whenever she wanted to. (What makes arnseven-month-old fetus worthier of salvationrnthan a six-week-old embryo?) Yetrnhere he is in the Times, whistling perhapsrnas he works, scrubbing out a few bits ofrnembryonic tissue. Baby? What baby?rnNo face, no fingers, no college prospects,rnno Social Security number around here.rnObviously the pro-Roe v. Wade regimernthat more or less dominates political liferntoday likes things that way. But depictionsrnsuch as the New York Times’ enmeshrnus in lies, and lies, as Orwell understood,rnare corrosive, destroying thernbasis on which free citizens are able cooperativelyrnto make policy for the commonrngood.rnIf one side believes the other side to bernpopulated almost uniquely by chiselersrnand liars, how good are the prospects forrnsocial peace? For peace of any kind? AskrnKenneth Starr, who must have posed tornhimself, over and over again, questions ofrnthis same import.rnAnd so things stand, as the century andrnmillennium end, with regard to whatrncould be called semanticide —the murderrnof meaning. Murder with what endrnin view? Political advantage, mainly;rnpower for its own sake, life and death nornmore than weapons in the quest.rnThe word “murder” tends to jar, givenrnthe degree to which the abortion controversyrnhas desensitized us all. Even so, thernword fits as neatly in the linguistic contextrnas in any other. First-degree murderrnwith malice, second-degree murder withrnmitigating circumstances, vehicularrnhomicide —what’s the practical difference?rnMeaning dies, sprawled on thernpavement; journalists, politicians, andrnbureaucrats step gingerly around it. ButrnNature’s abhorrence of vacuums is famous.rnSo meaning is recreated — withrnsuch vcrbosit}’ as it takes to rub out memoriesrnof the old meaning. Born (so tornspeak) are tiie “products of artificial terminationrnof pregnancies.” As “suicide”rnand “euthanasia” (the latter a wordrnwhose Greek origins fail to disguise itsrnmeaning) go by the boards, “death withrndignitv” makes its appearance. Death,rn’es, but with “dignity.” Dignity makes itrnsomehow all right: a kind of human victoiTrnover circumstance and suffering.rn”Murder” or no murder, Orwell suggestedrnthe possibility that meaningfulrnEnglish could revive. In some sense, thisrnis happening with regard to abortion.rnTake “partial-birth abortion,” a wonderfulrncondensation of complicated meaningrnthat brings home to the hearer thernhorror of what goes on in these proceduresrn—brains suctioned out so as to collapsernthe skull, the corpse thereafter removedrnsmoothly, efficientiy.rn”Cranial decompression,” the semanticidesrncall this method, in their typicalrnobfuscatory way. No, it isn’t—it’s partialbirthrnabortion, and it kills young, livingrnthings. If too few Americans these daysrneither care or dare to call a spade a spade,rna spade nonetheless it remains. S-p-a-d-e.rnWilliam Murchison is a nationallyrnsyndicated columnist for the DallasrnMorning News.rnPresence,rnReal and Ersatzrnby George McCartneyrnThe Talented Mr. RipleyrnProduced by Paramount Picturesrnand Miramax FilmsrnDirected by Anthony MinghellarnScreenplay by Anthony Minghella,rnfrom the novel by Patricia HighsmithrnReleased by Paramount PicturesrnAnthony Minghella’s screen versionrnof Patricia Highsmith’s The TalentedrnMr. Ripley has beautiful photography,rngood acting, and real suspense. What itrnlacks is the element that would havernmade it an important film: Highsmith’srnvision. Minghella has replaced her coldeyedrnnihilism witii cautionary melodrama.rnIn his hands, Highsmith’s novel hasrnbecome a talc of class envy coated with arnpatina of political rectitude. To thernmoral and theological issues Mr. Ripleyrnposes, Minghella’s film is tone deafrnNo surprise here, of course. Literaryrnworks of any sophistication rarely translaternto the screen successfully. As a rule,rnthe better the book, the poorer the film.rnLesser novels, on the other hand, oftenrnimprove in cinematic translation. Highsmith’srnown Strangers on a Train makesrnthe point. Published in 1950, this wasrnher first novel. As such, it is a remarkablernperformance, but certainly not first-classrnfiction. Then Alfred Hitchcock turned itrninto a powerful film, a commercial andrncritical success that endures today. Althoughrnhe changed Highsmith’s plot andrncharacters drastically, he grasped her intentionrnand honored it fully. The resultrnwas a subtle Conradian narrative depictingrna soul’s tormented struggle betweenrnrespectable ambition and amoral ruthlessness,rna mortal combat between thernproper self and its bedeviling double.rnHighsmith’s Mr. Ripley, published inrn1955, is the first in what would becomernfive novels featuring the eponymousrncharacter. A distinct advance uponrnStrangers, it is a novel of wit and complexity.rnAs such, it poses a daunting challengernto the would-be screen adapter.rnMinghella either was not up to this challengernor deliberately evaded it.rnFollowing Highsmith in general outline,rnMinghella invents new charactersrnand incidents to smooth away the original’srnsharper edges. His narrative beginsrnwith a wealthy shipbuilder namedrnGreenleaf, who desperately wants hisrnfeckless son, Dickie, to join him in thernfamily business. But his heir apparentrnhas other plans. Studiously ignoring thernpaternal call to duty, he remains on indefiniternholiday in Naples, indulging hisrnpassions for jazz and sailing. WhenrnGreenleaf senior mistakes the wellgroomedrnTom Ripley for one of Dickie’srnclassmates, he hires him to travel tornNaples to convince the prodigal to return.rnRipley, however, is not what he appears.rnHe is a poor boy with little formalrneducation and a desire to rise in thernworld at whatever cost, even—-perhapsrnespecially—the cost of his own identity.rn”I woidd rather be a fake somebody thanrna poor nobody,” he remarks at one point.rnOnce set in motion, the film’s plotrngathers fatcfid momentum. In Naples,rnRipley inveigles his way into Dickie’s life,rnclaiming to have admired him at a distancernwhile they were both at Princeton.rnThe two young men soon becomernfriends while romping about Italy, supportedrnby Greenleaf senior’s largesse.rnBut then Dickie notices some oddities.rnDisconcertingly, Ripley imitates hisrnhost’s manner and handwriting. At thernsame time, he hasn’t the marks of an IvyrnLeague rich boy. He doesn’t sail, ski, orrnwomanize as Dickie and his friends do.rnHis clothes are gauche, a fault compoundedrnby his penchant for trying onrnDickie’s wardrobe. Then, in a motorboatrnoff the coast of San Remo, Ripley confessesrnhe has fallen in love with Dickie’srnway of life and proposes that they live to-rnMAY 2000/47rnrnrn