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Mother Jones

September/October 2009

Has the election of Barack Obama - and the new president's seemingly unwavering determination to get Israel to withdraw thousands of settlers from the West Bank, halt any further settlement, and secure a lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord - undermined the clout of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, long regarded as one of Washington's most powerful lobby groups?

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The answer may be yes, writes Robert Dreyfuss. After all, Obama's victory, which saw him woo roughly 75 per cent of the American-Jewish vote, rocked the alliance of right-wing Republicans and pro-Israel evangelicals that had been such a bulwark for George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich and others of their ilk. However, Dreyfuss argues that the softening of support for AIPAC's hard-line centre-right advocacy of all things Israeli is also a result of the growth of pro-Obama, "liberal, anti-war Israel policy groups." In other words, dissent within the lobby universe itself, coupled with Obama's popularity, may be setting the foundations for a big fight on America's Middle East policy.

Still, as Dreyfuss rightly notes, no one should ever count AIPAC out. It still has more than 300 staffers in 18 offices throughout the U.S., armed with an annual budget of $60-million (U.S.). Moreover, earlier this year it chose one of Obama's all-time best buds, fellow Chicagoan Lee (Rosy) Rosenberg, as its new prexy.

The Believer

September, 2009

A couple years ago, Orion Editions launched a line of abridged canonical works in paperback. Among the titles were David Copperfield in Half the Time, Van ity Fair in Half the Time and Moby-Dick in Half the Time. Not surprisingly, some criticized the enterprise as sacrilege - without, of course, bothering to read what had been done. By contrast, The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik did read the abridged Moby-Dick and declared the Orion edition an "improvement" on Melville's original - but only, he cautioned, by "conventional contemporary standards of good editing and critical judgment." In other words, it turned "a hysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound, sane book ... all Dick and no Moby."

This prompted Damion Searls to embark on a decidedly quixotic endeavour, much like Ahab's obsessive quest. He decided to read the original and the abridgment and then pull together, into a separate book, "every chapter, sentence, word and punctuation mark" removed by Orion. The result of his half-mad labour has recently been published as ; or The Whale (pronounced "Or the Whale": the semi-colon, he observes, is silent), which makes a perverse kind of sense. As Melville buffs know, the full title of the original novel is Moby-Dick; or The Whale.

Searls offers a funny and fascinating description of both his work and that of the Orion abridger. He discovered, for instance, that the Orion editor chose to cut only one word - "hapless" - from the original chapter 62, and that from a 105-word sentence! Huh?

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Literary Review of Canada

September, 2009

The 250th anniversary of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham is next Sunday. But if the earlier kerfuffle over the National Battlefields Commission plan to re-enact that fight (and 1760's Battle of Sainte-Foy) is any indication, the date likely will be marked with little fanfare or official recognition. Sans d oute, Jean Charest wouldn't wish it otherwise.

Scholars have not been quite so silent, as Toronto poet/historian Jack Mitchell shows in his review of five recent books on 18th-century New France: three by anglophone historians, one by two Québécois, the other by France's Gérard Saint-Martin. Mitchell notes that the Plains of Abraham remains a touchstone of "collective memory and the power of myth" and "Canadian historical consciousness." Indeed, while historians have strained to provide more nuanced analyses of the events of 1759-63 (including a heightened appreciation of the French victory at Sainte-Foy), the public has been reluctant to abandon its myths - its fascination with the dying figures of Wolfe and Montcalm and the battle site whose name "evokes not the clash of empires but of deities."

"Quebec nationalism is as permanent as the Laurentians," Mitchell remarks. But he hopes a new generation of Québécois will come to see the fate of New France not as a "humiliating defeat" or a self-defining wound that has to be tended to and reopened time and again. Better to see "New France's great war" as an act of "proud defiance" against a relentless enemy, conducted far from the Versailles of an otherwise-occupied Louis XV.

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