LAX Security; ImBeciles

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


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
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.


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.

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."