Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Cheeps and Chirps for April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 26, 2016

Here are some recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed. I hope that “Cheeps and Chirps” will be a semi-regular feature on my blog. (Ideally, it’ll be more regular and less semi than “Recent Readings”…)

• Check out this great hockey name!

• Aging man (almost) yells at kid. On Wednesday, I saw a bicyclist (I think she was a college student) bicycling with her helmet dangling from her handlebars. I had to restrain myself from scolding her. #GetOffMyLawn #AgingManYellsAtKid (Except I didn’t actually yell at her.)

• About that pitcher who was fired by ESPN last week… Curt Schilling, who has regularly made a habit of posting right-wing memes on social media that disparage Muslims, the LGBTQ community and liberals — excuse me, libtards — in general, recently lost his job. Unsurprisingly, right-wingers rallied around him. I attempted to remind conservatives that their hero of the moment had extracted $75 million from the coffers of the state of Rhode Island for a video game company that was a tremendous bust — hardly embodying the free market that conservatives claim to reveal. But hey, it’s OK to tout Schilling as a conservative icon as long as he regularly hates on lefties and queers, right?!

This old Saturday Night Live skit would be…problematic today. And rightfully so.

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The unlikeliest of buddy movies: ‘Life of Pi’ puts a teenager and a tiger together at sea

December 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 22, 2014

Ang Lee’s 2012 feature film, Life of Pi, is a brilliantly realized adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2002 book, which features a bizarre premise. For the bulk of the picture, the eponymous Pi — rhymes with pie the dessert; is actually pi the mathematical constant — is stranded on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger.

It’s to the credit of Lee, screenwriter David Magee and the entire crew that this fantastic scenario plays out convincingly. Plaudits are especially due Suraj Sharma, the first-time screen actor who portrays Pi throughout most of the movie and who, for perhaps two-thirds of the running time, is the only person on screen.

Pi’s companion bears the name Richard Parker thanks to a clerical error at the time of purchase in which the animal’s name was transposed with that of the hunter who captured him. He used to be on display at a zoo run by Pi Patel’s family in Pondicherry, India. When local authorities announce their desire to repossess the zoo’s land, the Patels decide to move to Canada; they arrange passage aboard a freighter so they can accompany their animals, most of which will be sold in North America.

Tiger and teenager come to be trapped together in a lifeboat after an immense storm sinks the freighter. This is shown in a spectacular and frightening sequence that, in terms of cinematic impact, may outdo even the meteorological monster shown in The Perfect Storm.

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A bloody birthright: Why I support Israel’s right to exist

July 29, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 29, 2014

The reasons why I support Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish homeland are rooted in the mortal perils that Jews have faced over the millennia. However, the heart of the matter is and will always be the bloody history of the 20th century.

No serious discussion of the subject can overlook the impetus for Israel’s establishment in 1948. That was only a few years after the end of World War II, which went hand in hand with the widespread realization that Adolf Hitler had conducted a massive, horrifying campaign to exterminate Jews and other so-called undesirables.

The Nazi Germany genocide — Raphael Lemkin coined that word in 1944 to describe what we today call the Holocaust — racked up a staggering death toll. The numbers vary from account to account, but according to one tally published by The Telegraph, between five million and six million Jews were killed.

Jews were hardly the Nazis’ only victims; four million Soviet, Polish and Yugoslav civilians died in the German camps, along with three million Soviet prisoners of war, 70,000 individuals with mental and physical disabilities, more than 200,000 Roma and an “unknown number of political prisoners, resistance fighters, homosexuals and deportees.”

Entire Jewish neighborhoods were wiped off the map; Nazis and locals appropriated their property. (There are a few brief but poignant nods to this in The Monuments Men, and this morbid history forms the dark heart of the brilliant Polish movie Ida — although Germans were only indirectly responsible for the killings and theft in the latter film.)

Poland’s Jewish community was hardest-hit, dropping from more than three million in 1933 to about 45,000 in 1950, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Here, as elsewhere in Europe, most of the reduction was caused by the Nazi slaughter, although some was due to postwar migration.)

The devastation elsewhere in Europe was comparable: Germany’s Jewish population fell from 565,000 to 37,000 over the same time period; Czechoslovakia’s, from 357,000 to 17,000; Austria’s, from 250,000 to 18,000; Greece’s, from 100,000 to 7,000. And this is only part of the grim census of genocide.

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Painting a family’s story over four generations: Dara Horn triumphs in ‘The World to Come’

May 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 27, 2014

Dara Horn’s wonderful 2006 novel, The World to Come, is the tale of four generations of a family and two artists whom their progenitor met in the Soviet Union in 1920.

The tale begins in the present day when a man steals a Marc Chagall painting. The thief is a twin whose mother died recently; at around the same time, he was divorced by his unfaithful wife after an 11-month marriage. The dual blow, which follows the painful death of his father when he was 11 years old, has left the intelligent but shrimpy and uncharismatic man bereft.

Lately it had begun to seem to Benjamin Ziskind that the entire world was dead, that he was a citizen of a necropolis. While his parents were living, Ben had thought about them only when it made sense to think about them, when he was talking to them, or talking about them, or planning something involving them. But now they were always here, reminding him of their presence at every moment. He saw them in the streets, always from behind, or turning a corner, his father sitting in the bright yellow taxi next to his, shifting in his seat as the cab screeched away in the opposite direction, his mother — dead six months now, though it felt like one long night — hurrying along the sidewalk on a Sunday morning, turning into a store just when Ben had come close enough to see her face. It was a relief that Ben could close his office door.

Benjamin Ziskind takes “Study for ‘Over Vitebsk’” when it is left completely unattended during a cocktail reception at a New York City museum. (In real life, that painting actually was stolen in just those circumstances.) The theft is impulsive, a crime of opportunity, but Ziskind also views it as an act of redress. The Chagall study had long been in the family; he thinks of it as having been stolen, for reasons that aren’t revealed until the book is nearly over.

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The Jews who made America sing: Virtues of ‘A Fine Romance’ far outweigh its flaws

May 15, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 15, 2014

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs is a strange gem of a book. This entertaining work by poet David Lehman is a hybrid. Most of the relatively slender volume — the main text runs 222 pages, followed by a timeline and end notes (but no index, alas) — chronicles the lives and work of Jewish-American composers and lyricists who enjoyed huge success from the 1920s through the early 1960s.

Lehman appreciates the work of these musicians on multiple levels. For instance, he praises this clever couplet from Lorenz Hart’s “Mountain Greenery”:

While you love your lover let 
Blue skies be your coverlet.

The “incredibly clever and uniquely sad” Hart, Lehman writes, also hit upon such polysyllabic rhymes as Yonkers–conquers, Crusoe–trousseau, and “sing to him”–“worship the trousers that cling to him.”

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A flashy but deeply flawed hero saves lives with ‘Schindler’s List’

August 28, 2012

At the start of World War II, a flashy businessman named Oskar Schindler detected the scent of something precious: opportunity.

In the fall of 1939, Schindler, a German living in occupied Krakow, Poland, was wining and dining Nazi officials and looking for a way to make money. After learning of a recently bankrupted factory, he tracked down its former accountant and quizzed him on the business’ fundaments. The suspicious accountant, Itzhak Stern, throws in with Schindler’s decidedly unorthodox business plan. Thus was born an unlikely, and nearly miraculous, partnership that wound up saving some 1,100 Jews from the Nazi death machine.

The story of that alliance is at the heart of Schindler’s List, American director Steven Spielberg’s 1993 outing. (Actually, it was his second picture that year, released after Jurassic Park.) Spielberg is perhaps the most successful director of all time. His credits include influential blockbusters such as JawsClose Encounters of the Third KindE.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and the Indiana Jones movies; other adventure movies such as A.I. Artificial IntelligenceSaving Private RyanMinority Report, Catch Me If You CanWar of the Worlds and The Adventures of Tintin; and more serious dramas such as The Color PurpleEmpire of the SunAmistad and Munich.

Having said all that, and without having viewed many of Spielberg’s acclaimed pictures, I’m prepared to argue that Schindler’s List is one of Spielberg’s most powerful features. Spielberg presents this story of the Holocaust in straightforward fashion, showing atrocious deeds with minimal moralizing or mawkishness. The film also brings forth some fascinating characters — Schindler himself, who has more substance than his outer flash would suggest, as well as the mostly stoic Stern and Schindler’s other crucial business partner, a vicious Nazi officer named Amon Goeth. Read the rest of this entry »

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