lunedì, ottobre 06, 2008

Lessons from the Drunken Master

So last night I had my second driving lesson, moving on from steering, stopping and going to the Gearbox and Clutch. Oh. My. God. First, I'm not saying my instructor was drunk, but he smelled like he was drunk. Seriously. Nice man though. And second, using a stickshift is not fucking easy. Re. the automatic, it was like the difference between a tricycle and a bicycle. By the end of the two hours I was sloooooowly figgerin'er out and I think I have the gist of how not to stall when you're trying to go, but I'd still be as helpless as a babe in the woods if I had to drive a woman in labour to the hospital in a standard, and now I fully understand why civilized countries insist on a better grade of license to be allowed out of an automatic. It's totally fucking different. It feels like I've been practicing in a go-cart and now they want me to fly a B-29 over North Vietnam.

Speaking of which, carrying on with Tell Me No Lies and read the 'Through The Looking Glass' excerpt from James Cameron, his account of North Vietnam during the American bombings, etc, and followed that up, just to keep things cheerful, with Wilson Burchett's 'Atomic Plague', an account of the devastating radiation poisoning subsequent to the nuking of Japan. Both men's loyalties were questionable, especially Burchett's apparent willingness to forgive anything that called itself Communist, but they did something in those two stories that Western journalists don't seem to do anymore by going places that their national governments didn't want them to go, and indeed where it was very, very dangerous indeed to go. What do we have now in that regard? Robert Fisk blogging out loud in the Independent from Lebanon? That's something. Al Jazeera English? That's something we sure didn't have when Cameron and Burchett were alive.

I shouldn't whine. Frankly it's probably a golden age of news in terms of being able to find things out. But it seems so strange with the war in Iraq that the journalists for the big American and British outlets are not particularly involved in Iraq, particularly when locally reported news is treated as a little bit suspect - local figures, local accounts always coming second to official military accounts - and when it's so very dangerous to be a local reporter. There's an interesting article from last year about that in the British Journalism Review.

But I do whine a little, because sometimes I wonder if you need to have Cameron-y, Burchett-y maniacs to bring certain realities home to people. Because the reality of Iraq seems very distant from the general Anglo consciousness, and I wonder if that's partly because we, as Anglos, have a sort of racist mental defence that lets us value official military accounts over local Arab sources. Especially as the big scandals out of Iraq, like the Abu Ghraib perversions, were largely whistle-blown by people in the military. So does an Anglo need another Anglo to write 'this is what I saw; appreciate the horror as it's divulged by my skinny fishbelly lips' to get a grip on it? I don't know. The thing is, if it hadn't been for Burchett, whose autobiography I don't otherwise wholly admire, maybe we wouldn't have known exactly how dreadful and how special nuclear bombs are. Maybe we'd just think of them as really, really big bombs. Maybe we'd be even more blasé than we have been for the past 20 years about the prospect of people having them around in sufficient quantities to destroy our race. I really don't know.

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