Jewish World Review July 7, 2005/ 30 Sivan 5765


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Consumer Reports

War Chills: Exploitation on the Left | It certainly wasn't my intention to see Steven Spielberg's grating, 9/11-tinged War of the Worlds, much less on its opening day, but local weather conditions forced this undesirable occurrence. On the evening of June 28, violent thunderstorms rocked the greater Baltimore region, knocking out the power in over 56,000 homes. I was following the Red Sox-Indians game on, seeing Wade Miller off to a shaky start, when the house went dark, eliminating the sounds of two televisions, a Bose CD player, air conditioners, a food processor, the boys dueling on electric guitars to their self-penned "Cheeseburger on a String" and an X-Box system.

Every other month or so, a sanctimonious writer will pilfer space on op-ed pages or in Newsweek's "My Turn" column, sharing the wonders of his or her household ban on television, the strict limit placed on a child's Internet time, explaining how this trip in a Wayback machine brings a family closer together. Everyone sits around the table to eat dinner together at the same time and exchanges meaningful conversation about the details of their respective days at school and work, which inevitably segues into the larger topics of community service, the correct way of slipping on a condom, the Bush administration's soiling the Constitution and consideration of adopting an African baby or sheltering that nice economically disadvantaged man down the street who's been laid low by rum and a heartless government.

That lifestyle, at least in my opinion, is for the birds. Modern communication appliances rule and most people have the humility to admit it, notwithstanding the sacrifice of Rob Reiner-inspired communal meals. One of the tradeoffs of living in a free-standing house as opposed to an apartment building is that blackouts, because of the power lines that run along back yards, are more frequent. I didn't care for the 2002 summer outage in Manhattan one bit—a seven-hour sentence of walking 12 flights of stairs and pissing on the roof, despite the feel-good newspaper stories the next day of people partying on the streets, and it's no better here.

Naturally, our family of four was unprepared, with exactly two flashlights stashed in some forgotten cupboard, and after about an hour of reading in the remaining light, there wasn't much to do. My wife and older son, miraculously, fell asleep at 8:30, leaving Booker and me to roam about the neighborhood, getting increasingly ticked off at the random outages from block to block. Baltimore Gas & Electric, swamped with phone calls, offered little encouragement on a prerecorded announcement, simply informing customers that they hoped to have order restored within the next day. On that note, I hit the sack at 9:15, hoping to be awoken during the night by light; on two occasions I was roused by a whirring noise, only to realize it was Booker's hamster Cornwallis exercising on her treadmill.

I was up with the roosters, and soon the newspapers were chucked on the curb, allowing me to revert to the old-fashioned practice of reading the sports pages to find out who won the previous night's games. That the Orioles bested the Yanks with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th was cheerful; wading through pages of The New York Times instead of picking and choosing my poison on its website was less pleasant.

Anyway, another call to BG&E was depressing, especially since more storms were in the forecast, and so that's what led the four of us to War of the Worlds. I really had no plans of seeing the film, mostly because of the ridiculous overexposure of Tom Cruise in the past month, a case of the seamier aspects of pop culture crossing the boundary from gossip columns and magazines to the real world—or at least my version of the real world.

The actor's meltdown, whether calculated or not, was inescapable; unlike say, Michael Jackson's trial, Cruise's romp with a younger woman, jumping on Oprah Winfrey's couch and chastising Brooke Shields for falling prey to pharmaceutical products to combat post-partum depression, was more prevalent in every news medium, than John Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash nearly 10 years ago. It's none of my business whether Cruise has an eye for the ankle or the crotch, but the bastard did grab me with his lecture to Shields, as if he'd ever given birth to a child.

At it turned out, Cruise wasn't all that annoying as Spielberg's star—although Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton or Kevin Bacon would've been preferable, if only to avoid Cruise's signature grin—but as disaster movies go War of the Worlds wasn't especially affecting. Sure, the special effects are of 21st century vintage, but it was really just The Poseidon Adventure with a none too subtle exploitation of the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks—those familiar posters of missing people were unpardonably tacky—and obvious reference to "Bush's war" in Iraq making it suffer in comparison.

I did get a kick out of a bit in A.O. Scott's mixed review in the June 29 Times, referring to Cruise's character in the film being a lousy father. He wrote: "Once the aliens start vaporizing the neighborhood, Ray's reaction is less than exemplary, but he does manage to keep his family together and on the run, and thus buys a chance at the redemption you know is coming his way. Millions of deaths and incalculable property damage seem like pretty expensive family therapy, but it's heartening to know that even an alien invasion can provide an opportunity for learning and growth."

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It was a mixed blessing that Paul Krugman's soulmate Frank Rich, filing his July 3 op-ed column before the news of Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation broke, gave Spielberg his approval and declared Bush a lame-duck president. Rich might've kicked himself for the bad timing, since the upcoming Supreme Court appointment will, one hopes, bring about revived cries of Armageddon from the Times staff, and complaints that that duck is fully healthy. Rich apparently was more terrified by War of the Worlds than most citizens, saying, "That's why a film director engaging in utter fantasy can arouse more anxiety about a possible attack on America than our actual commander in chief hitting us with the supposed truth."

We'll have to wait until July 10 for Frank's take on the Supreme Court, but his colleagues at the paper acquitted themselves handsomely in beginning Bork Redux. Linda Greenhouse, in a July 2 "news" story, echoed her compatriots in lavishing praise on the "moderate" O'Connor, but couldn't resist calling her signing off with the majority in the Bush-Gore election ruling as "notorious." On the same day, a Times editorialist concluded: "If he is thinking clearly [a suggestion GWB is off the wagon?], the president will understand how much he owes this quiet jurist who consistently looked for the common good. Perhaps he will also realize that the best way to repay the debt is to choose a replacement from the same mold."

This is the mindset of the Eminent Domain exploiting New York Times Company. They are the champions, men and some women who can preach about the virtues of the estate tax—while employing lawyers to keep their own financial interests free from the IRS' claws—while insisting that a president "owes" a debt to a single Supreme Court justice.

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

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© 2005, Russ Smith