Today’s Chronicle is about Speed, and it arises from something my youngest son, Thom, achieved on Friday. It is simple, really. I am just too old, and too slow, for the modern world. Anyway, it revolves around Michael Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. I had read that the book was to be launched on Jan 9, and then the launch was set forward to Jan 6, last Friday.
In my mind, a book launch is still a sedate kind of affair, usually in some place remote from where I am, with modest speeches and congratulations all around, the author signing a few copies, and then a day or so later the book appears in the stores and becomes a best seller. But on Friday morning around 9 o’clock, Thom, who has become a specialist in the vagaries of the White House under Trump, phoned me and said triumphantly, “I’ve got it, and I’ve already read 50 pages!”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I asked how did he manage it. He said, “I’ve got it on my Kindle.”
But, I said, I have just heard a guy being interviewed who is said to be an Internet entrepreneur, and he said facebook has been abandoned by young people, is used only by older people nowadays, and “no one is using Kindle any more.” Its time is past, he said.
Obviously there is something wrong with his information, because Thom certainly was using Kindle, and he was using it to such effect that he warned me he would not be available to receive phone calls because he was going to be reading the book all day.
It was the speed of it all that staggered me. Not only the fact that the book launch could hardly have taken place, and yet Thom had the book in hand, in itself a sort of miracle. But it was the bewildering mechanics of the process that I could not grasp. How could a whole book, which, when I have written one, has taken as much as a year to bring to publication, have been transmitted across the continent so effortlessly, so fast, and with such careless aplomb? Mind you, I have never really understood how it is I can write a letter to someone in New Zealand, and receive a reply ten minutes later to the very letter I have just dispatched.
It could have something to do with my conditioning, I was born in 1928, and I can just remember from the mists of my childhood my dad listening with absorption to the crackles flittering through the crystal radio he had acquired. We lived in a village of about 400 people, most of them farmers or farm suppliers. My dad was a carpenter who made his living building farm gates and cow byres. Our village was so far from modern technology with its speed in everything, that when my Dad took an ad for his farm gates and cow byres in The Wyndham Farmer weekly early in the 1930s, it was still running, changed, 40 years later, and it had been unpaid for all those years. When he got his first car, a De Soto, we soon realized how far we were from the nearest town, 26 miles, that took a good time to cover, more if we happened to get a puncture. That was the speediest thing I knew of in my early life, the car with its cruising speed of 30 or 40 mph, so perhaps it is understandable that I have adjusted to these modern gadgets in a measured way, treading softly in the hope of avoiding the inevitable crash to be expected of everything speedy.
When we moved to the town --- I was seven --- things moved a bit faster. I started to run races, so I imagine my running quarter of a mile in 54 seconds was the fastest thing I had ever contemplated, although I was only a schoolboy, and knew that adults were doing it a lot quicker.
When at the age of 17 I got a job in a newspaper, I was first stuck at a task, reading out the copy from a set of proofs to a reader who was charged with correcting any mistakes made by the linotype operator. It wasn’t a quick process, whatever else one might say of it. My part in it was particularly laborious, and the operator was called upon to churn out the slugs of type, one line at a time of hot lead, the lines then being assembled into columns, which eventually were gathered into pages.
So I have to say that my early years prepared me for a much slower world than the one I find myself in as I approach my tenth decade. Even up to the time I gave up daily journalism in 1971, I was still using a small typewriter to bash off my pieces, and when once written --- at least this was true until 1968 --- I would bundle my kids into the car, drop them off at school on my way to the Cable and Wireless office in London, deliver my copy for transmission by cable to Montreal, and then mosey off down to the office, a process whose casual sluggishness is a matter of wonder to people performing in his modern age the same tasks that I did. When I first left home, I can’t remember ever phoning my Mum and Dad: at twelve pounds a minute, for a connection you could just barely hear through, I simply couldn’t afford it. I am still amazed that now I can phone for almost nothing, and they always sound as if they are in the next room.
As for The Book, that Thom has been able to read so precipitously from cover to cover, it has been the number one item of news for several days already, under sensational headlines like Bombshell Book, and from what I have read about it, it could prove, possibly, to be of some historical significance. Usually a year or two is allowed to pass after a president has moved on before anyone writes a book like this on him, especially a warts’n-all book. I have heard the author, an experienced journalist who has based his story on some 200 interviews with members of Trump’s administration, say that the one thing all his interviewees had in common was the opinion that the President is “like a child”, who requires constant gratification. The book also claims that in the opinion of those Wolff spoke to, the President was unprepared to assume power, that he rarely reads or even skims intelligence briefs, and that his rash behaviour leads his aides to agree with him at any cost, rather than to give him good advice.
As if it confirm this devastating judgment, Trump went to a microphone today to say….
”throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart. Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star ... to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!"
Well, if others won’t say it, he can always say it of himself. But the spectacle of a President defending his mental stability before the world is unlikely to fill many Americans with pride in their nation.
Hold your hats for more turbulent times!
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The funniest thing about this story is that if I had stayed in that sleepy village all my life, and never moved anywhere, eventually the modern world with its pervasive technology would have caught up with me. There’s just no escaping it.