Love & Disguises The woman was a beauty from the pampas, or perhaps the Andean highlands, of Latin America. We were two among more than 100 at a grand bal masqué. I had been at the head table seducing our young hostess, when a languid form with diabolical eyes drew me away. Knowing that only the bold devour the prey, I went straight to her and took an empty plate from her hand. She had been circling the food, wondering which delicacy to take. I ladled caviar onto her plate. She reached for the little accompaniments that chefs sometimes place?for decoration, I assume?near the sturgeon's roe, the awful boiled egg, diced onion, green leaves, slices of lemon. I held her back and gave her the only proper companion for Iran's finest beluga, a spoon. I stuffed it into the black mound and spoke my first words, vital, as the first astronaut on the moon knew, to the enterprise: "Caviar, like flesh, needs no adornment." Or something.
A feast lay on the banquet table, but for us, the real feast seemed to await. I returned to my glittering table, where our most beautiful hostess assaulted me with cutting remarks about the little "putana" that made my Latin future all the more appealing. Starched white coats of her household staff glided from table to table with trays of coffee, and music erupted on the terrace. Most of the young ladies, my Latina among them, rushed outdoors. Then came the clumsy advances of a new generation of men whose education, such as it was, had not included the art of the dance. I lingered over coffee and cigar before going forth to claim my prize under stars that I believed shone for me.
They shone as well, I reflected, halfway around the Earth on a woman who possessed my heart. Recalling her, I did not pursue the Latina who was even then swirling among the dancers. I danced with others, registering the dark vixen in my memory against the day when I broke the shackles that bound me across oceans to the Cruelest Woman I Had Ever Known (until then). My dancing partners included both great beauties and jolies laides, none of whom would tempt me from the Cruel One as the Latina threatened to. When I bade farewell to my gracious hostess, the Latina found my cheek to kiss before disappearing.
Time passed, and in its fullness I severed my bond to the Cruelest Woman. It left me free to seek the Latina, who had come by chance to live in the same city as I. She called, her husky voice beckoning me to dinner in a hotel. Her many friends at the table were not uninteresting, but there was an unusual balance?all men, but for herself.
She was testing me, I assumed. Nights can be long, and the patient are rewarded. Dinner became dull and interminable. A few of the men drifted off. Unfortunately, replacements arrived. The Latina acted the Ottoman Sultana, center of her male harem. I stayed back, waiting. Later, when we left the first of many nightclubs, we were down to four: herself and three men, of whom I was one. At the last cabaret, I drank whisky and talked to barely clad girls at the bar. Two men amused her at a table. I steeled myself to wait them out. Then, a blonde woman in a tight, sequined dress that emphasized her ample bosom approached the table. She leaned forward, and even from the bar the contour of generous teats dominated my field of vision. The blonde's attention turned, not to the men, but the Latina. The next moment, the two of them were writhing voluptuously to Latin music on a nearly bare dancefloor. In our modern era and among the better sort of women, as during the decadence of Weimar, Sapphic dancing is not only acceptable, but desirable. It kindles the fires to come. As the two remaining men bid farewell, I congratulated myself on my resolve. It was now only a matter of time, until the Latina and possibly the blonde would be mine.
The lights went up in the club, and the music died down. The women disappeared into a cloakroom, returning a few minutes later like children who have hatched a scheme to evade parental curfew. As I prepared to join them in a waiting taxi, the blonde leaned her breast again into view and asked my permission to take my Latina to home. As a libertine, for whom liberty is the fundamental principle of life, I replied that it was up to the Latina. (Remember my earlier admonition about allowing women to make decisions.) The Latina, to my astonishment, wanted not me, nor any of the half-dozen men she had been enticing all night. She wanted the blonde. The cold air of morning and realization dawned together. The cigar. The husky voice. Immersing herself in the safety of many men, rather than the peril of one. They closed the door to the taxi. They would not require me for tripartite recreation.
To acquaint myself with the ethos of her continent, I reread Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera. The heroic Florentino Ariza devoted his life to Fermina Daza, the woman he loved and would wait 50 years to possess on Marquez's dreamy Carribean shore. The Latina was not, alas, my Fermina. More like one of Ariza's hundreds of mistresses, Ausencia Santander. In bed with her, he would complain, "You treat me as if I were just anybody." To which she replied, "Not at all: as if you were nobody."
George Szamuely The Bunker
Hollow Mexico The inane euphoria at Vicente Fox's electoral triumph in Mexico was entirely to be expected. Every few years we are regaled with stories of Mexico's dynamic "new" leaders. They are invariably pro-business, pro-democracy, pro-markets, pro-free trade and pro-American. They are committed to political reform and to cracking down on corruption and drug trafficking. The now-reviled former President Carlos Salinas was once the toast of Washington: Bill Clinton's candidate to head the World Trade Organization, and on the board of directors of Dow Jones. His stealing of the 1988 elections was never held against him.
After the euphoria comes the letdown. There is always a financial crisis and the United States has to step in with a massive loan to buy off social discontent and keep Mexico's rulers in power. Before long, Washington will find a new team of leaders to contrast favorably with the old. For Mexico is not a state in any meaningful sense at all. It is a U.S. colony. The purpose of any Mexican government is to ensure that the U.S. has access to a steady supply of cheap labor.
In Vicente Fox, our elites appear to have found their ideal candidate. Not only is he a former Coca-Cola executive, he even wants to expand Mexican immigration into the U.S. "We have this huge difference in salaries between the Mexican side and U.S. side. A worker on the Mexican side will make five dollars a day; in the States, the same work would make $60 a day? So our proposal is to move to a second phase of NAFTA where in five to ten years that border will be open to free flow of people?" Fox is not suggesting that Mexican wages should become more like U.S. wages. If they were he could not hope to attract any investment. What he means is that U.S. wages should become more like Mexican wages. Open borders will ensure just that. The corporations purr at the prospect of a North American Common Market.
Vicente Fox has another proposal that our elites will find pleasing. He intends to stop even pretending to be waging war against the drug lords. Washington knows very well that almost every Mexican politician and bureaucrat earns money from drugs. Hard currency revenues from drug trafficking have become essential to keeping the Mexican economy afloat. Therefore, any crackdown on the narcotics cartels would have serious economic and political repercussions. Happily, Fox has found a solution to the dilemma. "We must put together countries that produce drugs, countries that traffic and countries that consume, and through this multilateral effort really stop the growing of crime," he argues. In other words, set up a blue-ribbon commission, let it ponder away for years and then ignore whatever it recommends.
The Mexican state has never been about the creation of a free market or the promotion of economic growth. It was designed to raise dollars for Mexico's ruling elites. And the U.S. was always on hand to make sure its interests were secure. In August 1982, Mexico devalued its currency and defaulted on an $80 billion debt. The Reagan administration immediately extended $2 billion to refloat Mexico's economy. In July 1988, when Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano, who had vowed to repudiate Mexico's foreign debts, appeared to be heading for victory in the presidential elections, the U.S. jumped in with a $1 billion bridge loan. Thanks to that, plus a good deal of electoral fraud, PRI rule survived.
January 1994 saw the implementation of NAFTA?yet another Washington-inspired scheme to keep Mexico's elite in power. Mexico received $50 billion in new portfolio investment and tens of billions more in private loans. By December things had gone sour. Encouraged by Washington, Mexico had, since the 1980s, been liberalizing, privatizing and deregulating. As a result, the country had become dependent on capital inflows to finance a growing trade deficit. When investors jumped ship, Mexico was unable to support the overvalued peso.
Enter Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin. They extended a $20 billion loan to save their banker friends and clients in Mexico. But the peso collapsed. Interest rates soared. And Mexico experienced a terrible depression. Banks had to be bailed out?to the tune of $100 billion?courtesy of Mexico's taxpayers. Clinton and Rubin boasted that Mexico had paid back every dime of the loan. What they failed to mention was that the Mexican government could only do that by borrowing heavily in the international private markets at rates 5 percent above normal, thereby burdening Mexico's poor with yet more obligations.
As businesses declared bankruptcy and wages fell, and millions lost their jobs, Mexicans streamed north across the border. Mexicans in the U.S.?legal and illegal?are believed to send back something like $5.5 billion a year?a substantial sum for a country short of foreign exchange. This really is a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich, sponsored by the U.S. government.
Fox's continental common market is sure to become a mechanism for Washington's continuing underwriting of Mexico's ruling elite. Transfer of resources from the U.S. to Mexico will be labeled "regional development aid." In the meantime the flow of Mexican immigrants to the U.S. will continue unabated.
Taki LE MAÎTRE
Boos & Hisses With apologies once again to the great Thomas Sowell, here are a few comments on the passing scene: ? As killings and the abduction of children for prostitution continue daily under the nose of NATO "peacekeepers" in Kosovo, my Greek sources tell me that groups linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army are destabilizing Macedonia through their involvement in the drug-trafficking and women trades. Only last month a Greek border guard was murdered in cold blood by Albanian drug dealers. There are ethnic Albanian minorities in Macedonia as well as in Greece, which means that sooner or later the whole region will blow up unless the KLA?which is issuing orders and is financed by the heroin trade?is reined in.
In the meantime, the architect of this farce?crime?Madeleine Albright, is nonstop zooming around the world in search of a legacy. All at taxpayers' expense, needless to say. What in heaven's name is going on here? From Beijing to Seoul, from Warsaw to the Middle East, Albright is sticking her nose into other nations' business, playing soldier-statesman. Like a broken-down vaudevillian who refuses to leave the stage while the audience demands "the hook, the hook," la Madeleine is going around preaching about democracy, her "lodestar," as she called it.
Actually, it's mostly window-dressing. My friend Anne Applebaum recently infiltrated a Warsaw "Towards a Community of Democracies" conference attended by more than 100 "democratic" nations. Albright was the star. Applebaum reports that after hours and hours of boring restatements of basic principles by various foreign ministers, first prize for clarity went to the Hungarian official who modestly refrained from "repeating from my preprepared statement." Given the fact that promoting democracy is not like getting a flu shot, the whole exercise was a waste of time and moolah. Polish taxpayers' moolah, of course. In fact it ended badly. The French, always in character, opposed treating democracy as a "religion" to be imposed on others. Suspicions also grew that Albright was trying to create a pro-American agenda, rather than a pro-democratic one. It was all innocuous stuff, important only to those puffed-up politicians we the long suffering public have put up with for so long. Albright should stay in Washington and look closer at the mess she created in the Balkans. And stop flying incessantly at our expense. You were and remain hapless, Madeleine, so sit back and relax.
? The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it was fair to sack a Boy Scout leader on the grounds of his homosexuality. It was deemed that the New Jersey law banning discrimination in public bodies could live alongside the Boy Scouts' right to free association under the First Amendment. Bravo Supreme Court, boo to the ludicrous New York Times, which cried murder most foul.
Well, over in Europe, without a Supreme Court but under orders of unelected technocrats, things are worse. In fact, they beggar belief. A recent European directive in the battle against discrimination forces religious organizations to employ nonbelievers and homosexuals. In other words, it would be illegal for churches to employ only Christians or for Jewish organizations to hire only Jews. Although the clergy is exempt, by this kind of thinking it's not difficult to see the day when a man could not be refused a job as a rabbi on the grounds that he was not a Jew. Kafka lives.
? California's white population will lose its majority status this year. This is not particularly significant?the Big Apple is more brown than white?but it does raise certain questions. America has held together as long as it has because whites set the agenda. That is not to say that the agenda was superior to others. It's that the American dream was made possible because one race, the European one, had the same language and cultural aspirations. The melting pot was a welcome fact, but until the present, minorities aspired to be part of that white-dominated culture and agenda. No longer. In California, reports the Daily Mail, vocal elements of the Hispanic population are demanding that the state adopt Spanish as its official language. The Asian and African-American populace, naturally, oppose it. Which means only one thing. Racial tensions and future violence.
In 25 years Hispanics will surpass whites, while the rest will be made up of five million Asians and three million African-Americans. When Florida, Texas, California and New York all become dominated by nonwhites, other states will close the door. Is this why the Civil War was fought? For the Republic to splinter all over again?
There is only one solution. Stop nonwhite immigration and to hell with squabbling minorities. The ethnic time bomb is ticking.
? We Greeks call it hubris. No sooner had phony Tony Blair suggested on-the-spot fines on young people for disorderly behavior?cops would arrest one and frog-march him to a paying machine where he would have to pay out £100, or $160?than his son Euan was arrested for being drunk and disorderly, lying to the police about his identity and age and other assorted youthful pranks. Mind you, Blair's initiative was dropped like the hot potato it was as soon as police chiefs dismissed it as unworkable. Still, Blair, like the Clintons, thinks he can get away with anything. This time his own son paid the price.
Bruce Antonio Laue Feature
In Roman Times When my father was stationed in Rome as the overseas pictures editor for The New York Times, and my cousin Camille Cianfarra was the Times' bureau chief in Madrid, a reporter was expected to file his story from his place of assignment?with the unspoken rule that one never injected himself into a story. For an interview, questions, not conversations, were expected. And reporters were supposed to convey not only events but moods, and do so with an economy of words and little self-promotion. Articles were based on events personally witnessed. Facts were checked and double-checked. My father's boss, Arnoldo Cortesi, the Rome bureau chief, used to drive him to distraction with demands for multiple sources for any story; when a report was cabled to New York for the Magazine, it was checked "six ways for Sunday." Though the Times never allowed a news story to be written in the style of a feature, its reporters' knowledge of the countries they covered made their reports colorful and trustworthy.
To gain this expertise, correspondents were expected to live on the Continent for several months, if not years. These men, cautious and urbane, diplomatic and discreet, were sought out by governments and individuals alike who wanted to tell their stories to the people of the great republic. In the lobbies of London hotels, in the libraries of the Vatican, in the cafes of Lisbon, the writers on America's most respected newspaper were at the center of Europe during the Cold War. The columns they wrote informed Americans of the precarious living conditions facing Europeans in the aftermath of the war, and were instrumental in bringing about public acceptance for the Marshall Plan, which, without doubt, saved Europe from communist domination. Their style and professionalism became hallmarks of 20th-century American journalism.
On July 25, 1956, the Italian liner Andrea Doria was struck by the Swedish liner Stockholm off the Nantucket Lightship. Cousin Camille was on the Italian ship with his family, returning from a visit to Rome. When the collision occurred, the newsroom at the Times fully expected him to radio an exclusive from the sinking vessel, and were astonished when he didn't. They had no way of knowing that he and his daughter had been killed instantly when the bow of the Stockholm had plowed into their stateroom.
He was one of the last of his generation. For those who remember better, today's Times is a poorly written, obviously biased journal that would never have been printed in the days of Harrison Salisbury, Scotty Reston or, yes, my father. Today there are far more news sources but far less news. Most Americans get their news from television, which is rather frightening in itself. Airtime for the coverage of European or world events has shrunk to almost nothing, unless a story, like the Gulf War, has a bearing on the United States economy.
Why are Americans so ignorant of the great issues and personalities of the day? Perhaps it began in the Vietnam-weary 70s when news departments at the leading television networks were expected to bring in ratings. "Cost efficiency" was introduced. Overseas news desks were closed, which is why foreign affairs correspondents today are usually photographed in the flag-festooned lobby of the State Dept. building. The two-hour documentary, which explored issues in depth, also passed into journalistic history. Concurrently, the line between news and entertainment was increasingly blurred. The von Bulow trial, the O.J. Simpson circus, the JonBenet Ramsey farce, were treated like soap operas, not news. Newscasters became celebrities. With some exceptions, men and women were hired, not for their credentials, but for how they appeared on camera. In Britain, these individuals are called news readers, because that is exactly what they do, nothing more. In the U.S., they're expected to do more, which is trouble.
Even among television news veterans quality suffered. Some gaffes stay in the mind: Mike Wallace conducting his insulting interviews with the Shah of Iran in the mid-70s, which did more to undermine this great American and Israeli ally than any other factor, contrasted with his craven interview of the Ayatollah some years later?because Wallace knew that Khomeni, unlike Pahlevi, would have no compunction about tossing him into the deepest hole of his largest prison... Barbara Walters, marveling during the Prince of Wales' investiture how the world hadn't seen such pageantry since the Queen was "coronated"... Tom Brokaw reporting live from South Africa's "Natel Province"... Katie Couric's infamous interview with Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential campaign, as opposed to her gushing conversation with that great biblical scholar Eunice Kennedy Shriver concerning the role of the Virgin Mary in the New Testament and feminist politics.
Reporting a foreign policy decision should involve, but often doesn't, more than standing on line for the press release. The daily NATO briefings during the Kosovo conflict were a perfect example of this lazy reporting style. Jamie Shea, the NATO spokesman, had an easy ride. His ludicrous briefings should have invited a storm of questions from the press pool?especially from the Americans, since it was their forces, as usual, that were doing most of the fighting. Instead, they dutifully wrote down all he said and passed it on. Those reporters should have been in his face until he responded with some measure of honesty and conviction.
The American viewing public should be up in arms over all this, but they aren't. Perhaps some have found a remedy?quietly. I've noticed that more and more friends and relatives are quoting BBC and ITN news reports. Those with cable tv have chosen public broadcasting's offerings of foreign newscasts. Isn't it disgraceful that informed Americans must receive their news from foreign sources? What could be more un-American?