Re-Entry Phase After three months of Sound of Music existence in the antiseptic Alps, the re-entry to the real world leaves one feeling like an affronted Miss Marple. It's not just the spitting in public. (In Switzerland, expectorating on the sidewalk will get you 25 to life.) Having been banished to Khartoum and Cairo by my father, I learned to dodge the spittle at a very young age. Nor is it the shouting and the swearing. Noo Yawkers have always been loud and rude, it's part of their charm. What it is, I suppose, is the downward cultural aspirations of my fellow Gothamites. Everyone, it seems, wants to be a barbarian.
Once upon a time, when manners were far more important than money, uninhibited vulgarity was expected only from newly arrived poor immigrants and from the criminal classes. No longer. Now it's that portion of society with a large disposable income and time on its hands. Go to any trendy restaurant or nightclub nowadays, and the F-word is as popular as it once used to be in, say, Ebbets Field. Probably more so. To most of the working-class families who used to attend baseball games in Brooklyn the F-word was anathema.
Strolling with a friend in Central Park last week was an apocalyptic experience. The bikers whizzed by and spat, the joggers swore like rappers, the speed-walkers looked angry and frenetic. "What the hell is going on?" I asked him. "Oh, they're just feeling guilty for the relative good fortune of their position in life," he said, "so they seek to demonstrate the purity of their hearts by the vileness of their behavior."
Mind you, my friend is a joker, as well as a philosopher. Kidding apart, the coarseness of our time has spread everywhere. In a very glitzy shop on Madison Ave. I witnessed a lady of obvious good breeding smiling while a woman raged at the shoppers using the F-word as an article, an adjective and a noun. She was not deranged, just angry. And the obviously wealthy shopping crowd went on about their business as if nothing was happening. Expressing one's rage in public has been de rigueur since the ghastly 60s. According to this trend, the public expression of emotions such as anger or grief is an unmitigated good, while its opposite, self-control, an unmitigated disaster. In fact, self-control is seen as insincere and hypocritical, and people who practice it as ridiculous, repressed, two-faced, snobby and psychologically unhealthy.
Well, call me all those names, if you will, but I'd rather die than manifest my emotions in public. What I've noticed is that it's getting worse. A kind of competition is taking place: more and more outward signs are required to prove that a person is not two-faced or repressed. Chaos! Extravagance of expression is a Southern trait. As in Algeria, where women ululate during funerals to express their grief. But in Western culture, which derives from Greek self-control, it is a manifestation of inner emptiness.
The media, needless to say, are no help. When was the last time a television camera filmed someone who spoke rationally after, say, a fire? The loudest and most theatrical makes the 6 o'clock news, not the most articulate. Ditto where the glossies are concerned. Hyperbole is king. Profiling celebrities is an exercise in exaggeration and overkill. (What I find particularly annoying are war images used in describing modern business tycoons: Ronald Perelman takes no prisoners; David Geffen is massing his artillery, and so on... This about people who would shit in their pants if they ever heard a shot fired in anger.)
Roger Scruton, the English philosopher, once wrote that "the principal damage done by liberalism has come from the relentless scoffing at ordinary prohibitions and decencies." In the 1960s the liberal media and Hollywood decided that their mission henceforth would be to champion the deviant, the abnormal and the psychopathic, while heaping scorn on the decent, the honorable and the law-abiding. No wonder the Draft Dodger praised American Beauty winning the Oscar as best picture. The Marine was the psychopathic baddie; his son, the drug dealer, the goodie. Talk about family values. In that particular film, those were the values to mock as abominations. Clinton's and Hollywood's world is one in which homosexuals are presented as the norm and heterosexuals as aberrations. The New York Times and its in-house catamite, Frank Rich, calls this a sense of overdue justice. Yet morality, good manners and self-control are not superficial notions. They are the outward signs of an inner unselfishness, the essence of civilization. Manners are the antithesis of brute force.
Take, for example, the duel. It is now seen as barbarous. Well, I've got news for you, sports fans: I'll take the duel, with its mannered code, any day over the murderous brawl in the street or the knife in the dark. Mr. Puff Daddy, it is said, feeling insulted by someone who threw money at him, had his bodyguards shoot a 9 mm inside a crowded nightclub and then drove off. What a far cry from the good old days when elaborate rules were laid down in case of just such insults. In Puff Daddy's case, I suspect personal honor would somehow take a backseat if?as the code of conduct required?the duelists fought on a level playing field. Given the aristocratic nature of the duel, with its feudal ethos of chivalry, I'm afraid Puff would not have been eligible, but never mind. We are, after all, living in the time of the common man.
But back to my return to the Big Apple. When I remonstrate with people who spit near my feet, I get the kind of looks reserved for crazies. When I protest upon hearing swear words, especially when I'm with a member of the fairer sex, people tend to get aggressive. In other words, to admit that you find in-your-face vulgarity offensive is to be labeled a prude?even worse, a gentleman. It won't be long now before the p.c. Nazis do away with the latter as being antisocial.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Murder in Arkansas Two weeks before the first anniversary of the brutal killing of Matthew Shepard, in September of 1999, a 13-year-old boy was murdered in Rogers, AK. Jesse Dirkhising, his body covered with feces, died while being repeatedly raped and sodomized with various objects, including an enema filled with the urine of one of his tormentors. The murder, and the ongoing court proceedings against the alleged perpetrators, one of whom is scheduled to go on trial on April 10, has received virtually no media attention outside of the Ozarks.
Vicious murders happen all the time. This could be said about the murder of Matthew Shepard. Yet his death unleashed not only a frenzy of coverage and was denounced at rallies, protests and candlelight vigils around the country, it even brought out demands from the Arkansan in the White House for "hate crime legislation" on the theory, presumably, that the death penalty the prosecutors were seeking was insufficient.
It was The Washington Times that made the Jesse Dirkhising story more than just a local news item, and L. Brent Bozell III who subsequently pointed out that self-imposed political correctness on the part of the media was responsible for the different treatment of the two cases. With few exceptions, the nation's newspapers twisted themselves into bundles of contradiction trying to refute the charge that they could possibly be biased. But if their original silence was telling and might by some force of the imagination be deemed innocent, the reaction to Bozell's allegations could leave no doubt that he had been right. The media will indeed shape the news to accommodate any contemporary fashion. And what's more fashionable these days than gay and lesbian politics? Dirkhising was a boy murdered by two homosexuals, Shepard was a homosexual killed by two heterosexuals. The former death is unfortunate, the latter is symptomatic of the profound homophobia gripping this deeply flawed country of ours.
Leading the charge against commentators it reflexively called "hostile to homosexuals" was The Washington Post, explaining that it does not cover murders outside of the Washington area unless the murder causes "a large local sensation or has raised a larger social issue." Ignoring the question of who defines "large," the Post explained that the Shepard killing was a hate crime whereas the "Arkansas authorities have not characterized the Dirkhising death as a hate crime."
Well, actually, the Wyoming prosecutors never so characterized the Shepard death either?the state had no hate crime laws?but never mind. The Post concluded that "Matthew Shepard's death sparked public expressions of outrage that themselves became news. That Jesse Dirkhising's death has not done so to date is hardly the fault of The Washington Post." So if the public is not informed to feel outraged, it has nothing to do with the Post.
Time.com's Jonathan Gregg, after noting that "many in our society think that beating up gays is justifiable," pointed out that what happened to the two victims was different. "Shepard was lynched... And while child abuse is unfortunately no big news, lynching still is." Besides, this "child abuse" was the doing of pedophiles, not of homosexuals.
This is an argument that belies the evidence presented to the court, but it must be made to preserve the affecting illusion that savagery exists only among heterosexuals. Finally, Time.com added, the Dirkhising story failed to play because "[T]here is no lesson here, no moral of tolerance, no hope to be gleaned in the punishment of the perpetrators." Unlike the lessons to be drawn from the JonBenet Ramsey killing, obviously. Between Jan. 1,1997, and Nov. 19,1999, Time alone carried 25 stories on the moppet and tv networks have run 438 segments. The barrage of those "lessons" continues unabated.
The Denver Post chose to blame its lack of coverage of the Arkansas murder on a problem that was "structural?Rogers, Ark. is far beyond our reach." Perhaps sensing that the explanation sounded a bit wishy-washy and that it made the newspaper look like some jerkwater publication, it also attacked those who drew parallels between the Shepard and the Dirkhising deaths. One is a "hate crime," the other is "being used to fan hatred, to excuse discrimination?to say it's okay to target people for abuse because they're gay." The mind boggles. No wonder so many of us tend to be paranoid.
For sheer paranoia, however, it is hard to beat Frank Rich. Of course the disparate coverage of the two cases by The New York Times had nothing to do with any liberal agenda. If anyone has an agenda, it is the antigay, rabble-rousing, notoriously homophobic media propagandists. You gotta admire Rich, though. Unlike his colleagues who just vent their spleen against nameless critics, he names names. And to him these people are more than just homophobes, they are racists and white supremacists as well; they are "a right-wing amen chorus [of] David Duke."
Reading all this, one is reminded of the comment Barry Goldwater made after he lost his presidential bid. Having caught up on all the stuff that had been written about him, he told the assembled journalists: "Ladies and gentlemen, I had no idea I was such a son of a bitch." Still, those were the days when the failure to subscribe to The New York Times orthodoxies got one labeled a mere son of a bitch. Today, those who dare ask that everyone be treated equally have their motives impugned and their reputations smeared.
It is an old trick, actually. The communists used to intimidate their ideological opponents by branding them "enemies of the people"; America's progressives tar them as racists and homophobes. The goals are the same, however: to enforce an unpopular and incoherent ideology through intimidation and smears.
George Szamuely The Bunker
Arrogance of Power I was in California last weekend speaking at the Second Annual Antiwar.com Conference. Started in 1995 by two young Californians Justin Raimondo and Eric Garris as a website dedicated to resisting the American empire, Antiwar.com now easily outshines the dreary foreign policy mags filled with the self-important vacuities of the Washington apparat.
The conference theme was "Beyond Left and Right" and for a good reason. When it comes to imperialism, there is much that left and right can agree on. Imperialism means government repression at home, violations of international law abroad, the exploitation of the weak by the strong and the destruction of different national cultures and traditions. Speakers ranged from Patrick Buchanan to my New York Press colleague Alexander Cockburn. Other participants included Chronicles editor Thomas Fleming, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia James Bissett and Lenora Fulani. This was no "neoconservative" gathering where speakers outdid one another in their abject groveling at the feet of "neoconservative" elders. Nor was this some corporate-funded Establishment get-together where the assorted Brzezinskis and Eagleburgers argue about whom to bomb next and where to make a buck (the two activities are usually one and the same). There were no lavish banquets at the Hyatt. Antiwar.com lives off contributions from not terribly wealthy individuals who fear a U.S. government that professes so much benevolence, yet acts with so much malevolence.
No one in public life can match Pat Buchanan in eloquence on the subject of American imperialism. "A seething resentment of America is brewing all over the world," he declared, "and the haughty attitude of our foreign policy elite only nurses the hatred. Hearken, if you will, to the voice of our own Xena, Madeleine Albright: 'If we have to use force it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see farther into the future.' Now I count myself an American patriot. But if this Beltway braggadocio about being the world's 'indispensable nation' has begun to grate on me, how must it grate upon the Europeans, Russians, and peoples subject to our sanctions because they have failed, by our lights, to live up to our standards?" Buchanan spoke of "hubris," "arrogance of power," "triumphalism," "America's Brezhnev Doctrine," but he did not get into what's behind this mad rush for empire. Cockburn had an answer, one that had been put forward more than 80 years ago by V.I. Lenin. Capitalism leads to imperialism. And, imperialism, in turn, leads to war.
Cockburn's economic explanations have much to commend them. U.S. foreign policy exists to promote "market democracy." By "market democracy," the U.S. means a state that imposes no restrictions on the free flow of capital and goods from the U.S. The United States bombs and starves countries in order to make them safe for foreign investment. Recently Thomas Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, was spluttering in outrage that there were still no McDonald's in Sarajevo. "If you can't get McDonald's into a country you can't get anything into a country," he mused. "I really do hope that we'll all be eating McDonald's burgers by this fall."
In the Caucasus, the United States is setting up satellite states, the better to plunder the oil riches of the Caspian. "Market democracy" there means being on the payroll of Bechtel, General Electric, Chevron and BP Amoco. Will this lead to war with Russia? Probably. Meanwhile, the bombing of Iraq goes on without remission. Sanctions remain in place with no one asking why?vaguely we recall some talk of "weapons of mass destruction." Yet Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector for UNSCOM, has said that "Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability." In any case, if there is one thing Saddam Hussein has learned it's that you need "weapons of mass destruction" to survive in the world. Whoever rules in Baghdad will now be more determined than ever to get the Bomb. "Sanctions are the leverage the international community has to get the government of Iraq to comply" with its demands to disarm, U.S. Deputy Ambassador James Cunningham told the UN Security Council. By "international community," he means what Washington policymakers usually mean by the term: the U.S., its faithful poodle Great Britain and no one else.
According to UNICEF, half a million infants have died as a result of sanctions. Children under five are dying at more than twice the rate they were 10 years ago. Finally, after five years of watching innocent Iraqis suffering, the UN agreed in 1995 to institute an oil-for-food program that would permit Iraq to sell oil and use the revenue to buy food, medicine and other supplies. The UN would have to approve every Iraqi purchase. Needless to say, the U.S. has difficulties approving anything; they've held up more than $1 billion in contracts for equipment to rebuild Iraq's electricity, oil and water industries. Thus, the sewage system is a disaster and there is no clean water. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a December 1999 report, said that the oil-for-food program "has not halted the collapse of the health system and the deterioration of water supplies, which together pose one of the gravest threats to the health and well being of the civilian population." The former administrator of the oil-for-food program Denis Halliday stated, "We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral."
Why is the U.S. pursuing this extraordinarily cruel and vindictive policy against a power that today poses very little threat to anyone? Why is it inflicting so much suffering on innocent civilians? If the U.S. is so concerned about high oil prices, is it not time to let Iraq sell oil? The answer is that the war against Iraq enables the United States to maintain a military presence in the Middle East. And high oil prices is precisely what the U.S. has been looking for in order to get that Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline off the ground. That's imperialism for you.
Toby Young The London Desk
Cocaine Abusers The legalization of cannabis is back on Britain's political agenda following the publication of a report last week recommending the liberalization of the drug laws. The report, which was produced by the Police Foundation, proposed that cannabis, LSD and ecstasy be reclassified as soft drugs so that possession is no longer an offense punishable by imprisonment. Home Secretary Jack Straw immediately rejected the report's proposals and they've been condemned by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Superintendent's Association of England and Wales, not to mention Britain's drug czar, Keith Hellawell.
Nevertheless, it seems only a matter of time before Britain's drug laws are reformed. The police rarely bother to prosecute people for possession of cannabis, usually letting them off with a caution, so reclassifying pot as a soft drug would merely serve to ratify what has long been common practice.
Cocaine is another matter. Middle England isn't about to go soft on nose candy anytime soon. Indeed, the Police Foundation recommended that Britain's laws against cocaine trafficking be toughened up in an effort to make the rest of their report more palatable. They sugared the pill, so to speak, by dipping it in white powder. According to Lady Runciman, chair of the Police Foundation's inquiry, one of the main arguments in favor of "depenalizing" cannabis is that it will mean antidrug campaigners are taken much more seriously when they warn schoolchildren about the dangers of Bolivian marching powder. "When young people know that the advice they are given is either exaggerated or untrue in relation to less harmful drugs," she said, "there is a real risk they will discount everything else they are told about the most hazardous drugs, including heroin and cocaine."
The public's prejudice against cocaine has reached an hysterical pitch recently following a succession of exposés in The Sunday Times. Under the guise of concern for the moral welfare of Prince William, the 17-year-old son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, the Times has outed a number of cocaine users who, it claims, are members of William's social circle. Typically, these stories begin with a "friend" of the user coming forward and identifying them as someone who has a "problem," then go on to establish some tenuous link between them and the heir to the British throne. So far, The Sunday Times' victims have included Tom Parker Bowles, the son of Camilla Parker Bowles; Lord Frederick Windsor, the son of Prince Michael of Kent; and Izzy Winkler, a 22-year-old student at Edinburgh University.
In Winkler's case, the Times didn't even claim she was in Prince William's circle. Rather, to quote the story, she's a "friend of the circle with whom Prince William associates." In the eyes of the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times, that was close enough to justify ruining her life.
Like many British journalists, I'm appalled by the Times' witch-hunt, particularly as it's clearly motivated by Murdoch's Republican agenda. In the case of all three of those named by the paper, and particularly Izzy Winkler, there's no public interest defense available. It would be one thing if the Queen were taking coke, but these are people who allegedly move in her grandson's circle. That's not sufficiently close to the monarch to justify such a gross invasion of privacy. They aren't even famous?at least, they weren't until they were outed by the Times.
My first impulse when I saw the paper's story about Izzy Winkler was to write a piece for The Spectator threatening to name all those Sunday Times journalists I've ever taken coke with if the paper exposed anyone else. The trouble with this, however, is that John Witherow, the editor of The Sunday Times, would almost certainly call my bluff. I'd then be faced with the option of either naming those Times staffers I've gotten high with, most of whom are friends of mine, or losing face. I almost certainly wouldn't follow through on my threat, not least because there's no telling how Witherow would react. He might well threaten to fire all the people I name unless they sue me for libel.
A smarter move would be to threaten to name all those people in Elizabeth Murdoch's circle who take cocaine if The Sunday Times outs one more person. If simply being a member of the second in line to the throne's social circle is sufficient justification to name someone as a cocaine user, then being a member of Elizabeth Murdoch's circle, given that she's one of the heirs to her father's throne, would seem equally sufficient. In fact, it's a much stronger justification since being the chairman and CEO of News Corp. is a more powerful position than being king of England. If the "moral welfare" of Prince Charles' son is a legitimate subject of public concern, so is the "moral welfare" of Rupert Murdoch's daughter.
I have a feeling the editor of The Sunday Times would think twice about calling my bluff in this instance. Even if he did, I'd have no qualms about tossing out one name: my own.
Admittedly, I've never met Elizabeth Murdoch, but then Izzy Winkler has never met Prince William. Winkler's connection with the Prince is that she's a "friend of the circle with whom Prince William associates," which is about as close as I am to Elizabeth Murdoch since I once sat a few feet away from her at a wedding.
This would be a fairly extreme option and one I'm not particularly keen to take. Getting into a pissing match with one of the most powerful men in the world isn't exactly sensible. When I was younger, I got into a legal fight with Robert Maxwell that only ended when he jumped off his yacht. This time around, I expect it would be me who ended up floating facedown in the middle of the ocean. Still, the actions of The Sunday Times are so contemptible I'm sorely tempted. Watch this space.