Monday, October 09, 2006


North Korea apparently has The Bomb. Finally. We've been awaiting this day for some time. And now all the bullshit on our end can seriously commence, for who better to denounce the acquisition of nukes than a nation that has actually used them on another country, and threatened to do the same to others years after that? I mean, would you trust the ravings of a no-nuke pussy? Of course not. So sit back and enjoy the rhetoric. It should get loud, crude and quite strange over the next few days and weeks. (Recall that former comedian Dennis Miller called for the US to nuke North Korea's first test. Oh Dennis, will they ever listen?) After all, it's mid-terms time!

Does this mean that the Son takes a nuclear-powered North Korea lightly? Not really. Just another added feature to the daily parade of madness. And anyway, what did you expect? My guess is that the Bush gang is happy for this, for obvious political distraction reasons. Anything to take the heat off a worsening Iraq and the ongoing Foley follies. "Hey! Look over there!" has proven effective in the past, and I trust that Kim riding a missile Slim Pickens-style will provide our rulers hours of self-righteous posing. Not that the Dems will be outdone. This kind of shit works for all.

But enough of that today. There'll be plenty to chew on for weeks. There always is. So allow me to get a bit self-involved myself, as today is my birthday, and I feel oddly pensive and wistful for a variety of reasons, though it doesn't take a cake and candles to stir such emotions. As I'm sure you've noticed of late, this space has become a bit more autobiographical, rather than polemical and analytic. Oh, I have my fire-breathing days, but I can't hide, nor would want to hide, the deeper feelings that consume me. It appears that you out there don't mind this shift, given that my numbers have risen in recent weeks. Maybe you prefer it. Either way, it's what I'm doing, good, ill, shrill, a snooze.

While watching "The West Wing" the other night, I caught the episodes where the Ann Coulterish blonde reactionary is invited to join the White House legal team, and her struggles to be taken seriously by the liberals who staff it, when not weathering their unveiled contempt. Of all of Aaron Sorkin's political fantasies, this one actually rang true for me, though, as usual, it's the ├╝ber-good liberals of the "Wing" who ultimately embrace their ideological opposite, showing us once again just how unflinchingly loyal they are to their inclusive values. Sorkin can't pass up angelic displays like that. And when the faux-Coulter informs her rightwing friends that her new liberal co-workers are "patriots"? Oohh. The chill, the spinal chill . . . what better or purer endorsement?

All that heavenly imagery and rhetoric aside, I did connect to this storyline, simply because I experienced something like it, though at a more mundane level.

In the Summer of '92, I was hired as the Managing Editor for New York Perspectives, an Upper West Side freebie that featured drowsy pieces about neighborhood concerns and personalities. The owners wanted to shake things up, expand the paper citywide, and take on New York Press and the Village Voice. So they brought in me and a few other younger scribes, and with this new direction in mind, we strove to make Perspectives a must-read, or at least something you couldn't ignore. We stumbled a bit at first, not really having a unified formula. Then the new Editor-in-Chief was fired, for costing the paper money it did not have (at least, this is what I was told), and the owners promoted me to his spot. So now Perspectives was my baby; and with the new Managing Editor, Beth Fertig, we began to cultivate young and untested talent, weaving together energetic columns about politics and pop culture, and trying to make each week's cover something that would stop pedestrians or entice those bored in a laundromat to pick it up and read. Once Beth and I hit on this combo, and had regular writers we could rely on, Perspectives started to increase its circulation, and within a year we were almost citywide.

Many of the newer writers came via Beth, who knew a bunch of freelancers she had worked with at the Michigan Daily. Indeed, the Michigan Mafia proved to be our steadiest source of talent, and among those who wrote for us was Janice Eller, a very funny but emotionally turbulent woman, who sometimes disappeared when a deadline approached, but who could always be counted on for great copy when she felt like producing it (thanks to one of Janice's absences, I met a freelancer who not only quickly became a regular columnist, she later became my wife). Janice went on to write TV pieces for the Sunday New York Times, and celeb profiles for US magazine, a corporate gig she wasn't crazy about, but it paid the bills. Another friend of Beth's who contributed was James Poniewozik, who wrote music reviews for us, and now ponders TV for Time.

Me, I had no college connections, so I'd dig thru the slush pile of unsolicited clips, a la Terry Southern in "The Blood of a Wig." And like Southern, I looked for the craziest, oddest pieces that might serve our editorial vision, though truth be told, most of those people lacked even rudimentary composition skills. But then I came across a neatly stacked submission of pieces from The Dartmouth Review, the infamous rightwing campus paper that gave the world such giants as Laura Ingraham and Dinseh D'Souza. It was the work of Adam Lieberman, whose name I instantly recognized from a Village Voice profile of the Review. And unlike some of his more-lunatic brethren, Adam's stuff, while sufficiently rightist, wasn't completely batshit. I phoned him and asked that he write a piece attacking the Clinton nomination for our election issue. We had plenty of libs bashing Bush I, and I wrote some pretty vicious stuff about Perot (and Bush and Clinton as well), but we had no Perspective from the right.

Adam sounded very suspicious. Why on earth would a tree-hugging, fag-friendly rag like ours pub him? I simply told him that we wanted a New York City rightwing voice, and he was it. So Adam accepted, sent in his piece a few days later, and was amazed that I kept my promise not to edit his opinions. Thus began our friendship, a weird one for both of us.

Through Adam I met various Review alums, including Kevin Pritchett, an African-Republican who wrote editorials for the Wall Street Journal. (When visiting Kevin's office at the WSJ, I noticed two photos over his desk -- Winston Churchill and Malcolm X. "Interesting pair," I told him, though he saw nothing odd about them being together.) These guys were convinced that I represented true evil, especially when I didn't run from the socialist label. I explained all the great and progressive changes that American socialists helped to foster, which made them wince and cackle sarcastically. But when I revealed my knowledge of American conservative history, primarily the period when the National Review debuted, galvanizing the political and intellectual forces that would carry Barry Goldwater and later Ronald Reagan, they stopped making faces and actually listened. In some areas, I knew more than they did, and no one appreciated this more than Adam, who seemed to have a real intellectual hunger, despite his reactionary positions.

I published Adam's pieces a number of times, and there were moments when Beth, as diehard a lib Dem as you could find (and later a brave correspondent for WNYC radio and NPR, who risked her life to cover the Towers falling on 9/11) openly questioned my sanity. She'd copy edit Adam's work while snorting and shaking her head. And occasionally she and Adam would argue over a miniscule point on the phone. At times, Beth got so angry she visibly shook. But I told her that editing Adam was good training. Besides, I really enjoyed watching the Michigan Daily vs. the Dartmouth Review. It almost made me believe that there were major differences between the Dems and the Repubs.

While Adam and I never became buddy-buddy, we were very friendly, even though things like my support for the Nicaraguan revolution would drive him nuts. Knowing him taught me about the contradictions many thinking people carry inside themselves, as Adam clearly struggled with his own conservative soul. He told me that he held many differences with the likes of D'Souza, who he thought played down serious political thinking in favor of pushing cultural hot buttons. I don't think Adam was fully comfortable on the right, though he still feared and distrusted the left. He appeared ideologically adrift, and I like to think that I helped him to sort out some of his confusion, since he came to trust me, and this in turn helped me to sort out and better understand my own inner-conflicts.

Once I got married, I didn't see much of Adam any more. We spoke on the phone a few times, but he was off to find what he truly believed. Years passed. I hadn't heard from him, so I looked him up online. And there was a long, introspective piece by Adam in, of all places, Mother Jones. I read it twice, just to make sure this was the same Adam Lieberman I once knew. But it was him, and his ruminations appeared genuine. This inspired me to look him up, but I soon discovered that Adam died right after the MoJo piece appeared. He couldn't have been more than 30, and like that, he was gone.

I thought of Adam while watching those "West Wing"s, and wondered what he'd make of the modern Repub noise machine, George W. Bush, and all the creeps in between. Would 9/11 and the War on Terror have pushed him back into the reactionary fold? Or would he have continued his search in these very unreflective times? Whatever the case, as I age another year today, I'll hoist a cold beer to Adam's memory, and to his efforts at intellectual honesty. There isn't a lot of that going around these sordid days, my old friend.