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Archive for June, 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Shakespeare in China

Chinese ShakespearesIn his new book Chinese Shakespeares: Two Centuries of Cultural Exchange, Alexander Huang examines “the transnational imaginary of China in Shakespearean performance and Shakespeare’s place in Chinese cultural history from the first Opium War in 1839 to our times.”

Huang describes a variety of dramatic and cinematic productions in China to reveal the various political and cultural meanings that Shakespeare has yielded in an Asian context, including issues of colonialism, Asian identity, nationalism, and communism. Thus, a 1942 production of Hamlet set in a Confucian temple was an allegory for China’s war with Japan while a 1997 production of King Lear “used allegory to reconfigure Shakespeare and Asian identity multinationally.”

So how does Shakespeare sound in Mandarin? The Web site Shakespeare Performance in Asia includes clips from a variety of Mandarin productions of Shakespeare including Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and The Tempest.

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Recommended Reading: Iran

The Toronto Globe and Mail recently offered a brief but very helpful and interesting guide to books that can help readers better understand Iran, its people, and its leaders. Among the list of books, which included several from university presses, were Iran and the Bomb: The Abdication of International Responsibility, by Therese Delpech and Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic, by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam.

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Human Trafficking Report / Siddharth Kara

Human TraffickingEarlier this month, the State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which assesses more than 170 countries on what efforts their governments are taking to stop human trafficking.

The release of the report was reported on the Foreign Policy blog Madam Secretary and specifically recommended reading Siddharth Kara’s recent book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery to understand issues relating to human trafficking for sex.

The report itself is available on the State Department Web site and includes many fascinating and sobering sections, including the Financial Crisis and Human Trafficking, Victim’s Stories, reports on individual countries, U.S. Government Domestic Anti-Trafficking Efforts, and Stopping Human Trafficking, Sexual Exploitation, and Abuse by International Peacekeepers.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Hillary Clinton summarized some of the findings in the report, discussed some of the gains that have made, and spoke to the continuing challenges. In addressing the impact of the financial crisis, Clinton wrote:

The problem is particularly urgent now, as local economies around the world reel from the global financial crisis. People are increasingly desperate for the chance to support their families, making them more susceptible to the tricks of ruthless criminals. Economic pressure means more incentive for unscrupulous bosses to squeeze everything they can from vulnerable workers and fewer resources for the organizations and governments trying to stop them.

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released this week, documents the scope of this challenge in every country. The report underscores the need to address the root causes of human trafficking — including poverty, lax law enforcement and the exploitation of women — and their devastating effects on its victims and their families.

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Guobin Yang on Online Activism in China and Iran

The Power of the Internet in ChinaIn a recent article on Yale Global Online, Guobin Yang, author of the recently published The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online, examines the similarities and differences among Internet activists in Iran and China.

While Iranian protesters have been able to get around censorship via social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the Chinese government has been quite vigilant in censoring the Internet. Recently the government announced a new policy requiring computers to pre-install a software called “Green Dam-Youth Escort.” While the policy was put in place to protect Chinese children from online pornography, others were concerned about the government’s hidden intentions.

This comes at a time when there are an increasing number of activist-bloggers in China. Below is an excerpt from Yang’s post. For more on the book you can also view an excerpt from the book (kindly posted on Yale Global Online), listen to a talk or watch a video of Yang discussing online activism in China.

“Increasingly, in China at least, online oppositional power depends on a new type of activist-bloggers. They write about a broad range of public issues, usually expressing dissent. Whenever major events or crises occur, readers can invariably turn to these bloggers for critical commentaries. Fully aware of the expectations of their audience, these activist-bloggers rarely fail to publish their critical responses. Indeed, the culture of the blogosphere is such that bloggers are compelled to produce for their audience to keep their names in the limelight. In the Green Dam case, it is these activist-bloggers (whom I will not name here) that quickly became the leading critical voices in Chinese cyberspace. Online activism hardly happens out of the blue, but has found a social basis in these activist-bloggers and their followers.

Further, online activism has sustained its power because it has become a vital link with the mass media. Tweets of protests in Iran would not have become so widely known and influential if they had not been picked up by the most powerful global cable networks. Similarly, online protests about the “Green Dam” software in China were encouraged when even some official media stories questioned the policy. This is by no means to underestimate the power of the Internet. One might just as well argue that mass media would not have been as powerful without citizens’ constant news feeds from their tweets and blogs. The truth is that web power has become part and parcel of mainstream media power. Media scholars sometimes talk about the growing convergence between “old” and “new” media. Converging or not, the spectrum of media channels has vital connections, and the power of old or new media is enhanced by establishing such linkages.


Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Iran: This Is Not a Revolution, by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

Iran in World PoliticsIn an essay for the Monthly Review Web site MRZine, Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, author of Iran in World Politics: The Question of the Islamic Republic, argues that what we are witnessing in Iran is not a revolution so much as a political struggle and cautions against drawing too many parallels with the events of 1979.

(Needless to say Adib-Moghaddam’s perspective is not without its detractors. The essay was also posted on the site Lenin’s Tomb and has been the subject of a very lively discussion.)

Adib-Moghaddam argues that unlike 1979 when the Shah was the clear enemy to broad segments of the Iranian population, there continues to be widespread loyalty to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and even Ahmadinejad. Moreover, while the Shah’s regime was unequivocally totalitarian in nature, the Islamic Republic “has proven to be rather responsive to societal demands and rather flexible ideologically.”

Mousavi himself, as Adib-Moghaddam and others have suggested, is far from a revolutionary and has always been a part of the Islamic Republic’s establishment. In challenging the notion that events in Iran signal a desire to upend the Islamic Republic, Adib-Moghaddam writes,

“When some commentators say that what we are witnessing is a revolution they are at best naive and at worst following their own destructive agenda. The dispute is about the future path of the Islamic Republic and the meaning of the revolution — not about overthrowing the whole system. It is a game of politics and the people who are putting their lives at risk seem to be aware of that. They are aware, in other words, that they are the most important force in the hands of those who want to gain or retain power.”

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Richard Bulliet on Iran

Prominent Middle Eastern historian Richard Bulliet, author of the just-published Cotton, Climate, and Camels in Early Islamic Iran: A Moment in World History, recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on the crisis in Iran. In the op-ed, Bulliet considers the generational issues shaping the protests in Iran:

“A confrontation is looming that is as inevitable as was the generational upheaval that swept the United States during the Vietnam era. Both countries have a Greatest Generation that is pitted against a Baby Boomer Generation.”

More specifically, Ahmadinejad’s generation, which fought in the Iran-Iraq War and is akin to the United States’ “Greatest Generation,” now finds itself at odds with 20-something Iranians born during and after the war. Bulliet writes,

“Today the baby boomers, now in their 20’s, are taking their political cause to the streets. America’s boomers did the same thing to protest the Vietnam War. But just as American flower children faced grim opposition from their parents, Iran’s Greatest Generation will not go down without a fight. In their eyes, after all, the boomers neither made the revolution nor fought to defend it. They see them as whiny, luxury-loving, me-firsters with questionable religious commitments and a degrading love of American pop culture.

The boomers themselves, and particularly the women among them, chafe under the behavioral restrictions enforced by Ahmadinejad’s regime. They long to connect with the world and hate seeing their country humiliated by Ahmadinejad’s outrageous public pronouncements.”

Bulliet concludes by arguing that to justify its leadership Iran’s “Greatest Generation” needs appeal to the boomers by loosening restrictions and opening up to the outside world. Failing this, they will be forced to become even more authoritarian and sow the seeds of further discord.

For more on Bulliet’s view on the crisis in Iran, you can also view his appearance on Bloomberg Television:

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Interview with Charles Hirschkind, Author of The Ethical Soundscape

Charles HirschkindIn The Ethical Soundscape: Cassette Sermons and Islamic Counterpublics (now available in paper), Charles Hirschkind explores how a popular Islamic media form—the cassette sermon—has profoundly transformed the political geography of the Middle East over the last three decades. The following is an interview with Hirschkind. For more on the book, you can also listen to a sermon or read an excerpt from the book.

Question: Islamic cassette media have been associated with Muslim fundamentalism and extremism ever since the 1979 revolution in Iran, when Ayatollah Khomeini’s recorded missives played a key role in the mobilizations leading up to the overthrow of the shah. Haven’t cassettes always served as a vehicle of militancy and subversion in the Middle East?

Charles Hirschkind: Although cassette-recorded sermons have been used as a recruitment tool by Islamic militants on some occasions, the vast majority of those who listen to this media are ordinary Muslims, men and women who hold regular jobs, who send their kids to public schools, who worry about the future of their communities. For these people, sermon tapes are not an instrument of radical mobilization but a way to acquire the religious knowledge and sensibilities that help one to live and act ethically in a rapidly changing social and political world. Most of the preachers who produce these tapes combine this emphasis on the ethical with a discussion of contemporary political issues that bear on the lives of Muslims, the two woven together in a format that is both entertaining and educational. While the political content of such tapes will often include criticisms of Middle Eastern regimes for failing to implement democratic political rights, and of the United States for imposing a political and economic straitjacket on the region, the context of these arguments is not militancy but a movement focused on an inquiry into the conditions (political, moral, economic) that enable an ethical form of collective life.


Friday, June 19th, 2009

Interivew with Dana Kaplan, Author of Contemporary American Judaism

Contemporary American JudaismIn the following interview Dana Kaplan discusses his new book Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal.

In the book, Kaplan focuses on the creative responses to contemporary spiritual trends that have made a Jewish religious renaissance possible. He argues that American Jewish denominational structure is weakening at the same time that religious experimentation is rising, leading to innovative approaches that are supplanting existing institutions.

Question: Is your book a comprehensive look at all aspects of American Judaism?

Dana Evan Kaplan: Yes and no. I cover a tremendous amount of territory, which was a great opportunity to learn about many aspects of American Judaism that I knew relatively little about. But the book is not intended to be an encyclopedia of contemporary American Judaism. The primary focus is on how American Judaism has changed since 1945 and especially since the 1970s. The material that I present is intended to help readers understand what has happened over the past few decades.

My subject is primarily the American Judaism that was and is practiced by the “mainstream” Jewish community. As a result of this focus, I talk very little about Haredi Judaism, what used to be referred to as “ultra-Orthodox” Judaism. The book discusses two particular segments of Haredi Judaism at length—Chabad-Lubavitch and the baal teshuva movement. The reason for this was that both of these subgroups have had a tremendous impact on the broader Jewish community.

Q: What is the central argument in the book?

DEK.: I argue that American Jews, like other Americans, have become much more interested in personal spirituality, and this has transformed American Judaism. Until the end of World War II, religion was seen as an ascribed part of identity rather than an achieved status. It was ascribed because, like one’s race, it was seen as being immutable. In 1955 a Gallup poll found that only one in twenty five Americans had switched religions. But, by the mid-1980s, American society had changed dramatically. There are many reasons for this shift, including changing social mores, geographic mobility, globalization, and so forth. As American Jews began to search for existential meaning, the organizations and institutions began to feel more and more pressure to respond to that need.


Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Stephen Phillips Discusses His New Book “Yoga, Karma, Rebirth”

In the following video, Stephen Phillips discusses his new book Yoga, Karma, Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy.

For more on the book, you can also read an interview with Stephen Phillips or read an excerpt from the book.

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Gastropolis Goes to Governor’s Island

GastropolisOn Sunday, June 21st at 1:00, the editors of and some of the contributors to Gastropolis: Food and New York City head out to Governor’s Island to read from and discuss their personal and historical perspectives on food and New York City. A book signing follows the panel.

For more read the book’s introduction, Fusion City: From Mt. Olympus Bagels to Puerto Rican Lasagna and Beyond. And, you can also test your knowledge of New York City food, with this quiz based on Gastropolis:

1. During the early nineteenth century in New York City, one of the most difficult beverages to have was?
a) Drinking water
b) Milk
c) Beer
d) Liquor

2. In the late 1700s, this food was one of the most popular things to eat in the city. It was one of the few foods consumed by both the upper and lower classes, and most establishments sold all you could eat for 6 cents.
a) Apples
b) Gruel
c) Oysters
d) Cranberries

3. What food started in a German immigrant’s restaurant in New York City but today has become a worldwide symbol of American cuisine?
a) Hot dogs
b) Hamburgers
c) Apple pie
d) Corn-dogs

4. Which of the following countries are represented in New York City’s “Chinatowns”?
a) Thailand
b) Pakistan
c) Bangladesh
d) All of the above


Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Celebrate Bloomsday with Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe reads James Joyce
The image of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses is from the cover to James Joyce: A Critical Guide, by Lee Spinks and since it is Bloomsday today, we thought we would point out a few Joyce-related titles from our list.

In addition to Spinks’s book which covers Joyce’s entire oeuvre, there is also James Joyce: Ulysses / A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Essays • Articles • Reviews, edited by John Coyle. Part of the Columbia Critical Guides series, the book brings together critical writings about Joyce from both critics and fellow writers.

Rebecca Walkowitz’s Cosmopolitan Style: Modernism Beyond the Nation devotes a chapter to Joyce and specifically, Joyce’s critique of Irish nationalism and British imperialism. In particular, Walkowitz discusses the “Cyclops” chapter and Bloom’s confrontation with overt racism and anti-Semitism.

And while it is not yet published, The Letters of Sylvia Beach (due in February of 2010), includes correspondence regarding Beach’s decision to publish Ulysses as well as her efforts to curb pirate editions of the novel from springing up in the United States.

For more on Bloomsday, the Guardian has a look at Bloomsday around the world and closer to home there is BloomsdayNYC, which lists Bloomsday-related events in New York City and links to other Bloomsday cities. Finally, over at Twitter you can follow the #bloomsday tag, which includes plenty of 140 character excerpts from the novel!

Monday, June 15th, 2009

Is Ted Striphas a Distribution Nerd?

The Late Age of PrintThe headline to this post refers to a suggestion made by Steven Poole in his Guardian review of Ted Striphas’s new book, The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control. Poole remarks on Striphas’s nerd-like fascination with “the mechanics of how books get into the readers’ hands.”

In opening the review, Poole writes:

That “late” might sound a bit ominous, but we still are in an age of print, a claim borne out by Striphas’s indefatigable rummagings around in oft-neglected aspects of contemporary book culture. He moves smartly from the depression-era promotion of home bookshelves in America to modern visions of ebooks, or from the invention of the ISBN number to Amazon’s frighteningly efficient systems for getting more labour out of their workers. He contextualises, too, the “big-box” booksellers such as Barnes & Noble (inventor of the “book-a-teria” in the 1940s): as Striphas digs behind the hand-wringing headlines, it is not so clear that they inevitably put independent booksellers out of business; and they do also revitalise local economies, such as that of former tobacco town Durham, North Carolina.

For more on the book, you can also visit The Late Age of Print blog which recently posted on Smell of Books, a purported “aerosol e-book enhancer.”

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Interview with Hans-Georg Moeller, Author of The Moral Fool

Hans-Georg MoellerCan morality become a kind of dangerous pathology?

In his new book The Moral Fool: A Case for Amorality, Hans-Georg Moeller critiques the ethical “fanaticism” of Western moralists, such as Immanuel Kant, John Rawls, and the utilitarians, Moeller points to the absurd fundamentalisms and impracticable prescriptions arising from definitions of good. Instead he advances a theory of “moral foolishness” extracted from the “amoral” philosophers of East Asia and such thinkers as Ludwig Wittgenstein. The moral fool doesn’t understand why ethics are necessarily good, and he isn’t convinced that the moral perspective is always positive. In this way he is like most people, and Moeller defends this foolishness against ethical pathologies that support the death penalty, just wars, and even Jerry Springer’s crude moral theater.

Here is an interview with Hans-Georg Moeller about his new book:

Q: What’s wrong with morality?

Hans-Georg Moeller: People usually assume that morality is a good thing. It is generally believed that a moral person is somehow better than a person who is not moral and that a society which holds moral values in high esteem is better of than one which does not. I do not think that this is the case—and this is what the whole book is about. It is about pointing out the “sick” aspects of morality, about the “pathology of morality,” so to speak. I think that morality does not deserve to be valued as much as it is today.

Q: What is morality?

HGM: I think it is a way of thinking and talking about people, groups of people, actions, and events in terms of good or bad. Once we talk or think morally, we create a distinction between “us” and “them,” our values will seem good to us and others who do not share them will seem “bad” or even “evil.” This can create a lot of problems, both socially and individually. In wartime, for instance, moral talk and moral thought flourish. Likewise, thinking of the people around us in a very moral way is rather stressful and will create a lot of tensions. Imagine a family in which moral values dominate everything else, including the affection the family members feel for each other: life in such a family will probably be quite miserable and thus somewhat “sick.” In short, I argue that a high degree of moral language and a highly moral mindset is not an indicator of the “health” of a person or a society, but, to the contrary, a worrisome symptom of tension and uneasiness.


Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Jameel Jaffer Discusses the Suppression of CIA Documents on “Hardball”

Jameel Jaffer, co-author of Administration of Torture: A Documentary Record from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond, recently appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews to discuss the suppression of CIA documents relating to the interrogation of prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere. On the program, Jaffer, who is the lead counsel for the ACLU in trying to declassify the documents, debated former Reagan Justice Department official, David Rivkin.

Jaffer argued that the ACLU and other advocates of releasing the documents are not interested in revealing information discovered during questioning of suspected terrorists but in ascertaining whether CIA officials went beyond the guidelines for “enhanced interrogation” laid out by the Bush Justice Department. Jaffer also suggested that suppressing documents because they might be used as propaganda against the United States sets a dangerous precedent.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Marda Dunsky on Satellite Television in the Arab World

Satellite Arab
In a recent article for the Wide Angle Web site, Marda Dunsky, author of Pens and Swords: How the American Mainstream Media Report the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, looks at the phenomenon of satellite television in the Arab world.

Dunsky argues that Arab satellite television, which includes more than 200 channels and reaches 325 viewers, is playing a key role in democratization in the region. While the content on satellite television is restricted somewhat by tradition, religion, and Arab social norms, it is far freer from governmental controls than broadcast television. Thus an issue such as homosexuality was recently featured on Kalam Nawaem, the Arab equivalent of The View.

In the article, Dunsky not only provides a fascinating overview of Arab satellite television, she also examines the ways in which the United States has tried to use the medium to promote democracy in the region and inject American values. These efforts, Dunsky argues, have met with decidedly mixed results:

“Nearly $500 million in U.S. tax dollars has been spent since 2002 to fund the Arabic-language Sawa radio station and al-Hurra television network, but these American-produced Arabic media have had minimal, if not counterproductive, effects in promoting U.S. interests and policies in the Arab and Muslim worlds, according to a joint investigation by CBS News’ 60 Minutes and the independent ProPublica that was broadcast and published in June 2008.

The investigation found that Arab viewers have found al-Hurra to lack journalistic credibility and that audience share has been limited to between 2 percent and 8.5 percent. The report further documented that American managers of Sawa and al-Hurra neither speak nor understand Arabic and cannot monitor or understand the content of the programming that they direct.


Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

Candidate and Blogger Gianni Vattimo

Gianni VattimoGianni Vattimo, noted European intellectual and author of the recently published Not Being God: A Collaborative Autobiography, was a victorious candidate in last weekend’s European Parliamentary elections.

Moreover, his party, the leftist Italy of Values Party, was considered a winner nearly doubling its share of the vote, from 4.4 percent last year to 7.8 percent in the EU vote. The leader of the Italy of Values of Party has condemned the Italian government as “anti-democratic, fascist, racist and xenophobic.”

Vattimo has been writing on the elections and European politics on his very lively blog, which is filled with insight into politics and a range of social and intellectual issues.

Vattimo is of course no stranger to politics having been a member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2004. In Not Being God, Vattimo describes his fairly disillusioning experience as a member of the European Parliament (“Brussels is death politically”). Vattimo writes:

I was a real believer in the idea of Europe. To the point that, right in the middle of an election campaign, I helped to organize interventions on May 30, 2004 in all the European countries, in the papers of all European countries, on the new Europe we hoped to see constructed. Habermas, Eco, Derrida, and I wrote articles. Even Rorty wrote a piece. They all maintained that the only way to forge ahead was to create Europe. If Europe were to become a real political subject, a state, even a federal state, we would be able to say we had emerged from prehistory. Because for the first time a new state would have been born not out of war but out of the will of the citizens. In fact, it wasn’t born. I also hoped that Italy—backward as it is, especially, when it comes to civil rights—would be forced to pull up its socks. Another illusion.

Monday, June 8th, 2009

“In North Korea, everyone knows that a labor camp is a place where life is suspended. One does not live there, one slowly dies there. I was simply another dead soul in Camp No. 14.”

Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp SurvivorAs the New York Times and others have reported, North Korea sentenced two American journalists to 12 years of hard labor. While little is known about them, the North Korean labor camps are notorious for their brutal conditions.

One of the few first-hand accounts of the North Korean camps is Kim Yong’s recently published Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor.

Kim Yong is one of the few people to have ever escaped from the North Korean gulag. In addition to recounting his incredible escape to the United States via China, Mongolia, and South Korea, Kim also describes his life before he was sent to the camps when he was a lieutenant colonel in the Army and enjoyed unprecedented privileges as a member of North Korea’s elite.

However, at the heart of his book are his detailed descriptions of life in North Korea’s labor camps. Kim recounts his six-year ordeal of living in the labor camps, the inhumane working conditions, the subhuman prison guards, and a famine which killed millions.

The quote of this post (see above) comes from an excerpt that we’ve posted on our site, in which Kim describes Camp No. 14, possibly the worst of all camps. Here are the opening paragraphs to the excerpt:

In North Korea, everyone knows that a labor camp is a place where life is suspended. One does not live there, one slowly dies there. I was simply another dead soul in Camp No. 14.

At 5:00 a.m. everyone was awakened. By 6:00 a.m. the prisoners had finished their meager breakfast and marched toward the workplace. Since the mine shafts were hidden in deep valleys, nobody could see the sun light. At 7:00 we were already busy at work. Between 12:30 and 1:00 p.m., we had a quick lunch underground in the mine shaft. In order to go to the toilet, the prisoners had to wait to form groups because there was little light and they had to share one bulb to move around. One person had to carry the lamp and lead the way. Then we came out of the shaft around 11:30 p.m. and ate supper outside in darkness. According to the rules, the work was supposed to end by 8:00 p.m., or by 9:00 p.m. at the latest. However, no guard bothered to enforce this. The only real rules in Camp No. 14 were the guards’ decisions. After work, we marched back to our barracks and stayed up another hour for political struggle consisting of mutual and self criticism. At 1:00 a.m., three hours later than the camp regulations, everyone went to sleep. Before my arrest, I used to sleep eight hours a night, on the average. At the camp, that was cut in half.


Friday, June 5th, 2009

Marc Lynch on Obama’s Speech

President Obama’s speech today in Cairo met the bar he set for himself. In an address modeled after the Philadelphia speech on race, he forewent soaring oratory in favor of a thoughtful, nuanced and challenging reflection on America’s relations with the Muslims around the world (not “the Muslim world”, which for some reason became a major issue in American punditry over the last few days). As he frankly recognized, no one speech can overcome the many problems he addressed. But this speech is an essential starting point in a genuine conversation, a respectful dialogue on core issues. After the initial rush of instant commentaries and attempts to inflame controversy pass, it should become the foundation for a serious, ongoing conversation which could, as the President put it, “remake this world.”—Marc Lynch on President Obama’s speech in Cairo

On his Foreign Policy blog, Marc Lynch, author of Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today, offers a series of very thoughtful impressions of President Obama’s historic speech yesterday in Cairo. Despite a few misgivings, Lynch praised the speech and views it as having the potential to “become the foundation for a serious, ongoing conversation which could, as the President put it, ‘remake this world.’”

Lynch’s post examines the various themes of Obama’s speech namely, violent extremism, Iran, democracy and human rights in the Middle East, liberalism and faith, and Israel and Palestine. Of Obama’s remarks about the continuing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, Lynch writes, “I’m still struggling to grapple with this truly astonishing portion of his speech. I don’t think I have ever heard any American politician, much less President, so eloquently, empathetically, and directly equate the suffering and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.”

In the next couple of days, Marc Lynch will also be commenting on Arab reaction to Obama’s speech.

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Anecdotal Evidence Weighs in on Our Savage Art

Patrick Kurp’s Anecdotal Evidence, an excellent lit-blog, recently devoted a post to William Logan’s new collection Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue. As might be expected from any reader of Logan, Kurp does have some misgivings about Logan’s sometimes “savage” approach to the poets about whom he writes. However, for the most part, Kurp sees Logan as a sharp reader, whose clear-eyed assessments of contemporary poetry as well as his remarkable use of language make him a necessary critic.

You can read the full post here and for more on Logan, we have posted a chapter from his book, “The Bowl of Diogenes; or, The End of Criticism”

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Forward Reviews Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal

Contemporary American Judaism, Dana KaplanForward magazine recently reviewed Dana Evan Kaplan’s forthcoming Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal.

In his book Kaplan notes the many ways in American Judaism has changed even in the span of the post-war era as the conventional denominational structure and ethnic identification gave way to a multiplicity of practices and meanings association with Judaism. From the review:

Kaplan shows how Jewish ethnic feeling, preserved temporarily through Holocaust remembrance and pride in the State of Israel, has eroded among younger American Jews. The traditional taboo on intermarriage — the ultimate tool for maintaining individuals within group boundaries — is today hardly encountered outside Orthodox circles. Jews, whether intermarried or not, tend to relate to things Jewish on their own terms: A Jewish practice or Jewish involvement will be taken on only if it has personal meaning for the individual, and, conversely, a cause or avocation with no Jewish roots will be portrayed as Jewish if Jews develop an enthusiasm for it.

Kaplan, who has seen much as a pulpit rabbi in several communities, skillfully portrays the wide variety of untraditional, often idiosyncratic, ways of “doing Jewish.” In his book, we encounter not only the expected Jewish feminists and gay rights activists, but also the Eco-Kosher Project, which reinterprets the Jewish dietary laws as ways to defend the environment; Hebrew tattooers, who identify Jewishly by tattooing themselves (a sin, according to biblical law) with Hebrew letters; bar/bat mitzvahs where the Torah scroll is taken out of the ark and, rather than read, simply handed, to parents and grandchild from grandparents and then returned to the ark; the celebration of Chrismukkah, an amalgam of Christmas and Hanukkah for intermarried families; a “Bring Your Pets” Sabbath prayer session, and Yom Kippur services featuring yoga, “a disco breakfast” and “creative dance.”