by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
February 27, 2002
SEATTLE, Wash. -- Seasoned readers of Ink Soup will be aware of how earnestly we avoid even the slightest mention of anything topical. It isn't pusillanimity, it is simple common sense.
Writing a week ahead of publication, how could I possibly advise you to buy, say, Enron stock when, for all I know, the shares might have come down a tad in value before you can act on my advice?
My colleague Dr. Soup, at the insistence of my editor, always has last read to clear the column before I actually send it.
Known to some as Dr. Cordiality, he is known to the staff here as Dr. Punctilio for the zeal with which he slashes the least hint of breaking news.
His list of forbidden words is immense: Kabul, Taliban, Al Qaeda (and if you must mention him, spell out the first name: Alfred!), Osama bin Ladin (no ethnic foods! -- besides, Julia Child's recipe for this dish is in all her books), Kenneth Lay (his potato chip is not bad, but avoid anyone who takes the Fifth)... .
I warned him in advance that today's Soup was going to start off with Diogenes, but the word was hardly out of my mouth when Soup objected: Nothing about cloning! Or genes of any kind!
Diogenes, I explained (and he hates it when I explain) was a Greek philosopher (412-323 BCE) who lived in a tub and spent his daylight hours searching, with a lantern, for an honest man.
"And did he find him?"
"No," I said, "but Alexander the Great, the George W. Bush of the ancient world, found Diogenes, and asked what he could do for him. 'Step out of my sunlight' said the Cynic." Diogenes was a Cynic, you see.
"My kind of guy," said Soup. "Use it."
So, with permission, I will.
Imagine the quest of Diogenes today. To find an honest person? I do not recall a time when this might have been a more ludicrously quixotic task.
One of the ironclad rules of journalism is, "When it bleeds, it leads." An earthquake tops a flower show. A fifteen-car pileup tops a mere skid into a lamppost.
The lamp of Diogenes would find very few. But how many, alas, it would expose. The vendible French judge at the Olympics, the Catholic priests who used their office for sexual predation on boys, and finally ... no, it is too much.
Soup: "You've gone this far, we'll never be printed, go for it." There is the incredible story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal for 15 February. It involves, as you might expect, another corrupt CEO, that of Chubb, a man named Dean O'Hare.
"He violated the office boy?" asked Dr. Soup, not without a certain lurid interest.
"No, he annoyed his neighbors in Far Hills, N.J., with his leaf blower."
"Now we are getting somewhere," said Soup. "It is time this column came back to earth."
"Earth is where it is," said I, "for this man, one of the most powerful leaders of world capitalism, is driving his neighbors mad by the simplest of means, a leaf blower. He sits in the open trunk of his car (driven by his wife) whilst blowing the leaves from the immense drive leading to his mansion. He does this, say the neighbors, at odd hours."
"What is odd in Far Hills is anyone's guess," said Soup.
"A New York photographer," I recalled, "once moved to Princeton for the tranquillity, heard the din of leaf blowers, and moved back to Manhattan for her sanity."
"No names!" said Dr. Soup, "She being still alive, I would have to quash the whole column."
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.