MUGGER Goes to Memphis, Eats BBQ, Still Thinks John McCain's a Loon

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:18

    Coping with the Alternative Press It was about4 a.m. last Friday when a pot of coffee and three liters of Evian arrivedat my suite in Memphis' Peabody Hotel, and the room service fellowasked where I was from. When I said New York City, he replied: "Ahh,you must be here for the convention." I nodded yes. "You with the VillageVoice?" I told him no, that paper was a scurrilous competitor and gave hima copy of my weekly. "Well, truth be told, I always did like NYPressbetter than that damned Village Voice." We both chuckled, he disappearedlike a merry elf, I listened to Janet Reno (apparently not mummified,after all) on CNN and logged onto the Drudge Report. These Southernersare friendly and eager to josh around, but man, they move at a lethargic pace.When I landed at the airport on Thursday morning, after an uneventful Northwestflight (what a relief, finally, not to fly Continental out of Newark),I waited on a taxi line for 45 minutes. And then I had to double up with a gooberwho had a closer destination: I never did like sharing cabs-a real downsidein DC when I worked there in the early 80s. But soon enough we got tothe Peabody, a classic, grand hotel. There's the feted "duck walk" twice a day,where locals and tourists flock into the lobby to watch ducks troop into andout of the elevator and wobble on a red carpet laid out for them. Accordingto the Peabody Memphis Fact Book, this is how the tradition originated:"It all started back in the 1930's when Frank Schutt, General Manager of thePeabody Memphis, and a good friend, Chip Barwick, Sr., both avid outdoorsmen,returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. It seems that they had nippeda bit of Tennessee sippin' whiskey, and thought, with schoolboy prankishness,that it would be humorous to place some of their live duck decoys (it was legalfor hunters to use live decoys) in the beautiful but barren Peabody fountain.Three small English call ducks were selected as 'guinea pigs' and the reactionwas nothing short of enthusiastic. Thus began a Peabody tradition which wasto become famous in international hoteldom for years to come." Cute, but hardlythe changing of the guards.

    Fortunately,Andrey Slivka was also here, as well as NYPress controller PaulAbrams, so I was free to skip all the seminars, explore the small city andeat barbecue. New Times' CEO Jim Larkin and I tried out the InterstateBar-B-Q, about five miles outside town, and it was an inch less touristythan the joints in the heart of Memphis. It was a fine lunch: chopped pork shouldersandwiches, a slab of ribs and chicken wings with a bracing hot sauce did thetwo of us fine, as we gossiped and talked business. I'm not one for the middaymeal as a rule, so I was bushed by the time we got back to the Peabody (thecabby waited for us; there are so few of them in town that you don't let oneget away), picked up a batch of the AAN papers, checked my e-mail, calledthe office and read for a while.

    It was curiousto see that Charleston, SC, now has a weekly called City Paper,with the discarded logo of a similarly named paper in Philadelphia. TheCharleston City Paper, which drew negative reviews from AAN's uptightadmissions committee, has a cool column called "The Wandering Eye," whichis loaded down with pinko politics (this "hate crimes" controversy is just sobogus; a crime is a crime) but has an edge to the writing that isn't seen oftenin AAN ad-sheets.

    But there'sa story here: back in '81 or '82, the Philly City Paper started up, stealingthe name Al From Baltimore came up with in '77 when we huddledin his five-story walk-up, trying to figure out a jazzier title than CitySqueeze. They were within a geographical distance close enough to Baltimorethat we could've sued for copyright infringement; unfortunately, Al and I wereneck-deep in IRS debt and didn't have two nickels to rub together formeaningful litigation, so we let the egregious theft go. The other day, a friendof mine told me that Bruce Schimmel, former owner of Philly'sCity Paper, said in fact it was MUGGER and AFB who lifted the name! That'sbald-faced revisionism, and dishonesty that doesn't sit well with me, but there'snothing you can do except get pissed for about a minute, realize the guy's anasshole and, as President C. would say, move on.

    I missedMrs. M and the kids: Fortunately, I don't have to travel often without them.Whenever I do, however, the boys give me a talisman of theirs for good luck.This time, instead of the plastic rat MUGGER III usually stows in my garmentbag, I got a toy lobster; Junior let me have his vintage '65 Carl Yastrzemskibaseball card. And of course I kept pictures of the boys and their mother onmy desk as I worked. Junior, I found out on the phone, was still on a pink cloudover his nabbing a foul ball at Yankee Stadium. I was on a darkcloud right then, as I watched CNN endlessly replay Roger Clemens mowingdown the Bosox on Thursday night, extending his winning streak to 19.That stat is a little chintzy, I think, since it doesn't include no decisions,and with the Rocket there's a bunch of them, but I'll leave the world of sportsminutiae to The Wall Street Journal's Allen Barra, whowrites much better for that paper than back in his days at the Voice.No contest. In fact, I'll bet he's erased his tenure at the beatnik weekly fromhis resume.

    The BostonGlobe's Dan Shaughnessy, on May 28, had an astute insight aboutthe Yanks-Bosox rivalry. He was as dismayed as I was looking at Clemensin pinstripes, and even though the Sox are in first place at this writing, bothShaughnessy and I know our team will be lucky to grab a wildcard slot come thisOctober. He wrote: "The Yankee crowd was fairly tame about the whole matter.As always, most of the emotion was being felt by folks back home in Boston.At times, the New York-Boston rivalry is a little like the Humphrey Bogart exchangein 'Casablanca.' Peter Lorre (representing Boston) says, 'You detest me, don'tyou, Rick?' and Bogart (New York) responds, 'If I gave you any thought, I probablywould.'"

    Since KathaPollitt resigned her editorship duties at The Nation in protest ofthe weekly's inclusion of a Ron Unz article, she's had more time on herhands. So she turns to The New Republic to soil their already filthy(Marty Peretz's sponsorship of Al Gore being the primarysin) pages. In a book review of Monica Lewinsky's and GeorgeStephanopoulos' recent accounts of their proximity to President Clinton,Pollitt (whom I've never met, but I doubt there's a Miss Americacrown in her past) offers this slur on Kenneth Starr: "This explainswhy people's looks were so important. Monica Lewinsky, and Bill Clinton, too,were constantly ridiculed as fat; Hillary Clinton took to working out constantly;Paula Jones had a nose job and Linda Tripp a total makeover. One can only wonderwhat would have happened had Kenneth Starr looked more like George Clooney andless like the sort of man who spends his lunch hour in an adult book store."

    Starr mightnot have washboard abs, but this adult book store crap, because he compileda report on the President's abhorrent behavior, is a poison dart that belongsstrictly in Michael Moore's oeuvre. How dare Pollitt take sucha cheap shot. Only a deeply unhappy and disturbed person could pen such an unsubstantiatedopinion.

    There wasa swell opening-night convention party on Mud Island at the RiverTerrace Yacht Club on Thursday where I lingered for about two hours, stretchingmy tolerance for these usually dull affairs. At one point, while I was talkingto Randy Campbell, an owner of the Santa Barbara Independent (aweekly that Voice owner Leonard Stern last year announced he'dpurchased and then backed out of the deal; Campbell just frowned when I pressed for details) and a nice fellow, he made the outrageous statement that SantaBarbara beats any Italian seaside town by a mile, food included! Talk about misguided boosterism.

    Slivka wasgazing at the Mississippi River and exercising his academic, Ukrainianmind. "What a trip," he said. "Look at the view. This is the wellspring of Americanculture we're talking about." I chalked it up to his recent Southern sojournthat he wrote about so impressively in NYPress a few months back. I'veseen the Mississippi on many occasions, even took steamer rides in New Orleans;all literary notions aside, it's still a dirty mess. I was lost by his romanticism.

    I was ina chatty mood, and so while Andrey was collecting a surprising number of complimentson his story about San Francisco Bay Guardian blowhard BruceBrugmann (who missed this convention: The first rumor was that he was inEurope getting his blood changed; but it turned out he was on a junketin China, working for what side I don't have a clue) and the generallypiss-poor AAN newspapers, I tentatively made the rounds. I congratulated NickRiggio on his new high-ranking position at New Times Inc.'s Cleveland Scene,escaping the strange world of Anthony Clifton's Pennsylvaniaholdings, which include Philadelphia Weekly (in for a bumpy ride, I canguarantee you) and In Pittsburgh.

    It's alwayspleasant to see Richard Meeker and Mark Zusman, co-owners of Portland'sWillamette Week, a fine paper, if a bit on the dry side (also true ofthe Northwest's Washington Monthly, though it's profitable). Tim Keck,the Seattle Stranger's publisher, was by their side, and thoughwe've heaped praise on his nutty paper for years (he competes with Stern'sSeattle Weekly), here's a little advice for the prankster Tim: Redesignthe paper, dude, it's getting a little like a junky Raygun (althoughnothing compared to the unreadable New City of Chicago) and don'tlet the left-wing editorial people you've hired get too cocky. Tim was one ofthe founders of The Onion, the satirical newspaper the mainstream mediahas finally discovered (and that does mean you, Rick Hertzberg), so hegets a pass from a lot of people for that credit alone.

    I've knownthe incoming president of AAN, Patty Calhoun, for 20 years now and shestill cracks me up with her wry and cutting observations about the other conventioneers.Patty's the editor of Denver's Westword, the virtual queen ofthat flea-bitten city, and still holds a minor grudge against me for votingagainst her paper's AAN admission at the Boston convention in '79. Neverfails to bring it up. Anyway, she suggested a restaurant where they had "yummylamb cutlets," and when I joked that that was a kind of girly dish to orderin a ribs town, she just glared and I thought those cowboy boots of hers weregoing to meet one of my knees. John Mecklin, editor of S.F. Weekly,had a few rants about his competitor Brugmann to share and impressed Slivkawith his tough-guy advice for lousy writers. I saw Miami New Times'editor Jim Mullin for about a minute and then he vaporized; I'm surehe was still in some dive on Beale St. when I arose the next morning.

    After theparty four of us had dinner at The Rendezvous, in an alley by the Peabody,and though it's a tourist destination, sometimes that's not a reason for dismissal.Sure, there was the side store selling Rendezvous souvenirs, but the dry porkribs were terrific, and the waiter, who has his shtick practiced to a perfectpitch, was right on the spot with the grub. The sausage and cheese appetizerwas suspect, but we couldn't complain about the pulled pork, ribs and sidesof slaw and beans. That was enough for me and so I retreated to my room, readThe Weekly Standard and went to sleep, while the AAN conventioneers,some 600 of them, mobbed the lobby of the Peabody, getting increasingly touchy-feelyas the hours wore on.

    The nextmorning, while Robert Newman, a well-traveled and respected art directorin Manhattan, apparently made complimentary remarks about NYPress' broadsheetdesign in a seminar, I was on the phone to New York and heard a terrific rumora buddy picked up at a cigar shop on 6th Ave. Seems that Time Out New Yorkis contemplating a switch to biweekly publication, the first step toward theirdemise. Maybe it's too good to be true, ridding the newsstands of that fraudulentatrocity, but it certainly lifted my morning. (Going to the office last SundayI was greeted by another dunning notice from their sleazy billing department,once again for a subscription I never ordered.)

    I went fora walk around Memphis and inevitably wound up on Beale St., the equivalent ofBourbon St. in this third-tier version of New Orleans. All the shopshave Elvis t-shirts, CDs, badges and cookbooks and posters of old bluesconcerts for sale, and the obligatory stop at Schwab's was worth 30 minutesor so. I picked up some potions, bottles of hot sauce, tambourines for the kids,Moon Pies, jukebox piggy banks, rabbits' feet, Tabasco cheese-nips,an Elvis puzzle for Junior and a batch of keychains and magnets for MUGGER III'scurrent collection. (Later in the day, Mrs. M e-mailed me, begging that I notbring home a lot of junk. I just wrote back, "Speak to the hand!" our code for"I can't hear you!")

    I sat downin a park for a half-hour and listened to a makeshift blues band playing fortips; it was pretty cool, especially when a class of fourth-graders camped outlistening to the drummer sing and jive with the audience, most of whom, likeme, had bags that revealed we were tourists. Well, that's what I was, but still,the fact that the park was on Rufus Thomas Blvd. gave me a feeling ofsome long-ago authenticity. Later, I was speaking to an AAN know-it-all andhe claimed that if you traveled outside the immediate environs you could findthe real bluesmen, dude, just like in 1955, where the old black guys sing aboutcornbread and how their mamas did 'em wrong. Right. This is a theme park waitingto happen: Already, in addition to all the homages to Elvis, there's a HardRock Cafe, and a AAA-baseball stadium is under construction right by thePeabody.

    Andrey andI had lunch at the King's Palace Cafe and, like everywhere here, hadour food in about two minutes, all of it pretty damn good. Tasty and chunkygumbo with red beans and shrimp, more pulled pork sandwiches and some friedcatfish. When the waitress said it was a "joy" to serve us I asked Andrey ifshe was being facetious; not that we were obnoxious or anything. He told meto lose the cynicism and get moving with the slow Southern culture. He was aboutto launch into a Faulkner rhapsody, betraying his Ivy League background,and I was just too stuffed for that malarkey, so I paid the bill and we wentback to the Peabody, missing the afternoon duck walk.

    Andrey cameback to my "Danny Thomas" suite to e-mail his "Skillet" column to theoffice, an unsuccessful venture, and actually asked who the great comedian andMemphis native was. I slapped my forehead and said, "Sometimes, I wishyou were older than 27. Danny Thomas, dodo! The great Uncle Tonoose!What, were you born yesterday?" Practically. A boomer friend of mine back inNew York, apprised of this horrible gaffe, wrote back: "Jeez, Andrey's Ringo-ignorancewas speculative. But Danny Thomas! Wouldn't that be the equivalent of us notknowing who Lou Costello was when we were kids? I'd dock his pay." Precisely.

    I combedthrough a bunch of the papers applying for membership and then read the AANboard's recommendations and was just appalled. For example, in suggesting thatthe Buffalo Beat not be allowed in the organization, admissions chairClif Garboden wrote (in all seriousness, I presume): "This paper puzzledthe committee. Specific committee-member reactions were divergent, ranging frompraise for improvement from the last time it applied to some discouraging suggestionsthat it seems to be losing touch with its community. Critiques of writing qualityranged from 'sophomoric' to 'a rich reading experience.' Most of the piecesare there, but they may not fit."

    I know howthese committee selections work: I've participated in the past. And the commentthat Buffalo Beat "seems to be losing touch with the community" is justsilly. How in the world would these editors have any idea about that? Do theylive in Buffalo? No, they take six or so consecutive issues before theconvention, flip through them and get back to their daily work. It's arbitraryand completely unfocused. Likewise, the membership at large doesn't pay attention.Usually, at the convention's closing business meeting, they'll vote the waythe committee suggests, as they kibitz among themselves and drink Bloody Marysor beers. If, by chance, a paper is caught between rejection and acceptance,and a representative is allowed to make a speech before the hungover conventioneersstill in attendance, that paper will get in because no one wants to face theperson later in the bar. It's all a scam.

    I'm nottrying to be excessively ornery here, but let's examine one paper that's a currentmember of AAN, The Paper of Grand Rapids, MI. In its "missionstatement," the fine print reads: "We publish in-depth, well-crafted storiesthat explore the issues, events and personalities that make our community tick.Our stories inform, entertain and-hopefully-provoke strong reaction. We willdeliver the news in a format that resembles a news magazine, but also acknowledgethat readers have less time than ever to digest an increasingly large amountof information delivered from a wide variety of sources." Whoa. That last sentencesounds like The Paper is suggesting readers don't bother with their subpartabloid. In addition, after this high-minded blurb about in-depth stories (whichthey aren't) and well-crafted writing (which it isn't), look at the mastheadand the first names are those of the advertising directors, certainly an anomalyin most newspapers. What I especially found funny, really combing the agate,is that the Paper's copyright still reads 1998, and this is from theMay 13, '99, issue.

    My pointisn't to single out The Paper as being just as bad as the papers thatwere rejected last Saturday at AAN's meeting, just that there're no real standardsapplied. Any paper that runs Matt Groening's dated "Life in Hell"on page three along with that sanctimonious "mission statement" has no businessbelonging to an organization that purportedly puts a premium on quality. ButAAN doesn't.

    And it'snot as if 80 percent of current AAN members could pass the admissions criteria:Last year, in DC I suggested that this year every single paper reapply for membershipand that way the group would be whittled down by two-thirds. My motion didn'tmake much of an impression. NYPress would be tossed too, for crimes againstDemocrats, but that would be fine. I think the Ruxton Group, thenational sales group owned by New Times, should secede from AAN anyway and havea productive trade group, instead of the morons who make up this tribe. Butas Maureen Dowd, via Dick Morris, would say, that's just SaturdayNight Russ talking, because a lot of these people, shitty papers notwithstanding,are very nice, in the parlance of the large California delegation, folks.

    But whileI'm in this mood, I can't resist reprinting a letter to the editor from theCleveland Free Times' May 5 issue that typifies how most of theAAN papers are lockstep liberal, yes, Massa Bonior, no-questions-askedtabloids. (That the Times is a Stern publication is just a coincidence,I swear.) Michael Bikulic writes: "The Free Times is startingto become an extended Tom Tomorrow cartoon, 'This Modern World,' as it appearsin your paper. Apparently any story, no matter how biased, one-sided or justplain wrong, is fit to be printed in your paper as long as it agrees with yourliberal social agenda. Based on the stories I read, the thinking appears tobe: Chief Wahoo-bad; guns-bad; police arresting minority criminals-bad; gays-good;Republicans-bad, etc., etc. The only reason I look at the Free Timesis mainly for Roldo [an entertaining political columnist who predates the Sterntakeover], who is the only real journalist left in Cleveland. Too bad he can'tdo an expose of the Free Times as to who and what drives their liberalagenda."

    On Fridaynight there was another jovial bash atop the Peabody, with a gorgeous sunsetand a clear view of one of the city's few tall buildings ("skyscraper" isn'toperable here), the Memphis Business Journal. (It was sponsoredby MicroVoice, an audiotext vendor, and if they were trying to cadgemore customers, the cash bar wasn't a smart idea.) I finally caught up withJim Mullin, and reminisced about conventions from 20 years ago, as well as thecroquet tournaments Al From Baltimore and I hosted at Phyllis Orrick'sRuxton manse. Those were parties: One time, Phoenix NewTimes Inc.'s co-owner Mike Lacey emerged from the Belvedere Hotelwith a bottle of red wine at 9 in the morning and asked for someone, anyone,to sample the vintage. He was conked out next to a tree by noon, when the realdrinking began. The same year, it was 103 degrees, and the Chicago Reader'sTom Yoder gave up on the croquet and slept in an air-conditioned carwhile his partner Bob Roth kept gabbing about how much he loved softshellcrab sandwiches on white bread with mayo.

    Mullin'sa sharp guy and has the brains to include Mike Wartella's "Nuts"in his huge Miami newspaper, and is beyond all the dated cartoonistswho were trying to sell their syndicated strips at the trade show inside. It'salways a pleasure to speak with David Carr, Washington CityPaper's editor, even though he never says anything on the record for mycolumn-and he had juicy stuff this time around-and I met his senior editor MichaelSchaffer, who just gushed over an article Slivka wrote two years ago, sayingit was clipped on his bulletin board. Great. It'll be hard to fit Andrey's swollenhead next time he visits me in the Danny Thomas suite. Which reminds me onceagain: How could any sentient human never have heard of Make Room forDaddy? Next thing I know, Andrey will draw a blank on Hazel orMr. Ed.

    One thingthat I found interesting in Memphis, coming from New York, is the toleranceshown to smokers. The filthy habit is allowed in restaurants, and if you askif there's a smoking table, the friendly waiter or waitress will give you alook like you're from another planet. And people puff like crazy here; it mightas well be Cairo. No doubt a Bay Guardian writer would attributethat to the poor, undereducated Southern culture, but that's hogwash. One ofmy friends told me he hadn't had the nerve to light up in his Peabody room becauseof the "No smoking" plaque on the door. I told him that was bullshit; they'reused to scofflaws like us. In fact, the next day, after the maid was finishedcleaning my room, she left outside the door an ashtray with a pack of Peabodymatches. It sure was better than using the soap dish.

    Saturdaywas pretty much a bore at the convention; I spoke briefly with Richard Karpel,AAN's executive director (who was a real weasel for not posting Slivka's Brugmannstory on the AAN website; he's clearly under the thumb of Mr. China andthe Voice's David Schneiderman), and he told me about the horrendousmugging of a Weekly Alibi staffer two nights before (see Andrey's "MediaRoundup"). I went for a last-minute shopping spree at one of the Peabody's half-dozengift shops, ignoring Mrs. M's order, and bought her a bbq pig t-shirt, plusduck chocolates, silver-plate piggy banks, a Memphis bbq coffee cup, stuffedducks, duck lollipops and more keychains.

    Just beforenoon, Paul Abrams and I cabbed to the airport, expecting a quick breeze-throughto our Northwest connection. Not so. You'd expect Memphis' airport (with FedExin a separate terminal) to be a rinky-dink building not unlike a Caribbeanisland's. Instead, it was mobbed, with people lined up at McDonald'sand Starbucks kiosks, and the frantic personnel just trying to keep upwith wheelchair requests and transfer information.

    I searchedin vain for Saturday's New York Times, and was lured into an Elvis shopto buy t-shirts for the boys, and then when we arrived in Newark it wasas calm as could be. I had an amazingly quick limo ride home, was greeted bya sign on the door that said, "Welcome Home, Daddy, We Missed You!" and snuggledwith my wife and boys, glad to be back in an environment that doesn't condoneorganically pure sandals, crummy comic strips and frightened gasps when youmention the name of the United States' next president, GeorgeW. Bush. Don't Nail Granger On ThisTriviality I don'tlike Esquire one bit. I'll consider it a banner day for journalism wheneditor David Granger is fired and a smarter replacement is installed.But a recent "controversy" over the magazine's June cover just demonstrateswhat nitwits some "watchdogs" in the industry are. At issue is the fact thatthe cover, picturing Mike Tyson kissing his baby son, can be peeled backto reveal a gatefold advertisement for Camel cigarettes. Paging SteveBrill and Cynthia Cotts! Apparently, according to the New YorkPost's Keith Kelly in his May 26 "Media City" column, JacquelineLeo, president of the American Society for Magazine Editors, thinksan ethics violation has occurred. What an idiot. Kelly quotes her: "There isa difference between selling and selling out. I don't think any readers willmistake the Camel ad for the real cover but it sounds like Esquire may haveset up a false expectation with the readers. They might think there is moreto the cover and then when you open it, you see it is an ad." This kindof Gore doublespeak is why journalism must immediately ban all regulatoryorganizations. The ASME is the same outfit that protested when The New Yorkerallowed some of its writers to go on a cruise, sponsored by an advertiser, eventhough there was no quid pro quo as far as the journalists writing about thetrip. What a waste of time. You'd think that Leo, who's editor of ConsumerReports, would have more on her plate than the goings-on at an also-ranmonthly like Esquire. Al Hunt On Acid No MUGGERcolumn would be complete without a stab at Wall Street Journalcolumnist Al Hunt, the prince of Beltway social life and scourge(along with Time's Margaret Carlson) of CNN's CapitalGang. In a rhapsodic column on May 27, Hunt-who must have a sinecure atthe Journal, as a sop to liberal readers who loathe the paper's superbeditorial page-wrote about the recent graduation ceremonies at ColbyCollege in Maine. The featured speaker was former Sen. GeorgeMitchell, a man who both liked raising taxes unnecessarily and takingmarching orders from President Clinton. Hunt revels in pointing out thatMitchell was the son of immigrants, whose father was a janitor at Colby decades ago, proving that yes, the American Dream is real. I have no quarrel with that:I applaud immigration and the people from other countries who work their buttsoff, often at menial positions, to create a better life for their children.It's too bad that Mitchell's parents spawned such an awful U.S. senator, butI'm sure they were proud. Hunt's motherand father, wherever they may be, must've cringed upon reading their progeny'sclosing paragraph to his corny column: "As the heavens overlooking this beautiful714-acre campus behaved and the rains waited, there was this son of working-classimmigrants, challenging an attentive and diverse group of bright kids from allover the country. It said something special about Colby. And more than thiscountry's dazzling wealth or unmatched entrepreneurship and creativityor our awesome military strength, it goes to what makes America the most specialplace in the world."

    A coupleof points: I've been to a few college graduations in my time and I've neverseen students "attentive" upon listening to the commencement speech. At my own,at Johns Hopkins back in the late 70s, I nearly fell asleep when AdmiralHyman Rickover droned on for more than an hour; even worse was the nextwindbag, a Marxist professor who was so self-righteous that I was mighty gladI'd had the wisdom to pack a couple of tallboys for the ceremony. Next, Iknow Kosovo has turned bleeding hearts into hawks, but since when isHunt, who espouses the virtues of affirmative action, quotas and governmentinterference into the lives of American citizens, such a proponent of entrepreneursand unmolested capitalism? I'm certain that he had a son or daughter at Colbyand so this was an Al Hunt writing under the influence. This Thursday, restassured, he'll be back to bashing Republicans and those who really do believein the values he conjured up in Maine. The Queen's English I was readingLondon's May 22 Spectator last Sunday night and came across twoitems of interest. First, Toby Young sold the magazine his piece aboutMick Jagger that appeared first in NYPress, with no credit to"Top Drawer" or our newspaper. I know that Brits are notorious for double-dippingwith their copy (Alex Cockburn's just the most heinous culprit), butI'll expect Taki to make you fly steerage the next time he foots thebill for some silly jaunt of yours.

    Of moresignificance is the fact that London's pundits are such superior writers totheir equivalents in Washington. First example: Bruce Anderson,who writes about politics for The Spectator. He's passionately anti-TonyBlair and slags the Prime Minister with cutting flair.

    From theMay 22 issue: "Mr. Blair himself uses 'child of the Sixties' as a pejorative.But the history of his government was written by now forgotten Sixties guru.While the PM was still at prep school, Marshall McLuhan declared that 'the mediumis the message.' At the time, no one was quite clear what this meant. Thanksto Mr. Blair, we now understand. Whether the issue is trivial or tragic, presentationis all. The PM goes to Albania, where he is surrounded by the human wreckageof Nato's policy. For all the benefits his visits will bring to the Kosovars,he might as well have gone with explicit intention of modelling T-shirts. Yethis ratings have never been higher. Forget the refugees, forget the militaryand diplomatic impasse, forget Russia, is the government's subliminal message;forget everything that is actually happening, and just look at the pictures.And it works. This is not the sovereign people's finest hour."

    And TheSpectator's editor, Frank Johnson, in the same issue: "At someas yet unforeseeable time in the future, after the liberation, when we havea Tory government again, we Conservatives, who lived through it, will be askedby the young what we did during the occupation. Some of us will truthfully beable to say that we were active throughout in the resistance.

    "Admittedly,we might be tempted to embroider things a little. I might claim to have destroyedthe occasional bridge or railway line carrying vital supplies of lobby fodderto Brighton for the Labour party conference. In reality, all I did was try todestroy, say, Mr. Robin Cook's reputation-a safer exploit. I suppose I shallalso claim that, under torture, I never cracked, when in fact, forced to sitonce more through Professor Giddens on globalisation, Sir John Birt on the consequencesof the digital age, or Mr. Blair himself on the Third Way Revisited, I toldthem all they wanted to hear: revealing the names of entire resistance networks,agreeing to print Mr. Chris Smith on the importance of making the arts accessiblefor our kids-anything.

    "But onthe whole I like to think that I shall be judged to have had a good resistancerecord. But what of Mr. Kenneth Clarke, Mr. Michael Heseltine, and now, aboveall, Mr. Chris Patten?... I shall do my best for Mr. Patten. But his is goingto be a difficult case. I might be able to save him from the firing squad, butonly at the cost of his having his head shaven. The trouble is that his defencemight lack plausibility. He will have to admit that he joined the puppet, pro-singlecurrency Conservative party set up by the Blair regime. It will be shown that,throughout the occupation, this Tory Vichy, or Ustashi, led by him, Mr. Heseltineand Mr. Clarke, terrorised us decent right-wingers with its Europhilia and generalmoderation. He will hardly be able to deny that." Al From Baltimore Reports May28: You misinterpreted my e-mail.I'm coming around to the Shrub-way. To say that Shrub's credentials don'tmeasure up to Barak's-the Israeli equivalent to a cross between Eisenhowerand Schwarzkopf-isn't unkind.

    I am a firmbeliever in Growth in Office. Who would have thought Reagan would havebeen one of the two most important presidents of the century? If the governorof Arkansas can run the country, then certainly the people will vote for the governor of Texas.

    Rememberyour "new political era," MUGGER, era of morality, etc.? Littleton wasthe second shoe, at least I hope it was. Maybe the Republican third way reconcilesthe freedom, license and sense of entitlement pervading this country with individualresponsibility (and common sense).

    I'm sickof Michael Thomas. I don't even know who the guy is.

    With regardto Tom DeLay's campaign finance initiative, it's of course the rightthing, but politically lead-footed. No groundwork has been laid. His approachwill be easily spun as big-money Republican. As much as I'm a whole schmear kind of guy, Republicans need to be at least a bit third-wayish. Like on guncontrol. Get on board early with some of the meaningless feel-good legislation,and hang tough and sell hard where needed.

    The Barakelection really drove the point home. Yet another kinder, gentler politician.He hung back and ran the kind of campaign George W. is trying to run.Of course, he has more credentials. He's going to tell Arafat NO in amuch nicer way.

    May 29:

    I faxed an article to you about Starbucks' plans on the Web. Do peoplelove Starbucks that much that they'll use their chatrooms?

    In the sameissue of Nation's Restaurant News, there was a small item about the wifeof a leading industry exec who shot an armed stalker. She had purchased thegun in the last month specifically to defend herself against this guy. Alsoon the pro-gun front, did you hear about the government study that kids whohad access to legally acquired guns had a zero-percent usage in connection withcrime? Kids with access to illegally acquired guns, 20 percent. I think BillBradley just might come out with a ban on all handguns, so they can't bestolen. Better buy yours soon.

    Dina'sbummed-no, make that bitter-because no one's bought our house yet. She thinksit's because our agent is hoity-toity and she's only bringing in snobby peoplewho don't want any imperfections. I think I have to work on this agent a littlemore.

    This KweisiMfume craze has been ridiculous. He clearly broke the law. Not only didthe state Senate pass a bill changing the residency requirement in about a week,the City Council was going to raise the mayor's pay by about $100,000 so that"whoever" was mayor could maintain his lifestyle. I think Lawrence Bellis going to win and be good. He is on the opposite side of the Schmoke/Gibsoncamp and came out for zero tolerance policing a la Rudy. About fuckingtime, for this city. He's a good man. He's not from the Black is Beautiful school.He's a pothole fixer and I think of all the black politicians in Baltimore,he's least likely to use race to win or further his agenda.

    Schmoke'schief associate, Dan Henson, head of Baltimore HUD (which was going tobe audited by federal HUD until our Mayor and Henson said that auditing Baltimorewould be racist, natch), told Mt. Vernon community people whoasked for a drug/illegal use raid on section 8 housing across the street fromDonna's, that they were engaging in racial and socioeconomic discrimination.The raid finally happened. Neighbors cheered. Fifty illegal residents were discoveredalong with plenty of drugs. And Henson took credit the next day.

    EvenI am more optimistic about Baltimore's prospects if the city takes a toughstance on crime, loitering, public drunkenness, etc. Looking forward to readingMUGGER's Memphis report.

    May 31:

    Here's a tidbit: The latest issue of Civilization, published by the Libraryof Congress, in an issue guest-edited by Kofi Annan; there is anarticle entitled (something like) "How to live in a Nuclear-free world." Theauthor? Jiang Zemin. Either this magazine has the world's longest lead time,or somebody working for our government has a very strange sense of humor. Yetanother example of the waste and abuse-not to mention diehard liberalism-ofour tax dollars. Unbelievable.

    A McCain For All Seasons ArizonaSen. John McCain is a loon. That much is known. The GOP presidentialcandidate has a bad temper, a checkered personal and business past and lastyear tried to tax the hell out of Americans with his idiotic tobacco "reform" bill. (As Boston Herald columnist Don Feder wrote aboutthat grab for ill-gotten wampum, "[McCain's] best known for pushing a mega-taxhike to counter the only addiction the media seem interested in fighting (itbeing another cudgel with which to bludgeon business)? McCain's tobacco billwould have cost taxpayers $50 billion a year and led to the micromanaging ofadvertising appeals.") But whaton Earth, in the midst of his campaign, possessed the former POW (theonly man to serve in Vietnam, it bears repeating, in case Beltwaypundits haven't reminded you) to pose with Teddy Kennedy and accepta "Profile in Courage" award for his thankfully doomed campaign finance effortslast year? The picture of Teddy and McCain, with his cosponsor Russ Feingoldoff to the side (Teddy's son Patrick, the Democratic marble-mouthed puppetwho's recruiting candidates to retake the House, was probably in attendanceas well), is as indelible as the image of Richard Nixon shaking handswith Elvis. And when the primary races start in earnest, like next week,you can bet Steve Forbes, a master of dirty attack ads, will have thatframe on 30-second spots 15 times a day in New Hampshire and Iowa.

    McCain,in accepting the award from Tedosaurus Rex, said, in defense of his ill-conceivedbill, "The people whom I serve believe that the means by which I came to officecorrupt me. That shames me. Their contempt is a stain upon my honor, and I cannotlive with it." What hooey. I'd say his friendship and business shenanigans withCharlie Keating is a "stain upon his honor," not to mention the mannerin which he dumped his first wife, but campaign finance reform? Please. Growup, Mr. Honor, and go fight the land war in Kosovo.

    Mr. Wishy-Washyhimself, John Kennedy Jr., writing in the current George, alsopraised McCain for his failed legislation. In prose that was dumber than usual,Kennedy said: "So whether you believe that unfettered campaign giving is thebane of American politics or a constitutionally protected exercise of free speech,McCain and Feingold displayed some real-life heroics by refusing to back downon an issue that has hurt them more than it has helped... So this summer, byall means see Star Wars. Enjoy the special effects, the drama of goodversus evil. But don't walk out thinking heroes exist only in the movies."

    Meanwhile,in an abrupt switching of gears-proving he can't avoid the limelight-McCainsaid he'd accept an honor for the ailing President Reagan as the "conservativeof the century," awarded by The American Conservative Union. Theschizophrenic McCain said: "I am honored and very grateful to have been askedto accept an award for that most eloquent, visionary, and steadfast apostleof freedom, President Reagan, and to have been encouraged by his staunch ally,Lady Margaret Thatcher, in my defense in the Balkans of the ideals they so ablyadvanced throughout the world." Well, bravo, Sen. McCain. Just one thing: Youwouldn't have ever seen The Great Communicator proposing wimpy campaign financebills or posing with Teddy Kennedy on such a trivial occasion.

    Fortunately,because McCain has made hundreds of television appearances on the war in Kosovo-mindyou, I applaud the Senator for his leadership in the absence of any from thegolf-playing steward of the White House-the Washington-New Yorkdominated media has had its fill of their favorite Republican. Not so for MikeBarnicle, the former Boston Globe plagiarist who now writes oncea week for Mort Zuckerman's almost-out-of-business Daily News. On May 16, Barnicle gushed: "Of course, [McCain] has only an outside shot atthe Republican nomination, because his party is controlled by lunatics who focustheir attention on fringe issues that cause normal voters to withdraw in fear...In a business where so many politicians have egos the size of Antarctica andfeelings to match that continent's climate, John McCain is amazingly normal.He cries, laughs, reads the box scores and can't wait to get up each day, becausehe has the perspective of someone who once saw his life drifting away to illnessand incarceration."

    Yuck. TheGlobe was lucky to catch Barnicle stealing material; that way they didn'thave to fire him for mushy thinking. (Globe editor Matt Storinhas no stomach for such dismissals; after all, he still allows ThomasOliphant and David Nyhan to write their paleoliberal, and usuallystupid, opinions several times a week.) Barnicle, his mind clouded by whatevergets him through the night, doesn't understand the GOP mantra of the 2000 campaign:Win Back the White House. The party, in lining up behind Texas Gov. GeorgeBush, is repudiating the "fringe issues" that have turned off the Americanelectorate in the past two elections.

    Meanwhile,upon the release last week of the explosive Cox Report, Gov. Bush finallyreacted to a national event without having to be coaxed into it. I think hissudden, and welcome, statement about the Chinese espionage scandal can be attributedto two reasons; first, his cadre of advisers has convinced him that he can'thide behind his legislative session in Texas any longer; second, when the Democratsresorted to their typical bashing of Republican presidents, that pushed Bush'sanger button. Take potshots at my old man and you'll answer to me, he seemedto be saying.

    In any event,his comments on May 25 were quick and forceful: "Presented with detailed informationabout China's espionage, this administration apparently did not take it seriously,did not react properly and it is still trying to minimize the scope and extentof the damage done. It's unfortunate that China has been stealing secrets duringCarter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. But there is only one administration thathas been given the news. Only one administration knew-and that's the Clintonadministration. The interesting question is, when did they know?"

    RobertReno, the Newsday columnist (and brother of Attorney General JanetReno), wrote what he must've thought was a howler on May 26. Defending BillClinton against Ken Starr's exhaustive and noble investigation,Reno lashes out at all of the President's critics. "Good heavens," he writes,"what if George W. Bush still wets his bed?... Gasp, maybe as an undergraduateYalie he regularly dipped live cats in hot tar as part of some Animal Housefraternity ritual... So if there's irrelevant garbage in his past, what businessis it of ours? Still, if journalism has a shred of evenhandedness left, shouldn'tMichael Isikoff be out slithering through sewer pipes to dig it up?"

    Yes, Mr.Conflict-of-Interest Reno, Bush has admitted to drinking too much in his pastand maybe there are pictures that will surface showing him dancing naked ona bar. That doesn't compare with charges of rape, nonstop philandering, habituallying on matters both trivial and grave, accepting illegal campaign contributionsand employing dirty tricksters to harass his opponents. True, Clinton doesn'thave the guts to fire columnist Reno's sister-she probably has too much dirton him-but Bob should get his pointy head examined if he thinks for a momentthat Clinton has even one particle of Gov. Bush's character and loyalty.

    Insteadof concentrating on Bush, maybe Reno could address the well-reported remarksof filmmaker Spike Lee, who said last week that NRA presidentCharlton Heston should be shot with a ".44 caliber Bulldog" magnum pistol.Naah, Spike's on our side, right Bob, just like Alec Baldwin andall the other wealthy but liberal celebrities who advocate violence againstconservatives.

    But, asTony Snow wrote last week in his syndicated column, "Don't hold yourbreath for someone to tell Spike to put a sock in it. Among liberal elites thesedays, Mr. Lee is a man of conscience, and the pope, who believes in the sanctityof all human life, is an 'extremist.'" Junior "Catches" A FoulBall It was inthe sixth inning on May 26 and Junior was just at the point of boredom duringthe Yanks-Bosox game at the Stadium. So was I; after all,Nomar Garciaparra was scratched from the game (an alleged split finger,although one of my buddies speculated Derek Jeter had shown himthe town the night before) and the Red Sox were down 6-1, thanks to TinoMartinez's grand-slammer (which I missed, thanks to a cotton candy run forYou Know Who). Suddenly,Sox right fielder Darren Lewis fouled back a pitch that hit the mezzaninein the section next to ours, the ball bobbled amongst a dozen fans and finallywound up in the hands of a young guy right in front of my son. Junior immediatelytook it out of his hand and screamed, "I caught a foul ball!" I told him togive it back, but after a tense two seconds, Geoff Spies, of Princeton(at the ballpark with his friend Sheyda Djahanbani), lethim keep it, which made Junior's week. The surrounding adults gave Geoff a rousingcheer for his act of sportsmanship, I snapped a photo and the game was transformedinto an event Junior will never forget, even though the first-place Sox eventuallylost the game 8-3.

    My friendDavid F.X. Mandel wrote later: "Please tell your son that I was at theplayoff game in 1951 between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers at thePolo Grounds when Bobby Thomson homered off Ralph Branca to win the pennant.I mean, that's historic. But to get a foul ball at such a young age, that'sreally stupendous."

    Junior wantedto go home right away to show off the ball to his mom and MUGGER III. It wasfine by me, since the Sox were sputtering, and I was a little tired of playingbutler when a popcorn whim occurred, and so he packed the treasure in his backpack,along with his glove and Gameboy, and we made the trek back to Tribeca.On the 9 train downtown, a homeless refugee-I honestly couldn't tell if it wasa man or woman-made a pitiful stab at cadging some cash. He/she clutched a poleand muttered the lamest version of "Tom Dooley" I've ever heard, which was metby stone-cold faces. Junior nudged me, and said, "Dad, I bet you're going towrite about that person, huh?" It won't be long before I'm sharing this column,so watch out, there's a new crank right behind you.

    We got home,relaxed for a while and then Mrs. M and I went to a school function on the UpperEast Side. Couldn't complain about the cocktail component, but when I sawthe table set with about 12 forks at each setting, I knew we'd be in for a longnight. Which would've been fine, despite being a disruption of my routine, butAlejandro was picking me up the next morning at 5 for an early flightout of Newark, winging down to Memphis, site of this year's Associationof Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) convention. We didn't get hometill almost 11, which left me bushed in the morning, not a promising start tothe day for a farmer like MUGGER.

    MAY 31