We inherited the worst situation since the Great Depression.

That is the reflexive response of President Obama to the troubles from which he has been unable to extract his country.

Even before the inauguration, he says, there were projections of a $1.2 trillion deficit for 2009. That deficit is not my deficit.

Presidents are usually blamed for deficits run while they are in office. But, in fact, presidents do not write budgets. Congress does. Presidents sign them. And the mammoth deficits of 2008 and 2009 came from budgets approved by a Congress run by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Did Sen. Barack Obama vote against those budgets?

“While Democrats are despondent, facing almost certain defeat in the fall, Republicans seem united only on what they are against: Obama and Obamacare, cap-and-trade, civil trials for terrorists, socialism.”

As for the troubles he inherited, the president has a point. From day one, he has had to deal with two wars, a financial crisis, and an economy careening into recession.

But Harry Truman inherited two great wars, an atom bomb and an ally, Joseph Stalin, about to dishonor his commitments and enslave half of Europe.

Richard Nixon came to office a minority president in the year of Tet, urban riots, campus uprisings, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. He inherited a war in which 500,000 Americans were fighting, and came to a capital city dominated by a media that detested him and a Congress where, for the first time since Zachary Taylor, the opposition controlled both houses.

Ronald Reagan, too, inherited the worst recession since the Depression, a hollowed-out Army, a Soviet Empire that had overrun Vietnam and Southeast Asia and seized Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Grenada and Nicaragua, and a NATO shot through with Eurocommunism and pacifism.

Undaunted, Truman went on to a historic victory in 1948, and Nixon and Reagan went on to 49-state landslides. Presidents have a way of coming back, and America has legendary recuperative powers.

So no one should write this president or country off. But neither should anyone minimize the problems confronting us.

First is the debt crisis. Federal revenues are running at 16 percent of gross domestic product, spending at 27 percent. Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that a Greece-like situation, where creditors refuse to buy U.S. debt unless we raise interest rates to cover the rising risks of a U.S. default, cannot be ruled out.

Yet there is no credible plan to get these deficits under control when the economy starts to recover. And this week came news that consumer confidence has plunged to a 25-year low and housing starts have plummeted to the lowest level in 50 years.

Economists at the International Monetary Fund have suggested the United States raise the inflation rate to 4 percent or 6 percent to float out of the debt crisis. This is another way of saying the government should clandestinely steal the wealth of the American people to pay off its debts. Bernanke says that will not happen.

Second is the war situation. Where Gen. Tommy Franks’ Army occupied Iraq in three weeks, Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s will require a month to pacify Marjah, a town of 80,000 in a nation of 28 million.

U.S. casualties are rising in Afghanistan even as Iraq’s elections, which are to lead to a U.S. withdrawal, appear to be moving that country back toward a Sunni-Shia and Arab-Kurd sectarian and civil war.

Meanwhile, pressure on the president is mounting for “crippling” sanctions on Iran that could lead to a third U.S. war against a nation with a population larger than Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

A third crisis is political: the perception that President Obama is a weak leader who cannot even impose his will on a Congress where Democrats had, until January, a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a near 80-vote margin in the House.

Abroad, America is being defied by Japan on bases, by Israel on settlements, by China and Russia on U.N. sanctions, and by Venezuela and its compadres on everything. Dictatorships and democracies alike seem to be dismissive of American leadership.

While Democrats are despondent, facing almost certain defeat in the fall, Republicans seem united only on what they are against: Obama and Obamacare, cap-and-trade, civil trials for terrorists, socialism.

Perhaps that is enough for November.

But in 2012, the party of Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul will have to tell the country how it proposes to end these wars without losing them, how to bring manufacturing back, and how to cut spending by $1 trillion a year, if taxes are off the table.

That Republicans failed under George W. Bush few Republicans today deny. That Obama and his White House are failing today few Democrats will privately deny.

The question raised by the successive failures is whether either party has a cure for the maladies that afflict America. Or are those maladies beyond the power of politics to heal?

Have we become a people incapable of accepting the sacrifices previous generations made, and of producing leaders with the vision and strength of character that our leaders of old possessed?

My instinctive reaction to what had just happened and indeed to the events of the day itself, was, of course, to head straight for the minibar. I found it lurking underneath the T.V on the right hand side of the room, a small brown camouflaged fridge between two sets of drawers. I squatted down and flung it open.
        “€œOkey-dokey,”€ I said out loud, “€œwhat have we here?”€
        The two main shelves didn”€™t have anything of any use to anyone as far as I was concerned. On the top shelf there were two bottles of Heineken and two bottles of Coke while underneath it there were two bottles of Fanta and two bottles of water. “€œI think not,”€ I said disgustedly and turned my attention to the inside of the door. Bingo. I took out two miniature bottles of Scotch and two miniature bottles of brandy and emptied them into a glass. Then I took off my jacket, kicked off my shoes, and flopped onto the bed. “€œAt last,”€ I groaned indulgently before tipping the entire contents of the glass down my throat. Unexpectedly, however, this oft-rehearsed routine suddenly produced an alarming retch which had to be followed up with an immediate yet well-judged swallow. I waited for a few seconds then got hit with another alarming retch which had to be followed up with another immediate yet even better-judged swallow. “€˜Go easy there partner,”€™ I cajoled myself good naturedly but with a real feeling of fear. At length, the struggle came to an end I was able to lower myself, more cautiously this time, into a bolt upright position on the bed. I wiped the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand and stared out of the window.
        Given the hotel’s proximity to the sea, I had been hoping for, nay, counting on, some kind of sea view. A beach front panorama perhaps, or the hypnotic tilting this way and that of ships”€™ masts in the gentle Mediterranean breeze. Instead I seemed to have secured a room on the bum side of the hotel; the only view I had was of a brick wall and somebody else’s dirty air conditioning unit.
        I checked my watch: there was still an hour and a half left to go. The question was: what could I do in that time? I could go for a swim, I suppose. I had brought my swimming trunks and in a hotel like this there was bound to be a pool. Or I could fix myself another drink……actually on second thoughts, maybe not. There wasn”€™t really enough time to go to sleep, so then, what to do? I was pondering all of this when, as if by luck, I happened to notice a laminated brochure next to the T.V. “€˜Adult Entertainment Direct to your Room,”€™ it said on it, and next to the words was the image of a well-endowed and exceptionally sluttish woman staring right at me. The answer immediately became clear: I would celebrate my first day in my new job with an expensive, high quality wank. What could possibly be better?
        As if working on a sub-conscious level, my arm had already snaked its way over to the bedside table and located the remote control. I had a quick flick through the channels and soon found exactly what I was looking for: 12 Hour Adult Zone, $34.99. Bargain. With a tremendous feeling of excitement churning in my stomach and a frenzied disregard for any possible consequences, I punched my room number into the remote control: Three……… Nine………… Six………


*     *     *

        I felt it was important to arrive early for my rendez-vous with the Captain so I allowed myself a good twenty minutes in order to negotiate the labyrinth from my room back to the lifts. To my surprise, I managed only a handful of wrong turns and found myself back in the lobby with a full ten minutes to spare.
        I also felt it was important to pay for the adult entertainment channel while it was still fresh in my mind, so to speak, and thereby preclude any unnecessary embarrassment when the time came to check out the following day with the Chief Pilot standing next to me. We weren”€™t due to leave until the following afternoon, but still, it never pays to leave these things to the last minute.
        Being aware, as I was, of the delicate nature of my predicament, I was smart enough not to head straight for the check-in desk but rather to loiter inconspicuously in the middle of the lobby until a suitable receptionist became available. There was no way I was going to have any further dealings with the same person who had checked us in when we arrived, nor was there any way I was going to suffer the humiliation of being tended to by a female employee whom I might otherwise have recourse to importune at a later stage in the evening. No. What was called for in a difficult situation like this was some level of sympathy or, ideally, complicity on their part which would hopefully be offset by a certain roguish, fun-loving approach on mine. I was mature enough to know that honesty was, as it always is, the best policy, nor was I about to debase myself any further than I already had by getting involved in a web of intrigue and deceit. Boys will be boys after all, I reminded myself philosophically, and besides, these people were professionals; they”€™d seen it all before and they”€™d probably seen every trick in the book.
        As far as I could make out, there were seven employees to choose from. They were well spaced out, which was good, but the desk itself curved round in a gentle arc and stretched so far into the distance that I couldn”€™t clearly make out what most of them looked like. I felt fairly confident that I didn”€™t recognize any of them from earlier, which was also good, but there was, on the other hand, a number of doors set back from the desk itself through which any member of staff could suddenly appear at any moment.
        The receptionist nearest me was obscured by two American tourists I”€™d seen earlier coming out of the lift, but when they moved away to reveal a regular looking Spanish male in his early twenties, I knew I”€™d more or less found what I was looking for. He was slightly thinner and nerdier than I would have liked but he definitely wasn”€™t female and, more importantly, he probably wasn”€™t gay. I glanced down at my watch: 19:55: five minutes to go. Right. It was now or never. I took a deep breath and, smiling broadly, set off in a swashbuckling swagger towards the desk.
        “€œHello there amigo!”€ I called out when I was still some distance away, “€œcomo estas?”€
        “€œGood evening sir,”€ he replied in a more subdued fashion once I had closed the gap between us to just a few meters. “€œHow are you?”€
        “€œMe? Couldn”€™t be better. Couldn”€™t be better.”€ I was now standing in front of him. I placed the palms of my hands on the marble counter either side of his computer screen and did a drum roll with them for a few seconds until he felt it necessary to ask:
        “€œAnd how can I help you, sir?”€
        His English was encouragingly good with only the faintest trace of a Spanish accent. Fingers crossed this whole sordid business would be taken care of in no time.
        “€œOh, I don”€™t know,”€ I began vaguely, “€œI was just wondering what time breakfast starts tomorrow morning.”€
        “€œBreakfast is from six until eleven o”€™clock.”€
        “€œPerfect!”€ I exclaimed and made as if to leave then clicked my fingers and turned back. “€œOh and one more thing, it’s nothing really, I just need to pay for the adult entertainment channel now before I forget. I”€™m in room 396. Cheers.”€
        “€œThe adult entertainment channel, you know how it is,”€ I winked at him, “€œI”€˜d like very much to pay for it now if that’s O.K with you.”€
        “€œThe adult……I don”€™t think we……”€
        “€œYes you do,”€ I corrected him. “€œYou have it upstairs. In the rooms. In my room. I put it on and now I would like to pay for it. Thank you.”€
        “€œBut all of our rooms are adult rooms.”€
        “€œNo, no, no. Listen to me very carefully.”€ I could tell that a queue was beginning to form behind me. I lent over the counter towards him so that our faces were nearly touching and hissed at him:
        “€œThe porn channel O.K? Do I have to spell it out for you? Sex, T.V, money, capeesh? You. Me. Pay now. NOW!!!”€
        I stayed where I was and fixed him imploringly with mad, bulging eyes. He started to back away from me with a look of terror on his face, feeling his way carefully for the handle of the door behind him.
        “€œNo, wait!”€ I reached out towards him. “€œI”€™m sorry. I didn”€™t mean it. Please don”€™t go!”€
        But just like that he was gone, and I stood there trying to work out what had caused the young man so much obvious distress. I looked at my watch: 19:58, time to go. I waited half a minute longer then turned to leave but as I did so, the door opened and in front of me appeared the attractive blonde woman whose eye I had been trying to catch when I first arrived, flanked on both sides, however, by two burly, quite scary-looking security guards.
        I couldn”€™t believe what was happening. My first thought was that there had been some mistake so I raised my hands palms facing outwards in a gesture of pretend surrender and said jokingly:
        “€œWhoa! What’s all this?”€
        “€œSir. Please calm down,”€ said the woman, who was altogether more attractive than I had first thought.
        “€œCalm down? I am calm!”€ I roared back at her. At that point I saw the two men drop their arms to their sides as if they were limbering up for a fight.
        “€œSir, please. I must inform you that one of our members of staff has made a complaint against you.”€
        “€œA complaint? What kind of complaint?”€
        “€œSir, if you do not lower your voice, we will be forced to exit you from the premises.”€
        I knew that if I didn”€™t change tack and fast, then an already bad situation was about to get a whole lot worse. I breathed in deeply before continuing: “€œO.K, I”€™m sorry. It’s just that I think there’s been some terrible mistake. Why don”€™t you tell me what this so-called complaint is and then maybe I can convince you that it has nothing whatsoever to do with me.”€
        “€œSir. Rodrigo has informed us that you have been harassing him.”€
        “€œHarassing him? Harassing him how?”€
        “€œSexually, I”€™m afraid, sir. He says you tried to pay him to have sex with you.”€
        “€œAre we ready?”€ Captain Johnson asked light-heartedly as he slapped his room key down on the counter. He looked first at me then at the three people behind the desk with an amused expression as if he was trying to fathom what was going on. “€œNot giving you any trouble, is he? You”€™ve got to watch it with these English pilots!”€ He looked back at me: “€œSee you in the bar, O.K?”€ And just like that, he was gone. It had all happened so quickly and had been so terrible, so unprecedentedly nightmarish, that I hadn”€™t even had time to formulate a response. The moment had come and the moment had gone seemingly with no beginning, no middle, and no end; a glitch from a parallel dimension on the otherwise normal passage of time. I found myself looking at the woman, except that I wasn”€™t looking at her, I was looking through her at an imaginary object set some distance away on the other side of her head. I found I was supporting myself with one hand on the computer screen and that my whole body was gently pulsing to the rhythm of my heart. I snapped out of it:
        “€œSo anyway. Where were we? Oh that’s right: sexual harassment. Of course.”€ I suddenly felt more in control of a situation than I had ever felt in my life. “€œLet me put it to you this way, sweetheart. What Gonzalez or Tonto or whatever his name is thinks I said, O.K? I didn”€™t say it. Whatever he thinks I did? I didn”€™t do it. Whatever he thinks I am, or whatever you think I am? I”€™m not. It’s all one big misunderstanding.”€
        She turned slowly to the two security guards, said something to them in Spanish, and they backed away through the door, eyeing me stonily as they went. I felt like getting in a last word, something delivered in high-camp to really piss them off, but I thought better of it. I had already succeeded in extricating myself from an impossible situation as it was and besides, to pretend to be gay now after everything that had just happened would be in extremely poor taste. I simply said:
        “€œSorry about all that.”€
        “€œI”€™m sorry too, sir. You have to understand that here at the Hotel Palma we take all complaints, especially of a sexual nature, very seriously indeed.”€
        I smiled. “€œOf course. I wouldn”€™t expect anything less.”€
        “€œIs there anything else I can help you with?”€
        “€œHelp me with?”€ I glanced over in the direction of the bar where I could see Captain Johnson safely ordering a beer. “€œWell yes, as a matter of fact there is. Something rather unfortunate happened a couple of hours ago when I checked into my room.”€
        “€œYes, I”€™m afraid so. You see, I thought it would be nice to watch one of the films on the Pay T.V channels, you know, the one with, uh, Brad Pitt in it, so I……”€
        “€œBrad Pitt?”€ she frowned.
        “€œYeah, I think it was him. O.K maybe it wasn”€™t him but it was someone like him,”€ I improvised cleverly. “€œAnyway that’s not important. What is important is that I entered the number for the film on the remote control but instead of getting Brad Pitt……”€ I turned around to check that the sizeable queue of people behind me wasn”€™t able to hear what I was saying, then I ducked my head down towards her and she, in turn, brought her face up close to mine as if we were about to kiss, then I whispered to her conspiratorially: “€œ……I found myself watching the adult entertainment channel!”€
        I pushed myself back from the desk and let the full weight of what I had said sink into her. I was now wearing an expression of great disappointment tinged with genuine concern, the kind of look you might have got at school from the cool teacher after he had been the only one to trust in you but you had ended up letting him down badly, while the woman, who, to give her credit, might not have been out of place on the adult entertainment channel herself, was staring at me with an expression of wide-eyed disbelief.
        “€œI know,”€ I agreed with her.
        “€œWould sir like me to deduct it from his bill?”€
        “€œNo, no. Well O.K, yes, he would. The thing is, I don”€™t mind paying for it “€“ that’s not the point. My main concern is for the children.”€
        “€œThe children?”€
        “€œOf course. Imagine if you”€™re a parent and your two children are in the next room. Let’s say one of them wants to watch, I don”€™t know,”€ I twirled my hand loosely in the air trying to come up with something, “€œSnow White and the Seven Dwarves, right? Little Katie enters the number for what she thinks is going to be a Walt Disney cartoon but instead she ends up with, oh I don”€™t know, White Girls Love Black Cock instead. Trust me, you”€™d rather have me complaining about it than some little girl’s dad.”€
        “€œYes sir. I am terribly sorry.”€
        I was beginning to feel well pleased with the level of respect I was getting not to mention the fact that I”€™d managed to pull off what I considered to be one of the great escape stunts of all time.
        “€œIt’s O.K,”€ I said sadly, “€œI”€™m just relieved it was me who discovered the fault and not somebody else.”€ I had got so far involved in my own lie by this stage that I had ended up believing in it myself. I went on: “€œWhat I do suggest, however, is that you get maintenance to go up and sort it out.”€ Then I quickly added: “€œNot now. I mean do it tomorrow after I”€™ve gone.”€
        “€œYes sir. I will certainly do that for you.”€
        “€œAnd another thing: it doesn”€™t matter too much but make sure it doesn”€™t appear on my company bill whatever happens, is that understood?”€
        “€œYes sir. It is.”€
        “€œGood.”€ I turned to leave but something else occurred to me: “€œOh and one more thing; I probably won”€™t need to use it but……”€
        “€œThe minibar, sir?”€
        “€œYes!”€ I replied, both surprised and impressed that I had been second-guessed so accurately.
        “€œDon”€™t worry – that won”€™t appear on your company bill either.”€
        “€œFantastic! See you later then.”€ And with that I headed off in high spirits to join the Captain who was waiting for me obliviously at the bar.

Previously: An Excerpt From ‘The Wrong Stuff’

St. Moritz. As they used to say in Flatbush, I shoulda stood in bed.  So leaving the pretty village of Gstaad on a sunny Tuesday morning, I set out for St. Moritz to attend the annual general meeting of Pugs Club and to participate in the first Pugs uphill ski race on the new course laid out by our President Professor William H. Gimlet.

As the prof has only recently learned to ski—ironically there are no skiing lessons provided by British institutions for the criminally insane—I should perhaps have foreseen, in the words of Irving Berlin, “trouble ahead,” but I didn’t. I woke up with a fever and rang St. Moritz. Brain damage has been known to rob people of their sense of humor, and Gimlet was no exception. “Do you believe in clubs for small children?” he rasped over the telephone. It was a non-sequitur, so I used the W.C. Fields answer, “only when kindness fails.” It seemed to quiet him down, however, so in order to be nice I told the mother of my children, what the hell, let’s go, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it.

Trouble began almost immediately. A brand new Mercedes simply stopped in the middle of the motorway between Bern and Zurich, like stubborn mules do in the Greek mainland, and also in some islands like Andros and Mykonos. I will not go into details, but we wasted two hours staring at cheaper cars racing by us.

“Gimlet stuck the president of the Corviglia, Prince Augusto Ruffo di Calabria, and Count Bismarck with the bill, both of whom were seated far away trying to avoid him. It was a terrible show, but worse was yet to come.

By the time we arrived at Chantal Hanover’s house on the outskirts of St. Moritz, the meeting was in full session, my fever had gone up, so there was only one thing to do: drown it. Club matters were discussed, eight applicants were unanimously blackballed,  and Prince Nikolaos of Greece was elected, also unanimously. We are now 17 and the membership will close at 20. (Incidentally, Sir Christopher Lee wore his striped blue and white Pugs tie when he knelt before the Queen and was knighted).  After that Prince Heinrich von Furstenberg decreed the 2010 sailing regatta to be held off St. Tropez on May 20th, with Tim Hoare assuring us that last year’s winner will not be using the same tactics. (I am not one to make excuses but I did miss the starting line with the ensuing penalty as I was blinded by the black smoke Roger Taylor’s engine was pouring out).

The hangover next morning was nothing compared to the lousy ski conditions. A blinding snowstorm brought the visibility down to zero but Gimlet insisted the race must go on. Once on the slopes, I discovered the genius I employ back in Gstaad had not packed my skis, but those of my son when he was a baby. It was as good an excuse for not taking part as I can think of, yet Gimlet would not lay off the cheap jokes, jokes to do with Sparta, Thermopylae, and the Italian performance on the battlefield in 1940. I gave in. But first we all had lunch at the Corviglia Club, where Gimlet proceeded to grab a table reserved for others and where he ordered a magnum of champagne and two bottles of claret, despite the fact he does not drink. He then stuck the president of the Corviglia, Prince Augusto Ruffo di Calabria, and Count Bismarck with the bill, both of whom were seated far away trying to avoid him. It was a terrible show, but worse was yet to come.

Due to the zero visibility, we could not find the other racers. Arki Busson had dropped out in the spirit of the French army in 1940—actually he couldn’t get a signal on his mobile and Uma was trying to get hold of him—while Mark Getty, evoking the spirit of 1966 draft dodging instead of 1776, also dropped out claiming his house, Spa Getty, was on fire. Tim Hoare got lost in the fog, and by the time I took off the mountain looked like Shanghai the day the Japanese marched in—locusts-like skiers shussing, crawling, falling, and screaming, and above the din I heard Gimlet’s shout to turn left. I did and hit a rock-like ice patch at speed, and it was frigor mortis. I fell head first and knocked myself out. But not to worry, I came to after a few seconds. My nose was cut and bleeding, I had a terrible bruise on the right side of my face, and I had broken my ribs on the right side. I was taken to the hospital, treated, and then the mother of my children smashed the car on the way home.

That night at George and Lita Livanos’s party (George is a Pugs member), I had probably the best red wine ever, which made me forget the pain I was in. As I was leaving the next morning I told Gimlet and Chantal that “we must do this again soon.” They both burst out laughing, something I cannot do with broken ribs, but it seems to amuse Professor Gimlet as he’s off to India.


For those unaware, the literary world is currently aflutter over a scandal involving yet another freshman novelist accused of plagiarism.  Helene Hegemann, daughter of famed German dramatist Carl Hegemann, recently released her debut novel Axolotl Roadkill, which is currently working its way up a number of German bestseller lists.  At only seventeen, she’s heralded as a gifted writer, and the book itself is a finalist at the Leipzig Book Fair.

Sounds great so far, but accusations of plagiarism recently surfaced when blogger Deef Pirmasens discovered that several passages in the book, and in one instance almost an entire page, were copied straight from a little-known novel entitled Strobo by a blogger using the pseudonym Airen.  Surprisingly, Hegemann has not only admitted to plagiarizing Airen’s work, but actually defends the theft.  In a now widely circulated statement released by her publisher, she writes, “€œThere’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,”€ an awfully smug assertion for someone in her position.

But the young author is not without her supporters.  The New York Times quotes Volker Weidermann, a jury member for the Leipzig Book Fair, as saying of the novel, “€œObviously, it isn”€™t completely clean but, for me, it doesn”€™t change my appraisal of the text.”€  He continues, “€œI believe it’s part of the concept of the book.”€ It seems that this was not really theft at all, but a re-appropriation of found material, a “€œremix”€ if you will.

“Hegemann can bitch about originality until she’s old enough to actually get into the clubs she writes about, but it doesn”€™t change the fact that her novel is less authentic because she chose to increase her page-count with someone else’s pages.”

The novel’s literary merit, let’s be clear, is really beside the point; Hegemann could very well be the wunderkind people claim she is. What concerns me are the reasons why her re-appropriation of Airen’s material must be considered plagiarism and not, as Hegemann and her defenders argue, simply an accepted practice of the times.

Intertextuality didn”€™t begin with the Y generation remember.  Though the term itself was coined in the sixties, we can find examples of intertextuality going as far back as the Greek myths and the Old Testament.  Even the modernist master himself, James Joyce, took the title of his greatest novel, Ulysses, from Homer. The thinking men and women of letters used to be perfectly capable of making the distinction between inspiration, source material, and stolen goods.

Let’s examine, for argument’s sake, a more contemporary example of intertextuality, and one more relevant to the situation at hand.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, published in 2009, is a recent and successful example of novel as “€œmash-up,”€ a term Hegemann applies to her own work.  The book lists its authors as Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  It follows the plot and uses much of the text of Jane Austen’s original work, Pride and Prejudice, though with references to zombies and zombie fighting sprinkled here and there for comic effect.

So, what is so different about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that it shouldn”€™t elicit the kind of outrage Axolotl Roadkill does?  Well, first of all, Grahame-Smith samples from an original novel resting comfortably in the public domain.  He wrote his “€œmash-up”€ legally, something Hegemann could have probably accomplished with a quick letter to Strobo’s publisher.  (I read today that Hegemann’s publishers are doing just that, albeit accompanied by a fairly generous check, I”€™ll wager.)

Secondly, but no less important, Pride and Prejudice, in addition to being in the public domain, is also part of our common literary heritage.  For the same reason journalists and scholars aren”€™t expected to cite sources when they mention facts that are common knowledge, literary “€œremixers”€ need not fear attacks of plagiarism when they sample from what are commonly referred to as “€œclassics.”€  Anyone capable of reading Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel can be expected to know that Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, and that the joke (albeit a crude and relatively unfunny one to my thinking) is that there are no zombies in the original at all.  The same can”€™t be said of first-time, diva novelists grabbing chunks from little-known books conveniently similar in subject matter to their own.  Transparency gives the reader a sense that the author is trustworthy, part of the very definition of the word authentic, and more important today because so much of what we read is “€œremixed.”€

Hegemann can bitch about originality until she’s old enough to actually get into the clubs she writes about, but it doesn”€™t change the fact that her novel is less authentic because she chose to increase her page-count with someone else’s pages. With all this “€œmixing,”€ “€œremixing,”€ “€œmashing-up,”€ and “€œre-appropriating”€ going on, is it possible today’s writers are ceding too much of their artistic prerogative to existing ideas and material?  By relinquishing so much control over their own work, aren”€™t they running the risk their works will not only lack originality, but also authenticity?

Handsome men born before 1970 were no different than any other, average-looking, men. I mean, they were the captains of the football team and they felt the breasts of every cute girl in school and they eventually ran huge marketing companies that made thousands of people rich but, on the inside, they were the same as you and me.

Nevertheless, something unprecedented happened with Generation X. Hunks became male bimbos: Himbos. Nobody’s sure what caused it but most experts agree the concept of Male Modeling”€”as a full time career”€”is primarily responsible. Somehow being seen as beautiful is apparently not great for your IQ.

As someone who always favors nature over nurture, I find this very hard to digest. What is it about being considered gorgeous that makes people so stupid? Identical twins separated at birth find each other decades later and are stunned to discover they have the same car, same dog, similar careers, same annual income, and even similar looking husbands. I used to think this was the errant thread that unraveled the whole nurture sweater. Whoops.


“The most a male model can hope for is not to be lampooned in movies like Zoolander.”

As a nation that idealizes the Northern European look, we have cursed generations of attractive blonde women with an allergic reaction to books. This curse seems to have run its course, thank god”€”dumb blonde jokes are starting to sound as ridiculous as dumb Polack jokes. It appears beautiful women have finally gotten over the flattery and caught up to the handsome men of the pre-1970s. After Kathy Ireland was featured in Sports Illustrated 13 years in a row, she used her dwindling fame to start a line of socks that eventually snowballed into Kathy Ireland Worldwide, a $10 million-a-year corporation Forbes credited with starting the “€œmodelpreneur”€ trend.

Conversely, the most a male model can hope for is not to be lampooned in movies like Zoolander, in which America’s top comedians dance around runways like idiots puckering their lips and saying things like, “€œI’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking and I plan on finding out what that is.”€ (Unfortunately for the Himbos, a sequel for Zoolander is in the works). 

I recently hired a breathtaking hunk intern and, as someone who was born in 1970, was looking forward to hanging out with a young bon vivant that has had as many women as he’s had hot dinners. Unfortunately, this kid was born in the late “€™80s and has the IQ of a fish. “€œThat’s a trip,”€ he said while looking at some hanging plants in the office, “€œHow do those stay up there?”€ I had to answer his question with, “€œWhat?”€ to which he said, “€œHow do you water those?”€

I explained what ladders were and he raised the stakes by bringing physics into the equation, “€œOK, I get that. I just figured they”€™d get heavier when you water them and that would make them fall.”€ I couldn”€™t digest this kind of thinking and eventually erupted with the same question I”€™ve been asking here. Namely, how did handsome men get so stupid in just one generation. “€œI know,”€ he replied smiling, “€œMy friend said she would have killed me by now if I wasn”€™t so good looking.”€ Yeuch.

Overcoming nature used to be reserved for extreme cases like being beaten as a child, or growing up on the verge of starvation. Today it seems a new factor has crept into the fold. Being considered beautiful reduces your IQ by at least 35 percent. Judging from dumb blondes, it appears it takes about two generations of making a living as a beautiful person before you get your shit together. This means hunks being born today will be almost as smart as their grandfathers. I can”€™t wait.

I think we’ve found the secret of Paul Krugman you know. No, really, an excellent little piece in the New Yorker gives us what we need to analyze the great man. Yes, he is indeed a great man but like all of us he has his flaws and this piece gives us the necessary clues to them.

Actually, what it is: he doesn’t understand politics.

A fairly brave statement about someone who is one of the leading commentators upon politics in our day, who has worked inside the belly of the beast, and one who is clearly and obviously vastly more intelligent than you or I.

We’ll try to claim greater intelligence when we’ve got our own Nobel Prizes, shall we?

If we look back at Krugman’s work there is some excellent economics in there. And if we look at his writing there is, on top of that excellence, a man with a real gift for both writing and for explaining complex subjects so that all can grasp them (his “€œRicardo’s Difficult Idea“€ is a masterpiece). There’s even great fun to be had in his academic work.

I’m certainly not going to try to criticise his economics…well, except for one area….for if we were to try and get into a dick measuring contest I’m the micro-penis and he’s wielding the Ron Jeremy.

However, running through that New Yorker piece is Krugman’s incredible naivety about politics and the political process. It’s laid out for us: he didn’t pay much attention to politics, he consorted only with economists, he built his career, thought about economics and not the sausage grinder of the legislatures.

His work (his writing that is, not his academic work) in the 90’s has a lot of explanation and debunking of various silly ideas floating around. He famously defended sweat shops: not because they’re good per se, but because they’re better than the alternatives on offer to those who work in them. He pointed out that higher wages do not in themselves lead to less turnover of workers, do not lead to less absenteeism and so on”€”as those arguing for a higher minimum wage (or even a “€œliving wage”€) argue. It is having higher wages than the others in town that does this: you offer people a better deal and you get better labor. If everyone raises wages then you don’t.

“His head may well be far above the clouds that shroud our own plans for the world but he’s incapable of understanding the slime and the mold that his plans depend upon for implementation.”

Since he’s moved to The Times he’s moved, a lot, from measuring the proposals of others to having proposals of his own. This has become much more noticeable in recent times, since Obama ascended the throne. And you can see Krugman’s frustrations being writ large.

Now whether his proposals are indeed the ne plus ultra of possible economic ideas or not isn’t the point. What he’s ignorant of is the way that politics actually works.

There’s a view that politicians are in it all for our good. Perhaps, if you dare to be cynical enough, that they’re in it for the good of those who elect them, perhaps even the interest groups that fund those election campaigns. This is the sort of naivety that disappears with most adults’ first real contact with the political classes. No, they’re not in it for us, whoever us is. They’re in it for them.

Chuck Schumer, Trent Lott, Murtha, Webb”€”take any politician from any part of the political spectrum. They’re in the game so that they can stay in the game. They’ll do whatever it takes to win the next election….and in the interim they’ll do whatever else they can to feather their nests. We note and expect this behavior from bankers, businessmen, the school bully and all too often from our about to be ex-spouses. There is no illogicality in noting that politicians do the same. Indeed, the failure is to expect different behavior from those who gain their jobs from our votes.

This whole, adult, view tends to come under the banner of public choice economics. Politicians and bureaucrats tend to do what is good for politicians and bureaucrats. Just like we do and just like we would if we had the opportunities that politicians and bureaucrats do.

This is the part that Krugman hasn’t absorbed yet. Assume that his ideas are wonderful, that he really does know how big the stimulus should be, how health care insurance should be reformed, how to beat Wall Street in favor of Main Street. As of course he does believe of his own ideas: then watch his frustration as the politicians don’t do what he thinks they should be doing….what is obvious to him that they should be doing. He actually trusts politicians to do the right thing by us instead of the right thing by politicians.

And that’s the error, that’s his feet of clay. His head may well be far above the clouds that shroud our own plans for the world but he’s incapable of understanding the slime and the mold that his plans depend upon for implementation. He actually thinks that politicians are trying to do the right thing.

So despite my having already lost the dick waving competition I’d suggest that there is an area of economics which Professor Krugman really does need to study. It’s that public choice theory thing, the one where we start our economics by assuming that politicians are indeed lying weasel felchers right at the beginning. The world makes so much more sense that way. It’s also so less frustrating when you see your best laid plans going the way of all mice and men, to a dusty grave, when you start with the knowledge that of course they’ll fuck it up….they’re only in it for themselves anyway.

A good place for him to start would be the Nobel Prize lecture by his fellow Laureate, James Buchanan.

Joseph Stack, frustrated American, flew his airplane into an Austin, Texas, office building. He was one of the 79 percent of Americans who have given up on “their” government.

The latest Rasmussen Poll indicates that the vast majority of Americans are convinced that “their” government is totally unresponsive to them, their concerns, and their needs. Rasmussen found that only 21 percent of the American population agrees that the U.S. government has the consent of the governed, and that 21 percent is comprised of the political class itself and liberals. Rasmussen concludes that the gap between the American population and the politicians who rule them “may be as big today as the gap between the colonies and England during the 18th century.”

Indications are that Joseph Stack was sane. Like Palestinians faced with Israeli jet fighters, helicopter gunships, tanks, missiles and poison gas, Stack realized that he was powerless. A suicide attack was the only weapon left to him.

Stack targeted the IRS, the federal agency that had gratuitously ruined him. He flew his airplane into an office building occupied by 200 members of the IRS. This deliberate plan and the written explanation he left behind segregate him from deranged people who randomly shoot up a Post Office or university campus.

The government and its propaganda ministry do not want to call Stack a terrorist. “Terrorist” is a term the government reserves for Muslims who do not like what Israel does to Palestinians and the U.S. government does to Muslim countries.

But Stack experienced the same frustrations and emotions as Muslims who can”€™t take it any longer and strap on a suicide vest.

“Violence,” Stack wrote, “not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” Stack concluded that nothing short of violence will get the attention of a government that has turned its back on the American people.

“This is the way government ‘works’ for ordinary citizens. For the vast majority of people, government exists as a persecution mechanism that takes great pleasure in ruining their lives and pocketbooks.”

Anger is building up. People are beginning to do unusual things. Terry Hoskins bulldozed his house rather than allow a bank to foreclose on it. The local TV station conducted an online survey and found that 79 percent of respondents agreed with Hoskins”€™ action.

Perhaps the turning point was the federal government’s bailout of the investment banks whose reckless misbehavior diminished Americans”€™ retirement savings for the second time in eight years. Now a former head of the most culpable bank is campaigning to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits in order to pay for the bailout. President Obama has obliged him by creating a “deficit commission.”

The “deficit commission” will be used to gut Social Security, just as the private insurance health plan is paid for by cutting $500 billion out of Medicare.

It could not be more clear that government represents the interest groups that finance the election campaigns.

Conservatives used to say that Washington’s power should be curtailed in behalf of state and local governments that are “closer to the people.” But of course state and local governments are also controlled by interest groups.

Consider Florida, for example. In 2004 the storm surge from Hurricane Ivan did considerable damage to the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle. At Inlet Beach in Walton County, the surge claimed two beachfront homes and washed away enough of the high ground as to leave other homes vulnerable to the next storm.

People wanted to armor their homes with some form of sea wall. When the county gave the go ahead, two houses on the West end hired engineers who constructed a barrier made of rows of tubes 60 feet long filled with sand, each weighing about 70 tons. The sand-colored tubes were buried under many tons of white sand trucked in, and sea oats were planted. It was a perfect solution, and an expensive one—$250,000.

Just East of the two homes, Ivan washed away a section of beachfront road and left three houses built on pilings sitting on the beach. Last year government with FEMA money rebuilt the section of washed away beachfront road and armored it and two adjacent houses. The government used interlocking iron or steel panels that it drove down into the sand, leaving six to seven feet of the rusty metal above ground. Hundreds of truckloads of sand were brought in to cover the unsightly sea wall.

It didn”€™t require a storm to wash away the loose sand and leave the ugly rusty metal exposed on the beach. The first high tide did the trick. Residents and vacationers are left with an eyesore on a beach ranked as the third most beautiful in the world.

The ugly rusty barrier built by government is still there. But the intelligent approach taken by the private homeowners has been condemned to death. As I write heavy equipment is on the beach slashing open the tubes and piling up the sand to be carried away. The homes will be left standing on the edge and will be undermined by the next hurricane.

Why did this happen? The official reason given by Florida’s Department of Environmental Policy is that the county could only issue a temporary permit. Only DEP can issue a permanent permit, and as the homeowners don”€™t have DEP’s permanent permit, out goes the expensive, carefully engineered and unobtrusive sea wall.

This is the way government “works” for ordinary citizens. For the vast majority of people, government exists as a persecution mechanism that takes great pleasure in ruining their lives and pocketbooks. The DEP has inflicted heavy stress on the homeowners, now elderly, and could bring on a heart attack or stroke.

The real explanation for DEP’s merciless treatment of citizens is that the agency is powerless against developers. It cannot stop them from destroying the Everglades, from destroying wetlands, from polluting rivers, or from building in front of the coastal setback line. As the state politicians protect developers from the DEP, the only people against whom the DEP can use its authority are unrepresented citizens. Frustrated itself, the DEP lashes out at powerless citizens.

In the small settlement of Inlet Beach, there are numerous examples of developers getting what they want. Over the years hurricanes have eaten away the beach and the dunes. As this occurs the setback line for construction moves inland. Back when the real estate bubble was being created by Alan Greenspan’s irresponsibly low interest rate policy, small beach front lots were going for one million dollars. In the midst of this frenzy, a well-connected developer bought a beachfront lot for $30,000.

The lot was not recognizable as such. It sits on flat land on the beach. Decades ago it was a lot, but as the Gulf ate away the coast, the lot is now positioned in front of the setback line. The developer got the lot for the low price, because no one had been able to get a building permit for years.

But the developer got a permit. According to the head of the neighborhood association at the time, the developer went to a DEP official, whose jurisdiction was another part of the state and who was a former employee of the developer, and was issued a permit. Because of its exposure, during the real estate boom the house sat unsold for years. The community, which had opposed the project, concluded that the developer just wanted to show that he was more powerful than the law.

Currently, on six acres next to a state park on the East end of Inlet Beach another well connected developer has obtained DEP permission to compromise Walton County’s highest and last remaining sand dunes held in place with native vegetation in order to build 20 houses. To protect the houses, DEP has issued a permit for the construction of a 15-foot high man-made sand wall, a marketing device that will offer little protection.

According to information sent to me, nine of the houses will be seaward of the Coastal Construction Control line. Apparently this was a result of the developer being represented by a former county attorney, who convinced the commissioners to allow the developer to plan on the basis of the 1996 FEMA flood plain maps instead of using the current 2007 maps. Since 1996 there have been a number of hurricanes, such as Dennis and Ivan, and the set back line has moved inward.

When state and local governments allow developers to set aside the rules governing flood-plain development, they create insurance losses that drive up the insurance premiums for everyone in the community. The disturbance of the natural dunes could result in a breach through which storm surge can damage nearby properties. Instead of protecting people, government is allowing a developer to impose costs of his project on others.

Joseph Stack, Terry Hoskins, and 79 percent of the American population came to the realization that government does not represent them. Government represents moneyed interests for whom it bends the rules designed to protect the public, thus creating a legally privileged class.

In contrast, as at the West end of Inlet Beach, ordinary citizens are being driven into the ground.

This is what we call “freedom and democracy.”

“€œThis is our country, our land, and our lifestyle. If you are not happy”€”then Leave.”€

At last a politician in possession of testicles and a backbone. By definition then, not possibly a British parliamentarian. The words were recently uttered by Australian PM Kevin Rudd, a Labour leader no less, who declared in uncompromising fashion that he was tired of worrying whether his nation offended some particular culture or individual and that it was the immigrant and not Australia which needed to adapt. Take it or leave it, he bluntly stated. All hail to Rudd.

For what the Australian has grasped”€”unlike his liberal-left compatriots lodged in the northern hemisphere”€”is that our liberty and democracy are anchored in our value system, our value system embedded in our very national identity. Mess with that identity, transform us into a multi-cultural and multi-valued swamp, and you risk dismantling the whole. Through negligence and sleight of hand, that is precisely what the Blair and Brown administrations have inflicted on Britain.

“€œWhere once we gave the world the English language, now we offer teams of translators in order that our “€˜new Britons”€™ may communicate.”€

Give us your weak and your poor and your huddled masses, your illiterate and uneducated, your crack-heads and serial rapists, your paedophiles and murderers, your drug-traffickers and radical imams. Anything goes and all are welcome, regardless of background or how little they contribute; few are ever deported. Hijack a plane? Human rights legislation will ensure you stay. Commit a string of violent robberies? We must embrace you. Plot against us or plan to don an explosive vest? Have a house.  Because, in the lying and lazy parlance of the liberal-left, this tsunami of uncontrolled immigration brings “€˜significant economic and cultural benefits”€™. Er, no it actually does not (just check the statistics). It is more a reflection of epic vote-rigging by the Labour government, of creating a captive voter-base dependent on state-sponsored welfare and state-provided jobs. We suffer and the health and wealth of the nation decline. And they say trust in politicians is much reduced. No shit.

Unlike the United States, we in Britain do not enjoy the luxury of saluting the flag or taking an oath of allegiance to bind ourselves close or at least paper over the cracks. We have no equivalent to the American Dream. Maybe that is part of the problem. Our identity and the legitimacy of our institutions have evolved over centuries, our language percolating through Chaucer and Shakespeare, our common law and basic precepts of justice and fair-play tracing their roots to the Anglo-Saxons and further back to an earlier Christian heritage.

We are neither a tribe from the African rift valley nor descended from a Pathan mountain village. We are neither Mongol horsemen nor Barbary pirates. We are neither part of a Caliphate nor a cog in a centralized socialist empire (unless you count the European Union). What we are is an island and a north European nation-state, a liberal democracy distrustful of ideology and extremes and happy with a constitutional monarchy. Englishness is at our core. We like our gardening, our cricket, our pubs and our dogs, are resilient and self-deprecating, value irony and humour and a lightness of touch, it works for us. Somehow, it is not enough. Somewhere, the soft Left persuaded us that to preserve our way of life was embarrassing and racist, that it was a good thing to have roadsigns in Urdu, women with their faces veiled, Somalians driving our London buses. The line peddled”€”and constantly reinforced with diversity directives”€”was that we owe the world a living.

We owe nothing of the sort. For sure, there are those fleeing persecution and slaughter. Yet given there is scant democracy in Africa, less in the Middle East, and none in China, we cannot offer a home to whoever takes to a raft with a clothes-bundle and a grievance. Most who come to Britain do so as economic migrants. Of course they want an easier life. We all do. But want does not necessarily equate to need and right. It is the permissiveness and undiscerning palate of the liberal-left that has helped to blur the distinction. Identify a portrait of our Great White Queen in a British town hall and you are almost half-way to gaining citizenship and a bank giro. Not to my satisfaction. Many of these newcomers have no stake in Britain, no loyalty or links save for an arranged marriage, a fraudulently”€“obtained permit for further education, an encyclopaedic knowledge of our football teams and a vague notion of free health care. None of their forebears ever bled for my freedoms. Yet I am expected to welcome them without question, to pay tax for them, to subsidise their children, their schooling, their housing, their welfare, their medical treatment, their own personal odyssey. By return, they are under no obligation to learn my native tongue or the history of my land. Call me churlish.

Where once we gave the world the English language, now we offer teams of translators in order that our “€˜new Britons”€™ may communicate. Visit any hospital or benefits office and you will find queues of migrants aware of their entitlements and yet supremely ignorant of our customs and culture, our language and laws. The melting-pot so championed by liberals is in danger of becoming little more than a congealed stew of separated parts. And yes, I do blame those who promoted mass immigration, for what we have squandered and have failed to gain. Without pausing to put their agenda to the public vote, they have altered irrevocably the feel and demography of the nation. The arrogance and the stupidity. One day, we shall be forced to address the question not of who we are”€”but what the hell we have become.

Serbs, Bolivians, bankers, neo-Nazis, and terrorists from invented African republics: Hollywood has been attacked by them all. In Europe, the baddies have always been more thoroughly white and solidly Western. But Muslims, anyone? In the eight years that the West has been fighting its war on Islamic terror, a war that has thrown up enough drama, enough Oscar-winning, hook-waving evil for a good few summers of cinematic carnage, there hasn’t been one movie”€”not a single one”€”that has featured an unequivocal, irredeemable Islamic wretch. How so? They’re not exactly hard to find.

On this point, the arts establishment tend to disagree. Film directors seem to have lost sight, sound, and mind on Islamic wretchedness. And it is this mental blindness that is opening up a new front in the war on terror: the cinematic front, which, in its attacks on Western means and mores, is arguably more dangerous to the fabric of society than all the various fronts we face. The latest celluloid salvo is A Prophet, a French gangster movie as explosive and debilitating as any botched bombing, with more gongs attached to it than the chest of Kim Jong-Il.

“The implication and effect of this is clear: only Muslims can understand humanity; only Muslims can be humane.”

A Prophet is not superficially malign. Rather its malevolence creeps up on you slowly. At first what flicks past you is an unoriginal but breezily violent mafia film: a poor man’s Godfather. Look closer, however, and the subtexts, the inferences, become a little sharper. In the good corner we have Malik, a lovable Arab rogue, and the irreproachable Muslims. In the bad corner, the abusers, thugs, and weasels: the white Corsicans and French prison guards.

At first subtly, then more clunkingly, the story begins to unfold like an Al-Qaeda book at bedtime, a little parable of Western involvement in the Middle East, the white Western Corsicans using and abusing Malik, until Malik enlists the aid of a band of irreproachable Muslims, turns on his former oppressors and enacts a spectacular revenge. Ring any bells? The contamination of spiritual Islamic irreproachability by Western secular thuggishness lies at the heart of the film.

The only glimpse of untainted innocence, the only intrusion of suffering, tenderness, and sympathy, comes with the arrival of Muslim children, Muslim women, Muslim mothers, crying, smiling, and caring. The implication and effect of this is clear: only Muslims can understand humanity; only Muslims can be humane.

It is not the only European film to have followed this political tack: Islam good, West bad. Michael Haneke has been the commander-in-chief of anti-Western maulings over the years. First, in 2005, came Hidden, a film about French guilt and complicity over Algeria, then, in 2008, The White Ribbon, which in a stroke of genius about 50 years out of date traduces traditional Western civilisation and its strictness and emotional and sexual repressions with the charge of causing the Holocaust. I didn’t know whether to laugh or yawn.

With A Prophet, neither laughing nor yawning is an option. This cinematic hatchet job is too good to be waved away. Firstly, the implications are more fundamental than Haneke’s bilious polemic. Second, for a film to be made about the innocence of Muslims languishing in Western prisons at a time when Muslims are, in their thousands, launching attacks on Western civilisation from these prisons is a rewriting of reality of the most dangerous sort. Only future historians will see the madness of current cinematic Western revisionism.

But maybe you crumple your forehead at this suggestion. You question how a mere foreign movie, an art house half-caste, could possibly be a danger to society. Why even bother getting irritated by A Prophet or the lowly Haneke? For better or worse, European movies are no longer the box office minnows they once were. A Prophet was one of the top ten biggest grossing films out in Britain last month. And Hidden parried well in the American market.

As membership and interest in political parties and the attendant political organisations of old fizzle out, the politicised film gathers pace and power. Today’s youngsters are as bored by politics as any generation. And the only amount of politicking that most can deal with is that which is neatly packaged within the glossy, light, loose celluloid frames of an entertainingly violent film. It is as a result of these sugary Goebbels-like silver screen baubles that the defeatist, appeasement politics of the public is gaining ground.

Imagine that you are a young fellow who likes being the center of attention as you spin around in the air. How would you choose among Olympic sports?

The Winter and Summer Games offer events whose varying conceptions of masculinity are so encoded in their apparel that American twelve-year-olds can develop an accurate gut feel for what they would be getting themselves into.

The sportswear of Olympic events range from Fabulosity Uber Alles (figure skating) to revealingly narcissistic (diving) to trimly functional (gymnastics) to overtly Lebowskian (halfpipe snowboarding).

To a man from Mars, figure skating and the halfpipe wouldn”€™t seem all that different”€”in both, competitors are primarily judged on gracefully executing aerial rotations”€”but their clothes demonstrate that they are wildly different in what kind of young Americans they appeal to.

Although Fred Astaire demonstrated that a man can dance perfectly well while well-dressed, male figure skaters typically pursue sparkliness over taste and even sanity.

“€œEastern Europeans care about class as Americans care about race: thus, it’s fine for NFL wide receivers to act like prima donnas because they are black.”€

In contrast, the 2010 American snowboard team espoused a uniform carefully designed to look like they found their clothes at the bottom of a trunk in Kurt Cobain’s mom’s attic: hooded flannel shirts and torn baggy jeans.

The snowboarder uniforms are actually made out of Gore-Tex with the slacker designs (including the rips in the supposed denim) merely printed on them. But neither authenticity nor aerodynamism is the point. The point is that they are not tight-fitting like the figure skaters”€™ outfits.

(The American women’s halfpipe team wears the same outfits, just with shorter jackets so that viewers can eventually figure out they”€™re girls, if they haven”€™t noticed from the fact that they aren”€™t doing as hard tricks.)

Athletes are determined to maintain certain distinctions. Consider gymnastics, the Summer Games equivalent of figure skating in that it’s one of the rare sports where men play second fiddle to women. If the women’s figure skating competition crowns the World’s Greatest Princess, the women’s gymnastics all-around title determines the World’s Greatest Pixy.

Yet, unlike figure skating, in which both sexes perform to music, women gymnasts do their floor exercises to music, but not the men. Female gymnasts are scored on dance elements, while American male gymnasts have resisted attempts to make their sport more entertaining.

This became evident on the last night of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, when the organizers imitated the figure skating tradition by putting on the first ever non-competition showcase. The impresarios gave it the unfortunate title of “€œgala,”€ and the American male gymnasts looked extremely uncomfortable at being required to perform to musical accompaniment. So, they chose that epitome of unemotional masculine cool, the 1962 instrumental Green Onions by Booker T. and the M.G.s.

Not surprisingly, I can”€™t find a video of the American guys performing to Green Onions. Indeed, it was dull, unless you got the joke. I can find, however, a video clip from the same gala of ex-Soviet gymnasts Rustam Sharipov and the great Vitaly Scherbo shirtlessly performing a parallel routine on the parallel bars to an opera aria that might be the galaiest-looking thing I”€™ve ever seen.

As far as I know, Scherbo is straight. And that seems representative of a general pattern: Eastern Europeans don”€™t worry quite as much about the things that set off Americans”€™ sports gaydar. For example, the 2006 men’s figure skating gold medalist, Evgeni Plushenko, got married for the second time last September.

What Eastern Europeans do worry about a lot is class. Male preening is okay in the ex-Soviet empire as long as it’s aristocratic. Today, Eastern Europeans care about class as Americans care about race: thus, it’s fine for NFL wide receivers to act like prima donnas because they are black.

European high culture developed over many centuries as an attempt to civilize the ruling warrior caste by introducing them to the arts. This social association of combat and aestheticism helped liberate the arts from suspicions of unmanliness. No doubt, the arts attracted a higher proportion of male homosexuals than did fighting, hunting, or plowing. But Europeans paid relatively little attention because if they wanted their families to move up in society, they needed to learn something about arts with snob appeal.

On the other hand, the American cultural matrix was primarily laid down by middle class New England Puritans. Southerners admired the aristocratic manner, but they lost the Civil War. At Appomattox Courthouse, Robert E. Lee, in full dress uniform, surrendered his jeweled sword to the mud-spattered Ulysses S. Grant, the epitome of the effective American who never won any points for flair.

Ironically, the Communist regimes invested in the elitist culture of the Romantic 19th Century, such as ballet, in order to keep out the pop culture of the 20th Century. Skating excellence is attractive to Slavic men due to their high culture’s traditional devotion to soulful self-expression.

But how long will men’s figure skating last even in Russia as anything other than a gay ghetto? Figure skating first appeared in the Olympics in 1908, while the halfpipe debuted in 1998. The trend seems clear.