Alan Waldman :
TELEVISION | ‘Wentworth’ is a dark, dramatic Australian TV series set in a women’s prison

An excellent cast, clever, and gripping story lines, and an oppressive milieu make this a top-notch, thinking person’s entertainment.

wentworth 4

Wentworth is a compelling, edge-of-your-seat drama.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | July 27, 2015

[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

At a time when Orange is the New Black is delighting U.S. audiences and media, while drawing attention to the shocking plight of women behind bars — much as Bad Girls did in Britain — Australia’s Wentworth (in some countries titled Wentworth Prison and in Poland called Wiezienie dla kobiet) is a compelling, edge-of-your-seat drama down under.

Currently, Netflix is streaming two seasons (22 episodes; 2013-2014) of this series. A third 12-episode season is airing in Australia now, and a fourth has been ordered.
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Bill Freeland :
Donald Trump: From here to obscurity

Trump may imagine himself as president, but what he can’t imagine is the perception of himself as a loser.

trump art freeland

Graphic by Bill Freeland / The Rag Blog.

By Bill Freeland | The Rag Blog | July 27, 2015

Here’s a first: the entire U.S. media, from the most marginal blogger to the giant TV titans, is united on a single proposition: Donald J. Trump is a man of his word.

Trump says he’s running for president. Which means, according to these clear-eyed commentators, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

“I’ll spend whatever it takes to win,” he has declared.
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Michael James :
Loving the bums, another march on Washington, bonding with my kids, and the White Sox lose to the Orioles, 1983

The season was done and I was a sad boy, one ‘mizzable bastard,’ to use my dad’s expression. But I jumped into the cooling waves and was rejuvenated.

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Crowd gathers at Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, 1983. Photos by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures from the Long Haul.

By Michael James | The Rag Blog | July 22, 2015

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about — and inspired by — those images. These photos will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James’ Pictures
from the Long Haul.]

Horses were my first love, followed by cowboys and Indians. Then came the Brooklyn Dodgers aka “the Bums,” and that was deep love. I loved all the Dodgers. Jackie Robinson was my hero. I attended my first Dodgers game in the late 1940’s, along with my dad and his advertising client, Barney Karlin of Castro Convertible Sofas. We sat close to third base; at the seventh inning stretch a woman in a babushka held up a Schaefer Beer sign and rang a bell. I ate many hot dogs and loved my first sauerkraut.
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Dick J. Reavis :
We are the New Union Army!

It’s time to wear our colors as we work to
help finish the Civil War.

union cap

Drawing of kepi cap by Miriam Lizcano / The Rag Blog.

By Dick J. Reavis | The Rag Blog | July 12, 2015

In a recent book about the Southern Civil Rights Movement, professor, SNCC veteran, and author Charles E. Cobb tells a story that is useful to us today.

Among the people who turned out for the fourth day of the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., were the members of the football team at the historically-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. When the team got to the downtown Woolworth’s store, the site of the sit-ins, it found that a mob of whites had formed a cordon around the place. So the team formed a flying wedge and as its members broke through, one of the jostled whites hollered “Who do you think you are?” “We’re the Union Army!” a footballer hollered back.
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Jay D. Jurie :
Community between the anvil and the hammer

Police violence against African-American communities continues to be a commonplace feature of national life and must be seriously addressed.

black lives matter

Image from Hands Up United.

By Jay D. Jurie | The Rag Blog | July 7, 2015

The Black Panthers: Early proponents of Black Lives Matter

Matthew Johnson, an unarmed 16-year old African-American with his hands in the air, was shot in the back and killed by a police officer in the Hunter’s Point district of San Francisco on September 27, 1966. In response, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale, and several others formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense the following month.

Denzil Dowell, an unarmed 22-year old African-American, was shot and killed by police in North Richmond, California, on April 1, 1967. Police claimed Dowell was attempting to burglarize a liquor store and was killed by “a single shotgun blast” after he refused an order to halt. A coroner’s report found six bullet holes in Dowell’s body and evidence that he had been shot with his hands up and in the process of surrendering. Nonetheless, an all-white jury found this a case of “justifiable homicide.”
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Vikki Bynum :
Racial violence, history, and the debate over
the Confederate flag

The Confederate flag symbolizes a sanitized and historically inaccurate version of the Civil War.

dylann roof and confederate flag

Dylann Roof: The Confederate flag was a favored symbol of racial hatred.

By Vikki Bynum | The Rag Blog | July 6, 2015

Victoria Bynum studio smListen to Thorne Dreyer’s July 3, 2015, Rag Radio interview with Victoria Bynum about issues raised in this essay, here:


As a historian, I have long regretted the widespread popularity of a flag that represents the cause of Southern secession during the American Civil War, and which was flown in defense of racial segregation during the Civil Rights Era.

In the wake of Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine African-American men and women while they worshiped in the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, we have learned that the Confederate flag was a favored symbol of the racial hatred that burns within Roof’s heart. His horrifying crime, in turn, quickly reinvigorated the long debate over whether that flag should continue to fly over state buildings in South Carolina and other southern states.
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Thorne Dreyer :
RAG RADIO PODCASTS | Interviews with Victoria Bynum, Richard Pells, Maria Svart, Patricia Vonne, and Ray Hill

We discuss little-known Southern history (& the Confederate flag); the ‘War Babies’ generation; Democratic Socialism; pioneering gay activism in Houston — and we listen to way cool live music!

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Rocker and actress Patricia Vonne, from left, with musicians Robert La Roche and Rick Del Castillo, on Rag Radio, Friday, June 12, 2015. Photo by
Roger Baker /
The Rag Blog.

Interviews by Thorne Dreyer | The Rag Blog | July 6, 2014

The following podcasts are from recent Rag Radio shows. The syndicated Rag Radio, produced in the studios of Austin’s cooperatively-run KOOP-FM, has an international audience and has become an influential platform for interviews with leading figures in politics, current events, literature, and cutting-edge culture.


Historian Victoria Bynum on Southern History, Racial Violence & the Confederate Flag

Victoria Bynum studio smRead the show description and download the podcast of our July 3, 2015 Rag Radio show with Vikki Bynum here — or listen to it here:


Richard Pells, Author of ‘War Babies: The Generation That Changed America’

richard pells 2 smRead the show description and download the podcast of our June 26, 2015 Rag Radio interview with Richard Pells here — or listen to it here:


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Johnny Hazard :
Marathon three-day protest at Bellas Artes
in Mexico City

‘Plantón’ at cultural center plaza remembers 43 disappeared education students.

hazard bellas artes 1

Photo by Citlali Téllez / Somos.elmedio.org.

By Johnny Hazard | The Rag Blog | July 2, 2015

MEXICO CITY —  Nine months after the forced disappearance of 43 education students, a three-mile march culminated in the “plantón” known as “43 x 43 por Ayotzinapa,” a three-day occupation of the plaza of Bellas Artes, the principal museum and cultural center in Mexico, which is adjacent to the Alameda Central.

This June 26-28 action began the day after the opening of a major exhibition of works by Michaelangelo and DaVinci. The cultural and political events took place before a captive audience of 10,000 gallery visitors on Saturday and many more on Sunday.
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David P. Hamilton :
Mapping the Middle East mess

The artificial boundaries after the British and French carved up the region are increasingly irrelevant.

sykes-picot map of 1916

Sykes-Picot map of 1916: “A” goes to France, “B” to Britain. Image from the National Archives / Public Domain.

By David P. Hamilton | The Rag Blog | June 29, 2015

“One day during the [Versailles] Peace Conference [ending WWI], Arnold Toynbee, an adviser to the British delegation, had to deliver some papers to the prime minister. “Lloyd George had forgotten my presence and had begun to think aloud. ‘Mesopotamia, yes, oil, irrigation, we must have Mesopotamia; Palestine, yes, the Holy Land, Zionism, we must have Palestine; Syria, h’m, what is there in Syria? Let the French have that.’”
Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan, p. 381

It took more than the musings of British Prime Minister Lloyd George to make it happen, but that’s more or less how the current countries of the Middle East were created. Their boundaries were essentially drawn by the British and French after WWI to suit their own interests.

The Ottoman Empire, having joined the wrong side in the war, was being dismembered by the victorious European colonialists. The British forces occupied Baghdad and controlled the valleys of the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers. Hence, they got the oil, which they knew to be there in abundance, plus Palestine for sentimental reasons. The French got the leftovers, primarily the coastal regions where the French-speaking Maronite Christians lived plus a bunch of desert to the east.
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Marilyn Katz :
Whose race, and gender, is it anyway?

Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal trigger an important conversation about identity and society.

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Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair.

By Marilyn Katz | The Rag Blog | June 27, 2015

CHICAGO — Gender and race are not static but socially-created identities that can and should be questioned.

So much has been said in recent weeks about Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal and the porous boundaries of gender and race. But neither the questions nor answers are definitive.

As most everyone who is digitally aware knows, Jenner says she is a woman. Former NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal says she “identif[ies] as black.”
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Kate Braun :
Summer Solstice brings the longest day,
shortest night

Light and dark are opposites that represent the balance we strive for in our daily lives.

sun and moon art

Sun and moon wall sculpture. Image from Breathing Space.

By Kate Braun | The Rag Blog | June 20, 2015

Sunday, June 21, 2015, is the Summer Solstice. This is the longest day and the shortest night in the year. Lady Moon is in her first quarter in Leo, a fixed Sun sign; Lord Sun is in Cancer, a cardinal water sign. Balance is shifting!

Instead of seeing Lord Sun’s power manifesting more and more as each day brings more daylight time, from now until the Winter Solstice (December 21, 2015) we shall see less daylight each day. Remember that Light does not automatically represent Good, that Dark does not automatically represent Evil. Like the Yin-Yang sign ([), light and dark are the opposites that, in the proper proportions, give a visual representation of the balance we strive for in our daily lives.
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Alan Waldman :
TELEVISION | ‘Hustle’ is Brit series where lovable rascals con greedy, rich bastards

A fine cast, tricky plots, and snappy dialogue make this program a fun, compelling pleasure.

hustle 2

Hustle is a compelling pleasure.

By Alan Waldman | The Rag Blog | June 3, 2015

[In his Rag Blog column, Alan Waldman reviews some of his favorite films and TV series that readers may have missed, including TV dramas, mysteries, and comedies from Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland. Most are available on DVD, Netflix and/or Netflix Instant Streaming, and some episodes are on YouTube.]

Hustle is a lively British con-men-vs.-slimy-aristocrats series that ran for eight seasons and 48 episodes, from 2004 to 2014. Four series and 24 episodes air on Netflix, and many are free on YouTube, such as this one.

Hustle follows a group of con artists who specialize in “long cons” — extended deceptions which require greater commitment, but which return a higher reward than simple confidence tricks. First the “marks” think they are getting away with something, and then the tables are turned.
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