Jewish World Review June 30, 2004/ 11 Tamuz, 5764
Smoke on the water: A mixed-up electorate
Last Thursday night, on the occasion of my 49th birthday, the family went to dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant very similar to Tortilla Flats in Hampden, once a Baltimore bastion of bigots, faded "Wallace for President" posters and prodigious use of the word that blacks are allowed to use, but whites are not. I lived in the neighborhood one year during college and found it quite pleasant, aside from the stray drunk lying in the gutter who'd yell "Get a haircut, you deadbeat!"
Now that Fells Point, which a generation ago was a seedy waterfront Bohemian utopia where John Waters and his entourage embraced, is fully gentrified, with pricey (for Baltimore) condos and a bar scene that resembles Georgetown, Hampden allegedly is the last "poor white trash" enclave that's fallen to rapacious real estate brokers and hip entrepreneurs valiantly attempting to co-exist with the bakeries, junk shops and liquor stores that remain stuck in a time zone when Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson ruled the town. There is one establishment, Atomic Books, that could be mistaken for an East Village staple; for example, it's the only area store I've found that stocks George Tabb's excellent Playing Right Field: A Jew Grows in Greenwich. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)Otherwise, aside from Holy Frijoles, the above-mentioned restaurant, it's an uphill battle.
In any case, when the four us entered the joint at about six p.m., I was taken aback when the waitress, with the obligatory piercings, asked if we preferred the smoking or non-smoking section. We chose the latter I smoke but don't flaunt it in front of the boys but marveled at her very words, trying to recall the last time such a question was posed. Baltimore will likely fall in line soon with the anti-smoking mania that's infected certain parts of the country, but it was nostalgic to have the freedom of choice on this front.
(Before Gene Borio, who doubles as Jiminy Cricket upon Mike Bloomberg's shoulder, whispering advice about the perils of fifth-hand smoking in the Mayor's ear, cranks up his letter-writing machine, let's get one thing straight. I know nicotine addiction is not a virtue and you, Mr. Borio, have won the fight in New York City.)
Imagine my shock, just two days later (June 26), when perusing the Los Angeles Times and finding a reasonable editorial from a daily that's almost as duplicitous as The New York Times in its bias against George W. Bush and Graydon Carter. Headlined "Stub Out This Intrusive Bill," the paper came out strongly against a current bill that would make it illegal to smoke in your car if a child is present. I'd thought editor John Carroll had lost his mind a month or so ago when he appeared as Hillary Clinton in drag at a University of Oregon speech railing about the vast right wing conspiracy, but perhaps, like some in the media, he's a smoker. Oh, probably not, but it's hardly relevant.
Citing the absurdity of L.A. cops taking time away from apprehending violent gang members, drug dealers and terrorists to find otherwise law-abiding citizens who light up in their cars, the Times edit pulsated with common sense.
One excerpt: "Certainly, parents should refrain from smoking around their children in a confined space. They also should feed their children kale instead of cupcakes and insists they play ball games instead of video games… [I]f the issue is promoting child health care in cars, let's ticket parents who give their children Ho-Hos in the car seat. Childhood obesity is a serious health problem… There are already plenty of heartbreaking things happening to children violent abuse, life-threatening neglect that we have too few resources to prevent or discover. Let's not waste time going after people who light up in their own cars."
Amazing. Can you imagine Gail Collins ordering one her editorial robots at the Times to fashion such an opinion?
Granted, this rainbow of wisdom from the Los Angeles Times was an aberration. Just one day later Michael Kinsley, the new "opinions" editor at the paper, approved a lengthy editorial, "The Disaster of Failed Policy" that was remarkable for its myopic vision of global politics. If Michael Moore knew how to write, this screed could have appeared under his byline. The conclusion tells you all need to know about Kinsley's (and, presumably, Carroll's) narrow-minded view of the Bush administration's foreign policy. "Preemption is a failed doctrine," the edit declares. "Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster. The U.S. needs better intelligence before it acts in the future. It needs to listen to friendly nations. It needs humility."
The Bush Doctrine of preemption, a smart prescription for an increasingly perilous world, is just a few years old and already the West Coast's most influential newspaper has scrapped it as a "failure." The editorial moans that the United States is seen as a "bully" by other nations, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is worse than ever and the "iconic" pictures from Abu Ghraib can never be erased. It may be, in the course of history, that Bush's bold policy in a time when boldness necessarily trumps "humility," may be regarded as a mistake. But making that judgment at this juncture is ludicrous, as an intelligent man like Kinsley surely knows the mind gets dizzy imagining FDR being pummeled in 1943 by around-the-clock pundits and as such, it can only be read as a premature presidential endorsement of the humble Sen. John Kerry.
But maybe this rash hyperbole can be dismissed as the product of the intoxicating Democratic hubris in the past week. Bill Clinton was back on the national stage in force (not that he ever left), signing copies of his immense My Life to adoring throngs of groupies who waited on line for hours just as they did in the early 70s for tickets to a Stones tour. (An aside: I also bought the self-serving paperweight on the day it was released, arriving at a local Barnes & Noble an hour after the store opened. Maryland's generally a reliable Democratic state, but I was the first to purchase the memoirs.)
There was the June 24 Hollywood fundraiser for Kerry and the DNC that netted, according to New York Times reporter Jodi Wilgoren, "a show-stopping $5 million." A night for the extraordinarily wealthy to show their allegiance to the middle class, contempt for Bush and schmooze about upcoming entertainment deals. Billy Crystal, the washed-up actor turned emcee, said it was an event for "really, really rich people" and then came up with the shopworn observation that "I get the feeling [the President] is the Fredo of the Bush family." Hadn't heard that one before, at least in the last week.
Wilgoren, perhaps peeved that she's not one of those "really, really rich people," was slightly skeptical of the glitterati gathered, noting that they hadn't lined up for Kerry until it was clear he'd be the Democratic nominee. She wrote: "Kerry, as he is happy to tell you, has longstanding relationships with James Taylor and Carly Simon, as well as with [Ben] Affleck and Matt Damon, but he lacks the cachet of Mr. Clinton in these parts… Thursday's concert [featuring that up-and-coming duo of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond] was preceded by a dinner of filet mignon and shrimp at the Chandler Pavilion for those couples forking over $25,000 ('I know people who don't make $25,000 in a day!' Mr. Crystal cracked)."
Also last week Al Gore who ought to be kept in Clinton's unused Chappaqua basement from now till November if Kerry guru Bob Shrum has any sense was on the loose in Washington, saying Bush relied on a "network" of "rapid response digital brownshirts." Gore, never keen on irony, didn't consider that if 21st century Nazis controlled the White House (including John Ashcroft Goebbels, per the Times' Frank Rich), he'd now be growling at John Edwards in an Alaskan concentration camp.
And, of course, it was a Michael Moore holiday in affluent pockets of the United States with the release of his duplicitous (for a change) Fahrenheit 9/11. I've written far too many words over the years about this truth-challenged fraud although as a self-promoter he's tops and certainly had no plans to line his bulging pockets with my greenbacks. However, my 11-year-old son Nicky, an aspiring filmmaker whose two favorite movies are Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and To Kill a Mockingbird, bugged me for over a month about taking him to the R-rated atrocity.
I wrestled daily with this conundrum, trying to balance my immense disgust for Moore's clumsy propaganda with the equally heinous practice of acting as a censor. In the end, I relented, with the proviso that Nicky read in the week before Fahrenheit's release three books out of a selection from the bookcase. He chose The Old Man and the Sea, Franny and Zooey and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog, which is better stuff than normally assigned to incoming sixth-graders.
Like 99 percent of the audience last Saturday (all white faces, by the way, in this city with a black population of almost 70 percent), Nicky loved the film, more for the technique and jokes than political content. He did, however, buy the Halliburton lie that Moore peddles, which caused me far more tsouris than the Red Sox getting pasted by the Phils that afternoon.
What the heck. My longtime friend Polar Levine, an artist in Tribeca who wears a ponytail below his shaved head and is politically to the left of Noam Chomsky, once, during a baseball game, made a terrifying prediction. "Listen dude, when our kids (they're the same age) are changing our diapers, Nicky will be a socialist and Nile will be the equivalent of Pat Buchanan."
Maybe so. At least now, I take comfort that Nick opens doors for ladies, doesn't swear in front of his mother and upbraids me for slouching in the sunroom's big easy chair, knowing that my neck is a bundle of twisted nerves.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith