Jewish World Review June 5, 2002/ 24 Sivan 5762


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Consumer Reports

All Arabs to one side | The New York Times printed a typically messy editorial on Memorial Day, the language of which only a brainwashed Harvard student might understand.

An excerpt: "We go to the cemeteries not only to remember the dead, but also to consecrate life, to refresh our sense of obligation in the presence of men and women whom duty led into the hardest places. On this particular Memorial Day, it is also worth wondering what we have asked of ourselves since Sept. 11. Have we asked only that we be allowed to heal, to get on with our lives, to return to normalcy? Or is there something more we might demand of ourselves and each other? The passing of time makes it all too easy to let Memorial Day come and go as just another holiday, the symbol of a forgotten transaction involving the sacrifice of one life for the freedom of many others. The question worth asking now is what sacrifices we can make to guarantee that freedom."

One could justifiably trash the Times editorialist for his or her presumptuous notion that "we" go to cemeteries on the annual May holiday, when it's long been the custom for the vast majority of Americans-including Times employees-to take advantage of this manufactured three-day holiday, and kick off the summer season with barbecues and trips to the beach.

But more germane is the paper's question of what "sacrifices" citizens are willing to endure in this most dangerous period of global unrest since World War II. What about this simple idea, foreign to the Times Big Thinkers: an immediate start of toes-to-turban inspections of young Arab men at airports, tunnels, bridges and train stations, instead of wasting time frisking people who don't fit that profile. Unfortunately, the word "profile" (unless it's a black celebrity who can't find a cab) isn't in the Times stylebook.

The boys and I spent the morning of Memorial Day at Washington Market Park in Tribeca, throwing grounders and pop flies, taking batting practice and working on relay plays. Going home, we saw that Greenwich St. was closed for five blocks, which was curious since we hadn't heard the crash of a car accident or ambulance sirens. After chatting with a few reticent cops, I learned that an unattended suitcase was spotted at the corner of Reade and Greenwich, and the police wisely treated the potential bundle of explosives with the gravity one hopes for.


Alexander Cockburn must raise the blood pressure of Nation editors Katrina vanden Heuvel and Victor Navasky nearly every time he turns in his column, "Beat the Devil." I actually have a smidgen of sympathy for the duo: reading Cockburn's virulent pro-Palestinian ravings in New York Press doesn't do wonders for my disposition. (No doubt the Californian will just shrug at the news Yasir Arafat has invited Hamas to join his government.) Then again, the roster of writers at this paper, unlike the politically monolithic Nation, holds such an array of opinions that Alex's-let's be honest-anti-Semitism is drowned out by other voices.

But it's not his offensive Middle East views that undoubtedly raise hackles at the socialist weekly; after all, like most of the mainstream press, The Nation also considers Ariel Sharon a "war criminal" and takes as gospel Palestinian propaganda about "massacres" carried out by Israel's military.

No, it's domestic politics where Cockburn parts company from The Nation's party line. I find it entertaining when he slaps around Katha Pollitt, John Nichols, David Corn and any writer who deceives himself, and readers, by proclaiming that Bill Clinton's presidency wasn't the most corrupt and narcissistic of the 20th century. As an added attraction there's the public feud Cockburn engages in with Beltway toady Christopher Hitchens.

I especially enjoyed Cockburn's latest piece, "The Future Wellstone Deserves," in the June 17 issue, a splendid slam of "progressive" god Paul Wellstone, the Minnesota senator who faces a perilous reelection bid this November. In this heretical column, in which Cockburn argues Wellstone's been a Senate dud, he applauds Ed McGaa, the Green Party candidate who might well pull a Nader and send Wellstone back to teaching, where he'd arguably do less harm than he would by remaining in Washington.

After a gooey schmooze of McGaa, Cockburn writes: "McGaa's own amiable stance contrasts markedly with liberal Democratic hysteria. Wellstone is now being pitched as the last bulwark against fascism, whose defeat would lead swiftly to back-alley abortions [a typically Anglo swipe from Teddy Kennedy's jihad against Robert Bork], with the entire government in the permanent grip of the Bush Republicans... The suggestion that progressive politics will now stand or fall in sync with Wellstone's future is offensive. Suppose he were to lose of his own accord, without a Green Party third candidate? Would it then be appropriate to sound the death knell of progressive politics in America? Of course not... The Greens have every right to hold Wellstone accountable, and if they have the capacity to send him into retirement, then it will be a verdict on Wellstone's failures rather than some supposed Green irresponsibility."

It cheers the soul to think of The Nation's house hypocrite, Eric Alterman, once he finished attacking Andrew Sullivan on his new blog (an argument that this relatively new phenomenon is getting out of hand) and listening to Bruce Springsteen's "American Skin (41 Shots)" for the 500th time, gasping at the words of his colleague. Alterman, remember, is still incensed that Ralph Nader ran for president in 2000, long after similar playground-populists have graduated to other issues, noxious as they might be.

I receive Wellstone mailings every three months or so, soliciting cash to man the barricades against "Right Wing" meanies. I skip past the rhetoric to read my favorite part of the nauseating pitch. At the bottom of the last page, potential pigeons are rewarded with this gem: "Printed on recycled paper with soy ink." Don't know why, but I get a bigger hoot out of those seven words than Alterman must by rereading his own tawdry prose.

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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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© 2002, Russ Smith