Pas d'Honneur pour Guillaume I've just returned from a quick visit to the old country (Athens, as in Greece) for a book launch (the greatest opus since the Odyssey) and my favorite city (Paris, as in France) for Thomas Pompidou's wedding. Georges Pompidou, the bridegroom's grandfather, was among the great presidents of France. He was not as Olympian as his immediate predecessor, Charles de Gaulle, and certainly not as snobbish and dishonest as Giscard and Mitterrand, the two chaps who followed him.
There is nothing quite like Paris in the fall, or any season, come to think of it. The city never ceases to astonish me because of its stubborn resistance to change. The snooty salons, the old-fashioned brasseries like Lipp and La Coupole, the tailcoats of mustachioed waiters, the brilliant fashion houses and art galleries, the lovely squares, the seventh arrondissement with its "hotels particuliers" and the ochre-colored palaces of the 17th and 18th centuries, all impeccably kept up by a state that names its streets mainly after war heroes ("tombeé sur le champ d'honneur"?"fallen on the field of honor"?has to be the most beautiful phrase in any language, rivaled only by "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"?"it is lovely and honorable to die for one's country"?needless to say, both phrases anathema to Clinton and anyone of his sick ilk), poets, artists, writers and politicians, and in that order.
Mind you, although Paris never changes, the clientele does. Le Voltaire is still a great place to dine, but there are no longer good Americans, elegant Argentineans and refined English expatriates. This is the time of Clinton, of oversized training shoes, leisure suits, political correctness and the decline of civility. Of poor Romanian women begging with babies in their arms, of wretched Yugos hustling trolleys in the stations for a lousy franc or two. Fun has been replaced by guilt.
The new rich are a disgrace. Once upon a time, the ruling classes were an open caste. Constant recruitment was the operative word. Standards of conduct were adhered to by the nouveaux and understood. No longer. The Russians act like the gangsters they are, the Americans like the people they see in the movies, disgracefully dressed, rude and overfamiliar.
And yet and yet. France last peaked in the first decade of the last century. Napoleon was emperor of the French, king of Italy, protector of the Confederation of the Rhine and mediator of the Swiss Confederation. His brothers ruled Spain, Holland and Westphalia, and Murat, his brother-in-law, was king of Naples. It's been downhill ever since. The 1870-'71 Franco-Prussian War ended with the Prussian army marching victoriously through the Arc de Triomphe. American doughboys and GIs rescued la belle France in two world wars. Debacles in Indochina and Algeria followed. Two hundred years of uninterrupted decline on the world stage have made the French touchy, superior, paranoid and overly aggressive, like a poodle barking loudly at a German shepherd.
Never mind. Unlike America and Britain, France has never lost her love of true culture. The last French hero is a farmer who destroyed a McDonald's as a protest to fast and lousy food. President Chirac did not approve, but he understood. And speaking of Chirac, he and his wife Bernadette attended the Pompidou wedding and a glittering party following the ceremony. I was a bit under the weather by the time I arrived in L'Orangerie, in the Bois de Boulogne, where once upon a time I spent my days playing polo and chasing women. Although house-trained since a very young age, I thought it easier to relieve myself under a tree. That is when a very polite gendarme approached me and asked me to please use "les toilettes," as Madame Chirac was standing a few feet away. France is a very formal country, with the singular used only among the very young and the unrefined, but the French joie de vivre does not allow for the kind of excesses we poor Noo Yawkers have to put up with when the scumbag and his wife blow into town.
Here was the president of a very old and great country, and anyone?including drunks like myself?was free to approach him and chat him up. His wife's car took a wrong turn and ended up at the wrong party following the wedding; she was informed by the surprised but delighted host that she was most welcome to stay but that it was not the Pompidou party. Can any of you, dear readers, see this happening to the grotesque Hillary? Not having been through war in our soil since 1865, Americans are obsessed with security, almost as much as they are obsessed with celebrity. I remember Mitterrand as president taking his illegitimate daughter to school and no one paying the slightest attention. Film stars and politicians are never fussed over when dining out among hoi polloi; in fact, the average French person is more likely to make fun of "trained seals" and abuse politicians than to fawn over them.
This is the way it should be. Mortal men and women should never be fawned over, especially those who have dishonored their office a la the Draft Dodger and his little woman. The veneration of such lowlifes is pure Hollywood. Tinseltown types like Geffen are now raising money for a Clinton library. Personally, it seems obscene that Clintonites are trying to raise 125 million big ones for a monument to the most disgraceful, dishonest, deceitful and disgustingly partisan president to ever besmirch the White House. Clinton's recent press conference was par for the course. Smooth and smarmy, the great liar and race baiter managed to attack the Republicans as "new isolationists," and his flunkies at The New York Times and the networks echoed his bullshit. The truth is, naturally, the exact opposite. Far from seeking an isolated Uncle Sam, the Republican majority voted to assure that the United States' nuclear deterrent remains safe, reliable and effective. Yet Bill Clinton, ever partisan, ever mendacious and forever looking for a cheap-shot sound bite, called the day night and vice versa. This is the man who, addressing the National Italian-American Foundation on Oct.16, decried ethnic stereotypes, conveniently forgetting that during pillow talk with Gennifer Flowers he had called Mario Cuomo a Mafioso.
The French may be prickly and difficult, but no Bill or Hillary Clinton has ever sat?or will ever sit?in the beautiful gilded office of the Elysee Palace. The French have too much class to fall for a lowlife flimflam artist like our Bill. Vive la France.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE
The Red Menace Wendi Deng is a Chinese spy. What other explanation could there be for Fight Club? The People's Republic of China has obviously got Rupert Murdoch by the short and curlies. Why else would the 68-year-old chairman and CEO of News Corp., a man renowned for his conservative views and a major contributor to the Republican Party, allow Fox 2000 to spend $68 million making a film that advocates the violent overthrow of capitalist society? Fight Club is the most virulent attack on bourgeois values since Easy Rider. In the words of that bulwark of the media-spindustrial complex, The Hollywood Reporter, it "will become Washington's poster child for What's wrong with Hollywood." Joe McCarthy, where are you when we need you?
In case you've missed all the hullabaloo, Fight Club is about a disillusioned yuppie who abandons his career as a corporate drone to join an underground, bare-knuckle fighting club, a support group in which the members don't so much feel each other's pain as inflict it on one another. Soon, copycat clubs are springing up all over the country and, before you can say "Columbine," they've assembled themselves into a secret army dedicated to the destruction of the consumer society. Of the various shortcomings of late capitalism, the film zeroes in on what Marx called "commodity fetishism," reserving its greatest scorn for furniture catalogs, credit card companies and coffee bar franchises. "Deliver me from Swedish furniture," intones the film's star, Brad Pitt, on the soundtrack. "Deliver me from clever art. Deliver me from perfect teeth."
What possessed Rupert Murdoch, a man so closely identified with freewheeling capitalism even Bill Gates regards him as a robber baron, to finance this blast of antibourgeois vitriol? According to David Fincher, the director of Fight Club, it isn't because he's become a Chinese intelligence agent. "Hollywood's just trying to sell tickets," he reassured the London Observer. "They're just trying to make money. They're not interested in the way we live our lives."
Unfortunately, it's precisely that kind of talk that's got people all riled up. The belief that Murdoch is out to make a fast buck, irrespective of the social consequences, is what has enraged Fight Club's critics. "The film is exactly the kind of product that lawmakers should target for being socially irresponsible," fumed Anita M. Busch, the editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter. Alexander Walker, the dyspeptic movie critic of the London Evening Standard, was even angrier. "Do we wish a billionaire like Rupert Murdoch...to feed a product like Fight Club into our system," he thundered, "while he and his film company collect the profits of people's prurience, fascination with pain and possible desire to replicate the brutality of the film in their own lives?"
What's upset people about Fight Club isn't the gratuitous violence, which is common enough, or even the decision to release it so soon after the Columbine tragedy. It's the film's unapologetic nihilism. The makers of Fight Club appear to endorse the antisocial behavior of its protagonists; they exult in their acts of militia-like terrorism. ("It's only after you've lost everything," says Brad Pitt, "that you're free to do anything.") Usually, Hollywood filmmakers encase their closeups of severed limbs and exploding heads in the prophylactic of conventional morality; this time around they've dispensed with it altogether. Fight Club is unsafe sex, a wanton attempt to connect with the audience at any price.
So why has Murdoch sanctioned a work of such passionate, anti-capitalist propaganda? Fox 2000's decision to make Fight Club is analogous to discovering that Top Gun was secretly financed by the Soviet Union. What in the name of Ayn Rand is going on?
My reading of the situation is that the giants of the information age are so confident of their continued prosperity, so unthreatened by their political enemies, they're willing to fund their fiercest critics. In part, this must be a consequence of the seemingly unstoppable bull market, the soaring, ever-increasing Dow. According to Forbes, Murdoch's personal fortune now stands at $6.8 billion. He can afford?literally and metaphorically?to finance a film attacking everything he stands for.
It must also be the result of America's status as the world's only superpower. At the height of the Cold War, filmmakers suspected of being Communists were hunted down and blacklisted; today, they're wined and dined at Morton's and given $68 million to put their ideas on celluloid. "Do your worst, gentleman," appears to be the attitude. "See if you can distract us from monitoring the prices of our stocks for a couple of hours." Fight Club is symptomatic of the mood of bourgeois triumphalism that pervades America at the end of the century; it's the ultimate product of America's victory over the Soviet Union.
It's worth bearing in mind that Fight Club isn't the only antibourgeois film to come out of Hollywood this year. American Beauty concerns a middle-aged man's disenchantment with his comfortable, suburban existence, while Three Kings dares to suggest that America's motive for ejecting Saddam from Kuwait was to protect its oil supply. All three films have been hailed for their "independent" spirit, though they were all studio pictures. Independent cinema used to be a repository of leftist, anticapitalist values; now those values have been completely absorbed by Hollywood (see The Conquest of Cool by Thomas Frank).
Anita Busch and Alexander Walker can rest easy in their beds. Fight Club isn't any kind of threat. On the contrary, it signifies the supreme victory of free-market capitalism. Rupert Murdoch's involvement in the dissemination of what amounts to Communist propaganda is a little like Bill Gates' decision to come to the rescue of Apple: his victory is so complete he can afford to be magnanimous. Fight Club is like the iMac: it may look like a viable alternative to the status quo, but it's entirely dependent on the patronage of its mortal enemy.
George Szamuely THE BUNKER
United Fundamentalist States Not the least bizarre aspect of the recent bizarre goings-on in Pakistan has been the response of the United States. In no time at all Washington signaled its approval of the overthrow of a democratically elected government.
The U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, William B. Milam, announced that the new leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, "seems like a pragmatic, moderate person, intelligent and patriotic and wanting to turn this country around." Bill Clinton professed himself to be pleasantly surprised by Musharraf's first speech: "A lot of what he said on the substance, including the conciliatory tone he took toward India, I thought was quite good," he declared. As usual, the media were happy to parrot the U.S. government line. "With his ramrod demeanor and personal vow of integrity, Musharraf embodies the hope that an honest tough guy can fix what ails Pakistan," gushed The New York Times. Musharraf, we learned from The Washington Post, was a "modern thinker," a "religious moderate." In addition, "he enjoys Western music" and even "occasionally drinks alcohol."
This was odd, to say the least. When the democratically elected leader of Haiti was ousted by the military, the U.S. mounted an invasion to restore him to power. This time, however, we heard nothing about "brutal dictators" and "military despots."
There were other peculiarities. What had former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif done to make himself such a hated figure in Pakistan? Apparently, his greatest failing had been excessive cravenness toward the United States. In July he succumbed to pressure from the Clinton administration and ordered the withdrawal of Pakistani-based Islamic militants and regular troops from the Kargil mountains of Indian Kashmir. But who had sponsored this incursion?
Why, the army, of course, led by its chief of staff, Pervez Musharraf.
Americans were not the only ones to express their enthusiasm about the new leadership. Kashmiri guerrilla groups also hailed the new regime. The military, they announced, had a "better understanding" of the Kashmir dispute than the civilian government. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Taliban Supreme Leader Mullah Mohammed Omar also commended the coup: "We can firmly say that this change is a reaction to some moves by some foreign powers against the pride and independence" of Pakistan.
Taliban happiness is not surprising. Musharraf had spent much of the 1980s training the Afghan mujahideen in its war against the Soviets. He is close to a number of fundamentalist groups that are involved with the Muslim guerrillas in Kashmir. Moreover, during the latter days of the Nawaz Sharif regime, Pakistan?hitherto a close friend of the Taliban?had been busy reducing its involvement in Afghanistan. In August, a Pakistani delegation had gone to Tajikistan with the aim of bringing the warring Afghani factions together.
Just before his forced departure Sharif had embarked on a major antiterrorist campaign. Responding to a series of violent attacks on Shiite Muslims, he demanded that the Taliban close down terrorist training camps in southwest Afghanistan. One day before his dismissal, Sharif and his intelligence chief, Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin, had gone to Dubai to discuss Taliban-sponsored violence in Pakistan with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates. (Along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates is the only other state in the world to recognize the Taliban as the rulers of Afghanistan.)
The Taliban thus had every reason to welcome the departure of Sharif. But why was Washington so happy? Could it possibly be that the U.S. government is not quite the sworn enemy of Islamic fundamentalism that it professes itself to be? As a matter of fact, militant Islam has always served U.S. interests admirably. During the 1980s it was put to good use in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Today, it is used to undermine states that the United States wants to see undermined. In recent years, the United States committed its resources to creating a Muslim state in Bosnia. Islamic militants from Iran and elsewhere poured into Sarajevo?all with the approval and encouragement of the United States. It turns out that even our old friend Osama bin Laden?a veteran of the U.S.-sponsored Afghan campaign?was granted a Bosnian passport in 1993.
A few months ago, Americans were smashing to pieces a Christian country on behalf of Muslim Albanians. Islamic militants based in Chechnya recently invaded neighboring Dagestan and proclaimed an Islamic republic there. The aim is to cut Russia off from the strategic and oil-rich Caspian Sea. Muslim Uighur separatists are seeking to detach Xinjiang province from China.
The leading exporter of Islamic militancy in the world today is the Taliban. The Kashmiri guerrillas, the Uighur separatists, not to mention the Chechen rebels, all receive support and inspiration from the Taliban. Washington is more than happy to see Russia or China bogged down for years fighting separatist insurgencies. Russia, China and India have pledged themselves to fighting Islamic terrorism. In August, Russia and China joined Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in signing a declaration committing them to fight against cross-border crime, separatism and extremism. The five countries declared their "determination to prevent the use of their territories from engineering activities detrimental to the sovereignty, [and] security?of any of the five states."
The United States?normally the world's most vocal opponent of international terrorism?has been curiously silent about recent Islamic violence. Chechnya?home to terrorist gangs, foreign mercenaries and Islamic fundamentalists?recently dispatched guerrillas across the border with a view to taking over Dagestan. What was the U.S. response? Government spokesmen and, of course, the media immediately parroted the line that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov had nothing to do with anything. He had no control over the Chechen-based guerrillas who attacked Dagestan, or over the terrorists who blew up apartment buildings in Moscow.
Confronted by terrorism the likes of which Americans can barely imagine, the Russian government responded with force. Effete little Jamie Rubin was quickly on hand to warn that "any resumption of general hostilities in Chechnya would damage Russia's own interests? We are concerned?that the use of force will make?dialogue that much harder." He went on to admonish the Russians against "making Chechens or people from the Caucasus second class citizens." It comes as no surprise that President Maskhadov recently asked NATO to step in and resolve matters in Chechnya "in line with the norms of international law."
Just as NATO created a Greater Albania, so now it will create a fattened Chechnya with access to the riches of the Caspian Sea. NATO's idea of international law is to bomb a country so as to make it safe for foreign investment. In the case of Chechnya, this may turn out to be rather lucrative. The U.S. is desperate to build the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline linking the Caspian and the Black Seas that would go through Dagestan and Chechnya.
Publicly, the United States sounds as if it were a firm enemy of the Taliban. Recently, the UN Security Council passed a U.S.-sponsored resolution decreeing that sanctions would be imposed on the Taliban if Osama bin Laden was not handed over within 30 days. Yet these sanctions are scarcely onerous. Countries are to ban flights by planes owned or operated by the Taliban. In addition, all foreign accounts of the Taliban are to be frozen. However, exceptions are made for flights or funds approved in advance on humanitarian grounds by a watchdog sanctions committee to be established by the Security Council. This would include flights for the annual hadj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Compared to what Yugoslavia has had to endure for years and years, this is pretty meager stuff. Not surprisingly, the Taliban announced that it had no intention of handing over bin Laden.
What is interesting is that the only bone of contention between the U.S. and the Taliban is Osama bin Laden. Americans want to get their hands on him. On the other hand, they do not want to do anything to undermine the Taliban. It is far too useful to Washington. Indeed, there are rumors of a possible deal whereby the Taliban hands over bin Laden in exchange for U.S. diplomatic recognition. Who knows, there might even be a pipeline route in it for Afghanistan.
Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST
Sleep Is for Wimps For a long time I used to go to bed early in the morning. Sometimes, as the dawn light was beginning to filter through the Venetian blinds, my eyes would close so quickly that I had not even time to think to myself, "I've still got my shoes on." But that was when I was young and New York's nightlife was irresistible. Now it is a rare evening when I am not happily tucked into my bed with a mug of hot Ovaltine in time for the 10 o'clock local news on Channel 5.
Is this wise? It used to be thought that "early to bed and early to rise" was a salubrious formula, one that yielded superior intellectual and physical performance. An hour of sleep before midnight, people believed, was equivalent to two hours of sleep after midnight.
This is now known to be nonsense. In fact, the "larks" among us?those who go to bed early and get up early?tend to be less intelligent than the "owls" who carry on into the wee hours and lie abed until noon the next day. I have always suspected this from observing the extreme stupidity of early morning tv hosts Matt Lauer and Katie Couric. But now, thanks to a study carried out by the U.S. Air Force and the University of Sydney, I know it to be scientifically true. More than four hundred Air Force recruits were given questionnaires asking whether they considered themselves early rising "morning types" or late-working "evening types." They then had their mental agility and memory tested. You can guess which group did better. "The results indicate that, contrary to the conventional folk wisdom, evening types are more likely to have higher intelligence scores," commented Richard Roberts of the University of Sydney. "Early to bed, early to rise, will likely make you anything but wise."
I was pondering this conclusion the other night as I lay in bed at about 4 a.m., just as my upstairs neighbors finished their latest round of Irish folk clogging and were poised once again to rearrange the heavier pieces of furniture in their uncarpeted apartment. They were the clever night owls; I was the dim lark. Yet I, like them, was wide awake. This seemed unfair.
As it happens, it was not my neighbors' activities that woke me up in the middle of my REM phase; nor was it the homeless person howling and gibbering under my window. It was rather the impression that a large and horrible old hag was riding on my chest and stifling my breath. Could I be suffering from "sleep apnea," a condition in which the throat muscles become so relaxed during sleep that the passage of air into the lungs is blocked? A terrifying thought. Also, my legs had been twitching a bit in my sleep; was this the dread syndrome known as "nocturnal myoclonus"? And just last week my dentist told me that he could see evidence that I was grinding my teeth, probably during sleep ("nocturnal bruxism"). This also disturbed me, but then a couple of days later I was relieved to catch myself grinding them while listening to Steve Post on WNYC radio.
With so many things to worry about while sleeping, it is little wonder that sleep deprivation is common today, especially in New York. Remedies for chronic sleeplessness do exist?white poppy, mandragora, darnel, henbane, belladonna and valerian?yet I can find none of these soporific herbs at my local Korean greengrocer. Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy recommends anointing the teeth with the earwax of a dog to overcome insomnia, but I cannot get my dog to hold still for this. I have tried counting backwards from 1000 by threes (997, 994, 991, 988...); this is surprisingly effective at inducing slumber, but one wakes up in the morning feeling a bit groggy.
Perhaps the best way to deal with insomnia is simply to thumb your nose at it. So the hell with Ovaltine and 10 o'clock bedtimes. I have decided to model myself on my heroine, Baroness Thatcher, who is said to require only four hours of sleep a night. "Sleep is for wimps," was the regnant philosophy at 10 Downing when the great lady was prime minister. If this means I get to spend less time with my succubus?that delightful sprite in female form who lavishes amatory attentions upon me in my sleep?then so be it. Surely there are real flesh-and-blood succubi to be had on Manhattan's nocturnal circuit, if only I am intrepid enough to get out of bed, don my Zegna sportcoat and go looking for them.
Charles Glass THE LONDON DESK
Ugly Ass Views Jody Cobb is a National Geographic photographer whose most recent assignment was London. Her editors had sent her here with the brief to take pictures of the new, happening London that Newsweek belatedly discovered a few years ago. The architectural focus was to be buildings constructed in the last five years. Despite her photographic talents (her book on geishas is stunning), Jody could not make London's new buildings either beautiful or interesting. Neither, alas, can Britain's architects.
Postwar building the world over has been a shambles, from Belfast to Bombay. Until then, each architectural era seemed to be a development of the last. The rupture has been as cruel to Beirut, once a city of yellow stone and terra-cotta roofs, as to Paris outside the first eight arrondissements. London, trendsetter for Britain's former empire, has suffered most from the erection of hideous structures on sites cleared by the Luftwaffe's unerring eye for architectural masterpieces.
This month, London contributes yet another eyesore to what was until the 1950s a marvelous, distinctive cityscape. Not on vacant land. Not on land at all. A giant Ferris wheel now defaces the Thames itself. From the north side of Wordsworth's sweet river, it blocks the view of County Hall, sold by the Conservatives to Japanese businessmen who turned it into a hotel, and its majestic steps into the water. From the south, depending on where you stand, it obscures either the Houses of Parliament or Somerset House.
New Labor enthusiasts allege the wheel is the largest on Earth. It is certainly the most pointless, yet another scam to transfer public money to Labor's friends in time for New Millennium Eve. The Thames Ferris wheel symbolizes New Labor's Britain: big, brash, turning round and round and going nowhere.
The wheel will spin, here in the capital of spin, defiant and hideous, upriver from the Millennium Dome. As boondoggle, the Dome is more egregious than the wheel. It has enriched New Labor's pals in architecture, construction, subcontracting, public relations, catering, interior decoration and handicrafts to the tune of about $1.3 billion. The dome-shaped tent will come down in 10 years, no doubt at further cost to the taxpayer, at about the same time we expect Labor to be voted out of office. Frank Gehry spent a tenth of that sum building the permanent, and beautiful, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
"Every people that has produced architecture has evolved its own favorite forms, as peculiar to that people as its language, its dress or its folklore," the Egyptian architect Hassan Fathy wrote in Gourna: A Tale of Two Cities in 1969. Five years later, Fathy told Time, "To me, it's a sin to put a Swiss chalet beside palm groves." Britain's architects, who write and talk a good game about vernacular architecture, have been assembling multiple-story Swiss chalets all around the palm groves of Christopher Wren and Robert Adam. Hugh Casson, Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and their acolytes have done as much for modern London as Rupert Murdoch has for journalistic credibility. To read Richard Rogers, one of Tony Blair's new lords of the realm, you would think he built neo-Georgian townhouses suited to the ancient squares of old London. Read him. Then be prepared for debilitating cognitive dissonance when you look at the physical contradiction of his theories in buildings that no mother could love.
The buildings are only half the fun. Getting to them is the real achievement. The Conservatives sold off the railroads just before the electorate threw them out of office. New Labor has forgotten, or ignored, its promise to return the rails to public ownership. The system the Tories devised allowed separate companies to run each monopolized route, while another company, Railtrack, owned the rails. Nothing could have done more to turn a second-rate railway into a disaster zone: late service, filthy carriages, high prices, inedible food and stations that have been redesigned to confuse and inconvenience the public that uses them less and less.
When I left for Washington a few weeks ago, I had planned to take a train to the airport. However, two trains had just collided on that line and Paddington Station was closed. The government, it turns out, had refused to make the private companies spend the money on the Automatic Train Protection system that prevents drivers from running red lights that, for whatever reason, they fail to spot. Forty deaths later, the beefy transport minister, John Prescott, has promised a little more than his government has spent on the Dome to fit each train engine with the ATP system.
On the day I arrived back from the States, uh-oh, there was another train collision. These trains were, as is more usual these days, traveling so slowly that no one died.
Meanwhile, Labor's Third Way architects have devised a public-private system for London Underground. That is, they are giving part of the subway system to the company that failed to prevent the last series of unnecessary crashes, Railtrack. The good news is that the line they are building to reach the Millennium Dome may not be completed in time for New Millennium Eve, making it easier for people to stay away from the most contrived event in modern British history. I suspect that the only way they can encourage the masses to join in the "fun" is to give dispensations for drunk driving.
New Labor's arrangements for London's transportation system come in advance of the creation of a new city government for London. (London had a city government until Margaret Thatcher, weary of an electorate that kept voting in left-wingers to run the Greater London Council, simply disposed of it. That is why County Hall is a Japanese hotel, where veterans of Britain's war with Japan were prevented from laying wreaths on VJ Day at a memorial to the war's dead.) Blair is doing all he can to stop the man that most Londoners would probably vote for, Ken Livingstone. Red Ken was the last leader of the old GLC and the reason Thatcher took away our city government. Blair hates Ken as well, the only difference being that Blair and Livingstone are in the same party. Blair has persuaded Frank "Who?" Dobson to leave the cabinet to challenge Ken in the Labor primary. The Blairites are taking revenge on Red Ken and London in advance by commissioning Norman Foster to build a new City Hall that looks like a giant, tilted, transparent iMac. Ken will have to work in it, and we'll have to look at it. Anyone willing to spend 30 minutes on the Third Way Ferris wheel should soon have a startling view of Old Laborites at work.