Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Time after Times

In the beginning, or at least the beginning of this month, there was William Bennett, that self-styled viceroy of virtue whose prodigious gambling losses, once revealed, set many a tooth a-gnashing and many a garment a-rending.

Then came Jayson Blair, that now-former New York Times reporter whose stories, it turns out, were precisely that: stories. Figments of Blair's fertile - but nowhere near as fertile as former Washington Post reporter Janet Cook's - imagination. (Although, to be fair, Blair didn't make ALL of his stories up. Some, the genuine, fact-checked ones, he simply "borrowed" from other reporters. Reporters working under the national, i.e., syndicated, radar, at newspapers with names like "The Cowtown Gazette" and "The Honest Injun Herald.")

As it was with Bennett, many teeth were gnashed and many garments rended.

And verily I say unto anyone listening, why? Indeed, wherefore all the hue and cry?

Cook, whose fictitious account of an eight-year-old heroin addict garnered her employers a 1981 Pulitzer Prize - which, of course, was returned, ahem, Posthaste - clearly warranted our attention. She lived, after all, in the house that bona fide journalists and, dare I say, bona fide patriots, Woodward and Bernstein built.

But Blair, well, c'mon: Blair worked for the New York Times. Surely there are more important things to fulminate over than some guy who, to coin a phrase popular with out-of-work Baath party loyalists, "was just doing his job."

For the Times is as much about straight reporting and the unvarnished truth as the (thankfully) as-yet-unpublished Jerry Falwell Papers are.

Yes, it boasts the best, perhaps even the WORTHIEST, crossword puzzle of any Yankee daily, ever. And no native Noo Yorkuh - or any self-respecting urbanite, for that matter - is ever completely dressed without a Times under his arm. (Unless it's Sunday, when many Times's can be found doing duty as makeshift deadbolts and/or doorstops.)

Now that I think of it, maybe that's the problem: too many Times's aren't being read. Because if they were, there certainly wouldn't be all this teeth gnashing and garment rending going on. (Except for in those circles where teeth gnashing and garment rending is considered a sport - which, incidentally, would explain the outrage over Mr. Bennett's hobby.)

Really, methinks that, if more Times's were being read, especially on Sundays, when the Times is at its most National Enquirer-esque, rather than being read about or used to accessorize outfits and prop open doors, we'd be able to focus on the more pressing issues of the day.

Such as, is it "al-Qaeda," "al-Qaida," or "al Qaida," no hyphen?

(No one addressed this during the "Khaddafi/Ghadaffy" days, either, and it's been bothering me ever since.)

All this horror over something that happened at the "just the facts, ma'am" Times?

Somewhere, Jack Webb is laughing.


Wednesday, May 21, 2003

80's Hades

This may come as somewhat of a surprise to the people who think Rush Limbaugh and I were separated at birth (and I've no doubt it will surprise, if not out and out offend, some of my fellow Ronald Reagan Fan Club members), but I hated the 80s. With a passion. Indeed, with a gag-me-with-a-spoon-like passion.

All that conspicuous consumption! Forget Abscam, the Ayatollah, even ALF. Conspicuous consumption ó not to be confused with "wretched excess," which, unless the subject is body fat, is an oxymoron anyway ó is what made the 80s so dreadful.

Take those ridiculous and annoyingly ubiquitous "Baby on Board" signs. Who, pray tell, were those signs meant to alert? Drunk drivers? "Whoa, there's a baby in that car. Better pick another lane to weave and bob in."

No. Those signs were meant for other Beamer/Volvo-driving upwardly-mobile professionals. Those signs were yuppie code for, "Yo, check me out! I, too, delayed childbearing on my way to the top, but I'm still fertile! Now put THAT in your sushi and smoke it!"

The 80s credo, "more is more," was evident everywhere. If you think SUVs are, as Ralph Nader would say, unsafe at any speed, think back to the 80s, when it was virtually impossible to see two cars ahead of yours what with all the sky-high hairdos everyone wore. We took our fashion cues from the folks at "Dallas" at "Dynasty," donning 10-gallon hats to ride mechanical bulls and sewing shoulder pads into our bathing suits. Bigger, we declared, was better.

Perhaps the lowest 80s moment was the advent of the Tell All Talk Show, which gave everyone, rich and poor alike, an opportunity to be shamefully conspicuous. The 80s made Merv and Mike Douglas passé, sidewalk shrinks out of Oprah and Phil.

What was wrong with keeping things in the closet, with celebrity guests who revealed no more than their upcoming projects? Ratings, I guess.

More was, after all, more. The more we told on ourselves, the higher the ratings.

And, boy, did we tell on ourselves! Gleefully!

In the 80s, every manner of consumption was justified.

If you had a problem with Twinkies, you were hypoglycemic.

If you couldn't manage to "just say no," it was because your dopamine receptors were depleted.

And if you had to kill your parents? Why, you were suffering from Menendez Syndrome.

Nietzsche claimed God was dead; Helen Reddy claimed He was a She. But the 80s, well, the 80s claimed God, and any notions thereof, were profitable ó and then set about conspicuously proving just that.

New Age Mystic Centers, Christian theme parks (one such proposal called for the Sea of Galilee Walk), Marianne Williamson, Funky Cold MedinaÖGod was everywhere. And His, or Her, children, even His estranged children, like Madalyn Murray O'Hair, were making a killing.

The worst thing about the 80s, of course, was their very conspicuousness. Too big to ignore, they never really went away. They just, well, mutated.

Junk bond kings gave way to dot com princes to Kenny-Boy Lay and the Enron gang. Tell All Talk Shows gave way to the Starr Report and reality television; blame games to class action lawsuits. And New Age spirituality heralded the end of Easter vacations and the beginning of vernal equinox breaks, not to mention "What would Jesus do?" ad campaigns and Michael Newdow.

On the up side, Grace Slick's daughter changed her name in the 80s. Once called "God," she disappointed her unconventional mama and changed it to "Muffy." That's a little bit better, don't you think?


Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Better's Up

So the author of "The Book of Virtues," Bill Bennett, likes to gamble. And...and nothing. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but, apparently, there IS no other shoe. Indeed, "Right wing activist racks up millions in gambling losses" was followed by "Reagan's Education Secretary Gets Comped at Caesar's Palace," which was followed by "Former Drug Czar says the Slots 'Relax Him,' which was followed by, well, more of the same.

Am I missing something? I mean, must one renounce ones gambling jones if one is a Republican? And, if so, must I - I mean, must one - do so before the next election?

While I've never been a constitutional scholar/registered Democrat, I never had any trouble understanding my PoliSci 101 textbook (and no, it wasn't a remedial class). As a matter of fact, I did rather well in PoliSci 101, even managing an "A" on the final exam.

Which is why all this tsk-tsking over one man's hobby, a hobby that, to my mind, there's never enough time to indulge, has me so stumped.

Again, am I missing something? Did I sleep through the ratification of a twenty-eighth amendment, an amendment that seems to give everyone who's been sniveling about the Patriot Act a gander at my financial records, a peek into my private life, and basically repeals the fourth amendment? Was I holed up in a noisy casino when God issued that eleventh, "thou shalt not place wagers" commandment?

Golly, I hope not. That would be embarrassing.

But not as embarrassing as letting myself get so caught up in a Marxist-like frenzy that I'd dash off some "How Dare the Man who Wrote 'The Moral Compass' Show his Face in this Town Again" manifesto for all the world (or at least that part of the world still grumbling about, yawn, hanging chads) to see.

Honestly, what does a penchant for felt tables, black chips, free drinks, all-you-can-eat buffets, rows and rows of colorful - and, if you're lucky, musical - machines have to do with a belief in, oh, say, "traditional family values?"

I happen to have a penchant for such stuff myself, as do key members of my "traditional," i.e., parents are married and of the opposite sex, family. And not once has our collective fondness for the expression, "double down" led us into evil. None of us has ever taken a life, beaten a child, held up a convenience store, chanted "Death to America," burned a cross, cheated on our income taxes, cuckolded our mates, poisoned an animal, drove drunk, or even made rude noises in church.

So where do people - and you know who you are - get off clucking over Bennett's "significant" gambling losses? One recent, late-breaking "news" story on the subject devoted a whole sidebar to "what Bill's losses could have bought." (I couldn't read past the subheading, but I'm guessing "8,000,000 Communist Manifestos" was on the list.)

The way I see it, Bennett's gambling losses are only "significant" to Bennett. Unless he robbed me to pay for one of his Las Vegas junkets, they're none of my concern. Heck, I've got my own losses to worry about.

But nothing so worrisome that two days' worth of comped room service and a courtesy limo won't cure. Yee-hah, Nevada, here I come!