Damn Yankees

Yankees haters are just as numerous today as they were in 1958, when this picture was released, following the successful run of the Broadway musical. Just about everything else has changed, though.

A rookie baseball star turning his back on fame to go home to his wife? A big home-run hitter not suspected of being on steroids? Pay phones— with dials, no less! — that require a pocketful of change. Who even carries change these days?

"Damn Yankees" takes us back to a simpler time in baseball history. Ballplayers were wholesome guys.  Fans might have gotten excited up there in the stands, but they limited themselves to a few gripes and the occasional raspberry. Fights? You've gotta be kidding! Prejudice? Not a whiff of it here, fellas.

The only character who doesn't play by the rules is the devil. Ray Walston honed his skills playing Satan (a.k.a. Mr. Applegate) before he got stuck being a Martian. I will admit that I kept expecting to see his antennae pop up every time he appeared. He’s suave, sly, and delivers his lines with superb restraint.

“Hey, how’d you pull that off?” asks innocent Joe Boyd, watching the devil light his cigarette without a match.

“I’m handy with fire,” deadpans Walston.

They don’t make temptresses like Lola anymore. And nobody has carried off a number like “Who’s Got the Pain” since Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse choreographed it together — that’s him dancing with her in the film, by the way.

On top of this, you get Tab Hunter, a sterling actor. And such fine harmonizing by the team and their manager in “You Gotta Have Heart!”

Sorry, couldn’t resist. The devil made me do it.

Lisa Lieberman watched her first baseball game in Connie Mack Stadium when she was eight years old and has been a die-hard Phillies fan ever since.

The Hitler Diaries

In retrospect, it was so lame. A cache of Hitler’s diaries, some sixty-two handwritten volumes spanning the period from 1932 to the eve of his death in 1945, was supposed to have been found in an East German barn. The German source who sold the diaries to the magazine Der Stern, Konrad Kujau, claimed to have smuggled them out of East Germany, one at a time — a process that took two years.

Kujau was a well-known forger who’d been caught peddling fake Nazi memorabilia in the past. He was apparently quite good; some of the letters he’d forged were still considered genuine at the time of the hoax. German handwriting experts compared the diaries against some of Kujau’s previous forgeries and pronounced them genuine as well. So did the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was brought in by the Times to authenticate the documents. The first installment was duly published on April 25, 1983. 
Skeptics pounced on the story the minute it hit the press. British historian Alan Bullock, author of the highly-regarded biography Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, noted that “despite extraordinary efforts... to scrape together every scrap of information about Hitler, there has never been a suggestion that he kept diaries.” Others complained that the diary entries seemed out of character. “I read one excerpt where he was supposed to have written ‘ha, ha, ha,’” said another expert. “He wasn’t that kind of person.”
Still, it must have been hard to resist succumbing to the hoax when you had entries like this one, allegedly written by Hitler in June of 1941: "On Eva's wishes, I am thoroughly examined by my doctors. Because of the new pills I have violent flatulence, and - says Eva - bad breath." Nobody knew the real Adolf Hitler, not even his closest associates. Who'd have guessed that such a monster had problems with flatulence and bad breath?

Just this past April, Rupert Murdoch told the Leveson Inquiry into media ethics that publishing the Hitler Diaries in 1983 was a "major mistake" which he would have to live with for the rest of his life. Murdoch offered Der Stern $3 million for world rights to the diaries in a bidding war against Newsweek. A recent New Yorker blog suggests that even after the hoax was revealed, Murdoch came out ahead.
The last word, I think, should go to Trevor-Roper. "For Mythopoeia is a far more common characteristic of the human race (and perhaps especially of the German race) than veracity," he wrote in The Last Days of Hitler. Or maybe we should go with P.T. Barnum: "There's a sucker born every minute."

Le Corbeau (The Raven)

All of France resisted the Nazis, if not actively, at least in their hearts. So argued Jean-Paul Sartre in “The Republic of Silence,” an uplifting little address he published a month after the Liberation. “Because the Nazi venom seeped even into our thoughts, every accurate thought was a conquest,” he wrote. “And here I am not speaking of the elite among us who were real Resistants, but of all Frenchmen who, at every hour of the night and day throughout four years, answered NO.”
Of course, Sartre knew better. In “Paris Under the Occupation,” published a few months later, he presented a different picture of the compromises that daily life under the thumb of the Germans entailed. Here he admitted that his countrymen, for the most part, were too demoralized to resist. And yet he couldn’t quite bring himself to acknowledge how eagerly many complied.
Millions of people denounced their neighbors in anonymous letters to the authorities during the Vichy era. You could say this was something of a patriotic tradition in France. During the ancien régime, secret letters led to the imprisonment of countless “enemies,” who would languish in jail, never knowing what crime they had been accused of, not even knowing the name of their accuser. The practice was stopped during the French Revolution, but the habit persisted. Under Napoleon Bonaparte it was said that half of France was paid to inform on the other half. Informers were also employed during the colonial struggles after the war.
Betrayal was an uncomfortable fact of life under the Occupation, and Henri-Georges Clouzot made it the subject of his 1943 suspense film, “Le Corbeau.” Remarkably, the film was produced by a German-owned company, Continental. More remarkably, early publicity for the picture highlighted the theme:  “Informing, the shame of the century!” Goodness, what were they thinking?
The film was a smash hit. The Catholic Church gave it a “6” on its moral scale—“1” being appropriate for all audiences, even children, and “6” being a film so pernicious that it deserved to be banned—thus ensuring that it would find an audience for decades to come. In fact, prominent critics on both ends of the political spectrum condemned “Le Corbeau.” Clouzot was accused of treason in the collaborationist newspaper Je Suis Partout; anonymous letters were “necessary” to maintain public order claimed fascist writer Lucien Rebatet. The Left, meanwhile, objected to the complete absence of admirable characters. Nobody comes off well. Not a single soul. Children, nuns, peasants, shopkeepers, teachers, workers: all are corrupted by the poison pen letters circulating in their small town.
“You think that the good are all good and the bad are all bad,” the head of the hospital, Vorzet, tells the film’s protagonist, Germain, in a famous scene. “The good is the light and the bad is the shadow.” (Here Vorzet swings a lightbulb that is dangling from a wire overhead.) Germain is having an affair with a woman in the town. He desires her, but says that he wouldn’t hesitate to turn her in if she were found to be the culprit sending the poison pen letters. “But where is the shadow, where is the light?” Vorget asks. (By now the zones of light and shadow are shifting crazily as the bulb swings back and forth.) “Do you know if you are in the light or in the shadows?”
It’s only natural to seek clarity, particularly during times of upheaval. Simone de Beauvoir argued in favor of the death penalty for war criminals for precisely this reason. Salutary executions were the only means of restoring the moral certainties that were compromised during the Vichy era, she proclaimed in her essay, “An Eye for an Eye.” And yet both she and Sartre stood up for Clouzot when the postwar French government barred him from making any more films on account of his alleged ties with the Nazis. Sartre even worked with Clouzot on a screenplay during the two-year period before the ban was lifted.
For his part, Clouzot seems to have been quite a piece of work. Germain’s intolerance for the hypocrisy of human nature mirrored the director’s own. He was not an easy man to work with; more than one actress complained of being slapped around on the set. On the other hand, he got fine performances out of his cast and is one of only three directors to have won the top prizes at the Cannes, Venice, and Berlin firm festivals (the other two were Michelangelo Antonioni and Robert Altman).
So, where is the shadow and where is the light?

Lisa Lieberman blogs about old movies at Deathless Prose.

Bad Girl Blues

“It’s just that I’ve got everything that makes a girl forget her better judgment,” Edward G. Robinson tells Alice White in the 1930 gangster picture, “The Widow from Chicago.” That seems to be exactly the kind of man that Bonnie Parker wanted, and if she hadn’t quite found him in Clyde Barrow, she was prepared to make him over from scratch.
Well, not entirely from scratch. She had pulp fiction to draw on, westerns featuring Jesse James and hardboiled crime stories, not to mention the gangster movies that flourished in Prohibition-era America before the Hays Code. 

James Cagney plays a tough guy in “The Public Enemy”
If the reality of Bonnie and Clyde’s life on the lam was less than glamorous—the two spent more time hiding from the law than robbing, and much of their shooting seems to have been done by mistake—Bonnie’s fantasies turned them into outlaw heroes. She liked to pretend that she was a cigar-smoking gun moll, but deep down, she was the kind of gal who’d stand by her man, no matter how he treated her, and even take the rap for him.
Romance, not crime, may have been Bonnie’s true calling. I imagine her humming the lyrics to “My Man” as she waited for Clyde to be released from a two-year prison sentence he began serving a few months after they met. Fanny Brice popularized the song in the 1920s. I swear it could have been Bonnie Parker's anthem.

Oh, my man, I love him so 
He'll never know 
All my life is just despair 
But I don't care 
When he takes me in his arms 
The world is bright all right 
What's the difference if I say 
I'll go away 
When I know I'll come back on my knees someday 
For whatever my man is 
I am his 
forever more

Steven Biel's book, Bonnie Parker Writes a Poemcan be purchased for $2.99 through AmazonBarnes and Noble Nook Books, iTunes, and Kobo Books

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Simone de Beauvoir's 1946 essay, "An Eye for an Eye" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Singles, Barnes and Noble Nook Books,  iTunes, and Kobo BooksShe blogs about old movies at Deathless Prose.

A Question of Justice

The conviction of Liberia’s former president, Charles Taylor, of aiding and abetting war crimes in the neighboring country of Sierra Leone, has been widely praised. World leaders and human rights groups have applauded the Hague tribunal’s ruling for “sending a strong message to all perpetrators of atrocities, including those in the highest positions of power, that they will be held accountable," as a State Department spokesperson said.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, termed Taylor’s conviction in the Hague “a historic moment in the development of international justice.” And U.S. Representative Chris Smith, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights that worked to bring Taylor to trial, called his conviction “a just verdict”—a view expressed by many survivors and relatives of victims in Sierra Leone.

A just verdict? Not according to New York Times Op-Ed contributor J. Peter Pham. A conviction for complicity in crimes committed in another country which ignores the atrocities Taylor committed against the citizens of his own country is hardly worth celebrating. After a trial lasting six years, Pham argues, and with many of Taylor’s henchmen still in power, true justice for Liberians seems a long way off.

Simone de Beauvoir would have agreed. While not condoning the sort of rough justice suffered by Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of his subjects, she might have preferred seeing Taylor tried and executed by his own countrymen, as was the case with those accused and convicted of war crimes in France during World War II.

Salutary executions, Beauvoir argues in her 1946 essay, “An Eye for an Eye," are the only means of restoring the moral certainties that were compromised during the German Occupation.  “One may excuse all the offenses and all the crimes individuals commit against society, but when a man deliberately applies himself to degrade another man and turn him into a thing, it is necessary to eradicate from the earth a scandal that nothing can undo,” she writes.

The purging of war criminals was a means of restoring France’s integrity following the moral disgrace of Vichy, Beauvoir argues.  Nothing less than the nation’s legitimacy was at stake: the principles enshrined in the French Revolution, its proud commitment to justice and human decency.  “If,” she concluded, “...the values according to which we live are real, if they have weight, it is not shocking to uphold them at the cost of a life.”

-  Lisa Lieberman


Lisa Lieberman's
 translation of Simone de Beauvoir's 1946 essay, "An Eye for an Eye" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Singles , Barnes and Noble Nook Books, and Kobo Books. Her current project, Lost Belongingsexplores the moral and political choices of exiled Holocaust survivors after the war.

Guilty by Association

Fanny Kemble felt accused from the moment she arrived at her husband’s Georgia plantation in December of 1838. On the faces of his slaves, she saw the same sad and fearful expression, conveying “a sense of incalculable past loss and injury and a dread of incalculable future loss and injury.” Deep down, she must have known that, for all her pity, and despite her small acts of kindness toward “these wretched people,” as she called them, she was complicit in their oppression.
Kemble, a famous actress in England before she married Pierce Butler, gave up earning her own living to be kept by a wealthy husband whose family had lived off the unpaid labor of slaves for two generations. From the comfort of her Philadelphia mansion, she could entertain abolitionists. She could even write against slavery, but this did not change the fact that, as Butler bluntly put it, “the act of marrying a slave owner made her also a slave owner...”
At moments in her Journal, Kemble admits as much to herself:
I am getting perfectly savage over all these doings, and really think I should consider my own throat and those of my children well cut if some night the people were to take it into their heads to clear off scores in that fashion.
She cannot pretend to be pure, cannot stand above the ugly reality she witnesses. Sad and fearful, and guilty, she fled the Georgia plantation after four months.
A century later, white outsiders who, like Kemble, became insiders in the South—the Jim Crow South—felt the same complicated emotions as they contemplated the situation of the blacks. Refugee Jewish scholars from Hitler’s Germany who came to the United States and wound up teaching in black colleges in the segregated South, were dismayed to find themselves transformed overnight from victims to oppressors, owing to their white skin. Their response was quietly to circumvent the Jim Crow Laws, inviting their students into their homes while holding them to the same high standards they had expected of their students back in their German universities, replicating as best they could in their impoverished circumstances the vibrant academic community they had lost. Tellingly enough, few returned to Germany after the war.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books, Kobo and Google Books.  Her current project, Lost Belongings, explores the moral and political choices of exiled Holocaust survivors after the war.

A continually expanding concept of national security is not viable for America's future

by John Prados

The following is excerpted from John Prados' 11,000 word essay Rethinking National Security available for e-Readers through Now and Then Reader.

America today stands at a crossroads. Beset by economic woes, driven to attempt reform that might enable the nation to regain a sense of honor and purpose, and seeking desperately to identify what actions are needed, Americans are searching for a way forward. But there is an elephant in the room that blocks the way: what we call “national security.” Few observers have paid much attention to national security. Citizens have long deferred to government and allowed it full sway in the defense of the land. But our present crisis is too great, and our resources too strained, to continue with business as usual. America’s myriad difficulties cannot be overcome without dealing with the issue of national security.

As presently conceived, national security is a trap. Left untouched, pursuit of it will continue to cripple our country. In the essay that follows I try to show how national security evolved, why in its present form it ensnares the nation, what would be the consequences of failure to correct the situation, and what a new approach might look like. I also argue that a solution to this problem is urgent: escaping the national security trap may be the critical issue of our era.

During his presidential campaign Barack Obama made many promises, some of them concerning foreign policy and defense. His ideas resonated with Americans. Candidate Obama promised to end the war in Iraq; close the notorious detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; stop torture and renditions; move away from the nuclear standoff that still exists with Russia; ratify the comprehensive test-ban treaty; end regulations that oppress gay Americans serving in the military; strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency; and place U.S. diplomacy on a broader foundation. Mr. Obama foresaw a global fair deal in which the United States would multiply assistance to the Third World, forgive the debts of underdeveloped countries, and reduce foreign hostility by means of transparent policies and frank answers to critics of America. Candidate Obama believed in strengthening common security by investing in the common humanity of all peoples.

Four years on, much of this agenda remains unfulfilled. Case in point: the day after his inauguration, President Obama issued an executive order providing that the Guantanamo prison be closed within a year. He was not able to enforce that directive. Objections from politicians, officials, and citizens over the relocation or release of detainees comprised a mounting wave of resistance that stalled the program. The administration’s initiative to move the trial of admitted terrorist Khalid Sheik Mohammed, one of the architects of the attacks of September 11, 2001, to a civilian court—and thus end the gravely flawed military tribunals created by the Bush administration—then failed. The collapse of this effort effectively ended the president’s entire program for detainees.

Obama had also advocated a variety of steps to reset U.S. relations with Russia and eradicate the vestiges of the nuclear balance of terror, disturbingly persistent even after the end of the Cold War. Final ratification of a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty, making new designs for nuclear weapons more difficult, and reaching a fresh agreement with Moscow on further reductions in existing weapons stockpiles were among these initiatives. But Senate fears of weakening the nation’s defenses put the final nails in the coffin of ratification. When Obama went ahead and canceled design of a new generation of weapons, senators made the program’s continuation a condition for their ratification of the arms-reduction agreement.

To reduce the danger of accidental nuclear war, the Obama administration suggested that both the United States and Russia modify the command control of their long-range missiles so that targets in the other nation would not be preset into the rockets’ guidance systems. Meanwhile a different initiative held over from the Bush administration called for an anti-ballistic-missile defense system that requires placing early-detection radars on the territory of nations contiguous to Russia. Moscow considers this an aggressive action aimed at Russia, but Obama officials continued the program. The Russians responded with actions of their own, including the rejection of the measure to reduce the danger of accidental war.

One campaign promise that President Obama fulfilled was his commitment to end the oppressive treatment of gay Americans by the military in the form of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” regulations, under which admitted homosexuals were dismissed from the armed forces. When the White House mandated cancellation of this regimen, a procession of generals and admirals—and powerful politicians—resisted by arguing that permitting gays to serve openly in the military would reduce the effectiveness of U.S. forces. Obama won through, and legislation ending the obsolete regulations was enacted into law.

In each of these situations involving foreign policy and defense, a common thread may be found in behind-the-scenes maneuvering and policy debates: the single concept of “national security.” Unremarked by nearly everyone, the idea of national security has expanded to the point where today it has acquired a quasi-mystical meaning. Almost anything that relates remotely to the nation’s well-being is declared within the realm of national security. As a candidate Barack Obama subscribed to many forward-thinking ideas. As president many of his campaign commitments remain in limbo precisely because of the demands of national security. But the president is not merely a prisoner of aggressive national security stalwarts. In important ways he himself believes in its precepts.

The central problem is not an individual—even a president—and not a cohort of advocates. America’s crisis today hinges in large part on an overweening and outmoded concept of national security. Left over from Cold War days, it has ballooned far beyond its original meaning. And this has happened without serious consideration by American citizens. If it is not curbed, national security will drive the decline of the very state it aims to preserve. Traditional national security is a trap.


John Prados is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He is the author of more than twenty books in the field, including 'Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA;' 'Vietnam: The History of an Unwinnable War, 1945–1975;' 'Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of U.S. Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II;' and 'Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush.' He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.


The complete essay 'Rethinking National Security' is available to purchase for $2.99 Kindle and iPad through Amazon and iTunes.

Happy Birthday, Charles Fourier

Picture yourself in a commune near Boston

With lions as butlers and lemonade seas

Everyone’s willing to share their possessions

And work for the community

Happy small children collect all the trash

Riding on Shetland ponies

Free education, free love

Total equality

The magnificent failure known as Brook Farm, a utopian commune set up in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, was more fantastic than anything dreamed up by John Lennon. Founded by free-thinking New Englanders in 1841—the hippies of their generation—its ambitious program gave ownership of the community to anyone who lived and worked there, one share distributed for each day a member worked, and provided a high-quality education from preschool through college for all of the colony’s children. Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the original shareholders; Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet and Transcendentalist, along with feminist author Margaret Fuller, and the fathers of Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe were all enthusiastic about the enterprise.

The experiment was based on the socialist ideals of the French reformer Charles Fourier. Like other late-18th-century rationalists, including Ben Franklin, Fourier believed you could solve all the problems of the world if you just put your mind to it. Putting his mind to the problems of urban and industrial society, he came up with the “back-to-the-land” philosophy that inspired not only Brook Farm, but numerous communes throughout the United States, not to mention the Kibbutz model in Israel.

But Fourier didn’t stop at social engineering. He predicted that a new planetary alignment would change the earth. The North Pole would melt and the seas would lose their saltiness and turn to lemonade. Wild animals would become the servants of humankind. So maybe he went off the deep end, but his ideas were incredibly influential. Karl Marx “borrowed” his criticism of capitalism, the exploitation of workers for the benefit of factory owners, and his understanding of the way that factory work alienated workers. Others picked up on his support of women’s rights—Fourier coined the word “feminism”— his critique of the institution of marriage and advocacy of sexual freedom, including same-sex unions.

All in all, he was a pretty radical guy, not only for his time, but for ours as well. “The first right of men is the right to work and the right to a minimum wage,” he said. “This is precisely what has gone unrecognized in all the constitutions. Their primary concern is with favored individuals who are not in need of work.”

Charles Fourier was born on April 7, 1772, and died on October 10, 1837.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Google Books.

Higher Ed Commoditization

Joshua Kim reviewed Now and Then Reader's 'Why American Newspapers Gave Away the Future' by Richard J. Tofel in today's edition of Inside Higher Ed.  In his review, Kim looks at what higher education can learn from the mistakes that the newspaper industry made as they adapted to the offerings of the digital world.
In the news world, newspapers neglected to make investments in the reporters and editors that were the traditional comparative advantage of print media, and could have provided the service (in-depth reporting) that could have motivated readers to keep paying for content. In higher ed, we should be sure to invest in our greatest resource - our faculty - as we depend on the teaching and research that they produce to bring in students and research dollars. 

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/technology-and-learning/4-higher-ed-lessons-why-american-newspapers-gave-away-future#ixzz1qcVbGhaX
Inside Higher Ed 

The questions Kim asks are particularly resonant with yesterday's news that Santa Monica College plans to implement a tiered-pricing plan for their classes. Students trying to get in to the most popular classes, will pay more to gain access to the courses they need.    The changes are proposed in response to over-enrollment in the College at a time when budget cuts have reduced faculty and thus capacity. David Blaine of the American Association of Community Colleges is quoted in yesterday's New York Times article on the plan:

But the impetus behind it, he said, is clear. “In many cases, and California most prominently, amid the recession there was a huge spike in enrollment concurrent with budget cuts,” Mr. Baime said. “The colleges have just maxed out in terms of how many students they can serve.”
The fact that this new structure, the first of its kind, is being implemented at a community college level as opposed to a private university is particularly concerning and raises the questions of the responsibility of community colleges, in general.  It seems  logical conclusion that the two-tiered pricing system will exclude students who cannot afford to pay for the higher classes. Just as it is with the rest of the commodities we're offered in all aspects of daily life, choices will have to be made by those on tighter budgets; and, in most cases, the lower cost, and subsequently lower-value option will be chosen.

Clearly, if Santa Monica College's new system gets approved by state regulators, it be replicated in other schools, both private and public.   Since demand raises prices across all realm of products, be it nanny services or haircuts, the cost of higher education will continue to rise.

But what if Santa Monica College's pricing system has the reverse effect?  Could an ad hoc pricing structure further commoditize education services driving students to look for alternate learning resources and subsequently bring the prices down.  As Kim points out, just as the newspaper industry faced competition from websites in the early 2000s, today's traditional higher ed institutions are already facing growing "competition" from places like Udacity, Khan Academy and others.   Despite the anger voiced by protesters at Santa Monica College, there are more and more learning opportunities available everyday. Widespread acceptance of a tiered pricing structure could potentially fuel further competition and with that, improve the quality of the product. Not necessarily in the form of a new gym or student union, which  Richard B. Schwartz points out in "Is a College Education Still Worth the Price?" has become a troubling priority for many institutions, but in the form of a better education. For all.

Hilton Kramer

Hilton Kramer, the onetime chief art critic of the New York Times and in recent years the publisher of The New Criterion, died on March 26 near his home in Maine.  He had been ill for some time.

I had the privilege (I use the word carefully) of publishing two of his books, The Twilight of the Intellectuals and The Triumph of Modernism, and had the greatest admiration for his work.

I often told Hilton that I had never learned more about art and art history than I did when reading one of his essays.  He wrote his most important criticism at a time when the art world was balanced on shifting sands, and he was courageous in his defense of its higher forms.

His obit in the Times may be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/arts/design/hilton-kramer-critic-who-championed-modernism-dies-at-84.html

Review of the Movie "Free Men"

I know this will date me, but watching “Free Men” sent me back to a black-and-white TV program of the 1960s, The Outer Limits. Each episode opened with a test pattern and some eerie music. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture,” a menacing voice would announce.

“Free Men” is an effort to adjust our picture of the French Resistance during the Second World War to include the activities of North African Muslims who resisted the Nazis and rescued Jews. This is no small matter. Until fairly recently, the standard picture was completely FRENCH. Foreigners were left out, although early Resistance groups in occupied Paris and the Vichy zone contained large numbers of persecuted refugees from other parts of Europe, including Communists and Jews.

As for the many Arab and Berber migrants from France’s North African colonies who had come to the mainland seeking work in the 1920s and 30s, they might as well have been invisible. Yet they had their own mosque, the Great Mosque of Paris, built to commemorate the 100,000 Muslim soldiers who died defending France in World War I. Si Kaddour Ben Ghabrit, the Great Mosque’s rector, is known to have saved the lives of a number of Jews, among them the Algerian-Jewish singer Salim Halali, by issuing them certificates of Muslim identity, which enabled them to escape deportation.

The story deserves to be told, and the Moroccan-French director Ismaël Ferroukhi tells it well. Younes, the young Algerian drifter who joins the Resistance somewhat against his will, is a hero by the end of the film. He helps save Halali, among others. We see him making his way through the crowd on Liberation Day, a battered hero, sadder and wiser. Unfortunately, that’s where the film ends.

Despite their sacrifices for France and the promises of independence given by Charles de Gaulle in recognition of their loyalty, Algerians did not attain their independence until 1962, after a long and bloody war. Younes and the film’s other idealistic North African characters would become casualties of this war. Some would be arrested by the French as potential terrorists, or massacred in the streets of Paris when they attempted to stage a peaceful demonstration on October 17, 1961. Others would be seen as too moderate by radical Algerian nationalists and killed by their own side.

“Free Men” makes a place for North Africans in the heroic pantheon, but the picture it presents is still in black-and-white and out of focus. The real story of the role Algerians and Algeria played in French history, including the Second World War, was not about heroism. It was about betrayal. Sadly, not much has changed.

Lisa Lieberman's translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and NobleNook Books and Google Books. Lost Belongings, her current nonfiction project, tells how Holocaust survivors coped with irretrievable loss.

Of Historians, Umpires and Generals

Merle Miller leads off this month's list with Firing the General, Harry Truman's candid account of why he'd had enough of General Douglas MacArthur. Excerpted from Miller's oral history of President Truman, Plain SpeakingFiring the General is available exclusively through Kindle Books and for free for Amazon Prime Members.  Historiographers can indulge or dispute the reality of J.H. Hexter's The Historian and His Day with an introduction by Gertrude Himmelfarb.  Then, with baseball season just around the corner, we're happy to have Peter Morris' fascinating look at the history of violence in baseball, Don't Kill The Umpire: How Baseball Escaped Its Violent Past to put things in perspective.

Don't Kill The Umpire by Peter Morris

Don't Kill The Umpire

by Peter Morris

Violence plays a peculiar, sublimated role in the sport of baseball. In stark contrast to the play of football and other widely appreciated American games like basketball and ice hockey, baseball players are schooled to take their aggressions out on the ball, not on other players. Yet the game was not always one of quiet courage played by gentlemen, as Peter Morris shows in this fascinating historical profile of the rise and fall of violence as a part of our national pastime.

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Firing the General by Merle Miller

Firing the General

by Merle Miller

No episode during the administration of President Harry Truman caused a greater uproar than his firing of General Douglas MacArthur. After continuing friction between his military aims in the Korean War and the administration’s policy of avoiding a larger conflict, MacArthur began to state publicly his complaints about being handcuffed. Truman’s patience wore thin and finally ran out. In this excerpt from Merle Miller’s Plain Speaking, the always candid former president explains what happened.

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The Historian and His Day

The Historian and His Day

by J.H. Hexter with an introduction by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Deceptively mild and modest in tone, J. H. Hexter's "The Historian and His Day" is bold in conception and execution. Hexter was venturing upon a subject—the nature of the historical enterprise—that has engaged the most eminent historians, raising the perennially vexing question of past- and present-mindedness in the writing of history. It is also memorable because it addresses that issue in a notably down-to-earth, commonsensible, personal manner. .

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Free eBook of the Month

This month's Free eBook will be The Quintessential American featuring selections from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.  Check for it later this week.

The Quintessential American: The Autobiography of Benjamin FranklinThe Quintessential American: Selections from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

In his famous Autobiography, Franklin displays the iconic American virtues of thrift, ambition, hard work, self-improvement, and common sense.  But, like many of the Founders, aspects of Franklin’s character remain something of a puzzle. In these selections from his Autobiography, Franklin reflects upon his rise in the world and the self-taught lessons that brought his success.

Publishing Perspectives on peddling e-trash

Ivan R. Dee, Now & Then Reader
Our venerable chief editor Ivan R. Dee put his own words out there today with a guest article on Publishing Perspectives.

Speaking of his transition from 30+ years publishing hardcover and paperback serious nonfiction to launching Now and Then Reader and publishing short form nonfiction books and essays for e-readers:
The other day, I was accused by an old publishing friend of traitorous activities. 
Even though I'm digital born and bred, I often feel traitorous as I switch back and forth between unfinished print books that have been lying on my shelf for months and the latest Kindle book I downloaded after reading a review in the New York Times.  From a reader's perspective, it's all about convenience and immediacy. I can read it now.  From a publisher's perspective, it's the same idea.  We can publish it now:

I needn’t remind those in traditional publishing about the agonizingly slow process of contracting for a book, developing the manuscript, seeing it through the editorial and design and manufacturing processes, getting it into the stores with adequate publicity — and finally trying to move it off the bookstore shelves. In my publishing house, once the manuscript was in hand, we usually accomplished this in five to six months — and we pushed. Many publishers of similar serious materials require a year or more  
By contrast, Now and Then can get a long piece ready for publication within two weeks, including editing, cover design, production, and publicity materials. Using two to three people. Compared with book publication, it’s a piece of cake — like the difference between a meal in the Gulag and tea at the Mayfair.
With the actual publishing side of things reduced to a simple, streamlined process, the challenge remains in reaching the audience.  We founded Now and Then Reader on the belief that there is a large audience of serious readers out there.  Recent studies states that the e-reader format itself is helping to nurture and expand the audience for serious reading.  And some would argue that the world will be a better place with more people reading serious nonfiction over novels.  Unfortunately, with the ease of publishing that the new format brings, also comes a deluge of content, good and bad, that readers must wade through to find something worth their while.  The same convenience and immediacy that we herald is actually making the job of finding the reader that much harder.

Sometimes I'm not sure it is possible for topics like ours to stand above the growing fray. But then I'm re-inspired by the words of support we get from new visitors to our site, new readers, new much needed media coverage.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, I have to finish the cover for our next title.

Read Ivan Dee's guest post on Publishing Perspectives.


Chandos Erwin is the co-founder of Now and Then Reader.  He lives in Venice, California where there are occasional serious reader sightings.

The Historian and Her Day

I wasn’t yet born when Jack Hexter wrote “The Historian and His Day.” By the time I was in MY early forties and teaching in a minor college, the world had changed significantly. The day of a historian in the 1990s—a female historian with three young children—did not begin with a leisurely scan of the newspaper headlines over breakfast, and it certainly did not end at midnight, after countless uninterrupted hours of intellectual work.
I too rose early. My first class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday was at 8:30, but before my husband and I could make our way to the college where we both taught, we had to pack lunches, get our son off to elementary school, and drop our daughters at the daycare center on campus. At lunchtime, I hurried over to the daycare center to nurse our baby. Conversations with colleagues took place on the fly, although my husband and I talked shop a good deal of the time at home, in and around “domestic matters.”
Somehow I managed to carve out time to read, research, think, and write about my scholarly field: 19th- and 20th-century France. But, in contrast to Hexter, I could not keep the clutter of my present-day life from intruding upon the past events I studied. Was this a bad thing?
I take heart from Hexter’s recognition that “each historian brings to the rewriting of history the full range of the remembered experience of his own days, that unique array that he alone possesses and is.” This is true, in my case, although maybe not in the way he meant.
I do find that my historical investigations have been influenced by my real-life experiences. My first book explored the cultural meaning of suicide, beginning in antiquity and continuing right up to the present. I chose the topic because I’d been haunted since childhood by the suicide of my grandfather, whom I’d never met (he killed himself during the Depression, when my father was a boy). As a parent, I wondered how he could have abandoned his family.
More insights came through my work as a counselor on a suicide hotline. Listening to the reasons callers gave for wanting to end their lives, I was struck by their willfulness. Many were depressed—and who could blame them, hearing their problems? But these people were anything but victims. They saw dying as their only means of reclaiming control over their lives, and of course it was my job to convince them that there were less drastic ways of solving their problems.
These insights led me to challenge our society’s most comforting assumption about suicide: that individuals who kill themselves are entirely passive, that they do not seriously intend to die. But as I explored the sources of this assumption, I was guided by Hexter’s commandments for responsible historical inquiry:
  1. Do not go off half-cocked.
  2. Get the story straight.
  3. Keep prejudices about present-day issues out of this area.
Present-mindedness, I would say, need not lead to sloppy scholarship. Caught up in the preoccupations of his or her day, the historian can ask questions about the past that help us to make sense of today’s world.

Lisa Lieberman is the author of Leaving You: The Cultural Meaning of Suicide. Her translation of Jean-Paul Sartre's essay, "Paris Under the Occupation" can be purchased for $1.99 through Amazon Kindle Books, Apple Bookstore Quick Reads, Barnes and Noble Nook Books and Google Books. Lost Belongings, her current nonfiction project, tells how Holocaust survivors coped with irretrievable loss.

Leaping Historians and Firing Generals

Yesterday, to celebrate the extra day brought on by the leap year, we released two new titles  to add to our ever-growing list of nonfiction books and essays.

Firing the General

Excerpted from Merle Miller's oral biography of President Harry Truman, 'Plain Speaking,' Now and Then's  Firing the General gives eBook readers the opportunity hear first-hand how Truman had had enough of General Douglas MacArthur.

Perhaps no episode during the Truman's administration caused a greater uproar than his firing of the much lauded general. As Truman candidly tells it, the decision came after MacArthur began to publicly complain about the administration's unwillingness to expand the war in Korea.

Firing the General is available exclusively through the Amazon Kindle bookstore and can be purchased here.

The Historian and His Day

Available for the first time for e-readers, The Historian and His Day by renowned historiography J.H. Hexter offers a remarkably down-to-earth, commonsensible look at the vexing question of  past- and present-mindedness in the writing of history.

A must-read for anyone interested in the nature of historical enterprise, The Historian and His Day is available through Amazon for $2.99.

These two new titles bring our list of short form nonfiction titles to a total of fifteen. Tell us what you think of these new titles as part of our list as a whole. Post a comment here or join the discussion at our website www.nowandthenreader.com

Apple and Amazon content restrictions: Convenience or control?

As we go through the process of creating bookstore specific "You Might Also Like" lists to include in each of our nonfiction books, Seth Godin's Paid Content post Who Decides What Gets Sold In The Bookstore? strikes a chord today.

Lamenting the fact that his book was rejected by Apple because it contained links to Amazon books, Godin writes:

We’re heading to a world where there are just a handful of influential bookstores (Amazon, Apple, Nook…) and one by one, the principles of open access are disappearing. Apple, apparently, won’t carry an ebook that contains a link to buy a hardcover book from Amazon.
That’s amazing to me. It must be a mistake, right?
First, because the web, like your mind, works best when it’s open. Second, because once bookstores start to censor the books they carry (business reasons, personal taste, etc.) then the door is open for any interest group to work hard to block books with which they disagree. Where does the line get drawn?
Since we have to do everything possible to keep potential readers coming back to us for more, we are adding links to browse our other nonfiction books and essays in the back of each release.  To do this, we now have to create unique lists and corresponding ePub files for the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble Nook Bookstore and Google Books.  And, of course, a separate list for Kindle Books.  It's not an outrageous task and we've now set up a process to automate the list generation, but it adds time and cost to the production process which, in a time-pressed and budget strained startup like this, just makes the real task at hand, getting the word out about our books, that much harder.

Whining aside, this would seem to be a common sense best practice to create the shortest possible hop to get the reader back the purchase funnel.  And, if you look at in terms of reader convenience, it also makes sense to include platform relevant links.  If I'm reading a Now and Then nonfiction ebook on a Kindle, it's highly likely that I'll probably read my next Now and Then nonfiction ebook on a Kindle.  I don't need a link to buy it on Nook or the iPad. In fact, I'd probably be annoyed if I clicked on non-relevant link.

While it should be a decision left up to the author or publisher, the control is in in this case, convenient.

The issue become a bit murkier, and much less convenient, when you move beyond the dedicated e-reading devices like the original Kindle and the Nook. There's been much made of Apple's move to restrict the reading apps made by Amazon and Barnes and Noble and others from in-app purchases unless they pay the 30% commission.  For those users who choose to read Kindle books on their iOs devices, this restriction makes the purchase process a complete pain in the neck, requiring the user to switchover to Safari, login to Amazon, enter a credit card and then send the purchase over to their Kindle iPad app.   You lost me at "login."   It makes sense that usage is up on the iBookstore (at least for us). Even with Amazon's counter-attack Cloud Reader and Ipad Bookstore solutions, Apple's restrictions have made iBookstore a lot easier to use than Kindle or Nook.

Since the appeal of devices lies mainly in their capability, and capability is more and more provided by third party applications, I agree with Godin and think that it behooves Apple and Amazon to take a step back and look at what lies down the road in terms of competition.   The fact that I can make the choice to purchase books through Kobo, Kindle, Nook OR Google Books apps on my Android tablet makes it that much more appealing to me than my uber-restricted iPad2.  Google's Eric Schmidt today predicted an Android for everyone on the planet.   I honestly don't think that the prediction is that far-fetched.  Even if he's only partially correct, Apple and Amazon will be forced to open up their devices to give the reader the choices to they want.  Otherwise they're going to turn to an Android device that inherently has that much more capability.

Until then, we'll continue to toe Apple and Amazon's respective lines - for our reader's convenience and simple survival in this monopolized industry.  Will Android world dominance lead to the rebirth of the independent bookstore? I certainly hope so.  In the meantime, I wish one of them would come up with an automated "Also by" tool.  Please. It would make things so much easier for us.