LAX Security; ImBeciles


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LAX Security


The White House response to the terrorist incident?yes, the terrorist incident?that took place at L.A. International Airport at noon on the Fourth of July raises the worry that our War on Terror is being run with all the pointless mendacity of the Kosovo war. That vile conflict was made all the more vile by the way revelations about stray American bombs would appear in Tass?and then on the AP wire?and then on Serbian television?and then on the European networks?while American spokesman Jamie Rubin and NATO spokesman Jamie Shea continued to insist with sangfroid that no such stray bombs had ever fallen. It's infuriating that, finding ourselves in a just war against terrorism, we're unable to break the habits of the unjust one we waged against Serbia.


Only hours after Egyptian immigrant Hesham Mohamed Ali Hadayet went on his shooting rampage at LAX, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described the incident rather matter-of-factly as an act of terrorism. If you were watching the wires that night, as I was, you wouldn't have batted an eyelash?except that Our President seemed to be denying that the incident involved terrorism at all. In the current international climate, this made Israel look rather bad?as if it were using a random American shooting to exaggerate the extent of politically motivated violence against civilians (i.e., terrorism) in the world.


On Friday we had still more specifics, leading us to only one plausible conclusion: the one Israel had drawn. After having spent the whole week prior to the Fourth warning us to be vigilant against terror, you'd think the Bushies might have reached that conclusion, too. And yet administration officials were leery of using the T-word. "There is no evidence," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, "no indication at this time that this is terrorists." No indication? Gee, Ari, those are strong words. What do you think El Al stands for in the minds of the Arab world? "Excellence in Aviation"? What was the motive of Hadayet (whose father, by the way, had been a general in the Egyptian army)? Was he frosted by El Al's unwillingness to honor his frequent-flyer miles?


It makes one want to ask what the administration thinks terrorism is. What was missing from this particular incident? The shouts and prayers? The Terrorist Instruction Manual left in the car? The tape sent to Al-Jazeera?


One can only guess at the President's motivations for not calling a spade a spade here. Perhaps he is disinclined to stoke American fears that even immigrants of long standing?Hadayet had been in the country for 10 years?have not yet got the old enmities out of their systems. Perhaps he is disinclined to waste oratorical capital on a fight that he thinks is Israel's, not ours. (But if this is the case, he should not be surprised at the European reluctance to join our terror coalition.) Either way, he is piling up the evidence that, in a crisis situation, blurting out the truth to full disclosure is not his kneejerk reaction.


ImBeciles


Absolutely everyone in politics is trying to make hay of the WorldCom collapse. Montana Republican senatorial candidate Mike Taylor is trying to embarrass his Democratic rival, the incumbent Max Baucus, into returning all the money he's received from WorldCom. Baucus counters that Montana's Republican Sen. Conrad Burns hasn't returned his campaign loot, either. Taylor replies, in turn, that he's not running against Burns. The two Montanans are almost alone in their unwillingness to do so, joined, as far as I can tell, by two Republican congress members, Heather Wilson of New Mexico and John "Whoops!" Boehner of Ohio. I have a grudging admiration of those who aren't giving their WorldCom money back. Raising campaign money is hard work. Are they supposed to make it harder by doing the Better Business Bureau's job, too?


This accounting crisis has exposed all sorts of hypocrisy in American business. But the very worst hypocrisy has come from CBS, which purports to be doing Hard-Nosed Investigative Journalism on the matter. In this capacity, the network told Martha Stewart that she couldn't do her usual cooking-and-home-decorating gig on last Wednesday's Early Show unless she was willing to answer tough questions. CBS wanted to grill her on allegations she'd received insider information that allowed her to profitably divest her holdings in the biotech startup ImClone just before a damaging report destroyed the company's fortunes. Stewart said no thanks, and bailed out.


Now, look?I think the noose around Martha Stewart is getting tighter and tighter. Her story that she had a stop-loss order that would prompt a stock sale when it dropped before $60 a share doesn't explain an incriminating call to her brokers?you use stop-loss orders precisely so you don't have to make such calls to your brokers. And particularly fishy are the calls that Stewart's friend Mariana Pasternak may have made while on a flight with Stewart. Pasternak, too, succeeded in unloading her family's shares just before the release of the report that drove ImClone into the tank.


But that said, what can some dippy morning anchorperson tell us about Stewart's travails? CBS is trying to misrepresent its relationship to Stewart for its own ends. She goes on that show to match wallpaper with upholstery, not to match wits with gumshoes. She is not an interview subject being grilled by the CBS journalism company?she's an entertainer working for the CBS entertainment company. CBS' insistence on "asking the tough questions" is only an attempt to distract real investigative journalists from the fact that one of their employees is involved in an insider-trading scandal.


I hope tears for Ted Williams will not be wasted on New York readers. The rule of de mortuis nihil nisi bonum has nothing to do with the tendency of obituary writers to say that Williams did indeed achieve what he set out to do: become the greatest hitter who ever played baseball. Babe Ruth is his only serious competition. A good case can be made for ranking Ruth ahead of Williams?but I think it is ultimately a failed case. The statistics don't show this, because Williams lost the better part of five seasons to military service in the very heart of his career. Had he played those seasons, he would either have surpassed Ruth's record of 714 home runs, or he would have been very close to surpassing it by 1960, when he retired. And if he had been close, he would have played longer, until 1962 or 1963 if need be. Remember that Williams hit .388 at the age of 39; he did not need to retire at 42.


Williams' lifetime average (.344) was only slightly higher than Ruth's; it's not average alone that should lead us to judge him the better hitter. The decisive factor in choosing Williams over Ruth is that Ruth hit all his home runs in a ballpark designed for him to hit home runs in. Williams hit his in Fenway Park, which is not a small park but a misshapen one, and happens to be the very hardest place in all of baseball for lefty pull hitters to hit balls out of.


As for the sentimental stuff, the stuff about how Williams?more than the Pilgrims or Emerson or Robert Frost or John F. Kennedy?is the chief cultural point of reference that we New Englanders have in common?well, talking about such things in front of New York readers runs too big a risk of evoking snorts, so I'll save it for my family. A bit of what I would say, however, is captured in one of the great scenes in all of American literature, which appears in Russell Banks' novel Continental Drift. The book is about Bob Dubois, a loser from New Hampshire who gets involved in a dangerous conspiracy to smuggle Haitian immigrants into Florida. On the eve of the voyage that will seal his fate, Bob runs into Ted Williams in a tackle shop in the Florida Keys. He is immediately reduced to a quivering wreck, and begins to pour out the story of his life, starting with his boyhood rooting for the Red Sox and how much Williams meant to everyone in his family, and moving on, in embarrassing detail, to how difficult life has been for him, and much more besides, whereupon he bursts into tears and whimpers, "I miss my father!"


To which the Splendid Splinter replies, rather coldly, "Get a grip, son."


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