Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In the Penny Press! ME ME ME

Obviously, INCREDIBLY obviously, the most interesting thing in the latest Atlantic is ME. Specifically, my letter in the letters page:

In his reply to Alecia Flores, who chided him for taking a gratuitous potshot at President Kennedy, Christopher Hitchens - apparently riding is one-trick pony into the ground - takes yet more potshots at a man who can't fire back!

For instance, he refers to JFK as 'the boy president' - a potshot that also has the virtue of being incomprehensible, since Kennedy was forty-three when he was elected president and had already been a congressman, a father, and a combat veteran. How much, one wonders, had Mr. Hitchens done by that age? How would he have liked being called a boy?

And then there's the old favorite: the smirking insinuation that Ted Sorensen, not JFK, wrote 'Profiles in Courage.' We have mountains of sworn statements; we have eyewitness testimony to the actual act of writing (JFK was in the hospital during part of the book's composition, and, predictably, he was a great favorite of the nurses); we have handwritten and annotated drafts of every single page of the book. But does any of that matter? No! Not when a nod and a wink can pass for knowledge of a subject.

And how many witnesses, how many long-suffering dinner guests trapped in mini-lectures by the commander in chief, how many subsequent references and remarks made by JFK himself, does Mr. Hitchens need before he can refrain from implying that Kennedy wouldn't have read such books as Cecil's 'Melbourne' or Agar's 'Price of Union'?

Finally, Mr. Hitchens gets his dramatis personae wrong. JFK wouldn't have been 'the Galahad of Camelot' - of course, he'd have been the king. One wonders how much patience he'd have had with bargain-basement Mordreds.

Of course Hitchens offers no reply - honestly, how could he? Nevertheless, his silence bespeaks a maturity I thought he'd all but lost! That, plus the superb piece in this selfsame issue on Jessica Mitford - at once fervently enthusiastic and coolly appraising - prompts me to declare an end to our nascent blood-feud!

Also in this issue was yet another wonderful, funny article by Sandra Tsing Loh, this one about uber-parents and the grotesque lengths they go to in order to get their little kids into the right grade schools, high schools, and colleges. The whole thing is a delight, but one tasty quote should suffice:

On the one hand, I worry that unless they join some sort of MTV-sponsored witness-protection program, such children have no hope of ever getting laid. (One imagines [the kids and their parents] years down the road, sharing a lone Zima at a vast granite kitchen island as the pair of them nostaligically go through old torts). On the other hand, I have to admit to a grudging admiration for the sheer professionalism, the smoothly oiled Bonnie-and-Clyde teamwork of these academic parent-child hit squads. I too had insanely pushy parents, but in retrospect they seem like pikers. Yes, my Danzig-born mom wrote all my sister's school papers (which my sister then dutifully copied and presented as her own). However, the result was not Ivy League entry but instead, as my sister will joke, 'my strange German syntax, to shake, I have never been able.' When I was a senior at Caltech, my Shanghai-born scientist dad kept calling my dorm room to shout, over the thumping ZZ Top, 'Sandra! Apply to any grad school in any engineering major!' Sadly, thanks to the freedom of the EZ student loan the great cheapskate himself had helped me secure, I was already off dating a rock-bagpipe player and spectacularly bombing my physics GRE. (Out of a possible 99, my percentile was 7 - that's right, one digit - a number so low it inspires almost Talmudic awe in those who hear it uttered).


The oddest thing in the issue was Virginia Postrel's piece on Superhero movies called "Superhero Worship" which, despite those two facts, seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with superheroes or superhero movies. Great topic idea, though...

Over in Esquire (the same issue in which Brad Pitt says he and Angelina Jolie will get married once everyone in the country can legally marry), there's a brief interview with a 21-year-old creature named "David Lehre" (apperently, he's a filmmaker who's 'exploding' ... but there's a picture, and he doesn't look old enough to NOCTURNALLY explode, if you catch my meaning) who at one point affirms that he, like all other right-thinking individuals, is a fan of "High School Musical."

There's also a page-long pan of Cesar Milan, the so-called "Dog Whisperer" during which several ACTUAL dog-experts speak up about what a fraud the guy is. I've read his book, but far more importantly I've now seen his show, and I can tell you one thing beyond any doubt: most of the dogs he 'fixes' are only badly surprised, not rethinking their lives.

Domesticated dogs aren't exactly the smartest species in the world, but they know perfectly well that a human isn't a dog. Milan's whole approach - establishing himself as 'alpha dog' and then claiming he gets results when a 'pack' structure then forms with him at the top - well, it just isn't happening on his show. Instead, time after time, you see a dog go blank-eyed and immobile when confronted with this human acting so weird.

Almost all domestic dogs WANT to please humans - they've been genetically engineered over thousands of years to do so. Importing this pack-leader crap is literally turning back the clock 8,000 years.

So if you're having problems with your dog, kindly DON'T bare your teeth and kneel on their chest. Patient conversation will do just fine (except in your case, Beepy ... sorry about that).

Elsewhere in the issue, Tom Junod writes a book review of the Koran that's just a few good sentences shy of being utterly imbecilic. If any of you should happen to read it (i.e. if any of you can teach me how to link directly to it), please disregard it entirely. Even a 'Dummies' book will give you a better introduction to what is, beyond doubt, the most important book in the world today.

But by far the weirdest thing in this issue was Chuck Klosterman's article on 'Survivor' and 'Lost.' Heck, not even the whole article, just one sentence:

" 'Lost' is probably the best network drama in the history of television (The only other candidate might be 'Twin Peaks')."

Even in this day and age of 24-hour inane commentary, that's got to be the single DUMBEST fucking sentence I've read in the month of September.

So we'll close out this edition of In the Penny Press on that note and hope for better sense next time.

'Lost' the best network drama in the history of television? Jesus Christ on a fucking cross.


Anonymous said...

Yeesh. When did you last read a book? I'm losing interest, here.

Why do you believe Kennedy's "eye- witnesses" so totally(infatuated nurses? Intoxicated party guests? What an easy deceit)when typically you have mistrust presidents, etc.?


Sam said...

Wow - that really might be the dumbest thing ever written. A combination of the junkie's brainless stimulus response that "Lost" breeds and Klostermans usually declarative idiocy. This review of his first book is pretty great, back from the days when the New York Press still had good things in it (i.e. before they fired me).

john said...

Sam -- I'm a fan of Ames from his Exile stuff. I didn't know he wrote for the NY press. But then, until I heard you were writing for them, I didn't read them either.

Steve -- I read your letter in the Boulder Bookstore & was grinning ear-to-ear by the time I was done. (I'd forgotten how good it was). For fun, I just sent it on to the editor of Hitchens Watch: []

steve said...

OK, first off: t.t., if you're bored, feel free to check out any of the 90 billion other blogs on the web. This one is called 'stevereads' not 'stevereadsbooks.' Most of the friends who are reading this blog read at most a book a week (except for skimmers, who, it should be stressed, don't read ANY books in a week). I read about one book a day. So if I devoted huge amounts of time to books every single entry, all I'd do is cause said friends indifference-comas. Trust me, I'll keep writing about books (a nice meaty list is in the works), but if it's not happening fast enough for you, don't let me keep you.

(I don't recognize yer initials, t.t., so I'm not sure how well-informed that crack about my 'typically' not trusting presidents is ... maybe you could fill me in)

And second: surely SAM wins this week's Snotty Award for underline-linking-thingee a reference in his COMMENT when I still can't manage it in my POSTS! I tried the handy 213-point procedure you outlined the other day - I shut down all web service in Moldavia, but I didn't link to squat!

sam said...

The simple formula is this:
wherein TEXT corresponds to the word you want lit up. Be sure to note the space between a and the href. A snap!

sam said...

Dammit! I can't WRITE the formula without it CONVERTING the formula... Nor is "formula" the correct programming word. I'm an idiot, and will email instead.