Harold Pinter and Eartha Kitt : Artists and Rebels

Both lived long, productive, exciting lives and went out celebrated by their peers and countless fans; none of us could reasonably ask for more than they wrung out of life.

By Chris Thompson / December 26, 2008

See ‘Remembering Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter: Is Our Conscience Dead?,’ by Ann Wright; ‘Art, Truth and Politics,’ by Harold Pinter; ‘Eartha Kitt versus the LBJs’ by Frank James; and Video of Eartha Kitt singing ‘Everything Changes,’ Below.

It’s naturally standard practice to mourn the dead, but we find ourselves checking that impulse when it comes to Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter. The fact is, both lived long, productive, exciting lives and went out celebrated by their peers and countless fans; none of us could reasonably ask for more than they wrung out of life. Kitt started life picking cotton in South Carolina by day and being beaten by her own family by night; she ended it as one of the most elegant sex symbols, songstresses, and dancers to charm the modern world. Along the way, she threw the Vietnam War right in Lady Bird Johnson’s face and made her cry. Nixon put her on his enemies list, a badge of honor in most people’s books. Pinter carved out an entirely new sensibility in modern drama, got his name turned into an adjective, and spent his remaining years using his arsenal to dice up George W. Bush quite nicely. And both beat the actuarial tables, so there’s that. A tip o’ the hat to the both a youse.

Source / East Bay Express

Remembering Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter: ‘Is Our Conscience Dead?’
By Ann Wright / December 26, 2008

On the news today of the death of Harold Pinter, the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, I remembered hearing his Nobel Laureate lecture/acceptance speech. I was in London in December 2005, speaking at the annual Stop the War conference when Pinter delivered his speech – not in Oslo, as Pinter was very sick and could not travel, but in London via TV link.

I was amazed and thrilled that he chose to use the Nobel Prize platform and devote a huge portion of his speech to shining an international spotlight on the tragic effects of the past decades of US foreign policy and particularly, on George Bush and Tony Blair’s decisions to invade and occupy Iraq, on Guantanamo and on torture.

Pinter’s Laureate speech question, “Is Our Conscience Dead?” is most relevant today when three years after his acceptance speech, “Art, Truth and Politics,” Bush, Cheney, Rice and other administration officials are either trying to rewrite history or, as in Cheney’s case – purposefully revealing his role in specific criminal acts of torture and daring the American legal system and people to hold him accountable.

Following is the part of Pinter’s lecture that speaks to the invasion of Iraq, torture and Guantanamo – and our collective and individual conscience.

Art, Truth and Politics
By Harold Pinter

[The following is excerpted from Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture delivered on December 7, 2005.]

The United States no longer… sees any point in being reticent or even devious. It puts its cards on the table without fear or favour. It quite simply doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, international law or critical dissent, which it regards as impotent and irrelevant.

It also has its own bleating little lamb tagging behind it on a lead, the pathetic and supine Great Britain.

What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead?

Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what’s called the ‘international community’. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be ‘the leader of the free world’. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man’s land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture.

What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You’re either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it ‘bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East’.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand?

More than enough, I would have thought. Therefore it is just that Bush and Blair be arraigned before the International Criminal Court of Justice. But Bush has been clever. He has not ratified the International Criminal Court of Justice. Therefore if any American soldier or for that matter politician finds himself in the dock Bush has warned that he will send in the marines. But Tony Blair has ratified the Court and is therefore available for prosecution. We can let the Court have his address if they’re interested. It is Number 10, Downing Street, London.

Death in this context is irrelevant. Both Bush and Blair place death well away on the back burner. At least 100,000 Iraqis were killed by American bombs and missiles before the Iraq insurgency began. These people are of no moment. Their deaths don’t exist. They are blank. They are not even recorded as being dead. ‘We don’t do body counts,’ said the American general Tommy Franks.

Early in the invasion there was a photograph published on the front page of British newspapers of Tony Blair kissing the cheek of a little Iraqi boy. ‘A grateful child,’ said the caption. A few days later there was a story and photograph, on an inside page, of another four-year-old boy with no arms. His family had been blown up by a missile. He was the only survivor. ‘When do I get my arms back?’ he asked. The story was dropped. Well, Tony Blair wasn’t holding him in his arms, nor the body of any other mutilated child, nor the body of any bloody corpse. Blood is dirty. It dirties your shirt and tie when you’re making a sincere speech on television.

The 2,000 American dead are an embarrassment. They are transported to their graves in the dark. Funerals are unobtrusive, out of harm’s way. The mutilated rot in their beds, some for the rest of their lives. So the dead and the mutilated both rot, in different kinds of graves.

I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.

The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and show no sign of relaxing it.

Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government’s actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force – yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish.

I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man’s man.

‘God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden’s God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam’s God was bad, except he didn’t have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don’t chop people’s heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don’t you forget it.’

I hope you will decide that yes, we do have a conscience and that you will join the millions of Americans who say we must hold accountable those who have committed criminal acts while in government – the policy makers as well as the implementers.

Write and call the new President and the new Congress and demand official investigations into war crimes and other criminal acts committed by members of the Bush administration and join us on Inauguration day to remind the new President of his responsibilities.

Source / truthout

Eartha Kitt sings ‘Everything Changes’ from Mimi le Duck

Eartha Kitt versus the LBJs
by Frank James / December 26, 2008

Say what you will about Eartha Kitt, the American original of a performer who died at 81 on Christmas Day, she certainly knew how to disrupt a White House event.

One of the best Kitt stories ever has to be how she gave First Lady Lady Bird Johnson the blues in 1968. A petite woman, Kitt had an out-sized ego and just as sizable chip on her shoulder, the latter the result of an unhappy childhood she often talked of (a biracial child born out of wedlock in 1927 small-town South Carolina. You get the picture.)

The White House story was captured by David Murphy in a biography of Mrs. Johnson called “Texas Bluebonnet: Lady Bird Johnson.”

As the president was contemplating his future, Lady Bird went on with her official duties and hosted a Women Doers lunch on Jan. 18, 1968 that was to focus on crime. Singer and actress Eartha Kitt was invited upon the recommendation of Sharon Francis and Liz Carpenter since Kitt had testified to Congress in favor of the President’s anti-crime legislation. When President Johnson entered the room, Kitt confronted him, “Mr. President, what do you do about delinquent parents, those who have to work and are too busy to look after their children?” He told her that Social Security legislation was just passed that provided millions of dollars for daycare centers. Kitt was not pleased but Johnson told her those were issues for the women to discuss at the lunch.

During the question period, Kitt stood up and confronted Lady Bird, “Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn’t pay to be a good guy.” She moved into (sic) closer to the First Lady and said that boys don’t want to behave for fear of being sent to Vietnam saying, “You are a mother too though you have had daughters and not sons. I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my guts. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. And Mrs. Johnson, in case you don’t understand the lingo, that’s marijuana.

Lady Bird was proud to match her stare for stare and Sharon Francis said she sat ready to stand up in between Mrs. Johnson and Kitt since Francis was closer than the Secret Service. After Kitt finished her tirade, Betty Hughes, wife of the New Jersey governor, rose to her feet and recalled how she had lost a husband in World War II and had sons in Vietnam and said, “I think that anybody who takes pot because there is a war on is a kook. These young people are still juniors. They have to be regulated. I hope we adults are still in control.” After the wife of the Washignton mayor, Benetta Washington, who, like Kitt, was African-American, spoke up and said we must channel our anger in constructive manners, Lady Bird spoke:

“Because there is a war on, and I pray that there will be a just and honest peace — that still doesn’t give us a free ticket not to try to work for better things — against crime in the streets and for better education and health for our people. I cannot identify as much as I should. I have not lived the background that you have nor can I speak as passionately or as well, but we must keep our eyes and our hearts and our energies fixed on constructive areas and try to do something that will make this a happier, better educated land.” The room broke into applause. Kitt’s confrontations with Mrs. Johnson lead (sic) to a slow decline of her career and she told Newsweek shortly after the luncheon, “if Mrs. Johnson was embarrassed, that’s her problem.”

As a Lady Bird sympathizer, biographer Murphy clearly had little use for Kitt.

A more dispassionate writer might have observed that Kitt showed a rare courage for an American, especially a black one in 1968, to be as confrontational as she was with a first lady.

The White House has a way of intimidating people, even those who are famous and powerful in their own spheres.

But she obviously wasn’t overwhelmed by the trappings that surround the presidency. She spoke truth as she saw it to power. And she did that knowing it wasn’t going to help her career, that she ran the risk of being blacklisted, as it were.

Still, it didn’t matter. For that alone, she deserves to be remembered.

Source / The Swamp

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