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The Mensheviks after October: Socialist Opposition and the Rise of the Bolshevik Dictatorship
The Mensheviks after October: Socialist Opposition and the Rise of the Bolshevik Dictatorship
by Vladimir N. Brovkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: $43.95
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bolshevism vs. working class democracy, May 11, 2010
Professor Brovkin has made a major contribution to our understanding of the nature of Bolshevism in power with this 1987 study of the struggle for power between the Bolsheviks and their Socialist rivals in the period between the October Revolution and the outbreak of open civil war in the summer and fall of 1918. He successfully demonstrates that the Bolsheviks, who claimed to be establishing a "dictatorship of the proletariat" in Russia, in fact were establishing a dictatorship of the party that aimed at the complete destruction of any Socialist alternatives and the repression of any working class resistance to this dictatorship.

A number of scholars have attempted to explain the Bolshevik reliance on terror at least in part as an understandable response to foreign intervention and reactionary White opposition to the revolutionary regime. Brovkin demonstrates that almost from the moment Lenin and his party seized power in 1917, their first priority was eliminating opposition on the Left to a Bolshevik dictatorship. The suppression of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918 and the subsequent campaign to control or crush the working class soviets (in whose name the Bolsheviks claimed to be acting) demonstrated that the Bolshevik pretension to be an agent of working class interests was a fraud; party dictatorship through the repressive power of the Cheka, not working class democracy, was the goal of which Lenin never lost sight.

Brovkin does a brilliant job of fleshing out some of the internal divisions between the various elements of the Menshevik opposition, as well as exploring internal divisions with the Bolshevik movement itself. He also effectively relates the political struggle between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks to the broader political, military and economic crisis in which the revolutionary upheavals were unfolding.

In short, this book is must reading for anyone who wants a clearer understanding of the emergence of the Bolshevik dictatorship and its relationship with the 20th century Russian Social Democratic tradition or the broader Russian working class and socialist movement during and immediately after the First World War. And for those who seek to understand the origins of role of terror in establishing Bolshevik power in Russia, this book is a valuable resource.

Assignment in Utopia
Assignment in Utopia
by Eugene Lyons
Edition: Paperback
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Opening eyes in a dark world, September 11, 2009
This review is from: Assignment in Utopia (Paperback)
This 1937 publication is an invaluable eye-witness account of the realities of Communism in the Soviet Union during the early 1930s as Stalin was directing the Soviet Union into a dark period of collectivization, state-engineered famine, show trials, and terror (Lyons also just happened to be in Berlin on the way through just as Hitler was taking power in Germany in January 1933, no doubt a frightening experience for a young leftist Jewish intellectual). Lyons wrote this book to expose the realities of what was happening in the USSR to leftist and liberal readers in the United States who, while not Communists, were inclined to be sympathetic to a "progressive" workers' state at a time when the American economy remained mired in the depths of the Great Depression.

Lyons himself had been born to a Jewish family in the old Russian Empire but grew up in the tenement slums of the Lower East Side of New York City. Like many young people of that background and generation, he gravitated to socialism and welcomed not only the collapse of the autocratic and anti-semitic tsarist regime in 1917 but also the emergence of a new radical alternative with the Bolshevik October Revolution. By the early 1920s young Lyons was a journalist and vigorous fellow-travelling propagandist for the Bolsheviks. In 1928, on assignment for United Press International, Lyons had the opportunity to come to the USSR for himself, and from 1928 to 1934 Lyons would not only cover Soviet affairs but would even have the opportunity to meet the great dictator Stalin himself.

The account that Lyons gives of this experience is eye-opening. No one today who pays attention can be unaware of Stalin's crimes or the nature of the Communist regime as it evolved in the USSR, and yet even today, more than 70 years after the book's publication, this book still provides a gripping insight into the nature of the regime and the horrors of Stalinist Communism. Lyons is honest enough to acknowledge his own role early on in concealing the extent of these horrors to his readers, mentioning for example his role in dismissing journalist Gareth Jones' accounts of famine in the Ukraine. He tries to explain why journalists in the USSR closed their eyes to these facts and why he eventually felt he had to be open with his readers, and why he could not accept the rationalizations of people like radical Anna Louis Strong and New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty, who continued to lie to their readers.

Lyons was too honest -- and too horrified by the terror -- to close his eyes for long, and eventually he is compelled to leave the country. His accounts of the horrors of what were happening in the USSR are still shocking, but perhaps even more disturbing are the accounts of western political "tourists" -- often literary and intellectual celebrities like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, George Bernard Shaw, and Romain Rolland -- who seemed to be stubbornly, almost willfully, blind to the realities of Soviet existence. Such apologists for Stalinism appalled him, and even more depressing was the unwillingness of liberal or fellow-travelling audiences to hear or understand what he had to say once he came home. While most Socialists and the anti-Stalinist left had come to understand the meaning of Stalinism (and it was the Socialist movement, not the political right, that was the principle target of Communist hostility during the Comintern Third Period, 1928-1934), too many others on the left, especially among well-meaning liberals, simply did not want to have their illusions about the workers' paradise shattered. Nor did Lyons have any patience with those on the American Right who tried to compare the mild liberal democratic reforms of the New Deal to the brutalities, paranoia and terror of Stalinism.

Lyons's book is essential reading for anyone trying to understand what was happening in the Soviet Union in the 1930s -- especially for those on the left who still in some dark corner of their mind wish to hold on to the notion of the Soviet Union as a "progressive force." During the 1930s the pressures of economic depression and the menace of rising fascism and rightist militarism made the need for unity on the left imperative and this created an entirely justified Popular Front impulse that sought to overlook differences on the Left in favor of common resistance to Nazism and Fascism. Lyons demonstrated that this unity might come at too high a price. In his controversial 1941 book, "The Red Decade", Lyons goes further in attacking a Popular Front ethos that ended up making excuses and apologies for Stalinist crimes in the name of anti-fascist unity, although the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact demonstrated the bankruptcy of this "unity." But even if one feels the need to qualify some of the claims Lyons makes in his 1941 book (as author Frank Warren would do in his 1966 book "Liberals and Communism: The Red Decade Revisited"), Lyons in "Assignment to Utopia" makes a valuable contribution to understanding not only the meaning and nature of Stalinism, but also offers valuable insight into the struggle by those on the non-Communist Left to make sense of the Soviet experiment.

Lyons himself would later turn politically to the right, rejecting not only Communism but those efforts to minimize or downplay the insidious influence of Communism in American life. By the 1960s he was an editor with Reader's Digest and contributed to other conservative journals. One does not have to accept his later political evolution to appreciate the value of his contribution to our understanding of Stalinism through "Assignment to Utopia." Nor does one have to fully accept his growing anxiety about Communist influence in liberal and fellow-travelling circles during the 1930s and 1940s -- although I suspect he had more reason for this anxiety than is sometimes appreciated today -- to appreciate the importance of his descriptions of life in the USSR. "Assignment to Utopia" is a very good book, a very important book, and one that still deserves reading now that the Soviet Union has collapsed into the metaphorical historical trash bin.

The Atomic Cafe [VHS]
The Atomic Cafe [VHS]
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better Red than dead?!?, October 14, 2004
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This review is from: The Atomic Cafe [VHS] (VHS Tape)
This is a highly entertaining propaganda documentary film aimed at exposing the official and not-so-official lies and paranoia of the Cold War years here in the United States. The movie came out in the early 1980s, at a time when the Cold War was at its most dangerous peak of tension since the early 1960s. It was a time when fictitious "windows of vulnerability", like earlier imaginary "missile gaps", were being concocted to justify a provocative and dangerous arms build-up. I remember how eagerly those of us who supported a nuclear freeze watched the film for evidence of the fundamental mendacity of the "winnable nuclear war" theorizing, which had been revived by the first-term Reagan administration after more than a decade in which most rational people simply assumed that everyone now knew that no one could really win a nuclear war. It seemed like we were back in the days of fall-out shelters and air raid drills, Failsafe scenarios and Dr. Strangelove. This film was welcome relief and support from the revived prospect of global annihilation, when the Reagan administration argued that we needed even MORE overkill, although we could already blow up the world three or four times with the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads we already had. Insanity, sheer insanity.

The film stands up very well. It effectively exposes the way in which government propaganda attempted to make the prospect of nuclear war bearable by comparing its risks to ordinary household dangers, and by suggesting that civil defense might protect us from the worst that the Bomb might do. All nonsense, as the experts quoted on film here pointed out. It still is chilling to see how lightly some of these government and military officials, and movie actors playing government officials in propaganda films, seemed to present these dangers (this film came out about the same time as "War Games", which also underlined the futility of global thermonuclear annihilation, and which, I understand, very much impressed President Reagan with the dangers of nuclear war, or at least the possibility that such a war might be started by accident).

Much of "Atomic Cafe" is just plain funny; atomic cocktails and "Bert the Turtle" can't help but raise a grin. The juxtaposition of scenes and rhetoric and the ironic use of background music bring a chuckle, and let's face it, much of that 1950s Cold War rhetoric was simply corny. Other points in the film are powerfully moving, as with the images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb victims, descriptions of the execution of the Rosenbergs, and the images of the people on the Bikini Atoll being removed from their island homes.

The film probably won't persuade anyone who believes that nuclear war really is winnable, or at least not such a big deal IF it is kept "limited" (since, as one Cold Warrior memorably put it, we would ONLY lose 20 million people and the Russians would lose 80 million, and body counts don't lie -- was that Dr. Herman Kahn, in "On Thermonuclear War" or "Thinking About the Unthinkable"?), and it probably won't convince die-hard Cold Warriors that Cold War paranoia and excesses could be dangerous to our liberties at home, or at the very least absurd (Stalinists in Mosinee, Wisconsin? -- what did they put in their cheese?). And the national security empire created during the 1940s and 1950s created new levels of secrecy and surveillance in our society that, however nececessary, still must be balanced against the need for information and open discussion in a free democratic society.

I think Reagan in his second term did come around to a better understanding of the implications of nuclear war, and while I am no fan of his administration (very far from it), I think it is true that the risk of superpower intercontinental nuclear war abated considerably after 1986, thanks both to Reagan and Gorbachev. Nobody in the Reagan administration during Reagan's second term was talking about surviving a nuclear war by getting under a few shovel scoops of dirt (think I'm kidding? Read "With Enough Shovels: Reagan, Bush, and Nuclear War," by Robert Scheer, 1982). Today the Soviet Union is gone, but the danger of nuclear weapons is no less real. Indeed, it may even be greater today in the age of terror than it was back when both the Soviets and Americans, however ruthless they might have been, both wanted to come out of the rivalry in one piece, alive (The desire to survive is an essential precondition for deterrence to work; for a fine study of the deterrence problem and critique of Herman Kahn's work, see Philip Green, "Deadly Logic:The Theory of Nuclear Deterrence", 1968).

"The Atomic Cafe" is funny and yet contains a serious cautionary tale for present generations. And it is strange, when suicide-bomber terrorists are turning fully loaded passenger planes into guided missiles for mass murders, chopping off heads, blowing up buses, and itching to get their hands on the most murderous weapons of mass destruction available, that we might actually come to feel some nostalgia for an apparently simpler time when, however dangerous things might have been, we did not actually blow the world up.

Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New "War on Terrorism" (Open Media Series)
Bin Laden, Islam, and America's New "War on Terrorism" (Open Media Series)
by Asʻad AbuKhalil
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.95
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25 of 72 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A one-sided and distorted polemic, October 12, 2004
This is a bad book. Its representations of the historical record are characterized by so many distortions, misconceptions, and one-sided misrepresentations as to make the book risible, were not the issues at stake so serious. AbuKhalil says he does not require of the reader any special knowledge of the issues, but in fact his book absolutely depends for its persuasiveness on the reader's ignorance of the issues under discussion, especially when it comes to his remarkably biased and tendentious representation of the Arab-Israeli conflicts.

However, the real problem with the book goes deeper than merely the construction of the argument -- it goes to the author's central thesis. AbuKhalil argues that Islamist terror is a response to American policies, and while condemning the Sept. 11 attacks, suggests that American policies have been even worse, thus constructing a somewhat disingenuous apology for Islamic terrorism. Indeed, he warns readers not to "be dragged along the US standards of outrage" in reacting to the murderous Sept. 11 terror strikes.

The problem for AbuKhalil's argument is that Islamist terrorism has its own agenda, independent of particular American policies, as AbuKhalil is probably well aware and demonstrates when, late in his book, he discusses the influence of 14th century Islamist Ibn Taymiyya and 20th century Muslim Brother Sayyid Qutb. AbuKhalil clearly has a distaste for the Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, and in its more murderous form, of Osama bin Laden, but he fails to recognize or acknowledge the implication of this form of Islamist radicalism for his own argument.

The author is on stronger ground when he rightly tries to disassociate Islam as a religion from Islamist terrorism, but wrongly denies that there is any such thing as a political language of Islam. Islam, of course, is a major religion of 1.2 billion people practised in variety of ways across a diversity of cultures and peoples; most Muslims are not Arabs, nor are all Arabs Muslim. But politicized Islamist fundamentalism is a very real ideology with a totalitarian political agenda. Absurdly, AbuKhalil compares Billy Graham's relationship with several presidents to the rule of the mullahs in Iran, favorably citing a Syrian intellectual who describes Graham as "an ayatollah"! The disturbing problem of right-wing Christian fundamentalist influence on American politics is nothing like the problem of politicized Islamist fundamentalism. Indeed, it is precisely the Islamist desire to impose Shari'a law on society through terror against both apostates and infidels that marks the defining political stance of politicized Islamist fundamentalism. The failure of Jamal Abdul Nasser's secular pan-Arab nationalism after 1967 (an ideology for which AbuKhalil shows some sympathy), opened the door for the new brand of Islamist fundamentalism, and Qutb, who was executed by Nasser in 1966, is now having his ideological revenge.

In attacking US foreign policy, AbuKhalil identifies what he sees as two central problems: US support for Israel and US support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Like many Islamists he even connects current American foreign policy to the medieval Crusades. The book was published in 2002, but he no doubt sees the course of the current war on terror as adding to the list of Arab and Muslim grievances against the US (although Islamist terror bombings against other Arabs or Muslims do not seem to stir his outrage).

AbuKhalil's argument is one that will comfort those who wish to believe that the attacks of Sept. 11 were all our fault, although the book does not go very far to actually support this position. Those seeking a stronger argument for the case against American Cold War foreign policy as fostering Islamist terrorism would do well to read Mahmood Mamdani's interesting but still flawed 2004 book, "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror."

The problem is that Islamist terror is not just, nor even primarily, a response to US policies. It is a response to the failure of the Muslim world within the Middle East to adapt effectively to the challenges of modernity, resulting in extraordinary levels of poverty, illiteracy, authoritarian regimes, and violence, both domestic and public. It is also a response to the weakness of national-state organization in diverse, culturally fragmented societies without either a national-state or liberal tradition. There is no easy answer to this problem, but the public space for honestly discussing these issues in the Middle East virtually doesn't exist. It might be emotionally satisfying for many to blame these problems on outside forces (France and Britain earlier in the century, the US and Israel today), but the economic and socio-cultural decline of the Arab Muslim world since the 13th century has roots extending back long before modern Europe began penetrating this region at the end of the 18th century with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, and through the long decline of the once-powerful Ottoman Empire.

Indeed the economic, political, and technological stagnation of the Middle East has been a source of concern for Arab and Muslim intellectuals since at least the 19th century, and has prompted a variety of responses, including both secular pan-Arab nationalism, and more recently, politicized Islamist fundamentalism. Of the evolution of these responses to the problem of modernity within the Muslim world, AbuKhalil has virtually nothing to say.

The intellectual sources to whom contemporary Islamists look for inspiration were not reacting to US foreign policy. Ibn Taymiyya in the early 14th century was attacking Mongol converts to Islam, while Sayyid Qutb was attacking what he saw as the jahiliyya heresy of Nasser's 20th century secular pan-Arabism (although it is true that Qutb was disgusted by what he saw as the sexually promiscuous nature of American society in the 1940s). These intellectuals largely shaped the contemporary Islamist movement (as AbuKhalil himself acknowledges) and their vision is of a superior universal Islamist society based on the application of Shari'a principles to all society. It is the politicization of this fundamentalist Islam on a global scale, beginning with the extermination of infidels and apostates at home through terror, that is the problem. We can argue about strategies to deal with that problem, but it will do no good to grossly misrepresent the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, nor to suggest in a simple-minded way that if we just shape our policies more to the liking of the Arab and Muslim world, everything will be fine.

He does make one good important point, on the need for the United States to be more consistent in our support of human rights. Too often our economic and geopolitical priorities entirely trump human rights concerns. Our policies in the 1980s in Central America were a vicious disgrace, we ignored Rwanda in the 1990s, and our policies in Afghanistan during the 1980s were short-sighted and naive, although there are many parties responsible for the suffering in that country, not least the Soviet Union and later, the Taliban.

But it is the United States and Israel that outrages Abu Khalil. That the PLO provoked catastrophic civil wars in Jordan in 1970 and in Lebanon in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Syria continues to occupy the country, is apparently a matter of little or no concern to AbuKhalil, nor does he seem to hold Saddam Hussein responsible for holding his own people hostage, denying humanitarian aid, and looting the oil-for-food program to rebuild his arsenal in the 1990s while letting his people starve. This is not even to mention Syria's massacre of the village of Hama in 1982, the Iraqi use of poison gas at Halabja in 1988, nor the Taliban massacre of the Shi'a Hezara at Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998; nor the catastrophic losses and destruction created by Saddam Hussein's wars against Iran and Kuwait. Despite this, we saw Arabs celebrating the murderous Saddam Hussein as a hero! Of the genocidal regime in Sudan AbuKhalil says nothing except to make a comment suggesting the US has tried to use internal unrest to undermine the murderous Khartoum regime. As for the oppression of women, he has little to say, except dismiss American concerns about the matter as insincere; it is, I suppose, more difficult to persuasively blame this problem on the US and Israel, so better be silent. He is right about the need for the United States to more consistently support human rights, but this hardly explains or justifies what happened on Sept. 11.

For AbuKhalil, it's enough to blame the US, just as he seems to excuse the relentless and obsessive Arab hatred against Israel. Israel has served as a target for the frustrations and anger of people living in poverty-stricken and unjust societies without any means of holding their own leadership responsible (aside from assassinations). That displaced hatred and rage has evolved into a terrible obsession against Israel -- the one genuinely democratic and open society in the region -- that has justified terror and war, while condemning Israel for defending herself from this exterminationist drive.

Why should any of this matter? That anti-Semitic hatred has had consequences. Wiser Arab leaders like Anwar Sadat have recognized the futility of this hatred, but Sadat was assassinated while Arafat continues to grow fat on the exploitation and misery of his own people while leading them through terror to disaster. Reluctant apologists for terror like AbuKhalil make excuses while Islamist terrorists continue to blow up civilians and chop off heads. That is no way to achieve peace, progress or security. It's a guarantee of misery and failure, which is the direction in which politicized fundamentalist Islamists seemed determined to take the Islamic world, which would be a tragedy for Muslims everywhere, and the world.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 2, 2010 12:42 PM PDT

Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History (Brown Thrasher Books)
Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History (Brown Thrasher Books)
by William Garrett Piston
Edition: Paperback
Price: $21.74
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The War Horse as "Scalawag": debunking Lost Cause mythology, September 7, 2003
William Piston has written a fine, highly readable, and fair-minded but sympathetic biography of one of the most controversial leaders of the Civil War. While Lee himself held Longstreet in the highest regard and made the dependable Longstreet his senior subordinate and commander of his First Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia, the stubborn South Carolinian found his reputation tarnished after the war by jealous military rivals who disliked Longstreet's politics and resented his criticisms of some of Lee's command decisions.
As a military biography, this work offers a fairly comprehensive and balanced treatment of Longstreet's career that effectively demolishes some of the more unfair criticisms of Longstreet as a commander, and in particular takes apart the myth (that emerged in post-war controversy) that Jackson, not Longstreet, had been the senior commander in whom Lee had placed his most reliance and trust (although for a more critical, but still balanced and highly useful analysis of Longstreet's military record, see Jeffrey Wert's biography of Longstreet).
Reading Piston's book will demonstrate why Lee described Longstreet as "my Old War Horse," and why Longstreet was widely regarded on both sides as one of the very finest -- if not THE finest -- corps commanders of the war. Piston also does a nice job of disentangling the post-war Gettysburg controversy, which emerged out of polemics over Reconstruction politics and the bickering among former Confederate generals anxious to rescue their own reputations while putting Robert E. Lee above any criticism.
Lee, of course, was a great commander, but he never pretended to be perfect, and Longstreet, in daring to criticize certain aspects of Lee's tactical operations, became a threat to a post-war mythology, the cult of Lee, that became so important in building a post-war, Solid Democratic South and white supremacist post-Confederate Southern identity. As Piston demonstrates, the post-war Lost Cause mythology, in deifying the defeated Lee, required a scapegoat, a "Judas", upon whom the blame for defeat and humiliation could be heaped. As both Jackson and Stuart had been killed during the war, and as most western Confederate commanders lacked the prominence to serve this function, Longstreet emerged for unreconstructed Confederates as the bete noir of Southern military history, both for his post-war Republican politics and his criticisms of Lee, his actual war record and relationship with Lee notwithstanding.
And in this post-war Lost Cause narrative, Gettysburg became the critical key or turning point upon which all else hinged, as though the outcome of a thousand campaigns mobilizing millions of men, fought over five years across a vast continent, could be reduced to one afternoon on one bloody field in Pennsylvania, or as though (even if that had been true) Longstreet alone could be blamed for Lee's failure at Gettysburg. It is the politics of Reconstruction and Longstreet's place in that political struggle, that largely shaped what became the dominant Southern narrative about the battle of Gettysburg, and the meaning of that defeat in the larger destruction and humiliation of the Confederacy. Piston's treatment of this issue, and his discussion of the evolution of Lost Cause historiography, is brilliant, and deserves attention not only from those interested in the Civil War and Reconstruction, but from those interested in the relationship between politics, historical memory, the historical record, and the writing of history.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 16, 2011 2:49 PM PST

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them
by Al Franken
Edition: Hardcover
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A triumph for joking pundits who "kid on the square", September 7, 2003
In "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them", Al Franken does an admirable job of skewering the self-righteous, chauvinistic, pompous, and otherwise publicity-inflated bloviating pundits of Fox News who make a living by distorting the news, misleading the public, and generally serving as a propaganda machine for the Bush administration. And what makes this well-justified hatchet job so enjoyable is that he manages to be funny, and often, very funny, all while telling the truth.
Like Mr. Franken, I find the dishonesty and bullying by Fox pundits to be offensive and at times outright revolting. But while many of us merely growl at the Fox misinformation service or turn the channel in disgust, this SNL-veteran has done the public a service by exposing some of the particular deceptions and lies of people like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (although in the particular case of Mr. Hannity, the fault may lie with the fact that he is a rather dim bulb rather than any deliberate desire to deceive. It was Mr. Hannity after all, who offered up the most revealing quotation of the book: "I don't have the time to refute every fact here").
Mr. Franken's satirical take on the "fair and balanced" Fox News Channel effectively documents (for those who had not already picked up on this just by watching) that Bill O'Reilly is a self-righteous bully incapable of listening; that Sean Hannity is a pompous fool; and that Ann Coulter, well, there is something just not quite right about that woman. Possibly rabies. Just "kidding on the square" there; more likely she's just crazy.
But it would be a mistake to see this book as anti-conservative; it is not. It is anti-dishonesty. Not all conservatives are dishonest, but it is interesting that so many conservatives take an attack on dishonesty to be an attack on conservative ideas in general. The book IS angry and it is from a liberal perspective; it doesn't pretend to be impartial (making irrelevant the bitter comments of right-wing reviewers here that this book is bad because it is somehow "one-sided"). Mostly this book is funny; in a certain sense, it is a "joke", as some conservative reviewers have complained, although not in the sense that they intended. But what it IS against is the kind of intellectual dishonesty and indifference to truth that has become so characteristic of so much of right-wing discourse, especially on television. Are there liars on the left? No doubt, and shame on them for it (although you probably won't find many of them on talk radio in any case). This is a book about people on the right, people who have a much higher television/radio/news profile than any comparable figures on the left that I can think of. And I think Mr. Franken is right in suggesting that some of the worst liars in public discourse today are situated on the right.
I do think the book is uneven in places. The "Operation Chickenhawk" section, while it underlines an important hypocrisy characteristic of many on the right, is nevertheless a bit cartoonish and over-the-top for my taste; I prefer Franken when he is merely skewering lies with facts. Referring to Bill "O'Lie-lly" might be an understandable response to Bill O'Reilly's outrageous and bullying behavior at the book conference, but it is a kind of name-calling that isn't nearly as effective in making Franken's point as the mere documentation of O'Reilly's actual lies (such as his supposed political independence).
For me, the strongest and most important chapter involved the conservative media treatment and distortion of the events at Paul Wellstone's memorial service (which then translated into a wider distortion in the wider media). Franken's treatment is this issue is angry but controlled, and is in its own right a fine tribute to the memory of a man I respected as the finest Senator in the U.S. Senate in my lifetime, an honorable voice for the disenfranchised and politically marginalized. The question is, when will those right-wing voices who made so much controversy on the basis of so little justification ever find it in themselves to apologize, to admit they did wrong? It will, no doubt, be a cold day in hell before that happens, but as Mr. Franken documents, it is an apology to the country that these well-paid but badly informed(?) political spinmeisters on the right surely owe to the public.
So buy the book. It's not perfect, but it is very good. It is funny and outrageous; and at times sad, even moving; it is loaded with facts and spiced with satire. And as the reviewer from Midland, Texas, pointed out, we all owe Fox News a debt of gratitude for their absurd lawsuit against Mr. Franken, which helped propel this fine satire to the top of the best-seller lists. As for those conservatives who fear and despise this book, all I can say is, read it and weep.

Where's Marlowe [VHS]
Where's Marlowe [VHS]
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an absurd and quirky delight!, June 3, 2003
This review is from: Where's Marlowe [VHS] (VHS Tape)
What a fun movie! This film takes the private eye genre to an inventively funny new place, where the camera becomes one of the characters and the invisible wall between filmed and film-maker seems to crumble in hilariously surprising ways. With mockumentary seriousness, the film begins with New York water and ends up in LA, where the real star of the movie, Miguel Ferrer, playing the hapless but intrepid private dick "Joe Boone," imagines himself a Phil Marlowe or Sam Spade P.I. knight errant in a world of sleaze, corruption, glitz, glamour, murder, and of course, incompetent independent filmmakers. It's a delightful film, and just a shame that more people haven't even heard of it, much less seen it. Well worth your time to see it!

The Maltese Falcon [VHS]
The Maltese Falcon [VHS]
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The stuff dreams are made of . . ., May 21, 2003
This is a fine noir treatment of the Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled novel, and Humphrey Bogart is great as the cynical, highly controlled, and yet passionate Sam Spade. The Warner's supporting cast is familiar to any Bogart fan: Sidney Greenstreet as "the Fatman", Elisha Cook Jr. as the wannabe tough-guy thug, and Peter Lorre as the sleazy but dangerous criminal entrepreneur who would betray his mother for the golden bird. Mary Astor has a tough role to play in this film: vulnerable yet ruthless, scheming, and yet with a smoldering passion that ignites Bogart's own desire. She pulls it off, although Sam Spade was clearly thinking with the more private part of his anatomy when he fell for her. Watching the film, you can just see she's trouble, but Spade wouldn't be the first guy to let his drum major do his thinking for him. Yet he never loses his cool. And in the end, the seductive femme fatale gets what's coming to her. As for the bird, well the gleam of desire in the eyes of everyone in the film when they finally get it in their hands shows what it means . . . as Bogie said, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of." Great dialogue, great cast, great film.

Diners, Bowling Alleys, And Trailer Parks: Chasing The American Dream In The Postwar Consumer Culture
Diners, Bowling Alleys, And Trailer Parks: Chasing The American Dream In The Postwar Consumer Culture
by Andrew Hurley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.90
55 used & new from $7.24

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars working class dreams in the consumer paradise, May 16, 2003
Hurley offers an insightful, thought-provoking, and at times disturbing picture of three emblematic popular institutions of post-war America. While all came out of working class roots and emerged as popular features in the wider popular culture of the 1950s, each industry found different ways to negotiate its relationship with its working class roots and its aspiration for access to a wider mass market. Hurley shows how working class Americans, emerging from the economic trauma of poverty and the Great Depression, sought through consumer culture to redefine themselves as middle class, even as middle class Americans often created new kinds of fashion snobbery as a way of redefining the new aspiring working class/middle class as crass or vulgar.
Hurley explores the emergence of the new mass market that emergence with relative working class affluence after the Second World War, while properly noting the limitations of that affluence. He also explores how this new mass consumer market, shaped by advertising constructs of domesticity and family togetherness, both limited, and even excluded women and minorities (especially African-Americans, who continued to be the target of the most vigorous economic discrimination and exclusion) through the 1960s and 1970s, even as the mass market ideal was crumbling under new challenges generated during the 1960s that sprang from many of the impulses unleased by American consumerism itself.
This is a fascinating and indeed entertaining work. Yoy can learn a lot about the social and cultural history of diners, bowling alleys, and trailer parks, but beyond that, you can get a valuable insight into some of the larger forces that have shaped who we are as Americans, both for better and for worse.

Them [VHS]
Them [VHS]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radioactive bugs in Lalaland!, May 14, 2003
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This review is from: Them [VHS] (VHS Tape)
What a great Cold War sci-fi movie this is, with radioactive bugs battling cops, soldiers, and scientists! Beginning in the radioactive deserts of New Mexico, where the national security state and atomic bomb testing had caught public attention, this 1954 film takes viewers on a ride through the unpredictable and dangerous potential consequences of playing with the basic matter of the universe. It's highly entertaining, with a decent cast and dated special effects, but great story-line. The film begins in the stark desert landscapes and ends underground in the vast sewer system of Los Angeles, including some striking shots of the trickling Los Angeles River. This is one sci-fi film where the real problem comes not from "out there" or from strange alien creatures from outer space, but rather from the consequences of our own recklessness. If the film was bad science, at least it had the insight to question whether we really had as much control over the consequences of this atomic testing as the authorities liked to pretend. For a nice companion film, see "The Atomic Cafe." Thumbs up for the giant ants!

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