The Duke Still Rules; Crime As a Career Track
LEMAÎTRE Duke of All
I've got some very bad news for media liberals: Even though it received little media attention, a recent Reuters/Zogby poll shows the Duke to be America's favorite actor of the century. Yes, dear readers, John Wayne, always riding tall into the sunset, is more popular than those grimacing, foul-mouthed twitching midgets who pass as film stars nowadays. Almost as good is the women's side. Katherine Hepburn, the haughty, impeccably mannered Connecticut Yankee who never even came close to uttering the f-word onscreen, or anywhere else for that matter, is numero uno among the weaker sex, with the working-class heroine Meryl Streep in second. It's the Duke and Kate, followed by Jimmy Stewart and la Streep, so take that and shove it, as they say, all you Hillarys, Bills, Harvey Weinsteins, Jerry Springers and Alec Baldwins of this world.
This is particularly satisfying to old-timers like yours truly, but it is also is a triumph for the values of John Wayne, whose last movie, The Shootist, was released in 1976. (I'd love to see who will remember Alec Baldwin 23 years after he makes his last miserable flick.) Which means that the sex-and-violence moral relativists, the Doom and Quake adrenaline-pumping shysters and their ilk haven't had their way with all of us. Mind you, they've had their way with our children, who were the ones they had targeted in the first place.
But before I go on about these godawful Sammy Glicks, a few words about the Duke. Charles Glass, "Top Drawer"'s regular London correspondent, was once his chauffeur. Glass is one of the few true lefty-pinkos I like. He's from that other side of the planet, born and bred in Los Angeles, and as a high school student became Wayne's driver for three months. They say that no one is a hero to one's butler, and that also applies to drivers. Charlie described the Duke as the most considerate and friendly man he'd ever worked for. I say it's typical. Character counted back then, and being friendly and considerate to one's employees was a sine qua non. It was also a time when no one questioned that character counted. (The Draft Dodger's tantrums against the peons who cannot answer back are legion; so what else is new?)
Liberals, needless to say, have always hated the Duke. They portrayed him as a bully who hated Injuns and yellow people. Horse feathers. In Wayne's movies the Indians more often than not were defending themselves from whites who had cheated on the signed treaty. Both Fort Apache and Hondo are tributes to the Indian way of life and honor. Most of Wayne's films were morality plays, with America depicted as a place worth loving and respecting. The violence was muted and never gratuitous, never in slow-motion, never gory. It occurred in the service of good versus evil. Political Correctness was never their strong point.
So, the next time you see young Buddy, or even Muffy, plunged into a three-dimensional computer video world where you must kill to survive, rent a John Wayne video, or better yet, buy one.
And speaking of honorable men, good old Bill Clinton, by far the most dishonorable man ever to inhabit the White House, never disappoints. Last week he trivialized the problem in our movies, music and video screens by announcing a federal probe into the use of violence. As in everything he says and does, the Draft Dodger is being less than honest. There is absolutely f___ all the government can do about the violence except to pass a censorship law, and Clinton is as likely to do that as I am to go down on Andrea Dworkin. The whole purpose of the exercise was electioneering as usual, this time for the benefit of the grotesque Hillary.
All Clinton had to do if he really cared about the violence was to read the riot act to those who provide the moolah, his Hollywood gang, and he could have done it right in their backyard a couple of weeks ago. In Beverly Hills the Draft Dodger raised $1.7 million and told the Sammy Glicks exactly what they wanted to hear: "There's no call for finger-pointing." His grotesque consort was even more hypocritical. "What kind of values are we promoting when a child can walk into a store and find such video games...blah, blah, blah," announced an indignant Hillary. I wonder if she brought that up last time she was schmoozing Spielberg, whose DreamWorks makes many videos where a win is based on how many people you can blow away.
It has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that video games help people overcome the natural human reticence to kill another human being. Troops are now trained by video games to learn to kill, the Marines being one example. Yet the media treats any candidate who directly blames the industry as a censorship-loving fascist, just as the media treats any candidate who happens to be devoutly Christian as one having an illness.
Undermining our traditional values and institutions and replacing them with "scientific" mores and bureaucracies was always the explicit mission of the intellectual left. It took a long time but it is now acceptable to murder wantonly onscreen. Soon it will be acceptable to seduce underage children onscreen. Where it will all end I do not know. What I do know is that we need John Wayne. And that goes for Joe DiMaggio, too.
THE TIRED HEDONIST Career Criminals Most journalists I know have ended up in this profession because they failed at everything else. For the lazy and spottily educated, it is hard to beat journalism as a way of earning a decent living. But there is, I think, a more promising career path that is equally open to those who have botched their prospects elsewhere, one that goes sadly unconsidered by most young men and women today. That is crime.
If the profession of crime has something of a bad reputation, that is because most practicing criminals are stupid. In North Carolina, a state that has one of the highest rates of bank robbery in the nation, more than two-thirds of the perpetrators are caught within a year because of their sheer idiocy. According to an article the other day in The New York Times, one of them wrote a holdup note on the back of his own personalized deposit slip; another tried to rob a bank's drive-in window from the backseat of a taxi.
Statistics show that the average IQ of convicted criminals hovers around 90. You may think that this is because only the dumb ones get caught. Criminologists have disproved this hypothesis; the ones who get away, they have shown, are dumb too. Still, it seems plausible to me that there could be a set of super-intelligent super-criminals whose tremendously lucrative illegalities are not even suspected, let alone prosecuted. This would explain, for example, Goldman Sachs.
But if most criminals are on the dim side, that makes a career of crime all the more auspicious for young people who are reasonably intelligent. Having respectable middle-class antecedents and a college education is also a great advantage. How many common criminals have the social grace to defuse an awkward situation with an easy, "Good evening, officer"? If you are apprehended and put on trial, there is probably an Episcopalian minister or Reform rabbi somewhere in your family who will testify to your character. (Having a Catholic cleric as a relative is less helpful?Vincent "the Chin" Gigante was vocally backed by his brother, a priest in the Bronx, and he got put away.) And let's face it, in New York being white furnishes a great head start in a life of crime: You are much less likely to come under suspicion by the authorities, and if you do, you are generally treated with courtesy and presumed innocent until proven guilty. If you are a white woman, the illicit booty is there for the taking.
The first question confronting a young person considering a life of crime is: Should I be self-employed or join the mob? There are still five Mafia families in New York, and their ranks are so depleted and geriatric that they are probably accepting applications from candidates whose last names do not end with a sounded vowel. But the "L.C.N.," as the FBI calls it (for La Cosa Nostra), is not very impressive anymore. It used to be involved in glamorous rackets like numbers, drugs, loansharking and prostitution. Today it is in garbage, fish, concrete and the coatrooms of strip clubs?and barely holding on to those. Besides, Mafiosi are uncosmopolitan; most of them don't even possess passports to surrender at their arraignments. John Gotti Jr. drives a minivan, at least when he is not in jail awaiting trial. Not quite our sort, dear.
The aspiring criminal is better off working alone. (If accomplices are necessary, it is best to bump them off when the job is over.) But what sort of criminal work to pursue? First, you should consider that not all forms of lawbreaking are equally lucrative. I know one fellow who stuck with loitering for eight years before he realized it did not bring in any money. Second, you should start with something ambitious. Many beginners drift into crime with a series of petty and barely profitable capers?stealing plants from in front of Brooklyn brownstones, pinching the odd pillowcase from Bloomingdale's. Only after they've been caught and acquire a "record" do they start to get serious about crime?and by then they've squandered their initial advantage: their clean reputation.
Mind you, a crime can be ambitious without being complicated. In fact, complexity is best avoided. Those who erect elaborate swindles make a lot of money initially, but they invariably come to a sticky end. Ivar Kreuger, a Swede who used forgery and deception to parlay earnings from his father's match-manufacturing into a worldwide financial confidence game, committed suicide in 1932. Charles Ponzi, the inventor of the "Ponzi scheme," died a pauper in Rio de Janeiro in 1949. Robert L. Vesco, the "fugitive financier" who was charged with defrauding investors of more than $200 million, is languishing in a Cuban prison. My own uncle was until recently prospering from an intricate scheme of mail fraud he had concocted, but then the postal rates went up and he lost everything.
Even that old standby, murder for profit, can be tricky for the beginner. A 130-page learning text entitled Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors used to be available, but the publisher, Paladin Press of Boulder, CO, recently agreed to stop selling it after a costly lawsuit was brought by two families who said a man had read it before killing their relatives for hire. Apparently it was not that good, for the paid assassin is on death row.
Counterfeiting is simpler, thanks to the march of technology. No longer is it necessary to construct elaborate, noisy and easily traceable printing operations that produce piles of counterfeit money that must be slowly leaked into circulation. Instead, you can simply use your personal computer and laser-jet color printer to turn out a serviceable bogus bill on an as-needed basis. And for the ethically scrupulous, counterfeiting has the advantage of being the most moral of crimes, since you are in effect stealing an infinitesimal amount from each of your fellow citizens, in exact proportion to how wealthy they are. Unfortunately, the Secret Service would like to reserve this particular form of theft for the Treasury Dept., so they come down on even small-time counterfeiters with terrific zeal and severity. Not recommended.
Robbery with violence is profitable in rural areas, where one can hide behind a hedge on a country lane with a hammer, wait until someone who is well-attired and of slight physique walks by, jump out and hit him on the head, take his money and return home in time to have a bath before dinner. In the city this modus operandi must obviously be modified. Earlier this year, a thief described as a 35-year-old white male was making a practice of jumping out of a van on the Upper East Side when he spotted a nicely dressed older woman, punching her in the face and absconding with her handbag. The simplicity of his method might be admirable, but the lack of chivalry is wholly deplorable.
Then there is "Impersonation with Intent to Defraud." You enter Tiffany's, announce, in a slight Welsh accent, "I am Harry Evans, give me some diamonds," then go off and sell them on 47th St. This has the disadvantage that it cannot be repeated too frequently.
Finally, if you are extremely lazy, you might devise an effortless scam. I, for instance, have managed to bilk Park Avenue dowagers out of several thousand dollars on the pretext of collecting for the National Anti-Luncheon League. A subscription of $42 a month, I tell them, entitles them to go without 14 luncheons.
Before you set out on a potentially lucrative career of crime, you should reflect on the small but real contingency that you will be detected, convicted and incarcerated. If you are a man, you may decide you are not the type who would "do well" in prison. Still, your no doubt brief stay in the Big House will be made easier by the thought that when you get out, no matter how disgraced your name may be, a career in journalism will always be open to you.
HAMLET Suddenly Samuel Berger After the Chinese nuclear espionage scandal broke, the President and other members of the administration began to refer to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger as "Samuel Berger." I could see this change in Sandy's nomenclature coming for a long time. My grandmother would have adored him for trading Sam for Sandy. His hold on this quintessentially American mid-century name lasted nearly a whole career. Now he has lost it. Anyone could have warned him. Resolutely looking the other way while nuclear secrets flowed into the same Chinese pockets that campaign contributions came out of is exactly the kind of behavior that turns Sandys into Sams. In the early 1950s, as I galloped on my rocking horse "Trigger," my grandmother, nee Lebensberger, would watch me intently, and intone suggestively, "Your name is Cowboy?Sandy!"
I never bit. She was appalled that my parents named me as Jewish-sounding a name as Sam. And Sam was an unusual name for the time. When I was seven, I rode in a taxi with my grandfather Sam and the taxi driver's license informed us that he, too, was called Sam. When told of our names, he turned around, looked at the two of us and announced, "We're the last three Sams in the whole city of Chicago."
But the newfound popularity of the name?now having been purged of its Lower East Side flavor and favored for toddlers on the Upper East Side?doesn't erase the sting I felt when Sandy Berger's name was taken away from him. Sandy Berger was the President's friend; Samuel Berger is someone in whom the President has complete confidence. Sandy Berger is Bill Clinton's favorite; Samuel Berger will be exonerated when all the evidence is in?of course some of it may never be released. Samuel Berger may be working on a book project before the year is out. He may not hear his old name again until it is uttered by Judith Regan: "Sign here, and I'll give you your check, Sandy!"
Another Sam story will take place soon: This is going to be the summer of Summer of Sam. And the cases have something in common. When David Berkowitz was arrested, my closest friend, now chairman of a major university English department in the West, actually wailed: "It would be a Berkowitz. Why did it have to be a Jew?"
In each case, the villain is not only a villain, but a representative Jew. Spike Lee, a master of how to epater les juives, is releasing his film this summer, and no doubt it will be filled, as Mo' Better Blues was, with images of Semites, lovingly and vividly depicted as conniving, brutal, coarse, money-loving and, interestingly against type, murderous as well (though in a cowardly, unmanly way).
But nothing Lee does in his teasing, puncturing films will be as effectively puncturing as Berger's action. Sandy Berger?haimish, hard-working, team player?has been replaced by Samuel Berger?venal, calculating, dishonorable. Samuel, alas, is a better name for the Berger to come. And it is Clinton, with his unerring ear, who has begun the desandifying process.
During the journey through Yugoslavia in the 1930s memorialized in her great book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West noticed their driver Dragutin engaged in an act of spiteful and petty anti-Semitism against their guide and friend, called Constantine. Her husband responds sympathetically. The driver "knows quite well that Constantine is not a whole man, and that he has in some way been destroyed, and Dragutin fears infection. Now I understand some other cause for anti-Semitism: many primitive peoples must have received their first indication of the toxic quality of thought from Jews. They know only the fortifying idea of religion; they see in Jews the effect of the tormenting and disintegrating ideas of skepticism."
To ordinary Americans, who expect officials holding the office of national security adviser to act in a disinterested and patriotic way, Samuel Berger, with his cynicism and coruscating selfishness, may seem appalling in just this way. In an administration whose corruption is so diverse and far-reaching as Clinton's, there is great opportunity for villainy. Why can't I help wishing that, of all them, the one who looks most like he allowed his country's security to have been compromised in exchange for money were truly a Sandy, not a Sam?
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Putting the ‘Home’ in Nursing Home
Lifelines in the neighborhood Op-Ed
Wonders of Childhood, On Display
From Dancer to C.E.O.
Seniors Claim Their Street Space
For Silver, All Politics Is Local