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O.J. Simpson and Murder in Brentwood

bobrentwoodsimpsonmugshotToward the end of the bloodiest century in history, a trial about one of the bloodiest crimes consumed the nation.

The accused murderer, a former professional football player and actor, was a handsome, rich, black celebrity, all of which I think are factors in his getting away with murder. His name, which nearly everyone knows, is less important than the story of his crime and escape from punishment. To me, he ought to be remembered as the Butcher of Brentwood.

He was arrested for lying in wait to murder his pretty white, blonde ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, a handsome waiter at a nearby restaurant where she had dined who was doing her a favor by returning a pair of sunglasses. Most people know the details of the brutal double homicide and the trial that followed, which were covered in the book Outrage by former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who had prosecuted hippie mass murderer Charles Manson and obtained the death penalty.

Police detectives, lawyers, judge, jury, witnesses and reporters were mediocre, incompetent, self-centered, racist and, above all, subjective, not objective, about examining the crime. Even on the terms of the trial, as bungled a case as the prosecution made – an observation which Bugliosi rightly pointed out – the jury should have convicted the accused of murder.

Instead, the verdict was Not Guilty.

Why is a matter of speculation. Twenty years later, the guilt of the accused is widely accepted as a fact. It is not controversial. Most think he’s guilty of murder.

One possible explanation – and this is a cultural, not a legal, conjecture – is that blacks on the jury sought to counterbalance decades of real or perceived bias by whites in the judicial system. In a fundamental sense, whites accepted this retributive injustice. The notion that the jury did not understand genetic evidence, such as blood testing and DNA, may be true. But I think that the fix, as the saying goes, may have already been in. The trial took place shortly after the 1992 L.A. riots, a bloodbath and the worst U.S. riot of the century, and the city’s blacks felt wrongly maligned for the riots which many blamed on another controversial racially themed trial’s verdict. The conviction of police officers in that trial over the beating of convicted felon Rodney King was not satisfactory to L.A.’s black community. Letting the accused get away with murder was considered a potential form of payback.

The televised courtroom coverage acquired a frenzied atmosphere. The trial became a spectacle. From the Tonight Show host’s absurdist skits to the media’s sensationalistic approach, both crime and punishment were incessantly trivialized. Americans were gripped by the trial and verdict, though they were not moved to outrage, not really. A few intellectuals, such as Bugliosi, Dominick Dunne and Leonard Peikoff, were outraged and said so. Most people, from the roadside cheering of the accused murderer’s flight from arrest to the ignorant verdict, may have been caught up in the spectacle with no active interest in making a call for justice. After the trial, I participated in candlelight vigils, marches and protests at the Brentwood murder scene. Demonstrators spoke out against wife-beating. The accused had previously and admittedly done that, too. But talk of outrage at the verdict was discouraged.

The trial was fertile ground for collectivist tendencies.

The criminal justice system has disproportionately convicted blacks and Los Angeles Police have a track record of institutionalized prejudice against blacks, so when the issue of white detective Mark Fuhrman using a racist term for blacks was raised during the trial, it infused other, unrelated injustice into the proceedings. Ultimately, I think the prospect of letting one of America’s most successful high profile blacks go free for murder may have been too tempting for the mostly black jury. Racism, an offshoot of collectivism, festers in people that to varying degrees choose to be irrational, regardless of blood. Being black does not mean one cannot also be racist. Add racial, cultural and economic stereotypes and tensions and the childishly coded dismissal of facts in evidence in the legal hustler’s line that “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” and the jury’s verdict came through as a willful redress for past grievances which everyone seemed more or less resigned to accept. There was no white backlash. There were no riots. There were no race wars. There was celebration among blacks.

In a sense, black militants had won. They had triumphed without even having to bother making explicit what idea drove the unjust verdict and the celebrations that followed: that one’s identity is based on race. If the thesis of black power was invoked – I think it was and has, in the 20 years since, been accepted as dogma – the civil rights movement’s vision of judging a person as an individual, not based on one’s race, had been discredited if not defeated. Not long after the verdict, Americans would elect a biracial president whose wedding was officiated by an advocate of black liberation theology. But accepted, too, on an underlying level was the idea that the ends justify the means; that rendering an unjust verdict in the name of past wrongs is OK and in any case the show must go on. Indeed, the race-themed spectacle did go on, and the culture is crawling with Kardashians and those with whom they multiply such as the hip hop artist known for verbally assaulting a white artist for defeating a black artist at an awards ceremony.

Life, too, goes on, but not for those who were murdered. In the 20 years since the injustice was delivered, the exonerated lost the civil court battle brought by the murdered Ron Goldman’s father, real-life avenger Fred Goldman. The one I call the butcher of Brentwood, a phrase which is earned with one look at the crime scene photographs, is in jail for other crimes. His 1994 lawyers scattered like cockroaches into other lines of work or they passed away, with not a single practicing attorney, whether Legal Zoom founder Robert Shapiro or Israel defender Alan Dershowitz, acknowledging let alone admitting or atoning for complicity in the bloodied butcher getting away with murder. Vigilantism at the expense of justice did not result in progress for blacks. Whatever cultural impact of O.J. Simpson, his foremost legacy is the death of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson and Americans resigning themselves to going along with injustice as they have gone along with every other injustice since 1994. Then and 20 years later, the facts show that Orenthal James Simpson ended two lives in an act of pure evil. That he got away with murder is beyond dispute. That the injustice is so blithely mocked and maligned (yet accepted) taints the nation and foreshadows its decline.

New Title, Art for Peikoff’s First Book

TCOHGOn November 25, Penguin gives a new title, cover art (pictured here) and author’s preface to Leonard Peikoff’s brilliant first book, The Ominous Parallels: The End of Freedom in America.

The book, The Cause of Hitler’s Germany, is an exhaustive philosophical study of what caused Nazi Germany. As the publisher’s new promotional material promises, Dr. Peikoff examines self-sacrifice, Oriental mysticism, racial “truth,” the public good and doing one’s duty—seductive catchphrases that circulated in Weimar Germanyand he demonstrates how unreason and collectivism led a seemingly civilized society to become Nazi Germany. Peikoff, who grew up in western Canada, lives in southern California and teaches a writing course in which I am enrolled, worked closely with Ayn Rand for 30 years. The preeminent Rand scholar and estate heir taught philosophy at Hunter College and New York University. Here, he offers a breathtaking comparative study and analysis of the rise of fascism in the United States. This was the first book by an Objectivist author other than Rand that I read and I found it utterly absorbing, like taking an intellectual odyssey in a style distinctly different from Rand’s non-fiction in the form of a cogent and captivating lesson in the modern history of philosophy culminating in the Nazi atrocities while ingeniously integrating what the author warns is the impending meltdown of the New Left. I was fascinated to learn that most Germans possessed, read and accepted Hitler’s Mein Kampf and to see how the ideas of Schopenhauer, Hegel and Kant continue to spread and influence the world around me. Philosopher and podcaster Peikoff, who was Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has written two other books, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and The DIM Hypothesis: Why the Lights of the West Are Going Out.

This volume includes the original introduction by Rand, who endorsed The Cause of Hitler’s Germany as “[a] truly revolutionary idea…. Clear, tight, disciplined, beautifully structured, and brilliantly reasoned.”

Tiananmen’s Individualist

Tiananmen individualistWhatever his identity, the lone individual who stood against the state 25 years ago this Thursday (June 5) remains a man of inspiration.

The sight of one man standing alone against the tyranny of dictatorship – in this case Communist China – came to symbolize the crusade for freedom in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall would come down and millions of people would be liberated from slavery.

Sadly, as I suspected at the time, it was an interlude before new forms of totalitarianism would rise, spread and strike and destroy civilization across the globe. But this image of a single act of heroism, which took place during an uprising at Tiananmen Square in Beijing and to some extent took root in China, moves me still. Such heroes who stand alone against the state march on. Edward Snowden comes to mind. Though the West is, in its impending collapse, choosing to punish heroes as traitors, and celebrate, create (and, yesterday, release) anti-heroes instead, men like the one pictured here are exactly what the world needs now.

Movie Review: The Last Sentence

TLS posterThe setting of the 2012 Swedish movie The Last Sentence (which opens in limited U.S. engagement on June 20) is Goteborg, Sweden. The story occurs just as Adolf Hitler is rising to Nazi power in Germany and soon Sweden must decide its future and choose – or not choose – between the Nazi dictatorship and Soviet dictatorship as both menaces converge on Scandinavia. Torgny Segerstedt, an academic who writes for the city’s newspaper, hates Hitler but he loves, or in any case fixates upon, dogs, women and, most of all, his mother, who is dead, though he sees her in various youthful apparitions.

Oscar-nominated director Jan Troell (who wrote the screenplay) unfolds this strange, evocatively photographed biopic with as much sense of purpose as one can have for such a thematically mixed plot. As Swedish intellectuals vacillate between ignorance and acquiescence and migrate toward their leaders’ true philosophy of appeasement, Torgny (Danish Jesper Christensen) dares to speak out against the Nazis in biting words for his newspaper column. Of course, the married Torgny and Jewish Maja (Pernilla August), wife of his newspaper’s publisher, carry on an affair which may complicate his later attempts to defend his right to speak and write freely in a nation known for quieter causes.

This black and white epic, The Last Sentence, is curiously engaging for the prospect of a drama about the lone journalist against his own country. The trailer exploits this expectation. But it’s Torgny’s affair, and how it entraps two married couples in complicated lives, that dominates for the first hour or so, as slowly, glacially, Nazi Germany casts a cloud over Europe and Sweden. The columnist, never far from his three dogs, is bitter and cruel to his mentally unstable wife, who still grieves for their dead child, and as he beds the energetic Jewess Maja with abandon, he writes up a strong if singular voice of dissent to the gathering fascist storm.

Sounds timely and irresistible, doesn’t it? With a confiscation of printing presses, Swedes who choose to see nothing and hear nothing and an application of strychnine that recalls an awful scene from Cabaret, The Last Sentence in certain segments almost is.

But it isn’t and here’s why: Christensen’s Torgny, whether from Troell’s direction or script or at the actor’s own discretion, is too sour to be either effectively plausible as an intellectual influence or sufficiently sympathetic as an exceptional man with exceptional sexual needs. Mrs. Segerstedt can be cruel, too, and it is easy to see how these two drifted apart toward an angry marital state, but with a semi-permanent sneer as his facial expression and an uncomplicated proclivity for his mother, Torgny’s tortured existence tears the life out of the character and the fight out of the film.

What’s left unexamined is his inner life as an intellectual, apparently a scholar of comparative religions, how he came to defy the stubbornly non-confrontational ethos of his country and what relevance of any significance this has to do with his mommy issues. When one writer takes on the rise of Nazis in a nation where many look down on Jews and even the king would rather kneel before stormtroopers, the movie should be ripe with dramatic tension. But when the prime minister in an excellent scene finally tells Torgny over a meal: “You endanger national security with your writings”, I found myself coming up empty of empathy for Sweden’s most prominent anti-Nazi. Any movie with a main character opposing Nazis that expresses unrelated mental torment in the same character undermines both subplots.

As it is, the real Torgny Segerstedt may have been a true champion and utterly in turmoil at the same time but as it plays in the picture the two are really disconnected and it has the effect of dramatizing the theme that the only happy Swede is the Swede who plods along without much serious thought, not unlike the three dogs in The Last Sentence, content to look upon the oddly conflicted crusader getting all worked up about Hitler and the Nazis. That said, in the later and final scenes, there are beautiful shots and touches and great lines, including a reference to the Icelandic saga Havamal, the appearance of a child near the skull and crossbones and scenes of Nazis with their German shepherds symbolizing the real dogs of war. Torgny, ending up with three women in his life (not including the Freudian mother) and three dogs, with an overwrought reference to Don Quixote with a horse and lance, culminates with an insular, diluted, remote charge against injustice.

TV and DVD Review: Escape from Sobibor

EFS87CBSGerman SS and Nazis constructed the top secret death camp Sobibor in the spring of 1942 along a railway line in a remote, wooded region of Poland. The gassing of Jews arriving by boxcars began in May 1942, according to historians. The Holocaust Museum writes that “Nazi Germans ordered the Jews into the barracks and forced them to undress and run through the “tube,” which led directly into gas chambers deceptively labeled as showers. The women’s hair was shorn in a special barracks inside the “tube.” Once the gas chamber doors were sealed, in an adjacent room guards started an engine which piped carbon monoxide into the gas chambers, killing all those inside. The process was repeated with the next freight cars.”

But on October 14, 1943, Jews fought back, waging all-out attack on the slavemasters and ghouls by carrying out a bold, impossible and vicious revolt in which many escaped to freedom. Before he died, writer, teacher and historian John David Lewis recommended a British movie (read the full interview here) about the daring death camp rebellion, Escape From Sobibor, which was televised on CBS in 1987.

Nazis and their allies killed at least 167,000 people at Sobibor. Those who organized the resistance group in the late spring of 1943 meticulously planned their counterstrike, plotting to surreptitiously eradicate key SS officials and start an uprising. The 2-hour film is a gripping dramatization of their heroic story. With a teleplay by Reginald Rose, based on the book by Richard Rashke and other source material including an unpublished manuscript, and directed by Jack Gold, Escape From Sobibor is must-see viewing for Jews and all people who are persecuted, oppressed and longing to live in freedom. It is the anti-Schindler’s List. This is because the Jews portrayed here are depicted fundamentally as individuals – not as a tribe – who fight and run for their lives. In fact, the most tradition-bound and faith-based among the prisoners are depicted without casting aspersions as passive and ready to die.

The opening takes place on a bright day with flowers and sunshine and innocent people painting what might be one’s home. But soon the camera comes to a cold, gray pole that rises and rises until one sees that this is a flagpole upon which the hoisted flag bears the mark of the swastika and the innocents are slaves who are marked for duty to the Aryan race and National Socialist state. After a failed escape, men are shot. Leon (Alan Arkin) flinches at the sound of a gunshot. Certain Jews are spared the gas chambers if they work a trade in order to serve those who commit the mass murder. Some Jews known as kapos do so willingly and some are better than others. Leon, who has lost his wife and children, leads them into what for some may become the great escape.

Getting off the boxcars, families are separated. Property is abandoned, to be seized by the state. A single old Jew disembarking from the train walks up and strikes a Nazi in the face and instantly it is clear that this death camp is different; here, Jews are not all passive, compliant pacifists who take obedience on faith. Some are exceptionally spirited in spite of the black smoke and what they sense or know it means. That they shudder in the shadows of mass death is proof of life. Some grasp this fact and a band of men, women and children bond. A few speak up to lead. A resistance forms.

“The better your behavior, the easier your stay here,” they are told by the Nazi government types, who order the Jews to obey, get in line and just follow orders. But quickly the individuals are introduced as individuals: Luka, Samuel, Yitzhak, Shlomo, Tolvi, others. Later, a blond Soviet Jew named Sasha (Rutger Hauer in one of his best performances) is imprisoned here with other Russian Jews. Arkin’s Leon eventually recruits eager, steely Luka (pitch perfect Joanna Pacula) with the deep set eyes to provide cover as they scheme to create an impossible liberation. But first there is the nonstop agony, grayness and death as kapos carry a whip, killer dogs bark at night and Leon breaks it to newcomer Yitzhak that “the fire is the funeral” and the black smoke signals death. As the men talk, grope and plan, Luka looks out the window at the cluster of huddled Jews and begins to understand.

Escape From Sobibor is distinctly British, not Hollywood, and its production is made for television. This means that action is earned, as in a miniseries, and resistance grows in each individual character slowly, in time, as men and women seek to better grasp what is reality, how to know, who to trust, how to feel, where to speak freely, why they bond and when to fight back. When some Jews rightly spew anger at kapos who get favored treatment and the Nazi-favored Jews spew back, Leon, the death camp’s moral and life force, steps in to enunciate the picture’s theme. Breaking up the conflict, he asks: “why do we fight amongst ourselves? If we have energy to spend, let us spend it against those who have reduced us to this.”

This is the tale of how they do.

For their part, the Nazis are as small and sadistic, and, surprisingly realistic, as such monsters have to be, commanding Jewish prisoners by force to imprint a snake in gold and tearing at each other with petty little hatreds such as whether it is permissible to use Jews for sex before they are gassed. “How many Jews did you gas today?” One of the fat, disgusting bastards asks one of the more efficient, punctual Germans, trying to put him in his cowardly place. But there are merely rungs of hell in Sobibor and the movie inches toward the moment they are about to burn.

“The best revenge is for you to survive,” one Jew tells another, as yet another failed escape leads to a doubling in executions with a diabolical twist that sparks the story’s shocking and honest solution to the problem of being “chosen” as Jews in this context. In this dank place near the river, Jews did not wait for God, prayers, traditions or fate, luck or a good German to get them out and when a good-looking Jewish man in love says “yes I can” and his beloved steps forward not to object to his risking death but to offer a superior weapon with which to kill, Escape takes on an urgent and unyielding suspense that can only be described as utterly absorbing. “My name is Herschel Zuckerman and don’t you forget it,” one Jew says as he does what must be done. In slow, small steps and segments and unplanned events that intervene with this impossible attempt to flee totalitarianism for freedom, the chosen that choose to resist, fight and kill use ladders, axes, guns, knives and anything within reach to disembody the death camp apparatus by disabling its brains foremost. Bloodied but unbowed, cutting through wires in front of wires and braving mines that blow their comrades apart, man, woman and child thrust, kill and run for their lives in an unforgettable Holocaust drama that should be seen by everyone so they know these heroes were real and once existed in a world now dominated by zombies and pod people.

Together, kapos and Jews run into the woods, valiant unsung fighters of Sobibor who have been overshadowed by topically and thematically inferior cinematic works of pain, misery, tradition, collectivism and playing for time. Escape From Sobibor finishes with a powerful narration by the late ABC News journalist Howard K. Smith, who began with a newsman’s introduction to this dark part of history and the words “this is that story…” and ends with tales of Jews who lived their lives in Connecticut, Israel and Santa Barbara (also, the Soviet Union, which is another, much worse horror story). The telefilm, brought to my attention by a passionate and inspiring war and history scholar who evoked the mythical 300 spartans, concludes as it commences, putting the rousing classical music set to enslavement and death in its proper, rightful context: liberation and life.