Review: The Homesman

In The Homesman, the central human dilemma is how the various characters form, avoid or break attachments with others, a primal matter in even the most benign of circumstances, let alone in the rough 1850s Nebraska territory. Caring too much for others brings misery, but not going along to get along also brings misery. Do the characters play well with others? Most of the men certainly do not, and much of the film is about how women try to cope with or succumb to this harsh world. Traditional westerns retell the gradual mythy victory of

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Helen Vendler on Humanities in our schools

One of the critics I most admire, Helen Vendler, has issued a cogent, convincing, and (alas) Quixotic call for American schools to ensure that their students encounter their artistic and musical heritage. “I want to see students coming into college already proud of Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt, loving the repertoire of spirituals and of musical comedy, interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and David Smith, longing for more Willa Cather and more Edith Wharton.” I do, too! But that won’t happen. Helen Vendler is no stranger to irony, but I think in this case she

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Review: Last Days in Vietnam

Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam is a wonderful documentary, with an engaging mix of period video, talking head remarks, contemporaneous cassette letters home, and some judicious computer graphics. The film depicts the chaotic evacuation of Americans and some Vietnamese as Saigon fell, ending the Viet Nam War in 1975. Rory Kennedy focuses on how a few Americans under extremely desperate time pressure managed to evacuate many (unfortunately not all) of the South Vietnamese who feared reprisal once North Vietnam completed its victory. Those Americans did well, and they deserve our admiration. This documentary will

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Review: Tremendum, Augustum

Leonore Wilson’s Tremendum, Augustum (AldrichPress 2014) is a wonderful poetry collection, and a remarkable poetry collection. Like a Brahms symphonic movement, I know that there is power and substance here even if I am not fully able to grasp it. And who wants to bother with poetry that you can fully grasp at one reading? Well, yes, you are right, most people. But immediate understanding is not the point of good poetry. Nor are new ideas and new ways of seeing immediately understandable. I started reading this book of poems six months ago, and have

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“TERROR MONSTERS IN THE CROSSHAIRS!” That sounds like a ludicrous 1950s Hollywood B-movie, and I can almost see the lurid poster, with its determined hero clenching his jaw, the buxom starlet lifting her hands in fear, and the hideous, outsized monster menacing the planet. But this is not a poster. It is the splashy New York Daily News headline announcing US air strikes against Islamic State in Syria. Naturally, this attack is a violation not just of common sense and experience, but of international law. President Obama ‘s morning-after speech did not apparently even invoke

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No good will come of this: Obama’s speech on Islamic State

President Obama has promised air attacks in Syria, and increased air attacks in Iraq. He sounded disturbingly like President Bush in his September 10th national address, optimistically announcing deeper American involvement in the chaos of Iraq and Syria. “We will degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL” Degrade, sure. Destroy one organization whose name will probably change anyway, maybe. But destroy militant Islam with airstrikes? Not gonna happen. When Obama promised to destroy Islamic State, his listeners surely took him to mean not just this one enemy, but whatever powerful, armed Islamic forces threaten our perceived interests

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Review: The Trip to Italy

Josh Long’s review of The Trip to Italy (2014) on the website Battleship Pretension calls the film “a feast to the eyes, uproariously funny, and keenly introspective.” I’ll go along with the “feast for the eyes” here, but I can’t agree that The Trip to Italy was uproariously funny. Funny, yes. And I certainly can’t agree that it was “keenly introspective.” I think the film shows two high achieving, insecure, ungenerous,”friends” in a series of witty conversations in which they try to one-up each other. The few bumps into serious topics (e.g. mortality, failure, loneliness,

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August jobs report: good news and bad news

Two articles in the Sept. 8, 2014, The Wall Street Journal are interesting when read together. 1. Grocery chains and food companies are struggling. Why? Walmart says consumers are concerned with “depressed wages and cuts in federal benefits.” Roundy’s (a mid-west grocery chain) says that the grocery and food businesses are suffering decreased profits because consumers have less food money. Campbell (soups) says “consumers are struggling with underemployment and rising costs.” Kraft says consumer demand is persistently weak in part because “more people are falling into the low-income status.” But that is not bad news

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No, Brian M. Welke, the Iraq War was not “worth it.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, an Iraq War veteran tells readers the answer he gives to people who ask whether that war “was worth it.” Depending on who is asking, this question might be about the veteran’s own participation, but most often it is probably about American foreign policy. Was the war worth the cost in lives, national debt, and catastrophic unintended consequences? But the op-ed writer, Brian M. Welke, hears the question as being about his own participation. Fair enough. Was all that death and loss worth it for Brian M. Welke?

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Film Review: Ai Wei Wei: The Fake Case

Like all humans, yet far more obviously than most, Ai Wei Wei exists in some indefinable middle ground between being free and being under house arrest. That is true of his life in general, but especially as he waits out probation as depicted in Ai Wei Wei: the Fake Case. In this documentary he appears wary and guarded when talking about restrictions on his ability to speak with foreigners about his own case, let alone about conditions in China. Ai Wei Wei does address both matters before the camera, and while his opinions are probably

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Civilian War Casualties Day

Why the American jury system is endangered

No, Brian M. Welke, the Iraq War was not worth it.

The myth of the missing welcome