The Bravest Kindest Most Wonderful Human Being I’ve Ever Known In My Life

The Manchurian Candidate remains a brilliant thought-provoking film, based upon a completely wrong-bad-evil and yet very popular idea, which was all about the projection of our own worst fears and capacities onto the unknown other


For any of my younger friends who have never seen the original 1962 classic film “the Manchurian Candidate” it remains near perfect as cinema, powerful as story, and full of useful clues about our enduring geo-political madness, even though it was always trying (too) hard to say something almost entirely false.

The film (spoiler alert – and really, go watch it first, if you never have) is about a group of American soldiers who are captured by ‘Communists’ (cue evil background music) and then subjected to brainwashing, to train one of them to be a controllable assassin, and the others to support his ultimate mission.

There are a lot of very powerful scenes, in which their trainer demonstrates the completeness of his control over them (to other evil communists). But even as he makes the groomed assassin do more and more outrageous things – right in front of them – his squad-mates continue to loyally repeat the same phrase, whenever they are asked about him. “Shaw is the bravest, kindest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.”

So – here are a few things about that. When older people try to communicate the level of paranoia madness and psychic violence done during the cold war, it can be very hard to offer something strange enough to convey the deeply disturbing whiff of it.

John Lilly was himself an extremely strange and brilliant scientist, who did a lot of work on the human brain, human dolphin communication and on psychedelics, which was both controversial (much more so now, than then), and also unquestionably groundbreaking. But like the far better known iconoclast Timothy Leary, he began his highly unusual career as a rather conventional scientist, working within normal state institutions.

In his wildly unique biography “The Scientist” Lilly wrote about a conference he attended in the fifties, in which he was invited to give a presentation about electrical stimulation of the human brain. The presentation directly after his, needed a higher security clearance than he had, so he was escorted from the facility before it began, but he later asked a friend who attended.

That presentation was about wiring-up the brain of a donkey, with electrodes connected to what were then being referred to as “the pleasure and pain centres” and a crude (all tech was, back then) radio set – so that they could control the direction that the donkey would walk, and make the poor bugger walk a nuclear bomb across someone’s border, without being detected by radar or border guards.

This is before the Beatles, mind you – before Fat Elvis, even! And already the completely undemocratic and unsupervised war powers of the state were fully freakin’ INSANE! (with decades of cold war craziness, yet to go).

I spent several youthful years as a club kid – enjoyed hair of golden blonde, shocking red, blue-black and once even purple (trying for blue, but missed). Coming from complete social isolation, then trying to figure out pack-role and dating at the same time, I was naturally drawn to the freaks – and I picked the right time for it. Back in the eighties, all the weirdoes and misfits were a single tribe, with many different sub-cultures held warmly within it. It was by no means perfect, but it was incomparably less lonely than the modern electronically mediated version of being weird feels, for so many of my younger friends.

My costumes were of course, even more outlandish than my hair (my signature for a few years there being orchestral tails, combat boots and a silk neck scarf – full evening makeup too – natch).

For just a short time I drank deeply of ‘cool’ fashion, the latest brand new scene music – and even took up the necessary underdog-snobbery – “doesn’t absolutely everything else – the stuff that all the normal people like – just totally suck?”

I remain a freak (of that tribe always, no matter how it insists on subdividing itself, with what are now demonstrably ruinous cumulative social cultural and political effects). But I burned-out fashion and vanity before I hit twenty, and I never really was able to handle the snobbery side of it with a straight face, so giving that up was pure relief.

After all, I’m a kid who was raised on classical music, then rebelled into a form of jazz which had already been nostalgic for decades, when I was first enchanted by it. To me, rock is still high remote culture, mysterious and fun to learn about.

One of the greatest unexpected pleasures of my decades of jamming with far more accomplished musicians who played professionally, was the hilariously rude and sharp brand of humour that veteran musicians love to trade in the breaks between playing. There are choice and polished barbs for every musical form and instrument (though drummers and banjo players come in for a particularly hard time of it – and country music gets an entire section to itself).

But the key thing isn’t even the lines (great as they are) it’s the spirit in which the whole group (players, one and all) know they are traded in.

For example – the all time best musical joke teller I ever played with – the inimitable and brilliant Larry Potter (whose name was not at all unfortunate, until it was) had some truly fabulous epic gags about eye-rollingly tedious, stale, money-gigs.

But as a working musician he didn’t just play in musically exciting top end Jazz combos with people like Catherine’s father Neville (think Ed Bickert, without the ‘leaders lust’), he could also be found in oompah bands at Octoberfest, playing the slow dances at a wedding behind a puffed-up ruffled-shirt tenor, playing wild daring vibraphone lines in pure improvisation groups, and (my personal favourite) playing trumpet – without a mouthpiece – for his own unique timbre, for the even wilder Friday night Shaw St sessions which I miss so much to this day (paired fantastically with Mac’s lasciviously dirty bone!)

Whenever I think about that supremely important old line “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” – I always think about the sublime humour and modesty which co-exist in working musicians – being able to laugh at something wholeheartedly, really understanding the contradictions and flaws, and yet also being able to do the thing they are laughing about – extremely well.

A superb tone-model, for how awareness and responsibility can coexist naturally and mutually strengthen one another.

I play a ton of instruments myself – all of them badly (not proud of that, just honest. I have joy and cleverness, but vanishingly little finger-skill or musical training). I also like to record music, and ended up capturing almost a thousand improvisation sessions from the early eighties up to roughly the turn of the century. (frequency way down this century, but I still add one, from time to time). ;o)

The great thing about recording, for any super curious person, is that it gives you a whole new range of aesthetic ideas to consider whenever you listen to anything (recorded or not). Not just what is in the music thematically and how is it arranged – but also how is it set up, voiced and staged.

I also have a thing about my own dislikes. When it comes to things I have written-off for a long while without examining afresh, I consider that judgement suspect if not spoiled, and try my best to test the negative assumption I once made, as if it was always utterly false. (Note – I don’t claim this to be clever or enlightened on my part, I rather suspect it is the product of sublimated masochism – but it is still a super-handy tool)

So as I worked harder and harder on playing and recording (particularly in my twenties) I challenged myself to study even the watered-down copycat pop which I have always found most tedious (there is great pop too, I’m really not a snob about this – I just mean the other stuff, mostly aimed somewhere between bubblegum and marketing).

And sure enough, the way I have tuned my ears and attention I can even enjoy listening to music I find insipid, or a performance mostly lame, as long as I can identify one particular stand-out achievement in voicing or staging. “That acoustic guitar part sounds fantastic – how did they make it fit in the mix so well? Can I hear any clues I can use?”

But I hit my openness limits – and then found myself returning to humorous club kid snobbery again, when I started hearing Ed Sheeran absofreakin’lutely everywhere. By no means would I claim to be better at anything musical, nor am I incapable of delivering the spectacularly insipid.

But “In love with your body” bugged me, for being so much not about the whole person. I’m a love guy, can’t help it. I want others to enjoy it too. But when I casually expressed this irritation with the overplayed tune, I got even more bugged, by a phenomenon that was then, still kind of new.

A whole bunch of people I didn’t know, who I can safely assume have never met or befriended Sheeran personally (and I would bet, have never made or recorded any music, either) got irrationally angry at me – and then they all defended him, by using the exact same humble beginnings super hard-worker story, which his press agent had been pushing relentlessly for several years.

Every time one of these irate keyboard warriors mistook my sigh, eye-roll and scoffing for high blasphemy, I flashed on that key scene from the Manchurian Candidate.

“Ed Sheeran is the bravest kindest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known.” (say all of the wooden-eyed pavlovian zombies, in unison).

I wasn’t hearing from people who were in any way interested in me or even Sheeran at all, I was experiencing an electronically stimulated cascade of conditioned responses. No case-specific thinking involved at all. (proving any energy devoted to response, wasted in advance)

I have a very dear friend from Montreal, who was unfortunate enough to spend several teenage years incarcerated at the Allen Memorial Institute. He was not imbalanced, but was rather accused by his own mother, who was (and as a hippie, the ultra conservative judge he faced, deemed him clearly punishable, sans evidence).

Like me, he was able to make strangely positive use of his early disfigurement, because he charmed and befriended the nurses (almost all from Jamaica), and they in turn, introduced him to the music of the Caribbean – at a time when it was not only rich and thrilling, but still widely under-known here. He went from there to study the music of Africa also, and then South America too, and ultimately became a stand-out live recordist and friend of musicians from every corner of the earth, capturing many precious live performances over a period of more than four decades (in every genre imaginable), and sharing them on the radio, so the voices and culture would spread further.

He even gave my crazy Friday night pure improvising ensemble a live radio performance – twice! (first time could have been a fluke, but the second proved his courage incontrovertibly) ;o)

The unfortunate part will have already occurred to anyone who has dipped into CIA’s venerable, very very real (but also for many years widely considered outlandish conspiracy) “MK-Ultra” program.

MK Ultra was the CIA’s attempt to do something like what the Manchurian Candidate depicted. Brainwash someone, and program them for specific later action.

I have a very hard time trying to imagine how much money they spent in this evil and ultimately fruitless pursuit, but there are some odd clues, which help scale the guess. In the mid 1960s CIA tried to surgically convert a cat for surveillance purposes. They spent thirty million dollars wiring-up just that one cat (who got hit by a car crossing the road, before the poor thing could even do his first test mission).

And that’s thirty million in sixties dollars – at least fifty gazillion, nowadays – for just one radio-cat (which was only a minor side project – unlike MK Ultra).

My point (ghoulish I know, but you have to understand just how creepy these creeps are, and there is no easier way than to just say it), is that uncountable resources which might have gone into health care education and infrastructure, went instead into trying to figure out how to take apart a mind, and then put it back together again, in a slightly different way.

You can very easily find hundreds of articles which talk about the true horrible things which were done to people, in this pursuit. Many experiments were carried out on patients at the Allen Memorial, just for one example, but the number of expert subcontractors, including many famous psychiatric names who never admitted doing any work at all for CIA, was into the hundreds.

You can also find a lot of articles which wonder how many clues they found, and whether they came up with something that really worked, in that Manchurian Candidate way – install a secret program – activate it later, upon command.

I’ve read plenty of skeptical and imaginative stuff, along with all of the hard facts I’ve found over many decades of curiosity, but the most compelling evidence I ever saw came from the man who ran MK Ultra – John Gittinger. Trust Adam Curtis (surely, the most important documentarist alive) to actually go and sit down and interview the man himself – wow! (You will find this interview in the program “You have used me as a fish long enough” – but do watch the whole series, and then watch another, when you’re done)

Thing is, you have never seen a more completely broken man in your life than Gittinger – never. I can’t quite say you go away feeling pity for the man – after all, the interview comes in the context of several specific victims of his program, telling their own personal story. But you do have a sense that he knew he was doing evil in the name of some greater achievement which would later justify it.

Only he never found that key to mind – and now all he is left with is the unspeakable evil he did and organized in seeking it, with every possible means and brilliant mind available.

Damn I wish anti-racism actually was what it sounded like (like so many other pop manias). I was immediately excited when the phrase came into popular use. Fantastic – now I can finally start talking about the eastern Congo, about Libya, about Central Africa, and plenty of people will be listening and even know what I’m talking about, instead of telling me to shut up, because I’m making them uncomfortable about their sacred precious cellphones.

Yeah, no.

What we mean by anti racism – and amazingly, even by anti colonialism – is not – “Let’s all firmly pledge to never ever mass-murder foreign people for profit ever again, and no backsies this time.” Actually stopping mass murder and corporate poverty-enslavement remains way beyond rocket science, to the crusaders of today. (Self control? Restraint of consumption? Huh? What even is that?) We’re still way back at step minus-one – talking about our own speech and perceived comfort. (Navel/academy)

I’m not saying that there is nothing to it – I’m just saying that the comfort of people who reserve the right to continue to mass-murder and derive benefit from it, is several orders of magnitude less important than STOP KILLING PEOPLE – NOW

Sorry folks, but it just is, don’t know how else to say it (or why I should have to).

Destroying Libya was Hillary Clinton’s personal project, and she remains openly proud of it to this day. Thing is, before Hillary, Libya was a country where women were doctors lawyers and professors. Now, in some areas, they cannot safely leave the house. Central government remains elusive, and what used to be the African state with the best standard of living for its citizens, is now reduced to poverty fighting and desperation. She set them back a century.

On top of that, the massive arsenal built up by Qaddafi has now been widely distributed across all of North and Central Africa – arming everyone from Bokko Haram and Tuareg rebels – to the rebellious former Francophone colonies who have just recently broken away, and then even managed to hold their ground, despite many threats from the formerly all-powerful west. (the REAL reason that tinpot neocolonialist Macron has his knickers in a twist)

As vice president, Biden used to do the talk show circuit and brag about how the destruction of Libya was “Great value for money” (only thirty billion) and “The way we ought to do this sort of thing in the future.”

Now for those who are still completely sunk into their faction foxhole, allow me to explain. A person who murders many black people – even doing their best to murder entire high functioning sovereign black nations – IS A VIOLENT WHITE SUPREMACIST.

A person who uses the N word, on the other hand, is often just an offensive asshole narcissist, who enjoys working triggers which light-up especially vivid responses.

I wrote a long and thorough defence of Hillary anyhow, just before the 2016 election, examining her many errors, but then setting them against Trump’s instability.

Which is how I came to the same conclusion as Putin – Hillary is probably better on balance, because she represents stability for so many long-running programs. Applecarts and all that.

Damn though – that campaign of hers, all those famous people saying, “Hillary is the bravest kindest most wonderful human being I’ve ever known” really didn’t work so well at all. To most normal people, she came off just a little bit more wooden than all those brainwashed killer zombies from the movie!

Sadly, the way the always-false Steele dossier was manoeuvred and relentlessly promoted to undermine Trump after the election, proved that the criticism many made of him, that he would put his ego ahead of the country, was no less true of her. Megalomaniacs both (and as as much as I hate his buildings, they at least serve a function, unlike her steady racist psychotic Wall St / Monroe Albright Doctrine output).

The other major criticism against Trump was about his corruption. But that really makes anyone with half a memory and a brain wonder, if corruption was going to be their angle, why the f@ck did they ever pick Joe Biden as a candidate?

They tried to impeach Trump for making a phone call, to get dirt on Biden.

But Biden openly boasted about having a Ukrainian prosecutor fired, just weeks before he was going to file a massive corruption case against – drumroll please – Burisma, the company that paid Hunter so much for almost nothing (but you knew that already, right?). That isn’t a conspiracy, that is open on-the-record hard-fact stuff that you would remember yourself, if you were paying close enough attention. You can still go and see sweet Joe saying it himself, straight to the camera. (only, be prepared to be shocked if you do, he really ain’t what he used to be, even if that never was much)

Please understand here folks. I’m not saying I like or approve of Trump in any way, nor even that he isn’t a white supremacist himself, I’m only saying that the people who have run against him so far are even more accomplished masters at this than him. Biden wasn’t just deep into destroying Libya Syria and Ukraine, and the man who for decades, helped credit card companies screw consumers in whole new ways, he was also behind the Clinton crime bill which punished black kids, but let rich white kids like his own son off with a light sentence. His work did multi-generational damage to the entire black community in America, but somehow all is instantly forgiven – (really?) When it comes to state corruption, Trump is definitely into it, but he’s still a total amateur by Washington standards. He got his family sweet jobs, and booked a whole lot of rooms for foreign diplomats at his hotels. Ka-ching!

All of that is totally grotesque, and was done right out in the open in a shameless and insulting way, too – very much like Nancy Pelosi’s outperforming stock portfolio.

Thing is – if you want to point a finger and then howl accusingly (now I”m thinking of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” you too?), please begin with a nice long session in front of the mirror – if you can still find one in which you can actually see yourself.

Just to review – Anti Colonialism means – NO MORE FREAKIN’ WAR!

Seriously folks, and RIGHT (tf) NOW

Anyone who says “Green” but not “Peace” is not a responsible good guy, but a lying scumbag killer – vote them out!

Actual anti Racism means – no more listening to people who try to make you proud of your own special treasured hatred of ANY other. This soul-corroding hatred might be hiding in racism, it might be presenting more like class contempt or hatred for a subculture, it might even be a vain and nasty town mouse who hates country mice passionately without ever having met and made friends with one. Doesn’t even matter how we get there – that self-isolated-by-anger foxhole, is no damn place to live your life!

Time for all of us to climb out of our foxholes and have a zany picnic instead. Remember play, and we’ll remember the fun of mixed up chaotic groups. Remember the fun of mixed groups, and we’ll remember ORGANIZING.

Not trying to say we don’t still have plenty of fine-tuning to do here also, we do, plenty. But when we raise our voices and use serious words – especially scolding others in the world – we should probably be prepared to at least try to actually be just a tiny bit serious.

Because you know what? We in the West just aren’t very good at that at all anymore, but a whole lot of other people in a whole lot of other countries, absolutely are (and unlike us, they are getting better and better, all the time).

At this point, we’re just boring them with our self-important puffery bullying and BS. Everyone but us can see it – we are the ones who are standing in the way of the future – denying it to the whole rest of the world.

Good guys don’t do that.

A small topical note for my friends who still think Hillary was the bravest kindest most wonderful human being they have ever known. You will be delighted to know that she will no longer struggle alone at Colombia University as one of the most disliked faculty members on campus (seems her post-grad students – who pay a pretty penny to be there, but not to study her in particular – really want to study international relations as a whole, but all she does is tell endless self-aggrandizing war stories).

Yes – just days after poor Victoria Nuland, the architect of the disastrous invasion of Iraq AND the tragic great power manipulation of Ukraine, was rather abruptly “resigned” from her post at the State Department without any plumb appointment to announce (no doubt, ’cause of the evil patriarchy), to help her brave-face her stunning downfall, her BFF Hillary managed to get her a teaching job working at Columbia, just like her! And I suppose, if one wanted to do a secret doctorate in feminist sociopathy, they might both be fun to study with, and then study as case studies.

Still, I can’t help picturing them with a table all to themselves in the corner of the cafeteria, wondering why nobody ever wants to sit with them.

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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