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TV Review: ‘The Disappearance of Glenn Miller’ (PBS)

GMiller (courtesy Wikipedia)An episode about one of World War 2’s biggest mysteries, “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller”, premieres on the PBS series History Detectives Special Investigations next week. I have always wanted to know more about the mystery and the series’ three investigators, who team up to solve each case, Wes Cowan, an independent appraiser and auctioneer, Kaiama Glover, professor at Barnard College, Columbia University and Tukufu Zuberi, a humanities professor at the University of Pennsylvania, sort through three main theories about the big band leader’s unsolved disappearance.

Toward the end of the war, enlisted Army Air Force band leader Miller, a hugely popular jazz musician, songwriter, composer and recording star in a league with the Beatles and Elvis for his time, took off with others on a plane bound for a Christmas concert for Allied troops in liberated Paris. The plane never arrived and was lost somewhere over the English Channel. There are several theories including conspiracy theories. The trio of history detectives briefly set up his background (he is known for his hits “In the Mood”, “Moonlight Serenade”, “Pennsylvania 6-5000″, “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, “A String of Pearls”, “At Last”, “(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo”, and “Tuxedo Junction”) and the three theories: a crash, secret spy mission incident and downing by friendly fire.

It is true that a British air force bombing raid may have been in close proximity and the friendly fire theory is both examined and convincingly debunked. Among the finds are rarely heard recordings of Glenn Miller speaking in German for U.S. propaganda against the Nazi Wehrmacht. Actor David Niven comes into the picture, too, as having played an interesting role with Miller in espionage against the fascists in Germany. They were part of an apparent campaign to encourage an internal German resistance through the “swing kids” that worshipped American and Negro music at the time. The swing kids were targeted by Gen. Eisenhower, according to the history detectives, with Glenn Miller’s music. They were branded as “subversive and degenerate” by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps.

Apparently, Glenn Miller was not on the missing plane’s flight manifest, which the hosts explain is why there was a delay in the Army’s announcement, fueling speculation of conspiracies, and the Battle of the Bulge started the day after the plane took off, garnering all the press headlines.

Glenn Miller’s nephew John Miller, who lives in England, appears and each major possibility is fully explored combining known data and new facts and information about weather (it was foggy when the plane took off), aircraft history, charting and locations. Miller, who was preparing for the Christmas day concert for those who’d fought at Normandy on D-Day, hated to fly and reportedly asked after looking into the plane: “Where are the parachutes?” According to what’s reported here, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t enthusiastic about boarding the doomed flight.The detectives explain and simulate how the plane, flown by a pilot who was not instrument rated, may have flown directly into plunging temperatures in a winter storm without carburetor heaters (they had been recalled and were being directed to big Allied bombers not utility planes like Miller’s). The engine probably froze, possibly followed by a big pop and, it is postulated, the plane apparently nosedived into the English Channel. Army regulations precluded sharing the Army’s theory with the Miller family that he got into a ticking time bomb that had not been cleared for a flight over the English Channel. Neither the plane nor Miller’s body was recovered. He was survived by his wife Helen and their two children. “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller” premieres on Tuesday, July 8, 9pm-10pm ET on PBS.

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.