Beer, Monopoly and Microsoft; Red Ken Livingstone's a Looming London Disaster

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:54

    So the Greeks picked Prince Otto of Bavaria, brother of Ludwig, who duly arrived in the sleepy capital of Athens and built himself an extraordinary palace, which to this day houses Parliament. Along with him Otto brought architects, scientists, military aides and, needless to say, his favorite brewer, a certain Herr Karl Fix. Otto did not last long?the volatile Greeks switched to a Danish prince?but Karl Fix did.

    In fact, by the time I was born in 1936, the Fix family had become extremely rich, extremely powerful and was considered Greek aristocracy. The Fix and the Taki family were friends, and the present (Hellenified) Karolos Fix and I went to the same school. In 1952, on the French Riviera, I remember driving down the Cannes Croisette with Karolos in his Lincoln Continental convertible, which had four doors.

    Fix Beer became synonymous with feta cheese, souvlaki and taramosalata; in fact it was a monopoly for quite some time. Until 1980, when the socialists came in and nationalized Fix without compensation. Karolos Fix and his wife moved to Gstaad. Fix Beer did not last long, its vast factory lying derelict on the main approach to Athens from the airport, a reminder that socialism works on paper but never in practice.

    Karolos Fix did not leave Greece a rich man. For generations the Fixes plowed profits back into the business. But, unlike the socialists who took over his factories and drove them to bankruptcy, Fix prospered almost immediately by shrewd investments. The Fix Family Fund is probably the most conservative investment fund I know, yet its returns have been phenomenal.

    Last week, the day when the Draft Dodger, Hillary and the inventor of the Internet came into town to raise money, Karolos Fix was lunching at Amaranth, a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant on 62nd St., much closer to Madison than 5th Ave. He was with his two grown-up children and some grandchildren. They were lunching al fresco. In the middle of the meal, two police officers arrived and asked them to go inside. "The President and First Lady are going to drive by 5th Ave.," was the explanation. All four tables duly complied. Except for Karolos, an extremely polite man of the old school, but known to dig his feet in when people try and screw him. He told the police officers that just because Clinton had come to New York to raise money did not mean he (Karolos) could not finish his meal in peace and outdoors. "Arrest me if you will, but I'm not moving." Needless to say, the p.c. generation?i.e., his children and his children's children, and the rest of the customers?were appalled. But Karolos won out. The cops gave up and went away, and everyone finished their lunch in peace, and outdoors.

    What amazed Karolos was how panicked everyone became the moment he began to argue. We used to have the Age of Strength, as in Alexander the Great. Now we have the Age of the Meek, as in allowing a con-man like Clinton to act like Charlemagne. I was very proud of my friend Karolos and his stance, almost as proud as I was of myself for having picked him as my financial adviser.

    Which brings me to Microsoft and Bill (the caddy) Gates. What the feds are doing is an outrage but it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Gates is the ultimate nerd. He first of all schmoozed the Scumbag and played golf with him. The day after the government came down on him he went to the White House and schmoozed some more. His online magazine Slate is a left-wing propaganda forum edited by Michael Kinsley, a trendy lefty who never saw a socialist program he didn't love. Worse, Microsoft's competitors are among Clinton's and Gore's biggest contributors.

    What would I have done had I the bad luck (physically, that is) to be Gates? Easy. I would have told Clinton confidentially that I would happily spend all my $50 or $70 billions in order to make sure he and his descendants would rot in hell. The Scumbag would get the message. Scumbags like Clinton are cowards and threats work. Clinton has always been for sale, as is his wife, yet both have deceived everyone on their way to the highest office. If the government can do this to Microsoft, they can do it to anyone. And Gore will. Gates should take out a contract on the fundraisers who disrupted my friend Karolos' lunch last week.


    Toby Young The London Desk Boom and Crash London's first ever mayoral election is due to be held on May 4. The overwhelming favorite is Ken Livingstone, the renegade socialist who was the leader of the Greater London Council when Margaret Thatcher abolished it in 1986. The general feeling among Londoners is that Red Ken, as he's affectionately known, was unfairly deprived of office back then and they intend to put that right. According to a poll published in The Evening Standard last Thursday, Livingstone was set to receive 51 percent of the vote, 34 points ahead of his nearest rival. Of course, he'll be an absolute disaster. The Newt-loving IRA sympathizer is about as far to the left of Rudolph Giuliani as it's possible to get. For instance, at the beginning of the year he gave an interview to The Face, a trendy style magazine, in which he expressed sympathy for the demonstrators who disrupted the summit of the World Trade Organization in Seattle last November. So much for his commitment to law and order. In Livingstone's lexicon, "zero tolerance" refers to his attitude to the police. The most revealing moment in his campaign came last month when, in a truly breathtaking gaffe, he compared the international financial system to Adolf Hitler. In an interview with NME, the youth-oriented music magazine, he said: "The IMF and the World Bank are still appalling and now the World Trade Organization too. All over the world people die unnecessarily from the debt burden because Third World governments have to cut back on clean water and health problems. Every year, the international financial system kills more people than World War Two. But at least Hitler was mad you know."

    As a fully committed capitalist, I find Livingstone's attitude to the international financial system a little alarming. My main concern is that a victory for Red Ken will send shock waves throughout London's financial community and, as a consequence, property prices in London will start to plummet. The bulk of my wealth?okay, all of my wealth?is tied up in my flat in Shepherd's Bush. I bought it at the bottom of the market in 1991, and since then it's almost tripled in value. Shepherd's Bush is a little like Williamsburg in that it used to be regarded as a cheap alternative for those who couldn't afford to live somewhere fashionable, but it's suddenly become the place to be. Not a week goes by, it seems, without some hip new bistro opening up around the corner. They've even begun to stock subtitled films in the local Blockbuster. I remember the warm glow I felt when my local estate agent told me property prices in Shepherd's Bush had increased by 34 percent last year. For once, I didn't feel so bad about having completely missed out on the Internet stock boom. However, just as I was beginning to feel quite smug, storm clouds have begun to gather on the horizon. Halifax, the UK's biggest mortgage lender, published a report recently that showed a 0.4 percent fall in house prices across the country in the month of March. Its statistics also pointed to a slowdown in the capital where prices rose by only 4 percent in the first three months of 2000, compared to 8.5 percent in the final quarter of 1999. This is partly attributable to an increase in stamp duty. Stamp duty is the percentage of your property's selling price you have to pay to the government when you sell. Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, raised duty last month from 2.5 percent to 3 percent on properties costing more than £250,000 and from 3.5 percent to 4 percent on homes costing more than £500,000.

    Another factor is the prospect of a hike in interest rates. The Bank of England is expected to increase the base rate by a quarter of a percentage point in the near future, partly in order to dampen down the overheated property market. The scales are now so precariously balanced, one more item could easily tip them in the wrong direction. My prediction is that the London property market will collapse following Red Ken's victory.

    What's so extraordinary is that Londoners have been willing to take Livingstone to their bosom, even though they're completely obsessed with house prices. If, as Napoleon said, England is a nation of shopkeepers, then London is a city full of petty property speculators. A cartoon appeared in Private Eye recently depicting a couple having a conversation in a car driving along a motorway. "We must be getting near London," one is saying to the other, "I just heard someone talking about property."

    Unfortunately, one of the differences between London and New York is that when it comes to electing a mayor, Londoners still feel guilty about allowing their material interests to dictate their choice; they vote with their hearts, not their wallets, the sentimental old fools. My only hope is that, after four years of disastrous city government, at the end of which property prices hit rock bottom, Londoners will be so pissed off they'll finally vote for someone like Giuliani.

    Naturally, the moment I sensed that the market had peaked, I put my flat up for sale. I even chopped down a tree that was obstructing my front door so prospective buyers would be able to view it in its best possible light. I was hoping to make a quick sale before Red Ken was elected mayor, but, alas, I've had no takers. I don't suppose I will, either. By this time next year, my flat will probably be worth exactly what I paid for it nine years ago. Still, at least I'm living in the Williamsburg of London, even if the city is about to become a socialist republic.

    Classicus Feature Hate Crimes A few weeks ago your correspondent uploaded into this small organ of Taki's (ouch!) a few cynical observations on such manifestations of madness in the month of March as Mardi Gras, the St. Patrick's Day parade, the Oscars and the NCAA basketball championship. Classicus entreated his public not to take him for a curmudgeon, for he is no misanthrope. In fact, he is such a happy-go-lucky, eternal optimist that rays of sunshine beam from his fundament. Furthermore, he knows that hatred is a federal crime. But, oh boy, the article sure drew the bilious out of the woods. Most interesting was an encounter with a Dr. Casper W. Whitney, a retired academic who is a collector of anecdotes and quotations involving eminent intellectual or literary haters and their pet betes noires. How about this for an Oedipus complex in reverse: Whitney relates that John Dos Passos said that Ernest Hemingway was the only man he ever knew who really hated his mother. On how Papa felt about apple pie the professor is silent, but at least we know that he was solid on the final leg of the traditional tripod of shibboleths: love of country.

    Now, hating our country, burning the flag and giving comfort to our enemies have become such routine affairs that they are hardly worthy of notice. And, except for the odd folk ditty, treason and sedition have had limited literary expression of a felicitous nature. However, the hatred of scribblers for one another is an altogether different kettle of fish. As someone once said, envy among writers is right up there with bullfighters and opera divas. For example, says Dr. Whitney, Bernard Shaw, taking aim at the loftiest of targets, wrote: "With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer whom I despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare... It would positively be a relief to dig him up and throw stones at him."

    D.H. Lawrence hated James Joyce, calling Ulysses an alla putrida sewer of butt-ends and filth. Hemingway was tough on Fitzgerald, although, Dr. Whitney says, he did not hate him. However, he did him an evil turn in the posthumous Moveable Feast in the episode in which he asks Fitzgerald to show him his yard to calm his fears of inadequacy. But that was in another country, and they were both dead by the time the book was published. In the middle 1930s when they were both alive, yet when Fitzgerald was boozing and having troubles with his muse and his finances, Hemingway did him one worse. According to Michael Reynolds in Hemingway: The 1930s, Papa wrote Fitzgerald that he should heavily insure himself, and Hemingway would arrange to have him killed in Havana. "All you have to do is not put up your hands quick enough and some nigger son of a bitch will shoot you, and your family will be provided for, and you won't have to write any more." Some say it was a joke.

    If writers could be quite rough with one another, neither did they spare their contempt for other arts or artists. William Blake hated the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, president of the Royal Academy. But special dollops of spleen seem to have been reserved for music and musicians. Perhaps because the act requires a concentration of cerebral effort, many writers have disliked noise and have shared the opinion of Samuel (Dictionary) Johnson, whom Boswell says admitted resignedly that "music was the least disagreeable of all noise."

    One thinks of Proust in his cork-lined bedroom on Boulevard Hausmann, shutters closed and curtains drawn, from which in the years he was writing Recherche he rarely stirred. Today he would have some time stalking the modern jeunesse dorée in their rave clubs where the music is so loud no one can hear. They like it that way because they have nothing to say anyway. Rock is a good deal up the decibel scale from even Wagner, whose music Oscar Wilde liked better than anybody's: "It is so loud one can talk the whole time without people hearing what one says."

    Speaking of cerebral effort, one wonders to what sort of music ran the taste of the brainiac of the century, Albert Einstein. Strauss? Taki will offer a small prize, $5 million, for any relevant intelligence. It is known that the father of the modern computer, Charles Babbage, hated music, calling it a distraction from his work. (He never built the machine.) How about Bill Gates, though? Rumor has it that his digital lair outside Seattle is wired for sound eight ways to Sunday and that he has a penchant for Hawaiian zither music. Additional prize money will be on offer should we be told.

    Never mind the noise?what may put intellectuals of the ink-stained persuasion off music is the primitive nature of the stuff. After all, a nightingale can warble a tune, but a cockatoo can't write a sonnet. And the most primitive of men, the Australian Aborigine, admirable in many ways, particularly for his ability to survive in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, has no literature but he can blow out a tune on his didjeridoo.

    Jazz, the Oxford dictionary tells us, comes from the African-American slang meaning "to make jazz," or "to fuck." It has to be one of the great inside jokes of all time, or, as Paderewski said, "What a terrible revenge by the culture of the Negroes on that of the whites." And as our colleague, the beautiful Tanya Richardson, said in this paper not so long ago, good rock makes you want to fuck. Nobody ever said this about Paradise Lost.

    If you hate American rock/rap/hiphop, take heart: there's worse in other places. Of the noise made near Anatolian waters, Bill Bryson says: "If you can imagine a man having a vasectomy without anesthetic to the sound of frantic sitar-playing, you will have some idea of what popular Turkish music is like."


    George Szamuely The Bunker Law as Ordered Though THE U.S. prison population currently stands at two million, Clinton appears to be of the opinion that state and local authorities are not coping with the nonexistent crime epidemic. The other day, flanked by the revolting Janet Reno, the President was once again fuming that Congress has yet to pass the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Clinton wants to set federal prosecutors on any criminal suspect whose motive may have been determined by the victim's ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability. "These are not like other crimes, because these crimes target people simply because of who they are. And because they do, they strike at the heart of who we are as a nation," he pontificated. It is a little hard to think of criminals who do not "target people because of who they are." They tend to rob little old ladies rather than Mike Tyson, say. Rapists tend to target women, rather than men. And so on. Government crackdown in search of a justification?this has been the abiding theme of the Clinton administration. In May 1998 Clinton signed something called Executive Order 13083. This listed the circumstances in which the federal government had to step in to "limit the policymaking discretion of States and local governments." It turned out to be an amazingly comprehensive list: "When there is a need for uniform national standards? When decentralization increases the costs of government thus imposing additional burdens on the taxpayer? When States have not adequately protected individual rights and liberties... When States would be reluctant to impose necessary regulations because of fears that regulated business activity will relocate to other States? When the matter to be regulated significantly or uniquely affects Indian tribal governments."

    Leave aside for a moment the dubious constitutionality of these proposals. Doesn't the 10th Amendment say, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people"? Clinton was decreeing that on a vast range of issues unelected federal government bureaucrats would override laws passed by elected state legislators and governors.

    Clinton's enthusiasm for repression is truly extraordinary. From the moment he came to power he sought to crack down on the Internet. His moment came with the 1996 Communications Decency Act. When?inevitably?the Supreme Court struck it down for violating the First Amendment, he declared plaintively: "The administration remains firmly committed to the provisions?that prohibit the transmission of obscenity over the Internet and via other media... [T]here is material on the Internet that is clearly inappropriate for children. As a parent, I understand the concerns that parents have about their children accessing inappropriate material. If we are to make the Internet a powerful resource for learning, we must give parents and teachers the tools they need to make the Internet safe for children." To hell with the First Amendment, in other words.

    The arrogance is breathtaking. One can easily use this argument to justify the suppression of almost everything. It is probably what is in Clinton's mind anyway. At the behest of Clinton, the FCC has ordered that all tv sets with screens larger than 13 inches have V-chips installed. The administration has also been censoring away happily. Recently it was revealed that "drug czar" Barry McCaffery had been reviewing tv scripts to make sure they were carrying the appropriate "anti-drug" messages. The networks?greedy as ever for profits?had been sending scripts over to his office so as to avoid having to run public interest ads from which they stand to make less money than from the usual variety.

    Clinton has also presided over the militarization of the police force. The federal "Posse Comitatus Act" unequivocally forbids the use of the military in law enforcement. Yet the Delta Force was involved at Waco. The Clinton administration goes in for the idea of "warrantless searches." In 1994 Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick explained to a bemused House Select Committee that a president "has inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches for foreign intelligence purposes." Needless to say, there is nothing in the Constitution about this. Clinton has urged the passage of legislation that would give the FBI the power to install wiretaps without a court order. The extraordinary thing is that in today's America judges do not have to be asked twice to issue search or wiretap warrants. Clinton was also the champion of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which forced every telephone company in America to overhaul their networks to make them wiretap-friendly.

    The Clinton Justice Department has also demanded the right to practice double jeopardy. Several years ago a young man, Vernon Watts, was tried and convicted of drug offenses. Though he had a gun in his apartment, the jury acquitted him of "using a firearm" during the drug offense. Yet he was sentenced as if he had used guns. Watts appealed, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the sentence. "[A] sentencing judge may not...rely upon facts of which the defendant was acquitted," it ruled. Clinton appealed to the Supreme Court to get the original sentence reinstated. One can see why. Prosecutors who fail to get a conviction on one set of charges can reintroduce them at a later stage to get a conviction without bothering with a jury.

    If Special Prosecutor Robert Ray does indict Bill Clinton after he leaves office, the former president may yet come to regret his strange pathological enthusiasm for unrestrained law enforcement.