Taki LE MAÎTRE Truth Believer This being the last column of the year, in fact of the decade, of the century and of the millennium, the expounding of a few non-p.c. truths is very much in order. Let's start with a subject that is bound to get me into trouble: gays and women in the military. The creepy, weak-kneed, pen-pushing, hermaphrodite busybodies who are in cahoots with Hillary and her feminist ilk simply have it wrong. Females may have fought extremely bravely throughout history, but they were the exception, not the rule. A soft, feminized military not motivated by a warrior-class ethos is a bad military. A good military's values cannot be those of a liberal democracy it is sworn to defend. Those values are bound to be seen as brutal by the average civilian. So be it. Proximity in, say, a submarine, prohibits mixing of the sexes. I love women as much as the next man, but I wouldn't be able to keep my mind on the job if I was dying to sleep with my bunk mate. Likewise for homosexuals. Gays are a different matter. A famous bisexual once walked and rode more than 20,000 miles through some very hostile terrain, and without antibiotics and painkillers survived more than 20 major battles. After a projectile punctured his lung, he continued across the brutal deserts of Afghanistan and Iran to Iraq, where a fever finally killed him. Yes, I'm referring to Alexander the Great, who I'm sure would be the first today to laugh at the notion that people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore (I've seen far more action than Al Gore in Nam, and then some) know what's good where gays and the armed forces are concerned. The less said the better, is what's good. Homosexuality cannot be tolerated on active duty?it very rarely has been, in any country?but what soldiers do during leave is their own business. This system has worked perfectly in the past in martial societies, including Britain and Germany, but the p.c. Nazis, the gay, lesbian and feminist activists, will not be satisfied until they see a military parade with soldiers dressed in drag, French-kissing their sergeants. The military brass should just tell Clinton to go to hell, and he will if they stick to their guns.
Now for another truth: There is no doubt in my mind that the media and those grotesque talking heads (dread expression) will try to do to George W. what they did to Dan Quayle. The hypocritical and subtly mendacious New York Times has led the way, followed by its amen corner on television. There was nothing they could find on George, so, having failed on cocaine, they decided to Quayle him. The fact that Quayle is twice the man Gore is doesn't mean a thing. Recently, the Times ran three stories about Bush's intelligence, always quoting unnamed George W. advisers. It's all baloney, character assassination of the Gore type as learned in the Clinton school of government. Make it up, use unnamed sources close to the candidate, put him on the defensive. In the meantime, Gore continues to lie and tell Clinton-like whoppers. Just imagine what the media would have done to George W. if he had falsely taken credit for discovering the Love Canal story back in the late 1970s, as Gore has, or if he had suggested that he stood guard with a rifle in Vietnam, as Gore did, or that he had invented the Internet, as the second biggest liar in the land has done. The media simply refuses to smell blood where Gore's concerned, just as it refused to do back in 1992 with the Draft Dodger. I predict that Gore the Truth Dodger will be even worse than Clinton.
But to more truths: If justice was blind in the case of Justin Volpe, I'm Monica Lewinsky. Thirty years is much too harsh and much too political a sentence. Yes, the assault was unspeakably brutal, but it was done on the spur of the moment by an angry 25-year-old cop with a clean record. Ten years maybe, but 30 is as unjust as was Volpe's torture of Louima. At least the latter will end up with millions from the city and get on with his life. Volpe will endure unspeakable torture for 26 years minimum. The three city dailies that applauded were playing up to race hustlers like Al (Capone) Sharpton. Shatiek Johnson got 25 for murdering Officer Gerard Carter while on duty and in uniform. Johnson had a record of at least one violent felony conviction. Which means murdering a white cop in uniform is a far less heinous crime than a white cop shoving a broomstick up a black man's bum. Why is it that I'm willing to bet my last drachma that if Abner Louima had sodomized Justin Volpe he would have gotten five-to-10? The judge sent a hell of a message to the race hustlers: Justice will bend to your wishes as long as you make lotsa noise.
Finally: Jesse Jackson has lost his moral authority because he blames the white establishment for every disparity in achievement between whites and blacks. Jackson is now on an intellectual par with those black hoodlums who burned Asian-owned shops in the Rodney King riots. Black underachievement is blamed on racism by Jackson cronies such as Hillary and Bill, and on gun manufacturers. The fact that blacks watch twice as much television as whites do, and television-watching no doubt leads to underachievement, is swept under the carpet. The fact that black?and Hispanic?kids are passed along from grade to grade in order to satisfy their "self-esteem" is as racist as it gets, but it serves a political purpose for the race hustlers. Instead of pointing a finger at one-parent?closer to the truth is no-parent?families, civil rights groups are screaming for more money. Yet academic achievement correlates strongly with improved cognitive skills. Changing the way parents deal with their children is the only way to improve those skills. Focus on what's going on in African-American homes and you'll get to the core of the problem. Stick to screaming racism and asking for more money and the discrepancies between white and black students will continue to grow.
These are truths universally acknowledged by those without a loudspeaker to grind. For the rest of you, a very happy New Year.
Toby Young ARRIVISTE
Schoolgirls.com Can I propose a moratorium on the expression, "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?" If there's one thing the Internet economy has proved, it's that you don't have to be smart to be rich. Indeed, judging from the intellectual bandwidth of most Internet billionaires, being intelligent is actually a handicap when it comes to making money on the Web. (Priceline.com? Go figure.) The question we should be posing about them is: "If you're so rich, why aren't you smart?"
Take the case of Patrick Naughton, the 34-year-old executive vice president of Infoseek who was arrested by the FBI after trying to rendezvous with a 13-year-old girl he'd met in an Internet chat room. Naughton was widely considered to be one of the stars of the Web, even writing an article for Forbes ASAP entitled "Mr. Famous Comes Home." As a young programmer at Sun Microsystems, he was a member of the engineering team that developed Java, the now ubiquitous software language. He went on to become the chief technology officer of Starwave before eventually landing at Infoseek after both companies were acquired by Disney. At the time of his arrest he was in charge of developing the Go Network, Disney's Internet portal.
On March 8, 1999, he entered a chat room called "dad&daughtersex.log" where he struck up a conversation with "KrisLA," who identified herself as a 13-year-old girl from Los Angeles. Now, as any fool knows, the only people in chat rooms called things like "dad&daughtersex.log" who claim to be 13-year-old girls are FBI agents. In the past two years, Congress has earmarked $20 million for the pursuit of pedophiles on the Internet and the number of cases brought by the FBI has increased from 108 in 1996 to 698 in 1998. Naughton doesn't even have the excuse of not knowing how dedicated the G-men are to hunting down cyberperverts. At one point, according to reports, Naughton told "KrisLA" that he was going to be very careful since he could go to jail.
Actually, he wasn't at all careful. He directed "KrisLA" to the Forbes ASAP website so she could read his article and see what a big shot he was, and he referred her to another site where he claimed to have posted pictures of his erect penis. "KrisLA"?in reality special agent Bruce Applin of the FBI's Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement team?teased Naughton that she'd shown these pictures to the LAPD, FBI and CIA, then admitted she was joking, but pointed out that if she did he could go to jail. Incredibly, even this massive red flag didn't alert this so-called Internet genius that he wasn't dealing with a 13-year-old girl. Naughton, it seems, like so many brilliant computer nerds, had a few bugs in his programming language. His hardware had corrupted his software. His disk was no longer floppy.
At 9 p.m. on Sept. 16, Naughton arrived at the Santa Monica pier to rendezvous with "KrisLA." He was met by someone he took to be the cyber-Lolita?actually an officer in her late 20s?who told him to meet her on the beach. Again, we have to ask ourselves whether Naughton was a couple of megabytes short of a hard drive. Couldn't he tell the difference between a 13-year-old girl and an FBI agent in the flesh? Apparently not, because he went to the beach where he was arrested by special agent Bruce Applin and charged with three felony counts, including knowingly possessing a laptop computer that contained images of child pornography. According to the FBI, at the time Naughton was also pursuing another 13-year-old girl whom he'd met in the same chat room. She, too, turned out to be an FBI agent.
Funnily enough, I was also targeted in a similar operation mounted by the United Kingdom's National Crime Squad. Fortunately, not being an Internet billionaire, I didn't take the bait.
The trouble started when I e-mailed a girl I've had the hots for for some time now, inviting her to accompany me to a wedding in Kenya. I'll call her Verity Macdonald, though that isn't her real name. I'd heard that Verity was going to be in Kenya at the same time as me and that she was contactable via Hotmail. Consequently, I sent a message to email@example.com inviting her to the wedding and giving her my phone number in Kenya.
Needless to say, I heard nothing in Kenya, but when I got back to New York there was an e-mail message waiting for me from Verity.
"Dear Toby," it began, "I can't come to the wedding with you because (a) I'm not in Kenya and (b) I have no idea who you are."
I wrote back pointing out that I'd met her at least a dozen times and that I'd always been under the impression we had great sexual chemistry. "Frankly," I concluded, "I'm rather offended that you don't remember me."
"Dear Toby," she replied, "I'm afraid you've been e-mailing the wrong person. I'm by name Verity Macdonald. However, I'm not the Verity Macdonald you've met. I'm a 16-year-old school girl living in Surrey. If you're interested, feel free to keep in touch."
Now, I may not be a computer software engineer, but I know a honey trap when I see one. Nevertheless, I was curious to see just how far the National Crime Squad was prepared to take this charade so I e-mailed her back asking to see a picture.
"I'm not going to send a pic," she replied, "as it's unnecessary at the moment (too much opportunity to send fakes!). Though you'll think I'm lying, I'm 6 feet and slim with shoulder-length brown hair. I'm a model with IMG so hopefully one day I'll get to go to New York. If you're still there then you can see me in the flesh!"
That was enough for me. The Verity Macdonald I was corresponding with was evidently some disgusting, potbellied law-enforcement officer trying to entice me into making a lewd proposition. "See me in the flesh!" That was a red flag if ever I saw one. I decided to cut off our correspondence immediately, rather than encourage these dedicated professionals from wasting their time pursuing a normal, law-abiding heterosexual like me. (By the way, Verity, in case you're reading this and you really are a 16-year-old model, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. That address can't be traced back to me.)
Earlier this month, a jury in Los Angeles found Patrick Naughton guilty of possessing child pornography on his laptop but deadlocked on the other two counts. He's currently out on bail, pending an appeal. If it's unsuccessful he faces up to 12 years in jail, where it'll be his turn to pretend to be a 13-year-old girl. Ouch.com.
George Szamuely THE BUNKER
Home-Grown Terrorism There was delicious irony in the news that Karim Said Atmani, the alleged associate and former roommate of Ahmed Ressam?indicted last week for illegally carrying explosives into the United States?had a Bosnian passport. By fervently embracing the Muslim cause in Bosnia the United States helped to create an international Islamic terrorist network. The Canadians claim that Ressam and Atmani had been stealing laptops in Montreal and sending the proceeds to Islamic terrorist groups. The French claim that Ressam and Atmani have links to Fateh Kamel?an Algerian who had fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and who may have been involved in a number of armed robberies in France in 1996. Kamel was arrested in Jordan earlier this year and extradited to France.
The story gets a little murky here. Where is Atmani? The Canadians say he was extradited to France in 1998 for his involvement in several bombings there, including one in a Paris subway in 1996. That's odd, say the French, for Atmani was never extradited to France. Indeed, there is no information linking him to that bombing. Why, only a few months ago, French investigators had come to Canada specifically to interview Ressam and Atmani. Neither man could be found. The French believe that Atmani was deported to Bosnia in 1998. Why then did they come to interview him? And if he has been in Bosnia since 1998 what is his connection to Ressam's recent entry into the United States with a carful of explosives? Subsequently we learned that Atmani may have returned to Canada after his deportation. According to an AP story, "investigators believe the money raised through the thefts was quickly funneled out of Canada via a sophisticated network passing through France, Belgium, Italy, Kosovo, Pakistan and finally, Algeria." Kosovo! We now have a veteran of the anti-Soviet effort in Afghanistan sitting in a French prison; a man with a Bosnian passport whose whereabouts are a mystery; and money from robberies going to Kosovo, there to finance the terrorism of the KLA. Kamel, Ressam and Atmani, in other words, have spent the last decade and a half promoting U.S. foreign policy.
Bosnia's emergence as a center of international terror did not come about by accident. The Clinton administration had encouraged Iran to send arms to Bosnia's Muslims. Iran not only sent arms but also its Islamic militants. In 1996 the CIA claimed that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic was "on their [the Iranian] payroll." It warned of the growing Iranian presence. Iranian cultural centers, for instance, were "fronts for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards." Yet the administration continued to pour in billions of dollars of aid into Bosnia. All manner of radical Islamic groups made their home in Bosnia. Our old friend Osama bin Laden was issued a Bosnian passport in 1993. In July of this year, as NATO leaders were preparing to journey to Sarajevo to congratulate themselves for having bombed the Serbs into submission, the Independent reported that "Islamic extremists, including followers of the alleged terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, are in Bosnia and pose a security threat to Western leaders descending on Sarajevo." That is ironic! The supposedly secular, cosmopolitan, multicultural Izetbegovic has refused to send the mujahideen home. Radical Islamic groups are believed to have been behind a number of bombings in Bosnia. There was even an attempted assassination of the pope during his visit to Sarajevo in 1997. Police discovered a massive bomb under the roadway just a few hours before the Popemobile was supposed to pass over a bridge. There were no arrests.
Islamic militants have now turned their attention to Chechnya. Here also gangsterism, radical Islam and U.S. support blend happily together. This summer, Chechen armed bands led by Shamil Basayev and his Jordanian ally, Khabib Abdel Rahman Khattab, invaded the republic of Dagestan (which is part of Russia), proclaiming their intention to "liberate" their fellow Muslims "from the rule of Moscow" and help them establish an "Islamic state." Chechnya has already proclaimed itself an Islamic state and introduced Islamic law, the shariah. The radicalization of Islam has been going on for some years in Dagestan thanks to foreign influence. The young go to study at Islamic institutes in the Middle East. Muslim clerics from abroad come to Dagestan and talk of jihad. Earlier this year, the mufti of Dagestan, Said-Muhammad Abubakarov, was assassinated. The reason? He had opposed the radicalization of Islam, even though he favored the introduction of the shariah. He just did not want to pick fights with the Russians.
For years, Chechen bandits have been at the heart of some of the worst crime syndicates in Russia. The Chechens are a lot like the Albanians. Blood is everything. Their world is organized according to kinship. In 1996 Chechnya broke away from Moscow. And it has failed totally as a nation-state. The chief source of income is crime. Chechens regularly steal oil from the pipeline connecting the Caspian and the Black Seas. They counterfeit $100 bills. And they practice kidnapping. Since 1996 more than 1300 Westerners and Russians?including women and children?have been taken hostage. It averages more than one a day. The hostages are usually treated horribly. Ransom is extracted through the use of videos that record torture and dismemberment. Hostages are bought and sold among the various clans like commodities. The Chechens, like the Bosnian Muslims, enjoy the support of Islamic militants from several countries, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan. The ubiquitous Osama bin Laden is believed to be on hand providing money, arms and training. Indeed, our own State Dept. admitted as much the other day.
The United States government, of course, purports to be deeply concerned about the terrible plight of the Chechens. Last week the hideous harridan of Foggy Bottom announced that she intends to block a proposed $500 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to a Russian oil company, Tyumen Oil. The money was to be used to buy U.S.-made oil-drilling equipment. Not for the first or the last time, the harridan's reasoning was as dishonest as it was dim-witted. Was the problem Russian policy in Chechnya? No, it was not. She could hardly say otherwise. By law, the Export-Import Bank is only permitted to consider two questions: Will the loan produce jobs for U.S. workers? And is the borrower creditworthy? In this case, the answer to both questions was yes. Oil-drilling equipment, moreover, is not really usable for purposes of modernizing nuclear warheads.
Albright's decision had nothing to do with strategy or Chechnya: she was driven by money and vanity. In 1997 BP bought a 10 percent stake in a Russian oil company called Sidanco. It went bankrupt this year and BP Amoco?as it is now called?sought to acquire Sidanco's richest oil field, Chernogorneft. However, Tyumen snapped up the oil field at a bankruptcy auction. BP Amoco was enraged, shrieking that it had been kept out of the auction, and lobbied like mad in Washington to try to stop the Export-Import loan to Tyumen. Albright's mentor is Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski is today a consultant to BP Amoco. "The Secretary has a broader mandate and in her judgment our national interest does include a serious concern about the rule of law in Russia that we believe was open to question given the nature of the bankruptcy proceedings that had taken place before this loan came forward," waffled a State Dept. spokesman the other day. BP Amoco and Tyumen have now resolved all the outstanding issues between them. Yet the State Dept. continues to block the loan. Evidently, BP Amoco is hoping to squeeze a few more bucks out of the Russians.
"Russia's history has not prepared its people to feel kinship with the West or to regard its institutions as relevant to them? Democracy?to a Russian spells anarchy," Richard Pipes raved in The Wall Street Journal the other day. Another conservative, George Will, declared on This Week recently: "Well, the unpleasantness over Kosovo was an Orthodox Slav population, the Serbs, brutalizing to an extraordinary degree, a small Muslim state of Kosovo, and that's exactly what's happening today with Chechnya." It does not seem to occur to either man today that terrorism, gangsterism, xenophobia, religious intolerance and good old-fashioned looting are being promoted by the West, chiefly the United States. It is the Russians, trying to free Grozny from the rule of criminals and zealots, who are defending Western civilization.
Jim Holt THE TIRED HEDONIST
Police Riot Will the year 2000 go down in New York's history as the year of the Diallo Riots? I have been bruiting this scenario for a couple of months now, and with the events of the last two weeks it is coming to seem like a real possibility.
Now that the trial of the four New York City cops charged with the murder of Amadou Diallo has been moved from the Bronx to Albany, a "not guilty" verdict is almost a certainty since Albany jurors have in earlier trials shown themselves to be quite sympathetic to police defendants. The verdict will probably come sometime in the late spring or early summer, and the reaction in New York City, I'll wager, will include a certain amount of nastiness in the streets.
Since the Diallo case is shaping up to be a replay of the Rodney King case seven years ago, it is interesting to recall the aftermath of that verdict. In Los Angeles there were a couple of days of anarchy, arson, looting and murder in the streets; the death toll rose above 50 before L.A. was retaken by the National Guard. The mayhem spread to other cities, and in New York people braced themselves for some major unpleasantness. The day after the King verdict, there was a mass exodus out of the city for the suburbs and the Hamptons by early afternoon; Barneys closed its doors and pulled down the steel gratings, as did Balducci's; other businesses boarded up their windows; by late afternoon the streets were eerily deserted.
In the event, New York stayed pretty calm. Marchers wending their way through Greenwich Village smashed the windows of a few establishments?including, rather unsportingly, those of a nice health-food restaurant. But despite the tension and paranoia, there were no serious outbreaks of violence in the streets, let alone fatalities. Then again, Rodney King was not exactly a local cause.
It's been a long time since New York has had anything approaching a general, citywide fracas. Most outbreaks of mob violence here have been confined to specific neighborhoods, like the 1991 Crown Heights disturbances or the Harlem riots of the summer of 1964. During the blackout of '77 there was opportunistic looting in scattered areas of New York, but that was about it. Martin Luther King's assassination in 1968 set off rioting and flames in many American cities, but Mayor Lindsay walked the streets of New York to keep the peace. (Imagine what would happen if Giuliani tried that.)
New York has had at least one world-class blowup, however: the Draft Riots of 1863. It was summertime, and Abraham Lincoln had called for yet another draft to raise Union troops to fight the advancing Confederate army of Robert E. Lee. The call was terrifically unpopular in the slums of New York, where Irish and German immigrants were unable to come up with the $300 needed to buy their way out. The week the draft was supposed to start, mobs numbering in the tens of thousands sacked the draft board. Emboldened by the success of this action, they went on to erect barricades in the streets, burn police stations, loot shops (including Brooks Brothers!) and wreck homes of prominent Republicans. Blacks?who for the rioters were the symbol of the Union cause?were singled out for especially vicious treatment. One black man was hung from a lamppost; others were thrown into the East River to drown. Crying "Burn the niggers' nest," a mob attacked and torched the Color Orphans' Asylum on 5th Ave., killing one little girl as she tried to escape.
For the better part of a week there were pitched battles all over town. The police, though badly outnumbered, fought bravely, and fears that Irish members of the police force would defect to the mob proved unfounded. New York's firemen behaved less admirably; perhaps because their draft exemptions had been canceled, they joined in the destruction and arson. Indeed, were it not for the luck of torrential rains, Manhattan might have burned to the ground that summer. As it was, more than a hundred buildings were consumed by fire before federal troops managed to put down the riot, and the death toll rose probably into the thousands. The only part of the city adequately defended was Wall Street, where naval gunboats had been called into place and boiling oil was at the ready to be poured on rioters.
The Draft Riots arose spontaneously; they had no identifiable leaders. Ditto for the Rodney King Riots. Will the same be true of the Diallo Riots, if they do in fact materialize?
Certainly they will not be led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has no stomach for that kind of thing. It was Sharpton who orchestrated the campaign of civil disobedience that preceded the bringing of charges against the four police officers accused of murdering Amadou Diallo. It was Sharpton who denounced the appellate court decision to move their trial to Albany as "demeaning," "illegal" and "an insult to the people of the Bronx." And it is Sharpton who vows to lead courthouse protests in Albany every day while the trial is taking place.
But these are all perfectly reasonable actions on his part. And in extreme situations, Sharpton can be expected to exercise his leadership responsibly. There are, of course, those who still hold the Tawana Brawley "hoax" against him, but that is not really fair. After all, Sharpton himself has been the victim of many hoaxes; anyone with a straight face can tell him the most preposterous things and be believed. Sharpton furioso can be a fearsome sight, like the indomitable cock sharpening his spurs, shaking his feathers and erecting his comb in preparation for battle. But he is not, I think, a man who is willing to let civic peace be sacrificed on the altar of "justice." May his wise counsels prevail in the aftermath of the sure-to-be explosive verdict in Albany, so that 2000 goes down not as the year of the Diallo Riots, but as the year that the bottom dropped out of NASDAQ.
Giles Auty THE SINGULAR EYE
Not With a Whimper Sydney ? What is it like living in the most popular tourist destination in the world? That is what those of us who live here are assured that Sydney has become. Probably it would be considered treasonable even to doubt this. Australia is certainly in a triumphalist mood: world champions at tennis, cricket and rugby union plus women's hockey and netball. Throw in some of the world's best swimmers and the svelte women's 400-meter world running champion, Cathy Freeman, and even you New Yorkers must admit there is a fair amount of reason for some local antipodean puffing out of chests?especially in a nation of barely 18 million people.
Worse still?or rather better?Sydney is host to the 2000 Olympics, which have seized about a quarter of all news coverage here for the past four years, although not always for the right reasons. Do Sydneysiders realize the Olympic games are coming next year to this fair city? Do we ever: for the past three years almost every road in central Sydney has been dug up, narrowed or rerouted to flow in an opposite direction so that the whole place will be more convenient for a couple of weeks for visiting hordes of Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Kiwis, Poms and other locally unpopular nations. Car journeys that once took 15 minutes now take three times as long with no alternatives. Even in specially uprated pre-Olympic form, Sydney's public transport system leaves a good deal to be desired. But hey, let's not worry about that when we can focus our entire attention instead on next year's wonderful Olympics?and this year's Australian triumphs at sport. Time out for some more chest-thumping.
But will all those ordinary Sydneysiders who have had so much to endure actually be present at the Olympic Games?even before they start paying for them in earnest through inflated local rates? Some perfectly ordinary people?the local expression is "battlers"?have almost certainly secured seats for the second and third days of the lacrosse and pistol-shooting through legitimate channels. But what about all those tickets for the premium events, you may ask? Um, er...those were also on sale?albeit unofficially?to wealthy, specially recommended purchasers of "premium packages" at three times the face ticket values. As the head of the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) remarked, "We have got to pay for these games somehow." Since then, said gentleman has already surpassed any known Olympic standard in buck-passing, claiming nobody on the managing committee had the slightest idea about what was really going on. Said gentleman also doubles as an Australian Labor Party politician, as do a number of other prominent members of the SOCOG.
In a recent (Nov. 6) referendum, the Australian people expressed their deep distrust of Australian politicians in general by knocking back a model for an Australian republic by which politicians were to choose the new head of state. Some 55 percent of the country voted NO and were told for their pains by indignant republicans that this was simply because they were ignorant and ill-educated, i.e., not paid-up members of the urban classes. Rural Australians remain some of the best people you could meet anywhere, certainly at this end of our benighted century: tough, laconic, humorous, open-hearted and hospitable. In short, they stand at the farthest possible remove from anything postmodern.
Australia is almost identical in size to the United States and possesses some of the more sublime scenery on this planet. So how well prepared is this strange nation of widely contrasting types of people for the imminent millennium? If one were to believe the newspapers, Australia is possibly the best-prepared nation on Earth in terms of the potential problems of Y2K. Needless to add, this has come at a cost?estimated at around US$8 billion?in compliance fees or entire computer system upgrades. Also needless to say, those dry, distrustful country folk are laying in plenty of supplies of water, food and fuel?just in case their exalted urban cousins happened to get their optimistic forecasts wrong again.
What about the big night itself? The mayor of Sydney, Frank Sartor (Australian Labor Party), has promised that even more of the local populace's money will be going up in smoke than usual with a fireworks display that will not disgrace the Book of Revelation. To the south and west, Sydney extends for some 40 miles, but there is unfortunately no guarantee that those who come to see the fun will be able to get back home again by public transport. They can always watch it all on television, of course?just like the Olympic Games.
Do I sound disenchanted? Will I be going to see Sartor's pyrotechnics? Not on your Ned Kelly. I shall be spending the night of the millennium at the beachside residence of a friend who is a prominent Australian businessman and winemaker. The assembled company will dress for dinner in honor of several great vintages he has set aside, and of the birth of Christ very approximately a couple of millennia ago.
I understand that the devil will be dining with his friends the postmodernists, as usual.
Melik Kaylan SPY
Party Shame To think that nary a few weeks back I sat breaking bread with Taliban tribesmen on the Khyber Pass bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan. You can imagine the quality of friendship forged by such places. Knife-edge days endured together can make the scurviest human fuzzballs seem like Caravaggio saints.
Imagine then, the shock of reentry to New York at the height of the party season. It's happened before. I once came back from Kurdistan to a three-hour sitdown dinner at an editor's townhouse where they spoke only of recent power weddings?of registry choices, celebrity couture gowns, place settings and decorators. That was bad, but this time I actually got the bends. Never has friendship seemed more market-dominated than in New York at the millennium.
In our city-state the values of the agora now dominate all else?the Stoa, the amphitheater, the Acropolis, no doubt even the necropolis, though I haven't heard from there recently. Maybe it was something to do with my own imminent Christmas party, actually a roaring success on the night. Some 80-plus bright and brilliant souls stayed for hours, and loved it, a notable feat since so many of them are boldfaced on "Page Six" just for leaving home.
Yet I was appalled by the no-shows of good friends, especially those who'd even RSVPed. I'd gotten sentimental about coming back to their company from Afghanistan's death-haunted landscape. They knew where I'd been. And when I threw out leftover party food worth thousands of dollars, I blamed them the more. The Taliban, I felt, were better people.
So I shall devote this column to a kind of social fatwa list, to naming names and passing odium on the most egregious no-shows. But wait. Let us, first, taunt them with what they missed. I pick out four illustrious attendees at random. May houris serenade them in Paradise. Kate Betts, Oliver Platt, Pilar Crespi and Andrew Gilmour. Kate recently took over Harper's Bazaar and already, like Kate herself, the magazine glows with the sunlit sexy elegance of an American blonde on the Riviera. Oliver Platt is probably the great character actor of our generation, and a friend and neighbor besides (same goes for his brother Adam Platt, the writer). Strangely for a U.S. movie star, Oliver is a man of cultural substance. His ex-ambassador father runs the Asia Society uptown, and the Platts grew up as privileged Yankee nomenklatura in the Far East. I worship Oliver's talent, and it passed the ultimate test: When my wife groaned for 48 hours long with first-child labor, only repeated showings of Oliver Platt in Executive Decision quelled her suffering.
Pilar Crespi, my wife's business partner... Well, I should be careful how I breathe, but there's no need. She's a famous beauty, of course, but one who belongs to a certain eternal moment in the recent history of glamour. Her father, the Conte di Crespi, defined Rome's Dolce Vita years. Pilar stepped onto that platform. Magazines always idolized her, still do. She's from that class and generation of beauties whose real lives models evoke when they walk along the beaches of St. Bart's barefoot.
Finally, Andrew Gilmour. Andrew hails from perhaps the second-oldest aristocratic British family?the oldest being that of his cousin the Earl of Buccleugh, also Scottish. Andrew's father, Sir Ian Gilmour, owned The Spectator for a while and served as minister in various Conservative governments. Andrew himself is a power at the UN, an Afghan expert and, to his annoyance, still a striking Rupert Brooke-ish pretty boy after fathering three children. So much so that, as he admitted to me at the party, he caused a riot when he visited Jordan at age 16. Two rival gangs fought over him fiercely and leeringly, but he was saved from a T.E. Lawrence-ish fate by a policeman who happened to be Christian and no doubt understood the danger well.
Which brings me to the Social Fatwa List of No-Shows. Let us start immediately with Taki. I've known him for 15 years. At Spy he and I wrote nightlife columns side by side entitled "10012" (my then ZIP code) and "10021" (his eternal ZIP code). We hung out at Nell's nightly in its 80s heyday, with Graydon Carter and others. This year, Taki RSVPed often, in fact every time we talked. And yet didn't come. And used the same excuse as ever about Gianni Agnelli. Change the excuse for chrissakes!
Thomas Hoving. Hoving ran the Metropolitan Museum for 10 years and singlehandedly invented the modern museum for the masses. I worked under him at Connoisseur, where he sent me around the world on terrific antiquities-smuggling stories. Indeed, I spent four months in the hospital from injuries sustained on a story for him in southern Turkey. We have country houses near each other upstate and he often flies me up and down the Hudson in his scary private planes. But now I will never again show up for an Art for Dummies book launch.
Paul Klebnikov, the Forbes writer and editor, scion of a grand White Russian family. I tolerate Paul's Czarist Russianness, which is saying a lot. For two centuries the Russkies have killed and oppressed us Turks. In the last decade they've reached a ghoulish climax by abetting in the decimation of our cousins from Bosnia to Azerbaijan to Chechnya. I have overlooked this and much else because Paul did fine work at Forbes uncovering links between Yeltsin and Berezovsky, the mafia boss and Kremlin corrupter. Berezovsky got so cross that Paul went to ground in Paris for a while to let things cool off. Good work. But he RSVPed me twice. What the fuck?
In Town and Country, I've just written a glowing profile of Leigh and Leslie Keno, the blond twin stars of Antiques Roadshow and priceless American furniture trade. They love me. I love them. I knew Leslie couldn't make it, but Leigh could. He didn't. He wasn't racing his vintage cars. He wasn't scoping a $10 million Cadwallader Tea Table. He wasn't fishing in Belize. I think I know what he was doing and he's lucky I'm not saying.
Jonathan Van Meter, founding editor of Vibe, permanent boy wonder of pop culture reportage. Van's our tenant and neighbor downstairs. He did come to our party. We weren't invited to his, as usual. Our little daughter often looks out onto his terrace with wonder saying, "Balloons, balloons, party, party." Do we have to put it in the contract, Jonathan?
Kurt Andersen and Michael Hirschorn. We all have country houses near one another. I've known Kurt since Spy days, and Michael forever it seems. They gave their new dot-com venture office party the same night as mine. Mistake. They told me they probably couldn't make it. Okay. But they might have invited me to theirs! A venial sin, perhaps, but it does give me the opportunity to namedrop?which is the least they can do for me.