Monday, March 30, 2015

Ramparts in the News

I recently attended an event at UC Berkeley with Karen Paget, author of Patriotic Betrayal. I plan to read that book next, and I've already seen the coverage (in The New Yorker and elsewhere). I'm following this discussion with interest, mostly because Ramparts magazine figures heavily in the story. Paget's story concerns the CIA's involvement with the National Students Association during the Cold War. Following a lead furnished by a whistle blower, Ramparts revealed that involvement and was subsequently targeted by the CIA. Such stories eventually led to Congressional hearings and more oversight of the U.S. intelligence community.

One review that caught my eye appeared in The Weekly Standard. It's by Gabriel Schoenfeld, who has argued elsewhere that New York Times editors and writers should be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for their stories on massive U.S. surveillance programs. He also wrote a book called Necessary Secrets, which "offers a gripping account of how our national security ... has been compromised by disclosure of classified information."

Schoenfeld's review performs a kind of ideological minuet. Much of that performance hinges on its diction, misdirection, and suggestion. The organizing logic is melodrama. The violence of the Second World War, which Schoenfeld mentions in the first sentence, justifies the CIA's overreach during the Cold War that followed. He also refers to the CIA's "Cold War liberals," suggesting that they dominated the agency during the 1950s. This would come as a surprise to Allen Dulles, the lifelong Republican whom President Eisenhower appointed director of the CIA in 1952. After Dulles choreographed coups in Iran and Guatemala as well as the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, President Kennedy pressured him to resign in 1961.

Schoenfeld concedes that "the CIA link to the NSA—and a number of other domestic and foreign organizations—continued well past the point of usefulness." He also notes that "CIA astigmatism should be condemned." Note the passive voice--who, exactly, would do that work, especially if journalists are prosecuted for stories on classified programs? The review says nothing about the CIA's illicit investigations of those journalists or its plans to target them. The diction, too, is designed to minimize the agency's culpability. The agency suffered from astigmatism, or slightly faulty vision. If it had the correct prescription, perhaps it wouldn't have tried to assassinate Fidel Castro eight times between 1960 and 1965. Or maybe it would have succeeded.

That's as far as Dr. Schoenfeld can go toward criticizing the agency during this period. He saves his real criticisms for Paget's "preposterous judgments" about the agency and its efforts. He cites exactly one but assures us that they are scattered throughout the book. I will withhold judgment on that, but the review's selection and emphasis suggest that Dr. Schoenfeld might not be a reliable guide on these points.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Dead Spin

I'm teaching my Grateful Dead course at OLLI again, this time at Sonoma State University, and Jonah Raskin covered the story for the Press Democrat this week. I'm looking forward to the first class on Tuesday. Guests this time will include Rosie McGee, David Gans, and David Dodd, co-editor of The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics.

The Alibi, Albuquerque's alternative weekly, ran a positive review of No Simple Highway. Turns out I also attended one of the Santa Fe shows the reviewer mentions in the piece. In the early 1980s, I was a field representative for the college division of Harper & Row, Publishers. My territory was West Texas and the entire state of New Mexico. While calling on the University of New Mexico, I must have decided to catch a show over the weekend.

While researching my book at the Grateful Dead Archive, I learned that northern New Mexico was on the Dead's mind as early as the 1960s, when a newspaper item mentions their interest in moving to Santa Fe. And of course the region figured heavily in the back-to-the-land movement of the same period.

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Nick Meriwether Does It Again

I came across this article in the Hartford Courant featuring Nicholas Meriwether, the founding director of the Grateful Dead Archive at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Nick's advice and support were a critical part of my Grateful Dead research and writing. My three weeks in Santa Cruz were incredibly productive, mostly because Nick made sure I had everything I needed at my disposal. That included books from his private library as well as steady access to his encyclopedic knowledge of the Dead and their times. We also enjoyed the occasional pale ale when the daily work was done.

So Nick is an extraordinary resource. But his overall contribution--as author, researcher, organizer, fundraiser, publicist, and impresario--far exceeds the indispensable role archivists normally play in the humanities and other fields.

Let me put it this way: Some day, and that day may not be far off, people are going to be studying Nick.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

KRCB Chat with Suzanne M. Lang

I had a great Friday two weeks ago. I taped an interview at KRCB with Suzanne M. Lang, did a bookstore event at Copperfield's in Sebastopol, and then managed to hear Jackie Greene perform a couple blocks away at the HopMonk Tavern. A scrumptious pale ale was icing on the cake.

The radio program aired on Sunday, and I really like the way it turned out. Suzanne was well prepared and asked great questions. We also had a chance to explore some themes and characters I haven't talked about much. For example, she asked about Ralph J. Gleason--perhaps in part because his son Toby hosted a jazz program at KRCB until recently.

Here's the link; you can judge for yourself how it turned out. It was supposed to be a 25-minute segment, but Suzanne decided to devote the entire hour to the Dead and the book. Very gratifying. Long live public radio!

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