Sunday, December 22, 2013

Finally Down South

Traffic wasn’t as bad as I’d anticipated on Friday: it only took me twelve hours to drive from Rockville, MD, to Augusta, GA, with three brief stops in Alexandria, VA, to drop off and pick up dribs and drabs that I’d either forgotten or had procrastinated about until the last minute.  Then, I and the very last bits of my worldly goods were on their way south.

I arrived home at 4 AM, having listened to all of Argo, by Antonio Mendez and a facilitator, a book which lacked all the sizzle of the movie adaptation.  This was not just due to the fact that the screenwriter juiced up the tension by creating more suspense-inducing scenarios at the airport and on the streets than actually happened, but to the issue that is often endemic in co-written memoirs: the voice of the author is reduced to a featureless monotone, and what was a great tale into a bland porridge of irrelevant details and senseless omissions.  Perhaps this is because Mendez, as a former CIA employee, had to have his work vetted for content by an agency committee for fear something vital would be let slip—could he or they have chosen more bland pseudonyms for people he couldn’t name?  You’d think he’d have used the opportunity to be a little amusing!-- but I would hesitate to blame that group, no matter how bureaucratic, for the overall narcotic effect.  A much better true story of sneaking out of enemy territory is Escape from Camp 14, wherein its journalist author discusses his interactions with, and misgivings about, his subject, how their relationship developed over time, and how he was able to validate details and use external information to flesh out the story.  It’s really disappointing that agency-awarded Mendez, as a self-described artist and painter, would have stuck to the ignominious role of the dull, grey-man good guy, when bureaucratic discontents like Gus Avrakatos make for much more fascinating and compelling reading. 

I did note that one fellow mentioned in Argo, a senior CIA member (the director of Near-Eastern Affairs, I think was his formal title), was one and the same as mentioned in Charlie Wilson’s War, and so had his finger in the pies of responding to the Iranian hostage crisis and that of the response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  It would be fascinating to read the old KGB files on these people, mainly men, who were pushing levers and pulling strings in a series of efforts to manipulate events so many thousands of miles away.  I wonder, too, to what degree the FSB is “outsourcing” its R&D nowadays, a habit that Mendez asserts was always a strength of our foreign intelligence service, and a weakness of the Soviet system’s.  Without any information on the subject, I can only assume that given natural inertia and the nature of institutional finances, the Russians are likely doing more with contractors, and we are doing much less.

Today was Mums’ and John’s first anniversary.  I went over for pizza and cookies this evening on my way to Walmart to return some bookcase pins that were too large.  I didn’t make it to church this morning—my excuse was that I’d lost my cell phone charger and the battery was kaput, or nearly so, and I hadn’t set my alarm.  So, before the Christian shoppers rush after services and lunch, I hit the Walmart for shelf pins and charge cords—the pins didn’t work, but thank God the cords did. 

Today we’ve been overlain by a thick blanket of tropical rain clouds, that have cast thick darkness over the daylight hours and appeared smoky, resting just above the pine trees at night.  Every few hours torrential rain has poured down, taking a few degrees of steaming temperature with it, so tonight I may not have to turn on the air conditioning, which was a necessity for me to sleep last night.  I may have difficulty over the short term adjusting to the temperature difference between here and DC, though I realize this heat is unusual in Georgia in December, too.

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