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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Trip to the CIA: 2004


  Pentagon Spring

Washington in spring time is a many-splendoured thing. Swooping down from the air on a Wednesday morning in the spring of 2004, on an Air Canada flight from Montreal, one glimpses the Pentagon snuggling amid the lush greenery, only a stone’s throw from Arlington Cemetery where the brave and the dead lie permanently asleep. As my ears block and unblock, and the landing gear descends, I think “So this was what the hijackers saw on the morning of September 11,” and it is nothing like the grim wasteland I had imagined. The US military nerve centre nestles among stately homes and quiet lawns, hemmed in by ancient oaks and hedges, like the most mundane of next-door neighbours. Can evil lurk in such a paradise?

As we bank, I get a look at what I think must be McLean Manor, a well-known tourist attraction for those travelling to Virginia. I understand it’s not all that far from CIA headquarters in Langley, which I do not recognize. My family were McLeans, and some of us actually think our story began here in Virginia, 200 years ago and well before the time of Allen Dulles and Wild Bill Donovan, those early architects of American Cold War strategy. It’s didn’t, of course. It began in a coffin ship from Ireland making its way up the St. Laurence River to Kingston and beyond. Oh, but wouldn’t it be nice to lie in bed with wealth and power, just for once, instead of the wet planks at the bottom of one of James McGill’s immigrant ferries?

One can only dream.

On the ground at Ronald Reagan Airport, they tell me there are few hotel rooms available in Washington that weekend, as my visit coincides with the IMF conference, and thousands of demonstrators are already arriving, with their hotels pre-booked. I feel like a fool for coming down here on a moment’s notice, with my Aeroplan miles, and no hotel reservation. However, an hour later I am unpacking my knapsack in a room overlooking the White House lawn. It’s costing me US $200 for the night but I don’t care. Tonight I will be sleeping next to George W. Bush himself! A frightening thought. The War in Iraq is being masterminded from the building below my window. I snap a photo of the Shrub’s back yard with my disposable camera. As I gaze down at the thought control centre of the planet, everything feels suddenly small and manageable. Confidently, I change into sneakers, jeans, and a tee-shirt, and set out for my destination: The National Security Archives where 60,000 pages of de-classified CIA files are sitting in 17 boxes, thanks to an endowment from John Marks, who bequeathed the documents to the library so that future researchers, like myself, could benefit.
True to my taste for the spontaneous, I haven’t bothered to phone ahead and tell them I’m coming to poke thought the files on MKULTRA, the infamous and mainly illegal CIA-funded project on Mind Control which operated out of 80 US and Canadian universities, including McGill, in the 1950s and 60s. I simply show up at the Gelman Library of George Washington University. I have no badge or pass, and all the signs say I need one to enter, but I tell the desk clerk I have come to look at files upstairs in the National Security Archives. After a five-second phone call, I am allowed up to the 7th floor where the NSA occupies a modest office.

When I get there, I introduce myself, and ask if I can browse in the documents for a few hours. The secretary says there is no problem, as long as I stash my belongings, including pens and notebooks, in one of their lockers, and use only one of their pencils and foolscap. I have three hours before closing time. I sit down to work, going through files on what I believe are MKULTRA sub-projects that affected my family directly. Specifically, Subprojects 45 (relating to “Production and Control of the Stress Reaction in Human Beings), and Project 57 (Sleep). Missing from the 149 project files is the CIA’s best-known mind control project, MKULTRA Subproject 68, made famous due to the lawsuit by former victims of Dr. Ewen Cameron’s “psychic driving” experiments at the Allen Memorial Institute of McGill University. This first group of victims won their case, after a drawn-out legal battle, during which all materials relating to Project 68 were subpoenaed, and now lie in another archive at the Library of Congress.

Familes of the Allan Memorial victims have never stopped mourning


What I learn that day is horrifying and sickening and can’t be described in one small article. Among other things I have long suspected, I find that Subproject 68 and Cameron’s loony “Psychic Driving” experiments, are just the tip of the iceberg. The other files — and I can only read a few in the two days I have available — map out a much larger program, the truth of which has never been disclosed. Cameron and his friends oversaw a large network of other CIA research projects, aimed at undermining and destroying individuals and families, physically, mentally, and psychically. Nothing like it had been seen before, and therefore no one at the time was really prepared to fathom the extent to which our “core values” had been overthrown by doctors and scientists operating under Cold War doctrines formulated by CIA operatives whose commitment to deception was absolute and unshakeable, amounting to almost a new religion.

I have 90 pages of photocopies of de-classified CIA documents describing a range of very disturbing research projects which happened at McGill under the cloak of national security. Many of the details I read in these pages bring back memories I would rather not awaken.

***

At the National Archives, a massive statue of naked Justice hails the visitor. Below her is a plaque with the inscription: “What is past is prologue.”

I am there the next day, with my disposable camera, and my knapsack, after a pleasant night at the Hotel Washington. At five a.m. I had been wakened by a single robin, singing in the dark outside my window.

What is past and prologue, for me, is my childhood, lived under the shadow of MKULTRA. Through my father’s Air Force background, our family became caught up in a nightmare which lasted from 1953 to 1963, the full length of the MKULTRA project. In the end, all of us were traumatized and ill — but no one talked about it. We went about our lives in silence, like survivors of a concentration camp, making the best of our situation. What is the use of speaking about the unthinkable and inexplicable? Only recently, thanks to the internet and the trickle-down effects of the Freedom of Information Act, has it become possible to think and explain what we experienced all those years ago.

My mother would have disagreed with my being in Washington to dig up our past: in her opinion, suffering was always best left buried. In the early 60s, she suffered a severe auto-immune collaose,, only weeks after my father came home from being electro-shocked at the Allen by one of Dr. Cameron‘s most enthusiastic disciples. In later years, as her body crumbled under what doctors described as “the worst case of galloping rheumatoid arthritis ever seen”, my mother embraced a doctrine of forgetfulness and forgiveness. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” was her motto along with, “Forget the bad things that happen in life; remember the good.” Sane, helpful advice, especially when you are very, very ill and have no choice.

At the entrance to the National Archives, I declare my purpose. I am there to find CIA files relating to my father, a Canadian Air Force sergeant who may have worked for military intelligence during the Second World War and also later. The security staffer’s eyes widen as I explain this to him. He tells me I am in the wrong place, and need to catch the shuttle to the other National Archives and Records Management Building, in College Park, Maryland. That’s where all records relating to National Security are stored. I thank him and run out to the square, where the shuttle bus is about to leave. Traffic is heavy, due to the IMF conference that weekend, but an hour later I’m telling another security person the same story. I get the same wide-eyed look, and then I am told I need picture ID, e.g. a passport, which I produce. I fill out a form, get my photograph taken, and in minutes I have a pass which allows me upstairs to the files on National Security. I am led into an office where once again, I state my purpose, and get the same wide-eyed response from the agent in charge who picks up the phone and asks someone on the other end to send an escort for “2600.” I am given another badge, marked “2600”, and taken up in an elevator and down a long hallway by a nervous young man.

At the end of the hallway is a large, modern, air conditioned office space, built along lines of a rectangular labyrinth. This is Larry MacDonald. I tower over him. He shakes my hand and gestures to a chair. “What can I do for you?” he asked. He seems surprised to see me.
I tell him I am looking for any CIA records on my Dad. I explain that my Dad was in the Canadian Air Force during the war, and may have met (CIA director) Allen Dulles on one of his visits to Montreal in the early forties. Larry listens, and nods. I sense he doesn’t get this kind of request very often.
 

“What was your father’s name?” he asks, and I tell him. He makes an effort to meet my eyes, then looks away. He says they have some recently release OSS records which I might look through. He looks for my father’s name on a list of operatives, but it’s not there. I wasn’t expecting it to be.
 

“I’ll be frank with you,” says Larry MacDonald. “If your father was working for the CIA, or if he was an informant, they would not release those records to you.” He explains that this policy of secrecy exists for the health and security of spies and their families. He tells me the CIA keeps very close control of its staff records, to protect its people in case of loonies coming after them. “There was that man from, I think, Afghanistan, who went out to Langley and opened fire on people down there, a few years back,” he tells me.
 

I persist in what I know is an argument he does not value much. I say in my experience, secrecy can be as damaging as the harm it tries to prevent. I have the right to know what happened to my family, as a result of my father’s connection to a security organization.

Larry MacDonald is a tiny, patient man, obviously a grandfather. He shakes his head. “Think of Iraq. There are people over there now, who if their identities were revealed, their families could suffer all kinds of things from terrorists looking for revenge. Kidnappers…”

Yes, I am aware it’s a criminal offense to reveal the identity of an operative. Nevertheless, I have the right to see the files on my father, if they exist. Don’t I?

He tells me to look at it this way: “It’s like in the former Soviet Union, when you had the KGB, and say if an agent tried to defect from the secret police, they would come after him and take revenge on family members. And you can’t have that kind of thing happening in a free society, you can’t put the lives of innocent people at risk like that.”

“Right,” I say.

I don’t say, “That’s just like what happened to my family in Canada.” I don‘t want to appear unfriendly or argumentative. I want him to help me find what I‘m looking for.

He offers to take me downstairs to a special computer with a data base containing eight million names, including former operatives. He will show me how to use the search engines to try and locate my father, using the name of his Air Force unit, or any other key words that might help to narrow the field.

We go down in the elevator to another library where the special, black computers are kept. When we approach the young woman at the desk, from behind, she jumps as if we had caught her sending Instant Messages to her boyfriend. She blushes, and apologizes. There is no one in the library except the three of us and some computer technicians, who tells us the system we’re looking for will be down for another few hours, at least.

I do not have time to wait. I have a plane to catch that evening. I have more files to go through down at the Gelman Library. I thank Mr. MacDonald for his time and patience, and go outside to catch the shuttle which is leaving for D.C.

I spend my last few hours in Washington back at the National Security Archives. In the last file I open, entitled “Friends of McGill University,” considered to be a fund-raising front for MKULTRA, I find two names I recognize. One is a former chancellor of McGill; the other is a large Montreal publisher.

Nowhere is there anything about my father. I didn’t expect there to be. He was a simple foot soldier, an unwitting participant in a project which had more arms than an octopus, a project involving research which would not have made much sense to anyone at the time, had it been publicized. He never spoke about what he knew, at least not to us, but I think in his mind, he was always busy trying to remember what they had done to him. He didn’t want it to affect his children — but it has, of course. Whether we know it or not, our lives are often the result of our parents’ deeds and mistakes.
Secrecy often triumphs because of good people who wish to forget and get on with their lives: reliable citizens who can be called on in an emergency to sacrifice their personal interest, give up certain freedoms, on behalf of the general good.

Walking through downtown Washington that afternoon, I was struck by the peculiar silence that pervades the streets around the White House and Capitol Buildings. Here at the centre of the Free World, the silence really IS deafening. People walked past me, talking on cell phones, about shopping, about the weather, about what they said to their mother, or would say to her when they next saw her. That day, the front page of USA TODAY announced how NORAD had run tests eerily similar to the events of 9-11, in the months immediately preceding the attacks — including a scenario that involved crashing planes into federal buildings. All over Washington, no one was talking about that. No one was talking about politics, period. On every face, in every pair of eyes I passed, I saw the same dull look of patient confusion, the quizzical look people wear when they can’t quite remember what it is they have forgotten.

I thought: better get out of here now, while I can still remember why I came.

*****

Monday, December 3, 2018

BEAUTIFUL LOSERS: my unpublished reviews

Beautiful Losers: Lives of the Saints




BACK IN 2010 OR SO I WROTE:

For the third time in my life as an ageing child of the sixties, I am reading Beautiful Losers.
The pyrotechnics of this much-acclaimed, maniacally experimental novel obscure the shocking truths it is woven around.
Genocide
Pedophilia
A hidden holocaust
MKULTRA mind control
Nazi experiments on human beings, in particular children
Cohen peppers the novel with references to this tragic story, but uses these horrors as comic triggers. The reader zigzags between heaven and hell, as the amphetamine-gulping narrator gropes for a missing moral centre in a world that has exploded.
When we read it in the sixties, we were shocked, thrilled and titillated. But, as Bob Dylan says, “Things have changed.”
Read in the light of what we know now about the classified goings-on at McGill during the years preceding the writing of this bizarre roman-a-clef, it tends to seem tragic.
Maybe there was even comedy at Auschwitz. I wouldn’t be surprised there were clowns in the barracks, loved for their ability to get a laugh out of the dying and soon-to-be-dead.
Human soap turns up several times in Beautiful Losers, as well. It’s one of those standards of holocaust humour, I guess.
Human soap is really the lighter side of Mengele’s experiments. Almost a euphemism for crimes so unspeakable they are never discussed. Thus the truth slips into the yawning abyss of amnesia, and a whole new generation of mind-controlled patriots are preparing to follow their leaders into Armageddon.
Still — in the light of the documents sitting in Washington, and all that has appeared on the internet and elsewhere over the last few years, as child victims recover their memories and voices and begin to publish their accounts of CIA torture, funded by our governments — Beautiful Losers seems strangely relevant today.

Part of it is set in a Montreal mental hospital, after all, during the days when MKULTRA was running amok in that city.
Other parts are set in the past, when Jesuit missionaries ran equally amok among the Hurons and Montagnais in Quebec. The absent heroine of Beautiful Losers is Katherine Tekakwitha, a Mohawk saint, who survived the smallpox that killed off most of her tribe, and ended up dying as a result of her conversion to Catholicism.
There are references to the orphanage where the narrator, and his mentor F., were raised, and introduced to various forms of rampant abuse.
Leonard was barely thirty when he penned this epic, fuelled by amphetamines and perhaps just a trace of rage, which he disguises behind comedy.
Reading it now, it’s fairly obvious that Leonard knew quite a lot about Ewen Cameron and MKULTRA  and the secret experiments on children, including First Nations children, at McGill. He also knew what happened to people who talked too openly about what they knew.
But how much did he know? Perhaps Beautiful Losers was written from bits and pieces of information Cohen heard, and cobbled together into a novel. Perhaps he did not directly witness these horrors, which he recounts in a hallucinatory stream of consciousness manner — after all, it was 1966, he had done LSD, and read The Lamp of Albion Moonlight,by Kenneth Patchen, a novel some say inspired this one
But hallucinations alone — even very well-informed hallucinations — don’t account for the parallels between the events described in Beautiful Losers, and the real, secret goings-on in behavioural labs at the Allan Memorial Institute, hub of secret CIA experiments on various hapless mental patients, and children.
The Nazi connection, which Cohen flirts with but does not develop, is plain to anyone, and now backed up by thousands of pages of declassified CIA documents. Not that those documents mention children, of course. If they did, my generation would have grown up a lot more quickly. We would have stopped believing in fairy tales a long time ago.
There are no documents that survived past 1973, when CIA director Stansfield Turner ordered his staff to shred every piece of evidence relating to one of the ugliest research programs ever to grace the halls of learning.
But Leonard Cohen mentions them in BEAUTIFUL LOSERS. Oh, not too directly, of course, but he alludes to orphans and pedophile scientists and priests, and paints a picture of a world that, back in those days, seemed like the fantasy product of a mind wasted by drugs.
Cohen, the whistleblower, twanging his Jews’ harp in the ruins of what used to be called The Free World.
Cohen the sly operative, shrewdly estimating the limits of what he could say in print. He knew if he told the simple truth, it would not be believed.
And he was right. Not ONE critic ever got the message. No one connected the obvious dots, or followed the trail of breadcrumbs that Leonard dropped for us in the woods. If they had, the trail would have led to the witch’s door, and straight to the oven.
It’s 40 years since Beautiful Losers was first published in 1996. And it’s time for us to reread it, with a copy of John Marks’ The Making of the Manchurian Candidate by our bedside, and our browsers poised to search for real, true stories of the orphans, children, First Nations children, pedophile priests, cynical politicians, and Nazi doctors… all of whom populate the pages of Beautiful Losers.
In mythic form, of course.
Is it surprising that I’ve tunnelled through libraries for news about victims?
Fictional victims! all the victims we ourselves do not murder of imprison…” p. 7
Still a brilliant literary diversion, this tour de force of style and showmanship is built on the bodies of the “fictional” victims whose graves Leonard graces with a book-length epitaph.
“I’ve poisoned the air, I’ve lost my erection.
Is it because I’ve stumbled on the truth about Canada?
City Fathers, kill me, for I have talked too much.” p. 37

Recently in an interview, Cohen called Beautiful Losers a long “prayer.” Strange, how religion tends to blur distinctions and wipe out memory: much like those drugs MKULTRA was giving out to all and sundry.
I hope you’ll go out and find an old copy, or buy the new edition, and decide for yourself.


UPDATED, December 2018

Yes. Unbelievably, I'm reading Beautiful Losers for the fourth time since I first read it sometime in the late sixties or early seventies.
"More of a sunstroke than a novel" is how Leonard described it ...
I've never loved it although I used to defend it on grounds that it was about something important that had happened in Montreal, my home town which back in the eighties needed defending. What exactly those events were - other than the more or less well known history of the Jesuits and the original peoples, and in particularly the Mohawks who gave the Church its first Amerindian saint, Keteri Tekatwitha. A story well worth telling, that I had never learned about in the English Protestant schools I attended, and on the face of it this is what Beautiful Losers is about. Except that it's not. It's actually more about the relationship between the nameless narrator, whom critics have named "I." and his talkative, domineering, sociopathic friend F. Although it begins with a coda in praise of Catherine Tekatwitha, giving the impression it really might have something to do with her, and eventually gets around to recounting details and scenes from her biography, C T never really comes to life as anything more than the tiny votive statue that to this day stands barely visible in a display case in the church of Notre Dame du Havre, where Leonard probably first saw her. Miracles have been ascribed to her, but the "I." of Beautiful Losers is no believer - more of a masturbator - a failed scholar in love with his love for the martyred Iroquois saint - and probably more in love with F. - a mysterious mentor-like monster who contracts syphilis and ends his days in a mental hospital from which he pens an interminable letter to "I." in the next to final chapter.
I hope I've got all that right. Despite the fact that this is my fourth time reading this 'novel' - to be honest I've never been able to overcome my boredom with the narrator and his never ending struggle to be funny. The fourth time around, this is even more obvious, especially in the long passages of sophomoric dialogue which even in 1966 must have seemed forced and silly to many readers. The truth is, I never liked Beautiful Losers but that doesnt stop me from thinking about it and rereading it, over the decades. I'm not the only one. It seems hundreds of critics have attempted to decode this novel. I've read very few of these critics but I know Stephen Scobie edited an entire volume of essays devoted to it - back in the 1980s - and I once skimmed it, but I'm just not interested in what critics have to say about it. The last one I came across explored the text in terms of its relationship to post-humanism and the modern technological era first described in depth by McLuhan in Understanding Media.
For my own part, I keep rereading Beautiful Losers to find something that is not there: a story, a true confession. Against all evidence, I seem to think I can penetrate the text with my X-ray vision and find the core that Cohen threw away when he wrote it, back in 1964 I think it was, on Hydra, on speed, with Marianne putting flowers on his writing table in the morning and making him little snacks to keep him going. Generally speaking, it was a lot of work and hot air for very little reward. He once told me he no longer had the strength to write another novel - the process is just too strenuous and exhausting and having written two or three myself, I agree with him -
People still read Beautiful Losers and since his death it has come out in a new edition which appears to be selling more than ever. And I notice, just as before, people are baffled and confused by it, and either hate it or love it - I'm much too old to be in the camp of the lovers and haters. But after all these years I do have a few things to say about it. They will no doubt fail to impress the professional critics who, unlike me, have been through the text with a fine tooth comb numerous times extracting every single flea, every clue, every imagistic pattern and motif, and whose thoughts are so profound I wont waste my time and theirs attempting to decipher their long-winded arguments. You can do that for yourself sometime when you have a few spare weeks or months to throw into that black hole.
But I will tell you what Beautiful Losers is not about: it's not about the truth. That's why it fully deserves to be called an elaborate fiction. But neither is it pure fiction as it uses facts as a springboard for the narrator's long monologue. It is a long evasive digression that I believe is intended to lead us into an unspeakable truth.
Behind the curtain of the text there stands the Wizard at the typewriter sweating on the terrace of his house on Hydra and likely stinking of amphetamines that he takes to fuel his writing. He doesnt want to be telling this story - he would like to be writing something closer to the truth. But he cant. The dedication hints at this: Steve Smith...  and his dates. Who was Steve Smith? I have heard he was a poet. Why did he die age 21? Was it suicide? Or some other kind of death?
What drove the typewriter Wizard to Greece and before that England in 1959? What made him decide to sit down and weave this not very convincing hallucinatory prose poem and pass it off as a novel? Barrie Wexler claims BL was based on Kenneth Patchen's The Lamp of Albion Moonlight. The Beats were writing similar kinds of novels -- Kerouac's On the Road... Brion Gysin's The Process ... 
So much for the style -- but there has to be more, a deeply buried theme, an overarching motif, driven by a burning desire to make sense of oneself ... or atone for something.
I think Cohen was atoning -- he was an atoner from Day One. Born on the Day of Atonement or close to it. A natural at it.
And personally i think he was atoning for his first novel, Ballet of Lepers. Which shares the same first letters as Beautiful Losers. Is there something to that? I think I read that Ballet of Lepers was the precursor to The Favourite Game. But I'd take a wild leap and say although it directly preceded TFG, Ballet of Lepers has more in common with Beautiful Losers -
The only way to read Ballet of Lepers is in manuscript form, at the Fischer Library. It's stored in a couple of folders in Box 2 (I think) of Cohen's archives. I spent an hour or so reading through it in the spring of 2017, and I have a fairly strong recollection of at least parts of it. I would call it enhanced autobiography written when Cohen was in his early 20s. Real people from his early life appear: his mother, grandfather, and the wife of a McGill professor whom he calls "Marian". Is this Marian Dale Scott, wife of poet and law professor F.R. Scott? And as an undergraduate did Cohen have an affair with her, with her husband's full knowledge and approval? And were the couple involved in, and did they induct young Leonard into a bizarre Crowley-ian cult (possibly linked to The Process Church) that met in Westmount mansions and held torchlight rituals on Mount Royal? And why are three pages missing from what appears to be an important scene in the middle of the novel?
Given all these questions, and the fact that I would probably not be the only one to recognize the characters and wonder what was going on at McGill when Leonard was a student -- I doubt Ballet of Lepers will ever be available in published form.
If it were, I think readers would make the same connections I am making between "Marian" and Marian Scott, and her eminent law professor husband, who in Ballet of Lepers is the leader of a bizarre pagan cult operating secretly at McGill -- and draw paralles between the situation of the married couple in Ballet of Lepers and the love triangle in Beautiful Losers involving 'I' Edith and F. And then they might hypothesize that this is one and the same triangle, and the same characters, viewed from the perspective of ten years later, with some new twists added e.g. it is F, who sleeps with the narrator's wife Edith - instead of the young Leonard-character who has an affair with the professor's wife. Not a difficult switch to pull, fictionally, and a way to throw the reader off the autobiographical trail.
 People have tried to guess the identity of F. over the years. F. may well be a composite -- but he bears a strong resemblance to Leonard's mentor Frank Scott, commonly known by his initials F.R.
A mystery solved and a can of worms opened...
If F. is Frank Scott - and there are many reasons to think he is - then Beautiful Losers is less a confession than an accusation, although it is both. And it's a crime scene, not a comedy.



Retreating to Hydra to write his novel, Cohen took copious amounts of speed and did his best to write an experimental novel that would be stylistically innovative, shocking in content, and harbour a continous thread of documentary evidence of MKULTRA

It's not hard to imagine a young novelist taking on such an explosive project

especially if he had lived through the era described by MKULTRA survivors

of which he was one of the "success stories"

It's also not hard to imagine the reaction -- given that Canadian literature has been, in many ways, a creature of military intelligence
(PROVE -- give examples)


BL was attacked and praised



Not unlike the work of Arthur Lipsett, whose "obscure" films are a collage of details which are much more readable when considered in the light of experiments he must have known about, and possibly was part of (given his own history of schizophrenia, LSD)

BL is widely thought to be an avant garde work of imagination

Cohen's earlier novel, The Favourite Game, is a fairly autobiographical and only mildly unconventional coming of age story

If BL was a work of imagination, and if imagination were the motivating force behind Cohen's writing, we might expect him to have written a third and a fourth

After BL, Cohen wrote no more novels

Was he disappointed by the mixed response (and mediocre commercial success) generated by BL

Or by the public's inability to read through the surface and grasp the subtext: a Darwinian world populated by insane psychiatrists, a pedophile protagonist who is also bisexual and masochistic


In my opinion, LC's work was never driven by imagination

He has a healthy fascination with the mundane, current events, politics, and religion

Critics assume he invented the world of BL and some of his farther-out poems

I think this is part of the cultic mystery and fascination that surrounded him since the beginning of his career

In his poetry, Nazi doctors walk the halls of Montreal hospitals -- giving rise to the belief that he is a surrealist, a gifted fabulator, a master of black humour

He was all of these things of course, and many more

Monk, millionaire, man of action



What Cohen actually did was record a slice of subterranean life in Montreal
 - not just his own, but a collective experience at the time which was carefully hidden

He then brought it out into the public and rode out the reaction.

Someone revealing carefully guarded secrets is in a precarious position and can expect various responses:

1 rejection
2 ridicule
3 threats
4 offers

Witness Julian Assange.

Whistleblowers can be blackmailed, or become blackmailers



Other details of Cohen's biography are highly ambiguous: in particular the Cuban adventure. But also his appearance as a ready-made media star ca. 1966 when the NFB presented him to the world (narrated by Don Britten) --


The MKULTRA program is into the third generation and appears to have been a more widespread phenomenon than we thought

It is clearly high on the list of Canadian taboos, but the internet is changing that.

Because it really happened, it deserves our urgent attention

We will be learning more about it in the days and years to come



Someone's post about the banality of evil reminded me of a classic Leonard Cohen poem:

ALL THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT ADOLPH EICHMANN

EYES:…………………………………………..Medium
HAIR:…………………………………………..Medium
WEIGHT:………………………………………Medium
HEIGHT:……………………………………….Medium
DISTINGUISHING FEATURES:………………None
NUMBER OF FINGERS:………………………….Ten
NUMBER OF TOES:………………………………Ten
INTELLIGENCE:………………………………Medium

What did you expect?

Talons?
Oversize incisors?
Green saliva?

Madness?

from Flowers for Hitler (1964)