Maybe Byron York is right.

Maybe, as he proposes in the October

Al Gore was never meant to win. As Bush the Younger suddenly begins to nose past Gore the Weirder in the presidential sweepstakes, York’s premise that Bush was virtually destined to win this November is looking more plausible each day.

Writing in “Gore’s Lost Cause,” York says the underlying forces were always lined up in the Republicans’ favor. Short of Bush being caught shooting heroin in the “Tonight” show Green Room, nothing was likely to change that.

It’s all in the hard numbers: Since 1968, York says, the Democrat presidential candidates have captured an average of 43.7 percent of the popular vote. During the same period, Republican candidates averaged 49.2 percent.

Now the key questions, York says, are can Gore significantly top that 43.7 percent average? And will Bush significantly fall below that 49.2 percent number? Both answers are no, says York, who goes on to forecast a possible Gore strategy for the final month that includes classic class-warfare and a last-ditch effort by Bill Clinton to charge-up the Democratic base and get them to vote.

But Gore already has the base in his pocket. To win — to exceed that 43.7 percent — he must appeal to the swinging independents, something York predicts won’t happen.

York says he can’t find a pollster who doesn’t predict a photo-finish. But he’s guessing that won’t happen either (the closest race since 1980 was Clinton’s six-point win over Bush Sr. in 1992). “Al Gore can fight the powerful forces all he wants,” York concludes, “but history is one he’s not likely to beat.”

The fall of Serbian strongman Slobo Milosevic blew the Gore-Bush race right off the covers of the newsweeklies. In Time the always excellent

tip-toes carefully down the median strip of neutrality, not losing her balance once as she wonders how Gore could win debate No. 1 yet still not gain in the polls. And the

this week virtually forgets there is a presidential election going on. But look at all that crazy political cargo aboard the mothership of East Coast liberalism, the New Yorker.

Its ad-fat special double politics issue comes with a cover illustration of cowboy Bill Clinton going off (sadly, for New Yorker readers) into the sunset. The

which has no website worth going to, pretty much ignores the nuts-and-bolts of politics and seems to hold its limo-liberal nose at the thought of either a President Bush or a President Gore.

The writing, as always, is of the highest caliber. A 12-page portfolio of political photos is odd. Old letters from old right-wing Joe Kennedy to his sons and to friends like Winston Churchill are interesting. Nicholas Lemann’s delivers a great report on “legendary Republican pollster” Frank Luntz, explaining how he uses research and interviews with everyday Americans to find just the right words to put into the mouths of politicians. Words that start with “r” and end with “ity” are best — responsibility, community and prosperity, for example.

The centerpiece of the Oct. 16-23 New Yorker, however, is Joe Klein’s “Eight Years.” It’s a lengthy — and very friendly — look back at how the “solid policy and brilliant politics” of the Clinton administration was “overshadowed by the consequences of tawdry personal behavior.”

It’s good, readable stuff, loaded with self-serving quotes from Clinton and dozens of other Inside-the-Beltway all-stars. Klein (author of “Primary Colors”) has known Clinton since Arkansas. He will bring tears to Clinton-lovers up and down the East Coast with lines like, “Clinton never faced a policy crisis significant enough to challenge his political gifts. He was President in a placid time; he never had the opportunity to achieve greatness.”

Quick reads

It would have been a treat to see what

would have made of Clinton and his crew. A good taste of Mencken’s style can be found in

on Liberty,
the always economically sound and freedom-pushing publication of the

for Economic Education.
Ideas on Liberty reprints a timeless essay that Master Mencken wrote in 1925 to decry the idea that a law was needed to prevent the sale of revolvers across state lines.

“Its single and sole effect,” he said of the proposed law, “would be to exaggerate enormously all of the evils it proposes to put down. It would not take pistols out of the hands of rogues and fools; it would simply take them out of the hands of honest men.”

Later on, he wrote, “Find me a man so vast an imbecile that he seriously believes this prohibition would work. What would become of the millions of revolvers already in the hands of the American people … ? Would the cops at once confiscate this immense stock, or would it tend to concentrate in the hands of the criminal classes? If they attempted confiscation, how would they get my two revolvers — lawfully acquired and possessed — without breaking into my house? Would I wait for them docilely — or would I sell out, in anticipation, to the nearest pistol bootlegger?”

The Futurist,
for some reason, is never as interesting as a publication put out by the World Future Society ought to be. Even stranger, it has no Web version and its graphics are so boring it looks like the bi-monthly magazine was last designed 20 years ago. The September/October issue’s cover story, “Really Bad Predictions,” is a disappointment. But a piece by Harlan Cleveland, “Coming Soon: The Nobody-in-Charge Society,” is worth a 10-minute stand at the news rack.

Cleveland’s report on how governments, corporations, unions and armies the world over are jettisoning top-down, pyramidal, authoritarian management structures in favor of a bottoms-up, democratic approach is not news.

As he points out, the nobody-in-charge society — an idea as American as Madison and Jefferson — is sweeping the globe. He calls the process (which runs on things like personal initiative, voluntary cooperation and networking and is facilitated by computers and other information technologies) not decentralization, but “uncentralization.”

He says that the Information Age, in which information is the dominant resource, is perfect for this “uncentralized” kind of society. And its emphasis on horizontal, consensual, collaborative modes of organizing bode well for individual creativity and invention, personal freedom and human choice.

Shooting and not scoring

Has Jaromir Jagr, the Ronald Reagan-loving superstar of the Pittsburgh Penguins, been traded to the Village People? Has he been picked upon waivers by “Hee Haw”?

You might think so if you looked at the cover of

ESPN the
Believe it or not, that strapping farm boy on the cover with his shirt off and the pitchfork over his shoulder is the greatest hockey player in the world.

The article itself — Jagr’s life story hooked smartly around a visit with him in his native Czech Republic during the off season — is perfectly fine. It recognizes Jagr as a grown-up superstar, a “cross-cultural imperialist” who at 28 is ready to become a team leader and a hockey legend.

But what’s with those awful photos of Jagr down on his family farm in Klado? Five shots — two full-pagers plus the cover — of a shirt-free young farm hunk in bib overalls and pig-slopping rubber boots? Each with chickens, a barnyard and his Euro-girlfriend as props?

Do we really need three huge photos of Jagr the Sexy Farm Lad with one strap of his overalls dangling down and exposing his mighty torso? Did ESPN have that much extra space it had to fill? Couldn’t they find one action shot — you know, of Jagr playing hockey — bigger than a postage stamp?

Maybe the editors are kidding with their Li’l Jaromir theme. Trying to make a subtle political statement about male/female sex objects? Testing a new concept of soft sports porn perhaps? Whatever ESPN was trying to do with its silly photo spread, it didn’t work. It shot and shot and didn’t score.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.