Observer Media Gossip Columnist Botches It; A Sweeter Athens

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:25

    Taki Le Maître Smoke Signals Athens ? A funny thing happened on my way to an Athenian forum last week. On an Olympic Airways flight to the Greek capital, some of my countrymen asked the cabin attendant whether they could smoke. Not if other people object, was his Solomonic answer. The plane was almost empty, everyone was in a good mood, so we all lit up and enjoyed ourselves. The attendant nodded his approval and pretended nothing had happened. This is what civilized travel is all about. There were one or two grumbles from a couple of Americans, but we politely told them to get lost. After all, this is also what democracy is about, and to hell with the whims of an unsporting few. Mind you, smoking in an airplane at 30,000 feet is not as pleasurable as drawing on the weed in, say, one's drawing room, but with me it has now become a matter of principle. Just because antitobacco Nazis like the Clintons have decided they know what's good for us does not mean I'm going to use cigars and cigarettes in the manner of the Draft Dodger.

    No siree, I'm going to smoke them instead, and especially when flying the national airline. We Greeks have one of the worst records in Europe where both smoking and road accidents are concerned, but what the hell, at least we enjoy ourselves and rarely worry about the grim reaper.

    It was a tiny victory over officialdom?as the airplane had no ashtrays, the crew provided plastic cups half-filled with water?made more important when the following day I read that Canada had taken the war on smoking to a more graphic level, proposing that cigarette packs carry color photographs of diseased hearts and cancerous lungs and lips. Talk about a selective Big Brother. What about forcing carmakers to stick color photographs of mangled bodies and torn limbs on every dashboard, along with the cancerous lungs that are caused by automobile exhausts?

    But people like Clinton, and whoever the clown up in Canada is, know whom to go after. Clinton owes and is owned by the trial lawyers union, and tobacco and the gun industry are easy targets. The automobile behemoths would do to Clinton what we did to Mussolini's boys back in 1940. Eat him alive, and sooner rather than later.

    But back to Athens. And pollution. During the 1940s and 50s, Athens had to be the most romantic city in Europe. Built by Bavarian architects around the early 1830s, it had wide boulevards, a neoclassical style, the whole place pleasantly laid out with oranges, oleanders and cypresses. King Ludwig of Bavaria laid the foundation stone for the royal palace, a neoclassical marvel that now houses the Parliament. His son, Otto, was our first king, which is why so many Greeks not only have German names, but, like yours truly, German ancestors.

    One of the great pleasures of my life back then was crossing the royal gardens to train at the tennis club. And smelling the jasmine while running back up Irodou Atticus street, past the (new) royal palace, and into Kolonaki Square. Life was very sweet. Society was small and extremely exclusive. Men wore white linen suits, waisted, with panama hats and correspondents shoes. Ladies always wore hats and carried parasols.

    No longer. A foreigner landing in Athens today or, say, in Beirut before the 1975 war, would not know the difference. There're oleanders and roast-peanut smells, but Johnny Turk has left his mark where things like music and social graces are concerned. Those of us who come from the Ionian islands used to make lots of fun of our fellow Greeks about Johnny Turk. The Ionian isles only joined the motherland in 1864, and for the last 50 years before 1864, the British ruled (thus the cricket in Corfu). The important difference was that we Ionians had had a renaissance, and it showed. My island, Zakynthos, has provided our greatest poets, including Foscolo, Italy's most famous bard. The houses were Italianate villas, and the public buildings were ochre, galleried marvels. Most of them disappeared in the 1953 earthquake. I remember arriving with my father on his boat in Zakynthos and listening to the town orchestra playing Mozart. Now it's the dreaded buzuki, the Greek version of rap, without the latter's call to violence.

    Oh yes, I almost forgot. Athens used to be an idyllic city to live in, because only half- to a million people lived here. The modern matchbox hellholes that now serve as living space to the urban masses?all five million of them?were back then still incubating in the sick minds of future urban planners. More important, there were hansom cabs and, for the poorer classes, donkeys and mules. Now everyone and his poor cousin owns at least two cars to beat the odd-even system, a disastrous plan to cut traffic in half that only served to double it. The one section of the ancient city that has somehow contained the car devil is Plaka, the 3000-year-old neighborhood just below the Acropolis, full of narrow streets, shops, walks, vendors, cafes and tavernas. All last week I walked through Plaka, dined and got drunk in its tavernas, visited all the ancient sights. I have done this since I was a boy and have yet to tire of it.

    Greeks may now love concrete more than jasmine, may fulfill themselves by adopting American fast foods, may have lost their once-fabled respect for their elders and the better-read, but they are still the most free and most hedonistic of people. The city still evokes powerful memories. The ancient heroes are all buried here and watch over us. Where else can one live under the beauty of history? Everyone who comes here leaves feeling that liberty began right here. I am no exception.

    Petra Dickenson Feature Cuban Boy It takes a village to raise a child, except when the village is the United States, the villagers are freedom-loving Cuban-Americans and the child is a refugee from the workers' paradise. In that case, Bill Clinton insists, the child must be raised by his biological father. In Cuba. Still, you have to hand it to the President: for once he is speaking his own mind and not pandering to special interests. He will do nothing for Elian Gonzalez, because he believes in the moral equivalence of the United States and Communist Cuba. In his view, the boy, whose mother risked everything to escape a brutal regime, should return there. Al Gore agreed. Until, that is, his handlers pointed out that such principles might cost him Florida. The Vice President's current position is that the U.S. is a better place for Elian to grow up in.

    Other American leftists, however, are unrepentant. Temporarily converted to the ideas of traditional family and Christianity?old Cuba hands from the National Council of Churches rushed to the island to "reunite Elian with his father" and to learn whether the man is a "loving" dad (guess what? He is "loving"!)?the left deplores how the right has politicized the case. After all, it's not like Castro is some right-wing dictator. He is a left-wing dictator who holds power only to arbitrate what is socially just for his people, which is an altogether different thing. In any case, the boy should go back to Cuba because, speaking multiculturally, we have so much to learn from each other, given that all cultures are equally valid.

    Or are they? Well, once again, that depends on the political nature of the village.

    Suppose, for example, that Elian were not a boy but a girl. Her mother also died while attempting to reach the U.S., and her loving father wishes to be reunited with his little daughter. Unlike Elian's father, whose statements may or may not be voluntary, let's say that this dad is under no political pressure whatsoever. He simply wants his child back.

    Assume further that he lives in one of the Muslim countries that practice female genital circumcision. A traditionalist and a religious man, he wishes his daughter to be chaste and would, upon her return, subject her to the ritual.

    Would American progressives then, to use the language of the nation's editorialists speaking of Elian Gonzalez, also "believe in family values" and wish to reunite the child with "a loving parent" because, ultimately, "[t]hat is more important than ideology and more important than propaganda"?

    Fathers and families be damned. That child would be staying in America. The same crowd that urges Elian's return to Cuba would (and did) scream bloody murder and take to the streets until the U.S. changed its policy on granting political asylum to females facing genital mutilation. These days the INS guidelines go even further than that. The U.S. now considers requests for political asylum when the female does not wish to return to her native country for fears of any "sexual violence," however that may be understood. Recently, political asylum was granted to a 42-year-old Somalian, who suffered genital mutilation at the age of six, simply because the judge felt like taking "a stand against this kind of practice."

    Unlike the "reactionary" groups that are "pitching predictable tantrums" over Elian's return to Cuba, and who are "far worse" than Castro, Gloria Steinem's protests in front of INS offices have met with wholesale media approval. Of course, the feminists have always been careful to point out that while female genital mutilation is practiced in Muslim countries, it is not a Muslim custom, a distinction that no doubt wipes the tears of the 130 million victims worldwide.

    The anti-Castro Cubans, on the other hand, have not been so politically correct, and persist in labeling a man who rules by murder a murderer, and his government evil. Nor does it help Elian's case that they compare Fidel Castro to Joseph Stalin. To help Elian stay in this country, given the fact that he lacks female genitalia, his supporters should equate Castro with Hitler.

    They would not be wrong in doing so. Castro's ideological inspiration was Adolf Hitler. While a law student at the University of Havana, Mein Kampf and he were inseparable. Later in life, it was the Spanish Falangist Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera, the founder of the Spanish Fascist Party, who became his model and hero. Disliking the Russian communists (an aversion he never overcame) Fidel Castro used to joke that he would be a communist on one condition only?"if I can become Stalin."

    He never did become a true communist. What he did after seizing power in 1959 was to destroy the party and create his own Fidelista party, which he renamed Communist to stand up against the U.S. and to get backing from the Soviets. This maneuver brought in more than just money from the USSR. By calling himself a Communist, Castro has ensured that the world would overlook his killing of tens of thousands of his own people. Well, okay, it was not that simple. For the murders to have been inconsequential they had to be truly indiscriminate: Castro couldn't slaughter a specific religious or ethnic group or, God forbid, women only. Killing anyone, in the name of the People, has been Fidel's ticket to intellectual respectability.

    Those who advocate that Elian Gonzalez be returned to Cuba are either genuinely ignorant of Castro's rule by murder, or willing to accept his terror as the price of liberation from the oppressive power of U.S. imperialism. If the latter, they should have the honor to state so directly, and stop hiding their wimpiness behind the sanctimonious pretense of family values.

    George Szamuely The Bunker Prosecute NATO "I must do my job, otherwise I am not independent, and the independence of the prosecutor is the most important element... I just depend on the law, and that's it." The noble sentiments are those of Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). She'd just been asked whether she intended to investigate the possibility that NATO might have committed war crimes during its murderous bombing spree last year. What about those smashed-up refugee convoys, the destroyed housing estates, the bridges turned into rubble, trains full of dead passengers, devastated monasteries, bombed electrical grids and tv stations, cluster bombs, depleted uranium? What about all of that? "It's not my priority," she explained, "because I have inquiries about genocide, about bodies who are in mass graves, and that's what I am doing now." Oh, that's all right then. These inquiries, carried out by NATO government agencies like the FBI and Scotland Yard, have one objective only: to nail NATO's enemies. Though the media likes to paint her as an upright Katharine Hepburn type, Del Ponte is a shameless liar. She is not "independent" in any sense whatsoever. Her Tribunal is a creature of the United States. Established in 1993 by Resolution 827 of the UN Security Council, its objective was to use the aura of "international law" to persecute the Serbs. Startup funds of $6 million came courtesy of the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright. She also hired the initial staff of 25 lawyers. As the president of the Tribunal, Judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald, explained in a speech at the U.S. Supreme Court last April: "[W]e benefited from the strong support of concerned governments and dedicated individuals such as Secretary Albright. As the permanent representative to the United Nations, she had worked with unceasing resolve to establish the Tribunal. Indeed, we often refer to her as the 'Mother of the Tribunal.'" In May, before the Council on Foreign Relations, she stated: "The U.S. Government has very generously agreed to provide $500,000 and to help to encourage other states to contribute. However, the moral imperative to end the violence in the region is shared by all, including the corporate sector. I am pleased, therefore, that a major corporation has recently donated computer equipment worth $3 million."

    During last year's bombing, moreover, Bill Clinton secured a $27 million appropriation for the Tribunal. In other words, money is rolling in from people who have a vested interest in the outcome of the trials. This is a flagrant violation of the Statutes of the Tribunal. Article 32 states that the "the expenses of the International Tribunal shall be borne by the regular budget of the United Nations." Soon after NATO launched its bombing campaign, Louise Arbour, Del Ponte's predecessor, appeared at a press conference where British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook made a great show of presenting her with a dossier of Serbian war crimes.

    Last year, Prof. Michael Mandel of Toronto wrote to Arbour arguing that, according to its Statutes, the Tribunal is obligated to investigate NATO. Article 2, for instance, states that the Tribunal "shall have the power to prosecute persons committing or ordering to be committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions...willful killing...willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health; extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly." Article 3 cites "wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity" and the "attack, or bombardment, by whatever means, of undefended towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings..."

    There is not the slightest chance that Del Ponte will investigate NATO's war crimes. She cannot do it for a simple reason. Yugoslavia broke no international laws whatsoever and got bombed. NATO broke every international law in the book and still got to decide who had to stand trial. And it is the NATO governments that pay her wages.

    Here is a quick summary of just a few of the international laws NATO violated: Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter states: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Article 39 states: "The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken." The Rambouillet Agreement, Serbia's refusal to sign which provoked the bombing campaign, violated Article 51 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: "The expression of a State's consent to be bound by a treaty which has been procured by the coercion of its representative through acts or threats directed against him shall be without legal effect." Not to mention the Geneva Convention and the targeting of civilians.

    Del Ponte's little court is a truly sinister organization. It operates on the basis of sealed indictments, so that people do not even know if there is an arrest warrant pending against them. They can be seized anywhere and hauled off to the Hague. There, cut off from family, friends and country, they can be held up to 90 days without being charged. There is no bail or any form of release before trial. Detention without trial could last several years. Mail is censored. Visits are severely restricted. Trial witnesses can testify anonymously. Prosecutors do not have to disclose the sources of their information. Prosecutors may even appeal an acquittal and ensure that the accused remain in detention during such an appeal.

    The International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia serves for the United States the same purpose courts of this nature served for Hitler and Stalin: it terrorizes the opposition. A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Export-Import Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the World Bank and the U.S.-based Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil Company (AMBO) met and resolved to build an oil pipeline extending from the Bulgarian Black Sea across Macedonia and Albania to Western Europe. This is what U.S. policy in the Balkans is about. Anyone likely to object will find himself bombed and then yanked off to the Hague?there to rot forever.

    Toby Young Arriviste BCC, Dumbass Have you ever wondered who Carl Swanson's sources are? As the writer of The New York Observer's "Off The Record" column, Swanson was one of the most widely read journalists in Media City. He didn't always get the big stories first?the New York Post's Keith Kelly takes care of that?but he usually had an interesting tidbit or two. Where did he get them? Swanson himself answered this question with an e-mail he sent to all his contacts at the beginning of last week announcing he was leaving the Observer to take up a staff position at New York. In an act of breathtaking naivete, he included the e-mail addresses of all the recipients in the "cc" field, rather than the "bcc" field, so each person he sent it to could see everyone else he'd sent it to. Suddenly, I had on my screen the contact details of some of the biggest names in the game, including Walter Isaacson, Kurt Andersen, Frank Rich, Mark Golin, James Truman, Kate Betts, Alex Kuczynski, Bill Buford and Nikki Finke.

    After I'd finished updating my PalmPilot, I sent the following message to everyone on the list: "So now we know who all his sources are. That's such an elementary e-mail mistake, it's almost worthy of an item in 'Off The Record.'"

    I had no idea of the trouble I'd cause.

    Within minutes I received a reply chastising me for being so ungracious. "That's so RUDE!" it said. Rude? Where was this person from, Kansas? As Hyman Roth says in Godfather II, "This is the business we've chosen." I checked who the sender was and it was no one I'd ever heard of. Perhaps it was some old college buddy of Swanson. In addition to all the media bigshots, he'd sent his original e-mail to his mom and pop.

    Next I got a panicky call from Swanson himself.

    "What did you do?" he wanted to know. I read back to him what I'd written and he got surprisingly tetchy. His main objection was that I had no way of knowing whether the people he'd sent his e-mail to were his sources or not. I replied that my remark was intended as a throwaway joke, not a slap on the wrist. I wasn't seriously taking him to task for revealing his sources. My point, insofar as I had one, was that it was just plain dumb of him to publish his contacts book. Whether any of these people had given him stories or not, he'd made it look as if they had.

    I also pointed out that he'd taken a couple of shots at me in the past. When I was fired from Gear last year I called him at the Observer to complain about how shabbily I'd been treated. They'd hired me, then fired me, then rehired me, then refired me. The last time they'd fired me it wasn't just me, either, but all their staff writers and, far from giving us any notice, they'd backdated it by two weeks. All the staff writers were told in the middle of July that the paycheck we'd received at the end of June was the last we'd ever get.

    I hoped he might run a sympathetic story. Fat chance. When the item appeared it was headlined: "Toby Young Fired Again."

    At this point the story takes a bizarre turn. Somehow Swanson's original e-mail list fell into the hands of a group of Italians and they immediately started spamming everyone on it.

    "Hey New York Journalists!" began one of these missives, "We launching with new magazine Prego at March 1! You must to subscribe! Special price of $36 for one year! HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, HURRY, HURRY."

    Next came a plea for an apartment:

    "I am Italian journalist coming to New York and looking for a COOL apartment. I am afford $1,000/month. I don't smoking but I don't care if you smoking! I don't care if you are man or woman though I like WOMAN best!"

    The idea of Walter Isaacson, Kurt Andersen and Frank Rich receiving this e-mail was too funny to contemplate. Since Swanson hadn't included his own e-mail address on his original list, I immediately e-mailed him to let him know what was happening. "I may have won you a little sympathy with my uncharitable response to your good news," I wrote, "but it ain't going to be enough to save you from the fury unleashed by these spams."

    Swanson immediately replied, saying I ought to bear some of the responsibility for this calamity. How could that be? I protested. After all, I'd only circulated the list to those who'd originally received it. He was the one at fault for putting it out there in the first place. Yeah, he responded, but I had circulated it. Unfortunately for Swanson, the next e-mail sent to all those on the list showed that the blame was being laid squarely at his door. It was from Michelangelo Signorile, who won't mind if I out him as its author since he was responsible for starting the whole outing phenomenon.

    "Folks," it began. "It appears that another by-product of Carl Swanson's not putting our e-mail addresses in blind carbon copy format is that several maniacs have gotten hold of the list?a list of New York journalists, which is apparently still valuable to some. We have all thus experienced a sudden surge in junk e-mail, specifically targeting 'NY journalists.'

    "I have notified AOL's terms of service dept., and urge all of you to notify customer service at your servers, and send them the offending e-mails. AOL is pretty good about ejecting the spammers quickly. Hopefully we can stop this madness."

    Well, I'm sorry to report that it did stop, which leads me to suspect that the e-mails from the Italian "maniacs" were probably a hoax perpetrated by Signorile. Indeed, I saw Swanson at a party recently and he told me he thought they were a hoax too. He looked a little shaken up by the whole experience and gave me a fishy look when I slapped him on the back and wished him well.

    Seriously, Carl, now that we're even, I wish you the best of luck at New York. You're going to need it, you dumb ass.


    Jim Holt The Tired Hedonist French Kisses It is a mystery to me why American teenagers insist on making themselves so unattractive. Pimply and obese by comparison with their European peers, they affect unbecomingly baggy hiphop fashions and sport hideous gulag-style hairdos. What a waste of youth. And on top of that they seem to be spending all of their furtive moments slurping and licking at one another's genitals. So at least they proudly claim when they have the ear of an impressionable reporter. "All [the girls] want to do is be eaten out," one anonymous 14-year-old boy declares in the current issue of Talk. The article, entitled "The Sex Lives of Your Children," conjures up a great teenage orgy starting as early as the seventh grade, "when random couples begin sneaking behind auditorium stages, into copying rooms, and into girls bathroom stalls to experiment with everything from French kissing to fellatio..." Young boys form "trains" to be fellated by eager girls, who then turn the tables by "pussy-whipping" the boys.

    Are today's American teens really as randy as all that? If so, they contrast rather surprisingly with their counterparts in France, where a sort of sexual counterrevolution has apparently been going on. The average age at which French youths have their first sexual experience is heading toward 18, according to a massive survey conducted by France's National Center for Scientific Research and reported in the London Daily Telegraph. Middle-class French men and women often wait until they are 20 or more before succumbing to their generative urges.

    Among privileged French teens, promiscuity is regarded as tacky and vieux jeu; virginity is cherished. In place of the blowjobs and cunnilingus that have apparently become the norm in American high schools, it is the art of flirting that prevails at the lycee. When a young French couple starts having sex, it is assumed to be the start of a serious relationship. That at any rate is what the survey concluded. "Twenty years ago, young people disassociated sex from feelings of love," commented sociologist Hugues Lagrange. "Today, girls almost always cite love of their partners as the number one reason for losing their virginity, and, perhaps surprisingly, so do the majority of boys."

    Now, teenagers will say what they think researchers and reporters want to hear, so one is tempted to take such sweeping conclusions with a pinch of salt. Certainly it is hard to credit the notion that once-libertine France has become a bastion of sexual rectitude, and that the once-puritanical U.S. has become a hotbed of illicit sex.

    Looking at marriage statistics, though, you do get the impression that the two societies are moving in opposite directions. France is currently experiencing an upsurge in the popularity of marriage, with some 400,000 weddings expected this year (as opposed to 280,000 last year). By contrast, in the United States?and especially in New York City?marriage rates have plunged to their lowest in decades, approaching levels about half that of France. Moreover, the divorce rate in France, already a fraction of ours, has begun dropping for the first time in 30 years. Curiously, French sexologists claim to have detected a general diminution of sexual desire, affecting between 15 and 20 percent of France's population; it is caused, they say, by stress, the competing gratifications of professional life and the trivialization of sex by movies, television and advertising imagery.

    It would be extremely foolish to conclude from such data, however, that Americans are now sexually pleasuring themselves with greater gusto and variety than the French. For one thing, the French attitude toward the state of wedlock?summed up in the old French proverb that "marriage is such a heavy burden, it takes three people to carry it"?has always been a bit more supple than the American attitude. And if it is true, as lurid magazine articles suggest, that American teens are having more sex than their French counterparts, I suspect that American adults are having much less sex than is generally imagined. Indeed, in New York I have detected a definite and growing revulsion from sexual intercourse, which may explain why so many New Yorkers are showing symptoms of madness these days. In my own neighborhood, for example, an all-seeing eye would, on a given evening, probably spot nothing more erotically serious than Michael Musto masturbating.

    Among American males in their 20s there is an epidemic of impotence. Even the actor Ben Affleck has admitted, in the pages of Playboy, to resorting to Viagra. From their earliest childhoods American boys are inundated with sexual stimuli; now, we are told, they are routinely receiving oral sex from girls while in junior high school. It is little wonder that, when they reach adulthood, virtually nothing will stimulate them. That is why American women in their 20s are desperately reading magazine cover stories like "Sex Tricks Only Cosmo Would Know: 20 Earth-Quaking Moves That Will Make Him Plead for Mercy?and Beg for More" (this month's Cosmopolitan) and, even more pathetic, "Sex and Size: Is He Too Big? Are You? How to Maximize Your Pleasure Match" (Glamour). Others are understandably going lesbian, inspired, perhaps, by the reported New Year's Eve antics of Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow.

    For the solution to this crisis, we must turn to France. After all, we have imported from that nation, along with its many excellent cheeses and wines, both fellatio and anal sex. Now perhaps it is time to import the new French teenage chastity, so that the next generation of American twentysomethings will not be too jaded to discharge their marital duties. Alternatively, I have heard that the Hasids have some very interesting ways of using modesty to spice up sex.

    Charles Glass The London Desk Crime UK London?On my return from a month in the U.S. and Mexico, London's Evening Standard informs me that violent crime in some London neighborhoods, my own undoubtedly among them, is on the rise. Muggings are up 40 percent, wife beating and other violence a mere 26.4 percent on the year. The government should be proud. That's some welcome home. The muggers tend to beat people up; since they occasionally use knives, they could easily have our money for the asking. The problem is, perhaps because they are mal elevé, they never ask. It is less stressful for the sensitive young brigand to remove cash from the pocket of an unconscious man or woman than to endure the possibility of rejection. The police-state environment here seems to encourage the criminals to violence. There are more than one million closed-circuit television cameras on British streets, and the government is spending £33 million for more. The Home Office estimates that a camera records the average person in London 300 times a day. Three hundred times a day? That's almost once every five minutes. That means the police can pretty well know where you are all the time. Does anyone get up to anything, like beating one of the neighbors unconscious and stealing his money, without the police watching? Cameras watch, but the police don't see. They are too busy obeying government directives to arrest children for using drugs.

    The alternative to Big Brother's eyes would be police on the streets. The new orthodoxy at the Home Office, enunciated by Home Secretary Jack Straw himself, is that walking a beat does not reduce crime. Why is it that crime has increased so sharply since policemen stopped walking among us? When I first moved here 24 years ago, the policeman on his bicycle or walking the beat was as common as milk delivery vans and red telephone boxes. The red kiosks, the milkman and the bobby on the beat are now the preserve of folklore. The police, imitating their American television counterparts, drive around in "squad" cars, sit in their stations or review tapes from closed-circuit television cameras.

    The newspapers and pundits in this country for the most part buy the police spin that a recent decrease in "stop-and-search" operations has made it impossible for them to catch any criminals. The argument against stop-and-search is that it is racially biased. The police, who stopped fewer people last year than the year before, search four times as many black people as white. There are two reasons for the imbalance, one reasonable, the other racist. The reasonable first: When a citizen, black or white, is mugged, he describes his mugger to the police. The description always includes the offender's race, and often the color of the attacker is black. So the police stop people who fit the description. There are racist reasons as well: Many policemen, like many white and black people from whom their numbers are drawn, have racial prejudices they exercise on the job. When a black teenager in south London, Stephen Lawrence, was murdered by a gang of white thugs a few years ago, the police were shown to have covered up for the whites and botched the case against them so that a jury could not convict them. One of the gang was the son of a local white gangster, who was believed to be close to certain policemen. Public revulsion forced the police to cut the number of street searches of black suspects.

    The police, however, are pursuing drug dealers and users. I do not know a young person of any race here in Notting Hill who has not been stopped by the police and searched for drugs. The drug war, which is as futile in Britain as in the United States, has turned thousands of people who just wanted to smoke some marijuana into criminals. The prison population grows along American lines, and lines of coke are more ubiquitous now than ever. Why? Drug enforcement keeps the price high, and the tax-free income is too attractive to dealers for them to give it up. It is as stupid and predictable as alcohol prohibition was in 1920s America.

    The war on drugs is a war against the young. It is a way of controlling them, allowing the police to harass them, sending some of them to prison where they can be monitored and generally bossing them around. The more reactionary press here, led by the Daily Mail, was horrified when the government's new antidrug campaigner, Mo Mowlam, admitted last week that she had inhaled marijuana as an undergraduate at Durham University. In the 70s. The public just didn't care, any more than they do that government ministers, soldiers and doctors might be homosexual. Mo's government still sends children to prison in 2000 for a crime she committed 30 years ago. The British Medical Association and now the Police Foundation are demanding a change in the law, and the Liberal-Democrats, ever reasonable, are asking merely for the law to be reviewed.

    No one in the government will address the question: Which does more harm to a British adolescent, a joint or a year in The Joint? As it happens, I am a prison visitor. The prisoners I meet in Wormwood Scrubs, northwest London's maximum-security establishment, do not receive much treatment, but they can get drugs. A dozen guards are coming up for trial for beating prisoners in the solitary cells and hiding them from prison inspectors. Yet the government is locking so many people away for nonviolent, mainly drug, offenses that it is opening more and more private prisons to accommodate them.

    New Labor meanwhile is experimenting further with the young who are in those other institutions of compulsion, the schools. Adopting the language of the private corporations they so admire, the politicians promise to turn teachers into "learning managers." The Education Secretary David Blunkett told the Daily Telegraph, "I am interested in extending the range of adults available in the classroom so that the teacher becomes a learning manager, able to develop their [sic] professional skills, and teaching assistants and technicians to play a much more important role." Translated, Blunkett plans to put a few amateurs in every classroom to turn on the video players and watch the kids while the teacher escapes to the faculty room for a secret cigarette. New Labor prefers that to hiring more teachers, who must be trained and paid, to teach smaller classes, where students might learn something. The response of the hanging and flogging party, also called the Conservatives, came from a spokesman who said, "The best way to raise standards of discipline is to back up head teachers who want to take tough action with troublemakers." Why not just plant drugs on them and send them straight to jail?