first I thought it had to be the greatest news since the discovery of penicillin.
Scientists are on the verge of finding a cure for those who cheat on their wives
and girlfriends, i.e., love rats. Research on rats–pun intended–has
shown that a genetic tendency to infidelity can be reversed, and the effects
on philandering humans may be just as drastic. All the scientific types had
to do was insert a gene from a monogamous rodent into a polygamous one, and
presto, the rats turned into Barbara Bush.
for my premature rejoicing is easy to explain. Throughout my life I have suffered
from what the Frenchies refer to as “le coup de foudre,” the lightning
bolt that hits you with 1000 jolts of electricity upon encountering a certain
member of the fairer sex. With typical understatement, the Anglo-Saxons call
it falling in love, but I prefer the French description. It is madness, pure
and simple, and it used to happen to me all the time. Thankfully, the last time
I suffered from it was one year ago, but then I’m getting very, very old.
The similarities between love and lunacy are too many to list here. The loss
of appetite, the sleepless nights, the constant butterflies in the stomach–who
needs it, as they used to say in Brooklyn.
it turns out, I certainly do, and the last thing I need right now is for the
scientific types to triumph and turn me into an uxorious rat. We no longer lock
lunatics up in dark rooms and beat them, nor should we be heartless to those
who are perennially madly in love. (And by this I don’t mean a pig like
Clinton, who orders women to kiss it, but sensitive types like yours truly,
who believe in the old adage
of “Whiskey and sofa? Or gin and
So, is there,
alas, a cure for love? Even if the science boys fail, I’m afraid the end
of passion is near. I know, I know, passion and love are two different things,
but not in my book they ain’t. About 15 years ago, on the island of Crete,
I attended a celebrated case of abduction, seduction and imprisonment. It confirmed
that we Greeks are a superior race where romance is concerned, and that our
justice system is light-years ahead of the Anglo-Saxon mode. “Who hasn’t
felt passion beyond reason?” demanded a Cretan peasant of the judge, while
in the throes of defending himself against charges that he had abducted the
fiancee of another man and kept her prisoner in a mountain cave for three months.
The judge–probably as passionate in his youth as the peasant–gave
him the minimum sentence. The fact that the victim testified in favor of the
accused also helped. (The cuckold fiance proved a terrific bore, pedantic, unimaginative
and basically unromantic; whereas the kidnapper was dashing, chivalrous, and–I
assume–very energetic in bed.)
passion beyond reason drove Jean Harris to overcome her bottled-up feelings
for the good doctor, and shoot him dead not in the best manner of a Madeira
headmistress. Passion, or romantic love, is supposedly the most powerful emotion
that sexual love can produce, so intense and devouring that it exerts its supremacy
over all faculties, especially the mental ones. It can still ruin lives, destroy
careers and lead to prison for life. It also beats the high of any drug and
the ecstasy of any victory. I dare anyone, except for a bore like Gore, to deny
the tango scene in Scent of a Woman? Had it been real life, the poor
little Greek boy would have gotten hit by the 1000 jolts. Gabrielle Anwar was
wonderful–demure, sweet, sexy and very, very feminine. Not so long ago,
sitting by an Austrian lake, I saw probably the best-looking girl ever standing
in the water holding her dress up above her knees. I tried, but no cigar. Let’s
face it. I’m past it. (See what passion does? The object of one’s
affection is always the most beautiful ever, and it happens every
Nabokov, who knew a thing or two about passion, being Russian, got it right
in his short story about an older man watching a young woman sitting on a park
bench. In previous centuries, passion was seen as akin to divine love, and from
Dido to Aeneas to Romeo and Juliet, it inspired the grandest of artists. The
great 19th-century ballets, with no words to express approval of death-defying
love, used the apotheosis, the scene in which the dead lovers are reunited in
were not immune to passion. Benjamin Disraeli’s epistles to Mrs. Wyndham
Lewis burned up the paper, so to speak. Can you imagine the Democrat without
the eyebrows who shouts a lot in front of tv cameras–whatever his name
is–or the Draft Dodger, come to think of it, writing anything elegant and
passionate? Or Ted Kennedy?
me to the end of passion, with or without the help of science. In the narcissistic
climate of today, anyone who loves another more than himself is considered mentally
unbalanced, the Clintons being prime examples of narcissism and self-obsession.
I guess the rot began when Edward VIII did give up his kingdom for the love
of Mrs. Simpson–and was exiled as a result. Perhaps the reason for the
further decline of passion is the ability of lawyers to enrich themselves while
the passionate couple’s high romance ends in broken plates.
music, always a good indicator of the times, is now a grotesque rap sound. Glossy
videos are as far removed from passion as they are from Mozart. How much passion
can Austin Powers generate? Perhaps passion in the 90s is too dangerous; hence
its decline. Steal a kiss from your unsuspecting object of affection and face
five years from a feminist-fearing judge. Look passionately at a girl in the
office and face the Gulag next day. I guess the days when Ezio Pinza sang, “Some
enchanted evening, you may see a stranger across a crowded room…” are
gone forever. And it’s just as well. Science will now give passion the
coup de grace. Who cares? I’ve had my fun, so there.
All About Anna
keen students of New York’s media-industrial complex, a dramatic power
play is unfolding right before our eyes. Kate Betts, the 35-year-old fashionista
who resigned from Vogue last month to take the helm of Harper’s Bazaar,
has declared war on Anna Wintour. So far she’s managed to persuade fashion
writer Kristina Zimbalist and production director Dawn Roode to defect to the
enemy camp. Will the younger woman succeed in supplanting her former mentor?
It’s a contemporary version of All About Eve.
a particularly appropriate analogy, because Anna Wintour’s aura is rather
like that of a movie star from Hollywood’s golden era. Si Newhouse is fond
of comparing Conde Nast to an old-fashioned movie studio and, now that Tina
Brown has defected to Miramax, Anna Wintour is probably his greatest star. It’s
tempting to say she plays Gloria Swanson to Si’s Erich von Stroheim–you
can imagine him as her butler–but she’s actually much more like Marlene
Dietrich. Dietrich was the only woman allowed to attend the annual ball for
male transvestites in pre-Hitler Berlin–a courtesy one can easily imagine
being extended to Anna if she was around back then. Indeed, it’s conceivable
that she’s a brilliant female impersonator who’s never been found
out. “She has sex,” Kenneth Tynan wrote of Dietrich, “but no
Anna Wintour’s authority rests on her aloofness, her disengagement from
ordinary human affairs. She presides over the fashion business with the imperial
hauteur of a Prussian general–no democratically elected leader she. It
was that attitude that impressed Si Newhouse in 1987 when he made her the editor-in-chief
of House & Garden. In Carol Felsenthal’s biography of Si, Citizen
Newhouse, she describes the scene when he walked into a House & Garden
awards lunch with Anna. Si, according to one person present, “seemed dazzled
by this Brit of high accent and high style.”
a common misconception in the fashion world that Anna Wintour is some kind of
British aristocrat. In fact, she comes from that class in Britain that John
Maynard Keynes dubbed the educated bourgeoisie, the class from which liberal
politicians, senior civil servants and Oxford dons are drawn. One of the hallmarks
of the educated bourgeoisie is what’s known as “the mask,” an
expression of grave authority, a face that never betrays any emotion. “The
mask” has played a key role in enabling the educated bourgeoisie to seize
and retain power in Britain since the war, and Anna Wintour, whose father was
the editor of The Evening Standard, has successfully imported this device
to New York. In her case, of course, it takes the form of a pair of large, black
have become Anna Wintour’s trademark, a symbol of her enduring style in
the face of the vicissitudes of fashion. Like Dietrich, by cultivating her personal
style she has turned herself into an icon, and it’s her iconic presence,
her cool celebrity charisma, which accounts more than anything else for her
towering authority in the fashion world.
have known better than to take them off.
February, when the first blind item appeared in “Page Six” about her
affair with a 53-year-old Texan millionaire, Anna’s mask has been slipping.
It was a shibboleth of the old Hollywood studio system that a star’s glamour
depended on keeping a certain distance from the fans; that as soon as you let
the public get too close, close enough to peep behind the curtain and glimpse
the wizard at work, the game was up. It was for this reason that the studios
did their utmost to keep gossip about their stars’ love lives out of the
papers. The same surely applies to the Marlene Dietrich of the fashion world.
certainly knows this. Like Tina Brown, she has a publicist’s grasp of the
supreme importance of image. Yet she’s conducted her affair with Shelby
Bryan more or less out in the open, allowing it to become public knowledge.
Why? To my mind, there can only be one explanation. For once, she has no agenda;
it’s not a premeditated move. The diva has stepped out of her power zone.
Anna Wintour, the 49-year-old Matriarch of Madison Ave., has fallen head over
heels in love.
account for her momentary loss of control at Vogue. In addition to the
defection of her second-in-command and two lieutenants to Harper’s Bazaar,
she recently lost Paul Cavaco, another key player at Vogue, to Allure.
Friends of mine who’ve worked at the fashion bible have always described
it as a vipers’ nest, a writhing snake pit of hatred and fear, and it looks
like the cobras waited for a moment of weakness to strike. Anna has always cultivated
a reputation for cold-bloodedness, for being a steely commander unaffected by
sentiment or emotion–hence her nickname “Nuclear Wintour.” Now
that the sunglasses have slipped, revealing a vulnerable, middle-aged woman
in the throes of a desperate love affair, her mystique has vanished. Her heart
isn’t made of stone; she’s human, after all.
analogy might be with Scarface, Brian De Palma’s blood-splattered
1983 epic about the drug wars in Miami. As with Tony Montana, the vicious Cuban
gangster played by Al Pacino, it’s her one act of humanity that may prove
to be her undoing.
again, it might not. My sources tell me that Shelby Bryan has proposed to Anna
and she will shortly divorce her husband and marry him. He’s currently
based in Washington–he’s a Democratic fundraiser in addition to being
a telecommunications executive–and she may up sticks and relocate to the
capital, giving up Vogue and reinventing herself as a grand political
hostess. The delicious irony of all this is that Kate Betts may have mistimed
her move. As Anna’s heir apparent, if she’d hung on another year she
might have inherited the grand prize. But she didn’t have the patience
and the games have begun. Personally, I can’t wait to see how it all turns
Openness is a fine thing, but I wonder about the proposed release
of Adolf Eichmann’s memoirs. Perhaps Amos Hausner–son of the Israeli
prosecutor of Eichmann–is right: Let’s not publish.
Eichmann’s writings are likely to inspire anyone. Nazism is dead as a doornail,
and anti-Semitism is inconsequential. Eichmann’s 1200 turgid pages won’t
tell us anything that we do not already know.
suppress the memoirs simply in order to prevent the inevitable orgy of fatuous
comment. We will be inundated with the usual “lessons” of the Holocaust.
The sad truth is, there are no “lessons” except for the most banal
kind. We don’t even remember the original trial: Instead we remember Hannah
Arendt’s account of the trial, “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” written
for The New Yorker. And of this we only remember the phrase the “banality
of evil.” This notion is supposed to explain something, though I am not
exactly sure what.
it as a subtitle for her book. By now it has lost all connection with whatever
she had originally meant to say. She did not mean that Eichmann was “banal.”
She accepted at face value Eichmann’s claim that he arranged for the mass
murder of the Jews without ever subscribing to any ideology, not even anti-Semitism.
He was just a functionary who diligently carried out his duties. Eichmann had
nothing personally against the Jews, any more than NATO commanders had anything
personally against the Serbs. He no more thought of disobeying orders than they
probably right. Her insight was only controversial because of the stubborn romantic
notion that extraordinary men are responsible for extraordinary crimes. The
opposite is the case. Only people devoid of imagination are capable of acts
of great cruelty.
explanation of the Holocaust was obviously much more troubling than Daniel Goldhagen’s.
Hitler’s Willing Executioners had something more comfortingly circular
to say: Bad people do bad things because, well, they are bad people. The Holocaust
happened because the Germans were weaned on anti-Semitism. This means that we
are safe. We could never have perpetrated the Holocaust because…we were
not weaned on anti-Semitism.
Goldhagen’s thesis does not hold water. Germany before 1914 had been one
of the most philo-Semitic countries in the world. Jews were more assimilated
there than anywhere else. And if it was a culture of anti-Semitism that gave
rise to the Holocaust, why did it not originate in Poland or Romania, two countries
in which hatred of Jews was much greater, or in France, where it was stronger
and more public than in Germany? Moreover, though Hitler was rabidly anti-Semitic,
most Germans supported him in spite of this plank in his platform.
So if the
Germans were not unusually anti-Semitic, is there something else about them
that would explain the Holocaust? Tina Rosenberg in The New York Times
has a bold thesis: The Germans are bureaucratic pedants! Or at least they were
in the bad old days. But they are better now. Thanks to the 1960s generation,
rock ’n’ roll, etc., Germans today are self-critical and questioning.
not read the Times to avoid cliches, and Tina Rosenberg doesn’t
let us down. The “orderly” German means about as much as the “hot-blooded”
Latin or the “bighearted” Russian. As a matter of fact, she gets it
completely wrong. Today’s Germans are a very stolid bunch. It was their
grandparents and great-grandparents who were a little crazy. They were the ones
who were indulging in revolutions and wars and Nazism and Communism.
mind the cause of the Holocaust–let’s just decide “Never again!”
The meaning of “never again” is as clear as what Arendt means by the
banality of evil. Certainly, long before World War II people were well aware
that killing six million people was a jolly bad idea. What “never again”
has come to mean is that the moment someone somewhere starts persecuting someone
else, the righteous cops would immediately be on the scene to put a stop to
it. This is preposterous. Someone is always persecuting someone else. There
is scarcely world enough and time to right every wrong. Clearly then, “never
again” refers to big wrongs like “ethnic cleansing.” But “ethnic
cleansing” itself is a term devoid of all meaning. Since war generally
pits one ethnic group against another, ethnic cleansing will go on until war
is abolished. To the Strobe Talbotts of this world, the very existence of national
boundaries is an invitation to “ethnic cleansing.”
“never again” refers to our supposedly new-found determination to
stop miscreants in their tracks. President Clinton would never have allowed
Hitler to get away with it. He would have stopped him before it was too late.
This probably is the most fatuous notion of all. Leave aside the fact that no
one today has the slightest intention of messing with big and powerful tyrants,
such as the Chinese in Tibet, or the Russians in the Caucasus today or the Baltic
situation in the 1930s any easier to deal with? The rest of the world immediately
disliked Hitler’s regime, precisely because of its violent anti-Semitism.
When exactly should Hitler have been stopped? In 1933, when he came to power?
But that would have been interfering with Germany’s internal constitutional
arrangement. What about 1935, after the promulgation of the Nuremberg Laws?
Or in 1936 when Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland? What would have been the justification?
It was German territory. Why was it wrong for Germany to insist on its own historic
frontiers? It would have been equally hard to oppose the Anschluss: The union
of Germany and Austria was clearly in conformity with the principle of national
self-determination as laid down at Versailles. The same was true about the incorporation
of the Sudetenland into Germany. Moreover, Western leaders rightly doubted the
Britain and France finally intervened on behalf of Poland. But in spite of their
help the Poles were crushed.
As the famous English
historian A. J.P. Taylor observed: “The British stand in September 1939
was no doubt heroic; but it was heroism mainly at the expense of others. The
British people suffered comparatively little during six years of war. The Poles
suffered catastrophe… In 1938 Czechoslovakia was betrayed. In 1939 Poland
was saved. Less than one hundred thousand Czechs died during the war. Six and
a half million Poles were killed. Which was better–to be a betrayed Czech
or a saved Pole?”
As for the
Jews in Europe, military intervention was the option least likely to help their
plight. Before September 1939 Nazi policy had been to drive the Jews out of
Germany. After September 1939 Jews were forbidden to leave. There were no Allied
ground troops in the neighborhood to help. In war, one can never be too ruthless
with one’s enemies. After all, it’s their fault that war has broken
out to begin with. War provided the cover Hitler needed to carry out the annihilation
of the Jews. Perhaps this was not foreseen. It was not entirely unforeseen either.
This is not to say that going to war against Hitler was wrong–merely that
the vaunted “lessons” are not that obvious.
truth is that no one could have predicted the rise of Hitler. A contingent set
of circumstances propelled his Nazis to power, and an accident of personality
made them anti-Semitic. It was not silly everyday racist jokes or snobbish anti-Semitism
that led to Nazi anti-Semitism. The Nazi experience shows that the most civilized
of nations can go crazy when they are under extreme pressure. The precise circumstances
that gave the world Hitler will not be repeated. This is not to say that there
will not be new Hitlers. However, the new Hitlers will not be like the old Hitler.
If they were, they would be recognized and avoided.
eradicate anti-Semitism is an admirable goal. But anti-Semitism was already
a dying creed in the 19th century. No one in 1914 could have foreseen the victory
of a rabidly anti-Semitic movement in enlightened Germany, of all places, any
more than they could have foreseen the triumph of a radical Communist movement
in primitive Russia, of all places.