May 1, 2007

Time Will Break the World

Jeff Lipschutz, History Tower, oil on canvas

* New York Times on Law Day.

"President Dwight Eisenhower established May 1 as Law Day to co-opt the biggest day on the socialist calendar. While much of the world marked May Day with critiques of capitalism and parades celebrating working men and women, the United States would honor, President Eisenhower declared, the 'national dedication to the principle of government under laws.'

"Despite its propagandistic beginnings, a day set aside to honor the rule of law was not a bad idea. On the first Law Day, in 1958, Gov. Averell Harriman of New York attacked Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas for blocking integration. His fight to keep black children out of the Little Rock Central High School 'offends the concept of law on which our society is based,' Harriman insisted.

"Law Day proved to be a boon to international law, which was seen during the cold war as a check on communism. In his proclamation creating the holiday, Eisenhower emphasized law’s role 'in the settlement of international disputes.' On Law Day 1959, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut, grandfather of the current president, urged, remarkably, that international conflicts be settled by the World Court.

"While the Soviet threat loomed, Law Day attracted a sizable following. In 1961, a headline in The Times reported, '100,000 Law Day Celebrations Take Place Throughout Nation.' But as the cold war waned, so did Law Day. It is marked today most notably by the American Bar Association, and it is perilously close to becoming a celebration of lawyers.

"That is unfortunate. As long as there was a national consensus about the importance of the rule of law, Law Day felt superfluous, like celebrating gravity. But for six years now, the rule of law has been under attack. An array of doctrines has emerged to undermine it, like the enemy combatant doctrine, which says people can be held indefinitely without trial, and the unitary executive doctrine, which insists that a president can do as he wants in many areas, no matter what Congress says.

"In keeping with tradition, President Bush has issued a proclamation inviting Americans today to 'celebrate the Constitution and the laws that protect our rights and liberties.' It rings more than a little hollow, though, as he continues to trample on civil liberties in the war on terror, and stands by an attorney general who has politicized the Justice Department to a shocking degree.

"The less committed a president is to the law, the more need there is for Law Day, which makes it a holiday whose time has come."

* Interview of Gary Shteyngart. excerpt:

Interviewer: Have your work habits changed since your first book?

Shteyngart: Strangely enough, the freedom of living off my work made me worst in a way, because when I had day jobs, every moment I worked on the book I had a feeling that I was doing something sacred, fighting the establishment, kind of. But now, I'm part of the establishment.

Interviewer: What are your writing habits?

Shteyngart: The last 150 days, I practically wrote every single day because of deadlines. But when I'm not under pressure, I work sporadically. About four days a week, four hours a day.

I try to do two pages a day, editing or writing. Most of this book was written in Italy. I was really able to concentrate there. It is such a laid-back country. Nearly all my friends there did very little or no work. In NY, everyone works like an animal. It's so competitive; everyone talks about work, work, work. But when you go to a Roman party, everyone speaks of anything but work. Food, politics, sex. It allowed me to relax, think about the world around me, concentrating on sensual aspects, like great food. Especially since I was writing about a man who loves to
Interivewer: Are you afraid that the fiction you are reading would bleed into your writing?

Shteyngart: I always read fiction when I write but I try to vary it. For this book, I read Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh. I always go back to the Russian classics, of course. Also for this book, for some reason, Dovlatov really helped. His short stories are almost like blogs. They are hilarious. There is such quickness to them. Just brilliant. Like popcorn shrimp I'd swallow. Sometimes, I long for the mechanics of fiction, craftsmanship, so I'll pick up some Nabokov. If I want to read great dialog, I'd go to Philip Roth.

Interviewer: If you were not a writer, who would you be?

Shteyngart: An urban planner. I love cities more than anything and am fascinated with the way they are put together. But it's a little too late for me now, so I'll stick with writing.

* "First things first, but not necessarily in that order." -- Doctor Who


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