The Tooth and the Nail (Bill Ballinger, 1958)

Last and least of the “triptych” collection I’ve been perusing over the last six months. By this point, Ballinger was evidently hip-deep in television work and it shows. The first of the collection’s novels, 1950’s Portrait In Smoke, was within easy shouting distance of Cornell Woolrich or David Goodis. This is more along the lines of a top drawer Perry Mason episode. Still entertaining but a bit lacking in nerve and sweat.

Put it this way–months later, I can still remember exactly how Portrait In Smoke ends.

Without thinking about it.

This one?

I’m thinking….

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Tim Weiner, 2007)

600 hundred page brief on why free people do not need secret police forces.

Superbly done…I collected a bunch of telling quotes and thought long and hard about how best to present them.

Then I realized all there really is to say is here:

Jimmy Cliff “Trapped” (Studio Recording)



Tim Weiner/Warren Zevon

My holiday rituals are probably a little different than most. I spent part of the day working my way through the middle third of Weiner’s CIA history Legacy of Ashes. The “work” part didn’t come from the writing which is swift and cogent, but from the subject matter, which is acutely rendered and thus overwhelmingly depressive.

Alongside that I was also working through the last disc of a Willie Nelson box (not really all that much work) and the first of a reacquired Marvin Gaye box (no work at all), both of which have been sitting around the house for a while and therefore need to get on the shelf.

They were suitably familiar background music for reading, no more or less.

When I finally reached an impasse–that portion of any well done history of the secret police state where the citizen’s need to be informed is invariably subdued by the soul’s urge to throw things–I carefully put the book down and roamed about for a bit until I spotted my newly acquired copy of Zevon’s Stand in the Fire reissue, which I had missed seeing on my front doorstep until this morning.

Thought….well, if anything could cheer me up just now, why not “Jeannie Needs a Shooter?”…and put it in the player.

I hadn’t listened to my vinyl version in maybe ten years. Ordered the CD, frankly, because it was cheap and had extras.

The extras turned out to be okay.

They’re tacked on at the end and the highlight there by far is the then newly sobered up Zevon introducing a broken-throated version of “Hasten Down the Wind” by stating that, years earlier, it had been “the song that intervened between me and starvation, thanks to Linda Ronstadt.”

That’s the most poignant and accurate assessment I’ve ever encountered of Ronstadt’s role in the L. A. scene that made her jump through every cruel hoop imaginable before she finally turned it on its head and came out smelling like a superstar (a refusal to stay in place for which she’s evidently never been forgiven by the shady side of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee).

Believe me, Randy Newman and Jackson Browne and Don Henley, to name but a few, could have made some version of the same speech.

So it was a nice moment. But by then, it was almost an afterthought.

By then, I’d not only been reminded how great the original album was–great as in “I can’t actually believe this” great, a quarter-century plus after I heard it the first time–but I’d also been reminded that, long before Tim Weiner was on the case, Warren Zevon was really the nation’s once-and-forever biographer of the CIA.

And all the more prescient, observant and powerful for having so seldom mentioned them by name.

He didn’t have to.

When I’m done with Weiner’s fine, essential book (about which more in the book report of whatever month I finish it), I already know I won’t really be any more enlightened than I was the very first time I heard the very first line of this:




Just happened to run across these on the same day…

First, keeping up with my reading assignments whilst awaiting an oil change:

“Their conversation continued in the Oval Office, shortly after 6 p.m. on August 22, when they were joined by Maxwell Taylor, the general Kennedy trusted most. The president wanted to go over two other secret operations before discussing Cuba. The first was the developing plan to drop twenty Chinese Nationalist soldiers into mainland China during the coming week. The second was a plan for the CIA to wiretap members of the Washington press corps….

“The president told (CIA director) McCone to set up a domestic task force to stop the flow of secrets from the government to the newspapers. The order violated the agency’s charter, which specifically prohibits domestic spying. Long before Nixon created his ‘plumbers’ unit of CIA veterans to stop news leaks, Kennedy used the agency to spy on Americans.”

(Source: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner, 2007)

Then, following the headlines on the internet…

“So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell’s physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime – at most, they had a case of “cyber-harassment” more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people – and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.”

(Source: The ever invaluable Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, Nov. 13, 2012, read the whole thing here)

Boy, how I wish Raymond Chandler Speaking wasn’t packed away right now. Would love to get his exact quote on Hoover’s FBI circa the McCarthy era. Anyway, it was something to the effect that secret police forces all come to the same thing in the end.

Fortunately, other philosophers who aren’t packed away have been on the case all along. Keep me sane, they do:

Little Richard “Slippin’ and Slidin'” (Studio)

Bob Dylan “Talkin’ John BIrch Paranoid Blues” (Live Recording)

Aretha Franklin “Chain of Fools” (Television Performance)