The Charleston church massacre cast a pall over the end of the week. I remain astonished at how many people shied away from the term hate crime. A white guy who’s a Rhodesian fan boy opened fire in a historically black church in South Carolina. What else does one call it? Charlie Pierce wrote the best thing about it that I’ve seen. No surprise there:
We should speak of it as an attack on history, which it was. This was the church founded by Denmark Vesey, who planned a slave revolt in 1822. Vesey was convicted in a secret trial in which many of the witnesses testified after being tortured. After they hung him, a mob burned down the church he built. His sons rebuilt it. On Wednesday night, someone turned it into a slaughter pen.
This week’s theme song has been in my head since I wrote the Rachel Dolezal post the other day. It’s one of my favorite Clapton tunes; guaranteed to make you walk around singing: “Tell me who’s been foolin’ you, you, you” or “who, who, who” for that matter. We’ll start with the studio version from Layla with Duane Allman on slide guitar:
Since I’m a huge Steve Winwood fan, here’s a live version with him on Hammond B-3 and singing the second lead:
More truth telling, truthiness, and other tangents after the break
True Detective, Take Two: The acclaimed HBO anthology series is back with a new story, location, and cast. I’ll miss seeing McConaughey and Harrelson driving through the swamps of South Louisiana. I won’t miss the whole mystical ending shit that transformed what started out as a great series into a merely good one.
Slate’s Willa Paskin has seen the first 3 episodes and filed a report with a revealing title: Angry at the World: The second season of True Detective feels like a direct retort to Nic Pizzolato’s critics. What kind of retort? Sweet or savory?
The Fog Of History: The ’60’s Great What If? Like most history buffs, I love playing the what if game. The last time I did it here it involved what happened after a beloved President was murdered as it does this time. I guess Neil Finn was wrong about this:
Speaking of T-words, Salon published a tantalizing excerpt from Godfrey Hodgson’s new book, JFK and LBJ: The Last Two Great Presidents. In addition to having a swell first name, Hodgson co-wrote one of the best books about the 1968 Presidential campaign. The main reason I love his first name so much is that WC Fields used Godfrey Daniel as a G-rated alternative to goddammit; much like frak for fuck on Battle Star Galactica. That concludes this edition of Euphemism Theatre…
Back to what if-ing. Hodgson reviews the evidence and concludes that JFK probably would have followed the same path trod by LBJ and intervened in Vietnam. I’ve gone back and forth on this subject over the years but I’ve landed on the JFK wouldn’t have done it side. Yes, I know they had the same advisers but they were very different men. For one thing, Kennedy would have been term-limited and wouldn’t have had to face the electorate again. Additionally, Kennedy refused to give into his advisers during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At first, he was the only person in the room against bombing Cuba, which is why I think he would have resisted intervention. Then there’s this quote from Hodgson’s book:
The man who was perhaps closer than any other to the decisions of peace and war under both presidents, McGeorge Bundy, is said to have come, at the end of his life, to the conviction that JFK would not have taken the decisions that LBJ took in the spring of 1965. Bundy’s former research assistant at New York University, Gordon Goldstein, reports that in his final years Bundy “arrived at a firm conclusion that he shared with me and discussed with various colleagues . . . that Kennedy would not have deployed ground combat forces to Vietnam and thus would not have Americanized the war.” Goldstein recorded that in one of his work sessions with Bundy, the latter said, “What he”—that is, Kennedy —“wanted to do about Vietnam—shorthand, in political terms—was flush it. He didn’t want it to be a big item. And he didn’t think it was a big test of the balance of power. It was a test of American political opinion, but he could stand that in a second term.” Goldstein recorded one perceptive, and sharp, aside of Bundy’s about his two employers: “Kennedy didn’t want to be dumb. Johnson didn’t want to be a coward.”
The last quote sums up the difference between the two men quite neatly. JFK was secure and LBJ was deeply insecure. We know from the phone tapes that Johnson thought that Vietnam was a doomed enterprise from the git-go as did his Senate mentor, Armed Services Chairman Richard Russell. But LBJ was afraid that he’d be villified for “losing” Vietnam as Truman was for “losing” China. Instead, he lost the Presidency, which was a tragic loss for the country and Democratic party. Only recently has Johnson’s reputation started to recover from the war and the lies of both omission and commission that he told to justify intervention.
The Shah After Sunset: Speaking of power players who lost everything, there’s a fine piece in the Guardian about the wave of nostalgia for Mohammed Reza Pahlavi that’s sweeping some sectors of the Iranian populace. The author cloaks his identity like a pious Shia woman in a chador and is credited only as a Tehran Bureau Correspondent. Given the savagery of the security forces, that was a good idea as you can see from this excerpt:
But I must admit to ambivalent feelings towards the Shah and his government. Under the Shah my grandmother gained the right to vote and to divorce her emotionally abusive, opium-addicted husband. My relatives benefitted from his land redistribution and industrial profit-sharing programmes. My father learned to read from the Shah’s literacy corps and received government-subsidised meals and textbooks.
So who am I to tell them that he was a lousy guy, that he was a despot, that his policies were too pro-western? They don’t care about that. They were starving and he gave them food, that’s all they need to know. In my household I was always taught that Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his father were the greatest leaders Iran ever had. My family loves the man like a grandfather, or even a god. Growing up, we always had a Shir o Khorshid in our house.
“Every aspect of life was better then,” my father loves to say, “everyone was happier.” When he comes to visit Iran he blames every imperfection personally on Khomeini. The teller at the bank is rude? Khomeini. The metro is late? Khomeini. The internet is slow? Khomeini. When he was growing up, people were nicer, food tasted better, the Azadi Tower looked bigger.
His father sounds like a Texas GOPer contemplating Barack Obama but Khomeini’s memory seems to have lost its glow. Here’s the deal: most Persians just want to make money, they’re among the most capitalistic people imaginable. They love bling, good food, and, apparently, souvenirs featuring the visage of the last Shah. Here’s a BBC documentary featuring the dulcet tones of narrator Ben Kingsley:
Since the post is titled Tell The Truth, I have a confession to make. It’s one of my deepest, darkest trash teevee secrets. I watch Bravo’s The Shahs of Sunset, a series so trashy that it makes the Real Housewives of New Jersey look like a Fellini film. There, I said it. The star of the show is named-get ready for it-Reza after a certain deposed-n-deceased autocrat and looks like Freddie Mercury. I don’t think I should say anything else about this vile addiction lest I lose what little credibility I have, but I can’t resist posting this video featuring Persian Pop Priestess Asa:
Digesting Architecture: The late Shah fancied himself a builder so it’s time to turn our attention to a real builder, architect Renzo Piano. Besides, after admitting to watching the deeply lowbrow Shahs I need to do something to regain my highbrow street cred. I’m hoping that Ingrid Rowland’s article, In The New Whitney, in the current issue of the New York Review of Book can do the trick. What’s more highbrow than the NYRB and an art museum, fer chrissake…
I love going to museums. I minored in art history in college. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: I’m totally impractical and on one level you are correct, sir. Shit, now I sound like Phil Hartman as Ed McMahon. It has, however, come in handy to know the difference between surrealism and expressionism. I’m not sure when or how, but it’s good cocktail party chat. What’s the difference between Max Ernst and Ernst Kirchner? Talk amongst yourselves. Jeez, now I sound like this:
Hoop Dreams: The NBA Finals are finally over, he said with finality. I love me some NBA but the regular season should be 70 games, not 82 so the finals could end by late May. That will, of course, never happen since each owner would have to give up 6 home games. I’m unsure if that counts as a hoop or a pipe dream; probably both.
I was pulling for the Warriors to win and they did. Sorry, Doc. Lebron is hard to root for and the Cavs coach, David Blatt, is a pal of the dread Bibi Netanyahu. I am not making this up, y’all.
There are two hoops related articles that I’d like to recommend. First, there’s a piece written by retired player Robert Horry. Horry is a hoops legend: his nickname is Big Shot Bob and he was a key player on 7 championship teams with the Rockets, Lakers, and Spurs. Horry is the most famous role player ever, and he dishes on Phil Jackson, Akeem the Dream, and Kobe Bryant. There’s no gossip to be had about stolid Spurs star Tim Duncan. Anyone surprised? I thought not.
The second article is by the great Pat Jordan and it involves a hoop nightmare: crooked ref Tim Donaghy who went to the slammer in the aughties. Donaghy may be a crook and degenerate gambler, but he’s painfully honest with Jordan. Pat has the rare ability to get people to say things they shouldn’t say. It’s a must read.
Dave Zirin: It’s time for the “here’s someone I think you should read” bit of the Saturday post. Dave Zirin is one of the best sportswriters and pundits in the country. He’s able to combine sports and politics without getting all preachy and shit. He’s a fine and very witty prose stylist as well.
I’ve also had a beer with Dave and discussed Barry Bonds around the time Barry broke Henry Aaron’s home run record. All sports fans have a dickish star that they like: Doc’s is Lebron and mine is Barry.
Saturday Standards: This week’s selection is perhaps better described as standards with a twist. It’s a 1963 collaboration between John Coltrane and singer Johnny Hartman featuring 6 ballads guaranteed to break your heart. Uh oh, I lied again, to tell the truth it’s a terrific album: