Munich, the Mossad, and a Spy Named Sylvia

An Israeli worker displays a photo of former Mossad agent Sylvia Rafael in a memorial book in the Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center at Gliliot Junction near Tel Aviv

This biography, apparently the first ever published about a female Mossad agent, starts out as a derring-do tale of a beautiful and dedicated young woman prepared to operate behind enemy lines, whatever the risk.

Sylvia Rafael, however, become trapped behind her own lines—bereft of love and family life for years because of her undercover work.

In the end, the substitute family which provided her with identity and purpose during those lonely years—the Mossad itself—failed her in a botched operation in 1973 which led to her imprisonment.

Review: ‘Criterion Designs’

Criterion collection

A while back, during one of Barnes and Noble’s frequent half-off Criterion Collection sales, a friend on social media snarked, “half off a DVD, or still way more than the cost of a subscription to Hulu, where you can stream every Criterion disc.”

The joke, like much great humor, was equal parts funny and sad. Funny, because it’s true, of course, and reveals something about a society that is slowly but surely giving up on physical media. Sad, because its very truth reveals how much we have lost in the drive to elevate content—digital data, bits, ones and zeroes compressed as much as possible in order to offer cheap and fast downloadability—over every other concern.

I Left My Head in San Francisco

Workers in Paris clean the guillotine after beheading  a serial killer / AP

When the horror cult classic Faces of Death (1978) was first released on video, the cassette cover came with a warning: “This feature contains graphic depictions of autopsies, dismemberment, physical cruelty, human combustion and electrocution. It should not be viewed by children, the elderly or the squeamish.”

Perhaps something similar should have been done with Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found. Or at the very least smelling salts could’ve been tucked inside, considering such anecdotes as the early exploits of Viennese phrenologist Joseph Rosenbaum who, in 1808, decided he needed the skull of a recently deceased actress, Elizabeth Roose, for his collection.

Homer and The Bible at The Met

Reliefs showing the battle of Til Tuba / The Trustees of the British Museum

In Denmark at the start of the 19th century, a young archaeologist named Christian J. Thomsen was given the intimidating task of organizing a growing horde of ancient objects being stockpiled in preparation for the eventual foundation of a National Museum of Antiquities. As David W. Anthony relates in his splendid The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, Thomsen made the decision to separate and display his collection in three large halls: one for objects made of stone, one for objects made of bronze, and one for those made of iron.

Paramount Bans ‘Team America’ Screenings

Kim Jong Il Dead

In response to Sony’s refusal to release The Interview over threats of violence from hackers believed to be angry over the comedy’s plot involving the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un several theaters said they would screen Team America: World Police instead. However, Paramount won’t allow their North Korean dictator assassination comedy to be screened either.

Nerdy Dragon RPG Neither Proves Nor Disproves Gamergate Gripes

Dragon Age

I just read two competing reviews of a dragon-based role playing game. And, what’s worse, the main focus of both reviews is the political implications of the dungeons and dragons rip off. So, dear reader, after the kind of torture I just went through you’d better read this entire piece.

I mean, this is an actual line in one of the reviews: “healing magic, for example, has been entirely removed from the game.”

Signposts of a Broken Culture

Kim Jong Un

So, Sony has pulled The Interview—its upcoming comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong Un by James Franco and Seth Rogen—due to threats of violence. A bunch of hackers who appear to be affiliated with North Korea warned of a 9/11-style terrorist attack if the release went forward. Many people (including myself) are not thrilled by the development and have called the studio cowardly for kowtowing to a gout-riddled tinpot dictator with a horrible haircut presiding over “a nation of racist dwarfs.”

Others responded, rightly, that Sony and the theater chains engaging in this cowardly behavior would be sued out of existence if screenings went ahead and such an attack were to go down. Jonathan Chait suggested the United States should promise to make whole any organization that was sued as a result of an (incredibly unlikely) attack. That’s not a terrible idea. I’d like to focus my attention, briefly, on this entirely accurate, utterly insane sentence of Chait’s, however: