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Jan. 13 2000 3:30 AM

Shrum Scrum

Subject: You're Not Getting $10, Mickey

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From: Bob Shrum

Date: Mon Jan 10

Mickey Kaus says pay up. I respond with affection: Mickey, read the transcript. My words on Meet the Press, were: "I'll bet you 10 bucks. Find him [Gore] saying that he's going to examine their [the Joint Chiefs'] personal convictions." Al Gore didn't say that. So no $10, but Mickey you're invited to dinner any time--and next time, we'll have James Carville.

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[Robert Shrum, who works for Al Gore's presidential campaign, used to write " Varnish Remover" for Slate.]

Subject: Response to My Writer

From: Michael Kinsley

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Date: Fri Jan 7

Thanks for the item, Tim, but I don't buy it.

1. Your arg #1: McCain was just asking for a decision, not for a particular decision. But he was asking at the clear behest of a contributor, who wanted a decision because it knew such a decision would be in its favor. It may well be deplorable that FCC policy is made thru procrastination rather than explicitly--but that's neither here nor there. Unless McCain is known to have been a passionate campaigner against FCC procrastination in the abstract--was he?-- his letter in this case was clearly motivated by a desire to help a contributor achieve a desired result.

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2. Your arg #2: McCain isn't a hypocrite because he admits "The system corrupts us all." Well, you're right that if anybody who backs reform while continuing to live in the world as it is gets branded a hypocrite, there will be v-few reformers. "I'll stop when we all stop" is a perfectly reasonable position. However, McCain's "I too am corrupt" line is really part of his more general rhetorical device of criticizing himself in some stagy way that is in fact not intended to be believed but rather to elicit an admiring response/reaction of "Oh, no, John ... don't be so hard on yourself! Golly, you're so honest and humble!" (His talk of shame at succumbing under torture in Vietnam is the extreme example. Even if he believes it, which he may well, he knows no one else on earth will hold it against him so his public discussion of it is surely calculated.) In this case, as you point out, he denies all the specifics of guilt/responsibility while accepting the burden in some ethereal sense that cries out for cheap absolution.

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[Michael Kinsley is the editor of Slate.]

Subject: Re: Response to My Writer

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From: Joe Klein

Date: Mon Jan 10

I think Kinsley is accurate, but cynical, about McCain's garish sense of honor. My sense is that the anguish about the war criminal confession and the Keating Five is real (after all, the guy did attempt suicide twice in prison when he was being pressured for the confession and knew he was about to crack)--and that the absence of anguish in this case is also real.

There are other things to be concerned about with McCain--his flyboy carelessness (and laziness about domestic policy)--but I suspect this is a case of the press overreacting to all the good coverage McCain has received.

As a general principle, my reflexive reaction is against the puritanism of the press in these cases, especially those that are on the margin. I get especially wrought up when we don't put these things in proportion: McCain's letters, even if he steps over the line occasionally, are chicken-feed compared to the fact that Dwayne Andreas of Archer-Daniels-Midland can spray gazillions around and get real action--ethanol subsidies--in return. (By the way, the Chinese contributions to the DNC in 1996 were chicken-feed compared to Andreas too.)

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[Joe Klein is Washington editor of The New Yorker.]

(To read more of this exchange, including Timothy Noah's response, click here and scroll to the bottom of the page.)

Subject: The New Bohemians

From: Neal Pollack

Date: Tue Jan 11

Culturebox assumes that bohemia is A) entirely artistic in nature and B) is majoritarian white. As far as I can see, a lively bohemia without geographical boundaries brought us the so-called Battle in Seattle. And what can you call hip-hop culture, which thrives, both under- and aboveground, but a bohemia? The assumption that "the domain of American industry and entrepreneurship, is where the interesting ideas--the innovation, the subversion, the reimagining of the boundaries of society--are coming from," is one that only someone trapped desperately in that center can hold. Just because interesting, creative people no longer live in the East Village (and even that's arguable), doesn't mean they're not out there, doing important, organized work. 

The surface stance of American cultural radicalism has been heavily co-opted by corporate culture, which leaves the "bohemians" without an aesthetic pose. So politics must fill the gap--union organizing, campaigns for prison and police reform, and other campaigns. They're not as glamorous as a gig at CBGB or a reading at City Lights, but they're just as important.

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[Neal Pollack is a staff writer for the Chicago Reader and a regularcontributor to McSweeney's.]

Subject: Re: The New Bohemians

From: Judith Shulevitz

Date: Tue Jan 11

Mr. Pollack makes some good points, all of which I wish I could have addressed in my Culturebox. To take them one at a time:

1. I do assume that bohemianism is cultural (I wouldn't go so far as to say artistic), rather than political, largely because that has historically been true. Organized political activism may occur on the margins (though it's also a prominent feature of the mainstream) but it is not synonymous with bohemianism. In fact, activists are often suspicious of bohemians, who don't have a great track record of getting things done. Marxists, for instance--particularly the Marxist cultural critics known as the Frankfurt School--wrote bohemianism off as "avant-gardism." Their beef, according to Seigel, was that "the failure to carry the critical project through to the end appears as an abandonment of the revolutionary possibilities inherent in it, or a sign that the identification with them was never wholehearted or complete." In other words, to serious activists, bohemians are a bunch of amateurs.

2. I don't say anything about race, but by leaving hip-hop out of the discussion, I do leave myself open to the charge of white bias. There were two reasons I did that:

a. Powers barely mentions hip-hop--it's not her world--and this was partly a review of her book.

b. Hip-hop is barely bohemian, in that it (to my knowledge) rarely espouses a critique of commercialism, except, perhaps, the kind of barely discernable ironic critique which consists of criticizing by being the thing you're against.

3. You think the Battle for Seattle was some kind of spontaneous coming together of a bunch of bohemians acting out their dislike of corporate culture? You should read Ryan Lizza's remarkable story in the New Republic, in which he uncovers some of the organizing that went into the anti-free-trade movement, including funding of extreme left-wing groups by extreme right-winger Roger Milliken, the South Carolina textiles giant.

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[Judith Shulevitz writes "Culturebox" and is Slate's New York editor.]

Subject: Apples and Oranges

From: Jim Summers

Date: Tue Jan 11

I'm getting rather tired of reading comparisons of a company's stock market capitalization to the GDP of a country (in this case, AOL-Time Warner with Mexico). From what I remember of my economics courses, GDP is a measure of the production in a country over one year. GDP is not the value of the country, only its output for a year. If you want to compare companies to countries, compare a company's annual revenue to a country's GDP.

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