Monday, December 31, 2007

Night of the Living Dead

It's customary at year's end to reflect upon those who won't be joining us for the evening's festivities.

Farewell to Evel Kneivel and Bill Walsh, who both applied vector analysis in most startling ways.

Godspeed to Jerry Falwell, Norman Mailer, and Tammy Faye Messner, believers all. May you find what you'd been praying for, and dodge what you'd been fearing.

Best of luck in the void (if that means anything) to Kurt Vonnegut.

May history be kind to Ian Smith, Boris Yeltsin, and, Paul Tibbets, the man who pulled the lever over Hiroshima. May history also smile upon those two smiling ladies, Benazir Bhutto, who departed in an epic "blaze of glory," and Lady Bird Johnson, who drifted out long after most of us had assumed she was already gone.

I know nothing about Bhutto, other than the usual media-generated platitudes, but I do have one tidbit on Lady Bird, who, despite her genteel demeanor and love of flowers, is reputed to have been, beyond the public eye, quite the Tyrant Demon. A third-hand story has it that while visiting a well-connected political family here in Georgia, Lady Bird was called by a member of the household to breakfast. "I'll eat my breakfast when I'm goddamn good and ready," came the booming reply from behind the door. Or so it is alleged.

But of course one drawn, smoke-stained figure is, yet again, and perhaps unsurprisingly, still among the living. I speak of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, who doesn't so much cheat the Grim Reaper as stare him to a draw:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, . . .

Donne may not have had The Stones in mind when he drew up these lines on Death, but then, he'd never heard "Sympathy for the Devil" or "Tumblin' Dice." "Say now, baby, I'm the rank outsider, You can be my partner in crime." Not yet, Keif. Not just yet.

Here's a 20-year-old interview from Finnish television. You'll note that Richards is even then sporting a visage that might still a Pale Horse, and chill its Rider. You might also enjoy, if that's the right word, his personal anthem. I suspect that Keif will be with us for yet some time.

And better then thy stroake . . .

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Man Who Would Be King

Since Africa has been a topic of some discussion lately, I thought it might be interesting to contrast two newspaper views of Jacob Zuma, the man likely to be South Africa's next president; that is, if he can survive corruption charges.

First, we have the New York Time's Survivor is Poised to Lead South Africa. Although by no means entirely flattering, it casts Mr. Zuma in a mostly favorable light, neglecting to mention, among other things, Mr. Zuma's rousing campaign anthem, "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

For another portrait of Mr. Zuma (including "Bring Me My Machine Gun") one naturally turns to The Daily Mail, whose profile of Mr. Zuma bears the spirited title, Machine Gun Man Takes Over The ANC - God Help the Rainbow Nation. Not the sort of title ever likely to be encountered in the Times.

The Daily Mail does cast a more critical eye on Mr. Zuma's "short-skirt" rape defense, his advocacy of post-coital showers as a prophylactic to HIV transmission, and his intent to "Africanise" the country.

If nothing else, these two articles do serve to illustrate that much of what matters in journalism is related simply to the selection process: what to include, and what to omit. I am not asserting that either version is more accurate than the other; let's just say they both reflect the journalistic temperament of their respective publications.

I'm off with the family for a few days in the mountains, watching the rain fall. Well, it's a a change of scenery. As the charming couple in the photograph above might so colloquially put it, Merry fookin' Christmas!