Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kazakhstan May Become Election 2008 Issue

Did Bill Clinton arrange for special treatment with Kazakhstan's President, Nursultan Nazarbayev for Canadian businessman Frank Giustra, and did the multi-million dollar deal lead to the former US President's endorsement of Kazakhstan's leading the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe despite that nation's problematic human rights record?

Apparently little "transparency" can be found in this murky "corruption" scandal involving a President attempting to secure a political dynasty, according to today's front-page NY Times story by Jo Becker and Don Van Natta, Jr.:
Records show that Mr. Giustra donated the $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation in the months that followed in 2006, but neither he nor a spokesman for Mr. Clinton would say exactly when.

In September 2006, Mr. Giustra co-produced a gala 60th birthday for Mr. Clinton that featured stars like Jon Bon Jovi and raised about $21 million for the Clinton Foundation.

In February 2007, a company called Uranium One agreed to pay $3.1 billion to acquire UrAsia. Mr. Giustra, a director and major shareholder in UrAsia, would be paid $7.05 per share for a company that just two years earlier was trading at 10 cents per share.

That same month, Mr. Dzhakishev, the Kazatomprom chief, said he traveled to Chappaqua, N.Y., to meet with Mr. Clinton at his home. Mr. Dzhakishev said Mr. Giustra arranged the three-hour meeting. Mr. Dzhakishev said he wanted to discuss Kazakhstan’s intention — not publicly known at the time — to buy a 10 percent stake in Westinghouse, a United States supplier of nuclear technology.

Nearly a year earlier, Mr. Clinton had advised Dubai on how to handle the political furor after one of that nation’s companies attempted to take over several American ports. Mrs. Clinton was among those on Capitol Hill who raised the national security concerns that helped kill the deal.

Mr. Dzhakishev said he was worried the proposed Westinghouse investment could face similar objections. Mr. Clinton told him that he would not lobby for him, but Mr. Dzhakishev came away pleased by the chance to promote his nation’s proposal to a former president.

Mr. Clinton “said this was very important for America,” said Mr. Dzhakishev, who added that Mr. Giustra was present at Mr. Clinton’s home.

Both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Giustra at first denied that any such meeting occurred. Mr. Giustra also denied ever arranging for Kazakh officials to meet with Mr. Clinton. Wednesday, after The Times told them that others said a meeting, in Mr. Clinton’s home, had in fact taken place, both men acknowledged it.

“You are correct that I asked the president to meet with the head of Kazatomprom,” Mr. Giustra said. “Mr. Dzhakishev asked me in February 2007 to set up a meeting with former President Clinton to discuss the future of the nuclear energy industry.” Mr. Giustra said the meeting “escaped my memory until you raised it.”

Wednesday, Mr. Clinton’s spokesman, Ben Yarrow, issued what he called a “correction,” saying: “Today, Mr. Giustra told our office that in February 2007, he brought Mr. Dzhakishev from Kazatomprom to meet with President Clinton to discuss the future of nuclear energy.”

Mr. Yarrow said his earlier denial was based on the former president’s records, which he said “show a Feb. 27 meeting with Mr. Giustra; no other attendees are listed.”
Will the OSCE, under Kazakhstan's leadership, send monitors to keep an eye on our American elections and the activities of the Clinton foundation--or provide anti-corruption training sessions for President or Mrs. Clinton and their staff?

Curiously, Frank Giustra's name shows up among the list of 2004 donors to Canadian MP Belinda Stronach ($2,500), a former Conservative who changed parties. Reportedly herself heiress to a mining fortune and contributor to the Clinton Library, Stronach is rumored to have been romantically involved with the former President.

Interesting commentary on this story from retired LA Times reporter Ken Reich:
Why did the New York Times endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination when it had a story in the works suggesting that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, took a huge bribe from a Canadian mining magnate in exchange for helping him to close a Kazakhstan uranium mining deal?
Here's an interesting tidbit for NGO-watchers from The Vancouver Sun's profile of Giustra:
Giustra, the son of a Sudbury nickel miner, was CEO of Yorkton Securities in the '90s, founder of Lions Gate Entertainment and now chair of Endeavour Financial, a merchant banking firm which finances mining companies.

Giustra is also a director of the International Crisis Group (Crisis Group), an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, established to prevent and resolve conflicts...Giustra's wife is Alison Lawton, 36, a human rights activist and producer of documentary films on humanitarian crises. She also knows Clinton and has worked with him on humanitarian efforts related to the civil war in Uganda -- a war which was the subject of her recent documentary Uganda Rising.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ciao, Rudy!

The inevitable seems to have happened, according to an AP report. Rudy Giuliani is dropping out of the race for the Presidency.

He ran such a lackluster campaign, I had wondered if his heart were in it. If you can't run a Presidential primary campaign, you can't become President, it's that simple... It was painful to watch, one reason I wasn't blogging about the primaries, it hurt to see Rudy Giuliani fizzle.

I liked Hizzoner, as all my readers know, for a lot of reasons. Not least of which is because I'm a New Yorker born and bred, who saw how Rudy Giuliani transformed my "radnoi gorod" (as the Russians say), despite the protests of The New York Times among others. To me, the resurrection of New York City is a miracle due to his efforts.

It's sad that he blew his Presidential run, bittersweet. Yet this feels something like when Humphrey Bogart said, "We'll always have Paris," to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Sad that Rudy's exiting, but...

We'll always have New York.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Winter Weekend Getaway in Montreal

Can't say enough nice things about our 48 hours in Montreal visiting old college friends at -19 degrees Celsius. The city has really been spiffed up. We had a delicious French dinner, only $50 US, including appetizer, soup, main course, and desert (BYOB) at O Thym restaurant.

Next day, it was a walking tour of Old Montreal/Vieux Montreal, where we saw evidence of the failed American Occupation of 1775-1776.

Photo: Chateau Ramezay, Montreal, Quebec. This revolutionary epsiode was explained in an article by Norman P. Goldman on Suite 101:
On a Sunday Nov 12th 1775 the Americans under the leadership of Major General Richard Montgomery landed on the Island of Montreal...General Montgomery did not stay very long in Montreal and his replacement Brigadier-General David Wooster proved to be a very harsh and oppressive administrator. As a result, the possibility of gaining the support of the Montreal inhabitants slowly dissipated.

In order to save the situation Benjamin Franklin was sent to Montreal a few months after the American invasion in order to see if he could win the support of the citizens. Franklin was even accompanied by a Jesuit priest, Father Carroll, in the hope that the latter may have some influence over the Catholic clergy. However, all of this maneuvering proved in vain and the Americans were never able to win over the support of the citizens.

After 188 days the Americans retreated and the British were once again in control...
Result of all this? The Quebecois preserved their language, religion, culture and privileges, avoiding the fate of the Irish, Scots, and Welsh, among other victims of the Saxon oppressor--forming some sort of buffer province to keep British Canada from attacking the USA, at least after the War of 1812 had been concluded.

Overall, the shrewd Quebecois seemed to have negotiated a good deal for themselves--and preserved a charming place with delicious French food, where Americans can enjoy the equivalent of a weekend in Europe, at dollar (not Euro) prices.

Friday, January 25, 2008

George W. Bush, McGovernik Liberal...

President George W. Bush's announced "stimulus package" to give every American between $300 and $1200 (numbers subject to change) reminded this citizen of Senator George McGovern's much-mocked 1972 economic plan to give every American $1000, one of his campaign promises.

Strangely enough, I haven't seen any published objections from Republicans this time around, not even from conservative guru William F. Buckley, who wrote in 1972 about the Democratic convention:
...a convention that sometimes seemed to be saying that the most you can do for your country is evade the draft, smoke pot, abort babies, have a homosexual affair, and receive in return for nothing at all, a thousand dollars a year from your fellow citizens....If McGovernism triumphs, nobody will ever be off the public payroll, not even for a dreadful, reactionary sixteen minutes.
Curious irony of fate, that President Bill Clinton, who actually worked for McGovern, signed balanced budgets and cut government spending, while President George W. Bush has responded to Wall Street's meltdown with McGovernism.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

IKEA Opens in Almaty, Kazakhstan

Joshua Foust reports on that Sweden's most famous furniture store--already established in Moscow--has opened in Kazakhstan's capital and largest city:
IKEA, the discount Swedish retailer which furnished a swath of my apartment, is opening two stores in Kazakhstan—one in Astana, and one in Almaty. Ben notes the many positive spillover effects this move should bring to the country, despite the fact that far too many people will find even IKEA too expensive, and despite the much longer and more problematic supply chain (think of the woes Lufthansa faced with overflight rights with Russia).
Which reminds me of my 2003 visit to the FAYZ furniture factory in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where with a delegation from either the UN or EBRD we met with the former worker's Communist Party chief, now running the factory--a glamorous Uzbek woman CEO, by the way. FAYZ had just received some computerized German manufacturing equipment, and a trainload of Russian wood had just arrived in the yard to coincide with our delegation. Still, the furniture was not up to world standards, somehow the design was a little old-fashioned. Why not make a deal with IKEA? I asked the chief. She paused, said that she knew about IKEA, but that Uzbekistan was not yet ready for IKEA.

Now that Kazakhstan is ready for IKEA, can Uzbekistan be far behind?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Kite Runner

Saw The Kite Runner over the holiday weekend. Haunting. Marc Forster's direction is subdued, and unobtrusive, a welcome change from exploding fireballs. Better than Khaled Hosseini's book, which seemed a little paint-by-numbers contrived and plot-driven. Same story, different touch. Screenwriter David Benioff puts his dialog in Dari (Persian dialect), with English subtitles, may have made the difference. Felt more realistic, even though highly stylized. In a way, a film about the immigrant experience in America, reflecting complcated relations with one's identity and past. The final caper, to rescue an Afghan orphan, had a dreamlike quality--did it happen, or was it a wish motivated by guilt? The ambiguity strengthened the impact of the picture.

The Kite Runner is about guilt, redemption and second chances. The scenes of life in Afghanistan reminded me of Uzbekistan. From the credits, it seems that it was filmed in Xinjiang Province of China--aka Chinese Turkestan, pretty close. Scenes in the San Francisco Bay area reminded me of college in Berkeley. It's not easy to watch, a little slow at times, yet powerful. The cast, including Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, and Shaun Toub are all excellent.

Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, the child actor playing Hassan, Amir's Hazara servant, is best of all. His amazing performance carries the film's message on his face:

Hassan is Afghanistan.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The African American National Biography

Today's Washington Post also runs an interesting article on Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Henry Louis Gates' multi-volume African American National Biography:
James McCune Smith was, among other things, the first professionally trained black physician in the United States, the nation's first black candidate for political office and an influential abolitionist. Seven years ago, Gates went looking for Smith among the many thousands of entries in the premier American biographical dictionary, Oxford's American National Biography.

He wasn't there.

Nor was a second name Gates was looking for, classical scholar William Scarborough. Nor were most of the names on a list of maybe 25 prominent blacks Higginbotham assembled after Gates told her of the gaps he was finding.

Gates called Casper Grathwohl, who headed Oxford's reference division, and told him he needed to publish a stand-alone African American reference work.

"Do you think you can fill it up?" Gates recalls Grathwohl asking.

Not a problem.

An initial database, compiled at the Gates-run W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, ran to more than 12,000 names. Some were already famous; others, like Smith and Scarborough, were more obscure but nonetheless established historical figures. But many -- brought to light by burgeoning research efforts in African American history over the past quarter century -- remained virtually unknown outside the academy.

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Here's an article from today's Washington Post by Allison Silberberg (who was in the Theatre program at UCLA when I was there) about the origins of today's holiday:
At the time, I was an intern for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and was following the bill carefully. It's fair to say I was rather devoted to the cause. I remember the October day that someone in the office mentioned that the senator's speechwriter, Bob Shrum, had crafted an incredible statement in support of the holiday. I begged for permission to go to the galleries above the Senate floor to watch Kennedy deliver the speech.

The galleries and the Senate were nearly empty when Kennedy walked onto the floor. I saw only three members -- Kennedy, the senator who was presiding, and Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who was speaking against the holiday.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

From Russia to Hollywood, the 100 Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff

Last night, thinking I had rented a Russian-language film from Netflix to practice my vocabulary, I watched the most interesting documentary I have seen in years. It is called From Russia to Hollywood, the 100 Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff.

Produced by Hollywood acting teacher Lisa Dalton, whom I presume is a former student of Michael Chekhov or his young colleague George Shdanoff, the film features almost as many stars as there once were on the MGM back lot--James Dean, Rex Harrison, Patricia Neal, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Beatrice Straight, Jack Palance, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, Yul Brynner, Jennifer Jones, Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Caron, even Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen on TV's Superman. They all studied the "Psychological Gesture" technique pioneered by the nephew of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, whose creative synthesis of acting styles moved beyond Konstantin Stanislavsky's "Method" as promoted by Lee Strasberg, and British "technical" acting of the Laurence Olivier variety.

Chekhov had once been the leading actor on the Moscow stage, before he had to flee for his life from both Stalin's purges and Hitler's conquest of Paris. Luckily, he managed to escape to England--where he was supported by the Whitney family's private theatre operation at Dartington Hall. Chekhov eventually made his way to Hollywood, at the invitation of Rachmaninoff, apparently. In California, a brief acting career led to work as a coach for some of the biggest names in pictures.

I especially enjoyed the segments with Anthony Quinn and Leslie Caron, for their stories of working with Chekhov make one sorry that there are not many clips of him at work in the film.

If you are interested in acting, or Hollywood history, or Russian culture, this is definitely a film worth seeing. I found it interesting that I didn't remember learning much about Chekhov, despite years studying movie history at UCLA. Thanks to Lisa Dalton, and what seems like a real labor of love, future students of movie history have a chance to give Michael Chekhov and George Shdanoff the credit they deserve for nurturing a style of acting--based a recognition of shared humanity--that has stood the test of time. You can read the Wikipedia entry here. More here. There are lots of other Michael Chekhov-oriented websites you might look at with a Google search. Meanwhile, you can rent From Russia to Hollywood, the 100 Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff from Netflix, here. Five Stars.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Google's NGO

News reports about a Google foundation headed by University of Michigan smallpox expert Dr. Lawrence (Larry) Brilliant, led us to this website link. Here's where Google's foundation says it is putting Google's money: aspires to use the power of information and technology to address the global challenges of our age: climate change, poverty and emerging disease. In collaboration with experienced partners working in each of these fields, we will invest our resources and tap the strengths of Google’s employees and global operations to advance five major initiatives.

Develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (REcC)
Create utility-scale electricity from clean renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal.

Accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT)
Seed innovation, demonstrate technology, inform the debate, and stimulate market demand to foster mass commercialization of plug-in vehicles.

Predict and Prevent
Identify "hot spots" and enable rapid response to emerging threats, such as infectious disease and climate risk.

Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services
Use information to empower citizens and communities, providers, and policymakers to improve the delivery of essential public services such as education, health, water and sanitation.

Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises
Increase the flow of risk capital to small and medium-sized businesses in the developing world.
It should be interesting to look at the 2009 Annual Report, to see if Google's charitable promises have been fulfilled...

More on the life and career of Dr. Brilliant, in this San Francisco Chronicle profile.

The Art of Esther Pressoir

(Artist & Model c. 1930s) Last weekend,we went to the annual DC Flea Market at Dulles Expo Center, near the airport--known as "Big Flea." There, among among acres of knick-nacks and tchotches, we discovered the interesting booth belonging to Northampton, Massachusetts based Ingeborg Gallery, which handles the estate of Esther Pressoir, who published her drawings in The New Yorker, among other places. We hadn't heard of her before, and so enjoyed looking at sketches in her artist's notebook, as well as prints and drawings featuring scenes of life in New York City...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Franz Bischoff & California Impressionism

From 2 Blowhards:
So today, I offer Franz Bischoff, an artist who made his mark in two fields: ceramic decoration and easel painting. There doesn't seem to be a lot of biographical information about Bischoff on the Internet, but here is an item about him on the Irvine Museum's site. (By the way, the Irvine Museum is small, but has an outstanding collection of California Impressionist paintings.)

Bischoff (1864-1929) was born in Bomen, Austria and studied applied design, watercolor and ceramic decoration in Vienna before emigrating to the United States in 1885. He began his career as a china decorator in New York City, continuing in this field while relocating in Pittsburgh, Fostoria, Ohio, and Dearborn, Michigan (1892). By the turn of the century he had gained fame in this line of work, at one point operating two schools.

Bischoff's first encounter with California was in 1900. He was so smitten that, in 1906, he closed his business and moved his family to the Los Angeles area where he pursued a new career as a painter. Success in painting came as rapidly as it had in ceramic decoration, though he did maintain a small hand in the latter field. His California stay was interrupted in 1912 for an extended visit to Europe where he studied the art of Old Masters and French Impressionists...

Rickshaw Run Update

John & David made it safely to Kathmandu, coming in 14th out of 64 contestants. Full story here: Congratulations!

Twin US Doctors Treat Afghan War Victims

Here's a link to an inspirational story about Drs. Vance and Vince Moss from Saturday's Washington Post:
The doted-on sons of Josephine and Haywood Moss were raised in Upper Marlboro, and as Boy Scouts they had learned an affinity for those less fortunate. They always thought they were put on earth to do something significant, Vince said.

"We had been taught that we could do anything we wanted, but when we started thinking about medicine, we had a guidance counselor at Oxon Hill High School who told us we should think about something else because we'd never be doctors," Vance said.

"After we got into Penn [State], we had an adviser to tell us that we should have a backup plan because it was really tough to get into medical school," Vince said. "All of our lives, people have been trying to limit us, so when we decided we wanted to go to Afghanistan, we were determined to do it."

The Army Reserve said no but did agree to provide some medical equipment, the brothers said.

Then, Col. Gary Davis, an Army doctor in Afghanistan, set them up with an Afghan physician who helped find the people they would need to move safely through the war-ravaged country, they said.

People were found who would be "translators, escorts, security, intelligence and even our transportation," Vince said. "Once we had everything in place, we were ready to go."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Slight Case of Murder (1938)

"Golden Velvet Beer--It's the Tops!"

That's Edward G. Robinson's advertising slogan for Remy Marko's formerly bootleg beer at the end of Prohibition, in Damon Runyon's 30s Warner Brothers' screwball comedy, A Slight Case of Murder. Playing off his "Little Caesar" image, Robinson's attempts to go legit and enter high society in Saratoga, NY are still funny some 60 years later...

We got it from Netflix on DVD, and so can you. Five stars.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Rickshaw Run Update

John and David have reached Nepal...more on their blog, here:

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Facebook, the Next Google...Not.

Tonight's 60 Minutes featured Lesley Stahl's interview with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. After watching the exchange, I'll stand by my earlier post. Facebook is not Google. For example, Bill Gates owns a piece of the action, which might tell you something...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Why Wasn't Auschwitz Bombed?

Recent news reports quote President Bush as saying that FDR should have bombed Auschwitz, during his visit to Israel's Yad Vashem museum, and discussed various theories as to why Auschwitz was not bombed.

I dealt with this very controversy in my film, Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die?. The explanation came from Josiah Dubois, a Treasury official who served with the War Refugee Board actually rescuing Jews-- who then went on to prosecute Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. As Dubois noted in his memorandum to Secretary Morgenthau on the acquienscence of the US government in the extermination of the Jews, one reason that steps were not taken to rescue Jews from Hitler was oppostion from the British government, an important American ally. To appease Arab public opinion, the British had persuaded the US government not to rescue European Jewry, using a variety of excuses. For, as the mandatory power in Palestine, the British were concerned that if Jews were rescued, they might go to their historic Jewish homeland, despite the 1939 White Paper restricting immigration . So, British foreign policy objectives required trapped European Jews to die, rather than be able to move to Israel. By the time American protests led to the formation of the War Refugee Board in 1944, it was too late--the vast majority of Jews had already been killed.

After the war, surviving Jews did manage to immigrate to Palestine in violation of the White, Israel was born. When Israel declared independence, it received arms from the US and Russia. Meanwhile, Britain supported Glubb Pasha's Arab army's attempt to drive the Jews into the sea. (This political configuration changed by 1956).

More on this subject at the Wikipedia Auschwitz bombing debate page...

Luisa Maria Güell Sings "Uno"

Our favorite Cuban-American filmmaker has done a music video for Luisa Maria Guell, from her 2007 Grammy-nominated UNA, based on the Tango, "Uno." Here it is:

Masterpiece Theatre's Makeover (cont'd.)

Lynn Smith published her article in today's Los Angeles Times about PBS''s attempt to reach younger viewers by re-branding Masterpiece Theatre. An excerpt:
"What we wanted to know was why aren't more people watching it and what would it take to attract a younger audience?" said Bob Knapp, president of Neubrand, a marketing and brand consultant. Viewers had told researchers they perceived the series as a "dusty jewel that was hard to find in the PBS crown," Eaton said. They wanted to know whether to expect "Jane Eyre" or Jane Tennison, "Bleak House" or "White Teeth"?

The result was a compromise between changing everything or changing nothing, Knapp said, the literary equivalent of "brand new look, same great taste."

Faithful Anglophiles

However, one informed observer suggested that PBS, by trading off the halo effect of the "Masterpiece" name may actually cheapen the brand by diluting it like Cherry Coke and Vanilla Coke. Laurence Jarvik, author of "Masterpiece Theatre and the Politics of Quality," said that under the original Mobil Oil sponsorship, the series preserved its brand integrity because its executives were driven as much or more by personal passion than market research. "What was good about it is that you knew what you were getting: A slice of British costume drama," he said.
You can read Smith's full article on the LA Times website.

Why Do They Hate Us?

Someone I know sent me a translation of Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lillendahl's shocking story of an encounter with the Department of Homeland Security while on a Christmas shopping trip to New York City, from Iceland's Eggman Blog:
Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began. We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued. I was photographed and fingerprinted. I was asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was forbiddento contact anyone to advise of my predicament and although I was invited at the outset to contact the Icelandic consul or embassy, that invitation was later withdrawn. I don't know why. I was then made to wait while they sought further information, and sat on a chair before the authority for 5 hours. I saw the officials in this section handle other cases and it was clear that these were men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania.

I was careful to remain completely cooperative, for I did not yet believe that they planned to deport me because of my "crime". When 5 hours had passed and I had been awake for 24 hours, I was told that they were waiting for officials who would take me to a kind of waiting room. There I would be given a bed to rest in, some food and I would be searched. What they thought they might find I cannot possibly imagine. Finally guards appeared who transported me to the new place. I saw the bed as if in a mirage, for I was absolutely exhausted. What turned out was something else. I was taken to another office exactly like the one where I had been before and once again a long wait ensued. In all, it turned out to be 5 hours. At this office all my things were taken from me. I succeeded in sendinga single sms to worried relatives and friends when I was granted a bathroom break. After that the cell phone was taken from me. After I had been sitting for 5 hours I was told that they were now waiting for guards who would take me to a place where I could rest and eat. Then I was placed in a cubicle which looked like an operating room. Attached to the walls were 4 steel plates, probably intended to serve as bed anda toilet. I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials’ conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.
You can read the rest of the story at

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From measurement to judgement...

This just in from the UK, thanks to a tip from my BBC podcast of Radio Four's Today Programme this morning: John Purnell's Department for Media, Culture, and Sport has relased a White Paper intended to re-organize arts funding in Britain. Known as the Mcmaster Review, it is titled: Supporting excellence in the arts - from measurement to judgement.

The author, Edinburgh Festival director Sir Brian McMaster, calls for the abandonment of quantitative "targets" for cultural grants, to be replaced by qualitative evaluations of "excellence." His proposal has already generated a fuss in England, including some protests against the initiative. More on the backlash in this article from the Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, I read through the report, and can see why people are upset. He's asked the right questions, but so far has not come up with the right answers. There's a lot of procedural and bureaucratic boilerplate--including an unfortunate call for more peer review (often merely "crony review")--with little discussion of competition. Especially odd from a government ministry also responsible for sport.

In the hopes of moving the discussion along, here's a memo to Sir Brian, who is has claimed that the UK is the verge of a new "Renaissance":
If you want a "Renaissance," instead of more bureaucracy and peer panels, encourage competition. Set the "Royal" institutions against the "National" ones, the West End versus the South Bank, and the Regions against London. Artists are as competitive as footballers. Use that energy to foster excellence. Let artistic organizations compete openly and fairly for funding according to fixed criteria, ranked like athletes, so that the heavyweights can't crush the bantamweights.
Still, it is nice that Sir Brian is even talking about "excellence" in the arts. Sir Brian's report has started a debate that I wish we were having here in the USA, and for that he deserves thanks.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Somebody "friended" me a while back, so I joined Facebook. So far, I don't get it. I understand that it might be nice for teenagers or college students looking for new friends, and maybe I'm just too old, but it seems less convenient than email while more complicated than blogging. Maybe I'm missing something, but there may be less to this "social networking" phenomenon than meets that eye.

I'll take an "IdeaBook"--or just a book--any day...

Masterpiece Theatre's Makeover

I got an email the other day from Lynn Smith, a Los Angeles Times reporter covering PBS. She found my book about Masterpiece Theatre with a Google search, and wanted to know what I thought about the big changes to the series. I'll let the LA Times report what I had to say to Ms. Smith (the story is scheduled for Friday's Calendar section).

After the interview, I took a look at the MT website. The new hostess, Gillian Armstrong of The X-Files played Lady Deadlock in Bleak House. The website confirmed my interviewer's report that Masterpiece Theatre will soon be running a Jane Austen marathon. This recalled an earlier post on this blog, quoting Mark Twain on Jane Austen:
"I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

Mark Twain Letter to Joseph Twichell, 9/13/1898
Thanks to my own Google search, I discovered Emily Auerbach's interesting article in the Virginia Quarterly Review: "A Barkeeper Entering the Kingdom of Heaven": Did Mark Twain Really Hate Jane Austen?" Here's an excerpt:
Mark Twain expressed unparalleled hatred of Jane Austen, defining an ideal library as one with none of her books on its shelves. "Just that one omission alone would make a fairly good library out of a library that hadn't a book in it," Twain insisted in Following the Equator. Did Mark Twain genuinely detest Jane Austen? Or was the bushy-eyebrowed, irascible Twain merely posing?

In his extensive correspondence with fellow author and critic William Dean Howells, Mark Twain seemed to enjoy venting his literary spleen on Jane Austen precisely because he knew her to be Howells' favorite author, In 1909 Twain wrote that "Jane Austin" [sic] was "entirely impossible" and that he could not read her prose even if paid a salary to do so. Howells notes in My Mark Twain (1910) that in fiction Twain "had certain distinct loathings; there were certain authors whose names he seemed not so much to pronounce as to spew out of his mouth."

His prime abhorrence was my dear and honored prime favorite, Jane Austen. He once said to me, I suppose after he had been reading some of my unsparing praise of her—I am always praising her, "You seem to think that woman could write," and he forbore withering me with his scorn, apparently because we had been friends so long and he more pitied than hated me for my bad taste.

Rather than pitying Twain when he was sick, Howells threatened to come and read Pride and Prejudice to him. Twain marveled that Austen had been allowed to die a natural death rather than face execution for her literary crimes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Separate But Equal (1991)

Just watched this the other night, somehow missed the 1991 TV showing. Sidney Poitier, Burt Lancaster, Cleavon Little, and Richard Kiley bring the 1953 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education to life in a memorable, if sometimes slow-moving, epic. Five Stars.

You can get it from Netflix, here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Penguin Plunge

While the cousin of someone I know is driving across India in an auto-rickshaw for his favorite charity (and employer), my cousin Dan is preparing to dive into a frozen section of Hampton Beach in New England...also for a charity--New Hampshire's Special Olympics. You can follow his Penguin Plunge on the official website, here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rickshaw Run Update

John's mother has heard from her Rickshaw Run contestant, and shared the URL for his blog, where his team's progress across India can be tracked:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Trans-India Rickshaw Run

The cousin of someone we know is racing across India, from Cochin to Kathmandu, in an auto-rickshaw, to benefit the NGO he works for in Darjeeling. We found the official website for Rickshaw Run, but can't track his vehicle across the map of India, because we don't know where he is (the race began on January 1st, to run for 10 days). No GPS transmitter, apparently. You can find out more about the race on the Rickshaw Run homepage. We checked the website for the travel agency behind the concept, The Adventurists, but no tracking him there, either...(John, if you read this, please phone home, your mother is worried about you...)

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Did Steinberg's New Yorker Cartoon Begin Here?

Does this map looks familiar? An old print, as spotted on the wall of the bathroom of the sister of someone we know, in Florida...
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...Looked like it may have inspired this famous Steinberg New Yorker cover.

Sunset in the Tropics, December, 2007

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Beach Scene, December 2007

  As seen on holiday...
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Happy New Year!

  Back from winter holiday in sunny climes, blogging resumes...
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