Best of Manhattan 2001: Media & Politics

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Deford’s
Done.
As we’ve written before in these pages, the once-literate Sports
Illustrated
has devolved–like most Time Warner publications–into
a banal melange of cliches and hack writing. However, S.I.’s Sept.
24 cover was the class of the newsstands after the WTC bombings. The image was
stark: an American flag draped over an empty seat in an unnamed sports venue,
with a small headline on top that read “The Week That Sports Stood Still.”
It was a striking contrast to the newsweeklies that ran redundant photos of
the Trade Center rubble, President Bush with rescue workers or the mushrooms
of smoke in Lower Manhattan that New York’s misanthrope Michael
Wolff found so exhilarating.


Inside S.I.,
the contents were mixed. Frank Deford, another journalist who’s refused
to recognize his best years are behind him, inexplicably argued that the sports
world was wrong to cancel athletic contests after the Sept. 11 catastrophe.
Sounding like Pete Rozelle, who permitted the National Football League to play
its schedule just two days after JFK was murdered in ’63, Deford wrote:
“To attend a game at such a time would not be callous. To watch a game
on television would not mean that we care less for those who have died and those
who have lost loved ones. We would still grieve. We would still be brokenhearted.
However, we are human beings, always contradictory in our emotions. We should
not be ashamed to be transported briefly from our sorrow and from this mad encounter
with evil.”


Deford didn’t
have much company in this short-sighted view. In fact, the athletes themselves
had no stomach to go on with the games. In Philadelphia, on the night of President
Bush’s speech, the Flyers’ hockey contest was called off after spectators
and players alike wanted to watch the magnificent speech, which was broadcast
in the arena. Roger Clemens, who made history on Sept. 19 by becoming the first
pitcher to run up a win-loss record of 20-1, didn’t celebrate; in fact,
he was visibly shaken by the previous week’s events and more concerned
with his children’s fears than with a mere ballgame. When one of the balls
from his record-breaking performance was retrieved he signed it “God Bless
America.”


In the same
issue of S.I. Richard Hoffer was infinitely more sensible and sensitive
than Deford, offering this conclusion to his essay: “It’s going to
take a few more weeks, maybe months, to absorb all those stories, to clear the
rubble, to find so many dead, to organize a military response, to relocate our
geography that is newly tilted by terrorism. They may have seemed strange and
defeated, those stadiums empty and quiet last week, but they had to be, no way
around it. America was busy. It couldn’t come out to play.”


And Tim McCarver,
the usually obnoxious tv play-by-play commentator, said after a Mets victory
on Sept. 21: “We as Americans have had a distorted view of the word ‘hero,’
but not anymore.”



Best Ann Powers
Fuckup

Defining “Bling Bling”
as Slang For a Gun Battle



And “Pop
a Cap” Means a Dental Emergency.
So, last March, on the front page
of the “Arts and Leisure” section of the Times, Ann Powers
is reviewing this old-school hiphop revue, and she quotes DJ Kool Herc as saying,
“This is not a bling bling; this is a hip-hop party,” and then explains
that Herc is “referring to the young stars whose penchant for ‘bling
bling,’ or gunplay, keeps hip-hop notorious.”


“Bling
bling” is onomatopoeia for light glinting off a diamond; so when you say
something is bling bling, or blinged out, or whatever, you’re saying it’s
ritzy, glitzy, high-class, moneyed. It originated with rappers in New Orleans
a couple years back, and became an extremely widespread term in the hiphop lingua
franca soon thereafter. Now, we’re being total pedantic asses defining
this for you, because “bling bling” has to be one of the most overused
slang expressions of our time, perhaps the single most defining slang expression
of the past three years. It is extremely puzzling to contemplate that somebody
who covers pop music for a living could be unfamiliar with this phrase, which
is not simply confined to hiphop, but appears in TRL songs such as Jennifer
Lopez’s “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” in which Jenny scolds
her boyfriend for showing off by “…rolling up your sleeve so I could
see the rolie bling.” We wonder if Powers heard the song and envisioned
a tiny gun battle taking place on the face of Puffy’s Rolex.


This reminds
us of that time around the emergence of grunge, when a Times writer called
up a girl who worked at Sub Pop and asked her to give her a glossary of Seattle
slang. The girl responded with a genius laundry-list of totally improvised fake
slang, the jewel of which was “swingin’ on the flippity-flop,”
ostensibly meaning hanging out. The Times, of course, took this girl’s
brilliant prank as gospel, and ran the whole fake glossary as a boxed sidebar
to the article, swingin’ on the flippity-flop and all. So we’re puzzled
how Times music writers whom we (if no one else on this paper) respect,
like Neil Strauss and Jon Pareles, are able to stomach swingin’ on the
flippity-flop with the likes of Powers?



Best Twentysomething
Whine

Janelle Erlichman
The Washington Post



Go Play
with Barney, Janelle.
Jeez, and today’s youth thinks the baby boomers
are self-indulgent. It’s been torturous enough over the past year to read
the first-person laments of dotcom paper millionaires’ over their fallen
fortunes, but with the U.S. at war the 90s crybabies are really singin’
the blues.


Janelle Erlichman,
a staff writer at The Washington Post, ought to be banished to a beat
covering Montgomery County arrests of jaywalkers after her pitiful Sept. 20
article headlined “My Generation: Growing Old Before We Really Grew Up.”
Her editor deserves a similar fate.


Erlichman,
defying the hopeful, and perhaps naive, proclamations of politicians that today’s
youth will rally behind the country, redefines the “Me Generation”
with the following words:


“Suddenly,
I wish I were older. Much, much older. That this was happening at the end of
my life–instead of the prime of my life. That at 25 I wasn’t faced
with the realization that this is going to overshadow everything: falling
in love, a promotion, getting engaged, getting married.


“I hope
I will smile again and laugh again, the way I used to. That I’ll be able
to groan about the cost of bridesmaid dresses and how annoying guys are. But
right now I feel 25 years of safety slipping away. When I have children will
I have to teach them about hate and being afraid of planes flying into buildings?
When I tell them about my childhood will it be nothing like theirs?


“At 25,
life was filled with simplicities. Sleeping in, drinking coffee, paying bills
late, hangovers. But now I find myself too young to wrap my mind around the
concept of war and too old to see Sept. 11 quickly fade while I dress my Barbie
dolls.”


What a nauseating
piece. Erlichman, at 25, with a prestigious job at an influential newspaper,
is not the teenager who might get away with such drivel. If she can’t “smile”
again in the wake of history, Erlichman ought to resign from the Post–a
position that many responsible people her age would cherish–and check into
an institution.


A more reassuring
article was published in Canada’s National Post on Sept. 21. Elizabeth
Nickson, who’s no kid, admitted that she once wondered where her “next
Prada handbag was coming from,” yet she nevertheless summed up what one
hopes is the majority view of today’s youngsters.


She writes:
“It’s there in all of us. A friend, the wussiest shopaholic I know,
her litany of complaints of injuries done to her precious self pretty much endless,
heard the news at work, and as soon as she was allowed, went straight home to
her apartment near the WTC and cooked for friends and strangers who dropped
in all weekend long. She did not take the nearest bridge home to her mother.
She stayed. And she’d fight if necessary…


“Every
generation has a great task. Perhaps this is ours. We are not the decadents
our critics would have us believe. Underneath the Disneyesque fantasy of the
consumerist West is a disciplined, loving, just, strong-willed, kind people,
who will not run, will not panic, will not abandon their neighbourhoods, businesses,
and families. And no weedy little creep hiding in a cave will bring our civilization
down.”



Best New Arts
& Culture Magazine

Cabinet



Of Curiosities.
Still in its first year, this Brooklyn-based quarterly is proving to be
the smartest, classiest, most thought-provoking new culture magazine since McSweeney’s.
Edited by Brian Conley and Sina Najafi, it brings high seriousness and intelligence
to an extremely wide scope of topics; anything that might be thought of as culture
or cultural product seems fair game. Some of our favorite articles have addressed
Depression-era hobo art, the intelligence industry, glossolalia, experimental
radio, the weather, the Antarctic and conspiracy theories as art. It’s
very handsomely produced, too, and always includes some bonus like a related
CD. A year’s subscription (four issues) is $24, from Immaterial Inc., 181
Wyckoff St., Brooklyn 11217 (www.immaterial.net/cabinet).


Best Column
About Danny Almonte

Lionel
Tiger
The Wall Street
Journal
, Sept. 5



Hit by a
Pitch.
Frankly, we haven’t the patience to spend more than a few minutes
contemplating Danny Almonte and his father fraudulently shaving two years off
the pitcher’s age so he’d be eligible to play in the Little League
World Series. Yes, it was dishonest; yes, keeping the teenager out of school
was stupid; and yes, it’s a shame Almonte swiped the spot of a legitimate
12-year-old.


But here’s
a question: If this kid was so obviously overage, why didn’t anyone notice
before his Bronx team made it to Williamsport? And with a city filled with juvenile
thugs making a habit of rape, armed robbery and drug abuse, playing hooky to
concentrate on baseball isn’t exactly the worst crime in the world. At
least he’s getting some exercise and trying to fulfill his vision of the
American Dream.


In a Sept.
5 WSJ piece, Lionel Tiger, while not condoning the hoax, put the “controversy”
into perspective. He wrote: “Danny’s had a setback. But we can picture
the interviews in 2005: He’s hired by Oakland [more likely Seattle] for
millions of dollars and he says he is glad to be in America. You can overcome
adversity and youthful mistakes, and be appreciated for what you can contribute,
once you say that you’re sorry.


“The national
culture is usually savage about this kind of violation. But not always. That
execrable rant, ‘The Vagina Monologues,’ contains a scene in which
a mature woman with dark skin describes to audience applause her luscious seduction
of a 13-year-old, dark-skinned girl who had never seen the apartment of such
a prosperous woman, with a glad stereo and all the branded drinks. Virtually
no one drew attention to this statutory rape (except Christina Hoff Sommers,
in The Wall Street Journal last year) and the show plays every night without
a peep of complaint. The lesson is that if you are going to commit moral fraud
about the young, do so with the wind of community sanctimony at your back.”



Best Editorial
Candor

Graydon Carter,
Vanity Fair



Profitability
Counts.
Sometime back in June, when Graydon Carter was finishing the August
Vanity Fair, he must’ve had a very bad day. How else to explain
the rant contained in his “Editor’s Letter” for that edition?
Traditionally, in glossy magazines, such notes are a waste of space, a chance
for an editor to boast about this or that writer, typically ending with a gut-turning
phrase like “Enjoy the issue!”


Instead, Carter
ignored the stories in that month’s VF and railed against hotshot
publicity agents, business executives and nearly everyone else in his happy-hour
universe for having subordinates make their calls.


He writes:
“During an average day, I get maybe two dozen calls, and except for ones
from friends and family, almost all are now placed by an assistant. Aside from
writing this stupid and rather pointless editor’s letter each month, it
is one of the most annoying aspects of my job.”


It’s testament
to Carter’s powerful position in the Conde Nast empire that he could get
away with such a refreshing observation. Of course, it also meant he didn’t
have to mention Gail Sheehy’s latest fit of hagiography about Hillary Clinton–”Springtime
for Hillary: Senator Clinton Begins Wearing the Pants”–an awful, and
dishonest, piece of “reporting” from the woman who introduced the
loathsome phrase “passages” to modern journalism.


Carter might’ve
upped his truth-serum dose and confessed that James Wolcott’s column that
month, ostensibly a criticism of Fox News, was between the lines a hearty endorsement
of the station. While Wolcott correctly ridiculed Fox’s stupid motto, “We
Report, You Decide,” he was far more harsh in his comments about Rupert
Murdoch’s cable competitors. Wolcott certainly doesn’t share the conservative
convictions of the vast majority of Fox’s on-air personalities, but unlike
other critics he’s not unwilling to give Fox “czar” Roger Ailes
his due.


He declares:
“Since its inception, Fox News has been a solid winner on cable, its ratings
gains boosted in part by the hapless competition, which opened up a passing
lane. Like the Baltimore Orioles, CNN is in an awkward rebuilding phase, patching
its age-cracks with a youth injection of somewhat untried talent… Ailes’s
outfit works fast, hits hard, stamps its stories with its own identity, and
exudes button-popping confidence, an esprit de corps CNN is groping to regain.”


In contrast
to Carter’s bold blurb, consider Esquire editor David Granger’s
slimy introduction to his October issue. As usual, it’s just an abysmal
read, with the absurd “Women We Love” annual on the cover and a juvenile
political diatribe by Charles Pierce bemoaning the Democrats’ lack of a
leader to take on President Bush in 2004. In fact, the only redeeming item in
October’s Esquire is a three-word squib at the top left-hand corner
of the cover: “Still Just $3.00!” Generosity compels us to assume
that some underling was attempting to inject a joke in an otherwise smarmy 200
pages of gunk.


Granger writes
in his “Editor’s Letter” about the legitimate downside of a monthly’s
lead time. In September, Esquire ran a profile of Minnesota Vikings offensive
lineman Korey Stringer; unfortunately, the football star died of heatstroke
days before the issue came out.


The shallow
editor says with sensitivity: “I didn’t ever get to meet Korey Stringer,
but Jeanne Marie Laskas, who wrote the story, helped me take a part of him with
me. I think it was his joy and his generosity. She made me see this huge, powerful
warrior as the gentle, loving, funny son and father he grew into… I’m
glad Esquire was able to get to know a small part of Korey and share it with
you.”


Granger’s
crocodile tears demonstrate just how intellectually shabby most glossy magazines
are. Are readers gullible enough to believe that Esquire’s editor
really took “a part of [Stringer] with me”? Odds are, Granger forgot
all about Stringer by cocktail hour at Da Silvano the very night he died.



Best Magazine
for Young Women

CosmoGirl



The Thinking
Girl’s Choice.
It’s not your mother’s Cosmo, which
is why we were so shocked to read a negative review of the Sassy-esque
glossy in the New York Post recently. CosmoGirl throws
together a great mix of fashion, advice and real-world experience (and no, we
don’t mean how to pull off the see-through dress in seventh grade and still
not come off like a slut).


Here are just
some of our favorites from the past few months:


• September’s
CosmoGirl of the Month,” Taryn Pream, who not only was one
of the first people in her state to report online harassment (aka Chester the
Molester enters the chat room), but is now campaigning for a law against it.


• The
“Legends of the Fall” photo montage in which celebs trip on the red
carpet (Mariah Carey completely loses one shoe and then has trouble retrieving
the Jimmy Choo kitten heel, as her miniskirt was apparently surgically implanted).


• The
movie reviews symbol key, with staples like “nail biter,” “L.O.L.”
and “hot guy alert.”


• The
“Boy-O-Meter,” where four girls get to rate a guy on his physical
appearance for a change.


• A first-person
piece by one of Andy Williams’ friends–he’s the boy from Santee,
CA, who killed two of his classmates and wounded 13 others this March–in
which a young girl reflects on the weekend before the shootings, when Andy told
her not to go to school Monday. And then convinced her he was joking.


• “Sex
Ed with Dr. Judy,” wherein we learn that, yes, despite what that counselor
at the free clinic told us in college, you can get STDs from giving oral
sex without a condom.


• The
profile of a 17-year-old whose father killed her mother and then himself while
she was going to junior high in their small hometown.


Are average
16-year-olds too cool for CosmoGirl? For their sakes, let’s hope
so. Though think back to when you were thumbing through Seventeen…try
13-year-olds. Fourteen if it was the fall fashion issue. But somewhere in your
late 20s, as with most things in life, one comes full circle and suddenly the
only thing you’d miss more next to the toilet than CosmoGirl is
the Charmin.



Best Dopey
Defense of a Father

Karenna
Gore Schiff



And She’s
the Smart One?
The August issue of Glamour featured a brief essay,
“Guide to Not Getting Bush-Whacked,” by Al Gore’s eldest daughter,
who was an awful adviser–Naomi Wolf’s fashion advice was her idea–to
her father during the 2000 presidential campaign.


It was a “crazy”
election, Karenna tells Glamour readers, but there’s still work
to be done, darn it all! She writes: “…I have certainly felt the temptation
to just shut out politics completely. Why put myself through the latest details
about the budget when there are plenty of reality-based TV shows to escape into?
But we all have at least some power to make a real difference. For a start,
there’s letter writing. I know you’re not likely to feel like one
of Charlie’s Angels simply by scribbling down your feelings on legislation,
but crime fighting comes in many forms!”


Memo to Al:
Ditch Karenna if you run again and replace her with your son. He’d attract
more of the youth vote–town meetings about reckless driving and current
marijuana prices would resonate more than one more lecture about gun control–and
might entice some high-profile jocks to the campaign. We think Barry Bonds or
Derek Jeter might be of more help than Naomi Wolf.



Best Foolish
Description of 9/11/01

Michael
Wolff, New York



Send Him
to Salon.com.
Media critic Michael Wolff is a man out of time. When he signed
on at New York a few years ago, Wolff’s observations–although
he’s notorious for getting facts wrong–on the robust New Economy were
often insightful, perhaps because he failed with an Internet venture of his
own.


When that late-90s
phenomenon went flat, so did Wolff. He turned his attention to politics, offering
incredibly naive analyses and churlish and envy-tinged columns on Manhattan’s
publishing and broadcasting celebrities. New York editor Caroline Miller
puts out a largely irrelevant city guide (adding Amy Sohn’s sex column
is only about five years too late), with perhaps Michael Tomasky
the lone star writer, but Wolff is now an embarrassing blight on a weekly that
otherwise could be dismissed as merely benign.


Wolff’s
account of Sept. 11 was probably the most offensive we’ve read among the
hundreds of similar essays. He wrote: “There were the unfathomable, even
beautiful, pictures of the planes penetrating the towers, then the magnificent
plumes, then the heaving and condensing of the buildings themselves–they
seemed to drip away–but not many pictures from the ground.” Wolff
doesn’t say where he was when he saw those “beautiful pictures,”
but it’s obvious he was nowhere near the disaster site. We happened to
be on Hudson St. during those two hours, amidst the panic and mob of hysterical
citizens, and there was nothing “magnificent” about it. Watching the
towers crumble, witnessing the fleeing workers–in “real time,”
as Wolff put it–was a nightmare.


Wolff continues
his incomprehensible, almost inhuman, account: “Unavoidably, there was
awe and amazement. The coordination of the attack, the complexity of the logistics,
the appalling cleverness of the concept itself–to use a plane fueled up
for a transcontinental flight as a bomb–demanded some kind of awful respect.
Here was an example not just of our unexpected and striking vulnerability but
of their bizarre and breathtaking audacity, skill, and, certainly, single-mindedness.
(It damaged the president’s credibility to have called these people cowards–they
may have been many things, but they were not cowards.)”


Here’s
an idea: Why doesn’t Wolff apply for the post of Saddam Hussein’s
press secretary?


Yes, the hijackers
were cowards: Just because they gave up their lives doesn’t make them brave;
these militants, to a man, thought their deeds earned them a one-way ticket
to some twisted nirvana. Would Wolff describe the Japanese kamikaze pilots of
World War II in such glowing terms? Would he applaud the “breathtaking
audacity” of Hitler and his disciples so glowingly for a modern-day audience?
We doubt it.


Kurt Andersen,
writing in the Sept. 23 New York Times Magazine on the same subject,
was less enthusiastic. His recollection, after walking eight miles home to his
house in Brooklyn: “It was on the Bowery that those of us walking south
met the first wave of refugees from the financial district walking north, people
still wearing white breathing masks, people who had been crying and people in
suits covered from head to toe in dust and soot, as if they’d been powdered,
like actors made up to play the living dead. By the time I got to the Manhattan
Bridge, I noticed that people were palpably relieved–pleased to be escaping
the high-strung chorus of sirens. I was surprised that almost no one glanced
back at the plume.”



Best Fashion
Spread
Vice
Magazine’s “Life in Hell”



Slamming.
The Volume 8, Number 3 “Crime Issue” of the freely distributed glossy
(probably the best youth-culture mag in English) contained this fascinating
photo piece, which actually included some garments by Phat Farm and Triple 5
Soul. “Life in Hell” was about prison style, with photos by Sarah
A. Friedman and text by what seems to be an anonymous former Lower East Side
drug dealer and upstate convict.


“You have
to wear your greens everywhere in the facility,” he explained. “The
only exception is when it’s time to go out in the yard. In the yard you
can wear the state track pants and a t-shirt that is not grey, blue, orange
or black.” That’s part of the caption of a photo showing how to make
anti-shiv armor out of old magazines stuffed inside your track pants. The stylist
used National Geographics to match the model’s yellow t-shirt.


“Without
being able to wear your gang colors, the only way to identify a member is with
tattoos. A tattoo gun is made by hooking up a walkman motor to a pen casing
with a guitar string for a needle. The ink is made by burning black chess pieces,”
it’s further explained under a photo that also illustrates how to hide
a homemade knife in a bandanna.


Then there’s
a photo of and instructions for crafting an elaborate “Fifi towel,”
which is a substitute for a vagina: “The wrist of the glove is folded over
the edge of the towel and tucked under the elastic bands. After it is secure
the glove is filled with hot water. A second glove filled with Vaseline is then
inserted into the first glove and tucked under the same elastic. The hot water
melts the Vaseline and makes it feel warm and soft.” And we thought there
was neither importance nor truth to fashion.



Best Trite
Wall Street Journal Column

George
Melloan, Sept. 25



New Material,
Please.
Even Bob Dylan recorded a few clinkers during his peak years of
1964-’68: “Pledging My Time” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box
Hat” stick out like Tom Thumb, if you ask us, but maybe Greil Marcus would
know better.


In any case,
even though The Wall Street Journal is the country’s finest newspaper,
not everything it prints is deserving of praise. The Friday travel section,
for example, sucks. When Peggy Noonan, a gifted writer, travels to the Outer
Limits that Maureen Dowd inhabits and posts imaginary conversations, the results
usually aren’t pretty. And the daily’s editorial insistence that the
cultural upheaval of the 60s was harmful–often, these sour nuggets are
written by men and women born in the 70s–is more grating than most
of goody-two-shoes David Brooks’ essays.


As for op-ed
columnist Al Hunt, well, the country is at war…


Anyway, maybe
it was George Pataki’s incredible admission last year that he’d never
heard of the writer E.B. White–and Pataki went to Yale when Feminism 101
wasn’t a required course–that set off a nostalgia boom for the famous
New Yorker. White, at least for the moment, seems to have replaced Joseph Mitchell
as the icon for young journalists–most of whom haven’t a speck of
talent–the “go-to” guy for a snappy quote.


George Melloan
isn’t young, and most of his columns don’t stink up the joint like
that of Sept. 25, so we’re willing to give him a mere smack on the wrist.
Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has repeatedly said
in the past three weeks, “We are all Americans in grief and defiance,”
and we don’t begrudge Melloan his burst of civic pride, for our eyes, too,
have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Still, Melloan’s words that
Tuesday could’ve been issued by New York’s Chamber of Commerce.


He wrote: “In
a 1949 essay, the late E.B. White wrote that ‘New York is peculiarly constructed
to absorb almost anything that comes along…’ That ability was put to
the supreme test on Sept. 11 when the city’s trademark Twin Towers came
crashing down, carrying more than 6000 human beings to their death. But the
perceptive Mr. White was right. New York again has passed the test. It has remained
insouciant in the face of an unimaginable nightmare.”


Unfortunately,
Mr. Melloan flunked the test of providing readers with a perceptive thought
of his own.


It gets worse,
as the columnist continues as if he were writing on, say, Sept. 13. “That
energy was on display last week as rescue squads worked night and day searching
the smoking World Trade Center wreckage for survivors. Cranes and power shovels
were quickly on the scene to lift debris into heavy trucks for transport to
a dumping ground on Staten Island. The horrible task of sorting human remains
from the ruins, recovering identifying articles and filling body bags, proceeded
methodically.”


News flash,
George: Ronald Reagan crushed Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election.



Best Sign of
Maxim’s Ultimate Authority Among the 20-35-Year-Old Male Demographic

Iceland
Chic



Red Bull,
Hooters & Geysers Everywhere.
So Iceland’s hot this year,
which you already know if you read The New York Times Magazine,
or bought a McSweeney’s imprint book, or read that essay in David Rakoff’s
Fraud. But Iceland’s tourist board is doing its best work through
the most unlikely of sources: Maxim.


A couple of
months ago, when we told a 21-year-old male friend that we would be spending
several days in Reykjavik with our mother, he excitedly informed us that he,
too, would be in Reykjavik over New Year’s Eve.


“You know,”
he tells us, “Reykjavik’s the new Singapore–I read it in Maxim.”


Boarding our
flight, we watch several caravans of men in their 20s, Maxim in one hand
and BusinessWeek in the other, load up the seats around us.


“Can I
have some water?” the puffy fratboy behind us shouts to a white-blonde
stewardess. “W-A-T-E-R. Do you know what water is?”


One man informs
us that he’s on an extended “bachelor weekend” for one of his
betrothed friends. We overhear another man say to a stewardess, “We’re
looking for Icelandic women.”


“But all
the women in Iceland are Icelandic,” she replies.


“Exactly!”
he grins.


At one of Reykjavik’s
biggest nightclubs, two men from our flight attempt to chat us up before they
realize we’re not Icelandic. Our new friends, a group of British hacks,
bring us to an invite-only event at Hard Rock Reykjavik, where we are seated
next to all 16 of the Miss Iceland contestants. At a local dive bar, where the
women dance on the tables while grabbing the pipes overhead, a fight breaks
out between a man and a woman: the guy punches the woman in the eye.
But she doesn’t cry or scream or get the cops. She jumps him, upturning
a table and pushing him back until his friends come and save him.


So that’s
Iceland, frisky and friendly, just like Maxim described it. Razor-cheeked,
Teutonic 6-foot babes working a kind of violent/sexy thing we haven’t experienced
since Vonnegut’s stockinged suicide-providers in Welcome to the Monkey
House
. As for the rest of Iceland’s charms, well, the geysers are just
holes in the ground that spew steam once in a while, and the country’s
covered in what feels like track lighting, and its “exotic” landscape
looks like a cave drawing of the Dantean rung of hell where people are turned
into tortured trees, and there’s nothing to eat but salmon and nothing
to drink but beer, schnapps and Red Bull.


But if you’re
a bottomfeeder in your late 20s, you can work all this to your benefit. In Reykjavik,
everyone knows everyone, and there’s nothing to do but make music and fool
around (well-documented phenomena in Kinsey reports of small-town America).
What this does is breed a stable of gorgeous and viable women you wouldn’t
have a chance with in New York.



Best Depressing
Trend

Law School Applications
Soar



Watch Your
Back.
Here’s the difference between a sour economy and the decision
of unimaginative young adults entering law school. Financial booms and busts
are cyclical and don’t often last more than a couple of years; when a man
or woman becomes a lawyer it’s usually a lifetime occupation.


As if the United
States needs any more attorneys.


Jonathan D.
Glater, in the Aug. 24 New York Times, inadvertently wrote the most downbeat
paragraphs we’ve read all summer. “When Kevin Haeberle graduated from
Georgetown University with a degree in English literature two years ago, the
last thing on his mind was law school.


“He caught
the dot-com wave and rode it well until he was laid off last month. But now
he is one of a growing number of relatively recent college graduates who have
decided that a law degree, after all, is the best ticket to a safe perch in
the new economy of uncertainty.”


Swell.


Haeberle told
Glater, “I want something meaningful to me, and I want something that is
more of a stable, organized environment.” A little bird tells us Haeberle
won’t be performing pro bono work for illegal immigrants once he joins
the legal profession. No, now that the dotcom lottery is over, Haeberle–and
apparently thousands upon thousands of layabouts like him–is willing to
settle for just a slice of real-life Powerball wealth. Maybe he’ll be a
participant in the millions earned six years from now by a class-action suit
against Taco Bell or Popeyes for serving high-cholesterol fast food. The heinous
trial-lawyer heist of the tobacco companies by men like Peter Angelos has probably
passed Haeberle by; but hey, every day somebody slips on a banana peel on private
property.


Gloomier still,
this influx of future lawyers has one more dangerous repercussion: probably
a quarter of them will enter politics. It was bad enough in the mid-70s when,
in the wake of Watergate, aimless but pedigreed students decided that journalism
was the fast-track to success. That’s one reason why today there are so
many middle-aged grunts dominating the media: these men and women didn’t
dream of writing careers as kids, they just wanted to become famous.


But more lawyers?
It’s going to be a very long decade.



Best Jonathan
Alter Column



Every Poodle
Has His Day.
Besotted with the spirit of amnesty in this issue, we’ve
decided to confine our critical comments about America’s scummy media to
only the most notorious offenders. Lord knows that Newsweek’s Jonathan
Alter is a Top-10 candidate for “Best Beltway Shill,” as week by week
he adds to his resume. Whether it’s bragging about his access to politicians
(especially John McCain) or fervently advancing the Social Security scare tactics
of Senate pygmies like Tom Daschle and Kent Conrad, Alter is the very model
for Jeffrey Franks’ simplistic novel The Columnist.


But in with
the good air and out with the bad.


In an MSNBC
Web-only column on Aug. 30, Alter actually made sense, and on an important issue
at that: the cable tv-fueled hysteria about school violence. Ever since CNN
cashed in on the Columbine shootings, kids have been tormented by dimwitted
administrators who believe water pistols, violent drawings and Cub Scout pen
knives pose a threat to their precious pupils. This is hogwash, and no one is
better at pointing out this appalling and dangerous academic fad than The
Wall
Street Journal’s James Taranto.


But give Alter
his due for doling out some revealing statistics. He writes, after giving lip-service
to “useful” forums on bullying, gun-control and “social exclusion”:
“The problem comes when parents and school officials overreact to news
reports and misread the evidence. A policy brief released this week by the Justice
Policy Institute found that youth are unduly associated with crime and violence
in the news. One study of local California TV coverage found that nearly 70
percent of news stories on violence featured young people, while youth arrests
made up only 14 percent of arrests for violent crime in California… The biggest
misconceptions involve what happens on school property. According to the Justice
Policy Institute, 99 percent of all youth homicides in the United States take
place outside of school. While 71 percent of respondents to an NBC News/Wall
Street Journal poll last year believed a school shooting was likely in their
community, the actual odds of being killed in an American school in 1999 were
less than one in 2 million.”



Best Documentary
Filmmakers

Louis Alvarez
& Andrew Kolker



Lots of
Class.
It seems like ages ago that documentary

..