Wild Justice: Clockwork “Orange”

Written by Alexander Cockburn on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.


"Somewhere in Texas a village has lost its idiot." Disrespectful? Certainly. Disloyal? Wait until Congress passes Ashcroft’s Patriot Act (part two) and it probably will be. In fact, this was a placard in Sydney, Australia in one of the rallies put on last weekend by nations united against the war. Count those demonstrators in the "thousands," as the press here likes to say, until you get to several million.

How seriously does the government take its own terror alerts, rolling out Orange like clockwork each time Bush’s polling numbers go down? Friday saw Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, two top players in the scheduled onslaught on Iraq, plus a passel of other notables, all floating on the Hudson, aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier Intrepid.

Franks was giving Rumsfeld the Intrepid Freedom Award for overall services to liberty and the Western way of life. (Franks won it last year.) All it would have taken was four more Martyrs for Allah with a boatload of high explosive, and it could have made the attack on the Cole look like chicken feed.

Under the very eyes of the Navy and Coast Guard? Why not? Look at what happened a few days earlier in Key West, the actual day Ashcroft and Riggs announced we’re One Nation Under Orange. Four uniformed fugitives from Cuba’s navy patrol made landfall on the Homeland, passing undetected by southern Florida’s vast flotillas of Coast Guard and Navy vessels.

The four tied up their 32-foot fiberglass cigarette boat on the southern shore of Key West, at the Hyatt marina dock. Their craft was sporting the Cuban flag and contained two AK-47s, eight loaded magazines and a GPS finder tuned to the coordinates of the U.S. Coast Guard station.

Then, clad in their Cuban fatigues (one had a Chinese-made handgun strapped to his hip), they wandered about, looking for a police station where they could turn themselves in. Had they been terrorists, there were plenty of rewarding targets within strolling distance, including a major surveillance center for the Caribbean and Latin America, run by U.S. Southern Command, as well as a U.S. Navy base. Plus, of course, Key West’s literary colony.

Maybe the Masters of Terror feel Rumsfeld is worth more to them alive than dead. After all, the Soviet Union tried to split NATO for forty years without success. Rumsfeld and his commander-in-chief have done the job in barely more than a couple of years, as Sen. Bobby Byrd pointed out in a great speech on the Hill on Feb. 12.

Cocktailing & Confabulating

From the sublime Sen. Byrd to the barstool warrior Christopher Hitchens, who recently hailed G. Bush as his hero and who devotes his column in the current Vanity Fair to the beneficial properties of booze–citing his own superb mental powers and physical condition as irrefutable evidence.

I offer the following commentary as a public service for impressionable youth, who otherwise might take Hitchens at his word and assume that one can drink like a fish and still row safely to journalistic fortune with mind and body unimpaired. At least in the old Bohemian days, as I saw them in Dublin and London in the late 50s, many writers were drunks. They didn’t maintain the illusion that booze would carry them into clear-eyed, keen-brained old age or that they weren’t often a burden to their loved ones.

The nature of his relationship to alcoholic beverages has clearly been preying on Hitchens. Not long ago, he accused me in an email of putting about stories that he’s a drunk. I responded that given his tempestuous appearances on tv, the matter of his drinking hadn’t required my agency to become known to the American people.

In Vanity Fair, he triumphantly refers to a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine that asserts that downing a glass of wine, beer or other booze daily can prevent a future heart attack.

Thus buttressed, Hitchens says that his own rigorous regime of drinking, begun at the age of 15 and continuing to his present age of 53, has enabled him to work prodigiously "while still retaining my own hair and teeth and a near-godlike physique which is the envy of many of my juniors."

He offers tips on how to make drink your servant, not your master. "On the whole, observe the same rule about gin martinis–and all gin drinks–that you would in judging female breasts: one is far too few and three is one too many… When you get the shudders, even slightly, it’s definitely time to seek help."

Let me pass lightly over the portly scribbler whom I observed a little more than a year ago experiencing some difficulty bringing a lighted match and the first cigarette of the morning into productive contact, also over the math about the gins. As far as dry martinis go, there’s been sound evidence in the past to take him as a six-breast guy.

The more troubling thing I’ve noted in recent years is Hitchens’ odd excursions from reality. I refer here not to the nonsense he quite often writes, but to what is quite simply a level of fantasy in his perceptions and recollections.

Not so long ago, I received a peremptory email from him, written late at night, demanding I rescind a vile slur made against him on the CounterPunch website (edited by Jeffrey St. Clair and myself).

I wrote back, pointing out that a retraction was unnecessary because no such slur had been made. After a few days, during which I assumed he’d re-read my item and realized his mistake, he sent another email, demanding a retraction once again.

An acquaintance of mine, no fan of Hitchens, remarked to me last week that he reckons the man to be a victim of early Korsakoff’s Syndrome. "What’s that?" I asked.

Back came his answer promptly: "Korsakoff’s Syndrome (from Korsakoff, a Russian neurologist) is an organic brain psychosis. A severe neurological disorder brought on by years of heavy alcohol abuse, compounded in turn, by vitamin deficiencies caused by self-neglect. It’s characterized by disorientation, a variety of neuro deficits and complaints and, most significantly, a memory loss of a unique kind which is the signal feature of the disease: sufferers tend to confabulate. That is, when asked a question they cannot answer based on memory, they just ad lib stories to fill in the gaps–often at great and garrulous length–providing detailed information the patient genuinely believes to be true but is wholly fictitious."

The exact quality of Hitchens’ memory will become highly germane sometime in the not-so-distant future. Sidney Blumenthal is scheduled to publish his memoir of the Clinton years, and he is devoting some pages to the manner in which his erstwhile buddy Hitchens tried to get him put away for lying to Congress.

At issue is precisely what Hitchens remembers Blumenthal saying over their notorious lunch at the Occidental Grill in downtown DC about Monica Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey. Last year, Hitchens told an English interviewer that he is ready to remember even more inconvenient material from that lunch, in the event Blumenthal takes after him in the upcoming memoir. Some might call this Tactical Korsakoffism.

Alas, Korsakoff is not available for comment on Hitchens as a possible advertisement of his diagnosis. He died in 1900, at the age of 46.

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