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After watching three seasons of Damages straight through, I have become terrified of the wealthy. What started as a late-night, jet-lagged distraction turned into an obsession, as happens with the whole TV-on-DVD phenomenon. There’s always another episode right there, and you don’t have to really be anywhere for the next 44 minutes, so why not? After 36 episodes in two weeks, the message I took from this show about a ruthless attorney ruthlessly going after ruthless TV actor stand-ins for Kenneth Lay and Bernie Madoff is that people with money are ruthless, will do anything to protect their wealth, and think nothing of having someone in the middle class knocked off if need be.

   

Diana Mosley: Mitford Beauty, British Fascist, Hitler’s Angel by Anne de Courcy. 480 pages. Harper Perennial. A Life of Contrasts by Diana Mitford Mosley. 296 pages…. More…

A blast from the Sassy past.

I recently saw Courtney Love on the television. She was not looking great. There was something mildly embarrassing about seeing her on the screen, with the crazy still clinging tightly to her, and everyone in the room politely not mentioning all the ways she’s destroyed her face with plastic surgery. It was like watching your mother get drunk in public and flirt with the waitstaff. I cringed, thinking about all the articles and photographs of her I ripped out of magazines and plastered on my wall in my teen years, even showing up at school at 14 with WITCH written up my arm in red Wet ’n’ Wild lipstick. Just like my favorite guitar hero. Now… well.

   

Sassy magazine

There was a similar reaction when I started reading xojane.com, the latest project from Jane Pratt. She… More…

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In February, Vogue published a glowing profile of Asma al-Assad, the first lady of Syria. The article marveled at al-Assad’s long limbs, her fashion sense, her analytical mind. It gushed over the “democratic” running of her household, and mentioned several times her wish for peace.

   

DV by Diana Vreeland. 208 pages. Ecco. $16.99.

In March, Syrian protests against the President Bashar al-Assad-led government began and, as they continued, protesters were beaten, arrested, gassed, and killed in ever increasing numbers. More than 700 have been killed to date, and the protests show no sign of abating.

The kissy profile “A Rose in the Desert,” written in much the same gushy language as your average profile of Angelina Jolie, just gets more and more embarrassing as Syria’s leaders kill more and more of their own people. It became a… More…

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Whatever sort of emotional response I may have had on hearing the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces was immediately confused by everyone else’s response. I was angry at the pundits who were suggesting this was perhaps George W. Bush’s victory, and the Republican politicians who immediately tempered their praise for Obama with warnings about revenge attacks. I was embarrassed by the crowds celebrating and chanting U-S-A on the streets. I was saddened by incredibly racist things being thrown around Twitter and blogs. Whatever clean sense of relief or gratification I would have expected to have was immediately clouded by all this extraneous stuff, and I had to shut down my computer before I threw it out the window.

   

Get Your War On: The Definitive Account of the War on Terror, 2001-2008 by David Rees…. More…

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On May 11, 1960, the man who had been living in Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement was coming home from his job at the Mercedes-Benz plant when he was abducted by two Israeli operatives. “What’s your name?” they asked him. “Ricardo Klement,” he answered. The next time he was asked, he offered up the name Otto Heninger, a false identity he’d used in the past. The third time, he told the truth: He was Adolf Eichmann. One of the most elusive participants in the Final Solution was finally in custody.

   

Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt. 336 pages. Penguin Classics. $16.

The fact that Israel circumvented extradition law by drugging Eichmann and flying him out of the country under an assumed name meant that the trial for his war… More…

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We are here to claim our rights as women, not only to be free, but to fight for freedom. It is our privilege, as well as our pride and our joy, to take some part in this militant movement, which, as we believe, means the regeneration of all humanity.

So said Christabel Pankhurst in a speech about suffragist rights in Britain, 100 years ago. Pankhurst, dubbed “Queen of the Mob,” was arrested time and again at the beginning of the 20th century, fighting for voting rights for women.

   

A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working Class Women 1890-1940 by Elizabeth Roberts. 256 pages. Wiley-Blackwell. $43.95.

The Women’s Social and Political Union was in many ways a livelier counterpart to their American sisters fighting for the same rights in the States. The Americans mostly believed in nonviolent… More…

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It started with a man setting himself on fire in protest. The outpouring of grief created a groundswell of angry demonstration. The movement grew until suddenly a dictator and a system that seemed so immovable toppled so easily. And after one nation fell, citizens of other nations began to rise up and overthrow their leaders…

   

Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen. 480 pages. Pantheon. $30.

“The people’s will had triumphed over tyranny in a dizzying few months of almost entirely peaceful revolutions which changed the world… a point of bright hopes, intelligent optimism, sincere thanksgiving…” This may sound like a report from the Middle East, but it is actually Victor Sebestyen writing about Central and Eastern Europe.

The pattern is familiar. It’s shocking how easily revolutions in different places in the… More…

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When we think of Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the first thing that comes to mind is his masterful Journey to the End of the Night. After that, we maybe remember he was a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semite.

   

Hunger by Knut Hamsun. 240 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $16.

Ernst Jünger, the German writer, remembered in his journal the typical conversation to be had with Céline: “He said how surprised he was that, as soldiers, we do not shoot, we do not hang, we do not exterminate the Jews — he is astonished that someone in possession of a bayonet does not make unlimited use of it.”

It wasn’t just his charming conversation — as recounted in Alan Riding’s And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris, Céline also wrote propaganda pamphlets, dedicated one of his books to the hangman’s… More…

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It wasn’t the fact that the entire movie was structured as Oscar-bait, nor was it the historical inaccuracies. I watched The King’s Speech with increasing frustration because every time Helena Bonham Carter came onto the screen, I thought, “Are they going to let her do anything? Or is she just going to sit on her husband’s stomach and quip one liners?”

   

From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in Movies by Molly Haskell. 444 pages. University of Chicago Press. $21.

Despite the narrowness of her role, Carter was nominated for an Academy Award, and on February 27, we’ll get to see which woman in a category full of girlfriends, wives, and mothers takes the award.

Hollywood is not a woman-friendly place, and the Academy Awards are an annual festival that hammers home that point. Once… More…