The U.S. of Everywhere At a rather chic Gstaad luncheon party last week, Pat Buckley, wife of William F. Buckley Jr., was asked her nationality by a very aggressive Indian lady. "I was born a Canadian but I am now an American," sniffed Pat. I sympathized with my old friend Pat. There is nothing more boring than a self-righteous Indian suffering from the wrath of grapes (hangover). Fortunately Buckley is to the manor born, otherwise the lunch party would not have remained chic for long. The Indian berated Pat for America's sins, Uncle Sam's lack of diplomatic and historical experience, greasy popcorn, fizzy drinks, you name it. As people tend to do in such situations, we all looked into our wine glasses and chose to ignore the Indian's bad manners. Pat, a devout Christian, forgave and forgot.
Bad manners and old friendship aside, there was much that the Indian said that I agreed with. Living for more than half the year abroad gives one a different perspective. Until the collapse of communism, there was no fiercer defender of America and her values than yours truly to be found anywhere. In 1975 I was given a 15-month prison sentence by a Greek (kangaroo) court for?now listen to this?libeling the Greek press (the yellowest this side of Tehran). I wrote that part of it was in the pay of the KGB, which was eventually proved once the KGB archives were opened. I didn't serve a day, as I escaped on my yacht to the French Riviera; old Dad called it the shrewdest move his worthless son had ever made. The article appeared as an op-ed piece in The New York Times, which in its anti-American stance during the Vietnam War was taken extremely seriously by America-haters in Greece.
Now that the evil empire has gone the way of good manners, things are different. Excessive American economic and political power seems a problem. As does America's evident contempt for other people's traditions, its air of self-righteousness, its know-it-all-ism. U.S. efforts to open markets for genetically modified food products (Monsanto is a disgrace) give foreigners yet another platform to yell bully. The French lead the way. There is, to be sure, a certain snobbishness involved. American culture is identified with hamburgers, blue jeans and fast food, while France is known for luxury items such as haut couture and champagne. Last week, in Rome's Cafe de Paris, a coffee bar made famous by the film La Dolce Vita became a fast-food joint. Romans are outraged. Instead of blaming market forces, it's Uncle Sam who is a philistine shylock. A running joke in Athens is the American tourist in the Acropolis who yells in wonder, "Look, Ma, from here I can see the Hilton."
Then there are movies and music. By controlling the pipelines that people use to communicate with one another, as well as shaping the cultural content contained within those pipelines, American companies such as AOL and Time Warner affect people everywhere. It is unprecedented. Cultural capitalism has done away with cultural diversity, no ifs or buts about it. Traditional music, dance and local festivals now take a back seat to the mostly garbage put out by Hollywood. And when the traditional culture and diversity of thousands of years go down the Swanee, our future ability to survive as diverse human beings is endangered. The only thing left to hold us together is a commercial bond?Hollywood, rock music, fast food... Wall Street.
As a young man I traveled extensively, first as a tennis player, then as a journalist. South America, Africa, the Far East. My favorite continent, however, was always Europe. There was something marvelous about the roast-peanut and jasmine smells of Athens, the blue-Gauloise smoke and light of Paris, the "dolce far niente" spirit of Rome, the order and safety of clean, good old Helvetia. We never watched movies back then, because there were no movies on television. Just news and sporting events. We sat in cafes, watched the girls go by, drank and argued politics. We skied across countries on long wooden skis and spent the nights in alpine huts by a fire. We debauched in Rome and watched the sun come up from the Spanish Steps. We took American girls up to the Parthenon by moonlight and proposed to them.
Most of this is now gone. The locals who provided the color now stay home and watch Friends and Jerry Springer. One only sees tourists seeking to see and feel what we once felt. They are invariably disappointed. Some "American Century."
And then there's American military intervention. Last week Lebanese students rioted in front of the American embassy because of America's unquestioning support of Israeli policies. As Charles Glass wrote last week in "Top Drawer," "When Israel gets angry, try not to be Lebanese." Israel has now admitted to torturing Palestinians, and that Shin Bet officers acted illegally. The admission is admirable, but to a Palestinian who has had his nails pulled out, America's complicity is a given.
To a Serb or a Greek, last year's bombing is proof that America's claim of military intervention in the name of democracy is a sham. Even if it were not, the ends do not justify the means, or so we were told countless times by Americans. American values are not universal. Forcing non-Western people to adopt our values is not only counterproductive, it is wrong and will lead to war in the future. It is not a coincidence that the only societies resisting American lifestyles are Islamic ones of the extreme kind. Iranian officials see MTV as Satan personified, as do Afghanis and Pakistanis. These are ancient people whose time may have come and gone, but their cultures count. It is their culture that beat back the British Raj, the Soviet tanks and the Shah's troops. It is their culture that will beat back MTV.
Uncle Sam's task was easier while the Cold War was raging. The United States was preferable to godless communism. Now is the time to step back and speak softly. Keep the egregious Albright on a leash. Turn down the rap music, at least while visiting the Taj Majal or the Parthenon. It might even help Mrs. Buckley get through a lunch unchallenged.
George Szamuely The Bunker
Intruder Alert One by one liberals abandon all their issues as they continue along their happy Clinton brownnosing way. Civil liberties? The hell with that. Here is Thomas Friedman's response to last week's "attack" on Yahoo!, eBay and Amazon. com: "The only one who can possibly protect you from the super-empowered angry people?is Uncle Sam? [G]overnment still matters. In fact, it matters more now in the cyber-age, not less? Who's tracking down the latest cyber-vandals? The FBI."
Thank God for Janet Reno and Louis Freeh! Now Friedman can go to his conferences, talk meaningless gibberish about "globalism" and the "digital age," and enjoy his laptops, DVDs and cellphones.
Friedman sees the world much as Clinton does. The President and the loathsome Butcher of Waco, Janet Reno, are truly passionate in their desire to suppress freedom.
Subversives and "extremists" plotting away on the Internet has become something of an obsession for them. For years the administration has been trying to enact new laws and establish new government agencies to crack down on free speech. The ostensible reason has been the threat of "terrorism." There is no terrorist threat whatsoever facing the country. But the gullible media plays along with government efforts to spread panic. Now a new menace looms: "cyber-crime." But what is "cyber-crime"? Committing crimes like fraud online is already covered by existing statutes. So what is it? Presumably it has something to do with terrorists, foreign governments and?inevitably?"rogue states" out to do in the weak and vulnerable United States.
"How we deal with cyber-crime is one of the most critical areas we face," Reno declared recently. Interestingly, the recent "attacks" were all on commercial, not government, sites. Yet the administration seized this opportunity to demand draconian measures. Clinton met with computer industry executives and suggested ways for government to get involved in their business. Clinton's latest budget shows his preoccupation with the issue: $2 billion is set aside to help prevent sabotage of U.S. computer networks. This sum includes $91 million for a research institute to develop new protections for information systems and to train workers in security issues. Clinton has also asked for an additional $37 million for the Justice Dept. to fight Internet crime. One of the heftiest increases, from $15 million to $240 million, will pay telephone companies to rewire their networks to facilitate federal and state wiretapping.
Last year the Clinton administration proposed to establish something called the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, or FIDNet, run out of the FBI, with a view to spotting network penetration. The idea is to create a vast computer monitoring system to keep track not only of government networks but also those of vital industries like banking, telecommunications and transportation. The ostensible aim is to thwart "attacks" on government or the nation's economy. Thousands of software monitoring programs would keep track of computer activities so as to be alert to the slightest indication of network intrusion. But the only "intrusion" going on is that of the government now endowed with vast new powers. Government would have access to all communications between computers, including e-mail.
"A number of nations that are hostile to the [United States] and several well-financed terrorist groups, and quite arguably a number of organized crime groups, are systematically developing capabilities to attack U.S. information systems," blustered Jeffrey Hunker, NSC's director of information protection who is in charge of the FIDNet program. Like who? Not North Korea again? According to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, FIDNet would violate "the spirit of the federal wiretap statute, the plain language of the federal Privacy Act and the history of the Fourth Amendment."
Clinton began dreaming of cracking down on the Internet some time ago. In July 1997, he signed Executive Order 13010, establishing the President's Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection (PCCIP) that was to look into security vulnerabilities. The PCCIP report, issued in October 1997, concluded there was no evidence of an "impending cyber attack that could have a debilitating effect on the nation's critical infrastructure." Nonetheless it recommended the creation of a new government agency to protect the national "infrastructure." In May 1998, Clinton signed Presidential Decision Directive 63. This brought into being numerous bodies authorized to carry out surveillance of the Internet. There is the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism?a creature of the National Security Council. There is the National Infrastructure Assurance Council (it consists of private sector and state and local government representatives). There are the National Plan Coordination (NPC) staff, the Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO) and the Critical Infrastructure Coordination Group (CICG). And there is the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC), run by the FBI. In addition, the U.S. government was authorized to help the private sector set up something called an Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC). All this without any evidence that the nation faced the slightest serious threat to its computer systems!
"There is a dark side of hacking, crashing networks and viruses that we absolutely must address," Janet Reno once told the National Association of Attorneys General. She proposed to address it with something called LawNet?a kind of online law-enforcement agency?which would employ computer nerds and government agents to trawl chat lines to spot anyone saying anything suspicious.
Last year the administration proposed a law allowing government agents to obtain warrants to surreptitiously enter people's homes and install software on their computers so as to decipher any scrambled communications. The nice part was that suspects would not have to be notified for 30 days that their privacy had been invaded. Civil liberties groups protested. The administration backed down. Yet the repulsive Reno has not given up on the idea. In a letter to House Majority Leader Dick Armey she explained that government agents should have the ability to "search for keys" without immediately notifying a suspect.
The Clinton administration's contempt for law is well known. It is now using hackers' "attacks" to push through measures to keep tabs on the Internet. And isn't it strange that no one has come forward to claim responsibility for those attacks?
Sam Schulman Hamlet
Why Beauty? I Like to think that I have pretty good relations with the media representatives of Great Britain?and those who love them. I treat the ladies and gentlemen of Fleet Street stationed here with the greatest respect. When someone has an open bar at Veruka, I get right out of the way, rather than be trampled. Why, Toby Young used to go out with me so often that it drove him not to drink.
Out of gratitude, the BBC's Newsnight show invited me to London recently to do a segment as a representative "New York Jewish writer"?an ethnicity they mentioned at least three times. And I have an ancient Savile Row suit so well-cut that it causes Graydon Carter to do a respectful double take whenever he sees me in it?until he realizes who is wearing it.
So I was entitled to feel miffed to read in the Sunday Times (London) this remark, obviously directed at me:
"There is something creepy about overly good-looking people pairing up?the very good-looking are different, to them surface seems to be all. It makes you wonder, really, whether good looks and a level of imbecility go hand in hand."
Well, I mean to say! Though I am certainly by any measure "overly good-looking," I don't think this is really fair. Despite my own attractiveness, I feel I am most discriminating. I recently had a stormy relationship with a woman who liked to torture me by telling me about the men who wanted to date her during periods when she and I were not speaking. She told me about one man who, she said, "told me the nicest thing. He said I was the most beautiful woman he ever saw."
I knew exactly what she was telling me. I was being told that I was an idiot not to have said the exact same thing to this woman when I had a chance, and notice was thereby served that I would never recover from my omission?as was in fact the case. But at the same moment another thought came to me: "What's wrong with that guy? How could he possibly believe what he told her? She's very pretty, but couldn't possibly be regarded as the most beautiful woman an experienced man had ever seen." I actually felt indignation on my rival's behalf. "What a schnook!"
And yet if I had been such a schnook, I would be with her?being tortured on a daily basis?still. The problem is that for me, female beauty is sacred, and takes absolute priority over every other value. To lie about such a thing?to misidentify the exact gradation of a woman's beauty?would be to commit a crime against Nature, or, as Einstein said in a similar situation, "playing dice with the Universe." Yet as I reflect over 40 years of seldom-requited love, I begin to understand that no other male believes this. My solitary idealism in this respect has been an utter disaster for me?and possibly for humanity as a whole. My rivals either lie with impunity, or have no idea of what they behold.
Though the Murdoch press accuses me of pairing up too frequently with women who share my beauty?"Barbie and Ken" is their nasty epithet for me and my various dates?I believe the highest pleasure is to be mismatched. I still remember a moment of early romantic triumph during my college days in then-remote Vermont. The nearest late-night food was over the mountains in North Adams, MA, at a McDonald's. Once, when I squired the lovely Jeanne Day there for a double hamburger, the North Adams townies checked her out, looked at me, shook their heads and said loudly, "What a waste!" Bliss! At that moment I must have felt more than I ever will again like Donald Trump swanning into Le Cirque 2000, imagining that every man there is dreaming of making love to the supermodel on his arm (of course, Le Cirque being what it is, every man there at best may be dreaming of dressing her or, in 40 years, of walking her).
But in the Kingdom of the Trumps, the one-eyed nice man may be king, so long as he can afford to buy an occasional paperback copy of C.S. Lewis. In fact, thanks to the late Christian apologist (the Leon Wieseltier of the Anglican church) and the former "Top Drawer" column "Ask Felicity," I was reunited with a once-famous actress and model who had been until then completely indifferent to me. Eager to jump-start Felicity's career, I wrote a letter to the column in the "voice" of this woman, seeking advice on how to get rid of "me." My letter inadvertently made her sound a bit mercenary. After reading it, my previously tepid friend was so eager to correct my misapprehension that she sought out my company. Before long, I was convinced that her indifference to me was not based on my poverty, but was genuine and heartfelt.
But still, there were moments. Once, at a romantic dinner at Babbo, she gazed into my eyes and told me, "Do you know why I like you better than Spielberg?" Of course I bit. "Because Steven always had his casting director call me."
Ragged-trousered gentlemen, let this be a lesson to us all.
Toby Young The London Desk
England's Green The English writer Peter York once said that it takes seven hours to cross the Atlantic but a year to change your trousers. He meant that it took about a year for new fashions in British popular culture to be picked up on by American kids, citing punk rock as an example. (In case you don't know this, we Brits think we invented punk.)
These days, it still takes a year for new trends to cross the Atlantic, but the traffic is nearly all the other way. From hiphop to snowboarding, British kids are dancing to America's tune. Among armchair sociologists the consensus view is that this time lag is being wiped out by the Internet and that trends are fast becoming global. Today, we're told, a new fashion in Detroit ends up on the streets of Birmingham in less than 24 hours.
However, while this may apply to sneakers, it doesn't hold true of the Internet itself. Interestingly, the WorldWideWeb doesn't appear to have accelerated the dissemination of information about the WorldWideWeb. In Britain, for example, dot-com fever has only just begun to take hold, exactly a year after it swept America.
Almost every day one of the British papers runs an article on the new "dot com millionaires" who are shaping our future. Being the UK, it's all on a much smaller scale than it is in America. For instance, a recent survey in The Guardian breathlessly announced that "50 of Britain's leading Internet tycoons have amassed a fortune of £1.3 billion between them in little more than four years." That's less than half of the net worth of Pierre Omidyar, the 32-year-old American who came up with the idea for eBay.
The two Internet entrepreneurs?or entreprenerds, as they're called over here?who've occasioned the most interest are Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox, the founders of Lastminute.com. This site offers last-minute deals on everything from skiing holidays to theater tickets and in the first nine months of 1999 generated sales of £2.6 million. Its IPO is scheduled for next month, with the stock market expected to value the company at £400 million, and at that price the shares of Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox will be worth £48 million and £32 million respectively.
Part of the reason for the surge of media interest in this pair is that they're quite young?Hoberman is 31 and Lane Fox is 27. They're also fairly attractive, at least by British standards. However, by far the most important reason is that they're both members of the educated bourgeoisie. Generally in Britain, newly minted millionaires are drawn from good working-class stock, and tend to be slightly looked down upon by Oxford-educated journalists. Hoberman and Lane Fox, by contrast, are what are known as PLUs?People Like Us?and, as such, have triggered an epidemic outbreak of envy among their upper-middle-class peers.
"In every generation several people suddenly become stratospherically rich," one disgruntled hack who was at Eton with Hoberman told me. "I think the interesting thing about my generation is that it's happening to us 15 years earlier. That's quite hard to cope with."
Others are less philosophical about the success of the dynamic duo. "The jealousy is off the scale," says a 28-year-old friend who was at Oxford with Martha Lane Fox. "I mean, I've been slaving away in the city for the past five years and for what? A flat in Notting Hill Gate? That little cow has made more money in 18 months than I'm likely to make in a lifetime."
Such an uncharitable reaction to Hoberman and Lane Fox's success is characteristically British. I've never known whether there's a word, like an anti-schadenfreude, to describe that unpleasant feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you first hear of another's good fortune, but if there is then the British experience it more often than most. I once asked the British author Martin Amis, who's last full-length novel was about literary envy, what psychological mechanism he thought triggered this feeling. "Fear of abandonment," he said. In his view?actually Freud's view, I later discovered?it's rooted in our primal fear of being neglected by our mothers; that we equate good fortune with maternal love and, when we hear how well someone else is doing, particularly someone in our peer group, it makes us feel abandoned and unloved.
This touches on the question of why envy but not jealousy is one of the seven deadly sins. The answer, I think, is that when we're jealous of someone we merely want what they've got, whereas when we're envious we also want some harm to come to them, at least on an unconscious level. This was nicely illustrated by a conversation I overheard recently between a group of Hoberman's old school friends at a party. One of them suggested setting up a website called Shoot.com, whereby anyone who feels bitter about Hoberman's success could contribute to a fund that would then be used to take out a contract on him. He was only half-joking.
If Freud was right about the psychological origins of envy, it doesn't explain why we Brits, more than any other race, should suffer from it so. The standard view is that it's got something to do with our class system, but in the case of Brent Hoberman and Martha Lane Fox that doesn't apply since it's members of their class?PLUs?who envy them the most. Perhaps the Brits aren't more envious than anyone else, it's just more socially acceptable to express it over here. Whatever the explanation, I have to confess to envying Hoberman and Lane Fox myself, in spite of having spent five years in New York where you're more or less obliged to feel warm and fuzzy toward the rich and successful. To paraphrase Peter York, it may only take seven hours to cross the Atlantic, but it takes more than five years to unload the chips off your shoulder.
John O'Sullivan Traveling Light
Semtex Appeal When the president of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams, visited the United States in 1995 during the IRA's first ceasefire of the current peace process, he was feted at a Hollywood party held by Irish actress Finoula Flanagan and attended by Hollywood glitterati including Anjelica Huston and Oliver Stone. Later American trips saw him given a conducted tour of the New York Stock Exchange by its chairman, meetings with Clinton in the White House, a flattering profile in Vanity Fair, large checks for the IRA's charity work and innumerable dinners at which he received the kind of adulation normally reserved for pop stars.
The reason for all this flattering attention is that Mr. Adams is a leading executive in the mass-murder business. He has been a terrorist himself, ordering IRA "operations" to kill people, and a spokesman for an organization, Sinn Fein, that advocates and defends mass murder as an instrument of political change.
If Adams were not a leading figure in Ireland's own Murder Inc., no one would be interested in his political ideology, which is a crude "green" fascism. Governments would never have rearranged constitutional structures to suit the head of a political party that generally won a mere 15 percent of the vote in Northern Ireland (and in the low single figures in the Republic) unless they had thought he could secure a halt to the IRA's bombings and shootings. And Vanity Fair would never have run a long friendly profile of an obscure ethnic nationalist crank from unfashionable Belfast if he had not exuded a glamorous whiff of Semtex appeal.
Yet Maureen Orth in Vanity Fair flirted girlishly with the gallant Falls Road kneecapper: "Women throw themselves at Gerry Adams, I was told. 'I've never noticed,' Adams deadpans. 'Now I know you lie in interviews,' I say." Yes, he's a real lady-killer, that Adams. In fact, if you laid all the ladies he's killed end to end, it would be a necrophiliac's carnival from Dublin to Belfast.
The Adams appeal has proved remarkably durable. Just since Adams embraced the peace process, it has survived the IRA's refusal to declare its ceasefire "permanent," the bombing of Canary Wharf that ended the ceasefire (and killed two innocent news vendors), the continued IRA "punishment beatings" in Catholic areas, and the constant veiled threats that the IRA will resume its terrorist war against the British Army and police unless Sinn Fein gets its way in political negotiations. But it received a check this month when Canadian Gen. John de Chastelain, appointed to negotiate the "decommissioning" of the IRA's arms, reported that there was no sign of any such thing and, as a result, the power-sharing Northern Ireland executive was "suspended" by the British government.
It is in such foul weather that you know who your real friends are?and in New York Press' last issue, that gallant irregular Alexander Cockburn came galloping nobly to the rescue of Adams with a fresh interpretation of the "decommissioning" issue. "Yet the agreement was always clear," he wrote, " that the matter of IRA decommissioning must be set 'in the implementation of the overall settlement,' a settlement in which Sinn Fein, the IRA's political formation, has always been a leading player."
Really? If so, then decommissioning should have proceeded very promptly, since the settlement's implementation to date has included the withdrawal of the British army to barracks, a sharp reduction of the number of troops in Ulster, the release of convicted IRA and "Loyalist" terrorists, the establishment of all-Ireland institutions, the election of a power-sharing Northern Ireland Assembly and the entry of Sinn Fein activists into government as ministers. Exactly what has Sinn Fein/IRA given in return?
"As a practical matter," wrote Cockburn, "the IRA abandoned its military campaign as soon as the British sued for peace, realizing that they could not endure the demolition of significant buildings in the City of London and thus forcing the Ulster Unionists to sit down at the bargaining table."
So the contribution to "political and institutional change" offered by Adams and Sinn Fein/IRA was to stop killing, torturing and beating people. If that were so, it would be something?not enough, but something. However, neither the IRA nor the Loyalists have stopped killing, torturing and beating; they have merely stopped killing, torturing and beating across the sectarian divide.
Last week a reluctant British minister was forced by parliamentary questioning to give the official figures for political violence in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement. They show that 49 people have been killed and 2422 injured as a result of terrorist attacks since April 1998. "An analysis of 'punishment' attacks," said the Daily Telegraph, "shows that loyalist terrorists have carried out 251 assaults so serious that they have resulted in people being hospitalized. Seventy-nine of them were shot and 172 beaten. Republican terrorists have hospitalized 134 people following similar attacks. Forty-six of their victims were shot and 88 beaten." Those people were from Catholic communities where Sinn Fein/IRA exercises a reign of terror?just as the Loyalists exercise a brutal hegemony over Protestant enclaves. It is the despised army and police that provide what little protection such areas get against their supposed protectors. Gerry Adams led the armed extremist wing of Irish nationalism in an irredentist raid on Northern Ireland. Because that raid did not succeed militarily, Adams embarked on the "peace process," which, in Sinn Fein/IRA's view, is a policy of political negotiation and democratic participation backed by the ever-present threat of renewed violence. Decommissioning weakens that threat. That's why the IRA rejects it?and why anyone who wants a genuinely democratic and peaceful outcome to the Northern Ireland "troubles" has to insist on it.