Paul Mitchinson is a part-time writer and a full-time father of two. He writes when he can. » more about me

This post refers to an exchange of letters in The Nation, entitled November 22, 1963: You Are There. Ordinarily I would simply link to it as above, but that simply brings you face-to-face with one of those hated subscriber firewalls. So instead, try clicking on this Google search link, then click on the link that appears. Don’t ask me why this manages to get you behind the firewall. I suspect this loophole will be closed when discovered.

I can’t remember the last time The Nation published such an extensive, heated, and entertaining exchange of letters as in its recent issue dated March 20. 

The immediate cause of this flurry of anger is Max Holland’s article, The JFK Lawyers’ Conspiracy, an account of last November’s conference organized by the Assassination Archives and Research Center (AARC). Holland gives the reader a brisk historical tour through the landscape of JFK conspiracy theorizing, pointing out the curious prominence of lawyers among the ranks of the conspiracists.

But what really seems to have aroused the fury of the letter writers are two specific charges about KGB involvement in the JFK conspiracy industry:

  1. The KGB financially supported the research of Mark Lane, author of the 1966 best-selling book Rush to Judgment, and
  2. The KGB sponsored a disinformation campaign charging CIA complicity in Kennedy’s assassination. As part of this campaign, it may have planted a fraudulent story in the Roman newspaper, Paese Sera, which was later picked up by the North American media (including Montreal’s own Le Devoir) — and famously embraced by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.

I’ll deal with the first charge here, and come back to the second in a later post.

The charge that Mark Lane was the beneficiary of Moscow gold was first aired in the explosive 1999 book, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, co-written by Christopher Andrew and KGB-archivist-turned-defector, Vasilii Mitrokhin. They write:

Though it dared not take the risk of contacting Lane directly, the New York [KGB] residency sent him $1,500 dollars to help finance his research through the intermediary of a close friend whom Lane’s KGB file identifies only as a trusted contact …. The same intermediary provided 500 dollars to pay for a trip by Lane to Europe in 1964.

Who was that close friend? We may never know, since Lane denies everything in his letter responding to the article:

Neither the KGB nor any person or organization associated with it ever made any contribution to my work. [Andrew and Mitrokhin say there is no evidence to suggest that Lane was aware the funding came from a KGB sourcePM] No one ever made a sizable contribution, with the exception of Corliss Lamont, who contributed enough for me to fly one time from New York to Dallas to interview eyewitnesses. The second-largest contribution was $50 given to me by Woody Allen.

Memories fade after 40 years, of course. But published alongside Lane’s letter was another by his close friend Ralph Schoenman, about whom I have written before. In a segment of the letter edited out by The Nation, but read out over the airwaves on February 26, Schoenman adds a significant detail to Lane’s account (even as he neglects to mention the Lamont donation):

Mr. Holland asserts that Mark Lane‘s Rush To Judgment was funded by the KGB. That book was written in my flat in London. The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation [of which Schoenman was executive director] brought Mark Lane to London [in 1964] and supported his work. The largest contribution that Mark Lane or the Foundation ever received for these efforts was $42 from Woody Allen. [Emphasis added.]

(On the radio show, Cloak and Dagger — click here if you really want to listen to it — Schoenman read out the unedited version of the letter.)

There is no doubt that a close collaborative relationship existed between Lane, Schoenman, and Bertrand Russell, Schoenman’s employer. Evidence of this can be found, for instance, in a handwritten letter Lane sent to Russell on the occasion of his birthday, expressing heartfelt gratitude for his "support." (The letter, and many others on the subject, can be found in the Bertrand Russell Archives at McMaster University.)

My debt, in addition to the general one is of course personal as well. My work in the exposure of the fraudulent Warren report is beginning to secure some recognition…. But I shall not forget — how could I — that when no one else was concerned and there was no other support — your encouragement was decisive.

But the real key to understanding their close working relationship is an obscure little organization known as the British Who Killed Kennedy? Committee (WKKC). As they say, a little history is in order … Read the rest of this entry »

Fascinating exchange of letters in The Nation this week, about which I’ll write more later. (By subscription only, but there’s a sneaky way to get to it which I’ll explain then.) I seem to have been sucked into the whole fracas indirectly because of my earlier posts on Ralph Schoenman. Speaking on Cloak and Dagger Radio recently, Schoenman attacked me and Max Holland. (Click here if you’re just dying to hear his actual words, somewhere around the 15-minute mark.):

A CIA media asset by the name of Max Holland, and one of his close working colleagues who is a miserable little creature named Paul Mitchinson who used to write for the National Post in Canada, basically what I call pimps for the imperium, they are promoting this thesis everywhere that the work of Jim Garrison and my work and Joan Mellen’s work were really on behalf of the KGB.

At seventy, Schoenman has been employing this mode of attack for decades. Doris Lessing, writing about her years of political activism in the 1960s, captured Schoenman’s character perfectly in her memoirs:

[Schoenman spoke] in that style perfected by History itself, combining idealism with a cold clipped precision, and full of contempt for opponents, who were by definition cowards, poltroons, and morally defective … He sat down to lean forward and engage my eyes with a stern gaze that was reminding me of previous avatars of Lenin, liars on principle; but that gave rise to interesting questions … Does it count as lying when the liar knows perfectly well his listener knows he is lying?

[Doris Lessing, Walking in the Shade : Volume Two of My Autobiography — 1949-1962, pp. 268-70.]

On Rights and Jackasses

February 21st, 2006

There are a few principles that should be emphasized while considering the ongoing "Muslim cartoons" furor.

  1. The Western media has an absolute legal right to publish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, providing they do not incite hatred.
  2. The Western media is now awash with these images.
  3. Those who publish these images now are fully aware that there is no genuine legal restriction on this right. They are defying no formal laws on freedom of expression, only informal laws governing social behavior.
  4. Just because it’s wrong for Muslims to threaten death and riot over these cartoons doesn’t mean that it is a virtue to publish them. Only a child thinks that way.
  5. Ezra Levant is an ass, always has been ass, and always will be an ass.

Consider: For over sixty years, the music of Richard Wagner was not heard in Israel. Wagner, a notorious anti-Semite whose music was embraced by Hitler and the Nazi Party, was considered anathema in a Jewish state with a significant population of Holocaust survivors. There was no "ban" on Wagner’s music — only a social consensus that performing such music was insensitive.

Performers who wished to break that social contract could expect to suffer abuse. When the Israel Philharmonic tried to break the taboo in 1981, a Holocaust survivor stormed the stage in protest and the concert had to be stopped. Daniel Barenboim managed the feat in 2001 only by deceiving organizers of the Israel Festival and conducting an unadvertised Wagner encore.

Those who flout such taboos like to pose as fierce and principled defenders of freedom of expression. They are nothing of the sort.

As Richard Taruskin observed in the New York Times five years ago, such people "[fail] to distinguish between voluntary abstinence out of consideration for people’s feelings and a mandated imposition on people’s rights…. Censorship is always deplorable, but the exercise of forbearance can be noble. Not to be able to distinguish the noble from the deplorable is morally obtuse."

Of course, expecting Ezra Levant to behave nobly is like expecting a donkey to sing "Nessun dorma." We have the right to behave like children — for our entire lives, if we so wish. Just don’t expect to be congratulated for it.

A note: Taruskin’s article, "Music’s Dangers and the Case for Control," is not available anymore on the Times’ website. I was able to find a copy of it here. It is one of the finest essays of the immediate post-9/11 period.

Wayne Gretzky is getting a hard lesson in how the media operates when it smells blood. Or rather, to be more precise, when the media experiences a collective olfactory hallucination that leads it to believe it smells blood. Because so far, there’s nothing — nothing — to be reported on what has repeatedly been described as the Gretzky betting scandal.

You can tell there’s nothing to be reported when talented writers — sports writers are always the best in the newspaper business — suddenly start forgetting how to write, clotting their prose with passive constructions, abstract nouns, actionless verbs and agentless actions.

My personal favorite is the media’s sudden love affair with the word “distraction.” Canadian athletes just want to compete and celebrate, but the Gretzky scandal is a “distraction.” Isn’t there some editor out there who could point out that “distract” is a transitive verb (though not a very vivid one)? Just who’s doing the distracting? Just who’s being distracted? Put it this way, and it’s obvious: the subject and object of the verb are the same: the media. But that doesn’t make for a very interesting column.

And so we get garbage like yesterday’s “woe is me” column by the National Post’s Mark Spector, complete with sloppy writing (“the betting scandal that enveloped Rick Tocchet and, by extension, Wayne Gretzky” — by extension, Mark? Who extended that? Oh — you?), assumption of guilt (“Peppered with flashbulbs and under the gaze of the international media, Gretzky made the perp walk yesterday …”), and — of course — the laughable attempt to erase the media itself from the story. My favorite:

But there is risk here that more news could break this week. News that will not just bathe Wayne and Janet in a negative light, but also in an impossible position. [bathe them in a position? — ed.] Gretzky’s presence stole some measure of the spotlight [um, just who’s directing that spotlight, Mark? — ed.] from the gut-wrenching, silver-medal team sprint by Sara Renner and Beckie Scott that took place yesterday morning. This columnist would much rather have been in the mountains yesterday watching athletic feats, instead of waiting for a dull press conference full of the same NHL people we speak to all year long.

But that’s not how the business works. Editors assign. Sportswriters attend. It’s a cold, hard fact — one paid for by Renner and Scott yesterday.

It’s an amazing piece of work. The villains in this whole “distraction” seem to be an abstract force known as “Gretzky’s presence” and those faceless assigning editors. The victims are Renner and Scott. And, of course, those famously passive sportswriters, er, sportsattenders.

Germaine Greer’s nasty little piece in the Guardian on the recently-passed Betty Friedan suggests that a new genre of essay has arrived. Call it the “obitchuary.” The most entertaining recent example I came across was Terry Castle’s hilarious memoir of Susan Sontag.

Nothing, of course, excites the male libido more profoundly than a cat fight. What I find bewildering is why women — especially those who have dedicated their lives to fighting the patriarchy — should willingly participate in such a spectacle. The essays confirm the worst stereotypes of women: vicious, backstabbing, calculating, gossipy, bitchy. (Leave aside Greer’s bizarre attempts to recreate Friedan’s accent: “Whuttzes extra trip they’ve laid on for tomorrow?” Yes, Germaine, we know — Friedan was an American Jew. Thanks for playing to your audience’s prejudices.)

Like mud-wrestling, these essays are essentially theatre for the male gaze. By the way, I loved them.

Canada’s new Conservative government is set to bring in their new child-care program — as early as July 1st. Hallelujah! I know I speak for many stay-at-home parents who just can’t wait to blow it all on beer and popcorn. For me, it’ll be Steamwhistle and Orville Redenbacher — unfortunately, the inferior microwavable kind. (Neither my 22-month-old or 4-year-old can quite handle a pot of hot oil yet, though they’re good at pressing buttons on the microwave and ferrying drinks to my La-Z-Boy!)

Surely it’s obvious by now that the Liberals blew it by failing to appeal to deadbeat parents like me. If the Liberals were just dying to create another massively expensive bureaucracy, why’d they settle on a national day care program — which provides few benefits to those who just want extra money for munchies?

A far better idea would have been a national home-cleaning program. For actual living breathing parents (unlike the bureaucrats in Ottawa who claim to speak for them after dropping their kid off at daycare) raising young children at home presents obstacles greater than forgoing income. Instead of reading and cuddling, much of your day is spent simply cleaning: clothes, dishes, floors, walls, counters, sinks, toilets, you name it. I’d gladly forgo the popcorn (though not the beer!) if I could afford to bring someone in twice a week to mop the floors and do the laundry. My children would benefit, too — more hugs, more lectures on Soviet history and Shostakovich. Fortunately, I can now have my cake and chips … and eat them too!

The Oxford History of Western Music (6 Volume Set)Over a year has now passed since the publication of Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music. Not surprisingly, given its heft (6 volumes, over 4,000 pages), there hasn’t yet been a serious review of it — who would willingly take on such a job? Some, I’m sure, have simply thrown up their hands.

True, the Washington Post’s Tim Page devoted a few hundred words to the task. But the absurdity of such a review was revealed by its headline: "In Brief: The History of Music." And so we get conclusions such as these:

But I would no more treat the results as mainstream authority than I would a chronicle written by a team of mavericks such as, say, Glenn Gould, John Cage and Spike Jones.

The results are just too strange, in a way that history should not be strange.

Probably the most ambitious reviewing effort was Roger Scruton’s in the Times Literary Supplement last July. He confined himself to two volumes, but his review was a publicist’s dream:

Every now and then a quiet discipline in the humanities receives a shattering and world-changing shock, when one of its stars leaves its allotted orbit and crashes brain-first into the centre of the subject. The effect is like an asteroid hitting the earth: old life is extinguished, new life promoted, and the landscape for ever transformed. Such was the impact in our time of Leavis on academic English, of Wittgenstein on academic Philosophy, and of Aries on academic History. Such, too, will be the impact — so I predict — of Richard Taruskin on academic Musicology. Having made his name with scholarly publications on all aspects of musical history and performance, including a profound two-volume book on Stravinsky and some 160 articles on Russian composers in the New Grove Dictionary of Music, Taruskin has now completed the greatest musicological task of all: a comprehensive summary of the Western classical tradition. The result is one of the great cultural monuments of our day, the product of a mind as humane and morally focused as it is technically assured.

But the monumental task of reviewing Taruskin’s entire work has finally been accomplished by Charles Rosen, in the latest issue of the New York Review of Books. Part I is online now, and it’s a prickly piece of work. I’m looking forward to what is (I hope) the inevitable clash of minds and egos in the Review‘s letter pages.

My 2001 Lingua Franca profile of Taruskin and his book can be found here.

Rumour has it that Allan Ho and Dmitri Feofanov have written a 200-page rebuttal of Laurel Fay’s decisive debunking of Solomon Volkov’s Testimony. Some might suggest this is further evidence of their graphomaniac tendencies. The facts show otherwise. Ho and Feofanov’s first riposte to Fay’s 10-page article took up some 270 pages. Their forthcoming salvo is in response to Fay’s 44-page piece in A Shostakovich Casebook. In other words, they have reduced their “rebuttal ratio” down from an initial 27:1 to lower than 5:1. That’s called restraint, folks.

(Fay’s graphomaniac tendencies are embarrassingly small by comparison. Her initial challenge of Volkov’s Testimony yields a rebuttal ratio of about 1:27. Her later article comes in at about 1:6. Neat symmetry, eh? I, however, have got problems. Since I’m commenting on an article that doesn’t even exist yet, my rebuttal ratio is something like ∞:1.)

Still, in the spirit of collegiality, I thought I’d point out that there is really only one issue that needs addressing in those 200 pages: Is the manuscript of Testimony used by Fay genuine? Ho and Feofanov are presumably in an excellent position to tell us, since they have had what they call “unprecedented” access to Volkov, and have claimed that they “examined pages of the manuscript signed by Shostakovich.”

This is a pivotal claim in their book. On the basis of it, they made an argument that had never previously been explicitly advanced, and which convinced some critics that Testimony was genuine.

In focusing her attention on these ‘borrowed reminiscences,’ ‘none [… of which] could be considered controversial or inflammatory,’ Fay fails to mention that the controversial ‘new’ Shostakovich is evident on the first signed page of chapter 1: ‘Others will write about us. And naturally they’ll lie through their teeth — but that’s their business. […] Looking back, I see nothing but ruins, only mountains of corpses. And I do not want to build new Potemkin villages on these ruins.’ The ‘new’ Shostakovich also appears on the first signed page of chapter 3, where he notes that the plaque that reads ‘In this house lived Meyerhold’ should also say ‘And in this house his wife was brutally murdered.’

Together, these two flagrantly ‘inflammatory,’ yet signed, pages completely demolish still another of Fay’s ‘conclusive’ arguments. (Italics in original)

This claim is emphatic. It is based on Ho and Feofanov’s privileged eyewitness claim. And, oh, by the way, it is wrong.

In fact, as Fay discovered, Shostakovich did not endorse either of these inflammatory statements. The dramatic opening of chapter 1 consists of two unsigned pages slotted in before the original manuscript begins. Shostakovich’s signature appears only on the third page, which consists entirely of, yes, previously published Soviet material, none of which “could be considered controversial or inflammatory.” The Meyerhold sentences, which originally appeared on a different, unsigned page, were cut and pasted in by hand.

This was an extraordinary discovery for one main reason. If genuine, the manuscript demonstrates that Volkov or his editor altered the manuscript of Testimonyafter Shostakovich had “authenticated” it. Shostakovich’s signatures are worthless. Back in 1981, the composer’s son Maxim Shostakovich publicly speculated that Volkov had “probably slotted numerous pages” into the manuscript that Shostakovich had neither seen nor endorsed. We now have evidence showing that this is precisely what happened.

So … is the manuscript genuine? A simple “yes” or “no” will do.

(There are subsidiary questions, of course. Did Volkov really allow them to view the signed manuscript pages, as they claimed? If so, why is all their analysis of these pages based on the English translation of Testimony, instead of the original Russian text? And one final question — why should we believe anything they write now? Of course, the answers to these questions have nothing to do with Shostakovich, and including them in Shostakovich Reconsidered might tax the strength of even the sturdiest bookstore shelves. And then there’s that damned rebuttal ratio, which might skyrocket into the double-digits again. Still, we’re curious.)

Farewell, Andante.com

February 1st, 2006

I just heard word from Matthew Westphal, former editor of the webzine, Andante.com, that the classical music website is to about to be shut down later today.

Matthew was a great editor to work with, and I wish him well in his future plans. His famous remark to all of Andante’s writers was: “Newsprint may come and newsprint may go, but an andante article is forever.” Sadly, that turned out to be untrue. So I’ll have a few broken links on my website until I rejig things.

Best of luck, Matthew!

In an earlier post on Ralph Schoenman and his role in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy industry, I questioned his reliability as an interviewer. The reason I did so was because of a man named Gerald Coffee, who was one of Schoenman’s earliest interviewees. This is his story:

Lieutenant Gerald L. Coffee, a US Navy pilot aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, was shot down just off the coast of North Vietnam on 3 February 1966 and taken prisoner by North Vietnamese forces. Shortly after his capture, he was tortured: after being subjected to a mock execution, he was suspended from a tree by ropes tying his arms — one of them already broken — behind his back. A rag crammed into his mouth muffled his cries.

Read the rest of this entry »