Dress-Down Fridays Don't Work for Brits; Skulls, Bones and WASPs; Peculiar David Irving

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    Bad Times When I resigned as a columnist in the London Sunday Times in order to start "Top Drawer," Nadine Johnson, Richard "Page Six" Johnson's better half, incredulously asked how I could give up a $130,000 salary and a readership of close to two million for a downtown alternative giveaway. "Easy," I told her, "England doesn't count, but New York does." I don't regret it, though it's an uphill struggle. The liberal news media fill the city's airwaves, magazines and newspapers with an endless stream of propaganda. Their constant attacks on conservative principles, on the police and on the Christian religion reveal just how much they hate the idea of a traditional America. In an election year, The New York Times seems to ignore reporting the news, but is hell-bent on shaping people's hearts and minds. George W. Bush and Rudy Giuliani are Mussolini and Hitler in the eyes of the Times?to hell with objectivity.

    I am not a conspiracy buff by nature, but lately it's been getting ridiculous. The following items are taken at random: As MUGGER reported last week, "the glee of The New York Times splashing the results showing Hillary leading Rudy Giuliani on the front page..." is just one example of phony polls run by a phony paper of record. The city's worst columnist, Bob Herbert, headlines his opus "Clueless in Texas," a smart aleck's twist on how George W. was an environmentalist one week and a health care reformer the week after. Herbert blames Bush for the high rate of AIDS in Texas, particularly near the Mexican border, which is equivalent to blaming George Steinbrenner when fights break out at Yankee Stadium.

    Then there are nonstories like the one by Alison Mitchell that breathlessly informs us morons: "GOP Races Adjust As Bush's Glow Dims." In other words, Republicans are ditching Bush because they see him as a weak candidate and plan to run on their own, not on his coattails. (Gee whiz, Alison, and I was thinking of running on the Greek ticket, or Grecian, as George W. once called us). In a report about anti-Americanism on the rise in Europe, the Times managed to shoehorn in a barb against Bush. When things are quiet, as they were last week, the Times does not rest. Instead, the paper that prints news that does not exactly fit ran a page B-3 story on an obscure speech given by the discredited former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, which assailed the Mayor. You might ask, so what else is new? I'll tell you. Kelly now works as a U.S. customs commissioner under the Draft Dodger, whose wife some of you may recognize as the one running against Mayor Rudy. I do not believe in conspiracies, just coincidences.

    Needless to say, the Times editorials are worthy of a Pulitzer for hypocrisy and sanctimony. The "stop and frisk" tactics that have lowered the crime rate dramatically are seen as "Giuliani time" harassment of minorities. The fact that police officers only stop minority citizens when they fit the descriptions provided by victims is neither here nor there. What is important for the Times is to undermine Giuliani and "his" police force by painting them as out of control. That out-of-town visitors now feel safe in the city is immaterial.

    One wonders what the Times' agenda really is in going after the Mayor. Well, let me take a guess. The Times editors and owner view the city through limousine windows as they travel from plush office to doormen-protected buildings on the Upper East Side. The idea of being a victim of crime is as alien to them as I guess it is to someone like myself. (But at least I go out to clubs, get drunk and even brawl with muggers occasionally.) Sulzberger Junior sounds like a grotesque human being. Adolph Ochs once said he would publish "the news impartially, without fear or favor," and back then he more or less did. Junior publishes the news partially and with favor for Al Sharpton, the West Village lobby, the feminist harridans like Gloria Steinem and, of course, Hillary Clinton.

    At times, the Times makes a total fool of itself, as when they ran a story on old-style communist-radical protesters seizing the moment to rally against the police. They followed that with a story about a woman, Stacey Patton, who joined a protest having been "lured by the voices of the crowd" and who was later beaten up by the police. The story was written by Felicia Lee, and I didn't believe a single word of it. Better yet was the front-page Times story about Jose Sierra, a drug dealer who was described by a police officer as a career criminal. Sierra was painted as a victim by the Times, so much so that the writer got carried away and reported how the dealer threatened to move to Connecticut because the cops were harassing him, poor dear. This had to be the nadir of any newspaper, when it chooses to take the word and side of a drug dealer in its search for a story to discredit the Mayor and the cops.

    Have the tactics of the Times worked? Of course they have. I have just finished reading Peggy Noonan's book on Hillary Macbeth, a wonderful read, incidentally, and I understand better how a woman who has lied, has been corrupt and petty and has destroyed innocent people's lives can be leading in the polls. The Times is a cynical newspaper that cares about this city and country as much as I care about Belgium. As Noonan points out at the end of her book, the Clintons "left behind a country more damaged, more removed from its old, rough idealism, a country whose children live in a coarser and more dangerous place..." That's exactly what the Times is doing to the city, and opposites do not always attract.


    George Szamuely The Bunker Peculiar Yet Brave There is one issue that remains to be settled in the David Irving vs. Deborah Lipstadt libel case. What exactly is a "Holocaust denier"? Mr. Justice Gray ruled last week that David Irving is a "Holocaust denier." This despite the fact that, according to the learned judge, Irving accepts "that from about June 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union many thousands of Jews and others in the East were shot and killed by Nazi soldiers"; "that from the end of 1941 onwards, thousands of Jews were killed by gassing." Irving, moreover, accepts "that in a period of about five weeks in 1942, 97,000 were killed at Chelmno by the use of gas vans," and does not dispute that "hundreds of thousands of Jews were intentionally killed, by some means or another, at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka." In a recent interview, Irving said that four million Jews may have died in the Holocaust. So what makes one a "Holocaust denier"? According to Prof. Richard Evans, who testified on behalf of Lipstadt, Holocaust deniers argue that Jews were not killed in gas chambers or at least not on any significant scale; that the Nazis made no systematic attempt to exterminate European Jewry; that the number of Jews murdered was far less than usually assumed; that the Holocaust is a myth invented during the war by Allied propagandists and sustained after the war by Jews in order to obtain financial support for the newly created state of Israel. In other words, any departure from conventional historical judgments renders one vulnerable to the "Holocaust denial" charge.

    If Irving is indeed a "Holocaust denier," then he is a very peculiar one. Mr. Justice Gray acknowledged that Irving readily makes his research available to other historians. He footnotes meticulously, and thereby opens himself to easy refutation. It was Irving, moreover, who brought the lawsuit, knowing that he would be forced to debate publicly some of the leading scholars in the field of Holocaust studies. According to Lipstadt's defense team, Irving "in denying that the Holocaust happened, has misstated evidence; misquoted sources; falsified statistics; misconstrued information and bent historical evidence so that it conforms to his neo-fascist political agenda and ideological beliefs." Yet it seems unlikely that a man with a "political agenda" who knowingly "misquotes" and "falsifies" would seek out a confrontation with experts who would easily make him look a fool.

    Irving has a knack for raising interesting issues. Though he lost the case, he held his own against scholars of international repute. Twenty years ago, if memory serves, he issued a challenge to all historians to find one document that shows Hitler issuing an order for the implementation of the Final Solution. No one has yet discovered such a document. According to conventional wisdom among historians, no such paper exists because Hitler wanted the Holocaust kept secret. That is why even in personal conversations he never referred directly to the genocide, always preferring to use euphemisms. That may well be so. But it is still a mystery why he would do that. If Germany wins the war, who cares what happened to the Jews? If Germany loses the war, Hitler was under no illusion as to his fate.

    Irving has highlighted more than anyone else how much knowledge of the Holocaust is dependent on the testimony of survivors, and hardly at all on documentation. It means that one of the most horrifying events of this century is also the most baffling. Even Mr. Justice Gray declared that "[Irving] is right to point out that the contemporaneous documents, such as drawings, plans, correspondence with contractors and the like, yield little clear evidence of the existence of gas chambers designed to kill humans. Such isolated references to the use of gas as are to be found amongst these documents can be explained by the need to fumigate clothes so as to reduce the incidence of diseases such as typhus. The quantities of Zyklon-B delivered to the camp may arguably be explained by the need to fumigate clothes and other objects."

    Yet according to Lipstadt?and Mr. Justice Gray?Irving is a "Holocaust denier." He denies that there was a "deliberate planned extermination of Europe's Jewish population by the Nazis, and [has] denied that gas chambers were used by the Nazis as a means of carrying out that extermination." But does it really matter if the mass murder of the Jews was "deliberate" and "planned" or "spontaneous"? Would it have been "better" if the genocide had been carried out on an ad-hoc basis? Was the mass murder of the Poles "spontaneous" or "planned"? How about the Russians? Or the Gypsies?

    This was why much of the debate between Irving and the defense during the trial was so tedious. There was Irving arguing that there were no documents in the Nazi archives that made reference to the commissioning, construction or operation of the gas chambers for extermination purposes. Then he would go on about the remains of the roof of morgue 1 at crematorium 2 at Auschwitz to show that there were no chimneys there through which the Zyklon-B pellets could be dropped into the morgue below. Therefore, they could not have been used as gas chambers. The defense countered that the Holocaust was carried out in great secrecy. And, as for the roof, it was in such bad shape that one could not tell whether there were chimneys there or not.

    It is time we stopped drawing up a hierarchy of victims. The Second World War was a terrible affair all round. Mass murder was suddenly the norm. Today many Americans know nothing else about the war other than the Holocaust. To see the horrors perpetrated against the Jews as part of a much larger barbarity that suddenly took hold of much of the world is not to "deny" the Holocaust. David Irving is peculiar, perverse and almost certainly wrongheaded. Yet he challenges contemporary pieties. There aren't too many people who do that.


    Toby Young The London Desk Dress Casualties One of the problems with being 3000 miles away from the center of the global economy is that, when it comes to business trends, we spend most of our time playing catch-up. Information may flow back and forth between Wall Street and London at the speed of light, but new ways of doing business that originate in New York can take years to cross the Atlantic. Often, by the time they've penetrated the cobwebbed hallways of Britain's crumbling investment banks, they've long gone out of fashion. Take dress-down Fridays. First introduced on Wall Street back in the 80s, casual-dress days are a comparatively recent phenomenon over here. Given that most city gents have only just been persuaded to dispense with their bowler hats, getting them to wear polo shirts and khakis once a week is proving rather difficult. They regard the casual dress code as part of a general assault on their traditional values, yet another reminder of how out of step they are with the informal mood of Blair's Britain. Far from seeing dress-down Fridays as an opportunity to wear what they please, they feel as though they're being ordered to dress in the style of their new masters. It's not enough that Labor defeated the Conservatives at the last general election?Tony Blair and his army of smiling yes-men are forcing young fogies to abandon Savile Row in favor of the Gap. What could be more humiliating?

    "I feel as if I've been bullied into wearing shirt sleeves," says one investment banker. "I'm now under an obligation once a week to demonstrate to my employers that, far from being a gray man, I'm a nice, caring guy. It's like having to wear a badge saying you voted Labor."

    One of the reasons British bankers are so attached to their suits is that they reinforce the egalitarian atmosphere that still prevails at the top of British society?at least outside 10 Downing Street. Unlike in New York, where the most powerful institutions are the most hierarchical, in London members of the ruling clique tend to regard one another as equals. No doubt this stems from the fact that, until the middle of the 19th century, they were all drawn from the same class. In a world where someone's status is determined by his bloodline, you're not going to pay much mind to whether he's above or below you in the office pecking order.

    The aristocracy has long been forced out of positions of power in the UK but, oddly, its successors have preserved this sense of equality, at least among themselves. Within the British Establishment, the suit, like the school uniform, is regarded as a way of preserving this rather attractive characteristic. If everyone's dressed identically it's impossible to tell who's important and who's not, at least at a glance. Everyone looks the same. Casual clothes, by contrast, immediately announce to the world exactly what your status is in the office food chain. Dress-down Fridays may have been introduced as a way of creating a less regimented atmosphere in the office, but the effect has been to underscore people's differences.

    "It's all to do with class and status," says John Micklethwait, the U.S. editor of The Economist and co-author of A Future Perfect, a forthcoming book about globalization. "Compared to the old-fashioned suit, which served as a sort of camouflage, leisure wear is very revealing. It tells the world where you've come from and where you expect to end up."

    One British investment banker I spoke to likened dress-down Fridays to "mufti day" at his single-sex boarding school. On "mufti day"?which fell on a Wednesday at his school?the boys were allowed to dispense with their uniform and wear whatever they liked. The upshot, according to him, was that everyone could immediately tell who was rich and who wasn't. If you happened to be a poor boy, as he was, attending the school on a scholarship, "mufti day" was a nightmare. "Every Wednesday without fail I'd report to the sick bay," he says. "Anything was preferable to being seen out of uniform."

    Some British firms, following the lead of American investment banks like Goldman Sachs, have gone all casual, all the time. The experiment has not been a success. Andersen Consulting ran into trouble earlier this year when it introduced a year-round casual dress policy in its UK offices, hoping to impress its clients with its modern, laid-back approach. Its staff of highly paid management gurus expressed their hostility to the measure by showing up for work in baseball caps and sneakers, prompting the senior partners to issue a memo specifying what they considered appropriate "business casual" attire. It wasn't long before Andersen's employees were back in suits.

    Dylan Jones, the editor-in-chief of British GQ, is optimistic that dress-down Fridays will never become the norm in Britain as they have in America. "It's taken us 20 years to get British men to dress in a more sophisticated, stylish fashion and I think the idea of getting them to dress down is a disaster," he says. "They'll just revert to the kind of clothes they wear at weekends which, frankly, aren't fit for public consumption."

    If British investment bankers do reject the new informality they might find themselves one step ahead of Wall Street for once. According to Esquire editor-in-chief David Granger, the suit may be about to stage a comeback. "I actually think the suit is making something of a resurgence," he predicts. "I think it's been reinvented so it's a little more wearable. Entirely unstructured suits are coming back into style."


    John O'Sullivan Traveling Light Skeletons in Closets Just recently a film was released, The Skulls, alleging the usual WASP conspiracy to rule the world. In an unrelated story, a crank sent me a letter in response to my Chicago Sun-Times column citing evidence of the threat to mankind posed by George W. Bush and Yale's Skull & Bones society, going back to 1873. One hundred and twenty-seven years later, Hollywood has caught on to a good story. I needed no warning because I had been warned years ago. Back in 1985 or thereabouts, Andrei Navrozov, the Russian expatriate poet and critic, then editor of the commendably traditionalist Yale Literary Review, had solicited my help in saving his magazine from the secret machinations of the S&Bs. Exactly why the Skulls were anxious to shut down the YLR I forget; maybe they were passionate deconstructionists. In his somewhat premature memoirs, Andrei describes the scene: "The Americanized ghost of Fleet Street looked with suspicion at the Deep Throat before him and saw trouble. The ghost of Vnukovo returned the look and saw a gelatinous mass of conformity across the table. Buckley has body-snatched him, thought one; he is one of those conspiracy nuts Buckley warned me about, thought the other."

    Yes, well, I did think that Andrei was seeing Skulls under the bed.

    Neither of us saw the possibility of a Hollywood hit movie in our conversation. And, to be sure, any screenplay based on Andrei's suspicions would have had to amend them in important particulars. After many hands had doctored the story, it would have turned out to be the gripping tale of how Averell Harriman had secretly frozen Goebbels' brain and smuggled it into America to give Nixon advice on winning the 1960 election.

    In 1985, however, with the Cold War still raging and the culture war in its early rearmament stage, WASPS were not yet automatic villains. Still, things were moving in that direction. An early prototype of Tom Wolfe's "Great White Defendant" (before the bar of History) were Afrikaners who, in the mid-80s, suddenly appeared in Hollywood movies committing such improbable crimes as running the U.S. drug trade. Then the Brits got it in the neck. A string of wartime movies appeared in which the Nazis all sported impeccable English accents?of the old school; none of your slurred Estuary English for the Third Reich?while anti-Nazis of whatever nationality spoke generic American. By the early 90s, an easy shortcut to guessing the heroes and villains in almost any sort of movie was simply to listen to accents: if a Roman officer, say, had a (non-southern) American accent, then he would shortly be taking the side of Jewish rebels (from the Midwest) against a centurion from Eton.

    The transition movie was Titanic, which made no real distinction between Brits and upper-class Americans, both being presented as either villains or poltroons compared to the heroic, put-upon and above all "ethnic" immigrants in steerage. At the time, the official inquiry established that the great majority of Anglo-Americans on board had in fact behaved with coolness and courage?for instance, far more first-class male passengers than women from steerage died that night. In James Cameron's movie, however, they are all cowering in lifeboats when not shooting the lower classes.

    After Titanic it was open season on WASPs. In Hollywood movies a head of (male) blond hair is now an infallible sign of either stupidity, racism or treason?sometimes all three. Psychologically, Hollywood has divided the ancestors of present-day Americans into two opposed factions: there are multiethnic immigrant "Americans" who have created a splendid, democratic, inclusive universal nation of immigrants from all quarters of the globe, and "WASPs" who seized the land from the Indians, imported slaves to work it, put up signs saying "No Irish Need Apply," herded Japanese-Americans into internment camps, supported McCarthyism and are invariably racist, sexist, homophobic and thus "anti-American." None dare call it stereotyping, except the Chicago-based writer Steve Sailer who thinks The Skulls should be retitled The Protocols of the Elders of Albion.

    How did the founders and shapers of America come to be regarded as potential quislings, certain bigots and the last acceptable recipients of bigoted slurs? (Remember, lower-class WASPs are called rednecks.) I asked one of America's two leading experts on WASPdom, Rick Brookhiser, author not only of biographies of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton but also of The Way of the WASP (Free Press). (The other expert is Florence King, who wrote the elegiac "WASP: Where is Thy Sting?")

    "I would say that most WASPs have been absorbed into the great American middle class and don't realize that the attacks are aimed at them. Those who still retain a distinct WASP consciousness probably think it below their dignity to respond to such ridiculous charges. You won't be hearing from them again until they are needed to fight the next serious war," says Brookhiser.

    One defining feature of WASPs is a kind of reticent courage, a gentlemanly resistance to military assault or social intimidation. Modern U.S. examples tend to be discreet since, as Brookhiser notes, the American WASP has retreated to his social hive. So let the late Alan Clark?a right-wing English Tory MP, military historian, indiscreet diarist, ladies' man, WASP stereotype and all-round natural S&B man?serve as a surrogate. When he was asked by a Tory selection committee interviewing potential MPs if he had any skeletons in his cupboard, Clark replied briskly: "Whole graveyards." That's the true WASP spirit, equally unintimidated by Sioux braves or blue-rinsed Tory ladies. I doubt if it appears much in The Skulls.