Michael Hirschorn

Can there be much doubt now that the war over Kosovo is an unfolding fiasco of near world-historical proportions? News reports and Op-Eds gingerly discuss changes in strategy and unanticipated consequences, while NATO spokesmen (are they all named Jamie?) unaccountably fixate on Serb atrocities. When this is all over, the Kosovo war may rank as one of the all-time most disastrous foreign policy decisions since, oh, I dunno, 1937. While this war might seem to represent a forceful change in scenery from Monicagate, it’s really an extension of the past year’s unserious politics. War in the Clinton era is just P.R. by other means, and the limits of unserious warfaring are likely to be even more tragic here than they were in Somalia.

But one of the advantages of making war in frivolous times is a public too apathetic to signal a mandate one way or the other. Having precipitated the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians and the deaths of who knows how many men, women, and children, the West looks like it will retreat under the guise of good intentions and best efforts.

No one I know is discussing any of this. In New York these days, Internet fever is in full bloom. There were lots of bitter, bitchy comments about a Times article on Monday about New York-based Internet successes, most of them even more improbable than the Silicon Valley ones of the past years and months. People seemed particularly annoyed about the business section’s front-page photo of Nancy Evans, a veteran of the dowdy book business who had just made some insane amount of money on the iVillage IPO, mugging smugly while gesticulating broadly with a huge stogie. This was simply outrageous, and prompted a number of calls from dead-tree media pals of mine announcing that they were going off to make their first billion. Hey, if “fucking iVillage” (as it’s invariably called) can do it, we can too. Everyone used to have a screenplay going; now we’ve all got URLs on the brain. Me too. I’ve been meeting with local Web honchos, marinating in the lingo, marveling at the way the old pecking order has been not so much overturned as rendered thoroughly irrelevant. Web culture is reminiscent of nothing so much as that time in the ‘80s when an institution called Maharishi University somewhere in the Midwest announced that all the students would get together and levitate the school. This time we’re all students: The new Web mandarins know they’re peddling a form of BS, and we know it, and they know we know it. But if we all believe in it, the thing just might float. I never found out what happened at Maharishi.