King Solomon: A respected media skeptic preaches to the already-converted.

Written by Matt Taibbi on . Posted in Posts.

King Solomon Fires Back

That sure was an interesting review of Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn’t Tell You, the new book I co-authored with foreign correspondent Reese Erlich ("Books," 2/19). While Matt Taibbi called it "a valuable book, one that needs to exist, that carefully debunks all the popular fallacies about the war," he complained that "the book’s preaching-to-the-converted factor is through the roof" and concluded that "The anti-war movement isn’t going to succeed until someone in Solomon’s position learns to talk to the other side—or at least learns to seem interested in trying."

Rest assured that "Target Iraq" was written to respect the minds and hearts of a wide cross-section of readers. On that note, it seems that we don’t share some of Taibbi’s evident presumptions about "the other side" (presumably Americans inclined to be pro-war). Hopefully there’s some consistency between how we "talk to the other side" and how we talk about them in print. Stereotypes and cardboard cutouts won’t get us very far.

I’d question the assumptions behind this sentence from Taibbi’s review: "You can talk all you want about suffering Iraqi children and the long-term consequences of using depleted-uranium ammunition, but you’re not going to convince some frustrated cubicle slave in Lawrence, KS, with a fat wife and forty grand in credit card debt and a spare tire that makes him sick with self-loathing every time he sees the cover of Men’s Health, that he doesn’t want to bomb the shit out of somebody, anybody, at the earliest conceivable opportunity, for the first reason you make available to him." If that’s supposed to be astute sociology or cutting-edge political analysis, I’ll pass.

During many hours on radio talk shows in recent weeks, I’ve been in conversation with callers who are all over the geographical and political map. Some are strongly pro-war, but that hardly means they’re uninterested in serious discussions that involve facts and ideas. I think many of them are mistaken, but that doesn’t mean they’re idiots or impervious to new information.

Now being read across North America (and soon to be published in Germany, Italy and Hungary), Target Iraq respects people’s intelligence while challenging popular myths. Obviously, I like the book a lot more than Matt Taibbi does. But beyond the biases of authors and reviewers, the important assessments will come from readers.

Norman Solomon, San Francisco

Say What?

The Gs are not silent in Gbagbo ("Hill of Beans," 2/12). "Gb" is a velar-bilabilal co-articulated stop.

Thomas Graves, Williamsville, NY

On War

Signorile: I have been asking the same question: why are we ready to take out Saddam, when we still haven’t taken out Osama ("The Gist," 2/19)? I’m with you. Germany and France have done a lot to help in the "War On Terrorism" and we are treating them like chickenshits. Not nice at all. Dubya just wants to go to war, and everyone knows it. It doesn’t matter what the United Nations finds in Iraq. We will go to war anyway.

Tamara Harrington, Fullerton, CA

Imperfect Analogy

MUGGER: You know, you really would do well to remember the old adage that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones ("MUGGER," 2/19). If you’re going to deride as "idiotic" the "No Blood for Oil" signs of opponents of war with Iraq (yes, we all know those vast oil reserves have absolutely nothing to do with the schemes of our upright leaders, don’t we?), then you ought not go on to praise such truly idiotic analogies like the one you cite from Mark Steyn: "Opposing the forthcoming massive bombardment of the Iraqi people is the equivalent of denying asylum to refugees fleeing persecution." Come again? Oh, of course! How could I fail to have seen it?! A clique of oil barons, military contractors and ultra-Zionist crackpots bombing the daylights out of an Arab population—which just happens to be sitting atop the second-largest known oil reserves in the world—around the clock for weeks on end is essentially the same as telling a desperate people, "Yes, come on in; take your visas and leave your troubles behind!"

Cheer on your "bold and moral" putz of a president, his "courageous" lapdog, Tony Blair (plagiarized "dossier" in hand), and their forthcoming series of aggressive wars all you want. But, for God’s sake, spare us the crocodile tears for "the Iraqi people"—mere pawns whose fate is of no more concern to the U.S. and British governments than it is to those of France and Russia.

Ronald MacKinnon, Manhattan


Constance Anderson, Chatham, NJ


MUGGER: If only I had a bottle of Nair with me on Saturday ("MUGGER," 2/19). My father-in-law, who is English, was tickled pink to hear of Americans’ ever-growing distaste for the French. How do you advertise the sale of a WWII-era French rifle?

"Never fired—only dropped once."

Dave Jones, Manhattan

Hands Off My Clone!

Re: "The News Hole" (2/19): The House of Representatives should reject the legislation to ban human cloning that was approved last Wednesday by the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. The proposed ban is based on the false premise that research on cloned embryos violates their rights. But embryos are not human beings and therefore have no rights. Moreover, the proposed ban is unconstitutional: it simultaneously violates the right of scientists to pursue their research and the right of individuals to reproduce by any method they choose. The ban would prevent scientists from finding cures to countless diseases and from creating replacement tissues and organs that could save millions of lives. In other words, the ban would sacrifice real human beings to protect collections of human cells.

What should be banned is not cloning, but the power of our legislators to violate our rights.

David Holcberg, Irvine, CA


Evan Misses the Point

I may not be as keen as Ms. Ekman ("Art," 2/12), but when I pick up an article entitled "Art" and it has a caption that says "Review," I typically expect to read an art review. Instead, I was given the displeasure of reading a fallacious personal attack on every single person in attendance for Ryan McGinley’s Whitney show rather than a careful analysis of the work itself. Any critique of the actual photographs that happens to sneak its way in between the barrage of resentment is undeveloped and falls short of anything remotely insightful. While the photos may perhaps lack individuality and be mere celebrations of sub-pop culture, there is nevertheless something captivating in them, even if it only lasts for the time it takes to circle the gallery. By the way, the "playful Calder mobiles" could easily be appreciated from the confines of the lengthy line, and were definitely its saving grace.

Regardless of Ekman’s opinion of "beer-swilling young bohemians," her perspective reeks of elitism. Ekman should try examining all matters from the bottom up as opposed to from the top down. Perhaps she would find a more intelligent reasoning, and spare readers her crackpot denunciations of five hundred people based on her own personal bitterness.

Evan Azima, Brooklyn

After the Salon Closes, Hit HoJo’s

You say your father made the same joke every time you went to HoJo’s ("Daily Billboard," 2/19), but don’t say what it was. Did it happen to be my childhood favorite, "Howard Johnson’s, where the ice cream comes in 28 flavors and the food comes in one"?

And where Salon and the stars are concerned—I’ve been wondering why the Talbots haven’t hit ‘em up big-time, too. They are, after all, the sons of the late Lyle, one of the great character men of his day. And Stephen Talbot was Gilbert on Leave It to Beaver, as he never ceases to remind us. But then again—most of the people Lyle worked with are dead, from Ozzie and Ed Wood on down, and I don’t think Tony Dow’s pockets are deep enough to keep Salon going. Since Ken Osmond’s a retired cop, I know his aren’t. Well, at least Laura Miller’s got her glut max covered with her upcoming class on how to be a book reviewer. But, while she’s busy teaching those 15 lucky souls who’ve paid $450 or $475 to hear her wisdom down in Soho, I trust she’ll supplement her lesson in the fine art of "how to deal with editors," as described on MB’s site, with one in the finer art of how to secure payment from publishers. Well, if she can’t fit it into the formal part of the curriculum, maybe she can take her students out for clam strips and coffee at HoJo’s, while it’s still around, and give them some pointers on that subject from "inside," so to speak.

And, on a different topic—did you notice that the article in the current Vanity Fair about the Miss World fracas in Nigeria was careful not to quote, or even really paraphrase, the exact words of Isioma Daniel that sparked the riots, though they were reported in print and on radio and tv last year? But then, I suppose old Graydon’s got the sensibilities of his subscribers in Bahrain and Qatar to consider. Even so, it’s surprising to find not even one blogger talking about it.

Though your editorship is missed—keep that column going. It is needed.

Robert Nedelkoff, Wheaton, MD

Higbie Goes Down

MUGGER: In the third page into your article (as printed out by me) there’s a comment about the country turning to a Democrat president by 2004 ("MUGGER," 2/19). Of course that’s a horror the country shouldn’t have to bear again, but did you mean 2004, or was it a misprint?

When I’m not in the city I print articles off the computer and noticed lately that the first page of several articles has additional words interspersed into what I’m trying to copy. It’s like it was printed on thin paper and what is on the other side comes through. Wonder why? The Red Sox (to read a few reports) haven’t made their club stronger for this season. Why do we have to endure another Yankee division championship? Can’t they get their act together?

Frank Higbie, Bridgewater, NJ

For a Good Time, Read…

You demeaned yourself by publishing the recent article on Rumsfeld and Hitchens ("Wild Justice," 2/19). It was the intellectual equivalent of bathroom graffiti, and demonstrates the paucity of reasoned criticism that you and Mr. Cockburn apparently have to offer. I have not read such a pitiful attempt at an ad hominem smear in quite a while. Not one sentence addressed the substance of Hitchens’ or the Bush administration’s positions. I would think that you would have more self-respect than to print such a thing.

George C. Gaskell III, San Antonio

When the Smoke Clears, We’ll Talk

MUGGER: Well, we’ll see ("MUGGER" 2/19). The true test of Bush’s boldness, not to mention his morality, will be what happens after the war. Invading is easy. Well, not as easy as it was supposed to be, but still a done deal despite all that opposition. And yes, the war, we all hope, left and right, will be as quick and as bloodless as possible. But with the Turks holding out for cash and territory and the Kurds getting ready to get fucked yet again and Iran looking for a little taste, we’ll more than likely find a post-war Iraq that will not provide the opportunity for the kind of tough talk and simplistic clarity that our president likes. Then, sadly, add Rummy to the mix (the George Steinbrenner of diplomacy), then, of course, Cheney (who is yet to set this administration on a course they didn’t have to redirect), and I’m somewhat less confident than you when it comes to just how we’ll be characterizing the president’s foreign policy in the aftermath. Because let’s face it, his dad could’ve sold this war with half the fuss, none of the smirks or whining, not to mention the kind of rhetoric and diplomacy necessary to lead—which is different than getting out in front of the parade and yo-yoing your baton up and down.

Harley Peyton, Los Angeles

Hitchy and Scratchy

Mugger: Are you actually paying Cockburn to vent his neurotic obsession with Hitchens ("Wild Justice," 2/19)? I think he should pay you for providing him the space. I don’t think the problem lies with how much Hitchens does or does not drink. The problem is that Hitchens has regular gigs with Vanity Fair,, The Mirror and The Atlantic Monthly, (not to mention he’s the current I.F. Stone Professor of Journalism at Berkeley.) Most of these respected, widely read outlets wouldn’t touch the goofy paranoid snot that oozes out of ol’ Alex’s pen with a ten-foot pole (and I’m starting to wonder why you do—though his travelogues can be mildly entertaining). It really must be eating at him.

J. Johnson, Nashville

Pass the Popcorn

MUGGER: Hi—It’s funny, I like the same movies you do, but not the same politicians. Love your writing,

Jan Hutchinson, Tempe

Thinking About It

MUGGER: Great article ("MUGGER," 2/19). If you read the bin Laden transcript, he says, paraphrased: "As to the Iraqi socialist leadership [then he names other Muslim leaders] they are all apostates, and the spilling of their blood is holy."

Can you see Saddam reading this and thinking to himself, "Hmmm. Now here’s a guy I’d trust with weapons of mass destruction"?

Somehow this got missed in the press I’ve seen.

Jim Pittman, Queens

Hawks Eat Grass, Too

Russ: No bad-mouthing vegans please ("MUGGER," 2/19). This vegan is 100% hardcore for war against rogue regimes and terrorism.

John Van Praag, Queens

Don’t You Run a Liquor Website?

Norman Kelley’s piece on Al Sharpton ("Feature," 2/19) was right on a number of counts. All too often, black political leaders have behaved like white political leaders—they ignore their constituents’ needs and use their power to enrich themselves. Worse, so much of what they do is, as Mr. Kelley says, symbolic: they howl, they march, but they offer few solutions or sound policy ideas. It’s all about extracting what they think is due. Clearly, this isn’t a long-term strategy for community improvement.

One thing, though, I must ask. Kelley is upset about the state of black politics in America. However, what is not clear from his piece is what exactly makes blacks different from the rest of Americans. In terms of their needs, are they mostly the same as other Americans? Do they want to be safe in their homes, receive equal treatment, have access to good schools and medical treatment, etc.? Or are they different?

This is important because it translates into the sorts of demands on the political system that black politicians ought to make. Like Sharpton and much of the civil rights industry, it seems Kelley presumes that blacks are not like most Americans, that they have special needs.

This doesn’t seem quite right to me. Indeed, this very characterization of the nature of blacks’ needs would seem to encourage the rise of Sharpton-type politicians. Who better to represent the downtrodden, the excluded, than gasbags who demonize non-whites, rail about the power structure and effectively define blacks outside of the American mainstream?

And here’s a second point: The best way to change a political party is to join it en masse. Blacks did this to the Democratic party years ago. They helped transform the Dems from the party of the Old South to the party of all. Democrats, though, now take blacks for granted: The party heads can’t imagine blacks going elsewhere. This leaves blacks marginalized within the party. It also gives black politicians incentives to see themselves as powerless. Thus they engage in theatrical behavior of the Sharpton sort for the sake of extracting apologies (show us you still care!) and crumbs (assorted pork barrel programs that benefit few). This approach has achieved little in recent years.

Thus, why not urge blacks to join the Republican party?

Kevin R. Kosar, Brooklyn

Ol’ Dilated Blue Eyes

Re: JR Taylor’s catty appraisal of Scott Walker as being "Liza Minnelli for gay guys not invited to the White Party" ("Music," 2/19). Why, even us West Coast queens know that the reality is, in fact, that Scott is really Frank Sinatra on bad acid. And don’t you forget it, beeyatch.

Michael Layne Heath, San Francisco

Not "Bitches," "Fags" and "Wetbacks"?

As I read Norman Kelley’s piece ("Feature," 2/19) on the 6 train, I observed three black girls pushing, shoving, wrestling and shouting obscenities at each other for twenty minutes. When their horseplay led them to fall into a seated woman holding a baby, the only response of the mostly black passengers was to look on in horror as the timid woman simply changed her seat. But it was just before then that I became mildly bored with Mr. Kelley.

Not only did his article fall short of the spectacle before me, it evaded the cause of a long dead "politics." I realize his entry was an excerpt from a book, but the journalistic style of quoting heavily from his colleagues posed a missed opportunity to state that politics is not the issue, both with Sharpton or hiphop. It’s culture.

Martin Luther King, Jr. never had to tell women to stop wearing butt floss in public or men to stop cursing as they pack shelves in a supermarket. A. Phillip Randolph addressed a public that held a common core of values that material prosperity has helped to erode. The civil rights movement led to a dead end precisely because it failed to anticipate that capitalism would destroy religion, authority and manners.

Mr. Kelley’s excerpt merely used the occasion of Al Sharpton’s presidential run to rehash an argument set forth more thoroughly by Adolph Reed in a 1997 Village Voice article. But if he must belabor the point, perhaps Mr. Kelley should have mentioned the corrosive effects of feminism, the gay movement and the Latino explosion on what has become a tragic materialism.

Incidentally, to our relief, the girls got off at J. Lo’s old stop.

Michael Lipscomb, Bronx

And Kicking, Too

Signorile: Best wishes for the New Year. Letting you know that I continue to read your Tuesday article in the New York Press and your Q & A column on your website.

Your writing on Osama is right on the point ("The Gist," 2/19). Great job. You put into print what my sphere of friends and I feel. And you’re the first to put it in print as far as I can tell. Yes, Osama is alive…and laughing.

Mike West, Hollywood


MUGGER: As always, I thought your column terrifically informing and entertaining ("MUGGER," 2/19). I never fail to read what you have to say. May I pick one nit? You describe Bush’s foreign policy as bold and moral. The problem is that Bush has always been prepared to let Saddam stay if Iraq disarms. In that event, Saddam would be severely restricted—to killing and torturing Iraqis by old-fashioned, non-WMD methods. As a hobby, he can keep abetting global terrorism. There’s nothing moral about that. There’s even less that’s moral about Bush’s throwaway concern for the human rights of Iraqis. I’m sure he’d feel their pain if he was cruelly forced (by the approach he himself selected) to leave them under the power of the Baghdad regime.

Mike S. Wilson, Calgary

’Cause She’s Got Nice Tits

When I was an editor at my college’s weekly newspaper, almost every music review that came our way began, "So it was raining, and I was on my way to see Modest Mouse…" or, "Me and Tim met up at McSorley’s and decided to go to the Cat Power show…" I’d always assumed that this annoying habit of putting a little too much "self" into a music review was merely the domain of confused undergraduate amateurs.

But Bob Powers’ review of The Sea and Cake at Joe’s Pub proves the practice is alive and well at "reputable" papers ("Music," 2/12). For example, Powers gives the reader this delightful nugget of new journalistic "Anna has accompanied me to the show; when I touch the skin on her neck, it’s damp. I tell her so, and she seems upset. We buy drinks." Who is Anna? Is she a member of The Sea and Cake? If not, why should I care?

Josh Saltzman, New Brunswick, NJ

This Kansas, Toto?

Matt Taibbi must not have many readers in Kansas—or want any, either ("Books," 2/19). How charming. And how easy it is to reduce what "flyover country" people happen to think about the rightness of a war against a brutal dictator with "WMD" (I can’t bring myself to type that cliche any more). Yeah. I’m fat. My wife is fat. I need to take my anger out on someone. Anyone know Matt Taibbi’s address?

Paul Rinkes, St. Louis, MO

It Really Works!

Woah, woah, woah! I would like to defend all the marijuana smokers around the world against the vile attacks from some terrible person in last week’s mail ("The Mail," 2/19).

The dork said that, over time, smoking the magic friend made him fuzzy, lethargic and stupid! (That’s like complaining that broccoli is nutritious!) What this buffoon didn’t understand is that some of us, who have enormous brains, who are awkward behemoths of intellect, explicitly smoke the magic friend to make ourselves dumber. We live in a world ruled by morons and evil scum, and the only way out is suicide, murder-suicide or the meds many of us need to make it through the week (drugs and/or booze). I used to be straightedge, but what good did that do me? I hated my life and everyone else. When Sept. 11 hit and I was forced back in time to 1935 Germany, when civic pride got out of control, I was forced to escape.

Most of you truly believed that we were blessed with an heroic president, an heroic governor, and an heroic mayor—the greatest in our nation’s history! I saw my neighbors for what they really were: psychotic imbeciles. I was forced to freeze my brain in a poor-man’s cryogenic state and smoke as much pot as possible, to keep from killing every one of you stupid assholes (and especially Time magazine’s editors who actually admitted ignoring their own criteria to give Adolf Giuliani "Person of the Year" (as they had done for Hitler himself, though Hitler, in fact, fit their criteria). Maybe it was mere coincidence that Giuliani gave AOL Time Warner billions in corporate welfare when he was mayor. I also started smoking pot as a protest against Giuliani’s War on Pot Smokers and with each puff I confirmed his war on drugs was as pathetic as his attempts to convince us that he wasn’t a bald fuck.

Legalize marijuana, and do it now. Sure, a case can be made that stupid people shouldn’t be allowed to get dumber, but I think it’s natural selection or something. Maybe if these jerks smoke pot, they’ll be more reflective—or at least easier to push down a flight of stairs or in front of a bus.

Peter Etc, Manhattan

If You’re White, You’re Alright

MUGGER: Thirty years pondering why drugs are illegal and still clueless ("MUGGER," 2/12)? I was arrested and issued a desk summons appearance. Since I’m innocent, I have gone to court five times, with other appearances scheduled. I am a 40-year-old white man. I appear in a suit. Even the court officers ask if I’m a lawyer. Why? Because I’m about the only white person down there who is on the wrong side of the bench. I listened closely to all the cases going before mine. My favorite? Three teenage black girls were arrested because one of them had a roach!?

Follow my logic:

Most people in this country are white.

Most people consuming drugs are white.

Most people selling drugs to whites are whites. (Thank god for beepers and cell phones!)

So, logically, most people in jail for drug possession and selling are…Hispanic and black!

It’s called selective enforcement.

Also, the government makes plenty of money with illegal drugs. How else do they fund illegal wars (i.e. Iran-Contra)? Selective enforcement also applies to Iraq and North Korea. The U.S. sold the chemicals to Iraq, then they were used to gas Kurds and Iranians. The administration was shocked, shocked to find out that the chemicals they sold were used as weapons. Now the administration is shocked, shocked to find Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons programs.

So, why are GE and Westinghouse building nuclear power plants for profit? It seems the U.S. is both the gun dealer and the sheriff of a small town. We sell guns to farmer Frank and rancher Rob, then round up a posse and say, "He’s got a gun and he’s not afraid to use it!" So should we stop selling guns. I know you will think me naive, an appeaser and an enabler of terrorists, for saying peace today is for peace tomorrow. It seems apologists for the powerful say that war today is for peace tomorrow.

At least we agree on the ends, it’s the means we disagree upon. Do a mind experiment:

Fifty years ago, if I said peace today is for peace tomorrow, would you have disagreed?

How about fifty years in the future?

Remember, the vice president said our grandchildren will be fighting this war.

So, who is naive and appeasing violence?

The price of empire is terrorism. That’s something every Irishman knows, including Pat Buchanan.

John Kearns, Manhattan

The Big Litter Box In The Sky

Dear Jim: Wow. Thanks for the piece about Guy ("Slackjaw," 2/19). I lived in New York City for many years where my cats, Midge and Buck, were famous in my building on 15th St. Midge would visit neighbors who were real sick with AIDS and sit on their lap for hours while I was in school. Born in a dumpster on 18th and 8th, Buck hated to leave the apartment and was less of a nurse.

Anyway, I was sitting waiting to go into a meeting in some coffee shop the other day and read "The Big Guy Has Left the Building." I got so homesick for Midge and Buck and thought, "wow, there is nothing like a great writer, writing about his/her pets!" It was a breath of fresh air in the midst of what is going on in the world.

Congratulations on a great article. I loved "The Big Guy Has Left the Building" and hope in his memory that you will go watch their show, "Midge and Buck" at Guy would have fallen for Midge. We all live in L.A. now and even though we aren’t crazy about it, it has helped all of our careers. Thanks for writing such an honest, moving piece.

Henriette Mantel, Los Angeles

Grey Suit, White Hood

Props to Matt Zoller Seitz for plucking "Gods and Generals" apart without even bringing up Bob Byrd ("Film," 9/19). So I will. He got his cameo as Gen. Semmes because he already had the uniform. Byrd hates this war on terrorism out of loyalty. He was a recruiter for the nation’s first terrorist group.

Don Surber, Poca, WV