A Dressing Down Francis Ward, a reader from California, writes in to complain about corporate casual, and how the current crop of catalogs carries models who wear dress shirts without ties, sportcoats with t-shirts, while people who value elegance are often referred to derisively as "suits."
So what else is new, Francis? Only last week, the venerable old firm of Lazard Freres, a European institution that should know better, lowered its standards and threw out the old club tie on Fridays. It's a disgrace, and my old friend Michel David-Weill, the chairman, should be forced to stand against the wall in silence for at least five corporate luncheons. (Thank God that dreadful social climber and vulgarian Steven Rattner, a friend of the unspeakable Sulzberger Jr. and scumbag Clinton, has been forced, some say, to leave Lazard; the idea of Rattner in casual clothes can drive a sensitive soul like myself to drink.)
The newest assault on the business suit that is sweeping through the city's investment banks is a reflection of today's slob culture, no ifs or buts about it. Just as familiarity breeds contempt, informality generates disrespect. Can any of you imagine FDR, or JFK for that matter, in a tracksuit? Teddy Roosevelt dressed in blue jeans? Abe Lincoln in Bermuda shorts? Or the Queen of England in a dressing gown meeting Tony Blair and telling him to call her Liz? Wearing casual clothes in a formal setting shows only disrespect. Or showing off one's socialist credentials. The grotesque David Geffen sports t-shirts and sneakers at formal dinners, as if we didn't already know he's a slob par excellence, however rich he may be. It's the eagerness to play slob that gets me. As if we didn't have enough sloppiness already. Airports nowadays resemble locker rooms, with grotesquely overweight people waddling in their tracksuits and enormous sneakers.
When I first flew across the Atlantic in 1948, we had beds in first class and everyone was dressed to the nines. In fact, I don't think they would have allowed anyone dressed in a tracksuit to board. Crossing on a ship meant black tie every night (except on Saturday evening or the night before arrival). Then came the peanut farmer, who addressed the people on the idiot box wearing a sweater and jeans. Jimmy Carter was a disaster, both sartorially and as a president.
Popular culture teaches us that fashion should be liberating. It is a clumsy argument made by philistines who possess the sensibilities of a Stalinist bureaucrat.
High glamour once ruled Hollywood during its golden age. Back then actors spoke wonderful English with contrived upper-class English accents. The old Central European Jews who controlled Hollywood insisted on it. Today's generation thinks that there's more money to be made by dumbing down. It is the age of the common man, after all.
Well, yes and no. The shabbiness of the modern male comes at the expense of a society unashamed of its vices. The arrogant disdain shown by the phony hippie movement of the 60s was matched only by their selfishness and greed. Geffen's sleaziness may be in vogue, but look what the likes of him have done to civility and common courtesy. I shall never forget seeing Gary Cooper walking down 5th Ave., a sartorial triumph, and with excellent manners to match. Ditto Tyrone Power, whom I once visited in his dressing room, invited by his ex-wife, Linda Christian. Both men were American aristocrats, in the good and true sense of the word. Smart dress, remember, has nothing to do with class. It has to do with pride and a sense of achievement.
Twenty-five years after meeting the great Ty, I dined with Jodie Foster and a Yale classmate of hers in London. Afterward we went to Annabel's, the most elegant nightclub in Europe. "Do you mind if I tell a friend to join us?" asked the divine Jodie. Affirmative until the friend reached the portals. He was very short, very good-looking and wearing cowboy boots and a t-shirt. An apoplectic Ted at the door came looking for me. "Mr. Cruise is outside but there is no question of letting him through..." I went to the door with Jodie and there was the then-unknown Tom Cruise wondering why he was persona non grata. He then asked if he could go to my house to borrow a suit. If he were a poor soul I would most certainly have said yes. But I loathe actors, especially slob actors, and refused his request with relish. (Jodie thought I was a fascist, and she wasn't far wrong.)
Nobody put it better than Mark Twain: "Clothes make the man," said the Mississippi sage. I could go on and on. Casual dress has its time and place, but it has also shown itself to be one of the great threats to good order and decorum. Those grotesque hippies amongst whom Bill Clinton hid from the draft not only lacked social graces, they were also damn casual. And wrong about everything. Gen. Pinochet, on the other hand, is the sharpest of dressers. Pinochet saved Chile from Allende's tyranny and went on to build the Chilean economic miracle while wearing that beautiful white military uniform of his, with those flared breeches and boots. Fidel Castro, a slob dresser in fatigues, has ruined his country, imprisoned most of his fellow Cubans and ended up being loved by Hollywood types.
See what I mean about elegance? The English philosopher Roger Scruton once wrote that "the principal damage done by liberalism?has come from the relentless scoffing at ordinary prohibitions and decencies." Fred Astaire, where are you now that we really need you?
George Szamuely The Bunker
Communicating Power It was hilarious to witness the widespread horror at Time Warner's decision last week to keep ABC's channels off its cable systems. "[T]he shutdown of any major news outlet is a kick in the head to the public interest," thundered William Safire. A powerful corporation throwing its weight around? What a horrifying notion!
The dispute had started with Disney trying to shake down Time Warner, demanding that the cable company provide the Disney Channel as a basic rather than a premium service. In addition, Time Warner should pay more to carry ESPN. And to top it off Time Warner should either carry two new Disney channels (Toon Disney and Soap Network) or pay for the ABC stations that it currently carries for free. A lot of haggling ensued until Time Warner finally got fed up and pulled the plug.
Happily, the republic survived. If you wanted to, you could still watch ABC. All you had to do was disconnect the cable. Moreover, as an article in Slate pointed out, while cable companies "have considerable power locally?nationally, there are many significant players. No single cable system controls what most Americans can or cannot see? Who Wants To Be a Millionaire posted pretty respectable numbers on Monday night despite the several-city blackout." Yet who cares? America's networks are virtually indistinguishable from one another. CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox?it's the same mindless entertainment and spoon-fed "news" to fill space between ads. A "market-driven TV system that delivers an unbelievable array of entertainment at affordable rates"?in the breathless words of a Washington Post editorial writer. Even editorial writers are now in the marketing business.
When Time Warner and America Online announced their proposed merger a few months ago the hacks could barely contain their joy. Time Warner would get access to the Web?now almost totally dedicated to the important business of buying and selling, rather than information and research. And AOL would get access to Time Warner's high-speed cables to make Internet usage really fast. And there was lot of inane futuristic?and pointless?guff about film, tv shows, videos and whatnot becoming available on the computer screen.
The one thing that was not discussed is who would control the Internet. Government regularly censors cable television. It would surely do the same to Internet content going through cable. As a matter of fact, government is not necessary: Internet content producers will have to shell out big bucks to get access to the high-speed cables. Those unable to come up with the money will inevitably be marginalized. Moreover, even those with money will find themselves subjected to careful supervision by AOL. As explained in AOL's Terms of Service: "[O]ur content partners are expected to ensure that their content on the service reflects our community standards. We reserve the right to remove content that does not meet those standards? In most places on AOL, vulgar language or sexually explicit conduct are no more appropriate online than they would be at Thanksgiving dinner? If you see it, report it.. Hate speech is never allowed."
What is particularly irksome about these strictures is the suggestion that the Internet somehow "belongs" to the Internet providers. Internet providers like AOL provide nothing. They are in fact parasites. Contrary to conservative fantasies about America's computer industry being a vindication of entrepreneurial capitalism, the Internet was the creation of the U.S. government?the Pentagon. Just as AOL is largely about buying and selling wares, so its politics are shaped by its desire to turn everyone in the world into an online consumer.
Naturally, AOL embraces the globalism of our ruling elite. Currently, the government is preparing to intervene in Colombia on the pretext of fighting drugs. One of the leading cheerleaders will be AOL. In March, Jim Kimsey, chairman emeritus of AOL, went down to Colombia and met Manuel Marulanda, founder of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). "He understands?that foreign investment is critical to the prosperity of this country and I think is willing to negotiate and to discuss possible solutions that will move this country into the 21st century," Kimsey cooed after the meeting.
Recently, AOL and Venezuela's Cisneros Group created a joint venture to make sure that AOL will be the dominant Internet provider in Latin America. And the bucks are rolling in. In January AOL Latin America offered $575 million in stock to investors. The stakes are high. Politically discordant voices could soon find themselves escorted out or blocked by those sinister "AOL guides."
A few weeks ago in New York Rupert Murdoch gathered together a bunch of out-of-work politicians, now with their snouts in the corporate trough. Newt Gingrich was there. So was former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. And the ubiquitous Henry Kissinger. Kissinger and Murdoch upbraided the presidential candidates for not saying enough about foreign affairs. The Hideous Harridan of Foggy Bottom?aka Madeleine Albright?was there spouting drivel about "the goodness of America's power." No doubt these political "heavyweights" solemnly nodded in agreement as she spoke these words. American power is "good." Certainly it has been "good" for them?bullying other countries to make them safe for "market democracy" has made them all rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
Petra Dickenson Feature
Power Plays About the time Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker allowed himself to muse in public on the demographics of the number 7 train, throwing professional baseball into a fit over a possible loss of revenue if immediate disciplinary action were not taken, a similar threat of an economic backlash panicked the National Hockey League. Ottawa Senators center Vaclav Prospal became so carried away during a game that he called an opposing player a "fucking frog." Since that player was a French Canadian, all hell broke loose.
Naturally, the brouhaha was only about the "frog" bit; the delicate souls demanding Prospal's head were in no way offended by the other word. To appease its francophone public, the league responded by sending the offender to a reeducation camp in, of all places, New York, where he was subjected to intensive, one-on-one sensitivity training sessions and taught all about diversity and permissible speech. Presumably, the NHL provided a limousine for his convenience and never let him ride the number 7 train.
Vaclav Prospal, who was born and raised in Communist Czechoslovakia and was thus not unfamiliar with official political orthodoxies and the way they can be enforced, returned to Ottawa a new man. As he put it, "You can always learn." And learn he did. He confessed that his old attitude had been wrong and, being rehabilitated, he apologized: to the Montreal player he had insulted, to the other francophone players on the Canadians or any other team and, to be on the safe side, to all French Canadians. The league was satisfied. "Mr. Prospal has been made aware that any further incident of the same or similar nature will result in the imposition of immediate disciplinary measures," said the spokesman for the NHL.
While it is impossible to believe that in the 83-year history of the National Hockey League Vaclav Prospal could be the first person to ever call another player a "frog," it is safe to say that he is the first one to face dire consequences if he did not publicly apologize for it or ever thought of doing it again. He was not the first man, however, to have his career imperiled because he transgressed against the new moral code gripping the business of sport. The league had previously suspended three players for calling their black opponents "monkeys," there either being some bizarre animal scale of offensiveness on which " monkey" merits a suspension but "frog" a mere slap on the wrist or the severity of punishment depends on how important a particular ethnic group is to the perceived economic viability of professional hockey.
Still, as athletic misbehavior goes, this is pretty small potatoes compared to the situation existing in, e.g., the National Football League, where a significant number of players have lengthy criminal records. One would think that it is the NFL, not the NHL, that has public relations problems, but one would be wrong. It is the latter that worries about its image. For, unlike the world it inhabits, hockey is still, overwhelmingly, white. Yes, the league draws players from 19 different countries, boasting "the most international rosters among the four major sports leagues," as its press releases like to point out, but it's mostly the wrong countries. Places like Sweden, Finland and Russia may contribute talented and no doubt upstanding hockey players, but diversity-wise they don't cut it. Only a handful out of the 644 active players are black, although, with an attention to racial differentiation that would do a white supremacist proud, the league has managed to categorize 29 of its players as minority persons.
After consigning people to their appropriate racial groups, the next step, as the league puts it, is "to educate and sensitize all NHL personnel to the diversities that exist in our league, as well as to the importance of respecting and appreciating those diversities." In other words, having discovered that it is in fact a wee bit diverse, the league institutes special training to deal with its own diversity, lest players forget they belong to distinct racial and ethnic groups and treat each other as individuals. After all, the typical NHL player, drafted at the age of 18, does not have the benefit of a college education that would have taught him all about the Marcusean concept of unequal power relationships that demand differential allocation of rights and the promotion of rights for some groups by limiting them for others. Having missed the rigors of academia, the players are being subjected to sensitivity training sessions by the NHL so that they, too, can appreciate "the benefits of diversity and the importance of being sensitive to diversity... They [the league] wanted to provide information and education instead of just penalizing people when something goes wrong," according to a diversity industry expert hired by the NHL. Hockey, the least diverse of all professional sports, is the only one to mandate such training for every player. Unlike baseball, with its shameful history of racial discrimination, hockey, because of a geographical fluke more than anything else, never excluded talented minorities from participating and racism was a nonissue until now. Still, hockey is business, and the business of business is to make money. The way the NHL sees it, since society assigns benefits on the basis of group membership, hockey will grow only if it pays lip service to same. But while the league may agree that some groups have an absolute right of never being offended, its commitment to diversity is economic, not ideological. It will not abolish meritocracy in favor of the other progressive orthodoxy, racial quotas, and players will continue to be drafted on the basis of talent, not according to the exigencies of affirmative action. Hockey, like all modern business, is all for redressing societal imbalance between the "oppressors" and "oppressed" as long as the line sells tickets and the cost is just a ban on free speech for its employees.
Melik Kaylan The spy
Clinton Violence As warships loom over Vieques, Charlie Rose and other oily-tongued opiners should really applaud the "political talent" of the President. An alarmingly oft-used phrase, it suggests the realpolitik sagacity of the user, while saluting the wily animal that is Clinton for his Machiavellian grace. But the phrase is always used airily, ruminatively. We never hear it being applied concretely to real events. Why is that? Let's apply it now and we'll see why.
Images of enormous destroyers off Vieques obliterate memories of Elian at gunpoint. Neat. Rightist sympathies first outraged by the Elian raid, now mollified and perplexed by defense of Navy bombs in Vieques. Very neat. Very politically talented. In other words, what an operator! He's done it again: while we're dazzled by Clinton's political snake-charming, we're unable to lock on, to fix his coordinates. When the lights come back on there's nobody there. With Clinton, we don't even know what we know.
For example, the record would indicate that his is surely the most violence-prone American regime in peacetime, both in the domestic and foreign spheres. Iraqi children, Belgrade hospitals, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, U.S. marshals. Then we begin to consider that cluster of mysterious deaths in the President's orbit, all those friends and enemies... Surely he's not that ruthless. What are we thinking? Just our imagination.
But then who is he? Next slide please. Same process, same outcome.
He couldn't do it without the media. As I write this, there's a full-page ad in The New York Times about how the Times, and various other major news organs, wouldn't publish the Elian-at-gunpoint pix on their covers. For argument's sake, let us set that aside as a minor sin of omission. Real sorcerers' apprentices, one could argue, are proactive apologists. Like Joe Conason, whose recently coauthored The Hunting of the President is an interminable Escher-drawing of the great American right-wing conspiracy against the President. When Hillary Clinton came up with that notion everyone laughed, so why would Conason think that we'd take it seriously now? Because the media has already prepared the groundwork.
Remember the notorious Times Magazine article some years back about the Clinton Haters?a weirdly tautological construct suggesting that disliking Clinton was an act of prejudice, a hate crime; that certain dangerous people hated Clinton just for the hell of it? Christopher Ruddy, author of the book on Vince Foster's mysterious death, would definitely be one of those people. That book is dense and monotonous, but absolutely convincing on one point: there was a cover-up. What it means and why, Ruddy doesn't know. He's not a conspiracy theorist. He worked for Richard Mellon Scaife?another great bogeyman?at Scaife's Pittsburgh newspaper. Sure, they both went after the great sorcerer singlemindedly, but as part of our constitutional checks and balances they're allowed to, indeed they're supposed to. What gets sinister is when the media helps the chief executive mount a singleminded campaign against investigating journalists.
And a campaign it was. In the 60 Minutes broadcast that preceded the Times article, Mike Wallace "interviewed" Ruddy in what was essentially a premeditated chop-job. To take one example: In one of his newspaper articles about the Foster death, Ruddy quoted Dr. Haut, the official medical examiner. In Dr. Haut's opinion, he said, there was very little blood at the supposed death scene. Ruddy cited that interview among many reasons for thinking the body was moved to that location after death. Wallace went back and interviewed Dr. Haut too. The doctor had changed his mind: there'd been plenty of blood. So Wallace accused Ruddy of lying. Unfortunately for Wallace, Ruddy had the doctor on tape. Plus FBI evidence corroborated Ruddy. Why didn't Wallace check or mention any of this? Wallace's duty to us, to himself, to the bigger story, lay in probing the seat of power, not assaulting the messenger.
To rebut the 60 Minutes broadcast, Ruddy set about raising some $25,000 to fund a video showing his side of the story. Entitled The 60 Minutes Deception, it earned some half-million dollars in sales. Cut to Conason's book. In the attempt to outline a vast network of coordinated Clinton hatred, Conason claims that Scaife provided Ruddy with a bank account of $3 million to fund the video. Ruddy denies this. He claims that "Scaife had no connection with it." He also says that every reference to himself in the book is false. According to Conason, when Ruddy investigated another mysterious death, that of Kathy Ferguson (who supported Paula Jones' claims), Ruddy didn't have the guts to look at the crime photos. The suggestion being that Ruddy was so weak-livered as to be unprofessional. Not true, says Ruddy. I believe him. He certainly looked at enough such photos for the Vince Foster book.
The point that Wallace, Conason and the Times seem so zealous to overlook is that it matters not a whit who funds the investigations or why. Their job is to follow it up, for our sake. They are trying to silence Ruddy and failing. According to The Wall St. Journal, Ruddy's website Newsmax.com, with more than 40 employees, is one of the primary sources of alternative news in this country. According to Talkers Magazine, the national magazine for radio talk show hosts, Newsmax is their main source of alternative news. Ruddy recently hosted a forum on China in New York attended by some 100 people. The veteran radio broadcaster Barry Farber emceed the event and avowed that Ruddy's website was the only news he trusted. The panel included Lord William Rees-Mogg, revered ex-editor of the London Times in its glory days, and perhaps the UK's most respected journalist. Ruddy is nobody's mouthpiece or hireling. Who can say the same about Conason?