Book Review: Profiles in Corruption by Peter Schweizer

“Ultimately the problem lies with us,” writes Peter Schweizer in Profiles in Corruption, his new book about America’s top Democrats. “We get the government we choose, the leaders we elect, and the corruption we tolerate.”

Then, he quotes George Orwell, whom Mr. Schweizer notes warned about an elective system of government: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

In this spirit, let me post certain excerpts from Peter Schweizer‘s important, pre-2020 presidential election book, which I strongly recommend—especially on the eve of America’s currently, ominously most likely next president, Joe Biden, making an imminent announcement of a vice-presidential running mate. Biden is rumored to also be ready to name cabinet nominees.

I’m posting this days before the Democrats’ convention, the nation’s first presidential nominating convention to be held during a pandemic yielding the historic prohibition against rational living, including work, fitness and assembly.

I finished reading the exceptional Profiles in Corruption by Peter Schweizer earlier this year. The book is objective in examining major Democratic Party figures. My thoughts, margin notes and conclusions were generally reached before the United States was locked down in national hysteria over the spread of a new virus, prohibiting millions of Americans from working, dictating that people “stay at home”, indiscriminately wear masks and physically avoid other humans.

I read and was horrified by this timely book prior to the Black Lives Matter movement re-emerging as an anti-police — and, arguably, anarchistic — political movement which would radically reshape American business, society and culture within weeks. Profiles in Corruption was published before 2020’s mass American chaos, lockdown, rioting, looting and anarchy.

As the most likely next U.S. president, a 77-year-old who supports Black Lives Matter including legislation to force white Americans to pay slavery reparations, prepares to name his slate of government officials, I’ve rounded up some of Mr. Schweizer’s most pressing and relevant disclosures. 

About California’s Kamala Harris, Mr. Schweizer observes that:

“She somehow served as San Francisco district attorney from 2004 to 2011, and then as California attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and never brought a single documented case forward against an abusive priest. It’s an astonishing display of inaction, given the number of cases brought in other parts of the country. To put this lack of action in perspective, at least fifty other cities charged priests in sexual abuse cases during her tenure as San Francisco district attorney. San Francisco is conspicuous by its absence.”

About Vice-President Biden? The reader learns that “[t]he Biden family partners are often foreign governments, where the deals occur in the dark corners of international finance like Kazakhstan, China, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Ukraine, and Russia. Some deals have even involved U.S. taxpayer money. The cast of characters includes sketchy companies, violent convicted felons, foreign oligarchs, and other people who typically expect favors in return.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker “was quick to reward friends and donors with Newark taxpayer money. In his first few months in office, Booker gave his campaign manager’s son a sole-source contract to update a website for the city. However, the son’s company was new and had no background doing such work. The contract was sizable—more than $2 million—and after two years the project was still incomplete, so the city had to hire another firm to clean up the work. Booker also hired friends to join him in the mayor’s office amid complaints of cronyism. Alarm bells went off in some Newark circles almost immediately when Booker appointed a campaign aide named Pablo Fonseca as his first chief of staff.”

As mayor, Booker’s sprawling network of activities included speaking fees (for as high as $30,000 a pop), nonprofits, the Zuckerberg gift, and a commercial venture called Waywire. In June 2012, Booker launched the new video-sharing social media company that he promised would give “marginalized voices,” including “high school kids,” a hearing. Booker put a public service gloss over the venture: “What was exciting to me was that it was expanding entrepreneurial, economic, and educational opportunities for so many.” Booker got the project easily funded by tapping his wealthy friends Oprah Winfrey, Google’s then–executive chairman Eric Schmidt, and Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, among others to invest. Waywire amassed an advisory board that included CNN president Jeff Zucker’s then-fourteen-year-old son. The Waywire deal was highly unusual and controversial for several reasons. Booker was still mayor of a major American city, and yet he was launching a business with people who in numerous cases had been campaign donors. The terms of the deal were also unusual. Booker received the largest ownership stake in the company, even though he had likely invested comparatively little capital, and was not working on the project full-time[…]”

Remember the woman who lied about being an American Indian? Mr. Schweizer writes that “[t]he story of Elizabeth Warren’s academic success cannot be divorced from her claimed status as a Native American; they are deeply intertwined.

“Barely one year before her appointment to the University of Pennsylvania faculty, Warren began to list herself as a ‘minority’ Native American law professor in the directory of the Association of American Law Schools.”

Schweizer goes on: “A Harvard University spokesman described her as Harvard Law School’s ‘first woman of color.’ She was repeatedly identified as an example of minority hiring at Harvard Law. “Harvard Law School currently has only one tenured minority woman, Gottlieb Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren, who is Native American,” noted the Harvard Crimson…But something curious happened after Warren secured her new position at Harvard Law School. She stopped listing herself in the directory as a minority the same year Harvard hired her to a tenured position.”

“Financial disclosures by the time [Warren] ran for the Senate in 2012 showed that her net worth was as much as $14.5 million. Her house alone was worth $5 million. The couples’ investment stock portfolio was worth as much as $8 million, according to her own disclosures. Yet she steadfastly insisted that she was not “wealthy.” “I realize there are some wealthy individuals—I’m not one of them, but some wealthy individuals who have a lot of stock portfolios,” she told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.”

“In her new role, Warren was publicly blunt and aggressive when describing corporate America and the failures of corporate executives. “Wall Street CEOs, the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs, still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them,” she said during her speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2012. Does anyone here have a problem with that?” However, privately she offered a softer, more friendly tone in her communications with the large Wall Street firms. Indeed, she seemed eager to work with the same titans that she was lambasting in public. “You all gave us a great deal to think about, and we are all appreciative,” she wrote to Richard Davis, the president and CEO of U.S. Bancorp, in a March 2011 email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. “I value your help—and your friendship—more than you know.” Communication with the CEOs of major Wall Street firms was in “stark contrast to the battle that [was] waged in public.” Warren has met in private with Wall Street moguls that she publicly criticizes.”

Mr. Schweizer also provides a seriously, sufficiently and persuasively disturbing degree of detail about the Massachusetts senator’s family connections to the Islamic dictatorship of Iran.

Mr. Schweizer notes that one of Ohio’s U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown “was born in Mansfield, Ohio, a town midway between Columbus and Cleveland,” the author of Profiles in Corruption reports. The rest of his expose reads like something out of an Ayn Rand essay on Woodstock, the New Left and the hippies.

“The son of a doctor, his mother was a staunch Lutheran and progressive social activist; Sherrod inherited both from her. While in high school, young Sherrod organized a march in his hometown to celebrate the first Earth Day in 1970. “We did this really cool march and we had a really big crowd,” he recounted later. “But we get down to the square and none of us had thought about what you do when you get down there. We didn’t have any speakers, and it was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ So we just disbanded.”

What accounts for his rise to power in one of the Midwest’s most dynamic states?

“Sherrod Brown’s friend John Eichinger jokingly explained at a Democratic Party roast back in 1982 that Brown’s approach is to ‘get money from the rich and votes from the poor by promising to protect them from each other.’ Brown’s laughable status  didn’t stop him from doing real damage — to pets and people who own them.

“Dogs, for some reason, did not fare well in [Sen. Brown’s] early bills, perhaps because he claims to have been bitten eight times by dogs while campaigning during his first four years in the state legislature. Whatever the reason, Brown supported legislation to allow animal shelters to put down dogs with sodium pentobarbital. He also voted for a bill imposing fines and jail time for dog barking.”

Over and over, the author delivers evidence of corruption and moral abomination against the man most likely to blackmail a President Biden into enacting severe, total socialism: Bernie Sanders. One American worker shared what he remembers about an encounter with the socialist who would be ominously powerful in Biden’s administration.

“Sanders ordered the bar’s special, ‘Fat Man Bud.’ Bob Conlon recalls that night he was tending bar. Bernie dropped a dollar on the bar to pay for his ninety-five-cent drink. Conlon remembered that the mayor stood there “waiting four [people] deep to get his nickel change back.” The incident made an impression on Conlon, who made part of his money on tips. “I’d vote for O. J. Simpson before I’d vote for Bernie,” he later said.”

“As Professor Michael Kazin describes him, ‘Sanders resembles his hero, Eugene V. Debs—the Socialist who ran five quixotic races for president, the last time, in 1920, from a prison cell—far more than he does a standard-issue career politician. Other pols identify with ‘revolution’ and claim their campaign is a ‘movement.’ But Bernie really means it.’ Sanders deeply identifies with Debs and even has a plaque of him on his Senate office wall.”

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, intrepid journalists discovered that he spent his time at a settlement connected to an Israeli political party called Mapam. This was a particularly political settlement, Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim, connected to a ‘Soviet-affiliated political faction.’ Kibbutz members admired Joseph Stalin until his death, calling him “Sun of the Nations.” They would celebrate May Day with red flags.”

“Sanders and his wife moved to Vermont, but he spent very little of his time in the decade and a half following college with gainful employment. He worked briefly as a researcher with the Vermont Tax Department, before trying his hand as a carpenter. (One acquaintance admitted, ‘He was a shitty carpenter.’) Mostly he was a political activist and agitator, who occasionally wrote essays, one displaying his ‘affinity for Sigmund Freud.’

“Throughout the 1970s, Sanders continued to avoid consistent employment and was endlessly running for political office. (He derided basic working-class jobs as ‘moron work, monotonous work.’)”

The campaigns were bare-bones and during his 1974 campaign for the U.S. Senate, he actually collected unemployment while a candidate. His campaign rhetoric could be downright apocalyptic and conspiratorial. ‘I have the very frightened feeling that if fundamental and radical change does not come about in the very near future that our nation, and, in fact, our entire civilization could soon be entering an economic dark age,’ he thundered as he announced his 1974 Senate run. Later that same year, he sent a public letter to President Gerald Ford, declaring that America would face a “‘virtual Rockefeller family dictatorship over the nation’ if Nelson Rockefeller was named vice president.”

Rockefeller did become vice president. The dictatorship, of course, never emerged.”

Fellow progressives who had helped elect Sanders mayor were surprised at how he was consolidating power. He even put local charities on notice that he was in charge. Jon Svitavsky, who ran a local homeless shelter, said the new mayor rejected the charity’s well-established shelter rules. The homeless shelter, for example, had a policy of refusing entry to anyone who was drunk or high on drugs. Sanders did not like that rule, so he had the city set up its own competing shelter.”

Being mayor and creating a city post for his girlfriend, and then later his wife, meant a good income. They would supplement these salaries through tens of thousands of dollars in teaching and speaking fees. In 1989, the Sanderses actually sold two houses and claimed capital gains. Their primary Vermont residence included upscale amenities, which as one observer noted, “incongruously [made Sanders] perhaps one of the few socialists in the country with a built-in swimming pool.”

Once elected, Sanders moved to Washington and his wife, Jane, became a top aide, serving at various times as his chief of staff, press secretary, and political analyst. After a decade in Congress, Jane and family went about setting up a company that operated under three different names to provide income tied to Bernie’s political career. On September 27, 2000, the family formed Sanders & Driscoll LLC, a for-profit consulting company run by Jane, her daughter Carina, and son David. The business also operated under two trade names: Leadership Strategies and Progressive Media Strategies. The fact that this entity and its aliases were formed just weeks before the 2000 election is significant. The Sanderses ran these out of their home on Killarney Drive in Burlington. These entities served as financial conduits to run cash to the Sanders family.”

In Profiles in Corruption, Peter Schweizer drills into the socialist couple’s history with precision and, always with each profiled Democrat, in footnoted, indexed detail. 

Jane went about trying to develop international ties. In 2007, Jane traveled to Cuba and the college started a program to bring students to the communist country to attend classes at the University of Havana. Burlington College officials visiting Cuba enjoyed access to the highest levels of the Cuban government.”

The Sanderses had long-standing ties in [Communist] Cuba. In 1989, Bernie and Jane visited Havana and met with a leader of the city’s ‘social brigades’ and the mayor. (They attempted a meeting with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, but the bearded one did not make himself available.) Burlington College’s relationship with Cuba included workshops for teachers, including one attended by Armando Vilaseca, the Cuban-born Vermont secretary of education. With no sense of irony, Burlington College touted the study abroad program as a “singular opportunity to question, debate, and discuss” numerous issues. This, including “politics,” even though the university was located smack in the middle of a country that allows no free press. There was no mention of the suppression of free speech, the arresting of political dissidents, or the imprisonment of human rights activists. Instead, Jane touted the program as something that would be beneficial to humanity.”

Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar comes off like a bully. And there’s this about LA’s authoritarian lockdown-driven, pro-mask mayor, Eric Garcetti: “Eric received an elite education, attending first the Harvard School, the elite prep school in Studio City, California. He then went off to Columbia University. As an undergraduate at Columbia University, Garcetti organized a protest against a nearby market that had forbidden the homeless from redeeming cans and bottles for the five- and ten-cent deposits. ‘We hope to resolve this without it getting messy,’ he declared, ‘but the managers seem to be assholes who have to be hit hard.’

This thuggishness is rampant in Profiles in Corruption. It’s a modern political book that won’t help you sleep any easier. But it will help you to know more about what’s in store if the Democrats stay on the current U.S. political track and take over the entire American government.

New Articles: Iran, ‘The Cotton Club’ and Ayn Rand

The new year started with a turn of foreign events, as I wrote last week. Capitalism Magazine’s editor and publisher, without whom this blog, site and many articles would not be possible, asked to reprint it. Read my commentary on the day America’s impeached president of the United States ordered a pre-emptive and proper retaliation against Islamic Iran, the first serious strike against this enemy of Western civilization, here.

Iran attacks America, November 1979

Since the strike that killed a general for Iran’s army of Islamic terrorist proxy gangs and regimented soldiers of Allah, Iran has attacked America and a Ukrainian passenger jet carrying 176 innocents with missiles. The American president pledged this morning that, while showing restraint by declining to hit back for the moment, he will prevent the state sponsor of terrorism from acquiring nuclear weapons. When his predecessor brokered a deal with Iran that returned billions of dollars which were withheld after Iran attacked America and seized our embassy, capturing 66 Americans as prisoners of war in Iran’s jihad (“holy war”) against the West, I called it Obama’s death pact. Horrifically, for the Americans and others, including 63 Canadians on board the Boeing 737 Iran shot down in Teheran, death or its imminent threat became real thanks to Obama’s Iran deal. Barack Obama continued U.S. selflessness in foreign policy which, for decades, appeased Iran.

May appeasement end with military defense ordered and enacted by President Trump.

Thirty-five years after it debuted in theaters, I watched a notorious movie by director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart). Read my new review of a restored version of Mr. Coppola’s 1984 motion picture, The Cotton Club, now available on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming for its 35th anniversary, here.

Though I never saw the original in either theatrical or home video release, I was not disappointed in The Cotton Club (encore edition). It isn’t perfect, as I write in the review. But its jazz and tap dance scenes offer rare and exquisite entertainment.

The Harlem-themed epic has an unusual history. This is Mr. Coppola’s first movie after a self-financed 1982 musical, One from the Heart, lost money. The Cotton Club was made and financed by a range of contentious principals, such as the late producer Robert Evans, and others, such as Orion Pictures, now owned by MGM, which Lionsgate purchased, acquiring its library years ago.

The nightclub, where in reality only Negroes were allowed to perform for an exclusively white audience, was a swank joint on Manhattan’s upper end. The film features a score by the late composer John Barry, leading performances by Richard Gere, Diane Lane, Lonette McKee (the 1976 original remade with Whitney Houston in Sparkle) and the late Gregory Hines. Also look for Mario Van Peebles, Gwen Verdon, James Remar, Maurice Hines, who appears in a home video segment with Mr. Coppola, Lawrence Fishburne (Boyz N the Hood) as a thug named Bumpy Rhodes, Jackee Harry (227), Jennifer Grey, Nicolas Cage, Bob Hoskins, Fred Gwynne and Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) as a club doorman. Music by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong is fabulous.

“This is the movie I meant you to see”, Mr. Coppola, referring to the additional 20 minutes, tells a New York audience in the Q&A feature in the bonus segments. The panel includes disclosures about lawsuits, attempts to steal the negative and a murder trial surrounding The Cotton Club, which debuted in the fall of 1984. Francis Ford Coppola also remembers reading and being influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel, Childhood’s End, with a black character and Maurice Hines recalling his late brother, Gregory, and their grandmother being an original Cotton Club showgirl.

Read the article

Finally, my editor informed me this morning that my article about Pittsburgh and its connection to Ayn Rand (1905-1982) for the winter edition of the print publication Pittsburgh Quarterly, is featured on the online version’s cover. Read about Rand, who revered the Industrial Revolution, and the city of bridges, steel and progress, here.

 

University Professor Distorts My Writing in Her New Book

Years ago, I wrote movie reviews for a website in which I was a partner, editor and writer, which I later sold to an Amazon.com subsidiary. One of them was a review of director Roland Emmerich’s environmentalist movie, The Day After Tomorrow, which I did not praise, let alone recommend. I titled the 2004 article, which was published prior to the film’s debut, “Ecozilla”. The article’s no longer available. Like much of my writing, it’s not included on my site’s archives.

An English professor in California found and read the review; she cites it in her book, Bad Environmentalism: Irony and Irreverence in the Ecological Age (University of Minnesota Press, 2018).

Yet the author Nicole Seymour, the associate professor at California State University, Fullerton, who also authored a book titled Strange Natures: Futurity, Empathy, and the Queer Ecological Imagination, falsely describes me in her book as a “conservative”. The author made no attempt to reach out to me in advance of publication, let alone attempt to confirm her assertion as fact. I do not claim to be and have never described myself as a conservative writer, journalist or thinker. In fact, most of what I’ve written about conservatives, including my commentary for newspapers such as the Arizona Republic, San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Daily News and my blog post “Conservatives and the Tea Party”, which is publicly available, disavows conservatives. 

Additionally, on the movie website the author references, most of my writing, including reviews, columns and other articles, explicitly criticizes conservatives, including President George W. Bush. My review of one of the religious movies released by Disney, and another article criticizing fundamentalist Catholic Mel Gibson, received some of the most threatening reader feedback of my career, including death threats.

Nevertheless, Professor Nicole Seymour writes that:

[a] conservative review of the 2004 climate change-themed blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow echoes liberal Jones, though much more sourly: “Prepare for more religious propaganda: [The Day After Tomorrow] is the New Left’s doomsday evangelism with ecology as its religion“ (Holleran 2004). A political conservative complaining about “religious propaganda” is, of course, an irony in itself though one a bit beyond the scope of this chapter.”

This distorts the truth, adding a deeper distortion by implying that this writer is also religious; indeed, it’s clear that the Cal State Fullerton scholar holds that every conservative is inherently religious (is Seymour unaware that one can be both secular and conservative, as one, such as Hillary Clinton or Pete Buttigieg, can be both religious and liberal?) Again, the author made no attempt to reach out to me in advance, during or after publication. The author simply prejudged me as a “political conservative” and as a religious conservative at that based on a negative review of an environmentalist movie. The California State University professor’s dishonesty provides an important example of an academic jumping to conclusions, not going by facts, not even attempting to go by facts, and distorting the truth with abandon.

As usual, and as is increasingly necessary, particularly with regard to claims by those promoting environmentalism, the reader should doubt and scrutinize what he reads. This is because, to paraphrase a terrific line, what you read ain’t necessarily so.

 

Book Review: Me by Elton John

Every adult who reads can probably gain from reading Me by Elton John. It’s not that what he writes about his music, work and life is especially philosophical, though there’s reflection and insight in what he writes. It’s not that his autobiography is salacious, “juicy” or filled with shocking details, though he writes about show business, being gay and struggling with severe drug and alcohol addiction, so there’s plenty of shock. What moves me about Me is his remarkable ability to express why he finds inner strength in flaws and insecurities — Elton John doesn’t neatly wrap, curl ribbons and package it like that — and come out an egoist.

Buy the Book

Of course, he never uses that word. But, like the movie that his husband David Furnish produced about his life — Rocketman, hands down this year’s best motion picture — expressing selfishness as a virtue is crucial to what makes the audience rapt with attention. Egoism powers every tale of why and how he studies lyrics, thinks about composition, hides from humanity, feels ashamed, dresses up, has another drink, cuts lines of cocaine, jumps on the piano, dazzles thousands at Dodger Stadium and sees in meeting Elvis his dark and lonely future.

I suppose the value of Me depends to a degree on what you know about Elton John and whether you like his music, which spans half a century from the intimacy of “Tiny Dancer” and pop masterpieces “Crocodile Rock” and “Elderberry Wine” to the majestic introspection of “The One” and “Home”. Here is an artist who met, performed or composed with and survived the greatest and most enduring musical artists of our time — Elvis, The Beatles, Whitney, Michael, Prince — and lives to tell.

This should not be taken lightly. If you know or want to know about the culture since the 1960s and how one man who is among the wealthiest, most accomplished and powerful artists of the modern era escaped the self-sacrifice destroying civilization, read Me.

I think you’ll be amazed. I am, even as I write. Having lost loved ones to alcohol, drugs and various means of trying to evade reality, the greatest of whom introduced me to Elton John as a boy, I was already in awe of his courage, heroism and life. Me gives new reasons to look up to Elton John.

I also think you’ll laugh out loud. With help from writer Alexis Petridis, a journalist he acknowledges and thanks, Elton John’s dry wit entertains. His humor never denigrates or detracts. He winks more than he digs, often with cliches and metaphors, which makes his side lines more enjoyable because you know they’re not the point. Each of these lines made me laugh, sometimes while reading to the point that I had to put the iPad down and wipe the tears.

Rarely are there tears of sadness, though the second half of Me is rightly more somber as Elton John delves into details of his fall and rise. This is old hat if you’ve been there — to AA meetings, to interventions, grasping for the phone at three in the morning, stumbling to the toilet the morning after (or an hour after you’ve emptied a bottle into your bloodstream) — and you’ll breeze through Me like a roughened roadie on tour. If not, you’ll know that you’re blessed to not know what you don’t know and you’ll more deeply appreciate who you are knowing who he is and has chosen to be.

Like all great stories, well, my favorites anyway, Me by Elton John is a story of the self-made man. As such, it is riveting. I was never exhausted while reading. I was gripped. Not only for personal reasons and never for curiosity in some lewd or peculiar detail. So, bitchy gossip types need not read this book—Me is not for them—and neither should their flipside doppelgängers, rationalistic bean counters that disdain anything but worshipping at the altar of trivia, statistics (pardon me, “metrics” and “analytics”) and neverending streams of pictures, games and nonsense.

Me, like Rocketman, is for the reader who thinks … for himself.

When Elton John does indulge in celebrity stories, and he covers all the known feuds, snubs and controversies, from Liberace to Madonna, it is never with a snivel or a sneer. He’s never the bitchy queen though he’s the first to admit that, at times, at his worst, he has been. Instead, he writes with ease and a sense of purpose as he looks back with clarity and humor — and he gets to the point. For example, reflecting on his eccentric wardrobe and his career’s catapult in Los Angeles, he writes:

The clothes from Mr Freedom weren’t outrageous because they were sexy or threatening, they were outrageous because they were larger than life, more fun than the world around them. I loved them. Before I went onstage at the Troubadour, I put them all on at once. So instead of an introspective hippy singer-songwriter, the audience were greeted by the sight of a man in bright yellow dungarees, a long-sleeved T-shirt covered in stars and a pair of heavy workman’s boots, also bright yellow, with a large set of blue wings sprouting from them. This was not the way sensitive singer-songwriters in America in 1970 looked.”

That’s certainly true and John’s candor and insight shows a glimpse of the root of his appeal as a showman, as a composer, as a performer. His combination with the brilliant — Elton John at his saltiest might say fuckin’ brilliant — Bernie Taupin often writing lyrics with John’s astute sense of his audience, culture and the world at large, including what it needs in romanticism, is awesome. This is impossible to overstate. 

The above quote subtly shows his disregard for the avant-garde, the pretentious, the chattering dilettante set and their darlings, including their penchant for holding up radical New Left terrorists, hippies and wannabes. Whether he knows it, and Me only barely implies that he does, Elton John the star stands opposed to that ethos. Me reflects this over and over.

Whether he’s adopting rapper Eminem as an AA charge, performing with pride at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding — and being handsomely paid for the endeavor — or refusing to profit from friends John Lennon’s or Princess Diana’s deaths, Elton John in Me writes as a man acting on principle.

This makes his memoir more enjoyable. Aside from learning details about his most indelible songs, concerts and famous friends, partners and meltdowns, John brings a brisk but substantial flair — not flamboyance — to the story of his life until now. Every flaw, every fact, every major chapter — from performing at the Troubadour in LA to suicide attempts and the agonizingly total detachment from his unloving parents — gets its due.

Ultimately, his life also gets his unyielding judgment. As he writes about his notorious shopping and tendency to bestow those he loves with gifts:

Over the years, I’ve had therapists tell me that it’s obsessive, addictive behaviour, or that I’m trying to buy people’s affection by giving them gifts. With the greatest of respect to the members of the psychiatric profession who have said that sort of thing to me, I think that’s a load of old shit. I’m not interested in buying people’s affection. I just get a lot of pleasure out of making people feel included or letting them know I’m thinking about them. I love seeing people’s faces when you treat them to something.”

Accordingly, he concludes with an estimate of his own value to himself:

I earned that money by working hard, and if people think the way I spend it is excessive or ridiculous, then I’m afraid that’s their problem. I don’t feel guilty about it at all. If it’s an addiction, well, I’ve been addicted to far more damaging things over the years than buying tableware and photographs. It makes me happy. You know, I’ve got 1,000 candles in a closet in my home in Atlanta, and I suppose that is excessive. But I’ll tell you what: it’s the best-smelling closet you’ve ever been in in your life.”

Elton John writes about the late Ryan White, who changed his life, and his efforts to eradicate the scourge of AIDS. He acknowledges and, strictly as deserved, pays tribute to his band, the elusive and mythical countryside Englishman-turned-American cowboy Bernie Taupin, his ex-wife, his ex lovers, his family, friends and business partners. He writes about everything you can imagine: “Honky Cat”, Lady Gaga, scoring The Lion King, composing Aida with Tim Rice, touring with an orchestra, playing piano, his sexual voyeurism, “Philadelphia Freedom”, observing Freddie Mercury on his death bed, trying to save George Michael from himself, going live with Aretha, making an album with Leon Russell, how he met the man who’d become his husband, his horrifying mother, his record album triumphs including The Diving Board.

In essence, it is as though Elton John, whether drunk, stoned or sober, grabbed the traditionalism (really, religionism) being shoved down his throat and crushed it with his bare hands, and that he did so at the risk of destroying himself in the process. As an artist, a craftsman, just as he took movies, albums, shows and Bernie Taupin’s poetry, he then proceeded to remake these bad traditions, ideas and practices and repurpose them into a radically new and improved approach to making a life of his own. 

He’s done it—he did it—and this in reading Me is why you begin to realize how he came to be including why he came to be among the only Seventies superstars to make it out alive.

That this alcoholic and drug addict, working man and titan of industry, lifelong soccer spectator and pro sports team owner, husband and father lives to tell this tale is itself a testament to what he calls in the dedication his amazing life. Me is simple, humorous and, fundamentally, because he refuses not to see that  “the sun’s been quite kind”, an absolute joy to read. The book lives up to the glory of its unrepentant and egoistic title, like a song graced by piano sung in his soulful voice, holding on exactly the right notes in perfect harmony.

 

Books: Wide World of War, Sports and Terrorism

My title for this post refers to what’s essentially the impetus for a new book, pictured here, by my editor and friend David Sweet. I haven’t yet read Three Seconds in Munich though it’s on my reading list, which is impossibly long.

Sweet was my sports editor at the Glendale News-Press during the 1990s. We became friends and have since worked on many assignments, including a series of regional history articles for a publication in Chicagoland. Read my review of Sweet’s debut book, a biography of Lamar Hunt, the man who invented the term Super Bowl, here.

Buy the Book

Sweet’s followup is a work of new non-fiction. This time, he writes about the 1972 Munich summer Olympics. I remember them well (read my remembrance here). However, I did not exactly recall the untold story of the U.S. basketball team’s victory over Soviet Russia, a gold medal win which was denied to the U.S. Olympians for reasons Sweet explains in detail, with notes, bibliography and an index.

What’s more, he integrates the tale of this amateur athletics injustice with the horror of the Arab terrorist siege on the Olympic village. I know this because the author asked me to find, investigate and research and, if possible, interview men on the U.S. basketball team, one of whom I was able to persuade to conduct an interview. On the record, one of America’s Olympics basketball players recounts his memory of the controversial game and his encounter with Palestinian terrorists as they forced Jews onto mass transit toward what would become their mass execution in Germany.

“They’re all gone,” ABC Sports journalist Jim McKay told the television audience that summer in 1972. McKay was referring to the 11 Israelis who’d been seized by Arab terrorists and were then slaughtered in an act of war which was never avenged. Steven Spielberg made an awful, pro-Palestinian movie about Israel’s pinprick response to the siege by Black September (read my review of the 2005 film Munich). Documentaries also account for the assault. Only David Sweet, with a little help from yours truly, contextualizes this act of terrorism within the arena of sports.

Look at Hong Kong, relinquished by the British to Communist China in 1997, for an example of the appeasement that the West’s response to Palestinian terrorism at Munich set forth. Mass murder in Munich was, as I’ve written, an early strike in the Arab-Islamic axis of terrorism. That Israel accommodated Arab demands and negotiated with terrorists cast as standard practice the West’s appeasement of thugs.

Sweet focuses on what the world’s best athletes came to do in Munich: compete in sports. The Americans (and Israelis) did. Despite being thrust, one of the Americans at gunpoint, into an act of war, the Americans won. In the passion of athletic triumph, this band of Americans was robbed of what they earned when they defeated the Communist regime that had funded the terrorists that, in turn, gunned down the Jews.

To this day, the U.S. basketball team accepts nothing less than victory. The whole team refuses to accept anything but the gold medal they rightly won in that game with the Soviets. With his new book, Sweet offers a counterexample to both that singularly evil act of Soviet-made Palestinian terrorism and the debacle which has been Western appeasement. In Three Seconds in Munich, David Sweet chronicles the mens’ team journey, game and unified act of principle for the first time.

Buy the book here.

 

 

Movie Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch inspires. It’s the second movie this year that I instantly knew I wanted to feast on for its sumptuousness again as soon as it was over. The movie, based on a novel by Donna Tartt, unwraps, rewraps and unwraps its mysterious gauze. What remains is refined, simple and respectful of an ideal. This alone makes it exemplary.

I watched the Warner Bros. film this week at one of Pacific Theatres’ theaters at the Grove, having never read the book, which The Goldfinch makes me want to do. Since I lost my friend and fellow movie critic Kathy to suicide years ago, I often attend press screenings alone. I tend to avoid the movie media herd. They’re brash. Some cackle across the theater as they file in, shuffling and putting on a show of conversation no one but them wants to hear. They chatter or act out in shrill voices about what movies they “looove”, by which they mean the opposite, and hate. Despite my efforts, it was impossible not to learn in advance that the pack hates The Goldfinch.

Now that I’ve seen it, it’s easy to see why. Like 2019’s best picture so far, Rocketman, that other film I immediately knew I wanted to watch again, The Goldfinch is multi-layered, deep and serious. Naturally, dilettantes, who gather in tribe, hate it for its earnestness. But “[t]here’s fun in being serious,” as jazz composer Wynton Marsalis once observed.

So, the dissonance of modern life begins in a visual haze as a narrator invites the audience into a hotel hallway. This starts the peculiar tale of troubled young Theo (Oakes Fegley, Ansel Elgort). With lingering shots and precision in color, or lack of color, pitch and tone, The Goldfinch under adaptation by Peter Straughan (The Snowman) and direction by John Crowley (Brooklyn) gently, if not flawlessly, stitches and unfurls a beautifully rendered movie. In scope, relevance and humor, it recalls The World According to Garp. In psychological tone, Robert Redford’s Ordinary People, down to that picture’s water-themed plot points and contrast of cold mother figure with warm, sweater-wearing radical, comes to mind. Add intrigue ala The Da Vinci Code and The Bourne Identity, with each of those films having origins in books, and The Goldfinch is at once sharp, wondrous and original. 

Nicole Kidman (The Human Stain, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) co-stars as a patroness of the arts with proximity to the title’s famous painting, which is believed to have been lost in a terrorist attack on the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Theo was visiting with his mother (perfectly cast and featured Hailey Wist). Amid works of art and an insistence on “keeping busy”, possibly so she won’t have to think about her Jekyll and Hyde husband (Boyd Gaines, always spot on) or her too-close tie to her first-born son, her family, the Barbours, comes out of a John Irving novel.

Enter Theo after the bombing of the Met, which flashes back in patches, enshrouding the shellshocked boy in nightmares. Every nook and cranny in this sprawling, involved and richly detailed movie comes with a certain purpose, from the sound of wailing sirens, his yellow bag, and knowing lines to references to Oz, Noah’s ark and a civics textbook. The Goldfinch is best viewed as a puzzle to solve and to save.

“You never know what’s going to decide your future”, Jeffrey Wright’s character counsels Theo, a lost white male innocent of the fact that it’s become a religious commandment to malign white males. Theo faintly evokes Earl Hamner’s New York-bound observer John-Boy (Richard Thomas) character from fiction, movies and TV. These are more reasons why dilettantes hold Goldfinch in contempt, especially given the plot’s splendid resolution. The honest and discerning audience is likely to see in this child character the curiosity and innocence that comes from taking ideas and life seriously. But this is a movie, which becomes obvious at times, such as in Sarah Paulson’s slightly overdone performance as Theo’s trashy stepmother in the picture’s most underdeveloped role.

Watch Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde, The Family Stone) as you’ve never seen him. Marvel at dangling threads being tied into a theme that man, emphatically against what today’s college professors insist, is not only not dust in the wind; he has a capacity for enlightenment and goodness, which comes from clearing away dust, including the residue of whatever havoc he’s wrought with his mistakes. Whatever flaws in its execution, this premise is profound.

The Goldfinch (as against Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) also properly depicts the scourge of drugs, cigarettes and alcohol as an increasingly common means of evading hardship. Crowley and Straughan employ Tartt’s wet/dry clues and allusions about lost kids, cleansing one’s soul and escaping the dead end. In an era of daily mass slaughter and post-September 11’s mass delusion and evasion, The Goldfinch portrays post-trauma better than any movie since Peter Weir’s Nineties gem Fearless. Given today’s drug-induced mindlessness and socialist-anarchist mania, it knits an alternative to American Pastoral’s hard take on making a proper society, family and life. Nodding to L. Frank Baum’s Oz, there’s a glowing metropolis, a wise man (who worships the manmade and wants to know: “Is [a claim] true?”) and an adorable dog.

A key character’s twist leads to resolving inner conflict, calling what constitutes fraud, originality and ownership into question. With an initiating event that echoes America’s near-daily mass death, the almost exalted way in which Crowley stirs dust particles from a passenger jet, swingset and terrorist attack aftermath into the film’s final frame makes The Goldfinch an elegant challenge to the blank, thick-headed nihilism of American Beauty, Tarantino movies and today’s dogma that one must be “woke”, jaded and smaller than life and certainly oneself, leaving zero emissions behind.

The Goldfinch exists to provoke thought. Send to hell what the dilettantes think (or say they think). Go see The Goldfinch and judge for yourself. But let for once a movie build you up.