Jewish World Review April 1, 2004/ 11 Nissan 5764


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Baseball before politics; Puff the slain dragon; a minor miracle; right on, Carl | IF THERE were a chalkboard somewhere in the house, right now I'd be writing, a hundred times, "This family will not be distracted by Richard Clarke's self-aggrandizing doubletalk." Not when the 2004 baseball season is underway.

I was set to pick the Yanks as winners of the World Series this year, but a pair of successive articles by New York Times beat writer Tyler Kepner about the team's concern over jetlag from their trip to Japan has me wondering. On March 24 and 25, Kepner described in detail the strategy the Bronx crybabies would adhere to during the 17-hour flight. Sixteen ounces of water or sports drink every hour. No booze. A ban on contact lenses. Three massage therapists on board. George Steinbrenner, according to Kepner, was concerned about any "disadvantage" his club might suffer because of the arduous journey. No mention that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who play the Yanks on March 30 and 31, also wended their way to Tokyo, not to mention that Lou Piniella's team is at a disadvantage almost every time they take the field.

Mike Mussina, the Yanks' ace this year after Andy Pettitte was stupidly shown the door last fall—does Steinbrenner have a prejudice against devout Christians?—was distressed about the trip. According to Kepner, Mussina had "no plans to pass the time [on the plane], other than to eat and sleep." You'd think that a Stanford graduate might be familiar with a four-letter word that has escaped some of his comrades: book. Maybe Jason Giambi (who said the jaunt would be "fun") reached into his magic bag and found something that took the frown off Mussina's face.

At least Gabe White packed his Game Boy.

Manager Joe Torre put it all in perspective. Asked by the Daily News (March 26) about the effect on his apparently fragile squad, Torre said, "That's looking for an excuse. That way if things go bad you can blame it on the Japan trip. That isn't right. That's all part of dealing with what you have to deal with."

Meanwhile, Pope John Paul tossed another monkey wrench into the equation, saying last Friday that sports ought not be played on Sundays. "When Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes subordinate to a secular concept of 'weekend' dominated by such things as entertainment and sport, people stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens." No comment from President Bush on the Pope's athletic heresy.

Anyway, my money's on the Yankees to win the A.L. East by a comfortable margin, figuring Steinbrenner will buy or trade for another reliable starting pitcher by mid-May. The Red Sox are likely to finish in second, but it looks like an injury-plagued season for Boston—Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra shut down for the season by June 1—and they'll be lucky to finish ahead of Toronto and Baltimore.

I don't really care much about the other divisions, but for what it's worth, a buck says the Royals and Angels win the A.L. Central and Western divisions, with the Mariners taking the wild card. In the National League, I'm going with the Phillies, Cubs and Giants, and the Astros for the final playoff slot. The Angels knock off the Yanks for the A.L. pennant, the Cubs prevail in the N.L. over Houston, and Anaheim wins its second World Series in three years.

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I UNDERSTAND IT'S slim pickings, at least in the U.S., for cigarette manufacturers—forget bars, remember when you could smoke in a supermarket?—but Brown & Williamson's new line of Kools smacks of desperation. According to a March 9 article in the New York Times, the company is introducing "Smooth Fusions," a pricier cig with fancy packaging and flavors like Caribbean Chill, Midnight Berry, Mocha Taboo and Mintrigue. B&W execs swear they're not targeting adolescents, but of course they are. Which is no skin off my nose—the tobacco police put a greater emphasis on nabbing merchants who sell cigarettes to 17-year-olds than apprehending rapists and loan sharks—but just the thought of lighting up a Caribbean Chill is enough to make one nauseous for days on end.

Not to get all Pat Buchanan on you, pining for the golden era of Ozzie & Harriet, but this latest marketing nightmare is unsettling. Like lots of teens, I started a nicotine habit with Kools, often the unfiltered kind, which I first found in Baltimore upon entering college in 1973, when a pack of smokes cost 35 cents. Kools were, well, cool, but ultimately too strong, and after a case of bronchitis, I stayed true to menthols, but tamped down to Newports or Alpines. Then low-tar Merits, and finally Merit ultra-lights. One great thing about smoking menthols was that occasional puffers, those annoying friends who bummed butts instead of actually buying a pack, would often refuse a menthol, unless he or she were totally bombed.

I didn't break the menthol habit myself until 1986 after spending a month in Dublin and finding it almost impossible to find the damn cigarettes, let alone a tolerable brand. More significantly, this was one time, at the age of 31, that I succumbed to peer pressure. Spending time in an Irish pub (where smoking is now taboo), I gabbed for hours with new friends, though the ribbing about smoking "lady's cigarettes" was hard to take, sort of like ordering a half pint of Guinness. "Right, then, Russ, I think I'll get me own pack in the next street. Menthols, that a Yank sort of thing?" my pal Brian said, to gales of laughter from his gang. I chose to switch rather than fight.


Reading New York Times editorials every day is not a great deal of fun, but as I've said many times, it's an "occupational hazard." Still, once in a while the newspaper shocks readers with common sense. On March 24, for example, a self-righteously headlined edit—"The Path to a Healthier America"—was the most reasonable snippet of writing I've read in that daily for years. The ostensible topic was the outrageous transportation bill before Congress and President Bush's "symbolic" promise to veto it, but the Times was correct that the House bill, the vast majority of which would earmark $300 billion over six years for highway construction and refurbishment, is a disgrace. As the editorialist said: "By giving Americans more reasons to pick up the car keys instead of their sneakers, the bill gives new meaning to the word pork."

It's not often you find humor on the Times' editorial pages, but that was a fairly good one, just one punch line short of a knee-slapper. The current concern over obesity was woven throughout the short piece—medical flavor of the year, if you ask me—but you can't argue with the logic that it'd be better for everyone if people walked a mile or two to their destinations rather than drove. I wouldn't write the conclusion in Times-speak, but it does make sense: "Expending calories instead of gasoline flattens stomachs and strengthens legs. Having fewer cars on the road would also lead to cleaner air. The nation would be thinner and healthier and would breathe easier. Perhaps lawmakers should take a walk and think it all over."


IT'S PROBABLY not exactly a drag to be Carl Bernstein these days, but you have to wonder if Bob Woodward's Washington Post Watergate partner sometimes scratches his noggin and says, "How did I blow it?"

While Woodward churns out books faster than Joyce Carol Oates—for better (financially) or worse (suspect sourcing)—and is a highly desirable "get" for talk shows, he still strikes fear among politicians when it's rumored that one of his front-page stories in the Post is about to appear. Now Bernstein is marking time, figuratively, in the Catskills. It's a long way from a Pulitzer Prize and Dustin Hoffman portraying you in All the President's Men to speaking before a group of 200, as Bernstein did on March 18 in Tampa.

As reported in the following day's St. Petersburg Times, Bernstein—whose celebrity comet vanished at about the same time Studio 54 shut down—spoke to the assembled (reporter Brady Dennis didn't mention whether admission was free or part of an early-bird dinner special) about "the triumph of idiot culture" today in the United States. Yes, one assumes that would mean Al Franken, Michael Stipe and Eric Alterman, but no, Bernstein, who's contributed his own share of "idiocy" with incomprehensible articles in Rolling Stone over the years, blames Rupert Murdoch and AOL TimeWarner. He said that media corporations today trade in gossip, sensationalism and manufactured controversy (a startling revelation) and that "their interest in truth is secondary to their interests in huge profits."

Oh, for the good old days when the Washington Post and the New York Times were non-profit entities.

Bernstein must've seen a lot of ponytails in the audience, for he added that President Bush is "the most radical president of my lifetime and perhaps in the century." Hold the phone, Carl, that's one tall glass of Maker's Mark! Bush is more "radical" than FDR, whose entitlement programs endure, although hopelessly dated, almost 70 years after they were enacted? Bush's foreign policy may seem aggressive to let's-agree-to-disagree Democrats and isolationist Republicans, but domestically, the president is hardly a renegade. If he defeats John Kerry, and needn't spend time on reelection, perhaps Bush will earn the "radical" tag by privatizing Social Security, modernizing immigration laws, passing a sweeping tort reform bill and making his tax cuts permanent. But as it stands, if Bernstein believes that defending the country from terrorism, backing Israel more than any of his predecessors and liberating Iraq from a brutal dictator is "radical," he's overstayed his welcome at happy hour.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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