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Friday afternoonat the office and the news from Washington was depressing. Outside, on7th Ave., it was just as gray: drizzly, smoke pouring out of Healthy Choiceand a guy grumbling about Rudy Giuliani's "shop till you drop"gimmick, claiming that the only items for tax-free purchase are pawed-over,outsized pieces of clothing. Sean Hannity, the meathead conservativetalk-show host on WABC who sounds like he's never read a book, hadgiven up on the impeachment trial after the news bulletin that Sen. RobertByrd, that cranky "conscience of the Senate," called for an up-or-downvote on continuing the process. I'm in full agreement with Byrd that PresidentClinton acted shamelessly with his pep rally on the day of his impeachment,but the old buzzard's canonization is a little hard to stomach. Later thatnight, on a cable tv show, Ann Coulter ranted that Byrd's merelya pork senator who's had "every building in West Virginia morethan two stories tall named after him."
Hannitycan get hysterical (although his screaming match with Clinton lackey AlanDershowitz several weeks ago was pure radio theater) at times but Friday'sshow wasn't one of them. He took comfort in sports nostalgia: Ah, whereare the New York Knickerbockers of my youth, the Walt Fraziers,the Willis Reeds and Dave DeBusscheres. Hannity, about to weep,was in a fetal position, at 4:16 in the afternoon, after months of battlingagainst shills like Sid Blumenthal, "Upchuck" Schumer,Terry Lenzner, James Carville and Hillary Rodham;it's sad to listen to a grown man melt down on the air. Minutes later,a less downcast Matt Drudge joined Hannity and agreed it's all over.

Could bethey're right. Alex Cockburn called with a cackle on Thursday, askingif I'd like to boost our wager on whether Clinton will finish his term."Not this week, Mr. Las Vegas," I said with a sneer in my normallycheery voice. "This is the week for Clinton, with his phony-baloney grabbag of socialist goodies that will never come to pass. But the tide will turnwhen witnesses are paraded in front of the somnambulant senators." Alexlaughed, I told him to go smoke a joint, you smelly hippie, and we chatted amiablyabout the journalistic atrocities of the week. My bravado is now in question.

Newsweek'sJonathan Alter was in Friday morning for an interview?he'sa remarkably good sport, considering that I've called him a scumbag inprint; then again, as a member of impeccable standing of the "chatteringclass," who's on tv every other night, I suppose he's inuredto the odd sucker punch?and didn't have a clue about Byrd's upcomingstatement. Who did? In fact, Alter's in favor of witnesses, and made foran estimable sparring partner. And now that I think of it, he got the best ofme in a pointless but amusing prediction we both made about the presidentialtickets for 2000. Something stuck in my head from reading the papers that morningand I ventured that Kathleen Kennedy (sorry, forgot the Townsend)would be Al Gore's veep choice, an impulsive pick consideringthat despite the magical name it's not as if Gore will need DemocraticMaryland in the general election. Then again, Alter went with JohnMcCain for the top Republican slot, a candidate I think will be out of therunning?if Beltway reporters do their homework, no sure bet?evenbefore the California primary that he's counting on to catapulthim past George W. Bush.

Meanwhile,Andrey Slivka paced around his office, complaining about putting moremeat in his "Skillet" column, now located in the broadsheet sectionof NYPress.

As I said,not the sunniest way to end a week of work.

It evenput my ebullient buddy Al From Baltimore in a foul mood. He wrote thefollowing note: "Republican prospects have never seemed as low as theydo this week. I say that, fully aware of the roller coaster ride we'vebeen on since January of '98. It's clear to me today that Republicansreally may lose power in 2000. It's depressing enough that someone likeClinton is going to skate, and will be universally hailed for that sleight ofhand; and that honorable men like Ken Starr and Henry Hyde willbe vilified for trying to do their duty. Maybe they didn't do it perfectly,or even well, but they performed diligently and with integrity against the politicaltide, and now are viewed as creepy. Unbelievable.

"What'smore, a few weeks ago we could take comfort from the notion that, even if Clintonwalks, he'd serve out his term as the lamest of lame ducks. It doesn'tlook that way today at all.

"What'struly depressing is that Republicans are spent. They've got nothing left;impeachment has used them up. After Clinton is acquitted in the Senate, theRepublicans have no standing to challenge Clinton. Borderline Democrats andRepublicans will vote with Clinton, not the Republicans, with their eyes firmlyfixed on 2000. Republican hopes now rest solely on the emergence of a majorfinancial or military crisis, and who wants to root for that? By the way, ifsomething bad does happen, look for the media to blame the far-right for distractingClinton.

"In1994 Republicans supported term-limits to help clear out a lot of the entrenchedDemocrats. We need it more than ever to clear out people like Trent Lottand Dennis Hastert, who clearly care more about their jobs than the principlesand issues for which their party stands. Republican political strategy for thelast few months has been this: be likable. Republicans are never going to beatClinton at this.

"TheRepublicans are no longer the party of ideas. They used them all up and can'tcome up with any new ones. Unless they do, there's really no point in supportingthem other than they're not Democrats, which is not particularly compelling.I hope Prozac becomes a government entitlement because a lot of us out thereare going to need it.

"Isay, time to start laying the groundwork for the counterrevolution in '04or '08."

Not to becontrary, but I'd say Al ought to lighten up, have a glass of champagneand read Portrait of the Artist As a Young Dog to his precocious eight-year-oldson. And I double that advice to Bill Kristol, editor of TheWeekly Standard, who, according to The Washington Post'sLloyd Grove, seemed downright miserable at the end of last week. Attendingthe 26th annual Conservative Political Action Conferencemeetingin Arlington, Kristol was ornery as he discussed the current politicalclimate. "The Founders were right to have a certain distrust of democracy,"Kristol said. "The job for Republicans is to change public opinion, notto bow and scrape to it... The Republican Party is a stupid party. I like liberalDemocrats more than I like mushy Republicans." Get a grip, Bill: I mean,I agree, I'd much rather have a beer with Charlie Rangel or TeddyKennedy than the weasely Gary Bauer, but if I locked you in a room with Maxine Waters, Barbara Boxer, Robert Torricelli, HenryWaxman, Chuck Schumer and the dim Patrick Kennedy for just 24 hours,I think you'd snap out of it. Not that I think the reelection of GOP nationalchairman Jim Nicholson is an encouraging omen for Republican prospectsin 2000, but this isn't the time for Kristol, surely the party's intellectualleader, to take his ball (and influential magazine) and go sulk at home.

Gary Bauer:This schmuck is an irritant. He's just as sanctimonious as David Bonior,is full of that family values crap, has never been elected to any office andnow he's sounding off about other candidates in an effort to buoy his feeblerun for president. He told anyone who'd listen last week, "I thinkGeorge W. Bush would describe himself as a Bush Republican. I think ElizabethDole is in many ways a Dole Republican. If I run, I'll run as a ReaganRepublican." Well, fuck you, Gary. Shame on you for denigrating formerPresident Bush, an honorable, loyal man, and trying to pit a son againsthis father. If Ronald Reagan were in decent health, he'd smash thislittle bug of a man and tell him to go back to whatever church he uses as ashield for his petty, bigoted views.

And on thesubject of spirits, I don't risk the sin of hyperbole when I say that theoily Pat Robertson must've polished off a case of near-beer beforeissuing his praise of Clinton's Happy Trails State of the Union speechand suggesting that Republicans close down the impeachment trial and let thefelonious President go about his plan of letting the government pick its citizens'pockets even more egregiously than it already does. Robertson, who tried tomuck up the '88 GOP primaries, said Wednesday night on his 700 Clubshow that Clinton "hit a home run" with his speech and "Froma public relations standpoint, he's won. They might as well dismiss theimpeachment hearing and get on with something else, because it's over asfar as I'm concerned."

Just a monthago, Robertson, in a Dec. 27 appearance on Meet the Press, seemedmade of sterner stuff. He said: "I think we're going to have a lame-duckpresident. I don't believe he'll have the moral authority that'snecessary to lead and there'll be suspicion about every single thing hedoes, whether it's political gain or himself... There's deep suspicionabout these bombings in Sudan; they seem to have been a mistake. So to put thelives of American servicemen in harm's way for the possible political gainof a presidency is shocking, and that's what's going on... So we'retalking about the future moral status of this nation. It's a very importantthing, and to me, censure is nothing more than a slap on the wrist."

All of asudden, after Clinton's P.T. Barnum routine, and the mainstreampress hailing Charlie Ruff's dubious defense of the President,Robertson is ready to pack it all in. Henry Hyde, unfairly maligned by Clinton'ssycophants, didn't buy in: "We don't necessarily always agreewith everything that Pat Robertson says," he told The New York Times.More interesting, however, was the sentiment expressed to reporter RichardL. Berke by Hazel Staloff of Brooklyn: "If Pat Robertsonsaid, in fact, it's time for the Republicans to give up?and give in?toClinton, my membership in the Christian Coalition is over. I don't thinkthe party can be hurt when it stands for what is right. It can only be hurtwhen it compromises with evil." Well put, Hazel, and I hope you, and everyother sucker who's been lured in by the hateful Christian Coalition,give up your membership. That would be a way for the Republicans to regroup,forget about trivial issues like gay rights and abortion and recapture the swingvoters that can win the presidency and keep Congress under their control. Stayout of the bedroom, let a woman make her own choice and keep your grubby governmenthands out of our pockets and businesses: That's a slogan Republicans canwin on.

The BostonGlobe's David Nyhan was as giddy as a teenage girlgetting her first kiss after hearing Clinton's speech, all but claimingthat the United States now has just one political party and it starts with a"D." Read the words of the loopy Nyhan, who conveniently ignores everysingle act of perfidy that Clinton has committed in the past six years, andtell me that Robert Kennedy Jr. shouldn't be dispatched to NewEngland to check the water supply there.

Nyhan writes:"Hammerin' Henry Hyde had to be throwing up on his recliner at home.Representative Dick Armey looked as if he'd just scarfed down a platterof bad clams. Rookie Speaker Dennis Hastert didn't know whether to sitor go blind and ignore the Prez when Clinton surprised him with a let's-bury-the-hatchethandshake before unloading his boffo speech." Excuse me for a moment ofsobriety, but isn't Nyhan's cheerleading more appropriate for an afternoon'sdelight at Wrigley Field, watching Hillary's friend-for-hire SammySosa smack a couple of homers over those ivy-covered walls?

I prefermy friend Phyllis Orrick's analysis of the speech: "Iwas stupefied and in awe. Every time there was a pause, there'd be a cutto another noble citizen. Where do these people come from? It was like watchinga Rosie O'Donnell show or the Academy Awards. Rosa Parks!Clinton is a show biz genius. He was having a ball. I think we should have apecker-meter installed in every presidential podium. I would bet Clinton'swas bobbing that night. It was like watching a crack addict on a rush."

Last Thursday,an editorial writer at The Wall Street Journal was on fire, brimmingwith anger at Clinton's hypocritical, selfish campaign rally aimed at savinghis remaining two years in office. The speech, the editorial read, "wasnot meant so much as serious policy, but as a kind of therapy for the Presidentialpersona, making him feel good during his 77 minutes before the camera. The speechwas intended as a fire bell, calling on every imaginable constituency in theDemocratic village to rally toward the burning barn of his presidency. Appealingto these old-style Democrats whose votes he needs to stay in office, he proposedthat the government buy up the stock market (Jesse Jackson's dream cometrue), federalizing even more education policy (the NEA's dream come true),a buck increase for the minimum wage (for John Sweeney), adding prescriptiondrugs to Medicare (an idea too expensive even for LBJ), a redundant lawsuiton tobacco (more billions for the trial lawyers)."

And Clintonis the man who said, with a straight face, that the era of big government wasover.

GroverNorquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, was dead-on in hisreaction to Clinton's performance last Tuesday night: "Every timeClinton gets into hot water, he returns to his liberal roots. It is more thana coincidence. Clinton's big-spending allies in Congress have been thebiggest defenders of his perjury and obstruction of justice. The new tax-and-spendproposals in his State of the Union address are a direct payoff to his spendinginterest allies so that they won't be tempted to remove him from office.If Al Capone did this it would be considered bribing the jury."

I'veheard worse speeches from Clinton?his '92 acceptance speech at MadisonSquare Garden comes to mind?but I won't argue with the openinglines of the Journal's editorial: "It was the most shamelessState of the Union speech any President has ever delivered." Nyhan chortledin his Friday column: "You can always tell how well Clinton is doing byhow viperish gets the Journal. Get the ice buckets and hose down the editorialpen, fellas..." One writer at the Journal told me: "Nyhan'sis not a rational argument. I'm ignoring him."

But Nyhandoesn't stop at the paper he ridicules for "sell[ing] itself as 'thedaily diary of the American dream.'" He moves on to the Times'William Safire: "Veteran Republican water-carriers like WilliamSafire have been through GOP capsizings before. Brother Safire's postspeechcolumn retreated to the relative safety of linguistic esoterica. Brother Bill,like any prudent passenger on the runaway GOP train, moves away from the locomotiveas it draws near the derailment."

David Nyhanis clearly relishing the current turn of events so lustily that it seems churlishto throw water in his face and tell him to wake up, but is it folly to ask whya grown man could be so supportive of a president who's been such a destructivechameleon? I assume Nyhan is a Bonior/Gephardt liberal: In that case,why is he stumping for a man who presided over the execution of a retarded blackman in 1992 as political cover; who distorted the record of Paul Tsongas,the former senator of Nyhan's home state; who passed a welfare bill thatwas anathema to liberals; expressed allegiance to gays in the military, but has done nothing to help them (in fact, more gays were discharged from the militaryin the last fiscal year than any since 1987); and who schmoozed with GOP fatcatsin Texas several years ago, telling them that he, too, wanted to cuttaxes? This speech was meant to shore up Clinton's liberal base. Is Nyhanstupid enough to believe that the President, until recently an admitted liar,will ever pass any of the legislation he proposed in his Coney Island Stateof the Union address? Sure, it's a pleasure to defeat the supposed GOPdemons, but to what end? To protect a man who lied to his family, staff andcountry? I suspect and hope Nyhan will have one whopping hangover in just afew months.
Not So Fast, Mr. & Mrs. Pundit TheNew York Times' editors are happy. Orwere. In the bulldog edition of the Sunday paper that I read on Saturday night?eventhough the news section had a long outtake on Monica Lewinsky'ssudden summons to testify before the House managers in Washington?thelead editorial was smug, delighted that its opinions had been justified. Sen.Robert Byrd, he the man! The conclusion to its editorial read:"Once the case is dismissed, the trial is adjourned or Mr. Clinton is acquitted,the Senate can and should draft a resolution condemning Mr. Clinton. The timeto conclude this case is surely at hand." But we'll just see whatHenry Hyde and Ken Starr have to say about that.
MaureenDowd, the Times columnist who kicked Clinton almost everyweek in the early stages of Oralgate, but then found love in Hollywoodand not-so-subtly changed her tone, is happy too. She was writing on deadline,so, reasonably convinced that the trial was near its end, she felt free to blastthe President again, although with her Michael Douglas-tinted prose.Although the premise of her "Liberties" column on Sunday is almosta direct lift from the conclusion of Primal Fear?a forgettable courtroomdrama save Edward Norton's dynamic performance?it wasstill pretty funny.

Under theheadline "King of the World," Dowd gave Clinton's reaction tothe trial's sudden conclusion. Sure, she employs the cliche of bongo drumsand Cohiba cigars that every pundit will in the next two weeks, but read on.

"Thecelebration began the instant the Senate dropped impeachment charges againstMr. Clinton and took up a censure resolution against Henry Hyde and his Housemanagers, condemning them as bozos who dared to waste the upper chamber'svaluable time with a persecution based on the bogus premise that low sex isa high crime.

"Mr.Clinton strode through the revelers to say a few words, 'Now we know whatthe definition of "is" is,' he roared with a grin. 'I isoff the hook.' Let me begin by expressing heartfelt thanks to my friendsand co-conspirators here?Geraldo, Whoopi, Barney, Betty, Vernon, Dale,Quintus Robertus Byrdus, Larry Flynt and all you Baldwin brothers...

"'AndI'm so happy I don't have to fake remorse anymore. Now I can concentrateon real remorse?feeling sorry for myself... Starr was obsessed with me.But who isn't? To tell the truth, he wasn't completely off-base. Ilied. Hey, that wasn't so hard. I lied! I lied! Even spending$50 million, though, he did miss a few things. First, I did inhale. Second,I did evade the draft. I flat out didn't want to be marching around some courtyard in Fayetteville when I could be up at Yale. And Gennifer Flowers?Yup, lots of times...

"'Mygood friend Sidney Blumenthal is working on repealing the 22nd Amendment soI can have a third term. I not only want to build that bridge to the 21st century.I want to walk over it. It's the least I deserve, after all the time thoseRepublican meanies have stolen from me. I want my four years back.'"

And so on.Sadly, Dowd is right on the mark. The Luckiest Man Alive has probably done itagain. Let's just see if Hyde's latest wrinkle can at least stallthe inevitable and cause Clinton some pain to share with his pod Democrats.

It was adelight to see that other newspaper columnists, writing before the GOP'ssurprise Monica card, were almost unanimously exulting in the prospect of thetrial's speedy conclusion. The Boston Globe's ThomasOliphant, toasting former Sen. Dale Bumpers' cornpone-filledspeech to the Senate last Sunday, quoted Clinton's colleague from Arkansas."'I'll tell you what [perjury] is: It's wanting to win too badly.' Bull's eye."

MaryMcGrory, in The Washington Post, was no less enthusiastic about Bumpers,who appeared after Clinton said, "You gotta do it, Dale." She wrote:"He scolded them about their lack of compassion for Clinton and his family...He talked about Hamilton and Madison as if he knew them well." McGrorysays Bumpers humbly noted that it was "The most gratifying moment of mylife."

Also inSunday's Post, a dissenting voice, that of David Broder.The veteran journalist believes that Byrd's motion of an up-or-down voteis premature and will divide the Senate, and country, with party-line rancor.He wants to hear at least one witness: Betty Currie. "Everyone whoknows Betty Currie knows she is honorable and upright to her core. Appearingbefore the Senate would be an ordeal for her. But she has the opportunity?andmaybe even an obligation?to help her country end this mess with somethingother than a partisan vote."

The BaltimoreSun's lead editorial on Sunday was perplexing, as usual, urgingthe Senate to dismiss the House impeachment the following day. It goes on tosay: "Senators should do what is right, not what is popular. But Housemanagers have been urging Senate Republicans to do what is wrong, inviting voter retribution in the next election." I agree that the Senate should do whatis right, which means bringing the trial to a fair conclusion; if itwere following popular opinion, which inexplicably favors President Clinton, the trial would've been short-circuited by now. As for "voter retribution,"c'mon: This exercise won't be remembered a year from now, even ifanother Clinton scandal doesn't explode, which is unlikely.

In MortZuckerman's Daily News, the owner got his money's worthin protecting his Hamptons pal Clinton. Stanley Crouch, a sillierand sillier writer, called the Republicans "dinosaurs," and Lars-Erik Nelson, who urged the President to resign just months ago, said that HenryHyde was engaging in "suicidal zealotry." That commentary should ensureMort a seat at Clinton's thank-you dinner for compliant publishers.

Also inthe News, Michael Daly offered a different take. He wrote aboutBuffalo's Republican Rep. Jack Quinn, who watched the SuperBowl with Clinton in '97, "eating pizza and quesadillas as theylaughed and talked football and politics." But Quinn voted for impeachmentlast November. At the State of the Union Address, as Clinton made his way tothe podium, Quinn stuck out his hand: The First Liar snubbed him. Accordingto Daly, Clinton was heard to say on the day of his impeachment: "Our friendJack Quinn?let's see how he enjoys it when we go to Buffalo the dayafter the State of the Union." And indeed, Daly writes, local Democratslast week in Buffalo were handing out "Impeach Quinn" bumperstickers.

BillKristol had recovered his equilibrium by the time of his appearance on theSam & Cokie show on Sunday, and made the obvious point that short-circuitingthe impeachment process is a miscarriage of justice; whether or not Clintonis acquitted, the trial isn't a joke and shouldn't be treated thatway. Al From Baltimore e-mailed me shortly after: "Kristol was brilliant.He articulated the reasons for my unease?that the Clinton way may endurebeyond his Oval Office tenure through a combination of Wall Street-economicsand left-wing identity politics. Republicans don't have a clue how to respond.Unlike Kristol, George Will, while making the point that the GOP hasto learn to combat Democrats stealing their ideas, has all but thrown in thetowel on impeachment. Too bad. As for Maureen Dowd's column in the Times,I read it and puked. She's everything that's wrong with pundits: onthe one hand, but on the other... The column was shameless given what she'swritten in the past three months."

On Sunday'sMeet the Press, host Tim Russert asked eight senators their reactionto the infamous tape of Clinton wagging his finger at his fellow Americans lastyear, claiming he didn't do it with Monica. Larry Craig, a Republicanfrom Idaho, said: "He should resign. He should have resigned monthsago, but he will never resign. He doesn't respect the presidency."Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, on the other hand, was more forgiving:"You know, Tim, I think the American people are so far ahead of us on this.It's been said the American people can abide sin but not hypocrisy, andI think the American people say, 'Look, don't focus on the sin, focuson repentance.'"

When Georgenext gets around to one of its tired "10 Most Stupid Senators" roundups,if there's any justice Harkin will be number one. Clinton is the most hypocriticalpresident this country has ever elected. Even Hillary would agree withthat.

It bearsrepeating for the umpteenth time that the impeachment trial is not just aboutsex or petty lying. It's a culmination of all the misdeeds, many criminal,that President Clinton has committed in his six-year administration. That thecountry in general, and Congress in particular, is anesthetized to his behavioris lamentable, but surely not a reason to jettison the process. It's aboutthe law and how one president, accompanied by eager-to-please aides, has sulliedit. No, Bill Clinton is not "below" the law, a line that a partisanmedia feeds to a bored public, but his criminal acts are so egregious he mustbe held accountable. Does it not matter anymore that Clinton traded missiletechnology to the Chinese for campaign funds in the 1996 election? Is it irrelevantthat more than 900 FBI files were in the possession of a low-level governmentemployee no one seems to remember hiring? Or that "missing" documentssought by prosecutors suddenly appear in the First Family's living quartersat the White House? Is it safe for the nation that a health-impaired attorneygeneral has gone mute on investigating numerous allegations against her bossand his subordinates? These are all questions that must be examined before thecountry "gets it all over with."

The WallStreet Journal editorialized on Monday: "Senator Byrd, like others,professes to believe that dismissal would 'promptly end this sad and sorrytime for our country' and begin a 'process of healing.' Whatplanet have such people been living on these past six years? This is not a matterof a President happening to fall for a 21-year-old temptress, but an ingrainedhabit of lying. Bill Clinton conducts politics at the level he does becauseit has never occurred to him to do otherwise... [T]he Senate will end nothing by sweeping the current mess under the rug. It has to go to the source of theproblem, which is not the House managers or Kenneth Starr or a 'vast right-wingconspiracy.' The source lies in the psyche and personality of William JeffersonClinton; there is only one way the Senate can promptly put 'it' behindus. To wit, render an impeachment conviction and hope that President Gore willtake care that the laws be faithfully executed."
A Well-Earned Tonic So on the night thatPresident Clinton was pondering his sudden good fortune, thanks to dodderingold Sen. Byrd, Mrs. M and I celebrated Mike Gentile's42nd birthday at Il Nido, a fine and fancy Italian restaurant in midtown.I don't imagine Al Gore was in such a good mood?incumbencywould've given him a leg up in 2000?but for a few hours I put asidethe squabbles in DC and concentrated on Il Nido's excellent foodand Mike's stand-up routine at the table. He's looking for a new placeto live?leaving Tribeca after 10 years?and is going throughthe horrific ordeal of deciphering the spin of snaky brokers and fraudulentreal estate ads. "I can't believe the bullshit you have to put upwith," Mike fairly spat out for everyone to hear. "Empire State view.Who cares? I look at the building all day," referring to his cozy lair in the art department at 333. "And cobblestone streets? That'sa detraction to me. Like I want to hear the clippity-clop of horses outsidemy window as if it's 1860 or something?"
Il Nido'san old-school restaurant, still using hot plates to make theatric presentationsof dishes before your table. It took five waiters, assembled like doctors performingopen-heart surgery, to prepare my sausages with tomatoes and peppers, and aside dish of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce. It was a robust entree, and compensatedfor a stingy starter of hot antipasto?two clams oregano, two shrimp anda lone spiedini, a chintzy portion for $16?and I had no room, as usual,for dessert.

Mrs. M.was delighted with her rich Caesar salad, even as Mike described a scat videoclip he'd seen on the Web that day?and bookmarked?while he downedlayer upon layer of bresaola with arugula. Between courses he told stories ofbeing force-fed castor oil as a kid, the skank cold, black coffee we all drankwith relish at the old City Paper offices in Baltimore and thedeplorable conditions of our overcrowded men's room at 333. Mike'sveal chop met with his approval, even as he pushed aside the lettuce, tomatoand onion salad atop the butterflied chop; and Mrs. M almost finished her grilledsalmon, a sign that she, too, was ready to give Il Nido a thumbs up.

The waiterturned comical when it was time for dessert, laughing when Mike asked for acannoli or spumoni, like he was at a Carvel in the suburbs: "Nosir, at Il Nido we serve gelato, like in Italy." He turned to me for anorder and when I simply said, "Nothing for me," he winked and laughed,"We don't have that here, professor," a line I'm sure heuses 10 times a night. Don't know why, but we were seated in the Japaneseroom: Every table, save one where some May-December clandestine dinner was going on, was populated with our brothers and sisters from the Land of the RisingSun, stopping in, no doubt, after a full three hours at Hermes. Andwho says the yen has run its course?
The Observer Comes of Age It's invigoratingto be in commercial competition with a newspaper that I actually look forwardto reading. This hasn't always been the case: The Voice has beena dud since the mid-70s, the community papers have never mattered and it'sonly recently that The New York Observer has broadenedits scope beyond an embarrassing fascination with the internal bickering atthe Conde Nast building, Donald Trump,Todd Oldham andAlan Greenspan to offer a compelling product nearly every week. Sure,there's the odious Conason?but you get the sense that thattarnished journalist has been muted in his own pages?and the sick-as-a-dogAnne Roiphe, but I'm sure that New Yorkers feel the same way aboutsome of NYPress' writers, even the all-knowing, all-powerful MUGGER.
Seriously,one of last week's Observer editorials was a scorcher, carving upPresident Clinton and Jesse Jackson in six acid-rain paragraphs.The opinion begins: "On a day when the United States Senate was hearingevidence in the impeachment trial of William ('I Never...') Clinton,at the beginning of a weekend honoring the birthday of a man who dreamed ofa world where people would be judged by the content of their character, thePresident and the Rev. Jesse ('Hymietown') Jackson came to the financialdistrict to deliver lectures about ethics and morality and other such high-mindedbusiness. What a curious blend of hypocrisy."

This waswritten before Clinton's Buffalo bonanza of fans, who wanted tosee the man who played Barney the Dinosaur the night before in his Stateof the Union address, but still, the following point is a good one. "Clearly,there are but two places in this nation where the President can continue tospeak with any moral authority," namely, Hollywood and New York.Why people in this city are so enamored of the President is a mystery: Afterall, as the Post's Deborah Orin pointed out last week, thecity always gets screwed by Clinton's economic proposals, tax-wise, whilestates like Arkansas (surprise!) reap a windfall, but New Yorkers arean eccentric lot.

As for thecharlatan whom mainstream reporters like to condescend to by simply callinghim "Jesse" (after all, some of their best friends are shvartzers),the Observer continued: "If anybody but a black minister who playson white liberal guilt had voiced such out-and-out anti-Semitism, you can besure that Wall Street would turn its collective back. But Mr. Jackson gets apass, apparently because he's such a forceful spokesman for the politicsof victimization. Mr. Jackson, an opportunist of astonishing versatility (hewent from outcast to Presidential spiritual adviser with breath-taking speed),knows exactly how to play the Wall Street crowd?he takes them for suckersand, more often than not, they prove him right."

And it cannow be revealed that some Observer writers have a sense of humor! Reactingto a recent column of mine, one of them wrote back: "Staid quarters? Thisplace is cah-ray-zeee! What with the transvestite receptionist, ArthurCarter's velvet swing and downtown celebrities like Harmony Korine constantly dropping by to hang out at the titanium-wall cappuccino bar in thebasement to talk turkey about the future of the paper, it's hard to getthe younger staffers to concentrate on the Wednesday morning ritualistic readingof Todd Gitlin's column." Now that's Pulitzermaterial.

In lastweek's issue, Ron Rosenbaum, the "Edgy Enthusiast" columnistfor the paper, wrote a brilliant piece on the impeachment trial, Watergate,his interruption of Henry Hyde's breakfast one morning toharass him about the racist CCC group and the monumental mistake NewHampshire voters made in '92 by choosing Bill Clinton over the nobleBob Kerrey. (The fact that near-favorite son Paul Tsongas actuallywon that primary is besides the point.) It's a spellbinding piece of journalismand even though I don't agree with fully half of it?Rosenbaum dismissesmost Republicans as tools of the Christian Coalition?it's everybit as important as the long outtakes Phil Weiss has published in theObserver on the underbelly of corrupt Arkansas politics.

Rosenbaumwrites about sitting in the Senate gallery two weeks ago, watching the boringproceedings (he must've missed Lindsey Graham's presentation)and recalls another visit, a few years ago. "But I don't want to soundlike a knee-jerk cynic because the last time I was sitting here, in the Senategallery, I witnessed a genuine?regrettably overlooked?profile in courage:Senator Bob Kerrey standing up, virtually alone, to oppose a craven, hystericaland hypocritical bill proposed by Senate liberals (led by the unctuous opportunistJoe Biden) to enact a ban on flag-burning into law... The Democrats supporting the Biden bill were supreme hypocrites who didn't believe in it for a minutebut thought it might give them cover on the record so they could then take astand against an even more noxious and demagogic constitutional amendment toban flag-burning. But Bob Kerrey didn't need political cover for his actof courage and dissent. He just stood up and did it. Stood up on one artificialand one flesh-and-bone foot, having lost a lower leg in the Navy Seal operationwhich won him the Congressional medal of honor for bravery under fire. Stoodup and told the Joe Bidens and the other temporizers and equivocators with the First Amendment that when he took a hit, he wasn't taking it for a pieceof cloth, he was fighting for his buddies, for his friends and his family, andfor the kind of country that is not threatened by dissent, not 'frightenedby flag-burning.'"

Rosenbaummeanders along, trashing Clinton, stomping on "that smug, meretricioussuck-up 'documentary' called The War Room which made heroesout of the smarmy enablers who...gave credence to Mr. Clinton's lies whilehe raced home" to execute Rickey Ray Rector. "Bob Kerrey wasthe road not taken in the snowy New Hampshire woods."

Rosenbaum'sstory, and prose, is so compelling that I forgive him for being behind in currentevents, not realizing when he wrote the following paragraph that Kerrey hasstated he will not run for president in 2000 (a break for the GOP). "Thecandor and the courage, the willingness to call a jerk a jerk, however Supreme,made me think once again that the Democratic Party would be insane and self-destructivein the year 2000 if it passed Bob Kerrey by in favor of a passionless cold-fishstiff like Al Gore or Bill Bradley."

CarlSwanson, in his "Off the Record" column, was a bit naive, I thought,in recounting Spin editor Michael Hirschorn's abruptfiring last week. Describing Hirschorn as a "part-owner" is rathermisleading, since it's doubtful the former editor had much equity in Spinat all; otherwise, he wouldn't have been fired without a fight. Accordingto Swanson, Spin proprietor Robert Miller and "editorialdirector" Gilbert Rogin "didn't much go for the show Mr.Hirschorn and his merry band of discontented thirtysomethings were putting on.'They're trying to make it more commercial and probably less sophisticated,'said one disappointed Hirschorn hire of the moves being made by Miller Publishing.'Less quirky.'"

Swanson,a mere pup at 27 (and, I might add, a pal of Boy Genius Mike Wartella,which makes him a prince in my book), is probably more sympathetic to the jobHirschorn and his "merry band" performed at Spin. I don'tget the "quirky" part. Spin was disappointedly mainstream?eventhough it might become more so under new editor Alan Light?and itseemed to me that Hirschorn, who was a valuable editor at Kurt Andersen'sNew York, was always a bad fit at the music magazine. To me, the endwas clear when Hirschorn embarrassed himself and Spin by apologizingin print to Courtney Love for a cover headline that she found offensive.I hope, and assume, he'll find work soon at a magazine that's morefitting to his journalistic talents. For example, the front section of Newsweek,with its laughable "Periscope" section, could use a facelift thatI'll bet Hirschorn could bring to it.

In MaryHuhn's Jan. 20 Post account of the editor's firing,she quoted Dave Moodie, Spin's features editor, as saying,"Everyone was shocked because Michael was doing the magazine he told themhe was going to do... Michael is some kind of zen master. He's very calmand handling it better than the rest of the staff." According to Huhn,Hirschorn told his staff: "I am at peace with myself. Compared to the otherstuff out there, we put out a first-class magazine, but we failed to convincethe senior management of that." Self-delusion is understandable after sucha sudden firing, but Spin wasn't a "first-class magazine."It had no direction, no edge, and certainly didn't measure up to BobGuccione Jr.'s version of the monthly.

Nevertheless,Spin was at least marginally superior to Details, where editorMichael Caruso must be on his last legs. Rumors of his firing abound.They're deserved, just on the basis of his cliched conclusion to the "Editor'sLetter" of the February issue: "Oh, and for those unlike me who actuallyare able to look past next Saturday night, we've included a very opinionatedguide to planning your next New Year's Eve. I thought it would help medecide where to be when the world hits 2000, but I still haven't made upmy mind. The only thing I know is that, wherever I am, I'm going to partylike it's 1999."

Is Carusoforced to write shit like this? If it's part of his Details contract,that's one thing; but if he's actually coming up with it on his own,this guy should be canned immediately. And forced to do an internship with SidneyBlumenthal.


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