1991, Wielding A Blackjack

By a circuitous route but with wonderful precision, 1991 taught an old truth: Life is indeed a series of dark corners around which Fate lurks, wielding a blackjack. This odd year ends with Saddam Hussein as secure in his job as George Bush is in his. The year began with a bang--lots of bangs--in Baghdad. It ends with the last whimper from what was the Soviet Union. There hunger, disease, crime, collapsing transportation and pandemic incivility show that living under peacetime socialism is like losing a very violent war.

The arms control fetish reached its final absurdity when an American zealot said we should help hold the Soviet Union together because it is the entity that signed the arms control agreements. The British Communist Party changed its name but not before getting caught committing capitalism, earning $270,000 speculating in stocks and real estate. Gus Hall, 80, head of the U.S. Communist Party (we have one, Russia doesn't), still believes: "If you want a nice vacation, take it in North Korea."

It used to be said that the Balkans produced more history than they could consume locally. It is progress that the butchery there is not igniting the continent, as it did 77 years ago. Bush ("The mission of our troops is wholly defensive ... They will not initiate hostilities") was lionized as a war leader. He rented a coalition (by forgiving Egypt's debts, China's repression, Syria's terrorism, etc.). Then the coalition, especially the Saudis, rented the U.S. military and Kuwaiti feudalism was restored.

On the home front, Treasury Secretary Brady showed why he and Bush are soulmates. Brady, the administration's Churchill, sent the English language into battle to shore up consumer confidence, saying "the rush to judgment that this recession is the end of the Western world as we know it is entirely premature" and "it always looks dark at the bottom of a recovery." For some reason, consumer confidence did not perk up. Bush took time out from fixing the Middle East and testily denied he was neglecting domestic policy. He said he would try to fix Cyprus.

The right passion for the wrong reason: Americans, having watched Congress misgovern, finally became enraged--about members bouncing personal checks. The year of living dangerously: Bush ventured to live without the chief of staff who commandeered airplanes so he could constantly be in "secure voice contact" with the White House. No team had ever gone from last place one year to the World Series the next. This year two teams did. Democrats took heart.

Two hundred years ago the center of America's population was calculated to be at Chestertown, Md. In 1991 it was at Steelville, Mo., heading southwest. The interesting white population of Louisiana gave a majority of their votes to a 41-year-old gubernatorial candidate who said his Nazi and KKK activities were youthful indiscretions. A Los Angeles citizen with a video camera caught a gang of criminals in brutal action, and in LAPD uniforms. On the cutting edge of concerned parenting, a Texas mother was sentenced to 15 years in prison for trying to arrange the killing of the mother of her daughter's principal rival for a spot on the high school cheerleading squad.

Sex of various sorts made much news. In Palm Beach, a 78-year-old prospective juror said of the defendant's uncle, "somebody was running around without his pants. I think it was Kennedy, the fat"--pause--"the senator. He's idealistic but maybe a little horny." That senator and his Judiciary Committee colleagues discussed the Constitution and pubic hair. Senator Robb said he just got a massage. In basketball's centennial year, perhaps the sport's greatest player ever was proclaimed a hero for endorsing "safe sex" rather than the kind he practiced while "I did my best to accommodate as many women as I could." A college-bound New York City student said he was glad the schools were distributing free condoms because "I don't want to get no disease." Schools give children condoms before, or instead of, grammar. First things first.

San Francisco's government declared the city a haven for war resisters and conscientious objectors to Desert Storm. It denied a request that it erect signs along freeways to declare the city a "sanctuary for sexual minorities." In the 1990-91 academic year the nondiscrimination policy of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst forbade "discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, sex, age, marital status, national origin, disability or handicap, veteran status, or sexual orientation, which shall not include persons whose sexual orientation includes minor children as the sex object." In the 1991-92 statement the last 15 words were deleted. Is pedophilia becoming a civil right? A feminist marketed an alternative to the Barbie doll, one with a thicker waist, shorter legs, larger hips. The feminist called it "responsibly proportioned."

On the 500th anniversary of the birth of Henry VIII--not a feminist--a London headline announced that he had been REALLY A FLOP IN BED. Seems that after his third marriage he was virtually impotent. He may have died of scurvy, brought on by vitamin C deficiency. Citrus fruit was scarce even for royalty in 16th-century England. Our middle class is feeling sorry for itself, but it is still living a lot better than a king lived in the good old days.

Good news came from France where folks eat 30 percent more fat than Americans, smoke more, exercise less and yet have fewer heart attacks. "Wine, particularly French red wine, has a flushing effect on the heart's artery walls." So says an ad for French wines, citing a French institute of health. And pate de foie gras may also be good for the heart, according to a scientist (French, of course).

Death tackled pro football's first superstar, Red Grange, the Galloping Ghost. James (Cool Papa) Bell, dead at 87, retired the year before Jackie Robinson broke in with Brooklyn, so major league fans never got to see for themselves if Bell, a centerfielder in the Negro leagues, really was so fast he could snap off the light and jump into bed before the room got dark. We know he once overthrew third base, raced in to catch the carom of his throw off the dugout roof, and tagged the runner at third. The scoring on that putout was 8-8. You can look it up.

1991, Wielding A Blackjack | News