Fw: Nation Cruise

Alex LoCascio alexlocascio at juno.com
Fri Dec 4 03:51:31 PST 1998

Ahoy, mates!

Warring contributors to the Nation magazine bravely set sail together on a Caribbean cruise.

BY SUSAN LEHMAN | Who will be the first man or woman overboard when the Nation magazine's First Annual Seminar Cruise sets sail this Sunday?

The magazine's publisher, editor and many of its contributors join 400 fellow sailors for an eight-day voyage around the Caribbean. Robert Bly is a passenger, as are an assortment of psychiatrists, retired teachers, mall builders and other Nation readers willing to pony up $1,800 to $2,900 for a berth. The trip, says a proud Nation spokesperson, sold faster than all group cruises except the New Kids on the Block trip.

Cruisers will get a chance to jawbone about liberalism, labor, environmentalism, impeachment, identity politics and the future of the left -- plus, says Nation editor Victor Navasky, "shuffleboard, dancing to Guy Lombardo, whatever else people do on cruise ships." If all goes well, Nation contributors, several of whom have been publicly feuding over the years, will avoid tearing one another's throats out.

Just last month, Nation columnists Alexander Cockburn and Christopher Hitchens (a frequent Salon contributor) used their columns to lash one another for their respective views on the question of whether George Orwell was a snitch who gave British leftists' names to the British Secret Service.

Meanwhile, Eric Alterman and Katha Pollitt exchanged some heavy vitriol in Slate wherein -- in an e-mail exchange with Andrew Sullivan -- Pollitt slammed Alterman's diary as "self-satisfied and vain and vainglorious." Declaring Slate an unfit place to air intra-Nation feuds, Alterman proceeded with exquisite cruelty to "find it sad .... to read the same tired tripe over and over from the pen of a writer who once appeared on her way to being a great poet and gave it all up to write a single column, over and over, for the past 15 years."

Later in her Slate exchange with Sullivan, Pollitt rips a Hitchens column about Viagra: "Rape humor, nasty darts at feminists, reflections on alcohol and potency, all decorated with literary references and tied up in syntactical knots. Talk about the attraction of the moth to the flame!"

Cockburn and Alterman have, of course, also exchanged a few venomous rounds in the Nation's letters page. Though Cockburn is determinedly amiable about his shipmates today, there are those who remember that he tempestuously derided Katrina vanden Heuvel and her husband, Stephen Cohen, for what he deemed their foolish fantasies about Mikhail Gorbachev; declared Navasky an awful journalist who would have been good running a nightclub or circus; mocked Pollitt for knee-jerkery; and once -- in addition to having had a probable hand in the vicious hatchet job on Cockburn's Counterpunch co-editor, Ken Silverstein, in the Village Voice some years back -- referred to Alterman as "3/4 brown noser, 1/4 cheeky chappy."

Needless to say, the Nation cruise was itself the subject of some contentiousness among the magazine's contributors. Navasky says he is flying Barbara Ehrenreich to St. Thomas, where she'll moderate a seminar on "labor, environmentalism and the global corporation," but won't confirm that Ehrenreich isn't sailing with the group because of political problems she has with cruise ships. (Ehrenreich did not respond to an e-mail inquiry about this subject.) Cockburn says his only problem with the cruise is that it will take place in the Caribbean, "which is full of black people who quite rightfully hate whites and would cheerfully kill us all if it didn't disturb the flow of money into their own hands." Next time, Cockburn says, he hopes the Nation Cruise, will be on the Aegean, but, he says, "then we'd have to worry about Turkish human rights."

All of the Nation contributors Media Circus spoke to, many of whom declined to speak on the record, agreed that the animosity between the magazine's columnists would be tempered by the sea air and camaraderie of the floating hotel. "We never see each other in person so we're a little abstract. It's easy to take pot shots at people who are just words on a page," offered Pollitt. "After spending time together everyone may be surprised by how much nicer we all are in real life."

Though Cockburn noted that "a lifeboat stuffed with Nation contributors would pose interesting questions of triage if I were in charge," he too said he is certain no one will bother with any old enmity. "We'll be too busy wondering what to wear to the cruise's formal event," he said.

"I think it's going to be known as the love boat in the end," says Navasky. "The Nation contributors are all such nice people -- in print, they're fearsome; in person, they are all just lovely people."

Nice. But don't forget to pack those personal, portable life preservers.

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