The other reason: last night I hopped a plane to Las Vegas for my college buddies’ annual reunion. Several of my close friends were varsity wrestlers when we attended college together, and every year the team’s alumni travel to cheer on current students competing at the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Collegiate Wrestling Invitational. Those of us who love fun — but whose idea of fun rarely involves scrambling around on a mat in a singlet, grabbing at another man’s thighs — tag along for the ride. We’ve been making the trip for a few years now, and as my friend Max says, “I start getting excited about next year’s trip the day after I get back from Vegas.”
Cambridge, MA—The American public has responded in similar and predictable ways to each of the country’s three major conflicts since World War II. At the beginning of each episode, public support was considerable as people rallied around the flag in support of a shared ideal, be it anti-Communism during Korea and Vietnam, or anti-terrorism in Iraq. Subsequently, support has tended to decline with an increase in casualties and the duration of hostilities. Finally, after both the Korean and Vietnamese wars, the party that initiated the conflict was voted out of the White House, with Eisenhower replacing Truman and Nixon replacing Johnson.
Recent polls have shown eroding support for both the President and the GOP. Less clear is what might be done to halt or reverse that trend. Although more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the war, and 54% feel that their country shouldn’t have even gone into Iraq in the first place, 42% still believe that the military should remain until the situation is stabilized — and only 30% believe that all troops should be withdrawn entirely. These figures highlight the challenge of responding to divided public opinion in the face of a protracted occupation and discouraging historical precedent. (more…)
DAGORETTI, KENYA—The day began with a national downpour that turned the clay roads of Kenya into red rivers of mud. One could almost believe the party bosses when they claimed it was the water that caused the ballots to show up late at polling stations from Mombasa to Mount Elgon. The federal election was still more than a month away, but the parties had waited until now to hold their nominations. (more…)
TORONTO—If I were to rank the three subjects that, on a daily basis, consume the greatest share of my working imagination, my list would look something like this:
3. Alcoholic Beverages
Of course, the items on this list are a lot closer than might be inferred from their hierarchical arrangement; there’s only a fraction of difference between my three great loves. But we’re going to stick with integers because that’s how lists work best.
NEW YORK—Ulysses Grant was at one point the greatest American of the 19th century: he defeated the Confederate forces, ending the Civil War and saving the Union. Things were pretty much downhill from there. Grant won the presidency, only to be remembered for scandal: as PBS notes in its round-up of presidential history, “His Treasury secretary collected illegal taxes, his secretary of war took kickbacks for patronage jobs, and his vice president defrauded government contracts through a dummy railroad corporation.”
Well, nobody’s perfect. But it gets worse. (more…)
BULAWAYO, ZIMBABWE—I met Max Mkhandla in the sitting room of Radio Dialogue’s ninth floor offices in the southern city of Bulawayo. He wore an olive green jumpsuit and looked mildly contemptuous of all the soft couches. His fierce eyes squinted from between a shaved crown and a compact beard that jutted horizontally out from his chin and served to emphasize the thrust of his words. Max was to be my guide for a tour of the arid countryside surrounding Bulawayo. Here, in the province of Matebeleland, the effects of what Mugabe refers to as Zimbabwe’s “third chimurenga” — independence struggle — were said to be the most acute in the country. Max knew the region well, having covered it on foot as a teenage guerrilla during the second chimurenga of the 1970’s, when people still fought with guns. Then, the battle lines had been clear: black rebels versus the white soldiers of apartheid Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known. Things are murkier now. Not only have dollar bills replaced bullets, but skin color is no longer a reliable determinant of friend and foe.
As noted in my previous post, I met Norman Mailer at a conference at Harvard three years ago. At the time, I’d read almost none of his work and was completely nonplussed by the experience. Being of a generation for whom practically everything is held up as larger than life, and thus for whom almost no one is larger than life, I had no appreciation for why, e.g., Ken Finkleman would go off his rocker when he learned I’d met the man.1 However, when I picked up King of the World, David Remnick’s extended snapshot of Muhammad Ali, in the course of researching a story on fighting, the force and utter strangeness of Mailer’s personality at the height of his fame became impossible to overlook.
In a room at the Cambridge Hiatt, shortly after I arrived to accompany Mr. Mailer to his keynote address for a Harvard conference.
Mailer (pulling on a shoe with some difficulty): It’s no fun getting old.
Me: No kidding.
(With apologies to David Ng’s “True Encounters in My Research Career,” in our September 2007 issue.)
A post on Mailer’s boxing writing to follow tomorrow.
NEW YORK–To grasp the essential charm and weirdness of American politics, look no further than this: among the current cast of presidential candidates, the most strident critic of the Iraq war is a Republican. Say what you like about Ron Paul — contrarian (he shunned his party to vote against the Patriot Act), libertarian (he wants to abolish the IRS), even crazy (he wants to return to the gold standard). But he is also raising lots and lots of money. (more…)
Cambridge, MA—When Einstein first remarked that “Everything is relative,” he didn’t have Stan O’Neal in mind. This week, Merrill Lynch’s top banker was paid $161.5 million to take an early retirement after suggesting, quite acceptably, that the bank ought to consider merging with another global titan of finance to buoy its sagging share price, restore investor confidence, and position the company for growth after the latest shake-up in the credit markets.
To be fair, the bank just announced that it was writing down $8.4 billion in holdings as a result of the recent mortgage meltdown, and Merrill’s stock has underperformed every one of its global banking peers in 2007. But this latest sacking adds yet another ugly data point to the growing debate around executive compensation at a time when even failure, it would seem, can be a sign of success. (more…)
Mount Pleasant, Harare—Innocent Matshe is the chairman of the Economics department at the University of Zimbabwe. To him, I am Alex, a Canadian sociology student. Whether he believes this or not I don’t know, but he accepts my unannounced visit with relaxed good humour and ushers me into his office.
“In order to understand Zimbabwe’s current situation,” he says, “you need to know about three things.” (more…)
New York—We’re really in the homestretch now. After three years of campaigning — starting the day John Kerry stood up in Boston’s Faneuil Hall to concede to George Bush — there’s just one more year to go before the 2008 presidential election. To mark the occasion, here are my picks for the issues the candidates aren’t likely to talk about over the next twelve months, at least not in the sort of detail they deserve. And that’s all the more reason to keep bringing them up.
Climate Change. Everybody knows the Democrats are eager to tackle global warming. Or are they? For all the optimistic predictions that a Democratic Congress would push the Bush Administration to act on greenhouse gas emissions, the actual results have been disappointing. It turns out that passing smart laws to fight climate change is actually kind of hard. (more…)