Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Sun Rises in the East


And so the public option is dead, as the Democratic Party slowly marches its way towards extinction. When the health care reform process began, we had a health care system designed and run along the lines of a pachinko parlor: most of us sitting on our behinds rolling little balls in our hands much like Bogart in The Caine Mutiny; while the skim went to the Big Pharm/Big Insurance/Big Hospital yakuza-gumi.

Now that President Smarty Pants seems to be having his way, we'll be left with an even bigger and more expensive pachinko parlor in its place -- only the balls will be smaller. However, there will be change of enormous political significance: all Americans will now be forced to play pachinko. Since the one thing Americans hate most is being forced to do anything (especially to think), this will no doubt lead to a take-back of first the House and then the Senate by the Republican Afrikaner Party.

President Smarty Pants ain't so smart, is he?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Smile, 'Though Your Heart is Aching. . .



Meanwhile, our greatest journalist Chris Floyd tries not to lose it:
The new "Iran crisis" is such a sickening concoction of stupidity and lies that it almost defies comment. It certainly defies contemplation; even to think about it for thirty seconds is enough to bring on a bout of the dry heaves.

As we all know, Barack Obama and his Europuppies meant to make a big show of sword-waggling at the opening of the oh-so-momentous G20 summit in Pittsburgh. Iran beat them to the punch by formally notifying the IAEA of the new facility before the summit, but in any case, the "Iran crisis" served its purpose for the Masters of the West: it covered up the fact that they actually had nothing whatsoever to say about the ostensible theme of the summit -- solving the global economic collapse. If the "Iran crisis" had not sucked up all the media oxygen, these "leaders" might have had to explain why they have given trillions of public dollars to the perpetrators of the economic collapse, while letting millions upon millions of their citizens slide into jobless, homeless penury. They would have had to explain why they are taking nothing but the most ineffective, cosmetic measures to rein in the hyper-greed of the oligarchs. And they would have to admit that their only plan for addressing the crisis in the future is to do more of the same: giving the elite even more public money to use as they please.

But all the economic questions were blown away by the ever-sexy talk of war. And of course, all the hoo-rah about a new war also distracted from the White House dithering over the old, failing war in Afghanistan. It's the oldest con trick in the book: distracting the sucker while you pick his pocket.

But unfortunately it's not just a game: the militarists are in deadly earnest about attacking Iran, and year by year, they creep ever closer to their ultimate goal -- no matter which party controls the White House.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Murakami Scrapes Bottom

Perhaps the worst book ever written by a (formerly) major writer -- and truly amazing someone was paid to "write" this 180-page scribble. But then the publishing world is like the yakuza: once you're in, you're in. (Or you're dead.)

Open a page, any page. 24:
It's August 14th, a Sunday. This morning I ran an hour and fifteen minutes listening to Carla Thomas and Otis Redding on my MD player. In the afternoon I swam 1,400 yards at the pool and in the evening swam at the beach. And after that I had dinner--beer and fish--at the Hanalea Dolphin Restaurant just outside the town of Hanalea. The dish I have is walu, a kind of white fish. They grill it for me over charcoal, and I eat it with soy sauce. The side dish is vegetable kababs, plus a large salad.
No desert?

Page 139: 
There were torrential rains in parts of [Japan], and a lot of people died. They say it's all because of global warming. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. Some experts claim it is, some claim it isn't. There's some proof that it is, some proof that it isn't. But still people say that most of the problems the earth is facing are, more or less, due to global warming. When sales of apparel go down, when tons of driftwood wash up on the shore, when there are floods and droughts, when consumer prices go up, most of the fault is scribed to global warming. What the world needs is a set villain that people can point at and say, "It's all your fault!"
If only Karl Marx had such understanding.

88:
Young girls in revealing bikinis are sunbathing in beach towels, listening to their Walkmen or iPods. An ice cream van stops and sets up shop. Someone's playing a guitar, an old Neil Young tune, and a long-haired dog is single-mindedly chasing a Frisbee. A Democrat psychiatrist (at least that's who I think he is) drives along the river road in a russet-colored Saab convertible.
A Democrat psychiatrist -- "a least that's who I think he is." Since Murakami long ago stopped being able to perceive anyone beyond his or her Yuppie externals, how interesting. As Truman Capote once said of Kerouac "This isn't writing. It's typing."

And from page 99:
If possible, I'd like to avoid ... literary burnout. My idea of literature is something more spontaneous, more cohesive, something with a kind of natural, positive vitality. For me, writing a novel is like climbing a mountain, struggling up the face of the cliff, reaching the summit after a long and arduous ordeal. . . That's my aim as a novelist. And besides, at this point I don't have the leisure to be burned out. Which is exactly why even though people say 'He's no artist,' I keep on running.
Literary burnout?? This guy's become a cross between one of Billy Crystal's writing students in Throw Momma from the Train and John Cassavetes at the end of The Fury.

What happened?

Wind-Up Bird Chronicle remains not only one of the great late-20th Century novels, but for me one of the most important private books. I was lucky enough to find it, or it found me, during a time of brutal divorce. I read the book three times and it helped me to heal and to grieve. And there are other lovely achievements: Sputnik Sweetheart, South of the Border and the short story masterpiece "Tony Takitani." What happened to Murakami is right here in this flyspeck of a running book: the man now revels in his own navel-gazing narcissism. Has there ever been a writer as in love with his own thought process as Murakami? Okay, sure: Mailer, Miller, Lawrence, Henry James, Simone Weil, Goethe. But in Murakami's case, we're talking about a meatball mind. He seems very hip to the notion that one must push one's strengths and forget about what one was not blessed with. And when his beautiful craft and strangeness carried the day, he produced beautiful works. Since things began to fall apart at about the moment he became a Big Time Literary Celebrity, whatever balance he once had between the unconscious magic of creation and his own "ideas" was trashed by new found fame. The ideas became predominant. And trash is what he's produced since.

But he sure knows his audience -- evidently as self-involved and as incapable (or unwilling) to engage something outside themselves as is Murakami. He knows the happiness or sadness of every muscle in his body. Yet what about fatherhood, Haru-san? You've been married to the same lovely devoted woman since you were both in college, and you have all the yen in the world. Where are your children? Instead of wasting time on 62-mile Ubermarathons, try helping the poor. Try fighting in a war. Maybe try homelessness for a month, sort of a modern day Sullivan's Travels. Prison helps the soul, so they say. Try it.

Anything. But stop eating your damn walu.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Afrikaners

The guy's turning out to be a progressive's worst nightmare -- not only a sell-out but an incompetent sell-out.

Still, the idea that the anti-Obama corporate tools taking to the streets are not racists is idiotic.


The only difference between cracker midget George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse doorway and right now is the ability -- via blogs, hate radio and FoxNews -- to label good old-fashioned Klanism as "conservatism," "defense of freedom" and "taking back our country" (yeah, taking it back to 1840s Kentucky). Sure, Barry Goldwater tried it in '64, but that was before Ronald Reagan so the country wasn't completely stupid yet.

But the paymasters of the wad sure know what they're doing. If they can draw the line of "acceptable" ideology by labeling someone as racially unthreatening and as ideologically castrated as Barack Obama as some sort of combination of Hugo Chavez and Malcolm X (if only!), then what chance does a true progressive have?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nowhere Man

I worked for Obama across four states last year, and the year before, contributing financially to his campaign several times. Because when I asked myself the questions "Could this man go to sleep each night in the White House, especially next to his righteous wife, with blood on his hands? Could he live with himself after killing innocents?" My answer was "No" and "No." And what a difference that would make from the cracker fascists of the past eight years.

Things started to smell two days after election with Rahm Emanuel's appointment as WH Chief of Staff, Israel's best friend in Congress and a well-known hater of all things human. Then came the selection of the cabinet et. al. -- a true Confederacy of the Corrupt. The $20,000,000,000,000 transfer to the various Wall Street crime families, with no strings/investigations/trials/jail terms/or reforms attached. The embrace of all things Bush-Cheney in the "War on Terror." Labor's backstabbing via the killing of card check. The expansion of the Af/Pak war. The sell-out of all not-for-profit aspects of universal health care. The replacement of a liberal Supreme Court justice with a center-right mediocrity. The list goes on. . .

The final nail in the Obama coffin came, for me, this week. The great Chris Floyd, perhaps our best Western journalist, sums it up:
At some point earlier this month, Barack Obama took a moment out of his busy day to sign an "execute order." That is, he ordered American agents to kill a man without any legal procedure whatsoever: no arrest, no trial, no formal presentation – and disputation – of evidence, no defense…and no warning. They killed him on the open road, in a sneak attack; he was not engaged in combat, he was not posing an imminent threat to anyone at the time, he had not been charged with any crime. This kind of thing is ordinarily regarded as murder. Certainly, if you or I killed someone in this way – or paid someone to do it – then we would find ourselves in the dock, facing life imprisonment or our own execution. But then, you and I are subject to the law; our leaders are not.

Let's say it again, just to let the reality of the situation sink in a bit further: at some point last week, Barack Obama ordered men in his employ to murder another human being. And not a single voice of protest was raised anywhere in the American political and media establishments. Churchmen did not thunder from the pulpits about this lawless action. The self-proclaimed patriots and liberty-lovers on the ever-more militant Right did not denounce this most extreme expression of state tyranny: the leader's arbitrary power to kill anyone he pleases. It is simply an accepted, undisputed fact of American life today that American leaders can and do – and should – murder people, anywhere in the world, if they see fit. When this supreme tyranny is noted at all, it is simply to celebrate the Leader for his toughness -- or perhaps chide him for not killing even more people in this fashion.
 Floyd is writing about Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan.
These reflections are prompted by the killing of Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan man accused of being an al Qaeda operative. We are told – by unnamed American intelligence officials – that Nabhan was suspected of a hotel bombing in Kenya and a failed attempt to shoot down an airliner. We are told, by unnamed American intelligence officials, that Nabhan was suspected of involvement in the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa. Grievous accusations; they may even be true. But of course, how can we know? For are the unnamed American intelligence officials who tell us these things the same unnamed American intelligence officials who told us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who told us that Saddam Hussein was involved with al Qaeda? That he had purchased uranium "yellowcake" from Niger? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who used to tell us that the Soviet Union was not collapsing in the 1980s but was in fact developing super-secret weapons to destroy us all? Or that North Vietnamese boats had attacked American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin? Are these the same unnamed American intelligence officials who are always trotted out to justify any action or agenda of the government of the day, without ever producing any evidence whatsoever of their claims?
The next morning, Obama and Emanuel had a hearty breakfast of kippers, strawberry scones, and piping hot Kopi Luwak.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saya by Starlight

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who's Being Naive, Vince?

I have no doubt, none, that John F. Kennedy was murdered by his own national security state, a state (or significant parts of it) which -- because he was moving to end the Cold War and set America on a different sort of historical journey: politically, culturally, and morally -- saw the man as a traitor. So the fetid, life-hating, sex-hating scum -- let's picture them as this summer's Town Hall missing-links, only with lots and lots of power -- arranged to have his head blown off. At this point in our evaluation of the crime, the Warrenistas and the reality-based community both have a Mount Everest of facts and "factoids" to support their theory (any theory). Because of how much time has passed, because of the mind-numbing amount of information available, because of how each and every piece of evidence in the case has been politicized (is it just a coincidence that almost all Warren-supporters -- on the left we have Chomsky and punk Alex Cockburn, on the right we have... well everyone -- hate JFK?), because of serious new information continually being released -- we must choose. We must choose our narrative and any narrative at this point must leave out many things. For me, the atmosphere of the early 60s Cold War provides a much more logical generator of the crime than does psychobabble about Krazy Kommie Oswald doing the deed, simply because God/Marx/Marina's period caused Jack Kennedy to drive by Oswald's open window.

Vince Bugliosi disagrees and this 3,000 page monument to True Believing in Official Fairy Tales is the result. Unlike 90% of Reclaiming History reviewers, I've actually read all 1,700 text pages, 1,000 pages of endnotes (just print them out from the CD based on what chapter you're in -- great endnotes!), hundreds of source note pages, plus two photo sections. You must hand it to Mr. Bugliosi -- he sure is the Joan of Arc of this event. Regardless of POV -- and of course his POV is to basically suffocate and de-mystify the mysterious -- one cannot but admire his passion and hard work. And, he is a very funny writer. His various descriptions of Oswald the Cheapskate, Oswald the Potential Jet Hijacker ("jumping around the house in his underwear, preparing athletically for the hijacking, only caused baby June to think he was playing with her"), Marina the Sex Maniac, Marguerite the Harpy (and the Sex Maniac). His best humor (and his nastiest spite) is left for the real chuckleheads in the research community: the pathetic Robert Groden (VB's telling of Groden's self-destruction over O.J.'s shoes is almost worth the price of the book), the hapless "photo expert" Jack White, Mark Lane's endless sliminess and self-promotion etc.

But the problem with the book is its boy scout level worship of everything official. Bugliosi discredits most everything he writes because from early on we see that his prism is exactly what one would expect from an establishment-based former D.A. (From L.A. of all places. Los Angeles law enforcement may not be the cesspool that Dallas's was in the early 60s, but it was [and is] pretty close.) The book is a valentine to the honor of Gerald Ford, Earl Warren, Allen Dulles, David Belin, Arlen Specter, Henry Wade(!), Jesse Curry, Will Fritz, J.Edgar Hoover(!!), every member of the Dallas Police Department (except Roger Craig, of course), every member of the FBI, every member of the Clark Panel/Rockefeller Commission/HSCA/ARRB, every member of the Secret Service (except Abraham Bolden), every member of the mainstream media circa 1963-64, the Bethesda autopsy doctors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Dick Helms and James Angleton, those fine patriots David Phillips, David Morales, and Guy Bannister, plus every official crime lab Vince could think of.

How touching. (Or as VB would say, "my, my.") Yes, my-my indeed. What sort of world does Bugliosi live in? Are we really supposed to take on faith -- which is what one must do to accept much of the evidence he provides -- the honor of people involved in investigating such a history-changing event? Yes, we are. There must be a 1,000 instances in the text and endnotes along the lines of: "What kind of loonie-bird could believe [fill-in-the-blank] would jeopardize his life/career/reputation/freedom by covering up murder?"

Well, where do we start? Sadly, the history of the world is one long continuing account of people in power doing exactly that in order to remain in power, exactly to keep their reputations/freedoms/careers. If a bunch of cheap Ivy League (and oh boy how VB loves the Ivy League!) legal hustlers trying to make their bones are faced with the challenge of covering up a crime which if exposed would crack in two the very establishment they wish to enter and dominate, and if there is already plenty of proof that being offered that gig and turning it down for some kind of pusillanimous and righteous reason may lead to harmful effects (Ruby/Oswald being Exhibit A), the really confusing and naive conclusion would be to assume the hustlers would not grab for the brass ring. And to assume some sort of holy righteousness on the part of the apparatchiks who made up the Warren Commission, a personal morality that would lead John McCone to stand up and say "Hey, Mr. Chief Justice. This stinks. And the odor is coming from my pal James Angleton's death-squad offices down at Langley, and from our Mexico City Station" -- to quote that great philosopher Michael Corleone: "Who's being naive, Vince?"

If only the world and the powerful were that way. We know they are not. And surely former D.A. Bugliosi knows they are not. So one wonders what private ghosts he is trying to exorcise with this book. He's a brilliant man with a great sense of humor -- he can't possibly believe in the automatic honor of these people, can he? Is he trying to convince himself in a late stage of life that everything he did in service to establishment power was not so much sound and fury, signifying nothing? Is Mr. Bugliosi trying to make up for not becoming a revolutionary? Is he trying to avoid the same feeling Dave "Maurice Bishop" Phillips felt on his death bed, when he confessed to his estranged brother that "Yes" he was in Dallas on 11/22/63? -- the kind of feeling one gets when one looks toward eternity?

I believe Mr. Bugliosi is -- unlike practically all members of great power elites -- an honorable man. There is no way someone creates this sort of work for the money. And it is heroic how far he went with his obsession. (In medieval times, like his role model Joan of Arc, he would've been burned at the stake.) Next time, sir, see a psychiatrist.

(And for what really happened that day in Dallas: James Douglass's JFK and the Unspeakable has the answer.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Maggie

In Centre Stage (1991), the greatest of all Hong Kong movies, Maggie Cheung plays herself, plays immortal silent-screen star Ruan Lingyu, and plays Ruan Lingyu playing various tragic heroines. Yet we are always watching Maggie. How could we not?


Centre Stage is one of the rare viewing experiences which restore and deepen one's love and understanding of movies. From a negative point-of-view, the film reminds us (by embodying a whole other approach) of the tawdriness and triviality of US movies and pop culture generally. What if this were an American movie about an American female icon (Monroe, Gloria Swanson, Margaret Sullavan, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland)? The character (and no doubt the approach taken by the woman playing the character) would be defined by whom she slept with, whom she didn't sleep with, what sort of drugs she took, how many times she beat up her kids, how many times she showed up drunk on the set. "Truth" defined as filth. Yet (of course) the movie would end with some sentiment telling us how terribly misunderstood the American legend was and how basically good she was. Most important, there would be no connections made between the woman, her life, and the power relations surrounding her.

Positively, Centre Stage is pure tenderness -- pure joy, heart, and magic. Cheung, one of the most beautiful women of her time, also happens to be one of the greatest movie actresses (the greatest?) of her time. Her look is always mesmerizing, but Centre Stage is another place entirely: the 1920s and early 30s visions she embodies as Ruan Lingyu make her unearthly -- director Stanley Kwan's desire: for Kwan defines Lingyu in purely spiritual terms -- as a great, beautiful soul: great because entirely moral: incapable of evil, or rudeness, or anything degrading of life: beauty outside because beauty inside. Kwan tethers physical beauty and grace to moral and spiritual grace. But of course it's as much Cheung as Kwan. Perhaps she is as strong a moral agent on set as was Cary Grant. Here, she makes the movie glow with holiness, she and Kwan rejecting postmodern morality, particularly as it applies to private life.



One of the most beautiful women of our time turns out to be one of the strongest movie forces for "goodness" in our time. Maggie Cheung is the anti-Madonna. (Or, actually, the true Madonna.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Glory and the Sorrow


The most beautifully written, most passionate, and probably the saddest of all the books in the canon. As a reader of most everything released on John and Robert Kennedy and their murders, I certainly never expected to pick up a Kennedy book and find myself thinking on almost every page: "Man, I never knew that." You'll find yourself thinking the same throughout Brothers.

The book rejects all irony, camp, narcissism, deconstructionism, moral relativism, nihilism, sexual prurience and other malignancies of our time. (`Though the word "Bush" is mentioned.) John and Robert Kennedy were heroes. They were murdered by evil men. End of story.

David Talbot takes the top off the cesspool of enemies who brought down the US Government in 1963 and murdered the leading Presidential candidate of 1968. Who were the enemies? Sex haters, race haters, America-Firsters, oil junkies, mob guys, fascist intelligence agents, military dictators, tweed-covered garbage such as Dick Helms and Des FitzGerald, right-wing publishers and editors, drug executioners, psychopathic politicians, Goldwaterites. (Basically the sum and substance of the Bush Reich.) And that's the horror of the book. Forty years later, what is left on a popular or establishment level of the idea that society and government must be judged by the way the weakest and most vulnerable among us are taken care of?

The answer is: nothing. There is nothing left of that. Which is why the sense of doom and sorrow one takes from Brothers will be long lasting. The worst of our history murdered the best and got away with it. Scott free. Not only did they get away with it, but they've created the sort of society diametrically opposed to everything JFK and RFK stood for: a country where the least human and most nakedly aggressive dominate everything. This was the newer world others' sought. Born from the gore of Dealey Plaza, they've achieved it.

For a bracing and deeply moving reminder of what was lost, one cannot do better than David Talbot's magnificent book.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Wound


What is there about this intense, brave, confused, very funny, and very tender-hearted campaign -- lasting a mere 82 days -- that haunts us more than ever after 41 years? Why is it impossible to see even a glimpse of Robert Kennedy on television without feeling, in Norman Mailer's words, "sorrowful as rue in the throat"?

Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign moves us toward the answer, in a way that is more like a piece of music than a literary creation. He makes us understand that the campaign -- the wound that will never heal -- was not constructed as an ideological pursuit, and as Clarke takes us forward we understand that it doesn't make much strategic sense either. Yet it is difficult to imagine a campaign which has ever embodied something as intensely specific as this one: what it means to be human. For Robert Kennedy that meant obsessive concern with all that is hurt, hungry, ignored, degraded, invisible; tenderness toward the broken; self-deprecation bordering on shame for all he was blessed with; political, moral and physical bravery that would make Hemingway flinch; self-criticism and self-learning.

He burned with everything that's been burned out of our land and out of our political culture. The last campaign recalls us to those moments in our lives, so rare, that made us fully alive, better than we thought we could be, more romantic, more brave, more moral. He lived that way every day, at least toward the end. The heartbreak of the book is, of course, the knowledge we have of what followed the extinguishing of the flame. Nixon. Watergate. Carter. Reagan. Let's mention that one again: Reagan. Bush I. Clinton I. Bush II. And almost Clinton II.

Which leads to our current hope. As someone who worked for the Obama campaign beginning in '07, the book made me quite sad. Perhaps a leader, especially in the cool ironic virtual world of our own, cannot burn by such a light. Yet the comparison goes beyond. Compared to RFK's campaign, Obama's didn't do a thing to challenge the paradigm of spin, calculation, focus groups, or safety which has suffocated every national campaign since 1968. In the closing days of the primaries, Barack Obama was giving the same stump speech in South Dakota that he gave back in Iowa in January. Kennedy changed his message all day, every day -- challenging whomever he was speaking with, saying the things which would irk them the most. Whenever Obama came to a fork in the road, between going toward courage or going toward safety, he chose safety each time (denouncing his pastor, leaving his church, suddenly turning into an anti-Castro Cuban in Florida, changing his positions in several ways before AIPAC). Well, we have what we have, and we must make do. Perhaps Barack Obama is also an existential figure, with whom God is not yet finished. Let us hope so.

Thurston Clarke's book is as passionate and human as was the campaign he's covered. And as short. One takes it slow. One does not want it to end. It is a major achievement. Norman Mailer, once more: "Tragedy is amputation. The nerves of one's memory run back to the limb which is no longer there."

Robert F. Kennedy - R.I.P.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why Are People So Dumb About Movies?

Try an experiment. Next time you're with a group of three or four friends, bring up the subject of movies. Throw down the gauntlet in any way you'd like: mention a director, a title, a scene, a piece of music. Unless you're a very lucky person, the discussion which follows will be a mixture of almost complete ignorance and almost complete knowingness about the form.

Movies are wonderfully democratic. And it is their very openness and the easy access we now have to a century of movie history via DVD, streaming, cable and torrents which makes the narrowness of most movie discussions so frustrating. During what can be argued as a Golden Age for world cinema -- an era dominated by giants such as the Dardenne Brothers, Stanley Kwan, Pedro Costa, Abbas Kiarostami, Takeshi Kitano, Olivier Assayas, Terence Davies, Hou hsiao-hsien, Charles Burnett, Jia Zhang-ke -- why are so many movie discussions stuck in the rut of deciding whether the Coen boys are better than Spike Lee, Ron Howard better than M. Knight Shyamalan, Fincher over Tarantino?


Mainstream US media, of course. Yes that ever present malignancy not only destroys healthy politics and all moral complexities in general, but movie culture as well. Just as one must work hard every day to retain a full and correct view of life, in the face of non-stop corporate defacing of life, so one must work hard at not losing one's film sense (or fiction sense, art sense, jazz sense). One must work it, like a muscle or a curve ball or a right-cross. How? By watching. For every Clint Eastwood western inflicted on one's soul, one must clean it out with an Anthony Mann or a Raoul Walsh or (there goes Clint) Rio Bravo. And reading. Not reading screenplays, God knows. But reading the beauty of critics such as James Harvey, Chris Fujiwara, Catherine Russell, Raymond Carney, Robin Wood, James Naremore, and Joan Mellen.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Decline and Fall

I once counted the days 'til the new Murakami translation hit the racks (or the computer screens). Now, it's like receiving a telegram -- dread accompanies the opening. Kafka on the Shore is not particularly awful -- unless you keep in mind as you read it Murakami's past greatness (Wind Up Bird Chronicle). Very past, for he has morphed into the worst sort of Designer Fictionist, with a dollop of cranky right-wing politics dropped in. (The scene with the feminists invading the sovereign state of Komura Library is easily the worst scene Murakami has written. And why did the lost love of the book's heroine have to be beaten to death by a bunch of leftist Japanese students? Why not by the police, the school administration, or the Yakuza? Beating up on feminists and 1960s radicals: hey, now there's a brilliantly brave thing to do in the early 21st-century.) Murakami spends more time (MUCH more) describing the Nike shoes, and Lauren cardigans, and Opus One wines, and Piaget pens, and borsalino jackets, and Armani belts, and . . . well, you get the picture. What you don't get is the slightest freshness of character, wit, or idea. You have a know-it-all 15-year-old kid, a retarded yet infinitely wise old man, a dreamy 50-something Japanese woman, and other not very interesting types. Throughout the whole book, Murakami skims. Politics, classical music, surfing, Kafka (the writer), classic cars, architecture, the history of the Pacific War -- Murakami touches on all of it and brings nothing to life, or to mind - except the definite adoration he has for his own thought process. (And his sex scenes are written as if by someone who's never actually done it.) By page 300 of this 400-plus page book, you'll stop caring, and you'll lose all patience with the New Age ramblings of the various characters. A once great writer has become a poseur. A genuine tragedy.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stars in My Crown

What a Golden Age of Kennedy Assassination history and interpretation! Masterpieces of writing and research: Gerald McKnight's brilliantly argued Breach of Trust; Professor Joan Mellen's white-hot Farewell to Justice; and the tributary hymn-of-despair in David Talbot's Brothers. (We've also had the occasional fly-in-the-ointment from hall monitors and disinformationists: Waldron, Myers, Russo, Sturdivan, Bugliosi, Robert Stone. And it is amusing how virulently, predictably, and cowardly the mainstream media -- the Cerberai of the Unspeakable - continue to bark at the moon. As Lyndon Johnson once said: "Throw your bread upon the waters, and the sharks will get it.")

James Douglass's JFK and the Unspeakable is also a hymn, in a way a companion piece to the Talbot book. But Douglass's sound is a hymn of belief, hope, and transcendence. In Kennedy's murder by the forces of the Unspeakable, a contemporary crucifixion, Douglass sees meaning beyond the resulting Vietnam genocide, beyond the takeover of our society by back-stabbers, soul-crushers and ghouls, beyond the shifting of cultural meaning toward something hideously empty and narcissistic -- meaning in the symbol of a man willing to die for his beliefs, for his (in Douglass's term) "turning." One can argue with this, for at the heart of Douglass's profoundly spiritual argument, there is something anti-political. Rather than viewing John Kennedy's murder as a political and economic act by men who saw themselves only in those terms, we experience it through Douglass's writing as a modern day Stations of the Cross. First Station: Kennedy refuses war with Laos. Second Station: Kennedy refuses invasion and air attacks during the Bay of Pigs; Third Station: Berlin Wall goes up, Kennedy lets it stand. Etc. It is an agony, as we follow Kennedy's turning and his movement toward the Golgotha of Dallas.


So what do we do? Much can be said for acceptance and a belief in transcendence, a belief in Grace. But as Jack Kennedy said: "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own." Do we let this crucifixion stand? Do we accept the vampires now in almost complete control? Do we try to protect a man who may soon be experiencing his own turning, Barack Obama? (Not necessary.) Do we take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them? Can they ever be ended here on earth? Do we let Catholicism be defined by Hitler-Jugend Joseph Ratzinger, the man who led the war against Liberation Theology? Do we let Christianity be defined by Tim LaHaye and his life-haters?

Such questions. That JFK and the Unspeakable forces us to ask them marks the Douglass book as a rare and beautiful masterpiece, one I'll be going back to many times through the years.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Goodbye, Ted

As Senator Ted Kennedy leaves us, he takes with him a spirit and humanity and hunger for justice as vanished from American political life as is the Whistlestop. He was the Job of his time. Who has ever had to face the public grief this man faced? Not only his three brothers, his beloved older sisters, his nephews Michael and John Jr. He also had to face the heartbreak of the country he loved so much and worked so hard to humanize being turned into a snake-pit of psychopathic ambition, grimness, self-delusion, historical ignorance, and endless lies.

He was born to serve and serve he did, in a tireless and very serious way. If we failed to appreciate him during his lifetime, perhaps it was because he was a man being compared to myths. Every day he fought for the weak against the strong -- in a society now controlled by beasts.


He made his brothers proud.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sorrow and Loss: Kitano's "Dolls"

Takeshi Kitano has always been one of the strangest of film artists: a moving combination of extreme violence and extreme tenderness -- a sort of a Japanese mix of  Peckinpah and Max Ophuls. Who else, other than Nicholas Ray, can claim such a range? Dolls -- released to empty Tokyo houses back in 2002 and finally making it to the cinematically barren shores of the US in '05 (for one week) -- is Kitano at his most tender. Three stories are interwoven, and the dolls of the title refer to those among us -- a vanishing breed -- whose depth of love is too strong for the world: they live in a world beyond ours. Characters such as these once held a primary place in the focus of world art. (Balzac made a career of them.) No more, outside of hearts such as Kitano's. Much in this movie, I imagine, comes from his life. The aging Yakuza (wonderfully played by Tatsuya Mihashi) is Kitano the guilty husband. The lonely idol disfigured by car accident leads us back to Kitano's near-death in a motorcycle crack-up. Perhaps the forsaken woman embodied by Chieko Matsubara and the main character Sawako is the director's dual valentine of apology to his loyal (and constantly betrayed) wife. Where it comes from doesn't matter. What does are some of the most moving moments in modern cinema: the fade out on the groupie madly in love with the pretty pop star, as he rocks out, headphones on, alone in his bedroom; the moment of recognition by Mihashi as he sees Matsubara still waiting, years later, at their chosen bench; Sawako holding up her angel necklace, as she and her lover gaze back into time, seeing the moment when the necklace was first given to her; the groupie and pop star "smelling the roses"; and the incomparable moment when Matsumoto, Miho Kanno's betrayer, realizes his fate is forever linked to hers -- because of his betrayal -- as he leads her toward the road they must travel together.

Kitano's films have often been about the struggle to protect love (romantic and fraternal) through violence. Hana-bi (translation: Fire Flower) is the greatest of these. In Dolls, there is no violence. Only the sadness at the end of all roads taken to embody love, at the cost of everything else. The music by Joe Hisaishi and the photography by Katsumi Yanagijima are beyond compare, in this truly great film.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Saint Joan

The United States of America has never really had its J'Accuse! -- until now. While the Dreyfus Affair was mere curiosity compared to the permanent, global-reaching effects of the national security state execution of President John F. Kennedy (don't think they're permanent? -- pick up a newspaper), quite a few books on the crime have been labeled Zolaesque: Rush to Judgment, Weisberg's Whitewash, Sylvia Meagher's Accessories After the Fact (a worthy forerunner to Farewell to Justice -- Meagher and Mellen being sisters of heart, toughness, and understanding -- if not conclusion), Anthony Summers's Conspiracy and, of course, Gerald Posner's Case Closed. (Just kidding). But they weren't, because they couldn't be. The cover-up of the crime continued well into the 1990s and -- like the film or not -- it was Stone's JFK which caused the break in the dam. The wave of the past couple decades, beginning with the publication and media-embrace of the malignant Case Closed, has been intensely anti-conspiracy. As all US society has seemingly moved toward the worship of power for power's sake, leading to the establishment of the Bush/Cheney Reich, anti-conspiracy ideology has become its own form of totalitarianism: in the power-saturated universe of Millennial America, seething with plots, anti-plot pronouncements have become as necessary as squeals in a slaughterhouse. But there has been a counterwave, now tidal. More fresh evidence regarding 11/22/63 has become available these past years than was available to the Warren Commission, Jim Garrison, or the House Assassinations Committee when they were conducting their investigations/cover-ups. We've had to be patient, and now it's pay-off time: Christopher Lawford on the family, Gareth Porter on JFK and Vietnam, Bradley Ayers and Richard Whalen on Kennedy and Cuba, Gerald McKnight on the Commission, and David Talbot's coming book on Bobby and the murder (`though the Mellen book may've made that release somewhat compromised).

Farewell to Justice is the book we've been waiting for since the day the music died. Professor Joan Mellen's always been one of the world's best film critics, a magnificent biographer (Kay Boyle, Marilyn Monroe, Bobby Knight!), and a great writing teacher. Now she has broken the case. There's no guessing here. No theoretical chapters on the validity of the Zapruder Film, the DalTex Building vs. a storm-drain opening, no jacket holes or bullet fragments. Just the moment-by-moment narrative of what happened to Jack Kennedy, 46 years ago. And, best of all, why it happened. The names are here: initiators, designers, the middle-managers, and the mechanics. Mellen is also overwhelming in her recapture of what was really happening in early 60s USA. Not only those who care not about history relive it. As Americans, all of us re-live Dallas every day of our lives. Everywhere we look, we can see the ghost of John F. Kennedy -- and the shadows of the men and women who killed him. There is only one way to finally let him -- and us -- rest in peace: a cleaning-out from power of all those directly and indirectly responsible for the murder, and of all those who have knowingly benefited from it. Germany could only put the ghosts of the Third Reich to rest through a complete de-Nazification. The United States must do the same.

There is also sadness in the book, for those of us who see the Kennedys as true heroes. (And they were.) Mellen has solved many mysteries in the book and one of the most startling is her clinching the case as to whether or not Robert Kennedy knew of the Castro murder plots. As Mellen demonstrates, his involvement went beyond mere knowledge. By answering this question, she also answers the question as to why the Kennedy Family has been so forceful in impairing post-Warren investigations of the crime.

Mellen's passion, brilliance, understanding, writing talent and just-plain-sleuthing-genius has resulted in a book which will change history. The corporate media will no doubt try to burn her at the stake. They will fail. Because there is no answer to this book. Except justice and revenge.