The Red Sox Drive Me Nuts

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:09

    It was a foggy week for me, a homebound shut-in laid low by the worst case of bronchitis I've endured since the wild days of 1975. That was quite an autumn down in Baltimore: My coughing was so severe I had to leave classes for the ruckus it caused. John Barth was sympathetic about my health but still gave me an F on an assignment because it was two days late; I was running the Johns Hopkins News-Letter full-time, while trying to juggle homework, two jobs and an awesome marijuana habit. I split my head open one late night at Goucher College, playing football with my friend Joe Griffith, while high on countless beers and a hit or two of LSD; and I changed the soda machine in the News-Letter office to accommodate Pabst Blue Ribbon in addition to cans of Squirt.

    Twenty-four years later, it's a lot worse being sick. For starters, my vices are few: I still smoke, but don't use any illegal substances and drink rarely (although I'm quitting the Merits on Oct. 20, Junior's seventh birthday, a promise I made while shopping at Brooks Brothers several months ago). Still drink coffee, just as I did back then.

    On Greenmount Ave. in Baltimore, there was a very cool Little Tavern outlet, where I'd stop in at about 10 and Selma would have my cup waiting, along with two mini-cheeseburgers. For such a Norman Rockwell relic, this Little Tavern had an estimable jukebox, and I'd play David Bowie songs six times in a row each day, annoying the older drunks and truck drivers.

    Which brings me around to the Red Sox. What despair in my apartment last Wednesday and Thursday. During the first game against the Injuns, Junior was beside himself when Nomar Garciaparra hit a homer early on. But Pedro Martinez was soon injured and even though Derek Lowe was superb in relief, third-baseman John Valentin, the game's goat, made a crucial error with two outs, allowing the inevitable: a two-run blast by Jim Thome. I can't stand tv commentators, but Tim McCarver was right when he said you don't allow the Indians a fourth out; their lineup is too powerful. I watched a few more innings and went to bed, thinking I'd read about a loss the next morning. Sure enough, 3-2 was the margin, and then Bret Saberhagen got clobbered 11-1 that afternoon.

    So I was fully expecting an Indians sweep when the playoffs resumed at Fenway Park on Saturday, especially since Nomar was injured. Valentin made another colossal error but redeemed himself at the plate and the Sox won 9-3. And then, Sunday night: a 23-7 explosion for the Bosox, the most runs ever scored in postseason play. My family was going nuts at each run scored, and even MUGGER III stayed up till 9:30 to watch the carnage of the hated Cleveland team. As I write, the deciding game will take place after my deadline on Monday afternoon. Being a lifelong Sox fan, I don't hold out much hope, but at least our guys didn't roll over this year.

    Bosox fans always get fucked in the end. I can't speak to the battles with the Yanks in the late 40s, but I do remember the heartbreak of the '67 "Impossible Dream" team, which went to seven games in the World Series against a stronger Cardinals squad. I was 12, so it was shattering, but just getting there after such a long drought was somehow reward enough. The Red Sox almost always contended after '67, usually folding in August or September. Their next Series was in '75, and what a season that was: rookies Fred Lynn and Jim Rice tearing up the American League, Luis Tiant superb on the mound, a sweep of the A's in the playoffs and then going up against the odious Cincinnati Reds, with Johnny Bench and Pete Rose just the most despicable stars. But there was Carlton Fisk winning the sixth game with his extra-innings homer, which I celebrated (and collected a slew of $5 bets on) in Hopkins' Rathskellar. I watched the last game at Bob Rosenwasser's apartment, along with his friend Mr. Bong, and knew it was all over pretty soon, even when the Sox were ahead in the first innings. The energy that Fisk created the night before couldn't sustain the team enough to actually win their first Series since 1918, two years after my father was born.

    Roger Clemens owned 1986, but unfortunately the Sox's bullpen didn't. Bill Buckner, with his gimpy legs, should've been taken out of that fatal sixth game against the Mets, but the less said about that year the better.

    The team has never really recovered. There have been several postseason appearances, but they've won only three games (unless they win tonight). Not to mention some goofy Clemens behavior against Oakland (the guy is not a clutch player), and questionable strategy on the part of the managers. This year, with a relatively crummy offense, the Sox played tough baseball in September, winning games they had no right to, and looked to maybe advance to an AL championship duel against the Yankees. GM Dan Duquette, whom I've blasted in the past, is not a master of diplomacy, but I can't argue with his logic in selecting players: in the off-season, obviously the Sox need to pick up a slugger and two men who can steal bases. (That would be a first.) Then, maybe next year at this time, I'll have a different report. But probably not.

    In no particular order, I have a number of items worth discussing this week.

    1 Weaning the Boys Off DigiMon. I'm currently under house arrest, which means Mrs. M lets me go outside for only 10 minutes at a time. That's fair; she's looking out for my health and handling the lion's share of domestic duties. I've finally convinced Junior that I Love Lucy is one of the greatest tv shows ever: he saw episode #79, the episode in which Ethel and Lucy made jar upon jar of "Aunt Martha's Old-Fashioned Salad Dressing," and produced a commercial for tv. He cracked up when Ethel had to de-endorse the product because they were getting too many orders and the gals hadn't figured it was costing more to produce the slop than what they were charging.

    I haven't gotten the boys hip to Top Cat yet, but they love Quick Draw McGraw, Yakky Doodle and parts of the classic Popeye cartoons. I was never a fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but Lou Grant was a stitch, an alkie stuck at a low-rent tv station in Minneapolis. What a fate. And he was a lot funnier than the "serious" journalist the (in real-life) activist portrayed on the spinoff Lou Grant. Next hurdle: The Little Rascals, Twilight Zone, Dobie Gillis and the anti-Jap and Kraut cartoons Disney churned out during World War II.

    2Do Your Balls Hang Low? There was an AP report on Sept. 21, headlined "Seven Boys Suspected in Gang Rape," that caught my attention, mostly because of the ages of the alleged rapists in St. Paul, MN. The lead sentence of the story read: "A 9-year-old boy has admitted to instigating and participating in the gang rape of his 8-year-old sister, police said Tuesday." The other boys ranged in age from six to 13. It's a sad story, with a brother taking advantage of his sister, but don't you think this is a case of what, a generation ago, we'd call "playing doctor"? Perhaps there's been a seismic evolutionary change, but I don't see how a six-year-old would be physically capable of raping a girl. I suspect it's just another instance of the absurd changes in the culture that a story like this, which used to be a family matter, is reported in The Washington Post.

    The Atlanta Journal and Constitution had another oddball article last Friday, reporting that a school superintendent in Muscogee ordered the famous portrait Washington Crossing the Delaware to be altered. It seems this fellow thought that George's watch fob looked like his genitals and directed that the offending section of the painting be blocked out. What nonsense. As if fifth-graders, especially today, aren't familiar with dicks and vaginas. Jeez, I remember as a fourth-grader, back in '64, singing along with friends in the cafeteria: "Do your balls hang low/Do they wobble to and fro/Can you tie them in a knot, can you tie them in a bow/Can you throw them over your shoulder like a Continental soldier/Do your balls hang low?"

    And don't just blame the Christian Coalition for these two examples. It's a weird time in America right now, and feminists, academics, left-wing publications, as well as religious zealots and the media, are all to blame.

    3Never Trust Kinsley. I've been tough on Slate editor Michael Kinsley in the past. The reason: he's a worm, who plays the Hamlet on the Puget, or Potomac, for all it's worth, to dwindling interest. Perhaps it's because Slate is so often dishonest in the little things it posts on its website. For example, last Thursday in the "Office 2000" department, a compendium of political news, gossip and very bad jokes, there was a link to a Weekly Standard article. The headline read: "Has Bush Already Lost California?" In fact, the correct headline for Matthew Rees' piece in the Standard was "Can Bush Capture California." And the article is far from pessimistic; in fact, Rees' conclusion reads: "If [Bush] becomes the GOP nominee, the real test of his mettle will be whether he keeps coming back to California during the general election. If he does, and if he wins the state, he'll be the next president." A rather obvious analysis, agreed, since with the automatics of Texas and Florida, and the traditional GOP base of the South and small states in the West, of course he'll win the presidency by taking California. And he will contest it vigorously, especially during the primary season when he'll have so much money to spend.

    4A Rambunctious Guy. My nephew Quinn, who lives in London with his brother Rhys and parents, turned 12 on Oct. 8, a very eventful day. Can you imagine what's going on in the head of a 12-year-old boy these days? It must be exploding. My brother wrote: "Quinn hauled in some good stuff?a couple of PlayStation games, some music CDs and a guitar-shaped rack, books and some skateboarding gear. Birthday dinner was bbq chicken, chocolate cake and ice cream. A big day for the big boy."

    5Another Ingrate? Jonathan Ames, the insufferably vain but very talented author and essayist who appears in NYPress every two weeks, has a mostly humorous book review in the fall edition of Bookforum. The book he positively passes judgment on is right up his alley: Neurotica: Jewish Writers on Sex. I have two beefs, however. First, his opening is insulting to the extreme, especially to anyone who reads a quasi-highbrow mag like Bookforum. Ames writes: "I wonder if my Gentile readers know what 'shtupping' means. First of all, class, it's Yiddish, and Yiddish words often sound like what they are trying to convey." It's possible Ames is being facetious, but I've known him for a few years, so I doubt it.

    I also resent the absence of his NYPress affiliation in his bio at the end of the review. Unlike most of the other writers, who list everything they've done, Ames is content to let readers know he's an author. Period. That's a rare instance of ingratitude from a NYPress writer or illustrator: from Amy Sohn to Jim Knipfel to Tony Millionaire to Chris Caldwell, they've all included their association with this paper when writing or drawing for another publication.

    Ames' snub is irritating.

    6Ed: You Lost, Get Over It. Ed Koch's nonstop diatribes against Rudy Giuliani are getting tiresome. Yes, Mr. How Am I Doing, we know you despise the current Mayor, even though you supported him at first. And yes, you're correct in saying he's a grandstanding demagogue who often looks silly (especially in Yankees gear) and demeans New York by his behavior. You think he was wrong on the "Sensation" sensation; I think he was right. We're all sick of the whole thing.

    But Koch's Daily News column last Friday got a lot of things wrong, as he let his pique against Giuliani get in the way of facts. He wrote: "Giuliani traditionally has done well with the upper-income classes. The only services that matter to them are police, fire and sanitation?services that are well delivered by his administration... About 60% of the city's population are minorities. In this segment of the population, the mayor is perceived as a disaster?a bully and a violator of civil liberties. And now, at least with respect to First Amendment rights, the upper crust agrees."

    Affluent New Yorkers are very concerned about crime, something Koch doesn't admit, and Giuliani has performed well on that score, in stark contrast to his predecessors David Dinkins and Koch himself. Everyone agrees that New York is a much safer city under his regime, Mussolini-like though it may be. If the 60 percent of minorities in the city perceive Giuliani as a "disaster," why did he win in a landslide in '97? It wasn't just Staten Island voting. Finally, how does Koch know that the "upper crust" thinks Giuliani is violating First Amendment rights? I happen to know many "upper crust" New Yorkers and they tend to agree, maybe by a 75-25 majority, that Giuliani is absolutely correct in his stand that an institution that accepts taxpayer money does so with strings attached.

    Finally, can the liberal media please stop referring to anyone with whom they have a disagreement as the second coming of Joe McCarthy, as Koch does in this column? McCarthy's dominance in the news was almost 50 years ago; let's come up with a new monster. Thinking out loud, on a nonpartisan basis, Bill Clinton comes to mind, as do Tom DeLay, Teddy Kennedy, Jesse Helms, Pat Buchanan, Dick Gephardt, Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

    7Bush Steamrolls Along. It was another dazzling week for Gov. George W. Bush. With his jabs at the GOP Congress (of which there actually were few; it's just that the clueless media concentrated on them) he's taken another giant step at winning the Republican nomination and then the presidency. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, with the shadow of Newt Gingrich hovering behind them, are not popular men in America. That's not fair, from my standpoint, but it's the truth. Bush has to set himself apart from the Gingrich image, and he's done it, most recently with a brilliant "Slouching toward Gomorrah" speech on education at the Manhattan Institute.

    The pundits, who believe it's still 1988 and are covering the campaign as though it were, all had the same line: Bush is acting like Clinton in '92 and has done a Sister Souljah routine. But that's not accurate. Clinton had wrapped up the Democratic nomination in '92 when he attacked the evil sister on June 13 in an effort to distance himself from Jesse Jackson. (It's hilarious that Jackson was Clinton's personal pastor during his Monica troubles last year; neither man has any shame.) But Clinton wasn't running ahead in the general election polls at the time: in fact, in some data he was in third place, behind President Bush and Ross Perot (who wouldn't drop out of the race until July 16, only to reappear in the fall). It wasn't until just before the Democratic Convention that Clinton took off in the polls and never looked back.

    Some conservatives, like Rush Limbaugh, are appalled that Bush would needle the GOP Congress. "Who needs a moderate Republican president... No conservative running for president would leave his philosophical brothers and sisters dying on the congressional battlefield the way Bush did," thundered Limbaugh on his national radio show. Syndicated columnist David Limbaugh wrote on Oct. 8, "Either Bush is taking the conservative base of the GOP for granted or he is willing to write them off. If he continues to do so with such apparent arrogance, the complexion of this race could change in a hurry."

    And of course also-rans Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer, eager for any ink, sounded off as well, with the former saying that Bush seems like he's embarrassed to be a Republican.

    This is simply stupid. Does either Limbaugh prefer Bradley or Gore to Bush? Of course not. Bush is hardly "writing off the conservative base," since he's a conservative, as demonstrated by the bulk of his policy speeches and record in Texas. Rush Limbaugh, who is tiresome on a daily basis, but no dummy, surprises me. Doesn't he see that Bush's strategy is brilliant? He fakes to the center, shedding the bogeyman image the GOP leaders have, picks a pro-choice running mate and automatically wins the support of women and independents that his father and Bob Dole couldn't.

    William Bennett didn't take offense at Bush's comments, writing in the Oct. 7 New York Times, "His is a sound political strategy, based on an accurate assessment of the state of our culture... The conservative movement should publicly and repeatedly declare that its noble goal is to make American society more humane, civil, responsible and just."

    As for David Limbaugh's rash conclusion that "the complexion of this race could change in a hurry," I can't figure out how. The only candidate who has a chance of defeating Bush for the nomination is John McCain, and as the New York Times/Washington Post candidate, he's perceived, correctly, as less culturally conservative than Bush. In fact, if McCain does gather steam in New Hampshire, as polls suggest, this will simply bring more money to the Texas Governor and toughen him up.

    As I said, liberals are perplexed. In the current New York, Michael Tomasky reacts to the Manhattan Institute speech: "This is great politics, and smart P.R. But if people like me approve, then somebody, somewhere, surely disapproves. How long can Bush bash the right?" Again, an example of hyperbole: Bush has hardly "bashed" the right; he's merely jabbed them, and to great effect. But give Tomasky credit for figuring out Bush's strategy better than most of his myopic, lazy colleagues. He concludes: "Gary Bauer can cry all night about Bush's selling their party out, but [he's] fighting the last war. Bush is fighting the next one... But it's not likely [rabid right-wingers] can stop Bush, or make him change very much. There's a word for a candidate like that, or three words: tough to beat."

    My only concern with Bush is that he too often backpedals after criticizing allies. He handled the "Buchanan problem" without much finesse. And he needs to ratchet up the terms of the election, articulating bigger ideas that other candidates don't have the guts to. No one can say that he's a blank slate on issues anymore; as promised, he's rolling out his policy statements one by one. But he's also succeeding in bringing optimism to the right, talking relentlessly about success and not failure, and conveying his enthusiasm for the future. Although the 2000 presidential campaign is probably more unique than any we can remember, it bears the closest similarity to 1960's. Back then, it was also a prosperous time for the country, but there was an undefined restlessness, a need for a change from the status quo. Obviously, after the Clinton years, that change is even more desired and necessary today.

    On the Democratic side, the contest just gets uglier. I hope that Bradley wins the nomination; he'll be easier to defeat than a scabbed-up Gore. Bradley's an egghead, an Adlai Stevenson, who won't be able to pull off his "thinking man" charade during a general election. He'd probably win New York and New Jersey, but wouldn't have a chance in the South, most of the Midwest and the Western states. California would probably be a tossup.

    But Gore probably won't be the nominee: he's stuck by the scandal-tarred Tony Coelho, and just last week appointed Donna Brazile as his campaign manager. Doesn't this guy ever learn from his own mistakes? Brazile was fired from the Dukakis campaign in '88 when she slandered Vice President Bush with adultery rumors; that strategy was just a sneak peek at the Clinton operation four years later. In a fawning profile of Brazile in the Oct. 11 New York Times (which has devoted its pages to resuscitating Gore), Melinda Henneberger writes: "All of which might explain why Ms. Brazile seemed so genuinely unfazed by the problems facing Al Gore's presidential campaign. She knows about coming back." Ugh.

    In the Oct. 18 Newsweek, reporter and tv pundit Howard Fineman is typically out of touch. He compares the Democratic contest to 1984's, with Gore as Walter Mondale and Bradley as Gary Hart. That's absurd, for while Gore is trawling for the same machine endorsements and money that Mondale locked up, it's an entirely different election. First, Mondale was running against an extremely popular incumbent president, while this year there's an open seat; second, Hart's comet-like challenge came out of nowhere and he didn't have the money to capitalize on it, while Bradley is even with Gore on that front; finally, Mondale wasn't saddled with a corrupt president's legacy. Jimmy Carter was an ineffective chief executive but no one would say he was immoral or self-absorbed. Also, don't forget that Bill Clinton, in his peculiarly twisted way, wants Gore to lose. He can't face the possibility that his vice president would succeed in office and not be reviled for being a lying scumbag.

    A source in the Gore campaign tells me that their candidate will wage a very negative race against Bradley, part of the Robert Shrum/Brazile strategy, that will build on his attacks on the former Knick at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Iowa last Saturday night. If that's true, Gore is finished. At that event, Gore again challenged Bradley to a debate a week and then took direct shots at the former New Jersey Senator's congressional record. He said: "In 1981, when Reaganomics was put up for a vote, and some Democrats felt that, for their political survival they had to vote for the slashing budget cuts that raised child poverty and diminished health care coverage and hurt public schools, I never walked away. I decided to stay and fight... When Newt Gingrich took over the Congress and tried to reinforce Reaganomics, some walked away. I decided to stay and fight."

    Well, although Bradley didn't run for reelection in '96, after 18 years in the Senate, you could make the case that he was disgusted with the Democratic administration. Reacting to Gore's amped-up rhetoric, Bradley told The Washington Post's Dan Balz, "This is what I call dartboard politics. Throw a little dart and hope that it will be a poison dart. I think the people are fed up with that... I'm not in the business of responding to every one of their darts."

    The Times insists that Gore is back on track. R.W. Apple, in an Oct. 11 story headlined "Notion of a New Al Gore Begins to Take Root," absurdly writes that the "new" Gore is effective because, in the Vice President's words, he has "started to connect with the American people." Apple doesn't question the candidate about how it's taken an extraordinarily long time to pull that off considering he's been in the political limelight for seven years. And Apple, disengaged as ever, takes the word of Gore's aides that their candidate started to turn things around on Aug. 12 at a bingo hall in Iowa. Sure. That's why since that magical summer night, Gore's made a farcical move of his campaign headquarters to Nashville, fired key advisers and pollsters, and started calling Bill Bradley names.

    Finally, in Sunday's Washington Post, Patrick Reddy, a Democratic pollster, wrote that only Gore can defeat Bush. I agree with that, but not with his strange reasoning. He writes: "But Gore is the only Democrat who can break the GOP grip on the South..." Uh, Patrick, are you forgetting that Jeb Bush is governor of Florida and his brother, the candidate, is governor of Texas? Also, Gore wouldn't have a shot in South Carolina or Virginia, and right now he's losing to Bush in his home state of Tennessee. It's possible that Gore could defeat Bush, but that win will come by carrying New York, California and all of the Rust Belt states.

    8Another Reason to Fire John Podhoretz. I have problems with Jimmy Carter. He wasn't an effective president and his reputation as the "Best Living Ex-President" is sometimes hard to take. Sure, he's building houses, but he sticks his beak into foreign affairs far too often, partly in an effort to get that damn Nobel Prize. Herbert Hoover, a calamitous president, was a better example of a man who continued to serve his country in a selfless way after leaving office.

    But I agree with Carter's appeal to Bill Clinton to give a pardon to Patty Hearst for her role in a bank robbery back in '74. She truly was a victim: raped repeatedly, stuffed in a closet for 57 days by the Symbionese Liberation Army and then bizarrely appearing as a member of that gang. She spent 21 months in prison, unfairly, I think, for being a rich target of an evil cult group that brainwashed her. How Clinton can pardon the FALN 16, and not Hearst, who's led an exemplary life since leaving prison and is no threat to anyone, unlike the FALN members, is unfathomable.

    The New York Post, in another stupid editorial, agrees with Clinton. Last Friday the paper said: "Apparently, Carter feels she's still suffering. 'The fact is she deserves the pardon...she's been a model citizen in every way... And all this time, Patty has not been able to vote, she's not been a full-fledged American citizen.' Well, cry us a river."

    The Post's beef is with Carter, not Hearst.

    On the subject of the Post, Jack Newfield's column of Sept. 19 was priceless, even if he repeated his political philosophy for the 1000th time. (What, did he write a book about Bobby Kennedy?) Newfield: "I'm a Robert Kennedy Democrat. I favor unions, a higher minimum wage, jobs, national health insurance, a massive investment in public education, and aggressive law enforcement. I should be an automatic vote for Hillary Clinton, but I am not. The more I listen to her, the more I wish she wasn't running... The first lady should be running in New Jersey, where the Senate seat is open [it is in New York, too, Jack], and Gov. Whitman has withdrawn as a candidate. My advice to Mrs. Clinton is to put on a New Jersey Nets cap, join the Bruce Springsteen fan club and rent a house in Princeton."

    In a related News Corp. tidbit, owner Rupert Murdoch's son had a smart-assed reaction several weeks ago when he learned that William Bennett and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the country's morality czars, awarded Fox Television their Silver Sewer Award. Lachlan Murdoch told a National Press Club audience: "Get a sense of humor and get off the high horse. People can use a very simple device, called remote control, and flip to 56 other choices. I think there's an argument in terms of whether or not this programming is offending anyone."

    9An update on the John McCain media fan club. Slate's Jacob Weisberg was the most disgusting offender in the past week, with a slimy report on Oct. 4 filed after a few days on the road with Mr. No Bullshit. Weisberg: "Why do the hacks love McCain? You could start with our admiration for a quality not many of us possess: physical courage... Reporters respect McCain less because he takes liberal positions than because of the way he puts his beliefs ahead of his career as a matter of course... Then there's the McCain charm. I doubt I'll enjoy any part of this 2000 campaign so much as a couple of days spent as part of a three-person press corps traveling with McCain. He's funny, friendly, and far too candid for his own good... He also responds to the press. Unlike the inaccessible George W. Bush, you can get to McCain easily, and have a frank, intelligent discussion with him about just about any topic... When McCain flatters you, it doesn't feel automatic or calculated. He truly likes us journalists. It's his fellow Senators he can't stand."

    How depressing. Weisberg might give a call to any of 15 reporters in Arizona and ask how responsive McCain is to their constant calls. And of course the blowhard is willing to talk to the Washington press right now: he's running for president, dummy, and needs all the free publicity he can get. If that means flattering chumps like Weisberg, he'll swallow it. If McCain had the money that Bush does, and the endorsements, he wouldn't "truly like us journalists." He'd avoid them to hold his lead.

    Tucker Carlson, the excellent Weekly Standard reporter and CNN television personality, wrote about McCain from a different angle in the November issue of Talk, perhaps the only readable piece in that flailing magazine. Carlson agrees that McCain is fun to hang out with, loves his off-color jokes, his nasty jabs at potential voters on the stump, and says, "After about an hour you find yourself fighting the urge to crack a beer and call him 'John.'" But Carlson doesn't buy the shtick, entertaining though it may be. He writes: "The White House?of course. Spend enough time with McCain and you begin to forget that he is in the process of running for president. Or maybe you simply don't care to remember. McCain the Man is so superior to McCain the Presidential Candidate that it seems a shame he didn't just remain a widely admired senator.

    He continues: "Once, when I asked him to elaborate a bit [about his views on abortion], McCain explained that, while they might look divided, activists at both poles of the abortion debate actually 'share the same goal.' I meant to ask a follow-up question, but my head was spinning too fast."

    Susan Estrich, the manager of Mike Dukakis' don't-let-this-happen-to-you presidential campaign of '88, isn't as obsequious as Weisberg in her Sept. 29 syndicated column, but she's an admirer as well. Estrich has conceded the GOP nomination to Gov. Bush, but is pushing for McCain to be his veep, an event that's less likely to occur than The New York Times banning biased reporting. Failing that choice, Estrich proposes a Bradley-McCain ticket, saying, "A fusion ticket isn't likely in today's politics, but it would certainly be popular? It's enough to make many people yearn for a real Reform Party."

    Thomas Oliphant, the McGovernite joke pundit for The Boston Globe, wrote such a stupid piece last week, headlined "True-blue conservative," that the McCain machine, such as it is, immediately had copies made and put it in their stack of campaign materials. Oliphant despises Bush and so he uses McCain (whom he'd never vote for over Bradley or Gore) as a foil to belittle the GOP leader. The Beltway insider blathers on about how honest McCain is, that he's his own man, putting principle over expediency, and then comes up with this whopper:

    "Now take tax cuts. Bush supports virtually everything on the GOP congressional wish list, symbolized by that $792 billion monstrosity that President Clinton just vetoed, half of which was polluted by special interest business goodies. McCain made the mistake of voting for it in the Senate, but only out of party loyalty and the view that it wasn't going to become law."

    What happened to the guy whose own beliefs trump politics? Oliphant doesn't explain, because he can't.

    Finally, The Economist's "Lexington" weighs in on McCain in its current issue. "But it's not so clear that a 'general pain in the ass' [how McCain gleefully describes himself] is what voters want. American leaders set rules for others. They are the overdog. Others react to them. This may explain why voters admire, but do not support, Mr. McCain. He is a courageous man. But his courage lies in resisting what he thinks is wrong. And Americans may not want a resistance hero as president."

    So, as you can see, some sanity is to be found amidst the McCain Scam.

    10The Irish Need Not Be Coddled. Bill Clinton truly is a remarkable politician. He can offend the entire nation, commit crimes, ruin the lives of innocent people and remain in office. He's permitted ethnic slurs of almost any kind. In a speech in Ottawa on Friday, Clinton said: "I spent an enormous amount of time trying to help the people in the land of my forbears [with his scrambled ancestry, just how does he know who his authentic forebears are?] in Northern Ireland get over 600 years of religious fights. And every time they make an agreement to do it, they're like a couple of drunks walking out of the bar for the last time. When they get to the swinging door, they turn around and go back in and say 'I just can't quite get there.'"

    Now, Clinton would never make a public joke about Jews or gays (what he says in private, who knows) but Irish-Americans are fair game because they're white, Christian and not likely to cause a ruckus. And indeed, with a few exceptions, the slur went unnoticed.

    Jimmy Breslin, naturally, in his Newsday column last Sunday, was blistering in his contempt of Clinton. He said: "It is no surprise that Clinton called all the Irish drunks, particularly in front of a British Empire audience he wanted to please. That's all he ever wants to do. Be loved. He doesn't have a moment in him when he cares about anybody but himself... And here in New York, the one thing to look out for is this Hillary rushing forward to take exception, deny, refute, scream, shriek, squall that she does not believe this at all, that the Irish are not drunks, that she separates from her husband on this. 'See? You can vote for me and not my husband.' You are then entitled to regard this as a cheap, grubby stunt from the very start. Oh, yes, these people are capable of anything."

    11Why Not Just Call Him Mr. Trump? With the Reform Party in such tatters now, you wonder what all the hullabaloo was just a few weeks ago when Pat Buchanan started contemplating competing for their presidential nomination. All sorts of stupid things have been said in the past week?the media can't get enough of it all?and I have to feel sorry for the serious members of the party. First there's Donald Trump, who received unconscionable airtime last week even though he's a joke candidate. As the Daily News' Dave Saltonstall pointed out on Oct. 10, it's no coincidence that Trump has put off making a decision on the presidency until January, the same month his next book, The America We Deserve, hits bookstores.

    Still, Larry King played patsy to Trump on Oct. 7, giving him an hour-long commercial to brag, speak of his impeccable taste in women, tout his business acumen and pledge not to rename the White House in his honor. But the most interesting comment Trump, who'll support George Bush on Election Day, made was about Bill Bradley: "Bradley's not great. I know Bradley very well from New Jersey. I think I'm the largest employer in the state of New Jersey, and I know Senator Bradley. And, you know, he was going to be thrown out of office. This guy was not going to be reelected. And then he made the statement that I'm not going to run, and the Senate is a terrible place, and everybody in the Senate is terrible. It wasn't that he didn't want to run. The guy was going to lose. He was going to lose badly."

    On CNN's Inside Politics the same day, the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett, ignoring the loon Lenora Fulani's embrace of Buchanan, Trump, Ventura, Daffy Duck or anyone else who vies for the Reform Party's nomination, had this to say about the New York developer: "It's a total contradiction for the Reform Party to even consider it [Trump] since his entire public life in New York has been one of compromising one politician after another. It flies in the face of any notion of reform politics... He gave to every politician, hired all the right brokers and fixers and every deal he's ever done, every development project he's ever done has always depended completely??he's a state capitalist?on his relationship with politicians."

    Daily News owner and fellow developer Mort Zuckerman added: "It's just something that if you know him he's a really fun-loving and engaging guy, but I don't think he's particularly well-informed on the issues at all. And I don't think this has legs."

    The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne, who's almost as far out of the political loop as his colleague Richard Cohen and the Globe's Thomas Oliphant and David Nyhan (not to mention Newsweek's Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter, Time's Karen Tumulty, James Carney and Margaret Carlson, etc.), finally caught on that Jesse Ventura is a fool who had an extraordinary run of luck last November. In an Oct. 4 column, Dionne addressed Ventura: "While you were making money wrestling, Mother Teresa was devoting her life to the poor of Calcutta. Maybe you think she would have been better off in the ring with Disco Inferno." Good point, E.J. Too bad you're so late to the party.

    Last Thursday, The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt, while correctly ridiculing the freakshow of the Reform Party, was shameless in a plug for his other line of work, as a pundit on CNN. He writes: "The Cable News Network, where my wife is an anchor and I do two programs, is the country's most serious and credible television news operation. But when CNN permits Pat Buchanan or Jesse Jackson to moonlight away from their political activities it chips away at that lofty standing."

    "Lofty standing"? Says who? CNN is even more predictably partisan than the three competing networks. There's a reason why the station is called the Clinton News Network. And then Hunt has the hubris to rip Hardball's Chris Matthews for mistakes on his show.

    The best article I've read on the Reform Party recently was by The Weekly Standard's Matt Labash in the magazine's Oct. 18 issue. Instead of devoting space to the obvious?Ventura, Trump, Fulani, Buchanan, Perot?Labash spends time with Jack Gargan, the incoming chairman of the dysfunctional organization. Gargan, a Ventura ally, is a grizzled political creature who appears, unlike his prospective candidates, to take his job seriously. At first he put off Labash, saying, "I'm up to my balls in work," but then relented and wearily explained why he's still willing to chair the party despite its current laughingstock status. Gargan is a hardliner on crime, according to Labash, and in a doomed bid against Lawton Chiles for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in '94, "He advocated Singapore-style caning 'of the young punks who are running amok' and the export of Florida's felons to Mexican prisons, and he promised that he'd kill all 342 of Florida's death-row inmates on his first day in office."

    That makes a lot more sense to me than the self-serving malarkey of Trump and spoilsport rantings of Pat Buchanan. Labash concludes his piece saying that Gargan is a "man with a mission at once simple and Sisyphean. 'I just want everybody to know,' he says, 'that the Reform party is not made of nuts.'"

    Rotsa Ruck.

    12Another Raaahspberry for Tina. Keith Kelly's story in last Friday's Post about the low morale at Talk has the few remaining industry gossips who still care about the monthly chirping. I especially fancied Tina Brown's denial of problems at Talk: "Most magazine launches in the first six months have more people vanishing than Idi Amin's cabinet. I'm delighted the editorial staff proved as strong and terrific as they are, but inevitably, there will be some changes."

    This is just bad spin. For starters, Brown has never undertaken a "magazine launch," so how would she know about the inherent difficulties? But the problems at Talk run deeper than just the four recent defections: managing editor Howard Lalli, production director Randall White, features editor Lisa Chase (who resigned after a story on the Unabomber that she was working on with author Stephen Dubner was rewritten by a Tina-toadying editor; he pulled the story, she quit in protest, and the piece is in the current issue of Time) and editor-at-large Walter Hodgman.

    I can't figure out the Hearst (co-owner with Disney/Miramax) connection at all. Supposedly, the company was supposed to bring newsstand and business acumen to the venture. I've already written about the dumbfounding lack of an early direct-mail solicitation, but having a subscription to Talk is useless. I never received my first issue; the second appeared in my mailbox exactly four weeks after it was available on newsstands. And I've yet to be billed.

    Likewise, Brown's concentration on media "buzz" for the debut issue was successfully executed, with every newspaper and magazine on the planet, it seemed, writing dumb "Talk of the Town" stories about Tina's latest jewel. What Brown didn't realize was that it's stupid to court so much publicity for a magazine launch. The product obviously has to evolve, and once Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and The Washington Post, for example, have written about the monthly, they won't again for the foreseeable future, unless it's an obit. Thus, the drastic decrease in newsstand sales. In addition, once the four-magazine commitment that publisher Ron Galotti smartly coerced from advertisers elapses with the December issue, all the negative press is bound to persuade some fancy retailers to spend their money elsewhere.

    Brown must be shell-shocked, for it seems that fixing magazines with obvious problems, as she did successfully with Tatler, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, is easier than starting a publication from scratch, especially when she's not afforded the luxury of unlimited funds. It's especially difficult when the inventor is an affluent, parochial, comfortable and middle-aged 10021 person who doesn't have a clue as to the future of the media. What's with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover? Or the hagiographic profile of Al Gore by the compromised "historian" Douglas Brinkley? And Christopher Buckley's back-page parody of a politician's fundraising pitch is dreadful; obvious and not at all funny. I wouldn't be surprised if it was in his pile of reject manuscripts circa 1988.

    OCTOBER 11