MUGGER Strikes Chords, Forms Exploratory Committee

| 11 Nov 2014 | 09:38

    Mail Editor’s Choice Andrey Slivka’s last article ("New York City," 10/6) was fucking great. He’s one of the reasons why I love your paper. You should know that I look forward to reading NYPress every week, almost as much as I look forward to avoiding the Village Voice.

    Kenny Engels, Manhattan

    Mr. Szamuely is always a good read. Some of his insights are even brilliant. (He needs praise right now.) I have a suggestion. Taki should set up a benefit book auction. Every contributor at NYPress should donate a couple of their old books, and they could be auctioned off in the ballroom of the Waldorf. You could charge $500 a head for the gala, get two books from each writer, auction them off with a starting bid of $20 each (you’d allow e-Bay to cover the event as well). If each contributor (111 is my count) donates two books at $20 a piece, that’s $4440. That should cover the court costs. Invite 150 aristocrats (just check Taki’s rolodex) and you’ll have $75,000. The fines are $31,000. That leaves $44,000 to cover the event, including press coverage and a little grease for Taki’s favorite charity.

    Come on, Taki, you know you’ll love the publicity.

    Anthony Rago, Forest Hills

    Boehlert, Not for Dollar I was amused to see Eric Boehlert’s incisive "Bull Bradley" article (10/6) juxtaposed with those of your regular political columnists (who seem to have largely bought into the idea that Bradley’s chances are much better than the polls have yet shown). I especially liked Boehlert’s "reporter Deborah Orin (perhaps the only person in America who thinks ‘Dan Quayle was able to whip Gore in [the ’92] debate’)" in the same issue with Christopher Caldwell’s "Quayle...absolutely clocked Gore in the 1992 vice-presidential debate."

    On the other hand, I think Caldwell was far more accurate than Boehlert when he stated that Gore looked like a moron for claiming that he’s now the underdog. One of the things I enjoy about your paper is the way your columnists overall don’t seem to toe any particular party line. You can learn a lot from reading intelligent discussions on both sides, one after the other. (I do skip "MUGGER," however. His prejudices make him as predictable and judgment-skewed as Armond White.) Thanks to the always entertaining William Bryk for his lively history of the Collyer brothers ("Old Smoke," 9/29) and for his chilling and dry piece last week on the malathion mosquito spraying ("New York City," 10/6).

    Re: R.S. McCain’s 9/29 "In Rotation" article claiming that New York publishers are "censoring" right-wing and religious books by not accepting or vigorously promoting them: This is nonsense, as several other readers have already pointed out. But I wondered, if McCain were working in the book trade, whether he would take on the editing and publication and promotion of works that were strongly favorable to abortion and premarital sex. I think not. (Nor should he.) And I doubt he would consider that censorship.

    For once, George Tabb serves a useful purpose in an interview. He was an excellent comic butt for Robin Quivers’ wit in the roundtable discussion (9/29). But please keep him far away from future interviewing duties. If Tabb must make perpetual adolescence and self-promotion his career choice, at least let it not get in the way of hearing what the intended subject (almost inevitably a more interesting person than he is) has to say.

    Finally, kudos to Terminator for again using his interviewing skills and empathy to get me vividly interested in someone who I would normally not have heard of or cared about. As it is, I might just go looking for one of Dennis Cooper’s novels now ("Books," 10/6). Many thanks.

    Lisa Braun, Manhattan

    Read Szamuely’s Copy I’m writing to you in hopes that I can obtain a subscription to NYPress. I’m a state-sentenced inmate in dire need of my Dirty Sanchez fix.

    I’ve been sentenced to four years for the most heinous crime of violating probation. The county I was sentenced in is a very conservative county. I don’t think Democrats are allowed to move here. Instead of allowing me to move back to New York, I was ordered to remain here in Hunterdon County for six months, until my probation could properly be transferred.

    I moved to Queens before that happened (a decision rooted in my liberal views) and was doing well until I happened to be caught smoking on an outdoor platform (who knew?) there. I didn’t have identification on me, which meant I had to be brought in to the station. So here I sit.

    I’ve tried to have my girlfriend send the paper to me through the mail, but the rules here only allow for magazines and newspapers to come from the publisher.

    I didn’t realize how much NYPress had become part of my weekly routine until it was taken from me. I haven’t had any Ames, Knipfel or that young one, Ned Vizzini.

    I know that the subscription costs $75 a year, but I’m hoping that, since I’m an inmate, you might offer me a cheaper rate. (Tell MUGGER I’m a transplanted Baltimoron–I worked on Greenmount Ave.)

    I hope you can help me out. If you can’t, please let me know, so I can start begging people to get me a Christmas subscription. It will be all I can stand not having any George Tabb for months.

    Danen Miller, Flemington, NJ

    Shelter From The Storm MUGGER: Your column is sure fun to read. I’m glad that I’m stuck out on the beach here and don’t know the people you write about.

    Pierre Stephenson, Ocean Park, WA

    Nice MUGGER MUGGER: You are right on. I’m for George W. Bush, and if all those conservatives who are also running are so great, why aren’t they getting any support? There isn’t one of them who would be able to win the presidency.

    Elsie Odell, Boulder City, NV

    Ltd. Russ Smith seems to imply that limits on campaign contributions from individuals to candidates for federal office are an "obvious infringement of First Amendment rights" ("MUGGER," 10/6). Oops. Until the Supreme Court overturns Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the $1000 contribution cap remains constitutional. The Court ruled, however, that candidates have a free-speech right to spend huge sums of money on their campaigns.

    Meanwhile, corrupt, bipartisan, soft-money purchases of political favors continue. Perhaps MUGGER is content with this status quo. After all, his GOP controls Congress and receives much more corporate cash than do the Democrats.

    John Cantilli, Cranford, NJ

    Tell the Mail Editor Thank you for printing my letter last week. NYPress has the best mail section I’ve ever read. It’s an honor to be part of it, but even you make mistakes.

    I did not write, "The mayor’s penchant for comstockery should be encouraged." This is 180 degrees away from my meaning, and what I wrote. I wrote, "The mayor’s penchant for comstockery should be scorned, not encouraged."

    When the Mayor censors, everybody listens. If he could learn to control his darker impulses, the Brooklyn Museum of Art would not have lines snaking around the block, Khalid Muhammad would not be famous and Chris Brodeur would not have New York radio as a forum. But Rudy is a zealot and cannot help but overreact. It’s both sad and amusing to watch him try to nuke the city’s gadflies and iconoclasts. Rudy’s efforts are always counterproductive in these cases.

    Also, I signed the letter "Robert Prichard, Surf Realty." Surf has been serving Manhattan’s Lower East Side since 1993. We are a performance venue, so First Amendment issues are of great interest and concern to us. Your listings editor should be familiar with us. In any event, I do not live in Brooklyn yet.

    You also omitted my "a.k.a. Osama bin Travolta, Dance Liberation Front." The D.L.F’s mission is the abolishment of all cabaret laws regarding dance. We think it’s fundamentally un-American to require citizens to secure licenses to permit people to move their own bodies. This used to be a free country. How did the government get on the dancefloor?

    Busting bars, clubs and restaurants for unlicensed dancing is another one of our Mayor’s legacies. I believe his desire to punish "sick stuff" and his crackdown on "dance crimes" come from the same killjoy impulse. As one cop said during our giant D.L.F. hokey-pokey circle around City Hall, "He’s the ‘no-fun’ mayor."

    Robert Prichard, Surf Realty, aka Osama Bin Travolta, Dance Liberation Front, Manhattan


    Yell Down the Hall MUGGER: Regarding your take on the Brooklyn Museum exhibit: What’s all this guff about you agreeing with Giuliani’s objection on fiscal grounds?

    I mean, come on, man. This guy has a history of misrepresenting and belittling any person or organization he disagrees with or disapproves of, then trying to destroy same. And here you are taking him at his word on this particular subject?

    It looks to me like the guy is pandering to upstate voters and conservative Catholics. Sure, he’s got certain principles and has a habit of turning them into public policy. But remember, he’s running for Senate. I bet that’s at least part of his motivation for coming on so strong. The "on fiscal grounds" strategy is just a puny philosophical figleaf, feebly hiding Giuliani’s massive hard-on for conservative and/or Catholic voters.

    But that’s just a prelude to the real reason I had to write you. What’s up with your argument that art should not be publicly funded? Personally, I never bought the argument that because art has the potential to offend some people, it should not be publicly funded. Every public school curriculum contains information that offends at least some parents, yet nobody seriously argues that we stop funding schools for this reason. Every lending library contains books that offend some citizens on intellectual, political or moral grounds, yet we all know it’s silly to argue in favor of cutting off library funding because some born-again might accidentally check out Ulysses.

    I don’t want my federal tax money to go to U.S. school districts that have forbidden or severely curtailed the teaching of sex education and evolutionary theory (alas, my home state of Texas is rife with such backwaters).

    I don’t want my tax dollars granted, in the form of fellowships or scholarships, to any person who supports the death penalty or argues for the repeal of Roe v. Wade. And those same libraries I cited earlier lend out arch-conservative and religiously backward volumes that offend me personally.

    But I accept that all of the above scenarios have happened and might continue to happen–and I know that my most reasonable response as a citizen is to work to elect people who agree with me, not to agitate that funding be denied to certain types of organizations across the board because I am personally offended by something that was done with my money. (There’s a chance some of that public money will go to people who agree with me–or at least people who don’t offend me. What goes around comes around.)

    The government is a big machine fueled by our money, and every big machine is likely to crank out a couple of defective products (or products you personally don’t like and don’t want to use). Fact is, the overwhelming majority of tax money spent on the arts goes to fund patently nonoffensive stuff, mostly at the community level, and to beef up large, established public institutions that usually shy away from displaying anything that might offend.

    Some form of accountability is acceptable, probably even necessary. The various ideological camps wrangling over specific issues should argue what the standards should be–then let their elected representatives vote their consciences and justify themselves come election time. That’s what we have–a representative democracy, not government by mayoral decree.

    What the hell–go ahead and impose some kind of litmus test. Appoint a city board that reviews individual exhibits (not entire institutions; that’s the job of elected representatives) and then decides if those exhibits should get public funds. The institutions would then be free to 1) accept such meddling as a prerequisite to suckling at the public teat or 2) reject any form of prior review and shout their independence from the rooftops.

    It’s a schoolmarmish compromise, granted. But it strikes me as a lot less idiot-authoritarian than the "everybody out of the pool" mentality exemplified by Giuliani.

    And hey, I just have to add–what’s that nonsense from Timothy Noah that you quoted? The guy uses hot-button words like "niggers" and "kikes," but the painting is not in the same ballpark. It’s not even in the same league.

    If you’ve actually seen the painting, you know that the artist meant absolutely no disrespect. On the contrary, the painting that ignited the furor is quite respectful, even reverent–an honest attempt to reconcile opposing religious and cultural influences that clash inside the artist’s head.

    As for the oft-repeated description of the painting being "smeared" or "splattered" with elephant dung, that’s simply a lie–one that has been repeated so often by the misinformed that it has attained the status of fact.

    I can’t believe you fell for it!

    Yes, the guy used elephant dung in his painting. But two important facts conveniently get omitted in news reports and angry op-ed pieces: 1) All his paintings use elephant dung; it’s a folklore thing, and 2) in many African cultures, dung is simply a substance, one that can be used for many purposes, like clay or mortar or dirt. It is not inherently offensive.

    In other words, what we have here is a major case of cultural misunderstanding, and the yahoos are on Giuliani’s side.

    Remember back in the 1984 election, when Vice President Bush publicly castigated Mondale for saying those Marines who were killed in the 1983 barracks bombing "died in shame"? Mondale tried and tried to tell people that he didn’t say "shame," he said "vain"–the speech was a matter of public record, anybody could check it, for crying out loud–and that Reagan knew this and didn’t care and had chosen to intentionally mislead the public. Mondale was wasting his breath. "Died in vain" was a statement that invited lengthy, sophisticated arguments and could be made to seem quite reasonable; "died in shame" was the verbal equivalent of a Molotov cocktail, guaranteed to get veterans and their families pissed off. The public heard what they wanted to hear, facts be damned; it preferred anger to thought. Pretty soon the poor schmuck Mondale was forced to apologize for offending people with a statement he never even made.

    That’s what’s happening here, Russ. The Mayor has had the situation explained to him many times. Yet he chooses to represent it to the public as a case of some pompous, blaspheming foreigner asshole smearing shit on the Virgin Mary.

    Why is he doing it? Because he’s a ruthless politician who never lets principle get in the way of what works. He knows certain parts of the voting public will get righteously pissed over the exhibit and see Giuliani as their common-sense hero, fighting the blaspheming hordes. And he knows populist columnists who love taking shots at the cultural elite will lend their voices to his duplicitous crusade.

    Matt Zoller Seitz, Manhattan

    Quoth the MUGGER MUGGER: Do you realize that you are the only person who could have saved Al Gore’s political life? "Now, if Gore had a lick of moonshine sense, he’d have resigned his office on principle last year, at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, setting him apart from all the rest of Clinton’s entourage who disgracefully let their boss lie to them and still remained at the White House. Talk about integrity! He’d be at least even in the polls right now with Gov. Bush; Bradley wouldn’t even matter. Instead, Gore, on the day of Clinton’s deserved impeachment, said his boss would be remembered as one of the greatest American presidents. That’s a soundbite we’ll be seeing in GOP commercials from March of next year till Election Day. "

    Why hasn’t anybody else said this? It’s so painfully obvious you’d think that it would be Bush’s campaign stump speech.

    And I agree with you on John McCain as well: McCain is Clinton’s evil Republican brother.

    Frank Turk, Pittsburgh

    Right on, MUG MUGGER: Your article on McCain’s shame (10/6) was priceless, really sharp. The guy is a phony and you nailed him. Thanks.

    Ross Knight, Houston

    Bee-ware! MUGGER: Is it just me or is your column a sick joke (10/6)? A man making his money from the corporate-controlled press mocking a candidate who admits that the government is bought and sold? It is almost funny to watch you sit there and pretend to actually care about the well-being of the country. It’s not that I care for McCain or Clinton or, for that matter, any of the choices for president. The issue is your callous disregard for the feelings of the young voting populace and the terrible state of politics today. We are repeatedly lied to and sold out by our government and the press. I spent the first 20 years of my life choking on the system that has been set up by the rich to indoctrinate the youth of the nation into its corporate hive. Perhaps, instead of wasting your miserable time pandering to the elite, you should use that time to look around yourself and realize you’re nothing but a puppet–a cog in the machine if you will–tricked into believing the drivel you spill out. I know I am talking to a wall, but raging against the machine that drives us further into intellectual darkness is always a worthwhile pastime. If we give in to the tyranny of the world we just become part of it, I guess.

    James M. Wolf Jr., Elkhorn, WI

    Russ Smith replies: NYPress is an independently owned newspaper and not part of any media conglomerate.


    A Little Cynical, Even for Us MUGGER: Last Month, 20/20 did a lovey-dovey piece on Sen. McCain. He spoke about his Vietnam experience. I tend to agree with you that he’s milking it for all it’s worth.

    And I’ll take it one step further, too. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the good Senator had me wondering more than once whether he might have based his decision to remain in the POW camp on future political considerations.

    Twenty-plus years ago, could the honorable John McCain–a la Bill Clinton–have already been thinking about the political value of a "heroic" decision to remain behind rather than accept his freedom?

    And you thought you were cynical!

    Keith Strawn, Duluth, MN

    Lifesavers MUGGER: I wish you would debate the ideas of those you don’t like, specifically Patrick Buchanan, instead of insulting them (10/6). Insults and ad hominem attacks upon your opponents demonstrate that you cannot refute their logic and facts and instead must resort to personal attacks (e.g., "the bigot who may or may not win the Reform Party nod").

    In addition, you sound like nothing so much as a shill for the "leadership" of the Republican Party, which is out of touch with many of its constituents (despite the polls).

    We’ll see how well Dubya does in 2000 without the support of the pro-lifers and conservatives.

    Mike Breslin, Detroit