effrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker apparently wants to throw away the key on poor Manning, and (eventually) on poor Snowden. I think this is a bit harsh. I don't know Toobin, though I would like to, for he has managed to separate himself from the pack, which in the freelance journalism world is extremely hard to do. I always read him first whenever he is in the New Yorker. I don't know how much he knows of the rest of the world at this stage in his career--all of these pundits would do well to live in another country for a while. One's viewpoint changes dramatically upon realizing that the USA is not the be all and end all of the world. This being said, I deplore his feelings about these whistle blowers, especially coming from a professional journalist, and a very good journalist. The public does have a right to know. Whistle blowers are vital in a democracy, unless they actively harm the country or individuals. I don't see where Snowden or Manning hurt anyone very much. Some peoples' feelings certainly. What else?
There is much in the news, and in Facebook by Toobin and others, about Manning and Snowden. Now Manning has been sent away for 35 years for leaking secrets that were better off leaked. Secrets that should never have been secret at all--all those diplomatic cables for instance. Mostly he seems to have exposed procedures employed by government operatives, which procedures don't bear the light of day, or scurrilous comments by same which should never have been written down and which became important only because they were classified as secret. Government workers seem to think everything they do or think or say is vital and should be hush-hush, and most journalists think nothing should be. Guess which way my feelings lie. I sympathize with Manning--a great many murderers don't get 35 years--and also with Snowden when his time comes. Our very democracy depends on people coming forward to journalists with "secrets" committed in the public's name which the public has a right to know. Show me concrete harm those guys and others have done before you impose silence on them and on us.
Have never been to a writers' conference, have rarely met socially with writers apart from other NYTimes guys, and Michener and Clavell whom I met in other countries, and came to like enormously, and Jones and Saroyan the same. One or two others. I know this was a career mistake. To sell books the first thing one needs is the approval of one's peers. They will create the initial buzz, and solidify one's standing with editors, but I didn't realize this until too late. I was always working, didn't have time. And I preferred the company of the people I wrote about, the racing drivers, cops, opera singers, bullfighters, chefs, winegrowers, football players etc., people who could teach me about parts of life I didn't know, and in some cases didn't even suspect. Of course I got by, but it would have been easier and quicker if I had taken the time to work the room. Too late now.
A reader wrote to ask what were my own favorites among my books. I have them I suppose, though to focus on a few is a bit like disowning the others, which is hard to do. For many years I thought The Dangerous Edge the best of my novels but after that I tend to rate The Enemy of God, and The Innocents Within. Last night I woke in the night and scenes from Man With A Gun began running through my head. Explain that to me. That particular reader said he had just started on Pictures, and that is one that pleases me enormously even though it may seem less serious than some of the others. But I thought it came out a neat little story and I fell in love with the heroine I created. In non fiction Portraits of France and Target Blue because they are so personal.
How little it takes to have your heartstrings tugged by somebody you don't really know. I watched Donald Graham interviewed last night (Aug. 6)on the PBS news hour, about the Graham family losing the Washington Post. How sad he looked. He was admitting that the Grahams couldn't run it anymore, and hoping that the Amazon guy could. At the Rome Olympics in 1960 there was some kind of press lottery. The prize was an Olivetti portable typewriter, the last word then and surely forever, in typewriters, worth at least $40. It was won by Donnie, aged 14. I had just had my car broken into and my typewriter and other stuff stolen, I had no typewriter, and Donnie's mother Katherine Graham, told him to give me his prize, and he did. He was a nice kid and he did not become what the French call a son of daddy. When he was old enough he became a Washington street cop, and there were other stops too before he got old enough to take over the paper. I never saw him again. I wish I had. I know what it is like to have a newspaper in your veins and last night I suffered for him.
Here are some thoughts which, earlier, I failed to enter onto this blog at the time. Read them at your own risk.
April 30: Yesterday ex Detective Leuci took note of the announcement by Michelle Bachmann that she was quitting the House. As he said, life will be such less interesting without her. But let's remember that she was also a vote in favor of every stupid idea that was out there, and a vote against intelligence and progress every chance she got. She was also a beautiful, beautiful 55 year old mother of five (or however many it is), one of the few in the political world, matching in beauty and stupidity at least two other beautiful, political 55 year mothers of many, our own beloved Sarah Palin for one, and Segolene Royal, who five years ago ran for president of France and who, if she had been even a trifle less stupid, might have been elected. None of these woman had the intellectual capacity of a slab of cement, but they were beautiful. People liked looking at them. Do not discount beauty in women.
March 27: Re: gay marriage. It's a subject I just don't care about one way or the other, except insofar as it debauches the English language. I fear for the language. Marriage was always a beautiful and useful word. Suddenly it can mean something quite different and can't be used without attaching an adjective, which makes the language poorer, which annoys me."
March 25: A reader wrote to ask what were my own favorites among my books. I have them I suppose, though to focus on a few is a bit like disowning the others, which is hard to do. For many years I thought The Dangerous Edge the best of my novels but after that I tend to rate The Enemy of God, and The Innocents Within. Last night I woke in the night and scenes from Man With A Gun began running through my head. Explain that to me. That particular reader said he had just started on Pictures, and that is one that pleases me enormously even though it may seem less serious than some of the others. But I thought it came out a neat little story and I fell in love with the heroine I created. In non fiction Portraits of France and Target Blue because they are so personal.
Jan. 12: Went to see Zero Dark Thirty last night and was appalled by it. The first thirty minutes--perhaps it wasn't quite that long, it seemed even longer--show CIA administered torture with no moral comment at all, but with critical information successfully extracted. Bravo for the torturers. Bravo for us Americans. It's rotten storytelling for we know nothing about the characters involved, and it's morally sickening. Torture is everywhere and always wrong, there can not ever under any circumstances be any justification for it. Do you need a Jesuit education to see this? Is there something wrong with me? Don't give me any of those ticking bomb situations, or some other totally fraudulent argument. The whole film was, to me, badly constructed, artistically lame. The heroine, this CIA analyst, merely watches the 30 minutes of torture, which is as totally unconvincing as medieval battle scenes since movie directors cannot actually torture the actors, the heroine showing no shame or revulsion whatever; and the last 30 minutes is the Bin Ladin raid itself in which she does not take part. In between she is on screen a lot while others decide what to do, but we never learn the first thing about her, or are taught to have any understanding of her or sympathy for her. No no no. In drama you cannot do that. Best film of the year? No no no again. To me a disgusting film and experience.
Jan. 6: Went yesterday to the opera—the Met live in HD in a cinema in New Rochelle. These shows are all matinees, about dozen of them a season spaced two weeks apart. In France, given the six our time difference, they start at six or seven at night and afterwards we would all go out to dinner and talk about what we had just seen and heard. In New York they start at mid-day—yesterday’s at noon—and you don’t get any lunch. Somewhat inhuman, that. These are marvelous shows with, now, about three million viewers. You watch, meaning the cameras watch, from the best seats in the house, and the cameras go backstage during the intermissions. The singers, dripping sweat and relief, wrung out, come off the stage and get microphones stuffed in their faces and must submit to short interviews about themselves and the opera in progress—yesterday it was Les Troyens of Berlioz. The singers, being show business types, put on the show that is required of them. They are all smiling and cordial as if they enjoyed this intrusion, which they don’t. After that the cameras show you the scenery being changed. In the days when I was following certain singers around the world, hardly anyone ever got to talk to singers besides us, nor got back stage for the scenery changes, meaning that all the exclusivity which I sought all my professional life is gone now. Everyone in the cinemas in 30 countries can imagine themselves intimate with tenors, sopranos and the opera world. And in those old days, which were not so long ago, no singer would talk to anyone just before a performance or during intermissions. But we are living in modern times, and the world has changed. Great singers are human beings, by God, and everyone world wide gets to, in effect, talk to them.
Same thing with regard to every other intimacy journalists got to witness. I am still trying to cope with all this. A good journalist was someone who got inside locker rooms, went into theaters by the stage door, became intimate with stars, witnessed people and events no one else had ever got close to. He was, or at least thought himself, special and privileged both. Not anymore. I sometimes feel myself just another casualty of modern times, and I don’t like it very much.
Dec. 6: A reader who had just read Year of the Dragon was moved enough to write me a letter saying so and asking me questions about it. Particularly she wanted to know if its protagonist, an NYPD captain I called Arthur Powers, returned (recurred) in any of my other novels. I answered that Arthur Powers was modeled to some extent on a Captain Arthur Deutcsh whom I knew well when I was in the NYPD. After making captain Deutcsh went 11 years without a precinct of his own, as does the hero of Year of the Dragon. He later became chief of police in Birmingham, and I sometimes saw him there. I never used the Powers character, nor any other character from any of these novels a second time. If I had I might have had more success than I did, for people like continuing characters. But I have had success enough, and the idea never appealed to me. Everything I knew about Arthur Powers was in that one book, I had nothing left to say about him, and I didn't ever want to do the same book twice, or anything like the same book twice. I hope this makes sense to others besides me.
Watched a DVD of The Good Soldier. It was a Masterpiece Theatre presentation on public television a few years back. Based on a 1915 novel by Ford Madox Ford, which was both a literary and commercial success at the time. The story concerns two upper class couples, one American, one British. The British marriage was an arranged one. They have not spoken to each other in private in 14 years. The American marriage is unconsummated after nine years. All four of these people are extremely uptight, and they switch partners. In 1915 this must have counted as a very sexy tale though there is no sex on the screen, not a single caress or kiss. Because today we are looking for overt sex everywhere, this story was to me a bit murky at first. It ends in tragedy, suicides all around, and I found it quite moving. I have never read Ford and knew of him mostly through a scene in A Movable Feast. In which he sits down beside Hemingway in a Paris café in the early 20s. Hemingway describes him as badly dressed, overweight, boring, with bad breath and body odor, and he inflicsd himself upon the struggling young author who was Hemingway. No mention that Ford ran a literary magazine in Paris in the 20s, or that he hired the penniless Hemingway as assistant editor, or published his early work when no one else would. Make no mistake, Hemingway, part of the time, maybe most of the time, was a total shit, always ready to mock and disparage people who had helped him. A Movable Feast, so highly praised when it appeared, is as mean spirited a book as anyone could wish for. Better to read The Good Soldier.
Why does one suffer so for other people, even sometimes for people one doesn't know, has never met? The other night we went to a concert outdoors under a tent at Caramoor, the summer music venue near Katonah, NY. On stage, one after the other, appeared eleven young singers no one had ever heard of, some of them fresh out of Julliard, singing songs by Verdi that hardly anyone knew the master had ever composed. It was lovely music and lovely singing but I looked up at so much talent, hope and hard work and suffered for those young people. How many of them would make careers? The answer is, very few, maybe none. I know this because in the past I got exceedingly close to a number of famous singers, followed several of them to far corners of America and Europe. I wrote articles and a book about singers. Twice I was in their dressing rooms during intermission when the impresario came in with their money. I served as master of ceremonies from the stage at Alice Tully Hall at Tenor James McCracken's memorial service. All the singers I came to know had faced hard times starting out. McCracken's career at the Met and the other great houses lasted 27 years but at the start he went two years and two months of auditioning before landing a contract. Listening to those young singers onstage I knew what they were in for. Then as now there are ten, or maybe a hundred times more singers coming up every year than there are contracts. And so I suffered for them in advance. But why? Perhaps because in recognizing their struggle, their disappointments to come, I saw myself. Singing is no different from the other arts. It was hard for me to get started as a writer. That was 29 books ago, but I haven't forgotten. There were whole years of wondering if anyone would ever publish me. Well, most other fields are similar, of course. More journalism graduates come out every year than, in this shrinking market, there are jobs to be filled. New lawyers too, I'm told. So on the subject of suffering for other people, I don't deserve any praise. It's probably myself I am suffering for. It's as simple as that.