Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2001/ 25 Tishrei, 5762


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Consumer Reports

Capitalism gone amok -- THE New York Post, on Oct. 3, came up with its best front-page headline of the new century. It read "ASH-HOLES," and the accompanying story began: "Heartless, greedy ghouls are peddling phony soil and ash from the World Trade Center to families mourning loved ones still buried in the rubble, Mayor Giuliani warned yesterday."

Although not as blatant as the grifters in NYC taking advantage of human misery, I don't think it's hypersensitive to point out a fairly offensive two-page advertisement by Ralph Lauren in the Oct. 8 issue of Time. A canny businessman, Lauren's made a fortune trading on a faux-WASP illusion in his line of clothing: although his ruse is betrayed by the irritating Polo symbol that adorns the chain's shirts-no Princeton alum of a certain age would be caught dead wearing an oxford shirt sullied by an advertisement-the bald exploitation of F. Scott Fitzgerald Americana is pretty disgusting marketing.

But the above-mentioned ad raises the bar on Lauren's knack for making lemonade out of lemons. On the left-hand page, there's a picture of a smiling Lauren, wearing a jean jacket and his signature American flag sweater. The opposite page, with no image, has a message from the rag merchant, which reads: "I have always been inspired by America and its heroes-the cowboy, the soldier and now the firefighters, police officers and rescue workers. There is one common thread in every hero. They are ordinary Americans, they come from nowhere, make their mark, get knocked down and rise up again. America has been stunned. We have been knocked down. America is going to stand together and be stronger than ever."

He goes on to say that Polo Ralph Lauren has established an "American Heroes Fund," which has already received commitments totaling $4 million from his corporation, employees and friends. Here's the kicker: "We invite our customers to share in this effort. During the month of October, 10% of your purchases from our Ralph Lauren stores and will be donated to support the fund."

Despite the blather you read in the press, cynicism and irony have not been suspended as of Sept. 11. So, I ask: Why does Lauren have to even mention that a portion of his sales will be earmarked for the "American Heroes Fund"? The WASP that Lauren uses to symbolize his brand would spearhead a charity effort like this in silence. The whole idea is as smelly as Lauren's smarmy grin in the advertisement. The economy's in freefall right now, and Lauren is smart to entice customers to his stores, but why not just announce a 10 percent sale on all merchandise, without the self-aggrandizing come-on of contributing to a charity? It's unseemly, but then Lauren's entire career has never attained the "class" he so grossly tries to convey.

Lauren's pitch, however, is mild compared to some of the junk e-mail I've received recently. An "independent marketing company," on behalf of an unnamed 25-year-old firm boasting "[W]e are truly Energy Market Specialists. We KNOW the Energy Markets," sent the following missive: "We all USE ENERGY... Everyone NEEDS IT! Did you know YOU can make BIG PROFITS from Energy? With winter coming and trouble brewing in the Middle East too...ENERGY PRICES ARE SURE TO RISE SOON!" Delete.

Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner is in the same league as Lauren, although he's even more crass about his thirst for celebrity and power. The Oct. 25 issue of his flagship magazine is better than usual, although the numerous accounts from musicians like Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono and Alanis Morissette are pretty stale by now. The cover is stark, with the date 9.11.01 atop an American flag. However, its elegance is cheapened when you turn to page 15 and read: "Cover: Jann S. Wenner's flag pin...photographed by Davies + Starr."

But who needs to read General Lou Reed's analysis that "We're paying a price for what some of our political leaders have done in the name of oil. This is not just out of the blue. It's not just for nothing."

Wenner's "Letter from the Editor" is more simplistic, and even quotes the now-infamous New Yorker essay of anti-American Susan Sontag. The ultimate baby boomer, known for his bonding first with rock stars, then movie celebrities and finally like-minded me-me-me politicians such as Bill Clinton, Wenner echoes the initial comments of Bill Maher about the terrorists. Luckily for Wenner, he owns Rolling Stone.

He writes, with a stunning lack of complexity: "It make us feel better to refer to these people as 'madmen' and 'cowards,' but as horrific as their actions are, this is what they most assuredly are not. They are not cave-dwelling animals. These are people who sacrifice their lives for what they think is righteous (which is generally how we might define courage). They are on a long-term mission and have grievances that we ignore at our own risk."

I can hardly wait for the Kabul edition of Rolling Stone.

Finally: Ferrer for Dog-Catcher. In Sunday's New York Times magazine, James Traub, in a piece called "The Candidate," has a stomach-turning passage in his first paragraph. "And so when I went to speak to the remaining Democratic contenders for mayor the week before last, I learned that Fernando Ferrer had lost many friends. On the other hand, Mark Green, the city's public advocate and currently the slight favorite to succeed Rudolph W. Giuliani as New York's next mayor, said that no one close to him perished. I couldn't help feeling bad for Green, for in recent weeks proximity to grief has become a strange sort of currency. Green must have felt this as well, for he quickly added that he had been attending a steady stream of funerals."

Traub felt "bad" for Green because the perennial candidate lost "no one close to him" in the WTC/Pentagon attacks? I shudder at the thought of Green occupying City Hall-although Ferrer would be a nightmare-but reducing the thousands of victims to mere political pawns, as Traub does, is sick, even by New York Times standards. I'm happy for Green that no one dear to him died on Sept. 11; and I'm sure he'd agree.

The mayoral election, now that Giuliani won't be an emergency candidate after all, is truly depressing. So much so that I can only hope that Michael Bloomberg, the liberal-Democrat-turned Republican, will defeat either Green or Ferrer. I haven't much confidence in Bloomberg-his campaign was an expensive joke-but at least he has a business background and won't kowtow to Al Sharpton, the teachers' union and all the other special-interest groups that'll have their hands out for city dollars when rebuilding the financial district is priority number one.

On that subject, I'm firmly on the side of those who want to resurrect the Trade Center. Not a replication of the Twin Towers, of course, but maybe a cluster of buildings that'll both restore the skyline and prove to the world that madmen terrorists can't prevail in New York City. Near the new complex, I also favor a park, perhaps with a monument similar to the Vietnam Memorial in DC, which lists the name of every single victim of Sept. 11.

A Suggested Sedative: The American Prospect is a very boring magazine: proudly liberal, it doesn't deviate one iota from its Big Government agenda; unions are good, tax cuts are bad... You get the idea. Unlike The Nation, which can provoke an inadvertent chuckle or two, or The New Republic, a mostly Democratic organ that in the last six months has become far more engaging, TAP is as predictable as an Arthur Schlesinger Jr. op-piece in the Times.

Founder/co-editor Robert Kuttner, in the Oct. 22 issue, demonstrates the publication's unwavering sense of superiority in his "Comment" column on page 2. He writes: "As a national spasm of righteous rage, war is a bad time for liberal intellectuals. In war, domestic reform gets sidetracked; dissent gets confused with treason. Liberals themselves tend to divide into realists and idealists. The intellectual who agonizes over war's moral complexities risks getting punched out in a bar."

Give me strength.

First, I doubt that "intellectuals" like the Bostonian Kuttner go to many bars where they'd be "punched out." Second, it's typical of self-absorbed left-wingers to believe they've got a monopoly on intellectual discourse. For example, what does Kuttner think is going on in the current debate between hawks like Bill Kristol-who fears Colin Powell won't pursue Saddam Hussein for the second time in a decade-and equally brainy Republicans who believe Kristol's extreme rhetoric is counterproductive? Newt Gingrich was a crummy speaker of the House-his personal hypocrisy was bad enough, and caving in to Bill Clinton was downright "wobbly," to use the media's favorite term of the season-but he's an intellectual of the first order.

Kuttner rambles on: "This war, I fear, will be the most frustrating in our history. For all of the popular outrage and national unity, even our best-informed leaders literally don't know what to do." Says who? Obviously, the current international crisis is a jumble of certainties, contradictions and double-dealing, but does Kuttner actually believe the administration has no plan of action? And that they'd broadcast a military strategy to the public and "intellectuals" like him?

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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© 2001, Russ Smith