Sometime around 1978, it must have been, I went to the Mar-Val Food Store in Rio Linda, California, with my mother and my sister. I insisted on buying for my sister, who is 18 months older than I am, a package of Hostess Ding-Dongs. I believe it cost 19 cents. This is one of the only nice things I can recall doing in my childhood for which I cannot also recall an ulterior motive. To this day it is what comes to mind when I think about generosity. The demise of Hostess signals to me, among other things, that the world is becoming a more Hobbesian place.
I have been wanting to say something about General Petraeus, but what can I say that no one else has said? Well, surprisingly no one has pointed out how utterly peculiar it was in the first place to have a military ruler whose name could have jumped right out of the pages of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. How could a general, in the 21st century, have a name with a Latin suffix on it? His family history doesn't explain the matter, but only makes it more peculiar: General Petraeus was the son of Sixtus Petraeus. Davidus Petraeus, dux militaris, filius Sixti Petraei est. You can't make this stuff up. But otherwise what is there to say? It's hard for me to talk about this sort of thing. Yes, I believe Petraeus was right to resign, but this follows from a much more general belief that all generals should resign, immediately. I'm a pacifist, what do you want from me? Still, he should not have had to resign for the thing for which he resigned. My judgment of that thing, rather than the war-making thing, is somewhere between neutral and slightly admiring.
I don't think we should ridicule the Romney supporters who are now talking about secession. There are many laudable secessionist movements. One of the most compelling of them, within the current bounds of the United States, is the campaign for Hawaiian independence. Hawaii was a kingdom until the late 19th century, and when the US seized the islands, in the name of Dole Pineapple, the rising colonial power was flagrantly violating a pact it had made with Great Britain not so long before to not turn the Pacific into a frenzy of island-grabbing. It's already a stretch to see the great West as legitimately American, but Polynesian islands that share a broad civilization with the New Zealand Maoris and (rather more distantly) with the Malagasies off the east coast of Africa: that cannot be a legitimate part of the United States. I suspect that part of the fuel for the 'birther' movement, beyond simple racism and invention, is provided by the not unreasonable perception that Hawaii is just too far off our map to count, and that in a sense Barack Obama, without having to be made to have been born in Kenya or Indonesia or Pakistan, still was not really born in America.
It's easier to see how you could get 'Yangon' from 'Rangoon' than how 'Burma' and 'Myanmar' both flow from the same source. Now we're being told of Obama's anamnetic familiarity with the place on the eve of his first visit there: his Kenyan grandfather had been a chef in Burma for the British army. This guy's been everywhere, and even before he was born!, the cosmopolitan Americans cheer, and the xenophobic ones grouse.
Bal Thackeray is dead. He was a Hindu nationalist, a sponsor of anti-Muslim pogroms, and an admirer of Hitler. I'm told by many German friends that when they go to India they are often congratulated by rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers for being from the same place (roughly) as that 'very great man'. Thackeray probably played some part in making such awkward encounters possible. Good riddance.
Have I mentioned I'm in Mexico as I write these words? I've arrived just ahead of Día de la Revolución, this coming Monday, November 20. But this celebrates an event that happened in 1910, so it's hardly news, strictly speaking. No doubt there will be fireworks, however.
Meanwhile I'm trying to recall where Tolstoy denounces the reading of newspapers as a shameful waste of time, whose sole purpose is to be able afterwards to demonstrate to one's peers how up on things, how very modern, one is.