Sometimes the holidays can seem a little dark. Maybe it’s the long nights catching up to all of us, but I think it has more to do with the contrasts. We put such great pressure on these days to be so bright and perfect that the regular blemishes of our lives stand out even more.
As a result, the genuine losses can seem so much deeper and more painful in this context. I am lucky, this year as always, that I’ve been given a respite from such pains, that I’m surrounded by so much. It seems worth mentioning the inspirations I’ve lost, along with the rest of the world, in the past few days. More importantly, it’s worth remembering the brightness each life carries, so that we can use it to keep ourselves warm in the cold places.
Christopher Hitchens was a man who could enrage me and entertain me, often at the same time. The Web is crawling with eulogies from those who knew him and those who didn’t. (In Hitchens’ spirit of argument, I offer one from his friend Christopher Buckley, and one from his former friend Alexander Cockburn.) I can only say I am sad that I will never again get to read a new Hitchens piece. He was one of the best writers we had.
While Hitchens was a great writer, Vaclav Havel truly changed the world. He proved that a man could win against the grinding and crushing gears of a totalitarian regime armed with little more than grace and poetry. When everyone my age wanted to go to Prague, this was the guy we wanted to be. I have this same dog-eared copy of Esquire, and I read it from time to time when I need advice. Havel’s is especially powerful: “Never hope against hope.”
Joe Simon helped create Captain America. ‘Nuff said.
I didn’t know any of these men. But I will miss them all.
* TSA: Total Sexual Assault. The TSA’s new scanners and groping policy have inspired T-shirts and a backlash from travelers. Now one blogger says she was sexually assaulted by a TSA inspector. Bonus: Israeli security expert says, “I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.”
* Freshman congressman breaks the land-speed record for hypocrisy: wants to know why he doesn’t immediately have government health care after running against government health care.
* Speaking of douchebag politicians, a councilman called the cops on two kids selling homemade cupcakes. When people say they hate the government, this is what they mean.
* Matt Taibbi looks at the foreclosure process. Surprise: it’s just as messed up as everything else about the economic meltdown.
We ponied up billions to help Wells Fargo buy Wachovia, paid Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch, and watched as the Fed opened up special facilities to buy up the assets in defective mortgage trusts at inflated prices. And after all that effort by the state to buy back these phony assets so the thieves could all stay in business and keep their bonuses, what did the banks do? They put their foot on the foreclosure gas pedal and stepped up the effort to kick people out of their homes as fast as possible, before the world caught on to how these loans were made in the first place.
* Interview with Christopher Hitchens as he continues to battle cancer, glass of whisky in hand. My favorite line: “Not for the first time, I feel a twinge of pity for that tumour. Does it realise what it’s up against?”
* If you haven’t read this story about a little girl killed in a police raid gone wrong in Detroit, you really need to.
“You might say that the homicide of Aiyana is the natural conclusion to the disease from which she suffered,” Schmidt told me.
“What disease was that?” I asked.
“The psychopathology of growing up in Detroit,” he said. “Some people are doomed from birth because their environment is so toxic.”
The new CEO of GM — the company that got $50 billion last year to stave off bankruptcy — criticized the Obama administration for not knowing enough about economics. He then went on to discuss the shade of black of an iron kettle.
The AV Club has an interview with the always compelling demon dog of American letters, James Ellroy. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can catch the live act at the Mystery Bookstore tomorrow (Friday, Sept. 10) at 7:00 p.m., where Ellroy will sign copies of his latest book, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women.
Christopher Hitchens has something to offend everyone in this piece on the Ground Zero mosque. (Seriously. Just read it.) Meanwhile, my friend Mayrav pointed out this kinder, gentler take on the sideshow controversy surrounding the mosque and Koran-burning.
Yes, I just got a new iPhone, but I kinda want one of these now, too. What can I say? I’m a contradiction; I contain multitudes.
The world’s top dealer in endangered animals was convicted in Malaysia. I have some ideas how he could be punished, starting with using his foot as a wastebasket. Although I get the idea he was no master criminal from this detail about how he was caught:
He was caught this time by an alert airline security officer [Hear! Hear!] who noticed the broken lock on his luggage, and found it to be full of 95 boa constrictors.
The Dymaxion Car. Something that might turn up in a future project. Maybe. Still playing around with this.
I admit, I am skeeved out by Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs in just the same way as Choire Sicha describes in this post from The Awl.
Those guys were all the worst. Setting aside the drugs and alcohol and their sons claiming to have been molested, at the age of 14, by friends of their father’s, and, yes, the wife-shooting, it’s also true that Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (a NAMBLA member, lest we forget) and their gang—some of whom are somehow still living, so, let’s not name names—were literary rockstars who kept a steady supply of boy groupies as disposable sex toys.
I saw Ginsberg speak once, a few years before his death, and I recall he read a poem about one of those boy-toys; how he knew the kid wasn’t in it for love, that he was probably exploiting his target’s youth and inexperience, but fuck it, he was a famous poet, and this was one of the perks. I’m paraphrasing, yes, but I think I’m giving you a pretty good read on the intent, if not the actual text. Any respect or admiration I might have had for “Howl” went down the hall and flushed itself down a toilet right then. It’s been the main struggle of my life not to treat people as if they were things, and I foolishly expected someone who stood at the front of a sweeping tide of history to be there for more than the cheap feels.
This is perhaps why the Beats, like so many other relics of the Twentieth Century, work best as symbols on T-shirts. It’s not necessary to know what they actually did — in fact, that knowledge is an obstacle — to use them as a signifier of a cool, literary attitude toward life and/or sex, drugs and politics. The right-wing equivalent of praising the Beats at your first college party is telling a girl at a Young Republican meeting you’re really into Ayn Rand.
Also, On The Road is largely just unreadable dreck.
Death and literature. Whatever you might think of Christopher Hitchens and his views, the man can write. His essay on entering “the land of malady” as a diagnosed cancer patient has, amazingly, found new things to say about mortality. Even more amazing, some of them are quite funny.
The new land is quite welcoming in its way. Everybody smiles encouragingly and there appears to be absolutely no racism. A generally egalitarian spirit prevails, and those who run the place have obviously got where they are on merit and hard work. As against that, the humor is a touch feeble and repetitive, there seems to be almost no talk of sex, and the cuisine is the worst of any destination I have ever visited.
My brilliant wife noticed something fairly telling while reading People. (Before you judge: in L.A., People is the equivalent of the daily news.) The celeb rag did a feature on soldiers back from Afghanistan and Iraq. Then, on the very next page, in almost the same format, was a feature on the cast of “The Jersey Shore.” “Kids roughly the same age, same background,” Jean said. “But the difference in honor is like dropping off a cliff.”
I imagine some editor thought this would actually be a pretty neat trick: trying to see if it was possible to induce a nosebleed through sheer ethical contrast.
The man who developed the Cheez Doodle died. Cheez Doodles figured heavily in my first, thankfully forgotten novel. I especially loved the fact that on the back of the bags, it used to say, “DO NOT EXPOSE TO LIGHT.”
At last: Venture Bros. Season 4.5 is on its way.
Patton Oswalt has written a book. I have already ordered this, and so should you.
Christopher Hitchens — former leftist, author, and Mother Teresa hater — endorses Barack Obama over John McCain in this piece on Slate.
A candidate may well change his or her position on, say, universal health care or Bosnia. But he or she cannot change the fact—if it happens to be a fact—that he or she is a pathological liar, or a dimwit, or a proud ignoramus. And even in the short run, this must and will tell.
First Christopher Buckley, now Hitchens. One more and the media will have to call it a trend.