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November 23, 2009

A Song for Sunday (King-Kill) #33

John F. Kennedy was assassinated 44 years ago today. Texas is the reason.

It’s a bit in poor taste, I know, but today’s song is Bullet by the Misfits. I always misheard the lyric “Kennedy’s shattered head hits concrete” as “Kennedy’s shattered head: it’s complete.” It’s a creative mishearing. Lyrically, I think “Bullet” is one of Glen Danzig’s best, though he can’t refrain from sexual morbidity for long and ends the song with a verse about having sex with Jackie O. (But as we shall see, sex and death both attend accounts of the Kennedy King-Killing.)

For an extreme antigovernment libertarian-type with an attraction to revisionist history, I’m actually not much of a Kennedy conspiracy buff. My accquaintance with the facts of the assassination and the figures involved come primarily through works of ficiton. First is JFK, which I regard as a truly brilliant film, whatever its relation to the actual facts (and which I actually watched earlier today- my brother was assigned to write a paper on a historical film and picked this one off a list of suggestions and was unaware that it was the exact date of the assassination). Second is the Don DeLillo novel Libra, which presents the thesis that I’ve always wanted to see: that there was a conspiracy and Oswald did it (though that’s not really what the book is about). George Will famously, and fatuously, dismissed the novel as “sandbox existentialism”. I think it’s more lunchpail postmodernism myself. It’s pretty good. Come to think of it, DeLillo and Oliver Stone have a lot in common: each has made the only serious attempts at depicting football in fiction (Stone in the movie Any Given Sunday and DeLillo in the novel End Zone), and  both have a great deal of talent that they squander at least half the time. Finally, if you really want to wade in the wierd end of the pool, there’s the Grand Poobah of Paranoia James Shelby Downard’s “King-Kill 33: Masonic Symbolism in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy“, which employs language-analysis, mythology, and geography to show that the assassination was a ritual murder by the ubiquitous secret society. Enough to make Richard Hofstadter blow his stack. Of course you cannot take Downars seriously, but that does not mean he is not supremely entertaining.

I’ve long toyed with the idea of doing a half-joking essay presenting a Downardian reading of Stone’s JFK. Outlandish enough on its surface, the film is downright uncanny if you know how to watch it. With Downard’s thesis in mind watch, for instance, the long scene at the heart of the film where Costner’s as Jim Garrison talks to his Black Ops informant, Donald Sutherland’s X. They’re sitting on a park bench in front of the Washington monument. X urges Garrison to think about the big picture by asking the age-old cui bono: “Who had the motive? Who had the means to cover it up? Who?” At this precise moment, the film cuts to a wide shot of the monument. A certain breed of conspiracist believes the obelisk to be an important masonic/satanic phallic symbol, and central to the supposed occult layout of Washington D.C. (Obelisks as phallic symbols and occult architecture and city planning play an important role in another brilliant work of paranoid fiction, Alan Moore’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper From Hell.) Watch closely also a scene where one of Garrison’s investigators is talking to a contact in New Orleans during one of those weird parades they have where everybody dresses up as a skeleton. Just as the contact reveals that the suspected co-conspirator and member of the New Orleans gay underworld Clay Bertrand was actually respected business figure Clay Shaw, one of the procession of the dead jumps out and spooks the two; then a cut to another meeting of Garrison’s team and one of them saying, “this is spookier than we thought”. Moments like that are like an alchemical element working throuhout the film. Spooks and death working just underneath the surface.

And don’t think I didn’t get a little shiver when I saw that this Sunday entry happened to be number 33.

I should reiterate, and underline (this is the internet, after all), that I am a conspiracy skeptic. My interest in paranoia is largely an aesthetic one (which is not to say that the Officially Accepted Narrative is not, as per usual, pure fantasy ficiton as well). My own hatred of the National Security State by no means rests on who killed Kennedy or why, and anyway I follow Gore Vidal in thinking that the coup d’état took place in 1947, not 1963.

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November 11, 2009

Minority Report

Filed under: U.S.A,War — rmangum @ 11:03 pm
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Last night while at the gym I saw a clip of CNN’s “Senior Legal Analyst” Jeffrey Toobin talking to Anderson Cooper. In the wake of the Fort Hood shooting spree by a Muslim Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, CNN had been showing the obligatory clips of bearded men shouting on streetcorners in London and New York and handing out flyers. Despite the fact that 99% of all reasonable people who have things to do in their lives completely ignore anybody standing on a streetcorner and shouting- particularly if the shouters have a religious bent- the news media feel the need to scare up fear about these “hate groups”. Anyway, Toobin gives us his own version of the “9/11 changed everything” argument by saying that, whereas before 9/11, the focus of the American Justice System was to convict criminals after they had committed a crime (you can see that this is, logically, a tautaulogy, yes?), the focus after 9/11 had to be about crime prevention. In particular, he referenced the need for hate speech/hate crime legislation. You can see where this is going. Since we were attacked by Muslims who hated (irrationally, of course) the United States, we can prevent further attacks by making it a crime to be a Muslim who hates the United States. Toobin went on to say something like, “Unfortunately, our legal system just isn’t set up to deal with this.” Yes, unfortunately. But since 9/11, it’s been getting better every day. What, in my naivete, shocked me was the lack of any mention of why our legal system doesn’t punish people who have committed no crime. Phrases like “due process” and “presumtion of innocence” are not heard.  I can understand, though disagree with, someone opposing those things due to some overriding necessity or contigency, but to look at them uncomprehendingly as a design flaw in an outaded model? Now, I understand this isn’t quite like the “Precrime” department in Minority Report, since the argument is that we should criminalize speech and acts which lead to the greater crimes of terrorism. But I think the totalitarian implications are clear enough. But this is my own streetcorner rant: when liberty is regarded as an dangerous and alien concept, we are already a totalitarian country.

But to get back to the Ft. Hood shooter, Hasan: what could have tipped off a Department of Precrime, and thus prevent a shooting spree? The Washington Post reports. Apparantly, a year and a half ago Hasan gave a presentation to Army physicians as a resident at the infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was expected to lecture on a medical topic, but instead, much to the dismay of his audience.

he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As near as I can tell about his presentation from the Post article, the purpose was- fitting with his training as a psychiatrist- to explain the psychology of suicide bombers within the context of Koranic faith. This could be useful stuff. Learning about the psychology of Islam might cause the U.S. military to question the widom of occupying Muslim countries. So of course it is doubly offensive to Hasan’s Army supervisors. Hasan was also particularly concerned about Muslims serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

“It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,” he said in the presentation.

This aspect of his presentation has in hindsight a clearly autobiographical element. Hasan was to be deployed to Afghanistan where, according to a relative, he asked not to be sent. His presentation, titled “The Koranic Worldview as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” concluded:

“Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”

Oddly, or not, the Post article seems not to get the real meaning of Hasan’s presentation. To them it reveals his “extremist views”. To me it looks like a desperate plea. Hasan may or may not have been “in contact with others who may have encouraged violence against U.S. troops.” More information will come out I am sure. But then why a warning to the Army about potential internal threats?

Nidal Malik Hasan is a criminal, a mass murderer. That much is sure. But is this a crime of “extremism” and “hate”, and does it necessitate the criminalization of those motives as well? Or might this have something to do with the contradictions of being a Muslim employed by an Army that kills Muslims every day? And even if Hasan turns out to be an agent of Al Qaeda, that means the shooting is subject to the same logic of blowback as 9/11, which is that, as  Rep. Ron Paul explained to the dismayed Guliani, they hate us because we’re over there. It’s a hatred that may be extreme, but is anything but irrational.

November 9, 2009

A Song for Sunday #32

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 1:44 am
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If you know anything at all about Fred Neil, you probably know that he wrote “Everybody’s Talkin'”, the song that became a hit for Harry Nilsson when it was featured in Midnight Cowboy in 1969. You probably don’t know that he was an influential folksinger in the early 1960’s (getting lost amid the shuffle in a place and time that produced numerous musical legends), and before that a session guitarist and professional songwriter in the storied Brill Building. He played guitar on Bobby Darin’s 1958 hit “Dream Lover” and wrote “Candy Man” for Roy Orbison (admittedly a rather weak entry as the B-side of the amazing “Crying” single). His voice could have fit well in Nashville, but his songs were pure Greenwich Village. He never became famous because he never sought the limelight, and eventually abandoned the music business to become an advocate for dolphins.

One of my favorite Neil tunes, lyrically speaking, is That’s the Bag I’m In, from the same 1966 self-titled album that contained “Everybody’s talkin'”. (By the way, that’s Canned Heat’s Al Wilson on harmonica.) I also love this cover by The Fabs, a garage band from Fullerton, California, included on the Back from the Grave Vol. 1 comp.

“They’ll probably drop the bomb the day my ship comes in.” I feel that way a lot these days, too. You could do worse than to have Chinese Yen, though.

If you want to hear more Neil tunes, over at Iron Leg there’s another great cover of a song called “The Dolphins” by a band called West, as well as “The Other Side of This Life” by Neil himself.

November 6, 2009

Sorry, but Trotsky was a Totalitarian too.

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 5:36 pm

521px-TrotskySlayingtheDragon1918So establishes the new biography by Robert Service (no, not the English-Canadian poet), reviewed here by John Gray. Trotsky, idol of the 20th-century western literati, favored repression of political dissidents and political correctness in culture. There is little evidence that he would have been less tyrannical than Stalin at the helm of the Soviet Union. Gray writes,

. . . along with Lenin he had created the system that Stalin inherited and used for ends with which Trotsky generally sympathised.

And of course he helped give us the neocons. The question is what this all says about the western literati that held him up as a paragon, a veritable secular saint. In my more cynical moments I fear intellectuals are inveterate worshipers of power. But this doesn’t explain why the exiled Trotsky is favored over Stalin. I think this is simply because Stalin was so obviously not an intellectual, whereas Trotsky

fitted the perception that dissenting intellectuals like to have of themselves. Highly cultured, locked in struggle with a repressive establishment, a gifted writer who was also a man of action, he seemed to embody the ideal of truth speaking to power. The manner of his death solidified this perception, which has shaped accounts of his life ever since.

But not forever hence.

November 2, 2009

A Song for Sunday #31

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 1:39 am

treeI had a hard time deciding what song to play today. I spent last night watching Dead Alive and The Hills Have Eyes, while having shots of Jägermeister only a week after drinking enough of the stuff with my brother to cause me to throw up all over his floor, and I still got up this morning (being aroused from slumber by a mysterious bloody nose) and wrote a post about Heidegger. So cut me a little slack.

It’s the first of November, so today’s song is November by Tom Waits.

November 1, 2009

The Sleep of Reason Produces Heidegger

Filed under: Philosophy — rmangum @ 5:31 pm

Few discoveries are more irritating than those which expose the pedigree of ideas.
-Lord Acton

“Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar. . .”
-Monty Python’s Flying Circus

A couple of years ago, when I read Arthur Herman’s The Idea of Decline in Western History, I wrote:

One of the great untold stories of 20th-century intellectual history is how a set of beliefs and obsessions originating with radical right-wing intellectuals in the late nineteenth-century and culminating in the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, migrated en masse to radical left-wing intellectuals after World War Two. The list includes pessimism, extreme relativism and nihilism, race as an idée fixe, contempt for liberal bourgeois values, the championing of irrational vitalism over civilized manners, the redemptive and creative power of violence, even environmentalist and New Age ideas. But the overarching ideas, the key attitudes, of this worldview would have to be hatred of laissez-faire capitalism, obsession with race as a determining factor in history, and the conviction that western civilization is doomed. This transmission is signaled by Theodor Adorno, of so-called “Frankfurt School”, who said, “Not the least among the tasks now confronting thought is that of placing all the reactionary arguments against Western culture in the service of progressive enlightenment.” . . .  Arthur Herman calls this belief-system “Cultural Pessimism”, and this book is the first attempt at systematically examining its genealogy and anatomy. . . . . Cultural pessimism on the right produced the National Socialists, World War II, and the Holocaust. What might cultural pessimism on the left produce?

A good starting point in tracing the intellectual history of cultural pessimism and its transmission from right to left would be to anlyze the ideas of Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger. Nazi philosopher? Yes, the point must be asserted. Heidegger was a Nazi. And a new book by Emmanuel Faye, reviewed here in The Chronicle of Higher Education, not only attacks the notion held by Heidegger’s (mostly left-wing) modern acolytes that his Nazi membership was unrelated to the philosophy, it also goes beyond the claim of Heidegger’s critics that his Nazism was the natural consequence of his philosophy,and asserts that

his philosophy grew out of his Nazism, forcing us to see it as a kind of philosophical propaganda for Nazism in a different key.

Now, having not read the book, I am in no position to concur with this thesis, but it’s really not hard to see how Nazism and Heideggerian philosophy are natural corollaries. And at this point no one can defend Heidegger’s actions as a Nazi, which came out of genuine conviction and were virulent.

The many indignant comments posted under Carlin Romano’s Chronicle article reveal that this is no irrelevant issue, no minor and arcane debate of philosophical history. One commenter writes:

Hmm. Wouldn’t disagree about Heidegger’s support for Nazism. However, getting rid of Heidegger in twentieth century intellectual life would not be easy. You would have to eliminate half of the courses one finds in college catalogue in the humanities and social sciences. I would say good riddance but very impractical. For example, Richard Rorty’s thought is based on Heidegger as well as Nietzsche and Dewey. Get rid of him as well as all postmodern thinkers? Good luck.

Many of the major left-wing figures of late-20th century philosophy- notably Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida- are ardent Heideggerians. But his influence has not waned on a certain segment of the Right, either. Here is an interesting speech by British New Right figure Jonathan Bowden. Bowden also believes that Heidegger’s Nazi party membership was not particularly important, though as I mentioned earlier the historical record says otherwise.

Romano thinks that the correct attitude toward Heidegger is to regard him as silly.

It would seem that Heidegger, likewise, will continue to flourish until even “Continental” philosophers mock him to the hilt. His influence will end only when they, and the broader world of intellectuals, recognize that scholarly evidence fingers the scowling proprietor of Heidegger’s hut as a buffoon produced by German philosophy’s mystical tradition. He should be the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations.

I think this is correct. Humor is the proper antidote to pompous mysticism, and Heideggerians are some of the most humorless people in the world. What we need is a Voltaire. Unfortunately, in the 20th century we had only the morose Wittgenstein (or the cantankerous Karl Popper) to counteract Heidegger. But this does remind me of good quote from Wittgenstein that is relevant:

Humor is not a mood but a way of looking at the world. So if it is correct to say that humor was stamped out in Nazi Germany ,that does not mean that people were not in good spirits, or anything of that sort, but something much deeper and more important.

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