Forget murder, DC's number one

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The Independent Online
MONEY magazine says I live in the finest city in the north-east of the United States of America. Washington DC is one of the nicest places in America to settle down, with its clean environment, excellent cultural facilities and so on.

This announcement has shocked and stunned Washingtonians, who have become so used to bitching about the place. After all, it was only nine years ago that this was the murder capital of the USA. Suddenly they have to accustom themselves to the idea that maybe things aren't so bad after all. Even the annual murder rate is down to 300.

By most standards, it is a pleasant enough place, even if it is a one- corporation town. But it seems bizarre that Washington should have made such an advance from its lowly position in Money's estimation last year, when it was considered only the 162nd best city in the States.

One reason - perhaps the only one - why the news has brought Washingtonians great happiness is that it has really irritated New York. "Have you checked out the murder rate in Washington DC lately? Or the crime rate?" fumed Rudolph Giuliani, New York's mayor, at a press conference on Thursday. Hizzoner the Mayor of DC has gone to great lengths to clean up the capital of the Free World, and this is the thanks he gets. And who is Washington's mayor? That well-known convicted felon, drug-taking star of a police video, Marion Barry.

THE DROPPING of trousers in the White House is, we have been told, a fairly frequent event. So it was not so surprising when it happened in front of live television last week. The trouser-dropper was not the distinguished President, but Nam June Paik, a famous video artist. He had been invited for a dinner with his countryman Kim Dae Jung, Korea's President. When he rose from his wheelchair to shake the great man's hand, his trousers fell to his ankles, revealing that he was not wearing any underpants. It was reported that the President did not react.

BILL faces perhaps the toughest test of his White House leadership since he arrived in town in 1993. The Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest evangelical Protestant sect, has decided that wives should "submit graciously" to the "servant leadership" of their husbands. Mr Clinton, like most of the new southern political establishment that runs Washington, is a member of the SBC.

It is a bit much to suggest that Hillary Rodham Clinton should submit herself graciously, something even the President of the United States has taken on board. His spokesman said that he noted the decision "with wry amusement" and "thought about how he might call it to the attention of the First Lady". Later, with a shrug of his shoulders, he asked reporters: "What can I do about it?" There are limits to presidential power.

THE Cold War is back. Not the confrontation with the Soviet Union, but something far more important: ice hockey. Washington is, even now, a southern city essentially and ice hockey does not normally attract much attention. This year, for the first time, the Washington Capitals have got to the finals of the Stanley Cup. Televisions in bars that are usually tuned to baseball or basketball suddenly display heavily padded men hitting each other with sticks.

Sadly, the Caps are living up to their reputation. They have lost two of the seven-game series against the Red Wings from Detroit and by the time you read this, the chances are that they will have lost another, making it virtually impossible for them to win. One reason may be that, unlike the Red Wings, they have no mascot. One newspaper suggested that, given their average age, the Caps might choose Viagra pills. Is that a puck in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

MOST aspects of the Monica Lewinsky affair have been chewed into tiny little pieces and spat out by the media, but one still intrigues me. Monica is from the West Coast; and I think that is one reason why official Washington regards her, and the whole affair, as such a trauma. She seems to want to flaunt this. The photos by Herb Ritts which appear in the latest Vanity Fair show her as overtly sexual, far from the stereotype Washington woman in her flesh-coloured tights, twinset and sneakers.

Her lawyer, William Ginsburg, was from Los Angeles, and did not conform to the Washington stereotype of a lawyer: buttoned up and buttoned down. He dressed a little too flamboyantly and didn't have much time for the niceties of a town that focuses on form above substance at every possible occasion. Monica's decision to pose for Vanity Fair was widely regarded as his last boo-boo before she switched to a new legal team. Now she is represented by two old pros, both experienced defenders of the great and the good. She may well be in better legal hands, but everyone suspects that some of the fun is about to depart the case.

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