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Jewish World Review March 15, 2001/ 20 Adar, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

'The little intimidator' of the breakfast table -- OUR superstars are getting younger. Matt Martin is not yet 10 and he has already been on the front page of the New York Times, which described him as "the most bankable non-Hollywood 9-year old in the country.''

This summer you'll find him peering at you from the breakfast table. Matt and his dad will appear on 10 million Cap'n Crunch and Life cereal boxes. You'll have to go to the sports pages for the details.

Matt Martin races midget cars at 40 mph on competitive tracks, and has since he was 7. So intrepid is this tough little tyke that he's already nicknamed "The Little Intimidator.'' (Dale Earnhardt was the original Intimidator.) Unlike his father, a NASCAR star known for his patience and cunning, Matt has a "quick jugular instinct'' to threaten an opponent because he has one goal and that's to win every time.

This is not the Little Engine That Could. This is the Little Engine That Cuts Off Other Little Engines. Matt is a boy hero for our time. Ruthless ambition is in. It's less important where you apply your ambition than that you have it to apply to whatever you choose to do. It's the energy, the guts of the fiercest gladiator, that's admired. Sponsors are betting that Matt's got the right stuff to sell cereal to his generation of kids.

His two quarter-midget cars are sponsored by Quaker Oats -- hence Cap'n Crunch and Life. The other kids at his level of competition have only local advertising, the likes of Jake's Body Shop and Spike's Bar and Grill. Matt's mom says she doesn't want him to race, but what's a mom to do?

Matt's father compares his son to Dale Earnhardt, the NASCAR driver who was killed in the Daytona 500. We learn that midget car racing may soon be to professional racing what the Little League is to baseball, spawning homegrown players who can make it to the majors. An estimated 4,000 children between 5 and 13 already drive the midget fiberglass racers.

Maybe race car driving will become our national sport. Baseball, with its cerebral elegance and slow tempo, is neither noisy nor bloody enough for modern spectators. Racing cars, vulgar by comparison, is not exactly a sport but it keeps crowds on edge, gleefully anticipating violent death, the grinding crash of metal against metal against concrete, the chilling wail of the ambulance on the track.

Since race-car driving is the comer sport, spoilsports are already trying to ruin it by cutting back on the blood and guts. Dale Earnhardt's widow is fighting the Orlando Sentinel, trying to block the release of her husband's autopsy photographs, as prescribed by Florida law. Lots of important people agree with her.

Sentinel editors, saying they have no intention of publishing the photographs, want independent forensic analysts to examine the photographs of Earnhardt's head injuries to resolve certain questions in the official medical report and to determine whether safety requirements for racing cars should be amended.

Why, for example, did NASCAR wait five days to concede that Earnhardt's seat belt snapped in the crash? Why did his head strike the steering wheel? News organizations supporting the Sentinel include the Associated Press, the Miami Herald, the Tampa Tribune, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists.

Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, nevertheless supports new legislation that would exempt autopsy pictures from the mandated disclosure of public records. He has received thousands of e-mails and telephone calls supporting his position. Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, the House majority leader, wrote a letter to the Sentinel accusing the editors of going "outside the bounds of common decency.''

There's a lesson already learned from the grisly nature of the Earnhardt death. As long as we romanticize as heroes men who risk their lives in a daredevil "sport,'' we ought to understand the darker side of the romance. When a car hits a wall at 180 miles an hour, as Dale Earnhardt's did, the internal body organs continue to move at 180 miles an hour. No body can withstand such trauma. (This might give Quaker Oats pause, to consider what might happen when a crash at 40 mph makes Cap'n Crunch of little Matt Martin.)

We hear a lot about the awful cultural messages of shock-and-schlock TV, anesthetizing the senses and blocking young men and women from making intelligent judgments about living a full and meaningful life. There are many ways to anesthetize the common senses as well. Making "The Little Intimidator'' of a 9-year-old strikes me as one of them.


03/13/01: "We are asking the Creator for clemency"
03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate