Friday 30 September 2011


My obit of Carl Oglesby, SDS leader and author of one of the most interesting of assassination studies, was in yesterday's Indy (29 September); you can link to the online version here. By the time I came to consider SDS, Oglesby was already on his way out, but his earlier writings and speeches were impressive, and The New Left Reader, which he edited, was a handbook of sorts as I wandered my way through protest. Oglesby's version of left-wing politics reflected his working-class upbringing, and a certain idealism which originally led him to found useful alliances with the wider anti-war and civil rights movements, with whom he organised the first great March on Washington. But his faith in the ultimate rationality of America's political leaders proved misplaced, at best. When the Weathermen came along, Oglesby was condemned as being hopelessly bourgeois, when really what he might have been was hopelessly American.

From that perspective, it's easy to understand the importance the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK had for him; he helped found the Assassination Information Bureau, and he wrote a number of books which reflected the wealth of information he gathered. The most interesting is The Yankee and Cowboy War, which tries to create a sort of unified field theory of the assassinations, and connect the dots between Dallas in 1963 and Watergate in 1972. It was a foreunner of what came to be known as 'Deep Politics', considering the forces that really power our country (and indeed, today, the world) regardless of who holds nominal power, and he tried to identify a power-struggle within that American elite between the old money of the east and the newer money in the west. If you don't see the relevance today, consider the Bush family, Skull and Boners all, who begin as Yankees, merchant bankers in New York with Prescott becoming a senator from Connecticut--but transform into Cowboys--George W goes into the oil bidnez, heads the CIA, and eventually becomes president, and Shrub, full scale born-again Texan, doesn't do much of anything but serves the needs of Cowboys as he becomes governor of Texas and then president, where he gets to recapitulate the Reagan malaise on a far grander scale.

I hadn't seen much by Oglesby on that malaise; he did two books on the JFK assassination in the 90s, but the more interesting of them draws heavily on Yankee/Cowboy, and I've yet to read Ravens In the Storm, his memoir of radical politics in the Sixties, but I surely will. I never even knew he'd made two folk-rock records, and it's interesting because one of the covers makes him look just like the great keyboardist Barry Goldberg. But in many ways he symbolises the better impulses of the Sixties generation--even though, like most of that generation's leaders, he came from the pre-baby boom. Perhaps someone ought to consider why my generation has proven so incapable of leading itself, at least in a progressive direction.

Wednesday 28 September 2011


My obituary of Clair George, the highest-ranking CIA official convicted of perjury during the Iran-Contra affair, was in the Indy on 31 August, while I was in the USA, and if you missed it you can link to it here. That's George with CIA chief William Webster and the head of Pakistan's ISI, General Hamid Gul visiting our then-buddies in the Mujahadeen at a training camp. Of course terrorism didn't exist in the world at that point....

Although Lawrence Walsh's independent counsel investigation of Iran-Contra was full and extremely convincing, very few people paid the price for illegally promoting murder in Nicaragua, violating the law to provide arms to our so-called enemies in Iran, and engineering the wholescale export of drugs to the USA. Far from paying the price, the US names airports and anything else that isn't tied down after Reagan, elected Bush and his son president, allowed them to bring back the same bozos into the Bush II regime and quickly make the world safer for terrorism. That these ops were run out of the White House didn't preclude deniability--and although the CIA were merely facilitators in the business, they, and especially George, paid a higher price for their lies.

Iran Contra was an outgrowth of the second October Surprise, where the Reagan people persuaded the Iranians to keep the American hostages in Tehran hostage until after Jimmy Carter was beaten in the election. In return the USA armed Iran, via Israel, and thus made the world safer for democracy. I say second October Surprise because in 1968 Nixon had made a similar deal with the Vietnamese, convincing them they'd get a better deal from him than from the Hump. Sad thing was, they believed him. Robert Parry continues to produce material on the Reagan October at his excellent site, to which you can link here.

I described Clair George as a kind of American Smiley, but the reality is that Smiley came from the British equivalent of the CIA's 'old boys' whereas George was of the next generation, and perhaps deemed more expendable as a result. His life after the CIA is incredible: Jeff Klein's stories on it can be followed here. There should be an investigative sub-genre dedicated solely to the antics of ex-CIA people.


As you may have noticed, IT has gone oddly silent lately. Part of that was due to circumstances beyond our control: I took my son on holiday to New England and stayed part of the time in a place with no communications, and part of the time during a hurricane which meant ditto. And we were busy! Then when I came back the start of the American football season has been busier than usual, as I am doing college on Eurosport (Big 10 and Notre Dame) as well as Channel Four's Sunday Night Football, and I was drafted in to do some basketball on the BBC as well.

There's one new thing that might interest the less-sporty among you: in addition to broadcasting and writing for I am part of Americarnage, a weekly podcast aimed at American sport and pop culture, which you ought to link to here and take a listen. It is rather laddish, so I get to play the wise tribal elder, or something like that. As you might glean from the photo above.

I am intending to get back on track now, with reviews of the new Pelecanos and Connelly novels, a piece on the Three Tinker Tailors, London Film Festival and other movies, Asa Larsson, Tom Franklin and more. I hope most will be shared by outlets in the more, shall we say, commercial sphere, but we shall see. In the meantime, I was so busy I missed one of my own pieces when it appeared in the Independent; filed just before the hurricane struck...

Monday 12 September 2011


It's odd that Lawrence Block, by going back to the early days of Matt Scudder's career as an unlicensed private eye, has created a book so valedictory. It also says a lot about the quality of Block's writing that he can sublimate the mystery element to what amounts to a minute examination of Scudder and his fight against alcoholism and make it so engrossing.

The story is told in flashback, by Scudder, reflecting the novel itself. It's a way for two friends to see the night through, and reminds us of Scudder's essential uncertainty in the face of the vast darkness he confronts. In this sense, the character he has always resembled most is Donald Westlake's Mitch Tobin (in the novels written by Tucker Coe), and AA has been his version of Tobin's brick wall.

Scudder's tale concerns the killing of a boyhood acquaintance of his, whom he first re-encounters when he was still a cop, as a suspect in a lineup, and then meets again through AA. Jack Ellery was deeply involved in the ninth step of AA's 12-step programme, offering amends to those he had wrong over his years of drinking. One of those people has shot him dead, and Ellery's sponsor wants Scudder to investigate, as some of the people on 'High-Low' Jack's list might not appreciate their own stories being passed on to the police, even if they weren't the one who killed him.

At heart, the story is a classic mystery, complete with clues which the reader can follow and, as more bodies begin to accumulate, guess the identity of the killer. But that serves merely as the framework for Scudder's story, as he reaches the end of his first year without a drink, finds relationships coming and going, and eventually solves the mystery, although without achieving any sort of justice for Jack. And that fits with what Block is saying about Scudder and about life, that sometimes the result is simply getting through unscathed, and the knowledge that you have done what you could to prevent further harm in the future is more important than the sense of justice, or revenge, or indeed moral vindication you might have sought. Alcoholism may be the affliction, but the real disease is life, and how we cope with it. Life is the real hard stuff.

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block
Orion, £12.99, ISBN 9781409124825