Jewish World Review Nov. 26, 2001/ 16 Kislev, 5762

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- I'M NO conspiracy buff-aside from the belief that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't act alone in John F. Kennedy's assassination-but the sudden destruction of American Airlines Flight 587, minutes after take-off from JFK Intl. on Nov. 12, is pretty fishy. While the Federal Aviation Administration conducts its investigation, scratching out possible causes for the "accident" almost daily, it's hard to believe just two months after Sept. 11 that this wasn't the work of terrorists. This was a huge and sturdy plane, one that should've withstood a flock of pelicans or turbulence. Rockaway resident Rod McHale, who lives near the new "Ground Zero," was quoted in Steve Dunleavy's Nov. 14 New York Post column: "I keep on hearing people or authorities talk about an engine falling off the plane and an explosion. That's not what I heard and saw. There was an explosion, and then the engine fell off. I am not an expert, but I am convinced it's terrorism."

The FAA puzzles about how the tail of the airbus fell off, while I'm wondering why the government so quickly dismissed-within hours of the incident-the possibility of sabotage as "highly unlikely." It's understandable that news of another attack would've further panicked the nation, not to mention New Yorkers, but in the long run, confidence in airline security is probably more damaged by a mechanical failure than another premeditated act of mass murder. That's why the United States is at war: to eliminate the fanatics who are trying to destroy this country. One hopes and assumes that goal will be achieved, but the airline industry is a vital component of our transportation system and economy, and inexplicable crashes are frightening.

Maybe I missed it in the barrage of news coverage, but you'd think that every person who touched that American plane before it took off would be interrogated. There are so many airport employees who could've planted an explosive: the catering crew, baggage handlers, sanitation workers and mechanics, just to name a few.

By the way, although it's clear the airline and hotel industries are going to suffer a disastrous fourth quarter, I'd be surprised if retailers take a similar drubbing, the predictions of economists notwithstanding. With fewer people traveling during the holidays, they're apt to take some of their savings and spend, spend, spend at the local mall. Last Saturday, I took MUGGER III to the opening of the new Toys R Us at Times Square and was amazed at the crowds. We had to wait on line for 45 minutes just to enter the store, and then another 15 simply to make a purchase. With New York City feeling the recession more acutely than other parts of the country, it was gratifying to see shoppers-and not just in the Times Square district-loaded up with merchandise like it was the day after Thanksgiving.

INSTANT "CULTURE"

NORMALLY, I just skip Leon Wieseltier's ponderous essays in The New Republic, but since Sept. 11 he's been one of the country's most fierce and concise press critics. (By the way, my favorite media scold, James Bowman, eviscerates the Times' horrific Michiko Kakutani in November's New Criterion. Space doesn't permit a salute to his writing, but you can read Bowman's comments at www.jamesbowman.net.) Wieseltier had no peer in trashing The New Yorker's roster of delicate wordsmiths who immediately weighed in on the WTC massacre, belittling John Updike and Adam Gopnik with particular disgust.

In TNR's Nov. 26 issue, Wieseltier nailed the Times' Herbert Muschamp for attempting to find cultural significance in the WTC's destruction. He begins by quoting Muschamp: "'The bending, folding, curving shapes of the World Trade Center wreckage echo the neo-Baroque contortions of blob architecture as practiced by Greg Lynn, Ben van Berkel and others.' What luck! Or so I must believe from [Muschamp's] comforting declaration, in The New York Times on November 11, that what he beheld at ground zero falls smoothly in line with the latest thinking about 'the idea of the architectural fragment.' Will sense be conferred upon the smoking senselessness of Liberty Plaza by blobism? I am not familiar with the work of Greg Lynn, Ben van Berkel, and others, and so I do not know. The grieving families can hope."

He then makes the important point that the "ruins" of the WTC aren't at all like those of Rome, Luxor or Angkor Wat, which are traditional destinations for historians, poets, tourists and the like. The difference, Wieseltier points out, is that in the case of those ancient sites, "The agony of the ruination had been felt by others long ago. Nobody is nostalgic for their own extinction. So with ruins, too, distance is the father of beauty. These are not the exotic and mysterious ruins of the past; these are the unexotic and unmysterious ruins of us."

The TNR literary editor concludes by recounting his own visit to Ground Zero: "I watched the cranes scoop up soil from the pit, and then I grasped that it was not soil. There was no soil in this place. What they were moving was the substance that was formed out of the dissolution of everything and everybody that had been crushed and incinerated: a deathloam... I shivered and moved away. And when I left it was not culture that was restored immediately to my consciousness. It was politics; policy; American action."

A 19TH-CENTURY PUNDIT POUTS

CHEER UP, George Will. I don't blame you for being in a dither these days: with baseball in its contraction crisis, Cal Ripken Jr. newly retired, your media colleagues bollixing up coverage of the war and Geraldo Rivera turning into one of the good guys, it's all too much. I'm mad about Bud Selig's plans as well: rather than eliminating two teams (especially the Twins), it makes more sense to move the franchises to more appreciative locales. For example, why not the San Juan Expos? Guaranteed sellouts.

I happen to think Mexico City is an ideal location for a Major League Baseball team, but if that's too much a stretch while we're waiting for Havana to turn democratic, why not bring a club to Brooklyn? A stadium would have to be privately financed, but there're any number of New Yorkers who crave the ego-gratification of returning the American pastime to the borough. And nuts to the idea of giving Washington, DC, a third chance to prove that residents would give a hoot about one more version of the Senators.

Still, your Nov. 16 Washington Post column was terribly Grinch-like. You cheer the Harry Potter phenomenon for its positive effect on kids' reading habits, including this terrific thought: "At one point, J.K. Rowling's first three Harry Potter novels occupied the top three spots on the New York Times hardback fiction bestseller list. This caused such heartburn among the literati that a bestseller list of children's books was created so that Rowling's books could be banished to it, making the old list safe for adult fare such as Danielle Steel novels."

But then you moan about the competition between Microsoft and Nintendo, which last week introduced their new video-game systems, Xbox and GameCube, respectively. Preteen and adolescent reading routines are up in flames, you fret. I don't believe this: a motivated kid can read, worship at the Nintendo or PlayStation shrine, watch any of 101 TV stations, play sports and still get straight A's at school. You might've had the same concern about youngsters being waylaid by computers, but in reality one of the benefits of these modern times is that people are learning how to type at an earlier age. Why do you think so many men and women above the age of, say, 55, are loath to join the e-mail revolution? It's because they can't type. So George, to paraphrase that awful 70s band Pink Floyd, leave the kids alone.

PASS THE ASPIRIN

HERE'S A doozy from the Times: "New York Post Picks Briton for a Top Job in Newsroom." I do love the quaint description of Colin Myler as a "Briton," but Times scrub Jayson Blair ought to be horse-whipped for following company line in his description of Post editor Col Allan. He writes: "[Allan] has occasionally been lampooned for being out of touch with New Yorkers, and Americans for that matter, but Post officials point out that circulation has continued to rise steadily under his leadership."

You tell me: Which paper is "out of touch"? On Nov. 19 the Times ran an editorial-"The Specter of Nuclear Terror"-that focused on Russia, "where poorly protected nuclear bombs and materials remain vulnerable to theft." The writer cites Osama bin Laden as a possible obtainee of Russia's nukes, a scenario that grows less likely daily, but doesn't even mention the more probable terrorist, Saddam Hussein. The piece ends with a slap at President Bush for not doing enough to "upgrade security at Russian nuclear facilities."

On the same day, another editorial reprises the Times' tiresome crusade for campaign finance reform. Once again the paper is condescending to the Congressional Black Caucus, "who think soft money helps their interests, when the opposite is the case." The real whopper is the claim that "most Americans want" such "reform." As consistently demonstrated by polling, voters never put the issue very high on their list of concerns; after Sept. 11, it fell off the radar.

In the Times' predictable Nov. 16 editorial about Bush's military tribunals-"A Travesty of Justice"-there's a pair of sentences that no satirist could make up. "The law already limits the reach of the Bill of Rights overseas. American troops need not show a warrant before entering a cave in Afghanistan for their findings to be admissible at trial in the United States." When a U.S. or British soldier enters an Afghan cave, I thought the objective was to kill the enemy. But, as Charles Krauthammer wrote recently in Time, ridiculing the daily's rampant anti-Americanism: "Such are the Upper West Side's concessions to war."


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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© 2001, Russ Smith