Justice for George Szamuely!

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:19

    FACE="New York" SIZE=6> Art Attack Mark my words. The brouhaha over "art" will play on long after this foul spectacle leaves Brooklyn's perfumed shores. The liberals of the media and Hillary's minions will make sure it does. Rudy has handed the left the opportunity to compare him with Hitler, and if anyone thinks his opponents will play fair, Bill Clinton is a war hero. Two years ago, Giuliani went on television and denounced a column I had written for the Spectator of London. It was a spoof on the Puerto Rican Day Parade, a narrative cartoon, a caricature of Puerto Ricans, and was not meant to be hate speech, as the Mayor labeled it. All hell broke loose, and even the Simon Wiesenthal group got involved, asking for my head, although Jewish people were not mentioned.

    The trouble is that Giuliani was right back then, just as he is right now to denounce taxpayer's money going to an exhibition that offends Catholics and will in the end benefit only Christie's and Charles Saatchi. The rug-wearing gossip slime that quoted from my spoof column made sure it appeared as a serious attack on the Puerto Rican community, so Giuliani really had no choice. Had I known that the column would be quoted in New York, and that it would be taken seriously, I certainly would not have written it. The most painful letter I had to answer was from a Puerto Rican officer who had won every decoration our nation has to offer in the field of battle. But no sooner had I told him it was a spoof than he told me not to worry. Ditto with the rest of my Puerto Rican friends and employees.

    Mind you, I didn't hear a word about my First Amendment rights from Norman Siegel and the rest of the busybodies from the ACLU. When there's a devout (however sinful) Christian involved, and a conservative Republican to boot, their silence is deafening.

    Which brings me to the point I wish to make: Catholic-bashing is now as acceptable as, say, anti-Semitism was in Germany circa 1933. The great Hilton Kramer, who knows as much about art as the Clintons know about lying, said as much in his New York Observer column last week. Jack Newfield, the Post columnist, was right when he asked what the reaction would be if a painting depicted Anne Frank copulating with Eichmann. I ask what the reaction would be if someone exhibited a Piss Menorah, as opposed to Serrano's Piss Christ, a photograph of the latter being exhibited, as I write, in the Whitney.

    When an "artist" during the 80s painted a portrait of Chicago's late mayor, Harold Washington, in bra and panties, there was an uproar because it was seen as an insult to the black community. The portrait was withdrawn from the Art Institute of Chicago. If militant gays invaded orthodox synagogues the way they periodically invade St. Patrick's, they would more than likely get castrated on the spot. Ditto if they tried anything like it in some New York mosque.

    Television and the movies are even worse. In West Wing (I do not watch such crap, but read it in National Review), the three types of zealots depicted are Christian conservatives, who are the dumb, the extremely bigoted and the half-wittedly naive. In fact, when was the last time you saw the Christian religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular shown in a positive light on the screen? (I imagine while watching golden oldies on AMC.)

    At the recent Fort Worth massacre, real life imitated art and the victims were all devout Christians. Did The New York Times scream "hate crime"? Of course not. The cultural despisers of the church have always had double standards. Just imagine the following: A Libyan Catholic who made his fortune in Britain puts together an exhibition in a New York tax-supported museum whose chairman is Pat O'Reilly and its director Mike Flanagan. The exhibition is made up of works that are not only trite and utterly lacking in skill or craft, but show Jewish and Muslim religious symbols covered in shit and vaginas. Would the grotesque Cynthia Ozick, so obsessive in Jewish matters and so ready to see anti-Semitism everywhere, sign a petition in its favor? Would Al Sharpton take it as calmly as he accepted the fact that innocent people lost their lives after blacks burned down a Jewish-owned shop? Would the imbecilic Susan Sarandon strut her stuff in front of that particular museum?

    If the answer is yes, I will show you the Congressional Medal of Honor Bill Clinton was awarded for gallantry in Vietnam. Charles Saatchi, an Iraqi Jew who made his fortune in Britain and holds a British passport, has sent such an exhibition over here, with a slight difference, of course. As Hilton Kramer wrote, Saatchi buys and sells art futures the way other traders buy and sell pork bellies. He knows how to play the media with his shock pseudo "art." He has picked the untalented Ofili because he knew exactly the kind of reaction he would get through the latter's blasphemy. Saatchi, Robert Rubin and Arnold Lehman are nasty people who are doing it for the money. Saatchi's collection is now famous and has gone up tremendously in value. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

    Although I'm Christian, I do not truly believe in turning the other cheek. Not when I've been getting slapped nonstop by hucksters like Saatchi. The WASPs are too dumb, too drunk and much too cowardly to do anything about their religious symbols being insulted. It is up to the Catholics to do something about it, just like the Jews do and the Muslims. Saatchi has a grand house in St. Leonard's Terrace, in London. Had he owned a picture that depicted the Prophet Mohammad covered in shit and vaginas, I would right this minute be bidding for his house. He would be in hiding and selling it in a fire sale. How about some nice Irish cop giving him a bit of Salman Rushdie medicine?

    But maybe it will be the Muslims who will come to our rescue after all. The Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus, a great prophet in Islam. I want to see a fatwa against these slimeballs, and I want to see it soon. In the meantime, Giuliani is a Hitler who tried to suppress art, and Hillary's people in the media will remind us of it until November 2000.

      Toby Young ARRIVISTE By George! I was having dinner in a vegetarian restaurant in the East Village when the news reached me that my "Top Drawer" colleague George Szamuely was in jail. Sam Schulman called me on my cellphone and from what I could gather?it was a bad connection?George had been arrested for the illegal possession of "five Hungarian livestock books." I almost choked on my nut cutlet. My first thought was that the police had ransacked his world-class collection of pornography and discovered the illustrated Victorian monographs on bestiality. If the NYPD vice squad had set eyes on those abominations, I could quite understand why he'd been arrested. Indeed, it was my acquaintance with these well-thumbed monographs that had led me to become a vegetarian in the first place. As far as I could recall, though, there had been considerably more than just five of them. More like 50. The mystery deepened over the next few hours as snippets of news began to trickle in. Taki rang to say that George had been arrested at 2 o'clock in the morning in, of all places, his gym. "If I'd known the bastard could afford to join a gym, I wouldn't have paid him so much," griped the richest man in Greece. Taki added that it looked as though he was going to be charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property. That was odd. George swore the monographs had been left to him by his great-grandfather?their author, in fact?who was a wealthy Hungarian pig breeder.

    The following morning all became clear when I opened that day's Times. It wasn't "five Hungarian livestock books" he'd been caught with, but five hundred library books. "A 44-year-old former New York University student was arrested...after he refused to return more than 500 overdue books to the campus libraries, despite dozens of calls and letters," reported the Times. Apparently, George had checked the books out over the course of several months while he was a continuing education student four years ago and never bothered to take them back. According to John Beckman, a spokesman for NYU, George owed $31,000 in fines.

    So that was it. Poor old George. Being arrested for failing to return some library books seems a little harsh, even if there were more than 500 of them. Who among us hasn't been guilty of this crime? The English playwright Joe Orton and his homosexual lover were jailed for several months for defacing library books, but that was an altogether more serious offense. This is reminiscent of that Seinfeld episode in which Jerry is hunted down by the library cop for failing to return a book from nearly two decades earlier. "I think the message here is: Do not mess around with the NYU library," John Beckman bragged to the Daily News. (Who is this guy? Is he hoping for a job in the Mayor's office?)

    George's defense?that's George Szamuely, not Costanza?is that he was intending to return the books, it was just that NYU had imposed such a ludicrously high fine he was afraid to set foot on campus. He swears he was about to enter in negotiations with John "library cop" Beckman to see if they could reach a settlement. When the police searched his apartment on the Lower East Side they discovered the books?there were 570 in all?in 29 carrier bags. This suggests he was planning to take them back, even if he hadn't quite got round to it yet.

    It's not easy to assess the impact of this news on George's career as a political commentator. According to NYU, the 570 titles in question make up the core of its political science books. Judging from his columns in "Taki's Top Drawer," I'd have to say that the accumulated wisdom of 2500 years of political thought is not something George relies on very often in formulating his views.

    A more relevant concern is the impact George's political writings will have on his career as a jailbird if, God forbid, he goes to prison. Most of his energy has been devoted to attacking America's opposition to Serbian ethnic cleansing. I imagine that defending Milosevic's persecution of the Albanian Muslims won't go down too well with the Rikers Island chapter of the Nation of Islam.

    I initially thought he could take some comfort from the fact that his columns aren't very widely read, but apparently that's not the case. According to the Daily News, NYU's army of librarians spend all their spare time combing the pages of the NYPress looking for George's byline. "An NYU library official said Szamuely's visibility at the paper served only to taunt librarians, who considered him 'public enemy No. 1,'" reported the News. The article went on to quote Albert Neal, head of access services at NYU's Bobst Library, who summed up the librarians' frustration. "Why can't they find this guy?" he complained. "He's writing for the New York Press!"

    I must say, I do feel badly for George. In a sense it's worse to be busted for an essentially comic crime than it is for a serious one. A few years ago, the wife of a friend of mine left him for another woman and, to begin with, I thought that wasn't as bad as if she'd left him for another man. After all, she was giving up on the entire male gender, not just him personally. However, the comic aspect of my friend's predicament meant people weren't as sympathetic toward him as they should have been; in addition to losing his wife, he became a figure of fun. In the end, it would have been better if she'd left him for a man.

    Similarly, the fact that George's crime is failing to return 570 library books means his friends have an excuse for not taking his plight too seriously; because it's such a funny story, we're released from the obligation to feel sorry for him. But from George's point of view the situation he's in is a terrible, Kafkaesque nightmare. Poor, poor George. I promise not to laugh about this anymore.


    George Szamuely THE BUNKER Oz The American prisoner population?as I have had occasion to reflect on the matter this week?is rising spectacularly. This is not so surprising. Incarceration is a vital ingredient of American-style capitalism. While Washington pundits and editorial writers high-five one another about America's apparently unstoppable economy, prisoner numbers increase at an annual rate of more than 6 percent. In 1996 the U.S. prison population was more than 1.6 million. In 1975 it had only been 380,000. In other words, in 20 years America's prisoner population had quadrupled. In 1996, moreover, 3.9 million people were on parole or probation. This means that 5.5 million Americans were in prison or within the prison system. In mid 1998 the United States had 668 detainees per 100,000 citizens?a rate between six and 10 times higher than that in the countries of the European Union. The other day The Washington Post ran the standard story about the European economy. There was the usual head-shaking about Europe's high unemployment rate and the lack of something called "labor flexibility." Unemployment was 9.1 percent, the reporter bemoaned, as against America's glorious 4.3 percent. European workers are too cosseted and overpaid: "Measures originally intended to shelter workers from the pain of layoffs have had the reverse effect of discouraging companies from hiring people." (I don't know why newspapers bother to hire reporters anymore. They can as easily get their copy from the corporation press office.)

    Suppose, however, that to the American 4.3 percent unemployed you add the nation's prisoner population. Suddenly, the number of people not in gainful employment in the United States approaches European levels. If, in addition, you take into consideration the vast number of people employed administering this gigantic correctional apparatus, then the dark side of the so-called "Goldilocks" economy becomes apparent.

    "Flexible" labor markets produce an awful lot of losers. Such losers have to be accommodated somehow. They can be placed on welfare rolls (the fate in store for women) or they can be shoved into prisons (the fate of men). In the meantime, the downwardly mobile are taught to accept their lot since they know where the bottom rung of the ladder is.

    Who benefits from "flexible" labor markets? Certainly it is not American workers. They are doing much worse than workers in Europe or Japan. Recently, the International Labor Organization published a report arguing that "U.S. workers put in the longest hours on the job in industrialized nations, clocking up?the equivalent of almost two working weeks more than their counterparts in Japan where annual hours worked have been gradually declining since 1980." It turns out that in the United States the annual hours worked per person increased by 4 percent from 1980 to 1997. European workers, on the other hand, are progressively working fewer hours. U.S. workers put in an average of 2000 hours per person in 1997; French workers put in 1656 hours; German workers put in 1560 hours.

    Not only do American workers work longer hours than their counterparts in Europe and Japan, they are paid less. From 1979 to 1993 the American net wage fell from $500 to $479 a week. In 1975 the hourly compensation cost of a U.S. worker in the manufacturing industry was $6.36 an hour; for a German worker it was $6.31 an hour; for an EU worker $5.03 an hour; for a Japanese worker $3 an hour. By 1997 the respective situations were very different. American workers were paid $18.24 an hour; German workers $28.28 an hour; EU workers $20.24 an hour; and Japanese workers $19.37 an hour.

    As for the unemployed, it is clearly far better to be out of work in Europe and enjoying generous welfare payments and medical coverage than being employed and making starvation wages in America.

    Still, if "flexible" labor markets are doing little for American workers, they are working wonders for the take-home pay of U.S. corporate chiefs. In 1996 their average pay was $5.8 million (including retirement benefits, stock-option gains and so on). This was an increase of 54 percent over the previous year.

    Some years ago, in The Revolt of the Elites, the late Christopher Lasch argued?or I think he did; I don't have the book at hand?that America's elite had opted out of America. Through its cultural tastes, exorbitant incomes and political attitudes, it has effectively ceased to belong to America. When it bothers to think about America at all, it is only to berate fellow countrymen for their unenlightened attitudes. The American people are racist, homophobic, devoutly religious, hold retrograde views on art and smoke too much.

    If Lasch was right, then America's elite is extraordinarily ungrateful. For there has scarcely ever been an elite that was as fortunate as America's in having such a subservient populace under it. Mainstream America is amazingly content with its lot. It would be inconceivable for Europeans to accept a system that rewards a tiny minority so handsomely while forcing everyone else every year to work harder and earn less.

    America's elite has perfected a system to make sure the American people stay in line. The more they are encouraged to abandon their traditions, tastes, prejudices and lifestyles, the more pliant they become with regard to the requirements of the economic system. They are ready to work anywhere, do anything and take as little pay as possible.

    In the meantime, America's elite embraces the ideology of free trade with almost religious fervor. It serves its interests very nicely. Corporations can switch their operations around the world. Goods from the supposedly "uncompetitive" Europeans and the imitative Japanese pour in and wipe out America's industries. Normally, this would cause unemployment. It would do so in the United States too, were there not a mechanism in place to take care of it. High immigration levels help drive wages down. "Flexible" labor markets instill in workers a permanent fear of unemployment. High rates of incarceration make sure that the system's losers are kept out of sight and the downwardly mobile are more than happy to take whatever miserable jobs they are offered.

    The trade deficit is also taken care of. As everyone knows, the net outflow of capital must always equal net the inflow of capital. What America loses through wrecked industries is "paid" for by the capital that pours in every year buying up Treasury bonds as well as company stocks. Hence, the apparent paradox: U.S. companies move out while Wall Street is perpetually booming.

    Europe's elite looks with envy at its American counterparts. For years Europe's employers have been trying to get workers to swallow their bitter medicine as uncomplainingly as the Americans. First Chancellor Kohl tried to force German workers to accept cuts in pensions, vacation time and health benefits. He was swiftly ejected from office. Now it is Chancellor Schroeder's turn to take up the cause of "flexible" labor markets. He will be ousted even faster than his predecessor was. Unlike the workers of America, those of Germany do not seem to want a perpetually deteriorating way of life. They are unable to see the necessity of mass firings that serve no other purpose than to improve a company's balance sheet and thereby raise the value of its stock. They get very unhappy when high immigration levels keep pay down. In other words, they want no part of an economic system whose raison d'etre is that people must sacrifice themselves for the sake of its smooth functioning.

    Europe may not have America's low unemployment rate. Neither does it have a miserable mass streaming in and out prison cells or welfare centers, and an even bigger mass terrified that that is where they are going to end up.

    Sam Schulman HAMLET Blockbuster W Oh dear. I hoped it wouldn't come to this. But either Maureen Dowd is getting more and more peculiar, or I am. Last week she sniggered through an entire column ("Cultural Drifter") at George W. Bush's lack of interest in culture. She described a man who was utterly ridiculous in every possible way (while at the same time missing a couple of his jokes entirely). Why? W isn't fond of seeing movies at the Austin multiplex, would rather rent them. He hasn't recently found an actress more attractive than Julie Christie (sorry, Sandra Bullock!). He dislikes primetime television (alas, no Friends). He prefers reading history to Salman Rushdie. Dowd concludes in exasperation: "The Governor's perfect day would include running, fishing and watching sports on TV, followed by dinner with friends with Van Morrison playing in the background. Then, bed by 10. Is this a great country or what?" I read her piece with mounting panic, because, with the glaring exception of Van Morrison, this seems to me like rather a pleasant and harmless way to spend a day. Once upon a time, a cultivated person might call someone like W a philistine because he doesn't (as he admits) like opera or frequent the ballet. But to Dowd, W is a philistine because he's not a philistine. He seems not to have a taste for trash. This deficiency makes him so far out that further comment is unnecessary?all she needs to do is list his pop-culture solecisms.

    Dowd is tough, but I've faced her like before. The trouble is that it was so long before. In 1958, I was in the advanced group of math students in our third-grade class, doing the sixes multiplication table. "Six times six?" Miss Pliss asked. A little hand shot up, and Stuart Meiklejohn, now chairman of the Legal Aid Society and partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, barked in his incredibly rapid way: "Six times six is 36, and," looking right at me, "anyone who doesn't know that shouldn't be in Group 3 Arithmetic." I didn't know about 36, really, and Meiklejohn knew I didn't know it. (Better to have him on your side. Hire him if you want to make an adversary squirm. His number is 558-4000.)

    In exactly the same way, Dowd caught George W. not really knowing how to pronounce John LeCarré's name. And in exactly the same way she rules him unfit for high office. Dowd identifies herself with the counterculture, but she's really a 1950s-style enforcer of shared values. Only the values have changed. Now instead of "togetherness" or Americanism or maturity, the age demands a pointless familiarity with pop culture. If you don't know the little others know, if you don't conform to what Hollywood sends down the distribution pipelines, heaven help you. You'll be sniggered at like they snigger at W and, I now find, at me.

    Dowd sniffs that when George W. was "at Yale in the 60's, he did not share the musical tastes of the counterculture." No, because when he was at Yale in the 1960s, the 1960s you admire hadn't happened. There was no counterculture?only a rigid code of conduct enforced by people I remember being remarkably unpleasant. I was a freshman in high school when W was a freshman in college. Every day when I entered the building I had to pass a group of boys in the hallway who looked me over. "Hey Schulman?look down. One of your socks is inside out!" "Your belt is brown and buff and your sweater is blue!" "Those loafers aren't Bass Weejuns!"

    The real 1960s came later. Only by the time I was a senior in 1967 had the great transformation occurred. Fraternity boys then would humbly seek my advice: "I have a date with Marilyn Kutzen [prominent cheerleader]. Quick, man?tell me what Kafka story should I tell her I'm reading, 'Metamorphosis'?" "Oh no, too obvious. Try 'The Hunger Artist.' And Barry, make sure you quote the title to her in German." "Thanks, man. Love the holes in your jeans."

    Dowd imagines herself a creature of 1967, but really she is of 1963 and before. With her cultural Podsnappery, she'd have fit in beautifully. Her idea of what culture should express is as fixed and rigid as Podsnap's was. There's a distinction between superior taste and human superiority. Remember Auden's warning to those who fix on sentimental trivialities as a way of estimating others. Auden was talking of dog-lovers: liking dogs is a nice trait, but doesn't ensure that you are a good person. It applies just as well to us weirdos who prefer Julie Christie to Julia Roberts and who hate going to the local multiplex:

    Some great men,

    Goethe and Lear, for instance, have disliked [dogs],

    which seems eccentric, but good people

    if they keep one, have good dogs. (The reverse

    is not so, for some very bad hats

    handle [dogs] very well.)

    ?"Talking to Dogs"

    The only good thing about the late 60s was that it ended, I thought forever, the era of smug conformism in cultural matters that preceded it. Obviously it has never really left. You don't have to wear a poodle skirt to be a philistine.


    Charles Glass THE LONDON DESK Blue Law Nostalgia I miss Sundays, vanished temporal oases of rest and public tranquillity. London streets used to be quiet and the air clear on the Lord's Day. No one was driving a car. There wasn't much to drive to, because it was illegal to open shops that sold anything other than medicine, milk and newspapers. That's all changed. The stupid thing is, I used to be in favor of Sunday opening. A California libertarian, I doubted the state's right to tell a shopkeeper when he could do business. Well, Parliament went my way a few years ago and, brother, was I wrong. Not only is Sunday as noisy and filthy as every other day, but the small shopkeepers whose rights I thought the state should respect are going bankrupt. International chains can easily pay the higher rents charged by landlords who rent for seven-day-a-week incomes. They can also force their employees to work on Sundays. People who own and operate their own businesses need a day off.

    The churches, often the last bulwark of reaction, resisted the change. The Conservatives, under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, treated the churches with the arrogant contempt of autocrats who believed they would rule forever. The bishops had already blotted their copybooks with the Conservatives by pleading for help for the poor. The Conservatives began by letting pubs open all day, every day, no bad idea. Next, they permitted big businesses to gouge the public seven days a week.

    In the old days, if Sundays had been tumultuous, you could retreat from the streets into a good Sunday newspaper. The Sunday paper in Britain was never just the first daily of the week. It was a separate institution with its own editor and staff. Britain had no seven-day papers, as in the U.S. David Astor, once editor of Britain's oldest Sunday, The Observer, said he published everything about a subject that an intelligent man or woman could discover in a week.

    My first job in Britain?after an excruciatingly dull two weeks as a subeditor at Reuters?was with The Observer in 1977. It was near the end of the great competition between two rival Sundays, The Observer and the larger circulation Sunday Times. Under the proprietor Lord Thomson and editor Harold Evans, the Sunday Times' Insight Team was pioneering British investigative journalism. Its reporters went all over the world to cover wars and spy scandals. It published, as The Observer had before it, the war photography of Don McCullin and Philip Jones Griffiths. The Observer never had as much money, but it had better writers and more eccentricity. (Last week, I went to a reunion lunch of FOBS, Friends of The Observer, in Fleet Street. Among the pantheon of great journalists, there was no "style" writer or Hello! photographer in sight.)

    The competition was good for both papers. Then the era ended when Rupert Murdoch bought the Sunday Times. Murdoch's editors' conception of an investigation, in contrast to Harry Evans' exposures of public officials' misdeeds, was to persuade someone to buy or sell sex or drugs. The Sunday Times' sister Sunday, The News of the World, perfected the art of destroying innocent people. Setups and a generous serving of female breasts make it the country's best-selling Sunday tabloid.

    The News of the Screws, as Private Eye calls it, went after our parish priest a few years ago. Father Michael Hollings had opened the doors of his church, St. Mary of the Angels in Notting Hill, to the poor and homeless. He served them Christmas lunch in the church hall and gave them somewhere to sleep. His parishioners loved this pious and ascetic septuagenarian, who, as a former Coldstream Guards officer and Oxford chaplain, could have sought preferment among the hierarchy rather than the poor.

    Murdoch's hacks went after him, sending a man around to claim Fr. Michael had molested him years before. The transcript of the encounter, recorded on a hidden tape supplied by the Murdo-hacks, showed Fr. Michael as a baffled old man concerned for the welfare of his antagonist. While sympathetic, Fr. Michael appears not to remember that anything ever happened. The News of the Screws interpreted the priest's confusion as confession and destroyed his reputation on its front pages. The Archdiocese of Westminster relieved Fr. Michael of his duties, pending a church inquiry. Denied access to his parish, Fr. Michael began a slow decline.

    The church's final report cleared him of wrongdoing months later, and he returned to our church. At his first Mass, the whole parish cheered aloud, more like Holy Rollers than Catholics. It wasn't long after that he died. The Catholic Church meanwhile awarded Rupert Murdoch a papal knighthood. Cardinal Roger Mahony, in his avaricious quest for millions with which to finance his unwanted new cathedral in Los Angeles, pushed for the honor. Had he spoken to Cardinal Hume in London about Murdoch's record in England, he might have been too embarrassed to take Rupert's money and make him an ecclesiastical chevalier.

    Then again, maybe not. John Gregory Dunne, where are you? The L.A. archdiocese is worse than it was when you wrote True Confessions.

    A jury at London's Blackfriars Crown Court recently gained an insight into Murdoch's investigative methods, during the trial of a young man The News of the World had accused of selling cocaine. The paper's star "investigative" editor, Mazher Mahmood, had gone undercover as an Arab sheik who wanted to buy motorcycles. Mahmood and his accomplice made it clear to the vendor, an impoverished young peer named Joe Hardwicke, that they would be more likely to buy the motorcycles if they were given some cocaine. There aren't many London men in their 20s who can't find cocaine, and Joe stupidly supplied it to them. He had never before sold drugs to anyone, nor had he been accused of it. (Let me declare an interest: he is a friend of mine. I've known his family for years, and the only thing that he inherited when his father died was a title, Earl of Hardwicke. He has to work for a living, but the title was enough to put the Murdoch hounds on his scent.)

    In the U.S., persuading someone to supply drugs is called entrapment. In Britain, apparently, it isn't. Hardwicke's lawyer, Alun Jones, QC, cross-examined Mahmood, who came to court with a driver and bodyguard. Mahmood admitted that he put cocaine purchases on his expenses. Jones asked, "Does Mr. Murdoch approve of this activity?"

    Mahmood: He obviously does, yes?

    Jones: For you to go out and?

    Mahmood: To buy cocaine.

    Jones: ?spend money to buy cocaine?

    Mahmood: That's correct, sure.

    Jones: That's the approved policy of the Murdoch press?

    Mahmood: That's correct. Absolutely.

    Judge Timothy Pontius instructed the jurors to ignore the way in which Hardwicke had been persuaded to supply cocaine, but they took seven hours to reach their verdict. They found him guilty, but?and this is rare in British courts?sent a note to the judge. But for the judge's instruction, they would have found him not guilty, writing that Hardwicke had acted under "extreme provocation" and that they disapproved of the methods the self-styled journalists had employed. Judge Pontius suspended a two-year sentence and denounced Murdoch's minions from the bench.

    Little wonder that Home Secretary Jack Straw wants to do away with juries, who are chosen at random rather than from among the ranks of Labor Party donors. Labor must be working overtime these days, even on Sundays. The government, European Union figures have just revealed, found time to approve 10,300 licenses to export arms in 1998, the first full year of the Labor government and its "ethical foreign policy." Someone at the Ministry of Defense has been busy, processing far more weapons sales than the number of approvals for asylum by refugees fleeing the regimes who use those weapons on them.

    Britain's overworked civil servants approved sales to Indonesia, as Indonesian troops were massacring East Timorese. They stamped contracts for arms to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Mexico, etc. None of these countries is at war. Their soldiers and policemen, who fire weapons only at their own citizens, don't seem to take Sundays off either. I wish someone would.

      Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST True Lies I am not a regular reader of the National Enquirer, but I have always thought that this supermarket tabloid did a rather good job of presenting life's rich pageant. Its stories about UFOs, three-headed babies and Elvis sightings were always distinguished by a lambent flicker of fanciful humor. So I was not at all glad to hear that the Enquirer's new owners, Evercore Capital Partners, have announced that henceforth the paper will eschew such outlandish fare and strive to print only the truth. "In a year's time I want people to think of the National Enquirer as a credible newspaper and a credible news-gathering force where everything you read is absolutely true," declares David Pecker, who is now directing changes at the tabloid. The damage to the Enquirer from this new policy of slavishly adhering to the truth is already apparent. Since last February, when the tabloid changed ownership, I have been finding very few stories in it that are of much interest. It was amusing, I admit, to read about a wedding in which the bride was missing the entire lower half of her body and walked up the aisle on her hands with the garter under her sleeve. It also gave me some pleasure to be informed that, during a food fight on a movie set, the actor Ben Affleck slipped on some mashed potatoes, hit his head on the edge of a table and was knocked senseless. And the coverage of Pamela Anderson having her 36DD breast implants removed (returning her to a 36C) was gripping, even if it took the Star to report the probable reason for Miss Anderson's mammary reduction: the 1-1/2 pound silicone sacs in her breasts were causing her back pain.

    In last week's issue of the Enquirer, however, the pickings were slim indeed. The cover story was certainly a great disappointment. "TRAVOLTA SHOCKER: THE GAY CHARGES & THE TRUTH ABOUT HIS MARRIAGE" blazoned the headline promisingly. But the "truth" reported inside the paper was not very shocking. "John's a dynamite lover," Travolta's wife Kelly Preston is quoted (by a "source") as saying. "It just makes me sick that I have to defend the reputation of a wonderful guy who's all man?a superstud, in fact! We've made love in John's plane at 30,000 feet many times. That's the advantage of having your own jet. We've made love on Caribbean island beaches, in the ruins of a Scottish castle, even in the jungles of the Yucatan."

    The only even mildly shocking thing in this particular issue of the Enquirer was a series of photographs of Richard Gere. In them, the actor and Tibetan Buddhist is seen using the oar of his rowboat to fend off some killer swans in the Central Park pond. "They scared Richard," a source said of the swans. "They made a tremendous racket and caught him off guard."

    If the new, Peckerized Enquirer persists in this dull practice of printing only verifiable stories, it will not be the first magazine to sacrifice entertainment on the altar of truth. The New Republic has done the same thing over the last couple of years. Back in the 80s, under its brilliant editor Michael Kinsley, The New Republic thumbed its nose at the American journalistic institution of "factchecking." When Andrew Sullivan took over the magazine in the 90s, he continued this happy tradition. Authors were encouraged to indulge in flights of fancy, where appropriate. Once, when I was writing a cover story for The New Republic on the subject of sleep, I mentioned to Andrew that at a dinner party I had been to recently someone had claimed that there was a man in Cuba who never slept at all. "Put it in!" he replied without hesitation. A year or two later the magazine appeared to reverse this enlightened policy by hiring a "factchecker," but this person's real job, they told me, was to keep an eye on Ruth Shalit to make sure that she didn't plagiarize any more.

    Then Stephen Glass came along. By making up one story after another out of whole cloth, this callow New Republic reporter made it inevitable that he would eventually be detected and disgraced. In doing so, he poisoned the well for the rest of us. No longer could one get away with embellishing an essentially truthful story with delightful but not necessarily verifiable bits of fancy. Everything had to be in lockstep correspondence with empirical reality?a stern corps of factcheckers would see to that. No wonder The New Republic became such a bore under its recently deposed editor Charles Lane.

    The only journalists in this country who get to make things up anymore are the foreign correspondents, and even they have got so lazy that they would rather lift their stories wholesale from the American papers than go through the fatiguing effort of inven