Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sophisticated Lady

The purest and probably the greatest female jazz singer of the American Century, born 100 years ago this week.

Six moods: Ellington, Porter, Rodgers & Hart, Arlen, Berlin, and again the Duke.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Fifty-six years ago this month, President John F. Kennedy and Cuban Premier Fidel Castro were each targeted by the American national security state. The young Premier with overthrow and death. The young President with blackmail and betrayal, leading to his death 31 months later.

From 1952 to 1959, Fulgencio Batista was the face of Cuba's comprador class, fronting for what truly controlled the Cuban state and its destiny: U.S. corporations and the U.S. mob. Even as late as the autumn of '58, these American forces showed no concerns regarding a loss (or slippage) of control.

It was not to be, even though Vice President Richard M. Nixon took significantly more mob money in 1960 than did his opponent, arriving to Nixon via the Teamsters and the Howard Hughes/CIA crime combine.

How silly of Francis Coppola to present "the mob" as the real power within the American deep state. "Bigger than U.S. Steel"? Yeah, that's why mob flunkies (among others) were hired to kill the man who defied U.S. Steel in April of '62.

On New Year's Day 1959, Fidel Castro's revolutionary army at last took Cuba back for Cubans. (In an unfortunate accident, Batista was allowed to flee the island -- with tens of millions of dollars -- and live in exile until 1973.)

In May 1959, the new people's government enacted the Agrarian Reform Law -- limiting the size of farms to 3,000 acres and real estate to 1,000 acres. Any holdings over these limits were expropriated by the government and redistributed to peasants in 70-acre parcels, or held as state-run communes. The law also stipulated that sugar plantations could not be owned by foreigners.

February 1960: the Soviet Union provides Cuba with $100,000,000 in credit and signs an agreement to purchase sugar in exchange for oil.

July 1960: Eisenhower bans all imports of Cuban sugar.

August 1960: Castro nationalizes all U.S. oil refineries, sugar mills, electricity and telephone utilities.

January 3, 1961: lame-duck Ike ends diplomatic relations with Cuba and closes the American embassy in Havana. Two weeks later, he gives his renowned "military-industrial complex" warning speech -- coming from the man who allowed that complex to be formed in the first place, whose foreign policy was hijacked by the Dulles brothers, leading to the overthrow (or attempted overthrow) of democratically-elected governments in Albania, Iran, Laos, Guatemala, Burma, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Indonesia, British Guyana, while refusing to allow free elections in Vietnam. And sometime back in '60 -- not long after JFK accepted the Democratic nomination for President -- Eisenhower, Nixon, Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, John J. McCloy and other American capitalists decided to murder Fidel, his brother Raul, Che, and the revolution itself. Along with hopes for regime decapitation, CIA in that summer of '60 invented the Trinidad Plan: 2,000 anti-Castro "exiles" to land at daybreak on some Cuban shore, backed by American amphibious and air support.

What is now known as the Bay of Pigs invasion (and the Battle of Playa Girón in Cuba) would become new president John F. Kennedy's second Station of the Cross (Laos the previous month was his first), in Kennedy's road toward the Golgotha of Dallas. The same month he made clear his refusal to send American troops to Laos and his support for a neutralist Laotian government including the communist Pathet Lao, Kennedy cancelled CIA's Trinidad, while going along with the criminal invasion itself. The revised plan presented by CIA director Dulles and covert action chief Richard Bissell would land 1,200 "exiles" at night with no American military support, Bissell assuring Kennedy that no American air strikes would be necessary and that disaffected Cubans would join the brigade in a revolt against Castro and the revolution. Kennedy agreed, reserving the right to cancel the invasion at the last minute -- while repeatedly stressing to his intelligence and military commanders that no follow-up support by American troops or American hardware in case things went wrong would occur. He told CIA deputy director Charles Cabell (whose brother Earle would be Mayor of Dallas on 11/22/63) that the Cuban Expeditionary Force (using painted-over CIA airplanes) should be allowed to only launch airstrikes from a strip within the beachhead, an opportunity which never came because the "exiles" were not able to establish one.

The first betrayal by Kennedy's commanders was to insure that no cancellation by him would be possible. CIA's chief military adviser told the anti-Castro Cubans what to do in case of a last minute stoppage of the invasion: "If this happens you come here and make some kind of show, as if you were putting us, the U.S. advisers, in prison, then you go ahead with the program as we have talked about it, and we will give you the whole plan, even if we are your prisoners. Place an armed Brigade solider at each American's door, cut all communications with the outside, until we give the go ahead for when and how to leave for Trampoline base [the invasion's launching point in Nicaragua]." When Attorney General Robert Kennedy later learned of this contingency, he called it by its correct name: "treason."

John F. Kennedy did not stop the invasion. On April 15, 1961, Cuban airfields were bombed by "mystery planes" in order to destroy the revolution’s air force. Eight B-26 bombers attacked airfields at Ciudad Libertad, San Antonio de los Baños and Santiago de Cuba, destroying only a quarter of Cuba's fighter planes. The next day, 1,200 "exiles" landed at Playa Girón, where things began to fall apart immediately.

Kennedy realized he had been drawn into a trap. Daniel Schorr of CBS News attended a Havana conference on the 40th anniversary of the invasion:
"The CIA overlords of the invasion -- director Dulles and his deputy Bissell -- had their own plan of how to bring the United States into the conflict. It appears they never really expected an uprising against Castro, when the liberators landed. What they did expect was that the invaders would establish and secure a beachhead, announce the creation of a counterrevolutionary government, and appeal for aid from the United States and the Organization of American States. The presumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct U.S. involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots. American forces, probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead. In effect, Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed."
Kennedy was shocked by the trap: send in American combat troops to rescue the brave "exiles" or suffer a humiliating defeat before the whole world, the first by an American president since Pearl Harbor. CIA was shocked by his refusal to invade. After three days of fighting, the invading force was defeated by the Cuban army. In Havana, ten counterrevolutionaries were executed for treason. Two CIA agents captured a few days before the invasion were executed. All 1,200 "exiles" were captured or killed. The Battle of Playa Girón was a total victory for the Castro revolution, and for anti-American nationalist forces around the globe.

Kennedy was furious. He told aides Kenneth O'Donnell and Dave Powers, after it was over: "They were sure I'd give in to them and send the go-ahead order to the Essex [the Navy carrier waiting to launch airstrikes]. They couldn't believe that a new President like me wouldn't panic and try to save his own face. Well, they had me figured all wrong."

And he took steps. He created National Security Action Memorandum 55, stripping all military operations from CIA and handing them to the Pentagon. He cut CIA's budgets (in ever-increasing amounts) for years 1962, '63, and '64. He told his aides he wanted to "splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." "I have learned one thing from this business [the Bay of Pigs] -- that is, we will have to deal with CIA. . . no one has dealt with CIA."

He fired the four principal planners of the invasion: Director Allen Dulles, Deputy Director Richard Bissell, Deputy Director General Charles Cabell, and "executive action" commander William Harvey.

Dulles would later return to run the Warren Commission. And toward the end of his life, in an interview with Harper's Magazine writer Willie Morris, Dulles said something unprompted (and with vehemence): "That little Kennedy. . . He really thought he was President. He thought he was a God."

Far from thinking he was a God, John F. Kennedy lived with a raven on his shoulder. From an early age, death was his companion: lying in bed with scarlet fever as a boy, a chronic blood condition in boarding school, ulcers and colitis at Harvard, crippling back problems intensified by war injuries which plagued him until the end of his life, the early deaths of his older siblings Joe and Kathleen. Death was always a step away. He did not fear it.

What Kennedy came to fear, especially after the Bay of Pigs and the new knowledge of what he was up against, was not his own death, but the death of humanity -- by a nuclear war regularly pushed or willingly risked by most of his own national security state. Not long after the humiliations of the failed Cuban invasion, his secretary Evelyn Lincoln found a piece of paper fallen from his desk, with two lines in Kennedy's handwriting:

"I know there is a God and I see a storm coming.
If He has a place for me, I believe that I am ready."

The Cuban invasion forced upon him a terrible knowledge: that he was imprisoned by the demands of his own government. John F. Kennedy rebelled against the economic, political, and even spiritual powers which made up the walls of that prison. In the short span of his presidency, he compromised with those powers in many ways. (Allowing the Cuban invasion to go ahead was perhaps the worst compromise.) But in the end, especially though all of '63, he stood his ground -- and took the bullets.

Two days after his total defeat at Playa Girón, John Kennedy held a press conference:

The same day as the conference, in the first public appearance since the invasion, Fidel Castro formally declared the Cuban revolution as "socialist."

Fifty-six years later, it still is.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Barry at the Bat

Actually, without it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


"There is one thing that I do not believe; that is that any one deliberately wants us to be unhappy. I think that things were made so that everybody can be happy. I think that our unhappiness is a sort of disease which we create ourselves, with big chills-and-fever, with bad water, and with the evil that we catch from each other in breathing the same air. I think that if we knew how to live, perhaps we wouldn't be ill. With the habits we've gotten into now, all our life is a struggle; we strike out in the water, we fight, to keep from going under. Our whole life long. Whether it be your animals, whether it be your seeds, your plants, your trees, you've got to police against them all. What we want, it seems that the entire world does not want. They seem to do it on purpose. That must have given us a distaste for everything, in the end. That must have forced our bodies to produce any old way, how can we tell? . . . The world forces us to shed blood. Perhaps we are unconsciously creating a special kind of blood, a blood of distaste, and instead of there flowing through our bodies, everywhere -- in our arms, in our thighs, in our hearts, in our stomachs, in our lungs -- a blood of desire, our great pipe system washes us with a blood of disgust."  -- Jean Giono, The Joy of Man's Desiring

Friday, April 21, 2017


The 107th anniversary of the passing of America's greatest writer.

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .

And as for a flag for our newly conquered land, it is easily managed. We can have a special one--our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Heart of Glass

"God made everything out of nothing; but the nothing shows through."
- Paul Valery

Upon its release, Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris embraced it as "the only truly great American movie of the 1970s" and later listed it as one of the ten greatest movies ever made. (This was actually defended a few years back by a fellow VV chucklehead.) Pauline Kael dismissed it as "mere out-takes from Annie Hall." And there were reports of New Yorkers -- still smarting from the slings and arrows of the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" era -- standing and cheering its opening montage.

What were these people, Kael aside, looking at? Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) is about the most despicable and hard to sit through movie I can think of, an Advertisements for Myself told by an idiot, intriguing only for the sad, smug, and smarmy future it pointed us toward: the death of New York City and its takeover by the Mutant Elite. NOT -- as its creator mind-bogglingly once suggested in an interview -- via a Death in Venice sort of prescience, but by embodying so much of the coming shit-storm: class apartheid, the creation of an ever-thickening bell jar protecting the culture class (and the culture business) from the obviousness of its mediocrity and irrelevance, Art as Therapy, the Poseur Wad (Zagats, Time Out, Yelp, and the NYT "Arts and Leisure" section), and the final tragedy: a New York City with no root to the past and no suggestion of the future; a city that celebrates our loss: that we're left with less and less sense of the lives of the men and women who came before us.

Wouldn't that continue to be the case with Woody Allen? For forty years in control of a directorial freedom unmatched in American movie history (or perhaps a good example of a dog not knowing it's chained because it never wanders very far from the peg), Allen has completed his 48th feature film, without for a moment engaging:

-- the Ed Koch/Ronald Reagan 80s

-- the people's city under Mayor David Dinkens, so beautifully captured in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant

-- the Seinfeld/Clinton/Giuliani miasma

-- post 9/11

-- or our current financialized Prison Island

Nothing. Not a damned moment of any one. Yet, perhaps Allen is an ivory-tower artist, someone dealing with Great Themes and Eternal Truths. What are the suffocating 92 minutes of Manhattan truly about?

The story: middle-aged TV writer Isaac Davis -- with book contract as back-up -- quits his SNL-type job out of creative and spiritual pique, while dating 17-year-old Dalton student Mariel Hemingway. His best friend "Yale" -- God, what a snob wannabe Allen is -- is having an affair with the nails-across-the-blackboard Diane Keaton, whom Yale eventually dumps out of marital guilt, leaving her to desperately glom onto Isaac, causing Davis to dump Tracy-the-teenager, supposedly out of boredom. Yale has second thoughts, leaves his wife to live with Keaton, who dumps Isaac, causing Isaac to re-evaluate Tracy's blank face, along with Mozart's "Jupiter Symphony," Swedish movies (at one point we're forced to watch Allen leave a revival house and shake his head over Inagaki and Dovzhenko!), Louis Armstrong, and the crabs at Sam Wo's. Isaac rushes madly to his now-revealed True Love, only to learn it is too late: the teenager is off to London. Cue the Gershwin.

Bad enough, but made even worse by Gordon Willis's entombed imagery, InstantArt©. (Much as the Gershwin provides InstantLonging© -- imagine this flick with the music turned off.) (And while we're at it, let's add Gordo to our own Academy of the Overrated, along with Allen, Keaton, and Andrew Sarris.)

Again, what is the movie about? That Woody Allen is:

A sexual genius

Not a homunculus

The smartest, realist, and most moral guy on the planet

And most empathically not:

a short, ugly, self-righteous middle-brow

How the movie appropriates -- beyond the Gershwin and the Black-and-White -- to no use at all: the lovely park at the end of East 57th Street, the sadly gone Russian Tea Room, the sadly not-gone Bloomingdale's, F.A.O. Schwarz, the Hayden Planetarium, hansom cab rides at night. While spitting out Catholics, pigeons, Lee Harvey Oswald, destructive moving-men, Porsche owners, Virginia Woolf, African diplomats, and poor kids in Bolivia. And what is this little kid Willie (as-in-Mays) doing in the movie, other than being a prop-ad for Woody-as-great-Central Park athlete/father? And why are we constantly looking at blank apartment walls and corners while characters chatter off-screen?

In this retardo version of Death in Venice, what are we told are the evils of dying '79 Manhattan, on the cusp of Reagan? (The only "politics" in the movie is an ERA event at MOMA and Isaac wanting to punch out some New Jersey Nazis.) The planned destruction of unions and New York's working class? The beginnings of what would become city-wide gentrification? The takeover of city culture by the Knowing? The deals cut to save the city from bankruptcy -- deals that would lead to its current totalitarian financialization? No. Instead: loud music, drugs, street crime and garbage, bad TV, pizzas with too many toppings, and "people taking the easy way out." (Funny how Allen chooses to dump on TV sketch comedy during its Golden Age: the Belushi/Radner/Aykroyd SNL, Carol Burnett, Larry David's Fridays, and the best: SCTV.) The few laughs the movie retains are of that unintentional and reflexive sort: "Talent is luck. The most important thing in life is courage"; "Nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind"; "I'm going to be hanging in a classroom one day and when I thin out I want to be sure that I'm well thought of"; and of course "It's worse than not insightful -- it's not funny."

While Allen was whining about people's brain cells being destroyed by TV gamma-rays:

Manhattan still has its many worshippers. (Let's throw J. Hoberman into the Overrated Academy as well.) It's defended as Allen sending up himself and his living-above-the-city clan. It is also, astonishingly, placed in the "Love is All" class of masterpieces such as Day of Wrath, Ambersons, Madame de, Vertigo, Ugetsu, Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne, Dolls, Some Came Running, Europa '51.

Where? Where is any of this? (Gershwin is Gershwin. The movie is the movie.) Isaac Davis neurotically runs to Tracy at the end because he's been dumped. Amor Omnia becoming Ego Omnia. And the sending up? Well, there are those 30 seconds on the Southampton dock as Isaac listens to some ex-wife criticisms of him being read off-screen. Come to think of it , who would buy a book filled with "marital revelations" concerning a dime-a-dozen ex-SNL writer, to the point that an entire bookstore window is filled with copies?

In a way, the movie is tonic. For those of us who would love to take a machine gun to Manhattan's current taste-making vampire class -- the dumbest in our history -- but instead pine for the past, Manhattan reminds us: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Now, if we can push it back another 20 years. . .

What a gas!

Now for the root canal.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

In Love with Night

Joanne Laurier of WSWS on They Live by Night (1948) and the ever-needed greatness of Nicholas Ray.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Of the Earth!

1963's best movie!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Final Solution


Mark Twain:
"There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves."

Actual Solution

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Noam on Don