It's a bit unnerving, getting royally hacked off at Christopher Hitchens these days. The man's health is fragile, after all, and it hardly feels sporting to get riled up at somebody in such a position. So I read his latest piece of Kennedy-bashing in the new Vanity Fair with my fist knotted around a napkin, trying to maintain a caring, indulgent silence while he yet one more time slanders the dead. Nothing new in the slanders, either - while purporting to write about the newly-released (and hugely best-selling) book of interviews Jackie Kennedy did with Arthur Schlesinger fifty years ago, Hitchens bloatedly mentions that JFK, while maintaining a "stupefying consumption of uppers and downers," took credit for Profiles in Courage even though it's an "often exploded falsehood" that he wrote it, took credit for his inaugural address even though "it has been well established" that John Kenneth Galbraith and, God help us, Adlai Stevenson wrote it, and took credit for While England Slept even though "full and proper credit may not have been given to the book's chief author, the biddable journalist Arthur Krock." At first, reading all this envious garbage, I felt the blood boil ... but then, as I scrutinized the paragraphs, I realized the truth: Hitchens, no doubt maintaining a stupefying consumption of cancer medications, was clearly in no shape to write even two slanderous pages for Vanity Fair. Once I'd exploded this falsehood, it became pretty well established that the piece's chief author was obviously that biddable journalist, James Wolcott. I hope someday when Hitchens is no longer around to defend himself, Wolcott gets full and proper credit.
That issue of Vanity Fair had other irritants as well, including a half-page notice about the new Broadway revival of Godspell starring the douchebag Hunter Parrish as Jesus Christ. The only way I could be pleased with such casting would be if opening night concluded with an actual crucifixion.
Fortunately, it's Vanity Fair, and that means it's not possible the an entire issue will disappoint. This one has a wonderful, nostalgic look at "The Invincible Mrs. Thatcher" by Charles Moore, a perfect in-depth prep for the upcoming "Iron Lady" movie.
And over at The New Yorker, Louis Menand turns in a long, excellent review of John Lewis Gaddis' new biography of that arch architect of Soviet containment, George Kennan - by far the most comprehensive, readable, and intelligent review that book has so far received. And in the same issue, David Remnick is also in top form in a scathing "Talk of the Town" piece about the idiot Herman Cain that also manages to get in some good whacks at the frankly terrifying Mitten Romney:
The knowing people who know things in Washington generally believe that, once the electoral process begins in January, Romney will shed Cain, Perry, Bachmann, and the rest in rapid fashion. Perhaps. To look at Romney is to see plausibility. But a large portion of the Republican electorate seems determined to hop from one fantastically flawed alternative to the next rather than settle on him. A few may be loath to vote for a Mormon; others have ideological difference that make it hard to embrace him. It is Romney's spooky elasticity, his capacity to reverse himself utterly on one issue after another - health care, climate change, abortion, gun control, immigration, the 2009 stimulus, capital-gains taxes, stem-cell research, gay rights - that seems to bother voters most. They might rightly ask if there is even one thing that Mitt Romney believe in with greater conviction than his inevitability.
But it's New York that takes the prize this time around, not only for David Edelstein's masterful review of the new movie "J. Edgar" -
You might wonder: "Who is the gay, pinko, subversive director behind this Tommy-gun assault on our national security and masculinity?" Clint Eastwood, of course. J. Edgar is the latest chapter in Eastwood's never-ending project to deconstruct the macho, jingoist, homophobic, right-win archetype he once embodied - and prove himself an artist whose simplicity of style belies the most sophisticated understanding of the dual nature of the American character of any living filmmaker.
But pride of place rightly goes to this issue's cover story by Jesse Green, "What Do a Bunch of Old Jews Know About Living Forever?" The idea of the piece is interesting enough - studying extremely long-lived Ashkenazi Jews and what, if any, secrets of longevity their genes might hold - but the true reward here is Green's sheer, glowing writing. Even on a conceptual level, he hits nothing but home runs - including his decision to insert as many Jewish jokes as the piece will support:
"Oy," says Sophie.
"Oy vey," says Esther.
"Oy veyizmir," says Sadie.
"I thought we weren't going to talk about our children," says Mildred.
Klein brags to Cohen about his new hearing aid: "It's the best one made - I now understand everything!"
"What kind is it?" Cohen asks.
And the single best thing in this issue of New York? In the "Party Lines" page, Princess Charlene of Monaco is asked, "What do you think about how the royal family of Monaco is portrayed on 'Gossip Girl'?"
To which she responds, "What's 'Gossip Girl'?"
Hee. A little of that goes a long way toward easing my disappointment at learning that John F. Kennedy was a functionally illiterate gibbering pill-popper.