No Comment — November 19, 2010, 4:42 pm

Travel Warning for Book Tour

London’s Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, has some strong words of caution for former president George W. Bush: if you come to Europe to promote your book, pack heavily and be prepared for a long stay. In fact, you may “never see Texas again.” As he sees it, Bush’s book and statements he has made in efforts to market it constitute admissions of serious crimes.

Initial reports about Bush’s autobiography did not go over well in Europe, and Britain’s new Conservative government was particularly eager to push back against suggestions that their conservatism had any resemblance to the Bush variety. Bush insisted this his decision to use waterboarding and other torture techniques kept Britain safe. But British Conservatives are having none of it:

In the case of the three men waterboarded on Bush’s orders, British ministers are not aware of any valuable information they gave about plots against Heathrow, Canary Wharf or anywhere else. All the policy has achieved is to degrade America in the eyes of the world, and to allow America’s enemies to utter great whoops of vindication. It is not good enough for Dubya now to claim that what he did was OK, because “the lawyers said it was legal”.

As Johnson sees it, the torture debate is ultimately about America’s claim to leadership in the world and the Bush team’s sullying of the nation’s reputation:

How could America complain to the Burmese generals about the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, when a president authorised torture? How can we talk about human rights in Beijing, when our number one ally and friend seems to be defending this kind of behaviour? I can’t think of any other American president, in my lifetime, who would have spoken in this way. Mr Bush should have remembered the words of the great Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1863 that “military necessity does not admit of cruelty”. Damn right.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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