Thursday, October 23, 2014

greatness; virtue

In the film Charlie Wilson's War, right after CIA case officer Gust Avrakotos is invited to "come upstairs and work with us" it cuts to a party scene:  some gently cheerful country-style music which sounds canned but swing-y backgrounds the scene, where an "auction" is in progress:  sexily-costumed sorority girls are being "auctioned off" to raise money to help the Afghans fight the Soviets. 

(If you "win one" she comes over and washes your car...not actual human trafficking...)

Congressman Wilson stands off to the side, alone, observing the procedures.  The party is at the home of Joanne Herring ("There'll be women and wealthy donors -- See you Friday"). 

Wilson's administrative assistant Bonnie Bach and her ubiquitous string of pearls are there, too:  when Joanne (played by Julia Roberts) enters, two very tall and thin dogs walk with her, one on each side and a little behind her, like some sort of unusual Praetorian Guard.

Her hair is up; her gown is long.  It's a one-shoulder number, black, and full-skirted (hey, it was the '80s, and it was Texas).  As she -- interacts (talks?  sizzles?) with the congressman, they walk past a large painting on the wall; it's a painting of her, wearing another long, sweeping black gown with slim shoulder straps, one up, one down.

(Am sensing pattern here.  One-shoulder seems to be a very big thing. ...)

In this photo, the painting can be seen in the background at the left.

-------------------- [excerpt,

] ----------------------------- Years later, as he tried to explain how it all happened...Avrakotos would offer a curious explanation.  "It began with a Texas woman, one of Wilson's contributors.  She's the one who got him interested."

Joanne Herring was a glamorous and exotic figure out of the oil-rich world of Texas in the 1970s and '80s.  At the time nobody imagined that, in addition to her role as a social lioness and hostess to the powerful, she was simultaneously responsible for setting in motion a process that would profoundly impact the outcome of the Afghan war.

When almost everyone had written off the Afghans as a lost cause, she saw potential for greatness in the most unlikely characters.  In the pivotal first years of the jihad, she became both matchmaker and muse to Pakistan's Muslim fundamentalist military dictator, Zia ul-Haq, as well as to the scandal-prone Charlie Wilson.

...Joanne Herring was a woman of extraordinary resources who knew how to mesmerize a man on many levels....Invariably, when reporters wrote features about her, they invoked Scarlett O'Hara.

...To appreciate her [Mrs. Herring's] full impact, it helps to add Zsa Zsa Gabor, Dolly Parton, and even a bit of Arianna Huffington.

Something about Texas and its oil heritage seems to permit its citizens to reinvent their histories and to carry out their lives as if they were part of an ongoing theatrical experience.  As Herring tells it, she was born on the Fourth of July, a direct descendant of George Washington's sister; her great-uncle had died at the Alamo....

...Reading about Joanne in the Houston society columns of the 1960s and '70s -- Her Roman Toga  party was so lavish and theatrical that Life magazine covered it...When she married Bob Herring, who ran the largest natural gas company in the country, she began traveling with him through Arab lands.  They met and befriended kings, sheikhs, and chiefs of intelligence. ...

Houston was a boomtown ...and when kings and foreign leaders asked to visit, the State Department found it helpful to enlist the ever enthusiastic Herring to entertain. 

Her parties were always magnificently overdone.

...At the end of the 1970s, Pakistan was a poor country and out of favor in Washington.  Trying to build friendships, Yaqub Khan proposed that Bob Herring become Pakistan's honorary consul in Houston.  Herring declined but suggested his wife instead.  Thus began Joanne's love affair with Pakistan and certainly one of the most bizarre diplomatic appointments ever made by a fundamentalist Muslim country.

...It was all going very well until the military seized power and hung President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto....President Jimmy Carter led the charge in condemning the new dictator, Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, accusing him of killing democracy in Pakistan....

When "Pakistan" became a dirty word in Washington any other honorary consul might have lost heart.  Joanne Herring, however, reacted differently.  A trusted adviser and friend in France had recently confided in her that there were only seven men standing between the free world and Communism.  Zia, he said, was one of them.  So that year she set off for Pakistan, prepared to find virtue in the maligned dictator Zia ul-Haq.---------------[end excerpt]

I like that phrase:  she was "prepared to find virtue" in this person.

I also liked where it said, she saw potential for greatness in the most unlikely characters.


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