“The Stigma of Being ‘Drivers'”

(p. 6) They were arrested, suspended from jobs, shunned by relatives and denounced by clerics as loose women out to destroy society. Their offense? They did what many in Saudi Arabia considered unthinkable: getting in cars and driving.
Their protest in 1990 against the kingdom’s ban on women driving failed, and the women paid dearly for it, with the stigma of being “drivers” clinging to them for years.
So last month, when King Salman announced that the ban on women driving would be lifted next June, few were happier than the first women to demonstrate for that right — almost three decades ago.
. . .
Many restrictions on women remain, including so-called guardianship laws that give Saudi men power over their female relatives on certain matters. But the original protesters are overjoyed that their daughters and granddaughters will have freer lives than they did, thanks to the automobile.
“That I am driving means that I know where I am going, when I’m coming back and what I’m doing,” said Ms. Alaboudi, the social worker.
“It is not just driving a car,” she said, “it is driving a life.”

For the full story, see:
BEN HUBBARD. “27 Years After Protest, a Victory Lap for Saudi Women.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, October 8, 2017): 6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 7, 2017, and has the title “‘Once Shunned as ‘Drivers,’ Saudi Women Who Fought Ban Now Celebrate.”)

Barcelona Fines 136-Year-Old Basilica for Lack of Building Permit

(p. A4) The Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona has worldwide fame as an architectural treasure, the dreamlike masterpiece of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, which draws millions of visitors a year though it is still under construction, 136 years after work began.
What it has not had for more than a century, according to the city, is a valid building permit.
The Sagrada Familia basilica has agreed to pay city authorities 36 million euros, or about $41 million, over 10 years to settle the dispute over the legality of the work and help pay for transportation improvements around the basilica.
. . .
The Sagrada Familia’s board had denied any wrongdoing, saying that it had a building permit — one issued in 1885 by Sant Martí de Provençals, which was an independent town at the time. Barcelona officials contend that after Sant Martí was absorbed into the city several years later, the construction required a Barcelona permit; the board says that for more than a century, no one asked for any such thing.

For the full story, see:
Raphael Minder. “A Barcelona Gem, And a Scofflaw?” The New York Times (Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018): A4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Oct. 19, 2018, and has the title “Sagrada Familia, a Barcelona Masterpiece, and Scofflaw?”)

Buddhist Monks Fear Death

(p. C4) A recent paper in the journal Cognitive Science has an unusual combination of authors. A philosopher, a scholar of Buddhism, a social psychologist and a practicing Tibetan Buddhist tried to find out whether believing in Buddhism really does change how you feel about your self–and about death.
The philosopher Shaun Nichols of the University of Arizona and his fellow authors studied Christian and nonreligious Americans, Hindus and both everyday Tibetan Buddhists and Tibetan Buddhist monks.
. . .
The results were very surprising. Most participants reported about the same degree of fear, whether or not they believed in an afterlife. But the monks said that they were much more afraid of death than any other group did.
Why would this be? The Buddhist scholars themselves say that merely knowing there is no self isn’t enough to get rid of the feeling that the self is there. Neuroscience supports this idea.
. . .
Another factor in explaining why these monks were more afraid of death might be that they were trained to think constantly about mortality. The Buddha, perhaps apocryphally, once said that his followers should think about death with every breath. Maybe just ignoring death is a better strategy.

For the full commentary, see:
Alison Gopnik. “Who’s Most Afraid to Die? A Surprise.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 9, 2018): C4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 6, 2018.)

The print version of the Cognitive Science article discussed above, is:
Nichols, Shaun, Nina Strohminger, Arun Rai, and Jay Garfield. “Death and the Self.” Cognitive Science 42, no. S1 (May 2018): 314-32.

Origin of “Round Up the Usual Suspects!” at End of Casablanca

(p. C5) David Thomson’s “Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio” is the latest in the exemplary Yale Jewish Lives series, which now stretches from Jacob the Patriarch to Jacob Wonskolasor, known to the world as Jack L. Warner (1892-1978).
. . .
Jack told Julie Garfinkle that “people are gonna find out you’re a Jew sooner or later, but better later.” Julie became John Garfield. I can’t resist adding that Jack approached Phil and Julie Epstein with the same advice. After turning him down they snuck into his office and stole a piece of stationery. To the newly arrived Don Taylor, a fellow Nittany Lion, they wrote, “All of us at Warner Bros are looking forward to your great career as an actor and to a long and fruitful relationship with you under your new name of Hyman Rabinowitz. Sincerely, Jack L. Warner.”
. . .
(p. C6) As this fine book progresses, Mr. Thomson turns his attention away from the brothers and their studio and onto individual actors and films. These form a remarkable series of critiques and vignettes–cranky, idiosyncratic, sometimes improbable, but always ingenious, and now and then inspiring.
. . .
Of course he has the most to say about “Casablanca,” much of it insightful and cogent. On the one hand, it’s an “adroit masquerade,” yet also part of what it was, and no less is, to be American: “Wry, fond of sentiment yet hardboiled, as if to say we’re Americans, we can take it and dish it out, we’re the best, tough and soft at the same time.” Thus did the qualities of this film, and others, pass “into the nervous system of the country,” making it what it remains to this day.
I am in a position to point out one of the few outright mistakes, not of judgment but of facts, in this book. Mr. Thomson naively accepts screenwriter Casey Robinson’s claim that he created the ending of “Casablanca.” The truth is that the ending was thought up at a red light on the corner of Sunset and Beverly Glen, when Phil and Julie turned to each other, as identical twins will, and cried out, “Round up the usual suspects!” By the time they reached Doheny they knew Maj. Strasser had to be shot and by the time they reached Burbank they knew who was going to get on the plane with whom.

For the full review, see:
Leslie Epstein. “The House That Jack Built; Warner Bros was the smartest, toughest studio, and Jack L. Warner its smart, tough driving wheel.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017): C5-C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 4, 2017.)

The book under review, is:
Thomson, David. Warner Bros: The Making of an American Movie Studio. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

Africans Vote with Their Feet for Spanish Tolerance and Prosperity

(p. A1) CEUTA, Spain — For most migrants from Africa, the last stage of their trip to Europe involves some sort of perilous sea crossing. At the border in Ceuta, there is just a fence.
Ceuta (pronounced say-YOU-tah) is one of the two Spanish communities on the north coast of what otherwise would be Morocco, the only places where Europe has land borders with Africa. The other enclave is Melilla, farther east along the same coast.
Here, all that separates Europe from migrants is a double fence, 20 feet high and topped with barbed wire, stretching the four miles across the peninsula and dividing tiny Ceuta from Morocco — plus 1,100 Spanish federal police and Guardia Civil officers, a paramilitary police force.
They patrol a crossing point that has come under growing pressure.
. . .
(p. A6) On any given day, young migrant men can be seen prowling on the Moroccan side, looking for an opportunity.
Some swim around the fences where they go down into the sea. Others take short, illicit boat trips to Ceuta from Morocco. But mostly they run and climb the fence, or use bolt-cutters to cut holes in it, and they are quickly spotted by motion detectors and guards in observation towers and usually beaten back by policemen using sticks and fists.
Salif, 20, from Cameroon, said he tried 10 times to cross the fence in the past year, until he finally made it over on his 11th effort.
. . .
Morocco has long demanded custody of Ceuta and Melilla, but Spain has refused, saying they were part of Spain for centuries before Morocco was even a state.
“We are in Europe, not in Africa,” said Jacob Hachuel, the spokesman for the city. “But we have a border that has the biggest socio-economic differences between the two sides of any border in the world.”
Despite the violence used to prevent efforts to cross the border, once inside Ceuta migrants find an easygoing climate. Some 40 to 50 percent of the 84,000 residents are Muslims of Moroccan origin; most of the rest are Spanish Christians. There are also minorities of Jews and Hindus in the seven-square-mile area.
The Jewish community is the oldest one in Spain, having escaped the 1492 expulsion of Jews from the rest of the country. “It’s a mix of cultures, and we are used to having the other in our midst,” said Mr. Hachuel, who is Jewish.
Anna Villaban, a government employee, said Ceuta’s residents were proud of their city, which recently was host to three festivals, commemorating Ramadan for Muslims, Holi for Hindus and a local saint, San Antonio, for Christians.
“Where else would you see that?” she asked.

For the full story, see:
Rod Nordland. “‘All of Africa Is Here’: Hopes of Climbing to Spain.” The New York Times (Monday, Aug. 20, 2018): A1 & A6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 19, 2018, and has the title “‘All of Africa Is Here’: Where Europe’s Southern Border Is Just a Fence.”)

Culture Percolated Over Coffee

(p. A15) Shachar M. Pinsker, a Hebrew scholar at the University of Michigan, believes that cafés in six cities created modern Jewish culture. It’s the kind of claim that sounds as if it might be a game-changer, and there are enough grounds and gossip in “A Rich Brew” to keep this customer engrossed from cup to cup, . . .
Mr. Pinsker gets percolating at Signor Fanconi’s establishment in Odessa, an Italian café where women were unwelcome and Jews periodically excluded. The young Sholem Aleichem, arriving penniless from Kiev in 1891, found a marble table in the corner and started writing short stories that become the bedrock of Yiddish literature. What else went on in a Black Sea café? They “talk politics day and night . . . read newspapers from all over the world . . . and speculate on currencies and stocks,” writes Mr. Pinsker, drawing on letters of the cafe’s habitués. Isaac Babel found Fanconi’s “packed like a synagogue on Yom Kippur.” It got shut down by Lenin’s commissars.

For the full review, see:
Norman Lebrecht. “BOOKSHELF; A Remarkable Cultural Infusion; Sholem Aleichem found a table and wrote stories while all around him customers drank coffee, read newspapers and talked politics.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 29, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipsis at end of paragraph, added; ellipses internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review was last updated June 28, 2018, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘A Rich Brew’ Review: A Remarkable Cultural Infusion; Sholem Aleichem found a table and wrote stories while all around him customers drank coffee, read newspapers and talked politics.”)

The book mentioned above, is:
Pinsker, Shachar M. A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture. New York: NYU Press, 2018.

“Books Were Systematically Burned”

(p. 12) Vandalizing the Parthenon temple in Athens has been a tenacious tradition. Most famously, Lord Elgin appropriated the “Elgin marbles” in 1801-5. But that was hardly the first example. In the Byzantine era, when the temple had been turned into a church, two bishops — Marinos and Theodosios — carved their names on its monumental columns. The Ottomans used the Parthenon as a gunpowder magazine, hence its pockmarked masonry — the result of an attack by Venetian forces in the 17th century. Now Catherine Nixey, a classics teacher turned writer and journalist, takes us back to earlier desecrations, the destruction of the premier artworks of antiquity by Christian zealots (from the Greek zelos — ardor, eager rivalry) in what she calls “The Darkening Age.”
. . .
Debate — philosophically and physiologically — makes us human, whereas dogma cauterizes our potential as a species. Through the sharing of new ideas the ancients identified the atom, measured the circumference of the earth, grasped the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.
To be sure, Christians would not have a monopoly on orthodoxy, or indeed on suppression: The history of the ancient world typically makes for stomach-churning reading. Pagan philosophers too who flew in the face of religious consensus risked persecution; Socrates, we must not forget, was condemned to death on a religious charge.
But Christians did fetishize dogma. In A.D. 386 a law was passed declaring that those “who contend about religion … shall pay with their lives and blood.” Books were systematically burned.
. . .
. . . she opens her book with a potent description of black-robed zealots from 16 centuries ago taking iron bars to the beautiful statue of Athena in the sanctuary of Palmyra, located in modern-day Syria. Intellectuals in Antioch (in ancient Syria) were tortured and beheaded, as were the statues around them.
. . .
Nixey closes her book with the description of another Athena, in the city of her name, being decapitated around A.D. 529, her defiled body used as a steppingstone into what was once a world-renowned school of philosophy. Athena was the deity of wisdom. The words “wisdom” and “historian” have a common ancestor, a proto-Indo-European word meaning to see things clearly. Nixey delivers this ballista-bolt of a book with her eyes wide open and in an attempt to bring light as well as heat to the sad story of intellectual monoculture and religious intolerance. Her sympathy, corruscatingly, compellingly, is with the Roman orator Symmachus: “We see the same stars, the sky is shared by all, the same world surrounds us. What does it matter what wisdom a person uses to seek for the truth?”

For the full review, see:
Bettany Hughes. “‘How the Ancient World Was Destroyed.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, June 10, 2018): 12.
(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to paragraph, in original.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 8, 2018, and has the title “How Christians Destroyed the Ancient World.”)

The book under review, is:
Nixey, Catherine. The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.