Monthly Archives: September 2018
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” writes old man Frost, and, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence.” Surely, wisdom as wise as the Golden Rule itself. But, as with the Rule, not everyone sees it that way. Take President Donald J. Trump, our golden ruler. He loves walls. He says his first wall moment was when he all-but swindled his way into his Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago estate in 1985. He offered the owners, who had the estate on the market, $25 million, which they turned down. So he threatened to buy property next to Mar-a-Laga and put up a wall that would block their view of the ocean. In a panic, they ended up selling the estate to Trump for $8 million.
“That was my first wall,” he told the Post. “That drove everybody nuts. They couldn’t sell the big house because I owned the beach, so the price kept going down and down.” One of the first things Trump did was to replace the relatively modest hanging portrait of the previous owners with one of his own: “Trump is depicted as a bronzed, blond-haired god, or, as a plaque at the bottom of the frame proclaims, ‘The Visionary’.”
Most recently, our blonde-haired god surprised Spain with his ‘vision-thing’ of a wall spanning the Sahara to keep out migrants. Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, at the risk of adding to climate change woes, tried to take some of the me-vain gas out of the golden boy’s balloon ride by informing him that the Spanish span would be some 3000 miles, about 500 miles more than the width of America.
Not long ago in Scotland, Trump brought out the worst (or the best, depending on how you look at it) by trying to ‘evict’ some local residents from property near his golf complex in aptly-named Menie. When they wouldn’t be evicted, Trump pulled his Mar-a-Laga trick and put up trees to obscure their view. Locals seem to have returned the favor by emplacing a series of “ugly” wind turbines in the sea over which Trump’s golf estate looks. Similarly, In Ireland, Trump’s plans for a wall at his coastal golf course in Clare County, upset locals who feared it would harm wildlife. And it was also meant to keep Limerick residents out. Some of the latter managed some choice words in response. Walls to keep people out.
Of course, this thing about walls is not always so chucklesome or so explicit. Take the Sunni/Shia war in Yemen. The Saudis have built a wall along the 1000-mile border with Yemen. This not only keeps Shia riff-raff (almost all of them, by Saudi standards) from crossing into Saudi Arabia, but keeps them locked in as well. Yemeni ports have been closed by the Saudis since 2015. There is nowhere to go, and little food or medical aid, as Saudi and Emerati jets and drones drop American-made bombs and missiles on fish-in-a-barrel civilians — women, children, even Doctors Without Borders. So indiscriminate is this campaign at times that even innocent American citizens have been taken out — by Americans. It gives one pause, in this the 50th anniversary of the My Lai massacre. Trump doesn’t mind what goes on behind closed walls or minds. When he was recently kow-towing in the Kingdom he signed an agreement, begun under Obama, to provide another $350 billion in arms sales to keep hate alive in the Middle East. Walls to keep people in.
Last year Trump became the first sitting US president to stand before the “so amazing” Wailing Wall in beloved Israel. (The wall let’s you touch it and everything.) And one thing Trump is, depending upon what your definition of is is, is touchy. No doubt, he immediately wanted to buy it, or have one of his own. You can bet there was no wailing or gnashing of his picket fence white teeth for the Palestinians that live a walled-in existence in Gaza or the occupied territories.
Word is, from an anonymous source, that he’s thinking of purchasing the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. That way he can visit it with his chin up. But first he’ll have to have it re-etched, deleting the names of all the ‘Nam vets, and replacing them with all the names of those ‘elites’ who dodged the draft and eluded a tour in ‘Nam. A special section will bear those who went on to become Commander-in-Chiefs.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, but Trump ain’t that something.
Some people argue that Trump is trying to build, at the Mexican border, a new Berlin Wall. It was good for keeping people out (the Democratic West) and excellent for keeping people in (the fascist commie East). It offended everyone. It especially offended the citizens of East Berlin, some of whom managed to escape in a brain drain surge, while the lives of many others were cut down trying to scale the wall. So paranoid did the GDR authorities become at the prospect of losing their best brains to the West that their not-so-secret secret police, the Stasi, made it their mission to read the minds of those forced to stay behind in the dingy doldrums of the GDR. Everyone was jubilant when the wall finally came down, symbol of tyranny and all that, and the wonderful West was quick to capitalize on the fall, selling chunks of the wall as keychain souvenirs within. Freedom, right? Or as Dylan sang, “It’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.”
But the real lode Mother Russia (foster, of course) was the trove of secret database materials that tracked the doings and thinkings of citizens throughout concentration city. Anyone caught thinking about going Beyond the Wall was subject to interrogation and torture. As Amnesty International points out, it’s a cautionary tale, “The Snowden revelations suggest the NSA can collect 5 billion records of mobile phone location a day and 42 billion internet records – including email and browsing history – a month.” To get a sense of what information they already can collect on you, whether your a terrorist or not, simply type in: myactivity.google.com (google account holders). Imagine the Internet not as a leap to Freedom but as a firewall locking you into Paranoiaville. Once again, as our ig-Nobel monster songster Dylan sang so presciently all them years ago: “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” And Trump would probably volunteer to do it, Bob.
Speaking of Google and their ‘do no evil’ hypocritical oath, they are busy making the Stasi look like lightweight heel-grinders by comparison. Most recently, Google has been discovered to be helping to build and reinforce the Great Firewall of China, a process that, like as with the Stasi, includes not only snuffing out ‘free thought’ searches, but also keeping track of those who try to escape over the firewall to places like…America, home of Exceptionalism. Of course, such a Google-led system in China is a great place for the company, with its close ties to the NSA, to construct a template for totalitarian control of a populace. China’s Great Wall, 13,000 miles long, and built to keep out Genghis Khan and his barbarian ilk, was an inspiration to Donald Trump. You can’t get Great Wall chunks on ebay, but when I visited the Wall a few years back, a yak came along and shat on my shoe in a chunky souveniring kind of way I will always treasure (sorry, no pix).
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall; they’re going up everywhere, while Trump has his ‘lover’s quarrel with the world’. According to The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman, “Of the 51 fortified boundaries built between countries since the end of World War II, around half were constructed between 2000 and 2014.” Trump must be loving it.
He must be loving it so much that you can picture him going into a Walmart (natch) and trying to con the franchisee in to putting up pictures of his favorite worldly walls on a far wall of the store, which he promises to make customers pay to build. If the proprietor should be silly enough to refuse, Trump could pull a Mar-a-Laga and threaten to obscure the view of the wall of guns covering the opposite wall. You can almost feel the gunseller’s panic ensue.
All of this brings us back to Trump’s Mexican Wall, for which I have a modest proposal. Trump could offer to resolve the trade war with China by offering to by up, let’s say, 400 miles of their precious wall. Trump could point out that ‘they owe us one’, since we shipped to them thousands of tons of steel at a discount price shortly after the Twin Towers fell. That leaves about 400 miles to go. Trump could whisper sweet nothings into Angela Merkel’s ear walls, promising to forgive Germany’s underpayment for US military protection if she could part ways with, say, 100 miles of the defunct Berlin Wall. That would leave just 300 miles needed. Trump could sign an executive order that would rescind the right to own human-killer guns (AR-15s, handguns) and gather them all up, fusing them together at the Mexican border in an iconoclastic postmodern statement of God knows what. Side by side — the Guns, the Great Wall, and the Berlin Wall: Who would want to cross the border into what might lay behind that kind of modern art?
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…
Mostly these days Trump must be climbing the walls of the Oval Office (only to discover they have ears) and thinks, ‘the ears have walls’, and he pictures impermeable cell membranes, and cries, “Os Mosis — who are you?” Or some other Crazytown shit. And now, as the walls build up around him — anonymous op-eds, pussygates all over America — “fabulous” walls of his own making, a twisted and endless maze, down which he moves “like an old-stone savage armed,” chasing his own echo, and comes to a final wall, a mirror of mirrors, where our golden-haired minotaur flings a chunk of his ego, and watches as everything comes crashing down around him, a Tarantino ending, with himself, and reveals: the minotaur is the maze: the final offense.
The first landing on the moon – a moment of human grace amidst the otherwise tempestuous doings of the decade — was still a year away when Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey premiered in select American widescreen cinemas in 1968. The film brought little enlightenment to the darkness of the era and almost came and went with little real fanfare, except among sci-fi aficionados, some of whom, along with others, were zonked out on psychedelics and puff-the-magic-dragon (wink).
The year 1968 was a particularly ugly snapshot of the human condition: Russian tanks rolled into Prague and installed the Iron Curtain that would stay drawn until the Velvet Revolution two decades later; Paris was consumed with fiery protests, screaming it seemed ‘existence precedes essence’; teenaged soldier Conrad Schumann was making his iconic leap into freedom at the Berlin Wall; the massacre of innocents at My Lai happened; political (RFK) and civil rights (MLK) leaders were assassinated; the police brutality of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago showed the world American Exceptionalism at war with the Ugly American; and the children of ‘free’ world cryed out loud for an end to the war in Viet Nam (that Nobel Peace-prize winner Henry Kissinger had extended for political reasons) . With so much rage consuming the collective consciousness it’s easy to see how a cerebral film like 2001: A Space Odyssey could have gone neglected by the masses busy ‘doing democracy’ in the streets.
Though a Czech sat on the jury of the Moscow Film Festival in 1969 and considered 2001 for a prize, the film didn’t arrive in Prague until a few years later, and there are no ready reports (in English, at any rate) on how it was received in the Kafka-esque environment of the era. Worldwide interest picked up after the film won the 1969 Academy Award for special effects (it was also nominated for screenwriting). Though dated by today’s digital standards, the special effects continue to be the driving force of the film’s appeal as it performs its 50thanniversary victory lap around the globe. It can still be viewed in select cinemas nationwide.
Stanley Kubrick collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke on the screenplay for the film, with the latter’s story, “Sentinel of Eternity,” being the original source of the film’s principal motif. This sentinel is what Asimov describes as a crystalline “signal-sending pyramid” in the tale, a kind of channel-marker that awakens when touched by biological life, with the signal presumably passed back to the Maker. Kubrick altered the sentinel in the story to a black monolith when he couldn’t get the visual effect he desired. The title of the story refers to the archetypal Hero genre passed down to us from Homer – the historical quest for human meaning in the face of the Void, both the cosmos within and the cosmos without. And that is in essence how the story plays out on the screen. You might argue the film begins with the birth of consciousness and ends with its transcendence, a theme totally in keeping with ego experiments of the time.
Structurally, the film has three distinct sections or acts, as well as an intermission toward the end of the second section, before the film’s famous psychedelic effects kick in and the viewer’s mind for a spin. The German philosopher Nietzsche once said (I paraphrase): Man is a bridge between beasts and the Superman, the latter a fully-realized consciousness to be reached sometime in an indeterminate future. Similarly, the film begins with what Kubrick describes as the Dawn of Man: In a kind of wasteland, we see missing-link apes, neither all animal, nor quite yet human, exhibiting little more than a safety-in-numbers pack behaviour to protect an oasis-like watering hole against outsiders. After discovering a black monolith (sentinel) the ape-men appear to be awakened in some mysterious way. One of these apes discovers a tool for smashing heads, both beast and ape, leading to the first domination of others by technology. The sapient ape tosses his bone in the air in jubilant moment of discovery and power.
In Act Two, the airborne bone segues into a spaceship, going from pre-history to Earth-orbiting humans in one fell swoop, cleverly leaving the presumably educated movie-viewer to fill in the wide historical gap unaccounted for, while also seeming to imply that all that millennial bosh of historical events is mere detritus for the human voyage through time. This second section strikes one as a mere bridge to get to Act Three. We’re shown advanced human civilization, man living comfortably in space, but interestingly there is little engaging dialogue, the characters are wooden, the section seemingly in a hurry to sketch a picture of advanced technology on the cusp of the final leg of the human journey. Only one character,Dr. Heywood Floyd (William Sylvester),has any life, but he seems to exist simply to lead a lunar expedition, where once again the sentinel is (re-)discovered and the response is transformative, the act ending on a kind of high-pitched wake-up call. So, in a sense, Kubrick returns us back to the original discovery of the sentinel.
The third act moves the viewer further along the technological continuum, humans now travelling in a spaceship hurtling towards Jupiter. While two astronauts lie in hibernation, Frank (Gary Lockwood) and Dave (Keir Dullea) play and converse with HAL, a 9000 series AI system that boasts of its computational perfection, while peering from behind a persona that will soon prove to be psychopathic. HAL lip-reads the men talking about shutting ‘him’ down after he shows signs of potentially-catastrophic judgement lapses. Then an intermission suspends the action. Upon return, let’s just say that one thing turns into another, and Dave is left alone to pass through the “Star Gate” into a kaleidoscopic free-fall toward Übermenschen consciousness.
The Acts are powered by an excellent soundtrack, featuring two Strausses – Richard and Johann. The former’s outstandingly chosen piece, Also Sprach Zarathustra perfectly provides the vibe during the depiction of the ascent of Man. And it’s no mistake that the piece is Strauss’ musical vision of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, a kind of guide or Sherpa in the transition from the Last all-too-human Man to the self-overcoming super-man of the future. Johann Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz is introduced at the moment the thrown-bone becomes a rocket making its way in the starlight toward the waltz-spinning space station, suggesting a bourgeois embracing of technological achievement, not unlike what the Silicon Valley neo-liberals promise humans today.
Many have pondered the meaning of the movie, especially the closing dream-like scenes, ending in a kind of apotheosis or human transfiguration. Kubrick himself, fielding such questions, has likened his film to a Mona Lisa smile, evocative and open-ended, the more you gaze at it, the more it gazes back at you, as Nietzsche might say. The Star Child at the end suggests rebirth. One recalls Carl Sagan’s assertion in a Cosmos segment, a long time ago now, that we humans are literally star stuff. However, one also recalls Nietzsche’s super-human notion of the ‘eternal recurrence’ of all things and his proposed super-human response to something so seemingly dismal – ‘amor fati’. But maybe T.S. Eliot puts it most lyrically and succinctly at the close of his poem “Little Gidding”:
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
One wonders whether Kubrick would have considered that going too far or not far enough.
If nothing else, 2001: A Space Odyssey suggests the usual cautionary predicaments humans face today as we gain almost phantasmagorical momentum heading toward the convergence with digital machines and the mind-blowing, perhaps super-human consciousness we will need to deal with a quantum future and the concept of multiverses. Of course, all such vision-thinging presupposes that humans can reverse the many excesses of our journey, such as climate change and endless power struggles and lurking pandemics. At times it seems we are closer to a transition back to the First Man than the Last Man, with a soundtrack that features an orchestra made up of a thousand sour kazoos. T. S. Eliot writes about returning to the Beginning again, but he also suggests elsewhere that we end not with a bang but a whimper. The jury’s still out, the bone’s still in the air.
Looking back, it’s almost as if President Dwight D. Eisenhower were trying to warn the American public, in his Farewell speech of 1961, of mad doctors at work in the labs of our exceptional democracy — what we’ve come to call the Deep State. Said Ike: “We should take nothing for granted: Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Then, in the fall of 1963, came the Big Bang of Dallas, re-constellating the bright and shiny firmament of the American Dream. All we Americans who came of age in the Sixties know that the afterglow of the Baby Boomer years came to a shocking end the day John F. Kennedy was blasted onto Abraham Zapruder’s 8MM movie camera. Good night, Camelot. It was as if from that moment on, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, “the broken mirror of innocence” could be seen in each and every face.
American journalists spent the next generation trying to dig up a presumed government cover-up of the who, what, why, where and how of that dark Dallas day, leading to no definitive resolution decades later. The manifest destiny of American Exceptionalism has been weighed down with pathogenic cynicism and paranoia ever since. One measure of this is suggested by the exponential rise of guns owned in America, from approximately 80 million in 1960 to a whopping 400 million today, as well as a complementary rise in right-wing militias — estimated to be 500 groups. Underneath it all, Americans know something is happening, but they don’t know what it is.
One senses this growing cultural angst, while plodding through the first 100 slushy pages or so of Seymour (Sy) Hersh’s recently published memoir, Reporter. Given that he is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, as well as a five-time winner of journalism’s most coveted award, the George Polk, I expected Hersh to jump right in medias res, with, say, a previously unknown anecdote about his My Lai massacre coverage, or, perhaps, an analysis of the state of journalism in these reactionary “fake news” days of the Trump era. But Reporter is a memoir, a story about a life, not just reporting. Re-performing those pages according to the rhythm Hersh intended reveals to this reader a deeper understanding of his ideological roots.
It’s important to know that Sy is a first generation son of immigrant Eastern European parents come to America to escape the persecution of the Nazi death-machine. It’s telling information to learn that he had relatives who perished in a concentration camp. You can see how he sees: the excesses of unrestrained power have devastating effects on the lives of ordinary people. One can imagine his exposure to people from all walks of life as he worked long hours in his father’s dry cleaning business. It’s instructive to trace his kindled desire to write for the public, from his copy boy days, to a stint in the Army as a journalist, to his luck-laden climb up the ranks of wire service work — re-writes mostly, but also the first signs of his investigative instinct coming to fruition. His first major publication, a piece on the US government mistreatment of the Oglala Sioux on their reservations, made it to the Chicago Tribune in 1963.
And so these many pages go, an account of a young man’s growing consciousness of the workings of the world that parallels the social and political awakening of the general population after the first Kennedy assassination. It’s a truism, but Hersh writes, “It’s the core lesson of being a journalist — read before you write.” Hersh did plenty of that: he has a law background; he’s history buff; and he knows the value of fiction for relating facts, as attested to by some his favorite reads – – Saul Bellow, William Styron, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Nelson Algren, James Farrell.
He continued down the Road to Erudition, moving from Chicago to Washington in the process, where he met legendary journalist and mentor I. F. Stone. The “kindred spirits” took long walks together. Hersh writes, “We talked incessantly about how to do better reporting, and I was in the hands of a master; it was to the shame of the mainstream media—and my pipe smoker colleagues in the Pentagon pressroom—that his bi-weekly reports and analyses, as publisher of I. F. Stone’s Weekly, were viewed as little more than a nuisance.” Hersh has met with similar disdain from the MSM, despite once having been part of it.
Taking after Stone’s exposure of the CIA false flag operation in the Gulf of Tonkin that precipitated a full scale military ‘retaliatory’ bombing of Hanoi (an operation Stone points out that was previously tried out in Yemen by the British), Hersh continued his muckraking work at the Pentagon, until it lead him to his own first major investigative journalism piece on the not-so-stars-and-stripey machinations of the military — specifically their handling and cover-up of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) stockpiles scattered throughout America. The piece, “Just a Drop Can Kill,” appeared in the May 1967 issue of The New Republic, and announced to the Journalism world that a new sheriff was in town and, like Stone, he had no intention of looking the other way.
As his reputation for integrity grew in Washington, especially amongst the more-honorable officers in the Pentagon, more and more information was leaked to him. One of his favorite targets was Robert McNamara, who was the embodiment of the MIC, being both the Secretary of Defense and the former president of Ford Motors. Who would know better than Bob about assembly line wars? Today, it’s America’s biggest export.
Just before his career as a top-notch investigative reporter took off, he met up with the somewhat taciturn Mr. Deeds-like character, Ralph Nader. The two got together regularly. Writes Hersh,
“My [office] neighbor a few doors down was a young Ralph Nader, also a loner, whose exposé of the safety failures in the American automobile industry had changed the industry. There was nothing in those days quite like a quick lunch at the downstairs coffee shop with Ralph. He would grab a spoonful of my tuna fish salad, flatten it out on a plate, and point out small pieces of paper and even tinier pieces of mouse shit in it. He was marvelous, if a bit hard to digest.”.
Together, they were like two Davids forming a tag-team tandem up against the Goliath forces of the public government mask of the Deep State, which is to say, the military-industrial complex that Ike had admonished the nation could only be restrained by “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.” (Nader is still pointing out turds to this day.)
Reporter gathers pace as Hersh recounts the background details leading to the richest years of his investigative career. After leaving Pentagon officials aghast with the CBW revelations, he gets wind of a hushed-up massacre that took place in a Vietnam village in which a captain is accused of being responsible for the murder of 109 unarmed civilians, including women and children. The My Lai Massacre happened 50 years ago. Thanks to Hersh’s reporting of the event, the so-called Noble Cause in ‘Nam was seen differently by the appalled public, who reading Hersh’s freelance account and gazing at lurid Life magazine photos, realized they were supporting war criminality on a scale even Exceptionalist Americans found unacceptable. Hersh’s report flamed the already growing fiery anti-war protests. “I knew it would end the war and win prizes,” he writes. Hersh was right about the prize (1970 Pulitzer), but not about the war.
One of the best things about his memory of his My Lai investigation is his description of the nuts and bolts of how he went about uncovering facts. After Hersh tracks down a lawyer for Lt. William Calley, the officer scapegoated for the massacre, he humanizes with his source to ease the way to the information he seeks: “It was an extreme example of the Hersh rule: Never begin an interview by asking core questions. I wanted him to know I was smart and capable of some abstract thought. And I wanted him to like me and, perhaps, trust me.” After years of reporting, Seymour Hersh has many trusting sources.
Following his freelance work alerting citizens about My Lai, Hersh accepted an offer from the New York Times, where he went on to tackle Watergate issues, his work as important and groundbreaking as the more celebrated duo Woodward and Bernstein at the Washington Post. Hersh also revealed the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia, which led him to look into the power relationship between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Hersh details how the two plotted to take down the democratically elected government of Chile.
Pertinent to our times, Hersh also reported on the Kissinger-ordered wiretapping of political foes and, more importantly, the secret surveillance and infiltration by the CIA of domestic groups, including anti-war protesters, a gross violation of their charter (not to mention illegal). Such activity seems quaint today, given the global surveillance of people everywhere by the NSA and 5 Eyes, as revealed by the courageous whistleblowing of Edward Snowden.
Hersh has even reported on the danger, in the closing days of the Nixon Watergate crisis, as he was getting set to be impeached, that Nixon might call in the military to surround the White House in order to stay in power — in short, a coup d’etat. What might Trump do, if his presidency were similarly pushed?
Such investigative work would be enough for one career, but Hersh went on from there to provide hidden details in a number of other cases. In Reporter he discusses his 9-11 reporting and its aftermath, including the failures of communication in the Bush administration leading up to terrorist attack, as well as the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the failures of the Osama bin Laden story following his execution in Pakistan. He’s even reported on the shortcomings of the John F. Kennedy legacy in The Dark Side of Camelot. (Interestingly enough, Kennedy didn’t come up once in the first 100 pages.) Hersh’s career represents a mountain of momentous public service work.
But Reporter is not a retirement account; Hersh is still at work, digging, revealing and not only continuing to provide important information to keep the public ‘alert and knowledgeable’ about Deep State machinations, but, perhaps more importantly, acting as a crucial gadfly to the shortcomings of the mainstream media, which has largely abrogated its responsibility to be adversarial advocates for the greater democratic good. It turns out that not only the bastards in Congress and the White House need to be kept honest by good reporting, but also the Fourth Estate. Trump’s view of the MSM’s reportage as “fake news” is not as false as it should be. While Reporter makes one nostalgic for the good ol’ days of real ‘resistance’ to the bastards in power, one wonders whether there is enough wind left in the sails of the ship of state to move forward, or are we headed for the militias? Will be ‘allowed’ to keep an eye on the deep Surveillance State?