So I’m sitting here at Tryst, my neighborhood’s local super-Bohemian coffee house — there are almost no proper coffee shops, or diners, in Washington D.C. — trying to come up with something interesting to write. This place can often be inspiring, as it is the closest thing my ‘hood has to a Star Wars cantina. As, it seems, with all such places, the walls are covered with the work-product of local people who like to tell strangers they are artists. One very attractive (no dear, not more attractive than you) woman passed by me and exclaimed “and this one just blows my mind! The colors just pop out at you!”
Curious, I turned; expecting to see the Picasso-esque use of shades and shapes, the postmodern chiaroscuro, the Skittles commercial explosion of hues and colors. There it was! A red canvas, with… more redness. The whole thing is rust red with a few rogue darker red lines. Which colors, I wonder, are popping out at her?
But that’s sort of how I feel about the news today. Nothing’s really popping out. It’s all worth writing about, but nothing in particular — I just see red everywhere I look. This is a real dilemma for me. First, because my painting metaphor is pretty awful. But more importantly because I have to churn out an average of six or seven thousand words a week for various outlets — just to maintain the squalor, I mean lifestyle, I’ve grown accustomed to. So when there’s nothing in particular to write about, paralyzing writer’s block can develop.
Or even worse, by trying to cover everything, I run the risk of turning this column into a deranged and angry version of Larry King’s USA Today column:
You know what’s a great sandwich? Roast beef and chopped liver! If you don’t like it you must like small boys… How come Roadhouse didn’t get an Oscar…Nurse, it’s not time for my medication…The Pope? I love him, good guy, nice yarmulke… What’s the difference between a duck and a vest? Ice cream because a vest has no sleeves…That Forrest Tucker! He was all man!… How do you turn this treadmill off?
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
The AP reports today that workers in a day-care center duct-taped an 8-month old baby to the wall. My — ahem — friend Jessica, who comes from a family of nine children, dismissed the story by saying, “that’s how I spent 1965.” That aside, why doesn’t it occur to more people that this is what you get when you use a village to raise a child? But that’s a topic for a different column.
TAKING THE VILLAGE
According to today’s Washington Times, President Clinton made an impoverished village pick up and drag their milking machines miles away so he could have a photo-op closer to his luxury hotel. It’s nice to know he’s grown so much since the days when he held up LAX to get a good haircut.
Still, speaking of villages, the President — on the most expensive presidential junket in U.S. history — is having a grand old time in India. Though it takes every ounce of maturity I have — which comes out to about 6 ounces — not to make about 14,000 “lei” jokes, Clinton can be seen in hundreds of pictures wearing various flowery leis, surrounded by cheering Indian women. He told the Washington Post that the local flower-eating monkeys weren’t interested in him “once I was deflowered.”
There’s one picture in today’s New York Times of Clinton being swarmed by about a dozen cheering Indian women. They are all reaching out to touch him and Clinton literally could not be happier. After all, this was the first time he’s received this sort of treatment since the Secret Service started denying him access to the intern pens in the West Wing. The caption of the Times picture explains that the president listened to these women, and the women “found him sympathetic.” Huge news there. After all, if there’s one good thing we can say about our pain-feeling President, it’s that he never met a woman he thought was “untouchable.”
Which brings us to one of the most continually annoying aspects of the media’s coverage of India. I am sick of people calling India “the world’s largest democracy.” The phrase always dripped with propaganda, as the Indians liked to play games in the U.N. during the Cold War. Yes, technically the place is a democracy, but it’s an illiberal one, to paraphrase Fareed Zakaria. The Western press has always been interested in maintaining the fiction that there was no downside to de-colonization. So they overlooked all sorts of things which still go on today.
But how come Israel gets beaten up for the shabby nature of its democratic institutions, when India still has such egalitarian practices as caste systems, untouchables, wife burning and all of that? 60 Minutes has done one piece — and only last year! — on the untouchables, compared to all those pieces about the intifada. Why?
CLOSER TO HOME
The answer, of course, is that there’s a double standard. But double standards are not so exotic that we need to look to India to find them. In New York City, Jesse Jackson told students at Martin Luther King High School that “People are being killed in New York today just like they were in the South in the ’60s.” Now this is classic Jackson, except to the extent that he isn’t rhyming. He and his hoagie-breathed sidekick demagogue Al Sharpton have grown quite comfortable suggesting that New York has a policy of killing black people because they are black. The media soberly report this, their heads bobbing in earnest agreement.
During the Diallo craziness, suggestions that the innocent immigrant was essentially a victim of lynching were everywhere. “Shot for breathing while black” was bandied around as liberal gallows humor in the most respectable quarters of the elite press, including the New York Times and Washington Post op-ed pages.
Forget for a moment that police shootings are actually down in New York City, how is any of this any less outrageous than the NRA’s Wayne La Pierre saying the President is willing to accept a certain amount of killing to further his agenda? (A statement, which seems to me, to be pretty self-evident).
Here, the accusation is not simply that Giuliani is willing to tolerate the deaths of black people. No, Jackson et al. are charging Giuliani with encouraging murder. Where, to quote Bob Dole, is the outrage? Nobody — except the inestimable New York Post — asks for these demagogues to tone down their rhetoric. Tim Russert doesn’t churn up his testosterone demanding that Jackson back up his statements. Nope, such things are just part of the natural background noise of the media these days. Just another example of red on red.