Why Does MUGGER Swear So Much?; Cabal and the Devil; Strausbaugh and The Holocost

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:56

    CORRECTION: In the July 5 issue, MUGGER sloppily misidentified James Warren as a Chicago Sun-Times columnist. In fact, Warren is the Washington bureau chief of the rival Chicago Tribune. No slight against the Sun-Times was intended.

    John Strausbaugh's piece on Norman Finkelstein, "The Holocost" ("Publishing," 7/12), is predictably middlebrow, but surprisingly uncritical. There is, of course, his one great revelation?that Jews have used the Holocaust for political ends. What next? Civil rights leaders bringing up slavery and lynching? The universe, as seen by Strausbaugh, has the advantage of absolute moral clarity. On one side stand honest, decent scholars like Finkelstein (and Swiss bankers), and on the other, "greedy," "rapacious" Jews, getting rich off German money and hiding behind their victimhood whenever gentiles dare to criticize them for bludgeoning Palestinians (or controlling the media).

    Things aren't so simple. Historians of Europe (of whom I am one and Finkelstein, it should be noted, is not) have been increasingly troubled by how to describe the events of 1941-'44, during which most of Europe's Jewish civilians were murdered, without playing into the hands of the "absolute uniqueness" or the "minimalist" extremists. Most who study this era are restrained, responsible and self-critical. And most are troubled by what the French have accurately called the dual threat of "banalization and industrialization" of this genocide.

    A few points need to be corrected. Strausbaugh (whether he's quoting Finkelstein or not hardly matters, since all of that author's points are taken at face value) imagines that Nazis were "equally intent on exterminating [gays]." Politically correct nonsense. Worse, outdated, disproven, politically correct nonsense! Homosexuals within Germany were often persecuted and civil prisoners identified as homosexuals suffered more than others, but there were no ghettos or roundups of homosexuals, and certainly no singling-out of gays for extermination. In the end, very few were killed.

    Second, the issue of reparations is indeed a morally shaky one, but Strausbaugh completely fudges it. Germany was obliged to pay reparations; Switzerland was asked to return stolen goods. There is a difference. The Swiss banks took advantage of racial laws to freeze accounts owned by Jews. For 50 years they lied about this and then attempted to destroy the incriminating archives.

    Hapless Swiss indeed.

    Seth Armus, Dept. of History, St. Joseph's College, Patchogue, NY More Crank?

    Alan Cabal: Very well done ("Run with the Devil," 7/12). Please do more.

    Dr. Arlan Andrews Sr., Padre Island, TX Devilishly Short

    Alan Cabal's Pine Barrens piece was well done. Thanks.

    Jim Lehan, Manhattan

    Rubes, Snake, Bogey

    Alan Cabal: Excuse me for noticing, but my knowledge of the distribution of water moccasins kept interfering with my reading of your "Run with the Devil" article.

    From all studies, the northernmost breeding population of this snake is the Dismal Swamp in Virginia. Yes, they have been found farther north, but it has been the exception. My personal experience has been that most people call any snake in the water a water moccasin, even though the latter is one of many types of water snake that are very common in freshwater lakes and streams.

    Also, water moccasins are usually loners and do not live in nests. Your description sounds like a copperhead, which do live in "nests." Copperheads are common in New Jersey, but prefer damp moist places, and not the water.

    Rick Odden, Atlanta

    Hardly Davidson

    I've read New York Press religiously for the past three years. But in your 7/12 issue you guys seemed a pale imitation of yourselves. Why did you hire Willing Davidson?a good writer of personal pieces, but no piercing social critic?to write about his jones for pop music when M. Doughty writes about the very same topic (but far more intelligently) nearly every other week? Davidson adds nothing to our understanding of the recent pop explosion.

    In his Real World piece a few weeks ago ("Music," 6/14), Doughty connected his MTV addiction to his unease about aging. That's something you'll never read in the Village Voice: a genuine but unsentimental confession that implicitly accepts the seriousness of pop. Davidson's methodology comes straight from the Christgau School of Cultural Crit; he maintains "critical objectivity" through condescension?Do we really need to be told that Britney is "the ultimate antijam band"??while hedging his bets by imposing a faux-populist, aw-shucks perspective on his analysis. Davidson doesn't celebrate pop, which would be a simpleminded but refreshing critical tactic. He celebrates celebrating pop, i.e., he celebrates his own lack of pretension. And that's a surefire sign that there's some deep-seated pretension firmly entrenched in his personality.

    We need more of Doughty's hilarious soul-searching and Davidson's trenchant personal essays. Let the Village Voice take the fun out of pop culture by portraying it as a guilty pleasure, or a part of Davidson's "valueless pantheon."

    We've come to expect condescension from those mindless Clintonites from Cooper Square. Don't let their warped, pernicious perspective infect New York Press' pristine pages again.

    Thomas Guygax, Manhattan

    Taki and Alex, But No Guichard

    Loved Kenneth Goldsmith's "Four Twisted Sisters" interview ("Music," 7/5). All of your music stuff is brilliant and insightful.

    While I may not agree with the opinions of all your writers, any paper that has the balls to put Taki and Alexander Cockburn under the same roof gets my vote. Three cheers for true diversity.

    Muata, Bronx

    No, But Your Mother Looks Like Mencken

    Russ Smith: As regards John Strausbaugh vs. Joe MacLeod, in "The Mail," 7/5: I doubt that H.L. Mencken would publish such a lack of civility. But then, you are no Mencken.

    Name Withheld, Manhattan

    Soup Bones

    MUGGER is absolutely right that Rick Lazio is acting like a pussy ("MUGGER," 7/12). The quote from Lazio's fundraising letter that Lazio later backpedaled away from was mild and accurate. What is he afraid of? For God's sake, people are hungry for a candidate who will tell the truth about the Clintons.

    Even Mark McMahon, who is opposing Hillary as a Democrat, is tougher on her than Lazio is. "I don't think Hillary cares about New York," he says on his website. "I believe she is using us. I'm just not buying it. Someone has to stand up to her."

    Is Lazio afraid of fallout from going negative? Personally, in my naivete, I don't see what's wrong with going negative as long as you're making objective points. If your opponent is a scoundrel, what's wrong with saying so? The New York GOP boss wrote a fundraising letter calling Clinton a "shrill and scheming person," "cold-blooded and hotheaded," "abrasive and annoying," etc. I don't think that kind of talk is a smart idea?too ad hominem. I could see if Lazio wanted to distance himself from that. But Lazio's campaign spokesman had no problem with it.

    If that's okay, what's wrong with saying that the Clintons have embarrassed the country? Even many Democrats would agree with that. Lazio doesn't want to step up to the plate and take responsibility for a reasonable position, even when it's stated by one of his surrogates. He wants other people to tell the truth about the Clintons.

    Verdict: pussy as charged.

    Joe Rodrigue, New Haven

    From Our Eastern Territories

    As a European visitor to New York, I found John Strausbaugh's editorial against transport strikes in Europe insulting ("Freedom of Movement," 7/5). Strausbaugh moans that transport strikes contravene "the inalienable right to freedom of movement"; fortunately, in Europe we are able to assert that right more easily than most in the States precisely because we have a properly funded and integrated public transport system. Strausbaugh complains that in recent strikes "the only people affected were unwitting tourists." Is Strausbaugh then demanding that European working practices and employment law be designed to meet the convenience of American tourists?

    Wake up, Strausbaugh. The only "petty muscle-flexing" going on here is your own.

    Sasha Roberts, East Sussex, UK

    Middle-American MUGGER

    MUGGER: Enjoy reading your column?along with others on your staff. However, your use of the "f-word" in a newspaper column is offensive. Kind of makes me wonder why your wife would object to your son saying "jimmy the lock" (7/12) while your column is read by other mothers who must read offensive language.

    Carolyn Giammarino, New Port Richey, FL By Gum, We Were Stymied

    MUGGER: Why do you feel compelled to use the "f-word," as you did in your 7/12 column? Is it to appear hip? To reach down from Tribeca and touch base with the lowest common denominator? Is it to get a PG rating for your column so more teens will read it? Is it to make your kids proud of their pop? Is it such an ingrained part of the New York City patois that no piece of writing is complete without it?

    Richard Kinkead, Lantana, FL

    Russ Smith replies: I used the word because most people, in a situation like the one I described, would speak like that. Do you think writing "We were chagrined" would convey the same sense of desperation? I don't. Arguing against the use of "obscenities" in prose is tired and silly; not quite as silly, however, as your none-too-subtle invocation of class warfare.

    Box with Them

    MUGGER: Michael Kelly's column this week ties in very nicely with yours; pussy-like behavior is essential to winning elections.

    So of course Rick Lazio is a pussy. Twenty-five years of radical feminism, heavily influenced by the lesbian, man-hating variety, has cast manly behavior in the same light as child abuse.

    But the hell with politicians. Our schools and our culture are doing their best to turn our boys into pussies. What do we do about that?

    Tom Ganley, Boise

    Country Cookin'

    Evan Morris: If you don't like the sticks ("First Person," 7/5), get the fuck back in your cockroach-infested overpriced pressure-cooker of human detritus, you bigoted poseur. Chances are your neighbors like you about as much as you like eating at Denny's. I love it out here in the woods. I'm never going back. You crybaby.

    Name Withheld, Chester, VT

    W.B. Peats

    Oi! Northampton here we come (William Monahan, "A Night On The Tiles," 7/5). When is the Wet Beer Fart Contest? And those rude faux Celts lost in the murky bog...whew! The infinite variety of cow plop...very very deep, that. This William Monahan has glimpsed the Celtic Twilight?gobbled it up and shat it out at our feet. Praise be.

    Name Withheld, Manhattan

    Armond Down

    Once again Armond White has forgotten to write a film review and instead opts to present a useless thesis paper. His take on Scary Movie ("Film," 7/12) conveys no insight or even an opinion on the film itself. Rather, he judges this genuinely funny lowbrow movie solely on his expectation that director Keenen Ivory Wayans should present cultural humor?humor addressing race. "Wayans renounces what previously seemed his cultural purpose," Mr. White writes. "Instead of spoofing Hollywood blacks' desperate careerist urges...Wayans here ignores black cultural expression."

    This thinking is as stifling (perhaps even as racist) as the caricature of black culture that Hollywood has promoted. Keenen Ivory Wayans need not always make films with a strong black view (or white view for that matter), so long as he creates cinema that speaks to his audience and?foremost?is funny. Given the record box-office take over this past weekend, I think it is safe to say that his audience heard his call.

    It is important that minorities be represented onscreen and behind the camera, but it is more important to allow these people the right to have their work judged on its own merits and not by any preconceived notions of what the artist is supposed to be doing. Scary Movie spoofs movies that have become part of our pop culture. Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Matrix and The Usual Suspects were not movies only white audiences appreciated; all these films provide equal fodder for the Wayans brothers, and the multiracial audience I saw this film with laughed at the same jokes. Hence, Scary Movie is not "Keenen's white movie," as Armond White states, but is a comedic take on popular culture, even a criticism of formulaic teen movies. Must we rely on the aging Mel Brooks for all of our humor spoofing the films Hollywood produces?

    Armond White does not review this film, but nitpicks that Keenen Ivory Wayans has not delivered the film he (White) wanted. But White never says what he actually thought of the film, just discusses what he missed. How is this a review of the movie that was actually made, the one that was onscreen while Mr. White sat in the theater? His review has little to do with the film that was released, and is more concerned with broadcasting Mr. White's voice. How does Armond White's so-called "review" help the reader decide whether or not to plunk down $9.50 to see this film?

    Dan Myers, Brooklyn

    Armond Up

    I've been reading Armond White since discovering his brilliant work in the City Sun about eight years ago. I suspect the high traffic of Armond dis letters from your readers has more to do with their frustration than with his allegedly weak ideas. It's hard to keep up with any critic who seriously and thoroughly navigates channels of culture and race that leave most critics at a loss. He may paint himself into the occasional corner (shit, who doesn't?), but his kamikaze dives often yield astonishing revelations. I could have framed and mounted his reviews of Spike Lee's Malcolm X (in the Sun) and Darabont's The Green Mile. His sensitivity to what is actually passing across the screen?from its cultural significance down to the quality of a cinematographer's light?makes his pieces far more visceral and suspenseful than most of the numbing hack jobs he reviews.

    Just listen to this from his 7/12 column: "Suppose the original Shaft, Richard Roundtree (who has gained gravity and skill he didn't have back in 1971, but here is relegated to a smiling old-codger cameo), had reprised Shaft and brought with him some reflection on the past 30 years of racism, police brutality, ghetto nihilism? Paul Newman captured such depth in reprised roles of The Drowning Pool and Twilight. But Hollywood doesn't allow black artists to create such continuity and exploration. Jackson takes over the Shaft franchise simply to deracinate and dilute it."

    White sees what few of his colleagues see, and that's at least partially due to the fact that he is nonwhite. I suspect it's hard to grasp the earth-raising significance of a phrase like "the prison of white imagination" if you're white. Where your average white scribe might see in Shaft a mild affront to good taste or even an edgy, hip but harmless return to blaxploitation, White sees a holocaust. He may sound like a Times Square "prophet" at times, but he's right.

    Thank you for giving ample column space to a writer who never squanders it.

    Steven Boone, Mt. Vernon, NY

    Stalin: One Badass Nigga

    Andrey Slivka: A number of Ukrainians got poisoned by mushrooms; so in your 7/12 "Apples With Honey" you wrote: "...let a Ukrainian do it himself, he'll poison himself; never hand a Ukrainian the keys to the family car, dear; make sure there's a designated driver."

    You're a stinking racist.

    There are Jewish crooks like Boesky, Milken, Rabbi Bergman, traitors like the Rosenbergs and black thugs like Colin Ferguson, those who went wilding in Central Park, and who comprise a big chunk of America's violent criminals. But you wouldn't mention their race, and even less would you blame their race when it comes to blacks and Jews.

    You're always disparaging white gentiles, and they're too good for you. You need to live among Arabs or Africans or Israelis. They'd squeeze out all the venom that consumes you.

    M. Heras, Manhattan

    Piney Fresh

    Just a note of appreciation for Alan Cabal's excellent article, "Run with the Devil." Mr. Cabal is a sublime and skillful writer. He did a fine job of presenting the whole Jersey Devil scenario?so fine in fact, that I may plan my own trip to the area.

    Mike Frizzell, Reisterstown, MD

    Devil Music

    I grew up in Sweetwater, NJ, in the early and mid-70s. Heard and saw a lot of strange stuff there. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece of work, and hope to read more as his summer continues in the Barrens. The phrase "Get out before dark" carries a lot of weight when referring to South Jersey.

    Name Withheld, Tampa Bay

    State of Relief

    Nobody at New York Press is allowed to write about the state of Maryland anymore ("Opinion," 7/12).

    Pete Brush, Brooklyn

    Lazio Daze of Summer

    MUGGER: Since your 7/12 column mentioned Rick Lazio's weak sister act (Republicans still seem gun shy after their El Foldo act during the Clarence Thomas debacle), we in the outlands have been awaiting the arrival of the vaunted rough-and-ready New York Press.

    Talk about a pussy act. I thought the reporter's code of honor required him to submit to the SS detail's beatings and false arrests, to scream questions and demand answers from the odious Marxist harpy. Pathetic.

    Wanda LaBisoniere, Beecher, IL

    Lowest Pig Ever

    MUGGER: Although I'm pulling big-time for Rick Lazio, I must admit your 7/12 article criticizing him has some merit. As an ex-New Yorker, born and bred in Astoria, and an attendee of Aviation Trades High School in Manhattan (1955-'58), where 33 percent of the students were black, 33 percent Hispanic and 33 percent white, I learned quickly to separate the wheat from the chaff and tell it like it is. Best time of my life, at Aviation High. Loved those different cultures. Even became their "Man of the Year," in 1980. As you see, I'll always be a New Yorker.

    I hate that Hillary witch and am ticked off that Lazio won't jump on her case. I'd be verbally mopping up the streets with her. I think I could go on for hours denoting the nasty, elitist, calculating, lowlife, immoral, criminal bitch that woman is. Maybe Ol' Rick is saving his ammo until after Labor Day! He better get with it and start attacking! He is starting to be framed as a mush.

    Also, tell him to get his butt on every local and national radio and tv show he can! Like right freakin' now! The bitch will never do that. God forbid, someone might ask her a real question.

    I'm also ashamed of those candy-ass New York City press people who kiss her butt! What ever happened to the rough-and-tumble New York political press corps!

    John Arcari, Plano, TX

    Impartial Judge

    I can read Michael Schaffer's ("Opinion," 7/5) I'm-too-fucking-hip-for-my-own-good-fuck-these-yuppies-crashing-my-hip-hood bullshit every week in the Washington City Paper. Please.

    Mark Gauvreau Judge, Washington, DC

    Bobo Bites Back

    Re: Michael Schaffer's "The Clinton Gentrification" ("Opinion," 7/5):

    I am the co-owner of the People Garden and the leader of many of the community service projects that Michael Schaffer speaks of in his article with great disdain. I cannot understand Mr. Schaffer's anger, which is directed at everything I have done in the neighborhood, except perhaps as a result of ignorance or jealousy.

    True, my organic health-food store stands out, because we did put a lot of attention into renovation and bringing high-quality products into a building that had been neglected for a long time. Perhaps you can call this gentrification. I call it meeting the demands of people who actually live in our neighborhood, so that they do not need to get in their cars to shop in other neighborhoods. In the 1999 Mount Pleasant Consumer and Resident survey (which was conducted in three languages), people said they did not shop on Mt. Pleasant St. because of lack of diversity in businesses, trash and public substance abuse. The highest-ranking new kinds of businesses were: coffeeshops, hardware stores, non-Salvadoran restaurants and a health-food establishment.

    Up until January, there were very few options on the street. There were either Salvadoran restaurants or immigrant-oriented grocery stores. The immigrant population in our neighborhood is only one third of the population. The rest of the neighborhood also has the right to find things that appeal to them in our neighborhood. In any case, bringing in two new businesses (out of a total of 74) is not displacing anyone. This neighborhood is not predominantly anything. It is the most diverse neighborhood in Washington, DC, and as a community leader I believe there needs to be a place for everyone.

    Mr. Schaffer and other self-appointed advocates confuse gentrification with the evil of displacement. Mr. Schaffer assumes that Latinos and low-income people do not want clean establishments with high-quality products and good customer service. He does not know that, in the last eight weeks, more Latinos and nonwhite/non-upper-income residents have stopped in to ask our business hours than members of the upper-income segment of our neighborhood.

    Mr. Schaffer also does not choose to include in his article that we did not displace any businesses in this building. The former tenant, a variety store, left four months prior to our purchase of the building to open a bigger store in Silver Spring, MD. Mr. Schaffer does not mention that all the apartments were considerably improved, nor that rents have not been raised and will not be raised for the current tenants in our building. The other "gentrified" business that just came to the neighborhood, Dos Gringos Cafe, also bought a former home on Mt. Pleasant whose owner was retiring to the Dominican Republic.

    At my health market, all full-time staff is paid $12 an hour. Staffers receive health insurance and other benefits for retail work that normally pays seven dollars elsewhere in the city (less in this neighborhood). I am very proud of the fact that my staff speaks a total of 12 languages and represents homeowners, renters, parents, young single people, high school students, homosexuals, Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, Caucasians, immigrants from Eastern Europe, former street people, etc.

    Lastly, Mr. Schaffer forgets to mention that those people who could not afford tickets to the neighborhood fundraising dinner in Lamont Park last year were offered the opportunity to volunteer at the dinner and receive a dinner and seating in exchange. People who normally hang out in the park were the first to be offered this opportunity, and the majority did help. Moreover, people who did listen to the music that night and could not afford the dinner also could not normally afford a concert ticket. We provided a free concert by a nationally recognized band for the whole neighborhood. Those who chose to have dinner either paid for it or volunteered for it.

    I don't feel the need to defend my business or community development work at all. More than 500 people came to the People Garden's pre-opening parties. (Ninety percent of them were from Mount Pleasant.) However, Mr. Schaffer's biased reporting is specifically the reason that I do not read Washington City Paper and repeatedly turn down offers to be interviewed by the paper's reporters. I suggest that Mr. Schaffer get more involved in his community, or at least better research a topic, before writing an article again.

    Jefferson Brechbuhl, the People Garden, Mount Pleasant Community Development Center, Washington, DC


    Michael Schaffer replies: You know, I'd much rather have Jefferson Brechbuhl's organic co-op than a Starbucks, but that's changing the subject.

    What motivated me to write is my fascination with the phenomenon of what happens when a neighborhood is upscaled by a largely liberal population in a relatively commerce-free city like DC. My point was that, for the most part, the things that happen?rents going up, better stores arriving, people throwing dinner parties that smack of snobbishness no matter how many people are allowed to volunteer?are the same as in any other gentrifying neighborhood. The difference is that in our neighborhood, these happenings come wrapped in a moral superiority that distracts people from the essential economic logic that's really driving the changes. That Brechbuhl would use his letter to question my community-service virtue, and tout his, pretty much proves my point.

    And as far as his history with my reporting, the previous paragraph was the first time I've ever used the words "Jefferson Brechbuhl" in print, and my op-ed piece last week was the first time in more than two years that I've written about our neighborhood.

    Junker Rebellion

    In the last paragraph of William Bryk's 7/5 "Old Smoke," it says that Aaron Burr was buried by his "father and grandfather" in 1836. According to the given chronology, he should have been about 81 years old. How old was his father at that time? And his grandfather? So what's up with that?

    Eddie Junker, Bernalillo, NM

    The editors reply: By, to quote from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, as in "near to or next to."

    Burr Under Saddle

    Although it is great that your columnist William Bryk gives us a partial summary of the two-volume biography of Aaron Burr written by Milton Lomask in 1982, Mr. Bryk glosses over certain facts too easily.

    Burr and Hamilton were rivals in banking. Hamilton's Bank of the United States granted loans only to the wealthy. Burr created the Bank of the Manhattan Company, which had two goals: to finance small businessmen and to bring fresh, clean water to the city, which suffered from yellow fever and other dirty-water diseases. When the duel took place, according to Lomask and the Smithsonian Institution, Hamilton offered the pistols, one of which had a hair-trigger. The pistols belonged to Hamilton's brother-in-law, an experienced duelist who had shot several men, legally in those days. No conclusion is offered to explain why Hamilton (also an experienced duelist) missed the target; and Burr, who had never handled a pistol before, hit the spot.

    On the matter of the "treason letter," some historians cited by Lomask claim that it is a forgery, and that Burr had no intention of committing an act of treason. The implication is that Burr hoped to aid the western states and/or Mexico to declare independence from Spain. This of course did occur; Mexico won its independence in 1820.

    Also, Burr had a beloved daughter and had her highly educated. Unfortunately, his daughter and her child were lost in a shipwreck. But in his old age, Burr became a mentor and guardian to several orphan girls whom he treated kindly and playfully referred to as his "daughters."

    It is puzzling that a person with so many good qualities is often referred to as a scoundrel. Lomask's biography of Burr should be "must" reading for students of New York history.

    R. Hoffman, Brooklyn

    Das Rheingold

    MUGGER: You write accurately about Shea Stadium (7/5). But let me tell ya?back in the day, there was a ballpark in Brooklyn, see, and O'Malley's Dodgers were there, see. They called it Ebbets Field, see, and fellas like Pete Hamill and the old Trotskyites, Wobblies, Spanish Civil War vets and poets would quaff pints.

    Them's was de days. Dem bums.

    Tom Phillips, Manhattan

    Bogged Down in the Fens

    MUGGER: As if it hasn't been hard enough lately for this faithful Red Sox fan:

    I attended a recent sold-out afternoon game against the Braves at Fenway Park (where I sat in one of those aggravating and yet somehow charming solo obstructed-view seats behind third?I picked it up for $20 when the box office opened that morning). And what do you think happens when John Rocker comes in to embarrass the good guys with some of the nastiest heat I've seen thrown this year? The crowd gets to its feet and boos for several obnoxious minutes as he makes his way to the mound and warms up.

    I mean, the irony. All these drunk Bostonians, some of the most provincial and racist people on the planet, booing Rocker. For what? For saying the same things about New York and New Yorkers that you'd hear on any of Beantown's trashy morning radio shows? I mean, segregation is still alive and well in most of the neighborhoods up here, for crying out loud. What a joke. Anyway, it was a rather humorous moment and I thought you might enjoy.

    C. Zwahlen, Boston

    Ad Rage

    MUGGER: I was also at the Mets-Braves game at Shea Stadium that you wrote about in your 7/5 column.

    One of my companions was making her first visit to a Major League park. She had a ball. There seemed to be a lot of Yankee fans at the game; fans who just wanted to go out for a weekend matinee game. It was good to see. I like Yankee Stadium much better, but sitting directly behind home plate at Shea is a great look. The ushers seemed much happier than the ones in the Bronx, too. It was a good, easy day.

    I wanted to know your feelings about the radio ads currently smothering FM stations urging all of us to rip tobacco ads out of magazines. I don't smoke, but these ads really annoy me. They are so personal and ruthless, they make your skin crawl.

    The whole premise of the ad is the desire of young Americans to wish ill on a group of businessmen. Who's paying for this shit? I wonder if the ad's "actors" were brainwashed youths or paid voices. I think I smell a certain brand of cigar. The tone of the ad is so Clinton. Nasty in an "I know better than you" kind of way. You know that both Hillary and Bill wholeheartedly support the ad, yet she's the one who really believes it. That's where it gets scary. It is such a perfect issue for Hillary. She gets to use her two favorite weapons: children and class warfare. "No, these men don't deserve to make a living," I can hear her say as she is driven into the driveway of her new house in Chappaqua. A town the great majority of New Yorkers will never be capable of moving into. From the same people who tax the shit out of the product anyhow. It's a piss.

    Where is everybody? I'd love to hear you take this issue on, either in the paper or on the Web.

    Edward Brady, Manhattan

    Mario Knows

    MUGGER: This refers to your columns endorsing Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania as the Republican candidate for vice president. I respectfully disagree.

    I believe Gov. Ridge is not even on the shortlist for the post. In my opinion, choosing Ridge will guarantee a loss for George W. Bush in the election, as he would lose all credibility regarding his core beliefs, which include a strong opposition to abortion. It is not sufficient for a Bush nominee to be against "partial-birth abortion" because of the vicious and abhorrent nature of that procedure. The choice of Gov. Ridge would tear apart the Republican convention, which is the last thing Bush needs.

    I believe Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating's the man. He is a civil yet implacable conservative who is solid in his core beliefs and can firmly and politely rebut the accusatory assertions of even the most hostile of questioners. He is much more compatible with conservatives and with Bush, and does not believe that a woman's body is all that is involved in an abortion.

    Congressman John Kasich of my own state of Ohio is on the shortlist, too. However, he is too apt to be a compromiser, and, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, has been rolled by President Clinton and the Democrats on the budget too many times to be credible in my opinion.

    Mario Goveia, Toledo

    Russ Smith replies: Oh, please. Of course Ridge is on the "shortlist." Keating, by all appearances, is a fine man, as is Kasich, but if you've followed the arc of Bush's campaign you'll see that he's willing to take "chances" with the hard-right-wing. The GOP is hungry for the White House: Ridge is adamantly opposed to late-term abortions and that'll satisfy the vast majority of the pro-life faction of the Republican Party. After all, it's Bush running for president, not Ridge or Keating. And just as Bush broke the rules by "daring" to propose basic changes to Social Security, he'll show the guts to pick someone like Ridge.

    Runaway Ralph

    MUGGER: Great 7/5 article. You have articulated why I am supporting Ralph Nader.

    Bob Burke, Newton, MA

    Shoot Old Dogs

    MUGGER: Read your 7/5 column. You are very entertaining. I appreciate your style.

    I take it you are a conservative. I am a former "yellow dog" Democrat, but now a Nader backer and, for a time, an independent cruising in neutral. I, like you, think the New Democrats have indeed made the Democrat Party the most hypocritical political organization going nowadays. They should call themselves the Not Democrats. The mangy curs infected the old yellow dog and he scratched to death.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for a fair take on Nader as well as a greatly deserved on-target shot at the contemporary Democratic Party.

    Al Bostick, New Orleans

    Fifteen Years Down

    MUGGER: I love your irreverent, trenchant, no-holds-barred style.

    I am an oxymoronic Harvard-educated Bubba cardiologist living in rural Texas.

    Having lived in Boston for 15 years, I can tell you the bullshit is not nearly as deep here.

    Except for the fact that you'll miss your baseball games, when the time comes, you should think about retiring down here.

    Robert F. McFarlane, MD, Palestine, TX

    Lajoi of Politics

    MUGGER: You write an excellent column. Sometimes I enjoy reading about good restaurants, stores, etc., instead of about that exciting presidential race (joke).

    I get depressed when I think of those two candidates. I suppose I'll vote for George W. Bush, though, as I trust he'll have intelligent advisers when it comes to foreign affairs and such.

    Keep at it!

    Aron Lajoi, Mahopac, NY

    TV Epidemic

    Re: MUGGER's 7/5 comments on campaign finance reform:

    If the American people supported public financing of presidential elections, more would check the box on their 1040 forms that allows the government to deduct three dollars from their taxes to go into the campaigns. I think it's reached an all-time low. Since it doesn't add to your tax bill, I interpret it as a big, "Hell, no, don't you dare use any of my hard-earned money to pay for some sucky politician's tv ads." Actions speak louder than words?I don't care what they tell some pollster about campaign reform.

    The way I interpret it, Ralph Nader's Green Party platform proposes to break up the 500 largest U.S. corporations. That would be the equivalent of destroying trillions of dollars of property owned by the maybe 100 million individual Americans who own stock in those companies. Don't tell me Nader isn't an angry left-wing wacko commie. But let's not spread that news around. The more votes he pulls from Gore, the happier I'll be.

    The politicians are all calling for an investigation into price gouging by the oil companies. Wouldn't it have been just as useful and informative to have called for an investigation into why gas prices were so low last year? An all-time record. Shouldn't we worry about the children of the oilmen?wouldn't they be starving in the streets? If they are colluding now to raise prices, why didn't they collude last year when they were so low?

    The Wall Street Journal had an article by Steven Landsburg on June 28 headlined "Criticisms of big oil don't add up," which nicely pointed out the failure of most of us to understand the basic principles of law (British common law) and morality.

    The oil companies have no moral obligation to provide cheap gas to anyone. It's their property. They can sell it for whatever price they wish; or hang out a sign saying "Gone fishing" and head for Canada, leaving us motorists stranded. Moral obligations either apply to all or apply to none. If gas companies have an obligation to provide cheap gas, so does everyone else.

    The Constitution forbids the government from taking a citizen's property without just compensation. One of our Judeo-Christian moral tenets, the Seventh Commandment, says, "You shall not steal." That's in essence what government antitrust laws are doing (you can only justify interfering with oil prices under the antitrust laws)?stealing property under the guise of fairness and cheap oil for all. Antitrust laws are in essence a form of legalized thievery.

    I thought Al Gore wanted to raise gas taxes to encourage Americans to conserve more. Remember the BTU tax in the first term? The Arabs did it for him; he should be happy. Let's all trade in our SUVs and buy econoboxes.

    Mark Michael, Dayton

    Who Wears Short Shorts?

    MUGGER: Here's another letter about the Boy Scouts and your response (7/12) to mail critical of your position. I've been reading your paper for several months, and it has to be the best "alternative" weekly ever.

    As I have immense respect for your political analysis, I would ask that you explain to your more conventional conservative readers the following: Why are you and the pro-gay activist crowd so incapable of acknowledging the core of the conservative position? Specifically, that homosexuality is a moral issue? I can understand that you might disagree with that position, but why can't you confront it? Instead, we're treated to the usual nonsense about "diversity" and "homophobia," as if criticism of homosexuality weren't rational.

    I would suggest that, if you truly want to be effective in persuading your significant conventionally minded readership, you focus on why the "moral" argument cannot withstand scrutiny.

    Geoffrey Lamb, Scottsdale, AZ


    MUGGER: I looked forward to your rebuttal to your critics on the Boy Scouts issue, but, alas, I guess your heart really wasn't in it. You've gone wobbly. So you support the Scouts, yet worry about their future? Well, I suspect they can take care of themselves, thank you very much, and don't need such patronizing blather from you.

    I thought through this issue plenty, and don't consider it un-American at all. Funny that you mocked the code of conduct, mores and rules as a young pup Scout?but maybe you were just a smartass kid anyway, getting a head start on your true vocation.

    Since when does a disagreement over homosexuality make one homophobic? Now you're talking like some moronic leftist?is diversity supposed to be the end of all Scout training? Do they exclude Hispanics, blacks and Jews?

    As to your other concerns about potential harassment from the likes of Harvey Fierstein, RuPaul and Sister BoomBoom, so what? Bring it on! If the Boy Scouts can't handle taunts from people like that, maybe they should fold. Bet they won't, though, and bet, too, that their membership will rise now that parents see one group with enough moxie to take their fight to the Supreme Court because they thought their traditions were worth preserving.

    Maybe if hip urban parents like yourself weren't so concerned about the approbation of those who despise you anyway you wouldn't be twisting your knickers so much. Oh, the shame, MUGGER. You've gone limp and have decided to roll over. Maybe Miami in June isn't such a good idea after all.

    David Dorion, Oakville, Ontario