Why We Did It

Fascinating. Sort of. Actually, it was just interesting to return to my old world of political oppo and flacking, but from the other side of the aisle. You see, once upon a time, I had similar jobs, though I never rose as high. He makes some nice distinctions, such between a campaign guy (like himself, and, generally, me) and a Hill rat. But that’s not what this book is about, well sort of not. In some ways, it is a sort of anthropological study of a segment of Washington, DC (please note – Washingtonians pay more in tax dollars than they get back and most of the city has nothing to do with politics and government or things related to that world; most of the city works in restaurants, banks, retail shops, construction, etc; also, the last Democratic campaign bar, Stetson’s closed years ago; I’m not sure what the point of that last one is, but there you are).

But, I really could have used fewer sex-related insults. ‘Fluffer’ and ‘Trumpian cum dumpster’ felt a bit too much for me. Also, based on a relatively small sample size, the use of ‘butt hurt’ as a sort of insult, which combines implications of weak masculinity with gay panic humor, seems to be a conservative ‘thing.’ Can’t say I get the appeal.

He had a fun, if reductive and hackneyed list of various kinds of political strivers, from the Messiahs to Little Mixes (people who want to be – his word choice, not mine, though he acknowledges its tackiness – ‘the room where it happened), but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen something similar on Wonkette or the old (fun) Politico.

Miller’s depiction of his slow (?) descent into selling out (?) to the far right also felt rushed. He’s a better flack than he is a writer of long form non-fiction, I’d say.

I did learn one fun tidbit. After Trump had learned that he tested positive for COVID, he called up Chris Christie and asked him to play the role of Biden in debate prep. Unsurprisingly, Christie also contracted COVID and eventually ended up in the ICU, fearing for his life (his eternal soul? not sure). Trump called to make sure Christie wasn’t going to go public and blame him for getting COVID.

Overall? Well, I’m not saying it’s not fun to read Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer get their sad ambitions and wishy-washy nerdiness mocked, but I could also just watch an episode from the first season of the Big Bang Theory.

‘Washington, D.C.’ By Gore Vidal

To my great joy, early in the book, a young man fantasizes that he is within the Barsoomian tales of Burroughs. Even more enjoyable, for me, at least, he name drops neither, just a character you’d only know from having read the books (or seen the movie).

This character grow into a sort of Vidal stand-in; an elite-born man who became a polemical political moralist, who also knew political Washington inside and outside.

Of course, the Washington of Washington, D.C. doesn’t exist anymore. Not in the least because you’ll rarely see Senators hanging around the city on weekends (they are back in the states they represent). But this book also realizes that. At one point, an aging, mostly moral, lion of the Senate muses that he almost lost re-election after being outspent and confesses some confusion over how television and radio ads changed things.

I gather he retroactively incorporated this into his ‘Narratives of Empire’ series, but it lakes the scope and sweep of the two I have read (Burr and Lincoln). It felt rather personal, not in the least because it covered a time when he was growing up in this older Washington.

That said, one can see in the aspiring politician Vidal’s critiques of Kennedy. In the leftist intellectual seduced by that rising star, Arthur Schlesinger (I don’t know what Vidal thought of him). But it’s not exact and more a nearby critique, than a direct one.

Lord help me, in many ways, it’s more Henry James than Gore Vidal, but the better for it. I had set aside my affections for him, but this reminded me that, actually, he’s a d—m fine novelist.

Christmas With Yevtushenko

While unpacking Christmas ornaments, I found this receipt for a collection of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poetry, courtesy of Capitol Hill Books.

America In The World: A History Of U.S. Diplomacy And Foreign Policy

I can’t quite figure out what to make of Zoellick, the author. I live in Washington, DC and I’ve worked in government, so understand what it means for someone to be part of the foreign policy establishment, as Zoellick is, but beyond being a generic example of that, I don’t know what else to say, based on reading this book.

Did I like it all? Of course! It was fascinating. He gives Teddy Roosevelt a lot of credit for being a canny foreign relations player (he also, in a chapter covering Wilson, refer to him at ‘TR’ without giving me any notice that he was going to do that, which caused some initial, pointless confusion); provides a nuanced look at Japanese policy positions and motivations; gives space to previously unknown to me figures like Charles Evans Hughes, who, before becoming Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, played key roles for several presidents in the first quarter of the twentieth century; and did you know that Dean Acheson had ties to Alger Hiss?

Of course, as seemingly every one in the foreign policy establishment does, he gives kudos to James Baker, who I mostly remember as Dubya’s consigliere during the 2000 recount/debacle. I’m trying to be broadminded about him, but it’s not easy. However, President Trump made it easier to look at previous, failed Republican presidents and say to one’s self, well, at least he never instigated the sacking of our nation’s temple of democracy. He also compares Dubya’s vision to Kennedy’s and… I guess I don’t know enough to criticize, but the partisan in me rankles.

And a reminder, in case any reader forgot: the Vietnam-American War was a sad, embarrassing time in U.S. history. Also, not related to this book, but I saw a writer note this, but take a moment and think about your favorite Vietnam movie.

Is it Platoon or Born on the 4th of July or maybe Full Metal Jacket?

I ask because, that writer (whose name I sadly forget) noted that the answer to the question about Vietnam movies or books are invariably media about Americans… not about a Vietnamese person at all. Like a narcissist, it’s all about us.

He writes about, as he must, the famed Sovietologist (is that a real word, or did Foggy Bottom make it up?) George Kennan. I must confess that I have never read his ‘Long Telegram,’ but the description given of it makes it seem like Russia hasn’t changed since it was chief among Soviet republics.

Doc Savage: The Thousand-Headed Man

I am old enough to remember when drug stores had revolving wire racks filled with inexpensive paperbacks. Mostly genre novels, maybe with a few classics (usually with more than usually lurid covers) thrown in. One of the books you always saw on those racks was a Doc Savage novel. Read more

A Touch Of Zen

No, not the classic wuxia movie, but this recreation of a Tibetan Buddhist shrine. I spoke to one of the security guard’s who said that she transferred to the Asian Art Museum just because she wanted the tranquility that rooms like this offered.

Riverby Books Has Closed

I was walking back towards Eastern Market on Sunday and made a point of walking Riverby Books. I have been trying to restrain my book buying habit lately but it was on my way back (I’d been visiting some museums earlier) so why not?

And I saw… well, you can see the pictures. Read more

Good Day – Book Art & Contemporary Political Art

I went into the office on a Sunday because I simply couldn’t believe that over the course of four and a half day holiday weekend I hadn’t received any work emails (I hadn’t but then again, our systems were being spotty and people claimed to have tried to send me documents).

Upon discovering that my fears were groundless and having already found parking downtown, I decided to spend a little flaneur time.

First, the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The museum was not only free that day but featured a Book Art Festival, which is a fancy way of saying that young, creative types set up tables with their zines and chapbooks and letterpress creations.

Naturally, I bought five books. One of those books was a book of art reproductions created in the wake of Trump’s election which leads to my next fortuitous encounter.

While walking to Chinatown in search of noodles, I passed by a sign that pointed through a door and up some stairs to the Center for Contemporary Political Art.

The Curse Of Chalion

I can’t remember where this was recommended to me as an excellent fantasy novel by a female writer whose work is in danger of being overlooked these days, but it made enough of an impression that I bought this when I saw it at library book sale near my house. Unfortunately, Ms. Bujold will boy get royalties on the dollar I gave the Southeast library. Fortunately, I did get a good book. I devoured it as quickly as I could over the first few days that I had it. Read more

‘Love’s Labours Lost’ Or, A Child’s First Shakespeare

The little one saw her first Shakespeare play last night: Love’s Labours Lost.

If you have ever read this blog before (and ninety percent of you who have are my mother), then you know how much I love the edifice and institution that is the Folger Shakespeare Library and how unsurprising it is that her first experience of live theater (we are not including Frozen on Ice) would be there.

It is not his finest play, but there is some of Shakespeare’s most elegant language and some of his most arch sex jokes. While the more than usually high language passed her by, she loved watching the performances and madcap antics (and costumes).