Then I discovered that, through a tortuous chain of connections, I will soon be making a contribution to George W. Bush every time I look up a business phone number.
Richard Condon, some of you may remember, was the author of some fairly outrageous novels, like Winter Kills and The Manchurian Candidate. In the former, a character much like Joseph Kennedy orders the assassination of his own son, the president of the United States. In the latter, a character -- memorably played by Angela Lansbury in the film version -- helps turn her own son into an assassin.
Condon's thesis was that American society was controlled by a small, invisible power elite who, like the great puppetmasters of Prague, pulled the strings on their creations in a way that made them believable to the public. The economy, big business, and government, in Condon's world, were controlled by a tiny nexus of white men who decided policy and controlled markets. Condon even exiled himself to Ireland to escape his native land and the oligarchy that controlled it.
I thought he was amusing, literate, but basically loony. Now that George Bush is providing my telephone numbers, I'm not so sure.
If you follow the intersection of business and politics, you probably know about The Carlyle Group, the Washington-based consulting firm that attracted the likes of George H.W. Bush, James Baker, Frank Carlucci and (for balance) Democratic former SEC chair Arthur Levitt as members. Even Afsaneh Beschloss, wife of the chronic talking head Michael Beschloss, is on the team. John Major, formerly of 10 Downing Street, is the European chair.
But jetting around the globe collecting big bucks for talking to powerbrokers was not enough for these great and good; Carlyle has morphed itself into an investment powerhouse, with $13.5 billion under management.
Recently, when the former Baby Bell Qwest ran into trouble, Carlyle and a partner anted up $7.05 billion to buy out the firm's yellow pages; next time you let your fingers do the walking, remember that you're sending a few pennies into the Bush family coffers.
For that matter, if you do business with a company called Infomax, or with Sonera Smartrust, or United Defense, you're lining the former president's pockets -- and, probably, increasing the inheritance of the incumbent. Carlyle, alas, has sold its stake in Le Figaro, so if you want to read France's version of The Wall Street Journal, you won't be helping Jim Baker buy any more longhorns for his herd.
But, for me, there's nothing more wondrous than the fact that the Bushes now own part of the Yellow Pages.
Take a trip to your video store and rent a classic film called The President's Analyst. In it, James Coburn as the shrink treats a president of the United States who is bedeviled by a conflict with a huge corporation which tells him it can do anything because it is the Phone Company. In our New World Order, the president is the Phone Company.
Michael Ryan has written, directed and produced films, television, and theater, published several books of humor and satire, and worked as a Washington and foreign correspondent and editor for major magazines.