Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Samuel Huntington on Ukraine's Culture War


THE FAULT LINES between civilizations are replacing the political and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for crisis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain divided Europe politically and ideologically. The Cold War ended with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity and Islam, on the other, has reemerged. The most significant dividing line in Europe, as William Wallace has suggested, may well be the eastern boundary of Western Christianity in the year 1500. This line runs along what are now the boundaries between Finland and Russia and between the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through Belarus and Ukraine separating the more Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox eastern Ukraine, swings westward separating Transylvania from the rest of Romania, and then goes through Yugoslavia almost exactly along the line now separating Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of course, coincides with the historic boundary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires. The peoples to the north and west of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they shared the common experiences of European history -- feudalism, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution; they are generally economically better off than the peoples to the east; and they may now look forward to increasing involvement in a common European economy and to the consolidation of democratic political systems. The peoples to the east and south of this line are Orthodox or Muslim; they historically belonged to the Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only lightly touched by the shaping events in the rest of Europe; they are generally less advanced economically; they seem much less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of bloody conflict. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cong. Dana Rohrabacher: Be Patient With Ukraine

Ukraine's population is split on whether to bond with Russia or Europe. That decision should be left for them to decide democratically. The U.S. should not be doing the bidding of either side in the determination of Ukraine's future.
Certainly, we must condemn human rights violations in every instance. Freedom of speech and assembly are important to the workings of a democratic society. They reflect America's values.
Just as important should be our respect for the rule of law. Those who win elections should make the policies and laws. That's not what happened in Ukraine, where tensions between eastern and western factions boiled over and became today's bloody crisis.
The U.S. shouldn't tell Ukraine what policies to follow. When the European Union's offer of closer ties was countered by Russia, it was up to the Ukrainian government to decide what was best.
The U.S. does not have a dog in this fight. An American offer of billions of dollars to dissuade Ukrainians from accepting Moscow's offer was doing the bidding of powerful European interests, not ours.
Why do we in the U.S. feel it necessary to thwart Russian efforts in various parts of the world? Russia rightfully looks at this as a hostile act.
We instead should reach out to make Russia a friend and ally in combating radical Islam and China, which now threaten the world's peace and stability.
The Cold War has been over for two decades. We should stay out of Ukraine.
Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected the EU enticements, deciding to opt for Russian President Vladimir Putin's Eurasian trade bloc. That was Yanukovych's prerogative — as it was the prerogative of riled, Western-focused Ukrainians to express their opposition. Instead they took to the streets, not to the ballot box.
Americans should not feel compelled to determine the outcome. In the post-Cold War world, we Americans must show more patience.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Eliyho Matz on The Status of Jewish Women...

by Eliyho Matz

In Hindu culture, “the Dharma-Shastras observe that there are three general types of sins.  The first is the bodily type, and the favorite example of it, here and elsewhere, is adultery.  The result of adultery is that you came back as a fixed object such as a stone [on the issue of stones, see below] or a tree stump, and you can see by the number of stones and stumps around that there has been a lot of this going on.”
Edward Cameron Dimock, “Mr. Dimock Explores the Mysteries of the East (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1999),
p. 110.

“It has long been noted that camels possess a sixth sense for traversing the desert.  In the third century AD, the Chinese writer Kuo P’u observed, ‘The camel is an unusual domestic animal; it carries a saddle of flesh on its back; swiftly it dashes over the shifting sands; it manifests its merit in dangerous places; it has secret understanding of springs and sources, subtle indeed is its knowledge!’”
Laurence Bergreen, Marco Polo From Venice to Xanadu (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2007), p. 53.

         The actual history of Jews is complex enough, but the many narratives make it more speculative because we are not exactly sure about the ancient events that preceded Judaism’s origins, and probably we will never know how Judaism all started and emerged as a Biblical text that led to the Talmud and resulted in the rules and rituals that are called Judaism.  Judaism evolved as the interaction between G’d and human activity: tied together in a beautiful narrative, at times crystal clear, but sometimes as opaque as a frosted-up window in which nothing is clear or visible. 
The history of Jews between 500 BCE to 500 CE is extremely dynamic and complex.  The most important texts of Judaism were created during this period when Jews were under the influence of the ancient Persians.  The impact of this Persian experience is reflected in all forms of what we call Jewish life.  Among the most important issues of Jewish life related to women, and, as ancient societies struggled to figure out how to deal with women, Judaism came out with its own solutions. 
         The Persian connection to Judaism is unquestionably clear; it is reflected in the Bible and in the Talmud.  It was through the language, Aramaic, as well as through the customs along with the evolving Persian ideologies and lore that we became Jews.  Furthermore, the Jews acquired from the Persians the art of doing business.  Under the Persians, Jews became merchants and roamed the world as such until the 1600’s.  They learned to conduct business between East and West -- the East was China, and the West was Europe.
         In ancient times, the forms of transportation were many, among them ships, horses, donkeys, and, later and most important, camels.  The camel eventually became the vehicle of transport and, of course, wealth.  The wealthier one was, the more camels he owned.  This leads to the Biblical story of finding a wife for Isaac – it is inconceivable to think of Abraham’s slave Eliezar being portrayed by the Biblicists as coming to fetch Rebecca on donkeys! The debate as to whether the writers of the Bible inappropriately inserted the camel into their narrative is most recently reflected in an article by John Noble Wilford (February 11, 2014, p. D3) in The New York Times.  One explanation for this inapt inclusion by the Biblical writers seems to be a reflection of the place of camels as used by  merchants for long distance travel.  Thus, the camel enters into the literature of the Bible through the back door by reverse engineering to reflect sometimes an anachronism or simply a part of our opaque history.
         With the help of the camel, Jewish merchants conducted trade and traveled long distances, disappearing from home for long periods of time.  Numerous basic laws and customs of Judaism came into being as a result of this lifestyle of conducting business in far-away lands and the consequent disappearance from home by the merchants.  It was a situation that demanded some action on behalf of the women they left behind. 
         That is approximately how the Ketubah (marriage certificate) came to appear in our complex history. The Ketubah is a unique Jewish document; Gentiles do not have such an agreement.  The Ketubah, as translated from Hebrew, is a “written” document, composed in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire. This document relates to the well being of a woman, spelling out her rights in case of a divorce, or in other issues of separation between her and her husband.  The long distance trade via camels evolved for more than 1000 years.  Jewish men got involved with other women along the roads, and thus, to protect the wives, rabbis were pushed to create a written document to offer fairness. 
This protracted involvement in long distance trade by necessity gave rise to other important elements in Judaism.  It ultimately changed the status of the Jewish family.  Unlike in previous generations, the mother now came to hold the place of determining the Jewish identity of their children, rather than the father.  Since Jewish merchants traveled the world up until the 1600’s, a rabbi in Europe around the 11th century, in another landmark decree, ruled that Jewish men could marry only one woman.  Other customs came into being including the wearing of the kipah, an adaptation taken from the Chinese Mandarins.  And the burial custom in which stones are placed on Jewish graves also grew out of necessity -- the stones were used as permanent markers of the burial sites of Jewish and other victims fallen along the long distance paths to China or other places.  Thus the history of Jews transformed itself as a result of livelihood.  
Since at the time of this writing we are approaching Purim, it is worthwhile to remember that the holiday takes its name from Persian, meaning “lots.”  And in his song “Suzanne,” Leonard Cohen sings about “…tea and oranges that come all the way from China” – how can we not connect the use of the citrus, now commonly the etrog, that is a symbol basic to our holiday of Sukkot?    
         I would like to return now to the writer Edward Cameron Dimock, whom I quote in the beginning, to include a few words of his pertaining to Indian religion: “The result of incest is that you come back as grass” (p. 110).  I will stop here, and maybe one day I will continue the story of the merchandising Jews.  The reason for my stopping is because I need to feed the camels their grass and water…. 
One day, I will end this story, somehow.

Eliyho Matz
February 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

DOWNTON ABBEY DIARY: The Mad Memoirs of Rebecca Eaton--A Review by Laurence Jarvik

MAKING MASTERPIECE: 25 YEARS BEHIND THE SCENES AT MASTERPIECE THEATRE AND MYSTERY! ON PBS, Rebecca Eaton (2013), Preface by Kenneth Branagh, NY: Viking, 285 pp., $29.95

Masterpiece Theatre premiered on American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on Sunday, January 10, 1971, some 42 years before Rebecca Eaton's Making Masterpiece was published. It is still on the air. That is a very long run indeed for an American television series, especially a dramatic anthology. For purposes of comparison with other American shows, consider that Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone produced new episodes for approximately ten years; Studio One, also ten years; Playhouse 90, four years; GE Theatre, nine years; Omnibus, nine years; PBS’s American Playhouse, 11 years; and NET Playhouse, eight years. Only Hallmark Hall of Fame has had a longer shelf life as a dramatic anthology—yet although it premiered in 1951 and still produces new programming for American television, more recently episodes have appeared only from time-to-time as occasional specials, rather than as series. Thus, longevity alone makes Masterpiece (as it is now called) a unique television institution in the United States. There is quite simply nothing else like it being broadcast over American airwaves.

Executive producer Rebecca Eaton attempts to explain her program’s remarkable run in a new book, Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! (2013) Interestingly, Eaton combines autobiographical details such as medical and psychological problems, marriage and divorce, the tensions of working motherhood, her relationship with her parents, and own education alongside a discussion of business and artistic developments related to television classics such as Downton Abbey, Upstairs, Downstairs, Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield, and mysteries including Prime Suspect, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse, and Sherlock Holmes, among others. Thus, Making Masterpiece is valuable at once as memoir, history of television, and corporate saga.

Eaton is at times refreshingly frank. She admits that when she became executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre, “I wasn’t a regular Masterpiece viewer—I wasn’t even a Masterpiece fan, really.”  But, apparently that did not matter. As Eaton’s book explains, the reason is fairly simple.  In the beginning, key decisions were made by the sponsor, Mobil Corporation, in conjunction with British television producers. So, WGBH was essentially koshering a commercial series for a non-commercial television network. Thus, placement of the Boston station’s call letters served as a secular hechsher for shows which otherwise would have been banned under PBS guidelines.

The book definitively documents the crucial role of the Mobil Corporation as original sponsor for Masterpiece Theatre. Her account of working with Russell Baker, Alistair Cooke’s successor is intriguing. Unlike Cooke, a veteran television performer and host of Omnibus, Baker was uncomfortable in front of cameras. He fidgeted, and his hands waved uncontrollably at times—so much so, that he took to literally sitting on them while on air. In addition, Baker had to obtain a waiver from his then-employer, The New York Times, for his work on the Mobil-sponsored PBS show violated the newspaper’s existing ethics guidelines.  Apparently, the Times wasn’t worried about conflict-of-interest charges. Baker got approval to host the series, which he introduced for over a decade. Apparently, some ethics guidelines are more binding than others…

Likewise, Eaton’s book is noteworthy for its documentation of the series’ almost complete collapse and fragmentation after the withdrawal of Mobil’s sponsorship—which eventually led up to “rebranding” the series in 2008; split into Masterpiece Classic, Mystery and Contemporary. Eaton’s account of focus groups, corporate consultants, and bickering with a Hallmark Hall of Fame producer over American-themed (as opposed to British) literary adaptations makes for what might have been a Bretts-like behind-the-scenes comedy of the absurd.

After Exxon-Mobil pulled their $10 million annual sponsorship, ratings plunged, the series began a hegira to different days, different times, different formats, and different hosts--and clearly lost its way. De facto, it was no longer a unified television series, just a time slot with a venerable title.  Then, almost uncannily, Eaton reprised PBS’s 1970s rejection of ITV’s original Upstairs, Downstairs (glossed over in her account) with her own refusal to buy ITV’s Downton Abbey, in favor of the BBC’s more pedestrian sequel to Upstairs, Downstairs (which nevertheless achieved a respectable 6.5 rating on PBS, prior to BBC’s cancellation). Ironically, although Downton had been Eaton’s and PBS’s second choice, it proved to be a PBS audience favorite, and garnered the highest Nielsen rating for the series--a reported 8.1. Once more, a British commercial production had become the jewel in the crown of American public broadcasting.

That Downton was written by a Tory aristocrat (Grantham was Margaret Thatcher’s parliamentary seat), while Upstairs, Downstairs had been penned by working-class Labour supporters, somehow added to the irony. Downton was Upstairs, Downstairs on steroids. It was bigger, badder, soapier, and more outrageous than the original. In a word: camp. Almost a self-parody. Too big too fail; it was the best Masterpiece Theatre could do to attempt to recover its original formula for success as a show window for British drama in the United States. Needless to say, Up, Down Anglomania once again worked its charms on the PBS audience.

Eaton’s account records the phenomenal success of Downton Abbey, the double nostalgia of which (for Britain’s aristocratic past and the old-fashioned programs of the original Mobil Masterpiece Theater) has provided the secret formula needed to attract two new sponsors: Viking River Cruises (Eaton christened the Viking Long ship Freya in the port of Amsterdam on March 12, 2012) and Ralph Lauren.

Surprisingly to this reviewer, Eaton plainly calls Masterpiece’s new underwriters “sponsors.” Although the term had been one which dare not speak its name when this author wrote about PBS some twenty years ago, officially nonexistent, in her memoir Eaton appears to be perfectly comfortable with Viking River Cruises and Ralph Lauren’s corporate support, and expresses her gratitude without the snarkiness once heard from PBS executives. But if sponsorship is indeed a net positive for the series, then what is the rationale for non-commercial claims by the PBS network? If it is a sponsor-supported corporation; and if that sponsorship was attracted by quality programming such as Downton Abbey, then logic would dictate the conclusion that corporate sponsorship is not opposed to quality—rather, the opposite: that corporate sponsors might indeed wish to be associated with quality television.

In addition to limning a corporate dimension, Eaton’s confessional illuminates the closed shop of American public broadcasting as a manifestly elitist institution redolent of unearned privilege. Her peek behind the PBS station curtain is fascinating to an outsider as a glimpse of an insular institution as formidably insulated from the hoi polloi as the mythical Downton Abbey. Not surprisingly, the author early on declares her blue-blood New England bona fides, complete with Maine family retreat. Eaton’s father, Paul Eaton, was MIT-educated dean of English at the California Institute of Technology. Her mother, Katherine Emery, was a Southern Belle from Alabama, who became a Broadway actress in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour, then a Hollywood star at RKO. Eaton majored in English at elite Vassar College, in 1969 a “seven sister” for the education of privileged females; afterwards worked at the BBC in an exclusive “Anglo-American swap deal” with Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall during the “swinging sixties.” No wallflower, Eaton writes of buying hashish in Piccadilly Circus (but claims it was a bag of dirt), and of the influence of Mary Quant, Twiggy, and “my new friends from the British ‘upper class,’ country houses and all.” Her favorite television program, Sir Kenneth Clark’s Civilization (curiously, Eaton misspells his surname as Clarke). Of British country weekends, she says, “As I recall, I was pretty much drunk the whole time.” Yet, she says she became estranged from her aristocratic companions. Like a Henry James heroine, Eaton claims she “felt that I was in the wrong place. I loved my own country. In Britain, I went from being antiwar and anti-U.S. government to realizing how deep my American roots actually were.” Well, let us say, from the account it appears that New England roots may not spread far beyond Boston.

Eaton says she cried on her BOAC flight back to the USA in 1970 (not usually the reaction of one happy to return home). Class privilege and sexism allowed Eaton to quickly obtain a job at WGBH’s National Public Radio station, due to “my Vassar degree, my BBC credentials, and my miniskirt…” Like many American children of privilege, she could afford to work without pay at first (the BBC had paid her $35/week). She was eventually hired for a “public access” television show called Catch-44, produced by Henry Becton (later to head WGBH), and to become a documentary producer.

In 1985, aged 37, Eaton married an artist named Paul Cooper, in a church in Kennebunkport, Maine—home of Presidents Bush, among other American Brahmins. Since 1984, she’d been on a leave of absence from WGBH, co-producing an independent feature film for American Playhouse directed by Jan Egelson (probably The Little Sister (1986), which appears in her IMDB listing, although the title is not mentioned in the book). Becton asked her to read scripts for Joan Wilson, the station’s Masterpiece Theatre producer at the time, who was dying of cancer. “He’d been considering me for the job of executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre in the event of her death.”

And that is how PBS stations worked then and now. It didn’t matter that Eaton had a very slim track record in drama, for she had the right breeding, the right bloodlines, the right schools, the right social formation, to do a PBS job—which, in 1985, was to serve as a glorified go-fer to the Mobil Corporation, by her account. That is the reason Eaton is able to write, without apparent embarrassment, that when offered the Masterpiece job, “I was pretty sure I didn’t want it.” 

That is also why Eaton is free to state that she had “disdain” for Masterpiece. She apparently felt superior to proles in commercial television, as her condescending description implies. That is why Eaton declares taking the helm of the most prestigious program on American television at that time  “would mean becoming an administrator, a manager of other people’s work, rather than a ‘creative’ person who actually made programs.”  For Eaton knew, and everyone at PBS knew, that in 1985, Mobil made Masterpiece Theatre programs with its British partners. WGBH was just a delivery service. She didn’t want the job, she says, and I believe her. Luckily, her then-husband pressured her to take the position. When Eaton applied to Henry Becton, she says that she had been the only person on the station’s shortlist who read The Mill on the Floss.  What does that say about the educational level at an American PBS station in 1985? Not much.

Eaton’s remarkable disdain continues to be expressed in her description of meeting Frank Marshall, a former Xerox speechwriter turned public relations consultant, who owned the trademark Masterpiece Theatre at one point (he later turned it over to Mobil, which eventually turned it over to WGBH). She slams Marshall as a “consigliere” (a Mafia term from The Godfather) to Mobil vice-president Herb Schmertz; describes his Vermont farmhouse as “in the middle of nowhere;” goes into detail about how awful she felt to be considered for the Masterpiece job, and links it to her pregnancy. Now, why would Eaton need to visit the middle of nowhere to see a corporate consultant—unless the consultant had approval rights for personnel hires?  Eaton’s very story establishes that Mobil, as sponsor, was running the show for Masterpiece Theatre at WGBH as late as 1985—not Henry Becton, not WGBH, and not PBS. Mobil had right of approval on personnel.

Which is why Eaton says that she didn’t want the job of executive producer in the first place—working for public broadcasting was, among women of a certain class in America in 1985, “U,” in Nancy Mitford’s terminology. At WGBH, PBS productions meant documentaries like “Frontline” (although a number of those episodes reworked British material). PBS was classy because it was “non-commercial.” Indeed, it was ostensibly above commerce. Such was the legacy of Puritanism in Boston and at PBS. Indeed, the Boston PBS station’s call letters stand for “God Bless Harvard,” a Puritan version of the Tetragrammaton. One could not serve PBS and Mobil, in good conscience; for PBS was doing God’s work, while Mobil was doing Mammon’s. 

Yet Eaton's story of bureaucratic and personal drift and disarray at Masterpiece Theater after Exxon Mobil discontinued funding in 1994, in what might be called its disassociated state, evidences that Mobil's corporate sponsorship made possible, and Viking Cruises and Ralph Lauren may continue to insure, that Masterpiece Theatre remains a Masterpiece of American television. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pam Geller On The Pussies Behind Pussy Riot

I have a real challenge for these brave femmes: Stage a protest in a mosque. Protest clitoridectomies, honor killings, child marriage, forced marriage, women as and chattel. Then let’s see how many of their new friends they have at the end of the day. If Pussy Riot protested inside, say, the Blue Mosque, singing songs calling on Muhammad’s six-year-old wife Aisha to remove President Vladimir Putin from office, would the world be petting and fĂȘting the felines?
They would have been destroyed, smeared, banned. But they protested in a cathedral, so they are worshiped. That was enough to make them become overnight the darlings of the West.

Read more at http://mobile.wnd.com/2014/02/pussy-riot-fever-infects-u-s/#CDsymKqogZ16MXrv.99

Monday, February 03, 2014

Mark Steyn on Barry Rubin

From SteynOnline:
Barry Rubin, a great strategic thinker and cartographer of the emerging post-American world, died today in Tel Aviv. I read him regularly and cited him in After America re the collectively insane urge of almost everyone Nidal Hasan encountered as he wafted upwards through the US Army to look the other way and not see what was staring them in the face:
As the writer Barry Rubin pointed out, Major Hasan was the first mass murderer in US history to give a PowerPoint presentation outlining the rationale for the crime he was about to commit. And he gave it to a roomful of fellow army psychiatrists and doctors - some of whom glanced queasily at their colleagues, but none of whom actually spoke up. And, when the question of whether then Captain Hasan was, in fact, "psychotic", the policy committee at Walter Reed Army Medical Center worried "how would it look if we kick out one of the few Muslim residents".
I remember when I read Rubin's line about the PowerPoint presentation. Many of us had been groping in the same direction, but he was the one who came up with the perfect, piercing image for the madness that was going on. He did that a lot, right up to the end. Rest in peace.