Sunday, September 30, 2012

recommended reading

Anniston Star Features Editor Lisa Davis faces her last day before 50.

(happy birthday, Lisa, and good luck on the silver Mercedes)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt four)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

When Georges Blanc offered me a full-time job, I knew it was time to go. To me, that was the equivalent to a diploma, proof I had been successful. But I was headed for different frontiers, ones with bolder flavors, to be made and consumed by a cross section of people who more accurately reflected the larger world and, for that matter, me.

It was tempting to say yes to Blanc; I had fallen in love with the spirit of the place, and with working with foods that were organic and seasonal before either became a trend. But the day he made his offer, I got caught in the walk-in refrigerator with a chef who decided to go off on his Japanese commis. The chef was a few years younger than the commis, and the commis, like most of the Japanese who came to work for Blanc, was an excellent worker, meticulous and fast. The chef was just a cocky guy showing that he was boss. He had not only called him a fucking idiot and an amateur, he had upended the commis's mise en place, creating a holy mess inside the refrigerator. And when his screaming wasn't enough to fully express his rage, he punched the guy in the stomach. Right in front of me.

The commis didn't say a word. He'd flexed his stomach in anticipation, practically breaking the chef's hand. The commis was going to be fine, but I remember watching this and thinking, OK, I've gotten all the training I need here. Time to go.

Friday, September 28, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt three)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

I kept my head down and did what was asked of me, knowing that if I did a good job, someone would notice and I would be moved to the kitchen. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement: I was there to learn, but I knew they were also sifting through the stream of commis, looking for whom to pluck out of the group and add to their team. A friendly American I worked alongside, a big boulder of a guy named Jeremy, didn't see this same big picture. He'd been stuck in the boulangerie for more than a month and still wasn't cooking. He was pissed.

"Why won't they let me go on the line?" he'd say. "It's bullshit. I'm going to ask them why."

"Don't," I said. "Don't draw attention to yourself. I know it sucks, but try to be as small as possible."

He would never get on the line, I could tell. He wasn't going to last. A lot of Americans had this problem in the European kitchens. It wasn't that they didn't love cooking, it wasn't that they didn't have the skills. They'd done their research and paid their dues and worked just as hard as I had to get to restaurants like Victoria Jungfrau and Georges Blanc. But to get ahead in that culture, you have to completely give yourself up to the place. Your time, your ego, your relationships, your social life, they are all sacrificed. It's a daily dose of humility that a lot of Americans find difficult to swallow. Guys like Jeremy could never fully tamp down the desire to be seen and heard, to stand out and make his mark, to go up to the chef and get noticed by chatting: "I just want to say hi and thank you."

The thing is, small talk with a commis is the last thing on a chef's to-do list.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt two)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

Just as I had stayed late working at Belle Avenue, I put in extra hours before and after my shifts, doing advance prep work in the mornings and meticulous cleanup at night. All I had to offer was my labor and my attention, and I was willing to give both. The only time I slipped out was for what had become, since my arrival, a daily ritual: throwing up. Every morning, I came into work and felt the familiar knot tie itself in my stomach. The knot would soon be followed by bile filling the back of my throat, and it was only a matter of time before I'd have to bolt to the bathroom. I'd experienced the problem now and then at my Göteborg jobs when the stress got too high, but now that I was completely without that hometown comfort zone, the frequency of the nausea ratcheted up to coincide with the increased pressures of the job.

For the most part, I was able to keep my nerves under wraps, doing my business quietly and then going right back to work. Until they installed a new key card entry system, and on the day the system went into effect, my card for the kitchen's exit door demagnetized at the least opportune time. I panicked, and then I spewed. As the spilled contents of my stomach dripped down the face of the door, three sauciers came along, deftly stepping past while nodding at me and saying only, "Guten tag. Wie gehts, Mr. Samuelsson." Take it easy.

As soon as I felt the first wave of queasiness each day, I looked for an opportunity to leave my station. I didn't want to be noticed, which meant I couldn't be away for more than five or six minutes. Health codes dictated that we leave our aprons in the kitchen so that we wouldn't get any bacteria on them in the bathroom. But if I put mine on a peg, it was like a red flag showing I was gone. So I wore it to the bathroom and left it outside the door.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

the last book I ever read (Marcus Samuelsson's Yes, Chef, excerpt one)

from Yes, Chef: A Memoir by Marcus Samuelsson:

In any professional kitchen, the lower-ranked staff responds to any request from above with military-like respect. "Yes, chef" is what I was taught to say whether he or she asks for a side of beef or your head on a platter. Yes, chef. Yes, chef. Yes, chef. I had failed at soccer and the failure made me humble and determined. At Mosesson, I was determined to be the best. Soon I was serving up not only classic three-course Swedish smorgasbords but damn good renditions of coq au vin, steak au poivre, and bouillabaisse.

Halfway through the first term, my class started working in the restaurant school, cooking for customers. Most of the time, our lunch menu was pure Sweden: plates of gravlax with boiled potatoes and herring in all manner of sauces--mustard and dill, cream, curry, and 1-2-3 with slivered onions. We also prepared contemporary classics like toast Skagen: a sautéed round of bread topped with shrimp salad, finished with a spoonful of whitefish roe. Dinner, on the other hand, was typically French, which was considered an elegant cut above homey Swedish far: sole meuniére or duck a l'orange.

We worked in rotating shifts, so I might be a waiter for three weeks, then a dishwasher, then a line cook. I was a decent waiter and I knew it was useful to see how customers behaved in the front of the house, how they ordered, and how they regarded their meal once it was served, but I never felt at home in the front like I did in the back. The back of the house was where the real action, the real creativity, was. Even with only forty seats in the restaurant, and even if only half of them were filled, the kitchen was guaranteed to be humming at a pitch that bordered on chaos. And it was that organized chaos that I loved. I still do.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt eleven)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

From 2003 to 2008, the Bush administration exercised a tight hold on imagery about the cost of the wars. Not only were news photographers banned from the solemn transfer ceremonies for flag-draped caskets at Dover Air Base, but the president and vice president did not attend military funerals. Even when families of fallen soldiers wanted to invite the media to cover a funeral or the return of remains, the government maneuvered as best it could to prevent such coverage. The Pentagon ultimately even effectively banned images of wounded troops in Iraq when it quietly changed its rules to require that news agencies get signed consent forms from soldiers photographed after they were wounded.

With tax cuts in wartime, with no sense of collective national sacrifice on behalf of the war effort, with less than 1 percent of the American population taking up arms to fight, with US casualties politically and literally shielded from public view, the cumulative effect was to normalize our national wartime. We've become a nation "at peace with being at war," in the words of the New York Times media critic David Carr.

Monday, September 24, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, except ten)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The war in Afghanistan was an all but foregone conclusion after 9/11. The Taliban overthrow was engineered by CIA operatives, Special Forces, and a smallish contingent of US troops. It took a few weeks, but then we decided we should stay on and save Afghanistan from itself. Starting the war in Iraq took deceit and trickery on the part of the Bush administration (and severe chickenshittery on the part of the Congress). But once we had both those wars under way, what's more telling--what's less about specific politicians and temporal politics and more about us as a country--is how freaking long it's taken to end them. Regardless of the culpability of the Paul Wolfowitzes and Donald Rumsfelds and Dick Cheneys in starting the Iraq War, there's a national culpability for the fact that we have, without any real debate or thought, settled into a way of waging war that ensures minimal political pushback.

No matter how long the troops slog through the muck, no matter how many deployments they endure, the American public can no longer really be touched by war. Need twenty thousand more soldiers for the surge in Iraq? Military commanders simply extended the combat tours from twelve months to fifteen, no guarantee about how long a rest you'd get between deployments--and this in spite of what the military bosses already knew about the toll on the minuscule slice of American society that would shoulder this burden. "We done these mental-health assessment team studies for six years now--between nine and twelve [months] is where a lot of the stress problems really manifest themselves," former Army chief of staff George Casey said recently. "The human mind and body weren't made to do repeated combat deployments without substantial time to recover." The suicide rate among active-duty servicemen doubled in the first five years of the Afghanistan War and then kept rising. In the past decade, the US Army lost more soldiers to suicide than to enemy fire in Afghanistan.

Friday, September 21, 2012

the McSweeney's Column Contest Grand Prize Contest Contest Party is Over

I posted something similar over on the 49ers Facebook page.

but not everyone does Facebook (and I tip my hat in tribute) and it was too damn long to share on my own personal page, so . . .

Though I’ve lived in New York City for more than eighteen years now, I come from Alabama (unfortunately without a banjo), so I know something of lost causes. And make no mistake, our cause (at least in terms of McSweeney’s Column Contest Grand Prize Contest Contest) is indeed lost.

In the almost words of General Robert E. Lee (a kind of patron saint of lost causes), we faced “overwhelming” social media “resources and numbers” and got our ass firmly kicked, not, as predicted, by a runaway tractor, but rather by a “big mom” raising “two kids in a college dorm” (which is harder to explain in, oh, so many ways). But today brings yet another deadline (which doesn’t sound as optimistic as intended) and so another 49ers interview will somewhat magically appear next Friday. And again seventeen days after that, and seventeen days after that, and seventeen days . . .

Thank you, again, everyone who took the time to read or vote, and special thanks to you who both read and voted, and extra special thanks with whipped cream and a cherry on top (but only if you like cherries; I don’t have to ask about whipped cream because who doesn’t like whipped cream) to all of you who were kind enough to read and vote and test the patience of your friends by clogging your own Facebook timelines and posting the McSweeney’s link.

I leave you with a short song from the patron saint of saving electricity, the immortal “Dandy Don” Meredith.

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt nine)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The Iran-Contra scandal hasn't exactly turned into a badge of honor for those who had starring roles, but neither does it tarnish the high sheen retrospectively applied to the Reagan presidency or those who did his illegal or extraconstitutional bidding. Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, pardoned most of the Iran-Contra convicts; Bush's son George W. hired on a number of the scandal's key players for his own administration. The Obama administration kept W's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, whose name is the title of chapter 16 of the Iran-Contra independent counsel report. ("The evidence established," said the report, "that Gates was exposed to information about North's connections to the private resupply operation that would have raised concern in the minds of most reasonable persons about the propriety of a Government officer having such an operational role.")

But even more dangerous was the sad fact that the shameful Meese-made legal arguments about nearly unlimited executive power were not seen as the crazy talk they were, and killed off for good. One leader in Congress was instrumental in making sure this executive-power argument remained politically viable, by loudly declaiming at the time of Iran-Contra, in the midst of the scandal, that Reagan was right to do what he did. As the main author of the minority's 145-page written dissent from the congressional investigation of Iran-Contra, Wyoming Representative Dick Cheney insisted, radically, that Iran-Contra was no crime, that Reagan was right to defy Congress, because there was nothing in Congress, nothing anywhere in America's political structure, that could constrain a president from waging any war he wanted, however he wanted. It was an extreme view of executive power, a minority view when written, but it quickly became a blueprint for the next generation of Republican thinking about war and its limits. "The President was expected to have the primary role of conducting the foreign policy of the United States," Cheney argued in his minority report on Iran-Contra. "Congressional actions to limit the President in this area therefore should be reviewed with a considerable degree of skepticism. If they interfere with core presidential foreign policy functions, they should be struck down. Moreover, the lesson of our constitutional history is that doubtful cases should be decided in favor of the President."

And who won this argument? The answer is kind of surprising, but sadly obvious today, when we find ourselves in a succession of indefinite hot wars the country does not really want.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt eight)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The main agent in the hostage-release scheme was a Paris-based exiled Iranian arms dealer, Manucher Ghorbanifar, who claimed to have ties to a buzzing nest of moderates inside Iran's military. These army officers, according to the tale Ghorbanifar told, wanted to overthrow the madman Khomeini and make a fresh start with the United States. As a show of good faith among new future friends, the United States would open up the spigot for weapon sales to Iran, and the Iranian moderates would convince Hezbollah to release all of the American hostages in Beirut.

By the time Ghorbanifar presented his tantalizing arms-for-hostages plot, he was already well known in US intelligence circles. A lengthy CIA report described him as "personable, convincing . . . speaks excellent American-style English." (Not even intelligence guys are immune to the charms of excellent American-style English.) However, the report concluded, Ghorbanifar "had a history of predicting events after they happened and was seen as a rumor-monger. . . . The information collected by him constantly lacked sourcing and detail notwithstanding his exclusive interest in acquiring money. . . . Subject should be regarded as an intelligence fabricator and a nuisance. Any further approaches by subject or his brother Ali should be reported but not taken seriously." In fact, on the occasions the CIA had subjected Ghorbanifar to a polygraph test, he generally proved himself to be a liar on any question more complicated than his name and his place of residence. But still, under cover of secrecy, Reagan decided it would be good policy to get in bed with Ghorbanifar and his French silk pajamas.

As the deal unfolded--badly--assessments of Ghorbanifar within Reagan's White House national security team included "corrupt," "devious," "duplicitous," "not to be trusted," and "one of the world's leading sleazebags." National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane even called him a "borderline moron." There was pretty good evidence that Ghorbanifar's main goal was money. And stll, Reagan decided it would be good policy to continue to pursue the Ghorbanifar plan.

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt seven)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The toll in the end was this: 19 American servicemen killed (17 from friendly fire or accidents), 120 Americans wounded, 300 Grenadians killed or wounded, including those 18 mental patients killed in their beds. And also, precedent: operational secrecy justifying flat-out lying to the press corps and therein to the public. Secrecy, again, and the blunt assertion of executive prerogative justifying a cursory dismissal of the constitutional role of Congress in declaring war, and even of the need to consult them.

Whatever the costs, the Reagan White House reaped the benefits: in the American mind, the toll and humiliation and political inexplicability of Lebanon was now "closely related" to this much more satisfying rescue mission. And for a president who had traded on the emotional potential of American military strength and glory for his political aims, it was a chance to put taxpayer money where his mouth had long been, to let the US Armed Forces flex their arguably atrophied muscles.

"For all of its shortcomings, for all of the derisive commentary about the pathetic stature of the enemy against which American power was hurled, the invasion of Grenada was a victory," Marine Corps chronicler Rick Atkinson wrote in The Long Gray Line. "Armies fight with morale and esprit as much as they fight with tanks and bullets; after Grenada, soldiers walked a little taller, not because of their battlefield exploits but because of the huzzahs from the rescued students and an appreciative citizenry at home. The United States Army, its self-esteem battered in Southeast Asia, needed to win a war, any war. That slender campaign streamer from Grenada buried beneath it the seventeen preceding ribbons from Vietnam."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt six)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The new president was ready to put our money where his mouth was; he was anxious to expend enormous pots of the national resources to improve our war-making capabilities. And it was an easy sell at first. He'd run on cutting taxes, gutting welfare programs, and spending big on the military. By the time his first budget came up for a vote, Ronald Reagan was also riding a wave of public popularity, largely on the strength of having survived a near-fatal assassination attempt with remarkable grace, at least according to information released by the White House public relations officers. His personal approval rating in the country was more than 70 percent. So Congress--its members could read a poll--overwhelmingly passed Reagan's initial defense appropriation request, which clocked in at a nearly 20 percent increase. In something as huge as the Pentagon budget, a 5 percent increase would have been enough to rattle desks all over Washington; 10 percent was almost unimaginable; getting up toward 20 percent was fantasy talk. That kind of enormous one-year jump was unprecedented--at least it was without our troops actively fighting on a battlefield somewhere. And that play-money request from Reagan came with a promise of more: the administration's announced strategy was to double the defense budget in five years.

By the time that first massive defense appropriation passed, coupled with the largest tax cuts in American history, Reagan's budget director, David Stockman, was already trying to flag to the president a new threat. The projected annual budget deficit had ballooned to $62 billion, Stockman advised, and--at current taxing and spending levels--was sure to hit $112 billion within five years. The yearly deficit, which had generally hovered around 2 percent of GDP in the postwar years, would jump to unprecedented peacetime levels, as much as 4 or 5 percent. When Stockman suggested that the country's financial situation would benefit from a small reduction to the planned increase of the annual defense budget in the coming years, Reagan would have none of it. "When I was asked during the campaign about what I would do if it came down to a choice between defense and deficits," he explained to Stockman, "I always said national security had to come first, and the people applauded every time."

Reagan had plenty of politically astute advisers on his team who knew that they could not count on the president's personal popularity for the long haul. And they knew they could not count on Americans to forever turn a blind eye to exploding budget deficits. Key to managing public expectations and acceptance of this massive defense spending spree was to manage the public's perception of the need for it.

The McSweeney's Column Contest: Please Vote for The 49ers

we're behind.

it's early in the second half, but right now we look a bit more like Florida Atlanta than Alabama in McSweeney's effort to crown its Grand Prize Winner in their annual Column Contest.

my first piece, with New York Times writer Kim Severson, ran on September 11th, and you'll see one more before the month ends. but between now and then (actually between right now and Friday evening, which is really not far away so maybe you should go ahead and do it now), I would greatly appreciate your vote for The 49ers at work, at home, on your smartphone and any stray computer you may pass by (this election appears to be a pure one vote per IP address democracy).

here's the voting link again - here! here! over here! vote for me! - and I thank you.

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt five)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The treaty squeaked through by a single vote, but it gave Reagan and the right wing of the Republican Party an issue that kept on giving. The next two election cycles were bloodbaths for the Senate Democrats. That New Hampshire senator lost his seat; so did the treaty's floor manager, four-term senator Frank Church, who could not overcome a last-minute conservative ad blitz funded by the National Conservative Political Action Committee: "Now that all the shouting is over, remember the Panama Canal, built with American blood and treasure. Frank Church voted to give it away." Birch Bayh of Indiana lost to a callow, lightweight Republican named Dan Quayle, and the 1972 presidential nominee George McGovern lost his South Dakota seat in an embarassing 58-39 landslide.

But the Reagan assault didn't stop at the party line. A slew of moderate Republicans who had supported the treaty were swept aside for being weak-kneed, such as Kansan James B. Pearson, who retired amid catcalls that he was not "Republican enough," and old lions like Clifford Case and Jacob Javits, who lost ignominiously in the primary to a county supervisor from Long Island named Alfonse D'Amato. In November 1980, when Republicans gained control of the Senate for the first time since the end of 1954, this was not your father's Republican Party. The Senate newbies were amped up, doctrinaire, undistracted by facts on the ground, and primed for a fight in which America could prove itself mighty once again. And at the head of the parade was the new president-elect, Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt four)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The turnaround after North Carolina was dramatic: After going 0 for 6 at the start of the primary season, Reagan won four of the next six primaries, swept up every delegate in Texas, Alabama, and Georgia, and extended the race all the way to the convention that summer. He did grudgingly concede to Gerald Ford at the convention, but Ronald Reagan never again took his eyes off the White House. He had made himself a big pin on the political map and he understood exactly how he'd done it. When something worked for Reagan, he stuck with it. So while the new Democratic president who defeated Ford, Jimmy Carter, picked up the Ford policy and negotiated a strategically beneficial treaty with Panama, while mainstream Democrats and Republicans in the Senate joined together to work toward the two-thirds vote necessary for ratification, while right-wing archbishop William F. Buckley and America's beloved tough guy John Wayne (yes, that John Wayne) campaigned full-on for the ratification of Carter's treaty, Reagan demagogued with a vengeance. "The loss of the Panama Canal," Reagan said in one of his weekly radio addresses, "would contribute to the encirclement of the US by hostile naval forces, and thereby [threaten] our ability to survive."

Even after John Wayne sent Reagan a private and personal note offering to show him "point by goddamn point in the treaty where you are misinforming people," and offering fair warning that it was time for the Gipper to shut his piehole ("If you continue to make these erroneous remarks, someone will publicize your letter to prove that you are not as thorough in your reviewing of this treaty as you say or are damned obtuse when it comes to reading the English language"), Ronald Reagan doubled down. He cited a former "defense intelligence" expert, Gen. Daniel O. Graham (and put a pin in that name), who said rumors of Castro's Communist minions at work in the fields of Panama were based on "pretty solid evidence." He also cited a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs who "expressed the gravest concern about surrendering the canal to a leftist oriented government allied with Cuba, citing the danger of giving this advantage to a man who might permit Soviet power and influence to prevail by proxy over the canal. He said the 'economic lifeline of the entire Western hemisphere would be jeopardized.'"

Monday, September 17, 2012

McSweeney's Column Contest’s Grand Prize

though we're just one column in (this, with New York Times writer Kim Severson), McSweeney's is ready to select the Grand Prize Winner in its annual Column Contest.

this election, by the way, appears to be a pure, unadulterated, one computer-one vote democracy, so I would very much appreciate it if you would take a day or two off from work (but really, no more than a day or two) to visit every public library within driving distance (one tank of gas limit), and while you're there log in to each available terminal and cast that computer's vote for The 49ers.

also, since you're already there and everything, please ask every person already logged in to a public library computer (you know, those folks that look like they've been sitting at the computer terminal for a couple hours already) if they could stop what they're doing to register their computer's vote for The 49ers (I'm sure they won't mind the interruption for something this important).

also, remember to vote at home and at work and at your in-laws' if you go over for dinner this week (the contest ends on Friday night).

I (and computers yearning for a tender touch) thank you immensely.

Please visit The 49ers Facebook page for further updates.

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt three)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

Yes, in 1961, Johnson's predecessor John F. Kennedy had promised at his inauguration, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." But Johnson's promise was not Kennedy's; Johnson promised to resist the expensive temptations of foreign wars and to build a Great Society at home instead. He promised not to escalate in Vietnam. He promised he would not allow the United States to get "tied down in a land war in Asia." But then, despite the promises, despite his determination not to, Johnson got dragged to the conclusion that the United States needed to be fighting in Vietnam. He moved to convince the American people and Congress that he should have the authority to use military force there--the wildly exaggerated Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964 would be the basis for the only congressional authorization Johnson ever sought for war. Then, with only halfhearted gestures toward trying to keep the country on board with a war he never really wanted to fight, Johnson set about trying to fight his war in a way the American people might hopefully not notice too much. "We don't think we'll ask for much money," Johnson confided to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Richard Russell, in the summer of 1965, as he made plans to increase the ground forces in Vietnam from 80,000 to 180,000, "because we don't want to blow this thing up."

LBJ "tried to fight a war on the cheap," one of the Johnson administration's key intelligence men, George A. Carver, would say years later, "and tried to fight a war without acknowledging that he was fighting a war."

The agonized president was trying to thread a new and difficult needle: taking the nation's armed forces to war without taking the nation as a whole to war. And central to that effort was once crucial decision. Against the advice of his secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the outright objection of the chief of staff of the US Army, Johnson simply refused to call up the modern parallel to those old Jeffersonian state militias, all those men living in our neighborhoods: the US Army Reserve and the National Guard. The Guard or Reserves had been called to fight in every American war in the nation's history--even in the nonwar that was the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963--but in Vietnam, Johnson hesitated. In part he was worried that a full-scale mobilization would draw the Russians and the Chinese into the war, but mostly he didn't want to get Conhress and the rest of the country all het up and asking too many questions.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt two)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

Mobilization for World War II was even larger, and the post-war drawdown nearly as dramatic. In 1945 there were twelve million people on active duty in the US Armed Forces; five years later, that number had dropped 88 percent, to just one and a half million. But that stunning demobilization had few concomitant dislocations. Call it the War-and-Peace Dividend or the World's Greatest Stimulus Package. A country that left a Great Depression at home to confront the Axis powers overseas converted the massive government spending of the war effort into an unprecedented civilian economic boom when that war was won. Factories that had been making jeeps and warplanes and submarine engines and ammunition were now turning out new Chevrolet Bel Airs, Allis-Chalmers tractors, Cessna 170 airplanes, and Frigidaire iceboxes. It didn't hurt our standing in the world economy that about one in five able-bodied young men in Germany and the Soviet Union had been killed in the war, and at least one in ten of Japan's. And it didn't hurt that the industrial cities of Japan and Germany (and much of Western Europe, for that matter) were smoking holes; of the 10.5 million cars manufactured worldwide in 1950, the United State made more than 8 million of them, and sold 'em all over the world.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

the last book I ever read (Rachel Maddow's Drift, excerpt one)

from Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power by Rachel Maddow:

The spy boom has been a beautiful windfall for architects, construction companies, IT specialists, and above all defense contractors, enriching thousands of private companies and dozens of local economies hugging the Capital Beltway. All those SCIFs and the rest of the government-contractor gravy train have made suburban Washington, DC, home to six of the ten wealthiest counties in America. Falls Church, Loudoun Country, and Fairfax County in Virginia are one, two, and three. Goodbye, Nassau Country, New York. Take that, Oyster Bay.

The crown jewel of this sprawling intelligopolis is Liberty Crossing, in the Virginia suburbs of Washington--an 850,000 square foot (and growing) complex that houses the National Counterterrorism Center. The agency was created and funded in 2004 because, despite spending $30 billion on intelligence before 9/11, the various spy agencies in our country did not talk to one another. So the $30 billion annual intelligence budget was increased by 250 percent, and with that increase we built ourselves a clean, well-lighted edifice, concealed by GPS jammers and reflective windows, where intelligence collected by 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies under government contract is supposedly coordinated.

It is a big, big idea, and perhaps necessary--the financial commitment to it implies at least that we think it is. But it turns out Liberty Crossing is a bureaucratic haystack into which the now even more vast intelligence community tosses its shiniest needles. When a businessman relayed to CIA agents in Nigeria that his son seemed to be under the spell of terrorists and had gone to Yemen, perhaps for training, that duly reported needle got sucked into the fifty-thousand-reports-per-year haystack, only to be discovered after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit and tried to set off a bomb he'd stuff into his underpants. "The complexity of this system defies description," a retired Army lieutenant general and intelligence specialist told the Post reporters. "We can't effectively assess whether it's making us more safe."

Friday, September 14, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt eighteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Even today, some people think the whole thing was a minor peccadillo, the sort of thing engaged in by lots of politicians. I believe Watergate was an unprecedented effort to subvert the political process. It was a pervasive, indiscriminate use of power and authority from an administration with a passion for secrecy and deception and an astounding lack of regard for the normal constraints of democratic politics. To my mind, the whole thing was a very real perversion of the democratic system—from firing people who were good Republicans but who might have disagreed with Nixon in the slightest, to the wiretappings, to the breaking and entering of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, to the myriad dirty tricks, to the attempts to discredit and curb the media. As I said in a speech at the time, “It was a conspiracy not of greed but of arrogance and fear by men who came to equate their own political well-being with the nation’s very survival and security.”

The role of the Post in all of this was simply to report the news. We set out to pursue a story that unfolded before our eyes in ways that made us as incredulous as the rest of the public. The Post was never out to “get” Nixon, or, as was often alleged, to “bring down the president.” It always seemed to me outrageous to accuse the Post of pursuing the Watergate story because of the Democratic bias of the paper. A highly unusual burglary at the headquarters of a national political party is an important story, and we would have given it the same treatment regardless of which party was in power or who was running for election. I was often asked why we didn’t cover Ted Kennedy’s debacle at Chappaquiddick as fully as we were covering Watergate. The point is, we did, and the further point is that the Kennedys were probably as angry at us then as the Nixon administration was. Throughout Watergate, I was amazed at the regular allegations that somehow we had created the agony of Watergate by recklessly pursuing certain stories and thereby causing the turmoil that the president was in. How could anyone make this argument in light of the fact that the stories we reported turned out to be true?

In the end, Nixon was his own worst enemy. The Post had no enemies list; the president did. Nixon seemed to regard the Post as incurably liberal and ceaselessly antiadministration. In fact, the Post supported a great many of his policies and programs, but his paranoia, his hatred of the press, his scheming, all contributed to bringing him down—helped along by the appropriate constitutional processed, including the grand juries, courts, and Congress. Woodward and Bernstein were critical figures in seeing that the truth was eventually told, but others were at least as important: Judge Sirica; Senator Sam Ervin and the Senate Watergate Committee; Special Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski; the House Impeachment Committee under Representative Peter Rodino. The Post was an important part—but only a part—of the Watergate story.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt seventeen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

At some point, I even engaged in a behind-the-scenes back-and-forth with Clare Booth Luce. Personally I admired her, but I was not in accord with her extremely conservative views. She sometimes overdramatized things in speeches. In a major address to the Newspaper Publishers Association convention, she said she had written a speech but was troubled about it and thinking about it as she went to bed. That night, she said, the spirit of her late husband, Henry Luce, came to her and told her to tell the truth about Watergate. She then attacked the Post for our reporting and for hiring “enemies” of the president. After the speech, I told a friend that Phil Graham had appeared to me in the night and told me to tell her to “shove it.”

Thursday, September 13, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt sixteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

On August 1, over a month after the break-in, the first big story appeared under the joint byline of Bernstein and Woodward, reporting on the connection of the burglars to CRP. Three weeks later, on August 22, President Nixon was renominated with great fanfare at the Republican National Convention in Miami. The next week, apparently trying to declare the Watergate affair finished, Nixon announced that John Dean, counsel to the president, had thoroughly investigated the break-in and said, “I can state categorically that his investigation indicates that no one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident. What really hurts is if you try to cover it up.” Again, we learned only later, from John Dean’s testimony, that he had never heard of “his” investigation until the president made that statement. Strange, indeed.

On September 15, a federal grand jury indicted the original five burglars, as well as two former White House aides, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. It was on that same day—but this came to light only two years later—that Nixon spoke to two of his aides, the White House chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, and John Dean, making threats of economic retaliation against the Post: [I]t’s going to have its problems. . . . The main thing is the Post is going to have damnable, damnable problems out of this one. They have a television station . . . and they’re going to have to get it renewed. . . . And it’s going to be God damn active here. . . . [T]he game has to be played awfully rough.” Of our lawyer, Nixon said, “I wouldn’t want to be in Edward Bennett Williams’s position after this election. We are going to fix the son of a bitch, believe me. We are going to. We’ve got to, because he is a bad man.”

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt fifteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

My son Steve was still another concern. He was lonely at home, since Bill, four years his senior, had left for college. Steve was a classic member of his generation—his class at St. Albans was the first really to confront drugs in school—and few of us parents knew how to cope with the social revolution that we saw reflected in our own homes. Unfortunately, since our house was the biggest and the least supervised, it became the place where Steve and his friends gathered, and his room became the local pot parlor. I would return home to find the windows all open in an attempt to get the fumes out and cover up the telltale signs of smoking. I begged him to stop, threatening that, if caught, he and his friends would find themselves right on the front page of the Post. It had little effect.

My social life was escalating. Some of it had to do with new friends I was making within the industry, some with maintaining a life in two cities—Washington and New York. Much of it was work-related, but part I did from sheer enjoyment. There remained an element within me of disbelief that I would be included by people I thought remote and glamorous. I wasn’t pursuing either famous or wealthy people, but my son Bill later told me that he remembered thinking on occasion that there were too many famous people around the house. I suppose that I fell somewhere between the way I had grown up and the way my children now live.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt fourteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Why was I the guest of honor? Who knows? Truman and I were good friends, but we were on a less intimate basis than he was with Babe or Marella, probably the two most famous beauties in the world. In discussing who was more beautiful, Truman once said, “If they were both in Tiffany’s window, Marella would be more expensive.” He was also great friends with Slim Keith and Pamela Hayward and Lee Radziwill. In the end, however, when he had fallen out with so many of his friends, he never turned on me as he did on most of them. I think he felt protective of me. Truman knew I didn’t lead the glamorous kind of life that many of his friends did; he may have given the party for me primarily so that I could see it all up close, just once. I also think I was appropriate for the occasion because I really was a sort of middle-aged debutante—even a Cinderella, as far as that kind of life was concerned. I didn’t most of these people or their world, and they didn’t know me. He felt he needed a reason for the party, a guest of honor, and I was from a different world, and not in competition with his more glamorous friends. One of Truman’s biographers, Gerald Clarke, conjectured: “She was arguably the most powerful woman in the country, but still largely unknown outside Washington. Putting her in the spotlight was also his ultimate act as Pygmalion. It would symbolize her emergence from her dead husband’s shadow; she would become her own woman before the entire world.”

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt thirteen)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

One of the first of our trips when we were both alone was in 1966, to my mother’s favorite spa, Saratoga Springs. While we were there, Truman Capote phoned me to say he was going to give a ball to cheer me up—what he said would be “the nicest party, darling, you ever went to.” My initial response was, “I’m fine. It’s really nice of you, but I don’t need cheering up.” But Truman went right on talking of his plans, paying no attention to me. He explained that he’d always loved the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza, and also the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady, for which his friend Cecil Beaton dressed everyone in black and white. He had decided to have everyone at his ball dress in black and white, too, and wear masks, which they would remove at midnight. I was to be the guest of honor.

I was puzzled by the whole idea and not sure if Truman was serious, so I didn’t think about it much, but when Polly and I joined Truman for lunch at “21” soon afterwards, I realized that this party was more about him than about me. I think he was tired from having written In Cold Blood and needed to be doing something to re-energize himself. I was a prop.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The 49ers, #190: Kim Severson

though we're not physically in New York today, we're close. and as always September 11th is a solemn day.

but, as announced elsewhere a couple weeks ago, I was selected as one of five winners in McSweeney's 2012 Column Contest, and so a different individual 49ers interview will appear in McSweeney's virtual pages about every 17 days for the next 12 months.

today that column debuts with Kim Severson, New York Times writer and author of Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life.

tomorrow, by the way, is Kim's birthday, so please wish her a happy one if you see her. and thanks for stopping by

Please visit The 49ers Facebook page for further updates.

Monday, September 10, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, exerpt twelve)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Adlai stayed in my room for at least an hour. When he departed, he left behind his tie and his glasses, so I crept quietly down the hall to his bedroom and put them in front of his door. The next day, when I got back to the embassy in the late afternoon, the butler answered the bell looking very glum and immediately asked me, “Have you heard about Governor Stevenson?”

“No,” I responded, “what is it?”

“He’s dead,” was the reply.

I was crushed and disbelieving. He had been walking with Marietta in the rare late-afternoon British sunshine when he just fell to the ground with a fatal heart attack. Eric Sevareid arrived as I stood there, as did Marietta and Phil Kaiser, minister at the embassy, who were returning from the hospital; they had gone there in the ambulance with Adlai. Eric told me that he though Adlai had looked unusually tired—several times during their conversation the night before, Adlai had leaned back and closed his eyes. Not exactly how I found him later, I ruminated, thinking guiltily of the glasses and tie at his door.

Adlai had spoken to me, as he did to many of us, about wanting to resign from his position at the United Nations to take a rest and then go back into private business, but I had no idea how tired he must have been. In many ways, he was an unhappy man. Eric Sevareid said on the CBS Evening News a few days later that Adlai had told him, “For a while I would just like to sit in the shade with a glass of wine in my hands and watch people dance.”

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt eleven)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

After dinner, which hadn’t lasted long, we returned to the family living room, but LBJ left early for his bedroom, which was adjacent to the living room, while the rest of us sat around talking. We were in the process of saying good night to Lady Bird when the double doors of the bedroom were flung open and the president looked at me in obvious anger and barked, “Come here!” I glanced hopefully over my shoulder to see if he could possibly be referring to anyone else, but it was clearly me he wanted. “And you come here, too,” he called to Abe Fortas.

We went into his bedroom, where on the turned-down bed lay the early edition of the Post, with a large headline saying that Walter Tobriner, the lead commissioner for the District of Columbia—in effect, the appointed mayor—had named a new police chief. LBJ was livid. He said he had told Tobriner not to do anything without discussing it with him, because he wanted to appoint a “super” police chief to address the problem of crime in Washington—the only place a president can get his hands on the issue, since elsewhere it’s up to the states.

President Johnson equated me with the Post and viewed the article’s appearance in the next morning’s paper as entirely my fault. The Post had endorsed Tobriner, and “this stupid son of a bitch,” as LBJ referred to him, had gone ahead and deprived him of appointing the kind of person he wanted. He was ranting at me: “Tobriner was your creation,” etc., etc.

As he was yelling at me, he started to undress, flinging his clothes off onto a chair and the floor—his coat, his tie, his shirt. Finally, he was down to his pants. I was frozen with dismay and baffled about what to do. I remember thinking to myself: This can’t be me being bawled out by the president of the United States while he’s undressing. Suddenly he bellowed, “Turn around!” I did so, obediently and gratefully, and he went right on with his angry monologue until I turned back at his command to find him in his pajamas. He bid the two of us a curt good night, and Abe and I turned on our heels and vanished.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mark Linkous would've turned 50 today

I interviewed Mark Linkous, the sole permanent member of Sparklehorse, for the Phoenix New Times (and picked up by a few other alt-weeklies), back in 2007 when he was touring in support of his Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain album.

Mark Linkous would've turned 50 today (a kind of focus of mine), but he killed himself in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 6, 2010, after a long, long battle with depression.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt ten)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

On November 22, 1963, I had invited my old friends Arthur Schlesinger and Ken Galbraith to have lunch with the editors of Newsweek to discuss their views of the “Back of the Book” section of the magazine. I stopped by the White House to pick up Arthur, who was working there t the time, and we flew to New York and assembled for lunch with Ken, Fritz, and all the top editors and others concerned. We were having drinks when someone came flying down the hall, stuck his head in, and said, “The president has been shot.”

Our reaction was disbelief—either there was a mistake or it would be all right—yet we were panic-stricken. We rushed to a television set, and the reports quickly made it apparent that the situation was very serious. A Secret Service man, Clint Hill, who had accompanied Jackie to India when Ken was ambassador there, was quoted as saying that he though the president had been fatally wounded. Ken said, “If that comes from Clint Hill, it has to be taken seriously.” When the horrifying news came that the president was dead, we moved quickly to get to the airport to return to Washington. Ken later recalled the contrast between the total crushing feeling in the car and the still-exuberant noonday crowds, who hadn’t yet heard what had happened.

When we got back to Washington, we went together to the White House. I was reluctant to go, since I was much less close to the Kennedys than either Ken or Arthur, but they both insisted I come with them, so I did. We went into a room full of people in which Ted Sorenson was giving orders. After we’d been there a short time, he looked up impatiently and asked everyone who didn’t have a specific job to do and a right to be there to clear the room, at which point I departed, certain the remark was aimed at me, even though a great many other people left, too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt nine)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

On Saturday, August 3, Phil’s driver picked him up at Chestnut Lodge, and then they came to R Street to get me. One of the things Phil had said he wanted to do was work on farm problems while he was there, so I had asked Buck Nalls to come up to the house in the afternoon. I remember that Phil expressed surprise at my having asked Buck to come, no doubt having forgotten that he had mentioned working on the farm as one of his reasons for going there.

We had lunch on two trays on the back porch at Glen Welby, chatting and listening to some classical records. After lunch, we went upstairs to our bedroom for a nap. After a short while, Phil got up, saying he wanted to lie down in a separate bedroom he sometimes used. Only a few minutes later, there was an ear-splitting noise of a gun going off indoors. I bolted out of the room and ran around in a frenzy looking for him. When I opened the door to a downstairs bathroom, I found him.

It was so profoundly shocking and traumatizing—he was so obviously dead and the wounds were so ghastly to look at—that I just ran into the next room and buried my head in my hands, trying to absorb that this had really happened, this dreadful thing that had hung over us for the last six years, which he had discussed with me and with the doctors, but which he had not been talking about in recent weeks, when he was obviously most seriously thinking about it. The sight had been so appalling that I knew I couldn’t go back in, so I ran to call Buck and our caretaker, William Smith, for help. They had heard the gunshot and appeared immediately.

Friday, September 7, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt eight)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

A sad, small, but symbolic event took place during this time, which seemed to me to be the nadir. We were at Crescent Place, and my mother gave me some long, pretty paste earrings of hers. It meant a great deal to me; she was not very forthcoming about that kind of thing, and it had never happened before. Phil said, “You don’t wear long earrings and Lally does. Give them to her.” How could I have simply obeyed? But I did. I handed them to Lally and went out by myself to the pantry, where I burst into tears. I suppose I didn’t have the strength to resist and just quietly laugh and keep them, which any normal person would have done. To me, it was symbolic of losing everything. I felt ultimately demeaned.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt seven)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

It’s hard to describe my total devastation after my discovery of the affair. This kind of thing has happened to innumerable people of both sexes, but I had never dreamed it could happen to me. I knew that marriage could endure momentary disloyalties, but this was different. It’s very hard to understand, even in retrospect, how the possibility of his having an affair had never occurred to me, I was so blinded by the closeness of our relationship and by what we had been through together in the last years. My feeling that something fundamental had been destroyed was a result of my own total commitment and my belief that these feelings went both ways. Also, it was part of my bafflement at what I saw as Phil’s increasingly strange behavior. I had no understanding of the context of the terrible depression he had come through or the polar-opposite mood that was dominating him at the time: not even then had anyone bothered to utter the term “manic-depressive.” I truly believed that he and I were bound together by time, by choice, by shared experiences, by our family, and by the life of the company that was so important to both of us.

Phil was clearly upset, too. He told me he wanted to preserve our marriage and our family; he said that he loved Robin but would tell her the affair was over, and that he would stay with his family.

It was a memorable Christmas holiday. I was wrenched apart by finding out the whole thing, and Phil was torn at having decided to end it. He knew a breakup would be terribly difficult for Robin, so, to help her recover, he sent her on a vacation in the sunshine and even sent along a friend of his to keep her company. The friend turned out to be another girl from his past, about whom I, of course, had never known.

For some reason, in those immediate days after my discovery of Robin’s existence, Phil seemed to have a compulsion to tell me much more than I wanted to know about this side of his life, of which I had been happily oblivious—about his past relations with other women, of whom there apparently had been several. I was, of course, shattered, as well as completely stunned to learn of his interest in other, including some of my own friends to whom he had made approaches, and Robin’s companion, with whom he said he had had a long, strange relationship.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt six)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Unbeknownst to Phil at the time, the previous afternoon Kennedy had formally offered the vice-presidency to Symington through Clark Clifford. After conferring with his wife and two sons, who were opposed to the idea, Symington told Clark to accept, but added presciently, “I bet you a hundred dollars that no matter what he says, Jack will not make me his running mate. He will have to pick Lyndon.” Clark called Kennedy back and accepted for Symington.

Early Thursday morning, Kennedy called Johnson, waking him up and making an appointment to see him a little later. At that meeting he offered him the vice-presidency—both because he thought he had to and because he thought that Johnson would not accept. Kennedy went back to his headquarters and, according to Arthur Schlesinger in Robert Kennedy and His Times, told Bobby, “You just won’t believe it. He wants it.” Phil had been right. Johnson would indeed accept.

Everyone around the Kennedys, especially those connected with the labor movement, was upset. Apparently, they all spent much of the day thinking how they could undo what they had done. Bobby went down to see Lyndon twice, once to feel him out and the second time to tell him that there was going to be a lot of opposition, that it was going to be unpleasant, and to offer him instead the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt five)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

We left Venice for a simple hotel at the beach resort of Forte dei Marmi, and there we received word that my father had taken a real turn for the worse and we should return at once. Phil and I left the children with the college girl who was travelling with us and flew back to New York and on to Washington, which took sixteen hours. The thought of being there at his death disturbed me so deeply that I was torn between wanting to see him and hoping it had already happened. He died two days after we got back, but he knew I was there.

People react in such complicated ways to any death, but particularly to the death of a parent, because a lot of what one feels is about oneself and the sense that nothing now stands between that self and dying. You have now become the older generation. I believe that the closer and more loving the relationship is, the deeper but simpler the grief. Of my father’s children, my brother had the hardest time with his death, perhaps because their relationship was difficult to begin with and very ambivalent; through no fault of either of them, they had never been close. My mother was so complicated emotionally to begin with that his death was very hard for her. She had chafed under the burden of his aging, but when he died she sank into a deep depression. It was as if she had been leaning against a door that had suddenly burst open.

There was a private service for my father at Crescent Place, and a more public memorial service at the nearby All Souls Unitarian Church—one he had never attended. I suppose it was hard to hit on an appropriate spot for a nonreligious Jew. My parents’ friend Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered a eulogy, which I think was written by Sidney Hyman. Rudolf Serkin played with his quartet. The whole thing was simple and moving. And I couldn’t believe he was gone.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt four)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Reconfiguring Glen Welby for our needs was my job. The house itself required a lot of work. We built a hard-surfaced tennis court on the remains of one we found. We created our own recreational swimming and fishing by digging a pond at the foot of the hill in front of the house, then damming a stream and installing pipes under the dam to feed the pond. Every spring I would have a truckload of sand brought in and dumped on the dam to form a small beach. We built a pier with a diving board, and Phil had the completed pond stocked with bass and bream. This one-acre pond eventually was dubbed Lake Katharine, since several such lakes, built by friends in the neighborhood, were named after wives. A few years later, Phil built a second, much bigger pond below the first, lower down on the stream. This pond was named Lake Philip. In 1957, when Ed Murrow was creating a lake on some land he owned, Phil wrote him to “be sure to name this one for your wife. This will seem generous, but more important you are bound to build a bigger pond soon. That one can then be called Lake Edward.” We made a little island in the middle of Lake Philip and called it Ile Sainte-Lally—a takeoff on Ile Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine in Paris.

Because this second lake was big enough for boating, Phil gradually acquired or built a small fleet of boats of various odd shapes and kinds—a sailboat he sent for and put together himself, a rowboat, a canoe, and a little canvas cockleshell. He also had a shed built to shelter the collection, which he then christened the Lake Philip Yacht Club, and for which we had a gala opening, complete with matchbooks embossed with “LPYC” and a song Lally composed for the event. As the children grew older, he added a motorboat, small yet powerful enough to pull them on water skis.

Our lives centered on these two lakes, where we swam and boated and enjoyed the ducks and wild Canada geese as they came and went in spring and fall. We went walking, played hours of tennis and softball, and hit golf balls into the fields. Phil and the children, particularly Bill, fished passionately in both lakes; occasionally Phil fished all night. He had an arsenal of guns at the farm, and everyone learned to shoot at an early age. Even I learned to handle a shotgun, although I always ended up with a bruised shoulder, since I didn’t handle the kick very well. Phil used to hunt groundhogs, and in season quail, and we all shot skeet. Bill was an avid marksman, had his own .22 when he was very young, and, I regret to say, sometimes shot pigeons off the barn roof. One day, after dinner, Phil put some pewter candlesticks we had gotten for a wedding gift on the stone wall that separated the house from the farm’s fields, lit the candles, and had the children try to snuff the flames out with .22s. Naturally they missed and hit the candlesticks, which I still have, conspicuously dented.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt three)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

I had bought the things we needed for the baby, including three rubber sheets with the crib, although Phil protested that no child of his would need them. And I had gained a lot of weight and was quite uncomfortable, particularly when it started to get hot in Washington.

We were beginning to think the baby was overdue, so I suggested to my doctor that he induce labor, which he did, but it was too soon and the baby wasn’t ready. When after three days it finally began to be born, the cord was around its neck, a situation that ordinarily could be dealt with. Apparently, that night, with wartime help shortages, the doctor was delivering several babies at once, and by the time he got to my problem it was too late. We lost the baby boy.

When I came to after the long ordeal, I looked at Phil and groggily asked, “Is the baby all right?” When he said no, I couldn’t believe it. I had never heard of anyone losing a baby and was so disbelieving that I was sure it couldn’t possibly be true. But it was all too real. I was devastated. I will never forget getting back to the house, where Phil had removed all of the baby’s things so that it wouldn’t be even more painful. I began to realize not only that there was no baby but that Phil would now be leaving to go into the army and I would be alone. It was a terrible anguish, compounded by a desperate feeling that we’d never have children and an even greater fear that something might happen to him—all the worst dreads combined. Phil was wonderful to me, and we both were helped by my father. My mother was so upset I don’t remember seeing her until several weeks afterwards.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt two)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Many of these habits were overcome when I married Phil Graham, who was exceedingly generous and imaginatively giving. Some habits I have never overcome are odd ones I inherited from my father. Despite the vast scale on which we lived, my father had peculiar fixations on certain small expenses. He preached tiny economies with zeal—using things up completely, never wasting, never phoning if you could wire, or better still, write. The compulsion I am still left with is turning out every light before I go to bed at night. To this day, alone in a house I am totally unable to leave a light on—I will go up and down halls and staircases if I know a light is on. I tell myself to stop, that it doesn’t matter, yet then I go and turn it off.

Some lessons were impressed on me by reverse example. When I was young I perceived grown-ups behaving quite oddly at times. I remember being shocked or dismayed by things I observed and making silent vows not to behave as they did when I grew up. For instance, my mother, when confronted with a line waiting at the movies, would go up to the box office and say, “I am Mrs. Eugene Meyer of The Washington Post,” and demand to be taken in and seated. At that time, she did indeed get in. I cringed with embarrassment and hoped the ground would swallow me up. It had such a lasting effect on me that I have never been able to deal with headwaiters in restaurants who put you “in Siberia” rather than the better part of the restaurant. I just go meekly to Siberia.

As the years went on, my mother seemed to have a more and more difficult time emotionally. She became increasingly engrossed in her friendships with the series of men in her life, only one of which, I believe, may have been a true affair—the one with Bill Ward. She was constantly beset with colds, pneumonia, or various other illnesses, and she reacted to each one with the greatest amount of care, self-pity, and drama, demanding and receiving constant visits, with all of us dancing attendance. In retrospect, I wonder if depression contributed to this intense concentration on her health.

She also started to drink more heavily, sometimes starting as early as ten in the morning, at least during one period in her life. This was a problem that greatly worried my father and was an escalating burden to him and to all of us. Even her drinking was done in a somewhat eccentric way. There was an old-fashioned locked whiskey-and-wine closet in the basement to which only my father had the key, so he would have to make repeated trips to the cellar and therefore knew exactly how much she was drinking. Of course, admonishments on this score never had an effect. The surprising thing is that she never bought whiskey herself or asked him for her own key.

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt one)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Miss Madeira ran a tight ship in a strict age. Her motto, which she often included in her talks to the school assemblies, was full of puritan drive: “Function in disaster. Finish in style.” Boarders were allowed to go into town to shop at one department store, though a chaperone had to stand guard in the shoe department because a man held your foot. One of my friends, Jean Rawlings, was invited to have lunch with her roommate and her roommate’s father. “Impossible,” said the housemother, “you can’t go out with your roommate’s father.” Apparently, several years before, a girl had run away with another student’s father.

Despite my penchant for law-abiding ways, I participated in one illegal activity. I joined a secret society, Vestes ad Mortuum, or Virgins Until Death—an odd goal, I must say. In the middle of the night, we virgins arose, donned heavy rain-capes that Miss Madeira had procured from a French monastery, hiked a mile into the woods, and buried a pair of galoshes—the significance of which is unfortunately lost on me now. Vests ad Mortuum flourished for several years after I graduated, until one envious girl who had not been tapped for membership squealed to Miss Madeira.

Dances were held at school about twice a year. Of course, no boys were allowed, so all the girls put on their evening dresses and corsages and danced with each other. The taller girls, who led, as I did, often found it difficult adjusting to male dancing partners in later life.