Recognize Veteran’s Day. . .2013


By Shawn StJean

I haven’t been very active on the blog lately, but I’d like to offer a few thoughts to observe this important holiday, which many allow to pass unremarked year after year.

I posted this particular photo (taken several years ago) because these little guys are now grown enough to be serving in the armed forces today.

Everyone’s experience with the military, and attitude toward it, extend in a different degree, minute, and second of the compass.  Many of the founding fathers considered a “standing [permanent] army” a great evil to be avoided, and in the 19th century Henry D. Thoreau lamented a Marine “such as [the government] can make a man, with its black arts.”  Yet it’s hard to argue against the fact that, in the twentieth century, we can still point to our elder veterans, and say we owe them the continued existence our very way of life.  And, of course, today we have our own brands of wars, both declared and undeclared, which lead to shell shock, Gulf War Syndrome, PTSD, and the like.  Or to jingoism and fervor, or disillusionment, or even apathy.  Vets, despite Thoreau’s attack, are all-too-human.

So I don’t urge you to go out and buy a vet a drink, necessarily, or to shake his hand or verbally thank her, nor to pass by and secretly despise her, if that’s your political stance.  But some kind of acknowledgement may lie within your power.  Perhaps the greatest injustice done to the Vietnam vets was a refusal to validate their experiences and even their existences, for better and worse.

Vets do not pass us, whether on the battlefield or on Main Street, as Oliver Stone once put it, as “ghosts in a landscape.”

Hystery in the Raving, or a More Proximate Truth? Stone’s Untold History of the United States


The attacks of 9/11/2001, not unlike the  ambush at Pearl Harbor, indeed marked “a day which would live in infamy,” in that it was the single day in an entire century in which a war was fought on U.S. soil, in which we could feel what it was like to be Vietnamese every day in the 1960s, or Korean during the 1950s, or Russian or French or British during the 1940s.

This is the direction one’s thoughts can take, when viewing Oliver Stone’s new series.

Filmmaker Stone is best known for his feature films, like Talk Radio, Natural Born Killers and most recently Savages.  But his television series Untold History of the United States, makes his brand of left-wing social criticism accessible to the widest public yet.  Untold History centers its revisionist narrative on the succession of U.S. Presidential administrations of the 20th century—as a device, it works, though even Stone seems unable to escape the idea that history equals big events like war, and big entities like government.  But the service provided is that every episode offers a radical shift in focus and interpretation of these entities.  For example, unlike the usual telling of The World War II Story, as if it were a Hollywood movie that every schoolchild was required to view, Stone argues that it was the Russians who actually defeated Hitler’s Nazis in WWII Europe, losing ten people for every soldier lost by U.S. Forces.

Each episode consists of a montage of Stone’s narration, documentary footage, still images of government documents, and recordings of voices whose authenticity one can never be sure of, so startling are some of the statements (some of Lyndon Johnson’s profanities and verbal contempt, for example, would never air in a more tender age).  Statistics are offered at their most dramatic (unlike the count of American dead so famously etched in the monument in Washington D.C., the claim of well over 3 million Vietnamese casualties during the same war there would be difficult/impossible to verify.)

To use them as exemplars, among the revelations of episodes Seven and  Eight:

-Gorbachev made serious overtures to deescalate the arms race that Ronald Reagan insisted on ignoring, in his egomaniacal infatuation with power of the SDI (Star Wars.)

-The CIA’s rise to power after WWII, and its active support of tyrannical regimes—often disguised as democracies– throughout the world, has probably done more to destabilize international relations than all the forces of Communism over 150 years.

-Despite the rise of a hagiography following his death several years back, Richard Nixon was indeed as bad as we always thought.

As he approaches the present, the filmmaker seems justly excited about the treatment of living generations by recent leaders—he makes no bones about claiming that history repeats itself today, and that we are just as vulnerable to fraud and manipulation, by those in power, as our forbears.  Perhaps even more compelling than this, at least to those whose grasp of history is best done through individual biography, we are given glimpses of what contemporary figures—like President Obama, and Osama Bin Laden—were up to, in their younger days.

Stone’s place in the American consciousness seems to be as the voice that never allows us our complacency about what we’ve been told by authorities, nor have investigated for ourselves.  His film, JFK, played a significant role in legislation of the JFK Assassination Records Collection Act and the expansions of the Freedom of Information Act in the 1990s.  He has consistently targeted the mass media as an inadequate filter and delivery vehicle for information, acting as it does either in collusion with the government, or in willful ignorance of its cover-ups.

Implicit in every viewing ought to be the assurance that Stone is inviting, challenging, even demanding his viewers to look deeper into matters for themselves, to do their own thinking—not necessarily to swallow his version whole, either.  That would be an equally irresponsible swing of the pendulum from the sanitized, jingoistic version of the place of our nation in the world that we all accepted as children.  I personally would not even recommend the series—which is excellent–without this vital disclaimer.


BONUS: Download The Boiler Plot For FREE on Amazon!

That’s right–if Shawn StJean’s review below sounds good to you, Emily McDaid’s novel, The Boiler Plot, is being offered FREE for the next few days:

Don’t miss out on a worthy up-and-comer!


A Strong Cup of Tea, Boiled by Microwave, by Emily McDaid

BOOK REVIEW by Shawn StJean


If Oliver Stone were twenty-five years younger, instead of shooting Wall Street (1987) on film, he might do as well digitally adapting The Boiler Plot (2012) for Hollywood, or at least Pinewood. Because while the technology of the media agents Stone likes to target may have improved how the times are recorded, the song of human frailty remains the same. Or, as Gordon Gekko might say: “Greed is [virtually] good.”

In U.S. author Emily McDaid’s debut novel–equally classifiable as thriller/suspense, tech-noir, or social criticism, the setting is modern east-London. The first-person narrative of heroine Alex Sanderson commences in media res, her reportage nearly buried amid the throng of an oppressive courtroom. Crimes have been committed, millions swindled out of hundreds of millions in cyber-cash. Some of the perpetrators have escaped, but others stand at the bar of justice, awaiting sentence. Outside, “the buildings were popping up like a line of dominos.” An apt conceit, and nice bit of foreshadowing. This e-book in no way resembles one’s average paperback. Alex’s voice is one of a young, professional Public Relations account manager, on her way up (a la Bud Fox,) and she knows how to turn a phrase that haunts the later narrative. In fact, a director darker than Stone–Christopher Nolan, perhaps– could easily frame the story as a noir procedural, with a world-weary voice from the future recounting the inevitable slide of events toward their sordid denouement. The bulk of the story demands, How did it all come to this? And of course, like any novel worth one’s patience, The Boiler Plot raises the question to a more universal level.

We aren’t merely witnessing the rise and fall of one particular cadre of mortals. The occasion may be the release of the latest, greatest internet-linked gadget (think iPhone 5 on steroids,) but no one escapes implication in the malfeasance, and malfunction. The world of the 2008 banking crisis envelops London like the ubiquitous fog of legend, and its organic tendrils drift everywhere, seeking purchase. The weakness and complicity of every person along the line (from the sociopathically capitalist creators of the scam, to the PR executives and their minions, to journalists who by turns parasitically endorse, or may bend laws to investigate, the companies, or passively fail to do homework altogether, and finally to consumers blindly begging to be in on the next trend, accepting its legitimacy as boilerplate) is exposed by McDaid, by slowly rising degrees. In the end, the dominoes can’t fall selectively. Blame the faceless corporate and media entities if you must for our slavish devotion to circuitry, but–as with redundant electronics–it takes more than one loose wire, to blow the whole board.

While, to this U.S. reader, the sense of the London media establishment’s claustrophobia, even amid the city’s byways, public spaces, and watering holes, is rendered as if by a native writer, the characters are sparely fleshed out, according to need. Alex is an inheritrix of the tradition of gothic heroines, intelligent, still-innocent if potentially cynical, and intuitive, but confined within a skyscraper-edifice rather than an ancestral mansion: “The bell pinged for the fifty-second floor and I stepped into our colourful, well-lit lobby decorated in primary colours. But the cheerfulness didn’t usually rub off the walls.” Replacing secret passageways, trap doors, and torture chambers, she must navigate the 21st-century equivalents for a career woman: minor tyrants taking credit for her ideas, casual workplace sexism, the lack of trustworthy compatriots (though McDaid’s Jay comes into his own here.) And worst of all, her slow indoctrination and sense that she can’t beat, and must join, with the old boys–even as an unwitting pawn. Second in importance is Noah, an industry tech analyst and investigative journalist, a love interest for Alex, compensating for the sins of his past with an almost-too-moral insistence –but can he be trusted?

Which brings me to the novel’s great strength: “Not everything in this room is at it appears.” The sense of paranoia engendered by the steady discovery of layers of embedded code, virus-like, enhanced by our advance knowledge of the crash and our narrator’s own suspicions, has us recurring to the great advantage books have over films: the power of own imaginations. I found myself repeatedly interrupting my reading to concoct or predict scenarios worthy of lesser writers, only to be happy in my disappointment later. McDaid doesn’t cheap out by steering her readers into a third act of overdone action or trick reveals–ultimately, the mode is realism, here.

In fact, if the book has a major flaw, it may be the schizophrenia of its legacy: a production by a transatlantic author. I found myself wanting a more “American” payoff to my television-conditioned sense of melodrama. But perhaps the British (adopted, in this author’s case) don’t write that way. Example: I fully expected, given the plot’s preoccupation with holograms, that at least one of the cast would reveal itself as a contemporary ghost, a techno-spawned phantom. Not much of a spoiler, to say I missed the mark there. But that’s a pretty fine compliment, if paradoxical, for a work of fiction: arguing to yourself, that no, after all, “they were all real.”

A bracing brew—highly recommended!