A pro-Palestinian protester raises her fist at a rally outside the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The South African demonstrators were just some of those who took to city streets to protest the killing of dozens of people along the Gaza border Monday.
Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli forces killed at least 60 protesters and injured more than 1,000 on Monday, firing on demonstrators who had massed along its roughly 40-mile border with the Gaza Strip — but by Tuesday, the bloodshed’s political fallout had reached nearly every continent.
Several countries called for international inquiries, citing what the United Nations described as “appalling, deadly violence,” while others summoned Israeli diplomats to explain the security forces’ actions. From South Africa to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to Guatemala, Israel was met with a mixture of condemnations, pleas for restraint — and, in some cases, open arms.
Meanwhile, at the U.N., where the Trump administration blocked a call for an independent probe on Monday, the Security Council opened its Tuesday session simply with a moment of silence for the dead. Then, the meeting quickly turned heated over the violence that unfolded Monday on the Gaza border as the U.S. dedicated its new embassy in Jerusalem.
“Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border? No one would,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told members, defending Israel’s response. “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.”
As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports, Haley and her Israeli counterpart, Danny Danon, cast the unrest as the product of rioters and some militants who, in Danon’s words, were just using the embassy’s opening as “the latest in a series of Palestinian violence against Israel.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walks out as Riyad Mansour (bottom center), the permanent observer of Palestine to the U.N., addresses a Security Council meeting on Tuesday concerning the violence along the Gaza border.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Haley punctuated her comments by walking out of the chamber when the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Riyad Mansour, addressed the council.
But Kelemen notes that British Ambassador Karen Pierce expressed shock at the high death toll — and sounded a much more critical note.
“It is a familiar — depressingly familiar — pattern that we have seen over recent weeks, and it includes the deaths of children,” she said. “At a highly sensitive time in the region, we call for calm and we call for restraint.”
It is a sentiment that was echoed not simply in the U.N. chambers but across the world Tuesday, as many countries voiced their official, and at times visceral reactions.
Here is a brief collection of some notable responses.
Turkish demonstrators bear signs proclaiming their solidarity with the Palestinians during a rally Tuesday in Istanbul. Turkey’s leftist opposition party called the demonstration to protest the killing, the day before, of dozens of Palestinians during clashes with Israeli security forces.
Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images
Yasin Akgul/AFP/Getty Images
The response from Istanbul was among the swiftest — and most intense.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry told Israel’s ambassador to the country, Eitan Na’eh, that it would be “appropriate” for him to return to Israel, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, which cited unnamed diplomatic sources.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has the blood of Palestinians on his hands,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tweeted Tuesday. “Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments.”
But Reuters reports that the Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly responded in kind, expelling the Turkish consul-general in Jerusalem — and Netanyahu responded to Erdogan’s words with a fiery statement of his own.
“Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter,” Netanyahu said, referring to the Islamist organization that serves as Gaza’s de facto ruler and that the U.S. and Israel deem a terrorist group. “I suggest that he not preach morality to us.”
Not long afterward, Erdogan delivered his rebuttal on Twitter.
“Hamas is not a terrorist organization and Palestinians are not terrorists. It is a resistance movement that defends the Palestinian homeland against an occupying power,” Erdogan tweeted. “The world stands in solidarity with the people of Palestine against their oppressors.”
Meanwhile, away from the high-level tit-for-tat, Turkish protesters gathered in Ankara and near the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, bearing signs and chanting pro-Palestinian slogans. And three of Turkey’s major political parties, both governing and in the opposition, signed on to a joint statement condemning the “massacre” of Palestinians on Monday.
TBMM’de grubu bulunan AK PARTİ,CHP ve MHP, “İsrail’in Filistin Halkına Yönelik Katliama İlişkin Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi Bildirisi”yayınladı.işte ortak bildiri metni: pic.twitter.com/pxvawSd3tL
— Bekir Bozdağ (@bybekirbozdag) May 15, 2018
“The South African government condemns in the strongest terms possible the latest act of violent aggression carried out by Israeli armed forces along the Gaza border,” the African nation announced Monday, adding that the victims had been “taking part in a peaceful protest against the provocative inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem.”
And the country backed up its verbal condemnation with a concrete action — recalling its ambassador to Israel, Sisa Ngombane, “until further notice.”
“As we have stated on previous occasions, South Africa reiterates its view that the Israeli Defence Force must withdraw from the Gaza Strip and bring to an end the violent and destructive incursions into Palestinian territories,” the country said in its statement. “South Africa maintains further that the violence in the Gaza Strip will stand in the way of rebuilding Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.”
Hundreds of protesters descended on Johannesburg and Cape Town on Tuesday, marching through city streets and shouting “Free Palestine!” outside Israeli and U.S. diplomatic buildings.
“We think about those families and people who are trying just to live a normal life,” the Rev. Canon Desmond Lambrechts told local media at one of the rallies. “Irrespective of race, color or creed,” he said he hopes that God’s “powers, through us and others, will intervene in those situation.”
The big winner of Iraq’s first major elections since defeating the Islamic State, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called Monday’s events “proof of harmful US intentions,” as paraphrased by NPR’s Jane Arraf.
The political alliance supported by Sadr, a religious figure who led militants against U.S. forces in the Iraq war, won what appears to be a majority in parliamentary elections earlier this month. That result is likely to make Sadr something of a kingmaker in the country’s new governing coalition — and Arraf reports that he was quick to call on his supporters to condemn the U.S.
She notes that Sadr described the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as a “hostile act” and said “he hopes for decisive Moslem reply.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has lately emerged as a key U.S. partner in the Gulf region, nevertheless condemned the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel when it was announced late last year.
And on Tuesday, the kingdom expressed its “strong condemnation and denunciation of the deadly targeting by the Israeli Forces of Occupation of unarmed Palestinians.”
Attributing its statement to “an official source,” the country reasserted its “firm stance towards the Palestinian cause and support of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate rights in accordance with the legitimate international resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Guatemala was among nine countries, total, to vote against a U.N. General Assembly resolution last December that censured the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
And the country spent the day in a fashion markedly different from its counterparts around the world — by preparing to follow in American footsteps and move its own embassy to Jerusalem, as well. Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales arrived in Israel ahead of the country’s planned opening of its embassy on Wednesday.
— Gobierno Guatemala (@GuatemalaGob) May 15, 2018
By Tuesday night, city authorities had projected images of the Guatemalan, U.S. and Israeli flags on Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
“Guatemalan embassy, welcome home!” Jerusalem’s Israeli Mayor Nir Barkat said, according to local media, adding that other countries should “”join the United States and Guatemala—do the right thing and bring your embassies to the Jerusalem, our eternal capital!”
A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter takes off during annual exercises with South Korea at a U.S. air base in Gunsan, South Korea, in April. North Korea implied the summit with President Trump could be cancelled because of the exercises.
North Korea said it is canceling high-level talks with South Korea planned for Wednesday at their shared border area, due to ongoing military exercises between the South and the United States.
The talks were scheduled for Seoul and Pyongyang to follow up on the agreement struck by the two Korean leaders at their historic summit last month.
A lengthy statement from North Korea’s state-run KCNA said the Max Thunder Air Force drills, which started on Friday, are a “bid to take a pre-emptive strike” and an provocation during a time of warming inter-Korean ties.
It also included a not-so-veiled threat to call off the June 12 summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump.
“The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities,” KCNA said. The State Department said planning for the summit continues.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said officials “haven’t heard anything … that we wouldn’t continue with [military] exercises and planning for summit.”
Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said, “The defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
The two-week exercise kicked off Friday, involving some 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighters and B-52 bombers from Guam.
While North Korea did not object to another set of of annual exercises that took place this spring, in March and April, the scale of Max Thunder amid peace talks and the bombers, invite particular ire. North Korea sees them as particularly threatening to its security and the drills as a rehearsal for invasion.
South Korea’s government has yet to weigh in on the suspension of talks.
“The reality is this could mean a lot of things ranging from 1) nothing, to 2) DPRK [North Korea’s] domestic politics to 3) a warning shot about all the US maximum pressure talk to 4) a real change in DPRK intentions,” tweeted Vipin Narang, an MIT professor who specializes in nuclear strategy.
People watch coverage of the NCAA college basketball tournament at the Westgate SuperBook on March 15 in Las Vegas. Several states are expected to allow sports gaming after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling.
Now that the Supreme Court says it’s OK, states are free to legalize betting on sports if they want to. As a once under-the-table economy moves into the open, it creates some large business opportunities — and the potential for millions in new tax revenues.
But first comes the nitty-gritty part: writing the rules for how sports fans can bet on their favorite games — the legal age, where people can bet, licensing requirements, software standards for mobile apps, and money laundering safeguards.
“We also have to establish what the tax structure will be,” says New Jersey Assemblyman John Burzichelli. “That’s very important. We’re actually in our budget cycle now.”
He says the tax rate is still being negotiated, but will be between 8 percent and 15 percent of revenue after winnings are paid out. He says New Jersey can get these rules written in about four weeks.
This puts the state neck and neck with Delaware and Mississippi. Close behind them — and just in time for football season — are Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Connecticut. These are all states with an established gaming industry, all trying to be the first to take legal sports bets.
“Markets of this size don’t just come into being on a regular basis,” says Chris Grove, a gaming analyst for the research firm Eilers & Krejcik.
He expects 32 states to eventually allow sports gaming, worth roughly $6 billion annually. But, he says, that may not come so easily.
“There’s an existing black market. It’s entrenched. It’s attractive. It offers a number of advantages that regulated betting sites will never be able to offer: the lack of having to fill out tax forms and have your winnings reported, the ability to bet on credit,” Grove says.
But new entrants into the gaming industry don’t expect much competition from the black market.
“I think most people would prefer to do things in a legal manner if given the option,” says Jason Robins, CEO of the daily fantasy sports company DraftKings.
He compares illegal sports betting to the pirating of music. Most people shifted to legal products when streaming services came along. He contends something similar will happen in sports gambling.
Some analysts warn that profit margins might not be as plush as investors hope. A lot depends on how heavily sports betting is taxed.
And on top of taxes, there’s what professional sport leagues want.
After years of fighting against sports betting, the NFL, Major League Baseball and other leagues have changed their approach. Over the last few months they’ve been going state to state, lobbying aggressively for a special fee to pay for policing against cheating, like an athlete intentionally throwing a game.
In New Jersey, leagues tried to get a fee between 2 percent and 3 percent of gross wagers. But lawmakers balked.
“They’re not paying that in Nevada and their not paying that to the illegal sportsbooks.” Burzichelli says. “That’s a nonstarter as far as I’m concerned.”
In statements Monday, the major sport leagues said they will be looking to Congress for a “regulatory framework” to protect the “integrity” of their games.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey is sponsoring one bill, which would establish a legal framework for consumer protections and give the Federal Trade Commission some oversight. But he acknowledges it’s not getting passed anytime soon.
A billboard above a gas station reads “Feel The Burn,” a play on 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaign slogan, “Feel The Bern.” It’s actually promoting tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
California has seen a record rise in cases of sexually transmitted diseases and a spike in the number of stillbirths caused by syphilis. It marks the third year in a row that the state has seen a rise in the spread of STDs.
More than 300,000 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and early syphilis were counted in 2017, according to the latest report by the California Department of Public Health. Health officials said the upsurge constitutes a 45 percent increase compared to five years ago.
But what is “particularly concerning” to the department is that the number of stillbirths due to congenital syphilis increased to 30 — the highest number reported since 1995. And the overall cases of California babies born with the disease — passed through the placenta from their mothers — has more than quadrupled since 2013 to 278 last year. It can cause severe neurological problems, deformities or blindness, among other serious ailments.
Chlamydia is by far the most widespread of the three diseases, especially among young women under 30. Men account for the majority of syphilis and gonorrhea cases. If left untreated, the health department noted, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease and can lead to infertility, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain.
“STDs are preventable by consistently using condoms, and many STDs can be cured with antibiotics,” CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith said in a statement. “Regular testing and treatment are very important for people who are sexually active, even for people who have no symptoms. Most people infected with an STD do not know it.”
Dr. Heidi Bauer, chief of the state health department’s STD Control Branch told NPR the rise in STDs can be blamed on a multitude of factors that vary by demographic. For instance, the rise in gonorrhea and syphilis among gay and bisexual men can be partially due to the efficacy of HIV/AIDS treatments. “Because of that there is less concern about the transmission of HIV and using condoms,” she said.
Rural populations have suffered greatly from the closure of smaller health clinics, closed as a result of statewide budget cuts during the recession. Bauer said, people with limited access to care “have had to scramble,” traveling long distances to receive medical attention or testing. And in some, not every provider stocks the medications to treat STD cases, she said.
The ubiquity of “hookup” apps is another contributing factor. “The internet and smart phones have made it very, very easy to create social and sexual connections between people,” Bauer said, adding that short-lived relationships, during which many people don’t bother to exchange meaningful contact information, makes it challenging to notify previous sexual partners of dangerous infections.
The data out of California are consistent with the most recent nationwide numbers available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which logged more sexually transmitted diseases than ever in 2016. More than two million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States that year and early reports indicate 2017 may be another record setting year.
Alaska, Louisiana and Mississippi had the most chlamydia cases per capita, while Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia ranked highest for gonorrhea. The District of Columbia, Louisiana and New York scored ignominious recognition for cases of syphilis.
In California, the health department is collaborating with the state department of education and community groups to ensure schools provide comprehensive STD/HIV prevention education, as is required by the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act.
A woman is vaccinated at a health center in Conakry, Guinea, during the clinical trials of a vaccine against the Ebola virus.
Cellou Binani /AFP/Getty Images
Cellou Binani /AFP/Getty Images
The Ebola vaccine has been two decades in the making, but it’s only now being put to use in the face of a looming crisis.
The virus has been spreading through a northern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since at least April there have been 2 confirmed cases and 39 more suspected ones. Nineteen people have died.
In hopes of curbing the spread, global health officials are launching a vaccination campaign. Four thousand doses of the vaccine have been shipped to the DRC — with another 4,000 to follow soon. The World Health Organization is coordinating the vaccination effort.
The vaccine – called rVSV-ZEBOV — was first tested in 2015 in the waning months of the massive Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Ira Longini, a biostatistician at the University of Florida who helped run that trial, notes that 7,500 people were given the vaccine.
“Not a single person that was vaccinated got infected,” he says.
They did what’s called a ring vaccination. For each infected person, officials locate everyone who was in close proximity. And then for each of those contacts, they locate everyone who was in close proximity to them. That’s the ring.
“Then all those people in the ring are vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he says.
And it wasn’t just that the vaccine was found 100 percent effective for those who received it. Even if everyone in the ring is not vaccinated, the trial showed a cut in overall transmission by about 75 percent.
“That is a big deal,” says Longini. “It’s very unusual.”
But by the time these results came in, the outbreak in West Africa was basically over. And since then — apart from a few small flare-ups there hasn’t been occasion to use the vaccine. Also it’s still awaiting licensing. That takes a while. So governments need to give special permission for it to be used.
Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, says the DRC has moved quickly to cut through the paperwork.
“This time around the approvals have been done very fast,” he says.
That’s because of some worrisome signs about this outbreak. On the one hand, like many previous outbreaks in the DRC, this one is in a hard to reach area, suggesting the risk of spread is low.
“We are talking about a remote area of small villages with no paved roads,” says Jasarevic.
“But,” he adds “it is on the shore of the river where there is important transport” that leads to a much larger regional city. “We are taking this very seriously because there is an important level of risk of virus going elsewhere other than this remote part of the country.”
Merck, which produces the vaccine, will be donating it. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the British-based charity the Wellcome Trust, and the British government have jointly contributed $4 million to carry out the campaign.
Never tell him the odds: L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) and Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
It’s 1983. Late May. An unprepossessing strip mall in Anywhere, USA. You and your friend are leaving the theater in which you have just finished watching Return of the Jedi, the (so you think, you beautiful idiot) culminating chapter of George Lucas’ soaring space opera, with which you are love-drunk. You have followed it, devotedly, passionately, since the moment the lights first went down in the theater of your screening of the first film (which you did not know to call Episode IV, you gorgeous naif) six years before. You own every toy, and most of the rarer Topps trading cards. You can quote dialogue. You have memorized the score.
But now, you and your friend step into the cool evening. He pauses there in the darkening parking lot, and as he does so, the streetlamps flare to life, one by one. He is breathless, flushed. His eyes glisten. “That,” he says, “was AWESOME.”
“Yes yes yes yes,” you say, impatiently, dismissively.
Your friend frowns. “What’s wrong?”
You shake your head. “What’s WRONG?” you say. “You’re kidding. You really don’t see it?”
“See what?” he says, his face slack with uncomprehending surprise. And to think, you once thought him a fellow fan. As if.
“That giant loose end!” you say. “The question that they just completely ignore! The one we need to know to make sense of the whole trilogy!”
He stands there, moths darting around his thick, not-truly-a-fan head, and he blinks at you. “What question?”
You pinch the bridge of your nose. Fine. You’ll have to spell it out for him, then. Unbelievable.
“How,” you say, as if you are addressing a recalcitrant Pekingese, “did Han Solo get his blaster pistol?”
He blinks at you again. Even more slowly. “…. What?”
“We never found out who gave him his blaster pistol!” you shout.
Or maybe it’s not the blaster pistol. Maybe instead, you shout, “What specific Sabacc hand did Han play to win the Millennium Falcon?”
Or “In the first heist that Han and Chewie ever pulled together, what was their cut?”
Or “Was Lando somehow even more inordinately hot, when he was younger?”
Or “Do those dice hanging in the Falcon perhaps bespeak a melancholy tale of Han’s first, lost love?”
You get the picture: Should you harbor burning questions about infinitesimal details of Han Solo’s backstory that are entirely and hilariously immaterial to the Star Wars saga’s broader tale, or if you’re prepping for a Han Solo-themed pub quiz, know that fan service doesn’t get more serviceable than Solo: A Star Wars Story.
For everyone else: Donald Glover’s Lando is really, really smooth and funny!
Inasmuch as Solo is, expressly and unambiguously, an origin story, it contains numerous winks to the more well-versed members of the audience (as when a character demands of Han, “Do you know what it’s like to have a price on your head?” har har har). Actually, wink implies subtlety — which is not, for director Ron Howard and screenwriters Jonathan and Larry Kasdan, a going concern.
And that’s fine; those looking to the Star Wars Universe for Chekhovian nuance will only come away poking their lightsaber at an empty cloak. But the filmmakers seem so worried about losing the casual audience that they flood roughly the first third of the film with expository dialogue so thick and clunky that even a high-speed chase through the streets of the spaceship-building planet Corellia feels stuck in neutral. Again and again, the film’s early going gets hamstrung by this dogged, doomed attempt to serve two masters — the hardcore fan seeking nerdy validation and the casual viewer seeking a couple of hours in an air-conditioned movie theater.
Things measurably improve once Han (Alden Ehrenreich) meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and the screenplay starts to jettison its cumbersome setup infrastructure to become what it truly wants to be — a heist film. Or technically, a heists film, as Han and Chewie team up with a ragtag gang of outlaws led by Woody Harrelson and attempt a great space-train robbery while evading both the Empire and pirates and, later, raid a certain mining colony whose name has cropped up in the saga before.
Why is that so crucial? Because it means that at least this Star Wars film will not require its characters to blow up yet another big super-weapon at its climax. Small mercies.
Once Glover’s Lando appears, alongside his droid co-pilot, voiced by the great and good Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the film finally embraces an animating sense of humor — Glover smoothly pitches his voice down an octave and cocks an eyebrow to evoke a young Billy Dee Williams, and Waller-Bridge’s droid nurses a surly resentment at the chronic mistreatment of her kind.
To say much about the character played by Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke would spoil some of the film’s juicier reveals, but let it suffice to note that she is no distressed damsel in need of rescuing, and she is playing a longer game than the impulsive Solo can comprehend.
As for Solo himself — Ehrenreich wisely doesn’t try to imitate Harrison Ford’s iconic delivery; he finds his way into the character by emulating O.G. Solo’s persona through sidelong smirks and bluff threats. He is satisfyingly on-brand.
Yes, we do find out who gave Han that blaster pistol — and no, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. It doesn’t enrich our understanding of the character, it doesn’t shine any meaningful light on the forces that shaped him, it’s just a box that gets checked along the way to getting Han and Chewie into the Falcon’s cockpit.
That blaster’s provenance, and the film around it, aren’t necessary. Solo doesn’t answer a widely held need. But neither does it blithely complicate or invalidate anything the previous films have established. And that may be the only yardstick that matters, given the track record of this franchise. The Phantom Menace gamely attempted to explain things that needed no explanation (midi-chlorians) and was convinced that seeing the galaxy’s most terrifying enforcer as a tow-headed moppet (“Yippee!”) would cast him as a tragic figure, and not simply an annoying one.
Solo, gratifyingly, possesses no such ambition or misplaced confidence. Because it sets its sights lower, its aim is truer. It may not look like much — but it’s got it where it counts.
Best-selling author and journalist Tom Wolfe found that if he tried to fit in with the people he was covering, it deprived him the opportunity to ask obvious questions. He’s shown above in New York in 2004.
Jim Cooper/AP Photo
Jim Cooper/AP Photo
Tom Wolfe wasn’t interested in fitting in. In his signature three-piece white suit, the best-selling author and journalist described himself as “the village information gatherer.”
“For me, it is much more effective to arrive in any situation as a man from Mars,” he told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1987.
Wolfe died Monday in a Manhattan hospital. He was 88.
Wolfe was at the vanguard of “new journalism” in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, he said, journalists were expected to assume a “neutral” or “objective” voice. “I frankly found it absolutely boring,” he said — and made “a great game and a great experiment” of using “techniques that short story writers and novelists use.“
Wolfe spoke with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross in 1987 and with Dave Davies in 2012. We remember Wolfe with excerpts from those two interviews.
On getting writers’ block while working on a story about customized cars in Los Angeles in the early 1960s — and how that lead to an epiphany about his journalistic style
I went to the managing editor of Esquire, Byron Dobell … and I told him … “Byron I’m sorry, I just simply cannot write the story, I just have to drop the assignment.” He says: “You can’t do that. … Why don’t you just give us your notes and we’ll get some competent writer to put them together?”
So with a very heavy heart one night … I started typing up these notes in the form of a memo … as fast as I could do it, to get this humiliating task over with. And I ended up typing at top speed for about eight or nine hours. And in that time I produced 50 typewritten pages.
I took this over to Esquire, turned it in about 9:00 o’clock in the morning, went home to sleep. I got a call about 4:00 that afternoon from Byron Dobell saying, “Well Tom, we’re going to knock the ‘Dear Byron’ off the top of your memo and run the memo as the article.”
That article became … “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby,” which was the title of my first book. What had happened was, in writing what I thought was a memorandum to a single individual who was about my own age … I had somehow liberated myself from all of the fears and all of the constraints that you feel when you are going to write something as formal as a magazine article for a national audience. I had reached that kind of tone that a lot of people are able to reach in writing a letter to a friend.
On how his writing style can also yield bad writing
It can lead to excesses, particularly in the form of purple prose. It’s a very demanding form and I think a lot of people who try it don’t realize how much reporting you have to do first. Without the information behind it, all of these techniques — which are things like scene-by-scene construction and use of extended passages of dialogue and point of view in the Henry James sense — without the facts, which can only be obtained through reporting, it can really fall flat. … It can become just a verbose technique.
On wearing white suits and his conscious effort to not try to ‘fit in’
I used to try to fit in. I remember doing a thing on stock car racing. I went down to North Wilkesboro, N.C., … and I wore a green tweed suit and a blue button down shirt and a black neck tie and some brown suede shoes and a brown Borsellino hat. I figured that was really casual.
After about five days, Junior Johnson, whom I was writing about, came to me and he says, “I don’t mean to be rude or anything … but people I’ve known all my life down here … they keep asking me, ‘Junior, who is that little green man following you around?'”
It was then that it dawned on me that … nobody for 50 miles in any direction was wearing a suit of any color, or a tie for that matter, or a hat, and the less said about brown suede shoes the better. …
I was also depriving myself of the ability to ask some very obvious questions … if you’re pretending to fit in, you can’t ask these obvious questions.
On the ‘bargain’ between the press and the people they cover
I don’t think it’s an inalienable right of the American press to be cooperated with. You know, most people if they let the press observe them, are striking an implicit bargain. They know that there’s something in it for the press and they feel that there’s something in it for themselves, and I think we might as well be frank about it — it is some kind of bargain.
On whether the people he writes about ever regret allowing him access — for example, those portrayed in his 1970 essay “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s” which mocked white liberals eating fancy hors d’oeuvres at a fundraising party for the Black Panthers at Leonard Bernstein’s house
As a journalist, you have to take the position that … the process of discovery that you are going through is as important — if not more important — than any issue that is involved in the story that you’re writing. Looking back … I think it was important to see exactly how the phenomenon that I called “Radical Chic” worked and what it was all about. …
You can’t afford to be constantly wringing your hands over the impact of what you’re doing, whether you’re talking about the impact on the individuals that you’re writing about, or the impact on the issues that are involved — in this case, support for radical groups in the late 1960s. I was heavily criticized after that for … drying up fundraising for these radical groups among wealthy people, among socialites and in New York. Well, whether I did or I didn’t, I don’t think you can worry about that. I think if you start worrying about that you’re no longer writing, you’re involved in public relations.
On writing his 2012 book ‘Back to Blood’ by hand
If I had my choice I would be writing by typewriter. I worked on newspapers for 10 years. I typed with the touch system and unfortunately, you can’t keep typewriters going today. You have to take the ribbons back to be re-inked … It’s a horrible search to try to find missing parts. So I went to the computer. And the computer kept winking at me, you know, like: “OK, big boy. I’m ready. Let’s have some action here.” … It drove me nuts. The fact is, I was born too early. That’s all that means.
On describing the ‘status’ of his characters
This attention to status … started when I was in graduate school. … I had always looked down on sociology as this arriviste discipline. It didn’t have the noble history of English and history as a subject. But once I had a little exposure to it, I said: Hey, here’s the key. Here’s the key to understanding life and all its forms. … This, obviously, is the way to analyze people in all their manifestations.
I mean, my theory is that every moment, even when you’re by yourself in the bathroom, you are trying to live up to certain status requirements as if somebody were watching. … It’s only when your life is in danger that you drop all that.
On being an octogenarian
I always say: Look, that’s a hobby of mine. It’s not an occupation. It’s something, you know, I like to do at night. But I think it doesn’t really matter how old you are if your health is all right and your mind hasn’t gone yet.
Beth Novey, Bridget Bentz and Nicole Cohen adapted these interviews for the Web.