Archive for October, 2009

Homeland Insecurity

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Israel Is Real, Rich Cohen, 2009

A 350 page history of the Jewish people from Abraham, Moses, David, through to Zionism and today’s Israel is tough sledding for the reader. Cohen is American, doesn’t speak Hebrew, at one point claims he is Christian to be allowed into the Jerusalem old city, and writes with a strange mixture of empathy and puzzlement at the Jewish story and fate.

Jerusalem – Layers of History

His history is fleeting with special attention to the life arch of King David, from Shepard, to hero, to king, to wife stealer, (he sends the husband to die as a soldier), to sad old man yearning for his lost son. He credits David with the transition from wandering tribe carrying the Ark of the Covenant everywhere to building a permanent temple on the Temple Mount, thus fixing Jewish fate to a single geographic location. He also gives special attention to the Roman conquest and role of the warrior Jewish Zealots in the death and destruction of Judea including the second temple. The Roman built a temple to Jupiter on Temple Mount but within a few hundred years, the Caesars had converted to Christianity as had many Jews.

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Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum

He discusses the 2000 year plight of the Jews with alternating pogroms, assimilation, ghettos, leading up to the Holocaust, which he says has been turned into a new religion with its own temples (museums now include Berlin and Washington) throughout the world centered by Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, leading via Zionism to the formation of Israel.

He says after the Roman conquest, the Jews succeeded in turning the lost temple with its rituals into a book (or really several books) that they could again carry with them everywhere in their wanderings. Unlike the Ark, the book could be multiplied so every Jew could have his own copy wherever he went. He attributes the strength of the Jewish identity to possession of this book.

One interesting section deals with the rise of the notion of race which was intended to doom the prospects for assimilation since the Jews would never be considered Arlan even if they converted to Christianity. So, to counter the race argument, some Jews discovered a lost tribe of red headed Jews who for a short time around 700 AD ruled a small kingdom called Khazaria. But the concept of race somehow got buried deep in the psyche and today Jews are themselves very race conscience with their distinctions between Ashkenazi Diaspora-Caucasian Jews and Sephardic Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.

He traces the origins of Zionism, the movement to return and create a Jewish state in Palestine to people like Disraeli, the first and only Jewish British prime minister and American journalist Mordecai Noah, or more interestingly, to German-Polish Jew Moses Hess who knew and shared a coffeehouse with Marx and Engels. Credit is generally given to Theodor Herzl near the end of the nineteenth century.

He traces the arch of the State of Israel through its key leaders and heroes, particularly warrior Ariel Sharon, hero of 1948, 1967, and 1973. He draws some parallels between Sharon and David and even Sharon and Moses. Sharon’s bold aggressive style of warfare finally came into disgrace in the 1982 Lebanon invasion following the Christian massacre of Palestinians in several refugee camps in Lebanon. In the final stage of the arch, we follow embittered Sharon as he leads a band of police to the mosque on the Temple Mount during Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

Ariel Sharon Visits Temple Mount

Most memorable are his stories of the 1973 Yom Kippur war which Israel almost lost. We see once heroic one eyed Moshe Dayan losing it when it appears Syria will prevail in Golan, ranting about the loss of the third temple and scaring everyone around him; we see tough Golda Meir taking a cigarette break to collect herself at the height of the crisis then calmly declaring “Let’s go back to work.”

Tough Mother Golda and her cigarette

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Force Zvika

Then there is the amazing story of 21 year old tank commander Zvika Greengold, who commands the only remaining functional Israeli tank and enters the Hula Valley alone at dusk to try to hold off hundreds of assembled Syrian tanks until Israeli reinforcements can arrive. In an all night tank battle, without lights, Greengold maneuvered among and knocked out uncountable tanks and stopped the Syrian advance for 22 hours. He was aided by the fact that his aging tank was a Sherman the same that Syria was using, and that any tank he could find in the dark would be an enemy but the Syrian couldn’t identify him as an enemy. To confuse the Syrians further, he used his radio to command his “Force Zvika” tanks during the action. When reinforcements finally arrive the Israeli commander asks Greengold “Where is Force Zvika?” and he answers “I am Force Zvika”.

Dayan and Sharon during Yom Kippur War

The other Moses-like story concerns Ariel Sharon in the Sinai dessert in 1973. Two divisions of Egyptian soldier have driven the Israelis deep into the dessert where their advance is finally stopped. Some scouts report an incredible discovery; the two Egyptian divisions have left a gap fifteen miles wide between them. Sharon asks his timid commander Gonan for permission to drive through this gap to Suez. Gonan refuses but Sharon, of course, goes anyway. He gets to the Canal by morning and asks Gonan for bridges to cross. Gonan refuses again, so Sharon finds some derelict old landing craft and manages to get several hundred troops and equipment including tanks across the canal. The Egyptians awake to discover their supply lines cut (including water), Israeli troops camped a short drive from Cairo, and two divisions trapped in the dessert. An Egyptian MiG fighter attacks Sharon’s position and Sharon is wounded. Sharon is called back to Sinai for a meeting (shouting match) with Gonan with the result that reinforcements are sent to hold Sharon’s Egyptian position but not under Sharon’s command. Anwar Sadat is forced to negotiate a peace.

Jerusalem Epicenter of Western Religions – and Graveyard

He talks about visiting Israel and of the Jerusalem Syndrome which affects most visitors to the old city, possibly excepting Asian tourists whose culture is outside the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish traditions. Few visitors actually become psychotic but the effects of seeing all the layer upon layer of history built one upon the other and the sites that are central to the three major western religious traditions is somehow overpowering. One wishes that the entire city could be preserved as an international museum, protected from all the struggles and politics but of course Jerusalem is home to a diverse collection of people going about their daily lives, an idea inconsistent with the notion of museum.

The big dynamic today seems to be population, as the Arabs outproduce the Jews changing the political dynamic that would ultimately lead to an Arab controlled democracy. Cohen himself was criticized for being Jewish and for living in the safe US instead of returning to his Jewish homeland. If all American Jews emigrated to Israel (they automatically have Israeli citizenship) the population disparity would be instantly corrected and the Jews would dominate the country. This is the ultimate contradiction buried in the very concept of a religious state. It is something that Ataturk understood when he declared Turkey to be a secular state but that the Zionists and Ayatollahs of Iran have somehow missed.

Formula 1 Inversion

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

“B” is for Best

Jenson Button 2009 Grand Prix Driving Champion

In the Brazil Grand Prix, Brawn GP won the constructor’s trophy in its first year of racing, while Jensen Button won the drivers title. This is the fifth straight year where the driver’s title was decided in Brazil, that mecca of sport ready to host the 2014 world soccer cup and the 2016 summer Olympics. (You’ve won a free vacaction to a destination of your choice; you choose A. Chicago; or B. Rio de Janiero. Yeah right.)

We seldom delve into sports with the exception of the tragic-comic 2007 Tour de France which was a first class debacle. This year’s Formula 1 racing season is turning into another memorable sporting season; one that is turning this inbred racing world upside down.

Formula 1 is truly the sport of the very wealthy with unlimited budgets in excess of $400 million (Toyota has been the top spender at $418M) and teams of up to 700 employees. The cost, size, and status of formula 1 in Europe make the America’s Cup contenders look like poor man’s amateur hour. Formula 1 has also been dominated by a few teams, four of which (McLaren, Williams, Renault (formerly Benetton) and Ferrari) have won every world championship since 1984. One driver, Michael Schumacher, and Ferrari won an unprecedented five consecutive drivers’ championships and six consecutive constructors’ championships between 1999 and 2004, putting Ferrari into the same league of dominance as the Boston Celtics under Bill Russell. Schumacher with his endorsements was by far the highest paid athlete in all of sports at the time of his retirement in 2006.

Schumacher and his Ferrari in 2005

Formula 1 today races on 17 circuits consisting of streets and specially built tracks throughout the world. Today they race in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America. Their most famous circuit is probably Monte Carlo where they race through the city tunneling under hotels and along the ocean side with one U turn reverse on the same street. The cars are powered by tiny 2.4 liter V8 engines that reach 18,000 RPM produce 450 HP and propel the cars to 220 MPH. The cars are technological marvels of electronics, aerodynamics, and ever changing invention and regulation. Tires are equally important with Michelin and Bridgestone competing with equal passion for dominance. In 2009 Bridgestone exclusively supplies the tires, both soft and hard compound, and the cars are required to use each type at least once in each race. Each circuit is unique with some set up clockwise and others counter-clockwise. The cars must be reconfigured with fuel tanks moved to the opposite sides depending on the track. Race conditions and road surfaces also vary dramatically and formula 1 cars race through rain, wind, and heat. Only very extreme conditions will halt a race. These different conditions often find favor for cars that otherwise seldom see wins such as BMW or driver Glock in the rain.

1976 Elf Formula 1

The respect for Formula 1 innovations and technology is highlighted by a McLaren story. McLaren’s designer of the transmission and rear suspension got a call from legendary Jackie Stewart asking him to host and answer the questions of a mysterious visitor, who turned out to be the real world gadget inventor of MI6 (“M” of James Bond fame.) “M” wanted to know everything about the innovative rear car design. One innovation that didn’t survive was the 1976 Elf 6 wheel car considered by some to be the ugliest racing car ever built. Another attempt pitted four cylinder engines against the 8 and 12 cylinder engines used at the time.

The most talked about innovation of 2009 was the addition of a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) 55 pound flywheel to the transmission. The flywheel stores kinetic energy during braking which can be released by the driver during acceleration. The KERS is of no value to the cars at the critical start of the race and the actual value of its addition seems to have gotten lost amid the surprise victories of the Brawn team.

Britain’s Lewis Hamilton 2007 Second Place and 2008 Formula 1 Driving Champion

Honda, tired of losing, hired the retired technical director of Benetton and Ferrari, Britisher Ross Brawn to head a new racing team for the 2008 season. Honda still finished the season 9th out of 11 teams. For the 2009 reason, Brawn developed a completely new chassis but when Honda sales turned down, a Honda family member returned to take the helm of the company and announced that Formula 1 racing would be dropped. Honda sold the team to Brawn for $1 but stopped production of the race engines as well. Brawn turned to Mercedes who supplies engines for other teams, and to Virgin and other sponsors to enter the 2009 season as Brawn GP with British Jenson Button and former Ferrari driver Brazilian Rubens Barrichello as drivers. Brawn barely finished modifying his new chassis for the Mercedes engines before start of qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix. Brawn GP qualified 1 and 2 and finished the race 1 and 2, setting the race world on its ear. Brawn GP and Button went on to win 6 out of the first 7 races of the season.

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Britisher Ross Brawn and his revolutionary Brawn GP car leading the field

The other surprise team this year has been Red Bull (Renault engine) whose driver Sebastian Vettel is in second place in the drivers championship going into the last race and it appears Red Bull has now sown up second place in the constructors competition. Ferrari particularly has been beset by inexplicable lapses and problems. Brazilian driver Filipe Massa received insufficient fuel on his final pit stop and lost several positions nursing his Ferrari to the finish in one race. Another big 4 car lost a wheel on the track. Massa crashed his Ferrari while qualifying in Hungary and is out for the season. With one race remaining legendary Ferrari had won one race, Belgium.

Why is this huge change happening? There are suspicions and accusations, particular surrounding the innovative double diffuser which other teams tried to disallow, in this highly competitive world. In fact the issue of the double diffuser (a subtle rear undercarriage change that is crucial to the aerodynamics, and small changes can have a big impact on down force – and therefore grip and speed, actually ended up in court with Ferrari taking the lead in opposing the innovation. The court ruled that the double diffuser conformed to Formula 1 rules on April 15. This decision left other teams playing technical catch up for the rest of the season as they added double diffusers to their cars. This flap is reminiscent of the controversy over the Kiwi’s secret twin keel on their America’s Cup contender.

But the most significant difference seems to come down to one principal difference which made all the difference in Italy: The Brawn cars are lighter and therefore have greater fuel efficiency and produce less tire wear. This difference was highlighted in the race at Monza in Italy where the two Brawn cars qualified in the third row. Their fuel efficiency and tire life allowed them to pit much later than the leading teams (Hamilton driving for McLaren Mercedes led most of the race from the poll start) and the Brawns were able to finish the race with only a single pit stop where Hamilton had to stop twice. Formula 1 pits stops require only 8-9 seconds for fuel, tire change, and adjustments and the cars can be back racing with only a loss of less than 30 seconds. This second pit stop meant that Hamilton emerged third after the two Brawns. Hamilton pushed hard and had closed to less than 4 seconds with one lap remaining when he spun out and did not finish. The Brawns won by eliminating that extra pit stop, a revolutionary advantage so long as they can qualify in one of the first few rows at the start of the race.

Formula 1 is constantly changing the rules with the result that Schumacher still holds course records 3 years after his retirement. A big change was requiring the actual race car including fuel and tires to be used in qualifying. The teams can’t even change the down forces. This change was needed to stop the manufacturers from creating expensive, lightweight, qualifying cars never intended for an entire race. The problem with this change was highlighted in Brazil where qualifying was held in heavy rain while the race was expected to be conducted on dry roads. McLaren set up Hamilton’s car for dry roads and he qualified near the back of the field. Still Hamilton finished the race third after six cars crashed or broke down in the race. Barrichello, who won the poll position in qualifying, finished eighth. Next year they plan on eliminating refueling entirely during the race which means all cars must be able to carry enough fuel to qualify and complete the entire race, a huge change. The most revolutionary proposal for next year would limit team expenditure to 50 million Euro a huge reduction over current expenditures.

Finally, next year will see the first US entry into Formula 1 with a Charlotte North Carolina based racing team. The Dukes of Hazard this team is not we hope. Also next year will see the return of Lotus to Formula 1.

Scottish odyssey

Saturday, October 10th, 2009

The Places In Between, Rory Stewart, 2006

I first discovered the Scotsman Rory Stewart on the Bill Moyer’s Journal. Rory Stewart is now director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Lynn Sherr introduced Stewart as advisor to both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke. The following is a small part of the transcript:

LYNN SHERR: What do you tell them?

RORY STEWART: Again, my message is: focus on what we can do. We don’t have a moral obligation to do what we can’t. People can get very fixed by saying, “But surely you’re not saying we ought to do nothing? Surely you’re not saying we ought to allow the Taliban to do this or that?” And I just keep saying “ought” implies “can”– you don’t have a moral obligation to do what you can’t do.

LYNN SHERR: How is your advice taken?

RORY STEWART: I think what I see at the moment is that people are polite, because they imagine maybe I have some experience with Afghanistan. But I’m one of a broad community of people — we have nine people working in my center at Harvard who’ve worked there for 20 or 30 years and the problem we all have is that if the Administration has for some reason already decided that they’re going to increase troops, they’re going to do a counterinsurgency campaign, it’s very difficult for them to take on board people coming back and saying, “Look, actually, I don’t think this is going to work. It’s a great idea. I can see why you want to do it. But by trying to do the impossible, you may end up doing nothing. I’d like to present an alternative strategy, which is lighter, more intelligent, and may end up actually achieving something.”

LYNN SHERR: And again, their reaction? They listen politely, you say?

RORY STEWART: They listen politely, but in the end, of course, basically the policy decision is made. What they would like is little advice on some small bit. I mean, the analogy that one of my colleagues used recently is this: it’s as though they come to you and they say, “We’re planning to drive our car off a cliff. Do we wear a seatbelt or not?” And we say, “Don’t drive your car off the cliff.” And they say, “No, no, no. That decision’s already made. The question is should we wear our seatbelts?” And you say, “Why by all means wear a seatbelt.” And they say, “Okay, we consulted with policy expert, Rory Stewart,” et cetera.

So much for being an expert today.

Rory Stewart’s biography sounds like fiction. Born in Hong Kong in 1973, he was educated at Eton and Oxford. He was tutor to Prince Harry and Prince William. In the 90’s he joined the Secret Intelligence Service and served in the embassy in Jakarta dealing with East Timor. He was next appointed British representative to Montenegro dealing with Kosovo.

Rory Stewart in Afghan garb with Mastiff Babur

This book recounts a small part of an amazing walking journey historian Rory Undertook over 20 months to recreate the 1514 journey of Babur (descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan) from Samarkand, Uzbekistan to Kabul which he conquered. By 1527 Babur had conquered all of Northern India establishing the Mogul dynasty with Agra his capital.

Rory spent 16 months walking from Iran to Nepal. The government of Iran took his visa away and he was refused entry to Afghanistan by the Taliban so he resumed his journey in Pakistan, crossing to Katmandu where, in December 2001, he heard that the Taliban had fallen, so he returned to Herat to pick up his journey from Herat to Kabul. Babur had made his journey through the mountains in the dead of winter and Rory seemed to find the prospect of doing the same thing in 2002 appealing. U.N. workers called him “a nutter” for his walk which he took as a complement.

This book recounts the kind of travel that is far more common in Europe than in America. Herman Hesse in Narcissus and Goldmund describes a young man wandering around medieval Germany indicating that this coming of age European “Walkabout” has been a tradition for a long time. Overland trips from Europe to India and Nepal by motorcycle, van, and bus were common in the 1960s and 1970s but with the Iranian Revolution and Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 such journeys died down. A recent German biopic, Eight Miles High, of Uschi Obermaier features a three year trip with boyfriend adventurer Dieter Bockhorn by customize bus from Germany to India in 1973. Their adventure lasted three years and was highlighted by their wedding, complete with elephants, in India. God seems to protect the young and naive which is why most young travelers, despite taking crazy risks, seem to come through relatively unscarred by the experience.

As if walking through the mountains alone in the dead of winter were not enough challenge, Rory somehow acquires a dog, a half wild, uncared for 140 pound mastiff of indeterminate age that he names Babur. So not only does he have to beg for food and shelter in each village for himself, he must find food and shelter for his huge dog in a culture where dogs are considered unclean. A boy who is in training to become a mullah informs Rory that the Koran declares dogs to be unclean. When Rory asks to see the passage, the boy says he doesn’t know where it is. “But haven’t you memorized the entire Koran in your studies? Yes, but it is written in Arabic and I don’t understand Arabic.” Like Roman Catholics who loved the Latin mass they cannot understand, this boy has memorized the entire Koran without understanding anything in it. In many villages he has to fight off with his walking stick packs of dogs sent by children to harass him and his dog.

The journey itself is pretty bleak. Rory walks in sub zero temperatures, through blizzards with zero viability, fighting to forge a path through waist deep snow, and trying to break through thick ice to reach drinking water. Through the first half of his trek, he follows the Hari Rud river, climbing to its source. In Herat, Rory collects a series of letters of introduction which he hopes will result in offers of hospitality along his route. This plan is quickly dashed as a village headman demands the letters (for his own use) and Rory discovers that the local head men are mostly illiterate so cannot write much less read such letters. He falls back on an oral tradition where he recounts the list of men who have recently offered him hospitality and memorizes the names of important men he is likely to meet at the next villages. To make life more miserable Rory suffers from constant dysentery and headaches. He tries to document his travels by writing in his journal, sketching people he meets (some are reproduced in the book) and taking very dark black and white film photographs in which the features of people pictured can hardly be made out.

From Herat he is accompanied by two security soldiers who are ordered to walk with him halfway to Kabul. Both are wearing American camouflage overalls and ill fitting boots which damage their feet. The leader is a congenital liar who introduces Rory as an Ukrainian (Soviet), American Spy, U.N. high official with millions to disperse to the local authorities. After the two start suffering from dysentery and foot sores, Rory is finally able to bribe them to leave him and they return to Herat. With the occasional local guide as part of local hospitality, Rory completes his walk largely on his own.

Minaret at Jam

Rory comes to the ancient city of Jam, destroyed by Genghis Khan. A lone minaret remains of what was once a major trading center. In the 1970s professional archeologists were busy excavating the historic city but the Soviet invasion forced them to leave and they have never returned. Rory encounters hundreds of local villagers randomly digging throughout the ruins looking for any artifacts which they will be able to sell to collectors for $1 or $2 dollars.

Rory’s route took through all four major ethnic groups making up Afghanistan. The Pashtun posed the biggest threat to Rory’s trek. When he asks village elders who they want to lead a new Afghanistan they invariably start by naming their local strongman. When Rory persists, they all mention Ahmed Shah Massoud the Tajiks fighter assassinated by al Qaeda. When he asks their opinion of Hamid Karzai, the most remote villagers immediately respond that Karzai is America’s puppet.

Stewart encounters more U.N. and other aid workers and writes one the best accounts of this new breed that I have seen anywhere (as a footnote):

Critics have accused this new breed of administrators as neocolonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a nineteenth century colonial officer. Colonial administration may have been racist and exploitative, but they did, at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single alien nation.They invested in teaching administrators and military officers the local language. They established effective departments of state, trained a local elite, and continued the countless academic studies of their subjects through institutes and museums, royal geographic societies, and royal botanical gardens. They balanced the local budget and generated fiscal revenue because if they didn’t their home government would rarely bail them out. If they failed to govern fairly, the population would mutiny.

Post-conflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism. Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are not credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility. Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organization long enough to be adequately assessed. The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neocolonialists have no such performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation, or oppression.

Perhaps it is because no one requires more than a charming illusion of action in the developing world. If the policy makers know little about the Afghans, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan… A year before they had been in Kosovo or East Timor and a year later they would be in Iraq or offices in New York and Washington.

Murad Khane District of Kabul

A year after his Afghan trek, Rory Stewart was appointed Coalition (civilian) Deputy Governor of Maysan and Senior Adviser in Dhi Qar, two provinces in southern Iraq. From this experience he penned his second book The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq. For this he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire at age 31. In 2005, he founded an NGO, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation and spends much of his time in Afghanistan. Chalk one up for the neocolonialists.

Life is a Cabaret

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Christopher and his Kind, Christopher Isherwood, 1976

Last Sketch of Isherwood by Don Bachardy

We recently watched an interesting biographical film Chris and Don about the 35 year relationship between British writer Christopher Isherwood and the American portrait artist Don Bachardy. Our Phoenix library is now limited by budget to buying mostly blockbusters like works by Dan Brown and so I picked up an old copy of a 33 year old paperback book that has been sitting around our house forever.

E.M. Forster

The book is a literary memoir by Isherwood of the period of his life from 1929-1939 after which he emigrated to the United States. When you think of the events in Europe in this period, particularly the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan, and think of the great British writers of the Bloomsbury generation (Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, published several of Isherwood’s early novels) and the next generation with E.M. Forster, W.H. Auden, and Isherwood, all of whom were close friends, you can see that this memoir is must reading. Even Paul Bowles makes a cameo appearance, introducing Christopher to drugs which he doesn’t like.

Lizza Minnelli as Sally Bowles

Isherwood is perhaps best known through the 1972 Bob Fosse film Caberet with Liza Minnelli and Michael York which is based on Isherwood’s novel Goodbye to Berlin. Isherwood comments on the film in this memoir that Minnelli was far too talented to play real English woman Sally Bowles. Sally Bowles later introduced Isherwood to a German Hollywood film director looking for a screen writer starting Isherwood on his long later career as a Hollywood screen writer living in Santa Monica.

The memoir is the account of an openly and unapologetically gay young man, his literary work, and his lovers. Isherwood refers to himself in the third person as Christopher throughout the memoir. At first, this seems odd, until you remember that the memoir was published in 1976, 37 years after the period involved. Isherwood was working from correspondence and journals and it must have seemed that Christopher was an entirely different person from the writer of the memoir. Isherwood often mentions details he can’t recall, such is the frailty of human memory.

A large part of the memoir is given to his several year relationship with Heinz, a young working class Berliner, and of Isherwood’s futile attempts to find a safe country for he and Heinz to live peacefully after the Nazis come to power in Germany. This part is a travelogue, as they travel and live on a Greek island, Portugal, the Canary Islands, Belgium, Amsterdam and other places. There is a tragi-comic episode where Christopher borrows 1,000 Pounds from Kathleen to give to a Belgium lawyer to pay for an ill conceived plan to bribe Mexican officials for residence papers. Of course, the money simply disappears. Isherwood’s several attempts to get Heinz into England always fail. On one occasion, Heinz arrives carrying cash to prove he won’t be a burden on the state – along with Christopher’s letter explaining where Heinz is to claim he got the money. Christopher is sure the immigration official himself is homosexual and takes a perverse delight in having Heinz deported. Heinz is finally arrested by the Nazis and sentenced to a year of hard labor followed by two years of military service during which Heinz survives both the Western front and the Russian front. After the war Heinz marries and has a family.

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Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden

The other major portion of the memoir is given over to Isherwood’s life long friendship with W.H. Auden whom he calls Wystan throughout the memoir. Auden and Isherwood co-wrote a play set in a vaguely Asian country and were asked to choose an Asian country to write a travel memoir. They choose China which has just been invaded by Japan; Isherwood commenting that they could never compete as writers with Maugham and Hemingway (Spanish civil war) so they chose a war and country of their own. This is typical of the tongue in cheek humor which laces the memoir.

On one occasion Erika Mann, daughter of Thomas Mann, has written and produced an anti Nazi play and become an enemy of the Nazi state. She needs to leave Germany and asks Christopher to marry her so she can move to England. Christopher is afraid of the reaction of his mother, who he calls Kathleen throughout the memoir, who very much wants grandchildren, so he turns Erika down. Christopher however suggests that Wystan might be willing and Auden agrees and they are married. In 1939 when Wystan and Christopher have emigrated to the States, they meet Thomas and Katia Mann who are living in Princeton. A photographer from Time asks to take their photo, then says he knows that Auden is the Mann’s son-in-law but who is the other man (Christopher)? Mann instantly replies “family pimp”.

When Christopher and Heinz are living in Portugal, Kathleen comes to visit. He recalls:

Kathleen was welcomed warmly by them (members of the British colony in Lisbon), as an elderly lady of distinction. Her presence at Alecrim do Norte made the Christopher-Heinz relationship suddenly respectable as Christopher had foreseen that it would.

His mother is in her sixties in this period (she turns 70 as Christopher leaves for New York) and he describes their relationship in increasingly warm terms as the memoir progresses. Kathleen becomes Christopher’s de facto literary agent acting on his behalf as he travels the world.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Christopher recalls a dinner that Virginia Woolf invites him to attend. Virginia, then in her 50’s, is described at her most beautiful and glamorous. Christopher is totally enthralled, forgetting he has previously arranged a liaison for that same evening. Virginia hardly seems to know who Christopher is even though her husband Leonard has published several novels until W. Maugham offers: “That young man holds the future of the English novel in his hands.” After this time Christopher always thinks of Maugham as “uncle Willie”.

Christopher is having his play On The Frontier performed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre under the sponsorship of John Maynard Keynes. Christopher remarks:

Keynes, that aristocrat of Bloomsbury and the stock exchange, referred to economics as though they were a branch of academic philosophy, quite unrelated to real money. It seemed indelicate to remember the fact that his financial know-how had made his college, King’s, the richest of the Cambridge colleges, and had funded the building of this theatre.

In September of 1938, as Chamberlain travels to Munich for talks with Hitler, newspapers in London produce new editions every 20 minutes as Christopher goes to Victoria station to meet Wystan, who is returning from Belgium. Wystan assures Christopher that there will be no war and Christopher assumes Wystan has learned something from the continent until he finds out a fortune teller is the source of Wystan’s prediction.

This memoir reminds us that the proclivity of intellectuals toward communism during this period is in the context of a general sympathy with the working classes and a fear and antipathy toward the rise of fascism which threatens everyone in Europe. On his political leanings Christopher explains:

He (Christopher) became defiant when he made the treatment of the homosexual a test by which by which every political party and government must be judged…The Soviet Union had passed this test with honors when it recognized the private sexual rights of the individual, in 1917. But in 1934, Stalin’s government had withdrawn this recognition and made all homosexual acts punishable by heavy prison sentences. It had agreed with the Nazis in denouncing homosexuality as a form of treason to the state. The only difference was that the Nazis called it “Sexual Bolshevism” and the Communists “Fascist perversion.”

Christopher arrives in New York determined to acquire a Brooklyn accent and learn to act tough, talking louder and faster than anyone. In America, without European traditions, Christopher realizes he is on his own and must rethink his philosophy and politics. He conducts a thought experiment in which he has a button which, if he pushes it, will destroy the entire Nazi army which he know are evil. But if he pushes the button, he will also destroy Heinz who is innocent. Christopher decides that he is a pacifist.

Christopher comments that he only came to appreciate Britain after it lost its empire and became a second class power after the war. Now it could be enjoyed as a cosmopolitan center without imperial pretensions. Christopher concludes with the memory that Wystan has only three months wait until he meets the love of his life while Christopher must wait a little longer; Don is only four years old.