Robert Hanks: Put it all off till tomorrow and you won't go far wrong

Friday 26 September 2008 00:00

John McCain's desire to suspend campaigning and postpone tonight's presidential debate in order to pay more attention to the crisis on Wall Street puzzled observers. After all, they pointed out, Abraham Lincoln ran for re-election while the American Civil War was still on the go, and both Churchill and FDR managed to take time out from the Second World War for their campaigns. Why did a few jitters on Wall Street weigh so much more heavily on a mere senator, especially one not noted for his experience in financial matters?

The most popular interpretation was that Senator McCain was attempting some kind of oneupmanship – outflanking Barack Obama to look more presidential and more bipartisan. That's plausible (though there must be tightish limits to how hard you can compete on bipartisanship). But another explanation fits the facts better: this wasn't evidence of a concrete strategy, of sly thinking about how to claw some electoral advantage; on the contrary, what Mr McCain wanted was not to have to think about the election at all. It was all getting a bit stressful and a bit annoying, and so quite sensibly he decided to try to put the whole thing off until next week. Good for him.

Procrastination gets a bad press – carpe diem, he who hesitates is lost, be wise today 'tis madness to defer, letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would" like the poor cat i' the adage ... My own view is that this is unfair; at the very least, I think we need a thorough investigation of precisely what happened to the poor cat before we jump to any conclusions.

Procrastination is an area where, as family and colleagues will be only too happy to confirm, I can claim particular expertise. I am constitutionally incapable of doing today what I can put off till tomorrow, and when tomorrow comes around I'll probably take a good stretch of time to mull, to ponder, to read around the subject and talk a couple of ideas over with a friend until I'm ready to act. But once ready, I'll pause only to make a cup of coffee – none of your instant rubbish – and check out a couple of blogs before I spring, panther-like, into action.

For those around me this is, I recognise, often extremely irritating; for the habitual procrastinator, it's a vital coping mechanism, which allows you to choke back some of the anger and uncertainty and face the world with a cheerful expression. Besides, there are good reasons to put things off: if you wait long enough it is highly likely that the weather will improve, that your enemies will grow bored and wander off, that one way or another this too shall pass. And even if something doesn't turn up, you've had a breathing space and time to let things percolate through your subconscious.

From Senator McCain's point of view, this can only be a good thing: look at the trouble he's got into by thinking on his feet – saying one day that the fundamentals of the economy are strong, and then having to spend the next day parsing that sentence to eliminate the impression that he didn't know or didn't care what was going on. Or go to YouTube (where, naturally, I've already spent a good portion of the day) and look at Sarah Palin's interview with Charlie Gibson, where she talks over and over about the importance of not blinking. It's about time procrastinators stood up to be counted. Though when I say "about time", obviously I don't expect you to hold me to a deadline.

Always look on the bright side of life (even if you're about to be banned)

According to reports from Russia, the television channel 2x2, which is devoted to cartoons, is likely to have its licence revoked as penalty for broadcasting episodes of 'The Simpsons', 'South Park 'and 'Family Guy'. Instead, the station's frequency will be handed over to a new government network that reflects "the state position in the area of youth policy", with an emphasis on promoting patriotism and the importance of sport.

This is gloomy news, and also somewhat baffling. The allegations are that 'South Park' promotes religious hatred, while the other two violate the rights of children: were prosecutors thinking of all those episodes when Homer throttles Bart? And did the yellow skin and disproportionately large head not clue them in that Bart is a fictional character, and therefore has no rights?

But the gloom is lightened by the turn of events in Torbay. Almost 30 years after shocking local councillors, 'The Life of Brian' is finally going to be screened. The good news is not just that it is being shown, but the reason why it is being shown: it came top in a local poll of favourite comedy films; in other words, the ruling that prevented it being shown at local cinemas had had no effect whatsoever. Admittedly, Muscovite Simpsons fans can't hop on a bus to Newton Abbot, the way people in Torbay did; but in these days of global travel and broadband technology, there's no realistic hope of keeping 'The Simpsons' out of Russia; and the attempt just makes the authorities look foolish and nasty.

Blink and you'll miss some of film's greatest moments

The film critic Manny Farber, whose death was announced on the obituary page yesterday, once wrote "One of the fine moments in 1940s film is no longer than a blink: Bogart, as he crosses the street from one bookstore to another, looks up at a sign."

The judgement is unforgettable, but incomprehensible; I've watched and rewatched the film on DVD, pausing and rewinding, in an effort to understand what it was he saw there, in the composition of the shot, the tilt of Humphrey Bogart's head. Fruitless. But then I think of all those stray moments in film that for no clear reason stick in the head: Laurence Olivier fiddling with a cigarette in Rebecca; or Cary Grant, in Notorious, looking gloomy at a table outside a bar.

Is there some significance in the fact that they're both Hitchcock moments? Or in the fact that, like The Big Sleep, they're films of the 1940s? I don't know; but Farber showed me it was worth asking.

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