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Pre-Election Thoughts and Praise of Audio Books

The New York Times recently ran a solemn-ass editorial endorsing Kerry for president. With that endorsement and some thousands of votes from blue-collar, non-Times-reading voters in Cleveland, Kerry will get in. Maybe.

I thought initially he had done nearly everything decent that a man can do to lose. But perhaps he has been doubly smart. Don't commit to peace, which might enrage AIPAC, but take advantage of the swelling of the get-rid-of-this-awful-man-Bush sentiment. Is it really true now, as Dr. Hunter Thompson says, that everybody can see that Bush is a nothing, an embarrassment for all? It seems that the big, more or less Zionist newspapers think so. The Washington Post just went for Kerry. The AP reports a dead tie in their poll. I say it's all spinach, and I say the hell with it.

That a great nation is reduced to paying attention to the election folderol our controllers have laid on for us is a scandal, and a goodly number of people point that out on various non-conforming Internet sites. But the mainstream punditocracy ploughs along humming and nodding heads and eyeing the length of Laura's and Terry's skirts. We are to believe that a remark by the Terry person about the Laura person's job rsum is worth space in a major national newspaper or time on a TV news program? It is all fantastically trivial. So much fiddling while Iraq burns. I run out of metaphors to express disgust.

So on to something pleasanter.

I have lately taken up listening to audio tapes in my car when I go around town on errands. I used to listen to NPR, but I expect I don't have to explain why that got to seeming, like, OLD. (My car, too is old, it is a 17-year-old two-door Corolla, and it gets pretty good gas mileage. I just spent 900 bucks getting new valve seats and other wonderful things. I propose to run it to 200K miles at least, God willing. It's at 129K now. My other car is a mint-condition Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. In a bid to protect the environment and lessen the pressure on imported $50-plus oil, I keep it in the garage under wraps.)

In a mimetic bow to my LRC pundit-colleague Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers, who tells us about great music CDs he likes, I'd like to tell you of a few of my discoveries in re audio tapes (my Corolla doesn't do CDs). Perhaps, if this God-awful political scene doesn't lighten up after the election and offer some substantial peace measures to talk about, I'll come back with other recommendations for diversion.

First a general statement: I had thought audio tapes were for the disabled or disadvantaged, people who for some reason couldn't read with ease. Utter mistake. They are for people trapped in cars. Millions of people have to take long commutes and sit stalled in traffic endlessly. The audios are God's blessing for them, and they are for me, too, going about here and there within a single city.

An additional and unexpected discovery I made was that the readings add a whole dimension you can't get from just reading a book quietly in a chair. You get the advantage of skilled actors delivering multiple voices (the major convention is that one reader does all the voices; only rarely is there a recourse to multiple readers). Actors of quality know a thing or two about projecting character via the voice; I take off my hat to them.

I am currently listening to Homer's Iliad read by Derek Jacobi, a British actor with the fine classical English speech we associate with the best British theater. I have tried the Iliad a number of times in various translations and have never gotten very far into it. Now, in this translation by Robert Fagles, I see that it is indeed a vast thing out of the springtime of the literature of the West and about the tragic madness of men.

I forbear further efforts to evaluate the text (what needs my Homer encomiums from me?), but I can give you my impressions as they relate to our present times. It was women and treasure and turf that men fought for then. It was no doubt manlier to fight for those things than it is to struggle in a "democratic" election for the power to send others to their deaths for profit. But you can see that the same unchecked, raw human emotions ruled on the beach before Troy as they ruled in the wars of Europe and the conquest of the Americas, and as they rule today, ever uglier, in the American Imperial conquest of the world.

Troy fell. Achaean Greece fell. Rome fell. Spain fell. England fell. You get the idea. History seems to be a record of serial cannibalism among nations. We're next on the food chain.

I think I'll mention two other audios and then desist for now. Oddly, they are both about war. Some weeks ago I listened to Mark Twain's Joan of Arc, that great book he wrote about the girl who was called by someone, "the last great warrior of the West." Joan was read by Wolfram Kandinsky, who did a beautiful job. His was an American accent with a foreign flavor, with the many French names rendered in what seemed to me elegant French. I knew the book from reading it and writing about it years ago, but it came newly alive in the dramatic reading, and I raised my estimate of Twain's genius in writing it. I believe I have read that he considered it his best book.

Joan was lifting the siege of France by an invading army of English; it was a just war, despite the dynastic aspect and the weakness of the French Dauphin, for which Joan was sent to compensate. Her own performance, under guidance from her "voices," is one of the wonders of world history. And the whole story was set down with precision by medieval clerks serving the court that tried her. They made a detailed, factual record that forever condemns the French traitors and their English overlords, who had rigged the trial against her and burnt her. The sentence was reversed by the Church when Joan was elevated to sainthood a quarter-century later. Twain has it all in the book, and Joan emerges as one of the finest women in history.

And I have listened to two rollicking chronicles by Patrick O'Brian of the redoubtable Jack Aubrey and his violin-playing intellectual sidekick, Stephen Maturin, full-time doctor and surgeon, sometime spy. The titles were Master and Commander (I have yet to see the movie) and Post Captain. I had heard about these sea yarns set in the Napoleonic period for years but always discounted them as for light-weight action addicts. Perhaps they are, but then count me as now among the action addicts. They are superbly written, full of fantastically detailed and accurate lore of sea and land, and beautifully read by John Brown, who has an uncanny ability to keep the characters of Aubrey and Maturin distinct, and true to the complicated psychology that O'Brian has built into both. Of course the English win through sheer indomitable Englishry, but you can forgive that in the interests of adventure. And in fact the English did win that one. Some of the most nostalgic scenes in the books are of the gentlemanly way the navies of those days fought their wars.

This may all be escapism, but I contend we have something to escape.

October 25, 2004

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