THAT KKK STORY

The hate-crime that turned out to be hoax, a reader tells me, was first reported in the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The Washington Post. Let me know if you see a correction in any of these papers. It’ll be interesting to see if they bother.

POSEUR ALERT I: “There’s a giant swan on the cover of Vespertine, Björk’s newest album (out last week), and Björk once again sports the swan dress in all her photos. I’m unable to suss out the waterfowl semiotics at play here, but I did notice that Björk.com has line-drawings of a duck. As for the album title, “vespertine” means crepuscular-blossoming at dusk, like vesper prayers. In contrast to the bombast of earlier Björk tunes, Vespertine is a dusky, twilight creation. It’s electronic music, but no one will dance to it. It made me want to curl up in an egg chair, pull a few mellow tokes, and work on my macrame.” – Seth Stevenson, Slate.

HOTLINE SCOOP: According to the Hotline, I’m a liberal pundit. Why didn’t they tell Peter Beinart that?

POSEUR ALERT II: “This evening the water crept slowly away toward low tide, like a purple pool of mercury, and then the low red moon grew over the horizon. The final drag shows are closing; the bar patrons dwindle; the seasonal townies gather for long bull sessions over smoke and wine. This has been a vintage summer, but its ending has been a classic.” – Andrew Sullivan, andrewsullivan.com.

THOSE CANNY BRITS: Fresh from reprinting the hoax survey of presidential I.Q.s as if it were fact, the Guardian of London just ran the following item: “Commiserations to Palatino, Geneva and the rest, but the champion at Tuesday’s 73rd annual Fonty Awards in Los Angeles was Helvetica Bold Oblique, which took home 11 statues, including 2001 Best Font. “A million thanks to all the wonderful folks in the font community who believed in Helvetica Bold Oblique,” said its jubilant designer Oliver Gwynneth Rudd. “Without your faith in my vision, I would not be here before you tonight.” Now stop that, Oliver, before we all get the moists.” The provenance of the story? The Onion! And the Brits think Americans have an irony deficiency?

STEROIDS ETC

As usual, a terrific piece from Malcolm Gladwell in the New Yorker. I wish I could link to it but the snobs at that magazine think it’s beneath them. Malcolm breaks a taboo I have long since found troublesome. Why are we concerned that most athletes these days use increasingly sophisticated steroids and performance enhancers? He rightly scoffs at those in denial about this; and just as smartly shows how it’s all but impossible to test accurately and fairly for their use. Today’s ramshackle testing regimen merely punishes those with the least sophisticated doctors and trainers. So why not just give in? The case against, I suppose, is that steroids are an unfair advantage in sports. So what? Our genes are the deepest unfairness in this respect. Some of us just aren’t made to be great athletes; others are. Why is the dumb luck of genetics somehow morally superior to the contrived success of training and pharmaceuticals? Then there’s the argument that excellence in sports is somehow morally better if it’s related entirely to ‘effort.’ Maybe, but most steroids enhance the ability of athletes to recover from hard training, and so boost their performance primarily by allowing athletes to train harder, giving greater emphasis to effort. Besides, most of these drugs simulate the body’s own ‘natural’ chemicals. Why should someone with a genetically higher level of, say, testosterone be deemed morally superior to someone who gets it from a vial? Beats me. Gladwell is right, I think, to argue that we should simply put limits on the upper end of steroid use and allow everyone below that measurable level to compete using drugs. I’d favor legalizing and deregulating their use for amateurs as well. Athletes will have to determine whether this will impact their long-term health and well-being, and minors should be protected from abuse. But apart from that, I share Gladwell’s insouciance toward the whole area. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on testosterone therapy for a few years now and seen what human growth hormone can do for the emaciation and deformation many people with long-term HIV endure. But like many other pharmaceuticals, steroids can enhance our human experience. They could enhance our sports experience as well. In fact, of course, they already have.

A.S. T.R.B. R.I.P.: I’m sad to say that last week turns out to have been my last TRB column. I had a year’s contract and my editor, Peter Beinart, told me last week that my time is up and he now wants to write it himself. I don’t have much to say except I am very sad not to be able to continue but that I had a blast and am glad to have been allowed to write openly and honestly for a year – even when the column often tilted against the current of the magazine. I’ll take a breather from column writing for the next couple of months before reassessing. I have a couple of long essays I want to finish. Meantime, I’ll still be a senior editor at TNR, writing weekly for the Sunday Times in London; writing more for the New York Times Magazine; and updating the Dish daily. I’d like to thank all the editors, fact-checkers, and emailers who helped me fill a space I have long revered in American journalism and wish Peter all the best in carrying on the tradition. Any further questions people might have about this should be directed to TNR’s editor, Peter Beinart.

THE EXODUS: Provincetown now is the place I’ve been waiting all summer for. In a matter of days, the throngs have all disappeared. I wake up to a largely deserted beach and walk the dog to the local bakery for coffee and scones. The light pierces everything – and the clearer fall air focuses it. This evening the water crept slowly away toward low tide, like a purple pool of mercury, and then the low red moon grew over the horizon. The final drag shows are closing; the bar patrons dwindle; the seasonal townies gather for long bull sessions over smoke and wine. This has been a vintage summer, but its ending has been a classic.

ANOTHER HATE-CRIME HOAX: Like the church burnings of a few years ago, this one was too good to check. A woman who had claimed that she had had the initials KKK carved on her body now admits it was self-inflicted. I don’t think we should simply dismiss this kind of thing as simple loopiness. There’s a need here – a need for relevance, a need to matter. And mattering these days, from Durban to Texas, means being a victim of something called ‘racism,’ increasingly a receptacle for the all the inchoate grievances many of us have and refuse to overcome. That is not to say that racism doesn’t exist. But it is to say that its centrality in our culture is a very strange disorder. What deeper anxiety, I wonder, is this really all about?

HER MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION

A new low for Maureen Dowd’s sadly knee-jerk dismissal of Bush. She’s really better than this. Maybe this column makes a good faith attempt to explain why some people disagree with missile defense. Or maybe it’s worthy of Molly Ivins. I particularly liked this group of sentences: “The last time a president became infatuated with Star Wars, the obsession was easier to understand. Ronald Reagan was by temperament a utopian. He believed that the unattainable was attainable. He confused real life with the movies.” And of course, Reagan turned out to be a fool, his foreign policy collapsing into thin air, his delusion that Star Wars might hasten the demise of the Soviet Union pure fantasy. Why, the end of the Cold War was just a figment of his movie-addled imagination! Does Maureen still buy this interpretation of Reagan? Was she alive in the late 1980s? Or is this just more crowd-pleasing throw-aways for know-nothing blue-zoners? On another matter, imagine a column being written that made the same simple assumptions about another completely risky, utterly unproven and possibly dangerous area of research: on embryonic stem cells. Now imagine it in the New York Times.

IAIN DUNCAN PAPIST: I remember a telling moment when I was a whipper-snapper on the editorial board of the Daily Telegraph at the tender age of 20. Under the tutelage of a wonderfully erudite and funny man, Peter Utley, it was my job to write editorials while the real editors were on vacation or on an extremely long lunch. Peter was a ferocious Unionist and Anglican and saw both identities as central to what English conservatism was all about. I once asked him, in jest, if a good Catholic could really be a Tory. Peter replied in all seriousness that this was a deeply vexing question. I was a little stunned. A gay Catholic, I quietly surmised, might as well join the Socialist Workers Party. So how remarkable that the front-runner for the Tory leadership, Iain Duncan Smith, is a) a practicing Catholic and that b) no-one has even mentioned this. An interesting piece in the Irish Independent notices. What a difference it might make to those Catholics still persecuted in Ulster to have a prime minister who actually shares their faith.

THE RESILIENCE OF BIGOTRY: Two stories from different parts of the world, revealing just how vile humanity is. In Ulster, Unionist bigots traumatized elementary school children for the crime of going to a Catholic school in a predominantly Protestant enclave. My recent skepticism of the IRA should not, I hope, be taken as implicit support for the poisonous hatred that some Protestants in Ulster still hold for Catholics. Having endured anti-Catholic sneers of a far milder kind growing up in a state high school in England, I’m under few illusions as to the sweetness and light of some unreconstructed Protestants. And these school kids face yet more barrages of hate in the days to come. Then in the Times of London, some more reporting about the bigotry vented in Durban. It seems that Egypt told the U.S. that Cairo would never accept a conference declaration that didn’t condemn Israel as inherently “racist.” The Times goes on: “The warning was accompanied by a statement from Syria saying that the Holocaust, in which more than six million Jews lost their lives, was a “Jewish lie” and a demand from Iran that anti-Semitism should not be accepted as discrimination because it was not “a contemporary form of racism”.” These are the people with whom the Israelis are urged to make peace.

POSEUR ALERT

“She was only 22 years old. Yet in an instant, Aaliyah Dani Haughton joined an exclusive but heartbreaking club: stars who are gone too soon. Aaliyah was Mercury rising. She was Saturn with brilliant rings of movies, songs and laughter getting brighter and hotter. But she was more. Unlike others on the verge of greatness, Aaliyah’s success had already mounted the horizon and was coming at her like a sunrise in a hurry. She had already reached places that once existed only in her dreams. But she wanted mega-stardom on the scale of Barbra Streisand’s. When word came of her fatal plane crash in The Bahamas last Saturday, we mourned a star, not the hope of a star. As did two other rising stars — James Dean and Selena — she left too soon for the world to know truly how far she could go.” Rochelle Riley, Knight Ridder.

DURBAN BRAWL

It’s worth checking out the British papers for coverage of issues like the Durban Conference Against Racism. Among other things, they are less squeamish in quoting some African-American comments. The Telegraph has a quote from Jesse Jackson absent in the Washington Post and New York Times. Jackson accused the Bush administration of “in a sense subverting” the meeting. “It is most unfortunate and unnecessary to withdraw based on one issue,” he elaborated. That “one issue” is whether Israel is inherently a racist state, based upon theories of “racial superiority,” that practices apartheid. Is that a view Jackson endorses? The Guardian also quoted Essop Pahad, President Thabo Mbeki’s number two. “I don’t know if anger helps,” Pahad said. “It’s a matter of great regret. There are millions upon millions of citizens of the United States who will not be happy with this decision; committed people against racism. The anti-racists will be very disappointed in their government and will ask why it is not committed to the same ends, why it does not think that combating racism is important?” Does Pahad think appeasing virulent and unrestrained anti-Semitism – the most poisonous form of racism that has ever existed – is something “anti-racists” should endorse? In fact, we should all be relieved that this conference has ended in collapse. These U.N. sessions are mere opportunities for venting the envy and hatred that pervades the failed and failing states of much of Africa and the Middle East.

CORRECTION: Parris Glendening is separated from his wife, not divorced.

THOSE QUIET RUSSIANS: To my mind, the most extraordinary political story of the last decade is the story that never happened. That’s the much-anticipated collapse of democratic life in Russia. We have been treated from day one to gloomy prognostications about the re-emergence of military rule, suspension of the free press, the rise of corrupt oligarchs, the grip of the mafia, and so on. And much of the gloom seems at least partly deserved. But through it all, Russia has given up a vast empire, transformed its economy, engaged in a brutal and bitter war, and yet still stayed democratic. The much under-rated Boris Yeltsin has something to do with this. But one of the most persuasive recent explorations of the change I’ve yet read is in Ian Buruma’s modest but telling essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Check it out. His counter-intuitive bet on Russia’s long-term stability over China’s seems dead-on to me. Our real fear should not be that China will soon become a militarized capitalist dictatorship, but that it will explode under an authoritarian system that has no way to absorb or redirect the vast social unrest it has unleashed. Buruma’s essay is also a necessary reminder that economics and politics are what we used to call independent variables. And sometimes, political stability is far more important than economic growth.

LETTERS: Was Condit not cute enough? Why Parris Glendenning is sadder than you already thought; etc.

CHUNG AWARD NOMINEE

Introducing a new feature that keeps tabs on the media’s wanton invasion of public and private figures’ privacy. A clear winner this week is the Washington Post. Check out this astonishing story today about the governor of Maryland, Parris Glendening. It seems he is having a relationship with a member of his staff. He is divorced; there are no laws against this; he has conducted his love affair with discretion. What does the Post do? It sends reporters to catch the guy leaving his paramour’s house in the early morning: “Washington Post reporters observed the governor emerging from the aide’s Annapolis town home after spending the night there several times this summer.” Several times? Is this a good way to deploy reporters – having them stake out someone’s home to catch them in a relationship? And get this paragraph, pointed out to me by Jake Tapper: “In May, a source unfriendly to the governor told The Washington Post that Glendening often visited [his lover’s] Annapolis town house, a short drive from the State House. In a month-long period, Post reporters, watching from a shopping center parking lot across the street from Crawford’s town house, saw Glendening there without his security detail, and on several occasions he spent the night.” In other words, some slimeball who wanted to smear Glendening was a key source for the Post’s entrapment. The Post might say in its defense that because the governor’s lover is on his staff and because her influence is said to be growing, there is a justification for this invasion of privacy. Hooey. The Post has found nothing improper in Glendening’s public actions that might mean undue influence or special favors for his lover. The fact that she is close to him is not relevant in and of itself. It’s just a juicy story that once upon a time would have been left to the National Enquirer. The Post wins the first Chung Award. Keep your eyes open for others.

INNOCENT UNTIL … : My latest TRB defends a principle apparently forgotten by today’s media.

CORRECTIONS

From many letters, it appears my first correspondent was wrong in thinking that the Israeli missile that killed Mustafa Zibri was guided by a homing device. Less Mission Impossible, but still remarkable. An item I wrote about Deroy Murdock’s presumption of Gary Condit’s guilt put the word “obvious” in parentheses, as if it were quoting Murdock. He didn’t use the word. My apologies. Have a great Labor Day weekend, and thanks for making August our biggest month yet.

JOINT BEGALA/DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE

“We will not be surprised or shocked if the Senator, wife of the former American president … changes her surname to Zion, Moishele, or Sharoni. Simultaneously with sexual prostitution and corruption, chronic political prostitution spreads in the US ruling circles. Since Hillary Clinton was elected congresswoman [sic] for the state of New York, she has been practicing a kind of political prostitution that is even worse than her husband’s sexual debauchery. We are not surprised by the position of this political whore – a position that turns the facts upside down in order to win the love and support of the Zionist lobby in the US.” – from an article titled “Hillary Clinton Is A Zionist Whore,” printed by Al-Ittihad, the Arabic language mouthpiece for the Israeli Communist party.

THAT FRENCH LETTER TRANSLATED BY ALTA VISTA: “The death of a human being, was he an assassin is always tragic. I find that your ticket on the death of Mustapha Zibri misses elegance.”