Jewish World Review June 12, 2003/ 12 Sivan 5763


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So Long to Browning …And to Raines as well | Last Friday morning at Central Presbyterian Church on Park Ave., my two sons completed their tenure at the Browning School with an hour-long graduation ceremony. Browning is an exemplary private institution, with an emphasis on tradition, manners and citizenship. It's a strict, all-male K-12 educational oasis, which means all boys are required to wear a blazer each day and shake the headmaster's hand when arriving in the morning.

There's no controversy over the American flag's prominent display, and when the "Pledge of Allegiance" is recited, the words "under G-d" are not replaced with "under Kofi Annan" or some other atrocity that's in vogue at some of the more hippie-dippy schools across the country. The Browning template, which is followed by the boys' new school in Baltimore, is upheld nobly by Stephen Clement, a kind and quick-witted leader who's among the most genuine gentlemen I've ever known.

These early June galas do leave me a little befuddled. As a public-school kid out on Long Island, there was only one graduation#151; 12th grade#151; and as was the custom back in '73, at least for a subset of the 500 seniors, I skipped it. I did don cap and gown after completing my course requirements at Johns Hopkins, and perhaps that's why I didn't get all worked up about New York Times reporter Chris Hedges' anti-American remarks at Rockford College's commencement last month. Hedges is a near-lunatic, taking his invitation as an opportunity to vent about Herr Bush, but as he was invited, it was nonetheless rude that someone unplugged his mic.

His speech was offensive. Hedges began: "I want to speak to you today about war and empire. Killing, or at least the worst of it, is over in Iraq. Although blood will continue to spill#151; theirs and ours#151; be prepared for this. For we are embarking on an occupation that, if history is any guide, will be as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power and security. But this will come later as our empire expands, and in all this we become pariahs, tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. Isolation always impairs judgment and we are very isolated now."

I'd venture that Saddam Hussein is even more isolated, and that previously intractable Arab countries are more willing to stop the bloodshed against innocent Israelis now that Bush kept his promise to free Iraq from its brutal dictator. But that's just my view, which is protected, like Hedges', by the First Amendment.

As a 21-year-old, liberated from college, who really cares about the speaker? At JHU, after all, I sat on a stage for two hours while Adm. Hyman Rickover droned on about nothing interesting, and even worse, the school's resident Marxist professor ranted for a solid 45 minutes about workers and unions and American fascism. I tried not to nod off.

In any case, however delightful it was to see the Browning lower schoolboys up on stage, performing different songs, one's mind does tend to wander. Sitting in a pew, it seemed appropriate to hope for Art Cooper's recovery from a stroke. Cooper, the deposed editor of GQ who collapsed at the Four Seasons on Thursday, passed away early Monday afternoon. Like any high-profile media celebrity in Manhattan, Cooper had lists of friends and enemies, probably equal in number. I didn't know him well, but he and sidekick Alan Richman had always been very friendly to New York Press, even after this column had slammed some of GQ's more egregiously stupid writing. (Although it's always remained a higher-caliber read than competitor Esquire, the once-legendary magazine that's now virtually indistinguishable from Details.)

I thought about the astonishing arrogance of Martha Stewart, who thought she could outfox the Feds over a relatively minor SEC infraction. It's mind-boggling when you consider that she sacrificed a multi-faceted empire and may lose millions upon millions of greenbacks when the matter could've been settled quickly. Easier than baking octagonal ginger snaps. When the story broke 18 months ago, Stewart might have confessed complete naivete about the stock market, paid a fine and offered an apology to her vast network of fans and consumers. In addition, a donation of $500,000 to a battered woman's facility in Oklahoma, or an Alzheimer's clinic in San Diego, which would've softened her tough-as-toenails persona. A few months later, the transgression forgotten, the country would've been spared the hundreds of lazy columnists wasting space about the "schadenfreude" of the celebrity "perp walk."

And isn't it time for editors to fine any writer who uses the s-word, refers to something as "The Mother of All..." and calls the New York Times the "Gray Lady"?

I'll get to the glorious resignations of the Times' Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd in due course, but first there've been several surveys about America's youth that strike at least this reader as both obvious and contradictory. A May 19 Times story by Tamar Lewin revealed the stunning news, provided by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, that 20 percent of adolescents have engaged in sexual intercourse before the age of 15. Yeah, and the Beatles broke up 33 years ago.

Far more depressing was the University of Chicago's report that "most Americans really think adulthood begins at age 26." The study cites the delay of marriage and starting families, as well as "society's emphasis on attending college" as the basis for this remarkable conclusion. This is a perfect example of prestigious academic institutions throwing money down the toilet. The idea that "adulthood" doesn't start until 26 is ludicrous; just as men and women in their late 30s don't really believe that they're middle-aged.

So if 24-year-olds who are unemployed, whether by choice or not, live with their parents or kill time in graduate schools are not adults, what are they? Teenagers? Of course not: Anyone who's old enough to vote, drink, smoke, join the military, have an abortion, clash with cops at a demonstration or drive a car#151; is an adult. End of story.

One more. A tv station in Cleveland reported on May 20 that, according to more experts, kids "Swear More Now Than Ever Before." This is blamed in part on the entertainment industry, which supplies the budding foul mouths with salacious video games, movies and pop music, but again, is this news? I suppose such a story is better than yet another take on the murder of Laci Peterson, but is there nothing more pressing in Cleveland than tut-tutting about kids "cussing"?

I haven't given up on reading Pat Buchanan's anti-Semitic biweekly the American Conservative, because its contents can be truly entertaining. In the June 16 issue, for example, Anthony Gancarski wrote an essay that was truly preposterous, claiming that the best rock band of the 80s, the Smiths, were a conservative combo. It's doubtful that Buchanan or co-editor (and major investor) Taki are familiar with the stunning, if too brief, discography of the Smiths, so a junior editor must take responsibility for Gancarski's howler.

The author begins by claiming that when the band released its first single in 1983, it was the debut of "arguably the most influential British band since Beatles..." Love the brio, but the Rolling Stones might quibble with that assessment. Gancarski, who correctly credits the Smiths for producing smart pop songs while grandstanding stars gathered for the self-congratulatory "Feed the World (Do They Know It's Christmas?)," his case for frontman Morrissey's conservatism is thin.

He writes: "There is a very real consciousness of an almost unbridgeable gap between reality and perception at the heart of Morrissey's lyrics for the Smiths. That gap imbues those lyrics with poignance, humanity, and an essential conservatism."

I find nothing "conservative" about the band's haunting "Meat is Murder." A sample lyric: "Heifer whines could be human cries/Closer comes the screaming knife/This beautiful creature must die/This beautiful creature must die/A death for no reason/And death for no reason is murder…/Oh…and who hears when animals cry?"

Then there's "What She Said," the most explosive rock 'n' roll song of the 80s, a showcase for guitarist Johnny Marr, and, I'd say, a sound that hadn't been heard since Bob Dylan's '66 European tour with the Hawks. Another "conservative" sample: "What she said:/'How come someone hasn't noticed/That I'm dead/And decided to bury me?/God knows, I'm ready!'/…What she said: 'I smoke 'cos I'm hoping for an/Early death/And I need to cling to something!'"

Finally, from "I Want the One I Can't Have": "A double bed/And a stalwart lover for sure/These are the riches of the poor/…A tough kid who sometimes swallows nails/Raised on Prisoner's Aid/He killed a policeman when he was thirteen/And somehow that really impressed Me/It's written all over my face."

Well, I can't avoid the Times bloodbath any longer. Quick take: First, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. survives the ongoing turmoil, mostly because of his last name. Second, no matter who management chooses to replace the disgraced Raines, the Times will tilt back to the political center, instead of living in Michael Moore land. No one will satisfy this longtime Times-basher, but the best of a skimpy lot would be Bill Keller, who was passed over by Sulzberger for the ingratiating Raines.

I got a kick out of Joe Conason's June 5 Salon take. He wrote: "The right has gleefully torched Raines without ever acknowledging that he served as its most reliable 'liberal' ally throughout the [Clinton] scandal years, up to the moment of impeachment." That's one spin. In reality, if the Times were so fed up with Clinton's obstruction of justice, Raines, as editorial page editor, would've demanded his resignation. Instead, foreshadowing Joe Lieberman's pitiful comment on affirmative action in 2000, the Times essentially told readers: "Mend it, but please don't end it" about Clinton's corrupt presidency.

The Times debacle has been a delight, and the scores of columnists are correct in crediting, at least in part, the internet for Raines' swift departure. But while Andrew Sullivan, who used to write for the paper, is outrageous in claiming enormous credit for the outcome; it's the Poynter Institute's Jim Romenesko who was the key online catalyst for the change. By simply posting all the articles about the Times' predicament, in addition to memos and letters from disaffected staffers, he slashed Raines' throat.

One final wish: When the new team comes in, they'd be doing Paul Krugman a favor by ditching his more-paranoid-by-the-week column before the alleged economist puts a bullet through his head. Oh yes, a demotion of Maureen Dowd to political correspondent would do wonders for the once-talented woman, who although barely over 50, writes as if she plays bingo with Helen Thomas.

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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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