Monthly Archives: August 2012

Dishonorable Disclosures: A Refutation

Any attempt to disprove the claims of this twenty minute attack ad is, at this point, perhaps unnecessary: it has been a dud grenade, leaving everyone, except the movie’s participants, completely scratchless. Peter Bergen has already defanged the film’s most poisonous claims in “Are ‘Swift Boat’ attacks on Obama bogus?”, while Ken Dilian’s “Group attacking Obama for security leaks includes past talkers” goes into the pasts of the film’s participants, who have happily engaged with the press when it was to their convenience, and now condemn such contacts when it is to their convenience as well. What follows leans heavily on these two articles, a try at a simple, exhaustive, point by point look at this film, an effort to drop this failed grenade deep into the water so that it is certain to do no harm. Essential supporting quotes are placed in the text, the rest in footnotes.

A good chunk of the film establishes the fact that military intelligence matters. Most people would probably know this, but it insists on telling us anyway. It’s a little like an action movie that has an opening ten minute monologue, explaining: “This is a gun, bullets come out of it, and they can kill you. Bang, bang.” What took place with this current administration, the movie then declares, was an unprecedented breach in the nation’s veneration for secrecy.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

From our earliest days, we have recognized those who have led our fight for freedom. Throughout our history, these brave men and women have put their lives on the line for us, our families, and our future. They made a pledge to fight for us, and for the freedoms and liberties that define us as a nation.

Next is Debbie Lee, whose son embodies the principles that have been violated by this president’s tenure.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

My name’s Debbie Lee, and I’m the very proud mother of Mark Allen Lee, who was the first Navy SEAL that was killed in Iraq in August 2006. He willingly gave his life so they could live. And so that we could experience the freedoms that we have here and our founding fathers intended for us to have. I miss that young man so much. But I know where he is. He was re-deployed to heaven, and I will see him again.

I have no desire to dwell on this, but will only point out that it is possible for a mother to lose what might be greatest to her, and be wrong about an issue as well, and that Ms. Lee, having been involved in demonstrations to counter those led by Cindy Sheehan, apparently believes so too.

Back to the narration. Secrets are secret. Important secrets are important.

We honor their service, their sacrifice. Their victories in combat were not cheap, they certainly were not automatic. And virtually without exception, success depended on having the right intelligence where, when, and how best to strike.

All military operations depend entirely on intelligence.

Except maybe those involving you. I’M KIDDING, DAVE.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

No one commits troops blindly in the field. Hasn’t been done since the days of Napoleon, and even then, intellligence was necessary. Intelligence nowadays is crucial, just to get authorization to do the most minor operation.

You learn a lot watching this piece. Military intelligence has been of great importance since the time of Napoleon, and before that as well.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

You need intelligence to be able to identify your target. The capabilities of your enemy. And to determine how you’re going to operate against the enemy. It’s the foundation of everything.

What follows next is the mildly intense Ben Smith, an example of what happens when you tell Joan Crawford to play Val Kilmer in a military role, but not in her usual understated way.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Good intelligence is the difference between wasting lives on a mission, or getting a mission done to the exact specification as ordered, to achieve. [sic]

The intelligence is…the paramount. [sic]

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Intellignece is key to ensuring your operation is gonna be a successful one. If you don’t have good intelligence, you’re probably not going to succeed.

Again: I’m learning so much.

Techniques and technology have changed through the years. But two things have remained constant. First, human intelligence, penetrating the plans and operations of the enemy with real people, not just equipment, is central and critical.

It all starts with human intelligence…who said what to who, what’s that lead, uh, and following one person, sometimes for years, till they lead you to where you want to go.

Yes, but suppose I really want to go to Quiznos: do I actually need Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to take me by the hand?

Human intelligence is the most important kind of intelligence, because it is the only intelligence that can provide you with the thinking of leadership. All the technical intelligence you have out there, is not going to be able to give you what’s in the minds of the leaders and enemies. That can only come from human intelligence.

The great emphasis on human intelligence here has only a small pay-off: what is alleged to be the betrayal of Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who worked with American forces in the killing of Bin Laden, through wanton leaking.

Keeping secrets matters. It’s called operational security, or OPSEC, for short. Never let the enemy know of your intentions, your operations. Maintaining OPSEC means the difference between a successful mission and failure. And when OPSEC is violated, our enemies gain the upper hand.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Clearly, an homage to the opening scene of The Naked Gun.

As soon as you let anyone know what you have, they change their tactic if they use a certain tactic, or, uh, change what direction they were heading.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

I thought they were going to Quiznos this way, but since he decided to take the tunnel, I guess we’re not going to Quiznos.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

The quote that appears at this point, from FBI director Robert Mueller III, has nothing to do with any of the issues brought up in the ad – Stuxnet, the Bin Laden killing, drones – but with the Yemen underwear bomber, whose cell leader was revealed to be a double agent. There is, I think, a good reason why this case is not brought up in the ad, though Mueller’s quote is used in the context of the loss of human intelligence and the arrest of Shakil Afridi – the investigation into the leak involving the underwear bomber (yes, I’m sure you’ve thought of a few funny jokes by now) was initiated the day after the revelation, very much on the initiative of the White House – not a leak made from the top for political gain or purpose, but one made lower down, out of indiscretion.

From “FBI Investigates Media Leaks in Yemen Bomb Plot”:

“We have initiated an investigation into this leak,” Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “Leaks such as this threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources, makes it much more difficult to recruit sources, and damages our relationships with our foreign partners.”

The investigation is likely being run by the Justice Department’s counterespionage section and agents from the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

Justice Department officials and an FBI spokesman declined to comment on the nature of the investigation. The CIA also declined comment.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is also conducting a review with the DNI’s general counsel to see if the leaks originated in any of the 16 agencies that DNI director James Clapper oversees.

There’s a cost for our leaders grabbing for glory. Politics should never come before national security.

Well, it’s a good thing that’s never happened before.

Every time you leak intelligence like that, you lose assets. Some assets are no longer usable. Some assets are found by our enemy, and eliminated.

Others end up at a local yard sale. You paid two dollars, and now you have The Time Traveler’s Wife, a vomit green patio chair, and a CIA asset.

These are the experts on the subject. The people who have spent much of their lives in military and intelligence operations. They know what they are talking about. And they have had enough. They’ve come together to make sure that americans understand what’s going on, and what’s at stake. Protecting operational security. Their mission: stop the politicians from politically capitalizing on U.S. national security operations and secrets.

The first accusations deal with the exploitation of Bin Laden’s death for political gain and leaks around the killing.

Remember May 2, 2011: Americans learned that Osama Bin Laden had been eliminated. How did we learn about it?

From Dwayne Johnson. No? That’s not the answer we were looking for?

Tonight, I can report to the American people, and to the world, the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden…I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of Bin Laden our top priority in the war against Al-Qaeda…I met repeatedly with my national security team…I determined that we had enough intelligence…at my direction…I directed I directed I directed etc.

That was kind of infuriating to a lot of folks, especially those who had been in a fight. Uh…they didn’t…this administration didn’t capture, or kill, or eliminate Bin Laden, or anybody else. There’s a whole lot of folks in the military and the intelligence community that have been working on this for a very long time.

A transcript of the president’s remarks on that night can be found here. The excerpt below has the text featured in “Dishonorable” italicized, while the non-italicized text is that which is left out. I bold the most significant text unexcerpted. Obviously, much of what is left out is where the President gives great credit to those in intelligence and on the ground for their work.

Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda [the “I directed” fragment here is what’s repeated over and over again at the end], even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

The American people did not choose this fight. It came to our shores, and started with the senseless slaughter of our citizens. After nearly 10 years of service, struggle, and sacrifice, we know well the costs of war. These efforts weigh on me every time I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to sign a letter to a family that has lost a loved one, or look into the eyes of a service member who’s been gravely wounded.

So Americans understand the costs of war. Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. We will be relentless in defense of our citizens and our friends and allies. We will be true to the values that make us who we are. And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al Qaeda’s terror: Justice has been done.

Tonight, we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome. The American people do not see their work, nor know their names. But tonight, they feel the satisfaction of their work and the result of their pursuit of justice.

We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation, for they exemplify the professionalism, patriotism, and unparalleled courage of those who serve our country. And they are part of a generation that has borne the heaviest share of the burden since that September day.

Finally, let me say to the families who lost loved ones on 9/11 that we have never forgotten your loss, nor wavered in our commitment to see that we do whatever it takes to prevent another attack on our shores.

Ben Smith, shortly before winning his third Academy Award for Mommy Dearest, shows up to give us his sane and reasonable view:

Mister President, you did not kill Osama Bin Laden. America did. The work the American military has done, killed Osama Bin Laden. You did not.


So for someone to sit around in a support position and say, “We killed Osama Bin Laden”: No, you didn’t. You had nothing to do with it. There was a finite number of people who can make that claim, and that’s the guys who were on the target.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

That these segments are back to back gives you some idea of the hyper-competence at work in this piece. Ben Smith says America killed Bin Laden. Brian Gould then shows up and says only those on the ground can say they killed Bin Laden, no one else can say so, not even someone who’s president, or, as Brian Gould calls it, in “a support position”. Well, who’s right? Can we just say that Ben Smith is right, so everyone, except the president, gets to put “I killed Bin Laden” on their résumé?

The refutation here is obvious, and I throw it to Bergen:

As to the notion that Obama has taken too much credit for the bin Laden raid, well he is commander-in-chief, and it was entirely his decision to launch the risky raid on Abbottabad based on the only fragmentary intelligence that bin Laden might be there.

As Adm. William McRaven, who was the military commander of the bin Laden raid, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last month, “at the end of the day, make no mistake about it, it was the president of the United States that shouldered the burden for this operation, that made the hard decisions, that was instrumental in the planning process, because I pitched every plan to him.”

The raid decision was opposed by Vice President Joe Biden, who had run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency against Obama. If Biden had won the White House in 2008, Osama bin Laden might still be alive.

And the decision to do the raid was also opposed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who had served every president going back to Richard Nixon. Gates was concerned about some kind of replay of the 1980 Iran hostage rescue debacle, which helped to turn President Jimmy Carter into a one-term president.

The notion that the decision to greenlight the risky raid was made by anyone other than Obama is just plain silly, and it was a decision he made against the advice of both his vice president and his secretary of defense.

It should also be mentioned that Ben Smith already made this accusation in May, accusing the president of profiting from his role and not giving due credit to those who had performed the actual act. It was knocked down with ease by Snopes:

President Barack Hussein Obama – STOP using the Navy SEALS as a campaign ploy. Because with all due respect, (what little I have for you), you do NOT speak for me

You Sir are trying to take the credit for what the American People have achieved in killing Bin Laden. Your use of the SEALs accomplishment as a campaign slogan is nothing less than despicable. I, as a former Navy SEAL do not accept your taking credit for Osama Bin Laden’s death. The American Military accomplished that feat.

This item attributed to a former Navy SEAL named Benjamin Smith is long on invective about the author’s dislike for President Barack Obama but short on presenting a factual basis justifying that opinion.

The show goes on:

And the politicians just don’t get it. That serving our country is above politics.

I’ll note the obvious irony of this quote in a film made entirely for political gain, featuring members of intelligence and military whose service is designed to buttress a bunch of spurious allegations and false claims for the purpose of defeating the president.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

I was appalled, first: to hear secrets I’ve been spent over twenty-five years protecting, cover name of a unit, the actual name of a special mission unit, and the location of a special mission unit, all reported in the same sentence. Not only did they identify the special mission unit, we had tactics, techniques, procedures that were compromised, we even knew the name of the dog that was on the operation.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

The raid on Osama Bin Laden was a very complicated event. It entailed a lot of very, very sensitive methods. I mean, there’s no helicopter. All of this was compromised. And in this particular case, it was done deliberately. I mean, moments after the raid, it was announced.

Killing Bind Laden had been a goal for years. But the politicians turned this victory into an intelligence disaster.

Let’s just emphasize the hyperbole for what comes next: this is not a case of a mistake, or damage done, but an intelligence disaster.

I think we were all glad to hear that Osama Bin Laden was killed. But I think many of us would step [sic] and say why didn’t we wait a week, or two weeks, or wait some amount of time to exploit the intelligence you got out of that compound.

The question that surfaced shortly after the announcement was: should it have been announced when it was? Now the bad guys knew we got Bin Laden, so it wouldn’t take long for that information to get out. But unfortunately, the early announcement that also defeated our ability to exploit the intelligence we might have gathered in Bin Laden’s compound. Computer files, paper files, any of a number of things might have been found there. So, as soon as the word got out that we had a bunch of rats scurrying to hide. And we might have had a little bit more opportunity to get some more had that announcement been held for a day or two.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

I think the disclosure of specific details of the raid, how we got there, how many people we used, what the tactics were to conduct the mission itself, and what we did afterwards…I believe a ten year old would be able to understand that if you disclose how we got there, how we took down the building, how many people were there, it’s gonna hinder future operations, and certainly hurt the success of those future operations for DOD, for military, for intelligence community as a whole.

This accusation, that the news of Bin Laden’s death should have been held for further tactical gain, but was released for political purposes, was made in the days after the killing by Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review, noted incompetent, who sometimes, mistakenly, professes too great a love for children1. Goldberg’s name is not often associated with intelligence, and it has never been associated with any intelligence agency. His point is a purely political one, designed to eke out a political victory in what was a huge achievement for the president. I think it helps to quote it, to make clear that we have a republican talking point, passed from hand to hand, rather than a concern native to the intelligence community.

From the Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2011:

I’m no expert on such matters — though I’ve talked to several about this — but even a casual World War II buff can understand that the shelf life of actionable intelligence would be extended if we hadn’t told the whole world, and Al Qaeda in particular, that we had it.

It’s a bit like racing to the microphones to announce you’ve stolen the other team’s playbook even before you’ve had a chance to use the information in the big game.

But that’s exactly what President Obama did. He raced to spill the beans. The man couldn’t even wait until morning. At just after 9:45 p.m., the White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, informed the media: “POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.”

The announcement came less than three hours after Obama had been informed that there was a “high probability” Bin Laden was dead and that the Navy SEAL helicopters had returned to Afghanistan.

In other words, it seems that from the get-go the White House planned to announce the news as quickly as possible. Why? Nobody I’ve talked to can think of a reason that doesn’t have to do with politics.

The allegations made in the film, that information should have been held for greater intelligence gains, and that vital secrets regarding the operation were revealed, such as the name of the unit involved in the mission, were both ably knocked down by Bergen. After making clear how tightly held secrets were kept, and that while researching his book Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden, no classified information was ever revealed to him, Bergen establishes why the announcement of the killing could not be delayed:

What precipitated the operation going public was not Obama’s announcement of the raid but the crash of one of the Black Hawk choppers used in the raid, which turned what had hitherto been a covert operation into a very public event.

Pakistani journalists started arriving at bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound soon after the helicopter crashed and started filing stories about the mysterious helicopter and its oddly shaped tail rotor. An Abbottabad resident even tweeted about the unusual sound of helicopters flying over the city in the middle of the night.

It wasn’t much of a leap for reporters to ascertain that these helicopters had particular features that had prevented them from being detected by Pakistani radar.

Soon after the SEALs had raided the Abbottabad command, Pakistani officials on the ground were interrogating bin Laden’s wives and children at the compound who told them that bin Laden had just been killed. None of this was going to stay secret for long.

Indeed, it was Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s top military officer, who sped up the Obama administration’s announcement of the raid. A few hours after the raid, Kayani told his American counterpart, Adm. Mike Mullen, “Our people need to understand what happened here. We’re not going to be able to manage the Pakistani media without you confirming this. You can explain it to them. They need to understand that this was bin Laden and not just some ordinary U.S. operation.”

With regard to the naming of the SEAL team, Bergen makes an equally strong refutation:

During his speech to the nation and world, Obama did not divulge the name of SEAL Team Six, saying only that a “small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability.”

It quickly leaked that SEAL Team Six had executed the raid, but this was hardly surprising as the SEALs are the principal Special Operations Forces in the Afghanistan/Pakistan theater, something that has been discussed in multiple news stories over the past several years and in bestselling books such as “Lone Survivor” by former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell.

And the SEALs have hardly kept a low profile of late, cooperating in a movie “Act of Valor” that was released in theaters this year, which actually featured real SEALs playing the parts of the heroes of the movie.

Perhaps if you had absolutely no knowledge of the U.S. military, or indeed access to Wikipedia where SEAL Team Six has had an entry since 2004, it would be news to you that SEAL Team Six, along with the Army’s Delta Force, are America’s premier counterterrorism units. Obviously, a mission to take out bin Laden would not be entrusted to any other than these elite units.

No, the movie hasn’t ended yet:

And what about the people who put their lives on the line to help us eliminate Osama Bin Laden? What happened when the administration made it public? Who was on our side?

We’ve had enough difficulty…recruiting sources is never an easy thing to begin with, particularly in today’s environment. But one of the most important things that any intelligence operator must do is protect that source. And with wanton disregard this administration leaked information deliberately or otherwise that led to the identification of the Pakistani doctor that helped us in achieving our goals in killing Bin Laden. That makes it almost impossible to recruit other human sources.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Worse than ever are leaks coming out of the White House. I’m not sure we have anybody in senior leadership today that understands the propriety and how risky it is on leaks. [sic] As a result of the recent leaks, just in the last year, we’ve had a Pakistani doctor who gave us information on Bin Laden…thirty-three years in prison.

That Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor, was arrested not as a result of any leak by the President, but as a result of Pakistan’s own investigation, is obvious in both Bergen’s piece, and a linked Guardian item, “CIA organised fake vaccination drive to get Osama bin Laden’s family DNA”, which was the first to report the doctor’s arrest in the western media.

It is just plain wrong that anyone in the U.S. government leaked the name of the CIA asset in Pakistan, Dr Shakil Afridi, who was recruited by the agency in its quest to find bin Laden. This information first surfaced in a story in the Guardian newspaper in July 2011 after Afridi was arrested by the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI. It is obvious that this information was leaked not by the Americans but the Pakistanis who have done their own investigation of the bin Laden raid, which embarrassed them considerably.

From the Guardian piece:

Pakistani intelligence became aware of the doctor’s activities during the investigation into the US raid in which Bin Laden was killed on the top floor of the Abbottabad house. Islamabad refused to comment officially on Afridi’s arrest, but one senior official said: “Wouldn’t any country detain people for working for a foreign spy service?”

What was done was stupid. But it was more than stupid, because it was done with malice aforethought. It was done for political purpose. And that’s what I find terrible.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

This might be a good time to bring up a point made in Ken Dilian’s “Group attacking Obama for security leaks includes past talkers”, which brings up Rustmann’s involvement in attempts to diminish the importance of the White House leaking the name of Valerie Plame. Rustmann’s tone here is outrage, over a leak, that of Shakil Afridi, that never took place. With regard to the Plame leak, which was most likely done for political purpose and with malice aforethought, he had no outrage whatsoever, but was happy to give succor.

From an interview on “Sean Hannity: Time Wasted With Morons”, July 15, 2005:

HANNITY: You were an agent from 1966 to 1990, and you said that in the Washington Times today she made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee. Her husband was a diplomat. Quote: “Her friends knew this. Her friends knew this. They told them.” In other words, this was not a secret of anybody that they knew.

I mean, actually he describes in his book how, after a make-out session on like the third or fourth date, that she told him. But putting that aside, everybody knew?

RUSTMANN: Well, I don’t know that everybody knew. I do know that her cover began to erode the moment she started dating Joe Wilson. The thing that I said was that, you know, when you walk like a duck, and quack like a duck, and look like a duck, you’re probably a duck.

And at the point in time that this all broke, Valerie Plame had been working at headquarters for a long time, several years. She went to work every day to headquarters. She was married to a high-profile former ambassador. She had a couple of kids, she was living around the beltway.

HANNITY: Well let me ask you this…

RUSTMANN: She looked like an overt employee.

He is asked about the consequences of Plame’s cover being blown:

COLMES: Also, the fact that her cover was blown — doesn’t this expose every asset? Doesn’t it expose other people, every operation that she might have been involved with, and possibly put lives at risk?

RUSTMANN: No, I don’t think so. I think she had official cover for the first part of her career, when she was overseas in an official capacity. She came back to headquarters for a while, and then they sent her out on a light non-official cover.

She was out there. She was collecting information under that cover. She came back to headquarters. They probably then reverted her back to her official cover. In other words, so she wouldn’t — her W-2’s would not say…

COLMES: So she went back into cover. But for example, didn’t they expose a front operation that she helped run, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, this made-up company. And wasn’t that exposed as a result of all this, and can’t this damage intelligence operations and our security?

RUSTMANN: Well, actually, no, because it isn’t a big deal. It was a light non-official cover. There was, you know, a phone. There was very little backstopping to that company. It wasn’t like she was working for a major multi-national American company or foreign company where there could be some severe blowback if that were to come to…

COLMES: Are you saying there are no repercussions of this? There’s no repercussions of her having been exposed as a covert CIA agent, even though she was non-covert at one point?

RUSTMANN: There are no major repercussions to the cover mechanism, no. To her — the question again gets down to whether somebody did this with malice or forethought. Then it’s a crime, and that person goes to jail.

COLMES: But isn’t the question whether any damage was done because of the revelation? Whether lives were harmed, whether anyone was harmed, or security was harmed?

RUSTMANN: Yes, I don’t think so. I think, if she were out there in that capacity, in that non-official capacity, and if she was handling agents — she was handling agents in another alias — we have different layers of cover that work.

Rustmann not only did ths interview, but was an on the record source for the Washington Times‘s “Rove Fight Escalates”, which buttressed a same day Times editorial, “Knifing Rove, Whitewashing Wilson-Plame” which placed the entire shameful burden on the agent, and gave relief to White House leakers. Here is Rustmann in the “Escalates” piece, dismissing the issue of leaked cover, and putting the blame on agency cover staff, rather than with those in the executive.

“She made no bones about the fact that she was an agency employee and her husband was a diplomat,” Fred Rustmann, a covert agent from 1966 to 1990, told The Washington Times.

“Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his friends knew this. A lot of blame could be put on to central cover staff and the agency because they weren’t minding the store here. … The agency never changed her cover status.”

So, Rustmann’s outrage is something of a dressy tie, that can be worn or not worn, according to the occasion. This incredibly sincere anger continues, with the film’s next issue, the fact that director Kathryn Bigelow received some briefings in preparation for her movie on the Bin Laden raid, Zero Dark Thirty:

Days after the raid, Hollywood was invited into the White House…so they could receive a briefing on exactly how the raid took place. What kind of sources we had, what kind of methods we used. All for the purpose of making a Hollywood movie.

The briefings Bigelow received were given coverage both by the Huffington Post, “Obama Officials Gave Hollywood Filmmaker Access To Team That Killed Bin Laden, Records Show” by Andrea Stone, and Glen Greenwald of Salon, with the meeting records obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, with an overview on their site. Bigelow and her screenwriter met with top officials not days after the raid, but a month after. Though they met with these officials, but there is no mention in any document or its summary of classified material being shared or a concealed approach or technique being revealed. The information that Bigelow and her writer appear to have been looking for were details in attitude and mindset, so that such moments would have a versimilitude in the film, with the White House having some influence in the production, that their commanders be portrayed as sympathetically as possible. One can question whether such collaborations are beneficial to a democracy, whether they inevitably end up as a worship of force, but as to the distinct and separate issue of classified material being revealed to Bigelow, I see no evidence of this in the Judicial Watch records, nor any hint of it.

A talking head re-iterates the point that the current administration does not take these secrets seriously enough:

Somewhere in this administration, perhaps at the highest levels, there are people who don’t udnerstand what the requirements are that are put on everybody else. When we divulge national security information, such as the identity, the organization that killed Osama Bin Laden, we have now put all of those men, all of their families, everyone around them at some sort of risk. And when is that payback going to come? Well, it didn’t come immediately, it might not come this week, it might not come next year. But be assured we have a lot of enemies out there.

Bergen has already been quoted clearly stating that the SEAL team information was not revealed by the executive branch, and that the name of the unit was a reasonable, obvious guess. However, one may contrast this anger over possible payback for agency work that might not take place immediately, but years afterwards, is entirely absent from Rustmann’s discussion of the Plame leak.

Not content to go for political gain at the time, the administration decided to double down a year later. To take a victory lap, to try and get more political advantages, and airing a campaign commercial about the raid.

We have become a political weapon. We are not. Our job is to be silent professionals. We do not seek recognition. We do not seek popularity.

Dishonest Disclosures Refutation

Now might be an apt time to bring up the political writings of Joan Crawford’s niece, Ben Smith. He has done much political writing on-line, with the writer’s bio always including this: “Former Navy SEAL, Benjamin Smith took an oath to defend our Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic. As an author, speaker, political strategist and ardent Constitutionalist, Benjamin Smith continues to battle tyranny and defend the freedoms that enabled American exceptionalism.” Smith appears happy to use the fact that he is a former Navy SEAL as a political weapon, connecting in a disturbing fashion the fight between those fought in battle in Iraq with political disputes back home, happy to use military service as a cudgel in politics, as long as it is to his purpose. Here is a video of a Tea Party rally, with Debbie Lee, where the death of her late son in battle is used without compunction for political gain. The issue Lee brings up again and again at that rally is that Harry Reid called those in the military “losers”, and betrayed them thus – though there is no record of Reid doing anything of the kind.

Smith’s other writings demonstrate an animus toward the current administration that is not centered on leaks, but seems to view them as inherently hostile to american values. One post begins: “You are at war. Your way of life is under siege. Lose this war, and your family will be slaves.”2; that same post compares the administration to Lenin and Stalin, in their attempts to indoctrinate the people through their children3; Smith likens the Iraqi militias to Saul Alinsky4; in another post, he compares the Obama campaign slogan, “Forward”, to the Hitler slogan, “Vorwarts”5; another compares opposition to the Tea Party to Hitler burning books6; other posts at the radiopatriot blog, not by Smith, are also of interest7. A short addendum: while writing this, Foreign Policy published a brief piece, “In Facebook postings, OPSEC spokesman rips ‘Communist-in-Chief Hussein Mao-bama’”, on some of the more unsettling, and frankly, racist, postings of Smith; within is a link to, a site that catalogs his more controversial statements.

A post on the Bin Laden raid, “Navy SEAL Hands Obama his Arse” (defeating the president in argument, I think, not Smith offering his own up for ass play), which echoes the theme of “Dishonorable Disclosures”, that Obama had only an incidental role in the Bin Laden killing, and presents the president as an anti-american, entirely alien figure:

You do not speak for me or any American military man because though you may now be Commander in Chief, you are not the man to whom we can point our sons and say “This is the American dream, this is American exceptionalism, this is what I wish for your future”, because you Sir are NONE of these things. You Sir, are the antithesis of American Exceptionalism. Your idols are Saul Alinksi and Karl Marx and your revolutionary dreams and anti-American ideals poison your every policy. Your every action betrays the fact that in your soul you do not understand what it is to be an American, not what America truly is. Your agenda from the beginning has been to get rid of and kill everything that is and ever was American. You who so easily dismisses America’s greatness and bows to foreigners… YOU DO NOT SPEAK FOR ME.

Though a small detail, it might be of great relevance that Smith’s post on creeping progressivism is prefaced by the note that he is reading Cleon Skousen’s The Naked Communist. I find it notable, not because Skousen, a fool heavily promoted by Glenn Beck, was a crank and a fraud, but that one of the main allegations made in the book was that Roosevelt Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins gave fissile material to Russia8. Smith is struck by the similarity between what he sees now, and what’s portrayed in Skousen’s book, an insight into how he sees the current administration, as a traitorous force, in league with America’s enemies.

I laugh at this man, but that should not understate the possibility of potential danger here. Smith looks about him and sees fellow citizens with diminished means and diminished dignity, and is angry about it. This anger is directed at an all-seeing, controlling progressive elite, cynically channeled by various conservative groups who maintain the same policies that have brought so many around Smith into want. The blame for this wanton condition will always be shifted to a non-christian alien other, because this is the enemy the conservative elite wants Smith to have, and because this is the enemy that Smith would prefer to have as well. That this man is a Navy SEAL, an instrument of force, is not incidental to the equation. It is through the potential exercise of force, and the connection to that force, that many find the only dignity they have. The impoverished of any ghetto find some brief power in the fear anyone inside or outside the ghetto feels towards them. This, I think, is not unconnected to the significance of a soldier to a community in decline, or to the significance of military power. It might be said that when Barack Obama is president, the connection of a stagnant white community to this power, this dignity is lost. Those who think men and women like Smith can simply be manipulated for electoral outcomes, are playing with fire. They think this lightning can be bottled, when it cannot. That Smith is often a ridiculous man does not make his alienated attitude, and his connection to lethal force, any less disturbing.

Back to the show:

I feel really badly for our U.S. Navy SEALs. In particular, SEAL team six, who conducted the Bin Laden raid. They were identified. And now you can believe that we have enemies that are trying to identify them. It has placed them, and their families, at risk. And anybody, that thinks it hasn’t, is being naive.

Again, Bergen ably dismissed this.

Next part of the ad is devoted to the joint project Stuxnet, which successfully disabled a number of Iranian nuclear centrifuges.

But the leaks did not end with the Bin Laden raid. A recent series of intelligence leaks has been bombarding the airwaves. Even the president’s political friends know this is not right. One recent leak exposed a joint intelligence operation of the United States and Israel to develop a computer worm, known as the Stuxnet worm. A very powerful program capable of shutting down sophisticated computer systems. And we made good use of it, stopping the Iranians, and setting their operations back by years.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

The Stuxnet thing, it worked, it was a good thing. It may have denied the Iranians from getting their nuclear capability for a year or two years, or whatever it is. It worked. It was a good deal. It was a good operation. Why the hell talk about it?

This administration willfully leaked the existence of Stuxnet, allowing our enemies to learn more of our secrets, and our operations.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Why would anyone do this? What is the cost of trading national secrets for political capital?

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

When we stand up and admit that we were part of putting Stuxnet together with out Israeli friends, we really undermined our ability, one: to have the Israelis or anyone else work with us on the technology side, and secondly, we’ve made it very clear to the Iranians: who did it and who they need to be coming back to pay back.

Bergen counters this neatly in his own article, pointing out that Stuxnet was a well-known quantity by the time the New York Times wrote their articles, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran” by David E. Sanger, and “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay” by William J. Broad, John Markoff and David E. Sanger, on Olympic Games, the clandestine program to sabotage the Iranian nuclear facilities. From “How Digital Detectives Deciphered Stuxnet, the Most Menacing Malware in History” from August 2011, by Kim Zetter, we learn the following: the centrifuge failures were first observed by the IAEA in January 20109; Stuxnet was discovered by researchers outside Iran, and successfully taken apart and re-engineered, their findings published in August 201010; various details of the malware made clear that its focus was on industrial controls locathe ted within Iran11; in November of that same year, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization accused the west of infecting his country’s nuclear facilities12. In January 2011, before “Israeli Test on Worm” article, Meir Dagan, head of Israel’s Mossad, announced that Iran’s nuclear program had been set back by several years, an announcement that took place within days by Hilary Clinton’s statement declaring the same thing13.

I mention all this to make obvious that the idea that Stuxnet was “revealed” through leaks by the administration is a reckless and stupid assertion. The secrets of the Stuxnet worm had already been exposed and revealed a year before by coders unconnected with the government, and the Iranians had already pointed an accusing finger toward Israel and the United States. A further point: the Times article “U.S. Rejects Aid for Israeli Raid on Nuclear Site”, from January 11, 2009, details the Bush administration’s efforts to derail the Iranian nuclear program through non-traditional means, sourced partly by off-the-record interviews with former Bush administration officials. What the article describes is the beginning of Olympic Games, the program continued under the Obama administration – written about the clandestine attempt to stop Iran’s nuclear program before the Stuxnet virus had even been discovered and reverse engineered. Somehow, the current executive is condemned for articles sourced from leaks, but the previous executive is not.

It should also be emphasized that Senator Dianne Feinstein’s concern was not with leaks coming from the top of the White House, but often with outside consultants. This is explicit in the interview (the transcript for CNN’s Situation Room is here) from which the film extracts its quotes.

BLITZER: But it looks like the Republicans, at least, are accusing the White House, the Obama administration, of deliberately leaking some of this information to score political points in the reelection campaign.

I assume you’re not willing to go that far?

FEINSTEIN: Well, that’s correct. I don’t believe any of this came directly out of the top ranks of the White House. I think one of the problems is information is not closely held sufficiently.

BLITZER: But what about the journalists and the news organizations who published this information?

FEINSTEIN: Well, this is a big problem, because what you have are very sophisticated journalists. David Sanger is one of the best. I spoke — he came into my office. He saw me. You know, we’ve worked together at the Aspen Strategy Institute. He assured me that what he was publishing, he had worked out with various agencies and he didn’t believe that anything was revealed that wasn’t known already.

Well, I read “The New York Times” article and my heart dropped, because he wove a tapestry which has an impact that’s beyond any single one thing. And he’s very good at what he does. And he spent a year figuring it all out. And he’s just one. And this is a problem.

It’s also a problem that we have people consulting. They live their life with classified information. They then get a consultancy with your show or cer — your station or some other station and they’re talking, inadvertently, I think, about information that should not be talked about.

We have to take a look at all of this. We have to take a look at the oath of non-disclosure that people take. We have to strengthen that.

Also: Blitzer, not a talking head noted for his skepticism, questions whether Feinstein is correct in her assertion over the number of unauthorized disclosures:

BLITZER: I’ve got to tell you, we’re going to leave it on this note, Senator. I’ve been hearing these allegations for 30 plus years that I’ve been in Washington, going back to the Frank Church committee, one of your predecessors on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and, yes, occasionally these leaks do cause some serious problems for the U.S. National security apparatus. But the business continues and the U.S. Manages to go along the way. I’m not denying that some of these leaks cause major, major problems for the US. But this is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been hearing about these problems for many, many years.

FEINSTEIN: Well, I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee for 11 years and I have never seen it worse, I can tell you that.

BLITZER: All right. That’s fair enough.

The next, and final, focus is on kill lists and drone technology, which are treated as secrets that were suddenly revealed by the current administration.

We live in a dangerous world. But does it do us any good when it becomes public that the president of the United States has a kill list? That he, personally, is approving firing drone missiles?

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

Kill lists, I mean, that’s part of the whole giving out of things that are again secret and quiet, things you don’t talk about. But is in to make things public…is…wrong! [sic]

We have divulged to the world that we’re using drone technology, and conducting strikes inside of different countries. We’ve also divulged to the world via this administration at a very high level obviously, the president himself has a kill list, and he’s making a decision as to who will be killed by these drones. Drones aren’t like nuclear weapons, in the sense that they’re difficult to hide. The proliferation of drone technology is very easy…it’s easy to do. Other countries have drones, other countries are building drones. So, I think we set a profoundly bad precedent by making these decisions and leaking the information that the president himself is using drone technology and deciding who will die.

That drones were a well-known matter for years is almost self-evident, without requirement of proof. Richard Clarke in Against All Enemies from 2004, describes the test-piloting a drone14. Predator by Matt J. Martin and Charles W. Sasser, from 2010, is a first-hand account of a drone pilot. Here (PDF) is a news account from The Dalles Chronicle April 10, 2010 reporting on a pro-drone rally which featured Debbie Lee, one of this film’s participants, among its speakers15. Kill lists, called “hit lists”, were mentioned, along with many other details in Daily Beast‘s “Inside The Killing Machine”, an interview by Tara McKelvey with former CIA acting counsel John A. Rizzo, from February 2011. Many of these stories are all easily found, taken from a cursory look at the exhaustive “The Rise of the Killer Drones” by Michael Hastings, all stories published long before the movie’s targeted piece, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will”, by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, which came out in May of this year. It should also be noted that Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, is quoted on the record for this article, and is quoted praising the president’s record. So this article, which is cited as an example of dangerous leaking, features an on the record quote by a former CIA head; it should also be noted that Hayden is currently a foreign policy adviser for Mitt Romney, whom this ad hopes to try to elect.

There is also something that should be noted about Scott Taylor; Dilanian’s story mentions Taylor as chairman of OPSEC, the organization behind this ad, as well as a participant in a 2011 Discovery channel documentary, “Secrets of Seal Team Six”, a documentary which supposedly divulged secrets of the military unit, and which stressed that the military had urged SEAL members not to participate in the project. This is notable in light of a post by Navy SEAL / Joan Crawford medium Ben Smith, who writes the following in “Loose Lips Will Sink Ships”, a post which encapsulates all the concerns of this film, employing much of the same language and a few of the same patriotic images:

Apparently, the greatest generation is a dying breed. Ask anyone that you know who lived through the times of World War 2 on the home front and they will tell you of the secrecy that was involved with day to day life knowing that the enemy could be listening. The civilians and more importantly the military, government and media knew that “Loose Lips Sink Ships” a phrase often seen on posters hung in public places. This was called OPSEC, (Operational Security), which simply means that there were things that you DID NOT TALK ABOUT.

But the leaks coming out of this Administration are not limited to the Osama Bin Laden raid. In this past year there have been books and movies produced which describe the secret Special Forces unit tactics.

So, Smith’s reaction to this flux of books and movies which revealed the secrets of the SEAL division is paradoxical: he joins a group to produce an ad attacking such leaks, a group headed by a man complicit in making one of the movies that has made him so angry. As always in an election season, there are many funny moments. As always in an election season, almost all are unintentional.

The concluding notes:

These experts, these heroes who have served their country, risked their lives have had enough. They know the time to act, is now.

As a citizen, it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy. It will get Americans killed.

The accumulation of all the…and the consistency of very high level leaks, again, really number one: puts our military members, potentially their families, other civilians, their support personnel at risk. Of safety, and potentially, of death. These leaks. On top of that, you have folks from other countries understand and would move and change their tactics to combat our tactics based on these leaks that were disclosed. It’s just not the way the military does business. I believe at the very highest levels they should be held accountable for it.

I don’t get it. I mean, I don’t come from that culture. I’m not a political guy. I don’t come from that culture. I don’t see…why, anybody, would purposely put lives in jeopardy.

I think it’s apt to quote again from Rustmann’s interview with Sean Hannity, about the breaking of Valerie Plame’s cover.

COLMES: Didn’t they expose a front operation that she helped run, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, this made-up company. And wasn’t that exposed as a result of all this, and can’t this damage intelligence operations and our security?

RUSTMANN: Well, actually, no, because it isn’t a big deal. It was a light non-official cover. There was, you know, a phone. There was very little backstopping to that company. It wasn’t like she was working for a major multi-national American company or foreign company where there could be some severe blowback if that were to come to…

COLMES: Are you saying there are no repercussions of this? There’s no repercussions of her having been exposed as a covert CIA agent, even though she was non-covert at one point?

RUSTMANN: There are no major repercussions to the cover mechanism, no. To her — the question again gets down to whether somebody did this with malice or forethought. Then it’s a crime, and that person goes to jail.

This interview, along with an interview given to the Washington Times making similar sentiments, was done at the very moment when White House operator Karl Rove suddenly found himself in great trouble over the fact that he himself may have leaked. Then, Rustmann played defense, now, he plays offense. Rustmann claims not to be a political animal, but this fish appears to crawl on land better than he thinks.

Protecting military secrets has been paramount to our country from its earliest time. The leaks by this administration have violated the trust established over the last two hundred years.

Dishonorable Disclosures Refutation

The quote is from a Bob Kerrey editorial in the New York Daily News:

By describing certain methods — the name of the unit involved, the kinds of equipment employed, the nature of intelligence collected and techniques of insertion and extraction used in the operation — the President violated a key rule of clandestine work.

Soon after the operation, the U.S. made it clear it had identified Bin Laden’s body using DNA. Not long thereafter, Pakistani intelligence had arrested an apparent CIA informant, a doctor named Shakil Afridi, who allegedly helped run a fake vaccine program in Abbotabad designed to confirm Bin Laden’s presence by collecting DNA samples. Was the revelation connected to this man’s apprehension?

By June 2011, Pakistan’s military spy agency had arrested a handful of informants who had allegedly helped make the CIA raid possible. Would they have been identified if the White House had been more tight-lipped from the start? We will never know.

In addition, by shining a celebratory spotlight on one branch of special ops at the expense of others, we undercut the camaraderie of inter-service collaboration that has been the hallmark of this command since 1986.

Perhaps most important, because of the way the President rushed to tell the American people about the raid, I believe he made the already difficult relationship with Pakistan, an important ally of NATO in Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban, even more difficult.

I believe all points raised in this editorial – that the announcement should have been delayed, that it should have been done with co-ordination with Pakistan, the arrest of Shakil Afridi – have all been dealt with, and refuted, by Bergen. I also note a closing passage in the editorial, relevant given this ad’s attempt to take credit away from the President in this victory:

President Obama deserves full credit for the decision to authorize this operation. The risks of failure were great. The benefits of success are large.

The last notes, which I quote without interruption, as they carry no claims, simple renewed assertions that secrets have been betrayed, and action must be taken.

Mister President, to you and those close to you who hold some of the nation’s highest secrets – please: be quiet about it.

With all due respect, Mister President, we need you to close your lips, and to shut up when it comes to operational security regarding our armed forces. It’s critical for you as a leader to understand that, and what the SEALs say, we do it, we don’t talk about it.

I was recently at…a military installation. Speaking with former colleagues, and told them what we were doing, and what our goals were…to maintain a standing watch-dog organization that would prevent any politician from exploiting military gains for political secrets [sic]. And they all said, you’ve got to do this. You’ve got to speak, because we can’t.

We have thousands, tens of thousands. If not, hundreds of thousands of people, both in the intelligence community and our military. They deserve to have us speak on their behalf. They can’t. They are prohibited from doing it. They might even get fired. It’s one of the reasons I’m appearing anonymously here. Because I still have friends and associates that are working within the intelligence community, and I still have activities that I support with the military. I risk jeopardizing those things, and my friends. And the people I care about. That are doing their best to protect this country. That’s the reason I’m appearing in this way.

Duty. Honor. Country. Values fought for by our heroes selflessly, and without thoughts of glory or recognition, while protecting the freedoms that make America the guiding light around the world.

We gotta stand up. This is our country, this is our constitution. And we have to speak out. Finally, we have to speak out and say we will not take this any more, enough is enough.

If I had one piece of advice for this administration, it would be the same thing former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said: Shut the *beep* [what, oh what, word could it be?] up!

I note only one final theme in this movie, which I think is there because of only one personal detail of the current president. I list the quotes from the film that underscore the theme. I bold one part of one quote which especially emphasizes it:

I think the disclosure of specific details of the raid, how we got there, how many people we used, what the tactics were to conduct the mission itself, and what we did afterwards…I believe a ten year old would be able to understand that if you disclose how we got there, how we took down the building, how many people were there, it’s gonna hinder future operations, and certainly hurt the success of those future operations for DOD, for military, for intelligence community as a whole.

Mister President, to you and those close to you who hold some of the nation’s highest secrets – please: be quiet about it.

With all due respect, Mister President, we need you to close your lips, and to shut up when it comes to operational security regarding our armed forces. It’s critical for you as a leader to understand that, and what the SEALs say, we do it, we don’t talk about it.

If I had one piece of advice for this administration, it would be the same thing former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates said: Shut the *beep* [what, oh what, word could it be?] up!

The attitude expressed here, is not simply contempt or exasperation. It is, significantly, contempt with a man, a president of the United States, who is treated as a child. He does not even know as much as a ten year old. He needs to be lectured on keeping quiet. That he must keep his lips closed. That he must shut the fuck up. This, I think, is very different from the attitude agency and military personnel might have had to his exasperating predecessor, an ignorant incompetent, who might have had the emotional maturity and patience of a spoiled child, but was at all times addressed as a man – his maturity falling short of what is expected of a man. That this particular attitude is provoked by one personal detail, a man’s race, I consider an obvious point, and don’t think I need to dwell on it. That this condescending attitude comes from a group of men who, based on this documentary, are either dishonest or hopelessly incompetent, unable to read a simple newspaper before condemning a man for disloyalty, only makes the attitude more nettlesome, and fills me with such bile, that I have no appetite to dwell on it either.

1 An explanation for this joke is here.

2 The opening paragraphs of the post:

You are at war. Your way of life is under siege. Lose this war, and your family will be slaves.

A very nasty dictator once said, “Politics is war without bloodshed, and war is politics with bloodshed.” That was Chairman Mao Tse Tung, mass murderer of millions, Marxist dictator of China, and the unsmiling Asian guy in the stylized posters that is the hero of our present government.

America’s present political leadership ascended to power under the name “Progressive”. Let’s spend some time today finding out what that label really means, and how America is at war without bloodshed.

3 The indoctrination of children:

Progressives know that the battle of ideas cannot be won head to head, so clandestine warfare is their logical choice. They are careful to subvert rather than overthrow institutions, leaving ordinary Americans “fat and happy” while the termites nibble the floor out from under them.

And as Lenin and Stalin knew, schools are the key to the future of their ideology, and the left’s education strategy is in high gear. How many children do you know who are sure that Marxism and socialism are bad news, not the right path for America ? These days, American children parrot the alleged VIRTUES of those ideologies. The ancient Roman Empire had the official government youth organization called “Juventus”, where they were taught to worship their emperor and be loyal to Rome unto death. 20th Century equivalents include brown shirt “Hitler Youth”. Our educational system has systematically been taken over by leftists, and the history they leave OUT of our kids’ education could fill a thousand books.

4 From Iran: A Navy SEAL sums up the situation:

SCIRI, Badr corps, al-Quds, Madhi Malitia, Sadr and a bunch of other groups are all people that I have been exposed to in Iraq and it is my belief that these guys really mean what they are saying and doing (These are groups funded by the Iranian Gov). They are evil. They are so efficient and heartless because they feel they are benevolent and instructed by God to purvey their treachery. These are not people that you can have a cordial conversation with or even negotiate with. Their way is Saul Alinski [sic] without conscience and ordained by God because the ends are the same as the means, Righteous.

5 From the opening paragraph of “It’s About the Constitution, Stupid”:

As people are looking for the reason of why the court decision came down in the way it did from the supreme court justice that seemed to have the most stringent constitutional sense look to the progressive play book. As we have seen the progressive scourge take on the mantra of “fundamentally changing the United States of America” it has not been the old adage of “One step back and two steps forward” it has been more of the Blitzkrieg strategy of Go Go Go! Turning the saying into “3-5 steps forward then take a step back if you have to”. As there campaign slogan says itself “Vorwarts”…. Oh wait a second, that is the German Socialists party slogan from early 1940’s under HITLER only now translated into English as FORWARD.

6 From “Ben Smith, US Navy SEAL, speaks out Veterans Day”:

I do not see the Tea Party Express as an event like a wedding or a bar mitzvah or a bridge tournament. If you think so, I respectfully disagree.

This is not just a bus trip across a pretty landscape during which we listen to some nice music and peddle our wares and listen to the people’s applause and feel special for a little bit until the event is over. WRONG!!!

The people who would wish us to not succeed are the ones who would burn every bit of evidence that we ever existed. Our philosophies, our thoughts, our constitution, our books, our history would all be destroyed. Literally this happened in the past on numerous occasions, most recently Hitler’s burning of the books. It was to get rid of an opposing ideology.

7 One post has a poem referring to Sandra Fluke: “This is the maiden in a Georgetown dorm / That milked the taxpayers for the condoms and porn”; “Friedman’s Laws of History” states that “Wherever and whenever Muslims reach a certain critical mass, they attempt to subjugate the adjacent non-Muslim community, using violence when necessary. It is an article of faith. A random walk through today’s world conflicts proves that beyond a reasonable doubt.”; “Coming Soon: The Romney / Ryan typhoon” praises the billboard which had as a slogan “The Navy SEALs removed one threat to America, voters must remove another”, referring to Osama Bin Ladan and Barack Obama, respectively, as the billboard of the year; “Marco Rubio simply is not Constitutionally eligible. And he knows it.” explains that neither Marco Rubio, nor Bobby Jindal, nor Barack Obama are eligible to be president, as they all had one parent who was not a U.S citizen at the time of their birth; the post “Rumor has it Shemp Smith prefers sausage” – that Fox News’s Shepard Smith has a hankering for metaphorical sausage and this affects his view on gay marriage – appears, without intentional irony, right after the post “Dumb Clucks – damaged by the left” – which argues that one can be against gay marriage without having any prejudice against gays. It would seem that having a preference for this metaphorical sausage would be irrelvant to consideration of one’s political views; certainly there are women who have a preference for this metaphorical sausage and their views are still, occasionally, considered without this preference brought up. Rush Limbaugh, who appears to have a preference for non-metaphorical sausage, is quoted approvingly by the blog.

8 From the preface to US Navy SEAL Ben Smith: “Take a stand!”:

Ben [Smith] called me today to tell me that he’s currently reading Cleon Skousen’s book The Naked Communist, and was struck by the similarity of message to this post he wrote a year and a half ago.

From Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance by Alexander Zaitchik:

Willard Cleon Skousen was born in 1913 to American parents in a small Mormon frontier town in Alberta, Canada. When he was ten, his family moved to California, where he remained until he shipped off to England and Ireland for two years of Mormon missionary work. In 1935, after graduating from a California junior college, the twenty – three – year – old Skousen moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked briefly for a New Deal farm agency. He then began a fi fteen – year career with the FBI and earned a law degree from George Washington University in 1940. His posts at the FBI were administrative and clerical in nature, first in Washington and later in Kansas City.

After retiring from the FBI in 1951, Skousen joined the faculty of Brigham Young University in Utah. His life as a religion professor was suspended in 1956, when he began a tumultuous four years as chief of police in Salt Lake City.

While serving as police chief, Skousen had begun laying the groundwork for a career as an anticommunist speaker. In 1958, Skousen published an exposé – cum – history of the global communist movement, The Naked Communist. A work of laughably shoddy scholarship, the book went unnoticed by professional historians except those in Skousen’s Utah backyard. His résumé to that point — failed chief of police, part – time BYU religion professor, FBI paper pusher — was not that of a scholar.

“Skousen had never read a word of Marx and didn’t know what he was talking about,” says Louis Midgley, a historian and a former colleague of Skousen’s at BYU. “The faculty was embarrassed that he was even allowed on the staff as an instructor of theology.”

Skousen was more than just another anticommunist opportunist; he was a fraud. Although Skousen claimed that his years with the FBI had exposed him to inside information, his employment records show that his work at the bureau was largely secretarial in nature.

“Skousen never worked in the domestic intelligence division, and he never had signifi cant exposure to data concerning communist matters,” says Ernie Lazar, an independent researcher who has studied the internal documentation of Skousen’s FBI employment history.

Along with touting his imagined exposure to highly classified FBI business, Skousen trumpeted the expertise he claimed to have gained while researching The Naked Communist. But this research was even shakier than his résumé . Among the stories in Skousen’s fantastical arsenal was the alleged treason of FDR adviser Harry Hopkins. According to Skousen, Hopkins gave the Soviets “50 suitcases” worth of information on the Manhattan Project and nearly half of the nation’s supply of enriched uranium.

9 From Zetter’s article:

It was January 2010, and investigators with the International Atomic Energy Agency had just completed an inspection at the uranium enrichment plant outside Natanz in central Iran, when they realized that something was off within the cascade rooms where thousands of centrifuges were enriching uranium.

Normally Iran replaced up to 10 percent of its centrifuges a year, due to material defects and other issues. With about 8,700 centrifuges installed at Natanz at the time, it would have been normal to decommission about 800 over the course of the year.

But when the IAEA later reviewed footage from surveillance cameras installed outside the cascade rooms to monitor Iran’s enrichment program, they were stunned as they counted the numbers. The workers had been replacing the units at an incredible rate — later estimates would indicate between 1,000 and 2,000 centrifuges were swapped out over a few months.

10 Zetter’s article:

Experts determined that the virus was designed to target Simatic WinCC Step7 software, an industrial control system made by the German conglomerate Siemens that was used to program controllers that drive motors, valves and switches in everything from food factories and automobile assembly lines to gas pipelines and water treatment plants.

On Aug. 6, Symantec published a blog post saying that Stuxnet was a targeted attack aimed at hijacking the Programmable Logic Controller in a Siemens control system by injecting malicious code.

The fact that Stuxnet was injecting commands into the PLC [Programmable Logic Controller, an interface for controlling industrial processes such as a centrifuge] and masking that it was doing so was evidence that it was designed, not for espionage as everyone had believed, but for physical sabotage. The researchers were stunned. It was the first time anyone had seen digital code in the wild being used to physically destroy something in the real world.

11 Zetter’s article:

As [technical director of Symantec Security Response] [Eric] Chien and [Symantec Security Response manager of operations] O Murchu mapped the geographical location of the infections, a strange pattern emerged. Out of the initial 38,000 infections, about 22,000 were in Iran. Indonesia was a distant second, with about 6,700 infections, followed by India with about 3,700 infections. The United States had fewer than 400. Only a small number of machines had Siemens Step 7 software installed – just 217 machines reporting in from Iran and 16 in the United States.

The infection numbers were way out of sync with previous patterns of worldwide infections — such as what occurred with the prolific Conficker worm — in which Iran never placed high, if at all, in infection stats. South Korea and the United States were always at the top of charts in massive outbreaks, which wasn’t a surprise since they had the highest numbers of internet users. But even in outbreaks centered in the Middle East or Central Asia, Iran never figured high in the numbers. It was clear the Islamic Republic was at the center of the Stuxnet infection.

The sophistication of the code, plus the fraudulent certificates, and now Iran at the center of the fallout made it look like Stuxnet could be the work of a government cyberarmy — maybe even a United States cyberarmy.

This made Symantec’s sinkhole an audacious move. In intercepting data the attackers were expecting to receive, the researchers risked tampering with a covert U.S. government operation.

The attackers were ruthlessly intent on spreading their malware, but in a strangely limited way. Unlike most malware that used e-mail or malicious websites to infect masses of victims at once, none of Stuxnet’s exploits leveraged the internet; they all spread via local area networks. There was one primary way Stuxnet would spread from one facility to another, and that was on an infected USB thumb drive smuggled into the facility in someone’s pocket.

It appeared the attackers were targeting systems they knew were not connected to the internet. And given that they were using four zero-days to do it, the targets had to be high-value.

It took three weeks to reach a startling conclusion — Stuxnet wasn’t just aimed at attacking a specific type of Siemens controller, it was a precision weapon bent on sabotaging a specific facility. Embedded in Stuxnet’s code was a dossier detailing the specific technical configuration of the facility it sought. Any system that didn’t match precisely this configuration would go unharmed: Stuxnet would shut itself down and move on to the next system until it found its victim. It was clear to Langner that Stuxnet was the product of a well-resourced government with precise inside knowledge of the target it was seeking.

Although the exact facility in Stuxnet’s sights wasn’t spelled out, [security expert] [Ralph] Langner had no doubts. “This is about taking out Bushehr,” he announced to Rosen and Tim one day, referring to a nuclear power plant in Iran that had been scheduled to begin operation in August 2010 but had been delayed. Langner’s colleagues stared at him dumbfounded. They weren’t eager to follow him down a path of state-sponsored cyberwarfare that seemed likely to lead to Israel and the United States, and possibly even Germany, as the suspected aggressors behind Stuxnet.

The malware would sit quietly on the system doing reconnaissance for about two weeks, then launch its attack swiftly and quietly, increasing the frequency of the converters to 1,410Hz for 15 minutes, before restoring them to a normal frequency of 1,064Hz. The frequency would remain at this level for 27 days, before Stuxnet would kick in again and drop the frequency down to 2Hz for 50 minutes.

Chien did a search online and discovered that frequency converters that operated at 600Hz and above were regulated for export in the United States by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“We realized, wait a second, these things, at this frequency, could be used for uranium enrichment,” Chien recalls. Langner had gone out on a limb in asserting that Stuxnet was targeting centrifuges at a nuclear plant, but now Symantec had strong evidence to back it up.

David Albright at the Institute for Science and International Security, which closely monitors Iran’s nuclear program, supplied a crucial bit of information linking Natanz and Stuxnet.

After reading the reports from Langner and the Symantec team, Albright revealed in December that the nominal frequency at which Natanz’s centrifuges operated was 1,064Hz — the exact frequency Stuxnet restored converters to after drastically increasing and decreasing it during the malware’s attack. Albright found one other correlation. Data in Stuxnet indicated that it was targeting devices configured in groups of 164; Albright noted that each of Natanz’s cascades had 164 centrifuges.

12 Zetter’s article:

Then, on Nov. 23, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, provided what appeared to be the first acknowledgement that the worm had hit Iran’s nuclear facilities. “One year and several months ago, Westerners sent a virus to [our] country’s nuclear sites,” he told Iranian reporters, without mentioning the virus by name. He downplayed the virus’s success, however, asserting that vigilant workers had swiftly discovered the malware at its point of entry and prevented it from harming equipment.

In a press conference [November 30th], Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared to reference the virus Salehi had mentioned, and contradict him when he said that “enemies” of the state had indeed sabotaged Iran’s centrifuges with a malicious software program. “They succeeded in creating problems for a limited number of our centrifuges with the software they had installed in electronic parts,” he said, without naming Stuxnet or the facility that was attacked.

13 From “Israeli Test on Worm Called Crucial in Iran Nuclear Delay” by Broad, Markoff, and Sanger:

In recent days, the retiring chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Meir Dagan, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton separately announced that they believed Iran’s efforts had been set back by several years. Mrs. Clinton cited American-led sanctions, which have hurt Iran’s ability to buy components and do business around the world.

The gruff Mr. Dagan, whose organization has been accused by Iran of being behind the deaths of several Iranian scientists, told the Israeli Knesset in recent days that Iran had run into technological difficulties that could delay a bomb until 2015. That represented a sharp reversal from Israel’s long-held argument that Iran was on the cusp of success.

14 From Clarke’s Enemies:

[Richard Clarke’s Deputy] Roger Cressey and I made midnight trips to watch Kandahar on a giant video screen in northern Virginia. A small team sat at their consoles, not quite believing that what they were seeing was happening right then on the other side of the globe. This sort of intelligence capability was something we had seen only in Hollywood movies.

The bird flew quietly over a known terrorist camp and, as it did, a Land Rover was headed toward the gate. “Follow that car,” the mission controller called out to the “pilot” seated in front of him in the darkened Virginia room. He then turned to me and Cressey and with a big grin said, “I always wanted to say that.” The pilot kept the Land Rover on-screen as it moved through market squares and in and out of a tunnel. FInally it pulled up in front of a villa and those in the vehicle went inside. “Well, we now know that villa is al Qaeda-related.”

Predators flew in September and October of 2000. One Predator was damaged during takeoff, setting off a bureaucratic fight over who would pay the few hundred thousand dollars to repair it. On another flight, the Taliban’s radar detected the Predator and an ancient MiG fighter was launched. The Predator’s camera watched as the fighter plane lumbered into the air, climbed, and began a big circle that ended with the fighter about two miles from the Predator, aimed right at it. The image of the MiG grew from a speck to en enormous object hurtling at the camera. “Holy shit, it’s going to hit us!” the controller yelled, as half the people in the control room dove under their desks. Ten thousand miles away, the MiG flew right by the Predator, apparently unable to see it.

15 An excerpt:

Troop supporters cheer war drones
War veteran and Gold Star mother lead pro-drone event

by Ben McCarty
Hood River News

Standing before a crowd in front of Overlook Park in Hood River, retired Air Force Col. Lynn Guenther made his reason for appearing before them simple and clear: “We are here because we care,” the Vietnam POW said.

With a conference on the use of robotic drones and warfare going on two blocks away at Riverside Community Church, about 150 people gathered in front of the park, waving American flags and signs with slogans like “God Bless our troops” and “Drones save lives” to present a different view.

Joining Guenther on the podium were U.S. Navy Seal Benjamin Smith and Debbie Lee, the mother of Marc Lee, who grew up in Hood River and was the first Seal killed in action in Iraq in 2006.

(All images and script quotes copyright OPSEC productions.)

(Since initial posting, a number of edits have been made, adding supporting footnotes from Wired magazine, some additional images for clarity, sections on the Kerrey and Mueller quotes, and some small changes for aesthetics, grammar, and spelling. A small typo made it appear that Richard Clarke claimed to have once test-piloted a drone, when he had only observed this piloting.)

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The Satanic Bible and Ayn Rand

Anton LaVey was a carnie, a brilliant musician, a photographer of crime scenes, lover of Marilyn Monroe when she was a stripper, and the lover of Jayne Mansfield when she was a star. These were all claims he was to make throughout his life, though none of them were the reason for the larger world knowing his name. His infamy began in the 1960s, a time of upheaval and spiritual unease, as the lord of a new church, a founder of an american satanism and a creator of its bible.

LaVey is a fascinating american character, a man almost entirely a self-creation, his life story a tapestry of deceptions and lies. Lawrence Wright’s “Sympathy for the Devil” is most likely the definitive account, one that is detailed, sympathetic, and skeptical. LaVey says he was born in Chicago, 1930; but there is no one by that name in Cook County records, only a Howard Stanton Levey. He has claimed his musical gifts were great enough that he played oboe in the San Francisco ballet orchestra; no such orchestra existed at the time, the ballet employed the local symphony, and the symphony had no players by the name of LaVey or Levey. He then ran off to the circus, the Clyde Beatty circus, where he played calliope; the route books of the Beatty circus, available at the Circus World Museum at Baraboo, Wisconsin list no musician by the name of Lavey or Levey. He went on to play at a strip club where Monroe was dancing, and the two had a brief two week affair. After, he studied criminology at San Francisco City College, and joined the police force as a photographer, where the gory carwrecks and manslaughters caused him to lose all faith in a benevolent god. These are his claims: Wright finds no record that LaVey / Levey enrolled at the college, the police department has no record of his employment, and the strip club owner is certain Monroe never worked for him, and neither did LaVey1.

It is only after this that LaVey has his actual achievement, whatever the truth of what came before. He was spending time in Frisco sometimes driving around in a coroner’s van as a psychic investigator, sometimes walking with Zoltan, his black panther, always holding meetings every Friday night for discussions of the occult. These meetings would develop into his church, with LaVey shaving off all his hair on April 30th, 1966, the most holy day of the devil’s calendar, and declaring the onset of the age of satan. He gained much press attention and many followers, performing weddings and other rituals, wearing black clothes and horns2. At the height of the church’s notoriety, LaVey published The Satanic Bible (available here in pdf, though whether with permisson of the copyright holders, I am uncertain), the impetus for this post.

The satanism presented in this bible is not anarchism, or a devotion to violence for its own sake. It is a practical manual on how to approach life, and its perspective is simple: that there are weak and strong in this world, the weak should not be allowed to leech off the strong, and that the weak should rightly be dominated by the strong. There is a simple primal order, and it should not be interfered with. Though a large chunk of the book is devoted to occult ritual, what is notable, and especially topical at this point in the election, is that the intellectual spine of this infamous book is derived from the writings of Ayn Rand, the very writings cited as an influence by congressman Paul Ryan.

The connection between objectivism, Rand’s philosophy, and the satanic bible is not an accusation made by critics against LaVey or Rand; it is freely admitted by LaVey and his followers. The only question is whether LaVey gave sufficient credit to Rand, with some arguing that he plagiarised her work, while others state that he always gave her due credit. The underlying ideas of the work, however, has never been in doubt.

Before going to the links between Rand’s objectivism and this infernal book, I would like to emphasize again that much of it is devoted to the occult. What follows is a small example of this, one of the many “Enochian Keys” in this bible, appeals to the satanic power written in Enochian, a synthetic language created by the mystic John Dee.


The Third Enochian Key establishes the leadership of the earth upon the hands of those great Satanic magicians who throughout the successive ages have held dominion over the peoples of the world.


Micama! goho Pe-IAD! zodir com-selahe azodien biabe os-lon-dohe. Norezodacahisa otahila Gigipahe; vaunid-el-cahisa ta-pu-ime qo-mos-pelehe telocahe; qui-i-inu toltoregi cahisa i cahisaji em ozodien; dasata beregida od torezodul! Ili e-Ol balazodareji, od aala tahilanu-os netaabe: daluga vaomesareji elonusa cape-mi-ali varoesa cala homila; cocasabe fafenu izodizodope, od miinoagi de ginetaabe: vaunu na-na-e-el: panupire malapireji caosaji. Pilada noanu vaunalahe balata od-vaoan. Do-o-i-ape mada: goholore, gohus, amiranu! Micama! Yehusozod ca-ca-com, od do-o-a-inu noari micaolazoda a-ai-om. Casarameji gohia: Zodacare! Vaunigilaji! od im-ua-mar pugo pelapeli Ananael Qo-a-an.


Behold!, saith Satan, I am a circle on whose hands stand the Twelve Kingdoms. Six are the seats of living breath, the rest are as sharp as sickles, or the Horns of Death. Therein the creatures of Earth are and are not, except in mine own hands which sleep and shall rise!
In the first I made ye stewards and placed ye in the Twelve seats of government, giving unto every one of you power successively over the Nine true ages of time, so that from the highest vessels and the corners of your governments you might work my power, pouring down the fires of life and increase continually on the Earth. Thus you are become the skirts of justice and truth. In Satan’s name, rise up! Show yourselves! Behold!, his mercies flourish, and his name is become mighty among us. In whom we say: Move!, Ascend!, and apply yourselves unto us as the partakers of His secret wisdom in your creation!

So, as said earlier, that this book has its source in Rand’s writings is not obscure or contested, but openly admitted by LaVey, as can be read in Raising The Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and The Media, by Bill Ellis. The mention on Rand’s influence is in a section on the Manson murders and various lunatics bringing unwanted infamy to LaVey’s sect (my bolds give the emphasis):

Exasperated by this unwanted notoriety, Anton LaVey held an interview with a Los Angeles Times reporter, who described the head of the Church of Satan as being “as American as crabapple pie.” The cases of the past year were “damned sickening,” LaVey said, and called Manson a “mad-dog killer” who should be drawn and quartered on Pershing Square. He continued:

I’d like to set the record straight…if someone waltzes up to our front door and says “Lucifer told me to come,” he gets the bum’s rush, you’d better believe it. This is really an elitist movement and we’re very fussy who is coming in and whom we traffic with. We have to guard ourselves against the creeps, and we’ve screened out a lot of people who turned out to be bad apples. Mostly they turned out to be people who were disappointed when they didn’t get the orgies and all the nefarious activities they’d been looking forward to.

In fact, LaVey called his operation mainly “showmanship…nine parts outrage and one part respectability” that allowed participants to channel their demons into “a ritualized hatred that finally absorbs the hate itself, rather than turning it loose in such meaningless, antisocial outbursts as the Tate massacre.” As for his “religion,” he called it “just Ayn Rand’s philosophy, with ceremony and ritual added,” and he actually looked forward to the arrival of a “benign police state.”

Here is a piece, Satanism and Objectivism, from the Church of Satan itself outlining similarities and differences in the two. Differences include satanism’s emphasis on carnal pleasure, the satanic creed’s greater emphasis on doubt, and the creed’s encouragement of a divine within oneself; the similarities between the two, however, the writer believes to be overwhelming.

Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, is an acknowledged source for some of the Satanic philosophy as outlined in The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. Ayn Rand was a brilliant and insightful author and philosopher and her best-selling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead continue to attract deserved attention for a new generation of readers. I am a strong admirer of Ayn Rand but I am an even stronger admirer of Anton LaVey for the vital differences between the philosophies of Objectivism and Satanism.

Let me conclude this brief overview by adding that Satanism has far more in common with Objectivism than with any other religion or philosophy. Objectivists endorse reason, selfishness, greed and atheism. Objectivism sees Christianity, Islam and Judaism as anti-human and evil. The writings of Ayn Rand are inspiring and powerful. If the reader has not yet experienced her power, try her novelette Anthem for a taste. You will almost certainly come back for more.

“Satanism and Objectivism” can also be found in the appendices of the satanic bible describing its sources. A second essay establishing the link between objectivism and satanism, also among the appendices, is “The Hidden Source of the Satanic Philosophy” by George C. Smith:

Reading through past issues of the Scroll of Set [a Satanism newsletter], I came across a statement by Susan Wylie (March/April XVI: “The Devil’s Game”): “One should remember that, prior to I AES [F. Fred Palakon: I’m unsure – I guess an international satanic organization of some kind], there had never been any organization or belief structure similar to the Church of Satan.” Although this was written several years ago, I must reach across the years and address this serious error. The implications for those of us in the Temple today are no less severe.

I know that I am challenging the cultural tradition of two and a half thousand years.The speaker was not Anton LaVey. The speaker was a novelist, playwright, and philosopher, Ayn Rand. From the springboard of her famous, bestselling novels (The Fountainhead in 1943 and Atlas Shrugged in 1957) was created the philosophy of Objectivism, which attracted thousands of persons – myself included – who were more than “openly honest regarding what they believed” but studied, wrote, taught, and practiced what they held to be the highest expression of living.

Although like others I now have some obvious points of philosophical disagreement with Objectivism, the legacy of this enormous Satanic break with the past remains a fact of history that is of prime importance to Setians everywhere. To imply or state that the Church of Satan was the first to clearly state the Satanic ethic is to ignore the continuing impact of Ayn Rand and individualists influenced by her work such as Nathaniel Branden [The Psychology of SelfEsteem and Honoring the Self] and Harry Browne [How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World]. It would instead benefit us to enrich our understanding of what the Gift of Set has meant and does mean to others who preceded I AES.

What follows is an an analysis by Smith of the links between the satanic bible’s “Nine Satanic Statements”, which serve as the spine of the work, and points in John Galt’s speech at the end of Atlas Shrugged. It is this very speech that vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan cited when he spoke at the Atlas Society (my bolds):

It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism…

So, here is Smith’s in-depth exegesis. Again, this is not made by a critic of satanism, or a critic of objectivism trying to link the philosophy to satanism, it is an examination by a satanist, pointing to the roots of a philosophy he passionately espouses (my bolds):

To illustrate this historical precedent, let us examine the Nine Satanic Statements in view of the Rand work Atlas Shrugged. In Galt’s speech (pages #936-993) is the written source of most of the philosophical ideas expressed in the Satanic Bible. Here are the first clear, contemporary statements which led to the glorification of man’s pride and the denouncing of the life-killing concept called altruism. Here also is a vindication of rationality and the inevitable cause of the failure of the Church of Satan to encompass the needs of intelligent and curious minds.

Note that the sequential order of these Atlas Shrugged quotations parallels the order of the Nine Satanic Statements.

1. LaVey: Satan represents indulgence instead of abstinence.
Rand: A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man – every man – is an end in himself. He exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose. (page 940)

2. LaVey: Satan represents vital existence instead of spiritual pipe dreams.
Rand: My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists – and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. (page 944)

3. LaVey: Satan represents undefiled wisdom instead of hypocritical self-deceit.
Rand: Honesty is not a social duty, not a sacrifice for the sake of others, but the most profoundly selfish virtue man can practice: his refusal to sacrifice the reality of his own existence to the deluded consciousness of others. (page 945)

4. LaVey: Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates.
Rand: To withhold your contempt from men’s vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement. (page 946)

5. LaVey: Satan represents vengeance instead of turning the other cheek.
Rand: When a man attempts to deal with me by force, I answer him by force. (page 950)

6. LaVey: Satan represents responsibility to the responsible instead of concern for psychic vampires.
Rand: You have been using fear as your weapon, and have been bringing death to man as his punishment for rejecting your morality. We offer him life as his reward for accepting ours. (page 950)

7. LaVey: Satan represents man as just another animal – sometimes better, more often worse than those that walk on all-fours – who, because of his “divine spiritual and intellectual development”, has become the most vicious animal of all.
Rand: Damnation is the start of your morality; destruction is its purpose, means, and end. Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good which it defines as impossible for him to practice. It demands, as his first proof of virtue, that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start not with a standard of value but with a standard of evil, which is himself, by means of which he is then to define the good; the good is that which he is not. (page 951)

8. LaVey: Satan represents all of the so-called sins, as they all lead to physical, mental, or emotional gratification.
Rand: What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil; he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor; he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire; he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence. (page 951)

9. LaVey: Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had, as he has kept it in business all these years.
Rand: And as he now crawls through the wreckage, groping blindly for a way to live, your teachers offer him the help of a morality that proclaims that he’ll find no solution and must seek no fulfillment on Earth. Real existence, they tell him, is that which he cannot perceive, true consciousness is the faculty of perceiving the non-existent – and if he is unable to understand it, that is the proof that his existence is evil and his consciousness impotent. (page 952)

I think that most careful examinations of the Satanic Bible will show how the Nine Satanic Statements acted as an outline for the “Book of Lucifer” essays.

Anton LaVey is the Magus of the Age of Satan, and did Utter a Word and cause a magical restructuring of the universe. As the instrument of the creation of that Age, he is immortalized. At the same time, credit for the source of the philosophy which he espoused must be given to Ayn Rand.

Please understand that I was an Objectivist prior to joining the Church of Satan. It was the intellectual rigor demanded by Objectivism which enabled me to appreciate the full meaning of the Satanic Bible. At the same time I first completed reading it, I said that here I had found Objectivism with an open mind concerning paranormal phenomena.

This leaves us in an uncanny situation, for it is usually the enemies of secular liberalism who have happily indicted us as allies of lucifer. Yet here is the man on the republican presidential ticket, a man looked on with pride and admiration by the party as their best and brightest, who has been formed by the very principles of the superior maker versus his leeching inferiors, that form the bedrock of this baphometian testament. The calm, rational analysis is that the very principles espoused by this ticket, absent their patriotic finery, are indistinguishable from the self-serving ones of the luciferean cult.

Another possibility I entertain, which I give no credence to, but which makes for a more exciting plot, is that we are seeing the Mephisophelean candidate, a presidential ticket with the backing of the fallen one, just as the nominee of the Manchurian Candidate had the backing of the red china leadership. Here is a ticket, the top of which received initial funding for his business, Bain Capital, from families behind the killing of noble catholic archbishop Oscar Romero3, and whose pick for vice president gets foreign policy advice from the same man who covered up that same killing4, as well as the massacre in El Mozote. These men champion an economic plan, formed by the same ideas which serve as the foundation of american satanism, which will cut to the bone those in poverty and want, children, the elderly, the sick, and those veterans seeking safe haven after surviving hell overseas, so that a fortunate fraction may have more horse stables and cadillacs. They seek a cheap pile of votes by demanding that some men and women be starved into submission until they leave the country, while urging on wars with Iran and North Korea that their own families will never serve in. Were one to approach this mosaic with the same imagination as Tim LaHaye or Glenn Beck, would one not see here a presidential ticket backed by the prince of the lake of fire? Mitt Romney, who appears happy to welcome discussion on whether the president was born in the United States, and on the loyalty of Huma Abedin, will no doubt welcome discussion on this as well.

But I don’t seriously consider this possibility, except as one of exciting dramatic potential. I only note the irony that those brave warriors of the christian right who have always so happily fought satan as a force outside themselves and their party, have now satanism within. They appear possessed, and they are happily indifferent to it.

(On August 26th, the link to a pdf version of The Satanic Bible was updated, as the previous link was broken.)

1 Wright, the author of the essential The Looming Tower and “Lives of the Saints”, a great overview of Mormon history, catches all these lies, but misses two small ones: Jayne Mansfield’s intimate relationship with LaVey goes unquestioned, and there is LaVey’s ridiculous suggestion that when cutting something in his scrapbook, the scissors accidentally cut into a Mansfield photo, triggering her decapitation. Ridiculous in and of itself, but more so since Mansfield wasn’t decapitated.

2 An article covering the first wedding administered by LaVey, Associated Press, February 1st, 1967:

Rites “Conceived in Hell”

Asking the blessings of Satan, a couple was married last night in San Francisco by a lion-tamer-turned-sorceror who pronounced the match “conceived in hell.”

Through the dark rite, a 500-pound lion on the back porch grumbled throatily and bashed the bars of his cage with his paws.

The bride was black-gowned Judith Case, 26, graduate of Goucher College and daughter of Edward Haile Case, former member of the New York Power Authority. The bridegroom was John Raymond, 35, who described himself as “a member of society.”

Anton Szandor LaVey wore devil horns while performing his first wedding in the Victorian living room of his black-walled Satanist Church. About 30 disciples of the self-styled priest of the Prince of Darkness witnessed the wedding, plus an equal number of reporters.

3 From Mitt Romney Started Bain Capital With Money From Families Tied To Death Squads by Cole Stangler and Ryan Grim:

“I owe a great deal to Americans of Latin American descent,” [Mitt Romney] said at a dinner in Miami in 2007. “When I was starting my business, I came to Miami to find partners that would believe in me and that would finance my enterprise. My partners were Ricardo Poma, Miguel Dueñas, Pancho Soler, Frank Kardonski, and Diego Ribadeneira.”

Romney could also have thanked investors from two other wealthy and powerful Central American clans — the de Sola and Salaverria families, who the Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe have reported were founding investors in Bain Capital.

The Salaverria family, whose fortune came from producing cotton and coffee, had deep connections to the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA), a political party that death-squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson founded in the fall of 1981. The year before, El Salvador’s government had pushed through land reforms and nationalized the coffee trade, moves that threatened a ruling class whose financial and political dominance was built in large part on growing coffee. ARENA controlled and directed death squads during its early years.

On March 24, 1980, Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador and an advocate of the poor, was celebrating Mass at a chapel in a small hospital when he was assassinated on D’Aubuisson’s orders, according to a person involved in the murder who later came forward.

The day before, Romero, an immensely popular figure, had called on the country’s soldiers to refuse the government’s orders to attack fellow Salvadorans.

“Before another killing order is given,” he advised in his sermon, “the law of God must prevail: Thou shalt not kill.”

4 From The Daily Beast:

In recent months, Ryan has been receiving briefings from Elliott Abrams, George W. Bush’s former Middle East director at the National Security Council, and Fred Kagan, one of the architects of the military surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, as first reported by Weekly Standard reporter Stephen Hayes on Twitter.

From “Scandal? What Scandal” by Terry J. Allen, at FAIR, among many of those involved in Iran-Contra, including Abrams:

News reporting on Elliott Abrams has been so sparse and pallid as to give hope to war criminals everywhere. Like Negroponte, Abrams maintains ignorance when not boasting that his policy was a “fabulous achievement” (Washington Post, 3/21/93).

A few outlets have written strong editorials, particularly the Philadelphia Inquirer’s scorched-earth description (7/11/01) of Abrams as a “deceitful, scheming coddler of Latin American tyrants,” and “uncontrite peddler of lies.”

Most news stories, however, have simply noted the appointment and mentioned Abrams convictions for withholding evidence from Congress–as if he were a minor player haunted by sins of omission. They’ve ignored his cover-ups of the Salvadoran army’s massacre at El Mozote and assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Except for reporting in The Nation (7/2/01) and a piece by this reporter in In These Times (8/6/01), few publications have reprised Abrams’ role in Iran-Contra.

On February 8, 1982, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote “were not credible,” and that “it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas.”

It’s not as if hard evidence and gruesome details of Abrams’ knowledge and culpability are difficult to find. The man was convicted in open hearings and remains brazenly unrepentant. He called his prosecutors “filthy bastards,” the proceedings against him “Kafkaesque” and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee “pious clowns,” according to an article in Legal Times (5/30/94). Raymond Bonner broke the story of the El Mozote massacre in the New York Times (1/27/82). The story also ran in the Washington Post (3/5/82). Post reporters Guy Gugliotta and Douglas Farah (3/21/93) further documented Abrams’ role in El Salvador in a 1993 story.

Both links come via the always valuable Charles Pierce.

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Noam Scheiber’s Stuart Stevens Profile: A Small Reply

I very much enjoyed Noam Scheiber’s profile of Stuart Stevens, “The Square and the Flair”, a profile whose theses, that these men are more alike than you might think, and that these likenesses are detrimental to their campaign, I am in much agreement with, and for which the piece makes a convincing argument. That the essay does not take the more scathing approach I often take here, and avoids some matters I bring up here, I do not consider a failing, but simply a choice of focus. What follows are two small corrections, and a few supplemental observations. This post makes frequent reference to previous looks at Stevens’ work; a good overview of all this can be found in “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Media Assassin”, which might be considered an acid-tinged bookend to the Scheiber piece.

The first correction is small, but crucial. The piece opens with the following paragraph, I bold the key detail:

BEFORE HE EARNED his reputation as one of the best ad men in politics, before he wrote for several major television shows, and long before he became Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, Stuart Stevens found himself in Cameroon, face to face with a machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down. It was 1988, and a few weeks earlier, Stevens had deposited himself in the nearby Central African Republic to pick up a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to France. But the trip was a disaster from the get-go. Local officials confiscated the car and refused to release it. Weeks passed before he could find a roadworthy replacement. By the time Stevens finally got moving, he discovered that his maps were unreliable, the roads nearly impassable, and the local bureaucrats inhospitable. Distances drivable within a few hours in the United States gobbled up days.

It was not 1988, it was 1987. It’s very clearly established that the book takes place in 1987, through a number of details, among them that he arrives in Niger just after a coup has taken place in Burkina Faso, where a charismatic guitar-playing young leader has just been overthrown.

Niger, though, was a security-mad country with roadblocks and police checks every twenty or thirty miles. The routine of paranoia had been accelerated by a coup a few days earlier in neighboring Burkina Faso. Like virtually every West African leader, the president of Niger had catapulted himself to power in a similar coup and no doubt viewed the events in Burkina Faso as intimations of his own mortality. (The Burkina Faso president, an exceptionally charismatic guitar-playing young leader, was gunned down in his residence, as is the custom.)

All of this meant it was impossible to travel a mile in Niger without immaculately ordered papers, including insurance.

burkina faso coup pt one burkina faso coup pt two

This is Thomas Sankara, overthrown and killed October 15 1987. This date is very important, because Stevens speaks of the coup taking place a few days before, when he is in Niger in late November or early December: so how is it that the coup took place only days ago? These, and other details, point to the possibility, and I emphasize that it is a possibility, of fabulism. This is a serious charge, and not one I have made lightly: there are simply discrepancies in Malaria Dreams that I cannot understand or account for, detailed in my examination of strange flaws in currency and chronology in the book.

There is another possible correction, and it involves his first political campaign. Here is where it’s mentioned in Mr. Scheiber’s article:

Stevens’s political career began as a bit of a lark. In the mid-’70s, he interned in the congressional office of Thad Cochran and became friendly with Cochran’s chief of staff, Jon Hinson. When Hinson later ran for Congress, he enlisted Stevens to make his ads. Other than the internship, Stevens had little political experience to speak of.

Hinson’s winning race is in 1978. However, Night Train to Turkistan Stevens remembering his involvement in a different political campaign in 1975. The trip in Turkistan takes place in 1986, and he writes of a man accompanying him who worked with him on a gubernatorial campaign in Mississippi a decade before:

I’d met David ten years before when we both worked for the same gubernatorial candidate in Mississippi. We lost. David was quiet and very smart, with a stoic sort of love for the physical punishment of eighteen-hour campaign days in Mississippi’s 100 degree heat.

Turkistan David Governor underlined

If Stevens is interning with Thad Cochran, than I assume the candidate he works for in that year is a republican, and not his hero, democrat William Winter, defeated in the democratic primary of that same year1. If this is the case, then it puts an interesting nuance on this current election, because the democratic gubernatorial candidate, Cliff Finch, ran a campaign notable for its populist appeal2. There is additional interest in the fact that the republican opponent was Gil Carmichael, who, in 1976, would go on to support Ford over Reagan at the convention, the last menshevik victory before the bolsheviks triumphed completely3.

My supplementary observations deal with key similarities of these two men, Stevens and Romney, similarities that I think are obvious, but unnoted in this piece, one of which flows out of the correction just made. This particular shared detail is their utter opacity. With regard to the candidate, this has involved a large existential question, “Who is Mitt Romney?”, as well as small practical ones, such as, “How did he get such a huge stash in his IRA?”, and, “What’s hidden in his taxes?” That the simple detail of what the first political campaign Stevens worked on is an open question points to the veiled aspects of this consultant’s life.

In other posts, I have pointed to areas of Stevens’ life which, for a public figure, I find baffling in their mystery. I am grateful to a kindly reader who assures me that Stevens is very much married and that she has met his wife, the figure forever obscure, off-stage, and occasionally unmentioned in his books. I take the reader at their word, and consider this a private matter, though Stevens’ campaign considers many of such private matters, whether it be contraception, abortion, or same sex marriage, to be public ones. I remain, however, puzzled by his education, even more so after Mr. Scheiber’s piece. Looking again at all his statements of where he went to school, Stevens went to a college in the United States4, Oxford as an undergrad5, Oxford as a graduate6, and two film schools, one of which is UCLA7. He is eighteen going on nineteen in 1972 (birthday October 22)8. He writes in Big Enchilada of joining Hinson’s campaign in 1978, after the two film schools, and that from then on, he devoted himself entirely to his work as political consultant9. So, he goes to five schools (yes, I count Oxford undergrad and grad as separate schools) in six years. At the same time, Mr. Scheiber reports him interning for Thad Cochran, in Mississippi in the mid-seventies, and he himself says he worked on a Mississippi governor’s campaign in 1975. I am puzzled over how he’s interning in Mississippi, while going to school in California or England. For that matter, if he is working for a Mississippi gubernatorial candidate in an election during the fall of 1975, how is he going to school in a different state, or another country? There may well be a simple answer to this; but the mystery over the mundane issue of a man’s education, which should be a simple set of facts, neatly interlaced through his writings, instead suggests the same murky water of his client’s finances.

There is another quality which links both men, very much a part of this veil, and that is their protean amorphability. The collected statements of Stevens are something like a series of flipped quarters, each flip having no impact or consequence on the next. Though Lee Iacocca is compared venomously with Mao Tse Tung in Turkistan10, Stevens is deeply moved by the tears of George W. Bush in an utterly saccharine moment in Enchilada11. He makes fun of mormons in Feeding Frenzy12, and, well, look who his client is now. In 2000, his campaign to elect Bush involved tax relief for the least well-off and dealing with income inequality13. This current campaign is built around “broadening the tax base”, making sure those same people given relief then start paying more now, while providing even more tax cuts for the most well-off, such as Mitt Romney and Stuart Stevens14. Most writers are happy to mention how they predicted a particular event; his novel, Scorched Earth, ends in a tied election that most certainly anticipates the chaos of 200015. Stevens makes no mention of the novel, or its impasse, in his Bush campaign memoir, Enchilada16. A key issue in this election is health care, against which Stevens designs screechy ads for his client, who is currently against such a program as well. On the other hand, an episode of “Commander in Chief”, which he co-wrote, implies that national health insurance would be a very sound idea17. Scorched Earth stated bluntly that trying to keep PACs and campaigns from co-ordinating was like trying to keep teens from having sex18; in a 2008 interview, he declared there was no such co-ordination between PACs and the Bush campaign19. In 2009, he made fun of muslim-baiting, his current campaign happily abides it. Stevens used to defend Newt Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader20, this past primary, he destroyed Gingrich on charges of corruption while house leader21. He sneers at fellow southerner Al Gore naming his dog Shiloh, after a battle in which the south suffered such a devastating loss, though a few years earlier, Scorched Earth, a novel he wrote, featured one of its most sympathetic characters claiming that the poor of Mississippi deserved to be so because of their state’s part in the confederacy22. The republican nominee who has abided the Huma Abedin witch hunt, and met last week with many of its most enthusiastic proponents, has a chief strategist who writes of meeting with a member of the PLO in Malaria Dreams, where this member of the PLO is described sympathetically23.

I end with one final trait of the two men, and I think it is their most fatal flaw in this election. Both seem to lack anything like basic intuition of how their actions might be perceived. The cruel humor in Stevens’ books, where he’ll, say, threaten to choke one woman with a gas hose24, or his hero will threaten to tear out the vocal cords of another25, has no sense that it might be heard by others not as everyday metaphors of annoyance, but psychotic episodes. These jokes are unfunny for the same reason that the much blander humor of his client isn’t exactly a laugh riot either, that neither of these men have much idea of basic human internals. Mitt Romney asks random people if they’re french. Stuart Stevens writes books where the joke is, over and over again, some variation on person A threatening to hit, or actually hitting, person B26. These are the methods in which these alien overlords have been instructed to ingratiate themselves with the people of earth. This blindness blends with their own hubris, as Romney appears suddenly surprised that people might actually want to know more about complex tax schemes involving Swiss accounts, and business funding from families that backed Salvadoran death squads. This same arrogance may also have blinded Stevens, who appears not to have considered the possibility that someone might actually read all of his books, in an effort to discern the men behind the curtain who elect our political leaders, and helpfully point out the details of those books of greatest awkwardness to his campaign.

Mr. Scheiber writes of the holy warriors of the internet, of which Stevens was caught so unawares, of which Mr. Scheiber may or may not include myself, and here is one more small difference with which I have with the piece. Mr. Scheiber portrays the contrast of this election and that of twelve years ago a little too much as a difference of social networks, without emphasis on a country wrecked by financial pillaging, with the best of men and women maimed or dead in two wars. The anger arising from all these wasted lives is not some petty liberal petulance, but a white hot anger of a kind Stuart Stevens has never felt, an anger at being treated as simple playpieces in the games of others. To make as clear as possible who this man is, what he has said and done in the past, so he might not shape-shift away from it again, however, isn’t jihad. It’s simple accountability.

Other pieces that look at the life and career of political consultant Stuart Stevens include “He Hates You: A Profile of Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s Meda Assassin”, a brief look at his China travel memoir, Night Train to Turkistan, The Big Enchilada, his memoir of working in the George W. Bush campaign, a look at his travel memoir Malaria Dreams, an analysis of his novel Scorched Earth, an analysis of his book Feeding Frenzy, his interview with Charlie Rose promoting Feeding Frenzy, Stevens and Jon Hinson, an analysis of an episode of “Commander in Chief” which he co-wrote, and his defense of Newt Gingrich on “Charlie Rose”. Outside profiles and mentions, all excellent, are “Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot” by Robert Draper, “An Unconventional Strategist Reshaping Romney” by Ashley Parker, “The Coming Tsunami of Slime” by Joe Hagan, and “Mitt Romney’s Dark Knight” by Jason Zengerle.

1 William Winter is mentioned as a politician who Stevens first met as a youth, and greatly admired. Though he writes of his attempts at election, he makes no mention of helping any of these attempts.

So I fell in love with politics. Who wouldn’t? It had all the fun of combat but nobody died, or at least not very often. (No one shot Winter [Winter was at the time a segregationist, but considered insufficiently devoted to the issue, and marked for death by some extremists], but he lost, ran again and lost, and then finally was elected and turned out to be the best governor Mississippi had in fifty years.)

William Winter underlined

On Finch winning over Winter, from The Florence Times, August 27, 1975:

Finch Triumphs in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Attorney Cliff Finch packed a record gubernatorial victory into his campaign lunchpail today and proclaimed the Democratic runoff triumph “the American dream come true.”

Finch, who aimed a vigorous campaign at the working man, watched his margin over Lt. Gov. William Winter, the first primary leader, pass 110,000 votes, the largest margin in Mississippi political history.

2 From the Press-Courier:

Finch, a former district attorney, has campaigned by performing manual labor to demonstrate friendship with workers, using a metal lunchbox as campaign symbol. His jobs have included bulldozer operator, pulpwood cutter, shrimp boat worker, oilfield roughneck, diesel mechanic, butcher and grocery bagger.

3 From The Fredericksburg Free Lance Star:

Pressure tactics by Ford partisans are angering Mississippi Republicans

By Jonathan Wolman, Associated Press Writer

The chairman of the Mississippi Republican party, angered by the tactics of President Ford’s partisans, says their efforts to woo delegates in the state may have backfired and reduced support for Ford.

Criticizing the efforts on Ford’s behalf, Clarke Reed said Thursday that Ford may have less support in the delegation today than he did just two days ago.

Reed said pressure from Ford backers included suggestions that Ronald Reagan would settle for a vie presidential nomination.

Reagan telephoned Ford campaigner Gil Carmichael of Meridianm, Miss., on Thursday and told him to stop telling delegates that Reagan is considering a vice presidential position.

Carmichael said that in four days of heavy telephone lobbying he and other Ford supporters told delegates only that they believed a Ford-Reagan ticket was possible. But Reed said Carmichael had been telling delegates a Ford-Reagan ticket was sanctioned by Reagan.

Reagan told Carmichael that he would not consider a FordReagan ticket “under any circumstances,” according to the Mississippian.

4 From “Thank God, This Will Only Get Worse” by Stuart Stevens, on cross country skiing:

I’d tried it once in college when an exceptionally gorgeous girl of a Nordic type suggested a trip up Pikes Peak in Colorado as something of a first date. (That sort of squeaky-clean approach was popular at that time and place, a phase I hope has passed for those still dating in Colorado.)

5 From Feeding Frenzy:

We were in a little restaurant on the side of a cliff in a town called Eze, wedged between Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Monte Carlo. I was nineteen, I think, and on one of the many interminable vacations that Oxford likes to provide. She was a few years older, an American, but she had lived in France for a while, which seemed very impressive and somehow important. It was late March and not far away there were almost nude women lying on rocks they called a beach.


6 From “My Secret Life As A Muslim” by Stuart Stevens:

From my formative years as a grad student at Oxford, where there were many Muslims, there exist photographs of me attending a lecture entitled, “The History of Islam.” I was spotted many times riding my motorcycle in the vicinity of the Mosque on Bath Road. That I was visiting a girlfriend who lived nearby may only have been a clever deep cover deception. As proof of my success as a Muslim organizer, there are now four Mosques in Oxford, where there was only one when I was a student.

7 From The Big Enchilada:

Then a friend called just as I was finishing film school. He was running for Congress in Mississippi against Senator John Stennis’s son and couldn’t afford to hire anybody to make ads for him. So he asked me to do it. I explained that I didn’t have the slightest idea how to make commercials and when he protested that I had just been to two of the fanciest film schools in the country, I tried to tell him that mostly what I did was watch old films and write little essays and listen to people like Vincente Minnelli tell us how it used to be. (Minnelli wore a blazer the color of a canary yellow Post-it note. Perfect.)

film school part one film school part two

That one of the schools should be UCLA comes from its mention in an early Stevens profile, “Image Makers Hard at Work In the Selling of a Candidate”:

This free-form approach reflects the philosophy of the 40-year-old Mr. Stevens. Unlike most political consultants who rose from campaign ranks, he went to film school at the University of California at Los Angeles and has published fiction.

8 From Malaria Dreams:

It was my birthday, the twenty-second of October.

birthday 22 october

From Building a Better Mitt Romney-Bot, by Robert Draper, published November 30, 2011.

Stevens, a 58-year old Mississippi native (whom I have known for over a decade), is as wry, eclectic and mussed in appearance as his boss is earnest and buttoned up.

9 The excerpt on finishing film schools is at footnote 7.

That the election between John Hampton Stennis and Jon Hinson took place in 1978 can be found in the wikipedia entry for John C. Stennis, Hampton’s father.

[John C.] Stennis married Coy Hines, and together, they had two children, John Hampton and Margaret Jane. His son, John Hampton Stennis (born ca. 1935), an attorney in Jackson, Mississippi, ran unsuccessfully in 1978 for the United States House of Representatives, having been defeated by the Republican Jon C. Hinson, then the aide to U.S. Representative Thad Cochran, who ran successfully to succeed James O. Eastland for the other Mississippi seat in the U.S. Senate.

After the film schools, he becomes a media consultant:

It wasn’t as though I had a lot of offers after film school, and I had to admit it did sound like fun. So I went back to Mississippi and somehow we stumbled our way to victory in what was seen as a major upset. Then I discovered other people would pay me money to make commercials for them.

So I became a media consultant.

Why not? It’s a profession of charlatans. You want to be a media consultant, just say you’re one. To drive a cab in New York, at least you have to take a test, know how to get to Kennedy. But media consulting? No way.

became a media consultant part one underlined became a media consultant part two underlined

10 In Turkistan, Stevens speaks to a chinese man about the popularity of Iacocca’s autobiography in China.

“Can you buy Iacocca’s book in China?” [asked Stevens]

“Every day in the People’s Daily, two pages of the I-Coke-ah book is run.” [answered Lu Wei Hong]

“That’s almost the whole paper.”

“Yes. This is very important.”

Startling as the idea was, it did make a certain amount of sense that Iacocca would go over big in a country molded by Mao. The two had a lot in common: both were megalomaniacs, and both had a special knack for what might be called Succeeding Through Failure. Mao realized that he was losing his grip in 1965, so he launched the Cultural Revolution and reestablished himself as the dominant figure in China. Iacocca was fired at Ford, landed a job as head of a bankrupt company that made terrible cars, had to beg Congress for a billion dollars – all the sort of stuff that would have made any normal person embarrassed to appear in public. And yet he had the gall to strut around on national television in commercials, becoming a folk hero in the process.

Both were also fashion arbiters in their own right – Mao, the blue jackets and cap; Iacocca, the shirts with contrasting collars and cuffs. And both had been trading for years on one impressive achievement: Mao had pulled off the Long March, and Iacocca had overseen the creation of the Mustang.


11 When shooting George W. Bush for a campaign spot:

[Mark McKinnon, a fellow consultant] started out with some general questions about growing up in Midland. We weren’t sure how we would use this, but it was familiar terrain and a way to start a conversation. Bush loved Midland and you could see his eyes soften and his whole body relax when he talked about what it was like to grow up in a place with few trees and a ton of oil wells.

They moved on to the standard issues, tax cuts and then the military. When talking about how important it was for America to be respected around the world, his tone shifted and he looked off camera for a moment and for a beat I thought he might tear up. It surprised me. What was he thinking, feeling?

“You know,” he said, “everywhere I go in America, everywhere I’ve gone on this fantastic journey so far, people walk up to me with pictures of their children and say, ‘Governor, I want my child to look at the White House and be proud of what he or she sees.'”

Then he stopped and a hint of tears did come. The room was utterly silent, with only the faint hum of the 35-millimeter film running through the camera.

In the editing room a week later, we used what he said in a spot we called “Pictures.” It was always my favorite.

george w bush in tears

12 In Feeding Frenzy:

Living in New York, I had long ago developed a psychological defense to absurd restaurant prices based on specious rationalizations along the lines of “Well, it’s cheaper than a car” or “Mormons pay this much every couple of months to feed the average family of fifteen.” It helped, sort of.

mormons joke

13 From Enchilada, George W. Bush going through the copy of a campaign ad:

He read the final line of the script. “‘I believe we ought to cut tax rates to continue economic growth and prosperity.’ We should change this. It makes it sound like all I want to do is continue what Clinton has done. We can do better than that and we ought to say it. The whole idea of the tax plan will be to eliminate taxes for people at the bottom of the spectrum.”

eliminate taxes bottom spectrum underlined

14 From ThinkProgress, “Like Romney’s Tax Plan, House Republican ‘Tax Reform’ Would Mean A Major Middle-Class Tax Increase”

A study from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center revealed yesterday, Romney’s plan would raise taxes on middle-class families with children by an average of $2,000 and raise taxes on all taxpayers with incomes under $200,000 by an average of $500. (Those estimates are conservative: In filling in missing details, TPC bent over backwards to make Romney’s plan as kind to the middle class as possible, given the hard promises he has made on tax cuts for the rich and corporations.)

A middle-class tax increase is inevitable under Romney’s plan because it’s impossible to pay for Romney’s tax cuts for the rich by reducing their tax breaks. As a result, the TPC study finds, Romney’s plan “mathematically necessitates a shift in the tax burden of at least $86 billion away from high-income taxpayers onto lower- and middle-income taxpayers.”

15 An excerpt from Scorched Earth, dealing with the possibility that clerks on the ground will steal votes:

Solomon Jawinski, even after being governor for seven years, had never been accepted by many in the local courthouse crowd – the county clerks and the supervisors – and they were the ones most likely to steal votes. The way things were these days, it was hard for them to steal big time, but they could definitely tilt an election that was less than half a percent. The courthouse crowd loved nothing more in the world than a close election. The state, like all southern states, was still under the jurisdiction of the federal Voting Rights Act, and it required Justice Department approval to strike a single name from the voting rolls. Few county clerks wanted to go to the trouble of dealing with Washington just because somebody had moved or died, so as a result there were more people on the voting rolls dead than alive. That made it very easy to steal.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

On the importance of the campaign controlling vote inspection and tallying:

Everywhere on the ground floor of the mansion, people were screaming into telephones. No fewer than ten cellular phones were in use, and every line of the mansion’s thirteen line system was lit by a manic voice intent on securing a not insignificant prize – six years in the U.S. Senate. The noise was elaborate. A desperate, loud noise:

“What do you mean those boxes are ‘okay’? We’ll decide if they’re okay or not, not some damn county clerk wanting to kiss Luke Bonney’s ass. Hell, yes, I want ’em impounded now!”

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

The importance of making sure you’re perceived as the winner during a close election:

Charlie Song, talking into two telephones, winked at Matt. He flashed a thumbs-up, not very convincingly. He was still in a very Charlie Song suit that did not look as if he had slept in it, as Matt knew he had. If he had slept at all. Theirs would have been an all-night vigil, with lawyers rousted in the middle of night. The finest legal aides available in the state turned out of bed like a bunch of Parris Island recruits heading for a midnight march through the swamps.

A television was on in the corner, and Luke Bonney was standing before a podium expressing his supreme confidence that the recount would put him where the people of this great state clearly wanted him – in the United States Senate. Matt could just make out the faded Sun and Sand logo on the podium.

“Dream on, slime sucker!” Ruthie hissed, turning to give Matt a quick kiss on the cheek. Her eyes glowed with the heat of the hunt. “Banana republic stuff, Matt,” she whispered fiercely, “we hold on to the lead long enough, we got it. Bring out the tanks! Put those damn planes in the air!”

Matt agreed sophisticated armaments might come in handy.

Scorched Earth 031n Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

An emphasis on violence, on military power, on force, to establish that you are the true leader in a close vote:

The Solomon Jawinski postelection press conference was held on the steps of the mansion. The location had been Matt’s idea and had been chosen to project as much credible force as possible. It was the sort of thing best done while standing on top of a tank surrounding by a whole bunch of ferocious-looking guys with nasty weapons. The message was clear: I am mean. I am strong. Do not mess with me, or you shall die.

Instead of tanks, Jawinski had to settle for the somewhat imposing white columns of the mansion and in place of armed men, civility dictated he rely on a bunch of tired-looking lawyers. It suffered in the translation, but Solomon Jawinski seemed delighted by the world. Matt couldn’t remember seeing him this happy.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

16 The section of Enchilada dealing with the recount is a small part of the book, going from page 280 to 298. Nothing of Scorched Earth is ever mentioned, here, or at any part of the book. Two fragments covey an idea of the tone of those twenty pages, one of helplessness and ennui.

We though it would all be over in a matter of days. There would be a machine recount of all the ballots, our lead would expand or stay about the same and Gore would accept defeat and concede graciously. Had anybody suggested that this thing would go on for another thirty-five days, we would have laughed hysterically, then probably thrown the person out of the window. Thirty-five days for a simple recount? No way.

But for the next thirty-five days, I would wake up every morning to the growing realization that whether we won or lost, the race for the presidency was going to have little to do with anything we did in Austin that day. For all our posturing in front of the television cameras, this was now an election that would be decided in the courtroom by lawyers. They were the soldiers now and I was just another well-intentioned civilian.

beginning of recount underlined

17 The episode focuses on a soldier whose wife is very sick, and lacking the insurance to pay for her medication, he threatens to blow up Air Force One in an attempt to get her the help she needs. His wife can’t get the insurance she needs because of her pre-existing condition. A script excerpt; HENDRICKS is the soldier’s doctor, ALLEN is the president, GARDNER the vice-president.

A tank backed into him.

A tank?

Damaged his left leg. But he worked like hell in therapy and did all the right things.

He improved, so he was reclassifed as only 30 percent disabled.

Which dropped him out of priority one coverage and he lost his insurance.

ROD CALLOWAY [The president’s husband]
Doesn’t his current job come with health insurance?

For him. But not his wife because of her pre-existing condition.

Though the president will not negotiate with this man, she is sympathetic to his plight, and concedes that the fact that he lacks insurance is an issue of the federal government not serving him well.

Mr. Terzano, you have not served your country very well today. But there is reason to believe…that you have not been well-served by your country, either. If your country is at fault I promise to take the necessary steps…

The episode ends with the medication for the soldier’s wife paid for through donations from others throughout the country. Is this not something like insurance? A full examination of the episode is here.

18 A front group PAC is set up to help elect the protaganist’s candidate. Farkas is a member of the campaign, Byron Timmons heads the ostensibly independent PAC. The narrator brings up the obvious issue that it’s illegal for there to be any co-ordination between the PAC and the campaign, and the fact that such co-ordination is inevitable.

“Can Farkas be traced?” Matt asked, ignoring her and trying to focus. “Will anyone prove he was involved with Byron?”

“No,” Charlie answered, though he wasn’t really sure of this at all. It was what he had spent the afternoon trying to decide. Some people knew that Farkas was a friend of Byron Timmons’s [sic], but that couldn’t be called a crime, though by all rights it should have been.

The question at hand involved a violation of FEC – Federal Election Commission – law. It was illegal for there to be any contact or coordination between an independent group like Citizens for Good Government and a federal campaign. This was because the independent groups were exempt from the fund-raising limitations and reporting requirements imposed on congressional and senatorial campaigns. Nine times out of ten, however, this was a sham. It was like trying to keep teenagers from having sex. The very notion of stopping two groups with the same goal from trading information and plotting together sub rosa was preposterous.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

19 Originally, this interview appeared on the site Buying of the President, which appears to be off-line at the moment. A copy of the relevant text is below, with the most important parts bolded; screenshots of the page itself, with this relevant fragment are listed afterwards.

How do you feel about both the independent-expenditure committees and 527s, in terms of losing control of your own campaign?

I hate it.

Talk a little about that.

Like the Swift Boats. I remember when the whole Swift Boat thing, everybody in the [George W.] Bush world was furious, and sort of stunned. People don’t believe this, but it’s true.

So it’s not enough to be able to say, “Hey, that wasn’t ours, and we had nothing to do with it — we didn’t talk to anybody.” You are getting nailed with it anyway? Is that the problem?

Oh, yeah. People do nail you with it. And most of the time they screw it up, in the sense that they don’t do what you want to do. And I remember in the Swift Boat thing, I had been working on this ad, just kind of noodling on my own, where it was very straightforward. “John Kerry came back from Vietnam and he said this.” And then I had just a clip of it. It said, “What do you think?” That was it. And then the Swift Boat people came in.

But it didn’t go after the element of his service in Vietnam?

No. And they entered the argument on the medals issue, which I always felt was the worst way to argue that. Like should he have gotten two medals instead of three? It’s just insane. And so I felt that by entering the argument at that point, they had discredited the argument. And the one thing you could say about someone like Karl [Rove], Karl likes to control things. Not in a bad way, but in a “we don’t like stuff just to happen.” And all of us, I think, were like, “What?” I certainly didn’t know anything. I don’t think anybody knew anything about it. It’s just kind of you wake up one morning, and it’s like, “What?” I remember the phone ringing, one of the 6 a.m. phone calls, you know whatever it’s going to be it’s not going to be good. It’s like, “Have you seen this?” And so, I mean, people say the Swift Boat thing hurt Kerry. Maybe. Maybe the way they handled it hurt him. But I thought the “Ashley” ad that was done mainly in Ohio by the 527s, you see that where Bush is embracing this girl whose mother had died in 9/11. He did the Willie Horton ads, Larry [McCarthy]; he did it. I thought it was a very good ad, fabulous ad.

buying of the president part one buying of the president part two

20 A transcript of Stevens defending Gingrich at the time on “Charlie Rose”. The page also features a link to the episode.

21 The ad “History Lesson”:

22 From Enchilada:

As a Mississippian, I was mildly amused that the dog’s name was Shiloh; what kind of Southerner named his dog after a battle which turned into a Southern slaughter? It would be like a German naming a dog Stalingrad. Maybe a focus group had liked it.

Shiloh underlined

From Scorched Earth, governor Solomon Jawinski during an interview, on the problem with germans and the people of Mississippi:

“They still have this horrible sense of thwarted destiny. Lookit,” he took off his glasses and rubbed the dark circles surrounding his eyes like bruises, “one hundred years ago, this was the richest part of the country. Man, we were rich rich rich. But then we went and did a stupid violent thing called secession. In five years we became the poorest part of the country, and one hundred years later, it’s still that way. And maybe that’s not so bad.”

“It’s good to be poor?” Dawn looked genuinely shocked.

“It’s good to have some kind of reminder of what happens when people do something horrible – like rebellion.”

poor of Mississippi underlined

23 From Malaria Dreams, the entrance of Habib, the palestinian:

Habib woke me up. “Can I help you?” he asked politely, like a steward on a cruise ship at teatime. He was a portly fellow wearing a tweed jacket and rep tie with a scarf thrown over his neck. His accent was English, his manner that of an amiable Oxford don.

Habib was a Palestinian, a teacher by profession, forced to Algeria with his family after 1948. With little prompting, he launched into an astoundingly intricate analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. At regular intervals he interrupted the erudite lecture to grasp my arm, encrusted with a grimy layer of oil and sand, imploring, “You see? You must help us?”

Eventually I realized that he meant the United States government, rather than myself. I nodded vaguely, trying to come up with words befitting my new dipomatic status.

habib palestinian resolution 242

A man who, it turns out, is a member of the PLO:

“It was a very smart hiding place,” Cheik-ben said thoughtfully. I must remember it the next time I go to France.”

“But why would you take a tent to France?” Habib, the scholar asked. “The hotels in France are excellent. After the 1986 PLO council meeting in Tangiers, the old man and I traveled to Saint-Tropez.”

new council meeting

24 From Feeding Frenzy:

“What do we do?” [says Stevens]

“We could stop and siphon out the old gas and put in new.”

“Siphon? Siphon with what?”

“A hose would probably be best, don’t you think?”

I thought about killing her, maybe with a hose wrapped around her neck.

choking rachel

25 From Scorched Earth, the hero political consultant, Matt Bonney, talks to two women.

“Look, let’s face it,” Ruthie said, “My sister on television is strictly a T and A kind of thing regardless of what she is doing. She’s a T and A kind of girl.”

“Oh,” Lisa said, “unlike being an anchorwoman like my sister. T and A has nothing to do with that, of course not. That’s strictly a matter of superior intellect. That’s why they hired Dawn. I mean, she’s just talking about plastic surgery now because it will make her smarter.”

Dawn! Matt’s vision went a little blurry around the edges.

“Plastic surgery?” Ruthie giggled. “She is not.”

Lisa laughed, and Ruthie turned to Matt. “Dawn doesn’t need any surgery, does she?” Ruthie asked. “Neck, eyes, cheeks?”

Matt wanted to reach across the table and bite her vocal cords right out of her throat.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt Bonney, in conversation with one of the women again:

Ruthie suddenly smiled. It was a huge smile that lit up her entire face. “We’re going to win,” she murmured, almost breathlessly. “This will do it for sure. Luke is finished!” She thought for a moment. “We ought to still do that spot you came up with, the one with Luke on vacation with those lobbyist sleazebags. Have you been able to get that tape yet?”

Her Adam’s apple bobbed up and down, and Matt thought very hard for an instant about biting it and ripping it from her throat with his teeth.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

26 Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus pollster Walter Farkas in Scorched Earth:

Walter Farkas was standing there gawking when Matt hit him in the stomach. Tired as he was, Matt’s punch was not particularly powerful, but it was close enough to bump Farkas into Lionel, who was just entering the kitchen door behind Farkas with a tray full of plates. Flailing about for a handhold, Lionel grabbed hold of Farkas’s shirt. For a moment, the two hung together in some perfect symmetry before all those good pompano dinners Lionel had consumed over the years edged his center balance toward the floor, and together, linked like an awkward train, the two of them cascaded backward through the door into the restaurant. The tray full of dishes followed closely thereafter, its astounding crash serving as period to Farkas’ strangled cry: “Crackers! All crackers!”

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Matt Bonney, hero political consultant, versus his brother.

Luke shrugged, and Matt thought he looked incredibly smug for a fellow who had just been accused of waking up next to transvestites. Matt thought about this for a bit, then he stood up and, almost as an afterthought, hit his brother very hard right in his nose.

“Right,” Matt repeated when Luke fell, sputtering to the floor, blood exploding all over his gray pinstripes and Ruthie’s Oriental rug.

Stuart Stevens Scorched Earth

Stuart Stevens runs into an old woman in Belgium when his car has car troubles.

“Can you recommend a hotel?” I asked an elderly woman walking her tiny Pekingese pup.

“You have a problem,” she said.

Immediately I felt like strangling the woman. A problem? A problem? Just because I’m riding around in a car with no brakes in a city with man-eating tunnels and I’ve got a dog on the back seat who is just dying to eat your silly little dog and, besides, I’m about to be late for dinner at Comme Chez Soi, you think I’ve got a problem? PROBLEM?!

maybe it would kill some germans

Stuart Stevens in Feeding Frenzy, dealing with an acquaintance after car problems:

Through a rising cloud of thick smoke, I pulled the car over, crushing a long line of the wildflowers I’d been admiring.

“Where’s your fire extinguisher?” Carl demanded, reverting to his years of military training.

“I don’t have a damn fire extinguisher,” I shot back. “Who carries a fire extinguisher, for cryin’ out loud?”

“People who don’t want their old Mustangs to burn,” Carl said.

If I’d had a fire extinguisher, I would have definitely used it to slide the nozzle down his throat. Then a little squeeze of the handle…It was a delicious notion.

From “Let’s All Chill”, an article for Outside magazine, about an arctic journey.

No matter how many gloves I put on, or what kind, they would not stay warm. By the second night on the ice, my fingers had started to blister.

“How did this happen?” I asked Børge, staring at them.

“You are in the Arctic,” he shrugged.

“Børge,” I sighed. “I think I’m going to kill you.”

Tony, an englishman, in Feeding Frenzy.

I’d met Tony through politics, when he had wanted to cover a “real American campaign” and had talked me into letting him report on a race I was working on in South Dakota. My misguided effort to be helpful resulted in four long days of Tony at my side murmuring, “The vastness, oh, the vastness,” every few minutes. He actually wore a Savile Row bespoke suit; I’m not making this up, he really did. And brand-new cowboy boots fashioned from the skin of some unidentified endangered species. He also wore bow ties and was fond of quoting Kevin Costner from Dances with Wolves. We spent four days in South Dakota, and had we spent a fifth, I’m confident he would have been sent back to Brighton in a box, disemboweled by some disgruntled South Dakotan who couldn’t take another word from this bow-tied, Savile-suit-wearing dandy in iridescent cowboy boots.

south dakota man

From “Brains, Know How, and Native Intelligence”, a “Northern Exposure” episode written by Stevens:

Northern Exposure

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Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

(As usual, for reasons of brevity, one of the co-creators of the movie has been left out of the post title. This movie had a screenwriter, and his name was Paul Mayersberg.)

This post has an embedded vine at the end of the page which features explicit NSFW nudity.

A movie that has greatness in it, but remains maddeningly obscure since its release. A contemporary Times review was short, dismissive and deaf to its deeper themes. When Ed Lauter, one of its stars, was recently interviewed by the A.V. Club (Will Harris is the interviewer), he was asked about his work on “Simon & Simon”, but, sadly, not this strange and beautiful vision. One may, however, take some comfort that a feted olympic ringmaster named it among his favorites. The movie is a mix of conventional genres such as bio-pic, murder mystery, courtroom drama, romance, but all given an enrapturing tilt. It hints at all the possibilities of movies, and hints at the paths not taken in film, an old-time studio epic rendered into a hallucinatory dream. The stories of these epics, such as Duel in the Sun or Gone With The Wind, which the movie hat-tips, have elements which suggest myths, but this movie goes them one better, not simply giving the characters the stature of myth, but giving the story the metaphysics and rituals of myths as well. I do not think the movie’s themes are what make it great, and I am, in fact, much in disagreement with some of them, but I think it helpful to make clear that the film is not a haphazard mess of strangeness, but of a very clear design. I make a small, obvious note before going on: those who have not seen the film will be utterly lost in what follows.

The viewer who casually stumbles upon the movie might think its plot a fantastic creation: one of the richest men in the world, a former gold prospector, is brutally murdered, with the husband of his gorgeous daughter put on trial for murder. All of this, did in fact take place, a celebrity murder and trial that received extraordinary coverage at the time, but has now, for whatever reason, descended into obscurity. The story of this movie’s Jack McCann (Gene Hackman, hitting it out of the park, as usual) is that of Harry Oakes, a former doctor who was obsessed with striking it rich, traveling throughout the world, including the Yukon, the Congo, and Australia, before hitting pay dirt, not in the stark snow landscape of the film, but Kirkland Lake, Ontario, developing a gold mine that made him one of the wealthiest men of the world. He renounced his U.S citizenship, moved to Canada, acquired a baronetcy, felt he paid too many taxes even after tossing massive contributions to politicos, renounced his Canadian citizenship, then moved to the Bahamas, where he bought much of the land, held much of the island’s power, and built a lavish estate. It was there that he was brutally murdered, and his son-in-law, Alfred de Marigny – the movie’s Claude Maillot Van Horn (Rutger Hauer) – was put on trial and eventually acquitted. Harold Christie, a real estate magnate and close friend of Oakes – Charles Perkins of the film (the solid Ed Lauter) – always remained a strong suspect as the true killer.

The movie is based on Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? by Marshall Houts; I have not read a book by this title, but I have read his King’s X: Common Law and the Death of Harry Oakes, which appears to be entirely the same material given a different name. Houts adds one extra dancer to the whole fandango, based on unnamed sources, who may or may not have held the role given him: Meyer Lansky. This addition made by Houts, is included in the film, Lansky now Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci, known for playing one or two gangsters after this), who becomes the main force in opposition to McCann, though Lansky’s involvement has been dismissed by his definitive biography, Robert Lacey’s Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster’s Life1. On the other hand, there is a fantastic element of the actual case, and in Houts’ book, which is removed, perhaps because it was too distracting: the duchess and duke of Windsor, the abdicated king, were on the Bahamas at the time, and were close friends of Oakes. When Marigny wrote his memoir of the affair, A Conspiracy of Crowns, a book I’d like to read but have not yet, he placed the royals among the conspirators acting against him. I mention their omission not as possible suspects left out, but to make the point that a tale that might seem fantastic has actually had some fantastic elements left out.

When looking at the cast, it might seem that the game of putting unlike actors together for comic and unsettling effect is being played, but it is nothing of the kind. The parts are very close to what they were, as described by Houts, and the casting is pitch perfect.

The Harry Oakes, in King’s X, is a man with an obsessive hunger, and a raw demeanour.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann on the quest for gold

From the beginning, Harry Oakes was an introspective daydreamer, short and wiry, whose adult height barely reached 5 feet 6 inches. A lone wolf, he roamed the woods, fished the streams, and hunted the forests without a single close friend to his credit.

If psychological clichés had been the vogue at the time for Harry Oakes’ graduation from Bowdoin College in 1896, someone might well have alleged, “His grasp on reality is rather tenuous.” When he talked at all, it was always about the great fortune he would make; but he would not even speculate on the plan he would employ to amass great wealth.

In a milieu where a partner was frequently essential to survival, Oakes still found that he could work only alone. If anything, his physical privations and the obsession that drove him to exhaustion for twelve, fourteen, and sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, made him more introspective. His eighty-pound pack was substantially heavier than half his total body weight. He endured the 50-degree-below-zero temperatures in the sunless winter. He tolerated the flies and mosquitoes of the long summers which were virtually without darkness. He did not drink. He did not gamble. What he did about women is not known. The life of the gold prospector in Alaska around the turn of the century could not help but leave an indelible imprint on this asocial Bowdoin Yankee, the erstwhile medical student with psychotic compulsion that somehow, some way, some day, he would possess one of the world’s great fortunes.

On his extraordinary discovery:

Myth and truth coalesce in their account of Harry Oakes’ famous strike. The truth is that it occurred on Kirkland Lake in northern Ontario, east of the trading post of Swastika, some two years after Oakes’ arrival in Toronto. We know that it was the second largest gold mine in the Western Hemisphere, second only to the Homestake mine in South Dakota, which served as the financial base for the William Randolph Hearst fortune.

His appearance by the time of his arrival in the Bahamas:

By this time he was paunchy, like a bloated athlete who adds great bulk quickly after hanging up his spikes and deserting the regimen of the training table. His face, particularly about the eyes, was a mass of fine lines, the insults of cruel years in arctic cold and desert heat. The wide-set eyes with their hard, intransigent glare fenced in a long, bulbous, beak-like nose. His nose stopped only a quarter inch above thin, fine lips that locked defiantly above a jutting, belligerent jaw. Perhaps his most noticeable feature was a full head of wavy hair, only slightly lined with gray.

Oakes’ manners on the island:

But Harry Oakes had paid dearly for his financial pinnacle. Anything resembling manners, grace, and charm which he had possessed when he left Maine were spilled along the frozen wastes of the Yukon and the burning sands of Australia and Death Valley. He was now a boorish man, crude in both language and demeanor. At the table he spit out grape seeds and fruit pits with the same reckless abandon that had characterized his animal-like meals in Dawson City and Nome. Since a knife was the proper eating tool for beans and bacon in Western Australia, there was no reason why it should not be used in the best hotels in Toronto. His language, liberally laced with four-letter words, remained vulgar.

Jane Lapotaire, as Helen, is an equal fit for Oakes’ wife, Eunice:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka McCann's wife Eunice

Eunice was three inches taller than Harry. Her soft blue eyes set off a plain, oval face formed around a straight, medium nose. She was slender and lithe, her movements instinctively poised. Her father was a government employee in Sydney, Australia, and Eunice worked as a stenographer in a bank. She smiled often and easily and Oakes fell immediately under her spell.

Ed Lauter is Charles Perkins, the film’s Harold Christie. Lauter has played some very tough characters, but here he deliberately is a blank, a man of a banal, quisling exterior with a killing envy coiled up inside.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Ed Lauter as Charlie Perkins

In physical appearance Christie was average and undistinguished in every respect. His receding dark hair exposed a great, curved, symmetrical dome which was now naked for several inches back of where the hairline had run years earlier. The hairs thinned at this new boundary, exposing bar skin behind them to give the illusion of a canted halo. The eyes were nondescript as was the nose and, for that matter, the entire round face. He stood some forty pounds heavier than he was when he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War I, although he did not appear particularly puffy or grotesquely overweight.

I read the description of Marigny, and, despite the change in hair color, I see Rutger Hauer as the sleazy playboy, now named Claude Maillot Van Horn, without difficulty:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Rutger Hauer - Claude Maillot Van Horn

Everyone knew something about the lean, lanky, broad-shouldered man in his thirty-sixth year, whose arms and legs dangled almost disconnectedly on his 6-foot-5-inch frame. His hair was black, parted on the side, and slightly wavy; and his clear skin was always tanned dark, the result of constant exposure to sun and sea.

The appearance of Pierre De Valois (Cavan Kendall) embodies well Georges de Visdelou Guimbeau, who had the intriguing role of Marigny’s companion:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Cavan Kendall as Pierre De Valois

De Visdelou was born with darting eyes, and there was no way in the world for him to alter their impression of shiftiness and untrustworthiness. It was he rather than de Marigny who looked the role of cad, gigolo, and fake. His brow was wide, his face narrow, and his chin pointed; his black wavy hair rolled in perfect marcels; there was a cast of femininity in his demeanour, hand motions, and voice; and the French accent, captivating and intriguing on De Marigny, shouted out arrogance and deception when emitted by de Visdelou.

This man, who barely has a part in the movie, played the role of a seamy shadow, accompanying Marigny on his early adventures before he met the Oakes family, another aspect that makes the story even more fantastic, like something from a Patricia Highsmith novel:

Alfred de Marigny, and a fellow islander, Georges de Visdelou Guimbeau, who was apparently authorized to use the title of Marquis, made several trips together to Europe. They were in and out of boarding schools after passing beyond the limited offerings of the educational system on their island; and in 1937, Alfred de Marigny married Lucie-Alice Cahen, the daughter of an Alsatian banker, who was classed as an heiress ofsorts, although what she inherited was enver clearly established. It may have been truth and it may have been subsequent fiction, but the banker-father is supposed to have charged that “Count” de Marigny was a confidence man whose only interest was his own bankroll.

De Marigny, his bride, and Georges the Marquis de Visdelou crossed the Atlntic to the United States as a merry threesome aboard the Normandie, in an era of cruise ships for the rich and idle.

“What a trip it was!” de Marigny later wrote. “I had been reading a play called Design for Living [by Noel Coward, about a husband, wife, and love who lived in the same house]…and found the parallel most amusing.”

The implications were clear: There was an easy and thrill-gratifying triangular co-option of bed partners, long before wife-swapping became popular in a later generation of swingers.

Those qualities of Van Horn, a suaveness, a handsomeness that makes him so attractive to women, and a wayward dissoluteness which repels McCann, are there in life, as described by Houts:

He spoke in a sort of throaty, Charles Boyer, French accent, punctuate by dapper manners that included back-slapping of men and hand-kissing of women. He could exude charm, grace, and poise; and he was considered an excellent conversationalist, his thickly accented English underscored by colorful phrases that conveyed descriptive imagery. His great captivator, enemy and friend both agreed, was his easy, fluid smile that wilted grandmothers, mothers, daughters, contemporaries, and granddaughters. There was about him a tantalizingly evil mystique.

He was however, never accepted by the native Bahamians. His reaction was to look condescendingly at them and scorn even their few social invitations when they came. The natives never forgave him for being foreign, and they thought him supercilious, haughty, distant, boorish, and overbearing. He was called not only playboy, but fop and gigolo. He was reputed as immoral and amoral, the corrupter of womanhood, old, young, and in between, a lecher who lay in wait for gullible rich women; he was neither Bahamian nor British.

Nancy Oakes, Eureka‘s Tracy McCann (Theresa Russell), was, just like her film counterpart, a very young woman, still seventeen when she met Marigny in his thirties, with the confident, mature air of a much older one. Russell is one of the most beautiful women to have ever appeared in the movies, and like her, Nancy was gorgeous:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Theresa Russell as Tracy McCann

Now nineteen, but considerably more mature than her chronological years, Nancy was redheaded – perhaps auburn would be more accurate – her 5-foot-5-inch height exaggerated by her thin build, although bust, hips, calves, and thighs were adequate enough to prevent her from appearing skinny. An innate physical frailty was beautifully concealed by natural grace and poise.

She carried her firm, almost belligerent chin high in the manner of a model, her mouth wide, her lips full, her nose long and straight. The intensity of her deep-set eyes was her most striking physical feature: she looked directly at the person speaking to her, confidently and with such animation that the other person invariably first broke the gaze.

From some angles, particularly head-on, her face was classically beautiful, radiant and sparkling; but from an oblique view, the Indianlike cheekbones became more exaggerated, the forehead lost its normal slope to become directly vertical, the wide-spaced eyes separated farther, and the jaw and mouth gave the illusion of being almost detached; her profile was excellent.

She dressed tastefully but conservatively and was not extravagant in her wardrobe. Her immaculate, every-hair-in-place coiffure emphasized neatness and cleanliness.

I’ll write about Joe Pesci as Meyer Lansky, a little later, but I think this casting is, again, felicitous to a conception of Lansky not far from him in real-life, and far closer than the more famous one in Bugsy, where Lansky is, in effect, a transplanted professor, a man untouched by the blood and dirt of the streets, a saint of the heaven dust world of gangster mathematics.

I begin now, in something like a sequential order of Eureka, a look at its themes. What is crucial for getting a grasp on the movie is its embrace of various mystic traditions. I am not a believer, and the makers may not have been strict believers either, but it appears as if the movie is a celebration of those qualities embodied in the mystic, a sincere belief, over an empirical, materialist approach. Despite his less sympathetic qualities, Jack McCann is ultimately the hero of this story because of this genuine belief. It is a man who, through his connection with the mystic, is first able to strike gold, and then to win a fight with a rival over his daughter. The movie’s title might be derived from the Edgar Allan Poe work, Eureka, his attempt at a cosmology, where he emphasises intuition over deduction.

The movie opens with the subterranean river of gold, before cutting to deep space, as we approach earth: this story is not just about a man and his family, but embraces the cosmic. We move over the bleak Yukon landscape like a god, coming across McCann and a fellow miner. Just like Oakes, he has a fanatical belief that he’ll reach this treasure buried in the earth’s seams. He walks to a mining town, on the verge of abandonment because the prospectors have given up hope of hitting ore. There’s a man who is something of McCann’s funhouse double, also blind with belief, but one that’s false: he’s given over to madness, not even noticing that his unshod feet are now frozen. What takes place next is a motif to be played on later: the man shoots himself, a self-willed death, and we are given a brief glimpse of fireworks. For a few seconds, as the man’s family continues to pack their truck, it seems as if no death has taken place at all – till we see the outside of the claims house splattered with blood.

McCann moves on into the cold night, propelled by his search. He collapses in the snow, and some of the key mystic imagery begins. I do not think the movie strictly plays to any specific tradition, but takes from many, either the traditions or whatever images and rituals preceded the traditions, for its spiritual system.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann and the tree

McCann suddenly finds himself at the foot of a massive tree, which I take to be either the tree of life, Yggdrasil, of the Norse myth, or some such tree myth that influenced it, or the movie’s own variation on such myths, familiar as a variation to those who might know of the folklore. This tree’s roots descend into the deepest parts of the earth, and it is this tree which will help guide McCann to his quest’s end. He is surrounded by four wolves, just as he is surrounded by four gangsters before his death. The Norse god Odin was killed by the wolf Fenrir, with this imagery a possible hat-tip.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann and the wolves

At the foot of the tree, a lodestone appears in his hand, a stone which might be considered connected with the powers of the moon, for just as the moon’s gravity guides the tides, this stone will move McCann to the gold. It also connects McCann’s obsession with the bootless man consumed with madness, for there is something in McCann’s quest that is lunatic. The tree Yggdrasil also links to other worlds, and this tree has a similar quality. McCann finds himself under it again at the point of near death, and the tree now transports him for a night to a world re-created from his past, a bordello run by a woman he once loved passionately.

This ill house is like a hallucination, a life-size construction of a snow-globe, a world apart from the forest in which it sits.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka McCann and the bordello

Inside, McCann interacts with no one except Frieda (Helena Kallianiotes, the only actor among talented performers who equals Hackman’s work) who speaks to him only of their past. McCann asks if he’s dead, and Frieda speaks of his being dead, but both times we are pulled back, and told, no, it is only a metaphor. The uncertainty of this moment embodies the qualities of the mystic that the movie celebrates. It is not one material event or another. It has the feel of a hallucination, yet we are never told that it is such; what Frieda says is of crucial importance in the rest of the movie, she is the person most important to McCann after his daughter, yet this one scene where she appears may never have occurred. There is another paradox, for this vision is recursive, with McCann somehow imagining this house, while inside, Frieda somehow summons up Jack McCann himself, in a globe, a figure who will burn in fire, created in fire.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda looking at the globe

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - globe reflecting fire

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka -  globe with reflection of moon

That this orb is a witch’s ornament, I do not think accidental: it is not just that Frieda is familiar with magic, but that lust in this movie is presented as a variety of spell, and it is lust that once gave her a near magical hold over McCann. Frieda’s colors, the dark of her hair, the white of her skin, the red of her dress, recur again and again. Here is an important break with the story of Oakes, a man who seems to have felt no desire for anything other than gold. The relation between Jack and Frieda is overwhelmingly erotic, and there is the possibility that McCann directs his obsessiveness away from the gorgeous flesh, which is transient, to a beauty that is eternal and indestructible: “the smell of gold is stronger than a woman.” There is an unkempt reek to Frieda; she brags of taking a bath for the occasion of McCann’s return. It is a reek of a squalid, unclean mining camp, but also the reek of lust, lust without poise or shyness, and it is the reek of death. Perfumes often contain indoles, the smell of corpses and decay, which add to the erotic bouquet, and all these are exuded from Frieda, a woman who is alive, yet talks as if her life is entirely of the past.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Frieda

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda on the couch

Tonight I took a bath, because of you. It’s been a long time…Jack. My Jack. We never did find the gold, but we had something. Something between us that was good as gold. My Jack had all the nuggets we needed right between his legs. You interested in men and women?

JACK gives a “maybe?” gesture.

FRIEDA gives a small dismissive snort.

With you, the gold is everything. You’ll never give up. We had a crock of gold between us. His cock. And my crack. A crock of gold. More than love it was, it was a power. In love…Jack was an alchemist. God, were we on fire. Then one morning I woke up, the sun was shining, and Jack was dead. Dead beside me. Dead in bed. That must have been when I started to smell bad.

FRIEDA throws perfume on herself.

You’ve had quite a life.

So will you. Then there’s some leftover life to kill. My Jack…and his perfume of Paris…Paris and the golden coach. You’ll find what you’re looking for…but after? It’s right here. I can see it. It runs like a river to the shore of the lake. There it goes, diving underwater.

FRIEDA starts to cough violently.

She makes clear in the morning that what will happen next is not happenstance, but fate. He will become something mythic now, though at a price. Not a price of death, but pointless years spent after the gold strike, without a quest.

Understand what this means?

Yeah. My luck has changed.

Luck’s for ordinary men, not you. When you took the stone, you made your choice. You’re alone now.

This, of course, is a a reiteration of what she said when Jack first arrived at the bordello:

No, Johnny. This stone found you. It has your name on it. Not outside, but inside. It’s your destiny. But everybody pays. Everybody pays.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack Frieda and the stone

With the stone guiding him, he breaks through to the subterranean river, not simply finding this gleaming liquid, but joining with it, his body spattered with dust as he emerges from the earth, the pagan anthem, Wagner’s “Rheingold” on the soundtrack. That he has exchanged one kind of passion for another is perhaps made concrete as Frieda begins a fatal cough as the earth is struck, her house’s furniture suddenly packed away when McCann returns to announce his good fortune, she now on the verge of death, warning him of what will come next. Her foresight is not that he will die, but that his quest is now finished, and he will now have to spend decades without purpose.

I’m dying, Paris.

Wait. What…what happens now?

A mystery. The end and the beginning.


There’ll be another after you…after the war. The great events!

The fireplace suddenly erupts, a cinder striking McCann, an omen that he will one day burn, a cinder from another fire burning him again when he returns, decades later, with his daughter to the Yukon. Though there is just one scene featuring only McCann and Tracy, it feels in fact as if there were many, as this short moment so clearly establishes the strong tie between them. This bond, again, is not the movie’s creation, but from life. Houts’ King’s X:

Nancy spent considerable time with her father, more than the other children, not only because she occupied the special position of the eldest but because of that special bond between father and daughter who were greatly alike. She served as his genuinely appreciative audience while he recounted the eerie fights for survival during his lonely prospecting days; she considered him by far the most interesting and unusual man in the entire world; she called him “a strange person” and “the most extraordinary person I ever knew.” While Sir Harry was often close-mouthed and introverted in the presence of most of his associates, he related tale after tale, story after story to Nancy by the hour. She dreamed of writing his biography, confidently believing that his was a completely different life story which should be preserved for posterity.

She respected her father, held him in awe, never really feared his temper since she was confident it would not be vented against her, loved him, but refused to be subservient to him.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Tracy McCann

When Tracy and her father talk about women at the mining camp, the dialogue has a frankly oedipal quality:

What did you do for girls up here?

JACK, a far-off gaze as if he’s remembering something long ago: Frieda. He says the next line while suddenly fumbling for something in his pockets, a possible cover for his face revealing too much.

I guess we did without.

JACK stops fumbling in his pockets, and finds his gloves.

Unlike some people I know.

Suppose I’d been here. Would you have given me a second glance?

No. My darling Tracy…I never would have taken my eyes off of you.

However, when I say “oedipal” it might be read as exclusively sexual, a handsy father with his beautiful daughter, when I intend something subtler. These two are so like each other that they are inevitably drawn into a communion, one far different from that of father and daughter, one that’s associated with romantic love, but is barred for them because of their roles. Both attempt substitutes in others, Helen for Jack, Claude for Tracy, but in both there is something lacking. By the end of the movie, I think this communion is achieved, but without any carnal union. Though Tracy is McCann’s daughter by Helen, she is also something of a variation on Frieda, a creature of powerful sexual attributes, and she reminds McCann of his own past, and this other woman. We have a strong hint of it in this scene, when Tracy thanks McCann for the trip to Paris, and his face goes still with discomfort, perhaps seeing how much this daughter resembles his old love, who associates their best times Paris as well, no doubt when they were together and passionately into each other. He is also painfully aware that her thanks are those of a daughter for a father, while she wants Claude, enthralled by this man in a way that she cannot be with Jack.

TRACY pulls out a gold flask, which JACK takes from her, examining it, perhaps what’s inscribed on it.

Where’d you get this? He gave you this, didn’t he?

Give me a pull.

TRACY grabs the flask and drinks from it.

That guy’s no good for you. You think I’m jealous. I am not jealous. I just know he’ll never appreciate you.

Oh, appreciate be damned. I’m not a work of art. I’m not a piece of china. I want him.

I wanted to thank you for Paris. I didn’t thank you. I guess I take it all for granted. I had a wonderful time.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Tracy McCann - Jack can't have his daughter

We now shift to the ocean where Claude and Tracy sail on his yacht, the two lustfully conjoined, much as Frieda and Jack were, in a way that Jack cannot be with Tracy. Then we are suddenly on the terrace of McCann’s massive estate, McCann looking out at the yacht by telescope. Helen in a drunken haze lays out Tarot cards, while Perkins tries to enlist Jack’s help on a real estate deal on the island. I try not to rely too much on symbols, but I think a few here underlie obvious themes: Jack sees through a telescope because he truly can see further than almost all the other characters, a gift for seeing he shares with Frieda, anticipating even his own death. He is also more knowing of the behaviour of others, most importantly, of his daughter and son-in-law.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks through telescope

This contrasts with Helen, who might see certain things, but chooses not to. Her drinking is an obvious expression of this, but another, subtler, sign is given as well. She needs glasses to see, but it is only in this scene that she wears them, in all others, without. One detail that she is blind to or does not wish to see is the bond between father and daughter, though Claude is very much aware of it. She cannot find her glasses in the house, and he provides them for her. She finds this man fetching, as do so many of the women on the island, but it is nothing like the link between Jack and Tracy.

Both mother and daughter wear similar outfits, the red and white motif, marking them as rivals. Not sexual rivals, but rivals for Jack nonetheless, though he has a far stronger feeling for Tracy.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy on boat

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice in red and white dress

In the bordello scene, Frieda called Jack “Paris”, and this is not just a simple association with the city where they had such good times. It’s an association with the Trojan prince, who had the choice of great beauties, and chose Helen, sparking the Trojan wars to return her to the Greeks’. Here, Paris has not only captured Helen, but kept her, and they have grown into middle age. Helen remembers the great time she and Jack had on the ship, and it’s a reference to this ancient myth, Helen taken by sea from Sparta by an enswooned Paris, but it echoes with the shot we then cut to, Claude and Tracy on the yacht, youthful characters re-enacting these joyful memories.

I’m dying, Paris.

It was so wonderful…once upon a time…all those years ago. Weren’t we in love on that ship?

Claude and Tracy kissing on the boat

While dealing the tarot, Helen gives Jack his card, a card which he then holds close to himself for the rest of the scene, linking himself to it. It is “The Hanged Man”, a card signifying an in-between state and resurrection. I do not believe in such methods of prediction, but this movie does wish us to take this sincerely, and I believe it is a continuation of its mystic underpinnings. From The Pictorial Key To The Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite (my bolds):

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice holds The Hanged Man

The gallows from which he is suspended forms a Tau cross, while the figure-from the position of the legs-forms a fylfot cross. There is a
nimbus about the head of the seeming martyr. It should be noted (1) that the tree of sacrifice is living wood, with leaves thereon; (2) that the face expresses deep entrancement, not suffering; (3) that the figure, as a whole, suggests life in suspension, but life and not death. It is a card of profound significance, but all the significance is veiled. One of his editors suggests that Eliphas Levi [occult writer] did not know the meaning, which is unquestionable nor did the editor himself. It has been called falsely a card of martyrdom, a card a of prudence, a card of the Great Work, a card of duty; but we may exhaust all published interpretations and find only vanity. I will say very simply on my own part that it expresses the relation, in one of its aspects, between the Divine and the Universe. He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

This underlies what will take place after, with Jack allowing his own death to take place, in order that he may be resurrected. The red and white which will appear again and again are not idly chosen. They intuitively imply, respectively, carnal and spiritual qualities, but I think they may also have significance as colors dominant in the text of The Chymical Wedding by the Rosicrucians, a sect that claimed to be able to perform alchemy. The wedding of the text is a metaphor of a union between the physical and the transcendent. McCann does not achieve this with either Frieda or Helen in this life, but he does with his daughter, after his death.

A brief meeting between Van Horn and McCann, before things come to a head. Van Horn touches the stone, yet it yields nothing, the stone’s magic does not lie with simply holding it, but in helping the person who holds it fulfill a quest. Before McCann became obsessed with gold, his passion lay with Freida, and there is the possibility that Van Horn might be like him in this respect. But, no: Van Horn’s one indulgence is not McCann’s daughter, but his yacht. The yacht, on which we often see Claude, embodies his essential quality, his rootlessness, his lack of commitment to Tracy, his lack of true belief in any mystic system, his lack of any driving impulse, or desire for one. That the movie ends with his returning to the yacht suggests that he will never mature from, or leave this state.

Now, an extended scene with Mayakovsky, which sets up the conflict between mythic man and materialist man. Jack McCann is the hero of Eureka, a man of mystic belief who has pursued a quest. He is “a dinosaur”, to be superceded by questless men. It is important that McCann not believe in luck: were he to simply happen on the gold, it would deprive the treasure of its meaning, just as Arthur cannot happen on the grail by chance, but it must be pursued. His opponent, Mayakofsky, wants to build something on the island that is the antithesis of this, a casino, which is a celebration of luck, or rather, a rigged game with the appearance of luck. McCann’s lodestone is connected with the moon, and this casino will be built in Luna Bay, a desecration of this lunar faith. When Mayakofsky speaks of everyone becoming Americans, it is not a question of nationalism, but of everyone soon becoming only economic man, materialist man, a successor to those of pagan ideals like McCann.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Joe Pesci as Mayakofsky

So, who’s not an american? Everyone is an American now. The Germans, they’re Americans. In Chicago, there are many Germans. Come on. The Japanese, believe me, one day they’ll all be Americans also. Languages, that’s all the difference. This war, what is it? It’s a war between Americans, who all speak different languages. So how could we lose? Mr. McCann’s an American, he knows we’re all on the same side.

I find it difficult to label Mayakofsky a villain, because I don’t think the film portrays him as such; it is least sympathetic to those characters which it views as weak, such as Perkins and Van Horn. Mayakofsky is strong, and just as McCann is allied with the mystic force of his lodestone, Mayakofsky is aligned with a greater force outside of himself, animating him, and that is capitalism. When he says “We have to build”, he speaks as an instrument of this greater will, and the “we” animated by this will is not simply he and those involved in the casino project, but now the population of the world. He, unlike Perkins and Van Horn, has a strong belief, a belief in capitalism equivalent to monotheism, Christian or Jewish. That McCann appears to Mayakofsky to believe in nothing is because he is outside of the group structure of the market economy, a last epic hero, or, as Mayakofsky puts it, a dinosaur. A conversation with his lieutenant, Aurelio (Mickey Rourke, who makes a great presence in a small role):

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Aurelio and Mayakofsky

I’m very angry with Perkins. I don’t think he believes me. And that’s bad, not to believe. Do you go to confession?

Every week.

There’s only one god between all of us schmucks. These men are without faith. They believe in nothing.

I think Jack McCann believes in himself.

That’s what I said. He believes in nothing. It makes me meshuga [crazy]. How can you do business with a man who believes in nothing?

He’s not a businessman.

Then we shall have to find some other way. I have to buy, so he must sell. He must sign because we have to build. He dug up his fortune. We cannot allow him to stand in the way of new men who want to build their fortunes. Jack McCann is a dinosaur, Aurelio. And everyone knows what happened to dinosaurs. He has outlived his time.

It is here that I should mention one of the major qualifiers for my love of this movie. There is nothing terribly controversial in this conflict, which is a recurrent theme, and pre-dates the industrial era, a tension between the deductive and intuitive minds. What is disturbing, is that this is a re-play of some of the very themes of World War II, the Nazi forces rallied by pagan fires and gatherings, and, yes, the pagan music of Wagner, against the jewish materialist, the accountant, pawnbroker, debt collector, and atheist, who destroyed the people through capitalist or communist materialist ideologies. I should emphasize that I do not think the movie implies any support for the Nazi cause, it is simply that this is a movie between a materialist jewish opponent and his mystic adversary, taking place during World War II, and that such a context shadows the movie, though the film’s makers seem to have been indifferent or unaware of this.

The next scene: McCann burns his fingers when he touches his lodestone, a warning that his physical end is soon coming, burning in flames. At that very moment, Tracy feels the same pain, but in penetration. The physical pain links them, yet separates them, the sexual keeping them apart. Perkins, like Van Horn, touches the stone, but feels nothing, the stone carrying a power only for those truly seized by a quest.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann touches stone

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann burns fingers

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy have sex, Tracy screams

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Eureka: the magic of the stone.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Perkins touches the stone, nothing happens

After sex, Claude tries to predict the future, using the kabbalah, but he fails: he sees McCann falling ill, though McCann never does, and he is unable to see his own mother’s death. This points to a key difference between McCann and Van Horn, for the prospector only turns to the magical as part of a larger seeking, while his son-in-law indulges in these arts for the indulgence itself, as an ostentatious piece of play. The moment in the bedroom ends with a shot whose great significance will only be grasped later. Tracy feels that there is something missing in them, while Claude insists that they are perfect.

What is it?

Those tests last year in Miami.

They were inconclusive.

Is that what we’re gonna be? Inconclusive?

I don’t need a child to love you.

I just don’t want us to be incomplete.

We’re complete now. Perfect.

By the end of the movie there will be something that completes them, and it is hinted at here. The camera moves away from the couple to the table, where there is a wedding picture of Jack and Helen, a gold chain beside it, which suddenly falls to the ground as if pulled by an outside force, as ominous cello notes play.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Frieda portrait, and the gold chain

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Eureka: golden chain.

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Before this moment with Tracy and Claude, we are given a shot of the moon looming closer and closer to us. McCann’s stone is linked to the moon, and now, it is as if the stone wills what will take place, moving McCann towards his destiny. There is the shot of the moon, and framing the ruckus at the banquet, we see the stone glowing bright. McCann must invoke a break between himself and his son-in-law, and he must do so by protecting the sanctity of the treasure at the heart of his fate, gold.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the moon

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the dinner and the stone

At the banquet, in a moment of import for what will happen later, McCann lights his placemat on fire, letting the fire burn, without fear of it.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann lights placemat on fire

The exhibitionism of Claude’s mystical dabblings continues, with his wearing a shirt illustrated with the kabbalah, with the rivalry between he and his father-in-law continuing as well. When McCann gives out small gold pieces, and Van Horn swallows his. What McCann worships is not the material value of the gold, but its permanence, its transcendence. When Van Horn does this, it is an attempt to rebuke Jack, but also a desecration of a material that McCann considers sacred. It is for this reason that McCann erupts in such anger at this man, for this man has just done the equivalent of defaming his father-in-law’s religion.

I don’t believe in luck, good or bad, but everybody believes in a little bit of gold even if it’s just a wedding band.

There is only one golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The rest is conversation.

You didn’t earn the gold, Jack. You took it from nature. You raped the earth.

I found it.

You stole it.

You can’t take it with you.

CLAUDE swallows the gold, then chases it with wine.

What are you doing? Get out of my house.

It’s only gold, Jack. Like all things it’ll pass, and when it does, I’ll send it back to you.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and his kabbalah shirt

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude drinks down the gold

A color shift now takes place in the characters’ clothes as the movie gets closer to McCann’s death. Van Horn anticipates through unconscious magic the letter announcing his mother’s death, for he is already dressed in all black, the clothes of mourning. After hearing the news, He sprawls in grief near a comforting Tracy and we see the pattern on the sofa, a stain of red on white, anticipating McCann’s blood spray on his bed.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy after Claude's mom has died

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann shot, blood on pillow

Tracy sends her parents a letter, cutting off all ties with her father. Helen reads it, without glasses, a mix of black and red. We see a brief shot of her gloves, again, the white and red, then a diamond pendant, the white and red of a butterfly, the second form of a caterpillar.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice and butterfly pin

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice's gloves

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Eunice in red hat and black dress

The butterfly hairpin next to Tracy’s letter; the butterfly is the severing of the spiritual from the physical, Jack McCann breaking from his earthly essence, and the letter is Tracy severing herself from Jack.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy's letter and the butterfly hairpin

Helen does not see that this is about Jack and Claude being romantic rivals for her daughter, but her husband does.

Why did she write that? I thought she understood.

She does understand. And so do I.

HELEN looks on, without glasses, without understanding.

Come to bed.

McCann takes his wife passionately, they have sex in a way they haven’t in a long while. I do not think this is solely sex as comfort in a difficult time, but sex as an outlet with the woman he can have, when the woman he can’t is lost to him. The blood red theme of this bedroom is obvious foreshadowing. We see here why Jack fell for Eunice in this scene: she bares a physical resemblance to Frieda, the lost woman of his dreams.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the blood red bedroom

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Eunice in bed

McCann now wears black as well, a grieving for his lost relationship with his daughter. He looks at the money sent to him by the gangsters, but he has no interest in it. His pursuit of gold was never about avarice. He takes out a gun and starts to load it with experienced ease, then puts it away with exasperation; a clear sign that if he wants to, he could stop the men who enter his house later.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann loads gun

There then follows a confrontation between Jack and Claude over his daughter, Tracy doing her best to keep her father from killing him. He first forces his daughter to look into a mirror, another moment of a character looking at themselves as they truly are in the reflection, which takes place again and again in the film. The scene then descends further into violence. What’s key here is that Jack is willing to kill for his daughter, she means this much to him, and this is in contrast with what Claude, later, is willing to do. When the fight begins and Claude faces him with the meat cleaver:

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack shows Tracy her reflection in the mirror

Go on, you haven’t got the guts.

I’ll kill you if I have to.

Jack stands over this man, ready to kill him, having it in him to kill this man – but ultimately not doing this – in order to sunder his daughter from this man’s grasp. McCann is a man for whom the past is more vital than a present, and he is suddenly transported back to the Yukon, establishing himself as the hero alone, where he is dependent on no one, and now he is suddenly in vital need of someone else, his daughter.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack and Claude by the fence

Why’d you make her write that letter? Why’d you make her write that letter? Say it, you son of a whore. Jack McCann never made a nickel on another man’s sweat.

Kill me.

Say it loud, so god in his heaven can hear you.

There is also the important line by Tracy, “I want flesh.”

Come back with me.

I can’t. Don’t you see I can’t?

Come back with me.

I don’t want your gold. I…I want flesh. I want to touch human flesh. I want to kiss it, hold it. I want to suck it. Oh, did you ever love someone? All of someone? I love all of him. It’s terrible…the feeling. Night and day, I can’t get away from it.

The spiritual bond, however strong, between father and daughter is not enough. The scene ends with Claude speaking of this as a romantic conflict: “The triangle is broken.” There is a motif that now begins, which links the three characters, an additional sign that the triangle clearly isn’t broken. It is a blood stain on the side of a white garment. It begins with Tracy, the blood from the cut she received by accident during the fight. This continues with the blood on Van Horn’s coat the night of the murder. Blood on the white clothes of McCann after he is struck. Then, when he is arrested on his boat, there is blood on Van Horn’s clothes again.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy with blood

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack with blood

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude with blood

What comes next involves my second major qualification of my great passion for this movie. On the night of the murder, Marigny attended a dinner before driving two women home. If anything untoward was inferred in his conduct toward the women, it is not brought up in Houts’ book. The movie treats this part a little differently, though my issue has nothing to do with the infidelities of the women. Instead of a simple dinner, Van Horn goes to a voodoo ceremony, and I’m sorry to say, it is as ridiculous and offensive as any depiction of such rituals has ever been. I suppose it to be an expression of uninhibited African sexual mores, in contrast to staid European ones, a re-designing, and frankly, profanation of the ceremony for the purpose of creating a contrast, with an african ritual not allowed to exist in and of itself, but re-made into something in relation to european religious traditions. That a chicken sacrifice is mixed in with a snake ritual, when these, I believe, are very much separate ceremonies is a small point.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Voodoo ceremony

A larger one, and that truly gets to my animus of the scene, is the reduction of what is a chaste, sacred moment into a frenzied, bloody orgy. The best comparison would be to the anti-Catholic literature of the civil war era which portrayed various convents as havens for wanton sex, or previous to that, Catholic writings which spoke of gnostic churches as places happily welcome to bachannalia2. That the desecratory attitude toward such African ceremonies is passed over with indifference by those who write about the film, I attribute entirely to the fact that it is a commonplace for such rituals to be portrayed as these unsettling, sex crazed Dionysian festivals whose purpose is solely to excite, much as a gaping wound or a nude woman might. The disgust I feel has nothing to do with a belief in such traditions, only a respect for things sacred to others, and you demonstrate a respect for such rituals that you expect for your own. This all takes place in a movie where the man who unseriously dabbles in the mystic is almost a villain, which might be seen as an obvious irony, but one which I wish wasn’t there. I should also note that the criticisms I make of this film are not those of a killjoy, someone happy to find such flaws, but entirely the opposite, of someone who very much loves this film, and wishes its worst aspects weren’t there. A good antidote to this too common portrayal of voodoo ceremonies can be found at “Haiti: On Voodoo” by Hugh Cave.

In a frenzy from the ceremony, Van Horn picks up a club, a piece of hard rock, that he will bring to the murder scene, but will never use. Its texture is like that of the rock in the gold cavern. McCann’s beginning contains the seeds of his end.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude picks up the club weapon

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - interior of the cave

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the weapons in court

McCann searches out Van Horn, but is unable to find him. He looks about the room of his son-in-law and daughter, and a deliberate focus is made on him picking up the gold chain from her drawer, with a close-up of it in his hand.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks down at gold chain

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the gold chain

He now travels with the gold chain given to Tracy, this significant emblem that is taken up once more at the movie’s end. While looking for him at the hotel, he passes a mirror in which he sees himself, a moment of (I sigh as I say this) self-reflection. He is suddenly given a vision of his past, and he cries out Frieda’s name. McCann goes to see the gangsters, knowing now that he’ll die. After the meeting, he sees Van Horn, who lacks the courage to confront him directly. McCann makes clear he knows what his fate will be when he says, “I was looking for you. It doesn’t really matter now.” His lodestone cracks, it connects to him like a magician’s familiar or an enchanted sword, and he will soon no longer need it.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann looks into mirror

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - McCann dancing with either Frieda or Eunice

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Eureka: McCann dancing.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the stone breaks

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Eureka: the stone breaks.

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Jack is followed to his house by Perkins, Van Horn, and the gangsters. He takes the sacred stone, to have with him in his last moments. His killers are portrayed entirely as clumsy goofs, and I think this is to make clear that if McCann truly wished to avoid death he’d be able to fight them off, or that if Van Horn wanted to save the man’s life he would easily be able to do so. Van Horn, however, whatever his physical courage, lacks the conviction to either save the man’s life or kill him. McCann has it in him to murder for his daughter, but Claude does not. That Claude is as helpless a bystander as Perkins, is equal to this man, is a damnation. The men strike at the prospector, while a phone rings and rings, unanswered. Mayakofsky is trying to reach his men, but cannot. Tracy calls as well, from her room at another house, a room with stuffed animals and actor’s photos, and we realize she’s far younger than her demeanour suggests. She now wears red and white, the Rosicrucian colors of the earlier scenes. She calls again and again, her tie with her father telling her that he is in danger.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy calls, but no one answers

One of the gangsters picks up the sno-globe that holds the icon of McCann, a prospector trudging along a white landscape guided by a moon, and then, in a shot that echoes the opening of a justly well-known movie, the globe falls from his hand and shatters.

Citizen Kane - snow globe falls

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - gangster with the snow globe

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - snow globe shatters

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The globe falls in Citizen Kane and Eureka.

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Earlier, Claude came across the chain which McCann carried, and has now left behind; his enemy is prepared to be unbound from this life, and when the glass shatters, Jack is released from the vision that has held him, he is released from the physical itself.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the man outside the snow globe

The gangsters burn the body, after which a pillow breaks, and feathers float about the room. This, again, is not a poetic flourish added to the story, but part of the real. From Houts’ book, describing one of the gangsters at work:

He systematically played the torch over Sir Harry’s body from head to foot, dabbing particularly at the eyes, the chest, and the abdomen, and apparently trying to burn off the pajamas. As the mattress and Sir Harry’s body were burned separately, the mattress first, there was no unburned area of the mattress underneath Sir Harry’s body. Finally, as if by afterthought, the “button” man lifted his torch to the mosquito net above the bed.

The man was gone and Christie stood pondering his next move when suddenly, like an evil apparition, the man reappeared. He walked toward the bed, picked up a burned pillow, ripped open its blackened case, andd emptied the feathers over Sir Harry’s body.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann in the burning bed

There is another crucial moment here, that is difficult to glimpse. A massive knife lies on a cutting board, and one of the gangsters moves to take it, but Van Horn takes it instead.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - gangster reaches for knife...

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - ...but Claude grabs it first

He cuts off McCann’s head, and this is a detail that did not take place in actuality, but an addition that is part of the film’s mysticism. The cutting off of the head of the chief priest of the cult of Diana is the central focus of J.G. Frazier’s The Golden Bough, the seminal book on ancient rites, where after the priest is defeated by a rival, he is decapitated, and his opponent assumes his role. Van Horn, however, does not follow this rite, does not actually fight McCann, lacking the will to do so, and only cuts off his head after he is dead and the body burnt. Frazier suggests that the purpose in the Diana rite was for the successor to assume the inherited powers of the older man, that it was a variation on older fertility and vegetative rites. This, however, is not what takes place, with McCann somehow keeping his powers and transferring them somewhere else. Given the bond between father and daughter, it is not surprising that when the knife cuts the head off, Tracy is startled awake, choking. At the end of the scene, we suddenly return with McCann to the scene of the tree, moving closer and closer to his unconscious form, and as his body is steadily burned in the bed, McCann at the tree opens his eyes and exhales a breath, as he suddenly wakes.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann burnt body

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy feels Jack's pain

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Eureka: grabbing the knife.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Jack McCann wakes up

De Marigny’s trial, as related by Houts, focused on the methodology used to extract certain fingerprints at the location that were identified as his, and the relentless cross examination of Harold Christie who gave contradictory testimony, often ridiculed by the defense attorneys.

An example of one cinematic moment in Houts’ book, during examination by de Marigny’s defense attorney on what he did when he entered Sir Harry Oakes’ room and saw the body:

[Geoffrey Higgs, attorney for the defense]: “You got a towel and wiped Sir Harry’s face?”

[Harold Christie:] “I did.”

Mr. Higgs: “You think you wet that towel in your bathroom?”

“I think I did, but I am not positive. But that is my impression.”

Mr. Higgs: “Did you soak it?”

“I would not say I soaked it. I wet the side of it.”

Mr. Higgs: “Which side of it?”

A Hollywood scriptwriter would be accused of being unrealistic if he conjured up the next line.

Mr. Christie: “For God’s sake, Higgs, be reasonable. I don’t remember which side of the towel.”

Christie’s shout, which reverberated all around the courthouse outside, was more of surrender than challenge, like that of a cornered fox who turns out for one last stand against his pursuers.

Slowly, realizing that every eye burned into him, Higgs walked once more to the registrar’s table, thumbed through a stack of photographs, and selected another, this time a portrait view of the left side of the dead baronet’s face. He studied it for a moment, then with a twist of his head he looked up at Christie, who retreated a step to the rear of the box. With dramatic flourish, Higgs thrust up the photograph so that Christie had no alternative but to accept it.

Mr. Higgs: “Would you say that that face has been wiped?”

“I say that this face had been wiped. I would say that water had been put on the forehead and on the face.”

It was the only answer Christie could give, but it still served Higgs’ purpose, because the jury would see from the photograph that if any wiping of the face with a wet towel was attempted it had not disturbed the drops and spatters and lines of crusted blood which remained clearly visible.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Perkins on the witness stand

(An earlier version of this post contained the following sentence in this section: “The dramatic photo of McCann that haunts this courtroom, though it might seem a surreal addition, was, once again, entirely taken from life.” There was dramatic use of this photo of McCann’s body, but it was restricted to a smaller picture, occasionally shown to witnesses and the jury for effect.)

Though the events the trial lend themselves very well to the sparring and twisting of a good courtroom drama, they’re ignored here for an emphasis on the testimony of Tracy McCann, who is questioned by Van Horn after he fires his lawyer, in a scene where the two principals are lit in a way to suggest that, as in the bordello encounter between Jack and Frieda, this scene is of extraordinary importance for these characters, yet somehow, it does not actually take place.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude and Tracy face off in court

Nancy Oakes did testify, but not at any great length, nor was what she said of any importance to the outcome, while the act of Van Horn taking up his own defense is one of the few dramatic gestures of the movie that aren’t in real life, De Marigny keeping his defense counsel throughout the trial.

Though Tracy testifies that Van Horn is innocent, she is, in fact, damning him, declaring that he lacks the sufficient will to have killed her father, that everything he does is unserious, everything he does is innocent. She makes clear that his winning her is not analogous to Jack’s striking gold, because he didn’t win her, she sought him out. If he is to have a quest, it is to come only after this.

Do you think I’m guilty?

Oh, Claude. Face the truth. You may have come close to murder, but you didn’t do it. You’re innocent, innocent. That’s the only thing this jury can condemn you of, is innocence. You don’t know who you were when you married me, you don’t know who I am. You were born under the sign of innocence. Your politics are innocence…the other girls…the disappearance of your father, the death of your mother. You are guilty of innocence.

I found you, but you haven’t found yet what you’re looking for, Claude. Your time will come, though…sometime in the future…but it’s not yet. You couldn’t kill Jack McCann. You’ll never kill anybody.

Tracy also makes clear that she believes her father willed his own death.

Are you sure it was murder?

What are you talking about?

I’m talking about what happened to Jack McCann on that day in the winter of 1925 when he found the gold. He’d been looking for fifteen years, day after day, week after week, year after year, and then one day he found it. How could he ever recapture that moment of triumph? He couldn’t share the gold. That was his, and his alone. Now he realized his joy in having done what he set out to do all alone was gone. Poor Jack. He was like a man struck by lightning, one moment of rapture followed by decades of despair. Jack McCann wasn’t murdered three weeks ago in his bedroom at Eureka. He died in 1925. What happened that night was just his physical end. He needed someone to finish him off, and he found him, just as he had found the gold.

She asks Claude if he cut off McCann’s head. Out of fear, he cannot admit to this.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy in court

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude in court

Did you cut off his head?

No…when I found him he was dying, burned, as if struck by lightning, covered in feathers. He was smiling at me. The next moment, he was dead. I saw myself in prison. I didn’t feel sorry for him. I felt relief…but he’d never come between us again.

Oh, but he has.

At the end of the hearing, the prosecutor raises the possibility that Claude was going to leave her.

In the police report, it states that the defendant appeared to be in the process of packing to leave shortly before he was arrested. What do you make of that?

But her reaction is never heard; the court is suddenly breached by a cheering crowd. The war is over.

Now, one of the most important moments in the film. Frieda, in the beginning, told Jack of all the events to come, including:

There’ll be another after you…after the war. The great events!

If Van Horn had had the courage to kill for what he loved, McCann’s powers would have fallen to him, and he would have been this successor. Something else happens: we see Tracy in bed, as she is suddenly gripped by a seizure, a violent force, and then it is over, with no explanation. Van Horn is briefly seized by the same force as well, his shirt torn to shreds, so that we now see an undershirt with the same blood stain that was there the morning of the murder. He neither had the will to kill his opponent, or to stop the murder, and he now keeps the shameful mark of this. In these moments, I think we see McCann in his new, transcendent form, haunting Claude, and joining his daughter, Tracy and Jack becoming one, a possibility strongly hinted at in the final scene.

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Eureka: Claude is haunted.

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Right before Tracy’s seizure, Van Horn puts out a candle and the prison falls into a tint of blue, a moment which echoes for me another moment, from Lawrence of Arabia, a movie on which Roeg worked as a cinematographer.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy in bed

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Eureka: Tracy is haunted.

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Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude in prison

Claude is found not guilty, and then has a celebratory dinner with his wife. She now wears a gold chain about her waist, the same one which rattled so ominously the night of the banquet, the same one McCann carried with him in his last moments; her father and her, now bound together.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - the gold chain

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - McCann with the chain around his neck

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy wearing the chain

Tracy discusses her plans to leave Eureka. This catches Claude off-guard, and he asks her if she’ll sell it. No, she’ll give it away. Always, there was the suspicion that Claude was a fortune hunter, and now there is the possibility that this fortune will be handed off. If he truly loves this woman, it will be of no consequence. She then says a line, which is her father’s line, from the dialogue at the banquet, the categorical imperative, the golden rule.

From the banquet:

There is only one golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The rest is conversation.

From the last scene, my bolded emphasis:

We can sell this place.

I don’t want to sell anything.

You want to keep Eureka?

I think I’m gonna give it away. The whole island…I’m gonna give it away. It’s not what I want anymore.

What do you want?

I don’t want to talk about it now. I’ve got plenty of time. I just want to…do unto others as I’d have them do unto me.

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Eureka: the golden rule.

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Claude looks for an excuse to leave, and now we have an ending that echos earlier moments. Van Horn finds the furnishings of the house slowly packed away, just like those of the bordello. He sees himself in the mirror, just as McCann saw himself in a mirror the night of his death. “I knew it would be you”, was what McCann said to him, but he is gripped by the fact that it was not him: he lacked the will to either kill this man or save his life. He says with great sadness, “Tracy”, just as McCann called out the name of Frieda. As he rows out to his yacht, Tracy looks on through the window, just as Frieda did.

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - abandoned bordello

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude looks around empty house

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Claude looks into mirror

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Frieda looks out window

Nicolas Roeg's Eureka - Tracy looks out window

Earlier, after his mother died, Claude promised Tracy that he may have run away from other things in his life, but he would never run from her. He now, of course, breaks this promise. This is one final break with the real, because Nancy Oakes and De Marigny stayed married after the trial. Just as Van Horn’s mother made allowances for his waywardness, so has Tracy, and now he has betrayed her one last time. An excerpt from that scene’s dialogue, my bolds:

My mother died. I should have stayed in France. I should…I shouldn’t have left. She must have needed me and…I could have protected her. Now there is nothing.

Sit down, sit down.

As a child I ran away from school all the time. She’d bring me back, but never scolded me. She knew all I wanted was to be free. Then I…then I ran away from her. I ran away from France, I ran away from the war. I’m such a coward. Tracy…I’ll never run away from you.

The last shot suddenly returns us to the Yukon, one last contradiction, because the prospector is dead, but somehow, he’s also alive, still questing for the gold, joyful that the quest is neverending. And Tracy, now joined with her father, forever, has given Claude one final test, and he has failed it. The war is over, and Jack McCann has won it.

On April 21, 2015, this post underwent a session of copy editing.

Images and script excerpts copyright MGM pictures and RKO pictures.

1 From Lacey’s book:

Meyer [Lansky] almost certainly found himself some sort of income from the Lucayan Beach [a casino in the Bahamas] – a rake-off, perhaps, from the junkets which Dusty Peters [occasional Lansky associate] ran to the casino. But the evidence scarcely justified the wilder tales that were given credence by newspapers, and which even formed the subject matter for full-length books. Meyer Lansky’s infiltration of the Bahamas went back, it was said, to the Second World War, when the Duke of Windsor was governor of the islands. Meyer’s name was suggested as the key to the great mystery and scandal of those wartime years, the murder of Sir Harry Oakes. Meyer had the baronet killed, it was alleged, because Oakes opposed Meyer’s plans for Bahamas gambling.

2 I am grateful for Arthur Goldwag’s The New Hate for these references.

From Maria Monk’s Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery:

I was now, she told me, to have access to every part of the edifice, even to the cellar, where two of the sisters were imprisoned for causes which she did not mention. I must be informed, that one of my great duties was, to obey the priests in all things; and this I soon learnt, to my utter astonishment and horror, was to live in the practice of criminal intercourse with them. I expressed some of the feelings which this announcement excited in me, which came upon me like a flash of lightning, but the only effect was to set her arguing with me, in favor of the crime, representing it as a virtue acceptable to God, and honorable to me.

A description of gnostic rituals, by Epiphanius, a father of the catholic church, from Stephen Benko’s Pagan Rome and the Early Christians:

I will now come to the place of depth of their deadly story.… First they have their women in common. And if a stranger appears who is of the same persuasion, they have a sign, men for women and women for men. When they extend the hand for greeting at the bottom of the palm they make a tickling touch and from this they ascertain whether the person who appeared is of their faith. After they have recognized each other, they go over at once to eating. They serve rich food, meat and wine even if they are poor. When they thus ate together and so to speak filled up their veins to an excess they turn to passion. The man leaving his wife says to his own wife: Stand up and make love with the brother.… Then the unfortunates unite with each other, and as I am truly ashamed to say the shameful things that are being done by them.… Nevertheless, I will not be ashamed to say those things which they are not ashamed to do, in order that I may cause in every way a horror in those who hear about their shameful practices. After they have had intercourse in the passion of fornication they raise their own blasphemy toward heaven. The woman and the man take the fluid of the emission of the man into their hands, they stand, turn toward heaven, their hands besmeared with the uncleanness, and pray.… They say: “We offer to thee this gift, the body of Christ.” And then they eat it, their own ugliness, and say: “This is the body of Christ and this is the Passover for the sake of which our bodies suffer and are forced to confess the suffering of Christ.” … They have intercourse with each other but they teach that one may not beget children.… And if … the woman becomes pregnant, then … they pull out the embryo in the time when they can reach it with the hand. They take out this unborn child and in a mortar pound it with a pestle and into this mix honey and pepper and certain other spices and myrrh, in order that it may not nauseate them, and then they come together, all this company of swine and dogs, and each communicates with a finger from the bruised child. And after they have finished this cannibalism finally they pray to God, saying, “We did not let the Archon of lust play with us but collected the mistake of the brother.” And this they consider to be the perfect Passah. Many other horrible things are done by them.

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Gore Vidal (1925-2012): The Patrician Defector

He wrote often of politics, sometimes very compellingly, not as the rabblerouser grafittiing up a monument, but an exile from the patrician elite. John Kennedy asked him to help kill a story on his Addison’s, and he heard first hand from Eleanor Roosevelt of the measure of Kennedy pere‘s indifference to Nazi domination of Europe*. The conspiracies of the political class in his novels and essays are accompanied by no ominous piano chords; it’s everyday work to treat certain people less well, not stemming from the evil of any man, but a common feeling that there are lessers and betters, and it’s no great issue for the lessers to get a little swindled or have a few of their children die in a war, and any petulance on the part of the lessers to this is rather tiresome. That Roosevelt allowed the bombing of Pearl Harbor so that the U.S. might enter the war is given not as dramatic revelation, but a casual aside, and the very casualness gives it the aspect of truth, though the underlying facts do not. The sordid details of this class are told, not as blemishes on a myth, but like the bathroom life of anyone. Yes, of course Lincoln had slept with whores. Yes, of course Mary Lincoln had gone insane because of syphilis contracted from her husband. This is related to the guileless reader not in a tone of angry defacement, but the mild exasperation of the sophomore advising a wide-eyed innocent who’s never given a blow job**.

The american political system of his novels and essays was no idealistic engine, or even such an engine gone astray, but resembled something like the politburo, its members pre-sculpted for the demands of the institution, the institution and its interests demanding fealty to those interests first, all while making a few happy noises about god’s children and equality as necessary cover. The exceptional presidents, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, were those who became double agents at the pyramid’s zenith, giving assurances to the moneymen and influence holders that they would be following orders, then through guise and guile, having the audacity to do a few things for the people’s benefit. Vidal wrote of this as a separate world, like a defector who’d scaled america’s own iron curtain, a Gilded Wall perhaps, and his manner was always of his exiled class. His attitude could be as disdainful as a soviet agent now stuck among malls where nobody’s heard of Tolstoy. The infamous sparring with William Buckley was not a fight between the within and the without, but something like a debate between Khruschev’s propaganda minister and an emigré spy chief, men who disliked each other, but were both familiar with the texture of Russia’s black earth and could quote Lermontov with ease.

His father served under Roosevelt as head of the FAA, and his sister, through his mother’s re-marriage, was an obscure figure sometimes known as Jackie O. He was often seen as a liberal, and this may have been a mis-indictment. Vidal’s politics were those of a man of the west, forever suspicious of the stock jobbing con men back east. His isolationism took after William Jennings Bryan, as did his other ruling passion, a horror for paper currency. Some saw his siding with Timothy McVeigh, in part because of the latter’s cause for a metal currency, as a momentary lunacy, when it was nothing of the kind: the animus of paper dollars is there in his scathing look of Alexander Hamilton in Burr, and the deal over scrip in Lincoln. This was not a man who was moved to a better life for others after seeing his father destroyed by coal mine work, or someone who might happily pore through inches of labour stats. He wanted as small a government as possible, but as long as the ruling committee were going to raise funds for ordinance to kill Vietnamese or Koreans, they might as well spend that cash on schools and hospitals. He likewise had no interest in ivory tower theories on sexuality or being part of any guild because of a sexual act. You pulled certain people into bed, and all that he required was that no meddlesome fanatic should intrude: if a certain pesky Nazarene’s act hadn’t caught on, Rome would have been a better place, and so would the United States.

When he was to be cast as the snob villain in the terrible movie With Honors, the producers wanted someone with a haughtier Oxbridge accent, but Joe Pesci demurred: “Why go with one of these english assholes when we’ve got one of our own?” I am a far more sentimental man than Vidal, but I find the necessity to find a compassionate humanity to enwreath in epitaph as tiresome as he would, something like an inverse Egyptian death ritual, where a beating heart is now placed back in the body. I didn’t read Vidal because of his overwhelming kindness, any more than I read him for christian ethics. His essays, and some of his fiction, were good because they had an easy, funny eloquence; as usual, of course, I mean easy as easy to enjoy, not easy to achieve. This photo, accompanying a memorable eulogy by Christopher Buckley, shows the imperial look of a gorgeous young man, which emphatically declares “No…I don’t think I’ll be sleeping with you.” Such an attitude impairs his novels, where the characters are simple puppets of a political system, as well as simple puppets of the writer, but that same arrogance only enhances his essay work, which is joyfully piercing and arsenic stained. Lee Siegel points to Vidal’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky as an example of his empathy with the working poor. I observe instead a man who had an unostentatious ethic that you do solid, good craftsmanship, whatever the material, if someone’s paying you for it. His scriptwork on Ben-Hur demonstrates this same principle, not any hidden sympathy for the teachings of the galilean carpenter. He was as prolific a writer, a sitting at a desk activity, as he was at a sleeping in a bed activity, and he looked at both with a lack of piety: you read not because you wish to kneel at any holy place, but for the same selfish pleasure that the cruel, heartbreakingly beautiful boy or girl gets chosen over the kind-hearted wallflower.

His last years were not his best, the casual asides of state evil becoming now something witlessly screechy. The cruel dismissal of Roman Polanski’s rape victim suggests to me nothing more than Michael Richards, a comedian whose old material is getting a nonplussed stare, so he tries for a rise with a few vile fireworks. A last brief skirmish involved a Minnesota schizophrenic, mistakenly admitted to Congress rather than a more apt public institution, who credited her political genesis to the violent offense she felt at Thomas Jefferson’s depiction in Burr. The man who’d served in World War II and made his own fortune through writing embodied once again anti-capitalism and anti-americanism, this time for a woman who’d spent most of her pre-political time at the IRS, almost all of it on maternity leave. Great, he might have thought. My epitaph’s now going to read, Gore Vidal, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, wit, skeptic, and: co-creator of Michelle Bachmann. He prophesied many times the coming end of the United States, and, once again, it couldn’t come soon enough.

POSTSCRIPT (21/07/2014): Though I took some small pride in this concept of a patrician in exile, it was while looking through an old issue of Playboy (the magazine is an invaluable source for research, with the monomorphous perversity funding excellent reporting and interviews), that I came across this very same insight in a Q and A with Saul Bellow. From their May 1997 issue:

PLAYBOY: You’re already on record for saying that writers seldom wish other writers well. Did winning the Nobel Prize widen the gulf between you and your peers?

BELLOW: I suppose that was Truman’s problem. Maybe even Gore Vidal’s problem. Gore never mentions me without treating my head like an ashtray, flicking his cigarette on it.

PLAYBOY: Hold on. Vidal said in Palimpsest that, with the exception of you, his “celebrated contemporaries all seem to have stopped learning in their 20s.”

BELLOW: Well, that’s true. But I looked up some of the references in that book and they were not as kind as all that. He can’t resist putting me down.

PLAYBOY: Is Vidal a better nonfiction or fiction writer?

BELLOW: His novels lack originality. His essays are much more interesting. Gore Vidal is a good writer, he’s just not as good as he thinks he is. I often thought of Gore as a patrician who got trapped among plebeians, and somehow he was condemned by his sexual perferences to live a level or two beneath the station to which he’s entitled. He’s always resented it a great deal: He doesn’t see why homosexuals should not also be aristocrats. Well, he’s right about that.

* The sentence of an earlier edition of this post read instead “he knew from his father of Joseph Kennedy’s enthusiastic desire to help Nazi Germany”; I mis-remembered that Vidal heard from Eleanor, not his father. I’ve also slightly shifted the claim to safer ground. What Eleanor related to Vidal was of her husband being deeply, deeply offended by what his former ambassador gave as advice. FDR was a cold-blooded political realist, isolationism was not difficult to find in the country, yet somehow, what Kennedy said to the president went so far as to cause him to never want to see this man again. It was not blackmail, because the president happily took up cudgels against his former ambassador. It can be presumed to be something truly vile, in the context of the war, but what that is, from Vidal’s claim of Eleanor’s remembrance, is unknown. The original sentence perhaps weighed the scales down too much, but perhaps not entirely without basis.

My knowledge of this incident comes from Seymour Hersh’s disturbing and controversial The Dark Side of Camelot.

Here is the context prior to the last meeting of ambassador Kennedy and the president.

Three days after the [1940 presidential election], [Joseph] Kennedy self-destructed. In an interview with Louis Lyons of the Boston Globe and two other journalists, he essentially declared that Hitler had won the war in Europe. “Democracy is finished in England,” Kennedy told Lyons. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can get used to incessant bombing. There’s nowhere in England they aren’t getting it…It’s a question of how long England can hold out…I’m willing to spend all I’ve got to keep us out of the war. There’s no sense in our getting in. We’d just be holding the bag.” The story made headlines. Ther American response was devastating for Kennedy: thousands of citizens wrote Roosevelt urging him to fire his defeatist ambassador.

Here is Eleanor’s recall of the meeting itself, related to Vidal:

Roosevelt finally lashed out at Kennedy after a private meeting with him at Thanksgiving: Kennedy was to be a weekend guest of the president and his wife at their estate at Hyde Park. It is not known precisely what took place, but Roosevelt ordered Kennedy to leave. Eleanor Roosevelt later told the writer Gore Vidal that she had never seen her husband so angry. Kennedy had been alone with the president no longer than ten minutes. Mrs. Roosevelt related, when an aide informed her that she was to go immediately to her husband’s ofice.

So I rushed into the office and there was Franklin, white as a sheet. He asked Mr. Kenendy to step outside and then he said, and his voice was shaking, “I never want to see that man again as long as I live. Get him out of here.” I said, “But, dear, you’ve invited him for the weekend, and we’ve got guests for lunch and the train doesn’t leave until two,” and Franklin said, “Then you drive him around Hyde Park and put him on that train.” And I did and it was the most dreadful four hours of my life.

Just what happened between the two men is now known, but Vidal, recounting the scene in a 1971 essay for the New York Review of Books, quoted Mrs. Roosevelt as wistfully adding, “I wonder if the true story of Joe Kennedy will ever be known.” (Discussing the scene years later, in an interview for this book, Vidal said he thought at the time that Mrs. Roosevelt’s real message was not only that the truth about Kennedy would not be known, but that it would be “too dangerous to tell.”)

The book then follows with a possibility of what led to this complete rupture:

Published and private reports available to the White House and the British Foreign Ministry early in 1941 alleged that a notorious Wall Street speculator named Bernard E. “Ben” Smith had traveled to Vichy France in an attempt to revive an isolationist plan, favored by Kennedy, to provide Germany with a large gold loan in exchange for a pledge of peace. Kennedy, still intent on saving American capitalism from the ravages of war, was described in one British document as “doing everything in his power to try and bring this about.” Smith, known as “Sell ‘Em Ben” in his Wall Street heyday, was identified as Kennedy’s emissary. In a confidential report to the Foreign Ministry dated February 4, Kennedy was reported to have sent Smith to visit senior officials of Vichy France in an effort to encourage “Hitler to try to find some formula for the reconstruction of Europe…Having secured this, [Kennedy] hoped that, with the help of two prominent persons in England [he could] start an agitation in England in favour of a negotiated peace.” Roosevelt learned of the Kennedy plan in advance, according to the Foreign Office report, and was able to abort it. Smith, a heavy contributor to Wendell Willkie’s presidential campaign, did travel to Vichy France in late 1940, but the plan went nowhere.

** I give a better example of this casual intimacy with a ruling class than what is there in the opening paragraph or the first footnote; it is the beginning of the essay “Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy”, from The Second American Revolution and Other Essays (1976-1982) which I came across around November 21, 2013, the date on which this footnote was added:

In Washington, D.C., there is – or was – a place where Rock Creek crosses the main road and makes a ford which horses and, later, car could cross if the creek was not in flood. Half a hundred years ago, I lived with my grandparents on a wooded hill not far from the ford. On summer days, my grandmother and I would walk down to the creek, careful to avoid the poison ivy that grew so luxuriously amid the crowded laurel. We would then walk beside the creek, looking out for crayfish and salamanders. When we came to the ford, I would ask her to tell me, yet again, what happened when the old President Roosevelt – not the current President Roosevelt – had come riding out of the woods on a huge horse just as two ladies on slow nags had begun a slow crossing of the ford.

“Well, suddenly, Mr. Roosevelt screamed at them, ‘Out of my way!'” My grandmother imitated the president’s harsh falsetto. “Stand to one side, women. I am the President.” What happened next? I’d ask, delighted. “Oh, they were both soaked to the skin by his horse’s splashing all over them. But then, the very next year,” she would say with some satisfaction “nice Mr. Taft was the president.” Plainly, there was a link in her mind between the Event at the Ford and the change in the presidency. Perhaps there was. In those stately pre-personal days you did not call ladies women.

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