Archive for November, 2009

November 30th, 2009

Fletcher Prouty’s Introduction to the Assassination Business

Most of Colonel Prouty’s writings are archived by heroic Len Osanic at Prouty.org — but not this one: an article from Gallery magazine and 1975, chatting about the “assassination business.”

Shop talk done, the author then wanders back to the watershed — both his and the Republic’s — of November 1963, when first President Diem of Vietnam and then President Kennedy of the U.S.A. were dispatched.

One bothers to post Prouty’s piece now in support of Roger Craig’s moving last testament — for Prouty’s piece focuses on the technique of suiciding targets in places, like Washington D.C., where moblike drive-by blasts wouldn’t do.

Craig was deemed to have died — months after filming his testament — by a suicidal rifle blast to the chest.

But that was then, surely. Not now …

Well. The Prouty piece emphasizes his conviction that the fix was in at the Secret Service in Dallas.

And one can’t help but note the odd event at the White House last week, when the Secret Service allowed — for no reason yet public — an oddball couple sans invitation to enter the White House grounds, then the building and then the East Room, where a State Dinner was in progress, and shake hands with the President.

Is it merely funny that this happened just days before Obama’s long-awated All Things Considered speech in which his decision as to the future of the National Security Apparat’s venture in Pakghanistan will be revealed?

Might a little slip in security just be a way to remind the young Prez who’s got his back, and why?

Read Prouty here — then place comments below.

November 29th, 2009

JFK: Dallas Deputy Sheriff
Roger Craig speaks again

I was so busy a week ago that I forgot to observe the 46th anniversary of the murder that, to my mind, marks the end of the American republic and the germination of what blossomed so wonderfully under Bush-Cheney. Call it what you will. Likely four years hence it’ll be in our face again.

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It’s always worth remembering what Deputy Sheriff Roger Craig had to say, and how he said it. Among other things, he:

– was on the Grassy Knoll within moments of the murder, and

– was present when the rifle of the Book Depository was found and identified by Seymour Weitzman as a Mauser of a different caliber than the old Italian soldier’s rifle that the Warren Commission reported found and attributed to Oswald.

Pressing these and other conflicts with the official story across the years seemed to cost Mr Craig his life:

In 1973 a car forced Craig’s car off a mountain road. He was badly injured but he survived the accident.

In 1974 he surviving another shooting in Waxahachie, Texas.

The following year he was seriously wounded when his car engine exploded. Craig told friends that the Mafia had decided to kill him.

Roger Craig was found dead on 15th May, 1975. It was later decided he had died as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

(From the Spartacus vault maintained by John Simkin in England. Even better, visit his massive Education Forum, on the web, re these matters.)

Craig’s suiciding prompted the attorney Mark Lane, author of two of the most important books on the first Kennedy murder, to stitch together the documentary linked above, based on a filmed interview Craig gave in 1974.

One supposes one might suppose a causal connection between the interview of 1974 and the faux suicide months later. The gunshots were plural, to the chest, with a rifle.

So lend Mr Craig your eyes and ears. Five parts of nine minutes or so, all there on youtube.

It’s hard, is it not, to always look away?

November 28th, 2009

An evening at Fancast:
Night People in Paris, Texas

Posted in Movies by ed

Saw three remarkable films last night on Fancast, the Poor Man’s Friend.

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1. The Elephant Man. Magnificent again.

Brings to mind Dwight Gooden’s glorious rookie year, in that David Lynch never made a better film, although great things did follow.

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Gorgeous black & white — in 1980. BEFORE Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger than Paradise. I had transposed the two in memory.

Had the last American feature distributed (just barely) in b&w been Faces by Cassavetes in 1968?

People who know their movies probably know.

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Anthony Hopkins here became a film star.

And John Hurt, hidden behind the hideous mask, yet so there, won the British oscar, and it seems perhaps a squeeze of Charlotte Rampling.

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Hurt went on to be Winston in Michael Radford’s 1984, four years later.

Two milestones to be proud of.

Or three, counting Charlotte.

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2. Mister 880. 1950.

Young buck Burt Lancaster as a Treasury cad on the heels of genial counterfeiter Edmund Gwenn, who three years before had been Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street.

In each case nominated for an Oscar.

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3. Night People. 1954. Berlin. Or at least a few long shots to establish the Geschmack. In stark raving Technicolor.

Gregory Peck is a colonel of Army intelligence, stiff as a board, but the script is so good, along with Buddy Ebsen and Broderick Crawford, that it’s great.

The story is as realistic, violent and accurate as to the ways of Spookdom as any John Le Carre. What’s odd is the deadpan vaudevillian humor. An odd mix not easy to pull off, I imagine.

But they did.

And there’s a Soviet colonel who wants to defect. Colonel Peck has made the arrangements.

The Russian’s one demand?

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To be re-settled in Paris, Texas.

?!?

The Russian, during the war, when Russ and Yank were friends, had passed through on a flight from Kamchatcha, east across the Bering Sea.

Had stopped to refuel in Paris, Texas.

And ever since had been dreaming … Of a girl?

Natasha Kinski ?

His daughter?

Had he promised her Parisian mother to return?

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Alas. Berlin was to be his last battleground.

And did mom finally fail, leaving their daughter to the streets, to which years later she fled in return?

I suppose none of this is news to people who know their movies.

Newsweek said (of Wim Wenders’ film):

It is a story of the United states, a grim portrait of a land where people like Travis and Jane cannot put down roots, a story of a sprawling, powerful, richly endowed land where people can get desperately lost.

But not without reason?

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November 27th, 2009

Genetics: Are genes the only Natural Kinds?

Craig Venter is the celebrated fellow behind the privatized charting of the human genome.

Richard Dawkins is the Brit who writes celebrated yet perfectly circular arguments as to the centricity of the gene in biology.

Here, for files, they chat.

November 27th, 2009

Israeli scholar re Nation’s dubious distinction

Posted in Israel, Reading by ed

NY Times review of The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand.

November 17th, 2009

Richard Burton
speaks to the epigone

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Four half-hour chats — from 1980 with Dick Cavett.

A fine heart and mind. And interesting times.

He talks remarkably of his father, a coal miner. And of alcohol and his saving-grace wife, Susan.

The four clips, linked here, are from the NY Times site, where Cavett has a column:

Part One. Wales. His father the coal miner.

Part Two. Growing up poor & orphaned but happy. Stumbling into acting & catching the bug. Laurence Olivier. John Gielgud.

Part Three. Garbo. His journals. Writers. Bogart & Bacall & John Huston. Spencer Tracy. Hubris. Elizabeth Taylor. His own films. The Bogey stories are fun.

Part Four. Demon Rum. His wife Susan. A taste of Camelot.

And throughout: the slings and arrows of acting and life and other arts, from one who learned most of what he knows out of school.

Bravo, PBS. And Mr Cavett, who fields a number of short-hoppers with thoughtful aplomb. Noticed him about town some months ago, looking spry.

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Camelot on Broadway, with Julie Andrews, 1960-61

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Alan Jay Lerner and director Moss Hart adapted Camelot from T.H. White’s rejuvenation of the King Arthur legend, The Once and Future King. Frederick Loewe came grudgingly aboard to write the music.

Burton and Julie Andrews were the original headliners, the latter as Guineviere, fresh from her smash in My Fair Lady, also by Lerner and Loewe. Robert Goulet got his first break as lovelorn Lancelot. Broadway’s advance-sales records were broken.

The show had been five hours plus in out-of-town trials, with Loewe and Hart seriously ill and Lerner suffering marriage trauma. The latter in later years was keen to credit Burton’s “faith and geniality” for holding the production together.

It opened on Broadway in early December 1960. Senator Kennedy had defeated Vice President Nixon four weeks earlier.

Twenty years later, it’s between performances of a Camelot revival at Lincoln Center that Burton sits with Cavett. Exhausting exercise, at age 55.

Weeks later Burton had radical back surgery. The pain or a certain constriction can be seen in his eyes.

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Night of the Iguana, with Sue Lyon, 1964

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Talking at frank length about alcohol, Burton credits his wife Susan with likely saving his life.

Four years later he was dead. At 59.

I remember my mother grieving a bit, not for having lost a star, but something closer to the bone, bearing on early deaths of her oldest brother and father, the latter whom, like Burton, died in his 50s of a brain hemorrage.

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With Liz Taylor

Life in bloom.

He met Elizabeth Taylor in 1963, while filming Cleopatra, at the time the most expensive film in history.

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They were married twice, from March 1964 to July 1976, taking sixteen months off in June 1974.

Was it Nixon’s resignation …?

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It’s generally thought that they acted out private life, with encouragement from Mike Nicholls, as Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1966

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Six years after the last divorce, he speaks of Taylor as a good friend.

And argues she was a great screen actress, underrated because of beauty, but due for rediscovery and immortality.

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Asking about his diaries, Cavett suggests that Burton is in essence a writer.

The actor allows he’s had ten or so extracts from his journals published — but merely in places that pay well. Ladies Home Journal. Cosmopolitan.

Then offers that he admires writers above all other “craftsmen,” and prefers their company, among artistic types, finding painters “inarticulate” and actors wont to tell stories rather than converse.

Throughout, comments about acting and the business focus on scripts and mention authors.

Post mortem, a book was carved out of his journals, and published to rave reviews.

Seems the thinking man’s world found itself shocked to find he was not a gigolo.

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Boom! 1968

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He speaks of his father, Richard Jenkins, as a genius coal miner. The stories are laced with alcohol and affection.

But elsewhere he spoke of the man’s violence. And when the father died in 1957, his namesake son, 32 and famous, did not attend the funeral.

His mother had died when he was two, giving birth to her thirteenth child at age 44. He says he has no memories.

At some point the state made master Richard Jenkins a ward of Philip Burton, one of his schoolteachers and a scholar of the theater. The lad’s passion for rugby was channeled elsewhere.

β€œI would rather have played for Wales at Cardiff Arms Park than Hamlet at the Old Vic,” the actor later said. (So reports biographer Melvyn Bragg.)

It’s curious that he speaks at such length about his father with Cavett, yet so briefly — but with honor — of Philip Burton, whom he reports alive and well and living in Key West.

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The Longest Day

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The photo at the very top here is also from The Longest Day, where Burton stands out — in a huge top-drawer Hollywood ensemble, and among the work-hard-play-hard Yank soldiery — as a quiet, hard-drinking RAF pilot on the verge of losing his nerve.

One imagines he cherished the role, having served in the RAF for three years during the war.

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He came home intending to return to Oxford, but found the town so crowded at that moment with veterans that his chances to make the rugby squad were deemed poor.

So, instead, with Philip Burton’s aid and comfort, he answered an ad for an acting job …

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His last film was magnificent: Michael Radford’s 1984, shot in the spring of Orwell’s year.

John Hurt was an obvious and indeed perfect Winston.

Less than obvious was Burton as O’Brien, the Ministry of Truth officer who watches then arrests Winston, methodically interrogates and breaks him, then washes his brain. A fierce minimalist perfect performance.

He died months later. August 5.

The 1984 now seems a bookend to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, from John le Carre’s breakthrough book. Another great minimalist characterization in an important film about secret police.

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The cold spy, with celestial Claire Bloom. 1965

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HOWEVER …

I hadn’t realized, knowing only his post 50s films, that Burton’s roots were so wide and deep in the English theater

More than once he tells Cavett that he doesn’t watch movies at all, work aside, and suspects only ten or twelve of his 60 or so are worth preserving from fire.

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His Hamlet here, in New York, in 1964 was much remarked upon.

There’s a filmed rehearsal run-through available on CD, which became the basis, two summers ago, of a revival extravaganza on a big screen in Central Park (if memory serves) and then the Public Theater.

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I missed it. But do have the CD, which is always a bit disappointing, because the actor is indeed running through the text.

Watching the erstwhile rising rugby star run, however, one can imagine the fearsome athletic power he brought to the role. An Achilles of a Hamlet.

Able to snap Claudius’s neck with a hand.

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Burton speaks highly of Gielgud, who directed him in Hamlet but also later remarked that Burton was, indeed, too rough for the role. Meaning, perhaps, nothing more, or less, than that he was a Welshman.

Toward the end of their chat, Cavett notes that his (Cavett’s) wife had performed with Burton years before in Munich.

The actor responds with a taste of Hamlet’s second soliloquoy in German.

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The passing of Paul Newman a year ago left me feeling similarly bereaved.

Is it only in context — contrasted with the luminaries and prospects of our day — that Burton seems so remarkable here, chatting with an urbane fellow traveler of the cosmopolis, as Reagan’s presidency, which just a few months before had seemed as always a ludicrous long-shot, so lugubriously dawned?

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1966-02-08
February 8, 1966

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Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment
That was known as Camelot

The Camelot company did an original cast album in 1961. Burton refers to the lovely royalties with a smile, and replies to Cavett’s request for a piece of his quality by noting that viewers may yet buy the record.

The music had caught on inside the Kennedy White House. Mr Richard Burton had been invited to dinner.

And after the state murder, Camelot inspired Jackie to compare her husband’s administration to the court of young Arthur, who after innocently pulling a sword from a stone had found himself king, and gone on, legend goes, to do noble things.

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February 6, 1968: Bobby, Liz, Richard and Ethel.
Four months later a dream fully died.

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JFK, incoming, was not much like Arthur: His progress to the White House was long planned and well contrived, and he’d been working in town, in Congress, for twelve years already, and had been raised in a family that traded at the highest levels.

Nevertheless, his odyssey once arrived at the big house was indeed that of an Arthurian ingenue, quick on his feet, able to sniff rats, and change course, intent on nobler things.

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Burton was banned from the BBC for speaking of Churchill as a mass-murderer and quasi-fascistic racist in his conduct of the war.

He spoke of himself as a socialist, life long, and his pride in honest labor is the steady note in the tales he tells Cavett of his father, and the sisters who raised him, and his six brothers all of whom went to the mines.

Yet to avoid the King’s tax man, the escape artist resided in Switzerland, from the 50s onward.

And is buried there, in Celigny, on the shores of icy majestic Lake Geneva.

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November 13th, 2009

Moon has water. Who knew?

Posted in UFOs by ed

The moon is one of the strangest things in our world.

Seems strange to me that NASA after all this time has acknowledged that there’s a lot of water there — and only after the finding was reported by the Indians, using their own satellite, earlier this year.

November 9th, 2009

Twenty Years On:
The Berlin Wall
and Alexander Zinoviev

Posted in Europe, Goodbye to All That by ed

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Again, on the anniversary: My little memoir of when the world changed.

Today’s NY Times coverage. Including a first report of Clamor in the East.

A Berlin Wall Quiz at Germany’s Der Spiegel.

Great coverage there.

The East German colonel who opened the first portal.

Nice to see Gorbachev on the streets today in Berlin.

But his partner, willy nillly, in peaceful disassembling, Lech Walesa, offers only backhanded compliments.

Here’s Gorby’s successor, the young Russian president Dmitri Medvedev, as to how the Wall’s fall “united us again.”

“Again?” one might wonder, thinking of the Teutonic Knights battling Alexander Nevsky, and of course the recent war.

But Germans and Russians were indeed allies (of a disorganized sort) against Bonaparte. And for much of early modernity German royalty and high footmen ran the Russian state. That famous equestrienne Catherine the Great, to begin …

I recall Alexander Zinoviev, during a wondrous six-hour chat in Munich in March 1990, suggesting I beware a renewed bonding of Germany and the eastern colossus:

ZINOVIEV: What do you think, the possibility of world war does not exist? It would be a very big simplification to consider the situation in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union only from just one point of view. …

TNC: Assuming that the states involved want peace β€” perhaps that’s a large assumption β€” what’s the best solution of what they call the German Question of reunification?

ZINOVIEV: Best solution? For who, the Soviet Union?

TNC: For peace.

ZINOVIEV: For peace ?!

TNC: To prevent a world war.

ZINOVIEV: It is too abstract an approach. The unification of Germany from my point of view will increase the danger of a new world war. Germany can destroy the balance in Western Europe and the world.

TNC: What about NATO and Warsaw Pact? Should Germany be neutral β€”

ZINOVIEV: Warsaw Pact doesn’t play a very important role. The East German army is ready to be destoryed, to join the West German army. The Czechoslovakian army is nothing, the Hungarian army is nothing β€” Warsaw Pact?! What is the Warsaw Pact?! it is the Soviet army! The Soviet army and Western Europe.

From the military point of view, for the Soviet Union, it is no longer necessary to keep its army in Eastern Europe. Today’s weapon is of such a kind that the Soviet Union can send its rockets to the United States, you know, and if it is necessary to occupy Eastern Europe, the Soviet army is able to make that in two days.

Gradually, it seems to me, there is going to be a struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union wants to push the Americans from Europe. I thought some years ago that it was ready to betray, to sell, East Germany, under conditions that the Americans would leave Europe.

Together with Germany, the Soviet Union can control Western Europe completely. It lost East Germany, but it can win the whole Germany. As a partner. Not only a trading partner, but a military partner, perhaps. It is senseless to divide the different aspects of life.

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Gorby & Erich Honneker, Oct 6, 1989, as Raisa looks on.

November 4th, 2009

My Escape to the West

Posted in Writing by ed

A friend, recently recapping my second novel on Facebook, impuned the character of its catalyst, that gentle lady.

Her honor at the stake, I saw no choice but to tarry long enough to explain the curious circumstances of her last night on earth.

Here then, a quick synopsis, for posterity.

Sergei. The narrator. Born 1922 in the Volga Hills, veteran of the war, prominent scientist β€” but banished to Bohemia for being a pain in the butt during the 60s. There to teach chemistry. Our hero. He limps.

And encounters a local woman, his age, late one night while brooding about town. This is Prague 1986, as Chernobyl is about to blow. Earlier that evening his younger Czech girlfriend had laughed away his marriage proposal.

The new woman — who would certainly bristle to be called a prostitute — squires him about as the night lengthens, testing various hotspots.

He deflects her questions by telling her he’s a philosopher — but she is careful to introduce him as her “American philosopher friend” to avoid having doors slammed in their faces, the sad Russians being generally despised in the Bohemian underground.

Later, finally back at her place, she expires during misfortunate attempts at love making. The circumstances are obscure, but our narrator protests his innocence. To some ears, perhaps, persuasively.

The next day the papers call it murder most foul — and blame it on an American Philosopher who will soon be apprehended.

But sooner than later a clever policeman catches the true scent. And so the game’s afoot.

The Prague Surrealists, among whom Segei these many years has found what little comfort he can in that baroque backwater of a burg, are of course no help. The twittering fools.

Nor are the guardians of the Soviet embassy, who discover, upon answering his knock, that Sergei’s knowledge of certain weapon systems is entirely obsolete. And so set him free. So to speak.

But perhaps his great friend, Ludek, urologist to the nomenclatura of the Castle, psychotherapist to their children, well connected to be sure β€” But Sergei daresn’t confess. Such a sordid affair …

And then finds that Ludek has invited to the weekly Surrealist group session a pushy American Philospher. ?!? Just happened to be passing thru town.

Well. Circumstances, of course, compel all. In the end Sergei has no choice but to flee to Berlin, helter skelter, where, who knows, things may work out.

Thus his memoir: MY ESCAPE TO THE WEST.

November 4th, 2009

Italian court convicts 23 CIA goons for kidnapping etc

Forza Italia!

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Must read: Philip Wilan’s Puppetmasters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy.

And then, for elaboration but also pleasure, Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb.

One comes away with a clear picture of not only what we did to Italy in the postwar era, but prudent guesses as to what we are doing to ourselves, having seen the enemy …

November 1st, 2009

Fortune Cookie

Something to chew on came my way at lunch circa 2006:

Time is Precious. But Truth is More Precious than Time.

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Wow. Alas.

The Man’s too much …

Aw hell