From fascism to fashion:
Two odd nights out
What if they'd been on the same evening? Tough choice ...
Wednesday night my wife and I attended the Galloway/Hitchens debate at Baruch College here in Manhattan. It turned out to be less edifying than I had anticipated, though considerably more lively than any debate I'd seen previously. Galloway was more George Hamilton than Alexander Hamilton, his bald pate glowing practically orange from a good dose of Syrian summer sun. Hitchens came to the podium looking as if he'd finally arrived at the Alka-Seltzer end of a three-day bender. He seemed irritable and indeed already irritated, perhaps because some woman representing one of the groups sponsoring the debate had just given a blatantly pro-Galloway introduction to the event--wildly inappropriate, but not surprising at all. Amy Goodman assumed what turned out to be her thankfully ineffectual role as moderator, and the fun began.
Hitchens got the first go, and elicited surprisingly strong applause from an audience gathered in one of the bluest cities east of the Mississippi. The woman next to me commented that there seemed to be quite a few Hitchens supporters present. I informed her that I was one of them, sparking a brief and fruitless comparison of our viewpoints on the war. As the debate progressed, she turned out to be an utter lunatic, and one possessed of the ability to produce with her fingers, lips and lungs a brain-rattling whistle somewhere in the 200-decibel range. Her performance inspired me to break form and later add my own voice to the chorus of boos that Galloway earned for telling an audience of New Yorkers that we brought 9/11 on ourselves. Aside from that, I limited myself to clapping.
The topic of the debate was supposed to be the war in Iraq. Hitchens repeated his standard (and convincing, to me) list of arguments against do-nothing pacifism. Galloway dragged out the usual collection of distortions and half-truths. He even pulled the old Lancet "100,000 civilians dead" claim out of the rubbish and threw it to the cheering throngs. Abu Ghraib Abu Ghraib Abu Ghraib. New Orleans is evidence that Bush is evil. Ho. Hum. Unfortunately, the most interesting parts of the debate were the ad hominem daggers each man had hidden up his sleeve. Galloway made oblique and not-so-oblique references to Hitchens' drinking and denegrated Vanity Fair. (I wonder if he would be so dismissive of the magazine at a table with David Halberstam and Bob Woodward. Granted, Paris Hilton is on the cover, but VF did scoop everyone on the Mark Felt/Deep Throat revelation.) Near the end of the debate, Galloway also forced Hitchens to deny once again that he works for the Bush White House, an odd accusation. Hitchens came dangerously close to accusing his opponent of concealing involvement in the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal. He straightforwardly called Galloway a tyrants' toadie, guilty of sucking up to every fascist dictator he can find. Pretty sordid stuff, and the mood infected the crowd, so before long Hitchensian and Gallowite enclaves emerged in the composition of the balcony crowd, pockets of true believers who sometimes seemed to be carrying on rowdy debates of their own. Someone down on the orchestra level kept lowing like a cow every time Hitchens tried to make a point. This debate didn't need Amy Goodman, it needed my grade-school principal, Sister Bridget.
There weren't many high points to this evening. Galloway said nothing worth repeating, though the papers are making a small stir over his comment that Hitchens was a butterfly who has now "turned back into a slug," and a slug leaves a trail of slime wherever it goes. Wow. That metaphor would have been clumsy enough if Galloway had been content with sticking to scientific reality and said caterpillar. Hitchens did not offer much about Iraq that we have not heard before--those of us who don't have our palms clapped firmly over our ears. He did have one observation about Galloway that is worth noting: The man visited Syria in July and praised the insurgency in Iraq. That insurgency killed Casey Sheehan, in whose posthumous exploitation Galloway now participates. If this doesn't demonstrate the vile hypocrisy of the left, I don't know what does. Will Cindy Sheehan think about Galloway's words in Damascus when he's standing beside her on tour? I doubt it. Many on the left in America have proven themselves capable of climbing blithely into bed with every odious creature that lurches up out of the muck, so long as it can gurgle, "Bush sucks."
Galloway turned out to be every bit the pompous blowhard I expected. In a Scottish accent oddly tinged with a hint of something Middle-eastern, he generated far more heat than light, throwing the pacifist-left half of the audience precisely the bones they expected: while Halliburton rapes Iraq, Bush, Cheney, and Rove engineer the mass-drowning of impoverished minorities. (The moonbat beside me seemed to have a Tourette's tic that would emerge each time she heard the name "Cheney"--a sort of dog-bark combined with wailing-wall head-bobbing.) While Hitchens lambasted Galloway for things he said and did eight weeks ago, Galloway responded by dredging up decades-old tales of Hitchens praising the Palestinian struggle for liberation, the Vietcong, and even Galloway himself. Hitchens denied only his alleged praise for Galloway. Following the same weak approach, Galloway accused Hitchens of inconsistency on Iraq, pointing out that he had vociferously opposed the first Gulf War. This Hitchens also did not deny, responding that he changed his position on Iraq only after meeting Iraqi Kurds near the end of the war in 1991. Hitchens said that he had not repudiated his original views, he just no longer held to them. This bit of hairsplitting drew some derision from the audience. Though it may be a valid distinction, it sure looked like waffling. If your Kurdish friends are right, why not repudiate your earlier views? If you're suggesting that there is some validity to the anti-war position, then you're doing more for Galloway's argument than Galloway himself.
It went back and forth like this for over an hour, with more guidance from the timekeeper than from the moderator. Hitchens and Galloway arrived at their own ground rules without any input from Goodman. They respected each other's right to speak more or less without interruption, though there was a good deal of groaning and eye-rolling. When they did interrupt, it was usually done in good humor and taken in good humor as well. (I was surprised at the level of civility, considering that Galloway regularly calls Hitchens a drunk and Hitchens has lately added Galloway to his criminal prosecution wish-list, where he can share a cell with Henry Kissinger, I suppose). Goodman did pose some questions to direct the "discussion" segment of the debate, but her questions were pointless and overtly biased. She asked Hitchens whether he thought his new, hawkish viewpoint earned him different treatment in and from the media. She did not ask Galloway if his viewpoint earned him different treatment from corrupt tyrants and central players in the Oil-for-Food scandal. Ultimately, it was Galloway, not Goodman, who announced that the evening was losing steam and perhaps it was time to wrap things up. He was right, and Hitchens apparently agreed, for he had already fished a cigarette and lighter from his jacket pocket as Galloway made his closing comments. I watched Hitchens nervously, afraid he might light up right there on stage and be immediately lynched by the fascist leftists who today disgrace the term "liberal." He restrained himself, however, and the evening came to a peaceful, civilized close. As we shuffled out onto the street amid the muttering crowd, I felt depressed. We stopped for a quick dinner and then headed straight home and to bed, exhausted just from watching the spectacle.
The next night found us at quite a different venue: the runway show for the Zac Posen Spring/Summer 2006 collection, one of the last events of Fashion Week in Bryant Park. In the interest of total disclosure, Zac is a family friend, so don't expect an unbiased review. I'm also about as qualified to critique couture as I am to handicap a horse race. But I do like beautiful clothes and certainly don't mind beautiful people, and there were plenty of both at the show. (The only beautiful person at the debate--in the Page Six sense of the phrase--was Viggo Mortensen, who was whisked off the "will call" line and plunked in a front row seat long before we took our places in the balcony. He bought a copy of Galloway's book and made notes or doodled on the flyleaf during the debate. Sadly, Mortensen has pitched his political tent alongside Sean Penn and Johnny Depp, proving once again that acting skill and intellect just might be mutually exclusive.)
Despite being better organized than Baruch, the team at the door had no record of my reservation, so I had to wander around outside the tent for a while in shame and humiliation until a fashion angel devised a plan to get me in. Once safely inside--away from the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth--I took a place beside my wife, the seat which apparently had been reserved for me anyway, since no one else came to claim it, and every seat and square foot of standing room in the place was taken.
The show began much closer to schedule than had the debate, despite involving dozens more people and the complications of lights, music, and of course, costume--another testament to the efficiency of capitalism. In fairness, the Posen people did not have to run everyone through a metal detector. The fashion world is actually more sensible than Hollywood, and they seem cognizant of the fact that they operate well below the radar of jihadis. Eliminating the evil of Seventh Avenue decadence is rather low on Osama's list of things to do. (The debate, on the other hand, did attract a few "Magnificent 19" types--glowering and bearded young Arab men who could give the willies to anyone with a boarding pass.) So once the paparazzi had been herded into their pen and Diddy had taken his seat, the show was on. (I feel so much closer to him since he dropped the "P.")
I do believe, for what it's worth, that Zac is the most talented young designer working today. I base this judgment on two observations. First, his designs are eye-catchingly innovative and possess a feminine grace often strangely absent in women's fashion. Second, a woman in a Zac Posen dress never looks like she got smooth-talked by a personal shopper at Barney's, or like she's an extra on the set of a French science fiction film. Zac's designs seem to animate the beauty of the women wearing them ... not every cut for every woman, naturally, but when it works, it really works. I left the show feeling uplifted. We skipped dinner, went straight out, and didn't return home until dawn.