Leave it to Fox News Channel to dream up ways of making a large-scale anti-war protest into something downright … sexy!"We got an e-mail from some women who are going to be showing the bottoms of their bikinis," said Thom Bird, the executive producer responsible for Fox's coverage of the Republican National Convention. "That may end up being in an overall package about the protesters." With a quarter of a million demonstrators expected in New York on the eve of the convention, Mr. Bird said it was only right to give 'em a little air time. "It's part of our American system," he said, "of the way we do things. If people want to be heard, they're heard. You have one group inside doing what they need to do and the other outside-they certainly go hand in hand." Fair and balanced, bub! But Fox News hasn't always felt that way. During New York antiwar protests in 2003, Brit Hume, the channel's managing news editor, had this to say on March 23: "The striking thing about the anti-war sentiment," he said, "and the whole anti-war case now, is that it is rooted in what I think most Americans can see from their TV screens are demonstrative lies … They don't have a credible argument. They don't have-intellectually and morally, they seem totally confused." "Well, they're anti-American," said Bill Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and a Fox News commentator. A lot has changed in 18 months. A Fox News spokesperson said that at the time, "the dominant news was the Rhode Island club fire," and that Mr. Hume "stands by the statement … for the war-protest coverage he was discussing in 2003, which has nothing to do with the protests next week-it's two totally different things." Indeed: One protest was hoping to stop a war in the Middle East; the other will merely be lodging an objection to a political convention. Also, nobody was showing off their bottoms at the former. The all-important rump question aside, other network and cable-TV executives were taking a wait-and-see approach to demonstrations. If the projected 250,000 demonstrators turned up and the whole thing went off without incident, they said, it would merit a little TV coverage. But just a little. "Is that a full-network interrupt?" said Paul Mason, the senior vice president of ABC News. "I don't think so. If they're just out on the street, we'll put it on our digital channel and we'll put it on World News Tonight ." The real wild card for TV executives isn't so much the mass Sunday demonstration-which has yet to secure Central Park as its location-but the dozens of other demonstrations around the city during the convention itself, including an unknown number taking to the streets on the night of Sept. 2, when George W. Bush accepts his party's nomination. Considering the unpredictability of thousands of anti-Bush mobs acting out in public-and the possible presence of black-clad Starbucks-haters-the main worry for TV news organizations is inciting disruptive behavior by showing up with cameras. "The fear is that the presence of that causes it," said David Bohrman, the executive producer of CNN's convention coverage. "That's really a fear. We're reluctant to pull our cameras out if there's a crowd of people. You don't want to galvanize a crowd by pointing a camera at them. You want to report on them, but you don't want to be the cause of them." Mr. Bohrman said that was one of the reasons that most national news organizations didn't mark their equipment with logos. "I think you'll find the networks and the cable networks, their cars won't be marked so they don't attract attention, but local crews will be marked. We've learned these things." "You've got to be careful," he added. Bill Dobbs, the media coordinator for the major protest group, Unity for Peace and Justice, agreed. He said the media would also need to show some restraint. "For all those concerned with the dire predictions of the police and all, I just hope things are kept in perspective," he said. "If there are huge problems, let's keep the problems in perspective." It wasn't clear what would constitute a news event big enough to cut into a prime-time Republican speech-especially President Bush's. And nobody was willing to hazard a guess, for fear of inadvertently making a recommendation to the protesters. Marcy McGinnis, the senior vice president of CBS News, said it would take something "pretty major" for CBS News to pre-empt any of the convention coverage-but then she became nervous just saying that. "I don't want it in the paper that it would have to be 'pretty major' and then look like we're egging something on," she said. "Whatever it is, we'll make an editorial judgment when it happens." Mr. Bird was willing to venture that if a Fox News camera captured footage of a single black-clad anarchist throwing a garbage can through a Starbucks window-the ubiquitous image from the W.T.O. protests in Seattle in 1999-he would have to air it. "It's a part of the story," he said. "You can't ignore it." In the most extreme case, a network might split the screen, or display a small box within the main broadcast. "We've made decisions to split the screen with two different screens," said Ms. McGinnis, recalling the simultaneous broadcasts of former President Bill Clinton's impeachment and the civil-suit verdict of O.J. Simpson. But imagining the circumstances under which they'd do that-especially during President Bush's speech-was difficult. "We need to be careful before we just blindly do that," said Mr. Borhman. "That could conceivably undermine what's happening on the floor of the convention. We need to think a little bit before we do that. None of us knows what this is going to turn into. By everyone's hope, it won't be Chicago 1968." Mr. Borhman said that, given that many of the protests would take place during the day, the two events might not be part of the same narrative. "They may be able to exist as completely different stories, and they may not have to intrude into each other in a huge way," he said. Black-Tie Power In the next month, there are two places you can hear funk legend Isaac Hayes sing his Black Power classic "Theme from Shaft ." One is the TV premiere of the concert film Wattstax , the so-called "black Woodstock" from 1972, hosted by an Afro-and-dashiki-sporting Jesse Jackson and featuring 100,000 people, fists in the air, repeating after Mr. Jackson: "I may be on welfare, but: I am! Somebody! " And the other place? The G.O.P. party on Wednesday, Sept. 1, honoring House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and featuring a special appearance by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. NYTV had to ask: Was the 62-year-old voice of Chef McElroy on South Park now one baaaad right-wing Repub- "No!" said Mr. Hayes in an interview, his deep baritone testing the bass levels on our telephone. "I'm not a Republican. I made it clear: Don't associate me with the Republican Party. I'm a Democrat." Mr. Hayes said he was asked to perform by his friend, Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, which is sponsoring the event. "Mitch Bainwol is a good friend of mine and he happens to be part of the RIAA, and they want me to be a part of this thing," said Mr. Hayes. "But they promised me I wouldn't be associated with this thing at all. "It's a fine line," he confessed. "You have fans on both sides. So I try not to get all that mixed up, you know." And yet, mixed up he was-alongside pro-Bush rap-rocker Kid Rock and country singer Trace Adkins. But a significantly younger Mr. Hayes will reburnish his rep on Tuesday, Sept. 7. PBS will air Wattstax , the concert commemorating the Watts Riots and featuring performers from the legendary Stax Records, with Mr. Hayes as the headliner. Directed by Mel Stuart, the man who brought us Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (!), it shows glorious documentary footage of life in the Watts section of L.A. in the early 70's, savage comedy riffs by a radicalized Richard Pryor and lots of jive-ass screw-whitey commentary by such random Black Power youngsters as Teddy Wilson, the man who would later play Isaac on The Love Boat . "We were overcoming," said Mr. Hayes, who sports a solid-gold chain-link vest in the film. "Dr. King's dream was alive in all of us. There was a lot of love in that whole thing that day, in the whole coliseum. It was a great day for me, because I visited Watts Tower. We had a parade-it was an awesome day." Mr. Hayes might not say the same thing about Mr. Hastert's right-wing wing-ding, but a lot has changed since Wattstax-and not, in his opinion, for the better. He said that after Bill Cosby made his recent comments about lazy, degenerate black kids, he called him up to tell him how much he agreed with him. "I congratulated him: 'I totally support you, man. Tot-a-lly ,'" Mr. Hayes recalled. "He had had it. It's time for black folks to take responsibility. Some got offended by it. It's just crazy." If it's any comfort to lefty funk fans, Mr. Hastert and company won't be getting the full Shaft when Mr. Hayes does his bit at their gig. "I'm just singing to a CD," he said. "My band won't be on this."
"Andy, here!" … "Andy, look right, please!" came the screams from a dozen or so photographers snapping the young American tennis star Andy Roddick during a photo op at Macy's on the morning of Aug. 24.Mr. Roddick-who turns 22 on Monday, the first day of the U.S. Open-was exhibiting all the signs of attention-deficit disorder: his close-set eyes darting from side-to-side; his knees (clad in the baggy, surfer-style shorts) knocking underneath the table; his hands shuffling cards or tapping his pen or picking at his nails. He ran one through his light brown hair, which stands out, tufted, in all directions. "It's bed ," he said. "It's sleeping ," he said earlier. His fox-like face recalled the character Stifler in the American Pie movies. Mr. Roddick could be forgiven for feeling drowsy; the previous day, he'd flown in from the Olympics, and by 8:30 a.m. he was batting around balls with kids on a makeshift court for Good Morning America . He failed to get a medal in Athens, watching compatriot Mardy Fish lose the gold to Chilean Nicolas Massu. But Mr. Roddick, currently ranked second in the world, is still the favorite at the Open, which he won for the first time last year. He has the fastest serve in history, a pulverizing back-court game and increasing all-court fluency. More importantly, he's got personality . He shouts at umpires, he's well-stocked with arm candy (after dating the limpid-eyed pop singer Mandy Moore, he's currently "linked," as they say, to Elite model Lauren Bedford) and he has the smart-alecky, Jackass -watching, trucker-hat-wearing sensibility that is so de rigueur among American males these days. Jeff Lau, 23, was hanging around the Macy's appearance-a member of Mr. Roddick's Entourage -like entourage. They've been friends since meeting on the sun-baked courts of Austin, Tex., at the age of 8. "We'd always watch TV shows," Mr. Lau recollected. " Beavis and Butthead was a favorite of ours. He was Beavis, I was Butthead." The previous night, Beavis had taken Butthead and some other friends to Nobu for dinner. "I definitely like to get out and about," Mr. Roddick told The Observer . "I'm not one to sit in my room." To prepare for his games, he listens to rock and hip-hop. "Last year I listened to 'Fiddy' Cent," he said, using "homeboy" dialect to describe the rapper 50 Cent. "I got to say it properly!" Mr. Roddick's love of New York flash (he stays in W hotels) and his sharp wit (he slayed them recently on Jimmy Kimmel Live , and also called in to John McEnroe's struggling talk show to joke about taking it over by 2009) is satisfying in ways that the previous decade's male stars was not. As young as Pete Sampras was when he started dominating in the early 1990's, the caterpillar-browed phenom with the classic game always seemed set in bronze before his time. Mr. Sampras just didn't seem to care. Only when he threw up on court in the 1996 quarterfinal-surely the most famous upchuck in modern sports-did we begin to like him a little. And for all the hype about Andre Agassi's black sneakers and crazy hairdos, Mr. Agassi has always been more straight and narrow than his ad campaigns ("image is everything") would suggest. These days, he's a veritable Zen master, posing bald and beatific with wife Steffi Graf and their two tots in Vogue . No, in the 90's the true face of tennis was female-girl power! Williams sisters! Anna Kournikova!-but the tables have turned. The new "ova," leggy Russian Maria Sharapova, is determined to be the anti-Anna, to the point of straitjacketing herself; Belgian women Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne play a mean but uncaptivating game; the Williams sisters appear distracted; and Ms. Kournikova's people are saying her back might be so badly injured she'll never play singles again. "The boys are all much hotter," said amateur player and spirited fan Mary Martinez matter-of-factly after a recent lesson at a private Chelsea tennis facility the other day. "I could name you the Top 10 just because they're cute. " Ms. Martinez, 42, vice president of production for the clothing house Chaiken, noted without prompting that the men have shortened their shorts lately. It's a happy sight. There's none of that peach fuzz that defined John McEnroe's pubescent legs in the 1970's; no, these striated thunder thighs are as plucked as Purdue's chickens. Ms. Martinez launched into her list: Argentina's Guillermo Coria (ranked third in the world) and No. 10 Gaston Gaudio ("He's Guillermo Vilas reborn," she exclaimed), who won the French Open this year, and Germans Rainer Schuettler (ranked 12th), Nicolas Kiefer (20th) and that blank-looking Mark Vanderloo look-alike, Tommy Haas (45th). "We call him hot-ass Haas, my friend and I," she said. As the qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open kicked off this week, midtown was indeed awash in handsome young tennis players. They congregated outside the Parker Meridien, in clusters recalling Fleet Week as imagined, perhaps, by the marketing managers at Adidas; they piled into Cadillac Escalades for carpools out to Flushing Meadow; they grabbed lunch on the Upper East Side; and they clogged the 57th Street sidewalks with their bulky nylon bags. And for the first time in years, they actually turned heads. Besides Ms. Martinez's hot list, don't count out Roger Federer, whose wide, white bandage of a headband and smooth, calm playing style recalls Björn Borg; the Bryan Brothers, corn-fed twins who are the No. 1 ranked doubles team; and the Olympic silver medalist Mr. Fish, No. 28, whose golden-flecked hair looks like the work of a $300 Fifth Avenue saloniste. "It's not really their looks necessarily, it's their personal style!" exulted Jennifer Pinto, 30, who works in public relations at another fashion house. "It's their longish hair or the way they wear their headband! It's all about the men's tennis. It was boring for a while-for a time, we had machine, machine, machine. Now it seems like there are a whole lot of men on the scene-Federer, or the Brazilian guy, Guga," she said, referring to heartthrob Gustavo Kuerten. And Mr. Roddick has the most pizzazz of all. "I don't know what it is about him, but he's just the dude," said Selma Nasser, 30, another publicist, who plastered her office with Roddick photos for two months after he won the Open. "He's delicious," said Laura Simon, a 23-year-old student with a nose ring waiting in line at Macy's. Barbra Kogan, 32, a stay-at-home mom from the Upper East Side, said she would be "freaking out" if it were Mark Philippoussis on the podium a few feet away, but that Mr. Roddick was almost as exciting. "He's got the showmanship of Agassi and the nice finesse of Sampras," she said. "He's fairly good-looking, he takes care of himself, he talks off the court, he's got a good-looking girl," said wizened coach Nick Bollettieri by phone from Florida. "What Roddick has done is, he's become more of an idol. He's now displaying much more than the 150-mile-an-hour serve." Bud Collins, NBC's irrepressible commentator, called from his house in Brookline, Mass. "I don't think people get tired of Sampras, but he was no ball of fire," he said. "He doesn't come within light-years of Roddick in terms of personality. There are bright faces that have sprung to the fore. Andy's bright and colorful and quotable and cocky and good to watch. Federer is much smoother, but he's a glorious player. Those two have popped up rather suddenly." Mr. Collins said that "everybody hopes" a rivalry will develop between Mr. Roddick and Mr. Federer. "One guy from a little country everyone thought was just bankers and skiers-and Roddick the rough, blustering, very appealing guy," he said. But that may be impossible. "The men's game is deeper than it's ever been," Mr. Roddick's coach, Brad Gilbert, snapped into the phone from San Rafael, Calif. "I think everything goes in cycles. Right now the men got an upswing. There's a lot of great players. Federer is just an unbelievable player, and Andre's still on the scene. And they have these South Americans …. I think there's a lot of depth." Mr. Gilbert had a point: Until this year, when the Swiss Mr. Federer won two out of the three Grand Slam tournaments, Mr. Roddick was the eighth different man to win a Grand Slam-something that hasn't happened since 1975-77, and something that can either draw fans to the matches or make them feel lost, because there are too many names to remember. On this particular morning at Macy's, however, all eyes were on Mr. Gilbert's telegenic young charge-though as the appearance wrapped up, the Ford Excursion that dropped Mr. Roddick off was nowhere to be found. A cadre of Reebok publicists wearing dark tones began dialing frantically into their cell phones. "It's an easy place to blend in," the tennis player had told The Observer , describing New York City. He lifted up his arm and walked toward an empty cab.
Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries, from a screenplay by Jose Rivera, is based on the books The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto (Ché) Guevara and Traveling with Ché Guevara by Alberto Granado. This review can only speculate on the prodigious research and reconstruction efforts required to bring this politically charged buddy-buddy road movie to the screen, providing an account of a physical and spiritual journey that took place more than 50 years ago. As it happens, this reviewer was in Argentina briefly in 1964 for a film festival in Mar del Plata. At the time, the Peronistas and the anti-Peronistas were locked in mortal combat, and Argentina seemed to have rediscovered the tango as a dance reflecting its bygone glory and prosperity. And that’s about all this reviewer knows about South America and its travails firsthand; about Ché Guevara and the mythology surrounding him, this reviewer knows even less.Hence, I’m not as privileged as some of my colleagues in ascertaining the accuracy of casting Gael García Bernal as the 23-year-old Ché and Rodrigo De la Serna as the 29-year-old Alberto Granado. I was nonetheless moved by their initial easygoing camaraderie and their subsequent immersion in the sufferings of those they encountered while exploring the continent. Ché, particularly, has been described by some as more macho and muscular than the delicately featured and slightly built Mr. Bernal, who gained our attention in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (2000), Alfonso Cuaron’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001) and Carlos Carrera’s The Crime of Father Amaro (2002). He’ll be seen later this year in Pedro Almodóvar’s Bad Education, a highlight of this year’s New York Film Festival. By any standard, he is a hot talent in Latin-American cinema. The criticism of Mr. De la Serna as Alberto Granado—still active in his 80’s as the health minister in Fidel Castro’s Cuba—has less to do with Mr. De la Serna’s physical appearance than with his portrayal of Mr. Granado as a comically relentless skirt-chaser. This is presumably no way to treat a revered icon of the Cuban Revolution. The fact that Mr. Salles and Mr. Rivera have taken these liberties with such a politically sacred subject makes The Motorcycle Diaries all the more emotionally complex and universally accessible (especially in the United Sates, where the shifting winds of Cuban exile opinion in Florida may help decide the choice of our next President). However, I must confess somewhat mixed feelings towards this very skillful resurrection of the Ché Guevara legend. On the one hand, I have never believed that the lying slut Chiquita Banana should shape our policy toward Cuba. (I say "lying slut" because for years she persuaded me never to put a banana in the refrigerator; the avoidable spoilage that inevitably occurred put more money in the pockets of the United Fruit Company, her corporate pimp). But on the other hand, my memory of the late, great gay cinematographer Néstor Almendros flashes before me as a reminder of the repression of civil liberties and political freedoms in Castro’s Cuba. Even so, the horrors of an earlier Marxist experiment gone awry in Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet Union were well on the way to being exposed before Ché launched his quixotic crusade to unify Latin America into one indivisible People’s Socialist Republic. What then is the answer to this political quandary? Must we replace the economic exploitation and injustice of global capitalism with the seemingly inevitable totalitarianism of global Marxism—or is there a third way? A wishy-washy centrism with a little less exploitation and injustice seems to be one of the few remaining options for the Kerry campaign, and I’m afraid that this is where this reviewer is ideologically stranded. Unwilling to surrender my bourgeois lifestyle, which permits me to express myself with comparative freedom, can I really look into the eyes of the oppressed farmers and workers that Mr. Bernal and Mr. Serna encounter at every turn in The Motorcycle Diaries, more than half a century after the real-life Guevera and Granado went on their journey? Nothing much has changed in all that time—and, as things are going, will anything change in the next half-century? There’s an aesthetic danger rife with pathetic fallacies in this particular territory. Cinema magnifies every facial signifier of abject misery into a howling accusation, leaving the inescapably voyeuristic viewer guilty of callous indifference at the very least. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, indeed! Fortunately, Mr. Salles and Mr. Rivera have rescued the viewer from compassion fatigue with long interludes of hedonistic high spirits fueled by youthful energy. Several of these interludes are entertaining group-dance spectacles in which communal feelings of solidarity transcend the lechery of macho ego-trips. On one occasion, the high spirits get out of hand and our two youthful protagonists have to run for their lives from a jealous husband and his Chilean friends, none of whom like Argentineans. In another episode, Ché is teased good-naturedly for mistakenly dancing the tango in Brazilian rumba territory. On a more serious note, Ché persuades a morbidly depressed young woman to have an operation to save her arm by talking about his own depression over having been born with asthma. Even here, Mr. Salles and Mr. Rivera avoid the tedium of those obligatory scenes when turning points are achieved. Hence, when Ché receives a letter from his girlfriend, we have only to look at the expression on his face to know that he’s been jilted; there is no need to read the letter to himself, his friend or the audience. Some of the scenic wonders of South America are paraded before us with a fitting sense of existential irony as our youthful protagonists take the so-called Western route through Argentina, Chile, Peru and the Amazon Basin and across mountains, deserts and rivers; for part of that way, they travel on an oil-guzzling wreck of a motorcycle that eventually breaks down completely, and for the rest of the journey via a tiring combination of walking and hitchhiking. The point is that if I was moved despite my ingrained skepticism about Ché Guevara and Castro’s Cuba, you probably will be too. Mr. Salles expresses his thoughts on making the film thus: "If there’s one thing I can tell you about this experience that we shared—‘we’ being the group of people who went on the road together for two years to do this project—it’s that, like Ernesto and Alberto, we were very different when we got to the end of our journey in comparison to where we were when we started." In the final analysis, The Motorcycle Diaries is the kind of movie that can change us all for the better, and I can think of no higher praise. Anyone for Tennis? Richard Loncraine’s Wimbledon, from a screenplay by Adam Brooks, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, is a pleasant enough entertainment at a time when movies either pleasant or entertaining are in short supply. Yet by the time the farfetched but utterly predictable plot reaches its preordained climax (with a particularly silly coda at the end), I am reminded of why I am a sports fan, but not a sports-movie fan. This is to say that the suspense and excitement generated by the greatest of the Connor-Borg, Connors-McEnroe, McEnroe-Borg, Sampras-Agassi and Agassi-Federer matches can never be fabricated in a mere movie. For one thing, there is no moral to any of these titanic real-life contests: On a given day, one superlative player simply is superior to another superlative player. That’s all, folks. Yet in Wimbledon, we are asked to believe that a 119th-ranked British player would win Wimbledon over a hot-shot, bullying American player who has rolled over obstacles like Messrs. Federer and Hewitt (just in the movie, of course) without losing a set. As the answer to Britain’s long famine in men’s tennis at Wimbledon, Paul Bettany’s Peter Colt cuts a more romantic figure than poor Tim Henman, the real-life, gallant Brit overachiever with limited talent who fails, year after year, to get to the finals at Wimbledon despite much hype. Fortunately, Mr. Loncraine, the sophisticated British director of such films as Brimstone and Treacle (1982) and a politically updated Richard III (1995), has a light enough touch to take the sting out of tweaking the Yanks, represented by Kirsten Dunst’s Lizzie Bradbury, a win-at-all-costs tennis champion incongruously drawn to a sweetly self-doubting Brit loser type like Peter. Also in the Yank contingent invading the hallowed, grassy playing fields of Wimbledon are Dennis Bradbury (Sam Neill), a mildly overbearing member of that fierce kamikaze tribe of women’s-tennis fathers; Ron Roth (Jon Favreau), a terminally cynical player’s agent clutching the Union Jack in one hand and the Stars and Stripes in the other; and finally—and most egregiously—the smirking, sneering American tennis champ, Jake Hammond (Austin Nichol). Boo! Hiss! Peter is blessed, or cursed, with a feisty family consisting of his mother, flaky Augusta Colt (Eleanor Bron); her often estranged, in-the-treehouse husband, Edward (Bernard Hill); and Peter’s singularly disloyal brother, Carl (James McAvoy), who regularly bets against his sibling. Still, all’s well that ends well when Peter wins Wimbledon and retires with Lizzie, who (we’re told in Peter’s voice-over) has gone on to win two Wimbledon championships of her own. So everybody’s happy; Ms. Dunst and Mr. Bettany have the right chemistry; and the tennis action is speeded up to provide the equivalent of an entertaining video game. What more do you want for your 10 bucks—popcorn with a pickle? Pulp Sci-Fi Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is such an interestingly silly movie that I found myself idly wondering what particular audience was being targeted with its peculiar conceits and infinitude of special effects. Its A-list cast has been reduced to cartoonish stooges who may as well have been animated to fit more snugly into the wildly conceived backgrounds of far-flung places like New York City and Nepal, as well as the oceans and mountains in between. Just as curiously, this is not exactly a futuristic sci-fi film: All the action takes place in 1939, and "the world of tomorrow" refers not to the future, but to some crazy scheme of a pre–World War I German scientist ghoulishly "played" through stills and old movie images by the late Laurence Olivier. (The idea sounds more offensive before you see the movie than it actually turns out to be—except in its anticlimactic feebleness as a publicity-seeking device.) The movie begins with a zeppelin flying over Manhattan and docking atop the Empire State Building, and a German scientist descending from the dirigible with two vials in his hand. I was 11 years old in 1939, and I remember the Graf Zeppelin burning up at its New Jersey landing site a year or two earlier. Later, when I saw newsreels, I noticed that the zeppelin sported a conspicuous swastika. Of course, 1939 was the year in which Europe was plunged into World War II. What, then, were all those clambering mechanical giants stomping through the streets of Manhattan in a direct steal from George Lucas’ Star Wars series (the single most anti-Bazinian step in sending movies away from their realistic roots and into the fantasy factories)? Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Angelina Jolie and Giovanni Ribisi do their best with the self-consciously pulpy and campy material, but all the parts are written at what used to be known as the "B-picture" level.
1) The Post-Millennial Grassy KnollThe four things that have made me laugh the most this summer were parodies of conspiracy theories and conspiracy theorists. Just a coincidence? I don't think so. I think it indicates two things. First, conspiracy theory-apparently embedded in the collective unconscious of the culture like a smoldering information virus-has flared up again. The hot new development is 9/11 conspiracy theory, specifically Complicity Theory-the belief the Bush White House was in league with or behind the 9/11 attackers. But even J.F.K. theory is back in the news. Did you see that New York Times story (Aug. 3, 2004) about some new computerized analysis of a Dallas police Dictaphone tape made in Dealey Plaza on Nov. 22, 1963? "About a year from now," The Times said, "one of the most vexing mysteries in American history may finally be solved: Did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?" Which makes it sound as if the official position of the Newspaper of Record is that the J.F.K. murder case is still not quite solved. Fascinating, whatever you believe. (For the record, I've come to lean toward believing Oswald acted alone; I'd argue that the real grassy knoll, the iconic site of doubt, is inside Oswald's mind, you might say-the unsolved mystery of his motive.) I think it was on the same day The Times published the news of the new J.F.K. inquiry that I read about Stephen Hawking's remarkable turnaround: the renunciation by the esteemed physicist of the most radical contention of his original theory of black holes. Mr. Hawking used to believe that no information escaped a black hole. Like the roaches in the Roach Motel ad, information checks in, it just doesn't check out. But now Mr. Hawking seems to believe (to oversimplify things) that some information may emerge, although it may not exactly check out: Information may emerge damaged in some complicated way. It's beginning to seem that the J.F.K. assassination is just such a black hole, from which only damaged information emerges. Damaged information-a good way of describing our era: the Age of Damaged Information. Alternate name: the Age of Bad Intelligence. Still, in the face of conspiracy theories, these Weapons of Mass Deconstruction, we must subject them to skeptical investigation. The truth is not relative, even if it is elusive or even irretrievable, and conspiracy theories-particularly, now, 9/11 conspiracy theories-have begun to reach the point where they've generated parodies because they've passed the point of self-parody. The first and sharpest parody I came upon this summer was Henry Beard's book-length, drop-dead-funny send up, The Dick Cheney Code , which cleverly makes the connection between the Da Vinci Code craze and Bush-era conspiracy theories. The hero of Mr. Beard's mock-novel is a hack author of Da Vinci Code knock-offs with such titles as The Pompeii Perplexity , The Rosicrucian Cryptogram , The Soros Palindrome and The Kennedy Doublecrostic . In The Dick Cheney Code , he stumbles into a tangled web woven in part by Skull and Bones (my favorite overinflated conspiracy-theory target-see my most recent thoughts on the problem in The Observer , March 22, 2004). It seems the Yale secret society (which counts George Bush and John Kerry as members) is in league with the Bush White House to conceal a shocking secret about the origin of the Republic. And then there's the shrewd parody by Jeff Alexander and Tom Bissell, in the McSweeney's humor anthology ( Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans ), that purports to be a transcript of commentary-from the "Platinum Series Extended Edition" DVD* of The Lord of the Rings -by Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. Sample dialogue: CHOMSKY: This episode in Bree should cause us to ask, too, how much Frodo knows about the conspiracy … I think at first he's an unwitting participant, fooled by Gandalf's propaganda. ZINN: I'm much more suspicious of Frodo than you are …. Third parody moment: Gore Vidal's hilariously, obliviously self-parodic appearance on Da Ali G. Show , in which nascent conspiracy theorist Vidal (who informed the world in October 2002 that he had "evidence" of the Bush White House's complicity in the 9/11 attacks-evidence the 9/11 commission investigation somehow failed to find) is completely taken in by the ridiculously fake hip-hop interviewer act of Ali G. One would expect that someone with the sagacity to see through the whole 9/11 cover-up to the evil conspiracy beneath would be able to see through Ali G.'s deliberately preposterous guise. But no …. Not even when Ali G. pretends he's mistaken Mr. Vidal for Vidal Sassoon and starts asking him questions about haircuts. (More about Mr. Vidal's "evidence" later.) In recent months, 9/11 Complicity Theory-once the province of subterranean Internet babble-has broken out and virtually been mainstreamed. "Why did Bush knock down the Towers?": a line from a No. 1 album this summer. "Only a metaphor," says Jadakiss, the rapper who wrote it, and no doubt this is true for him. But for a growing number of Complicity Theorists, it's no longer a metaphor. The Bush White House was complicit with those who murdered 3,000 or so people on 9/11. According to some versions of the theory, they weren't just in complicity, didn't just know 9/11 was coming and deliberately let it happen, as Weak Complicity Theory has it (the F.D.R.-foreknowledge-of-Pearl-Harbor allegation model). Rather, in the Strong Version (I'm using "Weak" and "Strong" in the way physicists discuss Weak and Strong Versions of the Anthropic Principle, say), the White House was in on it from the beginning: 9/11 was an inside job. The World Trade Center has become the post-millennial grassy knoll. 2) Roswell-Level Claims Although it shares some characteristics (lack of evidence, for one) with the Clinton conspiracy theories of fond recall, Bush complicity conspiracy theories have taken things a quantum leap further. After all, Bill Clinton only murdered a few dozen people, tops. There's Vince Foster, of course, and the witnesses to Vince Foster's murder, and the guys who snuffed the witnesses to Vince Foster's murder, who later had to be snuffed to cover up the snuffing, and maybe some of the snuffer snuffers-I haven't followed the Great Chain of Snuffing as closely as I should have. But even if you add in the handful of people Mr. Clinton had killed to cover up his coke-smuggling ring in Arkansas, you still don't break into three figures. What a wuss! Mr. Bush killed more than 3,000 in one day. Complicity Theory is insinuating itself into quite respectable places these days. Mr. Vidal's theory that someone (guess who?) must have issued "stand-down orders" to ground the interceptor jets allegedly able to have stopped the hijacked planes from destroying their targets on 9/11 is now available in bookstores. And The Nation found room for one of its valued contributors to commend a book called The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin, a new compendium of 9/11 theories which breaks new ground in Complicity Theory culture and makes some truly extreme Complicity Theory claims. Roswell-level claims. The one about Flight 77, for instance. That's the one YOU thought (and THEY wanted to you to think) crashed into the Pentagon. Turns out Flight 77 (the one Barbara Olsen called from) didn't hit the Pentagon at all! The Pentagon was probably hit by a "missile" fired by an unmarked jet. And Flight 77-you know, the one that DIDN'T crash into the Pentagon? Well, it seems that it may have crashed somewhere else, maybe "in Kentucky." (The fact that no remains of the missing airline have been found testifies to a truly effective clean-up operation.) But it might also be true that it didn't crash, it was "diverted"-the passengers were kidnapped, in effect, and are being held someplace (Area 51?), presumably forever, so they can't talk about not dying in the Pentagon crash. ( The New Pearl Harbor is undecided on the Question of the Missing Passengers, conceding admirably that it poses a "problem" for the Strong Complicity Theory. Maybe the missing passengers are being held in reserve to vote in Florida this November if things look close.) And, oh yes, the big breakthrough of The New Pearl Harbor -the centerpiece of the Strong Complicity Theory, what you might call the Unified Field Complicity Theory-is the "proof" that the World Trade Center towers didn't collapse because they were hit by the planes anyway. Again, that's what THEY want YOU to think. The W.T.C. towers collapsed because each tower was extensively wired with explosives by demolition teams who apparently swarmed all over the buildings planting girder-melting explosives unobserved by any living (or unsnuffed) witnesses. The argument here is that the cabal behind the 9/11 attacks knew that the planes alone couldn't cause the towers to fall. (Which raises the question: Why use the planes at all if wiring the towers for demolition alone would do the trick? Oh, wait-because the planes were needed to blame it on the "patsies." Osama was the blameless Oswald of 9/11. And, by the way, the plane that "crashed" in Pennsylvania was actually shot down because the passengers found out about the conspiracy when they took over the plane and thus had to be snuffed.) 3) O.J.'s "Real Killers" Revealed All those Clintonistas who demanded-rightly-that people like Jerry Falwell stop lending respectability to Clinton murder-conspiracy theories have of course spoken out against this stupidity, right? Not exactly. (Although 9/11 conspiracy theorists are now denouncing leftists and left publications for not speaking out in favor of their 9/11 theories.) Fortunately, Chip Berlet-tireless conspiracy-theory debunker for the left-minded Political Research Associates (publiceye.org)-has taken on the "evidence" for The New Pearl Harbor in an extremely thorough and persuasive refutation for anyone who takes them seriously, and The Nation 's David Corn has discredited a key pillar of Gore Vidal's silly speculations. (See my critique of Mr. Vidal's theory in these pages, Nov. 11, 2002.) I recommend you read the transcript of the debate between Mr. Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor 's author, and Mr. Berlet on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now Web site (www.democracynow.org), and the exchange between the two on Mr. Berlet's publiceye.org Web site (search under The New Pearl Harbor ). Pay attention to Mr. Griffin's contention that no one witnessed an actual airliner crash into the Pentagon (so it must have been a missile), and especially the part where Mr. Griffin defends the idea that an A.P. reporter who supposedly did witness the airliner does not exist-and Mr. Berlet proves the guy does exist. Sad. But if you spend some time on the Web sites of 9/11 conspiracy theorists, you find a sad and angry subculture of damaged information-one that has floated so far from reality that it's reached the point where people say anything "just because they can," as Bill Clinton might put it. And speaking of Mr. Clinton, one of my favorite 9/11 conspiracy sites-in addition to entertaining debate over whether the W.T.C. too was not really hit by planes, but by missiles and some kind of destructive death-ray "hologram"-wanders afield to solve the O.J. murders. And at the end of a long chain of links, I learned that the "real killers" O.J. has so assiduously been seeking were hired by none other than Hillary Clinton ! Apparently the then First Lady arranged the murder of O.J.'s wife to distract attention from Ms. Clinton's upcoming Whitewater grand-jury appearance. Good thinking, Hillary! And a milestone of sorts in conspiracy theory: the moment when Clinton and Bush conspiracy theories meet and marry. As a longtime student of conspiracy theory, it's been fascinating to watch the growth and embellishment of these flights into fantasy, and to speculate about what needs they serve. If one were to form a timeline, one might have to begin with the false dawn, as it were, that arose in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: the Myth of the Missing Four Thousand. You know about them, right? The 4,000 Israelis-or was it 4,000 Jews?-who worked at the W.T.C. and were warned by the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service (which was behind the whole 9/11 plan, of course), to stay home on 9/11. It's true that it's been thoroughly discredited, and it's not technically a Bush Complicity Theory, except for those-and there are more than a few-who believe that Mr. Bush is merely a zombie slave of Z.O.G., the "Zionist Occupied Government" that many conspiracy theorists seem to believe in. The Myth of the Missing Four Thousand seemed to die down, but it has survived on the Internet and has spiked again with the McGreevey scandal, when someone named Andy Martin-who identified himself (in a press release I found on the valuable Memeorandum site) as "America's most respected foreign-policy/intelligence analyst"-declared that the McGreevey affair was a Mossad operation somehow designed to counter the fact that "since 9/11 there has been barely suppressed anger at the fact that Israeli intelligence knew about the [9/11] hijackers and said nothing." This is, of course, Weak Mossad Theory. Strong Mossad Theory, modeled on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion , has Israel behind it all , although I recently came across an article that advocated what you might call Super-Strong Israeli Theory, which is that the REAL MASTERMINDS want us to see through the first level of deception and point the finger at the Israelis, who are merely red-herring PATSIES to conceal the Hidden Hand of the True Conspirators. Of course, even this could be a clever Israeli plot to throw us off the Mossad trail, and so we're back to the Missing Four Thousand. 4) Missingness Sometimes it's useful to attempt to read the tea leaves of conspiracy-theory subculture for some connection to something real and hidden in the larger culture. Consider the Missing Passengers from Flight 77 and the Missing Four Thousand from the W.T.C. This fascination with Missingness. And now the Missing 4,400: I don't know if you've seen that USA Network miniseries that debuted in July, The 4400 . It's about 4,400 humans who were abducted from earth by aliens over the past half-century and have been missing for periods ranging from months to decades. Suddenly all 4,400 (any significance to that number, do you think?) are returned to earth, returned to their previous lives with no memory at all of their missing period. Missingness: I like the concept. (That's what conspiracy theories do, isn't it-supply Missing Links?) We all miss someone, we all long to be missed, we all feel we've missed something in life. I'm misting up at the very thought of Missingness. Or perhaps the Missing narratives are secularized versions of the apocalyptic Rapture. Needless to say, there's a sinister as well as a sentimental side to it: The Myth of the Missing Four Thousand (Jews) is, in fact, a kind of downsized version of Holocaust denial-they are like the allegedly Missing Six Million victims of Hitler in the denier's sick imagination. In any event, the next milestone in the post-9/11 conspiracy-theory time line would probably be Thierry Meyssan's L'Effroyable Imposture ( 9/11: The Big Lie , in its English translation), published in March 2002 in Paris, which first advanced the Pentagon rocket-hit theory. Mr. Meyssan's book didn't make much of an impression in America, although it was taken very seriously the world over, a kind of respectable successor to the Mossad-did-it theory: Bush did it. It became the dark underside of Bush-hating. The next step was Gore Vidal's London Observer piece, which appeared in October 2002 and gave the Great Man's mantle of respectability to Meyssan's "Bush did it" claims. Some Vidal sycophants who couldn't bear any criticism of the Master didn't understand either the logical fallacies of his argument or the focus of my critique. Of course Mr. Vidal has every right to criticize the Bush government and intelligence agencies (in my Observer piece on Mr. Vidal, I said the many incompetents in the intelligence agencies should be fired), but he's actually doing something else: He's accusing the White House of complicity in mass murder on 9/11. Here are his words: "Obviously somebody had ordered the Air Force to make no move to intercept those hijackings until … what?" And yet Mr. Vidal's sycophants don't understand either the radical nature of his charge or the lack of proof he offers. I'm thinking of one blogger in particular who tried to hijack the reputation of Edmund S. Morgan to use it in support of Mr. Vidal's complicity theory-and against those, including myself, who dared to criticize Mr. Vidal. The blogger left the impression that Mr. Morgan, emeritus professor of American history at Yale (I took his lecture course-a brilliant scholar who deserves better), had endorsed Mr. Vidal's complicity theory. This is either disingenuous or a failure of reading-comprehension skills. What Professor Morgan said in a review of some of Vidal's fiction and nonfiction in The New York Review of Books was that Mr. Vidal offered "evidence" for his theories. But evidence is not the same as proof. As Professor Morgan was compelled to point out for those who misread or deliberately distorted his words: "I was reporting Vidal's views, not endorsing them" (letter in the March 11, 2004, issue of the NYRB ). How embarrassing for the blogger (who failed to acknowledge it). It was like that moment in Annie Hall when Marshall McLuhan steps up to some movie-line pseud talking about him and says, "You know nothing of my work." The point is that not all evidence is equal; some evidence is false, some is conflicting, and some is true but misleading. And negative evidence, such as that which Mr. Vidal and conspiracy theorists like the author of The New Pearl Harbor offer us (the hijacked jets should have been shot down; because they weren't, it wasn't incompetence-someone must have ordered them not to be) can be the most misleading of them all. 5) The Real Story Behind Christmas in Cambodia In part because of the absolute lack of any positive evidence for the mass-murder charge that Mr. Vidal and others were insinuating, Complicity Theory went into hibernation for nearly a year and a half, until Michael Moore reinsinuated it into the culture. While Mr. Moore was too shrewd to make as big a fool of himself as Mr. Vidal did on this issue, a subtle strain of-at the very least-Weak Complicity Theory frames his entire narrative of 9/11. Makes it seem as if the mass murder that day was something the Bush White House would have welcomed because it rejuvenated it politically. Mr. Moore begins with the cloud of illegitimacy left behind by Florida, then talks about the way everything was going bad for Mr. Bush by the time 9/11 came around. And offers the Afghan Pipeline Theory of the whole affair. Mr. Bush-or his evil associates-were happy about 9/11, if not behind it, because it allowed them to install a regime in Afghanistan that would be more cooperative than the Taliban in building a natural-gas pipeline. (So their thinking was: We want a pipeline, let's get some Saudis to knock down the W.T.C. and destroy the White House and the Pentagon, O.K.?) Afghan Pipeline Theory has long been a feature of 9/11 Complicity Theory, as has something else Mr. Moore focuses on ominously: Mr. Bush's remaining in the grade-school classroom for several minutes after being notified of the second plane hitting the towers. It feeds into Complicity Theory certainty that Mr. Bush didn't have to move, or didn't WANT to take action, because he knew he was safe and didn't want to interfere with The Plan. (Mr. Moore doesn't draw this conclusion himself, but the clip he shows is cited by Complicity Theorists as "evidence.") Mr. Moore prepared the ground for-and has not, to my knowledge disavowed- The New Pearl Harbor , which in turn sums up and extends the work of previous Complicity Theorists, especially the French fantasist Thierry Meyssan, who pioneered the idea that a missile rather than a jetliner hit the Pentagon. I want to make clear that I do not believe that conspiracy theories should be rejected a priori merely because they posit conspiracies. History is full of conspiracies-Julius Caesar's and Abraham Lincoln's assassinations, to cite two. But it comes down to the quality of evidence. When the disparity between the absence of evidence and the magnitude and certainty of the claims based on that absence becomes so great, it becomes legitimate to speculate about the appeal of such theories. One is entitled to ask: Why the appeal of Complicity Theory? I'd venture a conjecture here that fear has something to do with Complicity Theory-but not just fear, something well-intentioned as well. The actual people who committed mass murder on 9/11, Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, are scary and committed to doing it again and again. Whatever the terror-alert color code is, our lives are not likely to return to "normal" for decades. It doesn't take many terrorists to terrorize. This is a bitter, tragic truth about the way the world changed for everyone in America after 9/11. Nobody likes hard, bitter truths that condemn one to a lifetime of unease, if not terror. However large and dark the conspiracy that Complicity Theory posits, one thing it means is that we don't REALLY have to fear "terrorists" at all: We did it to ourselves. We can even vote the culprits out of office (unless they pull another 9/11 to cancel the election). Evil as George Bush may be, he's not as scary on some level; "Bush did it" is comforting. Another comforting aspect of Complicity Theory, at least on the left, is that if Osama and Al Qaeda didn't do it, one doesn't have to be hostile to a Third World person. In addition, one doesn't have to implicate oneself in the ethically complex acts of exacting vengeance on the mass murderers. One doesn't have to become Hamlet; one just has to get Bush out of office. A sense of ethical complexity is noble, although, as Hamlet demonstrates, it can also be paralyzing. My friend Mark Horowitz, the magazine editor, has a theory about Bush hatred that was recently given some exposure on Virginia Postrel's blog (www.dynamist.com). Essentially, it suggests that a certain kind of Bush hatred (not Bush criticism, but frothing, obsessive hatred) stems from a kind of sublimated fear, especially here in New York City, still traumatized by the wounds of the 9/11 attack, still targeted for the next one. A fear so unbearable that it must somehow be transferred, projected upon someone more under our control: the Daddy who didn't protect us. If we vote Mr. Bush out of office, we can be nicer to the terrorists and they won't interrupt our beautiful lives. Unless, of course, Mr. Kerry's in on it, too. In the comments section of some blog, I saw someone point out the similarities between the narrative of the anti-Kerry Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and The Manchurian Candidate . Mr. Kerry is set up as a war hero by his crew-but only by the crew of that one boat that went into Cambodia, who are fanatically devoted to him. Meanwhile, another veteran doggedly tries to prove that Mr. Kerry's a pawn of the Communists (with Teresa Heinz Kerry as the Angela Lansbury/Meryl Streep controller). Maybe now we know why the illusory "Christmas in Cambodia" is "seared" into his memory. That was when he and all the men on his boat were captured and hypnotized, and came back hailing him as a war hero. Tracks perfectly. "Christmas in Cambodia" is only a screen memory, so to speak. Just a theory. No real evidence. But, that hasn't stopped Complicity Theorists.
As thousands of visitors wine and dine each other during convention week, here's a statistic that ought to inspire more than a little reflection: More than 500,000 New York City kids are going to bed hungry every night. That's over 25 percent of our city's children.Even as we celebrate the city's recovery from the 9/11 attacks, even as we count the cash brought in by Republican delegates and the media, we have to face the terrible fact that poverty is growing in New York, and that kids aren't getting enough to eat. New York prides itself on its compassion, but these statistic conjure images not of a big-hearted, progressive city, but of Dickensian London. According to a report in the Daily News , more and more children are showing up in the city's food pantries and soup kitchens. One telling-and chilling-quote came from Julia Erickson, executive director of City Harvest, an anti-hunger group. She noted that some of the city's soup kitchens now feature high chairs. The grim statistics and appalling anecdotes don't stop there. Nearly 18 percent of the nation's children are poor, which is the highest percentage in a decade. The number of hungry children has gone up by more than 1 percent since last year. The Children's Defense Fund ranks New York State at No. 13 for child poverty. We've moved up three positions since 2002-hardly an encouraging sign. The poverty figures have inspired the usual sort of finger-pointing. Democrats blame Republicans, and vice versa. And yes, the national economy has not recovered sufficiently to help the poor, whose incomes are down. What's undeniable, however, is that these statistics tell us that all is not well in New York, despite all the good (and deserved) press the city has gotten in recent years. Yes, the city is safer. Yes, vagrants no longer threaten us. Yes, the Mayor is making progress in education. But still: One in four kids in our city won't have enough to eat tonight. That is simply unspeakable. Pete Peterson Knows His Stuff When John Kerry hits the campaign trail after the Republican National Convention, one of his trusty campaign aides ought to be carrying a copy of Peter Peterson's new book, Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It , in which the author concludes that George W. Bush and the Republican Congress have "presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America's finances in history." Mr. Peterson, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, doesn't let the Democrats off the hook, however: Lacking discipline and foresight, politicians of both parties have abandoned their duty to oversee the country's long-term financial health. As a result, the country's economic horizon is distinctly dark. For instance, Mr. Peterson writes, the deficit has risen steeply since 2000, despite the fact that the baby boomers have been working full steam and the number of senior citizens who need to collect benefits has been relatively low. Very shortly, many of those baby boomers will be reaching retirement, and will likely start asking their elected officials why nothing was done to make sure the economy could support them in their golden years. Neither Democrats nor Republicans will have a good answer. As Mr. Peterson reports, Democrats implement expensive spending programs the country cannot afford, while Republicans offer foolhardy tax cuts. Voters mull which of these two baubles they prefer but overlook the fact that neither party is minding the store, as the $6 trillion government debt ratchets ever higher. The U.S. now has the lowest rate of savings in the developed world; a third of our public debt is held abroad; and benefit spending takes up an eighth of the gross domestic product. Moreover, the annual current-account deficit is $540 billion, or 5.1 percent of the G.D.P. And our net financial liabilities to foreigners are at $2.6 trillion; in 1980, that number was zero. George W. Bush has taken fiscal irresponsibility to a new level by cutting taxes and increasing spending at the same time. Mr. Peterson's writes that the President's Medicare drug plan will end up costing $2 trillion a decade, as his preposterous tax cuts drain the treasury of badly needed funds. But if John Kerry is elected, does he have the political will to make the necessary choices to pull the country back from the brink? As Mr. Peterson points out, politicians of all stripes have been making reckless promises to voters, promises which will be paid for in increased debt, satisfying the immediate needs of voters but leaving an unstable financial future for our children and grandchildren. The Fishy Mr. Novak It wasn't too surprising a few weeks back when right-wing syndicated columnist and CNN commentator Robert Novak inserted himself into the Swift boat veterans controversy. Mr. Novak cheered with enthusiasm the unseemly spectacle of Vietnam vets heaping scorn on a fellow former soldier, John Kerry. After all, the veterans' tainted message and discredited book, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry , were red meat to Mr. Novak's conservative audience. And so he pumped the book in his column and on television, referring to the writers as "real patriots." Mr. Novak has always come across as a sanctimonious paragon of virtue, telling people what's right and wrong, but now we learn that this paragon of virtue has a fishy side. It turns out that his motives in praising the Swift boat book were not purely partisan: His enthusiasm didn't extend to informing readers and viewers that his son, Alex Novak, happens to be the director of marketing for the conservative publisher Regnery. And as you may have guessed by now, Regnery happens to be the publisher of Unfit for Command . When questioned why he didn't reveal the conflict of interest, the morally righteous Mr. Novak arrogantly replied that there was no conflict: "I don't think it's relevant," he said. "I'm just functioning as a columnist with a point of view, and a strong point of view." It seems that Mr. Novak believes that a columnist's point of view, if passionately held, overshadows any need to come clean with his readers. One can only imagine the column he would write, and the TV diatribe he would deliver, if Mr. Novak learned that a left-leaning peer who was pushing an anti-Bush book had a familial relationship with the publisher of that book. Mr. Novak's predictable part in the Swift boat non-scandal simply offers more proof that the President's surrogates and lap dogs are more than a little on edge about their chosen candidate, and are barking at anything that moves.
There is no reason why all lists today should have 10 items, numbered in reverse order. But as sonnets have 14 lines, so the modern list marches from 10 to 1.What have been the failures of George W. Bush? In this election, that must mean: What have been his failures with respect to the central issue we face—the Terror War? We ask from the point of view of those who believe that there is a Terror War, and that our side should win. Those who believe that the world is a petting zoo, or that America is an abomination, may pass on: 10. Soft on Ken Lay. Twenty years from now, Ken Lay will be a trivia question for grad students. But the timing of the Enron scandal, following somewhat soon after 9/11, gave him momentary prominence. It would be demagogy for a President to comment on pending criminal actions. But sometimes a dash of demagogy goes a long way. A judicious sneer at Mr. Lay’s (as yet only alleged) pocket-lining, while the country was still all-for-one, might have fortified Mr. Bush’s role as tribune of that mood. Theodore Roosevelt would have known what to say about Mr. Lay if awakened in the middle of the night. 9. Soft on immigration. This issue is distinct from the Terror War, yet touches it at points, making it relevant here. Mr. Bush does not understand that we have been bingeing on immigration, because he imagines that he can be the Messiah leading the Hispanic vote into the G.O.P. Other immigrant groups get a free pass. Mr. Bush’s plans for a new amnesty for illegal immigrants have renewed the flood across our southern border. (How many terrorists have come in? Who knows?) We also continue to give easy treatment to visa applicants from Saudi Arabia (see below). The next three items have to do with Iraq. Everybody now knows what went wrong in Iraq—not enough troops, too many troops, rushed elections, slow elections. If Washington were as smart as everyone outside it, there would be no problems. These seem to be three mistakes: 8. Misreading France and Russia. Before going to the United Nations in the fall of 2002, seeking final demands backed by the prospect of force, Mr. Bush should have known that the Security Council might endorse him, or at least known that he would fail. But France and Russia, bound in corrupt alliance with Saddam Hussein, would not have backed force under any circumstances. The main misreader of French intentions was Colin Powell. But Mr. Powell is part of Bush’s team. Mr. Bush himself placed (places?) too much confidence in Vladimir Putin, based on a personal estimate of him. The Beslan massacre might reorient the Russians to their true interests. As for France, qui sait? 7. Misreading Turkey. Going the U.N. route unsuccessfully made our enterprise seem illegitimate (no one questioned our actions in the Balkans, which neither sought nor had U.N. sanction). Misreading Turkey had a material effect on the invasion of Iraq and, even more, on its aftermath. Tommy Franks’ plan was to sweep to Baghdad from the north and from the southeast. Because Turkey was not brought on board, we had to rely solely on the southern river corridor. The heartland of the old regime, the so-called Sunni triangle, was therefore not shattered in the initial push. It was as if Sherman marched to the sea without touching Atlanta. 6. No punishment for Falluja. The grim spring of 2004 began with the murder of American contract workers and the hanging of their burned corpses in the Sunni city of Falluja. A brigade of Marines moved in to crack the nut, then pulled back. No doubt we had our reasons, and the war-college seminars will be hashing them out for months and years. Pending that debate, and further action, one must say that the purpose of the Roman legion was to punish. Static occupation duty is for suckers. The next two reasons have to do with the conditions of war: 5. Fighting war in peacetime. The United States is the wealthiest nation in history, but is it wealthy enough to fight a multiform, stop-start war on many fronts with its left hand? Mark Helprin, the novelist and sometime speechwriter, recently reviewed the figures: In the last year of World War II, we spent 38.5 per cent of our G.N.P. on defense (i.e., offense). To spend at that rate now, "we would be spending not $400 billion but $4.235 trillion." Mr. Helprin wasn’t recommending the higher figures. Mr. Bush seems satisfied that the lower figure will do the job, though every story about extended tours of duty or stretched National Guard reserves awakens legitimate concern. 4. Busting the domestic budget. This is another issue formally distinct from the Terror War. But if we may be scrimping on the military, why are we splurging on so many other things? Mr. Bush has not vetoed a single domestic-spending bill. If he needs to reach into America’s pocket, how can he do it when so many hands are already in there? The last items, fused for convenience, concern the scope of the war: 3, 2, 1. Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran. Some terror-supporting nations have changed their tune in the wake of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq: Libya (possibly) and Pakistan. What of these three countries? Saudi Arabia has given some lip service to the notion of mending its ways; its ways require great mending, since it is the home of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as the unofficial central bank of crusading Islamism worldwide. Iran is a frank enemy, presiding over a despotic state, developing its own nuclear weapons and sponsoring terror throughout the region. Little Syria is the sidekick of larger regimes. Mr. Bush seems to believe that Syria is cowed and that the Saudis can be pressured. His administration seems not to believe that Iran is a threat; at least, it does not encourage spontaneous regime change there, as Ronald Reagan did when he urged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Perhaps Mr. Bush will grasp these nettles, but we cannot tell. What causes these shortcomings? Are they matched by strengths? Are they somehow related to Mr. Bush’s strengths? I will try to address those questions in my next column.
Margarethe von Trotta's Rosenstrasse , from a screenplay by Ms. von Trotta and Pamela Katz, is a fictionalized version of a heroic event that took place in Berlin in February 1943, when "Aryan" wives rose up against the imprisonment and eventual deportation of their Jewish husbands to the death camps. Known as the Rosentrasse Protest (for the building where the men were held captive), this was one of the few-if not the only-successful anti-Nazi demonstration in the history of the Third Reich.Ms. von Trotta had been trying to get this story to the screen for more than a decade, but was unable to get financing until very recently. As she told Robert Sklar in a recent interview in Cineaste magazine, she decided to update the material using a New York–Berlin flashback structure contributed by her co-screenwriter, Ms. Katz. Ms. von Trotta also noted in the interview a reluctance, until very recently, for German filmmakers to deal with the brutal disposition of Jews during the Nazi period: "I think there was fear of not finding the right tone, the right way to handle it. When I saw Schindler's List , for me it was right that an American Jew did the film about a man who saved Jews …. I think that it was absolutely necessary that it was done outside Germany. Because we had done so few films about that era, to come up with a film about a 'good German' who saved Jews would have been a disaster. For myself, I could not imagine going to Auschwitz or another camp and trying to reconstruct what happened there. I would be too ashamed. As a German, we are still too frightened to attempt it." Rosenstrasse begins in New York in the mid-90's, with the recently widowed Ruth Weinstein (Jutte Lampe) sitting shiva for her late husband. She performs the rituals in such an exclusionary Orthodox manner as to shock her more casually Jewish children, who recall their late father as equally casual in his observance of their faith. Thus, from the beginning a mystery is posed: Why has Ruth suddenly reverted to a long-discarded orthodoxy that now makes her deeply hostile to the "mixed" marriage pending between her daughter, Hannah (Maria Schrader), and the latter's Guatemalan fiancé, Luis Marquez (Fedja van Huêt)-and this despite the fact that Luis is almost one of the family, as the business protégé of Hannah's late father? The very subject of mixed marriages now seems unbearably painful for Ruth. Then Hannah finds an old photo of Ruth with a beautiful blond woman, taken in Berlin, which gives her a clue to her mother's suddenly traumatic behavior. Hannah sets out to solve the mystery by heading to Berlin, where she almost miraculously tracks down the woman in the photo, Lena Fischer (Doris Schade), now 90 years old. Posing as an American journalist, Hannah is granted an interview by her mother's onetime gentile rescuer. Then she stumbles onto another story involving the younger Lena (played by Katja Riemann), who was born Lena von Eischenbach, the daughter of a Prussian aristocrat, and who was disowned by her family after she married Fabian Fischer (Martin Feitel), a fellow musician who happened to be Jewish. When the film flashes back to 1943, it feels as though we've shifted from minor to major key: Suddenly the emotional melody of the individual characters is thrust into the symphony of history. The essential story of Ms. von Trotta's original conception comes bursting through the uninvolving subplot of Ruth Weinstein's shiva-centered angst. The story celebrates the triumph of a timeless and universal principle over one of the most evil social systems in recorded history, a tale of the uncompromising love that a group of wives experienced for their mortally threatened husbands. By focusing this love through the eyes of Lena, Ms. von Trotta ennobles all the women who braved death in the Rosenstrasse Protest. The 8-year-old Ruth and 38-year-old Lena meet for the first time outside the walls of the Rosenstrasse, the former Jewish welfare office converted by the Nazis as a holding pen for Jewish spouses until they could be shipped East to the camps. The loophole in the original Nuremberg decrees against Jews, which gave protection to Jews in mixed marriages for almost a decade, was finally closed in 1943. Young Ruth's Jewish mother suffered the additional misfortune of having her panicky Aryan husband divorce her to save his own skin. (Hence Ruth's lifelong suspicion of mixed marriages.) Still, when the film ends with Ruth happily presiding over the mixed union of Hannah and Luis-albeit in a quintessentially Jewish marriage ceremony-the film's structural flaws become apparent. The story's emotional core is left behind on the Rosenstrasse, as the released Jewish husbands reunite one by one with their non-Jewish wives, relaying a steady stream of banalities as if nothing momentous had come to pass. One husband apologizes to his wife for keeping her waiting and is quietly told that he's forgiven. For his part, Fabian Fischer apologizes to the indomitable Lena for the growth of his beard and says he'd like to shave before embracing her. Lena assures him that he's just fine and then introduces him to their adopted "child," Ruth, who's coming home with them. Fabian nods reassuringly in agreement. The rest is anticlimactic. Still, the heart of the film is so strong that its images of love and devotion shared by wives and husbands on the edge of an abyss remain indelibly etched in one's memory. D.W.I. Cédric Kahn's Red Lights , from a screenplay by Mr. Kahn, Laurence Ferreira-Barbosa and Gilles Marchand, based on the novel by Georges Simenon, takes place almost entirely on the roads from Paris to the South of France at the height of the holiday season. For Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a disgruntled borderline alcoholic, and his wife, Helene (Carole Bouquet), a seemingly routine road trip to pick up their children from summer camp becomes a violent nightmare. Along the way, we discover that Antoine and Helene have reached a point of crisis in their 15-year marriage, and that he's jealous of his wife's greater success in her media career than he's achieved with his dull position in an insurance company. For her part, Helene is angered not only by her husband's furtive drinking, but by his insistence on lying about it-not only to her, but to himself. Their running argument reaches a crescendo when Antoine turns off the main highway to escape the bumper-to-bumper traffic, only to find himself victimized by one detour after another. When Antoine insists on stopping off at a roadside tavern for one last drink for the road, Helene reaches the absolute end of her patience. Because she threatens to drive off without him, he takes the car keys with him. When Antoine re-emerges from the bar, however, he discovers that Helene is gone. She's left him a note telling him that she's taking the train to their destination. He drives off in a frenzy to catch her before she boards the train and, failing that, tries to meet her at each stop along the way. When he finally realizes that he's missed her completely, he settles down at the last train stop for some serious drinking, which involves mixing beer with Scotch-after which he recklessly accepts a request from a dour bar companion for a lift to Bordeaux. What happens next is a descent into a life-threatening hallucinatory experience that is curiously linked to his wife's disappearance. What is unexpected is that so much of Red Lights is devoted to exploring the depths of one man's self-hatred and apparently limitless capacity for self-destruction. Mr. Darroussin is well cast as a masochistic nebbish, and it's difficult to imagine any mainstream American movie staying so long with such a hopelessly uncharismatic character. Ms. Bouquet's Helene has a surprisingly brief part, despite which she becomes a tantalizing, invisible force by her very absence, ultimately motivating her husband to pull himself together into some semblance of a responsible adult. In the end, husband and wife are reunited, but not with a frank exchange about what has kept them apart. Both characters seem to have arrived at the decision to start their lives again with a clean slate, free of any confessional angst. The placidly happy ending may therefore constitute some sort of fool's paradise, but that's where the film leaves both them and us. Red Lights is a strange film, and I'm not quite sure what to make of it, or what Aristotle would have thought of it were he writing a movie supplement to his Poetics today. At the very least, it's one of the more original film experiences you'll find this year. In fact, Mr. Darroussin and Ms. Bouquet make Antoine and Helene such compelling characters that their lives seem to become precious by their very fragility. And never before has the supposedly liberating open road seemed so perpetually menacing and so depressingly unfulfilling. Little Dreamer Girl Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's It's Easier for a Camel … , from a screenplay by Ms. Tedeschi, Noémie Lvovsky and Agnès de Sacy, could be dismissed (but shouldn't be) as a rich woman's ego trip-namely Ms. Tedeschi's, whose privileged Italian family emigrated to France in the 1970's to escape the wave of kidnappings by the Red Brigades. The title of the film is derived from the warning of the Gospels: "It is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God." Heaven knows that Ms. Tedeschi's only slightly fictional Federica is a poor little rich girl overendowed since childhood with a lively imagination that consoles her for the failure of reality to live up to her creative fantasies. As the picture begins, Federica's career as a successful playwright is slowly falling apart; her now-married boyfriend is pressuring her (after having dumped her) to renew their affair; and her current lover, a left-wing history teacher from the lower classes, resents her family's wealth. To make matters worse, her younger sister is barely talking to her because she's jealous of her older sister's sense of direction; her brother is a self-centered wastrel who has never worked a day in his life and has never wanted to; and her loving father is terminally ill. Yet Federica still persists in daydreaming via animated cartoons that illustrate her wistful reconciliation of all the discordant elements in her life. If Ms. Tedeschi were drop-dead gorgeous, one would have to hate her pampered Federica, but her face is a little too obtrusively long, her features somewhat too pronounced for cover-girl purposes-and yet her infectiously generous smile, and her marvelously sensitive listening talent as a gifted actress, make us believe in her tortured individuality and her frustrated emotional aspirations. She is brilliantly supported by the seriocomic performances of Chiara Mastroianni as her hapless sister; Jean-Hugues Anglade as her left-wing boyfriend; Dennis Podalydes as her brazen lover; her real mother, Marysa Borini (who is not a professional actress), as her fictional mother; Roberto Herlitzka as her father; Lambert Wilson as her comically slothful brother; and Pascal Bongard as her priestly confessor, awkwardly transformed into an amateur analyst. This is a rich comedy that leaves you suspended, with all its hubbub, between wanting to laugh and wanting to cry.
The Carhart Mansion, formerly one of several Upper East Side townhouses belonging to the Lycée Français de New York, is being converted into private residences-and things in the Manhattan real-estate market are going a lot better for the developers than they did for the Lycée. There are buyers for three out of the four luxury condos, which carry a combined total asking price of $61.3 million.The long and contentious residential conversion of the Lycée's former Parisian-style school building at 3 East 95th Street just off Fifth Avenue is nearly complete, and according to the project's broker, Carrie Chiang of the Corcoran Group, buyers have submitted letters of intent for three of the four apartments, all at their asking price. "We have buyers for three apartments. There has been incredibly strong demand," Ms. Chiang said. "The only one left is the ground-floor unit. There are no other apartments like this in the city." Ms. Chiang added: "We don't negotiate on the sales price in the offering plan." Under New York real-estate laws, developers may not take payments from buyers until an offering plan is approved by the Attorney General's office. But brokers may hold letters of intent from buyers wanting to claim units before they officially go on sale. While letters of intent are non-binding and no money changes hands, they often indicate demand for a project. Ms. Chiang said the Carhart Mansion is within days of receiving an approval from the city. And when it does, some of the city's most ornate private residences will officially be sold. The 33,955-square-foot mansion was carved into four luxury condos: a five-bedroom apartment asking $19 million; two four-bedrooms at $18.5 million and $14 million, respectively; and a three-bedroom apartment listed at a bargain-basement $9.8 million. The residences will be ready by March 2005. The pending sale of the Carhart Mansion marks one of the final chapters in a real-estate saga that is uniquely New York-one that has, for the past two years, roiled the waters of the city's elite community of French expatriates and even made its way back to the floor of the French Senate in Paris. First built in 1913 for Marion Carhart, the wife of banking and railroad magnate Amory S. Carhart, and later home to troupes of blue-blazer-and-polo-shirt-clad élèves , the residences will now be woven into the limestone and granite fabric of the Upper East Side. Back in October 2001, the Lycée sold the landmarked Carnegie Hill townhouse for a mere $15 million, as part of an ambitious financing plan to fund the construction of a new state-of-the-art school on East 75th Street with $94.1 million in bonds underwritten by J.P. Morgan. The Lycée had first listed the 33,955-square-foot mansion for $29.8 million in August 2000, before selling at nearly a 50 percent discount off the original asking price in the real-estate downturn that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The pointed debate over the financial prudence of the school's construction plan flared up again when the building hit the market just several months after the Lycée unloaded it, this time with a combined $61.3 million asking price-a nearly 400 percent mark-up. But now that the renovation is well underway, the lofty asking price-and the buyers' willingness to pay the full amounts-clearly reflect the luxury details being installed by the renowned London architect John Simpson. When complete in March 2005, the Carhart residences will include five powder rooms, a wine vault and a wet bar, private storage, 11-foot ceilings and two butler's pantries. Recent Transactions In The Real Estate Market Upper East Side 166 East 95th Street Five-bedroom, four-bathroom townhouse. Asking: $4.25 million. Selling: $3.85 million. Time on the market: three months. FLYING THE COOP After 12 years living with a house full of kids, this empty-nest couple decided to downscale from their 18-foot-wide townhouse between Lexington and Third avenues when the last of their three children tramped off to college. With 3,500 square feet and a private garden all to themselves, the doctor and his wife felt it was time to find a more compact spread. They're now happily ensconced in a nearby Carnegie Hill apartment. They found a young couple, also a doctor and his wife-who happens to be the daughter of the owner of the popular Burger Heaven restaurant chain-eager to take over their former four-story townhouse, one of the 17 prized residences lining leafy East 95th Street. Apparently the house is family-friendly, since they'll be living there with their own two children. Jed Garfield, of the Upper East Side brokerage Leslie J. Garfield, represented the seller; Rachel Lustbader of Warburg Realty represented the buyer. 207 East 74th Street Two-bedroom, two-bathroom co-op. Asking: $575,000. Selling: $575,000. Maintenance: $1,119; 60 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: two weeks. FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES It's good to have friends in New York: They can tip you off to hidden restaurants not barraged by diners after appearing in The New York Times ' "$25 and Under" column. They can alert you to coveted sample sales. And, as this case shows, they can even find you a new home. This single woman, a vice president for a major bank, wanted to relocate from her Upper East Side rental. Her friend recommended her to the co-op board, and she traded up to this 1,000-square-foot spread. The previous owner, a married couple, needed to find a larger space for their growing clan and had decided to sell. They landed at Sutton Place and, when they listed their former spread, they got multiple bids on the place. The apartment closed for the asking price, but the bank executive won out. "Her profile for the co-op was stronger than anyone else's," said exclusive broker Gina Serman of the Corcoran Group. The apartment, in a postwar building on 74th Street between Second and Third avenues, had full city views, parquet floors, central air conditioning and a modern kitchen. "This was really good space for the money," Ms. Serman said.
On Aug. 30, as Republicans gathered in New York to celebrate their "war President," retired Lt.-Gen. Brent Scowcroft sat with a reporter in his Washington office, giving his analysis of the direction of his party's foreign policy, weighing in on Iraq, Iran and the rest of the world, and lobbing a few rhetorical mortar shells in the direction of the White House, which is located just a few blocks away from his office."Look, I'm a friend of this administration," Mr. Scowcroft said. "I love the father. So do I want to do things which complicate [matters for] them? No. But do I feel that there are some things that it's important to get out? Yes." From these "things," a distinct picture emerged of the Presidency of George W. Bush according to Mr. Scowcroft: one which is equally indebted to the advice of a shadow cabinet of neoconservatives, the President's evangelical brand of Christianity-which has given him a feeling of manifest destiny about conquering terrorism in the Middle East-or the father whose one-term Presidential destiny he is at pains not to live out himself. It's because of the influence of these forces on the President that Mr. Bush may have "overreacted" to the threat of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, said Mr. Scowcroft, and that the "preoccupation with terrorism" meant that "we are maybe not paying enough attention to other problems in the world that have nothing to do with terrorism, but are really significant." Mr. Bush had squandered opportunities to avoid war in Iraq, said Mr. Scowcroft, who also speculated that the Bush administration had exaggerated the threat of weapons of mass destruction because it provided "the only reason which you could use to propel a war [in] a particular time frame." He fretted that the ongoing fighting in Iraq made it impossible for the administration to confront nations much closer to actually acquiring nuclear weapons, like Iran. Most of all, Mr. Scowcroft reiterated his skepticism about the prospects for gunship democracy in the Middle East-outlining the kind of realism for which George W. Bush's father was known around the world. "It's not that I don't believe Iraq is capable of democracy," said Mr. Scowcroft. "But the notion that within every human being beats this primeval instinct for democracy has not ever been demonstrated to me." All this he offered as he sat amid mementos of a career that has spanned three decades and five Republican administrations. His framed Presidential Medal of Freedom hung on one wall; a bronze bust of Jim Baker sat near the door. Displayed above his desk was a framed black-and-white photo of a younger Mr. Scowcroft, napping aboard Air Force One. It was signed by his close friend, former boss and ideological doppelgänger, George Herbert Walker Bush. Mr. Scowcroft's true-blue G.O.P. decoration scheme only underscores the strangeness of his position. For in addition to holding a number of official titles-former National Security Advisor, chairman of a Presidential advisory commission on intelligence issues, head of a high-powered lobbying group-Mr. Scowcroft has acquired this most unlikely sobriquet: Republican dissident. It all started two years ago, in the lead-up to the Iraq war, when Mr. Scowcroft penned a column for The Wall Street Journal entitled "Don't Attack Saddam." In it, he argued that there was scant justification for attacking Iraq, and that doing so would "seriously jeopardize, if not destroy" President's Bush's wider war on terrorism. For a few weeks, Washington was atwitter. Colin Powell called to thank Mr. Scowcroft for providing war skeptics some "running room." Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol lambasted him as a member of an "axis of appeasers." Amateur analysts divined Oedipal overtones. As Mr. Scowcroft himself puts it, he was widely seen as a "stalking horse" for the current President Bush's father, who always chased his politik with a shot of real . Today, the episode is largely consigned to history. Mr. Scowcroft was ignored, America went to war, and many of the dangers he had warned of came to pass. But Mr. Scowcroft remains relevant-because of who he is, and what he represents: the foreign policy of the first Bush administration, with its emphasis on allies and thank-you notes, Great Power gamesmanship and sober-minded (critics say "amoral") calculation. For much of this second Bush administration, Mr. Scowcroft's school-the foreign-policy realists-has been sidelined, as neoconservatives strutted the halls of the Pentagon, spinning visions of a Middle East remade at gunpoint. Now, with Iraq turning into a gruesome slog and despair mounting in conservative circles, realism is suddenly in vogue again-and Mr. Scowcroft is looking like a prophet. In Washington, turning a man's name into an adjective is the highest form of flattery. It is a measure of how radically the country has changed these last four years that Senator John Kerry's foreign-policy advisors happily call themselves "Scowcroftian." "It's curious," Mr. Scowcroft said. "I think back to my days of graduate school during the Cold War: I was attacked by many of my friends-probably primarily Democratic-for being a hard-liner, a hawk, so on and so forth. I think I have maintained a pretty consistent philosophy. Now I'm being attacked from the right for being a wussy liberal." W.'s Destiny "The President has said-I think he told [Bob] Woodward-[that] he doesn't feel that he has to reach beyond the experts that he has gathered around him. That he has every perspective he needs in order to make his decisions. He does not have a kitchen cabinet or that kind of thing, which was so popular with other Presidents that we've seen, who always went outside to their old cronies. This President just doesn't do that, and it's just part of his personality." And which "other Presidents" was he referring to? Well, Mr. Scowcroft says he doesn't like to make explicit comparisons between the George Bush he served and the George Bush who is President now. "I have views, but I don't like to talk publicly about them," he said. He prefers to couch his criticisms in political analysis and implied comparisons. "This administration has been pretty sharply divided on foreign policy," he said. "If you look at many of the things the President said when he was running for election in 2000, they are fairly dramatically different from the way the administration has behaved. A humbler foreign policy, for example, greater consideration for our allies, shying away from peacekeeping, nation-building-all of those have been reversed. Now the nation-building part not through choice, but it leads one to speculate: Why the shift? Because he had a different view of the world after he became President. "It's possible that the transformation came with 9/11, and that the current President, who is a very religious person, thought that there was something unique, if not divine, about a catastrophe like 9/11 happening when he was President. That somehow that was meant to be, and his mission is to deal with the war on terrorism. Now that's a perfectly rational explanation-but there were signs of a change even before 9/11." Mr. Scowcroft suggested that some of Mr. Bush's more bellicose moves were about politics rather than policy. "I'm not sure how much the President is driven by the [neoconservatives] and how much he is driven by wanting to be re-elected-maybe more than most Presidents do-because his father was defeated. And I think it's not impossible that, freed from that demand, he might behave somewhat differently." In other words, even at this late date, Mr. Scowcroft sees some reason to hope that this son, like most sons, will eventually evolve into his father. To describe Mr. Scowcroft and the elder Mr. Bush as friends is to understate the case-some say they share a brain. Mr. Scowcroft first came to prominence in the 1970's, when he was a deputy to Henry Kissinger, and first became National Security Advisor under Gerald Ford. But it was during his second stint in the job, under George H.W. Bush, that he really came into his own. The two men were so close that after Mr. Bush lost his re-election campaign, they wrote a joint memoir of the administration's foreign policy, describing the same events in alternating passages. "Do I know what the father thinks about most things? Yeah, I think so. If I don't, I've been sleeping for 30 years, because we've been together a long, long time," Mr. Scowcroft said. "We talk about a lot of things, and we talk about a lot of them very quietly. We have a wonderful relationship, and I have to be very careful about the appearance of speaking for him out of turn." Indeed, Mr. Scowcroft quieted his criticism of the current administration's Iraq policy when it became clear that it was being interpreted as paternal advice by proxy-perhaps even by the younger Mr. Bush himself, who seemed spooked. ("I am aware that some very intelligent people are expressing their opinions about Saddam Hussein and Iraq," the President told reporters in Crawford, Tex., shortly after Mr. Scowcroft's column appeared. "I listen very carefully to what they have to say.") Mr. Scowcroft said that the widely held perception that he was doing the elder Bush's bidding in voicing concerns about Iraq is "not true." He said the two men have never even discussed his article. Few people believe that, though, and Mr. Scowcroft said he's resigned to being viewed as Poppy's familiar, calling it "a fact of life." Springtime for Realism? Early on in the administration, it appeared that Mr. Scowcroft and the rest of the realists would exercise significant vicarious influence in the administration via Secretary of State Powell, who has shown a career-long reluctance to use military force in most circumstances, and through National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a Scowcroft protégé. But Mr. Powell has mostly been marginalized, and Ms. Rice has often sided with hawks like Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz in the struggle for the administration's soul. Mr. Scowcroft and Ms. Rice had bitter words after Mr. Scowcroft went public with his criticism of the Iraq war. Mr. Scowcroft says that he and Ms. Rice have since made up and now talk regularly, but associates say that Ms. Rice has bitterly disappointed her mentor. In public, Mr. Scowcroft takes care to praise Ms. Rice for her "brilliant mind," but when asked to assess her job performance, he said he would prefer not to comment. "Each National Security Advisor sees his or her job in slightly different ways," he said. But lately Mr. Scowcroft-or at least his point of view-has been making a comeback. The New Republic recently declared that it was "Springtime for Realism"; conservative intellectuals like Francis Fukuyama, William F. Buckley and George Will have written despairingly of America's entanglement in Iraq. In recent months, talk within the administration of creating a showcase democracy in Iraq has quieted considerably. Mr. Bush, who once talked of smoking terrorists out of their caves, now says the war he's fighting may never be won-at least in any conventional sense. Supporters of the President say that Mr. Scowcroft's cautious way of thinking about things-leaving Saddam Hussein in power, for instance-is a relic of the past and dangerous to boot. Critics point to his longstanding personal ties to the Saudis and to his business interests. Mr. Scowcroft doesn't disclose the clients of his consulting group, but they are said to include oil companies and foreign governments. The fact of the matter is, though, that Mr. Scowcroft has been proven right about a lot of the things: He was skeptical about the existence of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program and of its relationship to Al Qaeda; he warned that fighting a war in Iraq could prove a distraction to the rest of the war on terror, creating animosity and hurting alliances. Two years ago, the Presidential advisory board he heads recommended centralizing the nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities within the C.I.A.-an approach Mr. Bush just recently endorsed. (How did the administration thank Mr. Scowcroft's commission? It was rousted from its offices next to the White House and stuck in an less desirable office building a few blocks away. Washington wags saw it as punishment for Mr. Scowcroft's apostasy. He blames renovations, not revenge.) Of course, the language at the convention continues to equate the multilateralism of the first Bush administration with a sort of relativism or amoral opportunism. Critics point out that it was Mr. Scowcroft, after all, who secretly went to China after the massacres at Tiananmen Square to reassure Deng Xiaoping about America's friendship. The elder Mr. Bush's administration was stridently criticized for sitting by while the Balkans sank into bloody civil war. But it's a measure of America's yearning for those supposedly simpler days, when Eastern Europeans were clamoring for our blue jeans, that the first Bush administration is now held up by many as a sort of golden era. Naturally, the people most proud of the administration's record are those who served it. And the fact that Mr. Scowcroft, the consummate insider, is expressing his displeasure publicly is a measure of how much those who served Bush père feel that Bush fils has trampled their legacy in his march toward a preemptive war. "One of the interesting issues is the degree to which the expertise of the previous Bush administration has been drawn on, and my answer to that question is: I think not much," said Lawrence Eagleburger, a former Secretary of State under the first President Bush who has also been critical of the current administration's foreign policy. "I think Scowcroft is one of those they should have been listening to. [But] I think to some degree, the people that are closest to this President viewed his father's administration on foreign policy as excessively multilateral." "I think that there are still many, many people within the Republican Party that do not buy into the 'mission' thing," said the Cato Institute's Christopher Preble, one of the founders of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, a group of intellectuals and policy wonks who recently came together to preach pragmatism. "[They] are not prepared to sign up for a messianic liberation-theology strategy in the same way they were willing to do so during the Cold War, because the threat we are facing today is very, very different." Mr. Scowcroft put it a little differently. "You know, I think fundamentally Americans side with John Quincy Adams: 'We go not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,'" he said. "Things are always harder than they look. Changing history, changing people, changing cultures is a slow, evolutionary process-and I think we'll find that out in Iraq."
Mitt Romney’s only openly gay spokesman, Richard Grenell, left his job with the campaign this week after backlash from social conservatives.
“My ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign,” Mr. Grenell said in a statement announcing his resignation.
This story has led to a fresh batch of questions about whether or not gays and lesbians have a place in the Republican party. Mr. Grenell may have been the only openly gay person to take a prominent role on Mr. Romney’s campaign, but there is a growing number of openly gay Republicans gaining prominence in the GOP.
Read on to acquaint yourself with ten of the top power gay Republicans.