November 16, 2001
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An article in today's New York Times reports on a visit to Washington by Mayor-Elect Bloomberg. "Mr. Bloomberg began his day in the first seat of the New York-to- Washington shuttle," the Times reports. This is so vague it is not clear what the Times means. There are two New York-to-Washington shuttles: the US Airways shuttle and the Delta shuttle. To speak of the "first seat" in either of them does not make much sense. The pilots sit in the seats that are the first in the plane if you count from the front. If you are just counting passenger seats, then there is a whole first row of seats, not a single "first seat." If the Times wanted to be precise it could say, "Mr. Bloomberg began his day in the front row of the 6:15 departure on the US Airways shuttle" or "Mr. Bloomberg began his day in the front row of the 6:30 departure on the Delta shuttle." Even that would be a little imprecise for a careful editor. Mr. Bloomberg's day "began" when he rolled out of bed, or when he walked out of his house and got into the car that took him to the airport.
Whitewash: An article in today's New York Times about the resignation of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York makes no mention of her handling of a high-profile case involving the Teamsters union and the AFL-CIO.
Note: Smartertimes.com begins this month introducing some original material, mainly about New York City, that is not related to the New York Times. Today's installments focus on Al Sharpton and Jonathan Franzen.
Sharpton Splits Israelis, New York Jews
The feud opened after a Harlem breakfast yesterday orchestrated by the Consulate General of Israel in New York. The breakfast, held at the headquarters of Rev. Sharpton's National Action Network, was billed as a demonstration of solidarity between African-American and Israeli victims of terror. But some New York Jewish leaders accused the Israelis of ignoring their strained relations with Rev. Sharpton.
"It's ridiculous that the Foreign Ministry is giving legitimacy to someone like Al Sharpton, knowing full well how people feel about him," said New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who said he declined an invitation to the breakfast. Mr. Hikind and many other New York Jews remain skeptical of Rev. Sharpton because of his railing against "diamond merchants" in the aftermath of the 1991 Crown Heights riots and because of his role denouncing "white interlopers" -- Jews -- who owned a record store in Harlem that was later burned to the ground in a fire that killed eight.
That history did not deter the Israeli government from working closely with the Rev. Sharpton to coordinate yesterday's event. The Israeli consulate called the National Action Network to suggest the meeting, representatives of the consulate and the National Action Network said. The Israelis invited members of the press, who were among about a dozen guests at the event, and the consulate supplied news organizations with photographs of Mr. Sharpton and Israeli terror victims.
"When such a high political figure in the United States in one of the important communities is expressing a desire to go to Israel and to express solidarity with Israel, from our perspective it is most welcome," said Israeli diplomat Yahel Vilan.
Another spokesman for the Israeli consulate, Jonathan Schienberg, called the event "apolitical." But a top aide to Mr. Sharpton told Smartertimes he hoped the meeting would improve Mr. Sharpton's shaky standing with American Jews.
"This is clearly a sign of progress," said Michael Hardy, general counsel to the National Action Network. He said the Israelis "will provide leadership to the entire Jewish community."
The Israeli Foreign Ministry also helped coordinate a visit to Israel last month by the Rev. Sharpton. That effort was considered by some journalists to have backfired when Rev. Sharpton held a friendly meeting with Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
Michael Nussbaum, president of the American Jewish Congress for the New York region, praised Rev. Sharpton for going to Israel -- but he said it wouldn't do Rev. Sharpton any good at home.
"If the Reverend Sharpton feels that the support of the Israeli foreign minister is going to help him have a better relationship with the New York Jewish community, he has to realize that Israeli citizens do not vote in New York City, state, or American elections," he said.
Novelist Franzen Irks Another One -- Not Oprah This Time, But Lithuania
Mr. Franzen's new book, "The Corrections," on Wednesday night won the National Book Award . On Thursday, Lithuania's ambassador to America fired off a letter to Mr. Franzen and his publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. "I was saddened by your portrayal of Lithuania," Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Smartertimes.com. "Even though this is a work of fiction, it has unintended harmful consequences in the perceptions your readers will take away from the book."
Ambassador Usackas is no Oprah Winfrey. Indeed, Ms. Winfrey's net worth -- estimated by Forbes Magazine at $800 million -- is equivalent to half of the Lithuanian government's entire annual budget. But the dispute with Lithuania just might add some more marketing heat in America to a novel that already got a big boost from the Oprah-related publicity. The book has yet to be translated into Lithuanian, so the dispute won't have much effect on sales in that overseas market.
A passage in "The Corrections" caricatures the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, with a description of criminal warlords, "chronic coal and electricity shortages, freezing drizzles, drive-by shootings, and heavy dietary reliance on horsemeat."
The president of the Lithuanian Community of New York, Giedre Kumpikas, responded with horror. "That's nonsense," she said. "I've never heard of anybody eating horsemeat in Lithuania. . . . I don't know where this gentleman is getting his facts or if it's just hearsay or scandalous rumor."
For the record, Lithuania is actually something of a success story. The criminal warlords and anarchy described in the novel "bear no relation to reality," the International Monetary Fund representative in Lithuania, Mark Horton, said in response to quotes from Mr. Franzen's book.
A publicist, Peter Miller, for Farrar Straus and Giroux, said earlier this week that he had not yet heard from the Lithuanians. "I can see that there are things that they may take issue with, but there are other people that might take issue with certain things in the book as well. The pharmaceutical industry for instance. And Middle America -- (Mr. Franzen) is much more relentless about that part," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Franzen composed the novel in a studio in East Harlem. As for the details of Lithuanian life, "Jonathan picked an Eastern European country at random," Mr. Miller said. "He created a Lithuania that I assume was largely in his imagination."
If Ambassador Usackas has anything to say about it, though, Mr. Franzen will soon have a non-imaginary encounter with Lithuanian reality. While Ms. Winfrey responded to Mr. Franzen's disparagement by canceling his scheduled appearance on her television talk show, the Lithuanians have responded more generously.
Mr. Usackas wrote to Mr. Franzen, "I would like to invite you to visit Lithuania and discover the beauty, the vitality of our people and shared sense of values my country has with yours."
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