There is no American hater of Israel and all it stands for more extreme than the young, would-be journalist Max Blumenthal. The son of former Clinton administration staffer Sidney Blumenthal, he is author of a book so steaming of hatred for Israel that it makes the work of Noam Chomsky seem moderate in comparison. It has received blurbs and endorsements from Stephen Walt (of Walt and Mearsheimer), Rashid Khalidi, Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian and Chris Hedges, among others. In other words, all the usual suspects are pushing it.
The Nation, the leading magazine of the far Left, featured a lengthy excerpt for its cover story in the November 4th issue. Trying to appease their few remaining supporters of Israel, it also ran a short one and a quarter page rebuttal by their regular columnist, Eric Alterman. He sees himself as a critical supporter of the Jewish state, regularly writing in opposition to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as most Israeli policies, with which he strenuously disagrees.
Yet Alterman, having read Blumenthal’s book, dubbed it “The ‘I Hate Israel’ Handbook,” noting that some chapters “are titled to imply an equivalence between Israel and Nazi Germany,” such as chapters titled “The Concentration Camp,” “The Night of the Broken Glass,” and one would-be humorous and juvenile chapter titled “How to Kill Goyim and Influence People.” Alterman’s bottom line is this:
Alas, his case against the Jewish state is so carelessly constructed, it will likely alienate anyone but the most fanatical anti-Zionist extremists, and hence do nothing to advance the interests of the occupation’s victims.
Alterman clearly agrees with Blumenthal that Israel is to blame for “the occupation,” but even he cannot help but note that “Blumenthal evinces no interest in the larger context of Israel’s actions;” and that he completely shows no interest in all the serious threats Israel faces from its many foes, which Alterman is compelled to acknowledge are very real and menacing to the Jewish State. He notes that Blumenthal complains about Israeli textbooks which he says “indoctrinate Jewish children into the culture of militarism,” while never saying one word about the Palestinian and Arab textbooks which do not even show Israel as a nation on their maps, and which regularly attack Jews as sub-human. As Alterman puts it, “Did it not occur to Blumenthal…that Palestinians have textbooks at all?”
Produced by Randall Poster, Essays by Sean Wilentz and John Cohen.
Meant to honor the memory of the most divisive time in America’s past, the Civil War, this tribute to those who lived in our country at the time is a CD to cherish and play again and again. Indeed, nothing is more appropriate to explore the meaning of the War during its 150th Anniversary than listening to the stories of the soldiers. These citizens fought, lived, loved, and died in the thousands in this time of trouble.
If there is any justice in the music business, this compilation, produced by Randall Poster, music advisor for Wes Anderson’s films, assisted by the bluegrass guitar virtuoso par excellence Bryan Sutton, will win the Grammy for best traditional folk album. The much-abused and actually fairly meaningless term “folk music,”- since those playing the kind of songs on this album call themselves traditional singers and not folk-singers. So too does “Dr.” Ralph Stanley, who on these discs contributes “The Vacant Chair,” a song memorializing the death of Lt. John William Grout of the 15th Massachusetts Infantry, who died at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. Stanley, whose voice long ago passed from the quality he had as a young man, could be singing in the voice of chastened veterans who themselves might have seen many of their comrades fall in battle.
What makes the performances stellar and unique is that the artists are drawn from the royalty of the best Nashville has to offer. From the community of old-time and traditional singers and pickers, as well as others like the young New Yorker and banjo master Noam Pikelny, they each use their own musical taste to try and capture what they think is how the songs were meant to be played and sung in the era in which they were written.
Editor’s Note: PJ Lifestyle seeks to promote dialogue and debate across ideologies, cultures, and religions. This debate in particular — within the conservative movement regarding goals and tactics — is vital. Both Ron Radosh and Andrew C. McCarthy are exemplary exponents of their positions. I would like to encourage more debate and discussion on this subject, inviting others to respond to Krauthammer’s Daily Show appearance, McCarthy’s NRO article, and Ron’s PJM article cross-posted from his blog. I will attempt to weigh in soon. – DMS
If you want to know how to have a serious and respectful discussion with liberals, look no further than Charles Krauthammer’s lengthy discussion with Jon Stewart that took place last week on The Daily Show. Dr. Krauthammer is, as I am certain all PJM readers know, America’s most well-known and highly regarded spokesman for conservatism. In this three-part extended discussion, he manages to point to the serious flaws in the Obama plan for a federal takeover of the health care system, highlight why it is doomed to fail, and challenge all the liberal shibboleths that Stewart cogently asserts. There is no animosity between the discussants—only serious, well thought-out exchanges of opinion.
It is clear to anyone who watches the exchange that Krauthammer makes the case for a conservative critique of Obamacare, about which, he says in part three of the discussion with Stewart, all conservatives share a consensus. So it is unsettling to say the least to find PJMedia’s Andy McCarthy write on NRO that, like the Republican establishment, Krauthammer “is more sympathetic to Obama’s case for the welfare state than to the Tea Party’s case for limited government and individual liberty.”
McCarthy chastises Krauthammer for going on Stewart’s program, arguing that he and other Republicans “say what they think” so that they might win over a “receptive” liberal audience; hence they endorse a “mature progressivism” that they say is what “conservatives really think.”
Anyone watching Charles Krauthammer’s entire interview will immediately learn that he does not say what he thinks Stewart wants to hear; indeed, he argues strongly against Stewart’s liberal ideological preconceptions, and shows him, and hence his audience, the total folly of a government health program based on taking over one-sixth of the economy.
McCarthy takes particular umbrage to the following passage from the interview, in which Charles Krauthammer says that conservatives today accept,
the great achievements of liberalism — the achievements of the New Deal, of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. The idea that you rescue the elderly and don’t allow the elderly to enter into destitution is a consensual idea [accepted by] conservatives, at least the mainstream of conservatives.
Reading Charles Lane’s important column in The Washington Post about a new indie film, Una Noche,(One Night), I promptly rented it “On Demand” on my cable system. It is also available as an iTunes download.
Filmmaker Lucy Mulloy is new to the business. This is her first film, and it is now available after premiering at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in 2012, as well as the Berlin Film Festival that same year. Unless you live in New York City where some theaters are showing it, you have to watch it at home.
What Mulloy has done is to reveal the truth about daily life in Communist Cuba, which few Western visitors to Cuba have little understanding of. Indeed, the very week that Mulloy’s film has been made available for viewing, The New York Times Travel section featured two different articles extolling tourism to Cuba, and in effect encouraging its readers to avail themselves of the opportunity to engage in well-managed Potemkin Village tours, in which representatives of Cuba’s tourism industry — controlled by Cuba’s state-security apparatus — guide the gullible Americans to show them how joyous and happy the people are, and how wonderful the regime is that gives its people such a good life. They come back extolling the virtues of the Cuban government, joining in calls to lift the embargo on Cuba, and reporting on how well off things are for the people.
The first Times article informs readers that “those eager to get to Cuba just have to pay, and agree to take part in a busy, highly organized tour with very little free time.” Sure, if you had time on your own, you might wander off and see the parts of Havana that Mulloy shows us, and see how people really live and learn what they really think. When I went there in the mid-1970s, I did just that, and ended up getting arrested and thrown into a local holding cell in a police station for six hours because I took a photo of a giant line in front of a nationalized Woolworth store that had just received a rare shipment of plastic shoes from Eastern Europe.
The second Times article notes that “nearly every major tour company is now jockeying for the hearts and wallets of American tourists.” Why not? The tours cost a great deal of money, the food is reportedly mediocre (perhaps better than when I was there, and it was close to inedible) and you are given little time for any R and R — continually shuttled to one orchestrated activity after another. As they put it, “you can’t simply show up and luxuriate at the beach.”
Editor’s Note: I’ve decided to cross-post together these four PJ articles about the NSA PRISM surveillance program. My colleagues J. Christian Adams, Bryan Preston, Ron Radosh, and Richard Fernandez each deliver compelling analyses and I agree with their conclusions. I’ve been disappointed as many conservatives and Republicans have sought to minimize the severity of what PRISM is, even siding with Democrats to support the program while encouraging focus on the IRS and other Obama scandals. They’re wrong.
At this point the Ron Paul radical anarchist Edward Snowden who initiated this story in the most irresponsible means possible has overextended his 15 minutes of fame. He has ceded any scrap of moral authority he may have once had. Everything about him is a distraction from what really matters. In the coming weeks let’s hope the sad tabloid story about him and his personality can pass and we can get to the serious discussion about the necessity of limiting the powers of government surveillance. - David Swindle
Russian President Vladimir Putin has now explained the status of Edward Snowden. He is not technically in Russia; rather, per the Associated Press:
[He] is in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and has not passed through Russian immigration, Putin said, meaning he is not technically in Russia.
Once again, the Russian president has humiliated the United States. Putin also claims that the Russian security services have not met with Snowden and are not working with him. Moreover, he cannot grant the United States request for extradition since the U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.
Writing in The Guardian (Glenn Greenwald’s paper), Tom McCarthy explains that Putin’s excuse for not grabbing Snowden is not exactly accurate. He cites the report of their Moscow correspondent Miriam Elder, who says:
Passengers transiting through Sheremetyevo are usually given 24 hours to pass through the international transit zone. Snowden arrived Sunday.
If Elder is correct, then obviously Russian security services are allowing the rules to be stretched in Snowden’s case. Like that African man who lived in JFK Airport for a few years since he was legally stateless and no country would grant him exile, Snowden could be living in Moscow’s airport for quite some time, dining on the horrendous food available at that notoriously subpar international airport.
President Putin could not pause from sticking the knife in President Obama and the United States, suddenly becoming a defender of human rights. Elder quotes Putin:
Assange and Snowden consider themselves human rights activists and say they’re fighting for the spread of information. … Ask yourself this: should you hand these people over so they’ll be put in prison?
With that argument, Putin reveals himself to be a master of hypocrisy. Cathy Young, who grew up in the old Soviet Russia and follows the country regularly, points out:
[Russia] is in the grip of an intense crackdown on dissent since Vladimir Putin’s return for a third presidential term a year ago. … This crackdown includes draconian penalties for unauthorized protests; legislation requiring non-governmental organizations that receive any money from abroad to register as “foreign agents” and submit to punitive regulations; a vague new treason law that could target dissent; legislation criminalizing insults to religion; and widespread harassment and persecution of opposition activists and leaders.
As for Mr. Snowden, any pretense of his being motivated by a desire to protect the fundamental freedoms that Americans enjoy has evaporated completely. Yesterday, he gave an interview in which he now claims he got a job with Booz Allen in the first place precisely so he could gain access to NSA secrets that he could then share with the world. That new explanation contradicts his earlier claim — that only after working there and learning what American security services could do did he decide on principle to leak classified data. Perhaps wandering in an international transit zone in a bad airport has gone to his head, and we should take anything he says at this point with a grain of salt.
The news reports at the time, in the late 1980s, were horrific. Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old African-American girl from New York State, was said to have been abducted and repeatedly raped by six white men. She was found with “KKK” written across her chest, a racial epithet on her stomach and her hair smeared with feces. She was so traumatized, according to reports, that at the hospital she answered yes-or-no questions by blinking her eyes. Making the crime even more vile, if that were possible, she and her lawyers later claimed that two of the rapists were law enforcement officials.
Enter a relatively unknown (at the time) African-American activist named Reverend Al Sharpton. Rushing to get in touch with young Tawana, Reverend Al became her mentor, spokesman, and leader of the mass protests demanding justice for Brawley, the victim of an apparent white racist attack. In the process, Sharpton accused the police officer — who Sharpton said had actually attacked her — along with the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, Steven Pagones. “The evidence,” Sharpton said, proved that “an assistant district attorney and a state trooper did this.” Sharpton led mass picket lines at New York state offices, which I recall at times included the always gullible folk singer Pete Seeger.
We all know the outcome, although with this new short documentary, a new generation may be hearing about it for the first time. The Times notes: “After seven months, 6,000 pages of testimony and 180 witnesses, a grand jury found Ms. Brawley’s story to be a lie. Neither the police officer nor the district attorney accused by Ms. Brawley and Mr. Sharpton had been involved in any way, the report concluded.” It was too late for Officer Harry Crist Jr., who committed suicide because of the false accusations made against him, or for Assistant DA Pagones, whose career was ruined and whose reputation was smeared.
Writing today at The Daily Beast, Stuart Stevens calls it a “shocking reminder of the toxic mix racial exploitation and personal ambition can produce.” It should be, he writes, “required viewing for the NBC News executives who are heavily invested in rehabilitating a key culprit of this loathsome episode: the Rev. Al Sharpton.” Stevens is correct, and let me put it more boldly: It is time for MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, to fire Rev. Al Sharpton.
“There was music in the cafés at night
And revolution in the air”
- Bob Dylan, “Tangled Up in Blue”
Finally, a movie has arrived that treats the story of the New Left honestly and in a realistic, mature manner. That film is not Robert Redford’s dreadful The Company You Keep, a paean to the Weather Underground, but the movie by the French director Olivier Assayas, Something in the Air. It takes place in various European locales in the summer of 1971, when the hopes of the European revolutionaries were shattered after the failure of 1968 to lead to revolution. Assayas’ film covers an assorted group of European New Leftists and some American tourist counterparts as they attempt to both get on with their lives and, for some, to keep alive their crushed hopes in a period of ideological and political retreat.
Assayas, who made the quintessential and powerful biographical movie Carlos about Carlos the Jackal, the Left’s most well-known ’70s and 80’s terrorist, now turns his attention in particular to the plight of the young graduating high school student Gilles, played by Clement Metayer, and his new girlfriend, Christine, played by Lola Creton. Each takes different paths. Gilles is guilt ridden over his desire to become an artist and study painting instead of serving the revolution, while Christine, plagued with guilt over her bourgeois existence, opts instead to live with an older man in a revolutionary collective and to devote herself to the task of organizing the proletariat in France and Italy. (All she does, we learn, is shop, cook and clean for the male comrades, as well as provide sex.)
The power of Assayas’ movie is that it takes place in real time, instead of flashbacks and narrative based in the present, as aging radicals try to come to terms with their past. We see these young people facing the options in front of them, each deciding which way to turn, as they experience the pulls to go one way and the warning signs that they had better think twice before acting on their impulses.
Leave it to Salman Rushdie to bring back the Left’s favorite stratagem: moral equivalence. During the Cold War, leftists used to say the following: “Sure, the Soviets are doing bad things, but so is the United States.” Those a bit more to the left would advance the argument, and say: “The Soviets do terrible things, but the U.S. is responsible, since its leaders view them, as Reagan did, as ‘the evil empire.’ Since we won’t accommodate their just demands, they have to respond to us with hostility.” Those even further to the left would push the analogy even further, arguing: “The Soviets may do some bad things, but at least they stand on the side of progressive change. The U.S., on the other hand, oppresses Third World peoples and supports right-wing reactionary regimes all over the world.”
A good example of the old moral equivalence was to equate the Gulag in the Soviet Union, in which hundreds of thousands were imprisoned, starved to death and executed in massive frame-ups, with McCarthyism in the United States. During the so-called McCarthy era, relatively few were imprisoned or lost their livelihoods, and many actually guilty of being actual Soviet agents portrayed themselves as innocents accused because of their political views. Yet the Left in America argued both were the same.
Now Salman Rushdie has a lot to be wary of. After the Iranian revolution, the late Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa along with a reward for anyone who murdered him. Because of his novel The Satanic Verses, Rushdie had to go into hiding in different safe houses for a number of years, while under the protection of the British government. Intellectuals and writers in the West rallied to his defense. Eventually, Rushdie came into the open, moved to the United States, and became a favorite in the celebrity world, as well as a best-selling novelist.
This week, the rehabilitation of the most extreme of the New Left groups — the Weather Underground — entered a new stage.
Yesterday, the New York Post revealed that convicted felon Kathy Boudin — who was released from jail a decade ago after serving 22 years for her role as getaway driver in a deadly 1981 Brinks truck robbery — was given the position of adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work.
At the same time, Boudin was also(!) given a position held concurrently at New York University, where she was appointed Sheinberg Scholar-in-Residence. She recently gave a lecture for that program on “the politics of parole and re-entry,” something which she obviously knows about.
There are, of course, many other candidates who could have been given both positions, and none of them were part of a leftist terrorist group whose action resulted in the death of the first African-American police officer in that area, and two other police officers. Two of the three had families; children grew up without their fathers.
When she was pulled over, Boudin shouted to the officers whose guns were drawn: “Put the gun back.” They put their revolvers in their holsters.
At that point — as the officers went to inspect the back of the van she was driving — her cohorts came out with weapons blazing, killing the two policemen and one other who had joined in pursuit.
Boudin was never repentant.
As David Horowitz points out today at NRO:
[Boudin is a] murderess who betted the cold-blooded massacre of three law-enforcement officers, including the first African-American on the Nyack police force; a woman whose actions left nine children fatherless and who has shown no genuine remorse for that.
It is the particular premise of the new FX cable TV series The Americans that the Soviets had ready to go when called lots of sleeper cells of KGB agents living in the United States. Taking place in the years of the Reagan administration, the show depicts the exploits of a husband and wife who seem, at first introduction, a typical young, middle-class suburban couple living in the Washington, D.C., area, with a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, to whom they are loving parents.
The couple, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, are played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Viewers quickly learn that their coupling was a KGB-arranged marriage. Brought together in the Soviet Union by KGB bosses, they are trained in the ways of America, taught perfect English, and then smuggled into the U.S., where the KGB buys them a nice home and establishes a travel agency for them to run as a perfect front. As part of the deal, they are expected, as most Americans are, to have children and raise a family.
Their days are spent running their business and taking their kids to school, while their evenings (and sometimes their days) are spent in such endeavors as kidnapping a KGB defector who has become too prominent on the lecture circuit, and preparing upon orders to spy upon the home of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, where a top level meeting is to take place at which they hope major American secrets will be revealed. To do this job, the couple has to force Weinberger’s African-American maid to place a bug on a clock in Weinberger’s study, which they accomplish by poisoning her son with a toxic agent for which only they have an antidote.
Ironically, viewers learn that their next-door neighbor is an FBI agent named Stan, played by Noah Emmerich, who is suspicious of everyone, and naturally wonders whether everything is as it seems with his neighborly friends. The Jennings do not know whether he moved there because the Bureau suspects them. To boot, Stan’s area is counter-intelligence and searching for secret Soviet agents operating in the United States.
If you came of age in the rock and roll years of the 1960s and were into music you knew of Danny Kalb and the band he created The Blues Project. Often referred to as New York City’s “Jewish Beatles,” the group was at first managed by Sid Bernstein, the same man who ran the Fab Four’s New York City tours. You might have heard them at the Paramount Theater in Times Square, where a new group, Eric Clapton and Cream, opened for them. Or you might have heard them play at Palisades Park Amusement Park, at one of Murray the K’s (the most well-known NYC DJ) weekend programs at the park. Most likely, however, you went to hear them at the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, the place for folk, rock and blues.
Now, after years of living in the shadows, Kalb has come out with a masterful two-disc of his most recent work, and is starting to receive major reviews. The latest for his new album Moving in Blue appears in The Morton Report, a major pop-culture review, and is written by its music critic, Bill Bentley. Calling Kalb “one of that decade’s musical linchpins,” Bentley writes that,
“his playing crossed blues with folk, rock, country and even jazz over the course of their albums, and before that he was one of the young white bluesmen who found nirvana in the music of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other originators, and honored their creation with dedication and deep spirit.”
“The Blues Project,” he says, “spread waves far and wide.” In the new album, Kalb sets out to let you hear all the various musical directions he has absorbed into one unique style. You will hear songs by Muddy Waters, Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, a few of his own compositions, and some glorious blues licks and the kind of incredible, finger-picking magic on the guitar of which only he is capable. Kalb finds, as Bentley writes, an “inner beauty in everything he touches.” His home, he concludes, “is a musical rainbow inside us all.”
Another additional treat is the insightful and beautifully written liner notes by historian and musicologist Sean Wilentz — yes, that same Wilentz who is a historian at Princeton University, most well-known for his books on American history, as well as his meditation on our greatest singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan in America. Kalb, whom he says “looks like a Jewish lumberjack Buddha,” is “more like Mandrake” once he starts playing. He says that Kalb stomps with “soulful joy through one genre after another.” He plays such tunes as Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” the Muddy Waters classic “I Got My Mojo Working,” Leadbelly’s “Leaving Blues,” John Lee Hooker’s “Louise,” and Big Joe Williams “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Many will agree with Wilentz that his version of the traditional “Death Comes Creeping,” sung by many from Dylan to Mance Lipscomb, is done alone on acoustic guitar “more movingly” than interpretations by other past singers.
Accompanying Kalb on the album: his brother Jonathan (himself a fine blues musician) on slide guitar and harmonica, his drummer from The Blues Project Roy Blumenfeld, bass player Jesse Williams and Lenny Nelson, and Sojourn Records co-founder, the label of Kalb’s CD, drummer Mark Ambrosino. There is, as listeners will find, some incredible keyboard and organ work by someone whose name does not appear, but who aficionados will think sounds suspiciously like the famous Blues Project keyboard man, founder of “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” and sideman for most of Dylan’s earlier hits, Al Kooper. The absence of any credit for whomever is playing those awesome keyboards on the CD is rather, I must say, inexplicable. The man deserves credit!
So, go take a break from the TV, stop fretting over the world situation, and enjoy some heartfelt powerful music. Bring some joy into your life. You deserve it, and Danny Kalb deserves to be heard and listened to.
Previously at PJ Lifestyle from Ron Radosh:
Why Oliver Stone Will Not Be a Happy Man this Weekend
Governor Mick Huckabee, now a TV and radio talk-show host, seems to be a nice guy. He is kind to everyone and seemingly wants everyone to like him. Unlike other media hosts, he regularly features as guests those with whom conservatives disagree. When The Iron Lady came out in 2011, Huckabee invited on actress Meryl Streep to discuss her performance of Margaret Thatcher. I recall her nervousness as she clearly feared being the guest of a well-known social conservative with whom she had profound disagreements. The governor quickly put her at ease, and showed that he truly wanted to make her welcome.
Sometimes this works. But yesterday, Huckabee revealed the dangers of such a stance. He had as guests on his radio program none other than Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, there to give their TV series, The Untold History of the United States, more publicity and attention. Listen to the interview, and you will find one of the most disgraceful interviews by a conservative that you will ever hear.
You might expect that Huckabee (or his staff) would have done some homework and, if he chose to have these two advocates of what Roger L. Simon rightfully calls “Stalin porn” on his program, asked them challenging questions. If so, you will be waiting a long, long time. Instead of asking them any tough questions at all, Huckabee allowed them to use their assigned time to spout leftist propaganda without any objection or disagreement. Indeed, at one point, historian Kuznick praised Joseph Stalin and chastised the United States during World War II for not doing Stalin’s bidding, arguing that the U.S. could have come to their aid earlier and not refused a second front in Europe when Stalin wanted it. After all, Kuznick said, Stalin was “anti-fascist” when no other powers were.
Clearly, Kuznick does not realize that in fact Stalin was preparing his alliance with the Nazis during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact way before it was announced, and the nature of his anti-fascism was spurious to the core. Indeed, as Foreign Minister Molotov had said in a famous statement, “fascism is a matter of taste.” The NKVD gave advice and aid to the Gestapo, among other things, and the two totalitarian leaders easily accommodated their ideological differences to work together against the West.
Did Huckabee challenge this statement? Not once. Nor did he object when the two repeated their argument about the unnecessary A-bombs dropped on Japan and the United States’ true purpose as a permanent militaristic power based on hegemonic domination of the world on behalf of American corporations.
Oliver Stone and his co-author Peter Kuznick are not going to be happy this week. After making scores of media appearances in which he heralded the supposedly great reception for his new TV series Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States, which airs each week for 10 episodes on the CBS-owned network Showtime, Stone is finally getting the negative response he feared.
First, Stone was hit hard by Michael Moynihan at Newsweek/The Daily Beast. Declaring Stone and Kuznick’s film “junk history,” Moynihan called Stone’s work “swivel-eyed, ideological history,” based on “dubious quotes and sources,” a veritable “marvel of historical illiteracy.” Coming on the heels of my own debunking of Stone, “A Story Told Before: Oliver Stone’s Recycled History of the United States,” Stone and Kuznick received two substantive critiques in one week.
Stone, of course, completely ignored my own substantive article, alluding to it without naming me as an example of “a few far-right diatribes” that do not warrant response. Stone bragged that “the majority of reviews and articles have been positive” until the piece by Moynihan that he had to answer since it appeared in what he considers a mainstream media venue. Since the original author has the last word, Moynihan hit Stone hard in his own answer, which appears after Stone’s response as an update. Moynihan easily further demolishes Stone and Kuznick, concluding after presenting more evidence that their work “is activism masquerading as history.”
This Sunday, however, Stone and Kuznick will be even more upset. The New York Times Magazine features a story by editor Andrew Goldman, “Oliver Stone Rewrites History-Again.” Goldman’s story, which summarizes Stone’s theory behind the TV series and has many vignettes based on his own interview with the director, notes among other things that Stone never really took back his incendiary comment that there is “Jewish domination of the media” and that Israel’s “powerful lobby in Washington” controls U.S. foreign policy. The apology he supposedly made to the Anti-Defamation League was forced on him to avoid cancellation of Untold History, and Stone has now told Goldman that he should not have used the word “Jewish,” but that Israel has “seeming control over American foreign policy” and that AIPAC has “undue influence.” He accuses them of “militating for the war in Iraq,” completely ignoring that, in fact, Israel did not favor the war, considering Iran its major enemy, and that AIPAC in particular never lobbied on its behalf. Each time Stone explains himself, he further puts his foot in his mouth.
When Goldman eventually gets to the new Showtime series, readers learn that Stone’s accolades come mainly when he presents his film to sympathetic viewers from the far-left Nation magazine, as in a forum held in New York after the annual New York Film Festival. Referring to the magazine as “the left’s beloved 147 year-old weekly,” Goldman quotes its editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel as saying that Stone’s film “is what we try to do at The Nation,” which, if anything, is more of a giveaway about its reliability than she imagines. That she sees the film as challenging “the orthodoxy” and the “conformity of our history” is a statement that should, if anything, be very embarrassing to those who think she has any credibility.
If we can turn away from the elections for a moment, and the future of the Republican Party, a more fundamental problem exists. It is nothing less than the nature of the American culture. By the term “culture,” I am not referring to the social issues that usually come up when one talks about culture wars; i.e., abortion, gay rights, religion, etc. Rather, I am talking about the perception and outlook that stand beneath the way our American public define the very nature of civic life in our democratic capitalist society.
That is why I regularly borrow from the Left, as some astute observers of my previous column noted in some comments, the works of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, and particularly his theory of cultural hegemony. As I wrote in my concluding paragraph, we have to “wage a war of position on the cultural front and to do all possible to challenge the ascension of a failed intellectual liberal ideology, whether it is in the form of Progressivism, liberalism or socialism.” I’m referring to the kind of work Fred Siegel carries out in a new book he has just finished writing, and which I had the pleasure of reading in manuscript form, on the nature of American liberalism. When it is eventually published, I believe it can have the kind of impact that great works of history like Richard Hofstadter’s books had in the 1940s and ’50s.
Siegel shows that from its very inception, liberalism was a flawed ideology whose adherents substituted its would-be virtues as a way of distancing themselves from most Americans and their workaday lives; an ideology based on a view whose believers saw themselves as superior to most Americans, including those who were merchants, workers, or regular folk, who could not be counted on to comprehend the backwardness of their beliefs.
Continuing on through the post-war decades, Siegel deals with liberalism’s failure to accurately confront the issue of race; its love affair with the New Left and its moral collapse in the face of its anarchism and nihilism; the effects of McGovernism on the political collapse of the Democratic Party, and the resulting politics of “rights-based interest groups” and the new power of public sector unionism, a far different breed than that of the old labor movement of Walter Reuther and George Meany. If we want a different kind of social polity than the one we have now — based on catering to the power of competing interest groups that compose the core strength of the Democratic party — we have to address first the essential question of the kind of social order that liberalism has built.
I’m also referring to the work the intellectuals who edit National Affairs and those who edit The Claremont Review of Books — solid theoretical and analytical work on social policy, education, and law, all of which challenges the intellectual foundations of contemporary liberalism.
If you doubt that this intellectual work is necessary, you might ponder the question of why college-educated Americans are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats or among those even much further to the political Left. An answer appears in this article by Richard Vedder, which appears today in Minding the Campus. Vedder shows that the majority of professors who teach our young people in the humanities are primarily on the Left, as he writes, “62.7 percent of faculty said that they were either ‘far left’ or ‘liberal,’ while only 11.9 percent said they were ‘far right’or ‘conservative.’ The notion that universities are hot beds for left-wing politics has a solid basis in fact. Moreover, the left-right imbalance is growing — a lot. The proportion of those on the left is rising, on the right declining.” The latest research reveals that there are 5.7 professors on the left for each one on the right!
The irony is that this occurs only in the academy, since studies also show that more and more Americans define themselves as basically conservative rather than liberal. So it should come as no surprise that the suburban middle-class and university-educated Americans, having learned their liberalism and leftism at college, vote the way that they do. One study shows that 41 percent of Americans call themselves conservative while only 21 percent call themselves liberal. Thus, as Vedder says, the university faculties are truly “out of sync” with the country at large.
Why is it, he asks, that the faculty are so leftist? He answers:
Regarding politics, while some devise esoteric theories how the inquisitive mind leads to non-mainstream political views, historically intellectuals have sometimes been largely oriented to what today would be called “conservative” views. I think today’s leftish-faculty orientation is easily explained: the academy, even at so-called private schools, is heavily dependent on public funds, and liberals tend to be more disposed to larger government. Liberals like big government, and big government means a better, more secure life for more faculty.
Since the gateway to the professoriate is through professors themselves, right-leaning prospective faculty are sometimes turned off by the usually correctly perceived need to suppress their views in order to get an appointment and tenure. Those who do not share the affinity for big government are often shunned, leading conservative/libertarian groups such as the Charles Koch Foundation to fund little campus enclaves where right-minded professors can teach and do research without harassment. Attempts to form those enclaves are often bitterly fought by the faculty. Promoting “diversity” in higher education means supporting relatively trivial variations in physical attributes of humans (such as skin color or gender differences), not the far more important differences of the mind manifested in verbal and written expression.
Another realm of mis-education is that of the popular media. This week, I have written about this in an article published in The Weekly Standard, which fortunately the editors have not put behind their firewall. It is titled “A Story Told Before: Oliver Stone’s recycled leftist history of the United States.” Stone’s TV weekly series premiers Nov.12th on the CBS-owned network Showtime, and will eventually be used by leftist professors in their own history courses on our campuses. It is, I show, nothing less than a rehash of old Communist propaganda from the 1950s offered up as both something new and as the true hidden history of our country’s past.
How sad that on the night of the final event of the year-long celebration of Woody Guthrie’s life and music, his son Arlo’s wife passed away two days after their 45th wedding anniversary. The morning after the concert, Arlo wrote the following about her passing:
The sun rose on my world this morning. Jackie stayed with us throughout the night, lingering in our hearts just out of sight but clearly present. She woke me before sunrise in a dream saying that the hour had come when she would need to leave us and be gone before the sun arose. As her words awakened me I walked outside and stood looking over the river talking with her in the predawn twilight we both loved so much. It was our time and for years she brought me coffee as I took photographs of morning on the river.
There are loves, and there are LOVES. Ours was and will continue to be what it has always been – A very great love. We didn’t always like each other. From time to time there were moments when we’d have our bags packed by the door. But, there was this great love that we shared from the moment we met – a recognition – It’s YOU! And we would always return to it year after year, decade after decade and I believe life after lifetime.
The audience at the concert–held at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.–all wondered about Arlo’s absence, since he was in the program. One artist said, “We’re all singing Woody’s songs for Jackie today,” but she didn’t elaborate. Arlo writes that we all live for the moment we are in, and hence “we have no thought of past or future.” He will continue to tour and make up the gigs he missed. That is what he does, communicating through art and song, like his father and many of his own children.
My wife and I went to the concert last night, along with some friends. It was an all-star cast, and there were many memorable moments. The young folks who make up the popular Old Crow Medicine Show brought vigor and a rousing old-timey feeling to some of Woody’s best songs. Rosanne Cash and her husband and guitar accompanist John Leventhal sang beautifully. Jimmy LaFave, who sounds like a younger Bob Dylan, was superb, and the bluegrass group featuring Del McCoury and his family, playing with banjo master Tony Trischka, did “So Long It’s Been Good to Know You” bluegrass style. Trischka and the band scored with a banjo rendition of “Woody’s Rag,” the only instrumental composition Guthrie ever wrote.
But the New York Times ran the most left-wing, guilt-tripping contribution to his legacy in its Weekend section last Sunday. The piece, written by Lawrence Downes, begins by noting that to attend the gala final concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., one has to buy tickets that range from $80 to $175. Guthrie was a singer who in a good year may have earned $70 in one month — when he was employed by CBS to do a radio program — and such a price for people to listen to his songs would have infuriated him.
The publicity for the concert reads: “Through his unique music, words and style, Guthrie was able to bring attention and understanding to the critical issues of his day.” To which I would say, sometimes. He came to attention by what is most likely his most outstanding work, Dust Bowl Ballads, in which Guthrie chronicled the impact of the dust storms throughout the Southwest that drove thousands of poor farmers from Oklahoma and elsewhere to flee however they could to California and the Salinas Valley, where they could eke out a living picking crops.
No one who listens to these songs can doubt his talent, his humor, and his concern for those he knew well. “Talking’ Dust Bowl Blues” is filled with humor and irreverence, and although imitated by scores who wrote their own talking blues for years thereafter, nothing comes close to Woody’s originals.
But Mr. Downes’ concern is that there has been a “sentimental softening and warping of Woody’s reputation,” because the truth was that the “saintly folk hero” was really an “angry vigilante — a fascist-hating, Communist-sympathizing rabble-rouser.” He complains that his most well-known song, “This Land is Your Land,” has been “truncated and misinterpreted” because the “pan is off the flame.”
Mr. Downes is obviously referring to the last two verses, which Guthrie himself never sang — and which now both Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen regularly include — about how he saw a sign that said “Private property, no trespassing, but on the other side it said nothing, that side was made for you and me.”
Just don’t try to trespass on any of Bruce’s million-dollar properties — unless you want the police arriving and throwing you in the hoosegow, which Woody himself knew quite a lot about.
This Sunday, AMC starts the fourth and perhaps final season of Breaking Bad, the Emmy Award winning series starring Bryan Cranston as Walter White, a high-school chemistry teacher turned top of the line drug kingpin; Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman, a former student drop-out who cooks crystal meth with him in a makeshift trailer lab; and later on, Giancarlo Esposito as Gus, a Mexican drug lord who operates the drug cartel on the American side of the border, while operating two legitimate businesses — a Mexican fast food emporium and a commercial laundry — as fronts.
I started watching the very first season; to my mind, the program was good but not terrific, certainly not on the level of The Sopranos. It was largely a dark comedy. White, the main protagonist, found that he had incurable cancer, and might only have a short time left to live. With a family to support, and desperately in need of funds to support them, he decided to use his knowledge of chemistry to develop a method of cooking pure crystal meth, which he thought he could sell to addicts with the aid of a former student drop-out, who would handle cooking the meth with him and the selling of it as well. The student, named Jesse Pinkman, was also an addict himself, which gave Walt the idea that he would be the perfect person to make the necessary contacts needed in order to sell their product.
As the series progressed, it turned violent and almost unwatchable. Jesse got involved with characters depraved and vile; to watch them in action was rather hard to take. The irony of the series was that White, a cultured and serious family man, had to involve himself in a world he hated in order to make ends meet. To make things worse, his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader — played by Dean Norris — is a DEA agent, on the trail of trying to find out who is supplying the new deadly crystal meth suddenly arriving in his territory.
I skipped the second season, only to find not only that the series and its stars got major Emmys in the last year, but that critics began to call it the single best show on television. After reading one such piece a week ago, I watched the entire third season “On Demand” this past week. For once, the critics are on target. This week, the new issue of Time features James Poniewozik’s report on the program, and he gets it completely right. As Poniewozik says:
When Breaking Bad debuted in 2008, it seemed like a dark comedy along the lines of Showtime’s suburban pot-dealing show Weeds. Walt, a chemistry genius whose career fizzled out, is teaching kids he resents and working part time at a car wash — then he gets diagnosed with lung cancer. Desperate to build a nest egg for his family before he dies, he partners with Jesse, his former student and a small-time dealer, to cook meth. It turns out he’s amazing at it. And it feels good. He stays in the business even after his cancer goes into remission. “He wants to own this,” says Cranston, who’s won three Emmys for the role. “He’s feeling powerful for the first time in his life.” As Walt gets in deeper, embracing his criminality and signing on to run Gus’ pharmaceutical-grade-meth superlab, Breaking Bad becomes something incredibly compelling — and dead serious.
Rarely has a TV program morphed in a few seasons from a breaking-the-mold dark comedy into a compelling and tense thriller of a life in crime, in which a middle-class regular family with a handicapped teenager and a young baby,live in two different worlds. One is that of a regular suburban family struggling to get by; the other a wealthy criminal family whose head of the household even becomes willing to commit violent murders in order to succeed in his new criminal endeavor. Like The Sopranos, AMC’s Breaking Bad offers the viewer complex characters one identifies with and hopes succeed. After all, who wants White’s family to fall into economic collapse because he was given the bad deal of incurable lung cancer?