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Greg Mitchell

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Remembering Pete Seeger, From Woody Guthrie to Occupy Wall Street

Pete Seeger, 1944

Pete Seeger performing in Washington D.C. on February 13, 1944. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt seen at center. (Flickr, Library of Congress)

There’s so much to express about one of my heroes, Pete Seeger, who passed away, apparently peacefully, in New York at the age of 94. Despite his advance age, this still came as a shock, since he’d been out and about not long ago and scheduled for events not far from my home—he lived just up the river from me, that river being the Hudson. Of course, I once boarded his famous sloop, the Clearwater.

Just last week I was trying to find a way to contact him. The film I co-produced about the political influence of Beethoven’s Ninth, Following the Ninth, is screening on February 27 up in Rhinebeck, very near his home in Beacon. In the film, Billy Bragg sings his new right-on lyrics to the “Ode to Joy,” something Pete had done long ago, and I wondered if I might coax Pete into the cold for a few minutes to sing a few bars after the screening. Here’s Pete singing it long ago:

Now here he talks about his old friend Woody Guthrie, as he promoted his songs and legend, then largely forgotten.

And to complete this circle, here’s Pete just two years ago at the end of his march for Occupy Wall Street, which ended in Columbus Circle with a kind of birthday party for Pete, video shot by pal and noted filmmaker Sandi Bachom.

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But let’s not forget about the controversy (I was old enough to experience it) when Pete got banned from the popular Hootenanny network TV show for his politics in the early 1960s. A few years later he was allowed on shows like The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to perform his “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” with LBJ as the “big fool” urging us to “push on” in Vietnam.

More Pete videos (with Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, Sam Cooke and more) at my Pressing Issues blog all day.

Read Next: John Nichols remembers Pete Seeger.

Caroline Kennedy, New US Ambassador, Meets With Atomic Survivors in Nagasaki

Hiroshima

An allied correspondent stands in a sea of rubble before the shell of a building in Hiroshima, September 8, 1945. (AP Photo/Stanley Troutman)

I’ve noted with some satisfaction that a story I wrote here more than two years ago has topped the “most read” list on this site since Saturday. Usually it’s easy to track why that happens, via a Google search for a major link or links, but in this case that has proved fruitless so far.

Still, I appreciate the attention for one of the dozen or more articles I write every year to mark the annual sad August commemorations of the atomic bombings of Japan. This piece happens to explore how US POWs were killed by the Hiroshima bomb, and then we kept it secret. The story is also told in my book about the decades-long US suppression of key film footage of the aftermath of the bombings, Atomic Cover-up.

The search for some reason why this story became suddenly popular again over the weekend took me to an unrelated recent interview with Caroline Kennedy, our new ambassador to Japan. I’ve written about how no US president has visited the two atomic cities while in office, and how President Obama at least as gone this far: sending our ambassador, for the first time, to the official ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I’ve noted previously that Ms. Kennedy will likely now have that task this year, which completes a circle, you might say, going back to her father’s managing to avoid a nuclear holocaust during the Cuban missile crisis and later embracing the key Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

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Anyway, here from that intrerview is one interesting Q&A. I did not know that she visited Hiroshima with her Uncle Ted when she was in college—and that she has already gone to Nagasaki and met with survivors there. Bravo for that. A longer piece on her Nagasaki visit here. Note: No US media outlet covered or mentioned her visit to Nagasaki.

Q: Why did you go to Nagasaki only a few weeks after your arrival in Japan? Secretary of State John Kerry described the nature of Japan-US relations at the reception held in your honor in Washington as follows: “This is a symbol of reconciliation, symbol of possibilities, symbol of people who know how to put the past behind them, and look to the future and build the future together.” Did you try to set an example of “reconciliation” and “putting the past behind”?

A: I don’t think I’m “setting” an example; I think I’m following in a tradition. I first visited Hiroshima in 1978, with my uncle, Senator (Edward) Kennedy. And that really made a profound impression on me. I was a college student at the time, and I think it really affected me deeply, in terms of the importance of working for peace and continuing to work, as we move throughout our lives, as my uncle did.

So, the chance to go to Nagasaki was something that really meant a lot to me. The community there was so appreciative and welcoming to me. I didn’t necessarily expect that people would come out and say “thank you” for my visit.

I found it very, again, deeply inspiring, and meeting with the hibakusha as well, who were talking about their experiences and the work that they have done on behalf of Japan and the United States. So, I think that there is such a tradition between our countries and our peoples, and I would hope very much that I could make a contribution toward those efforts, going forward.

Read Next: Katrina vanden Heuvel reflects on Dr. Strangelove.

As ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Turns 50: Vast Nuclear Dangers Remain

First atomic artillery shell fired in Nevada on May 25, 1953

Frenchman Flat in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 25, 1953, a moment after history’s first atomic artillery shell was fired. (AP Photo).

It can’t be coincidence that when I saw Dr. Strangelove in early 1964, when I was still a callow youth, it instantly became my all-time favorite film—and then I went on to edit an antinuclear magazine for many years, march in protests from New York to Japan, and write two books (Hiroshima in America and Atomic Cover-up) and hundreds of articles on the nuclear threat.

Of course, the genius of Stanley Kubrick’s film was that I’ve also been laughing my ass off every time I watch it again or just consult brief clips in the half-century since its official release, which we’ll mark next week.

No wonder I’ve been celebrating Strangelove over at my Pressing Issues blog, posting its wildly original trailer (which was buried for decades) and a recent behind-the-making-of documentary. But today a serious commentary has arrived elsewhere.

Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation and more recently the scary epic on nuclear dangers, Command and Control, has a lengthy blog piece just posted at The New Yorker on how nearly everything in that fanciful and satiric Kubrick film was…you know, true. People forget: “Although ‘Strangelove’ was clearly a farce, with the comedian Peter Sellers playing three roles, it was criticized for being implausible. An expert at the Institute for Strategic Studies called the events in the film ‘impossible on a dozen counts.’ A former Deputy Secretary of Defense dismissed the idea that someone could authorize the use of a nuclear weapon without the President’s approval: ‘Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.”

And yet, as it turns out…

Half a century after Kubrick’s mad general, Jack D. Ripper, launched a nuclear strike on the Soviets to defend the purity of “our precious bodily fluids” from Communist subversion, we now know that American officers did indeed have the ability to start a Third World War on their own. And despite the introduction of rigorous safeguards in the years since then, the risk of an accidental or unauthorized nuclear detonation hasn’t been completely eliminated.

The Soviets even developed a kind of “Doomsday Machine” and, as in the film, did not tell us about it. Looking back:

Despite public assurances that everything was fully under control, in the winter of 1964, while “Dr. Strangelove” was playing in theatres and being condemned as Soviet propaganda, there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets. Kubrick had researched the subject for years, consulted experts, and worked closely with a former R.A.F. pilot, Peter George, on the screenplay of the film. George’s novel about the risk of accidental nuclear war, “Red Alert,” was the source for most of “Strangelove” ’s plot. Unbeknownst to both Kubrick and George, a top official at the Department of Defense had already sent a copy of “Red Alert” to every member of the Pentagon’s Scientific Advisory Committee for Ballistic Missiles. At the Pentagon, the book was taken seriously as a cautionary tale about what might go wrong. Even Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara privately worried that an accident, a mistake, or a rogue American officer could start a nuclear war.

Thus:

In retrospect, Kubrick’s black comedy provided a far more accurate description of the dangers inherent in nuclear command-and-control systems than the ones that the American people got from the White House, the Pentagon, and the mainstream media.

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And today? Well, Schlosser’s recent book details the many current nuclear dangers. But in his post today he merely highlights one:

The security measures now used to control America’s nuclear weapons are a vast improvement over those of 1964. But, like all human endeavors, they are inherently flawed. The Department of Defense’s Personnel Reliability Program is supposed to keep people with serious emotional or psychological issues away from nuclear weapons—and yet two of the nation’s top nuclear commanders were recently removed from their posts. Neither appears to be the sort of calm, stable person you want with a finger on the button. In fact, their misbehavior seems straight out of “Strangelove.”

Greg Mitchell’s Atomic Cover-up explores the decades-long suppression of footage shot in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US military—and why that matters today.

Edward Snowden, Media Critic

Edward Snowden

A bus passes by a poster of Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the National Security Agency (NSA). (Reuters)

Whatever you think of Edward Snowden, you have to admit that he hit the nail on the head when, in this week’s New Yorker, he criticized media coverage of the latest charges, coming from top leaders in Congress, that he “may well” have been working for the Russians, or got help from them, when he nabbed all those NSA docs.

From Jane Mayer’s article:

On Sunday, the “Meet the Press” host, David Gregory, also asked Mr. Rogers’s Senate counterpart, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, whether she agreed with his suspicions that Mr. Snowden had been helped by the Russians. She replied: “He may well have.”

Mr. Snowden criticized news organizations for treating such remarks as newsworthy. “It’s not the smears that mystify me,” Mr. Snowden told The New Yorker, “it’s that outlets report statements that the speakers themselves admit are sheer speculation.”

“This Russian spy push is absurd,” he added, via an encrypted line. If he was a Russian spy why did he get stuck for 40 days at the Moscow airport? “It won’t stick…. Because it’s clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are.”

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Yet the media—Gregory, as usual, particularly guilty in this regard (see his Meet the Press questions for Rogers and Feinstein)—promote the charges without demanding evidence. At least Mayer followed up and got this:

Asked today to elaborate on his reasons for alleging that Snowden “had help,” Congressman Rogers, through a press aide, declined to comment.

An aide to Senator Feinstein, meanwhile, stressed that she did no more than ask questions. “Senator Feinstein said, ‘We don’t know at this stage.’ In light of the comments from Chairman Rogers, it is reasonable for Senator Feinstein to say that we should find out.”

What a shock. Mayer continues:

Snowden went on to poke fun at the range of allegations that have been made against him in the media without intelligence officials providing some kind of factual basis: “ ‘We don’t know if he had help from aliens.’ ‘You know, I have serious questions about whether he really exists.’ ”

Snowden went on, “It’s just amazing that these massive media institutions don’t have any sort of editorial position on this. I mean these are pretty serious allegations, you know?” He continued, “The media has a major role to play in American society, and they’re really abdicating their responsibility to hold power to account.”

Read Next: ‘New York Times’ Pleads for Justice for Edward Snowden—and Calls Government Officials Criminals.”

‘New York Times’ Series on Giant Bridge Project Opens With Major Omissions

Tappan Zee Bridge

Tappan Zee Bridge (Photo by Greg Mitchell)

Yesterday The New York Times launched an ongoing series (at least three years to come) with a major piece and online visuals on one of America’s biggest construction projects—and I can watch it, right from my front yard at the top of the hill overlooking the Hudson River.

It’s the $4 billion replacement for one of longest bridges anywhere, at over three miles, the Tappan Zee, which joins Rockland to Westchester counties just north of New York City. The TZ was built at virtually the widest part of the Hudson and why it was built in the mid-1950s here—well, it’s a long, sordid story but we’ll leave that for now.

What’s not in the rah-rah Times story are several key points, including a promised massive toll hike (doubling the current rate) to pay for the bridge, which was minimized in the steamrolling for the new structure. Plus: while the bridge aims to sharply reduce traffic congestion it actually will offer not a single new lane of rush-hour access. Right now the seven lanes on the bridge are adjusted so you get four lanes at rush hour in either direction. The new bridge will provide eight lanes—always divided in half.

And most of the traffic congestion is caused not by ultra–bridge traffic but the tightening of Thruway lanes on both sides. And the congestion, even so, has been eased, over the past ten years, by several measures, including expansion of EZ-Pass. Take my word for it—I commuted nearly every day from 2000–09.

There are a few benefits (including a bike/walking “lane” and a lane for the relatively few buses that use the span), but commuters will likely be bitching about continued tie-ups—at twice the toll. Love this from the Times’ story: “Bottlenecks may not end entirely.” Ya think?

Early on, when residents questioned why, after all these years, a new bridge would not include rail service from train-poor Rockland to train-rich Westchester, the state dangled the possibility of future tracks attached to the bridge but that’s nearly a pipedream at this point—with staggering costs if ever attempted.

The Times also repeats the (likely) urban legend that when the bridge was built it was expected to last only fifty years. We heard that up here from the press and bridge advocates for years, but when critics pressed for an actual source none could be found. Perhaps they’ve found it since, but I’d like to see it.

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Also minimized by officials, and the Times, are the certain disruptions in existing traffic from the many years of construction to come (by the way, they then have to tear down the current three-mile bridge).  Already commuters are fuming about the closing—for the duration—of the key access lane to the bridge on the Tarrytown side, which has caused delays of up to half an hour or more for the daily evening commute. And work has barely begun. State officials had pooh-poohed that first major disruption. Our local paper, the Journal News, observed: “Like so many other aspects of the project, the planned impacts didn’t match the reality.”

Well, at least the Times corrected a rather major error in an earlier version of the story—getting the right name for where the bridge starts/ends in Rockland.

Read Next: John Nichols on how the bridge scandal will affect Christie’s chances in 2016

When ‘The New York Times’ Spiked MLK Jr.’s Greatest Piece

Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument in Washington, D.C.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. (Flickr)

Last January, in noting the passing of poet/editor Harvey Shapiro, I mentioned that he had assigned for The New York Times Magazine the famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.—but it was killed by the Times.

Tim Noah has looked at why at The New Republic, under the title, “How the New York Times Screwed Martin Luther King, Jr.” Noah aptly describes the 1963 essay “one of the preeminent literary-historical documents of the 20th century.”

The Times, S. Jonathan Bass reports in Blessed Are The Peacemakers: Martin Luther King, Eight White Religious Leaders, and the ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail,’ initially scheduled the letter for publication in late May. But first it wanted (in the recollection of King adviser Stanley Levison) a “little introduction setting forth the circumstances of the piece.” Then it decided, no, what it really wanted was for King to “write a feature article based on the letter.” Or, possibly, it wanted both. Before King had a chance to jump through these hoops, the New York Post (in those distant days a plausible rival to the Times) got a copy of the letter and published unauthorized excerpts, killing the Times’s interest.

Of course, it later appeared in The Atlantic in full.

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I wrote a couple of pieces for the magazine in the early 1980s, and I can confirm Noah’s comment: “The Times Magazine was, in those days, a notoriously Politburo-like redoubt of editing-by-committee.” Noah:

The Times Magazine’s Augean stables were eventually cleaned out in the 1990s by editor Adam Moss, who streamlined the editing process, removed the beat-reporter veto option, and greatly improved the magazine. (I was pleasantly surprised to find my second experience with the magazine a much happier one.) Even so, the Times Magazine (today loaded up, alas, with twee concept-heavy short running features) never published anything whose significance even approaches that of “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Give Shapiro, rest his soul, credit at least for trying.

Read Next: Martin Luther King, Jr. "Let Justice Roll Down".

Media Debate (Finally) Begins: Have US Troops Died in Vain?

Taylor Kitsch and Mark Wahlberg in a still the 2013 American war film Lone Survivor (Flickr)

As killings surge in “pacified” Iraq and our war in Afghanistan appears more lost than ever, the question was rising anyway: Were American lives lost in those two wars, particularly in Afghanistan, “in vain”?

Now, more than ever, this debate has been sparked by the new (surprise) hit movie Lone Survivor and comments by that survivor of an ill-fated Afghanistan mission, Marcus Luttrell. He got into a bit of a tiff on TV the other day with CNN’s Jake Tapper (a big supporter of vets groups, by the way) after the news host gently suggested it was at least worthy to wonder about that lives-lost-in-vain question. I’m old enough to remember going through all this re: Vietnam about forty years ago.

That sparked a round of Web shouting at Tapper, or at Luttrell, and then a round of defending each. Glenn Beck, a Luttrell buddy, joined in. Tapper took to Facebook to declare that he did not say or believe that the death “meant nothing” and posted this:

We need to have open, honest, and yes uncomfortable conversations about this war. We can’t do that if any time someone sees things differently they’re accused of hating the troops. Questions HONOR the troops. And our freedom to ask them is what they fight and die for..

Does each of the deaths in Afghanistan make sense to my critics? If so, God bless and give me your number, I know some widows and moms who would love to hear the explanation, the “sense.”

That is not the same however as saying those troops died in vain. They died for whatever brought them there. Their battle buddies. Their faith. Their sense of justice.…

I would hope that my reporting trips to Iraq and Afghanistan, my book about Combat Outpost Keating, my two CNN documentaries about Medal of Honor recipients, and my continued reporting on veterans and troops and their families would belie that accusation.

Apparently not.

Now, via Tom Ricks’s site at Foreign Policy, a former intelligence officer, Jim Gourley, has raised provocative questions—under the heading, “Yes, Marcus. They Did Die in Vain”—that are sure to spark more discussion (and probably anger in some quarters). You have to register to read it, so I’ll link here to a lengthy summary and excerpts at AmericaBlog, including:

Over the last decade, our top leaders have wasted the lives of our sons, daughters, and comrades with their incompetence and hubris. After each failure, our citizens have failed to hold them accountable, instead underwriting new failed strategies as quickly as their predecessors with our apathy and sense of detachment. And then we use the tired paeans of “never forget” and “honor the fallen” to distract ourselves from our guilt in the affair. When we blithely declare that they did not die in vain, we deface their honor by using it to wipe the blood from our hands.

We have lost our collective ability to win a war as well as the strength of character to accept defeat. And in the end, it is those who represent the epitome of that character we lack that pay the price. Can there be a death any more in vain than one that secures for us freedoms that we hold in such low regard as to not even use them on behalf of those that protect us? If there is, I cannot think of one.

It is my greatest hope that Luttrell’s response opens a national dialogue on this subject, and that people finally embrace the true, terrible nature of our self-inflicted losses. Let us as a nation finally feel the guilt we ought to for failing our civic duty. And let that be what we remember before we send the next servicemember to battle. For surely, there will be a next war. When it comes, let us be a nation of people who are as faithful to our principles and considerate of our obligations as those who fight for us. Let us be worthy of their sacrifice. That is the only way to prevent them from dying in vain.

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Cenk Uygur at Young Turks opined, referring to the “Lone Survivor” mission: “There was no reason that we should’ve been in Afghanistan at that point, let alone today. There was a reason to go into Afghanistan in the first place, but twelve, thirteen years later, there’s no sense in it. It’s not dishonoring them, we’re criticizing the people that sent them in to die, and to get killed, for no reason. That’s senseless.”

For more on Iraq and Afghanistan wars, see Greg Mitchell’s book, So Wrong for So Long. His personal blog is Pressing Issues.

Bill Keller: Tough on Cancer Patients, Easy on War Promoters

Bill Keller

Bill Keller, journalist and former executive editor of The New York Times. (Flickr)

There was so much to critique in Bill Keller’s notorious column this week at The New York Times on the proper etiquette of cancer patients that most of us could barely mention in passing that this same Keller, now ripping military/battlefield lingo in medicine, has been an ardent war hawk, from Iraq 2003 to Syria 2013.

So let’s spend a little time on that now. Most recent first, torn from the (Web) pages of The Nation. (We won’t even get into Keller’s WikiLeaks record, but you can revisit it here, or consider when he held James Risen’s NSA scoop for a year.)

Back in May 2013, long before the alleged chemical attack by Assad forces three months later, Keller joined some of his colleagues at the Times, both reporters and columnists, in agitating for US intervention in Syria. He was upset that Obama had let Assad cross that “red line,” and now the dictator had to pay. He even titled a column “Syria Is Not Iraq” and suggested that Congress and the public “get over Iraq,” revealing that he has. I wrote:

He says he was gun-shy after his Iraq flub—but no more! Now he derides Obama for “looking for excuses to stand pat.” He also provides several reasons why Syria is “not Iraq,” and how now his hawkishness is based on reality: This time we really can hurt the terrorists gathered there, really can calm tensions in the region, and so on. Instead of a “mushroom cloud,” he warns of the next chemical “atrocity.” And he claims there’s a broader coaiition of the willing this time. He even revives the good old “domino theory,” endorsing the view that if we don’t do something in Syria it will embolden China, North Korea and Iran….

At least Keller provides some comic relief when he admits, “I don’t mean to make this sound easy.”

Obama didn’t do much then—unlike Bush, he didn’t listen to the pundit-hawks like Keller on illegal war-making—but Bill got another chance a few months later after the late-summer chem attacks in Syria. He again pushed for strong US actions, and when Obama backed off, he virtually cried in print—despite the apparent Obama “victory” in getting Assad to start to destroy his stockpiles without the US bombing civilian areas. Keller wailed that Vladimir Putin, in keeping Obama from bombing, did the following, among other terrible things:

a) He has stalled and possibly ended the threat that his client thug, President Bashar al-Assad, will be struck by American missiles for gassing his own people. As long as the international community is debating the endless complications of finding, verifying and locking down Assad’s chemical arsenal, Congress and the allies have ample excuse to do nothing.

b) He has diminished the already small prospect that the United States will attempt to shift the balance in Syria’s war. That sound you hear is John McCain’s head exploding.

Keller went on to moan that this has “demoralized the Syrian resistance”—you know, those rebels some of us warned at the time were dominated by al-Qaeda types. And he suggested that Obama was “all hat and no cattle” when he came to blowing people away.

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To understand Keller on war and peace, however, you need to consider his long record of offering faint apologies (“mini-culpas” in Jack Shafer’s framing long ago) for backing the Iraq invasion in 2003. This continued for years, culminating in his epic September 2011 feature in The New York Times Magazine. Read my detailed review here, but let’s close in one excerpt from my piece:

Keller, in the new piece, admits invading Iraq was a “monumental blunder” but over and over rationalizes his support for it. His key claim is: Sure, in retrospect, it was FUBAR, but “Whether it was wrong to support the invasion at the time is a harder call.” In other words: Cut me some (a lot of) slack here.

One of his explanations—“I could not foresee that we would mishandle the war so badly”—makes him look like a fool, since so many others did predict that. His second line of defense, “I could not have known how bad the intelligence was” is equally damning. Note the use of “could not have known” when a humble, honest man might have written, “I should have known.”

And:

Keller, of course, also took years to push Judy Miller out—and compounded his earlier mistakes by backing her fully during the Libby case, when he even failed (he eventually admitted) to ask her for her notes on her chats with him about Valerie Plame. His paper’s probe of the entire affair concluded that Keller had killed stories related to the case for fear of hurting Miller’s case, which “humiliated” Times reporters and caused wide in-house dissension.

I concluded:

It’s’s clear that Tony Judt’s label for Bill Keller and other liberals who backed the war—“useful idiots” for Bush and Cheney—is still apt. Former Bush press spokesman Scott McClellan, in his memoir, called journalists like Keller “enablers” for the war. “The collapse of the administration’s rationales for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should never have come as such a surprise,” McClellan recalled. “In this case, the ‘liberal media’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”

For a deeper look at Bill Keller’s earlier disgrace, see Greg Mitchell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, on how the media failed on Iraq. His personal blog is Pressing Issues.

NPR’s Ode to ‘Ode to Joy’ as ‘a Call to Action’

A Beethoven Flash Mob in Hong Kong, 28 July 2013

The Hong Kong Festival Orchestra performs at a local shopping center (Courtesy of Bill Moyers)

For two years I’ve been chronicling the influence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony around the world in political and social protest—most recently, in Ukraine—so it was gratifying to find NPR’s All Things Considered airing a lengthy and excellent segment on this today, focusing on the “call to action” in the “Ode to Joy.”

The NPR segment focused on the new film I co-produced, Following the Ninth, including excerpts from the documentary and interview with the director Kerry Candaele. You can hear it here, where they’ve also posted the trailer for the movie and a link to the book on all this that I’ve written with Candaele. And here’s Bill Moyers’s recent segment on the film.

Following the Ninth reveals how students in Tiananmen Square and women in Pinochet’s Chile used Beethoven in their protests, and captures Leonard Bernstein playing the symphony to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, Billy Bragg writing new right-on lyrics for the “Ode,” and more.

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Here are “Ode to Joy” flash mobs from around the world. And one I helped organize in Nyack, NY, last week.

Here’s the Moyers segment:

Read Next: When Leonard Bernstein and Beethoven celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.

No Shame: Bill Keller Bullies Cancer Patient

Bill Keller

Bill Keller, journalist and former executive editor of The New York Times. (Reuters/Phil McCarten)

Note:  My new column on Keller "tough a cancer patients, easy on war promoters."

It all began last Wednesday when Emma Keller, spouse of former New York Times chief editor (and now weekly columnist) BIll Keller, penned a piece for The Guardian. It concerned a woman in New England named Lisa Adams, who is battling cancer and writing about the experience on Twitter, mainly for educational value, drawing a fair amount of notice. She is “dying out loud,” as Emma (whose father died not long ago from cancer far more quietly) puts it.

Emma Keller compares it to a “Reality TV show.” She complains that Adams posted an update on her condition that morning and then had the nerve to post another one just hours later—and wonders if her too-many tweets are “a grim equivalent of deathbed selfies.” And she charges: “You can put a ‘no visitors sign’ on the door of your hospital room, but you welcome the world into your orbit and describe every last Fentanyl patch.”

This was the headline on the column: “Forget funeral selfies. What are the ethics of tweeting a terminal illness?”

Well, the feedback was so negative, including right at The Guardian in the comments section, that she added this update at the bottom:

Since this article was published two days ago, there’s been a lot of negative comment on Twitter and below the line. Lisa Adams herself was upset by it. I had been in communication with her a number of times in recent weeks; given her health, I could have given her advance warning about the article and should have told her that I planned to quote from our conversations. I regret not doing so.

Now you’d think that the Keller family would want to stay away from this subject from now on, but no, Bill (perhaps feeling his wife had been misunderstood) returned to it for today’s column. Oddly, he chose to double-down.

[UPDATE: The Guardian just deleted the offensive Emma Keller piece that kicked this off, saying at first that it is (now judged) “inconsistent” with their “editorial code.” Then, mysteriously, they dropped that explanation and simply said its still “under investigation.” It’s cached here.  And the Times' fine public editor Margaret Sullivan critiques his piece and solicits two new, if weak, comments from him.]

B. Keller, not quite overtly but certainly between the lines, suggests that Lisa Adams just die, already. He repeatedly compares her struggle, in a bad light, to a “battlefield” or “military’ campaign—this from the man who was a hawk on Iraq, staunchly defended Judy Miller and recently called for the bombing of Syria and backing the Al Qaeda rebels.

He writes, “What Britain and other countries know, and my country is learning, is that every cancer need not be Verdun, a war of attrition waged regardless of the cost or the casualties. It seemed to me, and still does, that there is something enviable about going gently. One intriguing lung cancer study even suggests that patients given early palliative care instead of the most aggressive chemotherapy not only have a better quality of life, they actually live a bit longer.”

Later, Bill-Knows-Best admits that Adams had provided a useful service as a research paitent at Sloan-Kettering, but advises, “Adams is the standard-bearer for an approach to cancer that honors the warrior, that may raise false hopes, and that, implicitly, seems to peg patients like my father-in-law as failures.” He even gets in a dig about what it must cost to provide her with the occasional visit from a therapy dog. If only he’d worried about the trillions of dollars we’d spend on Iraq before calling on Bush to invade in 2003.

It might also be relevant that Keller’s father-in-law was elderly, while Adams has three kids at home.

Keller then closes by quoting Steven Goodman, an associate dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who declares that Adams should not be “unduly praised.”

As you can imagine, the online response has not been kind. Critics quickly pointed out, for one thing, that Keller claimed that Adams had two children, when she has three, and if he had really been reading her blog or Twitter feed how could he miss that? Dr. Jennifer Gunter tweeted: “So according to @nytkeller and wife there is A) a right way to blog B) a right way to tweet and C) a right way to have cancer.” @KenJennings revealed, “Terrified I might get cancer, because what if Bill and Emma Keller yell at me.” James Patrick Gordon mocks: “Ms. Adams, questions have been raised about how you’re choosing to cope with cancer. How do you respond to the allegations?”

Susan Orlean: “I am appalled on every level by Bill Keller’s oped piece about @adamslisa. Astonishing.” Martha Plimpton: “I need to ask what this deeply condescending piece is aiming for? On every level, it reeks of shaming.” And from Ruben Bolling: “Bill Keller is against women fighting cancer, unless anonymous Bush administration sources say cancer has WMDs—then: TO WAR!” (More updates coming at my personal blog, Pressing Issues.)

Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing, who has tweeted her own struggle with cancer (@Xeni) over the past couple years to wide acclaim, charged that B. Keller had taken something she wrote last year, about wishing she had been a little less “sharey,” out of context. And she replied angrily to much else in the Keller column in a series of tweets, such as:

“It is bizarrely tone-deaf, ghoulish, & lacking in empathy all at once. It mansplains breast cancer, but as if talking about a pork chop…. Don’t kick a woman when she’s down…. She’s not a ‘standard bearer.’ Or a ‘hero.’ Or ‘warrior.’ SHE IS A WOMAN IN THE HOSPITAL WHO HAS METASTATIC BREAST CANCER AND 3 KIDS…Lisa has written extensively about rejecting war, hero, battle, weapon, warrior clichés to describe her experience. His hangup not hers…. I feel rage & disgust at Bill & Emma Kellers’ twinsie opinion pieces about @adamslisa. Shoddy, shitty, heartless, inaccurate grandstanding…. Bill & Emma Keller’s weirdly obsessive, bullying opeds are causing real pain, distress, distraction to Lisa & family at a critical time.”

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And Lisa Adams (@adamslisa) herself, appalled, responded on Twitter:

“I don’t know why I, a person dedicated to education and personal choice by cancer patients, have been so mischaracterized as lay in hospital… I’ve written extensively on my hatred of war metaphors and cancer…. Some people teach in a classroom. I try to educate here and in my life every day…. not the same to think about what you would do IF you were diagnosed with incurable cancer as it is to actually be living with it. trust me.”

Addressing Keller directly, she writes, “The main thing is that I am alive. Do not write me off and make statements about how my life ends TIL IT DOES, SIR.”

And: “my dear family should not be subjected to this. Hope some of you can help me get this fixed.”

The latest tweet from Lisa Adam this morning—written while the Kellers were probably enjoying a blissful breakfast—was: “Need to go attend to my cancer treatment, living, health.” And the Kellers might be saying, “Not another tweet!”

For a look at Bill Keller’s earlier disgrace, see Greg Mitchell’s book, So Wrong for So Long, on how the media failed on Iraq. His personal blog is Pressing Issues.

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