These days, as the corporate media and, sadly, a fair share of the independent media are behaving as if the allegations of Russian state interference in the 2016 presidential elections are established fact (they aren’t), suggesting otherwise can earn the lone voice in the propaganda wilderness the label of Trump follower, Russian stooge, conspiracy nut or all of the above. I have literally had people who are shocked that I refuse to accept the word of that great patriotic organization the Central Intelligence Agency.
I was already aware of the CIA’s dirty fingers stirring the literary pot, not to mention journalism, film and TV. What this well-researched history provides is an in-depth review of one aspect of their meddling—their support in the creation of The Paris Review and its sister publications worldwide under the aegis of an agency front called the Congress for Cultural Freedom. They recruited George Plimpton and Peter Matthiessen, among others, to head the editorial board, guided by investment counselor and dedicated CIA good buddy John Train.
The goal of the Paris Review and its ilk wasn’t overt propaganda. Rather, the idea was to offer carefully selected material that would (a) promote “the American way of life” and (b) do as much as possible to put the Soviet Union in a bad light. In other words, applying standard propaganda procedures in a literary, cultured way.
What follows Mr. Whitney’s description of the Review’s birth is a history of how the CIA manipulated such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Gabriel Garcia Márquez in the name of anti-Communism. In time, it expanded into Operation Mockingbird, during which at least one CIA operative may have been placed in all the country’s major newsrooms.
Similar operatives worked to undermine the anti-establishment press in the 1960s and 1970s. So, perhaps those of us who are no longer buying what the CIA et al. are selling will be forgiven if we don’t embrace without question the “news” involving the current incarnation of the anti-establishment press. Doubly so, given the news organ that essentially launched it is owned by a man who received a $600 million contract with the CIA not long after he purchased The Washington Post.
A relationship, one notes, that is never mentioned in those “Russia did it!” articles.
There is a belief among us in the United States that the CIA was, until last year, prohibited from acting within the country’s boundaries. Mr. Whitney, however, notes that in fact the act of Congress that established the CIA never actually put that prohibition in writing. It was nothing more than a “gentlemen’s agreement.” Of course, anyone able to apply the term “gentlemen” to the CIA is in serious need of therapy.
Another myth dispelled in these pages is the accepted history that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda evolved from the mujahideen armed and trained by the CIA during the Reagan administration to combat the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. In point of fact, Mr. Whitney reveals, there was a CIA-sponsored cell of “academics” in the country at least by the mid-1960s.
Once one accepts the premise that anything we see or hear in the media or on our screens may have as its underlying agenda the propagation of the message the government—or whichever agency feels the need to tweak the national mindset—wants us to embrace, it’s all but impossible not to see how the sausage is made. Indeed, sometimes, as with the CBS-TV series Salvation, the presentation is so ham-handed any decent writer would refuse to have their name attached.
If you’re tired of being lied to, if you’re exhausted by the stress of being told there are enemies from all over the globe lurking in the shadows ready to pounce, I recommend you read this book. It can be a bit of a slog now and then, as the continuity of the narrative jumps back and forth, and there’s a bit more repetition of the material than necessary. Also, it won’t help much with the stress, but at least you’ll be looking at the right enemy.
(Finks: How the CIA Tricked the World’s Greatest Writers by Joel Whitney; 2016 O/R Books; 978-1-94486-913-7 (hardcover), 978-1-94486-952-6 (trade paperback), ebook also available)
If you haven’t seen this documentary from Vice News about Charlottesville, take the time to do so.
However, try to do so with an open mind, which I know is asking a lot under the circumstances. Much is being made of the fact the supremacists came prepared for battle. As much as I detest them and all their works, and stating unequivocally that the terrorist act the left one dead and many injured, in both body and mind, is unacceptable, I also have to note that there are places where I can’t tell one faction from the other.
There is scientific support for the statement that nonviolence is a stronger method of protest and has longer-lasting positive effects than violence. Yes, the neo-Nazis came prepared for battle, but why did those opposing them have to provide it?
Please withhold your outrage for just another moment. That is in no way, shape, or form to be understood as a condemnation of all those brave souls who stood in opposition to the terrorist rally being held in their midst and against their wishes. It’s an expression of my fear, based on what I saw in the ’60s and ’70s, that this movement, too, will be co-opted to violence. If that happens, we’ve lost, and the country we were taught to love for its freedoms and honor will be lost as well.
The fact is, the states that are falling in line to pass open-carry laws are aiding and abetting the thugs and racists, and given most of them are run by the GOP it’s almost impossible not to believe that action is deliberate. They WANT us to react in anger and outrage, and we just can’t give them what they want.
While we were watching the video of the car slamming into protestors, the White House issued an order elevating the US Cybercommand Unit to independent status, and may separate it entirely from the NSA. The purpose of the unit, said Reuters, is “to develop cyber weapons, punish intruders and tackle adversaries.” In the past week, the CEO of Blackwater petitioned the White House to turn most of the military activities in Afghanistan over to private “security” companies. Which have private armies. And private air forces. And the same weapons as our official military.
If you can consider that and not be terrified, then we really have no basis for discussion.
Self-defense requires an actual, physical threat of bodily harm, not the fear of it. The urge to attack when you’ve suffered years and decades and lifetimes of evil is overwhelming, but we live in a culture that is being operated behind the scenes by people much more dangerous than the Wizard of Oz. It’s up to us to decide whether we’ll allow them to pull our strings and use us to further their goal of turning the US into a neo-feudal plutocratic oligarchy by becoming those we hate. It’s up to us to refuse to be turned into those we despise.
Yes, we are at war. We have been for a long time; we just weren’t aware of it because the enemy was using guerilla tactics. If we resort to using their playbook, we’ve already lost, because they already have their private armies in place to put down resistance. All it needs is one order from their employees in DC declaring martial law, and I don’t doubt for a moment they would get it.
There is a new narrative being propagated whenever the request for nonviolence arises, one that’s targeted at young people. It purports to show that nonviolence alone isn’t enough by citing the violence in India that occurred while Gandhi was protesting, and the Black Panthers during Martin Luther King’s. The narrative is carefully constructed to seem sensible, but it takes both those examples and any others it uses out of historical context and ignores facts that counter the message that sometimes you have to fight with the weapons the enemy uses.
No, you don’t.
There are a great many people who are gearing up to prevent the alt-right/white nationalist/neo-Nazi groups from having a forum to spew their rancid bigotry. That, too, is a natural reaction. It’s perhaps even more so given that so few people seem to understand that free speech doesn’t mean “as long as I agree with/like what you say.” Blocking them completely is the last thing we should do. So long as they’re spewing their poison in public, we know who they are and where they stand. We can peacefully speak up to counter their narrative. Silence them, and they will simply crawl into their lairs and distill their poison in the dark.
One of the things I have come to dislike about police procedurals by US authors is the obsession with serial killers. It’s gotten a little better in recent years, but given the unassailable fact most people are killed by someone they know, the whole serial killer schtick has gotten really old.
It’s not a spoiler to say Mr. Giles’s quirky novel set in Cornwall avoids that obsession beautifully, because the joy of this book isn’t solving the problem but watching the characters struggle with puzzles both internal and external.
Briefly, this is about how Detective Harriet Taylor, who has transferred to Cornwall mostly because it’s the farthest she can get from her native Scotland and memories of her cheating late husband, figures out (eventually) who did in three elderly locals. In the process, she meets Alice Green, a local beekeeper whose best friend is the first victim. The second, discovered belatedly, is Alice’s husband Stanley; the third is Stanley’s best mate. If you’re seeing a pattern, you’ll understand why I said mentioning the “killed by someone they know” isn’t really a spoiler. You may also never see hollyhocks the same way again.
Like DC Tayler, Alice put up with a cheating husband for years. “As the years went by I soon developed a thick skin. It’s what we do—we women,” she tells Harriet. And then: “You know what, Detective Harriet Taylor? You and I have more in common than either of us realizes.”
What follows is a study in how we human beings, when we have an unhealed wound, can be drawn to trust others who share our experience of pain even absent any other element to support that trust. And how all too often that trust is horribly misplaced.
If you read mysteries and police procedurals solely for the pleasure of solving the crime, you may not find The Beekeeper to your liking. On the other hand, if you avoid this book for that reason, you’ll be missing out on a truly delightful reading experience. Mr. Giles combines the best elements of the genre with a character so superbly eccentric it’s hard to think of her as a cold-blooded killer.
Which is, of course, why instead of worrying about serial murderers, we might put out concern to better use watching out for Uncle Harry.
As an aside, this novel reminded me a great deal of the wonderful Cary Grant film of Arsenic and Old Lace, despite there being few if any actual parallels between the two. I wish I could say why, but there it is. Maybe it’s just the underlying theme that sometimes the deadliest among us are the ones we’d least expect.
In any case, I recommend you both read this book and watch the movie for a double-shot of entertainment.
(REQUIRED DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.)
You will hear from those enamored of the corporate media—the people whose lives are just fine, thanks, and who therefore embrace the “resistance” narrative propagated by the likes of the New York Times and Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN with unquestioning enthusiasm—that those sources are the last bastions of responsible journalism. They repeat every bit of the latest “news” with absolute certainty they are in possession of the facts, and anyone who dares disagree is clearly the pawn of right-wing/Russian/conspiracy theorist propaganda.
As the guy in that old TV commercial used to shout, “Bunk! Don’t you believe it!”
As proof of this, I offer the following screenshot, taken the morning of 11 June 2017 after Bernie Sanders spoke at the second annual People’s Summit in Chicago and said essentially that the Democratic Party can either listen to the people or be made redundant. I will just note as an aside that CNN couldn’t even manage to note in its article where Mr. Sanders was speaking. Indeed, it referred to the conference as “an audience of nearly 4,000 mostly dedicated “Berniecrats.” I mention it in case the Times headline doesn’t make the utter disrespect the media have for you and me sufficiently clear.
￼I want you to ponder that headline for just a few moments, and then, for those who haven’t already recognized just how toxically slanted and screamingly ironic it is, I will explain.
Let us begin with the notion the Democratic Party as it now exists is split. As was clearly demonstrated last year, that thesis doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The party establishment was sufficiently of one mind to ensure their anointed candidate, who had been promised the nomination in exchange for allowing Barack Obama to be chosen in 2008, received her due. This was exposed when Wikileaks published the purloined DNC emails, followed shortly thereafter by the ones obtained after John Podesta fell for a standard phishing scheme.
They have since set in place as their party chair a man who is a loyal Clintonite partisan, shunning the one that “base” clearly preferred. A man who, while on the road touring with Bernie Sanders in the name of “unity” was utterly tongue-tied when confronted by those demanding to know what the DNC plans to do about single-payer health care, raising the minimum wage and getting all that dark and corporate money out of elections.
This brings us to the next part: “The Base Wants It All.” Notice how that wording makes “the base” sound like a bunch of greedy toddlers throwing a tantrum? It’s condescending, dismissive, and essentially suggests “the base” is incapable of understanding you can’t have all those nice things because it’s not realistic. Never mind that every other first-world country has those nice things and has had for decades.
And now that last part, which is by far the most hilarious. “The Party Wants to Win.” The implication being, of course, that standing for all those nice things will never get anybody elected because the Democrats need to win over the moderate Republicans who hate Donald Trump as much as they [pretend] to. To achieve that, they must continue their message of neoliberal center-right economics. You know—the policy that has sent half of all the revenue from the so-called “recovery” to the top 1% of the population. Yeah, that one.
They’ve been using that excuse for becoming the GOP-Lite since Clinton the First. In particular, they have used it over and over since Obama was elected. As a result, the Republicans now control both houses of Congress and the majority of state governments. Even where the occasional Democrat has managed to win a governorship, he or she usually has to contend with a Republican-controlled legislature.
Any sensible person would take note of that and say “Hmm, maybe we should try something different. What if we, you know, listened to the progressives and did a 180? What if we started supporting candidates running on platforms of helping the majority instead of the top 10 percent?” Not our good friends at the DNC. Nope. They poured $6 million into the campaign of Jon Osseff in Georgia, who is running ahead of his GOP opponent on that platform that’s lost them all those earlier elections. However, they couldn’t manage to find $20,000 for a progressive in Kansas who also had a good shot at beating the Republican; and the $60,000 they finally agreed to send to the progressive in Montana was too little too late.
Need we say it’s a given that if Mr. Osseff wins, the Democratic Party establishment will have a big mutual back-patting circle and shout for all the world to hear that see—they were right. That’s how you win.
Except when it isn’t. The dismal record of all the Osseff-like candidates who ran in 2014 on that same corporate-friendly “pragmatic” platform far outweighs one success. And he’s running in an upscale district full of more than a few of those 10-percenters and likely a slew of 25-percenters. In other words, not the kind of voters who got behind Jim Thompson in Kansas and Rob Quist in Montana.
I noted on implication in that headline. Here’s another one: the Democratic Party has become so self-satisfied and arrogant those running it seem to be under the mistaken belief that, in the end, that “base” they have no respect for will vote for whatever candidate is offered. The fact that so many members of that base stayed home last November because they were fed up with being told they have to vote for someone because that someone isn’t as bad as the other guy is lost on them.
And in that single headline, the New York Times—all unwittingly, one suspects, because its editorial board is as self-satisfied and arrogant as the Democrats—makes it clear just how little respect We the People get from our public servants and those who are supposed to represent us in choosing the ones we have to vote for. We exist, so far as they’re concerned, to do their bidding and settle for whatever crumbs we manage to glean from their table once the election is over.
I don’t know about you, but I hate crumbs. And I’m tired of being told I have to eat them while the people telling me to do so are schmoozing with bankers and billionaires at $5000-a-plate dinners. As for the Democrats, if they truly do “want to win,” I suggest they listen to General George S. Patton.
“Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”
I’ll begin with two points. First, this review is based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher. Second, although I have tried mightily to enjoy what’s referred to as “literary fiction” for most of my reading life, I rarely succeed. I’ll explain why as we proceed.
Ms. Schmidt has opted to do a take on one of the most notorious dysfunctional families in US history, one that is the source of a mystery that can still initiate heated discussions among those fascinated by it.
On a hot August afternoon in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, local businessman Andrew Jackson Borden and his second wife, Abby, had their heads staved in with an axe or some similar implement. Several days later, his younger daughter Lizzie was arrested for murder. Twenty months after that, Lizzie Borden was acquitted of all charges by an all-male jury, that being the only sort there was in those days.
Ms. Schmidt has opted to have us view those events from the perspective of four characters—three of them actual people, the fourth a fictional character. One of the first three is, of course, Lizzie Borden herself. The other two are her older sister Emma and the family’s Irish maid, Bridget Sullivan. The fourth character is a raging psychopath named Benjamin, who is hired by the sisters’ uncle John Morse to “have words” with Andrew Borden regarding how he treated his daughters.
All of which is fine, and could make for an interesting exploration of another alternative to the whodunit that is the Lizzie Borden story. Unfortunately, the things about literary fiction that make its fans shiver with delight are the very ones that, in the end, usually put me off what might be an otherwise excellent story.
The most egregious element of too much literary fiction, for me, is what those who enjoy it consider “wordsmithing.” That is, the author manipulates the language in ways that are unique and colorful. That’s fine, unless their manipulation is so intrusive I end up being thrown out of the tale. That happened quite a bit in the first two-thirds of this novel. I’m as fond of clever use of the language as anyone, but not when I find myself thinking “Wow, that was clever.”
There is, that gripe notwithstanding, a lot to like in this novel, although there’s a thread that’s left dangling. I’d have preferred that not have happened. Others’ mileage may vary. Ms. Schmidt does an excellent job of making us understand the inner workings of someone like Lizzie Borden once she gets down to business, and one early on becomes more than empathetic toward poor Emma. This being one of those stories so often told everyone knows the details, her choice to keep us in the thoughts of those involved instead is a good one.
I can, therefore, recommend this book to those who enjoy literary fiction, and to those who are fascinated by the entire Borden saga with the caveats noted. I will also warn you that you may never want to eat pears again by the time you’re finished.
Let me preface this by noting that Jim and I have known each other for more than a decade, and I have, in fact, published his superb psychological thriller, written as James Nightingale, Unrequited. So, those who wish to ignore my glowing review on that basis are free to do so.
That revealed, I was very much looking forward to this book, and it didn’t disappoint. If you love dragons (Does anyone not?), be prepared for a whole new take on the species and a protagonist you’ll probably want to knock upside the head now and again. Which, as we know, is exactly what the best writers manage to do—get us so involved we feel as if we’re watching a friend—in this case a slightly dysfunctional one—stagger through success and failure knowing we have to let them do it their own way.
This being the first in a series, there are the requisite loose ends, but the rich tapestry of mythology and fantasy Jim has woven is going to have you waiting as eagerly as I am for the next installment. Yet despite the clearly broad research he has to have done to build his world, that knowledge never intrudes. I encourage you to grab a copy of Chasing Embers at the earliest opportunity because in the world of fantasy fiction, it definitely meets the Monty Python criterion—”And now for something completely different.”
The corporate media would have the US citizenry believe Donald Trump and his regime of destruction are an anomaly in the history of our government. Thomas Frank knows otherwise—Trump is merely the perhaps inevitable culmination of decades of conservative politics. That he is also a perfect stalking horse to keep the public distracted while the neoliberals in both parties gut the republic is serendipity at its finest.
“Believing effective government to be somewhere between impossible and undesirable, conservatism takes steps to ensure its impotence,” Franks writes on page 130. In other words, conservatives want government jobs held by people whose politics are right rather than by people who are competent and committed to doing those jobs well. By that standard, Donald Trump’s lack of experience in government is a feature for his GOP colleagues, not a bug. Nor should anyone be surprised that the first three months of the current administration has resulted in the elimination of many, many experienced people from all levels of government.
“Putting federal operations under the direction of people who are hostile to those operations’ existence is the second main tactic of conservative governance…Since the parts of government that conservatism most despises are often supported by the public, this strategy avoids the tactlessness of repealing or abolishing agencies while achieving the same result.” (p.156)
Of course, when Frank wrote that, there were still checks and balances in effect; those vanished with the wholesale takeover of all three branches of government by one party. And make no mistake, they and their real constituency—the plutocrats and corporations—have done just that.
If you didn’t know better, you would think (or like to think might be more to the point) that Frank’s analysis of how conservatism and neoliberalism are turning the US federal republic into a neo-feudal plutocratic oligarchy is dystopian fiction. That you do know better, reading it is the stuff of nightmares, especially given it seems they have achieved their goal. If you want to see what our new overlords have in mind for us, be sure to read chapter 9 carefully.
The first step in understanding libertarian conservatism, as with most things, is to learn the vocabulary.
“In 1990 [libertarian pundit Doug Bandow] published an entire book on the subject [of corruption], The Politics of Plunder, in which he attacked ‘legalized larceny’ (farm programs), ‘mass transit robbery’ (public transportation), and ‘consumer fraud’ (the FTC and FDA).”
One of my personal favorite favorites is when fossil fuel corporations demand the right to poison us on the grounds they are “creating jobs and contributing to the American economy.” That’s conservative-speak for “there are millions of dollars’-worth of X in the ground, and we don’t care who we kill to get it.”
There is plenty of blame to go around for the looming apocalypse we as a nation are facing, not least that we the voters have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to decades of corruption because (a) it didn’t really affect us and (b) we were busy with other, more important stuff. We also became brainwashed by media who kept telling us to trust them while they covered up the fact we were being sold down the river by those who were supposed to be working on our behalf. Anyone wishing to change that direction can definitely benefit from reading this book, because in addition to tracking the history we were all ignoring it makes clear just how badly we have been bamboozled.
I commented on a friend’s Facebook Timeline recently, based on this book and many of the others I’ve been reading and reviewing, that the goal of those currently running the US government is to replace the US Constitution with an updated version of the old Articles of Confederation. When you add what Frank has presented to a thorough grasp of the goals of neoliberal economics, that becomes clear. What makes this particular book more useful to beginners on the road to reawakening is Frank’s ironic voice and style, which will offend those who think “small government” is utopia and appeal to those who understand the alternative is the destruction of government by, of and for all the people.