Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Yorker Festival

First, the rant: This festival always seems to smack of elitism. First, it is nearly impossible to get tickets. If they open the box office at Ticketmaster (do not get me started) say, at noon, by 12:01 everything is sold out. It's very suspicious. Then they have all these reserved seats that never fill up. And the fact that they use Ticketmaster, which is not only usurious but has an actually hostile interface, makes me want to tell The New Yorker to go screw itself and its stupid festival. I have a major complain about the fact that they scheduled the Simon Schama - Anthony Lane talk about history in the movies in a very small venue. They should know better. Having said this, I succumbed and got tickets for a number of events.
It did not disappoint.
1. The panel about Iraq at Town Hall. This is the first public discussion about the state of the war I've attended that was of a dignified level and that was not political but pragmatic. The panelists were super impressive. The super smart George Packer was the moderator and he did a splendid job (given that most moderators at these kinds of events are usually quite underwhelming). He asked great questions from Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi, Jon Lee Anderson, David Kilcullen, and Phebe Marr. Jon Lee Anderson provided some fascinating eye-witness reportage about what he saw there recently, Professor Marr wrote The Modern History of Iraq so she knows everything about it, Mr. Allawi is an Iraqi opposition politician who was smart and articulate and evidently exhausted from the whole thing, and David Kilcullen is one of the architects of the new strategy of counterinsurgency and, now that he works for the Pentagon, struck me as a bit of a PR man.
But the best part was that I was sitting right behind none other than NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who took copious notes. I thought either this is the safest seat in the house, or it is boobytrapped. I don't know what our Commish has in mind but I liked that he came to listen and learn, like Mini Enchiladito likes to say. I think I have said before in this blog that the Police Commisioner of N.Y. (not specifically Ray Kelly with his face fit for a Daumier portrait, but the job), reminds me of Batman. I feel like I live in Gotham and I'm Catwoman. Meow! I have to say it was fun to sit right behind one of the most powerful men in this town. I was feeling the power vibes right there.
Some people go to volcanoes to get vibes, I strongly reccommend you sit behind Ray Kelly.
2. Martin Amis and Ian Buruma on Monsters. I think I'm a bigger fan of Amis the public speaker than of Amis the writer. He is not only a riot, but incredibly smart and provocative and doesn't give a rat's ass, in fact, he probably relishes hearing the audience gasp when he is at his most politically incorrect, disparaging Islamism, and to some extent Islam with utmost honesty. It is beyond delightful to hear him speak. Only he can say things like (imagine the plummiest British accent here): "There is a charming story about Stalin's mother. She lived in a 140 room palace in Georgia, but she occuppied only one room because, and here he delivers the punch line in a devastatingly mocking tone, she didn't want to be in the way. The end of the story is Stalin visits her at the palace and asks her why did she beat him up so much when he was a child, to which she replies, but look how well you turned out!
I LOVE Martin Amis, I love his mind and his brilliant wit and his anger, and his impatience with political correctness and I want him to speak to us every night. One hour of Martin Amis speaking every night I'm sure will increase your IQ, let alone your vocabulary. Because he is funny, but he is also deeply thoughtful about our present evils and he is capable of distilling some of its reasons in incredibly clear terms. Both he and the much less intimidating Ian Buruma agreed that looking for abusive childhoods in the case of human monsters like Hitler and Stalin, is useless. Since I am fascinated with evil, I was in heaven hearing them expound psychologically, but more interestingly, philosophically, about the nature of evil leaders and those who follow them. These two writers are as clear eyed about human nature as you will find, and despite a bumbling moderator they steered themselves into hugely rewarding territory.

No comments:

Post a Comment