Stark could talk her way into any situation and, most of the time, out again, in a remarkable number of languages. [In April 1941] she had just talked her way back to Baghdad from Tehran, when . . . she was stopped by Iraqi police at the frontier. All British citizens were barred from proceeding further, and she was officially in custody; others, she learned, had been put in prison camps. Yet she cajoled the station attendant into bringing her tea and her police guard into sharing it, and informed the guard of the sheer impossibility of staying on without a ladies' maid. Surely he could see her problem and wished to be civilized? . . . And the policeman--no longer guarding a prisoner but protecting a lady--put her on the next train to Baghdad. "The great and almost only comfort about being a woman," Stark reflected, in a maxim that encompasses many such events in her illustrious career, "is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised."
Perhaps the link is merely coincidental, but in my mind Stark's management of her situation, which I'm sorry to say is still a useful mechanism for dealing with both car trouble and the police, is somehow segueing into the ridiculous and embarrassing birth-certificate accusations that are dogging President Obama as well as a parallel incident here in Maine involving clueless public racism and classism. The situation centers on Philip Congdon, the governor's top economic development advisor, who, according to the Bangor Daily News, resigned after "reportedly offend[ing] multiple groups of people on separate occasions during events in Aroostook County earlier this month. According to multiple sources, Congdon made racially insensitive or inflammatory remarks about [black] college students and dismissive comments about the prospects for economic development in The County," which is sparsely populated and dependent on potato farming.
I would like to say something pithy here, but I find myself unable to compose an intelligent summary to this post, one that would neatly tie up all these frayed edges and demonstrate my sociological acumen. All I can do is put my head into my hands. Why is the American president forced to waste his time dealing with what the New York Times calls "such poisonous fire"? Why did Maine's governor hire an economic development advisor who despises the people he is supposed to help? Why do women still automatically feign stupidity, and why, as Stark notes, is "no one surprised"? Humiliation, it seems, is timeless.