Friday, November 28, 2008

Normal service will be resumed ...

… sometime after a domestic crisis.

At around 11pm on Thursday, 27th November, three thugs forced entry into the Portadown, County Armagh, home of an elderly widow-lady, living alone, aged 87.

She was stiffled, and held, while the others ransacked the house. Quite what was taken (apart from the predictable banking information) is uncertain.

Since the lovely, harmless, elderly lady was Malcolm’s mother-in-law, he is otherwise engaged.

So much for “Peace and Justice”.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The seven ages of English spy fiction

Malcolm's latest post promised a study of Erskine Childers' The Riddle of the Sands. That book, which is often quoted as the first example of a now-overcrowded genre, also needs to be placed in context.

So, here's a possible structure for a historical perspective of the genre:
  • before Childers, what?
  • Childers, in 1903;
  • Richard Hannay;
  • Bulldog Drummond, and the inter-War years;
  • James Bond and the brutalities of the Cold War world;
  • John Le Carré and a new ambivalent intellectualism;
  • Len Deighton, and the post-Le Carré scene.
Three literary, social and historical forces (the point of which confluence amounts to popular taste) are at work here:

1. Who is the national enemy?

Over time this changes from
  • nebulous anarchist forces, usually associated with east European nasties, to
  • the horrible Hun,
  • to the Red Menace and the Enemy Within,
  • to nebulous nihilist forces, usually associated with Islamicist Asian nasties.
2. What is the literary climate?

This, too, changes.
  • The spy novel emerges from the miasma of the penny dreadful and Daily Mail sensationalist page-fillers.
  • The Riddle of the Sands is, self-consciously, more demanding. Indeed, at its original publication, the Times Literary Supplement suggested that "the whole story can scarcely be understood by any but practical navigators". Malcolm notes, in that context, that his hard-back copy dates from 1955, when it was published by Rupert Hart-Davis, as number 29 in the "Mariners Library".
  • Then it is back to the popular yellow-back shocker, sold through the railway bookstall, recognising the growth of a mass-market for such publications.
  • Publishing standards, and intellectual acceptance improve as, successively, Alan Lane's Penguins, then the universal wartime economy editions give way to the post-war library hardbacks feeding into well-designed paperback editions. The current vogue for "trade paperbacks" raises the quality standard even further. Malcolm's aside here is that the dust-covers Richard Copping did for Jonathan Cape's first editions of Ian Fleming are the genre's gold standard of presentation.
  • Content as well as medium has higher standards. Eric Ambler and Graham Greene bridge the chasm between popular and intellectual readership. Characterisation is vastly improved. By the time Le Carré is hitting his stride, the "spy novel" is indistinguishable from the "psychological novel".
3. The advance of technology

Over the last century, we have gone from the Martini rifle, the anarchist's bomb and the prosaic Dulcibella through poison gas, aircraft, atom bombs, death rays, the space age and missile technology, and into the cyberage. The MacGuffin changes accordingly; but the essential plot of the best spy stories still reduces to a protagonist hunting, encountering, escaping and, in the end-game, neutralising an antagonist, on a credible human level.

In this continuing post, Malcolm focuses on The Riddle of the Sands,
the first two of his suggested "Seven Ages" above.
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Monday, November 24, 2008

... by firing squad in Dublin 86 years ago today, for the crime of carrying a handgun as a rebel against the Irish Free State, Erskine Childers was executed.

A single-paragraph, third editorial in today's Guardian marks the occasion. The short piece notes:
Many things about Childers were contradictory. English born, and an Anglican, he ended up fighting the British empire he had once supported. A powerful writer - the Observer once put [T]he Riddle of the Sands 37th in its list of the 100 greatest books of all time - he produced only one novel, less well known now than it should be.
Of course, it isn't anything like that 266-word simple. Very few things are.

For Malcolm, it comes down to three essential questions*:

1. Why did Childers support the Irish republicans?

Well, why not?

His mother, Anne Barton, had her family home at Glendalough House (right) in the County Wicklow, and that was where she returned when she was widowed. So Childers grew up there, returning to England for his Cambridge education, before taking up the family business in the Civil Service (as a Clerk in Parliament). His experiences as a volunteer in the Boer War (above,left), and the 1906 Election turned him to Liberalism. With Liberalism went Home Rule.

He was never close to the IRB: the gun-running episode was more quixotic than anything else. Beyond that, he was more involved with literary and journalistic support for the cause. A superb letter to the Times in 1919, which Diarmaid Ferriter quotes in full, compares the British attitude to the states newly-established at Versailles to that shown to Ireland, concluding:
Great Britain is guaranteeing the boundaries of these new states, of which so little is known that the PM can joke in parliament about his ignorance till yesterday of the position on the map of one of the numerous 'Ulsters'. Is she, in the same breath, to decline to deal with Ireland, whose uninterrupted historical identity and boundaries nobody can mistake? Ireland, the last unliberated white community on the face of the globe?
His route to joining the rebels was parallel to Casement's: Diarmaid Ferriter refers to:
September 1913, Childers found himself having an intense conversation about Irish nationalism in Belfast, while 'climbing a lovely mountain just behind the town'.
2. Why did the Free Staters take against Childers?

When the time came for the Downing Street negotiations, Childers ended up as one of the Secretaries to the delegation (after all, he had been an insider in Westminster), and worked closely with Collins on the drafting. In a number of key areas, Childers' input was decisive. The British were prepared to offer Dominion status on the model of Canada: Childers (through Collins) responded that was not adequate -- Canada was far more remote, and therefore independent, than the other end of the mailboat route to Dublin. The British wanted Ireland to be effectively demilitarised (excepting, of course, the Treaty Ports): Collins wanted the power to defend Irish neutrality.

As the Treaty negotiations wore on, so did Childers' tenacity for a 32-county republic wear on Arthur Griffith, who was irritated by the constant flow of briefing material Childers provided. At one moment, Childers produced a memorandum of the concessions the Irish side had already offered. By the time the delegates returned to Dublin for the final Cabinet consultation, Childers was advising against the draft offered by Britain: (as Dorothy Macardle says) "it would give Ireland no national status and made neutrality impossible". Lloyd George noted, at the moment of Collins's final capitulation:
the desperate, tragic face of Erskine Childers, who waited outside in the lobby, while Ireland's Independence was signed away.
Childers then instigated a propaganda campaign, publishing a regular newsletter on the developments. As the split in Sinn Féin developed, inevitably Childers gravitated to the Republicans, to the extent of taking a portable press with him when he went on "active service" with the Irregulars.

Shooting the messenger

On 27th September, 1922, General Mulcahy came to the Dáil to ask for emergency powers. The resolution was proposed by Cosgrave, to allow the Free State army to set up military courts with unlimited powers of summary sentence and execution. The highest drama of the debate was Kevin O'Higgins (right) identifying one particular target:
I do know that the able Englishman who is leading those who are opposed to this Government has his eye quite definitely on one objective, and that is the complete breakdown of the economic and social fabric, so that this thing that is trying so hard to be an Irish nation will go down in chaos, anarchy and futility. His programme is a negative programme, a purely destructive programme, and it will be victory to him and his peculiar mind if he prevents the Government coming into existence under the terms of the Treaty signed in London last December.
O'Higgins was pressed on a point of information: to whom did he refer?
I am now referring to the Englishman, Erskine Childers.
When Childers was ordered to Dublin to act as Secretary to the Republican Government, he was the subject of a specific manhunt by the Free Staters. On the morning of 1oth November, the house of Childers' cousin, Robert Barton, was surrounded. Childers was arrested, carrying a small automatic, a souvenir from Michael Collins, but could not use it because of his sensitivities towards the women in the house.

Next day, speaking in Dundee, Churchill upped the ante:
I have seen with satisfaction that the mischief-making murderous renegade, Erskine Childers, has been captured. No man has done more harm or shown more genuine malice, or endeavoured to bring a greater curse upon the common people of Ireland than this strange being, actuated by a deadly and malignant hatred for the land of his birth. Such as he is may all who hate us be.
So Childers came to trial before a military court: although the emergency provisions had been enacted for the last month, no executions had yet happened.

On the day of the secret trial, four Republican prisoners were executed for carrying illegal revolvers. The Labour Party brought the executions to the floor of the Dáil. Again, O'Higgins (who, in total, would approve 77 executions) brazenly spelled it out:
If [the military] took, as their first case, some man who was outstandingly active and outstandingly wicked in his activities, the unfortunate dupes throughout the country might say he was killed because he was a leader, because he was an Englishman, or because he combined with others to commit raids.
Childers, by then, had already been sentenced to death. All legal means were frustrated or over-ruled by the Free Staters. Within hours of Mulcahy and O'Higgins refusing to accept the order of habeas corpus, and despite a pending appeal, Childers was executed at Beggars Bush Barracks.

* Next post will address Malcolm's third question: is The Riddle of the Sands that good?
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Friday, November 21, 2008

Right on the money:
a literary relay race

While Malcolm was musing on Garry Trudeau's creation, Lacey Davenport, it provoked a series of connections.

Garry Trudeau, a native New Yorker, was raised in the gorgeous small town of Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks, and not far from the more-famed, and more-populated Lake Placid. Norman Crampton listed Saranac Lake as the nicest small town in New York State, and the eleventh in the entire nation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has it among its "Dozen Distinctive Destinations".

In 1876, Trudeau's great-grandfather, Dr Edward Livingston Trudeau settled there, looking for the clear air to mitigate his own tuberculosis. Dr Edward then established the Adirondack Cottage Sanitorium (which, as the Trudeau Institute, remains something of a Trudeau family firm ever since). Earlier this year, the US Post Office celebrated him on a stamp as one of its "Distinguished Americans".

One of the earlier arrivals at Trudeau's sanitorium, presumably by the recently-opened -- and magnificently named -- Chateaugay railroad, was Robert Louis Stevenson. The cottage where RLS stayed in 1887-8 has been a museum since 1916: there is a plaque there to Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, and a couple of Borglum's less-monumental works (including a portrait of Trudeau) in the neighbourhood.

RLS's removal from Bournemouth to Saranac Lake provoked a split with W.E.Henley, over a misunderstanding about Fanny Stevenson's reworking of a story. This was all part of a period of crisis in RLS's life: his father, Thomas Stevenson was recently dead, and RLS conceived a scheme to move to Ireland, where he would be murdered, to draw attention to the Irish problem. While at Saranac Lake, RLS wrote an extraordinary article, Confessions of a Unionist, arguing against Irish Home Rule: this went unpublished until 1921. After the stay at Saranac Lake, the Stevenson menage chartered a yacht and sailed for the Pacific Islands.

Samuel Clemens ("Mark Twain") arrived on holiday in 1901, not for treatment, but still struggling with depression after the death of his favoured daughter, Susy. While in town, Twain knocked off a Conan Doyle pastiche, A Double-Barreled Detective Story. Malcolm, no great admirer of the Sherlock Holmes "canon", regards Twain and Michael Dibden's Jack-the-Ripper piece, above their progenitor's. Twain's rental continues to trade on the connection, as "Camp Mark Twain".

The town of Saranac Lake, largely constructed of the local timber, suffered a number of major fires (one of which destroyed Dr Edward's library containing personally-autographed RLS texts). The result was frequent changes in local attractions: one of which was the Pontiac Theatre, where Al Jolson serenaded.

Apart from Cal Coolidge, a notable visitor was Jack Moran (a.k.a. "Legs" Diamond) the Manhattan bootlegger (right), who came up-state to see his tubercular brother, Eddie. He might have had other, more businesslike reasons: under prohibition, the main route from Canada to New York City came through the Adirondacks and Saranac Lake.

Albert Einstein had been a regular visitor to the US after 1921, mainly to Princeton and the Pasadena Institute. After 1932, and the rise to power of Hitler, he made it permanent. Although basing himself at Princeton, he rented 75 Glenwood Road, and then one of the six cottages at the Knollwood Club, Shingle Bay, on Lower Saranac Lake. It was there Einstein heard of the bombing of Hiroshima, and gave his radio interview a few days later: "Woe is me!". Around the same time, Bela Bartók, suffering from the leukemia which killed him later in 1945, stayed in the neighbourhood.

There is one further connection Malcolm cannot ignore. Dr Edward's son, who shared his father's name, and so was known as "Ned", married Chicago-born Hazel Martyn, "the most beautiful girl in the Mid-West", and daughter of the Vice-President of the Union Stockyards. Ned was tubercular, and died just months after their 1903 wedding. The widow, Hazel Martyn Trudeau, had previously met the painter John Lavery: they married in 1909.

And so, until the innovation of the Euro, Gary Trudeau's great-aunt, in various denominations, was Ireland's favourite portrait-girl:

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The spirit of Millicent and Lacey

The next item on the agenda is: Whither the Republican Party? (the first draft of that, homophonically, involved "wither").

Palinontology apart, there must be hope, in extremis, for a revival of the non-theocratic liberal wing. Doubtless, over its coming months and (let it be hoped) years in the political wilderness, the GOP will give us ample scope for thought, delight and commentary on just this ideological battle.

For the moment, it is nice to see Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury once again ahead of the curve. In a neat plot twist, he has managed to reintroduce the character of Lacey Davenport:

Despite Trudeau's disavowals, Lacey is generally supposed to owe something to the real-life Congresswoman Millicent Fenwick of the New Jersey Fifth District:
Elected to Congress from New Jersey in 1974 at age sixty-four, Fenwick became a media darling. Television commentator Walter Cronkite called her "the conscience of Congress." During her four terms in the House of Representatives, she emerged as arguably one of the most colorful politicians in American history. She was known for her opposition to corruption by both parties and special interest groups. She was one of the most liberal Republicans in the House.
This NJ Fifth is the northern end of the State, bordering New York, and swinging in an L-shape along the Pensylvania state-line. It is rural, confounding most of the prejudices acquired from the effluent zone towards Newark, but also embraces the commuter belt of Bergen County. It's some of that bosky greenery one sees, starboard-side, on the day-time western approach to Newark Liberty. The first representative for this district, back in 1799-1801, was Benjamin Franklin's nephew, Franklin Davenport (presumably, no relation).

The party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, of Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller needs a new generation of Millicents and Laceys. To preserve a healthy democracy, it certainly deserves more intellect and breadth than its recent standard-bearers have offered. There is a roll of honour on wikipedia, those identified as RINOs. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, November 20, 2008


That shows the decline in the bulk price of natural gas. At the peak of the boom in commodities, it touched $14 per million BTUs. Today, the price was down to $6.30. That's a difference of some 2.2 times.

So, when do the oligopolist suppliers cut the retail price? Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Malcolm cannot easily discover just how many deaths we should note for Remembrance Day. It is certainly well into seven figures: and that's just Britain.

Facing that staggering number, each of us can only comprehend the tragedies at an individual, personal level.

So Malcolm (who can count family dead and slaughtered, all the way back to Bosworth Field) finds himself reflecting on just two:
  • Grandfather Edward (whose forename Malcolm's alter ego inherited) was with the Royal Field Artillery. He was killed by a traffic accident (the majority of deaths on the Western Front were not from bomb or blast); but he is buried among the other 1,334 at Doullens (above, right) in France.
  • Cousin Jean, part of a searchlight team, was one of the 26 ATS girls killed when a German bomber took out North Drive, Great Yarmouth, on 11th May 1943.
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Friday, November 7, 2008

Norfolk Haggis?

Malcolm is, almost famously,
Norfolk born, Norfolk bred:
Strong in the arm, and weak in the head.
He was, therefore, delighted by the enterprise shown by James Rutland, eponym of M&M Rutland butchers, of Melton Constable, Norfolk.

His firm is exporting making and exporting haggis (hagges? haggises?) to Scotland. The product even passes muster for the Black Watch.

Inevitably there had to be someone to rain on the parade. Step forward pouting, feisty Catherine Stihler, MEP, of the Kingdom of Fife,
who was part of the Save Our Haggis campaign, has made a fresh call for Euro laws to be brought in to protect the Scottish national dish from foreign imposters.
She added: "It shows the need for stronger rules so consumers know what they are eating and where it has been made."
That's if one reads the Scottish Daily Record.

The Norwich-based Eastern Daily Press (on which Malcolm was raised: he particularly appreciated the herring landings reported at Yarmouth, which is why he can measure a "cran") has it somewhat differently:
Mrs Stihler said: “A geographic indicator is maybe one route we should go down for haggis, but at this time there should just be clarity on the label.”

She added that having holidayed in Norfolk as a youngster, mostly on the Broads, she was a great fan of the county and had nothing against Norfolk or M&M Rutland butchers.
More to the point:

Malcolm, married to a sprig of Ulster, has an on-going problem. What he calls a swede, she calls a turnip. And vice-versa.

As a result of this domestic war-t0-the-knife, he never gets served swede.

After years of earnest lobbying, he is now occasionally allowed parsnip, however.

Now, Nich Starling, a.k.a. Norfolk Blogger, get up to speed.

These are the real issues that matter in the world.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

12 hours is a long time in politics

From the Rasmussen Presidential Approval index for Wednesday, 4th November, 2008:
Forty percent (40%) of U.S. voters Strongly Approve of the way that Barack Obama is handling his new role as president-elect. Thirty-two percent (32%) Strongly Disapprove, giving Obama a net rating of eight ...
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Two sadly deceased, and a politically-incorrect anecdote

Courtesy of the Daily Mail:
Two French wine-makers suffocated by carbon dioxide fumes from grapes they were treading

Two amateur French wine makers have died after they were suffocated by the fumes from the grapes they were treading with their bare feet.

The victims had volunteered to help a friend make wine at his vineyard in the northern Ardeche region and had climbed into the six-foot wide vat to begin the traditional process of extracting the juice from the grapes.

But police believe Daniel Moulin, 48, and 50-year-old Gerard Dachis were overcome by carbon dioxide fumes that are given off during fermentation and collapsed.

A legal nicety

On Sunday, Malcolm listened to an eminent QC addressing those dining at Lincoln's Inn on the subject of expert witnesses. He told a story of the Southampton stevedore who was charged with drunken driving. The defendant's excuse was that he worked cleaning the vats of Martini unloaded at the docks. He must, without realising it, have absorbed sufficient alcohol by breathing and through skin-contact to put him over the limit: in point of fact, three times over the limit.

The QC related how he approached an expert witness, a leading medical man, to confirm the story. He was told, forcibly by the doctor that such a thing was totally impossible. It was inconceivable that such a build-up of alcohol in the bloodstream could occur by inhalation or by absorption through the skin.

When the case came before the magistrates, the QC did not put up expert evidence. The defendant told his story, and gave his excuse to the Bench.

The Bench withdrew to consider the case.

When they returned they found the defendant not guilty, on the grounds that he had inhaled and been in contact with alcohol ...

This, in its turn, prompted Malcolm's recollection.

Malcolm's Dad spent some of the War years on MTBs. The vessel in this story was one of the lend-lease Elco PT boats, built at Bayonne, New Jersey. They had three 1200hp engines, driving two propellers, and (in theory) running on high-octane petrol.

Accessing that fuel was not easy in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean. One source was a Turkish bowser, so the Brits on their MTBs and the Huns on their E-boats would queue for supplies, trying not to acknowledge each others' presence before the transaction was complete, they were outside Turkish waters, and the War could continue.

The Turkish petrol could well have originated in the Roumanian fields, then under Nazi control. Another irony.

However, self-evidently, the fuel was of poor quality, unregulated, and quite polluted. This meant the tanks on the MTBs needed regular cleaning.

So, to that non-PC moment.

Malcolm's Dad described the approved method of tank-cleaning in war-time Alexandria. Attach a rope to an Egyptian. Insert the Egyptian into the tank, instructing him to keep singing. When the singing stopped, haul out comatose Egyptian.

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A dog, a bummer, a crock, a wart.

Yes, Malcolm's talking Vista here.

He was confirmed in his prejudice when he leafed through's Business Buyer's Guide. There he found an Acer Notebook being sold: the list of features concluded:
Microsoft Windows Vista Business/XP Pro downgrade.
When was the last time anything was sold on the basis of a "downgrade"?

It is as it ever was, and as celebrated in the epic conned from the New Hacker's Dictionary:
SNAFU principle /sna'foo prin'si-pl/ /n./

[from a WWII Army acronym for `Situation Normal, All Fucked Up'] "True communication is possible only between equals, because inferiors are more consistently rewarded for telling their superiors pleasant lies than for telling the truth." -- a central tenet of Discordianism, often invoked by hackers to explain why authoritarian hierarchies screw up so reliably and systematically. The effect of the SNAFU principle is a progressive disconnection of decision-makers from reality. This lightly adapted version of a fable dating back to the early 1960s illustrates the phenomenon perfectly:

In the beginning was the plan,
and then the specification;
And the plan was without form,
and the specification was void.

And darkness
was on the faces of the implementors thereof;
And they spake unto their leader,
"It is a crock of shit,
and smells as of a sewer."

And the leader took pity on them,
and spoke to the project leader:
"It is a crock of excrement,
and none may abide the odor thereof."

And the project leader
spake unto his section head, saying:
"It is a container of excrement,
and it is very strong, such that none may abide it."

The section head then hurried to his department manager,
and informed him thus:
"It is a vessel of fertilizer,
and none may abide its strength."

The department manager carried these words
to his general manager,
and spoke unto him
"It containeth that which aideth the growth of plants,
and it is very strong."

And so it was that the general manager rejoiced
and delivered the good news unto the Vice President.
"It promoteth growth,
and it is very powerful."

The Vice President rushed to the President's side,
and joyously exclaimed:
"This powerful new software product
will promote the growth of the company!"

And the President looked upon the product,
and saw that it was very good.

After the subsequent and inevitable disaster, the suits protect themselves by saying "I was misinformed!", and the implementors are demoted or fired.
This blog is created exclusively on an Apple laptops. No animals were harmed in the making of this entry.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Later that night ...

Yesterday's post was the start of the first chapter of Theodore White's great account of the Kennedy election. That chapter concludes with the tight conclusion of election night. Whereas the earlier extract was White's purplest prose, this is more narrative and factual, more journalistic:
... about one A.M., the monitored wire in the [Hyannis' National Guard] Armory [which was being used as the Kennedy press center] clacked -- a message of congratulation from President Eisenhower to President-Elect Kennedy! Press Secretary Salinger immediately double-checked by telephone to Washington and James Hagerty, Eisenhower's press secretary, before releasing it. Hagerty, desperate, asked that the wire not be released -- he had had two messages in his pocket, one of victory, one of defeat, and had inadvertently let one get away from him too early. Salinger, in the brotherhood of press agentry, understood and held back the news from the press; but for a moment the jubilation at the cottage had boiled; then faded; and now it was tense again.)

Now and then, as the telephones rang from across the country, the candidate would take a call himself; more often he declined. Lyndon Johnson telephoned from Texas; the candidate went upstairs to answer this one. He came down in a few minutes, saw the faces watching him and reported that Lyndon had said, "I hear you're losing Ohio, but we're doing fine in Pennsylvania." He stressed the you of defeat in Ohio and the we of victory in Pennsylvania just enough to make everyone laugh. But it was laughter without rancor, for they knew that Johnson, in Texas, was sweating it out as much as they were here. From New York, the State Democratic Committee (Tammany controlled), telephoned urging that the candidate send them a telegram of congratulations on their landslide in New York -- but the candidate dodged it, knowing this was no moment to enter into the Byzantine Democratic politics of New York State and decide which of the many forces there had truly won the victory.

More generally Bobby Kennedy took or made the calls, and Bobby's calls now reflected the narrowing center of attention: calls to Dick Daley in Chicago (who said not to worry -- Daley knew which of his precincts were out and which of theirs were out, and it was going to be all right); calls to Sid Woolner in Michigan, who claimed nothing yet in Michigan nor conceded anything; calls to Jesse Unruh in Southern California, who could not say which precincts were out, which in -- a bad sign.

There was, then, as the hours wore on to three in the morning a general shape to the election. Four states held center stage: Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, California -- three in the Midwest, one in the Far West. And in each, the same pattern of voting rose from the same style of life and the same prejudices -- city against countryside, old stock against new. Los Angeles and San Francisco had voted Republican in 1956; now they were giving Kennedy a lead. But in the Central Valley, where Stevenson had led Eisenhower in 1956, Kennedy was barely abreast -- the Central Valley is inhabited by Oklahomans and transplants from the Southern Bible Belt. In Los Angeles' suburbs Kennedy was being overwhelmed. In the three Midwestern states, the big cities had all given him the expected plurality; but in the farms and in the suburbs and the small towns it was going abruptly against him.

Two of these four states -- any two -- would give the candidate the election with certainty. But if he won only one of these four, then the Presidency of the United States would depend on the ballots of fourteen or fifteen unpledged and unbranded segregationist Electors from the Deep South; the election would, by the Constitution, be thrown to the House of Representatives, for the second time in 170 years of American history. Only if Kennedy lost all four, which was unlikely, could Richard Nixon win. So that, though Nixon had almost certainly lost, Kennedy had not yet definitely won.

Shortly after three, as the TV screen showed him hanging at 261 or 262 electoral votes, as it had shown him so hanging for hours, there came a commotion over the video screen; a bustle and turbulence was shown in the clamor of the press room at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles where, said the announcer, Nixon would soon be arriving to make a statement to the nation. Kennedy looked at the scene for a minute and then said to his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, who had been urging him to soothe the press mob in the Hyannis Armory by just such a personal appearance as this: "And you want me to go down into that?"

The candidate stood there, a sandwich in one hand, trailing on the floor his jacket, its yellow silk lining turned out, showing its goldprinted horses.

"Is there any milk in the house?" asked the candidate, munching his sandwich. But his staff was too busy watching the TV screen for the appearance of Nixon. Their faces softened now, with the melancholy of men purchasing victory too dearly, yet sympathizing with the effort of the man who was about to acknowledge defeat, thinking, as one of them remembers now, how close all this had been and there, but for the Grace of God, go we.

They waited silently, intent on the screen; and the candidate had left the room and now returned from the kitchen icebox before Nixon had reached the TV camera. "There wasn't any milk," he remarked irritably, "only beer."

He said nothing as Nixon spoke, watching closely, his expression showing faint distaste. He himself, elegant and correct in all public appearances, had never permitted his wife to be exposed to this sort of thing; the heroic effort to smile by Nixon, the twisted, barely controlled sorrow of Mrs. Nixon, twinged him, almost as if he were embarrassed. It was not, could not be, the sort of thing he himself might do, for Kennedy likes matters clean-cut, correct. Yet when Nixon had finished and the Kennedy staff around the table had swept in an instant from sympathy to a growling anger at the man who would not concede when the stage was set for concession, the candidate calmed their combat anger.

"Why should he concede? I wouldn't," he said curtly.

Salinger, under pressure from the press and the TV cameramen, urged again that Kennedy go down to the Armory and make an appearance before the Eastern cameras to match the one that Nixon had just given in the West. The candidate refused. He would have nothing to say until Nixon spoke again. He was going home to bed. They should all go home to bed.

The candidate left the house of his brother by the parlor, passing through the door to the front porch and then to his own home.

It was in this same room, with these same people, that a year before he had reviewed the entire country, state by state, approved the final plans and set in motion the machinery that was to bring him to this election night. No press had been aware then of that meeting; no TV cameras had stalked him as did the TV cameras now, their blinding light making the velvet autumnal grass on which he walked a pale, luminous spring green.

He and his men had planned then a campaign that seemed utterly preposterous -- to take the youngest Democratic candidate to offer himself in this century, of the minority Catholic faith, a man burdened by wealth and controversial family, relying on lieutenants scarcely more than boys, and make him President. They had planned shrewdly and skillfully in this room on that long-ago October day of 1959 to direct a campaign that would sweep out of the decade of the sixties America's past prejudices, the sediment of yesterday's politics, and make a new politics of the future.

Now, at this hour of twenty minutes to four in the morning, as he crossed the lawn to his own home, he could not tell whether he had won or lost -- and, if he won or lost, whether this election spoke America's past or its future.

It had been a long road since that early October meeting, 229,000 miles or more, back and forth across the country, in a disturbed year. Where the road had finally brought him he could not yet tell. But along the road, over the past year and to this point, he had somehow stirred every nerve end of the American political system, and that system would never be the same.

This much, at least, he had accomplished.
Next morning:

Three hundred and twenty pages and thirteen chapters later, White picks up the story of Wednesday, 9th November, 1960:
There is no ceremony more splendid than the inauguration of an American President. Yet Inauguration is a ceremony of state, of the visible majesty of power. And though the powers of the office are unique, even more spectacular and novel in the sight of history is the method of transfer of those powers-the free choice by a free people, one by one, in secrecy, of a single national leader.

Whether Americans have chosen this leader well or badly is of the most immense importance not only to them but to the destiny of the human race. Yet, well or badly done, no bells ring at any given hour across the nation when the voting is over, nor do any purple-robed priests wait that night to annoint the man who will soon be the most powerful individual in the free world. The power passes invisibly in the night as election day ends; the national vigil includes all citizens; and when consensus is reached, the successful candidate must accept the decision in'the same rough, ragged, and turbulent fashion in which he has conducted the campaign that has brought him to power. He is still half-man, half-President, not yet separated from the companions of campaign who have helped make him great, nor walled off from the throngs he has caused to crowd and touch him over the many months. So there were no ceremonies on the night of November 8th-9th of 1960,

The candidate had gone to sleep at four o'clock on election night, after waking his wife to tell her that it seemed all right, it looked as if it would be all right. But he did not know. Across the lawn, the operators of the control room in Bobby Kennedy's cottage packed their brief cases; they, too, must sleep, and so they filed into the bus that waited to carry them to the hotel, the same parade of men who had been with him all the way from the year before in this same house: Kenny O'Donnell and his wife, Larry O'Brien and his wife, Dick Donahue and his wife, Lou Harris, several others; grimfaced, somber, half-sullen they were driven to their hotel, silent. Alone in the now empty command post, until dawn, there remained only Bobby Kennedy. ("We had too much going for us to be worried, something must break our way," said Bobby a few hours later, when asked how he had spent the dawn watch and whether he had been worried.) California, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota were all still out and uncertain when the candidate had left his brother to go to bed, and even though there was no further action to be powered by the motor of Bobby Kennedy, Bobby kept telephoning, calling, checking around the nation. (The long-distance telephone bill at the command post for the single election night was estimated at $10,000.)

Now in the night, as Bobby alone stayed awake, with no precision of hour or minute, the power was passing.

Across the land, in California, where Richard Nixon slept, his command half-heartedly waited for reprieve from what seemed obvious; they waited on two states -- Pennsylvania and Michigan. Well before the Republican candidate woke (at 6:30 in the morning, Pacific Coast Time; 9:30 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time) they had been informed, first, by Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, that the Kennedy lead in that state was now too powerful for any last-minute surge of the farms and suburbs to overtake; next, a telephone call from Michigan reported that the best Republican judgment in Michigan was that, however slim the margin might be in the automobile state (67,000 votes), it was a Kennedy margin and solid; so now Richard Nixon could not be elected, no matter how Illinois or California went.

It was Michigan, in fact, that marked the passage of power from one party to the other in what little official ceremony election night offered. All night, in his Washington home, the Chief of the Secret Service, Urbanus E. Baughman, a lean, graying, slow-spoken man, had sat watching the television screen, no better informed than any other citizen, yet burdened by law with the duty of guarding and protecting the body of the President-elect of the United States as soon as his identity should be known. Two direct long-distance wires linked him telephonically to Los Angeles and Hyannisport and to the two platoons (sixteen men each) of Secret Service men waiting for his word, at both centers, to move to protect a President -- or not to move. In Hyannisport, at the Holiday Heath Inn, Inspector Burrell Petersen, watching his television set too, began to itch for the move at 2: 35 in the morning when the television screen showed Kennedy at 261 electoral votes. Over the telephone, Chief Baughman instructed him to wait -- Kennedy was still eight votes short. At 4:15 A.M., with Kennedy at 265 votes and still four short, Petersen called once more – and again was instructed to wait. At 5:35, Chief Baughman in Washington noted that television had given Michigan's 20 votes to Kennedy, to make a tentative 285 and a tentative majority. It was now too late to wonder or doubt any longer, for his responsibility was clear, and at 5:45 Baughman telephoned Petersen with instructions to move to establish security. The candidate and his staff still slept as the sixteen agents in their borrowed cars set out in the night for the compound by the beach; by seven in the morning, security had been established and the President-elect was walled off, as he would be for four or eight years to come, from all other citizens and ordinary mortals. The members of the Kennedy staff still remember with amazement the silent efficiency of these operatives. As each of the staff group arrived at the compound in the morning, the Secret Service agents recognized his face and name, knew his function, importance, responsibility; they had done all the homework necessary to protect the Chief Executive and distinguish his servants from the strangers.

Sorensen was the first to arrive, to be invited upstairs at 9:30 to the candidate's second-story bedroom, where he found the President-to-be in white pajamas sitting on the bed. It was Sorensen who told the President that California had definitely been carried and that he, John F. Kennedy, was now the next President. A few minutes later Pierre Salinger arrived with the same news, and for a few minutes all three, with little excitement, discussed the late flashes and reports of returns from across the country. It was still too early to claim victory publicly, although now all three were convinced it had happened; they would wait, the President-to-be decided, until Richard M. Nixon in California chose to yield. When his aides had left, the candidate strolled to the window, saw a fine, bright New England day and a knot of photographers and cameramen on the lawn below; he waved to them, smiling, then withdrew; he shaved (with a straight razor), dressed, and then went down to have his normal breakfast with his wife and child.

He came out after breakfast, shortly after ten -- suntanned, windblown, smiling, a bit more tired than he had looked six months before, yet now revived from the exhaustion of the previous twenty-four hours. He was leading his daughter, Caroline, by the hand; he piggy-backed her for a few minutes at her insistent pleading, then invited his younger brother, Edward, to go for a walk along the beach. Several other Kennedys and Ted Sorensen now materialized, and they crossed the bluff and dune grass to the sands of the beach, followed carefully by Secret Service men, and walked until almost eleven, when they returned to Bobby Kennedy's cottage. There, Salinger had been informed by James Hagerty, Eisenhower's press secretary, from Washington, that a congratulatory message would soon be arriving from Dwight D. Eisenhower; Nixon's formal concession would also be coming momentarily. All sat down in front of the television set, and as the figure of Herbert Klein, Nixon's press secretary, appeared on screen, a dead hush fell over the group; for a moment the new President twitted Salinger on his appearance contrasted with Klein's, then all were silent. Someone cleared his throat as if to speak and the President-to-be said sharply, "I want to hear this," and leaned forward. When Klein had finished, the campaign was thoroughly over, and the new President said, "All right, let's go.”

There followed a bustle of almost an hour. "Where's Jackie?" said the President-elect as he rose from his armchair. She was on the beach, walking by herself, and the President-elect went personally to fetch her, bringing her back as he found her, dressed in a faded raincoat, wearing flat-heeled beach shoes, a scarf wound around her head. Now all must dress; all must have their pictures taken in the living room of his father's house; all must be ready for the cavalcade to the Hyannis Armory, where press and television waited. The cavalcade formed outside the home of Joseph P. Kennedy and lingered; the President had dashed from the car as if propelled by an afterthought and ran again into the house. He had decided he would not yield to his father's year-long insistence on obscurity -- his father must come with him now in this moment of victory, to be part of the public ceremony. While he waited for his father to dress, and the cavalcade waited for him, and the television cameras and the nation waited for all of them, the President tossed a football he had found on the lawn back and forth with one of his father's houseguests.

Then, finally, they were ready. Forty-eight hours earlier, in the heat of the campaign, such a cavalcade would have been considered a disaster -- so few people lined the streets to watch him come; not until the procession reached the Armory was there any real mass of welcome sound and people. But there was no problem with this cluster. The Secret Service were used to protecting Presidents -- they cleared the way, fanning from their practiced lope alongside his white Lincoln Continental into a wedge that opened his path. And there in the Armory they were all there lining the way to the platform -- Sorensen and O'Donnell and O'Brien and Salinger and Reinsch and Dave Powers and Donahue and Dungan and Goodwin and Feldman and all the others. One or two of those closest to him as he climbed the platform insist that his eyes teared over and he could not speak when he shook hands with his aides before he mounted the steps; but this may have been imagination. When he finally spoke before the microphones and to the press and to the nation, he spoke evenly, with no tremor in his voice -- only his hands holding the yellow telegraph forms and the white sheets of his replies shook and trembled, but they were below camera range. He read the congratulations he had received from both Eisenhower and Nixon, read his replies, answered a few questions and then again made his way out
of the Armory, in a slow five-minute procession to the door as he shook hands with the reporters who had followed him; he paused to say a personal word to each that he could see.

Lunch followed at his father's house, full family present along with Sorensen and Walton. It was a laughing lunch as they discussed the returns, as they vaunted over who had performed best in what state, and needled those responsible for lost states.

In the afternoon family and friends went out to the lawn to play touch football, and in the midst of the game the President himself came running across the lawn to join them. The President became quarterback of one team, his brother Bobby quarterback of the other team, and the Secret Service men watching from the dune grass looked on in horror as his sisters screamed and clawed, as they bumped into one another, as players tangled and men fell to the ground and the President of the United States (whom they were sworn to defend) rose and fell with them. The game was over before five (Bobby's team had won by a single touchdown), and the President went back to his own cottage.

That night he dined with artist Walton again and with Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Bradlee, all old friends. They talked of politics and personalities, among others of J. Edgar Hoover and Allen W. Dulles. They also discussed quite warily and seriously the first note of congratulations from Mr. Khrushchev. At this point Joseph P. Kennedy arrived to invite them all to watch movies at his house. The movies began with an action picture with John Wayne and, since that satisfied no one, they interrupted it and began another movie, Butterfield 8. The President lingered for only a few minutes -- the screen could not keep his attention, and he slipped out of the room: He asked no one to come with him nor did anyone offer to follow.

It was important for him to be alone. He had run all the way, and brilliantly. Yet the margin of voices that proclaimed him President was so thin as to be almost an accident of counting. One could read no meaning from the numbers -- only from the shape and structure of the numbers. It was as if for a year he had been operating in a room full of dark, colliding forces; one could sense the outline of the forces; but there had been no light available to define the forces until election day itself. Then, like a high-speed stroboscopic camera in a photo flash of light, the election tally had stopped all motion and captured a momentary, yet precise, picture of the moods, the wills, the past and the future of all the communities that made America whole.
Compare and contrast

The names have changed, as have the times and the political geography. Emotions remain much the same.

For many, like Malcolm watching from Dublin, the torch was not just passing to a new generation: a whole swash of prejudices (against Roman Catholics, against the "black Irish" of Boston) had been sluiced away. There was a new hope: that the sliminess and McCarthyite red-baiting, spewed by the likes of Tricky Dick Nixon, had been buried forever; that America could find a new internal peace from its endless racial tensions.

Many of those seemingly-stainless hopes of 1960 corroded in the years that followed:

Hemingway, Eichman, "Stranger in a Strange Land",
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion,

"Lawrence of Arabia", British Beatlemania,
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson,

Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex,
JFK blown away, what else do I have to say?

We didn't start the fire:
It was always burning
Since the world's been turning:
No, we didn't light it;
But we tried to fight it.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As the world turns ...

Back in 1968, at the Chicago Convention, the Democratic Party reached its nadir.

Chicago police set about anti-war demonstrators in Grant Park, overseen by the City's Mayor, Richard J. Daley.

Tonight, also in Grant Park, there will be a party to welcome -- it is devoutly to be hoped -- the President-elect, Barrack Obama. Also in close attendance will be the current Mayor of Chicago, Richard M. Daley, eldest son and political heir of Richard J., Obama's supporter and adviser.
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Waiting ...

Forty-eight Novembers back, Malcolm sat through the Rathgar night, constantly hunting for AFN, the only live feed in those days, on swooshy AM.

A year later came T.H.White’s hagiographic The Making of the President 1960; and he was confirmed in his addiction. So, today he again reaches for that most-readable political book of all:
It was invisible, as always.

... at 8:30, several milllon had already voted across the country — in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible, but it was certain that at this hour the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic if it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which millions of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world — the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal — all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or a school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and the oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.
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