Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

November 29, 2006

Will They Never Learn?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:17 am

The heart sinks. Seeing this item from Spiegel Online for 11/23/06: Germany’s First Nazi Comedy: Meet Hitler, the Bedwetting, Drug Addict

The preview tells us that in Mein Fuhrer, “German cinema breaks new ground with its first comedy about Hitler. Jewish director Dani Levy is following in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin maker of The Great Dictator… [the film] is a decidedly unsympathetic portrait of Hitler as a bedwetting drug addict who is making the world suffer for his beatings as a child.”

It’ s hard to know where to begin explicating the idiocies compressed into this single paragraph. First of all that this is somehow a brave breakthrough: “a decidedly unsympathetic portrait of Hitler.” What’s next: a courageous critique of Idi Amin?

As I tried to point out in %%AMAZON=006095339 Explaining Hitler%%,so called “psycho-historical” theories of Hitler have long been justly discredited, but still attract those who find some kitschy thrill in contemplating the sexual and personal perversities of Nazis.

Psycho-historical theories have been discredited both for lack of credible evidence and for flawed notions of causation. Here, for instance, it sounds like the director has blindly accepted the dubious, contradicted hearsay that Hitler’s father beat him, promoted strenuously without corroboration by psychoanalyst Alice Miller (who, again without corroboration “explains” Hitler’s anti-semitism by claiming Hitler’s father beat him because the father was upset that he, the father, might have “Jewish blood”–a concatenation of unproven, unprovable old wives tales). Even if it were true that Hitler’s father beat him this does not support the notion that therefore Hitler became a mass murderer because he resented Daddy. All too many children are beaten by their fathers, true, but only Hitler became Hitler because his exterminationist impulses had the enthusiastic support of hundreds of thousands of “ordinary” Germans and other Europeans.

Second, the focus on Hitler’s alleged personal peculiarities, de-historicizes the causes of the Holocaust; making it some kind of outgrowth of personal revenge and perversion rather the culmination of centuries of murderous anti-semitic hatred in Europe carried out by hundreds of thousands of non bed-wetting accomplices to Hitler. It de-politicizes the genocidal hatred in an utterly trivializing way. The Holocaust was not the product of one man’s personal peccadilloes, but of a powerful historical, theological and racial ideology that a juvenile comic focus on “bed-wetting” utterly obscures and in effect denies.

And speaking of trivializing, there is no more trivializing, over-rated, treatment of Hitler than Chaplin’s dimwitted, laboriously unfunny Great Dictator. Yes Chaplin made some funny movies, but when he tried his hands at politics Chaplin made a movie that did nothing but help Hitler because he made him seem like an unthreatening clown just at a time, 1940, when the world needed to take Hitler’s threat seriously.

Yet Chaplin’s film makes it seem like Hitler was nothing but a harmless fool (like Chaplin, same mustache and all). And he made it at a time, during the Nazi-Soviet pact, when the world most needed to mobilize against Hitler’s threat. And yet Chaplin, to his eternal shame ended the film not with a call to oppose fascism, and its murderous hatred, but rather–because he was following the shameful Hitler-friendly Soviet line at the time–ended his film with a call for all workers in the world to lay down their arms–in other words to refuse to join the fight against fascism and Hitler. For those who wish a further explication of just how idiotic and damaging Chaplin’s repellant film is I refer you to my essay: “Chaplin and Begnini: The Arrogance of Clowns” in %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%%

The final ugliness of this project is that it is the product of a Jewish director, which in the minds of many will “sanitize” it, protect its trivialization of Hitler from criticism, give license for those who indulge in what might be called “Anti-Semitism Denial”: the Holocaust wasn’t the result of an entire culture’s ideology of hatred that found its expression in Hitler, and still haunts the world, but was rather the product of a single perverse individual whose absence from the world stage can comfortably allow us to forget the past.

It sounds almost as bad as last year’s German project of self-exculpation, the awful Downfall which again presented Hitler as a lone nut with a few psychopathic followers, and actually portrayed the poor German people who were somehow misled by him (out of misguided feelings of patriotism) as the real victims of Hitler, rather than “willing executioners” in Daniel Goldhagen’s phrase, collaborators in mass murder.

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November 26, 2006

The Angelton/Ames Mystery Deepens

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:22 pm

You might recall I mentioned, in my post on the Litvinenko poisoning, that i was reading the recently published memoirs of KGB intelligence office Victor Cherkashin, %%AMAZON=0465009689 SpyHandler%%. Cheraskin was, among other things in his long career in KGB coutner-intelligence, the chief “handler” of perhaps the most destructive mole in US intelligence history Aldrich Ames. Whose revelations were responsible for the execution of at least 10 U.S. moles within the then-Soviet spy apparatus, in addition to other devastating revelations.

Now, this gets a little insidery, and if you’re interested in the nuances of my position you can check out my NY Times Magazine story on Kim Philby in %%AMAZON=0060934468 The Secret Parts of Fortune%% or google my several essays on Angelton issues in The New York Observer.

But bottom line is this: defenders of the allegedly brilliant counter-spy Angleton claim that all the chaos, destruction, false accusations, ruined careers, intelligence failures that resulted from his 20 yearMccarthyite mole hunt (he was fired in 1975) were vindicated by the discovery of areal mole at last: Aldrich Ames.

Trouble is, Ames wasn’t recruited untilnearly a decade after Angleton left andmost intelligent intelligence officers and obsservers–those not part of the Angelton cult–make the case that it was the backlash against Angleton’s misguided paranoia that discredited genuine suspicion within the CIA and allowed Ames to skate through for so long.

Now comes Victor Cherkashin who knew Ames-as-mole better than anyone to say the following about one of Ames’ motivations for becoming a double agent:

“Back in 1985,” Cheraskin says, Ames told him that one of the reasons for his fatal disillusion with the CIA was that he “was incensed by the paranoia of former CIA counter-inelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, who betrayed the agency, Ames felt, by exposing American spies he thought were double agents working for the KGB. Among them were TOPHAT and FEDORA who came to public attention in leaked press reports in 1978.”

In other words, in this account, not only does Ames not vindicate Angleton, he attibutes his own devastating defection tothe KGB on the disillusion he felt at Angleton’s betrayal (and the subsequent executions) of two top spies who risked (and lost) their lives for us (and are now gnerally regarded by even the Angletonians as genuine). All for the sake of his (Angleton’s) mistaken mole hunt paranoia about “false defectors”, a distorted world view he imposed (for a time) on the CIA and the rest of the government (with, paradoxical results as I suggest in my Observer stories, wherein I hypothesize that Angleton’s “mistake” whether deliberate or inadvertant may have helped win the Cold War).

It’s even more complexly ironic since Angleton’s source for his paranoia about “false defectors” was in fact a Soviet KGB agent whom Angleton believed was the onlyreal defector, Anatoli Golitsyn. (As I said this is a little insidery, but I’m going to enable comments in case any insiders (i.e. preferably current or former spies have something to add. Only relevant comments will be published).

Of course in the “wilderness of mirrors” that was Cold War espionage nothing should be taken at face value. Cherkashin could be playing a game here, or he could be replaying the game Ames played. But it should give pause to those who seek to revive or perpetuate the Angleton mystique.

November 25, 2006

Best new line from a C&W song..

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:19 pm

As a New York City boy who’s the musical equivalent of the guy who sung “New York’s a lonely town when you’re the only surfer boy in town “–because I love mainstream Country & Western music (not merely the alt.country that is a fixture of the NYC downtdown scene although tI like that too), I feel fortunate in having not one but two nearly 24/7 C&W vdieo stations on cable.

Sometimes the raw emotion is too much to take but sometimes I deliberately seek it out and it often continues to surprize me the way new twists (of the knife) of raw emotion are constantly being devised by the great emotional manipulators among country song writers. They are often just great writers, period. And sometimes they can be incredibly clever.

Like this line from today’s Number Two C&W hit on the GAC station, “Wing in the Fire” by Tris Tomlinson. A genuinely moving tribute to a ne’rer do well father who despite all his flaws was “an angel with one wing in the fire.” Reminds you of course of the immortal Willie Nelson ballad “Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”.

But there’s this one offhand line in the song I’m particularly fond of: “he lived his life a little bit left of right.”

Lived his life “a little bit left of right”. Gotta love that.Not a political positioning but an attiude toward authority. One of my favorite echt New York t-shirts was something I saw some guy wear on the 14th street platform:” I [HEART] my attitude problem.” A little bit left of right.

November 24, 2006

The" I'm Alright Jack" Syndrome, American jewish Version

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 4:53 pm

Well I gues it’s Jewish day today, but what triggered this post was one more proclamation by an anti-Israel Jew objecting to concern about anti semitism by saying, “Jews in America have never been more powerful and influential” in one form or another.

Gee Einstein, no kidding. No one’s disputing that. But Jews in America are not the only Jews inthe world. Must your universalism deny you any fellow feeling if it makes you the least bit uncomfortable. not only are not your brother’s keeper, you won’t acknowledge you have any brothers. You’re so universal, so nonidentified with any single group, you’re no one at all.

It sure must feel better that way doesn’t it, only worrying about yourself and finding you have nothing to worry about? Hey then, no worrries about Jews in France where busses of Jewish schoolchildren are regularly attacked by anti-semitic cowards, no worries about Jews in Israel attempting to live everyday with exterminationist threats hanging over them, when suicide bombers are not blowing up their cafes.

Guys, I congratulate you: it makes life so much easier to be a Jew and say there’s nothing for Jews to worry about because you are doing okay. Mazel Tov.

Second Holocaust Watch (2)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:28 am

Call this entry the death of the false dream of a bi-national state in what is now Israel and Palestine. Those who follow these matters might recall the nonsensical essay written by Tony Judt, one of those Jews ashamed to be associated in any way with a Jewish state, who called Israel an “anachronism”, sneered at its nationalism and parochialism (factors aparently to be found in no other nations of the world) in the face of his his enlightened universalism, and told us the solution to the problems between Jews and Arabs was “a bi national state” with Jews and Arabs living side by side in what would soon be an Arab majority entity. Kumbaya!

One must concede to Professsor Judt a great feat of denial in refusing to admit into his consciousness or his prose the historical record of the treatment of Jewish minorities in Muslim majority states in the Middle East. He would allow nothing to enter his impervious intellect that would stand in the way of his vision of Jews and Arabs happily living side by side in his cloud-cuckoo-land utopia.

In proposing his “solution” (no need to add “final” here–“semi-final” is bad enough) to the Jewish problem (and of course the problem was only of the Jews’ own making, not of those who wanted to murder them) he managed to wish away or ignore the history of homicidal and suicidal hatred, the explcitly genocidal intentions towards Jews in the charter of Hamas, which was soon to become the ruling party in the Palestinian areas. Judt’s essay was so foolish even Leon Wieseltier who had once energetically published and promoted Professor Judt (and denounced those who dared to even think about a second Holocaust) found it necessary to hastily dissociate himself from Professor Judt and his simple-minded, ahistorical, pollyana views (and by characterizing them as such I’m paying them a compliment I’m not sure they deserve: that they’re sincerely held rather than disingenuously deliberate attempts to help de-legitimize and dematerialize the entity whose Jewishnes he evidently considers embarassing to be associated with at dinner parties–the state of Israel). In any case they are certainly views that gave those who sought to delegitimize the Jewish state and prepare the way for its destruction and that of its people a rationale to hide behind (see, the Jews don’t want to love their enemies) one that served to blame the victims. I certainly disagree with those who would deny Professor Judt any opportunity to speak. The more he speaks the more foolish and pernicious his views are exposed to be by events.

By events I mean, consider recent events in what are in effect two other “bi-national” states or their equivalent in the Middle East: Lebanon and Iraq. Can Hezbollah and non Hezbollah elements live together in comity in Lebanon without murdering each other? Can Sunni and Shia elements live together in comity in Iraq without slaughtering each other? Does Profesor Judt still ask us to believe things will go better in a bi-national Israel/Palestine? If so is he out of his mind? Does he believe that Jew and Muslim can live side by side in comity in a bi-national Palestine when Hamas has pledged itself to exterminate the Jews? Does Professor Judt still wish to defend his brilliant “plan”? Does he still stake his reputation as historian and scholar on it? Or have events proven that reputation to be as delusive as his plan?

November 23, 2006

"Stark, Raving Mdness", or A Thanksgiving Wish

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:13 pm

“Stark,raving, madness”. The curent Russian government’s reaction to the suggestion that they had anything to do with the attempted (and probably successful) murder by poison of Alexander Litvinenko.

The very idea! But accept for the moment the possiblity that their denial of immediate instrumentality is true. Suppose another group did it for shadowy ex Soviet espionage underworld reasons. Who is respnsible for the KGB thug state now ruling the former Soveit Union? Nobobdy seems to care–or at least look too closely–at what’s happening, what’s already happned in the greatest failure of “democracy promotion” in history. Was it because unregulated free market captialism, red in tooth and Darwinian claw was promoted at the expense of democracy promotion? Or is democracy unpromotable in nations and cultures abused by totalitarianism of the theocratic or Marxist/Fascist mode.

(I urge you to read an absoutely fascinating book about KGB cuture which raises all sorts of moral questions and yet provides all sorts of provacative insights, %%AMAZON=0465009689 Spy Handler%% by Victor Cherashkin, former KGB counter intelligenc opeerative who “handled” Aldrich Ames.)

Is Ltvinenko a doomed Cassandra like those German journalist refugees such as Konrad Heiden who tried to tell the world about Hitler before it was too late? Or is he compromised by his past? Or both?

In any case whoever did it to him, for whatever reason, I want Litvinenko to live not merely out of fellow-human feeling but because I feel he has a lot to tell us (he was supposedly investigating the death of Moscow investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya when he was posioned.

Maybe some people will join me in wishing, on this Thanksgiving, that he lives and talks for years to come. We need to hear more about the “stark, raving madness” he’s experienced.

November 19, 2006

Pynchon Release party!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:23 pm

One of my long-time favorite New York City bookstores, St. Marks Bookshop is having a Pychnon release party! So best (as Mark Graham of the pioneering pop culture blog whatevs.org liked to say). You probably know that the new Pynchon novel, is going to be published this week. A couple of publications asked me to review it, but I declined for reasons of time and, I think, a feeling I could never top my minor, but cherished, Pynchon achievment, still remembered by some Pynchon obsessives: Months before publication of his last novel, Mason&Dixon, knowing only the just-announced title of the forthcoming book ,I wrote an essay for The New York Observer in which I riffed on what I thought would be as yet the undisclosed thematic heart of the yet unreleased novel. A phenomenon that until then had not been mentioned in connection with the novel, or Pynchon: “The Transit of Venus”

Long story, I won’t recount the path that led me to this conjecture, but in any case it turned out that search for–and resonance of–the astronomical phenomenon known as “the transit of Venus” (and the mysterious “black drop” associated with it) was a significant factor in the book.

Indeed one of the responses I got when I started this blog was a question from a Pynchonian who asked me whether I intended to seek to do something similar with Pynchon’s forthcoming book Against the Day. The problem was that Pynchon–in his initial rather verbose Amazon description of his book–had already preempted that option by listing a vast number of subjects that would be covered by the book. I took it personally! The taciturn (turn and tacit) title too: He didn’t want me pulling the same stunt! I’m not being entirely serious, merely getting into the paranoid Pynchonian spirit. .

And there’s also the fact that I wasn’t excited about a new Pynchon work as I had once been. I still consider The Crying of Lot 49 the best, most perfect Pynchon novel. (It’s all there!) And I don’t feel the the same reverence for Gravity’s Rainbow that most Pynchon obsessives do. (I like his first novel, V better.) Although Mark Feeny, the writer who profiled me and The Shakespeare Warsfor The Boston Globe, e mailed me to let me know there was a joke about The Merchant of Venice around page 890 (!) of Against the Day that I would enjoy.

Still I tend to think his later long novels represent an unfortunate late-Joycification of Pynchon. In the sense that there is a movement from what might be called the Ulysses of Pynchon () toward the more Wake-like M&Da move a way from the mad, compressed lucidity of 49 and V..

But who cares? I still want to know what’s going on in his mind and I like to run into people who feel the same way. Among literary enthusiasts Pynchonians are the sort I feel a kinship with even if I don’t necessarily think of myself as a Pynch-olator, so to speak.

In any case what set off this chain of thought was a recent breakfast with my girlfriend at another East Village landmark, Veselka, the still-fabulous Polish-Ukrainian coffee shop, followed by a visit to browse St. Marks Bookshop which I make a practice of doing every couple of weeks. I’ve loved this store ever since I came to New York and found it back when it was actually located on St. Marks Place on the funky day-glo gritty-hippy stretch between Second and Third Avenues. It’s now no longer exactly on St. Marks Place, it’s now a few steps away on the corner of 9th Street and Third Avenue. In a clean, well lighted, less Dickensian space. But still the same vibe, the vast unexpected eclectic selection of the the wayward, difficult and arcane. (And that goes for the books too). One of the last refuges of authentic intellectual Bohemian New York life.

Anyway in the tiny vestibutle of the new store there’s a compressed remnant of the old St. Marks Street Bohemian vibe: a notice board leaved in multiple layers of announcmeents of anarchist performance art, madman poetry readings, experimental non-verbal theater workshops, appearances by mystics and prophets, and the like. But the big news this time was a poster by the bookshop itself–for the Pynchon release party. The store would stay open past midnight on Monday night so that–at the stroke of Tuesday, the offical release date for Against the Day–it could start selling Against the Day ON the day.

Such a great idea! Obviously the deadline is arbitrary and has probably already been broken. But waiting til midnight is both celebratory and respectful. it’s an event, an attitude that reminds me again how much I like New York, how much I like Downtown New York and the spirit of the bookish Old Bohos that haunt it, how much I like St. Marks Bookshop (by the way autographed copies of %%AMAZON=0375503390 The Shakespeare Wars%% are to be found there). And how much I like the idea that there is a community of Pynchonites who are likely to show up for the midnight release party.

Pynchon deserves it. I hope to see you there.

November 14, 2006

Second Holocaust Watch

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:44 pm

Back in 2002 I initiated a major controversy among Jewish writers by daring to mention the possibility of a “second Holocaust”—the destruction of the State of Israel, most likely through a nuclear exchange. I quoted Iranian mullah Hashemi Rasfanjani declaring that Iran would not be particularly upset to lose 10 or 15 million people in a nuclear exchange with Israel if it resulted in the extermiation of 5 million Jews there and left a billion or more Muslims alive. Bascially he was saying that there was no deterrence. Many didn’t want to face this, think the unthinkable and whined that one shouldn’t say such things aloud, one shouldn’t think so pessimistically, foolishly boasting of the Israeli nuclear deterrent Rasfanjani’s stance made irrelevant. (You can read about this controversy in the anthology of essays on anti-semitism I edited, %%AMAZON=0812972031 Those Who Forget the Past%%).

Alas a Second Holocaust is now virtually Iranian state policy.(although their leader denies the firs tone). Today Drudge links to a report that Iran’s nuclear program is nearly complete. And to a speech by Bibi Netanyahu in Los Angeles in which he says “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany”. He then adds the despairing “No one cared then. No one cares now.”

The problem is that even if the world did care, it might not make a difference.

LA Scenes (5) The Single Best Plate of Food in LA is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:41 pm

…the nova, eggs and onions at Nate “n Al’s Deli where I had Sunday breakfast with blogmaster Roger L. Simon before leaving LA.

I’d gotten into a bitter feud last time I wrote abot deli food in LA when I criticized the Beverly Hills branch ofthe classic New York deli, Barney Greeengrass for “modernizing” Barney G.’s ancient but superb versions of the classics (cilantro in the chopped liver!), hyperbolically blaming the troubles of the entire movie industry on this sacrilege. .

But I neglected to put in a word for what I had always preferrred for its far more echt New York, Barney Greengrass style: the venerable Nate ‘n’ Al’s on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills.

It was there I had (I hesitate to even suggest it , but it’s true) a dish superior to the Barney Greengrass version thereof: the nove, eggs and onions. At Nate ‘n’ Al’s it’s an extremely delicate fusion of the three ingredients with the onions done to a perfect carmelized turn. It wafts you into a stratosphere of Jewish food bliss.

Roger then drove me to the airport and in the course of a discussion made an observation I found worth repeating. That the great struggle in the world is between those nations, cultures and religions that hate and fear women and those in which women, and women’s rights thrive. I think it’s an astute way to divide the world. I’m not optimistic about the outcome of that struggle alas.

LA Scenes (4): An overheard remark that..

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 12:25 pm

…tells you where young Hollywood’s political head is. This from a bright, well educated, well connected young producer type:

“You know every day I see this country become more like Nazi Germany and it makes me feel guilty.”

Having written a book called %%AMAZON=006095339 Explaining Hitler%% I feel somewhat qualified to suggest that the jackboot descending on Beverly Hills is somewhat less threatening.

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