Friday, January 27, 2006

Back in the Saddle Again

Hearing Waldo Jaquith this morning on WINA Radio's "Charlottesville Live" program, in which he discussed his blogging about "shiny" (but sometimes boring) General Assembly committee hearings, roused me from my torpor and persuaded me to end my weeks-long hiatus from writing.

I actually returned from my East African business trip more than a week ago, but after nearly two weeks away from the screen, it was hard to get started again. (In part, this stems from frustration that the most interesting elements of my trip were private and proprietary, requiring discretion, and therefore non-bloggable. It's the sort of thing to make any writer go "Argggggggh!")

Being out of the Virginia politics loop didn't help any. To tell you the truth, I haven't even looked at a political blog since January 3 -- Virginia- or non-Virginia-related.

While I was away, I missed all sorts of great stories: the fallout from the Jack Abramoff guilty plea, Tim Kaine's inauguration, the General Assembly's overwhelming vote to endorse an anti-marriage amendment to the Virginia Constitution.

But, sitting in my hotel room in Addis Ababa, watching the BBC, I was able to follow the news on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's health. Meanwhile, on SkyNews, I could watch relentless reports about Charles Kennedy's resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain. (Mr. Kennedy was "tired and emotional," as they say, that is, a wee bit tipsy.) As for SABC, I learned about the handful of former democratically-elected African leaders met in a summit in Maputo to discuss how they can put their elder-statesman status to good use. The simultaneous lead story on CNN International was the search-and-rescue operation in West Virginia for the 13 lost coal miners which, sadly, ended with 12 of them dead.

Speaking of "tired and emotional," while drinking tea in the lounge of the Serena Hotel in Nairobi, I read a side-splitting opinion piece in the Times of London, by Ben MacIntyre, entitled "From squiffy to blotto, a lexicon of lushes/A history of political partying." A representative excerpt:

Politicians have always drunk too much, and always lied about it. In 1957 Nye Bevan, Richard Crossman and Morgan Philips successfully sued The Spectator for claiming that they were drunk at a conference in Venice, which they were. Today the pressure not to drink, and thus the pressure to lie if you do, is greater than ever. New Labour has brought a strange whiff of Puritanism from the likes of Alastair Campbell (teetotal), Peter Mandelson (who is known to sip hot water at dinner parties) and Tony Blair (just a cup of tea, thanks awfully).

A more sober democratic process would probably be happier, and certainly healthier, but it might be even more tense and brittle, and surely less colourful. I suspect that the most famous George Brown drinking anecdote of all immeasurably improved our diplomatic relations with Peru.

At a grand reception in that country in the 1960s, the Labour Foreign Secretary tottered up to a figure resplendent in a fetching purple frock, and slurringly asked her for a dance. She turned him down with the response: “First, you are drunk. Second, this is not a waltz, it is the Peruvian national anthem. And third, I am not a woman, I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima.”
What was fun was watching obscure American TV sitcoms on M-Net, a South African-based satellite television service. Sure, they have "Will & Grace" and "The Simpsons." But who has ever heard of "Still Standing"? Or why would anyone want to see the disgraceful "Amish in the City" again? Seriously, does anyone remember "My Big Fat Greek Life"? (Of course, M-Net is reviving, at least for an African audience, the woefully underrated and too-soon canceled "Undeclared.")

It's a small world, after all.

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