Jewish World Review Dec. 22, 2004/ 10 Teves 5765

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Where's the Happy News?


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Once upon a time, say 15 years ago, the brief period between Dec. 15 and Jan. 5, when no one's reading newspapers or magazines anyway, there was an unofficial moratorium on nastiness, at least in the public domain. No more: It's all bile, all the time, fair, unfair, balanced and not really fit to print.


The New York Observer's Nicholas von Hoffman, probably a jollier fellow than his columns would lead you to believe, represented this jaundiced state of mind in last week's issue. He wrote: "Here we are, back in the suicide season: It's Christmas time. Half of us are thinking not of our fellow man and woman, but of pills and pistols; the other half are out shopping, partying and trying to make the Christmas feast fit the picture they have of a fat, ho-ho-ho Santa in the living room…"


Rather presumptuous, and offensive, since the implication is that anyone who voted for Bush is hoping for a new shotgun on Dec. 25, while Democrats (at least those who backed Kerry) are anesthetizing themselves with booze, downers, therapy groups and wearing out credit cards. No one's happy all the time, but there are moments during the season that are uplifting, especially if you ignore scolds like von Hoffman.


I doubt, and hope it isn't the case, that von Hoffman will be found with slit wrists any time soon.


Not that he's alone in being a dark cloud. A Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter, David Chanen, was disciplined by his superiors for sending an email (written in haste, Chanen says) to the city's black police inspector using the phrase "colored officers." Police Chief Bill McManus, in the paper's Dec. 17 article was quoted as saying the email "displayed at a minimum a shocking insensitivity and racism."


Maybe I'm a bit obstinate, but how is "colored officers" all that much different than the widely used alternative "people of color"?


Some of you might remember an actor named Chevy Chase who was once notable for his lame Saturday Night Live send-ups of President Gerald Ford back in the 17th century. Chevy must feel that life is unfair, with his career somewhat less promising than that of Jerry Mathers', but still, he ought to rifle von Hoffman's medicine cabinet and pop a few pills. On Dec. 14, at D.C.'s Kennedy Center, Chase said President Bush is a "dumb fuck," who "started a jihad… This guy in office is an uneducated, real lying schmuck… and we still couldn't beat him with a bore like Kerry."

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Tina Brown, who writes a Washington Post column about New York most Thursdays, isn't quite in the holiday spirit either. Gassing on about Bernie Kerik on Dec. 16, Brown slammed the New York Post for going easy on the embroiled Kerik, calling the tabloid, "Rupert Murdoch's relentlessly Republican scandal sheet." I doubt many Post employees would take such criticism seriously, but Brown, who makes Jann Wenner look like an amateur when it comes to celebrity whoring, is hardly in a position to take potshots at Murdoch's political preferences. One only has to remember her pathetic piece in The New Yorker several years back, saying what a dreamboat Bill Clinton was, with them big old soulful eyes, leaving the weekly's pages quite sticky.


The New York Times, an unlikely source, ran a story on Dec. 20 that typified the sort of late-December filler of yesteryear. It was actually pretty funny: Reporter Lily Koppel wrote an entire article about a "bark mitzvah" that took place in the Bronx. She said: "The proud father, wearing a dog-patterned tie, was Mark Nadler, 43, a New York cabaret singer. He had sent out invitations to dozens of friends 'to share a special day in our lives when my dog, Admiral Rufus K. Boom, will celebrate his bark mitzvah in the tradition of our ancestors." No mention was made of whether or not Tina Brown was in attendance.


Anyway, I still get a big boot out of trimming the Christmas tree, a peaceful time with the family, establishing new rituals while remembering those from childhood. The boys indulge their dad by listening to long-ago stories. A favorite is hearing about Grandpa Smith packing their uncles and me into the station wagon out to a farm not far from Huntington and bargaining with a shivering proprietor over the price of a tree. And while they've claimed ornaments of their own to hang, Nicky and Booker insist that I hang the ancient ones — plastic stars and Santas from World War II, glitzy frosted glass bells bought on discount on each Dec. 26 in the early 60s — and still express amazement that bags of caramels, a sled and a new baseball glove were on my wish list instead of video games. Not that these time-wasters (in my old fogy opinion) existed back then, of course, but you get the idea.


Boston's sportswriters are pulling a collective von Hoffman themselves, moaning about Pedro Martinez's barbs about Red Sox management (and Curt Schilling) after he sensibly accepted a more lucrative contract from the Mets. These are the same guys who, just before the post-season last fall, complained that Pedro had lost his stuff and GM Theo Epstein would be smart to ditch the hilarious future Hall of Famer. It's a great deal for the Mets: When Pedro pitches, at least until he lands on the DL, Shea Stadium will be packed, and George Steinbrenner's bound to be pissed seeing the "diva" on the back pages of the Post and Daily News.


Pedro said some stupid things last week, such as receiving more respect in a few days with the Mets than in seven years with the Sox, but so what? He's a character and New York's a more exciting sports town with him eating mangoes in a hotel suite.


The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, a hack from way back (in contrast to the Herald's far more sensible Michael Gee) summed it up in a Dec. 14 column. He fumed: "[I]t can now be said that Pedro knows only one measure of respect. And that is money. All the love and sellouts and Dominican flags and 'Keep the Faith' billboards, and championship rings…they don't offer any kind of peace or happiness for Pedro."


As opposed to Randy Johnson, who'd probably work for free just to attain his heretofore-unexpressed lifelong desire to wear pinstripes.


I've got no beef with Pedro and never will. He was the best pitcher in baseball for a short period of time — does Shaughnessy now discount his performance against the Indians in '99? — and a larger-than-life player in an era of athletic robots.


One day back in 2000, the four of us were at Fenway Park, sitting just two rows behind the Sox's dugout. In the middle of the game, Pedro popped his head out and saw my seven-year-old son, dressed in a Sox uniform, started laughing and motioned for him to meet him at the rail, where he rubbed his head and gave him a piece of Bazooka bubblegum. Nicky will never forget that, nor will I, and that's the sort of Norman Rockwell scene that Pedro repeated probably hundreds of times for kids, on and off the field.


Besides, 2004 was finally the year that the Sox humiliated the Yanks and, with Epstein at the helm, might even grab another World Series next year. Fellow Sox fans that I either attended games with or emailed almost daily last season — Rick Gilberg, Chris Caldwell, Jonathan Cohn and Andy Jaye, just for starters — aren't complaining. So maybe Shaughnessy ought to move to a bigger stage than Boston, perhaps Milwaukee where he can castigate the Brewers.

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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.

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