The Neon Attraction of Las Vegas

The famous Las Vegas strip lights up the night with neon signs and animated images. The Las Vegas Neon Museum has been lighting up the city since 2012. That’s when activists, art lovers and local officials decided that neon signs that have seen better days deserved to be viewed and enjoyed by a new generation of tourists. Roman Mamonov traveled to Las Vegas and visited the unusual museum. Anna Rice narrates his story.

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Fan Votes Lift The Netherlands to Eurovision Song Contest Win

The Netherlands won the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv Saturday, with Duncan Laurence’s doleful piano ballad “Arcade” crowned champion of Europe’s annual music extravaganza.

The 25-year-old was tapped as an early front-runner before the Grand Final but was only ranked third after the vote of professional juries from the 41 participating countries, trailing Sweden and North Macedonia. He surged ahead thanks to the fan vote, securing The Netherlands its fifth win ever in the competition. Italy finished second, followed by Russia, Switzerland and Norway.

“This is to dreaming big. This is to music first, always,” Laurence said, as he was handed the trophy from last year’s winner, Israel’s Netta Barzilai.

About 200 million people around the world were believed to have watched the annual campy contest with 26 nations battling in the Grand Final of the 64th Eurovision.

Madonna was the star attraction, performing her hit staple, “Like a Prayer,” marking 30 years since its release, and a new song “Future” from her forthcoming album “Madame X.” She took the stage after participants wrapped up their performances shortly after midnight when the elaborate voting process got underway across Europe.

To maximize onscreen tension, performers are ranked by a mix of fan votes and professional juries. Spectators could not vote for their own country, but like-minded nations tend to fall into blocs that back their regional favorites, with politics meshing into art.

Over-the-top spectacle

The Eurovision debuted in the wake of World War II to heal a divided continent. Over the years, the earnest show of European unity has ballooned into an over-the-top, gay-friendly spectacle that brings together acts from across the continent, including those with little or no connection to Europe, such as Australia.

Israel earned the right to host the show after Barzilai won last year’s competition with her catchy pop anthem “Toy.”

The ostensibly non-political affair has tried to avoid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has largely succeeded, despite swirling threats of controversy. Calls for performers to boycott the show over Israeli policies toward Palestinians failed to generate much momentum.

​Politics kept at bay

A small protest took place outside Tel Aviv’s Expo Center before the show, following another one from musicians in Gaza earlier in the week. A recent round of rocket fire toward Israel from there also failed to temper excitement.

Madonna herself had faced calls from a Palestinian-led campaign to avoid performing at the event in Israel. But the Queen of Pop rejected the boycott motions, saying she will “never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda.” Still, two of her embracing dancers sported the flags of Israel and the Palestinians on their backs.

All eyes were on Iceland’s controversial steampunk band Hatari, which had drawn attention for initially saying it would be “absurd” to participate in Israel because of its policies toward the Palestinians. They had vowed to use the Eurovision spotlight to expose the “face of the occupation,” but their live performance of grinding metal rock passed without incident. Only at the end of the broadcast, when their final vote tally was announced, did they whip out a Palestinian flag, to sounds of boos from the audience.

For Israel, the mega event offered a much-anticipated opportunity to put its good face forward and project an image of normalcy to the world. Israel-themed promotional clips featuring each of the participants dancing in various scenic locations across the country streamed before each performance to a TV audience expected to be larger than that of the Super Bowl.

Israeli hosts

The event itself was being hosted by a quartet of Israeli celebrities, including top model Bar Refaeli. Israel’s own Wonder Woman Gal Gadot also made a cameo video appearance. The Tel Aviv hall was packed with thousands of screaming fans, while tens of thousands gathered to watch the final at the city-sponsored Eurovision village in Tel Aviv and at public screenings elsewhere.

As the reigning champion, Israel swept straight through to the finals — along with the five European countries who most heavily funded the event. The other 20 participants qualified through a pair of semifinal rounds.

Sweden’s soulful “Too Late for Love,” sung by John Lundvik, topped the professional jury vote and seemed to be on its way to carrying forward Sweden’s successful Eurovision track record 45 years after Swedish icons ABBA won with “Waterloo.”

Israel has won the Eurovision four previous times and it has provided the country with some of its cultural touchstones. “Hallelujah” became the country’s unofficial national song after Milk and Honey won the contest for Israel when it hosted the event in the late 1970s, and Dana International became a national hero and global transgender icon when she won with “Diva” in 1998. Barzilai became a role model for plus-size women after her win last year. She has been unapologetic about her weight, the loud colors she wears, and the funky chicken moves and sounds that have become her trademark.

All of Israel’s former winners took part in Saturday’s event with Barzilai and Dana International ceremoniously getting it under way.

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War of Will Wins Preakness, Holds Off Riderless Horse

War of Will bounced back from a bumpy ride in the Kentucky Derby to win the Preakness Stakes on Saturday, holding off a field that included a riderless horse that threw his jockey just out of the gate and still finished the race. 

 

Trainer Mark Casse got his first Triple Crown victory, with War of Will unbothered starting from the inside No. 1 post position for the second consecutive race. War of Will was interfered with in the Kentucky Derby, which led to first-place finisher Maximum Security being disqualified.

Bodexpress threw Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez just out of the starting gate but still finished the race. An outrider tried to swoop in at the top of the stretch and corral Bodexpress, but the horse sped up and passed a few competitors near the finish line — and kept going.

Technically, Bodexpress gets a did-not-finish.

War of Will made a move around the final turn led by jockey Tyler Gaffalione and didn’t relent down the stretch. Hard-charging late addition Everfast came in second and Owendale third. 

An inquiry was briefly put up on the board at Pimlico Race Course but quickly taken down. 

Casse, 58, entered a horse in the Preakness for the fifth time and came closest two years ago when Classic Empire finished second.

The victory was also a breakthrough for Gaffalione, who has become something of a rising star since being named top apprentice rider in 2015. Gaffalione, 24, was aboard War of Will for the colt’s sixth consecutive race and came away with the biggest victory of his young career. 

 

Bob Baffert-trained Improbable was beaten as the favorite for the second consecutive Triple Crown race. 

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‘Caine Mutiny,’ ‘Winds of War’ Author Herman Wouk Has Died

Herman Wouk, the versatile, Pulitzer Prize winning author of such million-selling novels as “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Winds of War” whose steady Jewish faith inspired his stories of religious values and secular success, died on Friday at 103.

Wouk was just 10 days shy of his 104th birthday and was working on a book until the end, said his literary agent Amy Rennert.

Rennert said Wouk died in his sleep at his home in Palm Springs, California, where he settled after spending many years in Washington, D.C.

Among the last of the major writers to emerge after World War II and first to bring Jewish stories to a general audience, he had a long, unpredictable career that included gag writing for radio star Fred Allen, historical fiction and a musical co-written with Jimmy Buffett.

He won the Pulitzer in 1952 for “The Caine Mutiny,” the classic Navy drama that made the unstable Captain Queeg, with the metal balls he rolls in his hand and his talk of stolen strawberries, a symbol of authority gone mad. A film adaptation, starring Humphrey Bogart, came out in 1954 and Wouk turned the courtroom scene into the play “The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.”

Other highlights included “Don’t Stop the Carnival,” which Wouk and Buffett adapted into a musical, and his two-part World War II epic, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance,” both of which Wouk himself adapted for a 1983, Emmy Award-winning TV miniseries starring Robert Mitchum. “The Winds of War” received some of the highest ratings in TV history and Wouk’s involvement covered everything from the script to commercial sponsors.

Wouk (pronounced WOKE) was an outsider in the literary world. From Ernest Hemingway to James Joyce, major authors of the 20th century were assumed either anti-religious or at least highly skeptical. But Wouk was part of a smaller group that included C.S. Lewis, Chaim Potok and Flannery O’Connor who openly maintained traditional beliefs. One of his most influential books was “This Is My God,” published in 1959 and an even-handed but firm defense of Judaism.

For much of his life, he studied the Talmud daily and led a weekly Talmud class. He gave speeches and sermons around the country and received several prizes, including a lifetime achievement award from the Jewish Book Council. During his years in Washington, the Georgetown synagogue he attended was known unofficially as “Herman Wouk’s synagogue.”

Jews were present in most of Wouk’s books. “Marjorie Morningstar,” published in 1955, was one of the first million-selling novels about Jewish life, and two novels, “The Hope” and “The Glory,” were set in Israel.

Wouk had a mixed reputation among critics. He was not a poet or social rebel, and shared none of the demons that inspired the mad comedy of Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Even anthologies of Jewish literature tended to exclude him. Gore Vidal praised him, faintly, by observing that Wouk’s “competence is most impressive and his professionalism awe-inspiring in a world of lazy writers and TV-stunned readers.”

But Wouk was widely appreciated for the uncanniness of his historical detail, and he had an enviably large readership that stayed with him through several long novels. His friends and admirers ranged from Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin to Nobel laureates Saul Bellow and Elie Wiesel. President Ronald Reagan, in a 1987 speech honoring 37 sailors killed on the USS Stark, quoted Wouk: “Heroes are not supermen; they are good men who embody — by the cast of destiny — the virtue of their whole people in a great hour.”

Wouk was well remembered in his latter years. In 1995, the Library of Congress marked his 80th birthday with a symposium on his career; historians David McCullough, Robert Caro, Daniel Boorstin and others were present. In 2008, Wouk received the first ever Library of Congress Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Writing of Fiction. He published the novel “The Lawgiver” in his 90s and at age 100 completed a memoir. Wouk’s longevity inspired Stephen King to title one story “Herman Wouk is Still Alive.”

 The son of Russian Jews, Wouk was born in New York in 1915. The household was religious — his mother was a rabbi’s daughter — and devoted to books. His father would read to him from Sholem Aleichem, the great Yiddish writer. A traveling salesman sold his family the entire works of Mark Twain, who became Wouk’s favorite writer, no matter how irreverent on matters of faith.

“I found it all very stimulating,” Wouk, in a rare interview, told The Associated Press in 2000. “His work is impregnated with references to the Bible. He may be scathing about it, but they’re there. He’s making jokes about religion, but the Jews are always making jokes about it.”

Wouk majored in comparative literature and philosophy at Columbia University and edited the college’s humor magazine. After graduation, he followed the path of so many bright, clever New Yorkers in the 1930s: He headed for California, where he worked for five years on Fred Allen’s radio show.

If war had not intruded, he might have stuck to comedy sketches. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor he enlisted in the Navy and served as an officer in the Pacific. There, he received the writer’s most precious gift, free time, and wrote what became his first published novel, the radio satire “Aurora Dawn.”

“I was just having fun. It had never occurred to me write a novel,” he said.

By the time “Aurora Dawn” came out, in 1947, Wouk was married and living in New York. His novel was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and he would soon publish “City Boy,” a coming-of-age story highly influenced by Twain.

In 1951, Wouk released his most celebrated novel, “The Caine Mutiny.” It sold slowly at first but eventually topped best-seller lists and won a Pulitzer. For a time, Wouk was compared to other World War II novelists: Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw, James Jones.

But his next book looked into domestic matters. Wouk spoke often of his concern about assimilation and this story told of an aspiring Jewish actress whose real name was Marjorie Morgenstern. Her stage name provided the novel’s title, “Marjorie Morningstar.”

“My agent was absolutely appalled,” Wouk said. “He submitted it to the editor of a women’s magazine and the editor said, `Herman Wouk has destroyed himself. He’s a man who writes big, sweeping dramas about men in action. Then he writes about this girl and nothing happens. He should burn this book and forget it.”‘

But like “The Caine Mutiny,” the novel sold millions and was made into a movie, starring Natalie Wood. (Wouk eventually bought Wood’s former home in Palm Springs). He was famous enough to appear on the cover of Time magazine, even as some Jews complained his book perpetuated stereotypes and critics complained he was too old-fashioned, too accepting of authority.

Captain Queeg, for example, may be a villain in popular culture, but “The Caine Mutiny” was not “Catch-22.” Wouk was just as hard on the officers who rebelled against Queeg. The “crux” of the story, Wouk wrote in his journal, was that the “mutiny was a mistake” and the crew should have stood by its leader, however flawed.

Over the years, Wouk responded to criticism in two ways: He didn’t judge the characters in his stories, but tried to tell the truth; and whether he really challenged authority depended on what you thought needed challenging.

He believed that among writers, anti-conformity was a kind of conformity. “It seems curious,” he wrote in “Aurora Dawn,” “that life `as it really is,’ according to modern inspiration, contains a surprising amount of fornication, violence, vulgarity, unpleasant individuals, blasphemy, hatred, and ladies’ underclothes.”

Wouk knew others didn’t share his views. Both “This Is My God” and “The Will to Live On” took a similar approach to “Mere Christianity” and other works by C.S. Lewis. They preached not to the converted, but to the curious. They anticipated arguments about religion and tried their best to answer them.

His books followed no proven formula. They were all personal, from the works on religion to “Inside, Outside,” an autobiographical novel he considered his favorite.

“I’m not out front as a figure, and that suits me,” he told the AP. “I love the work and it’s the greatest possible privilege to say, `Here are these books that exist because I had to write them.’ The fact that they were well received is just wonderful.”

In 1945, Wouk married Betty Sarah Brown, who also served as his agent. They had three sons — Nathaniel, Joseph and their eldest, Abraham, who drowned in 1951, a death that left Wouk with “the tears of the scar of a senseless waste.”

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Norman Rockwell’s Images of Freedom Revisited 75 Years Later

Norman Rockwell is considered one of America’s most beloved and influential artists, painting scenes of ordinary Americans at work, at play and at war, capturing simple yet compelling details that illuminated everyday life in the country.

Helping tell America’s story

Most Americans became familiar with his work through his hundreds of cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, the most widely circulated weekly magazine in America during the first half of the 20th century. Rockwell painted his first illustration for the magazine in 1916 at the age of 22, and considered the Post to be the “greatest show window in America” for an illustrator.

Over the next 47 years, another 320 Rockwell images would appear on its cover, and hundreds of his other illustrations were featured in popular publications over a career that spanned six decades.

Four Freedoms

Among Rockwell’s most enduring works is a series of four paintings titled Four Freedoms, inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s State of the Union address to Congress on January 6, 1941.

In his speech, Roosevelt talked about his “Four Freedoms” ideals… the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear; principles that make up the cornerstones of democracy, which he believed people the world over had a right to enjoy.

Democracy for all

FDR presented the idea that these were principles worth fighting for, as war was being waged against other democracies across the continents in the eastern hemisphere. Eleven months later, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States joined the war.

Rockwell’s interest in interpreting FDR’s Four Freedoms was born out of a quest to do more for the war effort. He spent seven months using his own observations and life experiences to create his own version.

The iconic paintings were the highlight among many other Rockwell works on display at a recent exhibit in ‘The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.’

 

“Freedom of speech and worship, freedom from fear and want, are ideals as powerful today as they were for Americans who fought in World War II,” museum director John Wetenhall said. “At a time and in a federal city where the true meaning of these values has become contested in the world of partisan and identity politics, it behooves us all to reflect back to when these very freedoms were in peril: ideals so powerfully embodied in Rockwell’s unforgettable icons.”

Enduring ideals

The exhibit, “Enduring ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms,” was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts — where the paintings are permanently housed — to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Rockwell’s four paintings.

“Rockwell’s Four Freedoms are among the most recognizable images in American history,” says Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum. “They are reminders of the profound influence of visual imagery on the human imagination, and portray FDR’s timeless ideals in real world terms, reminding us that we, too, are heirs to these cherished values.”

“This exhibition focuses on a significant aspect of Rockwell’s art at a time when he was at the height of his career, during the 1930s Depression era and the World War II period, when magazines like The Saturday Evening Post provided both information and entertainment to a vast audience,” she added.

Those interpretations became a national sensation in early 1943 when they were first published in The Saturday Evening Post.

“Roosevelt’s words and Rockwell’s artworks soon became inseparable in the public consciousness, with millions of reproductions bringing the Four Freedoms directly into American homes and workplaces.”  

Civil rights, social issues

 

The exhibit is the first comprehensive traveling exhibition devoted to Rockwell’s depiction of the president’s Four Freedoms, and also a rare opportunity to see other iconic works, including wartime paintings and posters, and his later artworks that addressed social issues such as civil rights and the Vietnam war.

Also on display were the objects and artifacts that are depicted in his paintings, such the jacket worn by Rockwell’s model Carl Hess in his Freedom of Speech painting and the white dress worn by Ruby Bridges on her first day of school. Young Ruby was the first African American child to attend an all-white school in New Orleans, Louisiana, and had to be escorted to school by four U.S. Marshals every day throughout the school year because of the threats against her.

Modern interpretations

The exhibition also includes works by contemporary artists offering their own perspective on freedom. One powerful example is Maurice “Pops” Peterson’s Freedom from What? which plays off of Rockwell’s Freedom from Fear illustration. It depicts a modern-day African-American couple putting their children to bed while looking over their shoulder as if for possible threats from the outside world.

“It is our hope that Norman Rockwell’s enduring paintings will inspire a new generation of students, citizens, future leaders and elected officials to embody these human values in their life’s work,” said Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Now closed in Washington, the next stop for “Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms” exhibit will be at Caen Memorial Museum, Normandy, France starting June 4 and closing October 27, 2019.

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Chinese-American Pei, Famed Architect, Dies at 102

I.M. Pei, the versatile, globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has died at age 102.

 

Pei’s death was confirmed Thursday by Marc Diamond, a spokesman for Pei’s New York architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

 

Pei’s works ranged from the trapezoidal addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the chiseled towers of the National Center of Atmospheric Research that blend in with the reddish mountains in Boulder, Colorado.

 

His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces. Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and the Fragrant Hill Hotel near Beijing. His work spanned decades, starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the new millennium. Two of his last major projects, the Museum of Islamic Art, located on an artificial island just off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Center, in China, opened in 2008 and 2009.

 

Pei painstakingly researched each project, studying its use and relating it to the environment. But he also was interested in architecture as art — and the effect he could create.

 

“At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,” he said. “But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.”

 

Pei, who as a schoolboy in Shanghai was inspired by its building boom in the 1930s, immigrated to the United States and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He advanced from his early work of designing office buildings, low-income housing and mixed-used complexes to a worldwide collection of museums, municipal buildings and hotels.

 

He fell into a modernist style blending elegance and technology, creating crisp, precise buildings.

 

His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.

 

At the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said all the candidates were excellent, “But Pei! He loves things to be beautiful.” The two became friends.

 

A slight, unpretentious man, Pei developed a reputation as a skilled diplomat, persuading clients to spend the money for his grand-scale projects and working with a cast of engineers and developers.

 

Some of his designs were met with much controversy, such as the 71-foot faceted glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum in Paris. French President Francois Mitterrand, who personally selected Pei to oversee the decaying, overcrowded museum’s renovation, endured a barrage of criticism when he unveiled the plan in 1984.

 

Many of the French vehemently opposed such a change to their symbol of their culture, once a medieval fortress and then a national palace. Some resented that Pei, a foreigner, was in charge.

 

But Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed and the pyramid was finished in 1989. It serves as the Louvre’s entrance, and a staircase leads visitors down to a vast, light-drenched lobby featuring ticket windows, shops, restaurants, an auditorium and escalators to other parts of the vast museum.

 

“All through the centuries, the Louvre has undergone violent change,” Pei said. “The time had to be right. I was confident because this was the right time.”

 

Another building designed by Pei’s firm — the John Hancock Tower in Boston — had a questionable future in the early 1970s when dozens of windows cracked and popped out, sending glass crashing to the sidewalks, during the time the building was under construction.

 

A flurry of lawsuits followed among the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., the glass manufacturer, and Pei’s firm. A settlement was reached in 1981.

 

No challenge seemed to be too great for Pei, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Pei, who admitted he was just catching up with the Beatles, researched the roots of rock `n’ roll and came up with an array of contrasting shapes for the museum. He topped it off with a transparent tent-like structure, which was “open — like the music,” he said.

 

In 1988, President Reagan honored him with a National Medal of Arts. He also won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1983, and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, 1979. President George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.

 

Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects. Two of his sons, Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, former members of their father’s firm, formed Pei Partnership Archiitects in 1992. Their father’s firm, previously I.M. Pei and Partners, was renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

 

The museum in Qatar that opened in 2008 was inspired by Islamic architectural history, especially the 9th century mosque of Ahmed ibn Tulun in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. It was established by the tiny, oil-rich nation to compete with rival Persian Gulf countries for international attention and investment.

 

Ieoh Ming Pei (pronounced YEE-oh ming pay) was born April 26, 1917, in Canton, China, the son of a banker. He later said, “I did not know what architecture really was in China. At that time, there was no difference between an architect, a construction man, or an engineer.”

 

Pei came to the United States in 1935 with plans to study architecture, then return to practice in China. However, World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from coming back.

 

During the war, Pei worked for the National Defense Research Committee. As an “expert” in Japanese construction, his job was to determine the best way to burn down Japanese towns. “It was awful,” he later said.

 

In 1948, New York City real estate developer William Zeckendorf hired Pei as his director of architecture. During this period, Pei worked on many large urban projects and gained experience in areas of building development, economics and construction.

 

Some of his early successes included the Mile High Center office building in Denver, the Kips Bay Plaza Apartments in Manhattan, and the Society Hill apartment complex in Philadelphia.

 

Pei established his own architectural firm in 1955, a year after he became a U.S. citizen. He remained based in New York City. Among the firm’s accomplishments are the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

 

Pei’s wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T’ing Chung, died in 2003. Besides sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, he is survived by a daughter, Liane.

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