October 15, 2003: “I was filling up my tank at the local Getty station…”

I was filling up my tank at the local Getty station,
and I noticed the Powerball lottery was up to 47 million dollars.
Which got me thinking—what would I do with net 23 million
dollars? By the time I got inside to pay, I had decided that winning
all that money wouldn't be worth it. I announced that my decision
to Tom, who was taking my money, and though I don't think he bought
in to my general premise, we both got a chuckle out of my observation
that winning such a sum would bring out contact with long-forgotten
members of one's high school graduating class. That, of course,
I believe would be the least of one's troubles…

The list of 2003 Fellows was announced by the John
D. and Catherine T. Mac Arthur Foundation
. The $500,000 over
five years that goes with this fellowship is more to my liking.
First of the all, that sum of money is manageable and what a reasonable
person could live with and continue to do their work. Secondly,
the talent and accomplishments of the MacArthur Fellows makes it
a grand club to be included in.

Of course my (mild) disappointment at once again failing
to be selected was balanced by the mild euphoria I felt at the Chicago
Cubs playing baseball this late in the season. Some latent and primal
instinct brought me back to the level of wonder and joy of the nine-year-old
boy who lived a few blocks away from Wrigley Field. And I didn't
even mind that the Red Sox are still hanging around, too.

Speaking of youthful exuberance, I took Cuba to see
School of Rock. Why a five-year-old would want to see this
movie is explained simply by the barrage of commercials on the Cartoon
Network. I think he liked the movie—mostly because he thought
he was supposed to. Me, I thought Jack Black pretty much used up
his trick bag early in the film. I would have liked a little more
so-called subversion along the lines of the 'sticking it to the
man,' which has an all-too-brief moment in the spotlight. Oh well.

And speaking of subversion, the celebration of Columbus
Day only makes sense in the context of unexamined American Triumphalism—
which I see as a subversion of any sense of decency. There have
been many eloquent expressions on the topic of Columbus and his
infamy, and here
is a recent one
by Anita Quintanilla:

"What is at issue here is what Christopher Columbus
and the holiday stand for. Columbus Day, also known as Discovery
Day, symbolizes conquest, genocide, and racism. Columbus Day is
nothing more than a remembrance of the Western holocaust of 100
million indigenous peoples. For Native Americans, it is a day of
mourning and the anniversary of the beginning of the European conquest
of their world without borders. To celebrate Columbus Day and view
this barbaric exploiter as a hero indicates the level of insensitivity,
disrespect, and racism in our society for the original inhabitants
of this land. If the parades are showcases that represent the best
of Italy and the best of the Italian-American community, then the
worst Italian should not be the honoree. Italians should feel shame,
not pride, in this man; he should be reviled, not revered. Columbus
is the one rotten apple in the Italian barrel. Italians have better
candidates to represent their rich culture and history. This national
holiday should be replaced with Italian-American Day at the state

Of course, there is Howard Zinn on what he calls "Invasion
of Americas Day"

"In the standard accounts of Columbus what is
emphasized again and again is his religious feeling, his desire
to convert the natives to Christianity, his reverence for the Bible.
Yes, he was concerned about God. But more about Gold. Just one additional
letter. His was a limited alphabet. Yes, all over the islands of
Hispaniola, where he, his brothers, his men, spent most of their
time, he erected crosses. But also, all over the island, they built
gallows--340 of them by the year 1500. Crosses and gallows--that
deadly historic juxtaposition.

In his quest for gold, Columbus, seeing bits of gold among the
Indians, concluded there were huge amounts of it. He ordered the
natives to find a certain amount of gold within a certain period
of time. And if they did not meet their quota, their arms were hacked
off. The others were to learn from this and deliver the gold."

Occasionally some kind and alert person is moved to write me (in
some instances email resembles and actually is, writing) and express
appreciation for my published conversations and wonder that I have
not been grabbed up by a so-called major media venue or book publisher.
Part of me wonders about my anonymity, but the better (more professional?)
part is well versed in the reasons that my view and work has not
captured the imagination of Big Media. Now I am as ambitious as
the next egomaniacal journo (except for maybe Neal Pollack), so
indifference doesn't explain my exile in the far reaches of our
brave new world. Perhaps examining two cases will offer something
approaching explanation.

Michael Wolff is the rebarbative media columnist who writes "This
Media Life" for New York magazine and who of late
is in the news because he 1) has a new book being published, Autumn
of the Moguls: My Misadventures with the Titans, Poseurs and Money
Guys who Mastered and Messed up Big Media
and 2) he has initiated
effort to purchase New York magazine
. Wolff understands
the playing field and does quite well by his insights, "The
media is, in fact, in the business of being noticed by the media."
He is paid $450,000 a year for his column and such aphorisms, and
he also received a $500,000 advance for his new book—which
is pretty much a rehash of his magazine columns (he says the book
has been "derived" from that column). Now there is no
question Wolff is smart, clever and either brave or well armored.
Some of those qualities were exhibited during the Iraq war, at a
United States Central Command briefing in Doha, Qatar, where he
was the only media person who had the cojones to ask, "why
any self-respecting reporter would hang around for the thin gruel
being dished up."

On the other end of my media spectrum is what I call the most recent
perfect storm of media creation, Elizabeth Spiers, who has recently
commenced to web log for New York magazine and contribute
to its gossip column (New York, it would seem, is the breeding ground
for these kinds of phenomenon). I have, since my discovery of Gawker,
wondered what people found noteworthy about Ms Spiers besides a
normal apportionment of dishiness and feigned ubiquity. Barely a
few months later even the fly-over
is celebrating her meteoric rise, "Her witty synthesis
of media news and celebrity gossip was showcased on a frequently
updated Web log (or ‘blog’) called Gawker.com, which
made its debut late last year and soon became a daily stop for more
than 40,000 Web surfers, including much of Manhattan's media elite…Spiers'
spectacular career trajectory -- from financial analyst to media
insider in less than a year via the Internet -- may be difficult
to duplicate, but it's not impossible." So there you have it,
"witty synthesis of gossip" and gossip. And a clear intention,
expressed obviously in her work, to rise higher in the food chain.
That and fawning, sycophantic treatment of the tribal elders. Makes
sense to me...

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