Daily Digest: Hu, booze, Bo, Poe

by Mike Mullen

– Today, President Obama – the most well-known world leader – welcomed China’s Hu Jianto, the least well-known, in a White House ceremony that conjured up all the conflict and cooperation between the world’s two great powers. According to the BBC, Obama made a quick, bold reference to human rights in his address, saying, “History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just, when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld. Including the universal rights of every human being.” Hu, true to form (does he have a form?) was somewhat ambiguous in his remarks: “We should deepen mutual understanding through communication, increase mutual trust through dialogue and expand common ground through exchanges.” After some pleasantries, Hu will get down to more serious business — apparently there are meetings scheduled with executives of Coca-Cola, General Electric, and Boeing, which, it’s been announced, has sold 200 airplanes to the Chinese. Tonight there’s a formal state dinner planned (check your Facebook page for the invite!) where the invited guests will be floored by Hu’s perfect rendition of “What’d I Say.” – Today’s Daily features a story about U research linking major sporting events to alcohol abuse. Apparently, this one’s making the rounds: the Star Tribune has a tongue-in-cheek little writeup — “Maybe none of this surprises you,” it observes — while Gawker’s Jeff Neumann asks, “Who pays for these studies?” (You do, Jeff. You do.) As the StarTrib points out, the main findings — that eight percent of American fans walk out of pro sporting events legally drunk — simply quantify what most people already suspect. Now, as a loyal and disappointed Timberwolves fan, if only they’d answer my next question: how many of the players are drunk? – The London Review of Books has a great read on London mayor Boris Johnson’s bike habits. The mop-haired, gaffe-prone Johnson — who I think is based on a Monty Python character — has pushed for a “cycle revolution” in London, with a bicycle superhighway and a “cycle hire” plan, which mirrors the bike-sharing plans enacted in several US cities. (Including this one.) Johnson has been known to bike as much as possible, as Iain Sinclair writes: “Cyberspace has been colonised by guerrilla footage of the real Boris Johnson jabbering on his cell phone and wobbling towards City Hall, as well as faked sequences of a clown with an unshorn flop of albino hair stunting around underpasses and concrete ramps.” Sinclair attempts to try out the bike rental system, and, after citing numerous annoyances, finds himself convinced. “I found that Boris bikes were a hideous burden on icy steps,” he writes. “But the illusion of freedom, the way the machine could be dumped when you tired of it, the simplicity of the gears, the automatic flashing lights, seduced me. I went home and signed up for a year’s membership.” – It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s 202nd birthday today. He’s been dead for 161 years, if you believe in that sort of thing. Today, Poe’s local paper, the Baltimore Sun, has an interesting read on a postmortem mystery. From 1949 to 2008, an unnamed person stopped by Poe’s grave every year to mark his birthday by delivering three roses and a bottle of cognac. Last year “Poe’s toaster” did not show up, and this year, it’s thought that the tradition might finally be over. Indeed, the only thing more curious than this ritual, and its sudden end, might be the actual circumstances surrounding Poe’s death. (Another version of his final hours, this one in audio form, can be found here.) In a couple decades of work, Poe revolutionized Western fiction: the genres of horror, crime and mystery — which now dominate bestseller and box-office lists — would never be the same. So, if our toaster remains in the shadows, toast him yourself, while listening to the already-creepy Chris Walken read “The Raven.” I’d recommend you do it alone, with a brandy. And the lights off.