By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
THE MIDDLE ROAD
Did Howard Hampton actually read Curtis White's latest book, The Middle Mind? Or was he merely responding to the tenor of White's recent piece in The Village Voice? There is no way to determine the answer from this essay. I cannot recall reading a more hysterical piece of ad hominem attack outside of an online forum.
Is this what public debate has become, shrieking at phantoms? You do your readers a great disservice by publishing such drivel. I do not believe anyone knows how to recuperate the image of the public intellectual and philosophy's relevance in today's media-saturated environment. Hampton's attack notwithstanding, the review suffers from the same maladies it attacks in White's bookHampton is publishing in the Voice, after all!
Hampton ignores White's argument in The Middle Mind. He makes no attempt to disprove it or demonstrate its weakness. Instead, he elects himself representative of the underclass and goes on a tirade on its behalf.
Gimme a break. The unmoored Hampton is clearly not up to the task at hand. The Village Voice ought to do better than this.
LIKE A SPURGEON
So Gregg Whiteside was fired by WQXR for making off-the-air anti-Semitic remarks. Fine! People who deal with the public shouldn't make anti-Semitic (or homophobic or racist) remarks. I'm surprised the Voice would publish an article defending him. I for one am glad WQXR finally dumped the abrasive, sports-obsessed, right-wing-inclined Whiteside: I don't miss his shtick at all and have long felt that he'd be more at home at a station like WFAN. I'm a lot more comfortable with the somewhat generic announcers WQXR now has in the early morning: At least I don't start the day with a sour taste in my mouth before going to the office and tuning in Jeff Spurgeon on WQXR. I could listen to him 24-7.
THE GHETTO BODHISATTVA
Kudos on Ta-Nehisi Coates's "Compassionate Capitalism" [January 7-13]. Given that Russell Simmons has turned more poor people into rich people than most anti-poverty programs, he seems like a ghetto bodhisattva. Russell and hip-hop both believe in the ultimate redemption of Black America's career fuckups: salvation for the strayed sheep, the "careless Ethiopians," and all our prodigal sons without exception. Only Spike Lee worries about the struggling righteous onesall those black nerds and ghetto goody-goodies who are expected to fend for themselves and not become deadbeat dads or welfare moms as a matter of personal pride.
Nobody but Spike thinks Black Lifestyles of the Smart and Cautious could be a viable television show. And that's just one of many reasons why Russell's roughneck style of redemptive activism might actually work.
OM SWEET OM
Re "Compassionate Capitalism":
Oh pleasejust watch the latest episode of Cribs on MTV with Russell Simmons et al., and then try to take anything in this article seriously. Simmons comes off as a rich pig with way too much time on his handsso of course he has plenty of yoga practice time.
LESSONS FROM ALGERIA
Michael Atkinson's feverish praise of the relevance of the politics of The Battle of Algiers["Rocket the Casbah," January 7-13] belongs with the long list of Bad Baby-Boomer Analogies in which our media culture is so rich. For starters, the French had been in Algeria for about 125 years before the events detailed in Pontecorvo's film. Algeria had been colonized to the point of containing a population that was over 10 percent French. Maybe Atkinson is saying that in 125 years, after the population of Iraq is about 10 percent American-born, the U.S. may face a revolt of the indigenous Iraqis?
The ultimate irony, by the way, is chastely avoided in Atkinson's piece. When Bush announced his war on terror, one of those soon standing by his side on the White House lawn was President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, a political leader bloodied in the war against the French. Post-independence Algeria's leaders were secular third-world radicals, but the folks at the grassroots strongly identified with medieval Islamic values. Any lessons there for those clinging to the romantic mythology of third-world authenticity and radicalism?
Michael Atkinson replies: Hey, the Pentagon used the analogy first. Why would a difference in historical circumstances be less relevant than the resulting facts of occupation and indigenous revolt? The Iraqis' situation has parallels all over the globe and going back thousands of yearsit's just that Pontecorvo made a rocking movie about one of them. And sure, the power structure in Algeria today is a psychotic mess, but if you consider that fact a redress to "the romantic mythology of third-world authenticity and radicalism" rather than the predictable fallout of occupation, genocidal violence, and colonial oppression, then you're well on your way to being a totalitarian.
Do we choose a candidate because he has the most audacity, or do we choose a candidate because he is a capable, experienced man?
Ridgeway may be right about 9-11 and the president's prior knowledge, but that doesn't make Howard Dean the most qualified candidate to unseat the president. Dean's brazen lack of diplomacy would make him a scary president.
Dean's lack of experience in diplomacy would be lethal for this country. Bush's shortcomings have caused us to suffer enough: lack of health care, loss of jobs, huge deficits, and alienation of our allies. I'd rather have John Kerry than either of them.
NEWS OF THE WEIRD
Re "Dean Calls 9-11":
We need to stop printing this kind of wild speculation in the intelligent liberal press; let's leave it for the Vince Foster loonies and National Review. Bush's responses to 9-11 have been shortsighted, arrogant, foolhardy, belligerent, you name itbut I don't see how we can point fingers at the government for not picking up on what must have been a handful of "correct" suspicions among thousands of warnings about far-fetched terrorist plots. I assume that most people in government, regardless of their political affiliations or professional qualifications, figured such a high-profile attack and mass suicide was unlikely to succeed because no one had pulled it off before. It looks foolish in hindsight, but I can't imagine any amount of digging is going to produce a "smoking gun" memo that really proves incompetence or willful ignorance about a catastrophe that is unprecedented.
I want to see Bush out of office in 2004. I don't want to see intelligent publications like the Voice over-reaching and descending into weird speculations that Bush or some Republican apparatchik knew about 9-11 and allowed it to go forward. Come on, that kind of conspiracy-theory mentality makes us look bad. There are plenty of demonstrable, even sensational, acts of cruelty and stupidity from the Bush administration to write about without resorting to imagined failings.
JOHN R. ON 'JOHN ARE'
Wolk discusses my lawsuit against Chuck Warner, owner of the Hyped to Death label, and Bruce Brodeen, owner of Not Lame Recordings, seeking statutory damages for intentional copyright infringement and distribution of a song I wrote ("Blown Away") and put out independently on a 45 ("John Are") in 1983. I sued Warner because, without my permission or knowledge, he took my song, digitalized it, edited it, and then sold and distributed it worldwide (in part through distributors like Not Lame) as part of a CD-R compilation. Warner's intentional infringement of copyright to my song was immoral and illegal.
Wolk did not bother to contact me about the lawsuit. Instead, he apparently chose to be spoon-fed his information by Warner. Wolk suggests that as a little-known musician with few record sales, I really had no right to sue Warner. Indeed, while Wolk bemoans the fact that Warner spent $10,000 defending the lawsuit (even before talks of settlement began), he ignores the fact that Warner spent that amount in his own disingenuous attempt to evade the jurisdiction of the federal court in Baltimore, where I filed suit.
Since when did the Voice start championing the interests of businessmen over artists? Wolk claims that Warner "lovingly" assembled his CD-Rs of pirated materials that he "archived" (i.e., sold for his personal commercial gain). Well, I "lovingly" assembled my record: moving to NYC, putting together a band, rehearsing, working my day job, and living in my rehearsal studio to pay for the recording. And I also "lovingly" remember that the Voice's own Sylvia Plachy shot the cover photo, that the John Are 45 was on CBGB's jukebox for years, and that when I went to RCA Records' offices and was offered a record deal (I eventually signed with Columbia Records with my band, Cruel Story of Youth), my 45 was being displayed in the office of the a&r person who wanted to sign me. In short, the John Are 45 was the fruit of my and my band's work, and I copyrighted it to protect my interests in that record.
I wish that instead of helping businessmen attack artists who have the nerve to assert their rights against the pirating of their material, the Voice would provide information concerning copyright law that might be helpful to artists, especially in an age in which anyone's work, in various media, can easily be digitally pirated.
MAN IN THE HALL OF MIRRORS
Leave it to Richard Goldstein to detect pro-R. Kelly favoritism in contrasting the Chicago-based r&b singer's case with that of Michael Jackson ["I Believe I Can Open My Fly," January 14-20]. Goldstein sees everything through the alleged bias of sexual orientation. Goldstein is the Al Sharpton of sexual orientation, egregiously and narrowly condemning one and all for alleged homophobia. And he is as phony and dishonest as the current Democratic presidential candidate-cum-SNL guest host.
It never occurred to Goldstein that race might have something to do with these cases. Jackson is suspect with many African Americans because he long ago distanced himself as far as he could from blackness, whereas R. Kelly, whatever his sins, never abandoned the black community (he still lives in his native Chicago). Nor did Kelly hypocritically invoke "racism" (as Jackson did, belatedly seeking prominent black support, e.g., Johnnie Cochran) when he got into trouble. I am not defending either man. I'm just saying that Goldstein is nothing more than a predictable narcissist plying his phony writings in the hall of mirrors known as "alternative" journalism in the 21st century.
I have written in before to criticize Richard Goldstein, but I must give credit where credit is due. It's about time someone in the media paid attention to the blatant inconsistencies in the Jackson and Kelly cases. Guilt and innocence aside, the way people have demonized Jackson and given Kelly a free pass says a lot about homosexual anxieties in our culture.
It also tells us something that millions of sexually abused women already know: that sexual mistreatment of women and girls is often overlooked, if not congratulated.
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Michael Gecan's article, "Getting Better All the Time" [January 7-13]. My husband, son, and I visited your excellent city last summer, and I can vouch that we tourists, too, appreciate the improvements which have been made. We are from Iowa, and when we told our friends that we were going to NYC for our vacation, they were afraid for our safety! Well, we rode the subways and buses the whole week we were here, and not once did we ever feel afraid to ride them, even at 11:30 p.m. They were clean, new, and safe.
Congratulations to all of you for the tremendous improvements you have made in the last 20 years! I hope other American cities follow your example.
Norma J. Eiler-Bounk