Memories of the conventicle

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday January 7, 2012 01:06 PM

Doug Henwood was reminiscing a bit recently about his thankless years at WBAI, the local Pacifica 'outlet' (and I choose the word advisedly).

I haven't listened to the station in years, but Doug set me off on a little trip down Memory Lane.

There was a conventicle of anti-anti-Semites in the station at one point in the early 80s -- I fell foul of them because of some stuff I wrote about Israel in a little community newspaper. I vaguely associate the name of John Fisk (since deceased, I gather) with this group, but perhaps my memory is misleading me here, and I'm doing Fisk an injustice. If so, I apologize to his manes.

I remember that one issue of the paper where one of my pieces appeared had a picture of the old Penn railyards, where all that Trump cruft is now, and the keen critical eye of the a-a-Ss discovered a sly coded reference to the German death-camp trains. You get the idea: a very hothouse atmosphere. They were obsessed with Lyndon Larouche and saw his influence everywhere.

They had me on some late-night show to defend myself. The hosts were bad enough, but the callers-in were really bonkers. I recall one fella who was off to the races, yammering about Leon Trotsky for some reason, as soon as he got on the air. He never seemed to need to take a breath; some very special winding arrangements in his vocal organ, perhaps. He had a preposterous nom de guerre -- Ted Struggle or Joe Combat or some such. He was firmly against anti-Semitism and he didn't care who knew it, and he didn't like the cut of my jib at all -- 'effete Buckleyite' was one choice characterization (which I hope will amuse Doug, if he should read this) and then there were wonderful Yiddish epithets like 'schmendrick' and 'vontz', which I have treasured ever since and use on every possible occasion.

And there were a lot of old CP stagers (who either never sleep at all, or sleep like bats, during the day, no doubt hanging from their heels to do it). These types had a pretty well-rehearsed spiel, which fell into two main heads: 1) The imminent menace of a new Hitler, complete with death camps, and 2) what a wonderful fellow X was, where X was some liberal Democrat in elected office -- councilman, congressman, etc.

Of course this whole menagerie of whimsical beasts was pretty much swept away by the Noye's Fludde of the 80s, to be replaced by a rodentine obsession with PC diction-policing. I miss the weird old fauna, the baluchitheres and the giant sloths.


Comments (16)


An excerpt from something Norman Finkelstein wrote:

Rachel Corrie, a twenty-three-year-old ISM volunteer from Olympia, Washington, was killed while protecting a Palestinian home from being bulldozed. According to Dershowitz, she "threw herself in front of the bulldozer" (p. 170). Several people personally witnessed Corrie's death. Here's the eyewitness account of Tom Dale, an ISM volunteer currently enrolled at Oxford University:

I was 10 meters away when it happened two days ago, and this is the way it went.

We'd been monitoring and occasionally obstructing the two bulldozers for about two hours when one of them turned toward a house we knew to be threatened with demolition. Rachel knelt down in its way. She was 10-20 meters in front of the bulldozer, clearly visible, the only object for many meters, directly in its view. They were in radio contact with a tank that had a profile view of the situation. There is no way she could not have been seen by them in their elevated cabin. They knew where she was, there is no doubt. The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went. She knelt there, she did not move. The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth. She appeared to be looking into the cockpit. The bulldozer continued to push Rachel, so she slipped down the mound of earth, turning as she went. Her face showed she was panicking and it was clear she was in danger of being overwhelmed.

All the activists were screaming at the bulldozer to stop and gesturing to the crew about Rachel's presence. We were in clear view as Rachel had been, they continued. They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did.

Dershowitz's account apparently comes from an initial Israeli army claim that Corrie ran in front of the bulldozer. The IDF has changed its story several times, however, subsequently alleging, for example, that "Corrie was not run over by an engineering vehicle but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete." As in Stalin's day, it's not easy for apparatchiks to keep up with the party line.

"Ted Struggle"? D'aahhh ha ha ha ha hahhh... ...ehh, actually, I shouldn't laugh too much; back in college, when I drew for the old Yipster Times*, I signed myself "Mike Yippie", taking a cue from one of the columnists who signed himself "Leon Yipsky".

Kinda reminds me of WPFW around the late '90s or so. I only hung on for as long as I did because they were the only station in DC playing old-skool blues, old-skool reggae and real jazz (not "smooth" jazz), and had an hour of Hendrix on Sunday nights. Still, I cringed at some of the commentators' programs; they had this one guy who'd start out his rap making some real righteous, solid, sensible points, and then, as if someone threw a switch in his head, his commentary would totally sail off the edge of the Earth. I finally quit listening to the guy the day his solid and righteous commentary on institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system turned into the most whack-assed "O.J. Is Innocent" rant I'd ever heard.

I gave up on WPFW altogether when they started picking up that Gary Null quack. Between that and Democracy Now slowly sliding into All Things Considered Land, there was no point in even bothering anymore.

Oh, if only they could've all been like KPFK circa 1990; solid, righteous politics, remarkably light on the kookery, and music to satisfy pretty much every taste in Los Angeles -- and that's a real fuckload of people.


*Well... I was a Youth back then, after all.

I don't get anti-anti-Semitism. If "Jets Fan" is an acceptable ontological category, why can't "Jew" be one? They're both lifestyle choices.


As a lifelong fan of Gang Green, I am anti-anti Jets.

Jack, that's perfect way to put it! Lifestyle choice!


Great line this :

"Firmly against anti semitism and didn't care who knew it"

These naked displayers of vividly pink moral vanity
are just asking
for a cudgel or two
Laid up side the head


Chom ..jets fan ?

How debilitating

Even the best of em

Broadway Joe at close range
had an inner ass hole mr cool
that wouldn't stop

New York has only one decent franchise
the knicks



Camus and Sartre ?

Talk about a time capsule from deadsville
I must admit I admire a soul still agitated by Ike era lefticulated follies

Subject of much 60's soviet strategic fantasy

Algeria Always ready to disappoint


Henwood's ratings ?

Few are dumped
down timed or
moved to

for any other reason

When did he and the station part ways ?

I have a spot for him if he needs one

op sez on 01.09.12 @10:54:
Broadway Joe at close range
had an inner ass hole mr cool
that wouldn't stop...

Joe Willie may have had an Inner Asshole, but most of us were more concerned about his Outer Knees.


It gets worse, op. I like the Yankees too. Got to get my empire on somewhere.

chomskyzinn sez on 01.09.12 @14:42:
It gets worse, op. I like the Yankees too. Got to get my empire on somewhere.


I've been a hardcore Mets fan since I was in the seventh grade, when I was the only kid in any of my classes who thought they had a chance in the '69 Series. It was bad enough being the "weird kid" in school, but a Mets fan on top of it?

Needless to say, there was no pointing and laughing at this kid in school the morning after Game 5.

I went two for two that year; I was also one of a handful of kids at my school who got behind the Jets in the Super Bowl.

Nice picture of crowley. Does he bite?


Mike, not to get off on too much of a sports tangent, but the Unamazin's lost a lot of their prole cred when the Wilpons got into bed with (my hero) Bernie Madoff, and when they tore down that great tacky old dump and moved into Too Big To Fail Field. (Nice ballpark, by the way, but having the Citi logo stuffed in my face is a bit much.) But '69 was a helluva year. Don't forget the Knicks winning during that awesome 12-month period.

chomskyzinn sez on 01.10.12 @11:12:
...not to get off on too much of a sports tangent, but the Unamazin's lost a lot of their prole cred when the Wilpons got into bed with (my hero) Bernie Madoff, and when they tore down that great tacky old dump and moved into Too Big To Fail Field.

Needless to say, as I'm going to be 55 in March, I'm pretty much officially an Old Guy now, so any references I make to The Mets apply to the '69 Mets, and sometimes the '73 Mets.

I got my first look at Shea Stadium back around '03 or '04, when it was the drop-off point for the buses taking the DC contingent to the anti-Iraq War mass mobes in NYC. I got off the bus, took a good look at that place -- the utilitarian, unremarkable architecture, the overall shabbiness -- craned my neck for a peek inside and glimpsed the surprising smallness of it, and thought Jeezus, wotta fuckin' pile! Is this the stadium where the Mets won the Series? Where the Beatles played their first gig in the US? Y'mean, Broadway Joe and the Amazin' Mets and the Fab Four played in this fuckin' dump?

Mind you, I have some pals who are old NYCers and old Mets and Jets fans from back in the day who just loved the place and who are positively heartsick over having lost it. One friend of mine, a photographer from New Rochelle, went to college in NYC and was a lifelong Jets fan. She still likes to talk about how her dad used to take her to see them play at Shea when she was a little girl, and about what a wonderful old dump it was, and about how the midfield seats gave you an unusually close view of the benches -- and about how she once jumped up from her seat, screamed HEYYYYY, JOE WILLIEEEEEEE!!! and Namath turned around and looked.

But, enough. That wraps up the sports, and that's tonight's Eyewitness News. Stay tuned for The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson; Johnny's guests tonight: Joe Namath and George Gobel...


Mike: Ya Gotta Believe.

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