Monday, August 15, 2016

Social Lives of the Rich and Famous

Somebody photoshop Scalia's face in there for me, please.
This is really dumb to begin with, but everybody needs entertainment, and I've been learning too much about the subject not to share it, concerning the possibility that Ivanka Trump has temporarily abandoned the hubby and kids (one four months old) and the presidential campaign for a vacation with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin's girlfriend, if it's true that Putin's girlfriend is none other than Wendi Deng Murdoch, said to have been dating Vladimir Vladimirovich on the rebound from the (also rumored) affair with Tony Blair that may, if it took place, have brought on the breakup of her marriage with the then 82-year-old ex-Australian news magnate Rupert Murdoch, who is now 85 and married to Mick Jagger's old squeeze and baby mama Jerry Hall.

As far as I know Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson don't come into the story but don't bet on it. I don't, for the record, think much of the Putin angle. If you believe the kinds of publications that have reported it (there's a fresh rundown at Snopes), then you need to believe Angelina Jolie has gotten pregnant 14 or 15 times in the last couple of years (by my back-of-the-envelope calculation based on my view of tabloid front pages in subway stations) and divorced nearly as often, which is not even possible, given that you really can't have more divorces in one individual life than you have marriages.

Wendi Deng was born Deng Wen'ge (文革/wén gé meaning "Cultural Revolution"; she changed it as a teenager to 文迪/wén dí or "Cultural Enlightenment" when she was in her teens) in Jinan, Shandong, in 1968, when it was not only possible but a politically wise move to name your kid "Cultural Revolution". In 1987, when she was studying at Guangzhou Medical College, she was befriended by an American couple, Jake and Joyce Cherry, who were in China on business, and who ended up sponsoring her to study at California State University in Northridge. Only once there, Joyce threw her out of the house on suspicion that she was having an affair with Jake (30 years Wendi's senior) and, sure enough, Jake moved out too, and married Wendi in 1990, though sometime not too long after she acquired the green card she found herself dating someone closer to her age, and the marriage with Jake broke up.

This early history would throw some light on Deng Murdoch's subsequent relationship with Rupert Murdoch if this was a novel, and maybe it does anyway. And perhaps on her relationship with Blair (Holy Tony, the godfather of her older daughter Grace Murdoch, born 2001, when Rupert was a vigorous 70). I think it also shows that the Putin rumor is false, because it just doesn't fit the pattern, if only because Putin at 63 is too young for her in this phase of her normal activity cycle. The most consistent next development would be that she should marry Henry Kissinger, who is now 93, and then cheat on him with Putin.

I don't know if this is really happening, as Donald Trump would say, but a lot of well-known people are saying it.

I'll get back to Kissinger in a moment, but first I'd like to contemplate the relationship between Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia, who were, as everybody knows, really good friends, along with the respective spouses, doing all sorts of pleasant things together, and in particular bonding over their fondness for opera.

I happen to like going to opera myself, as it happens, a lot, and among the people I might see an opera with in the course of a given season is a couple I've known for many years—at the other end from mine of an extended family—of whom the husband is a notorious Likud believer, and anti-Obamist, and we can't and don't discuss politics. Call me a coward. I'm pretty sure he has a decent idea of where I stand, though he probably can't imagine the intensity of the contempt I feel for Binyamin Netanyahu, but he doesn't want to know about it either. Other things are more important in the immediate context.

In the Ginsburg-Scalia friendship it's hard for me to understand how that could have worked. It's not just that they disagreed strongly about stuff, it's that it was stuff in the office where they both worked, and pretty important stuff, and from Ginsburg's point of view clearly stuff where Scalia's actions did actual serious harm to people. And I don't think I could be comfortable hanging out with Scalia for a night at the opera, I mean if he were alive, unless he was dressed as Margaret Dumont. But then Ginsburg is The Notorious RBG and how could I second-guess her? Was it somehow the same thing as my opera-friend relationship, though the stakes seem so much higher?

So, Henry and Nancy Kissinger and Bill and Hillary Clinton have all frequently been part of the winter beach party at the Oscar de La Renta villa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, although you weren't supposed to talk politics there, at least while Oscar was alive:
Over Christmas the Kissingers were among the close group who gathered in Punta Cana, including Barbara Walters, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Charlie Rose. "We have two house rules," says Oscar, laughing. "There can be no conversation of any substance and nothing nice about anyone."
That would explain why Hillary didn't seem to know anything about Henry's current beliefs when she reviewed his latest book, World Order, in the Washington Post in 2014:
For an international order to take hold and last, Kissinger argues, it must relate “power to legitimacy.” To that end, Kissinger, the famous realist, sounds surprisingly idealistic. 
Exactly how surprised were you?

No, that's a cheap shot. Rereading it a couple of years later, it strikes me that she had a very clear idea of how he's thinking nowadays, and she had a rhetorical plan in that review, which isn't, perhaps, at all what you all think it is, though it is still somewhat gross. Because it wasn't, as Greg Grandin put it in The Nation, "hoping his light bathes her in wisdom." She was hoping, rather, to lend the old vampire some light of her own; she was working toward what the Soviets would call his rehabilitation.

I believe she was really trying, through her clotted boilerplate prose, to bring her disgusting friend into the pale of civilized discourse, to revive the respectability he wrecked when he prostituted himself to Richard Nixon. She was trying to convince us that he's really a Democrat under the skin, in spite of some important but unnamed differences:
Kissinger writes that foreign policy is not “a story with a beginning and an end,” but “a process of managing and tempering ever-recurring challenges.” This calls to mind John F. Kennedy’s observation that peace and progress are “based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions . . . a process — a way of solving problems.”...
Kissinger is a friend, and I relied on his counsel when I served as secretary of state. He checked in with me regularly, sharing astute observations about foreign leaders and sending me written reports on his travels. Though we have often seen the world and some of our challenges quite differently, and advocated different responses now and in the past, what comes through clearly in this new book is a conviction that we, and President Obama, share: a belief in the indispensability of continued American leadership in service of a just and liberal order.
Which, you know, no. Kissinger was certainly a Rockefeller Republican, not a Nixonian, and made real contributions to détente with the USSR and accommodation with China, and he understood that there could be no military victory for US forces in Vietnam, and so what? Isn't that special! If he was such a civilized thinker, though, his conduct is all the more unforgivable, because he had the intellectual equipment to withstand it. The horrors he acquiesced in or encouraged or downright ran in Cambodia and Angola and Mozambique and Bangladesh and Chile, and so on, are of more importance than a share in that pot of clichés from which all Americans from Bernie Sanders to John McCain may and do draw.

Ignoring that really is probably more awful than Ginsburg ignoring Scalia's dreadful judgment, but it's not as bad as adopting his principles. But the vibe I get from both is the sense that the lives of the very powerful are so different from yours and mine that it's hardly even comprehensible.

Incidentally Kissinger has long been on Obama's side against the Stupid Shit caucus in regard to Syria, where he has insisted that any project of getting rid of Bashar al-Assad has to take a back seat to the defeat of the Da'esh, as I would expect a classic foreign policy realist to do, so let's hope Hillary does listen to him on that one. And tell that Wendi to keep her hands off the old monster.

Ivanka and the former Wen'ge in Croatia, via New York Daily News.

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