Monthly Archives: March 2016

“Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of” by David Clewell— A Potpourri

almost nothing to be scared off

Clewell, David. “Almost Nothing to Be Scared Of”, (Wisconsin Poetry Series), University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.

A Potpourri

Amos Lassen

I had never read David Clewell before this collection and I had no idea what to expect. I read what others had to say about his special blending of the lyric and the narrative and even though I knew it was coming, it really threw me. That together with the poet’s sense of wonder (much like that of a young child), showed me that I now had a new poet to add to my collection of those I enjoy. The poems are a mixture of the poet’s sense of wonder and his ideas are varied and diverse. Some of the themes include “Adam and Eve’s Paradisal do-over at the Jersey shore, the misguided promise of tinfoil hats, Uncle Bud on the Moon, Debbie Fuller on Pluto, debatable Bigfoot nomenclature, Richard Nixon’s social-media rejuvenation, and a Nebraska policeman’s run-in with space aliens “who tell him that they want him to believe them but not completely. There is a wonderful playfulness here that reflect the many ways that one can believe. It is Clewell’s keen wit and observations of the culture of this country that allows him to share his truths with us.

This is a fun read that pulls you in and makes you take notice. The table of contents of the book is below.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments                                   xi

Quality Control                                   3 (1)

Acknowledgments: This Poem Would Not Have Been     4 (5)


   I Someone’s Gone and Done It Now

     The Real Story of Adam and Eve, Wherein     9 (2)

     the True Cradle of Civilization Is


     Despite What You Might Have Heard to the     11 (2)

     Contrary, the Hand Is Never Quicker Than

     the Eye

     A Lesson from My Brief History in           13 (2)

     Professional Wrestling

     There Was a Time We Weren’t Afraid of       15 (4)

     Saying That Is All

     When I Called the National Security         19 (2)

     Agency to Complain About the

     Indiscriminate Collection of Private

     Citizens’ Telephone Records, I Was Put on

     Hold for a Suspiciously Long Time

     Since So Many People Don’t Seem to Know     21 (2)

     What No Soliciting Means, I Tried to

     Spell It Out More Fully on My Front Door

     The Guy on the Corner Is Snapping His       23 (1)

     Fingers to Keep the Elephant Jokes Away

     Charlie the Tuna: A Matter of Taste         24 (5)

     Cryptozoology 101: The Academics Have a     29 (1)

     Point, and Yet Once Again They Miss a

     Much Larger One

     Greetings from Roswell, New Mexico: Home     30 (3)

     of the Historic 1947 Flying Saucer Crash

     Because It Was the Year the Mayan           33 (3)

     Calendar Ran Out, Some People Feared the

     Worst in 2012

     The JFK Assassination Deluxe Diorama Kits   36 (4)

     Are Here!

     What If All Along We’ve Been Wrong About     40 (5)

     Tinfoil Hats

   II Civility Was All the Rage

     Do Not Overinflate                           45 (2)

     In 1963 I Had to Write a Thousand Words     47 (1)

     In 1966 Debbie Fuller Was Sweet on Pluto     48 (3)

     In the Extreme                               51 (2)

     My Father’s Wholehearted Mixed Message       53 (2)

     I’m Sorry There Are No More Flying Saucers   55 (1)

     Even After All This Time, I’d Like to       56 (2)

     Have a Word with You

     My Teenage Son Is Lately Preoccupied with   58 (1)


     The Bartender Doesn’t Ask Much               59 (2)

     Buskers Forewarned                           61 (2)

     If We Were to Experience an Outbreak Like   63 (2)

     That One in Ancient Thrace

     The Doctor’s Wife                           65 (1)

     Too Far This Time                          66 (3)

     Here’s to the Moon: Goodbye                 69 (8)

   III Interlude: A Dozen from the Dream Chair

     A Literary Fashion Statement                 77 (1)

     One of the Roughs                           78 (1)

     Fame Is Both Relative and Fleeting           79 (1)

     The Scientologist’s Nightmare               80 (1)

     Last-Ditch Prayer for the Lovers             81 (1)

     The Stress Is More Pronounced at Times,     82 (1)

     but It Is Always There

     When Did They Start Etching Reminders       83 (1)

     into the Side-View Mirrors on Cars?

     Mysticism and American Politics             84 (1)

     Tonight’s Feature: Revenge of the           85 (1)

     Inside-Out, Multiple-Personalities Haiku

     Why Plans 1 through 8 from Outer Space       86 (1)

     Came Undone—and Plan 9, Too, for That


     A Brief Guide to the Art of Give-and-Take   87 (1)

     with the World

     Posted at Charon’s Bait & Tackle / Ferry     88 (3)


   IV As Long As We Keep Going

     Social Media and Me                         91 (2)

     At the Convention of State Librarians, I     93 (3)

     Should Have Been Preaching to the Choir

     In Newton’s Time, When Physics Was           96 (2)

     Physics, They Partied Till Dawn or They

     Didn’t Party at All, but Today’s Physics

     Wants to Have It Both Ways

     There Will Be a Test on This—or on         98 (2)

     Something Else Entirely

     Sonata for Tornado in EF-5 (Major): May    100(5)

     22, 2011, 5:41–6:13 p.m.

     Man Ray Stares into the Future of Jazz       105(1)

     Trying on Hats with Rahsaan Roland Kirk     106(3)

     My One-Performance-Only Dream: Night of     109(1)

     the Jazz Giants’ Shoes

     Listening to Some Kind of Bird               110(2)

     Between the ’60s and the Saucers and the     112(13)

     Willy-Nilly Gods—Let Alone the Vagaries

     of Ordinary Mortals—It’s Hard to Know

     Who Needs Believing Most

   V Epilogue

     Study Guide                                 125(2)

     Post-Reading Q&A or, When Van Morrison       127

     Finishes a Concert, He’s Not Obliged to

     Do This Sort of Thing

“Love, Marriage, and Jewish Families: Paradoxes of a Social Revolution” edited by Sylvia Barack Fishman— Reshaping Gender, the Family, Dating and Marriage

love marriage and jewish families

Fishman, Sylvia Barack. “Love, Marriage, and Jewish Families: Paradoxes of a Social Revolution”, (HBI Series on Jewish Women); Brandeis University Press, 2016.

Reshaping  Gender, the Family, Dating and Marriage

Amos Lassen

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to be at the book launch for this fascinating new book from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute whose goal is to present new ways “of thinking about Jews and gender worldwide”. In “Love, Marriage and Jewish Families: Paradoxes of a Social Revolution”, we are given a look at the many ways that Jews in the United States and Israel are reshaping dating, marriage, and family life and some of what was discovered is new and exciting. Sylvia Barack Fishman edited this collection of thirteen essays that cover topics such as dating, divorce, fertility, sexuality, single mothers and so on. Today see are finding more fluidity when looking at these topics than ever before and we have become very aware that not only ideas about gender have changed but so have ideas about love and family. The definitions that we once used no longer fit what they are describing. Boundaries have shifted or disappeared altogether and while the nice white cottage with the picket fence is still around what is in that house has changed.

At the launch five of the essayists read from their work and we heard from those who did the research making it all so much clearer. The ideas covered represent thinking in the United States and Israel and I thought to myself how interesting it would be to also hear from Europe and Asia as well while keeping the work Jewish.

If there is one thing that people search for more than anything else, I believe that it would be love. Today we are members of larger groups but we are also individuals more than any other time in our history, I believe. What I have always found interesting is that there is a feeling of love before there is a relationship but for those who have not and will not experience love for whatever reason, life can be quite frustrating to the point that it can also inspire thoughts of fear and gloom. Somehow, there was the idea that one must find the perfect partner and this seems to have something to do with the changing concepts we see today. Today single people make us a larger segment of the entire Jewish population than ever before. There are also fewer Jewish children being born than ever before and we are also aware that love and sexual activity are no longer hand in hand. So we see that the concept of family is also very different than it once was. Today we have same sex marriages and there are children from that union.

What has happened and why is what this book is all about and we see this through the lenses of gender, love, family and personal choice in reference to gender-role construction, sexual and romantic liaisons, and family formation.

“Why Be Jewish?: A Testament” BY Edgar Bronfman— Confronting Judaism

why be Jewish

Bronfman. Edgar. “Why Be Jewish?: A Testament”, Twelve, 2016.

Confronting Judaism

Amos Lassen

Edgar M. Bronfman completed writing this challenge for secular, disaffected, and unaffiliated Jews to confront Judaism worldwide just two weeks before he died in 2013. On the very first page we sense

Bronfman’s awe, respect, and deep love for his faith and heritage. He then takes his readers by the hand and leads them through the major tenets and ideas in Jewish life in which he gives means giving to his religion and presents truth to what he believes by presenting proof texts that he found during his life. Bronfman studied for many years with some of the greatest teachers in the Jewish world.

Bronfman shares some of the insights that he learned on his own his own personal journey and shows that still today, secular Judaism that is still based on deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts, and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.

Bronfman was one the world’s great philanthropists and his book is sort and sweet. I see it as an attempt by a non-scholarly Jewish atheist to explain why he found religious practice. He grew up wealthy and assimilated in Canada and his children did not receive a Jewish education. For most of his life, he was part of the Jewish community as a philanthropist. However, in the last twenty years of his life, he began a kind of earnest observance: candle lighting, Passover Seders, a respect for, if not rigorous observance of, Shabbat. He also began learning some Torah. He said that even for a nonreligious Jew like himself (who rejected the notion of a supernatural God acting on our behalf), “Judaism remains an immensely rich enterprise.” In other words, what was important to him was not God but being Jewish. Once he found his sense of Jewish pride, he worked hard to make up for lost time.

The book’s subtitle is “A Testament” and I believe that what he is trying to say is that he is atoning in a sense for not having been an active member of the Jewish community even though his donations clearly help fund many projects. He tries to say as many positive things about Judaism and because there is a change that it might disappear and fundamentalism will become dominant and Judaism could be redefined in very orthodox terms.
Bronfman gives us a user’s manual for Jewish practice and it is amazing how many really need it. It seems to me that Bronfman has aimed his book at adults who love to learn and he includes chapters on grace, deeds of loving kindness, repairing the world, social justice, worship, Torah study and more and each section challenges us to accept and use what is written and add to it.

Bronfman’s book is his understanding that except for our small, but welcome, stream of converts, Judaism isn’t a choice; rather it is a fact of our lives. “My own feeling is that Judaism is a big family of individuals with a common bond that has stayed strong through a long history and much hardship.” We are a family. Now here is where we see who Bronfman is— he explains that it is cool to be Jewish and then he tells us why the bad things that are said about Judaism just aren’t so. I am surmising that Bronfman wrote this book after finding that he could no longer run from Jewish practice. In other words, “if a Jew stands still, Judaism will catch up to him”. Bronfman is asking how to be Jewish and I love the metaphor that I recently read somewhere that “Judaism is like the Hotel California: We can check out any time we like, but we can never leave”.

Bronfman says that being Jewish is an attribute and the word “Jewish” is a synonym for other adjectives, like “ethical” or “compassionate” or “questioning.” The Jew, as opposed to the Jewish person, is simply a member of this family that was chosen by God and given the Torah at Sinai—the family that managed to keep its identity over millennia and developed a rich heritage that should be perpetuated. Bronfman says here what many others feel—-those that are outside of the regular religious contructs feel—they love Judaism in their own ways. We see here how Judaism is enmeshed with the concepts of freedom and responsibility. As modern thinking people we should never forget that.

“CLAMBAKE”— Women’s Weekend in Provincetown

clambake poster


Women’s Week in Provincetown

Amos Lassen

In 1984, a few of women innkeepers in Provincetown, Massachusetts got together to find how to entice summer guests back during the seaside town’s offseason. Back then there was no email and social media so they wrote letters to the people who had stayed with them in the past and invited them to return to Ptown during the autumn months and especially to a clambake weekend. This was “Women’s Weekend,” and over the next thirty years it has continued and even was responsible for other lesbian gatherings in Provincetown. Ultimately, “Women’s Weekend” became one of the most popular lesbian events in the world.


Andrea Meyerson’s “Clambake” is a new documentary that is about that very weekend and how it made Provincetown into the lesbian destination that it has become. Meyerson chronicles the history of Women’s Weekend using archival footage and archives, interviews with celebrities and founders, and current events and performances and she gives is a fascinating and often funny look at what is possible when a few people with innovative ideas try something new. Actually the event is two years older now since the film was made in 2014. Women’s Weekend has become one of the oldest noncommercial women’s event in the United States. Even more important than that is the fact that Ptown offers a safe and very welcoming environment for women to come together and enjoy each other’s company. I doubt that at that first meeting anyone could have imagined what this would become.


There is something magical about Provincetown and it has its own sense of history in that it is where the Pilgrims landed when they came to America before they went to Plymouth. In its early days, Ptown was a Portuguese fishing community. Artist began to movie there and they began the unique artist’s colony that exists there still today. Not long after that gay people began coming to Provincetown and they made the town into one of the very popular tourist destinations and as many at sixty thousand people come there during the summer months. What makes the town so special is that everyone can be themselves and all are welcomed.


In the film, director Meyerson speaks to many of the original women innkeepers who are responsible for the first Women’s Weekend and we learn that they were worried that no one would come. In actuality there were some 200 women who came to that first weekend and they almost ran out of food. Listening to these interviews, we sense the passion they share as innkeepers. We also learn that they are not afraid of work and many hold other jobs in addition to running beds and breakfasts.


One of the things I noticed on my first trip to Provincetown is the wonderful sense of camaraderie that exists there and the respect that each person has for the other. We do not have many places like Ptown in the United States and that is what makes it so special. Many of the very same women who organized this event are also those who worked so hard when the AIDS epidemic hit this country. In Ptown they mobilized to help in any way they could and this was so very painful especially when AIDS devastated the gay community that was there.


The female performers that go to Provincetown never hesitate to sing the town’s praises and they love to perform in front of the large crowds that gather to see them. Above all else, Meyerson has shows us the joy that abounds in the town and the wonderful sense of community that exists there. Women’s Weekend has become so popular that now there is an almost hundred page guide to the events that take place during that time. One of the highlights of my life is my first visit to Provincetown and this movie shows us why those who come to Ptown come back again and again.

blgt film

“The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History” by Thomas Harding— A House in History

the house by the lake

Harding, Thomas. “The House by the Lake: One House, Five Families, and a Hundred Years of German History” , Picador 2016.

A House in History

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1993, Thomas Harding traveled to Germany with his grandmother to visit a small house by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. Is grandmother told him that it had been her “soul place,”—a holiday home for her and her family, but also a refuge—until the 1930s, when the Nazis’ rise to power forced them to leave.

The trip gave Harding’s grandmother’s a chance to remember her childhood and her past. Of course, the house had changed, and when Harding returned once again nearly twenty years later, it was about to be torn down. It had become the property of the German government, and as Harding began to ask as to whether the house could be saved, he uncovered secrets that had been hidden for decades. Slowly he began to piece together the lives of the five families who had lived there. There was a wealthy landowner, a prosperous Jewish family, a renowned composer, a widow and her children, a Stasi informant. All of these had made the house their home, and all but one had been forced out.

The house had weathered storms, fires and abandonment, it was witness to violence, betrayals and murders, and had managed to withstand a world war and the dividing of a nation. Breathtaking in scope and intimate in its detail. This is an epic history in microcosm and a groundbreaking and revelatory new history of Germany and it is told over a powerful and tumultuous century through the story of a small wooden house.

Writer Harding is the great-grandson of Alfred Alexander, a Jewish doctor from Berlin who took a 15 year lease of a plot of land on the Western shore of Gross Glienicke Lake which was then just outside of Berlin and about 25 km south-west of the city centre. In 1927, he built a summerhouse there and this book is a history of that house and its successive owners. It is also a history of Germany as those who lived in the house also lived in one of the hubs of post-war German history.

Almost all of the Alexander family managed to immigrate to England by 1936. (One of Alfred’s sons was the Hanns the Nazi hunter who would hunt down Rudolph Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz). They rented the house to a Berlin composer and publisher of light music, Wilhelm Meisel, who used it as a holiday home. It is interesting to note that before 1933 over 80% of the music he published had been written by Jews. That had had to stop, and to protect himself since Meisel had joined the Nazi Party in the summer of 1933. When the Nazis State expropriated the house in 1939, Meisel was able to buy it from the State. For a time he let his collaborator, Hanns Hartmann and his wife (whom Meisel knew to be Jewish) live in the house.

Then Gross Glienicke was captured by Soviet troops in April 1945. When the Allies met at Potsdam (just two km from Gross Glienicke), they drew up the borders of the four sectors of Berlin. A line was drawn down the middle of the lake that became the border between the British sector and the Soviet Zone which surrounded the whole of Berlin. As a result, the village of Gross Glienicke was split, with the Eastern shore of the lake being in the British sector, but the house on the Western shore falling just inside the Soviet Zone.

From1948 to 1949, during the Berlin airlift, the people of Gross Glienicke would hear and see the hundreds of Allied aircraft which landed on the airfield of Gatow, immediately across the lake in the British sector of Berlin. Meisel composed the song that would become the anthem of Berlin.

In 1949 the Soviet Zone and the Soviet sector of Berlin had become the DDR, and this issued a decree in 1952 that anyone owning property in the DDR would have to live there permanently or lose his title to the property. Meisel had no intention of leaving West Berlin; he had offered the lake house, on a caretaker basis, to the recently widowed Ella Fuhrmann, who was about to be evicted by the local council from a nearby house which her husband had leased and she became a tenant of the local council. She had two children, and after one of them had moved to Potsdam in 1958, the local council ordered Frau Fuhrmann to take in another family, Wolfgang and Irene Kühne and their two children, with a third soon on the way. Wolfgang was a truck driver for the border patrol, had just become a member of the Stasi.

In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built. It ran along the Western shore of the lake and actually separated the lake house from the lake . When the walls had been completed, the closest only ten meters from the lake house but the lake could not be seen. On the other side of the house there was a “border security zone” some 100 meters deep which non-residents needed special permits to enter. Fuhrmann’s son married and his wife who quickly became pregnant, moved into the lake house; and the Kühne’s produced a fourth child. The lake house was now so overcrowded that in 1962 the local council found the Fuhrmans another house in the village, and the Kühnes became the only tenants of the council.

On November 9, 1989 the people of East Berlin were allowed through the Wall. Later that evening the local commander in Gross Glienicke ordered the opening of the border with West Berlin. The next morning Wolfgang used a sledgehammer to make holes in the two walls and broke through to the lake. On December 24, the Gross Glienicke authorities tore down a hundred meter wide section of the wall just above the northern end of the lake and a crowd poured through it into the British sector. Wolfgang Kühne’s son demolished more parts of the double wall to give the house once again access to the lake. But the space between the two walls, known as the Death Strip, was declared a public right of way in 1994.

The reunification of Germany transformed the economy of Gross Glienicke and the local businesses could not compete. It did not take long before West Germans came to the attractive holiday resort and new laws allowed some previous owners to reclaim their property, while ruling out other categories which included the heirs of Wilhelm Meisel. The descendants of Alfred Alexander, who had the strongest claim for restitution, decided they would not put forward a claim. Therefore the Kühnes were allowed to stay as tenants of the local authority.

In 1999 Wolfgang Kühne died. His wife moved into an old age home and passed the tenancy on to her grandson, the 19-year old Roland Schmidt. He lived there with a 17-year-old friend Marcel Adam. They turned it into a bachelor pad, hosted huge parties of young people with lots of alcohol, drugs and loud music. In 2003 Gross Glienicke was absorbed by the municipality of Potsdam , and that year the Potsdam authorities, saying they planned to re-develop the site and gave Roland notice.

The empty house then became squatters location since some of the Slavs in the neighborhood vandalized the building and its fittings. In 2004 the authorities kicked the squatters out and erected a metal fence around it, but by 2013 they had done nothing to demolish the house for redevelopment. The house began to fall apart.

That was the year that Harding began his serious research on the house. He tried to prevent its demolition and have it declared a protected monument. He was able to get the support of the villagers and tried to convince the authorities. About fifty villagers joined with fourteen members of his family that Harding brought from England and on a single day they cleaned the filthy place up and tidied up the overgrown garden. They e received national publicity, and the Potsdam legislature resolved that the house was to be called the Alexander Haus and that it should become a place of commemoration and reconciliation.

Harding has done amazing research to write this and he goes into great detail about so much. He not only deals with the lives of the families who lived in the house but with everything around the house as well. He describes the clothes worn by the workmen who built the house; he furnishes the plan of the house at various stages and Harding includes the political events of the time and everyday life under Nazi and Communist rule as well as the events in Gross Glienicke which did not directly involve the inhabitants of the lake house. We have accounts of the terrible rapes and murders perpetrated by Soviet troops stationed in the are and we learn about the Glienicke Bridge, three kilometers south of the village, the check-point between West Berlin and East Germany that was famous for being the meeting place of spies and where political prisoners were exchanged.

The house is seen as an observer and participant of history and it was important to several world events. Here is 120 years as told through the residents of one house.


target fascination poster

“Target Fascination”


Amos Lassen

A family attempt to connect with the murderer of their daughter after he’s spent 20 years in prison for the crime. This is a film that looks at forgiveness, one of the most difficult emotions with which to deal and in this case forgiveness has to deal with the person who murdered a family member twenty years earlier. Directed by Dominc Pelosi and written by Andrew Pelosi (brothers), the plot works under the idea of time healing wounds. Here we have a family but a very atypical family story and as soon as we meet the characters, we find ourselves caring about them. That statement alone should tell you that this is a human drama. Sisters Alice Meuller (Louise Vansalev) and Caroline Meuller (Pamela Eagleson) try to reconcile with Joe (Darrell Hoffman), a criminal and family member who raped and murdered their family member. The focus of the film deals with possibility of finding closure once Joe is set free from prison.

target1There are several powerful moments in this movie that challenge the audience to question morality and forgiveness. and there are also moments that will have you beginning to wonder about morality and forgiveness as well. However, I must admit that I had a few conscience pangs as I watched and wondered if it is indeed possible that a family would want to reconcile with the man who raped and murdered their daughter. There are no crimes more abhorrent than these.

Besides Hoffman’s character did not seem like the kind of guy that I would want to be involved with for any reason. We are led on a journey that takes us through family grief, topics that are usually not spoken of and forgiveness. This is not a film that one feels comfortable watching yet it is a film that is very important because of the way it deals with something that we would not have expected. I think it is fascinating how this movie is both personal and universal. It has its flaws but is nonetheless a film that will make you think and want to talk about what you have seen. Not every film can be educative but there is really no reason why we should aside from opening our minds to deal with a subject that few neither want to nor feel ready to touch. We feel like we are on a journey  through grief and forgiveness and family and things we talk about and things we don’t necessarily like to talk about yet seem to eventually have to face. It’s a simultaneously uncomfortable and exhilarating film, a film that takes universal themes and makes them deeply personal.


As an ensemble, the cast is terrific and there are powerful single performances that I could call out but because this is really an ensemble piece, I have chosen not to do so. When it is over, you might feel strong emotions about the film and that is a good thing—it means that the film touched you in some way. To me, this is what film is all about. If I am not touched in some way (good or bad) then the film is just another movie. However, if I spend time thinking about what I saw, the filmmaker has done his job. Director Pelosi caught me early on and I became determined to watch the film what he had to say.

I must say that I was not ready to like this film and but after seeing it, I feel stimulated enough to write a review. Perhaps that is because after watching it, I felt that the movie had everything going for it.


I realize that I have not really shared much of the plot and that was intentional. When you see the film, you will understand why.

“The Blue Hour” by Jennifer Whitaker— The Familiar and the Obscure

the blue hour

Whitaker, Jennifer, “The Blue Hour”, (Wisconsin Poetry Series), University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.

The Familiar and the Obscure

Amos Lassen

Finding meaning in violence is not easy and this is what so many strive to do due to the amount of violence in our lives today. In “The Blue Hour”, poet Jennifer Whitaker asks us to do more than just see the violence; she wants us to understand it. The poems in this collection revisit the world of fairytales but not as a Garden of Eden like location, rather one that is a place where there is abuse, a world that is s far from perfect as one can get. The poems are filled with riddles, disguises, wishes, shape shifting, entrapment, escape, and transformation just as is the real world. Whitaker uses these to write of the experience with incestuous abuse. Her subject is both rough and delicate (to speak of) and so are her poems. Whitaker writes with an intricacy about the taboos of incest and abuse and she lets us see what others have long hidden.

Do not be misled, however. The poet’s language is spare yet suggestive just as we might speak about abuse without referring to it as such. We sense the pain and the burden a young victim of incestuous abuse carries but we cannot dwell on it—it is too serious to preoccupy our thoughts yet to ignore it is to just pretend that it does not exist. We are unable to explain “that which isn’t” and we know that it is real. Whitaker allows us to acknowledge the abuse but only for a short time. In that way, the kernel is planted and it is up to us to try to make sense of something that is insensible and insensitive. We cannot make the “unbearable” to become “bearable” and thinking too much about it is a way to do just that.

We sense the beauty in the poems and we are pained by the pain they are about. Continuing with the metaphor of fairy tales we see fathers become predators and wolves and we read of witches and the ghosts that pull us into a sadistic forest where a little girl is targeted by real monsters. There is no frog to kiss or a Prince Charming to come to her rescue.




Chicago Blues

Amos Lassen

In 1971, Bruce Iglauer founded Alligator Records in Chicago. In 1991, Iglauer called documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge and told him that the two men should get to know each other and that phone call yielded a friendship, a collaboration and a film that tells the story of the Chicago-based record label which had, over the past two decades, become the world’s most successful purveyor of blues-related product.  That film is “Pride And Joy: The Story Of Alligator Records” and it is made up of musical highlights from one of the 4-plus-hour concerts (March 12th at Philadelphia’s now-defunct Chestnut Cabaret) that made up the Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour.


We also get to see Alligator’s Chicago offices, and profiles of key performers and staff members. The “pride and joy” is not just the fine musical artists plying their trades, but also that of a passionate and highly principled entrepreneur who was able to succeed in a business that at that time was controlled by corporate giants and many small, independent labels.


The songs and artists we see and hear in the film include “Pride and Joy” and “Ed’s Boogie” (Lil’ Ed), “Pussycat Moan” and “Lord, I Wonder” (Katie Webster), “El-Bo” and “Beer Drinking Woman” (Elvin Bishop), “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Koko Taylor), “Wife For Tonight” and “I Want All My Money Back” (Lonnie Brooks), “It’s A Dirty Job” (Koko Taylor with Lonnie Brooks), and “Sweet Home Chicago” (final joint encore).


The film has been newly transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and stereo audio masters and lovingly restored by the director.  There are also ten bonus songs taken from Alligator’s original 1992 tour and soundtrack CD, as well as the director’s new “making of” video titled “Alligator Tales.

“The Long Night: A True Story” by Ernst Israel Bornstein— Witness to Seven Concentration Camps

the long night

Bornstein, Ernst Israel. “The Long Night: A True Story”, Koren Books, 2015.

Witness to Seven Concentration Camps

Amos Lassen

Ernst Bornstein was a precocious eighteen-year-old young man with an ordinary family of parents and three siblings, many friends and relatives. In 1939 that was changed when the prior decades of anti-Semitic propaganda became actual violence. His family was sent to Auschwitz and it was there that his siblings and his parents met their fates and were gassed to death. Bornstein’s own long night took him, as a inmate, to seven different camps and in this book he retells his story with very raw emotion and incredible insight. He gives us a picture of the psychological and physical torture that he suffered and he shares his own views on human psychology in the darkest of times. Bornstein also tells the stories of those who did all they could do to withstand physical and psychological torture, starvation, and sickness, and openly describes those who were forced to cause suffering for others. While the narrative is actually quite simple, so is it deep, honest and written with a sense of dignity.

This is a book that is so packed with emotion that it is something of a difficult read that will certainly have an effect on anyone who reads it. Because it was originally written immediately after the war, we really feel the emotions of the writer and realize just how clear his thoughts are because of its immediacy.

“The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich” by Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney— A Missing Diary

the devil's diary

Wittman, Robert K. and David Kinney. “The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich”, Harper, 2016.

A Missing Diary

Amos Lassen

Alfred Rosenberg was one of Hitler’s top aides and he was considered the chief philosopher of the Third Reich. He got to where he was by spreading terrible thoughts about the Jews and when the Reich came to power, he had already written and published a work that later became the basis for Nazi thinking about the Jewish people. When the war ended, his diary was found after having been hidden in A Bavarian castle and in it were some five hundred pages that were a look into the mind of a man whose ideas set the stage for the Holocaust. Prosecutors examined it during the Nuremberg war crimes trial, but after Rosenberg was convicted, sentenced, and executed. The diary then disappeared.

FBI agent and author Robert K. Wittman was once a private consultant who specialized in recovering artifacts of historic significance, first learned of the diary in 2001, when the chief archivist for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum contacted him to say that someone was trying to sell it for upwards of a million dollars. This phone call was the beginning of a ten-year-long hunt that took Wittman on a journey that involved octogenarian secretaries, an eccentric professor, and an opportunistic trash-picker. A Nuremberg prosecutor had smuggled the diary out of Germany and finding it was no easy task because it seemed that everyone had their own reasons for it remaining hidden.

In the diary are Rosenberg’s entries about his role in the seizure of priceless artwork and the brutal occupation of the Soviet Union and his conversations with Hitler and his rivalries with Göring, Goebbels, and Himmler. It contains unprecedented historical scope and intimacy into the innermost workings of the Nazi regime as well as a look into the psyche of the man whose radical vision became the Final Solution. The book that was written as a result of al of this is both a memoir and a thriller filled with details that until now were lost to us.