From the Fashion Closet To Acronymia

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:20

    Race & the Race If the defining feature of the postmodernist era is that truth is held in contempt, then Sen. Tom Daschle and his fellow Democrats are in like Flynn with the times. The South Dakotan Daschle, like his buddies Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden, has never felt bound by the despotism of fact when it comes to politics. Take, for example, the latest brouhaha over former Democratic Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun's appointment as ambassador to New Zealand. Moseley-Braun's appointment is being held up by Sen. Jesse Helms?in my not-so-humble opinion, among the few honest pols in Washington?on suspicion that she used money from her 1992 campaign for personal affairs and never declared it as income. (Moseley-Braun, the first-ever black woman senator, was thrown out by Illinois voters in 1998.)

    Daschle and his ilk are screaming racism, as is our girl Carol. But as everyone knows, the louder the screaming and the more anguished the outrage, the greater the concern for political rewards. Ms. Moseley-Braun's problems stem from an IRS report that twice asked the Justice Dept. in 1995 to open a grand jury inquiry into her campaign funds, alleging some went for personal use without reporting the income and paying taxes on it. Sen. Helms insists it's all to do with ethics, and racism has as much to do with it as the Clintons have with the truth.

    Needless to say, the War Hero in the White House immediately piled on, claiming that "there is strong evidence for those of us who believe that the Senate treats minority and women appointees unequally." This from the party that lynched Clarence Thomas when the justice was accused by Anita Hill of sexual harassment.

    If I were Moseley-Braun, however, I'd sleep peacefully. She will serve as ambassador to New Zealand because the Draft Dodger will use his recess-appointment trick once the Senate leaves town for the year.

    Clinton seems consumed by ethnic and racial politics, which he exploits at every opportunity. The trouble is that the media lets him get away with it. (Next week I will tell you about an incident involving yours truly in Central Park, and let you be the judge.) There is no doubt that Clinton and the Democrats have become ambulance chasers in accusing the Republicans?as in the case of Judge White, not because he is a far-left jurist undeserving of a lifetime appointment?of racism and insensitivity to minorities.

    Taking a page from his President, legendary football player Jim Brown?convicted of smashing up his wife's car with a shovel?accused a Los Angeles judge of racism and vowed, "I'm not going to clean trash on the freeway..." Brown has a long history of abusing women, has been arrested countless times, yet has never served a day in the pokey. This last time he was given 400 hours of community service, ergo the charges of racism.

    Well, all I can say is, why not? If it's good enough for the President, it surely is good enough for Jim Brown. Bill Clinton regularly lectures us against the politics of personal destruction, but all he does is incite racial animosity in minority communities with his demagoguery. Couple of weeks ago, during the Ku Klux Klan meeting in Manhattan, a Bill Clinton type of hero, Harvey Mason, punched one of the 17 idiots assembled there. Six thousand anti-KKK demonstrators showed up against fewer than 20 Klan members. The numbers speak for themselves. Anyone, no matter how crazy or racist, knows that the KKK is a busted flush, a freakshow.

    The "heroes" Harvey Mason and Derek Pearl are both teachers. Some teachers. They are cowards who opted for an essentially riskless attack. The Klansmen were hopelessly outnumbered; taking candy from a baby carries with it far more risk than the one they took. By their violent and cowardly behavior, Mason, Pearl and their ilk probably managed to even get some sympathy for the Klan. After all, even the Klan have their First Amendment rights.

    Next Sunday the New York Marathon takes place, and Jorg Haider's right to run will be tested. Or so tells us Dov Hikind, the busybody assemblyman who is threatening a confrontation with Haider. For any of you who may have missed it, Jorg Haider is the leader of Austria's right-wing Freedom Party, a party that is anti-foreigner. Haider has been accused of being a neo-Nazi?which he has strenuously denied?and of having made statements praising the SS. (The statements were made about frontline troops while addressing a veteran's group.)

    Haider, an accomplished marathon runner, has been given a valid visa by the U.S. government, and?most important of all?has been cleared to run by the New York Road Runner's Club, the official stager of the event. Fred Lebow, now running in another marathon up above, was the prime mover of the event. About 10 years ago something similar took place. Lebow, who had fled the Nazis, would not hear of it. He asserted that there was no room for politics in his marathon. The person in question competed without incident.

    A group of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn insists that entrant No. 5777?Haider?will be barred from entering Williamsburg. What I say is: Who the hell do they think they are? This is America, a free country, not the West Bank. The Hasidim?who are extremely unpopular in Israel because they do not serve in the army, who in fact stoned Israeli soldiers trying to keep the peace between them and non-Orthodox Jews?are welcomed in this city, and they should do likewise. Dov Hikind, the Jewish equivelant to Al Sharpton, should look for publicity elsewhere.

    Until today marathon officials have stood tough. No politics. By race time, I'm not so sure. Like the Klan's pathetic number, Haider will be running all alone. If the Hasidim choose to attack him, the attackers will be seen as heroes. But it ain't necessarily so. What we need is more Fred Lebows and less Dov Hikinds.


    Toby Young ARRIVISTE The Fashion Closet When I first came to New York from London four years ago to work for Vanity Fair, I was astonished by how many employees of the magazine were homosexual. On one occasion I was at my desk outside the Fashion Dept. when Kevin Sessums asked me where he could find Elizabeth Saltzman, the magazine's fashion director. At that point, Kevin Sessums was Vanity Fair's chief celebrity interviewer. "She's in the closet," I said, referring to the walk-in cupboard where the clothes were kept for the magazine's photo shoots.

    "Really?" he replied incredulously. "I didn't think anyone was still in the closet around here."

    In fact, of the two dozen men who came into the office every day, about half a dozen of us were straight. It was a longstanding joke among us that we would probably advance far quicker through the magazine's ranks if we pretended to be gay. Indeed, we would often speculate about whether certain flamboyantly "out" homosexuals were actually straight men in disguise. Wouldn't it be fun to "in" them?

    This gradually evolved into an idea for a romantic comedy. The central character would be a straight man who, in order to get a job at a glossy New York magazine, pretends to be gay. He becomes the "best friend" of the magazine's beautiful fashion director?played by Julia Roberts, of course?whom he falls in love with. However, he can't reveal this to her without also disclosing the fact that he's straight, thereby jeopardizing his job. It was that age-old dilemma?love versus career?but with a quirky, 90s twist. I was going to call it The Fashion Closet.

    I never got around to writing it, mainly out of sloth, but partly because I thought no Hollywood studio would touch it. The problem was, whichever way you cut it, it was essentially antigay. The humor would stem from the fact that being taken for a homosexual, if you're a straight man, is basically pretty humiliating. In order to be funny, the film would have to include a succession of scenes in which the protagonist was made a fool of in some way as a consequence of his masquerade. At the conclusion of the film, harmony would only be restored when the hero revealed himself as a red-blooded heterosexual, enabling him and the heroine to live happily ever after. The message would be: sexual deviance = bad, sexual conformity = good.

    Needless to say, I was wrong about this. The Fashion Closet, or something very like it, has now been made?not once, but twice. Last month saw the release of Happy, Texas and Three to Tango, both romantic comedies in which the male protagonist is assumed to be gay, falls in love and then can't reveal himself to his intended. Both films tiptoe around their implicitly homophobic subtexts, bending over backwards to avoid the implication that there's anything undesirable about being gay. Indeed, they both include "positive" homosexual characters?William H. Macy in Happy, Texas and Oliver Platt in Three to Tango. But these gestures do little to counteract the essentially antihomosexual tone of the films. (Incidentally, neither film should be confused with American Beauty, in which an actor who's rumored to be gay plays the part of a straight man who is mistaken for a homosexual by his gay neighbor who is pretending to be straight.)

    The writers of Seinfeld ran up against a similar problem when they devised an episode in which Jerry and George are suspected of being gay. The writers knew that the whole setup was basically homophobic and they felt obliged to signal, somehow, that they weren't antihomosexual themselves. However, rather than do anything as cumbersome as include a "positive" gay character in the episode, they had Jerry and George add the words "not that there's anything wrong with that" every time they protested they weren't gay. Whenever they said it, it rang slightly false, just as the various attempts the writers of Happy, Texas and Three to Tango make not to appear homophobic ring false. But in the Seinfeld episode, because it's Jerry and George who are laboring to appear politically correct, and not the writers of the show, it's funny. The writers, effectively, satirized their own efforts to be evenhanded. In Happy, Texas and Three to Tango, by contrast, it's the filmmakers who are saying "not that there's anything wrong with that" and it's not funny.

    I should emphasize that I'm not criticizing Happy, Texas and Three to Tango for being homophobic, only for trying to disguise this fact so inelegantly. The reason I point this out, naturally, is that I don't want you to think I'm gay (not that there's anything wrong with that). As a limey living in New York, I'm often mistaken for a...well, I won't use that word, even though where I come from it means a cigarette.

    Back in my Vanity Fair days, it didn't help that I had exactly the same hairstyle as the magazine's most conspicuously gay contributor. I was also about the same height and build. On numerous occasions, some young man from another part of the Conde Nast empire would tiptoe up behind me, clasp his hands over my eyes and scream, "Guess who?"

    When I turned round, he would invariably reel back in shock.

    "I'm sorry," he would say, trying to suppress a giggle. "I thought you were Kevin Sessums."


    George Szamuely THE BUNKER Pat & The Pod "Is Patrick Buchanan an anti-Semite?" Thus the opening sentence of Norman Podhoretz's page-long screed in Oct. 25's Wall Street Journal. The answer, about 1000 words later, is no surprise. Yes, Buchanan has indeed "become an anti-Semite." One wonders why Podhoretz even bothered writing the article. That "Buchanan is an anti-Semite" is by now a cliche. For this, we largely have Podhoretz to thank. Back in January 1991, Commentary?the magazine Podhoretz edited for 35 years?published an article, "Patrick J. Buchanan and the Jews," by Joshua Muravchik. It was here that for the first time a case was made against Buchanan accusing him of "anti-Semitism." Though it seemed extraordinary that for more than 25 years?until Muravchik came along, in fact?a man as outspoken as Buchanan could have succeeded in concealing from the rest of the world his rabid "anti-Semitism," in no time at all the Commentary insights became conventional wisdom: Buchanan was an "anti-Semite."

    The charge of "anti-Semitism" is an extremely serious one. Webster's defines "anti-Semitism" as "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group." Has Pat Buchanan demonstrated "hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group"? His many Jewish friends say no. This cuts no ice with Podhoretz. He dismisses the "some of his best friends [are] Jews" claims as the "traditional?apology" for anti-Semites.

    However, Podhoretz fails to name any anti-Semite whose best friends really were Jews. One would have thought Buchanan's Jewish friends are in the best position to know whether his friendship is genuine or not.

    This is how the anti-Buchanan method works. Surmise, suggestion and insinuation take the place of facts. Where are the clear statements by Buchanan that are readily identifiable as "anti-Semitic"? Where is guff about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Jewish World Conspiracy, rootless cosmopolitans? What we get instead are snippets of sentences pulled from his voluminous writings and innumerable tv appearances. Taken out of context, their meaning distorted, they are then all mixed up together in the hope that the resulting stew will be sufficiently toxic.

    In his Journal article Podhoretz offered a number of examples of the method. I will cite only two. Like many others before him, Podhoretz refers to a past column in which Buchanan is supposed to have lavished praise on Hitler. Buchanan describes Hitler as "an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War?[a] genius." However, what Buchanan really said in this 1977 column was, "Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier?" etc. Significantly, the word "genius" appears somewhat later and in a different context. Buchanan says, "[Hitler's] genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."

    Buchanan wrote this column to attack the policy of "appeasement." Indeed, throughout the column he sounds a lot like Podhoretz: "Men like Chamberlain and Daladier needed a moral justification for their acts of weakness and betrayal? Almost alone among European statesmen, Churchill saw that?under the guise of restoring Germany to her rightful place among nations?Hitler was marching along the road toward a New Order where Western civilization would not survive. The vision lacking in the statesmen of '37 appears lacking as well in the men of '77."

    Now, one could say that Buchanan has changed his view of Chamberlain. However, by no stretch of the imagination could the piece be described as "soft on Hitler." Yet how many people will take the trouble to dig up a column from more than 20 years ago and see for themselves what Buchanan actually said?

    Podhoretz makes another familiar charge against Buchanan. Writing about the Gulf War, he describes the time that Buchanan allegedly listed "four prominent Jews who thought war might be necessary. Almost immediately?he counterpoised them with 'kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown,' who would actually do the fighting if these Jews had their way." According to Podhoretz, this "juxtaposition of the prominent Jewish figures who favored the war with the non-Jewish 'kids' who would be sent to die in the Persian Gulf" was a "traditional anti-Semitic canard."

    "When it came to digging up anti-Semitic filth from the foul swamps where it was buried," Podhoretz concludes, "Mr. Buchanan was deterred neither by facts nor by the stench arising out of his exhumations." Them's strong words! They would have greater force if Buchanan had actually said what he is supposed to have said.

    In the first place, Buchanan never counterpoised "four prominent Jews" with kids "who would actually do the fighting." Buchanan's comments come from two different columns. It is the editors of the British magazine The Economist that he contrasts with the "kids." Here is what Buchanan actually said: "'The civilized world must win this fight,' the editors [of The Economist] thunder. But, if it comes to war, it will not be the 'civilized world' humping up that bloody road to Baghdad; it will be American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown." It is obvious from the context that Buchanan is having a go at the Brits, not the Jews.

    As for the other column, the one in which he upbraided A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger?the "four prominent Jews," to use Podhoretz's phraseology?for their enthusiasm for war on Iraq, nowhere did Buchanan suggest that their advocacy had something to do with their being Jewish. Podhoretz fails to mention, moreover, that one of the culprits Buchanan listed was The Wall Street Journal.

    Quoting approvingly from the 1991 Commentary article, Podhoretz then suggests that Buchanan was a dove during the Gulf War only because of "his animus against Israel." For the last 10 years, Buchanan has been a "dove" during every single U.S. engagement abroad. Podhoretz knows this well. So how can he continue to stand by this judgment?

    How can he claim that Buchanan defended John Demjanjuk out of eagerness to champion "the cause of almost anyone accused of participating actively in Hitler's genocidal campaign against the Jews"? Where is the evidence? Buchanan was not defending the man's alleged actions. He was defending him from the charge that he was the Treblinka guard Ivan the Terrible?a stance that the Israeli Supreme Court eventually vindicated.

    Podhoretz alleges that Buchanan "lent his weight to some of the preposterous claims of?those who believe either that the Holocaust never occurred or that 'the Jews' have wildly exaggerated the number of lives it claimed." But he is unable to quote a single sentence by Buchanan that expresses any skepticism about the Holocaust.

    Our system of justice is based on the principle that the more serious the charge, the higher should be the standard of proof. Yet people toss around words like "anti-Semitic" and "racist" with cheerful abandon. Proffering evidence is unnecessary. Every hack simply quotes every other hack. Besides, once we know a man is "anti-Semitic," whatever he says or does will always manifest his "anti-Semitism." The effect is to rule certain people and certain positions out of serious consideration.

    Worse, the poison and bitterness that such words carry increasingly ensure that just about every issue is now off the table. The former editor of Commentary is normally, and rightly, among the loudest to denounce the promiscuous deployment of the "racist" barb. It is a shame that he is not as vigilant when it comes to the toxic "anti-Semitic" slur.


    Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST Exit Strategies There is one international distress signal that everyone ought to know. Say you are at a cocktail party, and you have been buttonholed by a bore. "In the town where I grew up..." he began some minutes?hours??ago, and he has been talking ever since. His monologue is as seamless as it is dull, offering no polite opportunities for escape. What do you do? You discreetly put your right hand behind your back, extending the thumb and index figure to form an L. This stands for "loser" in English-speaking countries. (In France, the L gesture stands for letal ["lethal"] according to some, and for lourdaud ["blockhead"] according to others; I am not sure of its exact significance in Italy, Germany, etc., but it is always understood.) Across the room, a friend of yours, or perhaps merely an acquaintance with a lively sense of pity, spots the signal and comes to your rescue, disengaging you from the bore on some plausible pretext. The two of you chug away from his deadly presence like a couple of Nile steamers.

    I have often found this distress signal to be useful. At a cocktail party down in Soho the other night, however, I had the distinct impression that it was being employed against me.

    I was chatting with an attractive young woman who works as an editor at Talk, relating to her an amusing anecdote about a Hindu mathematician of the late 19th century. The anecdote was lengthy, but the young woman seemed to be plying me with the spur of silence, so I did not stint on detail. Presently, just when I was in the full flood-tide of my eloquence, I observed that she had transferred her cocktail to her left hand, and that her right hand had disappeared behind her back. The next thing I knew, an old boyfriend of hers had shot across the room, mumbled something about a Balthazar reservation they were late for and the two of them withdrew from my company. Oddly, half an hour later I noticed that they were still at the party.

    Had I become, however briefly, a bore? I panicked at the thought, but then dismissed it: I am blessed with a perpetual chirrup of amusing small talk, and an ability to make the driest and most technical of topics seem as entertaining as a Persian tale. At a dinner party I am often willing to let the other guests talk for as long as two or three minutes, even when they are discussing subjects on which I am clearly the best-informed and in possession of the most sparkling and nuanced opinions. It is true that, in the long and happy intervals when I do dominate the conversation, I often retell the same anecdotes?especially those concerning my adventures in the late 70s at the legendary nightclub, Xenon?but I feel that their interest is only enhanced by repetition.

    Objectively, therefore, I cannot be a bore. But what was that extremely attractive young Talk editor's right hand doing behind her back? If she was sending out the international distress signal, well, then, that is just her problem, damn her nasty little eyes! As La Rochefoucauld observed, we often forgive those who bore us, but we can't forgive those whom we bore.

    But let me turn to a more interesting question: How do you know that you have not recently turned into a bore? It can happen to the most amusing people. On a visit to Trinidad late in his life, Evelyn Waugh stayed with Lord Hailes (who was governor general of the West Indies) and his wife. "I was confident they both enjoyed my visit," he wrote to Nancy Mitford. "I talked loud & long & they laughed like anything." But then Waugh discovered from a third party that the Haileses had found him "a frightful bore." It was traumatic for him. "Well of course everyone is a bore to someone. One recognizes that. But it is a ghastly thing if one loses the consciousness of being a bore. You do see it means I can never go out again."

    I can never go out again... It is a terrible but deserved fate for the poor fellow who is not sure when he is being a bore. So how does one tell? Well, there is always the glazed-eyes test. This visible effect that a bore will have on his audience was described in a curious document called "Confessions of a Wild Bore" (published some 40 years ago in The New Yorker through the agency of John Updike). "I noticed, to my horror, that a delicate but distinct glaze had overspread the faces of my auditors," the anonymous bore wrote. "It is impossible to convey the macabre effect. It was not so much that their eyes had gone out of focus (for some eyes were staring fixedly at me) or that their mouths had sagged open (for some mouths were rigidly clamped shut): It was the curious uniformity of complexion, as if with one swipe their faces had been painted with the same lacquer, an impalpable coating whose emotional color, translated into visual terms, was the yellow of distant wheat fields seen through a grimy train window. And, though I paused, gagging on my terror at this disgusting omen, I went right on talking. It was then that I realized that I was a hopelessly ill man."

    And if you yourself are not such a person, but the victim of such a person? At a cocktail party, use the international distress symbol. At a sit-down dinner party, greater resourcefulness is called for. Once, a story goes, George Bernard Shaw found himself seated next to a notorious blowhard dinner guest who was droning on donnishly about all manner of dry and learned subjects. Suddenly, Shaw interrupted the fellow.

    "You know," he said, "it just occurred to me: Between the two of us, we know everything there is to know."

    "How do you mean?" said the nonplussed fellow.

    "Well," replied Shaw, "you know everything except that you are a bore, and I know that."


    John O'Sullivan Traveling Light A Voyage to Acronymia Pristina, Kosovo ? As I walked down the main corridor of the building in Pristina that houses the United Nations Mission to Kosovo (UNMIK in the jargon of international bureaucracies), I noticed through a door that the name cards were being set out for a meeting of the Kosovo Transition Council. One announced the head of UNMIK, Bernard Kouchner, founder of Medecins Sans Frontieres, the activist medical charity that won this year's Nobel Prize. Another heralded Klaus Reinhardt, the bluff German general who currently heads K-FOR, the mainly NATO military force that in conjunction with UNMIK governs the new protectorate through the medium of the KTC. Several other cards bore the names of Kosovar politicians whom UNMIK wants to co-opt into taking some responsibility for the KTC's joint decisions. And the main topic that day was almost certainly the half-billion dollars that the European Union (EU) has pledged in reconstruction aid but not yet delivered. Out in the corridor thudded the military boots of half a dozen nations while earnest diplomats and representatives of aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations(NGOs) conferred on the next project for rebuilding Kosovo society.

    UNMIK, K-FOR, NATO (or, if you are French, OTAN), the EU, NGOs and the KTC. We are in the country that political theorist Kenneth Minogue calls Acronymia?that man-made territory in which soldiers, diplomats, international civil servants and aid workers lay down guidelines, create structures and interpret the principles through which overlapping jurisdictions will determine the future of Kosovo today (and of who knows where tomorrow) on behalf of the "international community," in theory ourselves.

    Inside the buildings the new humanitarian imperialism is very impressive. Its combination of military discipline and humanitarian moral earnestness makes it a formidable force. The soldiers can get things done for the humanitarians, and the humanitarians shield the soldiers from the suspicions usually directed at armies. Outside, on the streets of Pristina, where the most common sign of NATO's bomb damage is shattered windows covered with blue plastic?and where the occasional major military hit is indicated by a few twisted steel rods sticking up from a wasteland?the results are more mixed.

    Contrary to conventional expectations, it is K-FOR that is most obviously doing good. It has largely disarmed the Kosovo Liberation Army and its reassuringly impartial presence everywhere has cut the murder rate (and the crime rate in general) very sharply. A senior K-FOR officer points out dryly that it is now somewhat below the murder rate in DC. Serbs are grateful to it for protecting them from Albanians; Albanians are grateful to it for protecting them from their more heavyhanded leader; and the common view is that it should stay indefinitely. (Maybe the Pentagon shares that view, since it is currently building a huge, $100 million base in Kosovo, the only structure there that can be seen from a satellite.)

    UNMIK's record is less stellar. Together with its NGO allies, it has dispensed a fair amount of humanitarian aid. But it is still starved of funds to build and rebuild Kosovo; the EU in particular, having promised to build 50,000 houses, has yet to deliver the reconstruction aid needed to achieve anything like that. In addition, since UNMIK is compelled by UN Resolution 1244 to treat Kosovo as an integral part of Yugoslavia when it is in reality on a winding diplomatic road to full independence, it is continually facing absurd quandaries. Suppose it wants to privatize a dead-end state-owned industry? Can it do so without the consent of President Slobodan Milosevic, an indicted war criminal? Must Kosovo's telephone calls go through Belgrade, with all the implications that has for security, or get the benefit of a new national code? At every stage UNMIK has to choose between UN Resolution 1244 and common sense. Most often common sense wins out?the D-mark was recently accepted by UNMIK as Kosovo's currency to replace the collapsing Yugoslav dinar?but not always. And UN 1244 means delay in any event.

    Where the influence of Acronymia is most harmful, however, is in its justifying doctrine. Bill Clinton defined the purpose of the Kosovo war as the defeat of ethnic nationalism and the establishment of "the principle of multiethnicity"?namely, the concept that nations are more legitimate if they incorporate several ethnic groups rather than one. Unfortunately for theory, the war ended with the triumph of Albanian ethnic nationalism in Kosovo. It is now a nation-state in all but diplomatic recognition, and Kosovar Serbs account for only a (threatened) 5 percent of the population. But UNMIK, K-FOR, the NGOs, etc., still insist, against this reality, on "the principle of multiethnicity." And since they hold the levers of power, so does everyone else insist.

    If you were to judge entirely by the language of the numerous Kosovar Albanian politicians who have spoken to our delegation in the last 24 hours, you would suppose we were visiting Sweden or Switzerland. "I want to see a political system based on pluralism," says one. "No, it must be a pluralist democratic system," replies a second. "Not enough," says the third. "It must be a pluralist, democratic, multiethnic system."

    After a while, however, one notices that these splendid democratic platitudes are uttered by men surrounded by bodyguards and, further, that some of the speakers could get employment as bodyguards themselves. Also my advance briefing suggests that I refrain from speaking Serbian in Pristina; no problem, fortunately, but sound advice since a Bulgarian aid worker was recently killed in the street for answering a question about the time in Serbo-Croat.

    It will be some time before the Serb can lie down with the Albanian and have much hope of ever getting up again. (And vice versa, naturally.)

    This insistence that only a multiethnic state is really legitimate might not matter overmuch if UNMIK did not seek to embody it in policy. But it is the basis of the "international community"'s refusal to endorse Kosovo independence. It seeks to persuade the Serbs to return home to areas where they promptly face a very real risk of being killed. And it wants to ensure that between 5 and 10 percent of the judges are Serbs at a time when the Albanians refuse even to be governed by otherwise reasonable laws because they are a legacy of Milosevic's Serb rule. At best this kind of "diversity" promotion is a distraction from urgent practical tasks; at worst it is likely to aggravate already intense tensions down the line if the international community, to the applause of the Serbs, continues to reject Kosovo's independence.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with the fact of multiethnicity. The variety and liveliness it gives to everyday life is probably one of the reasons why you live in New York. But it makes no sense to decree that there is only one legitimate basis for statehood, whether it is ethnic national self-determination or a principle that was invented yesterday by intellectuals in the grip of multiculturalism. It would be a very odd historical irony if at the very moment when the problems created by Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of national self-determination in Southeast Europe were finally being absorbed, Bill Clinton should arrive to create another set of problems with exactly the opposite doctrine of multiethnicity.


    Giles Auty THE SINGULAR EYE Cash and Collecting A friend asked me recently if there were any simple advice I could proffer to would-be collectors of art to prevent them from getting taken for a ride. Perhaps the advice we issue to children as a whole is as salutary as any: "Never accept candy or lifts from strangers." One of the many frustrations of an art critic's life is witnessing the ease with which rich, would-be collectors of art get parted from their money. But how did many such collectors make their own cash in the first place? Some at least did so by suckering the rest of us. The whole thing simply goes full circle. The last time I wrote in NYPress, I mentioned one major collector I know, the British advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi. I even went so far as to give qualified praise to his tennis. On the whole, the amassing of fortunes seldom goes hand in hand with any comparable development of the mind.

    As I write these lines early in the morning from my modest harborside apartment in Sydney (it's spring down here), the prime mover in the current attempt to replace the Queen as Australian head of state deftly kayaks across my vision. His wife is the niece of the art critic Robert Hughes who, I am happy to say, is at last recovering from a life-threatening car crash. The adjoining seaside promontory from this?Point Piper?features the most expensive real estate in Sydney. Behind that lies Bellevue Hill, where even more rich art collectors forgather.

    On the whole, the private collections I have seen thereabouts are more or less identical. All feature works by Australia's recent tops of the pops: Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Fred Williams, Brett Whiteley, John Olsen, Charles Blackman and Tim Storrier, but seldom a single work by an artist from any other country. Is this taking chauvinism too far, or are such collectors basically unable to trust their eyes when detached even temporarily from their homeland?the great floating raft in the Pacific?

    As a critic I think we credit collectors as a whole with far too much credibility. I was present in New York at the great art auctions of May 1989 when work after work broke fresh price barriers. Each time one did so a cheer went up. One could not help feeling we were celebrating naked cash rather than any cloak of connoisseurship. Given the loot, it would have been hard not to have bought better than almost any of those collectors?especially when paying as much as possible seemed their aim.

    When the instructions given to the trust created by the late Alfred C. Barnes were finally broken and some part of his collection traveled to Europe, I caught up with it in Paris at the Musée d'Orsay. No more inappropriate venue could have been chosen for an event founded largely on hype. Visitors who may never have visited that museum before queued for hours to see works inferior, on the whole, to those held already in the museum's permanent collection. Barnes bought cheap after the First World War, when the franc was nearly as worn out as the French people themselves. What was the particular merit in that? The inventor of Argyrol reveled in hard bargaining, but was also pretty well advised. I have read few words of praise for Barnes from anyone who knew him, yet critics are nevertheless supposed to pay automatic homage to collectors even when, as in one famous case, the antiaircraft guns manufactured by the collector's company were used to shoot down my fellow countrymen. In spite of requests to the contrary, my review of the Buhrle Collection in London in February 1991 went out under the heading "Art and Artillery." I still believe such points need to be made.

    But why should I care how collectors make their money, when even the most fragilely sensitive artists never ask such questions? "I am afraid I cannot sell my work to someone whose family made their money out of the whaling industry." Do you believe words such as those have ever been spoken? A friend of mine who used to deliver small boats across the Atlantic for a living was asked once at a particularly precious party how he earned his oats. Without hesitation, he replied, "I'm a harpoonist on a whaling boat," to the wife of a university don. The poor woman collapsed promptly into tears, and soon her husband was seeking my friend out to demand he apologize to her for his lie and to instruct her what he really did. "I'm sorry I fibbed to you about my career," he confessed straight-faced. "The thing is, I'm still a bit sensitive about having been put in charge of the seal-pup culls for the whole of Newfoundland."

    But why should I disparage the careers of other collectors when I am a long-term collector myself? There are many who believe that being an art critic is about as low as one can sink. However, having little money to burn, I have had to rely largely on skill in forming a collection of pencil drawings and prints by such luminaries as Whistler, Edward Bawden, Eric Gill, William Lee-Hankey and Eric Wolfsfeld?arguably the most skilled etcher of this century. For some reason, collections of etchings have always been the subject of mildly lubricious jokes. In my favorite of these, a nerdish young man asks an especially voluptuous young woman to take a seat in the lobby of an hotel. "Wait right here and I'll bring my etchings down to you."


    Sam Schulman HAMLET Silicon Yorkville (As told to Joseph Nocera and rejected by Fortune) Now that the quiet period is over, I can finally reveal the story behind my Internet success. One day last December I was walking back to my apartment in Yorkville, the old Mittel-European neighborhood on the Upper East Side, and I passed one of the few remaining Hungarian butchers, on the corner of 2nd Ave. and 81st. A hand-lettered sign hung in the window: On Request We Grind Poppy Seeds?Only Place in NYC. By the time I had walked another two avenues, I had the business plan blocked out in my head. While I waited for the elevator in my lobby, I put in a few calls to venture capitalists. The signed nondisclosures were waiting on my fax by the time I got the Medeco open. When the delivery man rang my bell with the kreplach, I was already on the phone to Madras, getting the programming started.

    But I'm getting ahead of myself. My forehead-slapping moment was this: If you can't get your poppy seeds ground anywhere else in all of New York City except at this one little butcher shop on 2nd Ave., there was an opportunity?if you will, a disconnect between buyers and sellers. And this disconnect I recognized immediately as a commerce bottleneck that demanded an e-commerce solution. This was a textbook problem for the New Economy to solve.

    So as soon as I reached my computer, I reserved the Internet addresses, and, just in case, The whole system was coming together in my head. Using "safe brainstorming" techniques developed at Palo Alto, my girlfriend Monica and I (since the launch of we have been married, and then divorced, as told to Gully Wells in Wired) worked out the system in detail. It's patented, but to the layperson it looks like this:

    You go to before 5 o'clock on a Monday, you tell us you want your seeds ground and FedEx picks up your seeds. They're ground in our state-of-the-art central Poppy Seed Mill in Bellingham, WA, on Tuesday. And FedEx brings them back on Wednesday, in time to do whatever it is you do with ground poppy seeds on a Wednesday. If Wednesday isn't soon enough, you're out of luck. We devoted some of the proceeds of our initial funding round to buying that last authentic little Hungarian butcher shop in Yorkville and bulldozing it to bare earth. As of this week is up and running. Don't have poppy seeds? No problem. We'll sell 'em to you! ( gets a rich commission on these sales.)

    Have a poppy seed mill of your own? We'll make you an Associate E-Miller of GrindMy, and you can grind as much (or as little!) seed as you like! Friends having a birthday or anniversary? Send them one of our cute "e-mill" messages. has links to other sites, like, and the site we've since acquired in a stock swap, And we've built a "chat room" for our community of ground poppy seed users.

    Our investors have several ways to achieve their desired ROI. There are the eyeballs we gather from people arranging to have their poppy seeds ground, and the "e-poppymill wannabes," those people who intend to have their poppy seeds ground but for whom?let's face it?it ain't gonna happen. There's the commerce opportunities on the little sacks in which we send the ground poppy seeds back, on which we offer second mortgages and uncut diamonds for sale. And, most important of all, there are the further rounds of financing.

    Of course, that's in the future. Monica and Peter, Kevin and I have built our two separate but adjacent dream houses on the shores of Lake Washington, and we're working now on giving something back to the community. It's a revolutionary way to do good, and I'll tell you about it as soon as the patent apps are safely filed.