Thursday, September 30, 2010

Victor Buono as Socrates

A good dramatization based on Plato's Apology. Trivia quiz question: What famous 60s television show featured Mr. Hugo as an Egyptian? Also, he played a very small part in what is perhaps the most famous movie of the 1940s. Name the movie and the part.

Max gives Woodward's 232nd insider excurses the Boot.

Served with just the proper amount of snark. My favorite bits:

While chronicling the Obama administration's Afghanistan policy, Mr. Woodward apparently visited Afghanistan only once, traveling with Mr. Jones. His description of the trip is inadvertently hilarious and revealing. He recounts flying "into the heart of the Taliban insurgency in Helmand province." Here, he proclaims, "was the war without the filter of a Situation Room briefing. The cool evening air hit my face as the plane's rear loading ramp was lowered. . . . All that was missing was the haunting and elegiac theme music from Oliver Stone's movie Platoon." The experience, he continues, is "exhilarating and frightening." The camp is "supposedly safe from sniper and mortar fire," but when he makes a midnight head call, he is decidedly nervous, "anticipating a random shot."

You would think that Battlefield Bob had bivouacked in a foxhole a few hundred yards from an enemy position. Actually he is in Camp Leatherneck, a giant Marine base (1,500 acres housing 10,000 personnel) in the middle of nowhere. The greatest danger at Leatherneck is overeating in the chow hall. That Mr. Woodward makes it seem like a frontline position is indicative of how far removed he is from the war.

Battlefield Bob. Heh! This lil' bit of alliteration brings to mind Baghdad Bob. Can you imagine the hilarity that would ensue if Woodward were granted access to Saddam and company during the invasion? That is ripe for Iowahawk style parody.

Here's more from Max the

He probably deserves credit for getting his hands on what appear to be minutes of those sessions—although by now one supposes that all such documents are routinely cc'd to this Washington institution, Mr. Behind-the-Scenes. As usual, the reader has to take on faith that his reporting is accurate, because the sourcing is so vague ("background interviews" with "firsthand sources"). Faith is strained when Mr. Woodward, like a novelist, tells us what various people were thinking ("McConnell worried that the temptation of covert action might entrance Obama"). But even assuming that his "revelations" are largely accurate, it is hard to know what they amount to.

Mr. Woodward tosses out facts seemingly at random, with no context or analysis. At one point he recounts a dinner conversation in a Georgetown restaurant between Gen. David Petraeus and Richard Holbrooke. Suddenly they are interrupted by White House reporter Helen Thomas, who demands, with her usual subtlety: "What the hell are you doing in Afghanistan? . . . This is Vietnam all over again." Gen. Petraeus tries to explain, but Ms. Thomas "didn't feel reassured." The book then moves on, leaving us to puzzle out why this encounter was included. Does Mr. Woodward transcribe everything in his notebook? Or are we supposed to be disquieted by the fact that Helen Thomas thinks Afghanistan is another Vietnam? No one familiar with her wacky views could possibly take anything she says seriously. Yet Mr. Woodward presents her opinion deadpan, as if she were a sage worth quoting.

One does wonder why it is that successive administrations feel almost duty bound to play along with Woodward. Do they fear the repercussions of just saying "no" to the Saint of the Watergate? Is he so adept at playing the principles, appealing to their desire to paint their own portraits, defend themselves or institutional turf, that people are simply powerless before his Jedi mind tricks?

Now, it is true that there is a use for first drafts of history, but when they amount to little more than dodgily sourced hodge podges, sketch books masquerading as authoritative narrative, giving all appearances of being designed more for purposes of assuring appearances on major television media and the NYT bestseller list, (and when said first drafts are produced at such a prodigious rate as to color mother nature herself green with envy) then one does begin to ask, 'so what?'.

You get the impression that Bob seriously overplayed his hand writing the half dozen or so "insider" books he managed during the GWB years. There tended to be slightly more breathless "didja read it?" reactions back then, but more than a few "no duh, that's the nature of things ain't it?" to counterbalance. I don't recall as many of the latter as are now appearing with this latest sketchbook. But quite a few, along with Max the Knife are asking the 'so what' question, after reading the latest BB Opus. In light of all that, one needs to ask that weighty question, the gorilla in the literary room, that is; whether or not Saint Woodward of Watergate has officially jumped the shark.

Exit observation: I would not be surprised if Woodward takes his notebook everywhere with him, jots down notes on every occasion..

"As I left the dry cleaners having left my shirts to their destiny I could not help but wonder if that waft of breeze that brushed my face foretold the menace of another dangerous crossing of the parking lot to my comfortably urbane Honda Accord."