by Alexander Cockburn
"Which is more revolting?" an editor e-mailed me the other day, "Rupert Murdoch spending $44 million for a triplex at 834 Fifth Avenue with 20 rooms and a monthly maintenance of $21,469.07, as narrated on the front page of that day's newspapers, or King Mswati III of Swaziland spending $690,000 on a Daimler-Chrysler Maybach 62?"
Mention of the Great Beast buying his three-floor pad on Fifth Ave. gave me a chance to saunter down Memory Lane. I think Murdoch had one floor of that building back in the late 1970s, when his only properties in the United States were the Star and a newspaper in San Antonio, Texas. Then he bought the New York Post and duly made it onto either the cover of Time or Newsweek, I can't remember which. Maybe both. He was depicted as King Kong, clinging to the Empire State building.
Then Murdoch bought the Village Voice, where I was working at the time. He came down to 80 University Place, pledged not to fire the editor, climbed back into his limo, went back uptown and fired the editor the next day. Jack Newfield and I took a taxi uptown, knocked on the door of his apartment at, I think, 834 Fifth, and Murdoch opened it with a broad smile, saying everything was back the way it had been and that the editor could stay on another year.
Here we are today, and poor Jack died of kidney cancer earlier this week. Rupert has fired hundreds more editors and now has three floors instead of one. I don't grudge him his triplex. He's the one who has to climb up and down endless stairs or wait for the elevator so he can go to bed.
Besides, there are so many billionaires around these days it's hard to be affronted by Murdoch throwing his spare change around.
King Mswati's costly Daimler-Chrysler doesn't bother me much either. Last time I looked out of the window, I counted four old Chryslers of mine, spanning the glory years between 1959 and 1962, and I bet they all are more fun to drive, more reliable and certainly less costly to fix than Mswati's latest rig. It's up to the people of Swaziland. If this is the car (he has many others) that finally sprains the camel's back, they can shoot him, put his fleet up for auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., early next year and have a good party on the proceeds. Let the people. They're the ones who have to look at their king driving in and out of his palace.
When it comes to moral outrage we all have our specialties. To me there's more evil festering in one square millimeter of the balance sheet of a major pharmaceutical company than in all the sheet metal of every car of every African tyrant of the past one hundred years. It's a matter of judicious allocation of one's yearly moral outrage budget.
In the old days, that budget was way bigger. People didn't have to work so hard, and so they had more time to get pissed off at the unfairness of it all, to sneer at the gross-outs of the rich. Those were the days when people gasped in outrage as Craig Claiborne reported on the front page of the New York Times that he and Pierre Franey dropped $4,000 on a 31-course, nine-wine dinner at Chez Dennis in Paris, a feast offered by American Express at a charity auction.
This was back in November of 1975, when columnists kept whole stables of moral horses pawing the ground in their stalls. Espying the $4,000 binge, Harriet Van Horne stabbed furiously at her typewriter, "This calculated evening of high-class piggery offends an average American's sense of decency. It seems wrong , morally, esthetically and in every other way." Over the column I remember one editor ran the head "Edunt et Vomant" (they have eaten and let them vomit). It must have been in the pre-Murdoch New York Post when Dolly Schiff's op-ed page looked like the reading room of the Athenaeum.
Oh, for the Seventies, when, as Stevie Earle said, optimism abounded, and they tried to have cocaine classified as a vegetable. There was more social idealism back then, too. Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, demon foe of government fraud and waste, used to give out Golden Fleece awards. Month after month they'd make the papers, and the sums weren't so big. These days, you have to steal at least half a billion and have the name Halliburton on your corporate letterhead even to get noticed on the CNN newstape. Oh, I know John McCain makes a big show of denouncing his colleagues for priming the defense budget with pork. But it doesn't raise a stir and only irks his fellow senators because they know he doesn't really mean it and, when he's finished grandstanding, will vote the budget.
Do I have a line in the sand? OK, I do. I resent, and I hereby protest money in the defense budget going for war crimes, which, as stipulated in a 1996 law for which Republicans voted, could put the commander in chief in the death cell. Under U.S. law. What war crimes? In Iraq, they're happening every day. In the recent glorious conquest of Fallujah, irked at the reports of casualties from Fallujah General Hospital, the U.S. military shut "the propaganda weapon" down. U.S. soldiers tied up the medical staff and patients.
Now, the Geneva Conventions state: "Fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." So put Bush and the defense secretary he recently declared to be a sensitive and wonderful human being on trial for their lives. Who cares about Murdoch's triplex or Mswati's cars? There are much, much worse expenditures, rolling out day after day, to get furious about.
December 22, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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