Gore Vidal's mind is a living history of America. At 72, he's experienced nearly a third of the country's political past; as the grandson of an Oklahoma senator, he's been heir to the rest of it. His friendship with JFK put him in a privileged position as acid-eyed critic of Camelot long before any revisionist histories, and his Washington upbringing has made him an eminent inside critic of postwar American power. His works include respected historical novels like Burr and Julian; perverse satirical novels like Myra Breckinridge; and reams of anti-establishment political essays. So if you've had this kind of career, how do you promote your new novel? Read to people in bookstores? Sign copies and chat with your readers? Well, no. You go on television, mostly, and you do events like tonight's "conversation" with Christopher Hitchens at the Berkeley High School auditorium. Hitchens is a British journalist with a forked tongue like Vidal's and a matching flair for iconoclasm. (His scathing 1995 book on Mother Teresa was called The Missionary Position.) No one knows what they'll talk about, but Vidal's new novel, The Smithsonian Institution, deals with a boy time-traveling into the American past to avert the Cold War. Even if they don't get around to discussing it, the conversation will certainly be the most acerbic history lesson ever offered at Berkeley High. The talk is Wednesday, March 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Community Theater, Allston & Milvia, Berkeley High School campus. Admission is $15 at the door; call (510) 848-6767, ext. 612. Proceeds benefit the Middle East Children's Alliance.