Monday, November 30, 2015

Politix Update: A Fitting Civil Rights Movement Legacy That's Political Dynamite

What you think of Black Lives Matter says a lot about you, and possibly a lot more than you want people to necessarily know if you're a politician.  This is because the movement and its praiseworthy objectives are the closest thing to a litmus test that really means something in the presidential campaign
If you haven't been paying attention, Black Lives Matter is a social movement that has grown from a hashtag into a political force as it campaigns against violence toward African-Americans.  It emerged out of the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and has organized protests focusing on the broader issues of racial profiling, police brutality and inequality in the criminal justice system. 
Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter is decentralized, and like Occupy Wall Street, you are likely to agree with it if you think racial inequality in its many guises is a root cause of America's ills, and in the case of Occupy Wall Street, that social and economic inequality and corporate influence of government are root causes of global ills. 
Politicians in general have approached Black Lives Matter with caution.  It is, after all, a third-rail of social activism.  Not surprisingly, support has broken down along party lines with Democrats praising the movement and Republicans demonizing it in yet another clumsy attempt to cover up the party's antipathy to minorities
President Obama supports the movement, as does the Democratic National Committee, while Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken supporter and Hillary Clinton a supporter, although a seemingly lukewarm one.  Republican views vary from the negative to the apocalyptic, with Ben Carson calling the movement "silly" and Chris Christie condemning it for falsely claiming it advocates the murder of police officers.
"It’s like saying, 'Because the Ku Klux Klan calls themselves Christian, Christianity has a problem and needs to answer for the Ku Klux Klan,' " said political talk show host Kenneth Murdock in parrying Christie's claim. 
"I think everybody understands all lives matter," Obama said in defending the movement. "I think the reason that the organizers used the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' was not because they were suggesting nobody else's lives matter. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that's happening in the African-American community that's not happening in other communities.  And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."
Then there is FBI Director James Comey, who has given voice to the unhelpful view that scrutiny of police conduct and the threat of exposure through viral social media videos has generated a "chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year." 
Black Lives Matter and Sanders, who was a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organizer in the 1960s and is campaigning on the need to address inequality, would seem to go together like hand in glove.
"To be honest with you," he explained on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos, "given the disparity that we're seeing in income and wealth in this country, it applies even more to the African-American community and to the Hispanic community.
So why then has Sanders, among all the candidates, been the target of Black Lives Matter activists, who have disrupted his rallies?  Because Sanders is the best way to bring the movement's concerns to the mainstream of the Democratic Party. 
Black Lives Matter is a logical culmination of the many branches of the civil rights movement, and when viewed from that perspective, the hostility it has engendered among too many whites and noxious blacks like Ben Carson is understandable if repulsive. 
I have my own personal issues with Black Lives Matter, chiefly that there is a willful naïvete among many of its leaders that was absent in the movements of the 1950s and 60s, although like the racists of an earlier era, the movement is viewed by them as an expression of anti-white hatred.  Yet the movement's consciousness raising has been formidable, and it's fair to say that a Chicago police officer would not be charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald, as well as the resolution of some other recent high-profile cases where there has been a semblance of justice -- even if it has been justice delayed --  without the movement. 
Yet people like the terrorists who attacked the Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis last week seem even bolder than their white supremacist forebears, undoubtedly because we live in an era when Republicans like Donald Trump have put down their dog whistles and are delivering blatently racist messages. In fact, the Republican Party has become America's biggest hate group.
Perennial Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee well represents the They're Agin' Us view when he claims that if the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, he would be "appalled" by the movement's focus on the skin color of the people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police. 
Besides being patently false, Huckabee's argument betrays an indifference to black suffering and an  ignorance of the history the civil rights movement, which from its infancy focused on bringing an end to violence against African-Americans. King's goal was to force the White House and Congress to confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for "offenses" like trying to vote and for equal protection under the law. 
Huckabee's view, as well as the bile spouted by Christie and his ilk, are pathetic in historic and contemporary contexts, but then they are merely standing at a figurative schoolhouse door like George Wallace did in trying to protect the crumbling facade of a political party that is being washed away by an unstoppable demographic tide.
Did anyone really believe that a slew of black ministers were going to come together on Monday in New York to endorse that vilest of race baiters among the president candidates -- Donald Trump?  
Of course not, and when the sun rose over the Big Apple on Monday that endorsement press conference  -- promoted through the usual Trump showmanship as including exactly 100 black ministers --had been revealed as a classic Trump bait-and-switch: Ministers who thought they were meeting to promote a racial dialogue were bailing from the trap Trump had set for them in droves.  And poof! the press conference was suddenly cancelled. 
Bishop Clarence McClendon, a Los Angeles-based pastor who like Trump has appeared on reality television (The Preachers of L.A.), was invited to the meeting but will not attend. "The meeting was presented not as a meeting to endorse but a meeting to engage in dialogue," he said. 
"I'm like a few seconds from bowing out of it," said Bishop Hezekiah Walker, founder of the East New York-based Love Fellowship Tabernacle church and leader of a Grammy-winning gospel choir. "There's always a side of me that wishes and prays for hope, and it just seems like the more I'm trying to say, 'Give this guy a chance' . . . the worse things get. He's constantly doing something."
Bishop Corletta Vaughn, senior pastor of The Holy Ghost Cathedral and a star of the Oxygen reality series Preachers of Detroit, said she too invited to the meeting but will not attend nor endorse Trump.
"Trump is an insult and embarrassment. But he represents the country we have become," she said on Facebook. "ZERO experience . . . Flaunting a ticket of unbridled bigotry, sexism, racism and everything that is wrong with America." 
The feckless Politico, yet again missing the bigger picture, describes the botched endorsement rollout as "an embarrassing setback for a campaign struggling to combat the perception that its candidate is racially divisive."  The reality is that Trump is beyond embarrassment.
"We’ve been called Uncle Toms, sellouts, coons . . . We have preachers calling us 'prostitutes on a pole,' " lamented Ohio pastor Darrell Scott, Trump's liaison to the black evangelical community and organizer of the event.  "If Donald Trump said that, the entire nation would be in an uproar." 
Wrong again. Trump is beyond embarrassment.

Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968.  Click HERE  for an index of previous Politix Updates.


Cynthia Robinson (January 12, 1944 ~ November 23, 2015)


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Welcome To The Kiko's House Book Issue

Today we're celebrating books not because it's a special day, but because we can.  Besides which, every day I spend in the company of a good book is special. 
Books, like music, have been lifelong companions, but as much as I love music, books can take me places -- and I can take them -- that music cannot go.  Books are fun.  They're brain candy.  They enable me to both concentrate and relax.  And as a writer, they inspire me.
Following are several book-related posts, including capsule summaries of 25 books I read in the past year that would make terrific holiday gifts, a profile of Joan Didion, who is one of my favorite writers, a review of a Thomas Pynchon classic, an appreciation of Jack Kerouac, a peek at the most beautiful book in the world, and an immodest plug for my own books. 
As literary creation myths go, the story of Jack Kerouac's On The Road typescript pictured above is a whopper.
According to the myth, the great Beat trailblazer wrote the book on a 120-foot roll of Teletype paper in the course of a three-week Benzedrine and coffee binge.  Inconveniently for fans who believe that the novel was written off the top of his head, much of it had been laid out in diaries and correspondence during an extended road trip across the U.S. and Mexico with Neal Cassady, who was the model for the character Dean Moriarity.
No matter.

From Beethoven To Bethlehem: Twenty-Five Great Books For Holiday Gift Giving

Your Faithful Reviewer plowed through a slew of books in the course of 2015, ranging from an 88-year old literary classic to hot-off-the-press offerings. Here are the best 25 of the bunch.  All are great holiday gifts for a literary inclined spouse, other family member or friend, and all are available online in paperback.

BEETHOVEN: ANGUISH AND TRIUMPH (Jan Swofford, 2014) The great virtue of this doorstop of a tome is that it strips away the theories, postures and myths about this profoundly influential composer,
who was the crucial figure in the transition from the Classical to Romantic eras in Western music.  Swofford keeps interpretation to a minimum in telling the story of Beethoven's life ("the most astonishing thing about him is that he survived the burdens of being Beethoven," he writes) and parks out the finer points of musical theory in a handy appendix, a relief to readers like myself who are not classically trained.
BONITA AVENUE: A Novel (Peter Buwalda, 2015) From the outside, brilliant math professor Siem Sigerius, his wife, children and future son-in-law are bourgeois normalcy itself, but lies, deceptions and twists of fate reveal the family to be profoundly dysfunctional.   Propelled by three distinctively different narrative voices, this spectacular debut novel is darkly humorous, suspenseful, entertaining and addictive as we are taken from the Netherlands to California and back, through literal and figurative pyrotechnics, and ultimately into the heart of madness.  

(Marlon James, 2014) The too often violent history of post-colonial Jamaica has fascinated and revulsed this longtime lover of Bob Marley's music in particular and ska and reggae in general.  A Brief

History more or less revolves around the 1976 politically-motivated assassination attempt on Marley, and the author's cast of rastas, gunmen, drug traffickers and CIA agents, rendered with a sublime inventiveness, casts a gripping light on that event and the tremors from it, which reverberated all the way to New York in the form of the crack epidemic, and well into the 1990s.
CATALOGING THE WORLD: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information World (Alex Wright, 2014) Some 25 years before the first microchip, 40 years before the first personal computer, and 50 years before the first Web browser, Belgian librarian Paul Otlet envisioned something very much like today's Internet.  This led to his great achievement: Construction of the Mundaneum, a mechanical collective brain that would house and disseminate everything ever committed to paper.  A fascinating and fast-paced history of a regretably obscure visionary and creative genius.
THE CORRECTIONS: A Novel (Jonathan Franzen, 2001) The dysfunctional family as novelistic
gist is well-trod ground, but Franzen covers new ground in this complex but beautifully written, biting but ultimately sensitive satire.  The five members of
the troubled Lambert family, each in their own very different way, are walking commentaries on social issues ranging from laissez-faire parenting to sexuality and homosexuality to U.S.-Third World relations.  The climactic Christmas homecoming goes awry, of course, but is deeply moving as the large-heartedness of this kooky clan prevails.
THE DINOSAUR FEATHER (S.J. Gavan, 2008) Too many of the characters in this weird but engrossing Danish murder mystery have anger-management problems which tend to gum up a plot that can seem needlessly complicated because everybody lies and has something to hide.  But this is a worthy addition to the top shelf of Actic Noir and the back story -- fossil trench warfare waged by scientists over whether birds are descended from dinosaurs -- is the improbable glue that keeps the journey from murder to murder interesting even if the ending is more or less predictable.

ELEPHANT COMPANY: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals WhoHelped Him Save Lives in World War II
(Vicki Croke, 2014) We all know that elephants are pretty damned smart, but Croke's wonderful story of

Billy Williams is a revelation. Mesmerized by the great beasts' intelligence, character, courage and humor, Williams became a gifted "elephant wallah" deeply skilled at understanding the beasts, as well as treating their maladies.  In return, the elephants made him a better man, and in the process saved countless lives as the Japanese overran Southeast Asia.
FACTORY MAN: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town (Beth Macy, 2014) A cautionary tale about the dark side of globalization and the Bassett Furniture Company, which once was the world's largest wood furniture manufacturer.  Enter the Chinese, who decimated much of the domestic industry. The few holdouts included the indomitable if patriarchal John Bassett III, who through smarts, loyalty to his workers and sheer cunning, beat the Chinese at their own game and saved his business and the town of Galax, Virginia. 
IN COLD BLOOD (Truman Capote, 1966) I first read this true-crime masterpiece about the quadruple murder of Kansas farmer Herbert Clutter and his family in 1970 or so and very much liked it.  But it was more compelling the second time around and more
obvious to me that it actually was a "non-fiction novel" because of the liberties Capote took in telling the story, including weaving in factual discrepancies when it helped the flow.  Critics howled, but so what?  It's art, and the psychological relationship between murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith is especially fascinating.

THE INDIAN BRIDE (Karin Fossum, 2001).  The success of the Arctic Noir murder mystery genre has spawned imitators who simply don't have the chops of a Jo Nesbø, Henning Mankell or Stieg Larsson, which makes reading any book in Karin Fossum's Inspector Sejer series a delight.  The Indian Bride is typical of Fossum's masterful plot construction, but it is her psychological portrait of the residents of a provincial Norwegian village rocked by a brutal murder and Sejer's understated but methodical quest to find the killer that makes this book such a terrific read.

JONI MITCHELL: In Her Own Words (With Malka Marom, 2014)  I have written that being young is to love Joni Mitchell's music and  growing older is to understand why you do. I am convinced of that even more after reading this anthology of recorded
interviews with the singer-songwriter from 1973, 1979 and 2012, by which time Mitchell had stopped recording and touring.  Mitchell's musings on her collaborations with other artists, notably jazz legend Charles Mingus, and her creative processes are riveting and make her greatest music -- reverentially covered by so many contemporary musicians -- seem even greater.
THE LAST GOOD KISS (James Crumley, 1978) Having pretty much scraped the bottom of the barrel for Arctic Noir thrillers, my thirst for the well-crafted detective story took me to Crumley and three overwritten and ultimately unsatisfying offerings in his C.W. Sughrue series.  But The Last Good Kiss clicked, probably because it predated the three others.  The prose flowed beautifully, cliches were kept in check, and Dashielle Hammett would have approved of the story line in this debut of Sughrue, a Vietnam veteran turned hard-boiled gumshoe with a fondness for the bottle and a slim but enduring and endearing hope for mankind.
MAN IN PROFILE: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker (Thomas Kunkel, 2015) If The Sympathizer was the best book of fiction I read this year, Kunkel's biography of one of the giants of long-form journalism is the best non-fiction entry.
Sadly, upon his death in 1996 at age 87, Mitchell was less known for his extraordinarily elegant writing than a decades-long case of writers block. Mitchell arguably was the progenitor of New Journalism (a term he loathed), and as John McPhee has written, "When New Journalists came ashore, Joe Mitchell was there on the beach to greet them."  (Click HERE for a full-length review.)
NICA'S DREAM: The Life and Legend of the Jazz Baroness (David Kastin, 2011) Kathleen Annie Pannonica Rothschild de Koenigswarter had it all: Wealth, a title and influence of one of the most powerful families in the world.  But then she heard a recording of Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," fell deeply in love with jazz and began an extraordinary three-decade rein as the legendary jazz baroness of New York City because of her close and loving relationships with dozens of jazz greats, not the least of whom was Monk himself.  A great bio for jazz lovers and a worthy addition to the history of the genre.
ROSCOE: A Novel (William Kennedy, 2002)  This comic masterpiece is the most accessible of Kennedy's Albany books (his Ironweed was one of my selections last year) and Roscoe Conway, second in command of the New York capital city's notorious political
machine, is perhaps his most likeable character, which is saying a heap because Kennedy imparts even his homicidal mobsters with charm.  Roscoe decides to quit politics as the book opens, but of course that is easier said than done as he overcomes obstacles, scandals and disasters small and large that all seem to lead back to the loss of his true love.
THE SHORT AND TRAGIC LIFE OF ROBERT PEACE: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark For the Ivy League (Jeff Hobbs, 2014) People have been writing books about their college roommates for years, but this one is very different and very special because the roommate was not a famous novelist or scientist in the making, but rather Robert Peace, who against formidable odds escaped the mean streets of Newark, New Jersey for Yale.  Hobbs's biography is a must-read: Painstakingly researched, painfully honest, and like the title says, ultimately tragic.

(Robert Galbraith, 2014) J.K. Rowling built a literary empire with the Harry Potter series and she's well on her way to doing it again with the first two Cormoran Strike detective novels written under the name of Robert Galbraith.  The initial

offering, The Cuckoo's Calling, which introduced Strike and secretary Robin Ellacott (think Holmes and Watson), was good, but The Silkworm is better still with a labyrinthine plot based on a controversial bestseller-to-be and its uncomfortable place in the shark-infested waters of the British book publishing business.  Is Galbraith/Rowling sending a message here?  You betcha.
SLOUCHING TOWARD BETHLEHEM (Joan Didion, 1968) Great writing -- or in this case great journalism -- is never passé. This collection of 20 magazine essays, most on 1960s California, is so rich and Didion's observations so pungent that they still leap off the page 50 years on.  Favorites include being on location with John Wayne in Mexico, the Hawaii of fact and fantasy, a musing in the Santa Ana Winds, and an encounter with a preschool-age child who is given LSD by her hippie parents in Haight Ashbury.

STEPHEN CRANE: A Life of Fire (Paul Sorrento, 2014) Next to Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman, no other 19th century American writer was as romanticized in his lifetime.  But while Crane may have "opened the gates to modern American
literature," as this biographer puts it, it's a wonder that he accomplished anything.  Preternaturally shy and a spendthrift who repeatedly undercut and double-crossed editors and friends alike, his one redeeming quality seems to have been a deep humanity evident in his greatest and most impressionistic works, The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

STEPPENWOLF (Herman Hesse, 1927) I read this classic in the late 1960s when I was first exploring inner worlds, which in turn led me to examine spirituality, but four-plus decades on, rereading it was a revelation.  Who can't -- and shouldn't -- relate to Harry Haller, a joyless and lonely intellectual (who Hesse has said mirrored himself at the time he wrote the book) who struggles to reconcile the man and the beast within, only to fall in love on the path to liberation and then fall further into the surreal "Magic Theater - For Madmen Only!" where his fate is finally determined.
THE STORY OF ALICE: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland  (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, 2015) Has there ever been a more peculiar relationship in life and fiction than that between Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (Carroll) and
Alice Liddell, the child for whom he invented the enduringly popular Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass?  Douglas-Fairhurst is a fine biographer and plumbs the inevitable questions about Carroll's sexuality, as well as less controversial aspects of his life and place in the shifting cultural landscape of Victorian society, all to fascinating and witty effect.
THE SYMPATHIZER (Viet Thanh Nguyen, 2015) This remarkable debut novel is hands down the best book of fiction I read this year and is bound to become a classic of war fiction.  The Captain, the story's narrator, leaves South Vietnam to go to university in the U.S. and becomes fluent in its language and ways before returning to his war-torn homeland ostensibly to fight the Communist cause.  But he has a secret: he is a Communist sympathizer and spy.  Among the greatest lessons imparted in this marvelous book is that the Vietnam War was not an American struggle; we merely supplied bodies and napalm. (Click HERE for a full-length review.)
TIBETAN PEACH PIE (Tom Robbins, 2014) The author of the great Only Cowgirls Get the Blues, as well as a bunch of other "seriocomedies," as he calls his novels, says this book is neither an autobio nor a memoir, but it is both.  I had tired of Robbins, as
great as his shtick could be, because it had become shopworn from too-thin material.  But Tibetan Peach Pie is a delightful reminder of a heyday when his prose, with its interwoven social and philosophical undercurrents, was magical. His observations here about LSD and his personal exploration of that deeply misunderstood drug are among the most acute that I've read.
A TOWN LIKE ALICE (Neville Shute, 1950) War romances are not my cup of tea, but the author of On the Beach won me over with his engagingly written tale of Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman who endures a death march in the jungles of Malaya during World War II to improbably end up in the remote and rugged Australian outback where she is reunited with a man who nearly lost his life to save hers.  Paget faces the challenge of her life, as well as ossified gender and racial stereotypes -- in trying to turn the tiny community where she decides to live into "a town like Alice" -- the outback "oasis" of Alice Springs.

THE WEATHER EXPERIMENT: The Pioneers Who Sought To See the Future (Peter Moore, 2015) For anyone who loves observing the weather, as well as marveling how often forecasters still get it wrong, this book is a delight.  This group biography reveals how pioneering 19th century researchers -- with nothing more than thermometers, barometers and hygrometers their disposal -- succeeded in cracking the weather's code by observing, inventing and observing some more despite a so-called scientific establishment that continued to cling to ancient, church-sanctioned views of meteorology.
Meanwhile, here are my lists for 2014 and 2013, as well as a 2o12 post of the books that have most influenced me.

Find Me If You Can, Joan Didion Declares, As She Hides In Plain Sight

As a child of comfortable family in the temperate zone she had been as a matter of course provided with clean sheets, orthodontia, living grandparents, ballet lessons, and casual timely information about menstruation and the care of flat silver. ~ JOAN DIDION, “A Book of Common Prayer”
The more I have come to love Joan Didion as a writer, the less I like her as a person.
I hasten to add that virtually all of my literary heroes have been, to one extent or another, not particularly likable.  Genius — or a facsimile thereof — will do that to you, and I understand that Didion's dysfunctions and insecurities have informed and contributed greatly to her work.  This work includes among the best non-fiction, much of it first-person journalism at its most outstanding, on the cusp of the 20th and 21st centuries.  And some pretty damned good fiction, as well.
Beyond her compelling prose (she writes with the ferocity of George Orwell and Norman Mailer),
Didion’s greatest contribution as a journalist has been to chronicle in her distinctive voice the corruption of American democracy, a devolution she has traced with unsparing venom and well ahead of the largely clueless media pack from the post-World War II years through Vietnam, Watergate, the Ronald Reagan era and to Bushes père and frère.
"She writes with a razor, carving her characters out of her perceptions with strokes so swift and economical that each scene ends almost before the reader is aware of it," critic John Leonard once wrote of Didion.  "And yet the character go on bleeding afterward.”
The first full-length biography of Didion, who turns a frail 81 on Saturday, was published in August.  I did not walk but ran to pick up a copy of Tracy Daugherty's The Last Love Song in the hope that I would get a better understanding of how she wields her razor and perhaps not be so critical of her as a person. 
Daugherty delivers on both her writerly art and her life, and while The Last Love Song is a bit overheated at times and a too worshipful at others, I better understand the technical aspects of Didion's craft and that what she writes is deeply informed by her nervous, quarrelsome, controlling and self-informed self.  She is a mess, I suppose, but a brilliant one. 
Didion understood, as few others did, that language no longer described the problems of democracy.  It was part of a semantic problem in which the napalming of a Vietnamese village was called an "assistance effort" as the larger horror was conveniently if not all that cleverly obscured.
"For a committed writer, the only moral recourse at this point in American history, is to strip away by the bad politics of our time: setting, history, backstory, psychological motivation, romance, fable," writes Daugherty of the madness to Didion's method. "We begin with whatever's left -- 'colors, moisture, heat, blue in the air.'  From there we build our story."
Writing in the first person can be perilous for a journalist, but her own point of view is so authoritative that this approach almost always works.  Yet Didion can be amazingly tone deaf when it comes to popular culture.  Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) is a most excellent collection of magazine pieces, but her take on Haight Ashbury is a bomb.  She just didn't get it.  And some of her writing on feminism is acutely spot on while some of it has a silly tit-for-tat quality. 
Didion at her very best is Political Fictions (2001), a collection of essays on the American political process, including the election of George H.W. Bush, his defeat by Bill Clinton and Clinton's impeachment, and the 2000 George W. Bush-Al Gore election.  These trenchant and frighteningly prescient essays should be mandatory reading for anyone needing to be disabused of the notion that the system works.
It was in Political Fictions that Didion revealed the Political-Media Industrial Complex, as I call it, in all its awfulness, an unstoppable mind-stealing monster that again is running wild in the astonishingly awful 2016 presidential campaign. 
An excerpt:
"The piece I finally did on the 1988 campaign, 'Insider Baseball,' was the first of a number of pieces I did about various aspects of American politics, most of which had to do, I came to realize, with the ways in which the political process did not reflect but increasingly proceeded from a series of fables about American experience. . . . 
"At a point quite soon during the dozen-some years that followed . . . it came to my attention that there was to writing about politics a certain Sisyphean aspect. Broad patterns could be defined, specific inconsistencies documented, but no amount of definition or documentation seemed sufficient to stop the stone that was our apprehension of politics from hurtling back downhill. The romance of New Hampshire would again be with us. The crucible event in the candidate's 'character' would again be explored. Even that which seemed ineluctably clear would again vanish from our collective memory, sink traceless into a stream of collapsing news and comment cycles that became our national River Lethe. . . . 
 "Perhaps most striking of all, it was clear in 1988 that those inside the process had congealed into a permanent political class, the defining characteristic of which was its readiness to abandon those not inside the process. All of this was known. Yet by the time of the November 2000 presidential election and the onset of the thirty-six days that came to be known as 'Florida,' every aspect of what had been known in 1988 would again need to be rediscovered, the stone pushed up the hill one more time."
So while I might not have particularly relished spending an evening drinking with Joan Didion, something I did with pleasure with Hunter S. Thompson, a terrific New Journalism contemporary who nevertheless couldn't hold a candle to her, Didion has my deepest admiration as a stoic and  survivor.
The lapses into her trademark self-absorbed whininess become muted on reflection, and for all the mystery she has draped around her tiny shoulders, she hides in plain sight.  And wants it to be that way.