Showdown in Buenos Aires, A Friend Suspects Man of Being Kenneth Lay

February 12, 2009

by Kevin Egan

A friend of mine recently returned from Argentina.  While there, he heardmore than one rumor that former Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, was living in the country under an alias and in disguise.  Not one for conspiracy theories, he shunned the idea and proceeded to enjoy his vacation in the lovely city of Buenos Aires. 

Kenneth Lay, Master Criminal.

Kenneth Lay, Master Criminal.

 

While eating in a small café and getting drunk on local wine, my friend noticed a man, well dressed, in a striped white suit, with a long beard and bushy eyebrows.  At first he couldn’t place the face but then after recalling the rumors about the deceased executive, he suspected that the man before him might actually be Kenneth Lay. 

My friend swallowed what was left of his wine, paid his bill and began to follow this man around town.  The man stopped in many shops, conversed with local business men, and then casually strolled down the streets Buenos Aires is famous for, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  My friend, by this time, seemed certain that it was Kenneth Lay he was following.  He told me the man in question had an air of indestructibility about him, as if he had pulled off the greatest caper known to man and there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.  My friend felt enraged and searched for the local authorities, in order to arrest this person he thought was Lay and finally bring justice to those whose lives had been destroyed by his irresponsible business practices.

The first police officer he had found took his accusation very seriously.  My friend speaks incredibly good Spanish and was able to paint an extremely vivid picture of who Lay was and the crimes he had committed.  Several other cops were waved over and a fury began to erupt within them, feelings if it was they themselves who had lost their retirement money in the great debacle of the early twenty-first century. 

Then an officer, who I suppose would be the equivalent of a police captain, caught word of the outrage that had his subordinates in an uproar and quickly dismissed any accusations in regards to the mysterious man.  He said he recognized the man my friend thought was Lay and had known him for a couple of years as a very polite and trouble-free gentlemen.  He didn’t feel there was any reason to disturb the man with such ludicrous charges and insisted that everyone drop the matter immediately. 

Smelling a rat that transcended national borders, my friend, along with the original officer that he had spoken with, remained on the trail of the man, hoping to find something that would expose his masquerade and, again, bring justice to the workers that will struggle for the rest of their lives because of the mischievous and dastardly deeds committed at Enron.

They followed him into coffee shops, gift shops, what appeared to be a brothel, a train station and finally a park, where he met a man in a thin grey suit, who did not look as if he was a native to Buenos Aires.   The two amateur sleuths snuck as close as they could to the two men, without seeming as if they were up to something.  Bits of conversations could be heard but there were also times when the sound of children playing and birds singing drowned out what seemed like crucial indictments of the man’s guilt.  Words like “Bush” and “Suckers” were, however, heard clearly numerous times, inciting more rage from my friend and his companion.  In fact, the police officer could not refrain from standing and shouting at the man, calling him the Spanish equivalent of “a villain,” “a bastard” and “a treacherous scoundrel.”

The man in the thin grey suit reacted quickly.  He pulled out a gun with a silencer attached to it and shot at the police officer, hitting him in the shoulder.  The officer shot back, but because of the injury he sustained, he missed, hitting a nearby tree.   The man in the suit then pressed a button on his cellphone and within seconds, a person wearing a dark helmet came speeding by on a Vespa.  The Vespa slowed down just enough for the man in the suit to climb on back and disappear into a crowded street.

The man suspected to be Lay, watching his associate escape, fled himself, pushing several children out of his way, knocking most of them to the cement ground.  My friend, after ensuring the police officer was okay, chased after the man, almost touching the shoulders of his suit jacket as they both reached an intersection in which a bus and a large truck had collided maybe twenty minutes before.  The man, however, took advantage of the massive crowd of people lingering in front of the truck and quickly squeezed between them, breaking away from my friend and then shooting down an alley.  By the time my friend was able to maneuver his way through the conglomerate of Argentinians, the man suspected to be Lay was gone.  And so was my friend’s hope to bring justice to those workers back in America. 

You could imagine my surprise when my friend returned to the United States and filled me in on the details on his adventure.  I could barely believe it myself.  Except I am a conspiracy theorist and his tale only incited the rage within me even more, since it is my belief that Kenneth Lay is still alive and had faked his own death in order to escape a prison sentence for the dastardly crimes he had committed against the U.S. financial system, as well as Enron employees. 

Anyone know the number of a good Nazi hunter?           

 

     

 

           


Che, Part Two-Reviewed

February 3, 2009

 

Benecio Del Toro as Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the comic romp, Che, Part Two

Benecio Del Toro as Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the comedic romp, Che, Part Two.

by Kevin Egan

At the end of Che, Part One, viewers were left with quite a cliffhanger. After Castro (Demian Bichir) fell to his death in a field of vines and every enemy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara (Benecio Del Toro) had been eliminated through violent means, our protagonist had been dubbed heir to the thrown, while simultaneously shutting out his wife from his affairs. It was an unsettling moment as the door was closed so forcefully in her face. Still, we loved the Guevaras and desperately desired to see more of them. With Che, Part Two, director Steven Sodenbergh pulls no punches, giving us viewers the family epic we had been waiting for. Saturated with plot twists, celebrity cameos (Adam Sandler as Batista) and endings upon endings upon endings, this sequel supercedes the possibilities already established by other films, taking us into unexplored territories.

Part Two begins exactly where Part One left off, except this time around, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) returns to the present time to warn Che about his troubling children and the havoc they are wreaking in the future. This catapults Che on another wacky adventure, outsmarting his old nemesis, Biff (Thomas F.Wilson), and rescuing his family from danger. Then, once Che believes he is clear of all hijinks, an apparition of his mentor, Ben (performed elegantly by the late Alec Guinness) appears, instructing him to go to the Degoba system, to study with an old Jedi master named “Yoda.” While Che follows this path outlined for him by his old friend, his children find themselves in trouble once more, except this time it comes in the form of a shark. Luckily for them, a desperate-for-any-kind-of-work Michael Caine (as himself) shows up to help them in their struggle.

Just like in Part One, Del Toro is again magnificent in the triple roles of Guevara, his wife and his ornery grandfather. And although the “fat suit” he wears through the second half of the film will most likely earn the make-up team an Oscar nomination, it is what Del Toro does with the suit that one finds most appealing. His ability to conjure up deep and funny voices for all three of the characters, as well as contort his face to provide the most comic expressions, is a skill unrivalled in the cinema today. Robert DeNiro himself could do no better.

Without giving too much away in regards to the ending, Che, Part Two borrows from the classic comedy, Clue, offering multiple endings, each shown separately, depending on which theatre you attend. If you’re like me, you’ll see it more than once, hitting every theatre in town, for no other reason than to ensure you catch all the unbelievable ways in which Che’s fate hangs in the balance. This one’s a keeper!

4 out of 5 stars.  Bring the kids!!!


Bush Calls for One Last War in Final Hours

January 20, 2009

tmq_obama_bush_200by Kevin Egan

Washington (AP)- In his final couple of hours in office, George W. Bush declared war against the state of Hawaii, claiming that its native inhabitants may possibly be connected to terrorist organizations in the Middle East. 

In a last-minute joint-session, Congress quickly acted, approving the war,  stating the evidence that Bush has promised to provide as early as next week, was strong enough to support his decision to go to war.  Though 44th President Barack Obama has already publicly denounced the war, he has gone on the record, stating, “Withdrawing troops from the state of Hawaii will be a long, painful process.  I wish I could do it in a day but that is asking the impossible.”  He then went on to set 2010 as the starting point for the withdrawal. 

When asked whether or not attacking one of our own states seemed reactionary and senseless, all parties involved refused to comment.   


The Fifteenth Round, a Bucket of Tears and Losing a Home

January 19, 2009

article-1116606-030f4469000005dc-710_468x286by Kevin Egan

I promised myself when Dennis asked me to contribute to Operation Itch that I wouldn’t write about politics, considering almost everything on the site is political in nature.  I also can not express myself politically as well as people like Dennis so I usually write about what I know best: music and film.  I do, however, plan to take this next week to let out my final gasps of frustration at what has happened over the last eight years.  I just want to get in a few more final jabs before the bell rings, ending the fifteen round. I’m well aware that nothing I write will cause the knockout I wish it would.  Obviously, my opponents are too powerful to be punished for their sins but like Rocky Balboa in the original Rocky film, after he realizes he can’t beat Apollo Creed, I just want to know I went the distance and I did my best and got a good few shots in before the end of the fight.  Although, the truth be told, the damage done over the last eight years will be echoing throughout the world for years to come, much like the brain damage Rocky suffered after going the distance against Apollo.

 Okay.  That being said…

I was a lone man, sunk in the middle of my couch, crying like a child.  President-elect Obama was on the television accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.  Although, there were parts of his speech that were moving, I was not crying because I was touched by what he had said.  I was well aware that he was a politician, an expert on rhetoric, knowing just what buttons to push to tug at our hearts and minds.  It was an historic nomination but that was not what brought me to tears. 

Obama had dedicated a bit of his speech to the last eight years of our country’s history and how troublesome they were.  That was nothing new for someone who had been screaming “Treason!” since the stolen election of 2000.  Still, for some reason, at that moment, it all hit me at once.  Every awful moment, from the stolen election of 2000 to 9/11 to the lies that sold the Iraqi War to the war itself to the stolen election of 2004 and beyond, hit me like a stack of concrete blocks square in the gut.  I felt my stomach curling up.  It was the same feeling you get when you first hear the news that someone close to you had died.  And then the tears came.  They poured down my face uncontrollably.  I was at their mercy.  They couldn’t be stopped and if they could, I wasn’t the one that could stop them. 

Eventually, they subsided and I felt a cleansing of sorts wash over me.  I felt a peaceful calm inside of me for the first time since this disastrous mistake began.  I had spent the entire eight years filled with such feelings of anger and hatred that I truly hadn’t even realized how large of a shithole the Bush Administration had dug for us.  The reality of all those soldiers dying for the sake of one man’s obsession to please his father had suddenly felt real and tangible.  It was no longer something you read about in the paper or talked about in a bar.  I could see the faces of those dead soldiers and their families.  I could also see the piles of dead, innocent Iraqis that were killed just to satisfy Dick Cheney’s lust for power.  It was horrible.  And finally, there was the fate of Democracy, the foundation on which this country was built, that had fallen into the filthy, bloodstained hands of Karl Rove.  It WAS like I had lost someone close to me.  I had lost my home: America. 

I plan on celebrating next week.  And though I realize the historical and cultural significance of the Obama Presidency, I will be raising my glass to the end of one of the most villainous collection of scoundrels that have ever seized control of our government.  What they had done was illegal, immoral and incorrigible.  And sadly, as much as I cheer for the end of their treasonous reign of power, the truth is, no one will be punished.  They will walk away and wipe their hands clean of the entire ordeal, leaving the rest of us with the task of cleaning up their disastrous mess.

It’s going to take a long time before the effects of this Administration are no longer felt.  I hope President-elect Obama has plans on beginning that healing process.  He has “talked the talk,” as they say.  Now, it’s up to him to…well, you know the rest of that saying. 

Anyway, it would be nice to have a home again.     


“The Anti-anthem:” Yesterday and Today by Kevin Egan

December 16, 2008

 

woody_guthrie8factory_fire_gallery_kevin_ciarra_470x320

Born down in a dead man’s town

The first kick I took was when I hit the ground

You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much

 Till you spend half your life just covering up

 Not very colorful lyrics, are they?  Recognize them?  They’re the first verse of one of the most popular American anthems of the last thirty years.  They belong to a song that has been used by some of the most conservative institutions to incite feelings of nationalism and patriotism, particularly during the 1980’s, when a new brand of Republicanism ruled over our collective consciousness.  And as we were proudly proclaiming our superiority over the Soviet Union, unions in the United States were being broken up, the groundwork for market-deregulation was being laid, and tax breaks were given to the wealthiest of Americans, setting off an era of inequality that still exists today.  

So, what was this song that so feverishly incited a nation to feel so wonderful about itself?  Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A..” 

After the release of the album of the same name in 1984, Springsteen came to represent the mainstream for most rock ‘n’ roll fans.  It was an album that, on the surface, seemed to be a collection of the shiniest pop trash imaginable.  Silly, childish keyboard riffs like the main motif in “Dancing in the Dark” were found to be so laughable, it was difficult to view Springsteen as the prolific songwriter he had been years before.  To many, he had become a popstar in the same league as Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.  Compared to the punk and heavy metal bands that were blossoming at the time, Bruce Springsteen seemed less threatening than Clay Aiken does today.   

But rockers weren’t the only ones blind to the sentiments Springsteen was truly expressing in a brilliant song like “Born in the U.S.A..”  Almost the entire country accepted the lyrics to “Born in the U.S.A.” as an anthem of pride.  We were under the impression he was expressing his gratitude for being born in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”   The Cold War was still a reality and the song’s chorus seemed to reflect our nation’s sense of righteousness compared to the Soviets’ “Evil Empire,” where people waited on lines for toilet paper and didn’t have the freedom to chose their own occupations.  It had become a late twentieth century version of “This Land is Your Land,” which coincidentally was also misunderstood by the public. 

In Woody Guthrie’s song, he sings how this country belongs to everyone, not just the landowners.  Included in the entire set of lyrics of “This Land is Your Land” are the lines:

woody_guthrie9

 As I was walkin’ I saw a sign there

And that sign said, “no tress passin”’

But on the other side it didn’t say nothin’

Now that side was made for you and me!

 

 

It is a protest song on the subject of the inequality between the “haves” and the “have nots.” 

Springsteen’s song, though saturated with the most hi-tech production of its day, along with a keyboard sound now affiliated with the Eighties exclusively, was, and is, as strong of a statement on inequalities in America as Guthrie’s.  And it is more rich with social commentary than any other song since its conception.  In fact, considering the numerous troubles Iraq War veterans currently find themselves in, after returning from service, “Born in the U.S.A.” is just as significant today than it has ever been before.   

What confused listeners in 1984, more than anything, was the hi-tech, glossed over production.  On Springsteen’s earlier records, like Darkness on the Edge of Town, Born to Run and Nebraska, the production is much more raw, accentuating darker tones that complimented the stark images projected in Springsteen’s lyrics.  For instance, in the song, “Born to Run,” Springsteen’s first big hit, lyrics like “it’s a deathtrap, it’s a suicide rap,” referring to the home the narrator and his girlfriend live in, are screamed alongside one of the filthiest guitar sounds you ever heard, as well as the raunchiest saxophone solo in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.  The marriage of the words and the music help to create one of the most epic rock ‘n’ roll sagas of youth escaping a pre-determined, hopeless fate. 

But on Born in the U.S.A., the album, Springsteen trades in those dark tones for the synth-pop sounds of the 1980’s, leading some to believe he was cornering himself into a time frame that would ultimately be considered an embarrassment by the handful of musicians that survived that period.  And although there’s a good chance Springsteen was actually looking to get rich and sell millions of records and his choice of production was a product of those desires, in “Born in the U.S.A.,” he shrewdly manipulates the production to help tell hi story of a Vietnam veteran no longer welcome in the United States.

Originally written at the same time as the stark, depressing and mournful songs of his stripped-down masterpiece, Nebraska,  “Born in the U.S.A.” tells the story of someone “born down in a dead man’s town” and will lead a difficult life accordingly.  Early on, he gets in trouble with the law and is ironically handed a gun, forced to fight in the Vietnam War.  He comes back but, because of the controversy the war has stirred up, he can’t get a job.  Even his V.A. man (“Veteran’s Affairs”), whose job it is to assist veterans, can’t help him, asking the young man, “Son, don’t you understand?”  Ultimately, as Bruce sings, he ‘s got “nowhere to run, ain’t got nowhere to go.”  

Those that own the 1998 release, Tracks, are familiar with the earlier version of “Born in the U.S.A.,” from the “Nebraska Sessions.”  This version’s kinship with the songs on Nebraska, musically and lyrically, is much more apparent, particularly in the tone of the guitar, which is eerily stark, echoing as if being played in a dirty tunnel somewhere on the outskirts of town.  Springsteen also sings the song in a different key, which serves to articulate the narrator’s frustration and hopelessness as hauntingly as possible.  There is no question as to what sentiment he is expressing in this version.   

On the later version, the one the public knows above all others, 1980’s synth-keyboards, as well as Eighties production techniques, dominate the landscape of the song, creating the undesirable effects previously mentioned, as well as deceiving the listener into thinking he/she is listening to a pop anthem generated for the masses.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Although, Springsteen had been most effective in his earlier days when the rough and rugged recordings of his earlier albums matched the dark aesthetic of his lyrics, Springsteen actually uses the glossy production and Eighties synth-pop sound as counterpoint to the bleak, hopeless lyrics of “Born in the U.S.A..”  It’s a cleverly deceptive approach, one that has been barely been recognized or celebrated.     

Musically, “Born in the U.S.A.,” has no changes.  Though instruments come in and out at different times, the same musical theme that emulates the chorus of the song, plays throughout the entire composition, which is significant in defining why “Born in the U.S.A.” has been interpreted as an anthem.  Although, the truth is, the repetition of this theme actually symbolizes an American Dream that has been infused in every citizen’s consciousness since birth, which is why it is consistently repeated throughout the entire song without any changes.  It emulates the concepts and ideas that are perpetuated in our schools, on our televisions, and out of the mouths of our leaders.   They are bright, shiny, optimistic ideas about the possibility of everyone in America succeeding, as long as they gave it their best effort.  It seems that even in our darkest hour, when we feel as if our country has failed us, as the narrator does in the song, the selling of the American Dream never fails to waver, much like the musical theme in “Born in the U.S.A..”       

Regarding lyrical structure, like many of the songs written during the “Nebraska Sessions,” the song is constructed in the traditional folk format of verse/refrain, verse/refrain, etc..  Springsteen, however, plays with these conventions, creating a somewhat fragmented version of this structure, one that fits the theme of the song more appropriately.  This change first becomes apparent at the end of the third verse.  The final line of the verse is the V.A. man’s question to the narrator, “Son, don’t you understand?”  It is very possible that it is at this point that the narrator has finally come to a realization that being born in the United States of America does not necessarily grant one the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as promised in the Declaration of Independence.  Perhaps that is why Springsteen decides not to sing the chorus, although the music continues in the background.  In place of the chorus, Springsteen just mumbles, “No.  No.  No. No.  No.,” almost like a person that can’t accept a truth they are forced to confront.

Continuing with this redirection of how the song is structured, the fourth verse concerns the narrator’s brother, who had also fought in Vietnam.  For the first three verses, four lines are used in their construction.  Again, with the exception of the third verse, these verses are then followed by the chorus of the song.  Contrary to these previous verses, the fourth verse has only three lines: 

                                  I had a brother at Khe Sahn

                                 Fighting off the Viet Cong

                                They’re still there, he’s all gone

The fourth line is left out and a feeling of incompletion (for those who are listening) takes over.  What happened here to differentiate these lines from the previous?  Why is there no fourth line?  One can only suspect that the narrator is broken up by the loss of his brother, he can barely finish the stanza.  And once again, no chorus is sung, though the anthem-like keyboard continues, undaunted by this man’s struggle. 

The fragmentation of the narrator’s state of mind then continues on with the fifth verse, if you can even call it that, since now there are only two lines:        

                               He had a woman he loved in Saigon

                              I got a picture of him in her arms now

And for a third time, no chorus, only the keyboards that articulates the feelings of patriotism and American optimism that are associated with the American Dream.  By this time, the keyboard melody seems to be looming so high above the narrator, at such an unattainable height, we can no longer question why he chooses not to sing along.  It is a dream that he can never reach.

Finally, the song breaks down for a sixth and final verse.  Here, Springsteen describes the narrator’s surroundings.  It’s ten years later and he’s living ”in the shadow of the penitentiary, out by the gas fires of the refinery.”  It’s a bleak vision.  And although the narrator chooses to once again sing along to the chorus of “Born in the U.S.A.,” he punctuates that sentiment with the fact that he’s “a long, gone daddy in the U.S.A..”  The final irony being, although this song was used as a propaganda tool to promote America’s superiority over the Soviet Union in the 1980’s, the truth was, there were many people, particularly the soldiers that fought for this country, that were forgotten and ostracized, forced to live lives as hopeless as those lived under the Soviet flag.  In fact, to articulate the continuity of the hopelessness of soldiers returning home from war, including those today returning from Iraq, when Springsteen plays this song live, he sometimes returns to a more haunting key on his guitar and extends the line “I’m ten years  burning down the road” to “I’m ten years, I’m fifteen years, I’m twenty five years down the road,” painting a picture of a never-ending dilemma that soldiers are forced to face.  It has almost been twenty five years since the conception of this song and the treatment of soldiers returning from war are still somewhat troubling.  Veterans’ Hospitals have been reported to be inadequate in their ability to treat the soldiers properly, soldiers have come back to America plagued by the trauma of serving in the war, families have not received some of the benefits promised to them by the government, and soldiers still have trouble finding employment once they finish serving their country.   With the exception of the few lines that actually mention Vietnam, this is a song that could’ve easily been written today about a soldier returning from the Middle East.             

By contrasting bleak and depressing lyrics with optimistic, finely polished American sounds, Springsteen had actually created what can be referred to as an “anti-anthem.”  He had taken an American rock ‘n’ roll tradition and turned it upside down.  And the truth is, very few people at the time understood what he was doing.  It’s very possible that only Neil Young was able to pick up on what Springsteen was going for, since Young’s “Keep On Rockin’ In the Free World” is another song that rallies around a infamously misinterpreted chorus that “celebrates” our freedoms, while the lyrics address children being dumped in garbage cans and our country being ruled by a “kinder, gentler machine gun hand.”  It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone how, over the twenty years later, both songwriters have remained at the top of their game and at the forefront of their profession.  Their clever, sometimes deceptive approach to their craft is easily what makes them the smartest and most creative tunesmiths of our time.