Poor Rocker The Taki prize for the year 2000 is awarded to John Rocker, a martyr sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. As some of you may remember, the Taki prize is awarded annually to those who pursue the truth with selfless disregard. The alternative Taki prize?last year awarded to Mike McCurry?is for those in pursuit of selfishness at the expense of the truth.
Poor Rocker. No wonder he lost his control. Counseling, like German humor, is no laughing matter. And he had to endure this modern version of the rack throughout the winter and spring. Needless to say, the alternative Taki prize goes to Jeff Pearlman, the Sports Illustrated reporter who last year sandbagged Rocker. Pearlman is made of George Patton and Douglas MacArthur stuff. "I was scared," he said, "but he didn't do anything." All Rocker did was to flip his baseball cap around so he could get closer to Pearlman's face. Not exactly like a kick in the groin, but our champion was scared.
What I'd like to know is why Latrell Sprewell is a hero for choking his coach, while Rocker is a bum for flipping his cap. Surely some mistake here, as they say in merry old England.
Journalists like to flatter themselves that they are adversarial, that they tell the truth to power. In reality, journalists are state courtiers. They see themselves as members of a self-identified elite. They fawn on men of power, for they, too, want to be men of power. From the celebrity whoring and movie-star gushing of People to the eye-glazing fawning profiles of the Clinton-Gore gang in the pages of The New York Times to Clinton's ridiculous tomfoolery at the White House Correspondents dinner, journalists work as unpaid publicity agents for our elite. Those without money and power?the overwhelming majority of the American population?are looked down on as hopeless dolts who need to be educated about the wisdom and farsightedness of our rulers. Americans inhabit something known as flyover country, the vast land mass that connects the two or three cool places to be on the East and West Coasts.
Although Rocker makes a very good living and is a star, he comes under the heading of "rube" as far as journalists are concerned. To our media elite, Americans (or Rocker types) are a hopelessly retrograde lot?racist, sexist, homophobic, with no understanding or appreciation of art, as in "Sensation." They hold unenlightened views on morality, religion and the nation. (They believe, horror of horrors, in heterosexual marriage, in God and in their country.) The New York Times, The Washington Post, the tv networks all see themselves as being in the education business, there to teach the politically illiterate how well government looks after their interests day and night. They are there to instruct us that Steven Spielberg's puerile musings are great art, that Susan Sarandon has interesting things to say, that Strobe Talbott is a serious political thinker, that Bill Clinton is a good old boy. And anyone who disagrees must be some sick Timothy McVeigh type.
Now I ask you, dear readers: Suppose you ran into someone who had done to you what Pearlman did to Rocker. Would you shake his hand or call him a few choice epithets? I would choose the latter. So what's the big fuss about? Is Pearlman off limits because he's a reporter? And is Rocker a bum because he acted in the manner most of us would if screwed by a journalist? Journalists are unpaid whores to power. Their reward is elevation to the elite.
Look at any Clinton press conference or indeed any daily press briefing in the State Dept. or the Pentagon. There are no tough questions, just good-humored banter. The infamous Clinton interview by Dan Rather is a case in point: "My impeachment was a good thing because it defended the Constitution," said the Great Liar, or words to that effect. Rather, instead of throwing up on the Draft Dodger, nodded his head in agreement. Clinton repeated the theme in the midst of a press conference and again went unchallenged.
Just imagine if Richard Nixon had said that his involvement in the Watergate scandal had been a good thing. In my not-so-humble opinion, Nixon was railroaded by two lying journalists, a Democratic Congress and the Washington elite. Nixon to them was a John Rocker type, and we really can't have such people in the White House, can we now? Clinton has committed real crimes yet has gone unpunished. Rocker may have said politically incorrect things, but it's still a free country and everyone is free to say whatever they feel. Has Rocker ever called the Jewish religion what Sharpton and other professional anti-Semites have? When Muhammad Ali called white people evil and wished them dead, he was cheered by the very people he was insulting. Clinton bombed a harmless pharmaceutical plant to divert public scrutiny from his lies, and his motives were hardly challenged. Why is George W. Bush's visit to Bob Jones University big news, but not Hillary Clinton's visit to Al Sharpton?
In closing, p.c. is a persistent form of untruthfulness. It means adjusting what you say to what you think ought to be true, not what you know actually to be true. I for one will never be silenced by p.c., even if the powers that be pull a Rocker on me. Jeff Pearlman is a wimp and should be fired for cowardice.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Asses Are People, Too "It's like the fight against racial discrimination, the fight against sexism, the fight against homophobia," says Rutgers Prof. Gary Francione of the battle for animal rights. Francione teaches the newest legal specialty, animals rights, at Rutgers law school and is one of America's top dogs in the struggle for interspecies equity.
The comparison between those who marched in Selma and those who preach law cannot possibly be morally offensive because the professor, like so many in his pack, including his six dogs, is a good man who does not eat meat. Whether the dogs do so by choice or whether force-feeding them phony vegan baloney constitutes abuse is not clear. What is clear, however, is that the animal rightists' ultimate goal is to rip apart the way we live and conduct our affairs and ban the ownership and use of animals in agriculture and elsewhere.
Although many of the movement's rank and file are new-age disciples unable to draw an ethical line between plants and animals, the animal rights movement is making great strides by unleashing the natural predatory instincts of the plaintiff's bar. Yet before they play the species card outright, the lawyers acknowledge that they need to tread lightly and fool the public with an incremental approach.
"Let's assume somebody passed a law tomorrow saying, 'No more meat-eating,'" says Prof. Francione. "People would be rioting in the streets. The legal system can't get too far out in front of public sentiment."
Much better strategically, then, to start with the idea of conferring legal rights on other primates, at least those whose neurology and genetic structure warrant reclassifying them within the genus Homo. It is a good beginning: apes are highly intelligent, self-aware animals with an ability to understand cause and effect, use tools and do simple mathematical calculations, and only the hard of heart would not be moved by their often terrible plight in captivity or disagree with the observation that they do seem more "human" than some brain-damaged Homo sapiens. Still, few at this point would go as far as granting them full constitutional rights. Obviously, the population will have to be reeducated as to what is right.
"The first time somebody hears about something like this, they consider it weird and extreme," says Harvard's animal lawyer Steven Wise. "But it's part of an overall plan to begin to expose smart lawyers...to these ideas, so they don't seem as weird." And smart lawyers don't need much to go ape over the chance to help their fellow creatures.
The president of Attorneys for Animal Rights points out that lawyers want to "educate people that we are part of a whole world...and animals deserve some basic respect." Since litigation under the Endangered Species and Marine Protection Acts advances basic respect for only a limited number of species, new weapons have been devised to advance the animal rights agenda. Using a combination of environmental and human?libel, tort, estate and First Amendment?laws, activists have scored major victories in the courtroom. Courts willing to award insurance proceeds to arsonists, or to drunks who sue the police for not taking them into protective custody, are no less disposed to giving compensation for veterinary malpractice, neglect or wrongful death of animals.
To the ordinary person, the idea of "rights" for animals sounds as incredible as the idea of their legal "duties." To animal rightists, however, the question of whether animals have the capacity for free moral judgment is irrelevant. It is not that they hate people, in their politically correct, eco-socialist view, it is capitalism that hates the wage-earning masses and reduces them to a mere commodity, allowing the rights theorists to draw a parallel between the subjugation of workers in industrial production and animals in agribusiness and elsewhere. But what needs to be abolished if all animals are to be free from oppression is not only the current economic system, which allows private ownership of animals, but also its philosophical underpinning, which confers elevated status on humans.
As C.S. Lewis put it, in the Judeo-Christian ethics "everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by divine right." Lewis' view, to be sure, perpetuates the distinction between humans and animals and these days is subscribed to only by the troglodytes on the far right. Theologians at the World Council of Churches, on the other hand, are busy rewriting "human centeredness" out of the creation story and substituting it with a "life-centered ethic." Surely for them, secular sainthood, if not the Lord, is nigh.
George Orwell said that the obvious needs to be constantly restated. So, let's restate what was once clear to any normal person: Cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans are wrong and wrong for the same reason. It does not follow, however, that the lives of animals and the lives of people are of equal value. Equally obvious, however, is that in our land of fuzzy moral distinctions and much free time, it is only a question of when our cultural institutions, the arts, media, churches and universities, not just law schools, consider anything less than full civil rights for other animals to be an abomination.
Still, one must look on the bright side of things. As one animal rights attorney said, "[M]y commitment is I don't eat my clients." A noble legal sentiment indeed. So perhaps not all is lost in America.
George Szamuely The Bunker
Poll Attacks In a smug little column in Slate recently, Jacob Weisberg fantasized about a meeting of Washington pundits to decide how much coverage to give to the Buchanan and Nader campaigns. Should they get "Level Two" coverage, reserved for "candidates who can seriously affect the result of an election"? Or "Level Three," for "passionate nutcakes"?worthy of "the odd Saturday feature story" perhaps, but "no day-to-day reportage"? Since the hacks decided that neither candidate would receive 5 percent of the vote, "we opted for Level Three coverage." Weisberg's humor is lame, but it is very decent of him to let us know ahead of time that he and his chums intend to rig the election. Certainly neither Buchanan nor Nader will get 5 percent. Thanks to Weisberg, hardly anyone will know they are even running.
Presidential candidates need vast fortunes?out of reach to all but those prepared to whore after special interests. Third-party candidates are kept off state ballots by being required to collect a ludicrous number of signatures. Third-party candidates are also kept out of presidential debates. Yet, according to Gallup, 38 percent of Americans consider themselves "independents"; 34 percent Democrats; and 28 percent Republicans.
The two parties, however, make sure no one challenges their monopoly. I have written before about the Commission on Presidential Debates and its insistence that only candidates who enjoy at least 15-percent support in five national polls one week before the debates be allowed to take part in them. The polls are to be conducted by ABC/Washington Post; CBS/New York Times; NBC/Wall Street Journal; CNN/ USA Today/Gallup; and Fox News/ Opinion Dynamics?in other words, by the very organizations that employ Jacob Weisberg and the all-star pundits who, as we already know, have decided that no third-party candidate can possibly get 5 percent of the vote. Now, there is a clear conflict of interest here. The media organizations first marginalize a candidate by ignoring him. Then they run a poll, which confirms their judgment as to his viability. He is kept out of the debate, fails to reach a national audience and ends up with a derisory vote. Jake and his chums can then high-five each other in delight at their splendid clairvoyance. All the while, no one has the bad taste to point out the cozy relationship between the media corporations and the two main parties. The tens of millions that Gore and Bush blow this fall on campaign ads attacking each other will end up in the fat bank accounts of Disney, Time Warner, NewsCorp and General Electric.
Opinion polls are used by elites to control an obstreperous populace. Far from offering a sampling of public opinion on an issue or a candidate, the purpose of a poll is to coerce. People are to be whipped into line by the lure of safety in numbers. Why bother worrying about whom to vote for or what to think about an issue when the majority has already spoken? The candidate who is ahead is obviously the better man, just as the pol in single digits clearly deserves nothing better. Unpopular policies are rammed down a recalcitrant population's throat through tendentiously posed questions designed to yield the correct results. These are then relayed back to the public so as to silence the doubters. The outstanding example of the method was last year's bombing of Yugoslavia. Armed aggression against a sovereign country is never popular. In the middle of March, just a few days before the bombing, ABC News and The Washington Post posed the following question: "The United States has said it may bomb Serbia unless Serbia agrees to a peace plan for Kosovo. If Serbia does not agree to the peace plan, should the United States bomb Serbia, or not?" Sixty-two percent of respondents said "No"; 26 percent said "Yes." Clinton went ahead. Soon we were regaled with tales of an upsurge of enthusiasm for sending in the "ground troops."
The question ABC News and The Washington Post asked was carefully crafted to elicit precisely this response: "Suppose the bombing does not stop Serbia's military action in Kosovo. Would you support or oppose the United States and its European allies sending in ground troops to try to end the conflict in Kosovo?" Fifty-seven percent said they would support it; 39 percent said they would oppose it. Given the dishonesty of the premises of the question, it is surprising the majority was not even larger. On the other hand, when asked, "Please tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statement: It would be worth the loss of some American soldiers' lives if the United States could help bring peace to Kosovo," 45 percent said it would be worth it, while 52 percent said that it would not be worth it. In other words, the polls the hacks continually trumpet are meaningless, entirely a function of contrived questions.
The most outrageous case of a contrived question to yield a predetermined answer took place a few years ago. An opinion poll, conducted by the Roper Organization on behalf of the American Jewish Committee, allegedly found that 22 percent of Americans doubted that the Holocaust had taken place. There was much hysteria and anguished cries in the media about the supposed triumph of the Holocaust deniers. The trouble was that no one had bothered to look at the question that had elicited that 22 percent figure. It was so convoluted and confusing, it was surprising the figure was not even higher: "Does it seem possible or does it seem impossible to you that the Nazi extermination of the Jews never happened"?a question almost totally devoid of meaning. Gallup later reformulated the question and the 22 percent became a mere 1 percent.
If Buchanan and Nader are denied the right to take part in the presidential debates, then we can only hope that, for the sake of democracy, other countries impose sanctions on the United States.
Charles Glass The London Desk
Class Is Back Back in Blighty, after nearly a month away, to find the landscape changed. While in Newark airport waiting to leave, I read the British press and concluded all was as it had been when I'd departed. The earth-shattering news was that the Queen met her son's mistress. Big deal. Most mothers these days are pleased when their boys bring home any girl, however old and oft-married, so long as she's a girl and not a nice young man. That was the trivia-obsessed Britain I remembered. Why, I wonder, does the British public pay to read this crap? Most royal gossip is made up, and none of it is important. Murdoch and his colleagues have trebled their fortunes by letting their salesmen, I mean journalists, peddle regal rubbish.
Somehow, that changed. The country I landed in has been born anew. And the people we must thank are the very mothers whose boys run off with boys, or get divorced, or are tricked by Murdoch's hacks into buying drugs or are expelled from school. Ten thousand ferocious British matrons shouted the Murdoch press' darling, Prime Minister Tony Blair, off the stage at Wembley Arena just after I unpacked. The "little old ladies in tennis shoes" who campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 are reincarnated in the ranks of Britain's Women's Institute.
I'm not certain how to describe the Women's Institute, but it's a sort of senior Junior League. It was founded near the end of World War I to promote better conditions for women in work, among other causes. During World War II, they helped women to work in hospitals and other places where men were in short supply. My former mother-in-law, whose own son certainly worried her over the years until he found his niche as a comic novelist, joined the WI to nurse the wounded while her husband sailed away as a commander in the Royal Navy. Those women were, indeed are, tough. They're sometimes called the J&Js, for their jam-making and singing of "Jerusalem" at their formal gatherings. The Rylstone and District chapter published a charity calendar last year with photos of themselves in the nude. Some of them may have been 60, but they weren't bad. Their motto, "a modern voice for women," means their voices, not Tony Blair's.
Blair infuriated the WI ladies by inviting himself to their national conference in a north London soccer stadium, a popular venue for the Rolling Stones and that much-loved mother's boy Elton John. It was Tony's first public speech since the Blair Baby Project delivered his boy-child named Leo, the Lion. Blair entered the arena as an unarmed Christian before 10,000 growling lionesses. He ignored their prohibition against political advertisements. If he had a speechwriter, he'd fire him. Alas, they tell us Tony wrote this one himself. It detailed all the good he's done for the country. The matrons hissed. They howled. They clapped slowly, like grade school teachers slapping rulers in their hands before smacking a young boy. Tony, as incapable of ad-libbing as he is of defying Bill Clinton, was stunned.
The conservative Spectator's Conservative editor, Boris Johnson, exulted in The Daily Telegraph that the Wembley massacre was "the worst public relations disaster so far sustained by a government praised for its skill in PR." Blair handed his opponents the sword, as Richard Nixon used to say, and they're stabbing him with it. The Prime Minister first annoyed the ladies by patronizing them with cliches like "old British values" and "courtesy, giving up your seat for the elderly." He made the fatal error of reminding them that his Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, had condemned Oxford University. "On the debate about widening access to universities," he soothed, "let's hear no more rubbish about class war, as if we had to choose between caricatures of Little Lord Fauntleroy or Karl Marx." Oops.
Class war was exactly the specter Gordon Brown had raised in protesting that a state-educated young woman, Laura Spence, had failed to gain admission to study medicine at Oxford but been offered a place at Harvard. The WI was not ready to hear Blair repeat Brown's argument that children from private schools were over-represented at Britain's better universities. Even The Economist, entrenched in class conflict on the side of its well-heeled readers, noted, "Until this week it seemed possible to argue that in Tony Blair's Britain class had finally disappeared from the political agenda."
Class is back, but neither Blair nor Brown knows what to do with it. Blair went to private school and Oxford, unlike the state-school alumnus who heads the Conservative Party, William Hague. A think tank called the Sutton Trust reports that a private school pupil is 25 times more likely than one from a state school to go to Oxford, Cambridge and the rest of the better spots. That is no surprise in a country where the government spends about $150 per student each year to provide and maintain buildings and equipment to the private schools' $1200. State schools offer one teacher to 19 students versus one Mr. Chips per 12 children in the private sector. Private schools pay their teachers more money, and they usually have better facilities.
Blair and Brown blame snobbery for the fact that the 7 percent who are privately educated make up 53 percent of those at Oxford. Why go to the trouble of making the poor better off or improving the state education that 93 percent of British children endure? Why annoy the press barons with higher taxes to enable state schools to compete on a level playing field? New Labor, which now forces students to pay for the once-free British universities, calls it the Third Way: meaningless class rhetoric wrapped around Thatcherite degradation of state services. It worked, p.r.-wise, until the iron ladies of the WI noticed that this little Napoleon had no clothes.
It really is great to be back.