Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lonely Planet Russia (Travel Guide) Paperback – March 20, 2018 by Lonely Planet (Author), Simon Richmond (Author), Ali Lemer (Author), Tatyana Leonov (Author), Mark Baker (Author), Marc Bennetts (Author), Stuart Butler (Author), Trent Holden (Author), Tom Masters (Author), Kate Morgan (Lonely Planet)

This 720-page book - the 8th (printed) edition of March 2018 - is an interesting and readable guide to the northern Asiatic country of Russia. This is a well-designed and presented guide, with useful maps. This is not a glossy guide with lots of colour pictures, but it is a well-designed and laid out guide, with colour used sparingly. It is intended to be a helpful guide to things to see and do, and not just a list of things to see and do.

This volume covers a lot of ground, so if you are only visiting one or two places, then a more specific book might be of more use; and remember, always be polite, don't mention the Ukraine, and you won't need the section on Siberia

It is broken down into four major sections:

Page 6 - Plan Your Trip:
This section is an introduction to Russia, showing/telling you what to look out for (Russia‘s Top 20), what you need to know in advance, and other important stuff for visitors.

On The Road (“The Guide”):
P054: Moscow
P125: The Golden Ring
P156: St Petersburg
P232: Western European Russia
P273: Kaliningrad Region
P291: Northern European Russia
P332: Volga Region
P369: Russian Caucasus
P411: The Urals
P435: Western Siberia
P475: Eastern Siberia
P540: Russian Far East

Page 592 - Understand (local culture):
This section has articles on history, landscape & wildlife, arts, people, cuisine, etc.

Page 666 - Survival Guide:
This section contains information on transport, the A-Z Directory, etc.
P691: Language
P701: Index

War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada Paperback – August 29, 2016 by Troy Parfitt (Western Hemisphere Press)

War Torn: Adventures in the Brave New Canada is a transcontinental road trip account with a difference, politics mixed with travelogue as author Parfitt tries to get a handle on his homeland after a dozen years in Asia. He describes how, in his opinion, the country has shifted to the right, and how it has embraced shallow nationalism. He rues public indifference to and ignorance of Canadian involvement in Afghanistan.

Despite the political angle, it is still very much a travel book, one with a great sense of movement, the layers of info and politics restrained and woven in with skill. The book never drags because the writing is excellent and the pacing speeds up as we go through the provinces, more coverage on the eastern regions, less on the western provinces. There are a couple of fascinating side trips – one to Nunavat (“The Great White North’s Great White North”) and another to France (well, the island of Saint Pierre off the Newfoundland coast).

There are plenty of laughs in Parfitt’s books as he casts a cynical eye over some of the characters encountered, but the book is slightly depressing in some ways. The people and culture are often found wanting, and then there’s the author’s inability to reconnect to his country and his decision to once again leave it.

Despite Parfitt’s rather bleak take on Canada, if you were to ask me the simple question, "Did reading the book increase or decrease your desire to visit Canada?" I would say it made me keener to visit. Parfitt’s descriptive writing is superb, and War Torn beautifully conveys the size and majesty of the country, and the regional variations within it.

If Amazon had half stars, I’d take off half a star because I disagree with Parfitt’s political views, but I’ll give it five rather than four for its boldness.

97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement Jane Ziegelman Smithsonian 2010 272 Pages $25.99 ISBN: 978-0-06-128850-0

Taking one New York City tenement as her base, Jane Ziegelman follows the food traditions that five immigrant families brought to their new home. Ziegelman, a food historian and director of the Tenement Museum’s planned culinary center, takes readers on a lively tour of the Lower East Side, with its German beer gardens, Jewish pushcarts, Irish boarding houses, and Italian street vendors.

Using census data, government documents, letters, and newspaper reports, as well as recipes, Ziegelman recreates the immigrant experience of the late 19th and early 20th centuries from the misery of the potato famine in Ireland to the stifling steerage quarters on immigrant vessels to the teeming halls of Ellis Island. More than a food history, 97 Orchard Street takes readers inside the homes—which often doubled as workplaces—and settlement houses, along the sidewalks and into the schools of the Lower East Side, opening the doors on the institutions that strove to Americanize these newcomers and the groups that immigrants formed to hold onto their ways.

Despite the efforts of high-minded citizens and social workers, sanitation police, and health officials to tame the suspect foreign tastes of immigrant families, the families that lived at 97 Orchard Street and their neighbors brought a whole new range of foods to the American table, enriching American cuisine in ways that have continued with every new group of immigrants. In this book, Ziegelman conveys the extraordinary riches that came to the American shores in the first great wave of immigration. Bibliography, illustrations, index, notes, recipes.

After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigration to the United States, 1921-1965 Libby Garland The University of Chicago Press 2014 312 Pages $45.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-12245-8

This meticulously researched study provides genuine, if unwelcome, news about the situation of Jews entering—or attempting to enter—the U.S. over a forty-year period. It eviscerates the smug stance of the many Jews and other immigrant groups who have delighted in the assumed legality of their people’s immigration into the U.S. Enough crowing about how much better our group was than today’s “illegals” who are infecting our culture; enough self-congratulation. Tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants were illegals.

Professor Garland’s primary interest, how­ever, is not to issue a comeuppance, but rather to trace the reasons for and the effects of U.S. immigration controls. Her main focus through the early chapters is on the immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 that not only limited total immigration but also, more tragically, limited the number of southern and eastern Europe­ans—and virtually all Asians. The designers of our nation-based quotas blatantly strove to engineer the quality of future U.S. racial and cultural stock.

These laws and others, on both federal and state levels, created a new class of criminal— the illegal alien—as well as new administrative and enforcement agencies. Guess what? The changed immigration situation also attracted the entrepreneurial spirit of those who would help people get around the laws: counterfeit­ers, smugglers, influence peddlers, disguise artists, safe house suppliers, specialist lawyers (of course), and so forth.

The middle chapters of this book, “Smug­gling in Jews” and “Illicit Journeys” are the most colorful, as they are laced with the kind of story telling that animates and details the broad strokes of Garland’s analysis. More of this kind of particularity would be welcome throughout—more of the voices and person­alities of those involved.

The 1930s complicated the status of illegal aliens—and perhaps legal ones as well—by introducing a push for registration of aliens. Garland’s readers will not miss the parallels to today’s political battles over documenta­tion and identity cards, between security and personal freedom. As one might expect, “American Jews . . . were at the forefront of the battle against alien registration throughout the era.”

Too often marred by overlong and convo­luted sentences and paragraphs, this study is notable for Garland’s passionate intensity and for her concern with fairness to those on all sides of the issues she explores. The sixty pages of notes are wisely relegated to the end of the book rather than squeezed in along the way. Index, notes.

#OyVeyDonaldTrump ....The Bigot: How I Learned to Love Donald Trump: A Novel Paperback – February 8, 2018 by Troy Parfitt

I wonder how many reviews start with the words 'This is not normally the kind of book I would have read but...' Well this one is going to start that way too. This is a highly insightful and bitterly funny take on the fine line between popularism and bigotry as see through the eyes of a failing English teacher Max, who is forced to ply his trade first in a corrupt Saudi backwater and then in a no less corrupt Chinese backwater. It is a tale of the fall from selfless idealism to self-interested bigotry. Max's overseas tribulations are in start contrast to those of his Donald Trump supporting brother, who success seems to based almost entirely on his small minded intolerance and desire to conform to the norms that society expects of him. This mainly consists of drinking beer watching, watching Ice Hockey and pornography (nothing wrong with the first two) and belittling his brother's education. (Oh and quite a bit of not so casual too). Although the settings may be unusual the tale should be familiar to those who've witnessed the rise of Trump in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK; the seemingly unstoppable slide towards popularism and fear of "The Other." Max's story seem to be to be a metaphor for the state we've found ourselves in. Plenty of well observed social commentary along the way and characters you just couldn't make up that will remind readers of people we've all met. The rendition of the Canadian accent and slang it brilliant too, especially Karl’s ‘rate’ and ‘prawly’. Definitely worth five stars and a few hours of anyone's time.

Refuting the Anti-Israel Narrative: A Case for the Historical, Legal and Moral Legitimacy of the Jewish State by Jeremy Havardi (McFarland)

If one is looking for a series of well-sourced reasons for Israel's current existence as an ethnically Jewish state, Havardi's book leaves little untouched. Israel, by most modern metrics, is a successful, cohesive, well-organized, economically and scientifically advanced state in an area of the world currently reverberated by radical terrorism, failed states and tribalism. Any individual who has concern for minority freedoms, sexual liberty, freedom of speech, intellectual diversity and pluralism should be glad to defend Israel against the authoritarian tendencies of its neighbors. Havardi does a good job of highlighting several benefits from an alliance with a nation that shares similar values to the US (in contrast with our deals with states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia)

But Havardi leaves a little to be desired in his defense of Israel as a strategic military partner in an unstable part of the world. In the sections of the book defending increased military aid to Israel for its defense, we're given a review of neoconservative foreign policy doctrine: increased militarism, preemptive strikes, extrajudicial killings, avoidance of any sort of "appeasement" and (ultimately) advocacy for regime change of surrounding states in the region. The use of military responses gets far greater detail as a means of conflict-resolution than diplomatic or economic pressure, broadened education and enhanced journalistic coverage of the conflict. This is despite the fact that recent US military involvement has caused greater instability in the area (through the destruction of Syria, Libya and Iraq from which Islamic groups like ISIL have originated) in addition to the fact that recent diplomatic initiatives have helped resolve potential areas of instability (like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran, contrary to what many critics simply refuse to acknowledge). While Havardi is correct in his assessment of the backwardness and brutality of Arab tyrannies in the Middle East, his hawkish prescriptions for change threaten to result in more unraveling rather than reconciliation.

One may also wish for more discussion of Israel's historic justifications for existence in such an inhospitable part of the world. While the Jewish people are certainly entitled to a sovereign nation in which to preserve their historically ostracized religion, culture and heritage, the choice of the Middle East as a destination for this project should be further examined. While Havardi did provide a moral justification for the concept of a Jewish state as a sanctuary for world Jewry, he did not explore the crucial question of whether the founders of Zionism had or even sought out other areas of the world for their cause. Havardi's dismissal of any narrative of "asymmetric power relations" or Arabic subjugation to Western colonialism in the 18th-20th centuries being a crucial part to the conflict as an "appeal to victimhood" also reveals his neoconservative bias.

But any proponent of Israel's existence will benefit from the information stored in this book. While Havardi doesn't seem to be focused on convincing skeptics more than he is making a passionate case for the superiority of Western culture and ideals as embodied by Israel, his sources and arguments could be put to effective use by more diplomatically minded readers to convince fence-sitters.

On a final note, this book is greatly in need of an editor. There are typos, multiple repetitious passages that could be deleted and densely packed sections of Havardi's examples and sources that feel redundant or messily presented. Revisiting certain portions and changing the language to give it a more lyrical (rather than listical) flow can elevate the work as an impassioned defense rather than just a reference book.

Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas 1st Edition by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (Transaction Publishers)

The title of this work refers to the lands between the Baltic and Black Seas--the territories that belonged to Poland well before the Partitions. Chodakiewicz begins with distant history, but devotes most of his scholarship to the 20th and 21st centuries. Owing to the breadth of this work, I focus on only a few issues.


Much has been said about the Jedwabne massacre, and how this makes Poles complicit in the Holocaust, even though Poles were not the main perpetrators. To avoid the usual selective historical amnesia, we must also remember Jewish crimes against Poles, even though Jews were not the main perpetrators.

Chodakiewicz has a detailed chapter on the 1944 Koniuchy Massacre. The fact of many Jewish killers is mentioned not only by Polish survivors, but also by quite a few non-Poles. In fact, Chodakiewicz quotes numerous Jewish participants who implicate themselves, and other Jews, as killers. This is true of memoir-authors Isaac Kowalski and Chaim Lazar [see the Peczkis reviews by clicking on A Secret Press In Nazi Europe, The Story Of A Jewish United Partisan O, and Destruction and Resistance: A History of the Partisan Movement in Vilna. It is also true of guerrilla operations commander Genrikh Ziman (p. 501), and such Jewish participants as Zalman Wylozny (p. 503), Israel Weiss (p. 503), Ruzhka Korczak (p. 503), Pol Bagriansky (p. 505), Joseph Harmatz (p. 506), Alex Faitelson (p. 506), Rachel Margolis. (p. 507), and Leizer Bart. (p. 512). The fact of appreciable Jewish complicity in the massacre also finds confirmation in Lithuanian and German sources. (p. 501).

Jewish writings usually adopt a blame-the-victim approach by accusing the Polish Koniuchy residents of bringing the calamity upon them by collaborating with the Germans, as in welcoming and housing a fortress German garrison. [It is ironic that some Jews complain about Jews innocent of Soviet collaboration being among those killed (as it were) by the Polish reprisal act at Jedwabne, while the Jewish-murdered Polish civilians at Koniuchy included children (pp. 509-510) who could not possibly have been involved in earlier supposed anti-Jewish acts.]

The Poles-housed-Germans exculpation is rejected not only by eyewitness Poles, but also by ALL non-Jewish sources. Chodakiewicz notes the clear evidence that there was no German garrison at Koniuchy (p. 513), and comments, "Neither the Soviet, nor the German, nor the Lithuanian, nor the Polish military dispatches mention anything about any German casualties or any German presence in Koniuchy." (p. 501).

So what "crime" did Koniuchy's Poles commit? The only "collaboration" which Koniuchy's Poles engaged in was obtaining the permission of the local Lithuanian auxiliary police, housed several miles away, for using a few rusty guns to defend themselves against repeated forays of marauding Soviet partisans and common bandits (Jewish and non-Jewish). (p. 500). This permission was necessary in order to avoid "pacification" for having unauthorized firearms.


Although nationalism is a naughty word in academia, it defies simplistic labeling. Chodakiewicz implicitly recognizes the essential difference between imperialistic nationalism and emancipatory nationalism (pp. 213-214), as well as that between the usually constructive cultural nationalism and the potentially destructive ethno(folk)-nationalism. (p. 3, 239).

Chodakiewicz quotes Wincenty Lutoslawski, a leading Endek thinker and colleague of Dmowski,: (quote) Polonized Germans, Tatars, Armenians, Gypsies, [and] Jews can belong to the Polish nation if they live for the common ideal of Poland...A Negro or a Redskin can become a real Pole, if he adopts the spiritual heritage of the Polish nation, which is contained in its literature, art, politics, customs, and if he has an unwavering will to contribute to the development of the national life of the Poles. (unquote). (p. 33, 39). Lutoslawski's comments soundly refute the misrepresentation of Endeks as blind exclusivists, chauvinists, or some kind of proto-Nazis.

Nowadays, "nationalism" is just one of several broken-record name-calls, along with other ones--fascism, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and whatnot--freely used by postmodernists and their post-Communist allies, throughout the Intermarium [and elsewhere], against those not to their liking. (p. 245). [RADIO MARYJA listeners are all too familiar with this abuse.] Interestingly, during the Solidarity era, Communists warned of the danger of theocracy in Poland (p. 19). Now exactly the same bogeyman is raised in connection with Polish traditionalist Catholicism. When all else fails, the REDUCTIO AD HITLERUM tactic is employed against unwelcome viewpoints. (p. 254). Polish suffering, as at Katyn, is disregarded in favor of that of postmodernist-appointed "victim groups". (p. 244), and the agendas of the liberal-left in the West are advanced.

Ironic to the detractors of Chodakiewicz, who deliberately mischaracterize him as an ethnonationalist, he actually objects to this position as unobjectively particularistic. (pp. 497-499). At the same time, he notes that much of Western scholarship has viewed events in the Intermarium through the singular prism of the Holocaust (p. 498)--(which is why those hostile to the enunciation of this fact call him a nationalist!)


Let us now look at some numbers. Throughout his work, Chodakiewicz excels in the presentation of facts and figures on population losses--something he even tabulates in detail. (pp. 536-537). The Germans murdered as many as 4 million Polish gentiles during WWII (not the 1-2 million claimed by some Judeocentrists). The Communists murdered about 30,000 Poles in 1944-1953.

Now consider the Polish deportees of 1939-1941. Chodakiewicz expands his scholarly contentions for rejecting the archival Soviet figure of about 400,000 in favor of at least the threefold greater earlier-cited toll. (pp. 114-117, 125-126).

Fast forward to 1989. Communism never left Poland--it merely rebranded itself. (pp. 182-183). There never has been a de-Communization, or lustration, and no reckoning of Communist crimes. (p. 244). All this has stunted the development of Polish democracy.


Chodakiewicz provides interesting insights on Polish-Ukrainian relations through time. For instance, he corrects the common misconception of the Chmielnicki uprising as a nationalist-separatist one. Most of the Cossacks were freebooters. For a long time, the Cossacks fought many battles against Poland's enemies and were loyal to the Polish Commonwealth. It was the "foolishly myopic" (in the author's words) rights-denying policies of the Polish and Ukrainian magnates, towards the Cossacks, that eventually provoked the uprising. (p. 54). As for pedigrees, Khmelnytsky (Chmielnicki) had a rebellious Polish noble as his father, and an Orthodox mother. (p. 303).

Now consider WWII. Chodakiewicz summarizes the OUN-UPA genocide of Kresy Poles and the fundamental disagreement that Poles and Ukrainians have about it today. Ukrainians will not accept responsibility for the mass murders conducted on Poles by the OUN-UPA (pp. 446-447), and Poles will not accept the SS GALIZIEN and OUN-UPA as freedom fighters. (p. 428). [Were they? The OUN pressed for its own onerous totalitarian rule, not a free society. The SS GALIZIEN fought for the benefit of Nazi Germany, which had made it perfectly clear, long before then, that it did not intend to create a free Ukraine in any form.] The author contends that Poles have made many recent concessions to the Ukrainians that have scarcely found reciprocation. (pp. 427-428, 444-445).


Throughout his work, Chodakiewicz presents an assortment of interesting information, of which I mention a little. Ironic to the perennial German Great-Depression excuse for supporting Hitler, the reader may be surprised to learn that Poland suffered more from the Great Depression than any other country--losing, for example, more than 20% of her real output, which was more than that lost by Germany and Austria. (p. 84). Under the WWII German occupation, there were, by some estimates, 100,000 Ukrainian collaborationist police at the disposal of the Germans to help realize the Holocaust. (p. 140). Stalin killed more people than Hitler. (p. 17). Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, Germany reportedly tried to revive East Prussia in the form of the re-acquisition of the now-isolated Kaliningrad (Koenigsberg, Krolewiec) enclave. (p. 382). There are some quoted testimonies of non-Poles in the erstwhile Kresy who remember Polish times with fondness. Finally, when it comes to recent geopolitics, Chodakiewicz warns that the resurgence of Russia, with her imperial ambitions, poses unappreciated dangers, and American foreign policy is little sensitive to this challenge. (p. 5, 376