You are probably not in a position to know, Doctor…that we are at a crossroads, both in New York and in the country as a whole. This city is changing. Dramatically. Ph, I don’t simply mean the population, with the influx of immigrants. I mean the city itself. Twenty years ago, New York was still primarily a port — the harbor was our chief source of business. Today, with other ports challenging our preeminence, shipping and receiving have been eclipsed by both manufacture and banking. Manufacture, as you know, requires workers, and other, less fortunate, nations in the world have provided them. The leaders of organized labor claim that such workers are treated unfairly here. But fairly or no, they continue to come, because it is better than what they have left behind…We are not obligated to provide everyone who comes to this country with a good life…We are obligated to provide them with a chance to attain that life, through discipline and hard work. That chance is more than they have anywhere else. That is why they keep coming…We shall not be able to offer such a chance, in future, should our national economic development — which is currently in a state of deep crisis — be retarded by foolish political ideas born in the ghettos of Europe…Any events which can be prostituted to serve the purposes of those ideas must be suppressed.
There’s a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, “All glory is fleeting.” Nobody does that for professional athletes. Jordan couldn’t have known that the closest he’d get to immortality was during that final walk off the court, the one symbolically preserved in the print in his office. All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. Maybe he realizes that now. Maybe he doesn’t. But when he sees Joe Montana joined on the mountaintop by the next generation, he has to realize that someday his picture will be on a screen next to LeBron James as people argue about who was better.
That’s just too complicated for a dumb bunny like me.
Consider the life of Winston Churchill. He was born in 1874. Men still lived who had fought Napoleon. Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as the American president and Karl Marx was just then in the British Library writing the Communist Manifesto. Mark Twain had written none of the books for which he had become famous. Electricity, radio, television, and telephones were still unknown and only the year before Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgets universities had met to draw up the first rules for a new game. It was called “football.”
When Churchill died ninety years later in 1965, men had orbited the earth, walked in space, and sent a probe to the surface of Venus. An automobile had already driven over six hundred miles per hour and sex-change operations had been successfully performed. Nuclear power had already come of age. Lyndon Johnson was the American president at that time and though he was considered an elderly man, he had been born when Churchill was already thirty-four. The year Churchill died, the Queen of England gave the Order of British Empire to the Beatles. It was an honor Churchill had also received, yet for a far different contribution in a far different age.
How does one life absorb such change? What must it do to one’s moorings, to that sense of connection to the flow of time and how a man experiences the rhythms of the world? Clearly, this was an ever-present challenge in Churchill’s life and it frequently filled his thoughts: “I wonder often whether any other generation has seen such astounding revolutions of data and values as those through which we have lived. Scarcely anything material or established which I was brought up to believe was permanent and vital, has lasted. Everything I was sure or taught to be sure was impossible, has happened.”
So important were beer and its effects among the Irish that the pagan high kings of the land had to symbolically marry the goddess-queen Medb (Maeve), whose name meant “the drunken” or “she who makes drunk.” By drinking beer to excess at Tara — an ancient seat of the high kings of Ireland — these kings attained their sovereignty. It is no wonder that St. Patrick took his brewmaster, Mescan, with him as he tried to bring such pagan practices to an end. Beer was simply interwoven into all of Irish life; this was no less the case by the time of Richard Guinness. Though the Irish called whiskey uisce beatha — “the water of life” — by the early 1700s they were glad for the traditions that gave them a healthy and tasty drink that was only lightly intoxicating.
[Arthur Guinness] was still brewing both ale and the dark stout that had become quite the fashion. In his history with the brew that he would be associated with for generations to come, he is confirmation that the race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong. He was not the first or the best or the only brewer to produce dark porter at this time. But he was, perhaps, the most consistent, the most willing to ride the currents of his age, and he was blessed with good timing. If history favors the bold over the most gifted, then Arthur is certainly encouragement to those who are willing to be the former in recognition that they are incapable of being the latter.
So many people in San Francisco came from somewhere else, suitcases filled with their own complex histories and desires.
Cheney had been thinking about the power of cruelty since at least 1984. In March of that year, the CIA’s chief of station in Beirut, William Buckley, fell into the hands of Hezbollah. “He has kidnapped and tortured,” recalled Tom Smeeton, a former CIA officer who served then as minority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Cheney, a committee member, followed the Buckley case closely, reviewing a secretly obtained videotape of the station chief’s decline. Cheney “was quite concerned about the implications of his torture and what that could mean in terms of revelations of various intelligence operations going on in the Middle East,” Smeeton said. The presumption they shared, with foreboding, was that torture worked.
After September 11, Cheney and his allies pinoeereed a distinction that the U.S. government had not claimed before. “Torture,” narrowly defined, would remain out of bounds. But violent, cruel, or degrading methods, the terms of art in Geneva, were perfectly lawful.
If a mandarinate ruled America, the recruiting committee on September 11 would have had to find someone like Cheney. “I don’t want to get too poetic about this, but it’s almost as if his whole life had been a preparation for this moment in history,” said Jack Kemp, who used to be a future vice president himself. Scooter Libby quoted that line, too, giving credit to Winston Churchill. Cheney professed no knowledge of fate. He had some acquaintance, though, with force and counterforce. Al Qaeda having struck on his watch, Cheney made clear by word and deed that he would take a leading role in the nation’s reply. So, too, did Libby and Addington. The three of them simply knew what had to be done, a considerable advantage in the debate that would soon follow.
But Republicans everywhere endorsed the principle of Morton’s action: the Constitution must be stretched in order to save constitutional government from destruction by rebellion.
Normandy was a solidier’s battle. It belonged to the riflemen, machine gunners, mortarmen, tankers, and artillerymen who were on the front lines. There was no room for manuever. There was no opportunity for subtlety. There was a simplicity to the fighting: for the Germans, to hold; for the Americans, to attack.
He was especially struck by a GI lying on his bunk, silent, who looked “like somebody rescued from the ledge of a skyscraper.” He read the chart and was astonished to learn that the soldier had been shot in the neck. The bullet had entered on the left, missed the nerves, cartoid artery, and jugular vein, drilled a neat hole in the spinal column without touching the spinal cord, and exited. The man needed no surgery; his chief symptom was a sore neck.
As it happens, despite what much of the public might think, they all don’t do it. Most presidents do not commit illegal acts, or lie under oath, or thimb our noses at the law. Most presidents do not chronically decieve, delay, obfuscate, and stonewall federal investigators. This does not mean they are perfect or near perfect; it means merely that most live up to their oath to execute faithfully the laws of the land, and behave in at least a reasonably responsible way. The same is true of most figures in the nation’s capital. Washington, D.C., is not, in fact, a den of thieves, or a house of knaves…
…when we found out President Nixon’s part in an illegal cover-up, we (the courts, Congress, the media, and the public) acted in the national interest – and so, in the end, did he by resigning…In a self-governing and law-abiding nation, we must never allow ourselves to be lulled into passive disgust or indifference, the civic equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. We must never lose our sense, when appropriate, of outrage.
Furthermore, in order to compensate for its chaotic formlessness, a mass always produces a “Leader,” who almost infallibly becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness, as numerous examples in history show.
My fiction about the daily doings of ordinary people has more history in it than the history books, just as there is more breathing history in archaeology than in a list of declared wars and changes of government.