elements of Fascism nonetheless asserted itself during the Red Scare that followed World War II, and that Harry Truman, who provided a favorable blurb to Stone's book cited above while Truman was a US Senator, was an enabler in the assertion of those elements of Fascism during his terms of office.

Still, in the late Thirties and early Forties, there were some in the power corridors of Hollywood corridors who recognized the threat of Fascism and Nazism, and were willing to stick out their corporate neck to produce some amazing films, not the least of which were: "The Mortal Storm," "Foreign Correspondent" and of course, "Casablanca."

And during World War II, a most underrated anti-Fascist collaborationist film was released entitled "This Land is Mine," a Jean Renoir directed film, made through RKO Productions in Hollywood, with an amazing cast of Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, George Sanders, and unsung character actors. It is a film to watch if it shows up on any television channel.

New hope for old cities in the US?

Catherine Tumber has written a highly thought-provoking and compelling article in the Boston Review about new initiatives for older, struggling American cities: She advocates a build-up of agricultural centers inside old buildings, and to creatively provide incentives to allow a previously decaying city to develop environmentally sensitive technological companies.

An interesting perspective on the 20th Century poet, Stephen Spender

From the London Times Literary Supplement, a fascinating and too short perspective on Stephen Spender. I would loved to have seen a longer essay on this, so the reviewer would be able to avoid drive-by references only those of us intimately familiar with Thirties politics and culture would readily understand.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday evening book review reading

Historical novelist Kevin Baker writes a nice review of a book about the bomb that exploded on Wall Street in 1920, a crime never solved, but one with important social meaning in explaining the post-war United States.

And here is a review about a new book on astronomy that I wish was three times longer, so that I could better understand the energy that is permeating the universe and has the power to snuff out the universe. Heck, maybe I should just read the book, entitled "Einstein's Telescope."

And here is Eric Hobsbawm, in old age, but still firing away with an amazing set of references while reviewing a deeply intriguing, intellectual odessey of a leftist scientist infatuated with the history and culture of China in a time of the Communist advance in China, starting in the 1930s. Hobsbawm's point about scientists who understand the humanities better than humanities majors' understand science cannot be overstated in our time. Still, Joseph Needham was almost as foolish about Communist China as the literary minded Paul Robeson was about Soviet Russia, wasn't he?

And finally, Perry Anderson of UCLA reviews two books written in Italian about the fall of the latest republic in Italy--a subject that barely registers in the US, but ought to be watched more closely. Italian education spending is half that of Denmark. Its gap between the wealthier north from the more impoverished south is increasing, and the culture of corruption continues apace. Not a pleasant picture for what has always struck me as a pleasant nation in my lifetime. Perhaps the wonderful novelist, Ignazio Silone, will become more relevant there, again, with all his complexities, ironies, doubts and yet faith--yes, faith--that people should find their way to a more mature sense of tolerance and humanity. Sorry to wax sentimental, but Silone brings that out in me...

An animated or visual understanding of the economic meltdown

See here.

It's called "The Crisis of Credit Visualized," and was put together by a graudate student, Jonathan Jarvis. What makes it compelling is its lack of political cant and dogma (I did chuckle, a bit guiltily, at the silouhette of the less than creditworthy family as being a married couple who both smoke cigarettes and have obese children).

One thing, though: The video proposes no solutions--and it doesn't have to. It's a public service just to explain as nicely as it does the crisis we are in as a nation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Israel acts in bad faith; Obama is now in a position to get tough with Israel

Today, Israel announced it is going ahead with more settlement building in the West Bank. It is high time for an American President to say that economic aid to Israel will be suspended unless Israel reverses its decision, and, if Israel persists, say that military weapons shipments could also be suspended.

Friends don't let friends drive drunk, and Israel must be drunk to think that this is the right time to expand settlements in the West Bank. If people want to say Israel has a right to do what it wants, we Americans also have the right to say we don't have to subsidize a foreign country when it does something we don't want to support.

As for the Palestinian side, it is high time for Palestinians to march in the streets and begin civil disobedience. More violence by Palestinians against Israelis in the form of suicide bombers, and bomb blasts, will only harden the swing voters in Israel and give succor to those who want to continue building settlements in the occupied territories.

I hope this normally rightward leaning writer at Haaretz will prove correct that a majority of Israelis voted for the right-wing to negotiate a peace. I think his point is true with respect to some voters who voted for Netanyahu. I don't think that is true with respect to those who voted for the right-wing religious parties or racist party led by Avigdor Lieberman.

I am also aware that if Obama says what I would like him to say, swing voters in Israel could rally even more to the right-wing in that nation. However, Israel's announcement that it is expanding its settlement building is so terribly wrong and so horribly timed that the United States would look ridiculous if it accepted Israel's announcement without a tough response. This issue goes to the credibilty of the United States to prove we are worthy of trust to those Arab negotiators who will be putting their lives on the line to try and work through a peace process with Israel. For Israel, today's announcement gives succor to those who have long said Israel has no interest in peace and is more often than not acting in bad faith towards even the best of Palestinian aspirations.

In terms of Obama acting, the good news is that I sense there is something in the air, owing to bloggers and the ability of even lazy corporate media reporters to now read Haaretz on the Internet, that the corporate media may actually allow a still sadly limited debate on this topic to occur.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dems have to kill filibuster in Senate

I've said it so long I'm a broken record. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) must lead the charge to change the Senate rules and abolish the filibuster. Why hold a super majority of Democrats in the House and Senate hostage to two Republican squishes in Maine and an ailing, cynical pro-abortion but otherwise reactionary Republican in Pennsylvania? I speak of Snowe and Collins from Maine and Specter from Pennsylvania.

Here is Dibgy, quoting Drew Westen, and both making sense of the problem facing Senate and House Democrats as they seek new policies to help people in our nation through a new, and better New Deal for America and perhaps other parts of the world?

It's also time to get ready to seat Senator-elect Al Franken (D-MN), and that will be 59 Democrats in the Senate. If Reid and the Democratic Party majority in the Senate push hard enough to kill the filibuster rule, one of those three Republicans may well decide to defect to the Democrats and become a more reliable vote for restoring prosperity and peace--instead of economic destruction through fealty to corporate power and the cult of tax cutting for the richest people. And maybe also stop voting for reckless foreign policy adventures that sap our strength and prestige around the world.

As the sage Brian Wilson once wrote, wouldn't it be nice...?


If there is a cease fire and prisoner swap with Hamas, Peres should call for new elections

If this turns out to be true, and further, the Olmert-Barak-Livni deal on the soldier and cease-fire is agreed upon by Hamas, and then a majority of Isarelis see it as a positive development, may I suggest something procedurally interesting under Israeli parliamentary rules?

I think President Peres should see if he can reject finding a winner in the recent elections, and call for new elections--even suggesting to the lame-duck Knesset (Israeli Parliament) to declare no confidence in creating a viable coalition, and see if the lame-duck Knesset can call for new elections. According to this article from the LA Times, dated October 25, 2008, it says Peres could "decide whether to call for new elections or choose another Knesset member to try to build a viable coalition."

If that is true, if this admittedly fluid atmosphere is changed with a cease fire deal and a prisoner exchange, and a majority of the Israeli public believes there is a chance for a longer term cease fire and maybe peace in Gaza, as well as the West Bank, Peres could call for new elections where, this time, the liberal and left parties and Kadima combine to create a majority. The elections really were close, and the squishy middle is very much influenced by short-term events, both positively as well as negatively. I think such a parliamentary strategy by Peres could work...


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Israeli election dream...

I dream that Bibi and Tzipi decide to say, "Forget the right wing religious parties, and forget that racist party. Let's form a coalition government of Kadima and Likud and say we will talk further with Eygpt and France, among other nations, to try and reach a lasting peace in Gaza and the West Bank."

Hamas' political support among Palestinians in Gaza has dropped, and Hamas is now sounding conciliatory about a long term cease fire, and there at least are intense discussions about freeing the captured Israeli soldier who has been languishing in Hamas' hands for almost three years.

I am now of the view that Olmert is acting wrongly in demanding the soldier Shalit be released before a cease fire is finalized with Hamas. This is why there needs to be a coalition government to finally replace Olmert, and move to complete the cease fire, agree to a prisoner exchange, including Shalit, and thereafter start long term peace negotiations.

I have always felt deep down, Bibi Netanyahu would push for peace if he thought it would make him a hero to the Israeli people. He is primarily motivated for his glory, not any animating ideology. That can be a positive in this situation, as long as he is not in coalition with a bunch of right wing religious parties and that earlier linked-to odious political party that wants to turn every Arab Israeli into a traitor, the better to further harass and oppress them.

Calling Secretary of State Clinton...


ADDENDUM: It looks like Tzipi Livni won't enter into a coalition with Bibi Netanyahu if the latter wants to also include the right wing parties and the racist party. She is correct to reject joining Netanyahu if Netanyahu wants to create a government that is a Nutty-yahoo coalition. She would be better off leading the opposition with the liberal-left political parties, and even one of the Arab oriented political parties that are willing to seek a true and just peace. That of course is still a bad solution because it may lead to Netanyahu leading a far-right government that will definitely bomb Iran, escalate against Hamas, etc. However, it would be the least worst solution because at least Livni and the opposition can be more united against such actions if the right wing coalition government undertakes such actions recklessly and with aggression in mind.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Saturday Afternoon Review of Book Reviews

I haven't blogged about the London Review of Books for awhile, and believe it time to visit the LRB site for its latest reviews:

1. University philosophers often bring out Andy Rooney crankiness in me. The latest example is this review, that I think I agree with, about a book that posits how electronic gadgets are an extension of our minds, i.e. Does the iPhone become part of mind when I use it alot, or perhaps put another way, how are our minds wired into our larger world?

It's not that my alma mater's philosophy professor, Jerry Fodor, is wrong or even shallow. He appears to be spot on in his understanding of the book he is reviewing. He has a sharp mind, no doubt about it. It's just that he takes so long to tell us something that struck me as patently obvious, which is how people sometimes confuse their metaphors with physical reality. Still, for a philosopher, I liked Fodor's practical or folksy manner, if still taking too damned long to say something he could have said in a capsule review of a couple of paragraphs.

2. Think I'm being too harsh about philosophers in the university system? Then, compare Professor Fodor's review with this review by a historian reviewing what sounds like a fascinating biography of the life of Attila the Hun. Notice the wealth of information in largely the same amount of space, and yet there is room for observation and analysis that increases one's understanding of the end of the Roman Era and the start of the Medieval Era. Personally, I didn't realize Attila was not really successful in defeating the entire Roman Empire, and that perhaps we have overstated Attila's "leadership"...I am very impressed with the scholarship and analysis of the historian, Michael Kulikowski and note he attended my alma mater, graduating with a History degree in 1991 (I graduated in 1979, oh so long ago!).

And over at the NY Review of Books:

1. A wonderful review by Tim Flannery of the new book on ants called "Superorganism." I had mentioned this book in a previous blog post, but I can truly say I have nothing to add beyond Flannery's review.

2. There is also a fine review of a new biography of Douglas Fairbanks by Robert Gottlieb that struck me as a nice work of the cultural history of the early 20th Century in the USA.

3. And here is the incomparable Emma Rothschild reminding us of how our auto-based society is something this crisis should give us a chance to reconsider as we move forward in responding to this crisis...Yes, I know it's not a book review, but it is the essence of the NY Review of Books in its own way.

Now, back to the family...and maybe more work this weekend...