Posts Tagged ‘book review’

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(A Book Review)

By David William Pear, August 6, 2018

 

A Book Review and Commentary on Andre Vltchek’s new book: “Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism”, by David William Pear

How can I write a review of Andre Vltchek’s new book Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism? I am damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Andre himself says that:

There is nothing to add to the writing of maverick revolutionary philosophers. Hands off their work! Let them speak! Editions without prefaces and introductions, please; no footnotes! The greatest works of philosophy were written with heart, blood and passion! No interpretation is needed. If allowed to read them, even a child can understand.”.

He is speaking about the works of other great revolutionary writers, not himself. I think Andre is a great revolutionary writer, too. But, who am I to speak for Andre? Read his great works for yourself, and you will understand them without my introduction. You will find that Andre has the guts to put himself out there, let it all hang out, and expose his vulnerabilities as well as his wisdom…

But I am damned if I don’t write a book review for Andre’s book, because I told him I would give it a try. I don’t want to let him down. This is the best I can do. So, you can stop reading right here if you wish, and just buy Andre’s book and let him speak to you for himself.

Our struggling revolutionary artists whom still speak and write the truth need all the support we can give them. That goes for the alternative media site you are reading this on. We are in a war, an information and propaganda war. Truth tellers are an endangered species. The Empire is trying to shut them up and shut them down.

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Wrecking Balls

Are there any others?

 

Fast-paced, thought-provoking and at times moving.

by K.R. Kelly


COVER-FINAL-texture - -3 copy.jpgTransfixion
is in the speculative fiction genre that has really come to dominate in the young adult market, and it is a good example of why the genre is popular.

Author J. Giambrone hits the ground running. The reader is not left with much time to draw breath as action piles on action. The pace never flags throughout the book which transitions from a place of surrealism and suspense through watershed moments of growing clarity. In time it reaches a climax in which concrete reality has been recovered – though only through the brave efforts of a protagonist who refuses to let go of her humanity when the entire world has turned dangerously insane.

Transfixion mines some of the same veins of disquiet that have fueled the success of the Hunger Games trilogy, but where Suzanne Collins aims for emotional effect and pathos Giambrone aims for something more elusive – a moral understanding of violent conflict. The result is a bit like what might have happened if Frantz Fanon had got hold of the script of 28 Days Later and insisted that denying the humanity of the zombies would only cause the normal people to become zombies: “There had to be a solution to win without becoming just like them.”

But the “dupes” in this book aren’t zombies – they are anti-zombies. Zombies have stood for many things in political allegory, but they almost always embody the epitome of the enemy “other”. They are implacably violent; they are usually mindless or, if not, they are utterly deranged; they are always incurable. In short, they are unquestionably legitimate targets for violence who are to be killed without compunction. In films zombies are killed for self-defence, but there is also a common tendency, first established in Dawn of the Dead, for protagonists to prolifically splatter zombie brains just in order to perform banal tasks like going from place to place.There is no reason too trivial to be worth taking the “life” of a zombie.

In short zombies are the human-shaped essence of life undeserving of life. Transfixion‘s “dupes” turn this notion on its head. These are every bit as implacably violent as any crazed zombie, but even more deadly for their ruthless and calculating rationality. For those embattled few survivors of the shock and awe of the initial onslaught of violence, the dupes are zombies. You kill them and you don’t think about it, or at least pretend not to. The dupes could literally be their brothers and sisters, but the shared humanity is forgotten by both and lost in both. One side is driven mad by a brain-altering signal, and the other side simply follows suit in many respects.

Young Kaylee Colton resists this amnesia and the disjuncture which creates a rift in humanity. In a brutal world she struggles to recreate a sense that she herself is a real person: “She was not herself, and she wasn’t sure which version of herself she wasn’t.” But, she never quite loses sight of the personhood of the other – even the knife-wielding maniac who will kill her without compunction. And she is right.

The reader is taken inside the mind of a dupe and find not the haze of hatred, but a different sense of reality. Now we are in the territory of Philip K. Dick – the science fiction author for whom reality was fragile and fungible not just in epistemological terms but in political, psychological and social terms. Under the guise of “out there” explorations of drugs and virtual reality, Dick made many astute political and social observations. He explored the significance of what academics would now refer to as a “subject position” decades before the term was coined. To put it another way, Dick’s writing and Transfixion have more in common with Battlestar Galactica than with The Matrix.

And that is the problem of the dupes. They are not different in nature. They are not inhuman. It is the mental landscape they inhabit that is different. That is not to say that their reality is somehow valid. The world they inhabit is not only ultimately senseless, it is extremely limited. The filters through which they see everything turn these human beings into remorseless killers who act like mindless zombies without the mindlessness. For this, Giambrone gleefully indicts the medium of television – the carrier signal of their derangement: “The sign on the door said “Editing,” and a sickly blue glow throbbed out from inside the dark chamber.”

Any young adult who has read this review this far should probably read Transfixion. The novel is a lot more accessible than my review and I really haven’t given any major spoilers. Despite all that I have written, it is still basically action driven and all of the political and philosophical considerations are delivered as subtext.

For adults the above also applies, but if you are thinking of acquiring it for a young person to read I have just one caution. Transfixion is very much in the soft science-fiction/speculative fiction allegorical idiom. The sense of suspense and mystery may lead more literally minded youngsters to think that the resolution will involve the standard denouement where the villain is unmasked and vanquished. This does not happen. Some will definitely find that unsatisfying, but then maybe it might cause them to reflect on the nature of such conventions.


TRANSFIXION is now available through Amazon.

[PFB welcomes author Joseph Green to the blog.]

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A Personal Journey into the JFK Murder: Joseph McBride’s Into The Nightmare

It has been nearly fifty years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy became the baptismal event for the sickness that burnt the American dream like a draft card. Vietnam followed, Malcolm fell, then Martin, and Bobby, the left got old and turned right, and somewhere along the line many lost the taste for fighting back. Meanwhile, the media have been stacking skeletons ever since, but that closet grows ever more full, stale, and rotten. Still, the pretense continues: In our age, most mainstream journalism has become a kind of exercise in organized non sequiturs, like artless Beckett, farce without wit.

The premise is objectivity, we are told. Fair and balanced, we are told. Modern investigative reporting, by the available evidence of television and print media, often seems to regard objectivity as reporting all issues as if they have two sides — no more and no less, and to draw no conclusions regardless of how inane one side’s claims may be. This seems frequently to be true even in trivial matters, but it gets worse the more controversial the issue. Network news seems to take its cues from intelligent design activists who just want schools to Teach the Controversy.

This context makes Joseph McBride’s new book, Into The Nightmare: My Search for the Killers of President John F. Kennedy and Officer J. D. Tippit, a jagged reminder of old-school reportage. Going against the grain, he asks difficult questions and tries hard to answer them. And even if every question cannot be answered satisfactorily, much compelling information surfaces throughout.

One of the many unusual things about this book is that McBride is, on the surface, a resolutely mainstream figure. A longtime journalist with numerous publications to his credit, including The New York Review of Books, Cineaste, The Los Angeles Times, Sight & Sound, and The Nation magazine, Into My Nightmare is his 17th book. Included in his previous works are biographies of Steven Spielberg and Frank Capra, as well as a soon-to-be-reissued long-form interview with Howard Hawks, Hawks on Hawks. However, he been leading a double life. In the background to his work in film and as a college professor, he has literally spent a lifetime researching this case, having worked for the Kennedy campaign in 1960 at the age of 12. The shock of the president’s murder three years later drove him to question the initial reported facts of the case and grow to understand the terrible reality of our times. Hence the nightmare — deeply personal for the author, but deeply relatable for anyone interested in truth.

McBride is already known to the JFK research community as, among other things, the man who discovered the Hoover memo, which has been written about and referenced many times over the years, particularly in Gaeton Fonzi’s superb The Last Investigation. Russ Baker also made the Hoover memo a central part of his investigation into the Bush family, Family of Secrets. The Hoover memo is, of course, the peculiar document dated November 22, 1963, sent by the FBI leader in which a “Mr. George Bush of the Central Intelligence Agency” is noted to have been debriefed on the matter of the assassination.

The Hoover Bush memo by Public Domain – government document

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THREE ACTS

The book, like a well-crafted screenplay, is broken up into three acts. The first section covers McBride’s personal history as a young man and his involvement as a Kennedy supporter. Included is a photo of the president taken by the author himself during a campaign visit to Wisconsin, as well as a thank-you letter from Kennedy after achieving the presidency. It goes into his early interest in journalism, his initial shock at the murder, and finally his disbelief in the story and pursuit of the trail leading to this book fifty years later.

The second section of the book is a kind of survey of the evidence. McBride has done his homework, both in terms of familiarity with the published work on the case, the internal documents themselves, and direct interviews with many of the involved parties. He cites many of the best works in the genre — Fonzi, Peter Dale Scott, James Douglass, John Armstrong, and others, but also makes it clear he follows the John Simkins forum and Bill Kelly’s website, among others. In short, he has seemingly been following every available lead in his off hours.

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William Blum Interviewed in Superpower, The Movie

Unmasking Imperial America

Empire of Deceit

by JASON HIRTHLER

If you took all the uncomfortable truths omitted from mainstream media over the past half century, compiled and indexed them, and added a dash of withering sarcasm, you might end up with a book a lot like, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy [Zed Books, 2013] the latest offering from serial dissident William Blum. Like his better-known peers Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn and Gore Vidal, Blum is a perennial gadfly on the imperial hide, puncturing falsehood and punctuating hypocrisy with an implacable zeal. On the back cover of Blum’s book Rogue State—and repeated in the current volume—is the following paragraph, probably the finest he has or may put to paper:

If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize – very publically and very sincerely –to all the widows and orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. I would then announce that America’s global interventions – including the awful bombings – have come to an end. And I would inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but – oddly enough – a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims. There would be more than enough money. One year’s military budget of $330 billion is equal to more than $18,000 an hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born. That’s what I’d do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I’d be assassinated.

This paragraph was famously quoted by Osama Bin Laden in one of his grainy video homilies to the world in 2006. A minor media storm followed, hovering over Blum like a drone over a Waziristan hamlet. Once the furor subsided, however, Blum’s connection to OBL contaminated his reputation as a public figure. In the half dozen years since, Blum has received scant few speaking invitations from universities after enjoying a steady diet of engagements in the years prior. One can just envision the blandly decorous university administrator, seated in his mahogany office, dismissing out of hand a proposed invite to Blum, admonishing naïve student advocates to use a bit more discretion in their choice of speakers. But it was their loss.democracy_300_470

Blum’s latest offering confirms that his exile from the college circuit has done nothing to dim his fury. The new book is a compilation of essays and articles dating from the middle of the Bush years through 2011, and covering a vast range of foreign policy issues. Blum writes with disarming informality, a writer with little time for the artful turns of the poet or novelist. His mission feels too urgent for anything but blank candor. In contrast to a more measured analyst like Chomsky, Blum holds nothing back. He launches salvo after salvo at the edifice of imperial falsification, a veritable babel of cloaked belligerence. Yet his indignation is leavened by healthy doses of humor, including a late chapter that envisions a global police state of comical extremes.

Blum’s central objective, it seems, is to expose the American mythology of good intentions. He states in the introduction, writing about the American public, “No matter how many times they’re lied to, they still often underestimate the government’s capacity for deceit, clinging to the belief that their leaders somehow mean well. As long as people believe that their elected leaders are well intentioned, the leaders can, and do, get away with murder. Literally.”

From this premise, Blum quickly establishes the central goal of U.S. foreign policy: world domination. The concept, so infrequently phrased like this—even on the left—may sound like something out of a Bond novel—the sinister plot of SPECTRE, hatched in some underwater command center. But as Blum begins to lay the foundation for his claim, the ostensibly fictive begins to feel factual. He asserts that the American military is the vanguard of American business, bent on corporate globalization by any means available to it, which happen to include state terror, undermining elections, bombing, assassination, support of autocratic mass-murderers, and a general suppression of populist movements. In fact any means by which it can vanquish the threat of economic democracy—a model that would needlessly tax and encumber corporations in their efforts to advance the bottom line.

Our Bipolar Worldview

Blum then walks us through a litany of foreign policy issues, throwing aside the façade of official doublespeak and subterfuge, and revealing the honest face of American foreign policy—and it is almost never a pretty or admirable or defendable reality. Reading through the cases, a disturbing polarity emerges. On one hand, the Noble American, whose civilizing missions abroad are always necessary interventions, conditioned by a desire to ennoble benighted peoples. On the other, the Terrorist, a shockingly savage barbarian frothing with fundamentalist ire at the profligate and infidel freedoms of the West. The Terrorist would reduce the western hemisphere to dust, given the chance. Hence the forward positions of our military—purely a defensive measure against a foe with whom negotiation is a fool’s errand.

According to received orthodoxy, U.S. foreign policy is at best an almost messianic force for global good, and at worst capable of blundering mistakes that misread the cultural character of the developing world. Note here the preclusion of even the capacity for immoral behavior. Misguided, yes. Unethical, never. Think of Barack Obama’s oft-cited claim that the Iraq war was the “wrong” war, a “dumb” war, and poorly managed. Not once in his 2008 campaign, or prior to it, did our future president even hint that the Iraq war was deeply immoral. If it wasn’t, it follows that none of the war’s prosecutors should themselves be prosecuted for war crimes. Hence Obama’s swift decision to “look forward” and permit criminals like George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld to stroll leisurely into the history books. It likewise follows that violations of our civil liberties can be effected with a clean conscience, since the government means only to protect its citizenry. What this perspective requires of the average citizen is the unstinting faith of childhood, an increasingly risible notion in the age of Wikileaks.

At the far polarity of the moral spectrum is the terrorist. Those we dislike—redistributive Marxists, agrarian reformers, big-government socialists, anti-totalitarians—are cavalierly labeled terrorists by our government, thanks to the magical euphemism of “material support.” Simply add a heavy dose of fearmongering and the general consent is induced. Thus, your freedom fighter becomes my insurgent. My indigenous resistance becomes your Maoist army. The terrorist is characterized as a moral degenerate, impossible to understand because fundamentally depraved—unlike us. As exemplified by state rhetoric, the terrorists always strike first. History begins with a car bomb and ends with a humanitarian intervention.

Blum exposes this perverted reading of history in scenario after scenario: Iraq and Iran; the Bush White House; the demonization of Wikileaks; the catastrophes of the former Yugoslavia; the bombing of Libya and the support of state terror in Latin America. In a chapter on the Cold War, Blum revises what is perhaps the 20th Century’s most serviceable fable by making the startling claim that the Cold War was not a back-channel battle between capitalism and communism, but was rather an American effort to crush populism in the Third World. Even the establishment has sometimes conceded this claim. No less than influential Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, said in a recorded private conversation in 1981, “You may have to sell intervention or other military action in such a way as to create the misimpression that it is the Soviet Union that you’re fighting. That’s what the United States has been doing ever since the Truman doctrine.”

Necessary Illusions

There are plenty of forays into related terrain, including social ideology, environmentalism, the contradictions of capitalism, the effectiveness of government, religion, dissent, the mainstream media’s proclivity for deceit through omission. The chapter on media is smartly followed by a takedown of Barack Obama, who Blum’s strips of his public-relations façade as a progressive reformer. The president is revealed as a rhetorically vacuous warmonger, an ally of big finance, and a committed imperialist. To underscore the power of rhetoric to cloak not only venality but villainy, Blum closes the chapter with a stunning passage from a speech by Adolf Hitler in 1935, which sounds a chorus of pacifist platitudes and internationalism that might have been mouthed by any neoliberal elect in any developed economy. Among other statements of perfect liberal pragmatism, Hitler states:

Our love of peace perhaps is greater than in the case of others, for we have suffered most from war…The German Reich…has no other wish except to live on terms of peace and friendship with all the neighboring states. Germany has nothing to gain from a European war. What we want is liberty and independence.

Blum is a perfect portrait of candor when contending with rabid patriots and reflexive nationalists. When asked by one if he loves America, he bluntly replies, “No, I don’t love any country. I’m a citizen of the world. I love certain principles, like human rights, civil liberties, meaningful democracy, an economy which puts people before profits.” This characteristic and unadorned honesty shimmers throughout the book. On page after page, Blum translates the complexities of doublespeak into layman’s language, unpacking the malevolent aims of American militarism.

Outflanking Big Brother

As with most left screeds and polemics, there comes a final chapter in which much of the force and momentum of the preceding text is lost, and when the elephantine question is finally voiced, “So what do we do about it?” Fortunately, Blum’s answers are as simple and sensible as the rest of his work. For the author, the “sine qua non” for any real political change is clear: the removal of money from politics. To summon the kind of political pressure required to force such a systemic overhaul, we need an educated populace. Blum notes that the best we can do is educate ourselves on the imperial project. By unmasking the subtle and not-so-subtle deceits of state-sanctioned media, we can inform ourselves and others until we reach a critical mass of dissent, at which point change might be effected.

In a late chapter on resistance, Blum offers a measure of hope from a report from the Defense Science Board, a Federal outfit created to give independent advice to the Secretary of Defense. In 2004, the group critiqued global Muslim attitudes toward America. After debunking the myth of the Middle East’s irrational hatred of American freedoms, the report came to this lapidary conclusion: “No public relations campaign can save America from flawed policies.”

True enough abroad, but you would have to be asleep to miss the effectiveness of public relations on public opinion in the United States. We are presided over by the P.R. President, by whose invisible hand our reality is sanitized of its sanguinary character. We find ourselves seduced by the soothing platitudes of state-sanctioned media—putting people first, compassionate conservatism, change we can believe in, Camelot, a shining city on a hill, morning in America. Gustave Le Bon, a pioneer of mass psychology, once noted that the masses are especially susceptible to comforting fantasies, and that, “Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.”

Blum cites some illusion-shattering work of the sixties counterculture, notably activist and musician Gil Scott-Heron, whose song, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, warns America that a revolution is coming. Scott-Heron sings that people, in Blum’s paraphrase, “would no longer be able to live their normal daily life,” and—more incisively—that they, “should no longer want to live their normal daily life.” But in today’s tranquilized social climate, this last line feels at once terrifically apposite and sadly naïve. How many of us simply want to leave work, repair to our couch, sufficient alcoholic sedatives at hand, televisual narcotics coloring the living room, and slip into a state of unthinking reprieve? Creature comforts may be the opiate of the American people. Deflating this bubble of banalities, via the expanding tools of information, seems to be viable way forward.

And so long as lonely prophets like Blum soldier on, a handful of excavated truths may threaten to capsize the artfully constructed narrative of empire. A note of injustice may sound in the thought stream of a blandly acquiescent middle manager or tongue-clipped service worker. Mao Zedong once intoned, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” Without that tremulous hope, the fact that Blum’s central premise of malign intent has been proved right so often is of little consolation. A Cassandra acquitted is little more than a salve to the ego of the gadfly. But given the damage done to democracy and its prospects here and abroad, which of us can safely say that this is not his fight?

 Jason Hirthler is a writer, strategist, and 15-year veteran of the corporate communications industry. He lives and works in New York City. He can be reached at jasonhirthler@gmail.com.