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July 6, 2003 Reviews

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Some notes on what seems to be out there, and what some of us have sampled....


You need not be a conspiracy theorist...

The Iron Triangle: Inside the Secret World of the Carlyle Group
By Dan Briody  Wiley; 240 pages; $24.95 and 17.50

Although Dan Briody's book is useful reading for anybody interested in American politics today, it tells Carlyle's story in the style of a Tom Clancy or John Grisham novel.  This is rather a shame.  Instead of expanding in an unrelenting tone of shocked disapproval, the author could have offered a serious view on a number of difficult questions.

The Economist (UK) June 26, 2003

The Carlyle Group is a private equity firm that manages billions of dollars, including, at the time of the World Trade Center attack, some bin Laden family wealth.  Basically, the firm exists to pool contracts in defense and construction and make money arranging for the building of things governments want - from large buildings to weapons systems.  Such a firm depends upon connections to and within the governments who want such things.  So the firm has on its payroll folks like the former President Bush, the former UK Prime Minister John Major, former South Korean prime minister, Park Tae-joon, the former US Secretary of Defense and former Director of the CIA, Frank Carlucci, and other such folks.

Carlyle did well with Frank Carlucci who was able to open doors in Washington that had previously been closed to the firm.  They made lots of money.

I suppose, in spite of the warning above I'm going to have to read this book.  I was introduced to Frank Carlucci at the Pentagon back in the 1980's when he was Secretary of Defense, although I don't remember what we said to each other.  It was a social thing.  And my wife at the time warned me not to let all the Reagan folks in the room know what a flaming liberal I was then.  (I still am.)

I'm not sure what to make of such an organization.  As the anonymous Economist review points out:

The Carlyle Group is a godsend for conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the world is run by, and on behalf of, a shadowy network of wealthy men. Sure enough, it was not long before Cynthia McKinney, a Democrat member of Congress, pointed a finger at Carlyle, noting in an interview that "persons close to this administration are poised to make huge profits off America's new war" and that, despite "numerous warnings", they did not alert the "people of New York who were needlessly murdered". "What", she asked, "do they have to hide?"

You need not be a conspiracy theorist, though, to be concerned about what lies behind Carlyle's success. Can a firm that is so deeply embedded in the iron triangle where industry, government and the military converge be good for democracy? Carlyle arguably takes to a new level the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower feared might "endanger our liberties or democratic process". What red-blooded capitalist can truly admire a firm built, to a significant degree, on cronyism; surely, this sort of access capitalism is for ghastly places like Russia, China or Africa, not the land of the free market?

Is it?  Folks help each other out to get things done, and cronyism cannot be avoided.  Working with "like minded people" is natural, and good.  And firms like The Carlyle Group get things done.

I thought Carlucci was a strange little evil man.  He reminded me of a weasel.  But I am reminded of what John Maynard Keynes said about how things work: "Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all."  Is this so?  Perhaps.

I have a neighbor who wanted me to check out Lyndon LaRouche as an alternative to Bush in the next elections.  Lyndon LaRouche?  I'm not big on conspiracy theories.  I see most of what evil happens in this world as caused by careless and incompetence.  I don't know about The Carlyle Group and will have to read more.  But I'm not convinced concerning the LaRouche theory the world is controlled by an evil conspiracy of British aristocrats and international Jewish bankers. 

As convicted felons go, Lyndon LaRouche is rather colorful.  Who said America could not produce its own Jean-Marie Le Pen?  Le Pen was convicted of slugging a woman running for office who Le Pen thought had insulted his daughter.  Lyndon just rips off old people and doesn't pay his taxes, at least that's why he spent those years in jail.  Anyway, I do have Jewish friends and just got back from Bar Mitzvah in New Jersey.  As far as I can tell, Martin and his family were not plotting to take over the world from the true Christians.  But I could be wrong.

Oh well.

I received the new Harry Potter book this weekend.  A late birthday present.  I will plow through that.  My French neighbor just handed me a copy of Louis-Bernard Robitaille's And God Created the French.  A new biography of Benjamin Franklin was published this week that sounds good.  This Carlyle book comes after those.


The Importance of Being The Hulk; Sometimes Words are Quite Enough

    Last week there was an item here on the new Ang Lee film, The Hulk, mostly about how, at the very last minute, the studio brought in Danny Elfman to provide a new score.  See June 29, 2003 Reviews.  The gist of the column was about "risk" and profit, and how the two don't mix well.

    I quoted then a friend who was in the business of flim music for many years, but he has rethought his comments.  Since his last note to me on the Elfman thing he has had yet another insight into this move - one which helps give us the "why" behind the studios insistence on replacing Danna's score with Elfman's.

    I told my wife over the weekend about it and she pointed out that she heard the film was a REAL DOG.  Just really bad.  (There's a story in that in and of itself - a truly talented film maker like Ang Lee makes his first big Hollywood film and can't do it - exploring why THAT happened would be an interesting thread by itself).

    So anyway, the film is a bust.  Well, the studio sees it and says to themselves: "What can we do to fix this now, at this late stage?"  The ONLY two things at that late stage are the edit (which I am sure they did some of as well) and the score.

    This is how Hollywood works.  Ang Lee makes a disaster, gets his "vision" screwed up by the "system" and Michael Danna takes the fall for it. (Its entirely possible his career may not ever recover from this).

    It's for things like this that I happily left that idiotic industry.

    In summary, late in the game the only two things you can do with a really bad film, without re-shooting everything, is edit like mad, and change the score.  M.A.S.H. was a film like that.  Robert Altman knew it wasn't working.  But he couldn't afford to start again.  He added shots of the camp loudspeaker between scenes and a voice explaining the action and commenting and tying it all together - sort of an electronic Greek chorus.

    A good score also can lead the audience to the appropriate responses to the action.

    A case in point may be the worst film adaptation of a stage play ever made, Oliver Parker's 2002 Miramax film version of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.  This is with Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O'Connor, Reese Witherspoon, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson and Anna Massey.  Good folks.  The score is by Charlie Mole.  Oscar Wilde to thirties jazz, in the style of "Anything Goes" and that sort of thing?  No. 

    It's not bad music.  It just makes the farce rather unfunny.  The zip in the words is gone.  The lines are parsed out slowly, and meanly.  Every mood is deflated, and undercut.

    It's not bad music.  A CD of the score is available and it's kind of nice.

    But of all plays, of all playwrights, this needs no music at all.  Who needs to underline what Wilde wrote?  And if an actor delivers the lines well, with grace and wit, who needs a bit off jazzy fluff laid on top to obscure the point?


    Summer Music:
    Joe Pass

    Joe Pass.  That's what I'm recommending this week.  Jazz guitar. 
    I have a friend who spent many years out here as a studio guitarist and this is the guy he listens to. 
    Try Blues for Fred on Pablo (PACD-2310-931-2) - a solo recording from 1988 of tunes from the Fred Astaire films of the thirties.  Old warhorses - Cheek to Cheek, Night and Day, I Concentrate on You and others.  I'm on my third or forth copy of this one.  My guitarist friend kept my first copy and gave me a bunch of Bill Evans albums in return.  A woman I was dating a few years ago kept my second copy.  I sent a copy to my first ex-wife.  So I'm on my fourth copy here. 
    It's subtle stuff, harmonically amazing.  And pretty.  My friend got the transcriptions of all the tunes on the album and is working on just how Joe Pass pulled this off.  I don't play guitar, but I know when I hear the best.  It'll make you smile.
    The other Joe Pass album you might try is For Django on BGO (BGOCD430) where the solo guitar is mostly Django Reinhart tunes.  Of course Nuages is superb, but Pass lights into Hoagy Carmichael's Limehouse Blues with just amazing variations.  Not very French, even if Django is the gypsy who made his career in Paris.   Hoagy Carmichael was born in Pittsburgh.  Limehouse is a seedy section of London.  The music is awesome.
    Were Joe Pass still alive I wonder what he'd be playing now?