The Gay Black Birdman Bully of Central Park

The feast day of St. George Floyd, Holy Martyr, passed on May 25 without much  commemoration in the news media. Actually I didn’t see any commemoration at all—unless you count James Fulford’s mention of him in his Memorial Day piece. But I did come across something much better in the New York Times. (I’ll link it down below.)

You may remember the “Central Park Karen” incident. That was also May 25, 2020. But early in the day. It dominated news and social media even more than the George Floyd story did. It certainly contributed to the BLM riots that broke out soon after. To refresh your memory, here’s the typical news spin we got:

A white woman was walking her dog, off-leash, in a hilly wooded area of New York’s Central Park, called The Ramble. A large black man came from behind a bush and yelled at her to leash the dog. The woman was terrified, and took out her mobile phone to call for help. She said she would tell the dispatcher an “African American man” was threatening her and her dog. The “African American man” videoed some of this, sent it to his sister, and it soon went viral on social media. The woman was thenceforth denounced as “Racist Central Park Karen.” A couple of days later she was terminated from her job as insurance portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton.

In short order the news media began to inform us that this large black man was some kind of local hero. He’s a birdwatcher. He’s a Harvard graduate in his late fifties. He used to write for Marvel Comics. He’s even gay! (Coincidentally or not, The Ramble is a famous cruising area in the Park.) Christian Cooper is his name, and National Geographic television has given him his very own birdwatching show, due to premiere in mid-June.

And it gets better. He’s just published a book at Random House, Better Living Through Birding, in which he tells of his lifelong passion for his fine feathered friends, and his struggles with being gay and black, and his encounters with Central Park Karen and other exponents of racism. He even compares himself to Emmett Till, that martyred harasser of white women.

Mr. Cooper treated us to a short-form version of his life story on May 26 in the New York Times. (May 28, print edition.) He tells us how he wasn’t happy about that May 25, 2020 encounter…but he’s glad it led to his getting a TV show. He now finds himself “living an absolute dream.”

But as you’ve probably guessed by now, Christian Cooper is no hero. He’s a bully and serial harasser. He even writes in his book that he still harasses white women with dogs—and videos them. And though it may not be in the book, he also harasses and threatens white men with dogs. And black men with dogs. There are several reports of physical altercations. One of them was with a 30-year-old black man—Mr. Cooper is an equal-opportunity bully—who gave a statement to NBC News after the ‘Karen’ story broke. That was three years ago. NBC asked for the testimony, but they’ve been sitting on it ever since.

This statement is quite an eye-opener. It turns out Mr. Cooper’s modus operandi was the quite the same with this young black dog-owner as it was with “Central Park Karen.” When Mr. Cooper sees an unleashed dog in a leash-only area, he chases down the owner, acts in a threatening manner, and then takes doggie treats out of his pocket—presumably drug-laced if not actually poisoned—and goes, “Here, doggy!”

After the “Karen” encounter, he even bragged about it on Facebook. As we read in the statement to NBC News, Mr. Cooper said he told her, “you’re not gonna like what I’m going to do next.” As our testifier comments in his statement:

That’s a threat. And she [‘Karen’] has no idea if this man is pulling out a knife, a gun, or a treat that laced with a rat poison.

This assuredly is not the only report to contradict the media spin on the ‘Karen’ tale. A year ago Megyn Kelly did an extensive interview with podcaster Kmele Foster, who deep-dives into the facts and absolutely destroys the media narrative. Two years ago the Deseret News did a similar, less detailed takedown of the “racist ‘Karen’ in Central Park story.” (This opinion column, from Salt Lake City, erroneously assumes that the ‘Karen’ video surfaced after the George Floyd event, when it was actually circulating on social media earlier the same day. George Floyd, as it happens, was just more fuel on the fire.)

And now we come to the ‘Karen’ herself. How is she doing? Her real name is, coincidentally, Amy Cooper. Well, she didn’t get her old job back at Franklin Templeton. She sued them for termination and lost…even though her lawsuit included reports that Christian Cooper was a known harasser of dog owners in Central Park. Presumably the investment company was leery of PR fallout if they reinstated the “racist” Central Park Karen.

Of course PR fallout works both ways, and coincidentally or not Franklin Templeton was rated the worst-selling fund manager of 2020 (Source: Financial Times) and was still in the middle of a debt-fund crisis in 2022. Franklin Templeton has made some bad acquisitions in recent years, but it’s nice to think their brutal, peremptory treatment of Amy Cooper led some investors to transfer their portfolios elsewhere.

It’s also nice to think that Franklin Templeton made some kind of confidential settlement with Ms. Cooper, probably accompanied by a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Anyway, rumor hath it that she’s out of the country now…pitching tent in a non-English-speaking land where no one will have heard of Central Park Karen.


Jail white men to save the planet – Jane Fonda

The Hollywood star insisted climate change would not exist without racism and the patriarchy (from RT)

Humanity’s best chance to save the planet from climate change lies in locking up white men, Hollywood actress Jane Fonda told an audience at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday.

“This is serious – we’ve got about seven, eight years to cut ourselves in half of what we use of fossil fuels, and unfortunately, the people that have the least responsibility for it are hit the hardest – Global South, people on islands, poor people of color,” the Barbarella star explained, insisting, “It’s a tragedy that we have to absolutely stop.”

We have to arrest and jail those men – they’re all men.


Without naming any of the men she believed to be responsible for the looming demise of the planet, Fonda went on to draw connections between Earth and its minority inhabitants, arguing, “There would be no climate crisis if there was no racism. There would be no climate crisis if there was no patriarchy. White men are the things that matter and then everything else [is] at the bottom.”

Read the rest.


If You Want to Reach Me, You’ll Find Me Reading Cosmopolitan

(NOTE: This is a retooling of a blog post—not on this blog—from July 2017.)

Understanding Trade Advertising

A few years back I was trying to write an essay on the precipitous, seemingly never-ending decline and decay of TIME magazine. I was going to call it The Long, Grueling Downward March of TIME. The featured illustration would be a mockup of a title card from the March of Time newsreels, which of course were a big deal in the 1930s and 40s. Back when my average reader was growing up.

But it was a difficult topic to encompass, and I let myself get sidetracked by a curious side-story to the whole thing: magazines’ trade advertising, a now all-but-vanished industry.

Forty to sixty years ago you’d see ads at commuter railroad stations, and on the bulkheads (or whatever you call ’em) of the passenger cars on the New Haven RR, the Long Island RR, the NY Central’s Harlem and Hudson Lines, the PRR’s Paoli Local on the Philadelphia Main Line, and probably the Erie Lackawanna out in New Jersey. Railroads had individual names then, and they carried a lot of trade advertising for newspapers and magazines.

FORBES: Capitalist Tool.

PARADE is the Sunday Giant.

Those ads weren’t aimed at potential readers of Forbes or, Lord knows, Parade. No, these ads were aimed at ad buyers, and perhaps the sales people (or “account executives”) at the agencies too.

TIME magazine had perhaps the most elaborate trade advertising campaign of the late 60s, helmed by Young & Rubicam. You’d see a half-dozen, maybe even a dozen, poster ads out on the train platform, all nearly identical mockups of a TIME cover, only with a different upscale TIME advertiser featured in each one. The copy would go something like: “TIME: Where Braniff Flaunts It.” (Which as everyone knew was a reference to the big double-truck ads from Wells Rich Greene for Braniff Airlines, “When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It!,” showing Andy Warhol chatting with Sonny Liston—or something equally odd.)

So as you walked down the train platform, or glanced out the windows at Greens Farms or Bronxville, circa 1969, you’d get the message. Over and over. TIME was where the smart money went. TIME was where you wanted to advertise high-ticket items to upscale customers. Braniff. MG 1100’s. Brooks Brothers suits. Johnny Walker Black. Lucchese boots.

Actually they never featured Lucchese. Ad buyers on the New Haven line in 1969 wouldn’t have understood that. Johnny Black they would understand, so if you were handling the campaign for Glenlivet, you’d see the outdoor ads and find out that Johnny Black scotch had two full-page TIME insertions per month for the past year, while Glenlivet didn’t have any. Ergo, “maybe we should make TIME part of our media buy!”

A subtler message in that TIME trade-ad campaign was that TIME was a solid and trusted advertising environment. Time Inc. was a crack outfit, right up there with—as they used to say forty or fifty years ago—the Marine Corps, the Catholic Church, and McKinsey & Co. All of which may be well and thoroughly pozzed today, but none quite so badly as TIME, which was already in sorry shape by the 1980s when they started putting Madonna on the cover…instead of painterly portraits of Everett Dirksen or the DuPont executive who gave us Corfam.

I’ll save my TIME eulogy for another time and place. Because now I’m going to move along to another classic bit of trade advertising from the same era, one that didn’t claim upscale status at all, in fact reveled in being the vademecum of shopgirl and secretary. That was Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan, an aggressively low-middlebrow sex-and-makeup rag that came out of the Hearst Building on West 57th Street.

Or, the Transitional
Rabbit, Run’ Era of Sex Politics

Once upon a time, back in the 1920s and 30s, Hearst’s Cosmopolitan had been a popular middlebrow offering along the lines of the Saturday Evening Post, specializing in longish-form fiction (Agatha Christie, Irvin Cobb) and columns by name-brand celebrities (Gene Tunney, Amelia Earhart). This was all long gone by the 1960s, when editor Brown wrote Sex and the Single Girl, and revamped the magazine to exalt working-girl licentiousness. “Career-girl sophistication,” Helen Gurley Brown might prefer to call it but, as I say, the magazine’s target audience was largely secretaries and shopgirls.

If the magazine had had an iconic symbol, it would be what doctors used to call a “pessary.” That is to say, a contraceptive diaphragm, less formally known as a “flying saucer,” according to John Updike. A round, flexible pink thing you stuck up your quim when you’d been to the singles bar and found yourself entering into a one-night-stand. (The you in this directive is female, needless to say.) Yes, a “birth control” device. It lived in a clamshell case in your top bureau drawer, or maybe at the bottom of your handbag, if you were out on the prowl. Often kept alongside some spermicidal cream or unguent. That’s enough detail.

I recall Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, in Updike’s Rabbit, Run, getting really pissed off when the girl he’s getting lucky with (part-time whore, as it turned out) gets up and runs off to the bathroom just as they’re getting started. “You’re gonna put on a flying saucer?” yells Harry. Harry hated the obviousness, the crassness of the whole thing: approaching sex or “lovemaking” as a mechanical necessity, an ugly physical function. You know, like going to the utility closet and taking out a Fleet Enema because you ate a lot of turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving and you’re impacted and you’ll have huge difficulty taking a dump. Not exactly an arousing bit of foreplay.

The novel is set in the late 1950s. Perhaps 1959, as Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, is age 26, just like author Updike, born 1933 in Reading, PA, which is called “Brewer” in the novel. Early in the book, the Mickey Mouse Club show is on TV and Head Mouseketeer Jimmy Dodd is going on smarmily about proverbs and ethical living. “Know thyself,” he tells them. “Know Thyself, a wise old Greek once said.” I last read Rabbit, Run about 1969 or 70, and this is the kind of stuff that sticks with me. Mouseketeers and diaphragms.

Today, pop social-historians will talk about birth control and tell you, “Diaphragms were totally passé after The Pill came in.” Not quite, hon. They were the go-to protection at least through most of the 1970s. Most of us weren’t going to do The Pill. Hormones? All those side-effects? Your breasts would swell. It might ruin your fertility long-term (though that risk wasn’t clearly understood or enunciated back in the day). Finally: maybe you won’t even have sex this year. And meantime the diaphragm’s waiting safe and sound in your bureau drawer.

‘Female Empowerment,’ Sort Of

And now we circle back to Cosmopolitan, which my social peers and I certainly never touched. But with all of its coarseness, Cosmo put down a marker. Getting laid a lot in the 1960s and 1970s became a sign of Female Empowerment, a term that did not yet exist, but should have. And here is where Cosmo led the parade.

But then, during its high-water mark in those late 60s, early 70s, Cosmo‘s man-catching “empowerment” ethos started facing down competition from a much fresher and weirder bit of popcult—Women’s Liberation! Women’s Lib ideology operated in much the same way as Cosmo‘s—you were supposed to spend a lot of time thinking about your private parts, and you were to strive for independence and assertiveness. Except man-chasing and singles bars were not really in the picture. A baby might occasionally turn up, but he usually had no visible father.

Cosmo seldom directly addressed this pop-culture war in its pages, so far as I know. Ms. magazine, its opposite number on the Women’s Lib team, wouldn’t really enter the fray until 1972. And when it did, Ms. never acknowledged Cosmopolitan either. You knew it wasn’t Cosmo, because it wasn’t chuggy-jam full of makeup ads, and it didn’t have questionnaires and tips about sex and dating. One could argue that Ms. did take swipes at Cosmo in a very oblique way: it ran  a page or section at the back called “No Comment,” displaying perversely funny instances of “sexism” in advertising and media. “Sexism” here usually meant using a buxom, glamorous female model to sell t-shirts or cornflakes or limousine services. In other words, precisely the sort of come-on that Cosmopolitan put on its cover month after month.

So Cosmo readers and Women’s Libbers/Ms. editors inhabited two different universes and neither side ever acknowledged the other. I don’t recall anyone ever remarking on this paradox. Even though both camps were selling a Career Girl persona that liked to imagine itself as “Fun, Fearless, Female”—to use a 1990s Cosmopolitan slogan. But the rivalry really wasn’t between two magazines. At its root was a fierce culture war that neither could openly discuss. And this made for many amusing, unacknowledged ironies.

Ms. featured actress Marlo Thomas as a contributor in the early years, mainly in a running feature about children’s self-actualization and sex-role ambiguity. These bits were later collected in a book called Free to Be…You and Me. Now, Marlo Thomas was mainly known as the Danny Thomas daughter who landed the title role in a 1960s TV sitcom, That Girl. In the sitcom, Marlo’s character, Ann Marie, was all about chic clothes, flip-hairdo, mascara-and-eyeliner, and being man-hungry and marriage-focused (though there weren’t really any marriageable men around, given that then men in Marlo’s social circles consisted mainly of Jews, elderly divorcés, and homosexuals).

In other words, this That Girl sitcom actress who was now playing on the Women’s Lib team and was featured in Ms,. was mainly famous for playing a character who was the veritable template of the Cosmo Girl. As the ad copy went (I’m paraphrasing from memory), “I’m 23, I’m a Gemini, I love to dance and water-ski and listen to semi-classical music. I raise pedigreed longhair dachshunds, I’m fresh and funny, and I make a great chocolate fondue. I guess you could say I’m That Cosmopolitan Girl!

In the 1970s, a trade-ad version of this “Cosmo Girl” copy was refined into a text-heavy print advertisement that might take up a whole page in the New York Times, or a four-foot poster in a subway concourse. This copy had even more italics, with the final tagline, “If you want to reach me, you’ll find me reading Cosmopolitan.” The Cosmo Girl campaigns wee widely enough recognized that in 1973 Donald Barthelme published a postmodern comedy takeoff in The New Yorker, “That Cosmopolitan Girl.”

Helen Gurley Brown believed that she and Cosmo had helped to pioneer the Women’s Liberation movement, but attempts to express this always looked like comical misfires. Much like the Virginia Slims cigarette print ads and TV commercials of the early 70s. (“You’ve come a looonnnng way, baby!”)

For cigarette advertising, “women’s rights” meant that dames could now smoke skinny 100mm cigarettes in public. For Cosmopolitan, it was all about young women being actively sexual and maybe promiscuous—we’ve got the Sexual Revolution now, baby, and The Pill! This was supposed to put them on a par with men, whatever that meant. Or something. Why they would want to be on a par with men remained the great unanswered question.


Why Ms. Failed

A great irony about Ms. magazine is that it was largely conceived and funded by Clay Felker, Gloria Steinem’s colleague, friend and founder of New York magazine. Clay, a Missouri boy who was once associate editor of Esquire (where he first knew Steinem) made New York an instant hit in the the late 60s. New York magazine was the resurrection, or continuation, of the New York Herald-Tribune‘s Sunday supplement, edited by Clay himself. Tom Wolfe, among others, had made his bones writing for the Sunday-supplement New York in the early 60s. When the Trib died in 1966-1967 as the result of a massive and destructive newspaper strike, Clay Felker and some of his edit staff and stable of writers quickly launched the glorious new standalone New York magazine. Clay thought a female Esquire should be the coming thing. Months before Ms. was officially launched, he promoted a mini pilot issue, stapled into a December 1971 issue of New York. Its bloodline was apparent: no stridency, but hipness and irony.

Clay knew magazine content and design, but not the business side. Nor did he fully perceive that Gloria and the other Women’s Libbers running Ms. magazine not only did not know the business side, they were downright hostile to business and advertising in general. Ms. could have sailed high forever had it taken ads from Lancôme and Bergdorf-Goodman, but it just did not want advertising for cosmetics or fashion, or most female-oriented advertising in general. I suppose they were afraid of looking like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and they had it in their heads that fashion and cosmetics were the problem, the enemy of Women’s Libbery. This led to one of the greatest paradoxes and fiascos ever, in magazine publishing. It’s as though Esquire were to reject ads for sports cars and golf clubs and scotch.

So Ms. was a shoestring, vanity operation from the beginning and became less and less viable with the passing years. This doesn’t need to be fatal for a magazine with a mission. National Review was a money-losing operation from the start, but it eventually learned it could shore up its finances by such devices as selling tickets to $5000 celebrity-speaker cruises. But that option wasn’t a likely one for the Ms. audience. Moreover, as time went on, the Ms. editorial content had less and less to do with its original core target audience (middle-class white American women) as the magazine started to fill up its pages with all sorts of extraneous topics, about foreigners and politics and People of Color, usually slanted from a progressive-Left angle. No more wit, hipness, irony. This seemed inevitable; there’s a limited amount of subject matter directly relevant to Women’s Libbery, or even that amorphous, shifting cluster of grievances called “feminism.”

I briefly worked for a strange website called Women’s Media Center. The content had almost nothing to do with broadcasting media, or with normal American women. About every featured personage was a “person of color” or Jewish (oh wait, I do see Jane Fonda someplace), and the topics under discussion were things like, “How Can We Get More Latina Anchorwomen?” I look at this website now, and it is still that way. Any outlet that makes its mission and purpose the promotion of a “progressive” ideology will inevitably go down this furious, ineffectual path. Likewise, Ms. magazine still exists, but only as a website and a print magazine that reportedly publishes quarterly. It carries no ads at all.

Curiously enough, there was another attempt in the 1980s to launch an “Esquire for Women” called New York Woman, published initially by the Esquire parent company. Witty and excellently designed, and free of strident Leftism and Libbery, it was advertising-friendly but couldn’t pull high-ticket ads because it never got much visibility or circulation, or a celebrity editor, or more than the vaguest idea of who its target audience was supposed to be.  It didn’t even get the kick-start that Clay Felker’s publicity nous, and Gloria Steinem’s celebrity, were able to give Ms. in the early days. It lasted about six years.

Unseen Adversaries, Inchoate Theories

As I said before, the culture war between the Cosmo camp and Ms. faction was seldom acknowledged because the two sides were virtually oblivious to each other’s existence. One was firmly rooted in a culture of working girls who used sexual wiles and gossip to gain power. It didn’t start with the 1950s. Early 1930s “Pre-Code” films are littered with instances of Jean Harlow, Clara Bow, Barbara Stanwyck sleeping their way to the executive suite. And not to be an executive, mind you!

The other faction was rooted in journalism, academia, and abstruse theorizing about social dynamics and sex roles. One of their leading tenets was that sex roles are not innate but are learned. According to Socialization Theory, people were born as tabulae rasae but were socialized to be male or female. Presumably, if you’re an only child with neglectful parents who don’t socialize you, you get to end up as neither sex. This bizarre theory was propounded as serious feminist sociology and psychology fifty years and and is still advanced today, in many a cultural-marxist fever-swamp.

Hang out with progressive self-describe feminists on social media, and you quickly see arguments about how Obnoxious Male Behavior is the result of Socialization. You know—how they send 5-year-old boys off to Socialization Camps, sort of like Parris Island, where they have to climb the water tower and go, “This is my rifle, This is my gun…” and other sorts of hazing and bullying.

Other persistent myths and conspiracy theories from those days include the notion that Men oppress Women, and that this is because of a Patriarchy Culture that must be dismantled. Actually you didn’t hear so much about Patriarchy back the old days; that term seems to have been dusted off and shined up in recent years because of the rise of critical theory in academia. Patriarchy theories couldn’t get much traction In the 1960s and 1970s because back then most people were still conversant with a social culture in which most people were expected to get married, and have babies, and it was generally the female parent who ruled the roast. (Yes, the word is roast, not roost.) If you alter that arrangement—take the mother out of the picture—you have the basis for a situation comedy, because having the father stand in for both parents is intrinsically humorous. Even in savage jungle tribes, it’s the old females, not the silverback males, who demand that the tiny young females be brought before them to be de-clitorized and de-labialized, with their vaginas sewn up. Ain’t Matriarchy a gas?

The social and cultural divide between the two camps could never be breached. Many a teenage girl of this era affected a distaste for fine clothes and grooming, lest she be mistaken for a dim-bulb Cosmo reader. Back in the 1970s, did you see a lot of girls at Smith or Mount Holyoke going around in cargo pants or white painters’ overalls, with scraggly, unwashed hair in the 1970s? Well, if you didn’t see them, that’s how it was. The fear of Cosmo-world propelled some of them into disheveled lesbianism, or performative lesbianism, or at least priggish spinsterhood.

It’s the same mentality that today makes otherwise intelligent women believe that the television series of The Handmaid’s Tale (based on a satirical dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood) describes an actual, possible future in which women will somehow be enslaved and oppressed by the likes of Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh. It’s a delusional way of thinking that makes absolutely no sense, but is useful for mindless sloganeering, in a sense Orwell would have understood. Better to die single and childless, many a middle-class, well educated young woman must have mused in the last fifty-odd years,  than to focus on Hunting for a Man—as though I were a Five Towns JAP or a Cosmo floozy!

Nevertheless I tend to think that Cosmopolitan did far more to ruin relations between the sexes than Ms. or mainstream feminism ever could. It made the heterosexual dating game tawdry and distasteful. It made catching a spouse (and seeking a home and family) something anyone should sneer at, if her ambitions were anything above the level of stewardess or cocktail waitress. And thus we raised a whole generation of girls, women—under this pervasive yet unnatural mindset.

I recall, in the 80s, being asked by strangers if I were seeking a husband or looking forward to raising a family. I would go into an absolute cringe. What did they think I was? The sort of bimbo who read Cosmopolitan?

Céline’s Guerre



Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Edited by Pascal Fouché
Foreword by François Gibault
Paris: Editions Gallimard, 2022

Louis-Ferdinand Destouches (Céline), 1915. From the collection of executor François Gibault.


I must have been lying there for much of the next night. The whole ear on the left was glued to the ground with blood, the mouth too. Between the two there was an immense noise. I fell asleep in this noise and then it rained a heavy rain.

I’m not quite sure how that works, your ear and mouth both glued to the ground with dried blood. Maybe there’s a huge clot of blood? Anyway, this is how Louis-Ferdinand Céline, alias Destouches, begins his small novel Guerre, partly based on his experiences being wounded and hospitalized, 1914-15, during the Great War.

It was written in 1933-34 but published only last year. We can date the manuscript confidently because he wrote the Los Angeles address of his American girlfriend, Elizabeth Craig, on the back of one of the ms. pages (she’d recently moved back there from Paris), along with a draft of a letter to her. In the summer of 1934 he would go to California to look her up, and also to sell his bestselling novel Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the End of the Night) to the movie studios. Neither effort quite panned out. Elizabeth had taken up with someone else, and Céline’s novel was thought too racy for the new Motion Picture Production Code. [1]

Guerre was one of three unpublished manuscripts that Céline left behind in a cupboard when he fled Paris in mid-1944, with his wife Lucette and their cat Bébert. What happened to the works afterwards is speculative and murky, but it appears they were lifted by a professional looter in 1944. They ended up in the hands of a Left-wing Liberation journalist who pretty much sat on them for many years, not wishing Céline’s widow to benefit from their publication. Céline, after all, had been a renowned collabo, propagandiste, anti-Semite, etc., etc.

I regret to say that an English translation of Guerre is not yet available, but given this work’s brevity and uncomplicated prose, an English version should be available before long.

The French edition of Guerre and its sequel, Londres, were both published last year by Gallimard. The third manuscript, a medieval saga called La Volonté du roi Krogold, remains unpublished at this time, but portions of it appear in Céline’s Mort à crédit (Death on the Installment Plan) and also in Guerre, as dreams or imaginings when the narrator is hospitalized. Céline therefore had special affection for this Krogold work, as one would for a gifted but autistic child. His publisher, Denoël, refused the book around 1933, despite the spectacular success of Céline’s first novel, Voyage au bout de la nuit. [2]

Getting back to the opening of Guerre, the narrator is describing in detail his painful consciousness as he lies there on the battle ground, numb and partly deranged. With his bloody mouth and bloody ear (and broken arm, we find), he sleeps, wakes up in the rain and looks at the remains of another soldier.

Over to the side there was Kersuzon, a heavy corpse all stretched out under the water. I waved an arm towards his body, and touched. The other arm I couldn’t feel. I didn’t know where the other arm was. Kersuzon had gone up in the air very high, whirled in space and then came down to shoot me in the shoulder, right through the raw flesh.

The wounds are partly autobiographical, though the author was never wounded in the head. So says Céline’s literary executor, François Gibault, in the book’s foreword. From a self-diagnostic report Céline supplied to his jailers during his time in Denmark, after the Second World War:

Permanent headache (or almost) (cephalgia) against which any medication is almost useless. I take eight pills of gardenal a day – plus two pills of aspirin… I have my head massaged every day, these massages are very painful to me. I suffer from cardiovascular and cephalic spasms which make all physical efforts impossible – (and defecation). Ear: Completely deaf left ear with uninterrupted intense ringing and whistling. This state has been mine since 1914 when I was first injured when I was thrown by a shell bursting against a tree.

‘I caught the war in my head,’ the narrator says shortly afterwards. ‘It is shut up inside my head.’ This is a running theme in Guerre. Headaches, painful tinnitus. So is that perennial Céline leitmotif, disgust.

Deaths here and there. The guy with bagpipes, he had burst himself like a grenade, you might say, from the neck to the middle of the pants. In his very belly were already two cushy rats which covered his rucksack with stale crusts. It all smelled of rotten meat…

Ferdinand—for such is his name, same as Ferdinand Bardamu in Voyage—now gets up and forages around, finds a couple bottles of burgundy and some canned monkey meat [slang: bully beef] that exploded from the heat but is still edible. He runs into some British soldiers who take him to hospital. And that’s where we spend most of the book. We’re somewhere near Ypres, where Céline himself spent some time in hospital after being wounded in 1914.

Ferdinand’s parents journey up to see him, he thinks them sniveling, pathetic bores. He makes friends with another wounded soldier, a bed-neighbor named Bébert, after whom the author will eventually name his cat. Or maybe it’s the other way around; one of the loose ends in the draft manuscript is that the same character is often called Cascade. Cascade/Bébert has a pretty young wife, Angèle, who is a prostitute. Both come to unfortunate ends. At one point Angèle asks Ferdinand to work a scam with her, playing an angry cuckolded husband who barges in while Angèle is servicing her British john—then Ferdinand angrily leaves while the “terrified” harlot weeps and shakes the soldier down for even more money. [3]

Another charming lowlife character is the nurse, Mlle. L’Espinasse, who pleasures the wounded and dying men, and perhaps herself, with hand jobs and maybe more. There’s some intimacy with a corpse, the narrator tells us. Eventually Ferdinand blackmails her with with these stories, enabling him to be transferred to a hospital in London. (That much is semi-autobiographical; Céline did go to London in 1915 after his hospital stay in Belgium, but he was fully recovered and put to work at the French Consulate.)

As is common with Céline, the narrative slips in and out of fantasies and hyperbolic riffs. Did nurse L’Espinasse actually have coitus with a corpse? Or is Céline just having us on, parodying the soldier-nurse romance in A Farewell to Arms? I find the latter thought irresistible. For four or five pages we have a reverie about King Krogold and crusading quests. Two British officers drive up and their names are a delight. “Major B K K Olisticle of Ireland and Lieutenant Percy O’Hairie, really a young woman of distinction and svelteness.” So that’s how British/Irish names look to the French? I see, very comical. What’s even funnier is trying to sort out what the author means by Lt. O’Hairie being an attractive young woman. Would a British army major have a female adjutant in 1915? I do not believe so. So perhaps Céline means Lt. O’Hairie looks like a young lady…or perhaps is one…inadequately disguised. This is Céline’s world, we have to make the best of it.

Alice Kaplan, writing last year in The New York Review of Books, blithely judged Guerre to be a 150-page outtake of Voyage au bout de la nuit.  Actually it’s about 130 pages in my standard-size large-type Kindle edition. Thus a very short novel indeed; though there are lots of forewords and appendices and images of heavily reworked holograph pages, in ink and pencil. While it looks as though the manuscript was last reworked in early 1934, it could be a third-generation rewrite of something antedating Voyage. An outtake? Probably not.

Kaplan sniffily dismissed the little book as sloppy writing and acted appalled that a book by such a banal, evil man was getting so much attention.

With 150,000 copies in bookstores since its publication on May 5, Guerre may be the first Céline book read by a generation that lacks the background for understanding what’s at stake. It is serious.

Groan. Yes, we know: those who do not remember the past are condemned to write lies about it, in the NYRB and elsewhere. But of course that’s Alice’s job, slamming Robert Brasillach and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and French Rightists in general. And it’s been a steady living.



[1] The story of Céline, Hollywood, and Elizabeth Craig was covered here in 2018.

[2] From a French-language website in 2012, some years before the missing manuscripts turned up: “If we want to look closely at the theme of Krogold, we must rely on the fragments we find in Mort à crédit. Although Céline speaks several times of a whole lost manuscript, an ‘epic novel’, a ‘Celtic legend’, entitled La Volonté du roi Krogold, we have found no trace of it. Fortunately, the legend, as it appears in Mort à crédit, is enough to reveal very interesting aspects of Céline’s fundamental vision and therefore provides us with a precious key to understanding his work.”

[3] “Fake victimhood: a fine allegory of Céline’s own modus vivendi,” says the disapproving Alice Kaplan in her New York Review of Books review.

4] Kaplan is sort of atypical. Jewish authors and critics are not all condemnatory of Céline. Elsewhere in that NYRB review she notes that Morris Dickstein commented that Death on the Installment Plan, “with only minimal adjustment, could sit on the shelf of Jewish American classics.” Philip Roth was also a fan. In fact, Dickstein has claimed Roth wrote Portnoy’s Complaint under the influence of a Ralph Manheim translation of Death on the Installment Plan, from which he drew not just the theme of masturbation but “the heightened farcical tone of the monologue, the sense of pain at the heart of laughter, which had little precedent in Roth’s work.” The quotations come from “Sea Change: Céline in America,” in Dickstein’s A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World (Princeton University Press), 2005. Elsewhere in the minyan, we have Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, who sees Roth channeling Céline in Sabbath’s Theater. Oy vey.

The Eternal Gallimaufry of the Jean McConville Affair

Some years ago I was having dinner with John Derbyshire and some others when John suddenly erupted, apropos of nothing, about the 1972 Jean McConville killing in Belfast. He did the usual denunciation of the killers, who remain unknown (though there have been many possible candidates).

Why was he on about the McConville case at this time? I guess it was in the news again. It had been in the news recurrently for the past few years, sometimes indirectly. In 2011 the Royal Ulster Constabulary (now calling itself the PSNI), along with the UK government, successfully subpoenaed some old audio tapes from my father-in-law’s library at Boston College. This subpoena was controversial for two reasons. One is that Boston College had given the interviewees a solemn oath that the tapes would not be made available to any intelligence or law-enforcement agency, whether from the UK or the USA or anywhere else, while any of the interviewees were still living. The subpoena was essentially a demand that Boston College break that promise. The other, simpler bit of controversy was that the US Department of Justice was enabling a foreign agency to lean on a private American institution.

The correct response to the subpoena by the Burns Library and Boston College, in my opinion and in that of my brother-in-law (who endowed and named the goddamned library) would have been to make digital backup copies of these interview tapes, then run the tapes through magnets till they were well and thoroughly scrambled. That would enable BC to comply with the letter of the subpoena while still keeping their word to the interviewees (who by this point were mostly dead and couldn’t complain). Everyone knows cassette tapes go bad eventually. At least I assume they were cassette tapes. Open-reel? Same deal.

I would also have advised President Nixon to have done much the same with the White House Tapes, and burned the originals in a mad bonfire on the White House lawn. (South Front; near Rose Garden.) I am not the first to think of this, but at this point it is neither here nor there.

Going back to the McConville case, it was in the news once again in 2014  because Gerry Adams had just been arrested by the PSNI for his possible role in the execution of Jean McConville. Rumors abounded that it was Adams who ultimately gave the order. Adams denied the accusation, there was no proof, and he was quickly released. This may have occasioned the Derb’s outburst at that dinner.

There’s never been any reliable evidence or testimony in the McConville case, yet I’m still seeing UVF-wannabes and others rant about it on Twitter, insisting that one Brendan Hughes or Dolours Price did the deed, and Gerry Adams gave the order.

The most preposterous reasons are offered for McConville’s death. One is that she was a Protestant, so that’s why the Provos killed her. Well, she wasn’t a Protestant, though she seems to have been, nominally, as a child. Another explanation is that she once helped a wounded British solder that came to her door, and this generated hostility among her neighbors. She may well have done such a thing (this is a claim made by her children) but that was year or more before her abduction and execution. Anyway her late husband, a Catholic, had been likewise a British soldier.

What nobody seriously challenges is that Jean McConville was at least suspected of giving aid and comfort to the British intelligence services—be they Special Branch, the RUC, MI-5, or intelligence operatives in the army. Her military handlers allegedly supplied her with a piece of radio gear, either a large Stornophone, or the newer, smaller Pye radio. This was a claim of Brendan Hughes, one of her abductors. The RUC/PSNI ombudsman and Special Branch roundly denied it. But then, it’s an easy claim to deny long after the fact. No proof is necessary or even possible. Ed Moloney and James Kinchin-White seem quite certain Jean McConville did have a police/army radio. Whether or not she used it much is another question.

A common narrative is that about a month before her final abduction and death, Jean went off to a bingo game, but was taken away for what seems to have been a drugged interrogation. She was discovered hours later, wandering the streets, barefoot and disoriented. Presumably she had been interrogated and warned by the Provos. Her final abduction suggests the Provos thought the warning didn’t take.

Those who whinge about Jean McConville’s death being “murder,” a murder of an innocent mother of ten children, simply deny all evidence and testimony to the contrary. Surely they could still mourn her death while nevertheless admitting the likelihood that she was a low-level spy, an intelligence asset for the army or RUC. This points to profound dishonesty on their part. Likewise, any culpability on the part of her handlers is overlooked or dismissed. She was living in a public-housing complex that held many IRA sympathizers and operatives. Surely, it was an unsafe place for her to be. Her handlers could and should have moved her and her family to some neutral ground, an estate where the neighbors were less partisan. Her handlers obviously didn’t care; they were ready to sacrifice her. Meanwhile using her and her children as human shields whom the Provos wouldn’t dare hurt.

And if the Provos did hurt them, well, enhh—no great loss, one supposes. Fine and dandy people, those handlers.


Scott Adams wants out. So do we. Why can’t we go?

Read the whole thing.

Scott Adams Wants Out. So Do We.

Philip Bump. What a dumb cluck.

Reverse Podsnappery, per The Economist

While looking for this blog, I found this:

Damage Control at American Girl

Fit But Unequal? A Very Strange Washington Post Graphic from 2014

Dated February 26, 2014, this large and complicated graphic has been a puzzlement to people for over eight years. Instead of comparing two creatures of similar race/species, two radically different individuals are portrayed. Mandingo Africans vs Greeks?


Art director: Bonnie Berkowitz. Illustrator: Alberto Cuadra. I contacted Bonnie about five years ago with questions about its composition. She had pretty much forgotten about it.

Ukrainians Murder Children in Donetsk

Never mind what Donetsk is. Read this story:

Medics aid large child.

Children among civilians killed in Ukrainian strike

Local media outlets, citing eyewitnesses, report that an artillery shell hit a bus stop in Donetsk

At least 13 civilians have lost their lives in a Ukrainian artillery strike on the city of Donetsk, local authorities have said.

Donetsk city administration chief Alexey Kulemzin took to Telegram on Monday, writing: “according to preliminary information, 13 civilians are dead as a result of a punitive strike on Baku Commissars square.

The official added that the exact number of those injured in the attack is not yet known.

Local media, citing eyewitnesses, has said an artillery shell hit a bus stop.

Read the whole thing.

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