…And Proud Of It
Thanks to Susan Sandberg for reminding us of this most telling Christopher Hitchens quote concerning George W. Bush. Funny thing is, had Hitchens been alive today (he died in 2011) I’m willing to bet he would have taken pains to say he’d spoken too soon, that these precise words far better describe our current anencephalic leader than the know-nothing wannabe who was our 43rd president:
He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things.
The Cynics Who Stayed Out Of The Cold
Michael Miner, one of my old editors at the Chicago Reader — and, quite possibly, the best editor I’ve ever worked with — still occasionally writes guest media columns for the paper. He was (is) a hell of a writer, too. He used to pen the weekly Hot Type column in the Reader, covering all forms of media from the local to the global.
He gifted us w/ another of his gems on Monday, a eulogy for the drama series The Americans, a Cold War costumer dealing w/ Russian moles nestled in Washington and disguised as a typical American family in the ’80s. I’ve never viewed a moment of it but a few people I know and whose tastes I trust tell me it’s the real deal. It’s on Netflix, to which I subscribe, so I just might tune in soon. Then again, I may have to wait on that because another person recently raved to the skies about Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, also running on Netflix, and my guess is I’m going to go with him first.
In any case, Miner referred to his own quote in a years-earlier piece he’d written about the television show. The quote dealt with the works of John le Carré, the brilliant Cold War suspense novelist. le Carré, nee David Cornwell, was a spook for the British spy outfits MI5 and MI6 in the late 1950s and early ’60s, about the time the leaders of both the United States and the Soviet Union had the wherewithal and, it was assumed, the will to incinerate the surface of the planet with the 25,000 or so nuclear weapons they together possessed. Such were the opponents’ fealty to their respective economic systems, the conventional thinking went, that they’d blow up the lot of us — including themselves — rather than suffer under the other guy’s set-up. Oddly, we now realize neither the communist nor the capitalist system was/is worth a good goddamn.
[I’m betting the house my friend David, the Lake County Republican, will dash off a comment before he can take another breath telling me capitalism is the best thing we’ve got these days. If that’s so, I might respond, then we are, to borrow a phrase from Walter Sobchak, in a world of shit.]
The world of The Americans and St. Ronald Reagan was almost as — or possibly even more — perilous than that that of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Ike and Camelot. Humanity likely has used up all its karmic allotment of dumb luck in that the world’s two superpowers managed to refrain from frying us in either era.
In any case, Pt. 2, Miner’s quote about le Carré was so good I have to put it up here. It goes like this:
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold lowered the temperature of the cold war by squeezing the idealism out of it…. Le Carré redefined the cold war as an elaborate and deadly game played by their cynics and our cynics; and because cynics, even if they don’t care who else gets hurt, have no intention of getting hurt themselves, he made the world feel safer.
I don’t know if either Miner or le Carré believes that assessment accurately depicts the thinking and the men who pointed tens of thousands of nukes at each other from the early 1950s through…, well, today. One of those sides simply goes by another name and, truth be told, is out-capitalisting us, the trademarked capitalists, if the obscene accumulations of wealth by Russian oligarchs and the astounding growth and power of that country’s mobster corporations are any indications. And I can’t make out who is the greedier no-good son of a bitch, Vladimir Putin or our own President Gag, which probably means they’re tied for the (dis)honor.
In any case, Pt. 3, le Carré seems to have got it right. The leaders of neither the US nor the USSR were about to take any action that would put themselves in any danger of instant cremation and/or x-ray overdose. Even during the fabled Cuban Missile Crisis, an event wise guys like to characterize as the closest we’ve ever come to a species-wide cookout, both John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev stood on their heads not to hover their fingers over their red buttons.
Now, if American and Russkie leaders had some super weapons that would assure the enemy’s destruction w/o imperiling themselves, sure, they’d have hit their red buttons like lab rats stomping on levers to give themselves hits of cocaine.
What We’ve Become
Speaking of former Reader mainstays, David Jones was the longtime production manager at the fabled Chi. alternative weekly. He waxed poetic yesterday on the 50th anniversary of the death of Bobby Kennedy. Jones recalled that he was packing up the stuff from his dorm room the day before, when he got the news that the California Democratic primary victor was shot in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen. Just a punk kid, a teenager, Jones had to deal with the reality that the nation he lived in was coming apart at the seams.
Jones talked of sensing a pall of mortality hanging over the parking lot at the Wisconsin campus he was leaving for the summer. When you’re 17 or 18, the world should be bright and full of tomorrows. That day, Jones was breathing an air of death.
Jones spoke of the countless What ifs the year 1968 forced us to consider. Not the least of which was What if Bobby wasn’t shot and had gone on to become a major player for the Dem nomination that August in Chicago?
It’s doubtful a deranged science fiction writer could have envisioned the world to come in 50 years that hot, humid June day in the upper Midwest. Who could have foreseen our national mania for fighting like cats and dogs on something called social media? And, of course, who’d have predicted that corporate media would become something so blatantly anti-informational, so deliriously anti-thinking? Dig this Jonesian observation:
Even the death of Bobby Kennedy is discussed on angry talk radio shows as if it was some kind of devious career move.
Yep, that about crystallizes it.
One More Thing
Remember that busboy who crouched down next to the sprawled Bobby Kennedy, supporting the senator’s head as he lie mortally wounded? His name was Juan Romero and he’s pushing 70 now.
He’s been in the news of late, of course. Romero wrapped a rosary he’d taken from his pocket around Kennedy’s hand. Seconds before, Romero had elbowed his way through the mob packing the passageway Kennedy was walking through after delivering his last speech (“… and now, it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there!”) Romero extended his arm as far as he could so Kennedy could shake his hand when shots rang out.
Romero tells us now that in the weeks following the assassination, he received death threats from people who blamed him for Kennedy’s death. If Romero hadn’t clasped Kennedy’s hand, they charged, the candidate wouldn’t have been killed. Proof positive that the hallucinogenic “logic” we’ve come to expect from a huge swath of the public is nothing new.