Daily cartoon and live briefing: Sunday January 9, 2022

Today in the eyes of the editorial staff: Choose your celebration: today you can choose either Richard Nixon, who was born on that date in 1913, or Simone de Beauvoir, the great French philosopher, born in 1908, one of whose great books was “America Day By Day, ”her travel diary as she experienced this country in 1947. But no matter what you do, don’t sing her happy birthday. In his February 10 entry, on page 62 of Carol Cosma’s translation, De Beauvoir writes with slight indignation: “There are always vacations in America; it’s fun. Even private celebrations, especially birthdays, have the dignity of public ceremonies. It seems that the birth of every citizen is a national event. The other night in a nightclub, the whole room started singing Happy Birthday as a stout, red, flattered gentleman squeezed his wife’s fingers. The day before yesterday I had to make a phone call; two college girls entered the cabin before me. And as I impatiently walked past the door, they picked up the handset and sang Happy Birthday. They sang it until the end. In stores, they sell birthday cards with congratulations all printed, often in verse. And you can “wire” flowers on one occasion or another. All florists advertise “Flowers in wire” in large letters. Think about it the next time you’re in a restaurant and the waiters trigger one of those ridiculous public embarrassments from one or the other customer who has had the misfortune of being so trapped.

Now this:

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“North Americans are concerned with the issue of their origins, because what once existed in America, the native world, has been completely destroyed. The United States is built on the void left by the destruction of Indian cultures. The attitude of North Americans towards the Indian world is part of their attitude towards nature; they do not see it as a reality to be merged, but to be dominated. The destruction of the indigenous world foreshadowed their assault on nature. North American civilization set out to dominate, tame, and use nature just as a race or people are conquered. In a way, they treated the natural world like an enemy.

–Octavio Paz, extract from his interview with Rita Guibert in “Seven Voices” (1973).

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