Seize the Opportunity to Throw One Back

I’m considering educating myself a little on Graham Greene and so, at the inspiration of a passage posted by Andrew Sullivan (“‘The Torturable Class’,” The Daily Dish, 26 July 2007), purchased a copy of Our Man in Havana. Christopher Hitchens wrote the introduction and — apropos an earlier post (“Booz-Hound Christopher Hitchens,” 28 June 2007) — he tells the following tale:

Graham Greene famously subdivided his fictions into ‘novels’ and ‘entertainments’ …

I should like to propose a third, or subcategory: the whisky (as opposed to the nonwhisky) fictions. Alcohol is seldom far from the reach of Greene’s characters, and its influence was clearly some kind of daemon in his work and in his life. A stanza of that witty and beautiful poem ‘On the Circuit,’ written in 1963, registers W. H. Auden’s dread at the thought of lecturing on a booze-free American campus and asks, anxiously and in italics:

Is this my milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish! How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag
An analeptic swig?

Describing a visit to a 1987 conference of ‘intellectuals’ in Moscow in the early Gorbachev years, both Gore Vidal and Fay Weldon were to record Green making exactly this dive into his bottle-crammed briefcase.

Makes me think, as Nietzsche said, that all writing is autobiographical of a sort.

Cool Dude

With the publication of his latest, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, Christopher Hitchens has acceded to the rank of author whose photograph is promoted from the back inside flap to displace a more topical graphic from the cover. Some authors you can understand why they go on the cover. Ann Coulter is at least hot (as right wingers go) and can be expected to move some copies, more to be admired than read. Christopher Hitchens, on the other hand, is like the Archie Bunker of the left. But I guess he’s a man whose image is an icon at this point though.

Bad Words

Dan Savage on the juvenile refusal of naughty words among mainstream publications (“Don’t Be Such a Fucking Pansy, David,” SLOG, 6 August 2007):

Oh, David. Newspapers are for adults. Blogs are for adults. And adults use words like “fuck” all the time. Certainly newspaper writers and editors do — at weeklies and dailies. Even the President and Vice President use profanity, as the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently noted. So why are daily newspapers written and edited as if their readers are a bunch of prissy ol’ clenchbutts?

I don’t think that your average paper should be written in the tone of The Stranger, but it’s more professional to report a quote as it was spoken than to refer to some hackneyed euphemism cribbed from one of your grandmothers old-time stories. If it includes a swear word, print the swear word.

Recently I went to see Robert Dallek talk on his book, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power at Politics & Prose. Now Politics & Prose is what they call a family store: for their author talks a van from an area assisted living facility regularly disgorges a mob of gray-hairs. And Mr. Dallek isn’t a young scholar anymore. But to hear Mr. Dallek rattle off excerpts from the Nixon transcripts — forget Oliver Stone, the ones who should make a film about Nixon should be the Cohen brothers (need a clue? Try the The Big Lebowski: The Fucking Short Version). And if we made it through the actual Nixon administration we can make it through a few reanimated recitals of his vulgar ramblings.

As that brilliant, closing line from Apocalypse Now goes, “We train young men to drop fire on people, but their commanders won’t allow them to write ‘fuck’ on their airplanes because it’s obscene.”

Mr. Savage follows it up with a few more words on this issue: “Ruffians?,” and “Necessary Profanity.”

Neocons Love Hillary

As if it weren’t enough that business loves Hillary, she’s William Kristol’s top Dem as well. As he tells the Washington Post (Kornblut, Anne E., “Clinton’s Foreign Policy Balancing Act,” 7 August 2007, p. A4):

Obama is becoming the antiwar candidate, and Hillary Clinton is becoming the responsible Democrat who could become commander in chief in a post-9/11 world.

It’s not exactly an endorsement, but as Matthew Yglesias points out (“Clinton Wins Coveted Bill Kristol Endorsement,” The Atlantic OnLine, 7 August 2007), when Bill Kristol says you’re the war candidate, you’re the war candidate.

And if you need still more, at today’s debate she lambasted her opponents for being too open with the electorate and the world about their foreign policy objectives:

Well, I do not believe people running for president should engage in hypotheticals and it may well be that the strategy that we have to pursue on the basis of actionable intelligence — but, remember, we’ve had some real difficult experiences with actionable intelligence — might lead to a certain action. But I think it is a very big mistake to telegraph that, and to destabilize the Musharraf regime which is fighting for its life against the Islamist extremists who are in bed with Al Qaeda and Taliban. And remember: Pakistan has nuclear weapons. The last thing we want is to have Al Qaeda-like followers in charge of Pakistan and having access to nuclear weapons. You can think big, but remember you shouldn’t always say everything you think if you’re running for president, because it has consequences across the world. And we don’t need that right now.

Of course, this sentiment won’t stop Senator Clinton from posturing on trade issues at the expense of Chinese sensitivities — the Chinese being an economically precarious leadership similarly likely to react poorly to too loose a U.S. tongue. And despite the fact that once in office a Hillary Clinton administration — or any other Democratic administration — will immediately revert to the same policy of economic liberalization that the U.S. has pursued toward China for the last 35 years, the campaign will discount future foreign policy damage for a few populist points at home with a clear conscience.

Bread and Circus Versus Nuts and Bolts

The New York correspondent for the U.K Independent opines on the latest symbol of the decline of the United States and the means by which voters are kept distracted (Usborne, David, “Baseball and Bombs Get the Cash — Bridges Are Just Dull,” 6 August 2007):

You don’t have to visit this country for long to see how its transport infrastructure has deteriorated since the interstate system was built by Eisenhower in the Fifties.

Never taken that pot-holed ride from JFK to Manhattan? Fasten your seatbelts for more turbulence. Or covered your ears in the screeching tunnels of the city’s antiquated subways? As for a cross-country ride on Amtrak, good luck.

Money here tends to flow towards items that make the pulse race. That would be elections, wars and that other national passion, sports. If there was a World Cup for baseball – rather than the so-called World Series in October which involves only the US and Canada – then finding decent venues would barely be a problem. Name a big city that doesn’t have a brand new, state of the art stadium it wants to show off.

Actually, that would be New York. But that is about to change. Its two major baseball teams, the Yankees and the Mets, are in deadly competition right now and not just to land places in the World Series play-off games this autumn. It’s about which of them can get their spanking new stadium finished first.

That’s right, while the Brooklyn Bridge gathers rust (yes, it is on the critical care list), somehow this city is building not one but two baseball stadiums barely six miles from each other, one in the Bronx, the other in Queens. It doesn’t matter that the teams have perfectly good places to play for their fans already. They are not flashy enough.

Increasingly circus is not merely some free-standing distraction, but conjoined to the very decline it serves to dissemble.

Airport Security

The last time I traveled was to Thailand in November-December 2006, shortly after the binary liquid explosive scare and new screening procedures for carrying on liquids, gels, etc. had gone into effect. Prior to that, a number of work related recruiting trips were instructive. We always brought two fingerprinting kits that use a heat-sensative red ink that turns black when you stick the fingerprint cards in a panini-grill like heating element. The units are rather expensive and were critical to our events, so we always carried them on the plane. The person who carried the unit was always pulled aside to the special extra procedures area and questioned by security. They always inspected the units and on more than one occasion swabbed them for any traces of explosive materials. While I think the whole airport security routine is a farce and studies indicate that people can still pretty effectively sneak banned items onto planes, I have hitherto thought that I had been given a pretty thorough going-over.

My impression from my most recent experience is that airport security has seriously lapsed. On this trip I was somewhat careless about metal and liquids when I packed and was carrying a router, its power adapter and thirty feet of coiled ethernet cable. I thought that surely I would be required at least to take a few things out of my bag, but no. We all went through screening extremely quickly and I was just rushed right along with nary a question. The special screening section behind the partition wall seemed like it may be growing spider webs.

After I got through, I was sufficiently struck by it that I asked S., a gargoyle always heavy-laden with personal electronics. She had gone through a separate screening station and concurred that it seemed that things had gotten pretty lax. At Sea-Tac there was a person putting out a little effort to make sure that personal electronics and liquids were out of their bags and in separate bins, but things didn’t seem much better there.

Back from Seattle

29 July 2007, Seattle

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been visiting my family in the Northwest. It’s 10:00 in the morning here. S. and I took a red-eye back from Seattle and have been in airports, planes and airport shuttles since 10:00 PM Pacific time last night (eight hours). I will resume regular posting shortly, but first about ten hours of sleep.

And yes, it did rain while we were there.