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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
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If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
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"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS. The killer clowns. Amygdala is here to tell you the sinister secret behind today's front page New York Times story on the redesign of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Behind it lies blackmail, paranoia, former CIA top men, and a tale of deception like unto The Truman Show. We shit you not.
First, the Times:
For the first time in its history, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will present a new show to its audiences without three rings, or two - or even one.
When the 136th edition of the circus opens on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum here in Tampa, where Ringling maintains its winter quarters, the elephants, clowns, aerialists and acrobats will roam an arena floor. In as big a departure, the show will have a story line instead of being simply a cavalcade of acts.
The changes seem to echo the format of the circus's new-age rival, Cirque du Soleil, which in a few decades has grown into as mammoth an enterprise as Ringling Brothers, though the promoters of both shows discourage the comparison. Instead, Kenneth Feld, Ringling's producer and chief executive, attributes the overhaul to market research: The circus's family audiences say their lives are already three-ring circuses, so they want something less distracting. And "they also wanted to connect with a story in an emotional way," Mr. Feld said.
Remember that name: Kenneth Feld. We'll be getting back to this sociopathic nutbar that the Times told you nothing about.
[...] The new production - at $15 million the most expensive Ringling has ever assembled - tries to celebrate the contemporary. A giant video screen will magnify live action on the arena floor, so audiences will get never-before-seen views, "such as the face of the strong man as the Jeep drives over him," Mr. Feld said. It will be presided over by a woman starring in a role that seems very much like a ringmaster's, although Ringling isn't quite calling her that. In southwest Florida's tight-knit community of active and retired circus performers, speculation about the new show has been building for weeks.
Feverish Internet bulletins dubbed it "the secret circus" after the rehearsal arena at the Florida State Fairgrounds was uncharacteristically locked down after Thanksgiving. Performers passed through tight security only after signing confidentiality agreements.
We call this "foreshadowing."
The overhaul was not a response to business reverses, Mr. Feld insisted. He refused to confirm published reports that his privately held show has annual revenues of $600 million, saying only that business "has been very good."
Of course he's secretive about the show's money. Income and expenses both. You really wouldn't want to reveal how much you pay to your ex-CIA clandestine operatives, would you? Yes, really. It's coming.
[...] Building the circus around a story line is also meant to invite the audience in. The conceit is that a family of four is plucked out of the crowds to achieve its circus dreams. (The family members are, of course, shills, who soon surprise the audience by doing extraordinary things, since they are actually skilled performers.) The plot turns on the fortunes of the family's 8-year-old son, a role sufficiently demanding to require the efforts of four different young, look-alike acrobats, who spell one another in performance.
There's lots more in the Times story about the new Blue Show, and the acts and the business and the competition with Cirque du Soleil, and so on. Click the link if you want more about the elephants. I'm here to tell you more about the clowns. And Ken Feld.
Because back on November 20th, Richard Leiby of the Washington Post didn't write a puff piece that was all cotton candy and peanuts. He showed us the secret behind the circus:
"Front door open," a robotic voice warns whenever anyone enters the home of author Jan Pottker, who lives in a deeply wooded corner of Potomac. The elaborate security system doesn't seem out of the ordinary, at first -- life in a prosperous suburb requires a measure of caution.
Then Pottker starts talking about seeing strange cars lingering on her street and hearing odd noises on her phone line. And how she discovered that many things in her secluded little world were not as they seemed. For years, covert operatives monitored her activities: her book and magazine projects, her travel plans, even her hair appointments.
It was like something out of "The Truman Show," says Pottker, a petite, soft-featured woman of 57. "I'll never get the years back that they were in my life." Then, her voice rises in anger: "They had no right to interfere with my life."
She is sitting in the stillness of her high-ceilinged home with her husband, Andrew Fishel, also 57, who has the placid manner of a longtime federal bureaucrat (which he is). "You feel that your life has been kidnapped in a sense, and you didn't know it," he says evenly. "Potentially all of your intimate thoughts and activities have been shared with someone who is out for vengeance against you."
You might expect such statements from delusional types who inhabit park benches wearing tinfoil hats. But Pottker and Fishel -- married 36 years, holders of doctoral degrees, accomplished people -- can easily justify their paranoia. The infiltration of their lives, it turns out, was overseen by the former head of worldwide covert operations for the CIA, an Iran-contra scandal figure named Clair E. George. They have documented as much in a lawsuit.
But who would possibly care about what this utterly normal couple was doing?
Clues lead to Feld Entertainment in Tysons Corner, the headquarters of one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. It is owned by a megamillionare who prides himself on operating a business devoted to family fun and all-American values. He runs the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Step right up, folks: It's the weirdest show on Earth.
The tale begins on a summer day 15 years ago when CEO Kenneth Feld opened his copy of Regardie's, a slick magazine that covered the Washington business scene. He turned to Page 44 and began reading a lengthy article about himself. It was written by Pottker, a freelancer who had once interviewed him for a book about corporate heirs.
Headlined "The Family Circus," the piece began flatteringly enough, portraying Feld as a hands-on executive committed to providing quality entertainment.
"Just like his father before him, Ken Feld has saved an American institution," Pottker wrote. What's more, he had doubled the revenue of his privately held company with a wholesome, magical touch that extended beyond the circus to Feld Entertainment's Disney on Ice productions and Vegas shows.
But as he read on, the business mogul grew livid. The article also unearthed family secrets that had been whispered about in Washington for decades:
Feld's late father, Irvin -- a legendary impresario, a man he revered, and from whom he'd inherited the circus -- was a closeted homosexual, the article claimed. ("An absolute lie," Feld would later say.) It implied that his mother killed herself because she couldn't change Irvin's sexual orientation and viewed herself as a failure, "both as a woman and as a wife." It portrayed Ken Feld himself as a tightwad who callously cut his only sibling, Karen, out of the family fortune.
The aggrieved CEO could have picked up the phone and complained to Bill Regardie, publisher of the now-defunct, 60,000-circulation magazine. They traveled in the same elite social circles and shared a nodding acquaintance. Regardie says he would have happily given Feld a couple of pages of space to vent in the next issue. But Regardie never heard from him; neither did any of the magazine's editors.
Feld also could have called Pottker and chewed her out. He could have threatened a lawsuit. He didn't.
Instead Feld, who once described himself to a reporter as "very much the kind of person who wants to be in control," took another approach. A covert one. Court papers allege that Feld, at an estimated expense of $2.3 million, authorized master spy Clair George to carry out a CIA-style operation to make sure the circus knew what Jan Pottker was doing and writing.
It lasted more than seven years. Epic Legal Battle
Feld, 57, who is worth $725 million by Forbes magazine's 2004 estimate, also lives in Potomac, in a mansion not far from Pottker and Fishel's more modest neighborhood. But it's unlikely they would ever speak to one another -- except in court. Today they are intractable adversaries joined in an epic legal battle that began in 1999 and has consumed the energies of four consecutive D.C. Superior Court judges.
In a lawsuit, the couple portrays Feld as a malicious, vindictive man who ordered wiretapping, bugging and surveillance in a scheme to "destroy" Pottker because he hated the magazine article she'd written about him. Feld planted a mole in her life, a "false friend" who posed as her business partner, torpedoed her career and steered her away from writing a book on the circus, the suit alleges.
Claiming invasion of privacy, fraud and infliction of mental distress, Pottker and Fishel seek more than $60 million in actual and punitive damages. Feld declined to comment for this article, but his attorneys call the allegations "outlandish" and "baseless."
Feld's legal filings do acknowledge that the circus paid operatives to monitor Pottker from 1990 to 1997 -- and also set up two non-circus book deals to distract her from reporting on Feld's enterprises. But they say nobody did anything illegal. And in their view, the ruse helped, not hurt, her career.
It's not the only time Feld has been accused of spying on his perceived enemies. Allegations of illegal surveillance, theft of documents and infiltration are part of a suit against Feld filed in Fairfax Circuit Court by the activist group PETA, which has long opposed Ringling Bros.' use of animal acts. Feld's attorneys are contesting the suit, but details of their position are under seal and not publicly available.
During his long CIA career, Clair George was a highly regarded covert operations officer, an ebullient character known for his bravery and ability to handle crises in overseas hotspots. He rose to become chief of the agency's global clandestine service in the mid-1980s, only to see his career derailed by the Iran-contra scandal. Caught up in a grinding independent counsel's investigation, George was put on trial twice and convicted once, in 1992, on two felony counts of lying to a congressional committee. (Later he was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.)
Clair George is, of course, one of the most famous CIA top men in that agency's history. It's fair to say he's a legend, for better or worse. But if you want to call a coup d'etat, he's your man.
As his legal bills mounted, George went to work as a consultant on "international issues" for Feld Entertaiment. Now 75 and ailing, he declined to comment -- he's also a defendant in the suit brought by Pottker and her husband -- but his role in the Pottker operation is detailed in contracts, memos and depositions that have since become part of the voluminous record in the case.
By October 1990 -- two months after the Regardie's story appeared -- George had already discovered that Pottker wanted to expand her Regardie's piece into an unauthorized biography of Irvin Feld, to be titled "Highwire." After getting his hands on a copy of her book proposal, George set into motion a plan that he would later refer to in a "top secret" memo to Feld as Project Preempt.
Fearing a scandalous treatment of his father, Feld signed a contract paying George $3,000 a week to oversee preparation of an authorized, "quality" book about the family business, according to court records. George had other duties, too:
"I undertook a series of efforts to find out what Pottker was doing and reported on the results of my work to Mr. Feld," he said in an affidavit. "I prepared my reports in writing and presented them to Mr. Feld in personal meetings."
George also devised a plan to "divert" Pottker from writing potential exposs about the circus, whether for other magazines or in a book. She wanted to probe the circus's child-labor practices and treatment of animals, among other topics, but the ex-CIA man took a dim view of her journalistic enterprise.
"Ms. Pottker is a professional mudslinger who was spending most of her time writing derogatory and tasteless pieces about the Feld family," George said in a deposition. "And it so came to pass that we decided that we would lead her astray from that and have her do something else."
The expert spook hired a onetime journalist named Robert Eringer, whom he described as a "very close friend," to help carry out the Pottker operation. George paid him $1,500 a week.
ADDENDUM NOTE: "Hey, Bob, I've got this great gig going; I'll cut you in for half of three big ones a week if you just do this little thing for me." END ADDENDUM.
According to Pottker's suit, Eringer's mission was to worm his way into her life, becoming her confidant, editor and book "packager." He steered her toward researching other famous and fractious families, including the Rockefellers, the Mars candy clan and the Hafts of Washington.
A Rockefeller book, Eringer predicted in an early memo, "will side-track Pottker for many months to come -- probably a couple of years -- and this will mean she must relegate any possible Ringling book project to a back burner."
Eventually Pottker published two books that Feld had a secret hand in: "Crisis in Candyland," an unauthorized look at the Mars chocolate family, in 1995; and "Celebrity Washington," a small guidebook to the homes of media and political figures, in 1996. A Feld company even paid for the $25,000 advance on "Crisis in Candyland." Both books had small publishers and limited print runs.
In self-congratulatory memos, the operatives told Feld that they considered their mission successful. "Pottker is expending all of her time and energy on the two projects we packaged for her," says a report from the mid-'90s. "She has had no time to even think about Ringling Brothers. Our projects have effectively diverted her from the new investigation into Ringling."
It's not clear how frequently the so-called Pottker memos were produced, because many documents in the suit have been placed under seal. They're undated and unsigned, though most were likely written by Eringer. Some were spare, others detailed and chatty.
"Pottker is driving to New York City this weekend with her husband and two daughters," one says. "She has an appointment with a top NYC hairdresser to highlight her hair (she had to book this appointment six weeks in advance -- and she is very excited.)"
Another: "Pottger [sic] has found several black boys from a housing project who used to perform for Ringling and who sustained injuries during their employment. 'They make you work when you're sick,' she quotes one, 'for bad pay.' "
Another: "Pottker continues her contact with [Sen.] Howard Metzenbaum's office. She says that a Metzenbaum staffer phoned a staffer in Senator Christopher Dodd's office to discuss including the circus in child labor hearings."
One of the later memos reports: "Pottker is surprised by the level of anger from those who appeared in her Washington guide book. . . . She continues to talk from time to time about a book on Ringling Brothers."
Jan Pottker probably wouldn't have discovered any of this if not for a disgruntled circus executive named Charles Smith. As Feld Entertainment's chief financial officer, he was privy to payments made to George, Eringer and various private eyes whom Feld allegedly dispatched to infiltrate animal protection groups, including the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California and PETA, based in Norfolk.
Smith himself seemed to have a fixation with bugging and surveillance. "He had five tape recorders laying on his desk," Joel Kaplan, a former director of security for Feld, said in a deposition. "He had a punch bowl, a party-size punch bowl with 150 tapes in it. . . . He had boxes of empty tapes. . . . He had videotapes."
Smith was fired in 1997 after Fairfax police arrested him on suspicion of surreptitiously videotaping his girlfriend, a circus employee whom he suspected of cheating on him. Authorities concluded that no crime was committed and dropped the charges.
But Smith took Feld to court in a battle over compensation in which Smith alleged that his boss wasted corporate assets on retribution against enemies. Smith's suit claimed that Feld "improperly disbursed large sums of corporate monies to combat and thwart groups he perceives as opposed to the interests of Feld."
In June 1998, Smith's attorneys obtained an affidavit from Clair George laying out the Pottker operation. (George also mentioned "surveillance of, and efforts to counter, the activities of various animal rights groups.") That fall, Smith arranged a meeting with Pottker at a Chevy Chase restaurant and spilled his guts.
He told her that Feld had been gathering information about her for years. In a later deposition, Smith said he'd even seen Feld in a conference room at Ringling headquarters, watching a video of Pottker. The video was taken at a mall, probably with a tiny camera that looked like a wristwatch.
To confirm the snooping, Smith told Pottker to visit the federal courthouse in Alexandria, where his suit against Feld was filed, and fish out George's sworn statement and the attached "Pottker memos." (Smith, 60, who settled his suit against Feld for $6.5 million, signed a non-disclosure agreement and would not comment.)
Pottker describes reading the file as an out-of-body experience: "I felt like I was observing things from the ceiling. The scales fell off my eyes."
Everything started to snap into place: "The car that had been sitting in front of my home, the constant clicks on the phone, all the bad breaks I'd had in publishing. . . .
"And imagine seeing the memos about my life that were sent on a regular basis to Kenneth Feld. Detailed things about my kids, my haircuts, a party I'm giving, the editors I'm talking to."
Seeing Clair George's statements, "I thought I was going to pass out. I had to go to the ladies' room to collect myself."
Her husband was with her. As managing director of the Federal Communications Commission, Fishel wields power over a considerable bureaucracy, but that day he felt "frightened and helpless," he says. "When you realize that it's an ex-CIA agent you're up against, you realize there's nothing the average middle-class person can do."
But should he have known? "It eats me up," he says, sitting in his living room with his wife. "The feeling that I did not protect my family. I failed them."
There's lots, lots more. And this story is hardly a secret (see sample cites below). Yet, interestingly, the Gray Lady doesn't hint a word. Did you see even a shadow of an indication of a breath of a wisp of a hint of any of this in Glenn Collins' story? Not I.
Obviously, Collins and the Times is entirely aware of the Pottker story; Nexis-Lexis (and why is it everyone always misspells that?; but I digress) has to be bursting with stories on it, because Google shows couple of hundred of them.
So, obviously, to gain access to the Circus, Collins agreed to not mention the strange and sordid paranoid world of Kenneth Feld, would-be mini-Nixon.
Unimpressive. And something to always keep in mind when reading a story, any story, anywhere: what are they leaving out?
It's also good to wonder what hidden stories lie before us, behind the facades any enterprise, any person, presents before us. Sometimes what we see is what we get. But often, there's a whole 'nother universe back there, folks. Beware peeking behind the facade. But if you do, look for the ringmaster, not the clowns. This has been your Amygdala Ominous Warning Moment. Woo-woo.
Read The Rest Scale of any of this: it's a three-ring circus, all right. As interested.
ADDENDUM: I should emphasize that Jeff Stein's Salon piece, as linked above, gives more detail than the recent Washington Post story, which in fact seems suspiciously derivative of it. I recommend the Salon piece, so long as you read both parts, over the Post version, if you have to pick just one.
12/31/2005 10:07:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | Tweet |
Ooh - good spot, Gary.
What. A. Freak. Show.
This isn't going to help anyone who finds clowns sinister.