Brent Staplebrain If you think comedy is dead, think again. Better yet, think of a clown by the name of Brent Staples. I read a reprint in the International Herald Tribune of a piece he did in The New York Sharpton, aka, Times. "America, too, should pay reparations for its past," thunders the headline, and then Brent takes Congress to task for its failure to take seriously a bill sponsored by John Conyers Jr. of Michigan calling for a study of reparations. Conyers wants restitution for 250 years of slavery, a viewpoint that is steadily gaining ground. The cities of Detroit, Cleveland, Dallas and Chicago have officially endorsed a consideration of slavery restitution, and Chicago's City Council two months ago passed a resolution urging Congress to go forward with reparations by a vote of 46-1. What the hell is going on here?
Well, I'll tell you. In polite terms it's known as extortion. And never has extortion been more popular than in America, Year 2000, a land of grievance groups claiming special rights and reparations for historic wrongs. In fact, taking offense is a political agenda. Now I ask you: reparations paid to whom? To every black American? To every American with one black parent? To every American who can find a slave in their lineage? The complications are enormous. In most cases it's almost impossible to separate blacks who are descendants of slaves from those who are not. And what about the millions of blacks who came to these shores after slavery was abolished? Or the Europeans like myself who descend from people who never owned slaves? Should the poor little Greek boy also have to pay? Who is to pay for whom?
When the great Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865 there were approximately four million slaves in the U.S. Today there are 35 million African-Americans. The notion of compensation is ludicrous. Which did not stop Al Gore from flatly refusing to condemn reparations when the issue came up last February. Like Clinton, Gore will say anything to please his audience, and on that night Gore had them hooting and hollering and rolling. Mind you, who wouldn't? But it's a great pity that rabble-rousers like Conyers, Sharpton and Jackson have hijacked the civil rights movement, a movement that once upon a time was dedicated to a color-blind society, but is now dedicated to racial separation and determined to exacerbate the racial divide. And despite the sheer lunacy of reparations for black Americans 150 years later, my money is on the extortionists.
Take, for example, Hillary Clinton. She coddles a rabid racist like Al Sharpton, and then some. Does anyone in his right mind believe that racial pandering will be resisted by professional politicians, a group unique in its fear of being called racists? The New York Times, for one, will ensure that resistance to extortion equals racism.
Last week Charlie Glass wrote a very good piece about Norman Finkelstein's book on the "Holocaust Industry." It is no secret that the Holocaust has been used by American Jewish leaders for their own ideological ends. Finkelstein is correct when he chastises those who insist that the Holocaust was uniquely Jewish and historically unique. He rightly condemns Daniel Goldhagen's crude libel of all Germans, and Deborah Lipstadt's creation of the self-serving "bogey of Holocaust denial." Couple of years ago I wrote in The Spectator that all lives have the same worth. A Russian mother cries as bitterly over her son's body as a Polish one, a Rwandan or a Jewish one. Needless to say, I was mercilessly attacked by the "Holocaust industry." Even the publisher of The Spectator, a Jewish American lady who is a friend, took umbrage. But I stood my ground and basically told the screamers that the louder the screeching and the more anguished the outrage, the greater the concern for material rewards.
Which brings me to the point I wish to make. The left's ability to close its eyes to enforced famine, massacre, show trials, mass executions, mass deportations, suppression of all freedoms, is equaled only by a similar ability to deny it all took place. Why doesn't Staplebrain demand reparations for the descendants of the 100 million who died under Lenin, Stalin and Mao? Why doesn't Brain with Staples demand reparations from the Turks for the Armenian Holocaust? Or the Kurdish one? What about us Greeks? We were slaves for 400 years, which in my calculation is 150 years longer than slavery existed in America. Has anyone offered us anything? Has the ludicrous and mendacious Times written an editorial in our favor? What about the Palestinians? They've been deracinated since 1948, jailed and at times killed by the Israelis. Don't they deserve some reparations? I don't remember the ghastly Al D'Amato getting on his high horse except to extort the Swiss, a tiny country surrounded by Axis powers that nevertheless took in 22,000 Jews, 22,000 more than the mighty United States.
Edgar Bronfman, grandson of a Canadian gangster, reverted to type when he urged a worldwide boycott against a small country. Why punish a people who are not at all anti-Semitic for something the banks did? Before he died, Sir James Goldsmith told me all banks are the same. "It had nothing to do with the Jews. They would have done it to anyone."
Let's face it: Finkelstein is right. Too little of the money paid in compensation thus far?$60 billion?has yet reached its victims. The same will happen when the American taxpayer is forced to pay reparations for slavery. It will all end up in the hands of hustlers and flimflam men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And The New York Times will remain awfully quiet about it.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Whine and Women According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, a majority of American women do not think that women are treated professionally in the workplace, and nearly one-third feel they have been sexually harassed. As Gloria Steinem said, "for the sake of argument," let's believe them. I agree. After all, what's the point of the sisterhood if you don't recognize the vast conspiracy that permeates every boardroom of the Republic?
True, Ms. Steinem was talking about Paula, Monica, Kathleen, an assortment of stewardesses on the '92 Clinton campaign plane, a former Miss Arkansas, etc., but so what? Having founded Ms. and the National Women's Political Caucus, she is something of a leading authority on phallic imperialism. So if she concludes that it is not sexual harassment if a male drops his trousers and asks his subordinate to kiss "it" as long as he does not persist but moves on to grope others, that's the way it is. Because what is relevant is the man's understanding of "the commonsense guideline to sexual behavior that came out of the women's movement 30 years ago: no means no; yes means yes."
And what has come out of the women's movement is that "no" includes one free grope or, for a man with slightly more chutzpah, a peek at his distinguishing characteristic. "It's not harassment and we're not hypocrites," says the woman who has provided the seminal insight into women's liberation in America. One has to really wonder, then, what people are up to when one-third of females claim to have been sexually harassed. Of course, it is possible that these women have misunderstood the new, rigorously thought-out distinction between what is merely a "reckless pass" and the behavior that might be offensive enough to constitute harassment. The remaining two-thirds, on the other hand, have grasped the latest version of the commonsense guideline.
Or?hang on?maybe the survey does provide the answer. The two-thirds who were not victimized were, for the most part, registered Republicans. So, according to the data, a woman is far more likely to feel harassed and discriminated against if she is a Democrat than if she is a Republican. One in three Democrats but only one in four Republicans claim to have been subjected to sexual harassment. The comparable figures for the feeling of discrimination are one in two Democratic women as opposed to one in three Republicans.
One should hasten to note that the polled women do not all come from Arkansas, but rather from 520 randomly selected geographic locations in the continental U.S.?which makes the data all the more disturbing. Equally dismaying, however, is the fact that when it comes to the perceived sense of grievance, the more educated the Democrat is, the more pronounced is her feeling of being put-upon and harassed. Which is odd when you think of it, because presumably the males she is likely to encounter have had their own air supply choked off by the women-friendly-diversity-conscious-sensitivity-training-therapeutic culture of the university, the modern professional workplace and the new Democratic Party. Or perhaps men are lousy bastards who pick on women who are sensitive and nice (i.e., Democrats). Or maybe the culprits are unreconstructed Republican losers reaching out across party lines.
Clearly, state and federal anti-harassment legislation and the resulting harsh new penalties have left a large percentage of America's women unprotected. Education has made their situation, if anything, only worse. So much for government's effort to right society's wrongs.
It is time, therefore, that women themselves took action and solved the problem as only they can. The solution is remarkably simple. By switching parties from Democrat to Republican, women can instantly reduce the incidence of sexual harassment to 25 percent. A decrease, one might add, that would require no government effort, therapeutic intervention or new taxes.
Although Democratic women have embraced the nurturing approach to politics, favoring expanding government programs, there is no reason to worry that they would be in for any policy shock if they joined the GOP. Who knows what other pathologies may be eliminated if people started ditching the Democratic Party?
It is equally important that women who wish to break the psychological shackles to the party some have called the "party of decency" do not overshoot the ideological spectrum and become Independents. That would be counterproductive. According to the poll, women who identify as Independents have been victimized the most: 39 percent of Independents reported having been harassed. Clearly, for these women too it might be imperative to chuck their politics for the security blanket the GOP provides.
This is not to say that it is not troubling that 25 percent of Republican women have been subject to unwanted male attention. But, in a separate story, The New York Times writes that one quarter of Americans think that buying lottery tickets is a better retirement plan than saving or investing.
That's life, then. Some numbers may be immutable.
George Szamuely The Bunker
W's Oil Warriors The selection of Dick Cheney as George W.'s runningmate should have come as no surprise. Almost everyone around Dubya is dedicated to the worthy cause of fattening America's corporations. What is particularly interesting about Cheney is that if he does indeed become vice president, there is a real prospect of the United States blundering its way into war. Bush's Vulcans are as demented as Madeleine Albright when it comes to bullying the rest of the world. Unlike the Hideous Harridan, however, they are mostly interested in money.
Take Dick Cheney. In 1995, without any kind of a background in the oil industry, he was appointed chairman and CEO of Halliburton, the world's largest oil-field services company. As company president David J. Lesar explained: "Dick gives us a level of access that I doubt anyone else in the oil sector can duplicate." He sure did. In no time at all, he joined the chorus of Bush administration alumni rhapsodizing about the oil treasures of the Caspian Sea and singing the praises of Azerbaijan's obnoxious President Heydar Aliyev. Aliyev is the one who doles out the licenses to the oil companies.
Former Bush National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft collected $130,000 as a consultant to Pennzoil. Former Secretary of State James Baker's law firm represents the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC)?an $8 billion oil consortium consisting of the world's leading oil companies, including Pennzoil, Exxon and BP Amoco. Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu's management consulting firm, JHS Associates, does business with the Azerbaijan government.
As I have written before, the supposed wealth underneath the Caspian is just the most recent fool's gold of American capitalism. Allegedly, there are up to 200 billion barrels of oil lying there?a $4 trillion bonanza for the petroleum industry. The Caspian, however, is landlocked. Building a 1000-mile pipeline from the Azerbaijani capital of Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, which the Clinton administration has been urging for years, is an expensive undertaking?estimated to cost something like $4 billion.
As is usually the way with America's entrepreneurs, the last thing they want to do is take risks. Losses are for taxpayers, not shareholders. What the companies are after are U.S. government-backed loans and financial assistance. Unfortunately, Article 907 of the 1992 Freedom Support Act bars the U.S. government from offering economic assistance to Azerbaijan as long as it maintains its embargo against the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
This is where Cheney and the other Bushies come in. They have tirelessly pleaded with Congress to repeal this provision. In the meantime, the "neoconservative" faction among Dubya's advisers has also gone oil-crazy. A few months ago, Paul Wolfowitz, the likely national security adviser in a Bush administration, seemed unable to control his enthusiasm as he introduced Heydar Aliyev to an audience. Wolfowitz is a man who has never come across a U.S. bombing that he thought was intense enough. Here was this super-Cold Warrior drooling that Aliyev "became a member of the Soviet Politburo in 1978, and was promoted to full membership in 1982 during the Andropov era. He was the only Azerbaijani leader ever to hold such a high position." Gosh! What a man! It turns out that this sinister Soviet apparatchik "is a good friend to America and a good friend to NATO. Section 970 [sic] of the Strategic Act prevents American aid to Azerbaijan. It will be a great test of diplomacy for our next president to remove that section from law." So we know what the first priority of a Bush administration will be: make sure that the oil industry is well looked after.
Many of George W.'s advisers?Dick Cheney, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle?are members of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, whose business is to encourage U.S. investment there. And for good measure, another adviser, Dov Zakheim, is a board member of the U.S.-Azerbaijan Council. Perle is a fervent advocate of American military involvement on behalf of the oil industry in the Caspian. According to Perle, the United States must win the support of the Muslims of the region by taking a hard line with the Russians on Chechnya.
Dick Cheney's Halliburton has interests besides oil. Its subsidiary, Brown & Root Services, provides housing, food, transport and mail delivery to U.S. troops in the Balkans to the tune of $180 million per year. Former Secretary of State George Shultz is also advising Bush. Shultz's Bechtel is one of the largest international construction companies in the world. Currently, it is building a motorway connecting northwestern inland Croatia with its coastal southern regions. The road is to be a part of the Adriatic or southern highway running from Turkey through Greece, Albania, Montenegro to Croatia and Italy. Clearly somebody profited from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Recently, PSG International, jointly owned by Bechtel and GE Capital Structured Finance Group, signed an agreement with the government of Turkmenistan to build a $2.5 billion trans-Caspian pipeline that would extend from Turkmenistan to Turkey via the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Now, all this business of bombing countries so that Bechtel can then help reconstruct them, or sending in troops so that Brown & Root can make a few bucks equipping them, or expanding NATO so that Boeing?under challenge from Europe's Airbus?can maintain its profit margins, or pushing Russians out of their backyard so that BP Amoco and Pennzoil can collect handsome dividends, is likely to antagonize other countries, most notably Russia. A George W. administration, an unashamed front for the corporations, will give us the war Perle and Wolfowitz have been pining for.
Toby Young The London Desk
I'm Not with Stupid Last year, when I was still living in New York, I wrote about the trials and tribulations of sharing an apartment with Sophie Dahl, a 22-year-old British girl. I described her as a "supermodel" but I have to confess I was overstating things slightly. The truth is she was just a model. However, since I moved back to London, Sophie's fortunes have improved. She's replaced Gisele Bundchen as the Versace Jeans girl, landed a job advertising Alexander McQueen's new line of designer sunglasses and signed a two-year contract to become the face of Opium. It's this last job that has secured her a promotion to the big league. These days it's not an exaggeration to call Sophie a supermodel.
Had I known that my roommate was destined for such great things I might never have moved back to Blighty. Living with a supermodel is every red-blooded heterosexual male's dream. What on Earth was I thinking? If my 14-year-old self met my 36-year-old self in a dark alley tomorrow he would definitely beat the crap out of me.
This sort of thing is constantly happening. Close friends suddenly become rich and successful as soon as they've put some distance between us. It's almost as if Cupid's less refined younger brother?the Roman god of fame and fortune?is constantly firing arrows at me but keeps hitting my friends by mistake. As far as I know, no such character exists in Roman mythology, so I'm going to invent him. Let's call him "Stupid."
Another example: Lucy Sykes. For six months in 1997 Lucy and I were an item. Back in those days Lucy was a stylist at Harper's Bazaar, but I always thought she had the right kind of theatrical presence to succeed in the fashion business. A year after we'd broken up she and her sister Plum appeared on the cover of The New York Times' "Styles" section and the rest, as they say, is hysteria. Today Lucy is the senior fashion editor of Marie Claire and she can't go to a party in Manhattan without the paparazzi screaming out her name. I'm not saying I look at Lucy's current boyfriend, a disgustingly successful investment banker called Euan Rellie, and think: that could have been me. No, I look at Lucy and think: that should be me. Stupid has missed his target once again.
To date, the greatest beneficiary of Stupid's poor marksmanship is my friend Sacha Gervasi. Sacha came to America to seek his fortune at exactly the same time as me?1995?but he went to Los Angeles, hoping to become a screenwriter. At the time I didn't hold out much hope for him. I knew several aspiring screenwriters in L.A., all of them well-qualified, singleminded and hardworking, and none of them were getting anywhere. I rated Sacha's chances at less than zero.
But I was wrong. After graduating from the screenwriting program at UCLA in 1997 he teamed up with Craig Ferguson, one of the stars of The Drew Carey Show, and wrote The Big Tease, a comedy about a gay Scottish hairdresser. Initially interest in it was only lukewarm, but following the unexpected box office success of The Full Monty, their script suddenly became a hot property. The upshot, according to Sacha, was that his life became "surreal." At one point he and Craig put Harvey Weinstein, Arnold Rifkin and the president of Warner Bros. on hold in the middle of a conference call so they could fall about laughing. They just couldn't believe their luck. They eventually plumped for Warner Bros. and The Big Tease was made the following year.
I've always thought that the reason envy and not jealousy is one of the seven deadly sins is because when you're jealous of a person you merely want what they've got, whereas when you envy someone you also want some harm to come to them. A recurring fantasy of mine involves Sacha hanging off the edge of a cliff, begging me to save his life. I look down at him pityingly?if only you hadn't stood so close to me when Stupid was lining up his target?until his strength gives out and he plunges to his doom. The German psychoanalyst Theodore Reik maintained that a thought-murder a day keeps the psychiatrist away, but I'm not so sure.
As far as I can tell Stupid has been hovering above me, showering my friends with arrows, for at least 15 years. Scarcely a day passes without some friend from Oxford lucking into the most amazing good fortune. Why, only the other day, Spectator editor Boris Johnson was selected to be the Conservative Party candidate for the safe Conservative seat of Henley. This means that, come the next General Election, he'll be a Member of Parliament. I knew I should never have had lunch with him that day at Balliol. If I look very closely I can still see Stupid's arrow?my name written on it in Times New Roman?sticking out of his back.
Another Oxford contemporary who's made good is Tim Jackson. I used to sit next to Tim in political theory seminars and I naively thought the reason he kept flinching was because I kept besting him in argument. Now I realize it was Stupid's arrows piercing his skin. Until recently Tim was a modestly successful journalist toiling away on The Financial Times, but in 1997 he founded an Internet auction site called QXL. It went public last year and, according to The Mail on Sunday, he's now worth £320 million. Stupid, your aim sucks!
Perhaps I ought to start charging people to hang out with me. Stand next to me for half an hour and, thanks to Stupid's unfailing ability to miss his target, you'll almost certainly achieve your dream.