Somehow, we don't have standards anymore

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The older I get, the more out of it I get.

For example, I've never watched a "reality" show on TV, listened to rap music or visited Disney World.

The celebrities who people supermarket tabloids are mostly strangers to me.

I own a computer but I don't blog, surf or chat on it.

It was not always this way, you know. As recently as 20 years ago I was hip, or at the very least, hep.

Then it all began to slip away. At some point I realized that I not only no longer knew where we as a society were, I didn't care. That feeling was strengthened the other day by a story I read in "The New York Times" about Paris Hilton of the Hilton Hotel Hiltons, whom you can hardly escape these days without repairing to a dark cave.

It seems that Miss Hilton, a blonde breadstick who looks to have a room-temperature IQ, is paid anywhere from $150,000 to $200,000 to appear at a party for 20 minutes. "If it's in Japan I get more," she told the "Times." That, I submit, is beyond comprehension. Ms. Hilton's accomplishments include starring in a cheesy "reality" TV show, endorsing things, appearing in a pornographic home movie on the Internet and "acting" in a new horror film, "House of Wax."

Where is there anything in that resume that hints at being worth $150,000 for anything, let alone 20 minutes of her time? It suggests that there are people of means who go around bragging that they were at a party where Paris Hilton showed up. Back when I was a lad you had to do something spectacular to get $150,000, like rob a really big bank. They didn't give it to you just for showing up. I don't get it.

It gets worse.

Ms. Hilton is managing to leverage her 15 minutes of fame into a career. Her line of jewelry has spent the last eight months as one of the top 20 sellers of Amazon.com's 100,000 items. Her autobiographical book--did I mention she's written a book? "Confessions of an Heiress" with the journalist Merle Ginsberg -- is in its 12th printing. She's got a line of perfume coming out, also makeup, and is planning a chain of boutique hotels. And God knows what else. Obviously, Ms. Hilton is a lot like President Bush; what she lacks in intelligence she makes up for in shrewdness. "I learn more about people when they don't think I know what they're talking about," she says. "People are more loose and they don't realize that I know what's going on."

OK, I give up. I freely admit that it is I who doesn't know what's going on. But I liked it better when you had to do something before you became famous, rather than the other way round.

Another example of the deterioration of standards was provided the other day by that story of the Pentagon analyst who was arrested for giving our military secrets to a pro-Israel lobbying group. The man is accused of relaying highly classified information about threats against our troops in Iraq to two top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee over lunch at a restaurant in suburban Washington.

That's just pathetic.

Haven't these people ever read John LeCarre?

Real spies use dead drops. They walk down shadowy streets and if the blind man on the corner is playing "Peg 'o My Heart" on the concertina, it's OK to leave the package in the hollow of the dead tree. If he's playing "Roll Out the Barrel," keep on walking and wait for instructions. Relaying classified information to influence peddlers in an Arlington, Va., restaurant between the salad and entré isn't spying; it's a failure of the imagination.

I'm not saying that there were giants in the old days, but compared to what we have now it seems like it. I'm glad I'm out of it.

Donald Kaul recently retired as Washington columnist for the "Des Moines Register." He has covered the foolishness in our nation's capital for 29 years, winning a number of modestly coveted awards along the way. Email: donald.kaul2@verizon.net. Distributed by MinutemanMedia.org.