Ban the Parade Three years ago last week I wrote about the Puerto Rican Day parade for The Spectator, England's oldest and most elegantly written weekly. Although with tongue very firmly in cheek ("there will never be a Puerto-Rican who will ever learn a single English word except for fuck and motherfucker...") the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan as soon as a rug-wearing gossip columnist at the Daily News read my copy. Unaware of the brouhaha, I was enjoying myself at Royal Ascot (top hat and all that) when a friend fresh off the plane gave me the news. "Giuliani has denounced you as a racist and has asked for your head..." That evening the slimeball gossip rug-wearer rang me and asked for a statement. Still thinking it was one big joke?after all, in England I have repeatedly written that 92 percent of all Englishmen are homosexuals and were scratching their furry parts and eating roots when we Greeks were building the Parthenon?I made some extremely unwise remarks on tape. If memory serves, I think I said some of my best servants were Puerto Ricans.
Well, as they used to say in Brooklyn, I shoulda stood in bed. Rudy was running for reelection, and I made it easy for him. He not only denounced me in very strong terms, he threatened to boycott all newspapers owned by Conrad Black, The Spectator's proprietor. Waiters in an exclusive New York club threatened to walk out unless an individual whose second name is like mine was expelled immediately.
My joke column had apparently misfired, but not for long. Cooler heads prevailed, starting with Paul Johnson at The Spectator as well as with my proprietor. The latter told Giuliani in no uncertain terms that in England writers are allowed to write tongue-in-cheek and are not sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.
Mind you, friends like Julio Rodriguez, a top New York City detective and a very proud Puerto Rican, forgave me the minute I made it clear that my column was meant as a cartoon of the parade, a caricature. I personally answered all the letters from patriotic Puerto Ricans who had fought for and been decorated by our country, and who had written outraged letters to the editor. And, of course, I voted for Giuliani soon after. The only person I told to go to hell was Geraldo Rivera, who, opportunistic as ever, tried to make a meal of it, calling me a trustfund lout, and threatening to beat me up if I ever crossed his path. I did and he did nothing.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. My two wonderful Puerto Rican housemaids told me not to worry, that they knew that I have absolutely nothing against Puerto Ricans and that on the day of the parade, they do not advertise the fact they're from the island.
Which brings me to this year's debacle. It is a truth universally acknowledged that in a crowd of one million, it takes a few troublemakers to spoil it for everyone. The fraudulent New York Times reported the outrage but made sure the police were to blame. For the last couple of years the mendacious and hypocritical Times has been complaining about jackbooted Giuliani police thuggery, but now is complaining about lack of firmness. Although the parade has become extremely rowdy, the police have been slow to break things up for fear they will be accused of harassing a minority. The size of the wilding gangs and the speed with which they moved made it almost impossible for police to make arrests.
What shocked me most of all watching the tape, however, was that nowhere in the crowd did I see a single man trying to assist a woman being sexually assaulted by those animals. What has happened to chivalry? To human kindness? I'll tell you what. The culture of political correctness, that's what. It is called antielitism, discrimination in favor of the second-rate, the uneducated and the violent. It is crucial to the self-esteem of the ghetto dweller and their ghetto blasters. And it is the liberal-lefty creeps of the Times and other publications of its ilk, those self-important, bossy people, who would not be caught dead in the city come the PR parade, who encourage such outrages. As John Leo wrote in the Washington Times, "After the Tawana Brawley hoax, an article in the Nation magazine argued that it 'doesn't matter' whether Miss Brawley was lying, because the pattern of whites abusing blacks is true."
Cosseted by every form of comfort, convenience and palliative of technology, the creeps sit in their ivory towers deciding what is good for us. One almost wishes a Sulzberger girl were caught by the raging mob in Central Park.
The thing to do is ban the parade for next year, signaling to Puerto Rican leaders that it's up to them to police the animals who use it as an excuse to commit atrocities against women and the weak. And if calling for a ban will yet again get me into hot water, so be it. This time I mean what I write.
Toby Young The London Desk
For You, Martin Amis I've just returned to London after moving all my stuff out of my New York apartment. In theory, this should have been a traumatic experience. It had taken me 18 months of dogged, painstaking research to find that apartment and I'd lived in it for more than three years. Real estate brokers say there are three things that determine a flat's value in New York: location, location and location. Mine couldn't have been better situated. It was directly opposite Gwyneth Paltrow's townhouse. I'll always look back fondly on the evenings I spent perched on my rooftop, a pair of high-powered military binoculars trained on Gwyneth's bedroom window.
On the whole, though, moving out was a remarkably painless process. I was perfectly happy to toss out the pictures of "the cracker from Caracas," the girl I briefly shared with Mick Jagger; I didn't flinch when I burnt all the correspondence relating to Harold Evans' attempts to sue me for libel. After a few days the remnants of the five years I spent in New York were lined up in the hallway in black refuse sacks, ready to be thrown away. In my mind I already thought of the New York chapter of my life as closed. Clearing out my apartment was just a footnote.
I didn't get upset until the very end, when I had to dispose of my most prized possession: my pornography collection. Call me a sentimental old fool, but there's something about porn that makes me come over all misty-eyed. We'd been through a lot together, me and those videotapes. We went back a long way. It was like being asked to say goodbye to a group of old friends. (Incidentally, I use the word "pornography" advisedly; "erotica" would be a misnomer.) These tapes were the fruit of hundreds of hours spent scouring the shelves of Adult World, a porn emporium in the West Village. Adult World is a model of entrepreneurial capitalism, the Kmart of porn. The British poet Philip Larkin would have loved it. In a letter to Kingsley Amis, Larkin reported that he'd been combing the shelves of a London sex shop one day when he was approached by the owner, wanting to know what he was looking for. "Was it bondage, sir?" he politely inquired. It was, as a matter of fact.
Larkin wouldn't have needed any assistance in Adult World. It's loosely sectioned according to sexual taste, with every perversion catered to. When I last looked?about a week ago, to be honest?there was even a section devoted to pregnant women.
I kept my collection in a large wooden box by the side of my bed?an area of my bedroom that a feng-shui master once identified as my "love and marriage" corner?and when the removal men came round to pack up my few sticks of furniture, I decided to simply give them this box. You should have seen the look of jubilation on their faces: it was though I'd presented them with a sackful of marijuana. One of the men spread the tapes out on my bed so he and his two colleagues could take turns picking their favorites. I stood in the doorway, fighting back the tears, waiting for the moment when my prized collection would be split up forever.
Suddenly, I couldn't take it anymore. I leapt on the bed and scooped up all the tapes in my arms. "Leave them alone," I screamed, my voice choking with emotion. "I've changed my mind." It was like a scene in a Disney movie.
Now, there was no way I could take the collection back to Britain. If I tried to get any of these tapes through customs at Heathrow, I'd be sent directly to jail without passing Go. British antipornography laws are far less liberal than America's. However, the least I could do was find a good home for them. I'd read in The London Sunday Times that Martin Amis has been conducting some research on the L.A. porn industry for his next novel. Would the diminutive British novelist be interested in housing my collection? I was reminded of a passage in London Fields, Amis' 1989 novel, in which Nicola Six reflects on Keith Talent's taste in pornography:
Nicola thought of the kind of video Keith might occasionally get his hands on. The white villa, the baby blue of a Marbellan swimming pool, the handful of topless English slags, "playing": my, how they frolicked on diving-board and lilo! Then, as the music modulated, one or two or three of them would slip away, with or without Manolo the gardener, for the lucratively backbreaking siesta.
Now, I hate to admit this, but I know what video Nicola Six is referencing. It's number 4 in a series of British adult video magazines from the mid-80 called Electric Blue. I actually have a copy in my much less impressive British pornography collection. (To tell the truth, I have a copy of all the Electric Blue tapes.) Obviously Martin Amis owns a copy, too. If he liked this one, he's gonna love some of the plums in my American collection.
So, Martin, if you're reading this, can I make the offer? One slightly used porno collection looking for a new home. You won't regret it. There's stuff in there that would keep Keith Talent amused for months. It's currently housed with Manhattan Mini Storage, but if you're interested, e-mail me your New York address to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll arrange for it to be delivered in plain brown envelopes. I'm sure it'll prove an invaluable "research" tool.
George Szamuely The Bunker
NATO's Home Free Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), announced the other day that she would not be opening an investigation into NATO. "I am very satisfied," she explained, "that there was no deliberate targeting of civilians or unlawful military targets by NATO." This was hardly shocking news. Back in December she had already reassured an anxious Clinton administration that "NATO is not under investigation." The tribunal is what it has always been: an obedient creature of the United States. In clear violation of Article 32 of its statute it gets funding from the U.S. government. Prosecuting NATO would thus have brought about its swift demise.
Yet NATO's violations of international law were so blatant and outrageous that fat Carla had to make at least a show of "investigating." Her report exonerating Clinton, Blair, Schroder and the rest of last year's band of heroes is so laughably implausible that only the dim bulbs of the Wall Street Journal editorial page could find comfort in it. Take cluster bombs, resorted to with some frequency by NATO. "There is no specific treaty provision which prohibits or restricts the use of cluster bombs," del Ponte's report announces cheerfully. Well, yes. But the tribunal has not always taken this view, at least not when it came to the Serbs. In 1995, the tribunal indicted Milan Martic, president of the now-defunct Serb Republic of Krajina, charging him with "violating the laws and customs of war" for ordering a missile attack on Zagreb. What made it a war crime was that the missiles were fitted with cluster bomb warheads. According to the indictment, a missile can be "fitted with different warheads to accomplish distinct tasks: either to destroy military targets or to kill people. When the [missile] is fitted with a 'cluster bomb'...it is an anti-personnel weapon designed only to kill people." Martic was a war criminal because he launched an "unlawful attack against the civilian population and individual citizens." So how is he different from NATO? Ah, Martic's missile "landed in an area with no military objectives nearby... [It] was not designed to hit military targets but to terrorize the civilians of Zagreb. There is no indication cluster bombs were used in such a fashion by NATO." Really?
Here is how U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Short explained NATO strategy last May to The Washington Post: "If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, 'Hey, Slobo, what's this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?''' Sounds like terrorizing civilians to me. NATO's strategy was directed at civilians and at nothing else. Hospitals, buses, retirement homes, schools, markets, town centers, apartment buildings, refugee convoys all went up in smoke. Yugoslavia's military, however, remained intact.
Yet del Ponte, her voice resonant with insincerity, insists that NATO only went after legitimate military targets. Take the bombing of the Grdelica railroad bridge, which led to the destruction of a passenger train and the death of at least 12 people. Nothing wrong with that, she cries. The bridge was being used as a resupply route by Serb forces in Kosovo. The pilot simply did not see the passenger train coming. "Realizing the bridge was still intact, the controller picked a second aim point on the bridge at the opposite end from where the train had come and launched the second bomb." So the pilot knew that he had hit a passenger train, yet he came back to dump a second bomb on the dead and injured. Carla del Ponte has no problems with that. Nor is she concerned that the attack was carried out in broad daylight when "collateral damage"?NATO's beloved phrase?was likely to be at its highest. Del Ponte is evidently unaware of Articles 51(4) and (5) of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention I. These prohibit indiscriminate attacks. Such attacks would include "(a)?bombardment by any methods...which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives [and] (b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life." As for that brave pilot, who completed his mission, he was clearly in violation of Article 57 (2b) of Protocol I: "An attack shall be cancelled or suspended if it becomes apparent that the objective is not a military one or is...expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life."
Del Ponte also exonerates NATO from any blame for the destruction of the headquarters of Serbian state television and radio (RTS), which killed 16 civilians. "The bombing of the TV studio," her report explains proudly, "was part of a planned attack aimed at disrupting and degrading the C3 (Command, Control and Communications) network." Yet another legitimate military target. Trouble is, Carla, that is not what NATO claimed at the time. It is not even what it is claiming today. According to the recent Amnesty International report, NATO believed RTS a legitimate target because of its use as "an instrument of propaganda and repression." NATO demanded that Milosevic provide "equal time for uncensored [sic] Western news broadcasts for two periods of three hours a day," to make Serb radio and television "an acceptable instrument of public information." He refused, and 16 people died. Just the other day, at the Brookings Institution, the demented Wesley Clark was defending the bombing. Serbia's state media, he raved, was "a crucial instrument of Milosevic's control over the Serb population and it exported fear, hatred and instability into neighboring regions... So it was a legitimate target of war." Wesley Clark, Carla del Ponte, Madeleine Albright?some day surely they will just be a dim memory.
Melik Kaylan The Spy
Don't Flatter Me A contradiction: Washington whines incessantly that civic discourse grows ever coarser while everywhere in public life abject flattery is on the rise. Are the two linked in a kind of inverse ratio where public politeness depletes as toadying to power increases? I have no idea. But it is a shame that Richard Stengel fails to note the phenomenon in his new and splendidly named book, You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery.
A brief history of my friendship with Rick Stengel: we met almost 20 years ago as interns, rather absurdly, at the Village Voice. Absurdly, because we talked of Keats and Browning while all around us the leveling myrmidons busily germinated the multiculti-genderblendocracy that finally triumphed under Clinton. Back then, Rick reminded me of many friends I'd left behind in England. A Rhodes scholar on holiday from Oxford, he had plans to write an elegiac book about the era of Henry James. Instead he became a journalist of nomenklatura stature. I think in my generation, more than any American I've known, he had the pure lyric gift of a born Parnassian. So he chose success over immortality?what can you do? He introduced me to the Spy magazine gang early on. He lofted upward: Time magazine's prize stylist, Spy contributor, MSNBC commentator, he even wrote Nelson Mandela's autobiography for him. His slim nonfiction volume about South Africa, January Sun, reads like Joan Didion at her best.
And now the Brief History. As he admits in the book, a lot of people told him, "You're just the person to do it." And he understood the intended irony. But it seems that he didn't mind because he doesn't really disapprove. "What a joyless world a world without praise?or flattery?would be," he says. He cites the reasons why the Greeks, the Quakers, the Founding Fathers all considered flattery dangerous. He even cites an editorial meeting where he himself witnessed how a barefaced brownnoser got undeserved kudos from a tough boss. But in the end, it's clear that he views flattery rather sympathetically, as one of the courtly arts. There's a good deal of Castiglione- and Machiavelli-era history in the book, plus "how-to" guides to what's too obvious, what works best (small criticism followed by great praise) and what doesn't.
There's lovely writing. Here's part of the opening paragraph, "Perfect, gentle reader: I will not begin this book with a tribute to your discernment, because a person of your obvious accomplishments would certainly be immune... You would certainly see through such transparent puffery and reject it out of hand." And it's just like Stengel to build in the tacit erudition, the hidden nod to Baudelaire's "-Hypocrite Lecteur, -mon semblable, -mon frere," from the opening of Fleurs du Mal.
I was at a Spy dinner for the top brass. Graydon Carter had just embarked on doing caricatures for The New York Observer. Suddenly, Rick was comparing him to Ford Madox Ford, the Edwardian novelist, publisher and caricaturist. I stared in astonishment. I'd never thought of comparing my friends to the greats of yesteryear. And there, I think, is the key to Stengel's position?a kind of self-flattery at bottom. He likes to believe that his (our) time is as historic and significant as the Roman or Renaissance or Edwardian. He's gratified that flattery should flourish. It shows how important we are.
But it won't do. Fact is, flattery as a hideous new scourge emerged in the last decade or so, and it signifies something. We all know it does. We recognize it instinctively as a bad omen. We'd like the book to explore and clarify our presentiments. We'd like it to tell us the worst of what we're facing politically and culturally and what to guard against, but Rick won't apply the historical lessons to our time. Let me offer an arbitrarily chosen example: the flattering of minorities by politicians and public commentators. Why might it be ominous or dangerous?
I once researched an article for New York magazine on Russian prostitutes in New York. I knew they had to be out there because they were everywhere globally. The world even gave it a name: the Natasha Syndrome. But here nobody would give it that name, no doubt for fear of stereotyping, so it went unidentified as a phenomenon for years. Which meant that the Russian mafiosi who ran plantation-like sex-slave rackets went unprosecuted for years. My article never ran. One central reason: an escort service driver in Brooklyn told me his primary clients were Orthodox Jews, even rabbis. He liked to work with them because they paid on time and behaved well. He himself was a Russian Jew. My editor at the time, Judith Shulevitz, now the terror of her online writers at Slate, hit the roof. She told me over the phone that she couldn't allow such things to appear in the magazine.
Parochial and not so scary as an example, you might argue. Here's another. My father worked as a physician in this country for many years. On one occasion he warned me not to fly over to visit him with my infant child. He'd just received a confidential circular from some medical association warning doctors about American airports, especially at port cities. These sites, he said, were bacterial petri dishes swilling with TB and other diseases common in the Third World due to the flow of passenger traffic from such places. What might that say about New York subways during the rush hour, I've since wondered. And what does it say about the source of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus?
Perhaps I'm alarmist, but worry we must because authorities might simply dodge these issues for expediency's sake. Mustn't offend immigrants?of which I'm one. Sure, it's a great country?no, that's near flattery. Only a second-rate country needs to be flattered.