Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

October 21, 2006

I'm off for LA, still recovering from…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:26 pm

… what I’ve now come to call the “emo flu” that’s knocked me flat for the past 2 weeks. (For those of you out there I have a reading and signing at Book Soup on Sunset Blvd. at 7 pm on Thursday the 25th).

Meanwhile I must admit that I’m finding the transition to blogging somewhat more of an adjustment than I imagined. My girlfriend says that my life is more interesting than I give myself credit for and that the way to get over blogger’s block is to just tell people more about my various encounters on the rare occasions when I do leave my apartment.

And I have to admit the recent Muslim Brotherhood dinner was a great source of intriguing conversation. You may have read about the Muslim Brotherhood panel, an examination of the original radical Islamist group that was sponsored by NYU Law School’s Center on Law and Security. I’ve been impressed by the work of the Center and its director Karen Greenberg in bringing together a broad spectrum of speakers on subjects relevant to terrorism, counterterorism and civil liberties.

In this case, the Muslim Brotherhood panel was both well chosen and ill starred. Well chosen because of the important debate in the West over the place of the Muslim Brotherhood in radical Islam today, whether its founding figure, Sayd Qutb was the progenitor of the Al Qaeda ideology or whether the Brotherhood has chosen a different, militant but non terrorist path to their Islamist goals.

When I say the panel was ill-starred, it’s because at the last minute the two members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were to speak on the panel were in one way or another forbidden at the last minute from travel from Egypt and London to take part in the panel. The London based leader was actually pulled off an America bound flight at Heathrow a few minutes before take off, questioned by U.S. Homeland Security and denied re entry to his flight. (Michael Issikoff wrote about the incident on Newsweek online). Something about a visa problem, a security risk, it was all a little vague, but it seemed to me that hearing these people speak and evaluating them at close hand would have been an asset rather than a threat to US security.

But the panel went on, and although I had to miss much of it beause of a tv taping for my book, I’d been invited to the dinner afterward and found the conversation unusally provacative.

–Poltical theorists clashed over the question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to institute sharia law was using democratic means (such as “reformist” campaigns in Egypt) to further the destruction of democratic institutions. Was radical Islamism definitively incompatible with democracy, if Sharia law was chosen by democratic means?
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–An expert on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden declared flatly he was in Pakistan.

–A discussion about Afghan poppy growing suppliers to the heroin trade concluded that U.S.crackdown policy was fatally misguided and has ended up punishing small farmers and enriching big traffickers.

–One expert who was instrumental in helping to write the new Afghani consitituion after the US invasion now has a sideline in manufacturing “essential oils” as he called them, made from the exotic flowers of the region, the kind used in New Age aroma therapy spas. (No blood for ylang-ylang oil!).

–An argument over whether we could believe Khalid Sheikh Muhammad’s confession to have personally severed the head of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and murdered in Pakistan, even though KSM (as he’s familiarly known) was subjected to torture in his interrogation.

— An argumnent over the causse and the cost of winning the Cold War. Was the key to it all the over estimation of Soviet missile capabilities by the so called “Team B” analysts in the late 70s and early 80s (an analysis influenced by CIA masterspy James Angleton’s analysis of the alleged disinformation of alleged Soviet “false defectors”). An analysis that led to the US believing the Soveit Union was going for a first strike capability and leading us to a corresponding spending spree on MIRVed and MARVed missiles, not to mention Star Wars. A response that led the Soveit Union to the brink of economic collapse in trying to keep up, a situation that precipitated perestroika, reform and finally the collapse of the already precarious Soviet system. A collapse that may have been founded on an Angleton infuenced mistake, but which nonetheless may have won the Cold War.

Or was it the CIA’s aid to the radical Islamists fighting–and defeating–the Soviet military might in Afghanistan, a defeat which led to a concatenation of systemic failures the entire Soviet system never recovered from. But if the latter were true did the means to end the Cold War (supporting radical Islamists, of the bin Laden sort) generate the the disastrous consequences of the rise of al Qaeda, 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror? Was it worth the price?

— Back tothe murder of Danny Pearl: was he truly onto something, was he singled out for murder because he was a Jew or because The Wall Street Journalmade a point, earlier that year of annnouncing that it had turned a computer found by one of its reporters that had once belonged to a radical Islamist over to the CIA, which made the paper’s reporters appear to Danny Pearl’s captors a franchise of the CIA? What is a paper’s responsibility when it comes into possession of a computer with potentially devastating information on it? Should it have made it’s cooperation public. Did it place its reporters on the ground in more peril than they knew.

–And a corollary question: how much of Bernard-Henri Levy’s book on the murder of Danny Pearl consisted of ground breaking research about the sinister activities of Pakistan’s Islamist controlled ISI intelignece ageny, and how much was his information suppled to him by the anti-Pakistani minded operatives of India’s spy agency?

–the nature of “Third Man” Kim Philby’s unhappiness and sense of betrayal in his final years in the Soviet Union, where he expected, as perhaps the greatest Soviet mole in espionage history, to be treated like a hero, but was rather, because of his betrayal of his former comrades, suspected by his new ones. The significance of the letter Philby wrote to Graham Greene reproving his old friend and defender for the grim portrait of a Philbyesque character Greene painted at the close of his great spy novel The Human Factor.

–how much of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was the product of so called white trash raunchiness and sexual perversity, and how much the culture of John Yoo-type constitutiomal polemics on presidential authority over the treatment of unconventional combatants in the war on terror?

Thinking back on it, that’s a lot of food for thought for one dinner My thanks to NYU’s Center on Law and Security for letting me attend and participate.

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October 16, 2006

O.K., I know you're going to be suspicious…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 5:07 pm

…about this post. Wondering if it’s self serving or not, but I swear I feel I have an important epidemiological theory about a certain kind of flu that is going around. They’re not talking about it in the National Disease Control Center in Atlanta, at least not publicly, but I feel I’ve compiled enough anecdotal evidence to claim it’s an international phenomenon.

I’m calling it The Anti-Work Ethic flu. I got it last week which I will concede was, um, somewhat light on the blogging, because I was really sick (note from doctor available for inspection), but I was light on just about everything.Because the symtoms of this flu–and I’m not making this up I swear–start out mildly fluish (funny, you don’t look fluish–old joke), but you don’t get, or I didn’t get, the whole panoply of severe cough, fever, chills etc. Just a light dose of them, but then this amazing…inanition. You know the word, lack of willpower, lack of drive edge whatever. A total heaviness, leadeness of the spirit. For what I got Thera-flu won’t do. Fingers not only don’t dance over the keys, they plod and stumble. My muse, the wise and alluring T., who went through this flu before me, called it a loss of her joie d’vivre. But in my case forget joy, it’s a loss of vivre d’vivre.Or something like that, I’d try harder to get it right, but you know, what’s the point,. the effen universe is going to disintegrate into formless chaos for eternity anyway.

But it’s not just us, me and T. Half the people in the office of my literary agent had it (either that or they’re avoiding my calls, but I don’t think so.) Then I was on the phone with my friend Nina who said she had it, the exact same symptoms, and she says that she has a friend in Spain who has it. That exact same Cosmic Listlessness. So as I said, on the basis of this strong anecdotal evidence, it’s international! This year’s strain of flu specifically attacks will power, the work ethic, the brave band of brain cells ordinarily devoted to getting things done. They ain’t takin’ calls. They’re contemplating the disintegration of the universe.

It feels bad, weird,because you’re not acutely, physically sick, it’s more like like you could get it together, you have the conception of getting things done, but that’s about it. On the other hand once you surrender to it, it has a certain appeal. Oblomov-style. (not that he needed to get the fluto decide to stay in bed). Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot of spy novels, and taking a lot of naps. I wonder if it’s possible for a flu pandemic to have psycho-historical consequences. Certain viruses have been knonw to cause brain dysfuction, why not will dysfucntion? Maybe the work ethic of the entire planet is threatened by this particular flu. Perhaps Lassitude Fever will result in the human psyche dong a kind of Higher Chill’ type thing, undergoing co-evolution to a higher, less drudgery-oriented state. The way recent reports in medical journals have explored the socio-psychological effects of the toxoplasmososis parasite in cats on the human brain and perhaps on wide swaths of human beings as well, a veritable change in human nature. (google toxoplasmosis and human nature, I’m too tired to find the citation).

Instead of 60 million (or whatever number) deaths from the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, maybe we’ll have 600-700 million really lazy people And maybe that’s not bad. Yes, they say Sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but there’s also the counter argument that Sloth prevents the commission of many of the Other, more truly deadly, Deadly Sins because it robs the wicked of the willpower to do their dirty deeds.

And remember how there were all these speculations about the psychological sequellae of the influenza induced encephalitis that hundreds of thousands who didn’t die from the Spanish flu suffered from? In %%AMAZON=006095339 Explaining Hitler%% I examined dismissively a scientific paper that attributed Hitler’s sudden development of psychopathic charisma to “post-encephalitic psychopathy”. But the phenomenon seems to have been real, documented in more reputable case studies. Maybe there’s something to it. Are we due for some “awakenings” down the line? Instead of us waking up as Robin Williams or Hitler, with this flu and it’s sequellae maybe we’ll all wake up from our lethargic coma-states as sad country and western singers. Or Homer Simpson. Seriously I think there’s something going on, not just going around.

Maybe in general, on balance, when you add it all up, at the end of the day, the planet would be better off if a lot of people did less things. Maybe a good dose of flu induced lethargy is just what we all need. We’d all do a lot less damage! We wouldn’t have the energy. I could think of a number of people I wish suffered the psychological sequellae of the flu-damaged work ethic.

By the way don’t get me wrong, you do-gooders out there, I don’t mean you, I’m not saying you should stop doing good. And you people who think you’re too lazy to click on this link for %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%%–THAT’S just a delusion. You have the power, I know you do.

But you evil doers out there, I hope you get this flu. Chill with the anti-work ethic flu, evil-doer dudes. Get down with the lassitude! Luxuriate in the lethargy. You’ve got all the time in the world to get around to whatever sordid schemes you have in mind. Axis of Evil: you will become the Slackers of Evil. Oh no [paranoid voice in head speaking now]–could this be some kind of CIA mind control, bio-warfare terrorist-targeted flu? Designed to put the sleep in “sleeper cells”? One that goes awry, misfires like just about 99% of all CIA schemes and paralyzes our own nation? Could we be more paralzyed as it is?

I could tell you the answer to these questions but I feel the need for a nap coming over me.

October 8, 2006

Putin's Shame: A Journalist's Murder and The Triumph of a KGB Thugocracy

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:20 am

Any time a courageous dissident journalist is murdered for trying to tell the truth all our freedoms die a little. Yesterday they died a lot. Nothing in a long time has struck me as viscerally as as the murder yesterday October 7 of Ana Politkovskaya, leading investigative critic of KGB thug Vladimir Putin.

I have a feeling that the entire history of the past 20 years, indeed entire post-1945 trajectory of world history will have to be re evaluated from the point of view of this repulsive crime and what it represents. And don’t tell me there’s no proof Putin didn’t order it himself. Whether or not he gave the order, does anyone doubt it serves his purposes in terrorizing all opposition to the KGB-style dictatorship he’s now installed.

According to the Times she was killed as she was preparing a report for Monday’ s papers “about torturers in the government of Ramzan A. Kadyrov, the pro-Krelim premier of Chechnya [a story] that included evidence and pictures.”

But there’s a bigger story here: the tragic failure, for which Western politicians and “shock treatment” free market economists bear much repsonsibility, to manage the transition of the former Soviet Union from police state to something more benign. Now after more than a half century of risking the nuclear annihilation of the human species to “win” the Cold War, it could be argued that things are not much better off than after the the fall of the Wall, and–for the average citizen of Russia–in some ways worse.

I used to mock the theories of Anatoly Golitsyn the Svengali of the CIA’s mole-addled guru, James Angleton, who portrayed perestoika, glasnost, and the “collapse” of the Soviet Union as a devious KGB plot to fool the West into giving the apparatchiks breathing room to re create their police state rule. It’s obivously paranoid to believe that it could all have been deliberate, as Golitsyn belived, but it’s not unrealistic to see the results as not much different than if it had been a preconceived plot. The KGB (or its equivalent) now rules Russia openly the way it once did clandestinely.

Let us hope that the death of Ana Politkovskaya will not mark the triumph of these malign forces, but rather a signal for a tidal wave of outrage that may be the last chance to prevent the people of that acccursed land from hurtling straight back into irretrievable darkness again.

October 6, 2006

My first podcast

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 6:45 pm

Okay it’s no big deal for a lot of you, but I feel that with this blog and with this first podcast I’ve now become a full fledged citizen of Web 2.0 world Okay, maybe an undocumented alien “visitor”.

But in any case if you go to the New York Times website this Saturday, October 7, and then go to the “books” page and scroll down, you’ll find a box which you can click on for podcasts, with Sam Tanenhaus, the Sunday Times Book Review editor in chief, which includes an interview with me about %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%% which is reviewed (rather enthusiastically) by Walter Kirn in the Sunday Oct. 8 issue.

For the sake of completeness, I should mention you can find me talking about the book on Kurt Andersen’s Studio 360 Saturday morning (different times for different stations) and the book is to be featured on a segment of NBC’s Saturday Today the same morning.

Those of you in the Washington D.C. area will find me speaking in person with Shakespeare scholar John Andrews at the Corcoran Gallery at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 10, and lecturing at Georgetown University on Wednesday October 11 at noon.

I know, I know…but if you worked seven years on a book you loved, you’d probably do the same.

The Way the Real Power of Skull and Bones Operates…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:47 pm

…can be seen ithis year’s Rhode Island Senate race. As I’ve been arguing ever since I published the first mainstream media investigation of the Yale Secret society back in 1977 (“The Last Secrets of Skull and Bones” in Esquire, reprinted in my collection %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%%), the true significance of Skull and Bones, lies not in its mondo-bizarro macabre initiation rituals (which a team of videotapers I assembled was the first to expose–and get broadcast on national tv–back in 2001) but as an instance of how power actually operates in America. Not through occult back room conspiracies, but through the kind of easily exposable networking that most resembles the Old Boy network of influence and power in the U.K., and which has sustained the reign of the East Coast blue-blood elite in private and public power for longer than it wants you to know.

And so just as we had two Bonesmen run for President in 2004, we now have two sons of Bonesmen running for the Senate seat in Rhode Island this year. The son of Charles Sheldon Whitehouse, Skull and Bones ’44, Sheldon Whitehouse, is running against Lincoln Chafee, the son of John Chafee Skull and Bones ’47.

And guess who came up to campaign for Lincoln Chafee during his primary fight, according to Katha Pollit in The Nation? None other than George W. Bush, Skull and Bones, ’68, even though politically he was closer to Chafee’s right wing opponent.

That’s the way “secret” power works in America. Out in the open, in your face if you know where to look for it.

Hat tip for this nugget of info to my Skull and Bones research colleague, ace investigator, Peggy Adler.

October 5, 2006

Hunter Thompson, William Kennedy, The America's Cup and Me: A Belated Requiem

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:12 pm

Last week I’d spent the day at the New York State Writers’ Institute at the University of Albany, a terrific institution whose founder and guiding spirit is the superb novelist William Kennedy (Ironweed et al.) I was there to talk about %%AMAZON=037503390 The Shakespeare Wars%%, but, man they worked me hard. Seminar with students, vidoetaping “How I Became a Writer” for their archives, formal talk at night.

Still it was worthwhile not least because of a hugely enjoyable dinner with Mr. Kennedy, his wife and Writers’ Institute people. It was toward the end of the dinner that Mr. Kennedy and I realized we had a friend (or in my case acquaintance) in common: Hunter Thompson. Kennedy had known Thompson from back in the late 50s from when Thompson was newspapering down in the Carribean, and their correspondence is a highlight of Thompson’s collectecd volume of letters.

I had known Thompson from covering presidential campaigns, superbowls and other national spectacles when I was a correspondent for The Village Voce.

And from a lesser known but, I think, highly emblematic episode in Thompson’s career of media disruption that Mr. Kennedy had heard about from Thompson but scarcely believed.

I can scarcely believe myself, now that I recall it, I’m not even sure how I got involved, I think I happened to be in somebody’s loft, a friend of Hunter’s, when the pipe dream of disrupting the America’s Cup was conceived.

The idea was to charter a motor yacht up in Newport where the Cup race was to be held, and to charge into the line of sailboats, flying a pirate flag and–this detail was addded later–bearing on board a noisy, indeed noisome, band from the Lower East Side led by madman street rocker David Peel blaring out their best known anthem “The Pope Smokes Dope”. The idea–if it could be called an idea–was to bring some street chaos into the midst of the snooty choreography of the Cup race. It was Hunter’s idea of how to “cover” an event.

Well I don’t recall alll the details but it actually turned out almost the way it was planned.. I’ll never forget Thompson in a yahcting cap swallowing fistfuls of blue pills (don’t ask me what), Peel looking like a raunchy derelict, and me, sort of cowering waiting to be blasted out of the water by the Coast Guard.

But in fact we did get close to the line of yachts, a number of lockjaw jaws dropped before the harbor police escorted our motorized intruder back to the dock where, for the life of me, I’m not sure why we weren’t locked up.

Just another day in paradise, but in a way a metaphor for Hunter Thompson’s intrusive, disruptive, hilarious intrusion into the formalized conventionalities of media and spectacle in America.

Mr. Kennedy and I talked about what a great talent he was, and how unfortunate it was, in his later years that his fame and notoriety got in the way of his pure storytelling talent.

But anyone who forgets that talent should revisit his great work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas one of those books that has grown–and grown more melancholy and brilliant–with the years. It’s widely misunderstood as a celebration of the 60s, but in fact it was its requiem. It’s Hunter’s Gatsby. The way Gatsby was a requiem for the Roaring 20s. And in a way that mad America’s Cup foray was a herald of the way Hunter was like a pirate intruder into Fitzgerald territory for his generation. And followed Fitzgerald’s trajectory, alas. But jeez do we miss him and need him now.

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