News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


Ward Churchill is not only an ethnic impersonator, but also an artist impersonator. The credulity of PC do-gooders never ceases to amaze... Compare for yourself. The original vs. the Churchillian masterwork. Great stuff....Nyuk-nyuk...

Ward Churchill's Military Claims Proven False : ...despite his public claim (in a 1987 Denver Post interview) of having been a paratrooper (Airborne qualified) who conducted long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRPs; extremely dangerous missions conducted by some of the most elite soldiers in the US Army) hunting North Vietnamese in Vietnam during and after the Tet Offensive of 1968, and despite his claim that he was a point man in an infantry combat unit, was in fact trained only as a jeep driver and projectionist (he was trained to operate film-strip machines and movie projectors), according to official documentation from the National Personnel Records Center, the US repository for military records. the same 1987 Denver Post report, Professor Churchill admitted to being a bomb-building and weapons instructor for the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist group active in the 1970s. (Biff: Yeah, right!! He steals from every available cultural icon. Have to admire the man's chutzpah and panache. Perhaps I better understand the appeal of Nazi history to Ward. The hoi polloi are little Eichmanns (ex-vacuum salesman cum National Socialist bureaucrat) whereas he's Goebbels (propagandist), Streicher (lecturer/publisher), and Hitler (Uber Zombie) rolled into a one-man volk revival and cult of personality. It's only bad luck that he got caught by some sinister McCarthyist right-wing whackjob. Another few years and he'd have retired a hero, entered the textbook cannons alongside Dr. King, sublimated into an immortal, and had a memorial park and bronze statue bearing his blessed name for future generations to contemplate and admire.)

From a fascinating article in the Rocky Mountain News: Bellecourt and Harjo say [Ward] Churchill's belligerent speeches and writings are evidence that he is not of American Indian descent. They say Indians usually avoid the confrontational behavior Churchill is known for.

"You've seen his demeanor, his arrogance; that's not the Indian way," said Bellecourt. "We're a compassionate people, that's always been a trait of Indians."

Harjo met Churchill at a conference in 1990 and says she was immediately suspicious of his background.

"There was nothing in his manner or appearance or his way of relating that made me think I was dealing with an American Indian," she said. "He's not a native person. He's a white man."

There's plenty, plenty more at The Belmont Club.


Half my family is black, on my stepmom's side. They're the wealthier, more successful half. For a non-nanny-state liberal take on the US black community, check out this video interview with Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson. You might be surprised and amused. A quick paraphrase of one part of the discussion:

Interviewer: "Can you name any other man, other than a political leader, who represents good values and who can be a leader to the black community."

Rev. Peterson: "Any man who needs a leader is a weak, pathetic person. George W. Bush isn't our leader; he's our representative."

Interviewer: "What do you think of faith-based initiatives?"

Rev. Peterson: "I'm kind of leery of them. Government programs tend to spoil people... Black preachers love money. Most of them aren't called to their faith by God, but by their mommas."


Took a bite of Annie Proulx's novel Postcards this morning. Very tasty. As usual, I'm highly impressed with her purely technical skill via effortlessly describing in almost exquisitely tortuous detail the physical environments in which she runs her characters through their paces. She has an incredible lexicon covering horticulture, farm implements, geology, and so forth; one which is so far-ranging that I'm stumped by up to, say, 10~15% of her adjectives on a given page. Hopefully she'll develop a plot which includes a clinically certifiable buildup, climax, dénouement and conclusion. Her short stories typically have none of these. Perhaps she shares my ill-conceived contempt for canned stories or, like myself, she simply doesn't know how to tell one across the space of a dozen or more pages (and can't be bothered to learn now that she's commercially successful).

I could only do about 40 pages or so of Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses. She relies too heavily for my taste on deux ex machina gimmickry such as endowing one of her two central characters not only with delightful arcane knowledge and a comic familiarly Chinese loony primeval animist sensibility, which works great, but also with magical abilities, which dooms any sense of her story mirroring reality. This resort to literary charades instead of sweating out good storytelling is reminiscent of John Irving's spoiling of stories with the chronic injection of patently implausible disasters to generate sympathy and manufacture tragic characters hit hard by fate. If only fate wasn't so cruel! More like, if only John was less obvious and pulled his end of the artist's responsibility to deftly paper mache the framework and soundproof the machinery of his industrial-strength best-sellers. The first chapter of World According to Garp is excellent. Then he hits us with a heavy dose of the unbelievable and then the incredible and then the impossible and then...and then he graduated to writing the central character of The Fourth Hand, who is only outdone in implausibility by Rastafarian Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars or the 15/16ths Irishmen Ward Churchill, cause celebre of do-gooders everywhere.

I'm also mystified as to why Amy Tan uses a precocious Valley girl voice in her books when in interviews she's more like a highly informed iron dragon lady with a bad rug. She's actually quite intelligent, incisive and decisive. Maxine Hong Kingston wrote in a more detached and almost clinical voice in her Woman Warrior book, for example, and her presentation of familial cruelty and fucked-up relationships is all the more devastating as a result. Perhaps Amy Tan figured correctly that there was more money in a suburban, ditzy, fatigued voice as this would be less threatening and more cozily reassuring to her presumed reader's audience of housewives bored, momentarily, by the soaps.

Nevertheless, there are clever moments in Amy's book such as (will provide an example later). However, for the most part the story is all too predictable, despite the manic plot turns and dizzying constellation of faux-surprises. Indeed, the crystal-meth pack-ratting of thirty second twists, every thirty seconds, takes on a tiresome predictability because they don't seem to add up to anything. Perhaps I'm dense but I found really very few surprises of the kind which imprint anything of lasting value on jaded brainpans, which is a shame given the fabulous opportunities accessible to the interested observer of Chinese and American cultural interaction which is, as often as not, a light comedy of errors. Had she employed a format akin to the Simpsons however...

The writers behind the Simpsons keep information junkies such as myself on the edge of their couches with obscure references to has-been pop icons, defunct TV shows, warmed-over politicians and the like. An example of what I mean is the following dialogue (snatched from defective memory) in a vid I watched this morning:

Bart: Isn't there a doggy hell?

Homer: Well of course there is son. Hmm... That's where Hitler's dog went. And Nixon's too. Chester...

Lisa: Checkers, Dad.

Homer: And the bad Lassie. The one that bit Timmy.

I don't remember if Hitler had a dog. Seemed a throwaway. Too easy to be funny. But Chester is so close to Checkers that it sounded right and yet I smelled a rat and began to smile. And which Lassie bit Timmy? I've no idea. Sounded perverse and appealed to my desire for revenge for bad television and made me grin outright, but knowing the Simpsons there probably is just such a Lassie episode or movie or even more likely, a genuine feral incident of chomping which took place on the set.

This brain tickling and trivia teasing appeals to many of us who are reasonably well-versed in US culture. And the Simpsons writers employ a methodology common to first-rate comedians: never interrupt the story just to make a joke and make sure whatever joke you use is grounded firmly in reality so that it surprises those who are unfamiliar with the background while also being familiar territory to people knowledgeable in the background. In so doing, the humor is much less likely to irritate anyone in the audience. The humor is much more likely to appeal to a broad range of social echelons and subcultures, but also to a broad swathe of age groups as well. In other words, Simpsons humor is consciously tailored to appeal to both the ignorant and the informed and, as the subject matter shifts through each episode, we, as individual members of the audience, continually shift between being members of the ignorant and the informed. This is part of the reason why the Simpsons appeals both to children and to adults and it is for the same reason that much of the work of Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Henry Mencken survives so well into the modern era.

Amy Tan has a broad knowledge of Chinese history I'm sure. It's too bad she doesn't use more of this to make her stories more surprising, novel, penetrating, and, ultimately, interesting to information junkies. I'm confident she's sufficiently well versed in the material to do so. Maxine Hong Kingston sold herself into the nirvana of best-sellerdom by doing so but also earned herself a reputation as a writer of substance. Cash from the hoi polloi and respect from serious types. Not a shabby combination.

Biff Cappuccino

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