Dimitra, a Greek friend, wrote this morning this morning to offer her best wishes for a safe journey, and said that in her country, they call mine a “nostos” journey — a homecoming. She’s right, though I’m too tired from the pack-pack rush-rush of this week to contemplate the emotional and philosophical implications of the journey I’m making. We finished packing everything into the minivan and into the 26-foot Penske van this morning. If you would have happened by our apartment building this morning, you would have seen two adults frantically trying to force a king-size floppy futon-ish mattress into the back of a moving van already stuffed absolutely to the gills. It was such a close call that I had to close the back partially to trap the horrible thing in the top so we could keep heaving until finally, as much of our household as could possibly fit into the land barge was secure. And the minivan is as full as it possibly can be and still be roadworthy (that is, and still enable Julie to see out the back). Some things just didn’t make it. I’ll miss that mounted deer head. But not too much.
We left this morning just after eight, which was only an hour later than we had wanted to set off — by my family’s standards on these things, excellent time. I had gone maybe one mile toward the interstate when I resolved that I had developed a Strange New Respect for truck drivers. It’s pretty hard to pilot those things, actually. Once you get going, it’s intimidating to realize how much force you represent, hurtling down the highway. You can’t stop easily, and you can’t see nearly as well as you would like to. I’m sure one gets used to driving big trucks, but I tell you, I will never crowd one again on the road.
I was barely out of Philadelphia when I started listening to “Hitch-22,” Christopher Hitchens’ memoir. I would love to be able to passages to you, because there are so many wonderful parts. I’m thinking right this moment of Hitch’s recollection of being a young assistant producer on a television show, or somesuch thing, and booking the (by then) elderly British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, for an interview. Hitch, who was at the time an ardent hard-leftist, writes that he had a pang of conscience over how he should greet the vile Mosley, whose best man at his wedding to Diana Mitford had been Josef Goebbels. In the end, Hitch did what one does in such a situation, and welcomed the program’s guest, then took him to the green room. He sat chatting with Mosley pleasantly, and then delivered the grizzled fascist to the set. When the camera came on, Mosley stiffened and delivered his standard bombastic rhetoric.
Hitch writes (and says — the audio book recording is in his own voice) that that incident taught him a great deal about human nature. He was able to see how Mosley was able to charm the British elites, while also possessing the ability to turn on the brutish demagogue act for different audiences. Hitch also learned that one should not miss the chance to meet people as “original” and as consequential as an Oswald Mosley, however repellent his politics and moral sense. You never know what such people have to teach you. Wise, that.
Anyway, I’m enjoying the book immensely, and, knowing that the author is now in Houston receiving intense chemotherapy, plus hearing that he’s in a very bad place right now, I’ve found myself spontaneously praying for him as I’ve bucketed southward. He doesn’t seem to miss an opportunity in this memoir to say nasty things about religion, but I do find it impossible not to like someone as, well, original and as gifted with the English language as Hitchens. I pray, literally, that he is as free from pain and fear as he can be these days, and I pray God’s mercy on him and for him. I am a bit surprised, actually, by how much his memoir, and knowing how much he’s suffering now, has made me feel affection for him.
I did take a break from “Hitch-22” at one point when the iPhone got screwy, and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back on track without looking down at the device (and you don’t don’t don’t want to take your eyes off the road even for a second when you’re driving that diesel-guzzling beast). I pushed some button while not looking, and there was the lovely Diana Krall, making my day Champagne-bright by singing this version of “‘Deed I Do” from her glorious Live In Paris disc:
There is something strange about hurtling town Hwy 81 through Appalachia behind the wheel of a lorry, being serenaded by Diana Krall. But it made me happy. “You ought to be listening to Dwight Yoakam,” said my wife later at the truck stop. Yeah, but … I mean, come on, Diana Krall. Sometimes I’ll buy a lottery ticket, and think that the best thing about winning $50 million would be to be able to hire her to play a private concert. Champagne for everybody!
While slaking the beast’s thirst for
money diesel this afternoon, I checked e-mail and heard from an outraged Mark Shea that Obama announced plans to break his promise to veto the defense bill with the odious habeas corpus restrictions. Andrew Sullivan:
Obama will sign a bill that enshrines in law the previously merely alleged executive power of indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects. Greenwald is right that Obama has never explicitly rejected such a power in all cases, but until now, he has not actually gone so far as to put his signature behind its codification. That matters. Just as torture was reversible until John McCain caved and signed it into law in 2006, so the executive power of indefinite detention within America’s prison system might have been quarantined to the Bush-Cheney years. No longer. This soon-to-be-legislated power will also apply to American civilians. It is a legal and indefinite abolition of habeas corpus. And you will find every so-called liberty-lover in the GOP (with Ron Paul as the exception) rushing to vote for it.
So the Obama administration can sic the Attorney General on states that require voter IDs, saying being required to prove your identity when you show up to vote is a violation of civil rights. But the president will sign away habeas corpus protections for Americans deemed to be terror suspects. Just so we know who we’re dealing with here. Glenn Greenwald:
Can any rational person review these events and try to claim that Obama is some sort of opponent of indefinite detention? He is one of American history’s most aggressive defenders of that power. As Human Rights Watch put it: “President Obama will go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.” There is no partisan loyalty or leader-reverent propaganda strong enough to obscure that fact.
I am politically homeless. But I have a home, and I will be there tomorrow night. And with that, good night from Abington, Virginia.
UPDATE: As some readers have observed in the comboxes, Christopher Hitchens died tonight in hospice care in Houston. Here is a collection of his journalism for Vanity Fair magazine. This awful news will make completing “Hitch-22” on the drive to Louisiana today even more moving. May the God he did not recognize receive him with mercy, and sustain his family in their grief.