"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 16 March 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Hit & Run CCXIX



An obituary published in the 4

March New York Times under the

headline "Baron Enrico di

Portanova, 66, Flamboyant Member

of International Jet Set" wasn't

just a grab bag of factoids

memorializing the life of

another idle millionaire who

preyed on the life of The People

and whose pâté

consumption slid him permanently

under the table before he ever

got a profile in Vanity Fair. It

was the death notice for la

dolce vita itself. With the

passing of "Ricky" (as he was

known to his good, good friends)

di Portanova, the

fountain-hopping sweet life

formerly enjoyed with so much

élan by glamorous

multimillionaires — the

Ekbergian show-pony girlfriends,

the Lear jets and tiny sports

cars, the little scissors to

trim the pencil-thin mustaches

— has officially given way

to the PalmPilot vida loca

associated more with weekdays in

Washington State than with

weekends in Capri. The

Evian-spritzer glitz has been

moist-toweletted away; the

George Hamilton tan exfoliated.

L'Avventura is over, and today's

superwealthy are going Sleepless

in Seattle. Portanova was the

last of the international

playboys — a madcap Daddy

Warbucks of the old school who

fearlessly blew through $1.2

million a month, and that didn't

even include family attorney Roy

Cohn's retainer. As the grandson

of Texas oilman Hugh Roy Cullen,

"King of the Wildcatters" and

the son of an Italian baron

named Paolo di Portanova, Ricky

knew the secret of guilt-free

excess. Portanova realized early

on that great wealth went down

easier if you picked up the

check for every Sybaritic

debauchee and wayward party girl

who stumbled into your

Ray-Banned line of vision.

Traveling in what he called his

"taxi" — yes, a Lear jet

— between homes in Houston

and Rome and a fantasia of a

villa in Acapulco he called

"Arabesque" (it was protected by

machine-gun toting guards in

towers and featured an indoor

waterfall and 28 bedrooms —

you might have seen it in

Licence to Kill) filled the

emptiness that comes from never

having to work. So did marrying

and divorcing a Yugoslavian

basketball player named Ljuba

Otanovic, strolling through the

sculpture garden his mother

bequeathed to the Houston Museum

of Fine Arts, preparing his

signature caviar-and-taglioni

for swinger pals like Henry

Kissinger, and suing his own

relatives for more money. The

Baron, who was reputedly older

than the 66 years he claimed,

once (probably more than once)

informed the drunken revelers he

surrounded himself with that the

only things worth living for are

"sun, sex, and spaghetti."

That's a far bravo from the

pronunciamentos of today's

millionaires: They're rain, RAM,

and radicchio all the way. We

salute you, Ricky di Portanova

— if only because we'll

never have to wait behind you in

line at Eastern Mountain Sports.



Being president has many perks,

but it's the little-publicized

ones that provoke the most envy:

The presidency is followed by an

unending series of lucrative

speaking engagements. Ronald

Reagan's notorious (hired)

denunciation of the American

motion picture industry in Japan

was just the most visible

example. After serving barely

more than two years, Gerald Ford

is now mid-way through his third

leisurely decade of warmed-over

speeches and golf. But this week

saw stunning proof that you

don't even have to be president

to shill for corporate America.

Though Bob Dole has already

endorsed a startling variety of

products, from Viagra to Visa, he

added yet another sponsor to the

proud family of Dole-endorsed

products: this time an online

vendor of construction

equipment. Advertisers

desperate for legitimacy seek

out for-hire politicos, blurring

still further the line between

political figure and tool for

big corporations in this

evolving entertainment state.

But if the Kansas Republican

offers Americans living proof

that anyone can grow up to

endorse credit cards, it's

perhaps preferable to the

outright recording ambitions

evident behind "the music of

Senator Orrin Hatch." And it's

reassuring to know that, though

the registration has expired on

Dole96.org and the other

campaign parody sites that

distracted us from the monotony

of the last presidential

election, we can count on Dole's

endorsements to provide an

ongoing stream of their own

self-conscious parody. (In a

previous advertisement, Dole

endorsed Bugs Bunny for

president.) The string of

lucrative promotional deals seem

to indicate that a failed bid

for the Presidency is the

healthiest career move of all.

If George W. Bush is defeated in

the 2000 elections, maybe we'll

see him endorsing American




There's nothing funnier ... OK,

there are loads of things

funnier, but nothing's more

flat-out undignified than

watching purportedly "critical"

countercultural types knuckle

under to way-new capitalism.

First the "Baffler" acquired a

"web-site", its antiqued, old-fogey

scare quotes failing to hide its

desire to exchange "tee-shirts"

and "baseball-caps" for "money."

Now Ted Rall,

probably better known for his

hard-nosed litigiousness than

for his attempts to speak as the

cartoon voice of Generation X,

enters the line for sloppy

seconds. His dippy

pronouncements on the Zeitgeist

("Everyone knows that the real

president isn't Bill Clinton -

it's Bill Gates.... In a land

where no one believes in

anything, you are what you

buy.... These days, meaning is

where you find it.") hardly

impelled us to dump our copies

of George Soros's The Crisis of

Global Capitalism or Laura

Kipnis' Ecstasy Unlimited, and

we weren't really sure how we'd

sell them if we wanted to. After

all, the help these days at

small, independent book and

record shops is so surly and

uncouth, we simply dread contact

with them. Well, Rall came to

the rescue in this week's

Green. Lodged awkwardly in his

screed on the Used Culture

Industrial Complex is a pretty

good reason to throw over all

those plucky, vital little

bookshops and record stores: a

net gain of $335 selling his

used dreck via eBay. His defense

boils down to rational

self-interest and the profit

motive, the same stuff that

(gulp) leads corporations to

drive wages down, maybe even

(ulp) a reason indie store

workers are so gosh-darn sullen

and lazy. Which might go to

confirm something we've long

suspected: If Catholicism works

to keep sex naughty, maybe

old-school Marxism just makes

selling out later more dirty and




Even if you don't count the

whole celibacy business, some

weeks it can't be much fun to be

the pope. You do more to bring

Christians together than a Jars

of Clay megatour, you fight the

commies like Joe McCarthy, you

even take a bullet for the

cause, and still every

wisenheimer with a soapbox

thinks he can take a swing at

you. It's hard to tell whom His

Holiness John Paul the Deuce was

trying to please with his

well-publicized act of

contrition this week, if

anybody. But the disappointed

hubbub that greeted the

confession — widely deplored

as being too vague for comfort

— just demonstrates how

little the heathens know of

penance. If you want the poor

schmuck to provide an itemized

list of Catholic peccadilloes,

you have to give him a round

number of Hail Marys with which

he can work the whole thing off.

We should also remember that we

are still in the millennial

season, and tweaking the pontiff

with too much "Now say it like

you mean it" nitpicking might

prove as unwise at this time as

pissing off the phone company.

Because when the Antichrist

really does show up, we all know

who's help we'll want — and

it ain't gonna be no


courtesy of theSucksters