Jewish World Review July 20, 2005/ 13 Taamuz 5765


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A Little Free Something: Ignoring the News | It took awhile, but once the disingenuous lifetime achievement awards for retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor had been exhausted by liberal politicians and their drinking and email buddies in the media, the pack was forced to move on to the canonization of Times reporter/jailbird Judith Miller and the disembowelment of Karl Rove.

This excruciating torture was enough to lead me—desperation is no excuse—to the Thursday "Fashion & Styles" section of the Times on July 14, nothing to be proud of. But you can, of course, understand the impulse. Never mind the Times editorial of July 7 that compared their employee to Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the revolutionaries of the Boston Tea Party for the act of civil disobedience; that entire op-ed section has been ghost-written by MoveOn ghouls for years now, becoming more hysterical, if you can imagine, than even in the days that Howell Raines soiled his silk boxers over women being excluded from golf tournaments.

Syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, still younger than Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Anthony Lewis, but writing nonetheless with the concision of another latter-day hero, Mark Felt, was especially noxious on the subject of "I'm-no-Matt-Cooper" Miller. Reeves, whose resume does include some enterprising if ancient New York articles and a very good book on John F. Kennedy, is worried, from the "quirky" town of Sag Harbor out in the Hamptons (although he describes it as "the far tip of Long Island"), that his neighbor there—they live a few blocks from each other—is a victim of "our emerging police state." Reeves, like many of his affluent colleagues, criticized Miller for going "way too far in her reportage on the search for weapons of mass destruction, cheerleading for big-titled fools in Washington determined to find or fabricate reasons to attack Iraq."

Now, she's made a rapid transformation from pariah to First Amendment icon.

Alex Cockburn, the sole Nation columnist who has a sense of humor, and the good taste to trash Eric Alterman, also on The Nation's payroll and one who also "summers" on Long Island despite being a champion of "ordinary" working class Americans, was about the only left-wing writer to insulate himself from the fad of Miller worship. In the weekly's Aug. 1 issue, Cockburn wrote, warning that lefties should be "leery of words like 'traitor and 'national security'" since they'll come back and bite them in the rear, that "Judy Miller too has had an image makeover, from the warmongering fabricator of yesterday to today's martyr to the First Amendment, with years of profitable speaking tours beckoning after she is released from the incarceration that has winched her reputation out of the mud."

Will anybody be surprised when Howard Dean starts quoting Miller on the Constitution in his numerous fundraising letters on behalf of the Democratic Party, an organization in which all of its members make an honest living? Maybe he'll have a joint press conference, a la Chuck Schumer and Joseph Wilson, with former Clinton flunky Paul Begala, who recently told a group of students assembled in Washington that Republicans "want to kill us," alluding to Bush's "bulls**t national defense." Saying that the administration has done a "pi**-poor job" of defending the country, Begala continued: "They want to kill me and my children if they can. But if they just kill me and not my children, they want my children to be comforted— that while they didn't protect me because they cut my taxes, my children won't have to pay any money on the money they inherit."

Even if Bush, and obviously Rove and Cheney, were so evil to "kill" political opponents, surely Begala would be spared if only because he's such a fitting example of why the Democrats are so dangerously out of touch.

In any case, my wanton violation of principle when choosing reading matter—Paul Krugman is one thing, if only for the amusement he provides in spinning a low five percent unemployment rate into a negative—reached a nadir upon scanning that July 14 "Fashion & Styles" Times advertorial, as if I'm at all interested in ludicrous clothing and anti-wrinkle cream. But as born-again political activist Bruce Springsteen said almost 30 years ago, "Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man," I'll fess up and say that Katie Hafner's story "Wrestling With the Gift of Grab" didn't at all sour my preternaturally optimistic disposition.

Hafner was examining the phenomenon of "petty thievery" among the affluent—lifting bars of soap and slippers from hotels, for example—who'd never consider rewarding themselves with a five-finger discount from Barneys or Whole Foods. I'm not a shoplifter either—aside from some pre-adolescent filching of baseball cards from a nasty five & dime owner in a rundown part of Huntington in the 1960s—but have also fallen from the moral standards epitomized by, say, Joe Biden, and on occasion pocketed a souvenir from a restaurant or hotel.

Ashtrays—do you remember them?—were once a favorite, and my best score came in Mexico City as a college student after an exhilarating bullfight. A buddy and I, looped on Superior beers, wandered into an open-air café, spoke broken Spanish with a waiter and I absconded with a brown, ceramic ashtray, probably worth a dime at the time, and kept it in my possession until the late 90s when a cavalier ex-employee at New York Press accidentally but unrepentantly knocked it from my desk with the sleeve of his overcoat.

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Unlike some of the subjects interviewed in Hafner's article, this isn't my picayune way of rebelling against the high tariffs at restaurants and hotels, but rather a non-malicious quirk. I don't lift towels, forks, bathrobes, bibles or pillows, and cheat very little on the mini-bar upon checkout, but I always take the key to the room, even the plastic ones.

Perhaps this "petty thievery" is genetic, although I hope not. A long time ago, when we didn't live in "Karl Rove's America," as Krugman put it on July 15, but Robert Byrd's, my mother would routinely embarrass my four brothers and me when the seven of us had dinner at a Howard Johnson's on Jericho Turnpike in the middle, not the "far end" of Long Island. She'd come equipped with a plastic bag in her ratty handbag and surreptitiously load it with dinner rolls, wrapped pats of butter and moist "towelettes," as well as unfinished chicken on an "all you can eat night." This was before "doggy bags" and, for that matter, flip-tops on soda and beer cans, became part of the culture.

In retrospect, perhaps I was too harsh on my late mother; after all, we weren't huge bread eaters at restaurants—"Don't fill up on the freebies!" she'd say—and they came in handy the next day, if a bit stale, for meat loaf and Velveeta sandwiches.

One more word about the Supreme Court before O'Connor disappears from view. On July 1, there was a very weird post on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo Café website that, in a Begala-like way, helped explain why "progressives" are in such a predicament these days. The person, concerned about Sandy's replacement, wrote: "What's even worse is that they've been packing the lower courts with nutjobs for long enough that now there are few safe places to argue for the liberal side… This is already affecting my reproductive choices, because I wouldn't want to raise children in this country as envisioned by the GOP."

That's patriotism, by golly.

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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