December 9, 2005 | 12:04 PM ET | Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again column here.  It’s called "The Second (Fourth, Fifth and Sixth) Time is Farce" and it’s supposed to add a little historical context to the issue of buying journalists abroad in the hopes that media will address the problem a bit more aggressively.  Even so, if you want to wait to read that until later and go directly down to Stupid’s letter and while you’re still in that wholesome American “Merry Christmas,” rather than that evil, foreigner, “Happy Holidays/Haannukah/Kwanza, etc." spirit, reach down deep for the official Altercation “dig deep like it’s a public UJA auction” gift-giving day.  Seriously: how wonderful it was of Major Bob to undertake this effort on his own, and how rewarding it is for us Altercators that Stupid has taken it upon himself to help the rest of us contribute to it.  As Nick King and Cathy Young would say, a big “Maazel tov” to both of you the naches you give us.  Now get out those wallets.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to learn from the mistakes of others.  But first, in response to Kimberley Morgan’s request, I have set up a PayPal account if anyone wants to contribute to Major Bateman’s effort to supply Iraqi schools with basic materials.  The address is IraqSchools@hotmail.com – be sure to send a message or an e-mail to give me a heads-up so I’m sure the funds were sent, where the soldiers can write you, etc.  This isn’t to discourage anyone from buying and sending stuff themselves – as I wrote, you’ll enjoy the process – but if time is tight or all the places around you are pricey, here’s an alternative.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: the nation enjoys an economic boom, but the good times are extended via increases in debt and a real estate bubble.  Special interest groups control the government’s economic policy, and a rapidly aging population begins to strain the economy.  This is Japan as it headed into the 1990’s, just before its stock and real estate bubbles collapsed.  The New York Times ran a story this week that today there is optimism about Japan’s economy, but it took over a decade of recession and agonizing austerity measures to get there.  Can anyone say we’re not heading down the same road?  Yet there is scant reporting about structural economic issues and little context given to happy stories like dropping gas prices or recent gains in the stock market.  I honestly believe Arnold Schwarzenegger subconsciously intimidated some of these folks when he attacked pessimists on the economy as “economic girlie men.”  Do a Google search on “budget deficit” and you won’t find an article on the federal budget until page 2, and it’s a blurb on Roy Blunt’s effort to get tax cuts passed before the end of the year!  Just like Ross Perot made Bill Clinton’s 1992 economy-boosting/deficit-cutting effort politically possible, we need a media star to put these issues on the table.  Presuming he's in-agreement, can I get Donald Trump's next TV appearance to be on Larry King rather than the Apprentice?

Name: Dan Friedman
Comments:

Eric,
The anniversary of John Lennon's death not only leads me to reminisce about his music and legacy, it also reminds me of the comments made by Paul Harvey reacting to calls for stricter gun control in the wake of John's murder. As quoted in Paul Slansky's "The Clothes Have No Emperor", Harvey harped on the point that many rock stars died young and cited the examples of Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, etc. to demonstrate that John, at the age of 40, had lived a lot longer than they had.  To which Slansky commented, "So really he (John) was kind of lucky." Thus was the beginning of my turn to the dark side.

Name: Joshua Dixon
Hometown: Redwood Falls, MN
I admire John Lennon as a songwriter, but can't take the working class hero myth seriously.  As Elvis Costello's song "The Other Side of Summer" notes, "...was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions...?"

Name: Samuel Knight
Comments:
Two comments today, on wildly disparate subjects: 1) Although the media is not liberal, the Democrats do a lousy job of getting stories out there.  Part of what got stories like the House "banking" scandal into the media, was Gingrinch's constant pounding on them.  The GOP did it again with the Clinton stuff - they just kept at it.  The Democrats just don't do it.  If a few Democrats had said how horrified they were of that sick joke - it would have gotten talked about.  And liberals can do it - look North - the Canadian Liberal party is happily pounding away on Stephen Harper (the conservative leader) right now.  And they've done it for years.

2) Pray God, not Rush in the Rock Hall of Fame.  I went to High School in Toronto, Canada - more Rush would be cruel and inhumane.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
As someone who is now an Orthodox Jew but who lived through too many years of treating 12/25 as a special day, let me offer non-Jews everywhere a solution to the "Christmas Wars": take the Christ out of Xmas.  If you believe that a Jewish man about 2000 years ago was Melekh haMoshiach and/or the Son of G_d, the Orthodox have been celebrating his birth in a quiet, dignified manner on 1/6 for hundreds of years.  There is no mention of 12/25 in the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the Shulkhan Aruch or any of the Commentaries; as far as I know, there is no mention of 12/25 in the Greek Bible, either.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
I must strongly disagree with Dr. Breeland of Walla Walla regarding Intelligent Design.  What Intelligent Design does, if taught as a legitimate subject in our public schools, is bring religion (or faith, if you prefer) into our schools.  Because Intelligent Design is not scientific in nature (un-provable) it does not deserve to be taught alongside a Theory of Evolution that has, so far, mountains of evidence behind it.  Yes, evolution is still a "theory," but ID, in all its forms, is "faith" and should be taught in church.  Most Americans believe in some sort of God.  I do not go to church to find my science, and my children should not go to public schools to find their faith.  It really is that simple.  Now, if one wants to teach ID in a comparative religion class in college, then that would be fine.  Personally, I don't think any kind of religion class should be taught in public schools, when our children are failing at math and science.

Name:  Donald Dougherty
Hometown:  Lynbrook, New York
Dear Eric: As a non rock and roll fan, my observation is that the career of many rock bands are relatively short in comparison, say to the Ellington, Basie, or Goodman careers and that makes it much more problematic to choose people for Hall of Fame designations.  The other aspect is that part of rock's appeal in the beginning was caused by the fact that jazz became so complex and technical that the relatively simple harmonic structures of early rock and the fact that it was a dance music helped it grow.  As rock itself became more musically adventurous and complicated, it also became less of a popular music and more of a niche brand, thus creating the 'need' for disco and later hip-hop.  Many of the best rock performers have had little commercial success and the revolving doors of many rock groups make their contributions hard to judge.  One can make arguments for and against so many that the danger has become that many marginal people will make it just to say that somebody does every year, sort of putting a mediocre major league baseball player in the Hall of Fame because he happened to be the only one eligible that year.  It is a problem that every Hall of Fame faces but I think that it is especially difficult in a musical form that is as transitory as much of rock is.

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI
Eric,
I interviewed Jonathan Kozol for a forthcoming issue of our magazine, Voices in Urban Education.  I asked him whether his use of the term "apartheid" implied that the separation of races resulted from deliberate policy.  He first said, no, it just meant apart-ness, but then considered that there is something deliberate.  He cited the figure from the South Bronx (99.8 percent segregation), and said, "So if you want to be technically accurate two-tenths of a percentage point marks the difference between the legally enforced apartheid of the South of fifty years ago or South Africa of an earlier generation and the socially and economically enforced apartheid in most of our major cities today."  But what makes his argument, and his book, so damning is not just that these figures are so appalling, and that white people never encounter people of color.  It is that, as Kozol put it, the Warren Court was right: separate is inherently unequal.  The schools on the other side of the color line are not equal to white schools, in resources, teacher quality, or curriculum.  And the consequence, as he said, is "calamitous results for those we cordon off into schools our children--white children--do not attend."  Remember Katrina?  We cared about people on the other side of the color line, for about 15 minutes.

Name: Greg P
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Hardly ever have I seen a more pronounced contrast between reporting by American newspapers and German ones than that provided by the Washington Post (" Rice Quiets European Concern Over Detainee Treatment") and the international edition of Germany's Der Spiegel (" Rice Brings Little Clarity to Europe").  The bylines diverge even more with Spiegel editorial "Condi's Trail of Lies."  Clearly, one can hardly rely on the American press (especially the Post) for presenting a less-than-rosy view of the Administration's efforts.  Liberal media, indeed.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture: Macro perspectives on the Capital Markets, Economy, and Geopolitics

Hey Doc,
The NYT reported Thursday that the White House publicity tour has succeeded in raising the President's polling numbers on economic matters.

Funny, the day before I was noting that none of the good headline data withstood close scrutiny.

Here's the details:

Goldilocks Economy?  Hardly.

Here's a question I have been pondering for quite some time now:  How strong is the economy really?

The debate on this subject continues to fascinate me.  In one camp, the "Realists," and on the other side, the folks who call the realists the " Pouting Pundits of Pessimism."  One has to wonder what leads people to take their intellectual cues from the philosophy of Spiro Agnew -- but we'll save that bit of psychoanalysis for another discussion entirely.

Instead, let's delve into the details of the differences between the Realists and the Agnew-ites: they stem from the economic data itself; more specifically, the schism is likely based on the "pessimistic" details deep within the data -- as opposed to the more "optimistic" headline.

As I've noted in the past, strategists and investors should be neither Bulls nor Bears.  Instead, they should interpret the data before them without bias.  By digging deep down, analyzing what is there, and reaching a well-supported conclusion, we can determine what's really going on -- and have the most appropriate view of where this economy is, and where it might be heading.

Which brings us to an analysis of the economic numbers.  Upon closer review, there are lots of signs of economic slowing present beneath the headline.  Of course, no one expects any economy to be perfect - but I would have hoped to see broader signs of sustainable growth across many more sectors, if we are truly in a robust expansionary phase.  Instead, the data under review shows developing weakness, a narrow expansion which is dependent upon the wrong sectors at this phase of the recovery.

In a typical healthy recovery, Government spending often leads the way as we come out of the bottom of a recession.  Pent up consumer demand then takes over, as shoppers re-emerge from their self-imposed frugality and begin spending again.  Businesses ramp up their CapEx Spending and Hiring to meet this new demand.  This begets a virtuous cycle that runs on until it eventually shows signs of overheating, which begets Fed rate hikes, which (typically) go too far and cause the next recession.  Then the cycle starts over again.

The present cycle has not followed the script.  As outlined in the Cleveland Fed's Economic Trends (November 2005, p. 12) the sectors contributing to GDP growth are rather atypical at this stage of a recovery.  Personal consumption continues to increase - despite a decrease in real income and a negative savings rate.  Nominal personal saving was a negative $133B in Q3 (that's a -1.5% savings rate); the U.S. consumer's spending via debt and savings amounted to an additional 1.4% nominal GDP.  Without that profligacy, GDP would have been more like 2.9%. That a third of GDP is based upon consumer borrowing is hardly a sign of healthy, sustainable economic growth.

Despite some rumors to the contrary, Business Fixed Investment also decreased last quarter. At the same time, government spending is still accelerating.  And we all know how significant Residential investment has been to the economy - it's begun to cool in earnest in Q3.  Surprisingly, 4 years into this recovery, GDP growth is not a function of increasing corporate CapEx.  GDP strength is coming largely from real estate driven consumer borrowing and spending, and from Government deficit spending (more borrowing and spending). 

Is this analysis a sign of Pessimism?  Or are the ugly details beneath the surface being conveniently ignored by optimists?  How you answer that depends upon whether you are a "rational realist" than or an "ostrich."

The public hasn't bought into the happy talk either.  The so-called misery index reached a 12-year high of 9.8 in September.  Michael Mussa, who served on Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers from 1986 to 1988, noted:  "If you ask the classic Ronald Reagan question 'Are you better off now than you were four years ago?,' a large number of Americans are in fact not better off.'

The American public is hardly a pessimistic lot; they are, however, deeply aware of their own financial situations.

Lastly, a word about Agnew:  all his complaints about the "Nattering Nebobs of Negativity" -- Agnew's phrase (via speechwriter Safire) for the critics of his time -- proved completely unfounded. The criticism of the Viet Nam War, President Nixon and Watergate turned out, ironically, to be well founded.  Agnew resigned in a bribery scandal.

I suspect the present economic critics will be similarly vindicated.

December 8, 2005 | 2:09 PM ET | Permalink

A Working Class Hero is Something to Be
(It was 25 Years Ago Today…)

As soon as your born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all,
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

They hurt you at home and they hit you at school,
They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool,
Till you're so f**king crazy you can't follow their rules,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

When they've tortured and scared you for twenty odd years,
Then they expect you to pick a career,
When you can't really function you're so full of fear,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV,
And you think you're so clever and classless and free,
But you're still f**king peasants as far as I can see,
A working class hero is something to be,
A working class hero is something to be.

There's room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill,
A working class hero is something to be.
A working class hero is something to be.

If you want to be a hero well just follow me.

(From John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band, 1970)

Damn you, Mark David Chapman…

Quote of the Day:  "If it wasn't for John Lennon, a lot of us would be somewhere else tonight.  It's a hard world that asks you to live with things that are unlivable and it's hard to come out and play tonight but there's nothing else to do."
—Bruce Springsteen, December 9, 1980

And that reminds me…  Rolling Stone gets more than a bit mawkish, here, and Steve Wynn is good here.

Damn You, Too, Sirhan, Sirhan.  I was seated next to Ted Sorensen at the Four Freedoms luncheon at the Roosevelt Institute and I ran by him my theory, which I picked up years ago from someone else, about the election of 1968.  If Bobby Kennedy had not been killed, I still doubt that he would have amassed enough delegates to beat Humphrey.  But Humphrey would have had little hope of winning with such a divided party and Bobby would have been blamed if he lost.  So the two of them would have been forced to do a deal; Bobby would have agreed to accept the VP—which he had wanted four years earlier—in exchange for Humphrey agreeing to enter into negotiations to end the war.  They would have won and the war would have ended and everything in history would have been better for everyone.  Sorensen agreed.  He added that he didn’t remember whether there were enough delegates for Kennedy to win the nomination, but if he had managed to do it, the election itself would have been a lot easier.  I think that was true too.  Bobby would have done much better with the Wallace vote than Humphrey did, as well as those foolish leftists who sat the election out.  And nobody who voted for Humphrey would have refused to vote for Bobby.  Again, damn you Sirhan, Sirhan.  (And you too, Mark David Chapman.)

Altercation Book Club

Jonathan Kozol received the $100,000 Puffin Prize at the Nation Institute’s 140th anniversary get together.  I had talked to his publisher about getting an excerpt of his new book for the Altercation Book Club, but the talks got a little complicated for my taste, and so I decided to go with just these two statistics I learned from reading it, (and which Kozol mentioned in his moving acceptance speech): You can find out more about the book, “Shame of the Nation, The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America” here.

p.8  In Chicago, by the academic year 2000-01, 87 percent of public school enrollment was black or Hispanic, less than 10 percent of children in the schools were white.  In Washington D.C., 94 percent of children were black or Hispanic; less than 5 percent were white.  In St. Luis, 82 percent of children were black or Hispanic; in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 78 percent, in L.A., 84 percent, in Detroit, 95 percent, in Baltimore, 88 percent, In NYC, nearly three-quarters of children were black or Hispanic in 2001.

p.9  A teacher at PS 65 in the Bronx says, “I’ve been at this school for 18 years.  This is the first white student I have ever taught.”  In that district there were 11,000 children of which only 26 where white meaning a rate of 99.8 percent non-white.  Two-tenths of one percent.  That’s it.

A friend writes:  OK, so I can only watch the old BBC Alastair Sim "Christmas Carol" twice in one day -- Bite me, John Gibson -- so I flipped over to the local PBS station in time to watch the entire video of Bruce Springsteen's 1975 Hammersmith Odeon show.  Now, nobody seriously can argue with the direction that Springsteen's taken with his life -- all the good works, all the fundraising, charitably explaining rock 'n roll to Ted Koppel -- and there's very little argument to be had with the direction he's taken his music, either.  However, this video brought into stark relief a problem I've had with his live sets ever since, oh, 1985 or so.  Leaving aside the solo shows, which I've never seen, his performances with the E Streeters have become, quite honestly, ponderous and muscle bound.  That HBO show last year was a case in point.  There was a lot of barrelhousing around and a lot of Go-To-Church posturing, but the show cornered like a battleship.  The music was fine, but, as theater, it bellowed and plodded.  The Odeon show is strikingly different.  It's supple and liquid.  The magnificent performance of Jungleland -- with Bruce as pure frontman -- is so deeply elegiac that the operatic elements of the song, which always rendered the studio cut a bit stiff, seem to dissolve into a deep blue ache.  He's done magnificent work, and I don't care if he ever plays "Rosalita" again, and he's earned every ounce of his independence.  But, if I were buying a ticket, I'd pass on the icon, and pay top dollar for the skinny white boy in the goofy knit hat.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Josh Silver
Hometown:  FreePress.org
Dear Eric,
Here’s a short list of the latest media developments.

In the world of public broadcasting, we have enjoyed remarkable success. The political chicanery we suspected of the GOP leadership at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) has finally been exposed. As you know, former CPB Chairman and GOP operative Ken Tomlinson -- the man who hired a GOP operative to monitor Bill Moyers and forced PBS to carry Paul Gigot’s show -- was forced to resign in shame. The political appointees left at CPB and PBS are under intense pressure and Congressional scrutiny. PBS stations are floating an encouraging draft proposal to overhaul CPB governance policy to stop this political interference. Gigot’s show has been dropped from the public network (and moved to Fox News). And finally, the GOP Congress that had sought to slash 50% from the budget of public broadcasting has relented and left full-funding intact.

In Washington, the Congress is preparing to close down for the season. However, a number of important developments are on the move. The long awaited legislation guiding the transition from analog to digital television (in 2009) has been wrapped up into the GOP’s Budget Reconciliation package. This issue is enormously important for two reasons. 1) TV continues to increase its dominance as the primary source of news for vast majorities of Americans, despite the increase in Internet usage; 2) These policies will determine whether or not TV viewers, after the digital transition will have a broad choice of independent programming and quality journalism, or continue to receive the abysmal offerings that have become the norm.

The entire bill is a disastrous mess, although the Digital TV piece is a mixed bag. Letting partisan budget priorities drive critical telecom policy is never a recipe for good public service. In this case, it means tens of billions of dollars worth of the public airwaves (broadcast spectrum) will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. There has been almost no media coverage on this fire sale, and little debate in the Congress about how the public airwaves might be repurposed to provide universally affordable broadband.

On the plus side, proposals we supported to reimburse low-income consumers for set-top converter boxes are in the bill-as is a small but important measure instructing the FCC to complete its work aimed at finding more spectrum for low-cost broadband. The Budget bill is currently in conference committee to reconcile considerable House-Senate differences, a process which may carry over into 2006. As always, these issues are complex and arcane, but they are absolutely central to all efforts to improve independent the quality of and access to independent media and critical voices.

What is expected to be a 2+ year debate over reforming telecommunications regulation is starting to heat up. Two key issues are at the core of a flurry of legislative proposals. First, Congress must create a regulatory framework to handle voice (such as Vonage) and video over the Internet. Second, Congress must decide whether and how to implement “network neutrality” rules-protections for content and software companies who want assurances that network owners (cable and phone companies) won’t discriminate against them on the Internet. At stake in these issues is nothing short of the future of the Internet-and all the media that flows over it. I’ve attached a good article below about it. If our coalition of consumer groups and allies in content, software, and device companies (Google, Microsoft, Vonage, Intel, etc.) are unsuccessful in securing “network neutrality”, the cable and phone giants will have the power to turn the Internet into a giant pay-per-view service, undermining the fundamental nature of the Internet as we know it. This is a huge debate that requires a massive public education and lobbying campaign.

In the field, we are gearing up to organize another FCC hearing, this time probably in Arizona, and our long-awaited online "Action Squad" will launch this month. It is a robust online organizing tool that combines the functions of MeetUp with MoveOn with our existing organizing and informational resources at FreePress.net. Importantly, it provides a way for our 250,000 activists to engage beyond sending petitions and making phone calls and allows people to share best-practices with the national community. Finally, our campaign on Bush's war on the press is getting a lot of traction with new revelations nearly every week. That campaign is here.

P.S. You can find out about the latest media legislation in Washington anytime here.

Name: Rena Stone
Hometown: Monrovia, California
Dear Eric,
Regarding "Bush's worst moment", his mocking of Karla Faye Tucker while governor of Texas, I recall reading about it at the time.  This is when I decided that Mr. Bush, amongst other things, is not a good person since it is inconceivable that someone who is would say such a thing under such circumstances.  He has done nothing since then to make me believe I judged him too hastily.

Name: Sean Piccoli
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL
Eric,
Steve McGady's post on the melodic limits of songwriting is excellent, but it leaves out the variable of rhythm.  Different time signatures, and even shadings on your basic 4/4, multiply the number of forms that a song can take, and rhythm shapes the structure, sound and feel of a song as surely as the choice of chords and keys. Where along the measure the note is placed, and how many times it's repeated, can also distinguish one song from another pretty clearly.  Play an A-chord once and you've got The Who's 'Won't Get Fooled Again.'  Play it three times and you've got AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell.'  The secondary, smaller-bore elements such as attack, volume, band chemistry and production values also offer the songwriter a whole other set of doors to walk through. It's true that some templates have been picked clean. I cringe every time I hear a "new" song using a progression that somebody must have decided was money in the bank - major root/major fifth/minor sixth/major fourth - after Bob Marley had a hit using it for 'No Woman No Cry.'  (See the Police's 'So Lonely,' Mellencamp's 'Hurts So Good,' Green Day's 'When I Come Around,' Better Than Ezra's 'Good', Bush's 'Glycerine', Marcy Playground's 'Sex and Candy' and I'll stop there, but trust me, the list runs depressingly long.)  But I'm convinced the sound-a-like quality of so much popular music owes more to a lack of imagination, and a desire to replicate old successes, than to the mathematical limits of songwriting.  Not that a little bit of copycatting hurts.  'Stacey's Mom' gets some of its mojo from the Cars' 'Just What I Needed.'

Name: Brian
Hometown: Rochester, NY
Dr. A:
Joseph Cannon (never to be confused with Jeff Gannon) has done some research on the one-man payola corporation that is Brent Wilkes.  His research seems to show that Wilkes opened up dozens of phony defense contractors who basically did nothing but funnel money to members of Congress.  It looks as if Wilkes simply broke up huge amounts of payola by having each of these companies give a small amount to the congresspersons.  The beauty of the scheme is that it's one step removed from a storefont operation--it's merely a webfront operation.  These companies existed only in cyberspace.  MSM doesn't seem to be interested.  Perhaps you might be.

Name: William Berry
Hometown: Cape Girardeau, MO
Eric:
In his letter on the use of the term "theocracy", Richard Nimmons falls into one of the oldest traps in the (usage) book: deriving a word's definition from its etymology.  While it is doubtful if there is anything like a "literal" meaning of a word as ideologically loaded as "theocracy," there is certainly a standard definition (the generally accepted usage of educated speakers and writers).  The M-W sense 1. (which does include Nimmons' narrow sense, but not exclusively) should serve: "government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided."  (That they might be so regarded only by themselves is, I suppose, a minor quibble.)

Name: Michael Breland, MD, PhD
Hometown: Walla Walla, WA
Dear Eric:
I read Keith Olbermann's column regularly and usually enjoy it thoroughly.  However, I think this time he went a little overboard calling intelligent design promoters the "Worst Person in the World."  There are two reasons I think this.  The first being the obvious, that there are certainly many worse people in the world.  The second being that once again creationism and intelligent design appear to be interchanged incorrectly.  While the intelligent design supporters are presently quite a heterogeneous group, I would think that a large proportion probably would support some form of evolution. 

A recent comment on your column by a high school biology teacher expressed what I think is a commonly held belief.  As I recall, while he did not say he supported intelligent design, he did say that he believed in evolution but also felt that perhaps evolution was "nudged" along by some higher intelligence.  However, it was also his opinion that the problem with intelligent design is that it can't be tested, and thus felt it was unsuitable for teaching in high school.  I agree it shouldn't yet be taught in high school, except perhaps in sociology or philosophy classes.  However, to ignore intelligent design and similar ideas is to ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  As Einstein said: "It is theory that decides what we can believe." It is also theories that determine how and where we look for something, or if we look at all. Presently we're not even looking. However, it is my opinion that we are at the point in our scientific understanding that we are now able to develop a working theory about that 800-pound gorilla. As well as talk about evolution in religion classes. But it won't be easy. We are talking about gut level, emotional issues here. Things we base our lives on.

Last Sunday I gave a talk at a local church about medical and spiritual issues. During my talk I brought up the importance of intelligent design, as well as evolution, in a respectful way. There weren't any objections to my presentation and in talking afterwards with the pastor, he was OK with the way I did it. Thus, I think there are many people open to this idea, but do admit that there are certain people on both sides to whom this is threatening. Presently the debate has no true discourse, but is mostly at the level of each group pointing at the other and trading clichés, as if each has the only answer. It is only through respectful, thoughtful interdisciplinary discourse that this can be addressed and hopefully, resolved in some way. There are people, groups, and organizations already working on this issue, but for some reason, they get little press attention. Perhaps they are just not controversial enough.

Name: Sandy Goodman
Hometown: Rockville, MD
Mr. Alterman,
You and Keith Olbermann are just plain naive for criticizing corporations for not sponsoring the Darwin exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.  Why do either of you expect corporations to show other than corporate behavior?  You expect too much of them.  All they're interested in is the next quarterly bottom line, and not offending any potential customers, especially those belonging to the base of the political party in power.  The real disgrace is a system which starves public institutions like our great museums so that they have to go hat in hand for corporate funding.  When you have a system like that, all you can expect is the kind of nonsense at Natural History and the Smithsonian's recent travails with the likes of the Reynolds millions, some of which were withdrawn after the museum refused to develop an exhibit of important Americans like Oprah.  With a president who doesn't read the newspapers and has to have his aides make him a tape of TV news coverage of the Katrina disaster, a war against science and knowledge generally, what do you expect corporations to do, lead the nation to a new enlightenment?  No way.

Name: Clara Graham
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Steve McGady's math isn't quite right.  If we assume there are sixteen notes with eight (I'm limiting the choice of notes to only notes in a single key here) possible choices from note to note. 8^16 equals 2.81474977 × 10^14. And that's just melodies with sixteen-bar verses of quarter notes. If you just consider chord progressions and assume that you choose any of four chords (here, I'm assuming you're choosing from the typical I, IV, V, and vi chords in whatever key you've selected) for four bars of repeated verse, that's 4^4 = 256 possible verses; doing the same thing for the chorus gives us 256 possible choruses. Combining all the verses with the choruses gives us 65,536 possible chord progressions. Add a bridge with the same assumptions and you have 16,777,216 possible chord progressions. And that's without talking about how many times you repeat the four bars of verse, chorus and bridge, or chord progression variations. And then when we combine the number of possible melodies with the number of possible chord progressions, that's 4.72236648 × 10^21 possible songs. Assuming the songs average three minutes, that's 2.69541466 × 10^16 years worth of music: more music than you could listen to if you started playing it when the universe was created. Of course not all of the combinations will be pleasing to the ear, but even if only a microscopic subset is, that's a heck of a lot of songs.

Name: Jason Wheat
Hometown: University Heights, Ohio
As a Rush fan, but one that is honest, I'd like to say that they will never make it to the HOF however deserving they are. They have three big things going against them. Though they've never been commercial failures, they've never had massive mainstream success. Second, too many people are hung up on Geddy Lee's voice. I've become tolerant of it, but one can't deny that the joke, "Rush is the band with the ugly chick for a singer, right," has become commonplace. Lastly, they are wildly inconsistent. I love their good stuff; when they are good, they are astounding. My ten or twenty favorite Rush songs hold up against my favorite ten or twenty of anyone. Few bands in history have their chops, and Peart is capable of amazing lyrics (I was taken aback at how relevant their song "Territories" has been during the current administration, look it up). However, when Rush is bad, they are BAD. I'm talking Spinal Tap bad. Peart has written lyrics that literally make my face contort as if I'd just taken a big swig of spoiled milk. When U2 goes bad, it results in something bland and boring. When Rush goes bad, you want throw your CD player across the room. They've been influential far beyond their sales and played fantastic concerts to huge crowds for decades, but to many they will always be the band with the ugly chick singing nine minute songs about trees (though they've done virtually nothing but straight four to five minute rock songs for more than two decades). They aren't getting in any time soon, if ever.

December 7, 2005 | 12:24 PM ET | Permalink

Make that 51…  The Worst President Ever?

Richard Reeves writes: "The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record.  Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting.  These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding.  Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever," here.

This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record:

  • He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;

  • He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;

  • He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;

  • He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;

  • He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);

  • He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;

  • He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;

  • He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Reeves adds:

… Besides, many of the historians note that however bad Bush seems, they have indeed since (sic) worse men around the White House.  Some say Buchanan.  Many say Vice President Dick Cheney.

Tim Noah thinks this is Bush’s worst moment and wonders why the media are whitewashing his history.  I think it’s bad, sure, and the media have been doing this forever, but it’s far from his worst moment (though it might be among his most revealing).

Meanwhile, Only 6 of 40 big papers put 9/11 report card on Page One here.  I find this inexplicable.

I read this in the Weekly Standard but I’m still having trouble believing it:

Like more than a few other readers, we were startled a couple of weeks ago when Nick Kristof, the New York Times columnist, interrupted his generally favorable review of a new Mao biography to pick a quarrel with the authors over how many millions of Chinese the old monster had starved to death. Wrote Kristof: "The authors declare that 'close to 38 million people died' [in the Great Famine of 1958-61], and in a footnote they cite a Chinese population analysis of mortality figures in those years. Well, maybe. But there have been many expert estimates in scholarly books and journals of the death toll, ranging widely, and in reality no one really knows for sure--and certainly the mortality data are too crude to inspire confidence. The most meticulous estimates by demographers who have researched the famine toll are mostly lower than this book's: Judith Banister estimated 30 million; Basil Ashton also came up with 30 million; and Xizhe Peng suggested about 23 million. Simply plucking a high-end estimate out of an article and embracing it as the one true estimate worries me; if that is stretched, then what else is?"

This strikes us as something slightly indecent to quarrel over. So maybe we can all agree that it was at least 23 million too many. And perhaps we can agree, too, that killing on this scale is not something that should be easily forgotten.”

So let me get this straight.  The Weekly Standard thinks discussions of historical accuracy—including those involving as many as 15 million deaths—are “indecent to quarrel over.”  And Bill Kristol has a Ph.D.  Seriously, I can’t believe the level of dumbed-down intellectual that defines even the loftiest levels of the conservative movement.  I suppose it’s necessary, to support a politician like George W. Bush, but shocking, still.  What If I said Bill Kristol had killed 15 million people?  What if he said, “No, zero.”  Would that be indecent to quarrel over, too? 

The Sami Al-Arian acquittal was a colossal embarrassment for the Justice Dept.  But not to worry, all three networks ignored the verdict last night.

Media person of the year?  Here.  My guy lost.

Alter-reviews:

Barbra Streisand - The Television Specials, here.  This is lovely looking box set for Babsites as well as a decent gift for those people who were thinking of shelling out the $200 for the “Sex in the City” box, but would really prefer not to spend quite so much (and want to throw in a little education along with it).  The Television Specials collects five one-hour programs she recorded between 1968 and 1973 before you, know, things got out of hand.  It includes: My Name Is Barbra (1965), Color Me Barbra (1966), The Belle of 14th Street (1967), A Happening in Central Park (1967), Barbra Streisand... and Other Musical Instruments (1973).  Some if it’s a little weird, I gotta tell you.  Color Me Barbra followed on March 30, 1966 and is, naturally, filmed in color.  The first sequence was shot at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with Streisand wandering among the masterworks and antiquities, even singing "Where or When" dressed as Nefertiti.  My favorite is A Happening in Central Park, which is just her (with orchestra) singing  "The Nearness of You," "Cry Me a River," "I Can See It," "Second Hand Rose" "People," and "Happy Days Are Here Again," etc.  Ray Charles does four songs on Barbra Streisand... and Other Musical Instruments.  Good liner notes, photos, and song lists, too.  (P.S. High-flying Jewish liberal guy that I am, I had a seder with Babs once.  It was her birthday, too.  But guess what?  We sang to her, not the other way around.  Story of my life, in a way.)

And now for something completely different:  The Pixies sort of passed me by when they were around for real, but this DVD seems to give a pretty good example of why that was probably a mistake.  They’re good, and they hold up.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Rapoport
Comments:
Eric:
God bless Keith Olbermann.  Here's a bit from him referencing companies' unwillingness to sponsor the Darwin exhibit:

"...time for our list of today's nominees to carry the title of "Worst Person in the World." ... the winners, those fine folks behind the intelligent design nonsense.  Because of them, the new exhibition of the work of Charles Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History in New York cannot find any corporate sponsors.  The corporations are afraid they might tick off the intelligent design guys.  "The folks who dreamt up intelligent design, the same people who brought you the world is flat, the earth is at the center of the universe, and let's burn a scientist at the stake today.  Today's worst persons in the world!"

It's here .  (Far down in transcript)  And, irony of ironies, here's a report by the Voice of America that references the issue.  Another indication that foreign audiences know more about this issue than we do.

Name:  Charles Kaiser
Hometown:  New York, NY
Dear Eric,
In re: Ford, if you go to the URL below you can check out what is at stake and send your own message directly to Ford.  Take action on this action alert from the Human Rights Campaign here.

Name:  Tom Turner
Hometown:  Berkeley, California
Wells Fargo may be brave standing up to Focus on the Family, but it has balanced this bravery with a contribution of support to the Pacific Legal Foundation, a virulently anti-environment, pro-private-property law firm with headquarters in Sacramento and offices in Alaska, Florida, Hawai`i, and Washington, D.C.  PLF opposes the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act — a collection of bad actors altogether.

Name:  Richard Nimmons
Comments:

Eric,
I would like to enter a small demurral on your use of the world "theocracy".

Literally, it means "rule by god(s)".

Do you really think any Deity could be as stupid as the pronouncements of the various god-hucksters - the Mullahs, Priests, Pat Robertson, et al - would indicate?  No true Deity would spew such absurdities.  What we hear is the prejudices of these individuals passed off as the "Word Of God."

What you are really describing is a hierocracy - rule by priests.  I realize you are not alone in this usage, but it should be called by what it truly is.

Name: Kevin in the middle
Hometown: Madison, NJ
Eric:
I keep thinking about the parallels between the era of Nixon's "silent majority" speech and today's Iraq miasma.  There is one prime difference that deserves note.  When Nixon gave that speech, he had been in office less than a year.  He had run on an anti-war platform.  His approval ratings were around 50% (pretty high considering it was Nixon, whose numbers were never that great).  The speech was made well before his Pentagon Papers and Watergate troubles.  And so I wonder what speech John Kerry might have been forced to make had he won the election.  Aside from John Murtha, who in my book is about as noble a patriot as you can get, I don't see many concrete ideas coming from the Democrats on how to get us out of this mess.  If the party really wants to make inroads in 2006, it had better start doing some thinking (on all levels) about what kind of world it wants to create.  Otherwise, the election is going to boil down to "patriotism," which is about as red state an issue as you can get.  Or maybe we offer them this:

And if the war is not ended when the people choose in November, the choice will be clear.  Here it is: For four years this administration has had at its disposal the greatest military and economic advantage that one nation has ever had over another in a war in history.  For four years America's fighting men have set a record for courage and sacrifice unsurpassed in our history.  For four years this Administration has had the support of the loyal opposition for the objective of seeking an honorable end to the struggle.  Never has so much military and economic and diplomatic power been used so ineffectively.  And if after all of this time, and all of this sacrifice, and all of this support, there is still no end in sight, then I say the time has come for the American people to turn to new leadership not tied to the mistakes and policies of the past.  That is what we offer to America.
— Richard Nixon's acceptance speech, Republican National Convention. August 8, 1968

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
re Rock Hall: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the first recognizable rock and roll guitarist deserves to be in, in, in.  Influence as a singer (on Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin, among others), as a guitarist (on Chuck Berry and Hubert Sumlin), and as a bandleader (on Bob Dylan, the Band, Booker T., Aretha Franklin). And she's wilder and fiercer than any of them. (Of course, almost all her best stuff is about a Jewish guy from 2000 years ago with the initials J.C., which many people find to be a turn-off.)

Name:  Bill Dunlap
Hometown:  Lake Oswego, Oregon
Boy, the memories of 12/8-9/80 are deeply etched.  Monday night company party overlooking the tree-lighting at Rock Center.  Got a little drunk.  Came home.  Put on "The River" because I was driving down to Philly the next day to see Bruce.  Put on Monday Night Football, without the sound.  Photo of Lennon comes up.  Wondering what John was up to now, fumbled for one volume down, the other up, just in time to hear "John Lennon, dead at age 41."  Next day, walking home, overhearing a couple on the street, "He was the weird one."  At the Spectrum hearing Bruce's opening remarks, an incredible concert and yelling along with the crowd as he closed with "Twist and Shout."  More recently trying to explain to my daughter, born 12/10/86, who discovered John on her own, why his death hurt so much, and giving her my copy of Rolling Stone with the naked John in bed with Yoko cover.  Can it be 25 years?  I guess I'm getting old.

Name: Ron Curtiss
Hometown: Studio City, CA
Eric: This Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame thing is too bizarre. My beef is this: no Progressive Rock band has ever even been mentioned for nomination. The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes and Genesis deserve to be mentioned, at the least! The thinking is that prog is not rock, so therefore it doesn't qualify. I love Miles Davis and recognize his contribution to rock, but his post-1970's music is even less rock than prog, yet he is recognized. I know that you have mentioned that you find some value in this genre that has been insulted and ignored for 30 years. It's time that the HOF realize that prog is as worthy as sloppy rock 'n roll and certainly deserves to be at least nominated. I ask your readers that agree or disagree to post their opinions.

Name: Steve McGady
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a business running out of stuff to sell. After the first wave of inductees which were pretty obvious, we come the present state of "Who's left?" When we think of the HoF in terms we are used to, like a sports HoF, we recall athletes with long and exceptional careers. When it comes to music, whatever the genre, truly prolific artists are much harder to find. It winds up that their core material usually stands up to the competition of the top 40 through the decades. There is a lot of critically acclaimed work, and cult favorites that will never really be accused of being famous. I would argue that the R&RHoF should probably create an exhibit for the college circuit bands and even Disco. While few individuals ever became immortal outside their core audience, they had enough impact as a whole to have a place. To use a baseball analogy, few relief pitchers will ever get the numbers to become HoF'ers. But they hold a vital place in the game. The guy who came up with the split fingered fastball may not be in, but the guys who perfected it are. And finally, in my last sports analogy, you have the good old days problem. These kids today got no respect for the game. Putting aside the irony, I'll jump to young rockers. They are in a no win situation. While ballplayers are trying to do the exact same things their predecessors did (see the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball), young rockers are trying to pick out new chord progressions and melodies that have been picked clean over the last fifty years. Let's face it. There are not an infinite number of available tunes. And I bet that most of the good ones have already been taken. If you look at the sheet music for a lot of music, you notice a few trends. First, consecutive notes in the melody are usually close together, rarely more than half an octave apart.  I think the average note in a melody is a quarter note. Eighths and sixteenths are balanced by halves and wholes. After about four measures, the melody is usually repeated on the next line of the verse. Average of sixteen notes, with roughly twelve possible variations from note to note. 16 x 12 equals 192. It's a big number, but not big enough. If you double my estimates about the note to note intervals and the number of notes in a phrase, you still have less than 800. The melody will change slightly on the chord changes, but not by much. Extrapolating these numbers yields on the order of a million possibilities. Again, huge, but not infinite. A lot of these possible melodies will be awful, a lot bland. Keeping in mind a lot of the rock melodies are based on are played from a chord shape on a guitar brings the number crashing down even farther from infinity. The staggering number of available melodies are restricted by the need to harmonize with the backing instruments. All this conspires to make the young songwriter's craft much more difficult than the good old days, without even considering the fact that the stories, the poems are also being consumed. That being said, I can't believe that Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon never thought of "Stacey's Mom"!

Eric replies: She does have it going on…

Name: Mike S.
Hometown: Dekalb, Illinois
Eric,
I read your column everyday, and yet I've never chimed in on anything but this Rock and Roll hall of fame thing that you have going has inspired me to finally speak up. There is one band that has repeatedly been shunned by the Hall of Fame that deserves to be there just as much as the others: RUSH! These guys have been together 30 years rocking the world to a HUGE fanbase and they have never let us down. If one were to take a poll of influences of today's musicians, I KNOW that the names Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson would be at the tops of there lists. I mean how many rock drummers were influenced by Neil Peart? The record sales that this band has made puts them in the stratosphere with the likes of the Stones, KISS, and Pink Floyd. These three guys deserve it just as much as anyone.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
For anyone interested in the economy, geopolitics, markets, investing, etc., today's New York Times is one of the more interesting editions they have put out in I-don't-know-how-long.
The most interesting article is here: " What's Ahead: Blue Skies, or More Forecasts of Them?"; it discusses why economist's optimistic projections are often off the mark. In case you hadn't noticed, most economists do a poor job predicting slow downs or recessions.

The best graphic in the paper is a fabulous full pager titled Richer Than Ever, but Watch out for Missing Costs, by Dylan Loeb McClain. It reveals such pleasantries as a) Persistent Inequality, b) a 49% increase in Real Estate Assets and the 57% increase in mortgage obligations, and c) the significant increases in corporate profits.

• December 6, 2005 | 11:53 AM ET | Permalink

American Theocracy?What could be more dangerous to democracy and free expression than an alliance of right-wing theocrats and big business to close down all speech of which either one disapproves?  First the Museum of National History is denied a corporate sponsor because it —gasp!— seeks to examine and celebrate the legacy of Charles Darwin in a major exhibition —and by the way, that story remains pretty much uncovered anywhere in the MSM— and now the Ford Motor Company pulls ads from gay publications to appease religious right.  American Family Association lifted its threatened boycott after Ford's action. 

In related news, Wells Fargo has refused to budge after Focus on the Family announced they would remove all their funds from Wells Fargo banks because of WF's new diversity campaign.  Read all about it here.  And how about a boycott of those quisling corporations who give in to theocratic blackmail and supporting those, like Wells Fargo, who don’t?

Let’s let Today's Papers do the heavy lifting on the Times egregiously gullible coverage of Condi Rice’s tortured torture apologia:

If you want much more than the official line, don't look to the NYT: "U.S. INTERROGATIONS ARE SAVING EUROPEAN LIVES, RICE SAYS."  The Times takes most of Rice's statements at face value when the facts suggest they shouldn't be.  For instance, Rice's insistence that the U.S does not "condone torture" is played up high and likely only accurate if you accept the administration's narrow definition of torture.  As the Post notes, "CIA interrogators in the overseas sites have been permitted to use interrogation techniques prohibited by the U.N. convention or by U.S. military law."

The oddest part of the NYT's Rice coverage:

Administration officials, including Ms. Rice on Monday, have repeatedly maintained since the reports about the secret prisons began that the government is abiding by American law and international agreements. "We are respecting U.S. law and U.S. treaty obligations," she said several times on Monday. "And we are respecting other nations' sovereignty."

That is a change in the position of the Bush administration, which has repeatedly maintained in recent years that American law does not apply to prisoners held abroad.

In something of a feat, the Times here manages to be both credulous and ignorant of the intended subtleties. Rice doesn't appear to have changed any position.  The administration still contends U.S. law doesn't apply to prisoners abroad.  That is exactly why the U.S., in the administration's view, can send prisoners to whatever foreign dungeons while still "respecting U.S. law."  This TPer parsed some of Rice's language yesterday.  And a Post editorial also carves it up, detailing Rice's "legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk."

Next time I run into Steven Spielberg at shul, I am going to tell him what a dumb idea this is:

Time reports on Steven Spielberg's Munich, which chronicles the hunt for the terrorists responsible for assassinating 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics.  An accompanying interview with the filmmaker reveals his plan for Middle East peace: giving video cameras to 250 Israeli and Palestinian children to tape even the most mundane aspects of their lives. Spielberg hopes it will allow people to "understand that there aren't that many differences that divide Israelis from Palestinians—not as human beings, anyway."

They are very different, boychick; pretty different from yours, too, if you can believe that… What is needed are divorce terms, not a Hollywood ending.

Obama For President?  Not a bad argument…

If only, way back when, The New York Times had hired Walter Pincus instead of Judith Miller, it would not only have gotten the prewar story much closer to correct than it did—or anyone else in the MSM did—the only exception being Knight-Ridder’s terrific and unheralded reporting—it would have had a much cleaner and more admirable carrier of its crusade for the right to maintain the anonymity of its sources.  In fact, if only the Post had relied on Pincus more than say, Woodward and company, it too would not have misled its readers nearly so much.  More here.

Voices Carry — After Jack Newfield's moving memorial service last year, I went out with a bunch of former Village Voice writers and everyone commented what a great newspaper you could have created from its distinguished alumni.  People leave newspapers for any number of reasons, but it’s hard to believe that when I entered the field more than two decades ago, the Voice was actually a place to which ambitious people aspired to work.  Its 1980 (I think) “Free Speech” issue—I still have mine--remains one of the glories of the entire history of leftist/literary/sectarian debate, as well as one of the great Stamaty cartoons of all time.  Anyway, the man who presided over its slow and purposeful strangulation; who deliberately forced out many of its most distinguished contributors—the great Jules Feiffer and Gary Giddens come to mind—resigned yesterday.  Don Forst says he hoped his legacy would be that he "came to The Village Voice, which is a very good paper, and I think I made it an even better one."  Now that the Voice is about to sacrifice what little remains of its identity, well, why dance on a corpse?  (And yes, Forst did order up a hatchet-job on me, once, long ago, from Alexander Cockburn’s then-gopher, Ken Silverstein.  In typical fashion, it lacked even a single on the record quote.)  The Voice still has quite a few worthy writers and critics and my sympathy goes out to them for the unsupportive (and unconscionably skinflint) environment in which they must labor.  (“Not as awful as New York Press” is not an inspiring slogan, and not one that is likely to be useful much longer.)  Anyway, as independent investigative journalism and meaningful criticism becomes an ever smaller portion of our public discourse, I mourn its slow, merciless death.  I hope Mr. Forst was well-paid for his hatchet work.

Quote of the Day, Jon Stewart:  “Yes that’s a former Pentagon spokesman explaining to a reporter why propaganda might not be good.”

From Backstreets:

This week in the Star Tribune, Springsteen names a favorite Lennon song and reflects on Lennon's death and that night in Philly.  And in "Night that city stopped cold," the Daily News' David Hinckley reminds us that WNEW-FM DJ Vin Scelsa was on the air the night of 12/8, in the middle of playing "Jungleland," when he found out Lennon had been shot.  See the interview with Scelsa in Backstreets #82 for more on that emotional night, and listen to WFUV on Thursday for a montage of WNEW's 12/8/80 coverage.  WFUV will feature Lennon-related programming all day; the Scelsa flashback will be heard on Dennis Elsas' "City Folk Afternoon" between 2 and 6 p.m.

Alter-reviews

John Lennon re-releases by Eric; Pete Townshend and Cat Stevens, “Gold” by Sal

Lennon’s Walls And Bridges is much better than I remember it being.  It’s his “Lost Weekend” record, made during the time he used to show up drunk with Harry Nilson in rock clubs with a tampax on his head; and Yoko was paying the nanny to have sex with him, which, by the way, I’m impressed he could even think about, given everything else he was doing.  It’s certainly not as bad as the other re-release Sometime In New York City, which makes one yearn for the oeuvre of Linda McCartney.  (Title track is a great song, though.)  If you need a 25th anniversary of the death reminder of his solo career, or a gift, a good bet is the Working Class Hero collection.  Not too many people have everything on this already, though it’s not without its problems, which you can read about from the Amazon reviews.

Universal continues its "Gold" series, with two releases that fall into the "good" category.  The "Gold" series has been disappointing in that it is usually something that has already been released under a different name with different artwork.  Kind of lame, if you ask me.  But, the recent Pete Townshend and Cat Stevens "Gold" releases seem to be exactly what they should be.

Both feature over 30 tracks of remastered hits and album tracks. The Cat Stevens thankfully includes some of his underrated Decca material, such as "Matthew & Son" and the definitive original version of the oft-covered "The First Cut Is The Deepest."  Plus, along side the obvious, we get the full-length "Foreigner Suite," and a newly recorded song called "Indian Ocean."

The Townshend features all of his MTV hits, the best tracks from the out of print "Who Came First," and most importantly it gives us more than half of the brilliant Townshend/Ronnie Lane collaboration "Rough Mix," remastered for the first time. That is worth the price of admission alone.

—Sal, NYCD

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Marcelline Mansir
Hometown:  Mill Valley, CA
Dear Eric,
In response to Major Bob Bateman's request, I called Dick Blick art supplies to order watercolor paints and (good) paper.  I realized I had not ordered extra brushes.  I had already explained to the sales rep why I was ordering the materials.  I asked her if she knew off the top of her head of any inexpensive brushes: she came up with a canister of 144 brushes for $30.00.  Further, she said that she would stick a note in the package saying the materials were from me.  Like most of my family and friends, I have had the horrible feeling for months that Iraq is constant hell for our troops and Iraqi citizens and that there is nothing that I can do about it.  Sending $100.00 of art materials to Sergeant Wensink in Baghdad is a small thing but it helped me remember that that Americans very often do good things.  Thank you for your great blog, wonderful books, and your Nation column.

Name:  David Firsich
Hometown:  Dayton, Ohio
Dr. A.,
In the totalitarian nightmare movie "Brazil", a swat team crashes into a man's home, zips him up into a large bag and carries him off to be tortured, with no explanation.  It's a mistake; he's innocent, but his name is similar to the real suspect.  Not too far from what we did to that
German citizen Masri, is it?

Name: Don Goldberg/ Jay Gilbert
Hometown: Seattle/Cincinnati
Eric:
Your inspired editing of Nixon's 1969 speech inspired us to find the actual recording, and to create an audio version of Dick and George.  Here's the link.  We produce comedy bits for Jerry Springer's radio show (it's a serious political talk show, honest, not at all like the TV show) on Air America Radio.

Name: Walter Crockett
Hometown: Worcester, Mass
Dear Eric,
I can allow no mention of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to pass without complaining bitterly that the Spinners and producer Thom Bell haven't been inducted.  No group, the Beatles included, has made thoroughly excellent albums than the Spinners did in their run with Bell from 1973-78.  No singer took out the end of a song better than Philippe Wynne.  No group, Miracles and Temps included, topped the Spinners in vocal firepower.  And Bell was a genius.  My heart aches just to think of them, confined in rock purgatory for eternity because their most popular songs reached the status of soul elevator music.  The classic albums are: "Spinners," "Mighty Love," "New and Improved," and "Pick of the Litter," "Happiness is Being With the Spinners," and "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow."  The first four are magnificent.  The last two show the strained alliances with Bell and Wynne, and the pressure of the disco years, but they still have great songs on them.  As Harold Melvin said in the same era, "Wake up, everybody."

Name: Cole Odell
Hometown: Brattleboro, VT
Jeff Weed wants ideas for overlooked Rock and Roll Hall of Fame candidates?  How about the Hall's most neglected act which isn't Patti Smith, namely the Stooges?  Iggy Pop and his band made fierce, amazing records that set the stage for much of the 70s punk scene.  They're nearly as worthy of induction as the Velvet Underground, and clearly more historically important than many of the fine, if modest acts (sorry, Chrissy Hynde and Bob Seger, but it's true) that have been inducted in recent years.  The Hall should be embarrassed for overlooking Gram Parsons for so long; the guy only single-handedly popularized country rock, paving the way for the Don Henleys of the world to buy their mansions and pick up their awards.  I also think that Zombiebox and Five Guys Walk Into a Bar... make very strong cases for taking another look at both The Zombies and The Faces, the latter being reconfirmed by its set as one of the best rock acts of all time.  Captain Beefheart, one of rock's bravest experimenters, certainly deserves a place.  Big Star, the Raspberries and Cheap Trick ought to be there representing power pop, and I'd also induct Lenny Kaye as a non-performer for compiling the original Nuggets garage rock compilation in 1972, which undoubtedly launched many more bands than it enshrined.  That would keep the Hall going for a while.  However, I take issue with Jeff's suggestion that the 1980s will present slim pickings for the Hall.  This is only true if they stick to acts that were popular at commercial radio.  If they do that, they're in trouble, as most of the best rock and pop on the radio in that decade was made by performers with only a handful of great singles in them.  But if the Hall follows innovative rock and roll to where it actually went in the 80s, namely the relative margins of the college circuit, the options rapidly multiply.  The Pixies, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth are among the most critically acclaimed rock acts ever, even if they never sold records like the Eagles.  Just below that rung are bands like X, Husker Du, the Minutemen, Fugazi and Black Flag.  That good new rock went underground in the 80s is undeniable.  But is this fact unavoidable for the Hall?  Will they ignore post-punk as they've mostly avoided punk?  In favor of what?  Culture Club, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and third-rung 70s acts?  I guess we'll see.

Name: K. W. Hart
Comments:
Re: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Who exposed more people to more rock & roll than Ed Sullivan?  The Stones, the Beatles, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, the Doors, the Dave Clark Five, you name the group, they probably appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.  And this was at a time before rock & roll was mainstream.  Ed saw the future, and its name was rock & roll, and he saw it almost 20 years before Jon Landau said the same of The Boss.  (Disclosure: I used to work for A&M Records, and Herb and Jerry definitely belong in the HOF.  But Ed should have his own wing, featuring all the performances of HOF members who made their American TV debuts on his show. It would be quite a lineup.

Name: Steve Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
I want to add to a potential thread about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Eric your writing the Patti Smith gig at BAM brings up two potential members at the HOF, the Patti Smith Group and Television.  The recordings that they made in the 70's are astonishing, fresh and influential.  They are the two remaining crucial acts of New York Punk New Wave.  Jackson Brown made it, so what of the two more crucial LA singer songwriters, Warren Zevon and still with us still growing and becoming more and more influential, Tom Waits.  From the UK, two great acts, one the great part was short but connected, prog with hard rock, Deep Purple of MarkII fame and combining prog with feminist ecriture and singer/songwriter, Kate Bush.  Of 80's acts, I can think of one who is already elgible, the greatest of LA band and the greatest band ever associated with Ray Manzarek, X and the original band is coming this Friday to Roseland.
P.S.  When will Richard Thompson get in the HOF?  Come on.

Name: Chris Dougherty
Hometown: Wanaque, NJ
Eric,
Liked the articles about the R & R Hall of Fame process.  I'd like to throw in two names: Gram Parsons - Yes, trippy roadhouse type but look at what he did.  He basically took roadhouse music and got it into an entire generation of listeners.  If the Eagles can make it in why can't Gram?  He triggered Emmy Lou Harris's career, basically gave groups like Poco a reason to record, launched the Flying Burrito Brothers, had a cup of coffee with the Byrds, and cast a wide net over the Alt Country movement that continues to this day (Rodney Crowell, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle etc.)  Sometimes the hall has to not only recognize those that reach into the vault they have to recognize those that picked it up and moved it.  Gram's work in the late 60's was crucial in separating the American listening audience from the British invasion.

Kraftwerk - same goes here.  Where would dance, electronica, hip-hop, house and other types of music be without the influence of these guys?  They really broke a lot of the mold in the 70's and what they laid out continues to this day. 

I'd like to see the Moody Blues get in along with Patti Smith.

December 5, 2005 | 11:30 AM ET | Permalink

Torture and wrongful imprisonment are US

In case you missed the details of where Iraq has taken us as a nation, this is from Sunday’s Washington Post, here:

Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs.  They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip.  Their destinations:  either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons -- referred to in classified documents as "black sites," which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe…”

Quote of the Day:

Masri [a German citizen wrongfully imprisoned and tortured by the CIA], can find few words to explain his ordeal. "I have very bad feelings" about the United States, he said. "I think it's just like in the Arab countries: arresting people, treating them inhumanly and less than that, and with no rights and no laws.”

Congratulations again to Dana Priest for her Pulitzer-level reporting and here is the ACLU report, "U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq”

American Progress recently launched TortureIsNotUS, a campaign in support of the McCain anti-torture amendment.  They've just released a television ad they hope to get on the air soon, to put pressure on members of Congress who are on the fence about the amendment.  To watch the ad, visit TortureIsNotUS.org.

Quote of the Day, II

The responsibility for devising an exit plan rests primarily not with the war's opponents, but with the president who hastily launched a pre-emptive invasion without enough troops to secure Iraq's borders and arsenals, without enough armor to protect our forces, without enough allied support and without adequate plans for either a secure occupation or a timely exit.
Theodore C. Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Quote of the Day, III [same link]

As Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican and Vietnam veteran, said, "The longer we stay, the more problems we're going to have."  Defeatist?  The real defeatists are those who say we are stuck there for the next decade of death and destruction.

Yet another Quote of the Day:

What DKE was doing was clearly outside the rules, and they were sanctioned for that.  At the same time, it wasn't of the order that somebody was killed.

— Albert Evans, President of Yale Inter-Fraternity Council in 1967, commenting on the branding of DKE pledges with red-hot coat hangers while George W. Bush was president, here.

OK, one more: “It’s going to be a long time before we see each other again Cheryl, so would it be OK if I fooled around a while until you got there?”    

OK, two more:

“I for one do not dance to dance music; disco for me is a lofty metaphysical mode that induces contemplation.  (Of course, this may partly descend from my Agnes Gooch marginalization in the old bar scene, where I was -- as Nora Ephron would say -- a wallflower at the orgy.)  Giorgio Moroder's albums, which I listened to obsessively on headphones, were an enormous inspiration to me … Disco at its best is a neurological event, a shamanistic vehicle of space-time travel. …”  Guess who, here.

Oh really, what’s the big deal?

I watched Dershowitz debate Chomsky on C-Span over the weekend.  I don’t really like either one—and neither one likes me-- but I must say, Chomsky is much more a gentleman than Dershowitz, who allowed himself to become a bit unhinged a bunch of times.  They may each be wrong in their own way, but Chomsky certainly has better manners.

Anyway, it proves my point.  Such debates are worse than pointless.  Nobody ever convinces anybody of anything when it comes to the Middle East; people just attack each other’s character, as happens every time I write anything about the issue on this blog, by people like Lubovitcher Rebbes Cathy Young and Nick King…

I much preferred the interview of John Updike that followed it.  Kudos again to C-Span, but I hope they try harder to even up the score ideologically.  (See the FAIR study here.)  There is no place on television of which I am aware in which liberal commentators are treated as generously as right-wingers.  I mean look at Matthews here, "Everybody sort of likes the president, except for the real whack-jobs, maybe on the left."  Remember, according to the Wall Street Journal: “A majority of U.S. adults believe the Bush administration generally misleads the public on current issues, while fewer than a third of Americans believe the information provided by the administration is generally accurate, the latest Harris Interactive poll finds.”  A recent Diageo/Hotline poll reported that 56 percent of Americans have an "unfavorable" opinion of Bush; an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey reported that a large plurality have "very negative" feelings toward Bush.  In recent weeks, Matthews has also said that Bush sometimes "glimmers" with "sunny nobility" and praised a recent Bush speech as a "brilliant political move" -- before the speech was even delivered.  Now he is calling the majority of Americans "whack-jobs" and deriding critics of the Iraq war as "carpers and complainers."  Matthews thinks a majority of this nation are either “left, whack-jobs, maybe on the left,” and one frequently hears that he’s on the left, my goodness.  Thanks to Media Matters.

When I grow up I want to be a security guard in Iraq working for the Bush administration so I can kill anybody I want, no hassles, and get paid the big bucks, too, here.

Bush = Bolshies?

Jeff Jarvis memories, here, by Frank Lynch.  Someone has some ‘splainin’ to do…

“I Have a Crush” by Howard Kurtz

Alter-reviews:

Last week I saw The Magic Numbers at the Mercury Lounge.  Together with the Kaiser Chiefs, they’re the only new band about which I can get even halfway excited.  They’ve got a real Mamma/Papas vibe going, both by virtue of being made up of two pairs of siblings, the Stodarts (singer and songwriter Romeo who likes a bit like a big hairy troll, and his sister Michelle on bass, keyboards, vocals) and the Gannons (almost as gnomelike Sean on drums and his sister Angela on vocals, melodica and percussion.  They were fun and you can read about their record, here.

The following night, I saw an extremely moving and pretty powerful performance by Ray Davies, who had his own band for the first time I’ve ever heard of.  (I saw him do that solo show about ten years ago, but this was a whole band…)  The gig, at the Supper Club, was a kind of long-term promo for Ray’s forthcoming record, "Other People's Lives," due out in February via V2 Records as well as a kind of celebration of his new EP, "Thanksgiving Day," which is just out.  Ray was in great spirits and the band was pretty tight.  He played a bunch of new songs, including ones called "After the Fall," "Next Door Neighbor," "The Tourist," "Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After)" and "Stand Up Comic," which Davies sang as his alter ego, "Max."  He reached back into the catalogue for acoustic versions of several tunes from the Kinks' classic "Village Green Preservation Society," including "Animal Farm," "Johnny Thunder" and "Village Green," and full-band versions of  "All Day and All the Night," "Waterloo Sunset, "You Really Got Me," "Lola" and "Low Budget."  On the topic of a Kinks reunion, the closest we got was his discussion of Dave, who had a stroke last year, and, says Ray, “is giving me a hard time, so he must be better.”  He’ll be back in the Spring.

Also last week, I saw forty of the greatest minutes of live performance of my life at the Brooklyn Academy of Music when Patti Smith came on stage dressed in her Sinatra get-up (plus army boots) and did the most energized, intense, youthful, thrilling even, version of “Horses”—the entire album—one could imagine.  Actually, it was better than I could have imagined as the spirit of everything rock aspires to be coursed through her tiny body as well as that of her incredible band (Tom Verlaine, Lenny Kaye, Flea, etc…)  Legacy has just released the thirtieth anniversary edition of this masterpiece and it comes with a live performance of it too.  I’ve not heard it yet but I’d be amazed if it touched the performance those of us who were privileged to see her Thursday night will always remember.  (P.S. Patti returned for a second set, and it was just fine—quite good, in fact, but what she achieved in the first set would have been unsustainable by any performer.  Well, maybe one. (See below.)

Go Zombies — By the way, how come nobody notices how terrific Showtime is; it’s almost as terrific as HBO, (about which everybody knows.)  Anyway, Huff was great.  Chris Isaak was great.  Weeds was great.  Fat Actress was the worst thing of all time, but hey, nobody’s making you watch.  And now, Flesh-eating anti-Bush zombies.  We’ll take anyone.  (When I wrote that, I had not seen it yet.  Now I have, and I have to say, “run, don’t walk… subscribe, right away.  It’s worth it.  My only criticism is that the Ann Coulter-character is never shown back when she was still a man.)

Billy Joel, "My Lives," track listing, here.  I know, it’s only Billy Joel, but I like it.  This box is for the serious Billy Joel person, if such a thing can be said to exist or even said.  It’s a weird amalgam; not exactly a box of outtakes and demos, though there are plenty of those.  And certainly not a greatest hits box, which already exists, and is pretty great.  It does not suit anyone’s purposes perfectly, since the “serious Billy Joel person” will have all the pre-released stuff and the rest of us want only the finished product.  I’m happy to have it on.  Billy Joel made some, actually, a really impressive number of, pretty great songs once you forgive him for acting like such a putz.  The sequencing is also odd, and impossible to figure out thematically.  There’s a few classical songs, too, but they’re at the end, so you can skip without any hassle.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Tom
Hometown: Seattle
Hey Doc,
I've been watching the media blitz surrounding the "new Iraq plan for victory."  Can anyone tell me why the headline isn't "3 years after starting war, administration finally announces a plan to win - stay the course"?  Doesn't it strike anybody in MSM that this is patently absurd?  Mission Accomplished?  Yup.

Name: David Dennie
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia
Eric,
I'd like to jump into the "Born to Run" discussion by suggesting a contrarian, if not slightly controversial, position - namely that yes, BTR IS great, but not necessarily the absolute pinnacle of the Boss's achievement.  I would contend that that crowning achievement came 3 years later, with "Darkness on the Edge of Town."  I hold that BTR, while certainly a commercial breakthrough, was not quite the artistic breakthrough that many claim.  In fact, Springsteen had previously written similar "street operas" and word pictures of struggling-lower-middle-class/working-class life on his first 2 albums.  On DOTEOT he continued writing about these subjects, but the writing, while still vivid and colorful, was much more realistic - more believable.  The characters on DOTEOT, rather than living BTR's "ballet being fought out in the alley", had real lives, with real relationships and real jobs, along with all the struggle and heartache that such lives really experience.  In addition, Bruce's music on DOTEOT had become tougher, more focused, more powerful - change-of-pace "breathers" like "Racing in the Street" excepted.  (Even, or maybe especially, with the improved audio on the new BTR re-issue, it still sounds a little dissolute - almost, forgive me fellow Boss fans, sloppy - at times).  And as far as some of the other major Boss albums, I would sum them up so:  "The River" - excellent, but diluted by being a double-album with some weaker cuts; "Nebraska" - brilliant, but a little too stark; "Born in the USA" - also filled with great songs, but marred by overly slick, somewhat dated-sounding overproduction.  So, again, I'd contend that DOTEOT is the REAL, mysteriously-somewhat-overlooked, Bruce Springsteen masterpiece.  Anyone concur?

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
The latest post from Brad in Arlington shows how conservatives tend to ascribe everything good in American society to the free market while ignoring the very substantial role played by government.  Brad alludes to "the past century of unparalleled economic growth and skyrocketing standards of living in this country," and implicitly concludes that these were caused by "decisions based on profit."  What Brad fails to acknowledge is that our "skyrocketing standards of living" owe much to *government* action.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. Social Security and Medicare, which assure the elderly a minimal income and basic health care in their later years;
  2. the GI bill, which made higher education a possibility for a huge number of vets and proved their stepping stone into the middle class;
  3. minimum wage and labor laws, which helped guarantee workers at least a minimal income and protection from inhumane working conditions;
  4. federal banking regulation, which insures the savings of American businesses and individuals and helps guarantee a stable business and financial environment; and
  5. environmental laws, which have made the air we breathe and the water we drink cleaner.

I could add other examples, but the obvious point is that all of these things have contributed mightily to America's standard of living and economic progress, but none of them would have been achieved solely through "decisions based on profit."  The (often unsung) genius of America's 20th century capitalist system was always its use of government to temper the harsh effects of unfettered capitalism.  Sadly, the current regime is trying to repeal as much of this system as possible.  Without it, I doubt that America's standard of living will continue to "skyrocket" or that we will see more of the "unparalleled" economic growth Brad trumpets.

Name: Kimberly Morgan
Hometown: Columbus, OH
Re: school supplies for Iraq.  This is a great idea.  I usually help out our local schools at the beginning of the school year by contributing to supply drives.  But on this one, I'd rather send money to Stupid.  If he/she has connections or access to a discount supply store, the measly few bucks I'm able to contribute will go farther than I'd be able to make them go myself.  Does Stupid have PayPal?  Thanks, Eric!

Name: Jeff Weed
Hometown: Denton, TX
Dr A,
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2006--Black Sabbath, Blondie, Miles Davis, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Sex Pistols (plus Herb Alpert & Jerry Moss in the non-performer category)--is the first of what will likely be several years of "catch-up" inductees.  By this, I mean that very few newly eligible nominees will be of Hall of Fame caliber over the next several years.  Since artists are eligible for the Hall 25 years after their debut and since the 1980's produced fewer performers of long-term historical importance than the preceding decades (a short list of qualified 80's candidates could include R.E.M., Run-D.M.C., Madonna, Metallica, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Def Leppard and Sting) the Hall of Fame will be looking more to artists who were previously passed over or just overlooked.  It will be interesting to see if 70's artists whose commercial (if not critical) success peaked in the 80's will gain stronger consideration. Will acts such as Hall & Oates, Genesis, Foreigner, Kool & the Gang or Peter Gabriel be inducted?  There are a few older artists that I think should at least receive some consideration:

The Clovers.  It's actually surprising that they're not in yet.  One of the most important of the early R&B groups, The Clovers were the transition between groups like The Ink Spots or Mills Brothers and The Drifters/Coasters.  "One Mint Julep" "Love, Love, Love" "Love Potion #9"

The Hollies. The Dave Clark Five were HOF finalists this past go-round, but missed the cut.  I like the DC5 and wouldn't have a problem with them being in, but among British Invaders, The Hollies have better credentials-a longer-term chart life and, in my opinion, a stronger catalog of songs.  "Stop, Stop, Stop" "King Midas In Reverse" "Long Cool Woman" plus a fine (though truncated) version of Bruce's "4th of July Asbury Park (Sandy)"

Paul Revere & The Raiders.  Among the most underrated of 60's bands, Portland, Oregon's finest succeeded in the midst of the British Invasion by playing excellent pop-rock that belied the over-the-top silliness of their Revolutionary War costumes.  "Kicks" "Just Like Me" "Hungry" and the second-best "Louie Louie"

The Moody Blues.  Went from R&B-based second-billed rockers to early progenitors of prog-rock, though without the flashier chops.  Some may hold this against them, but their durability and the quality of their best material makes them worthy of consideration. "Nights In White Satin" "Legend of a Mind" "The Story In Your Eyes" "The Voice"

Non-performers who have to this point been overlooked include Tom Dowd and Gamble & Huff.  I would be interested to see input by Sal, Barry and other knowledgeable Altercators on their choices for overlooked artists and contributors.

December 2, 2005 | 12:24 PM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again column here called “Everybody Doesn’t Do It,” about reporters who use “talking points,” and I return to the topic of The Putsch at Public Broadcasting here in The Nation.

Press releases:

November 28, 2005) Bob Benjamin, The Light of Day Foundation, Inc. and Concerts East Incorporated are proud to announce the inaugural Los Angeles Light of Day concert.

The concert, which will take place on Monday, December 12th  at the House of Blues West Hollywood, will be the closing chapter of the 6th Annual Light of Day Concerts to Benefit the Parkinson's disease Foundation ( PDF).

Scheduled to appear at the House Of Blues on December 12th  are Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Jakob Dylan, John Easdale, John Eddie, Shane Fontayne, Scott Kempner, Jimmy Lafave, Buddy Miller and Lucinda Williams.

The event will also benefit the ALS Association, Greater Los Angeles Chapter.

Tickets are $50 for General Admission standing. Limited VIP tickets are available for $150 and include table seating, waitress service and a Light of Day gift bag. For more information, fans can contact the House Of Blues directly at 323-848-5100.

_______

Hi Eric:
Altercation readers might like to know about the True Spin Conference.  It’s a national PR conference for progressive activists.

The faculty includes:
Ben Cohen, Co-founder of Ben and Jerry’s, Pres., TrueMajority.org;
Kathy Bonk, author, Strategic Communications for Nonprofits;
Martin Kearns, Executive Director, Green Media Toolshed;
Lisa Witter, Executive Vice President, Fenton Communications
Andy Bichlbaum, Yes Men!;
Andrew Boyd, Billionaires for Bush;
Lori Dorfman, co-author, News for a Change;
Lisa Lange, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals;
Holly Minch, Spin Project;
Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group

It’s taking place Feb. 2 and 3, 2006, in Denver.
Check out the program here.
Regards,
Jason Salzman

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to encourage people to participate in Major Bob’s Iraq project supplying Baghdad area schools with supplies.  I guarantee that you’ll get a lot out of it (including a way-cool e-mail from Iraq).  One surprise I got while gathering the school supplies was how much goodwill it generated on my end.  The clerk at the teacher supply store I went to was a Muslim woman and she positively lit-up when she saw Major Bob’s instructions and the address where the stuff was going – thanks to her they got a great deal on construction paper.  Who
knows, maybe some word of the project spread through her circle of friends and family.  It also sparked a conversation with the counter workers and a customer at Chicago’s 24-hour post office.

This project struck a chord with me for several reasons, apart, of course, from wanting to help out a fellow Altercator.  First, my mother is a school nurse and substitute teacher, so I already knew some discount teacher supply stores in the area (by the way, if you think you had it bad in high school, imagine if at any moment your mom could walk into the classroom.)  More importantly, I’m a big follower of social psychology research and have seen experiments where  a small positive personal interaction with an individual can trigger a sea change in that person’s opinions.  Iraqi teachers might not be the hand that rocks the cradle, but they’re the next closest thing – supporting them and giving Iraqi youths something tangible and positive will do more than a thousand news conferences, paid-for newspaper stories and press releases.

P.S.  You know, if someone wants to contribute but doesn’t know/have a supply store around them, I’m happy to do the legwork, so if you get any questions/inquiries feel free to put them in touch/offer that (or you can put that in the post/see if Major Bateman is comfortable with that/whatever).

Eric adds:  The fullest explication of the Major’s plans can be found here.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
Dear Eric,
I want to compliment you for the insightful 'adaptation' of Nixon's speech on Vietnamization. But as I'm sure you also noticed, one of the interesting things about Nixon's remarks is that at the start of them, he is much more straightforward about the level of dissatisfaction with the war effort than Bush has ever been.  Does that mean that political discourse has progressively degraded since Nixon's time?  We should be careful to assert that strong trends exist over time on the basis of one comparison; that is, Bush's rhetoric on Iraq as compared to Nixon's on Vietnam.  It might just be that Nixon was smarter than Bush, and knew more was needed than someone like Bush is able to give.  The difference might simply be due to the personal strengths and weaknesses of Nixon and Bush, and have nothing to do with long-term trends.  Still it's hard not to feel a perverse sense of nostalgia for what appears to be a Nixon who is more 'honest,' more 'in touch with reality' (a palm I never thought I'd give Nixon!) than our current president.

Name: Kevin in the middle
Hometown: Madison, NJ
Spooky, isn't it?  I read that Nixon speech (it's known widely as the "silent majority" speech) a couple of weeks ago and like you was struck how easy it would be to substitute the word Iraq for the word Vietnam.  In the business world, we call this "overcommitment to a failed plan."  In Nixon's time, it was called "peace with honor."  Today, it's called "cut and run."

Name: Tim Renneberg
Hometown: Victoria, BC
As an academic, you might find a CBC radio program from Thursday evening interesting.  It speaks to what the piece's source calls a war on education in the U.S.  The source is a U.S. professor teaching at McMaster University in Hamilton.  The program is archived here.

Name: Don Schneier
Hometown: Springfield, MA
I may not be as privy as K. Carlson is to the thoughts of Jerry Garcia, but I'd bet that if the latter is turning over in his grave about anything, it's about what helped send him there to begin with--the obsessive fetishism surrounding him and his music.  I don't know where Carlson was when I was treasuring my hissy lone audience tape in 1970, but if he thinks that he is being deprived of something because he no longer has access to his 233rd sound board version of Playing In The Band, he should go take a little tour of New Orleans.  And,if he can't appreciate how amazingly generous the release of THEIR vault to the Archive was to begin with, his charge of "hypocrisy" is dead on arrival.

Eric replies: Anyway, see this:  Dead Heads win download fight

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Rob Stafford from San Diego apparently has a very bleak view of business. Personally, I would submit that "screwing your customers & your employees as long and as hard as possible" is not "smart business" in any way, shape, or form.  That said, we live in a capitalistic society and "profit is king in America."  For better or worse, this is why America is as powerful as it is.  While there will always be corrupt, warped people who take advantage (child labor & sweatshops to union busters, love canal & asbestos), we do not have "unbridled capitalism" and there are repercussions to for illegal activities (criminally and financially).  Further, in light of the past century of unparalleled economic growth and skyrocketing standards of living in this country, clearly not all decisions based on profit are "evil," as Mr. Stafford would like to believe.  Josh from Florida asks non-rhetorically whether "it would be a-okay by [me] if corporations were to stop investing money in scientific research that may offend religious conservatives?"  While I believe corporations are free to do as they please in such regards, the overriding goal of profits makes this question hollow and simplistic.  Corporations whose viability is based on research and development see science through the prism of profits, not ideology or theology.  If someone can make money by developing a controversial product, they will.  That is the beauty of capitalism.  No American corporation will become beholden to a small but vocal group of religious extremists, unless that group is their primary market.  For this reason, corporations will not make or break the Darwin exhibit, nor will they advocate that Darwin was a heathen fool.  I suggest that Rob and Josh take a long, hard look at what corporations have done in (and for) this country since the start of the twentieth century.  It is not all (or even mostly) bad.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
Eric,
It is all too easy to agree with Rob Stafford's depiction of certain corporate decisions as "evil" - this is emotionally satisfying, and certainly evil (pollution, known-to-be-dangerous products, et.al.) does result from many such decisions.  However, let me suggest that it is both impolitic and incorrect to use that word.  Impolitic, because it turns off many in the business community, and on the right in general, and because it encourages them to think of liberals/progressives as wackos; incorrect, because capitalism IS AN AMORAL SYSTEM - it does not claim to have a moral dimension.  I believe this latter point to be vital in any critical examination of this nation's problems.  As a nation, we have from the outset created a political entity with two fundamental tensions.  The first is the rights of the group vs. the rights of the individual.  We will never "solve" this, because there is no universal, timeless answer to this dilemma. Neither the Ayn Randists nor the Benthamites can be allowed to prevail.  The other (equally important) tension is between our competitive economic system, capitalism, and our cooperative political system, republican government.  There is little reason to think Americans will ever turn their collective back on capitalism, and even most of us on the left do not wish to "kill the goose that laid the golden egg". We wish for the Founders' expressed intent - that PEOPLE always be placed first - to be made consistently manifest when it comes to matters of policy, of law. As tempting as it is, the use of a term like "evil", in connection with something many Americans cherish (sadly) more than their bequeathed blessing of republican government, only adds heat to the debate; what we need is light!  As in, "Enlightenment."

Name: Ben Vernia
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Eric, here's Ben from Arlington, VA, to respond to Brad from Arlington, VA: corporate fear of Darwin may placate fundamentalist consumers, but Brad's limited definition of the goals of business ignore the long-term implications of caving in to this new medievalism.  Businesses (especially those wanting to sell the inexpensive, quality products Brad craves) turn increasingly to a little reality-based field called science.  (And, while I hate to disagree with you, Eric, I don't concur that the American Museum of Natural History deals in "culture.")  The rise of creationism and "intelligent design" is an utter rejection of the importance of reality that can and will have profound implications for the scientific advancement of our own society.  For those who think that the religious right's medievalizing ambitions are limited solely to natural history, the stem cell debate demonstrates that they're targeting our future, too.  Whether our technological society can continue to develop after we ostracize science is a question that most rational people would prefer not to test empirically.  So, even if you believe that corporations have no higher purpose than their economic viability, sitting on the bench in the war over evolution seems a bit shortsighted.

December 1, 2005 | 12:07 PM ET | Permalink

The president makes a speech for peace

Good evening, my fellow Americans:

Tonight I want to talk to you on a subject of deep concern to all Americans and to many people in all parts of the world the war in Iraq. 

I believe that one of the reasons for the deep division about Iraq is that many Americans have lost confidence in what their Government has told them about our policy.  The American people cannot and should not be asked to support a policy which involves the overriding issues of war and peace unless they know the truth about that policy.
...
The war was causing deep division at home and criticism from many of our friends as well as our enemies abroad.

In view of these circumstances there were some who urged that I end the war at once by ordering the immediate withdrawal of all American forces.

From a political standpoint this would have been a popular and easy course to follow.

For the future of peace, precipitate withdrawal would thus be a disaster of immense magnitude.

A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends.

Our defeat and humiliation in Iraq without question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest.

This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere.

Ultimately, this would cost more lives.

It would not bring peace; it would bring more war.

For these reasons, I rejected the recommendation that I should end the war by immediately withdrawing all of our forces. I chose instead to change American policy on both the negotiating front and battlefront.
...
We are Iraqizing the search for peace.

Under the plan, I ordered first a substantial increase in the training and equipment of Iraqese forces.
...
—The Iraqese have continued to gain in strength.  As a result they have been able to take over combat responsibilities from our American troops.
...
We have adopted a plan which we have worked out in cooperation with the Iraqese for the complete withdrawal of all U.S. combat ground forces, and their replacement by Iraqese forces on an orderly scheduled timetable. This withdrawal will be made from strength and not from weakness. As  Iraqese forces become stronger, the rate of American withdrawal can become greater.

My fellow Americans, I am sure you can recognize from what I have said that we really only have two choices open to us if we want to end this war. -I can order an immediate, precipitate withdrawal of all Americans from Iraq without regard to the effects of that action.

-Or we can persist in our search for a just peace … through continued implementation of our plan for Iraqization if necessary a plan in which we will withdraw all our forces from Iraq on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the Iraqese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.

I have chosen this second course.

It is not the easy way.

It is the right way.

It is a plan which will end the war and serve the cause of peace not just in Iraq but in the Pacific and in the world.

In speaking of the consequences of a precipitate withdrawal, I mentioned that our allies would lose confidence in America.

Far more dangerous, we would lose confidence in ourselves. Oh, the immediate reaction would be a sense of relief that our men were coming home. But as we saw the consequences of what we had done, inevitable remorse and divisive recrimination would scar our spirit as a people.

In San Francisco a few weeks ago, I saw demonstrators carrying signs reading: "Lose in Iraq, bring the boys home."

Well, one of the strengths of our free society is that any American has a right to reach that conclusion and to advocate that point of view. But as President of the United States, I would be untrue to my oath of office if I allowed the policy of this Nation to be dictated by the minority who hold that point of view and who try to impose it on the Nation by mounting demonstrations in the street.

And so tonight to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans, I ask for your support.

SOURCE:  Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, pp. 901-909, excerpted, here.  Editor's Note: the word “Iraq” has been substituted for the words “Vietnam” and “South Vietnam” in the speech above; Approximately 27,000 U.S. soldiers, and millions of Vietnamese and Cambodian citizens died during the phase of the war Nixon termed “Vietnamization” before the president was forced to resign in disgrace and his successor, Gerald Ford, was forced to admit the futility of the war and accept America’s defeat.

Altercation Book Club

"The Battle over Merit" by Jerome Karabel.

Because of the Big Three’s dependency on powerful external constituencies, the tilt of their admissions policy has historically been toward the privileged. For it is the children of the established elite who are most likely not only to be the big donors of the future but also to supply the prominent alumni whose very success reinforces the prestige of the elite colleges. Yet Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have also been well aware that it is possible to overinvest in traditional elites, especially when they show signs of decline. The solution was to diversify the institutional portfolio to strengthen its connections to rising social groups — a strategy followed most dramatically by Yale in the late 1960s when, in the context of the emergence of postindustrial society and the increasing prominence of science and technology, it shifted its policy toward the brilliant children of the “new class” of credentialed professionals while
eliminating the last vestiges of anti-Semitism.

Yet at certain historical moments — especially in periods of social crisis, when the legitimacy of the system itself is in question — the elite colleges will reach out beyond the privileged to the disenfranchised. They do so not because the visible presence of previously excluded groups adds to the diversity of their students’ educational experience, but because it reinforces a belief — crucial to the preservation of the social order — that success in America is a function of individual merit rather than family background. Both the origins and the institutionalization of race-based affirmative action may be traced to a recognition by the elite colleges that the continued exclusion of a highly visible and restive segment of the population would undermine the legitimacy of the nation’s major social institutions.

These three tasks — the recruitment of the children of the traditional elite, the incorporation of talented members of rising social groups, and the inclusion of a sufficient number of the children of the disenfranchised to maintain the system’s legitimacy — have framed the admissions policy of the Big Three. But in recent decades, as inequality has grown and insurgent movements have receded, the pressure to further incorporate the disadvantaged has waned at the same time that the efforts of the privileged to maintain their privileges have intensified. So great has been the pressure on elites that in large cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, the competition to get into the preschool that will supposedly put Junior on the track to Harvard has become fierce. An ever more ferocious competition for admission into the “right” kindergarten follows, complete with test scores, letters of recommendation, and interviews. In recent years, the frenzy has become so great that parents have begun to hire private counselors, at fees of $500 to $4,000, to guide them through the kindergarten admissions process and to prepare their four-year-olds for interviews and aptitude tests.

The rush for the best preschools and kindergartens is just the beginning of a long process in which privileged but anxious parents try to maximize their children’s chances of gaining admission to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other prestigious colleges. Apart from the perennial battle to gain entry into the most prestigious elementary and secondary schools, there is the question of the child’s nonacademic development, for one-sidedly intellectual students, however brilliant, are generally viewed unfavorably by the leading colleges. So the quest to develop skills — athletic, musical, or artistic — that will later serve as “hooks” to attract the attention of elite college gatekeepers begins at ever-earlier ages, with expensive private lessons and summer camps viewed by many parents as indispensable. By secondary school, aspirants to the Big Three and similar colleges are busy filling their résumés with extracurricular
activities that demonstrate “leadership,” “character,” and commitment to “service.” Not to be ignored are the SATs, for weak scores can ruin the chances of otherwise promising candidates; hence the growth of a vast industry of coaching firms like Stanley Kaplan and Princeton Review and the rise of SAT tutors for the affluent. Finally, there is the culmination of this entire process — the act of selecting which colleges to apply to and determining how to maximize the candidate’s chances of gaining admission. Increasing numbers of students — including many at some of the nation’s leading private schools — have decided that the stakes are so high and the decisions of gatekeepers so mysterious that it is imperative to obtain the assistance of high-priced college consultants, the most sought after of whom charge fees that approach $30,000 per candidate. So great is the pressure on college applicants that Harvard Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons and two colleagues recently released a paper on “burnout” expressing concern that too many students “seemed like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.” For college placement counselors, too, the pressures to get students into the Big Three and other elite universities can at times prove too much. In 1996, the college counseling office at the Middlesex School discovered that a former college placement counselor and faculty member (himself a graduate of Middlesex and Harvard), who was then on sabbatical teaching at Harvard, had falsified figures in the catalogue, exaggerating the numbers of students who had enrolled at the Ivy League universities, Stanford, and other prestigious colleges. When he returned to Middlesex in the fall of 1997, the headmaster confronted him about the matter. He confessed and requested a leave of absence. But a friend reported that he “fell apart” after the meeting. A week later he undressed, waded into the ocean, and drowned himself. His suicide note apologized and read in part: “Please use part of my funds to compensate the school for their financial expenses related to my actions . . . I cannot compensate for all the other damage I have caused.”

The underlying source of the enormous stress surrounding college admissions is that even the privileged classes are no longer confident that they can pass their position on to the next generation. True, the children of families with high levels of cultural and economic capital enjoy a tremendous advantage in the competition for admission to the elite colleges, and they continue to occupy the vast majority of places in the freshman classes at institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. But under the current system, they, too, have to compete, and the majority of them are destined to fail in their quest for admission to the Big Three.  Even those families that manage to get their children into the preparatory schools with the closest historic ties to the Big Three are unlikely to succeed; Groton, Exeter, and St. Paul’s, which as recently as 1954 sent roughly two-thirds of their graduates to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, saw the proportion of their graduates there drop by 2000 to 22, 14, and 10 percent, respectively. As a consequence, deep apprehension about college admissions now extends to the highest reaches of the upper class. At the same time, the children of the working class and the poor are about as unlikely to attend the Big Three today as they were in 1954. It is no exaggeration to say that the current regime in elite college admissions has been far more successful in democratizing anxiety than opportunity.

From THE CHOSEN: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by Jerome Karabel.  Copyright (c) 2005 by Jerome Karabel. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

You can find the book here.

Alter-review

The great Bonnie Raitt, live at the Beacon Theater last night, and “Souls Alike”

By Sal, NYCD

Live, last night:

Maybe Bonnie Raitt forgot she had a career before 2001.  Her 100 minute set at the Beacon Theatre on Wednesday night relied heavily on her last two albums.  But the bright side of this, is that by focusing on her last two, very strong releases, she spared us her 90's output, as well.  So, while many longtime fans might see the glass as half-empty, I will take the other side and proclaim Miss Raitt's performance a huge success.

The band, anchored by the brilliant New Orleans keyboardist and vocalist, Jon Cleary, and longtime rhythm section of Hutch Hutchison and Ricky Fataar, let Bonnie's voice takeover the hall, by never overplaying, and complimenting her near-perfect voice with understated backing vocals.

The short stripped down set in the middle, featured Bonnie on acoustic paying tribute to one of her heroes, Sippie Wallace, with a killer version of "Women Be Wise," where Jon Cleary showed off his Professor Longhair-type chops on piano.

Miss Raitt was in a great mood and let the crowd know she was thrilled to be back in NY.  Closing the show with the gorgeous new ballad "The Bed I Made" and her "standard," "I Can't Make You Love Me," was a perfect way to end a solid and satisfying show.

Over to you, ERA...

(Eric adds:  You know, I saw a glass half-empty show, since I am a strong partisan of the seventies’ Bonnie Raitt.  On the other hand, it warmed my heart to see her in such good spirits, and more significantly, in great voice, which has deepened and matured with age, only to her advantage.  Back to Sal...)

“Souls Alike”

Thanks to New Orleans own Jon Cleary, Bonnie Raitt is back to making records that matter. Since Cleary's addition to Miss Raitt's band in 2002, she has released two stellar albums. The first "Silver Lining," and now "Souls Alike."  Cleary's musical direction has taken Bonnie away from the glossy, over-produced pap that bogged down most of her 90's output, and brought her back to her roots.

"Souls Alike" does not feature any Raitt originals, but the material is solid, ranging from New Orleans funk, swampy southern blues, and one of the most beautiful ballads I have ever heard, "The Bed I Made," highlighting Miss Raitt's soulful singing.  This record is a winner and one of my faves of 2005.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Rob Stafford
Hometown:  San Diego
Dr. A.—
Seems to me that you & Brad are saying the same thing—you call it cowardice, he calls it smart business, as if it is a choice with one right answer.

The simple fact is, it’s both.  Smart business, at any level below that which will bring in the police or the lawyers (and often well past that point) involves screwing your customers & your employees as long and as hard as possible.  Part of screwing your customers is convincing them that you at the head of the corporation share core values with them, all the while trying to bait & switch, up-sell, downgrade service, & all the other exciting tricks we run into any time we talk to our cell phone company or get a quote from a plumber or mechanic who knows he has us over a barrel.

Clearly, profit is king in America, and clearly, also, capitalism has generated immense wealth for us here.  But as we have seen a thousand times in American history, unbridled capitalism always ends up with the little guy getting the shaft—from child labor & sweatshops to union busters, love canal & asbestos companies still not taking responsibility for their workers 2,000 years after the Romans identified it as “the evil mineral,” when the bottom line is profit, evil (let’s not mince words—what else would you call it?) decisions are made.

I also would like inexpensive, quality products.  But even more so, I would love to live in a world that wasn’t five minutes from slipping into a “war of all against all.”

Best from sunny California—now light one villain.

Name:  K.Carlson
Hometown: 
New York (sent to Whatliberalmedia@aol.com)
Hey Doc,
I couldn't find a way to contact you on today's MSNBC blog (you tryin' to hide?) so I googled your name and found this address on one of your sites.... Anyway, my reason for writing is to bring your attention to this (in case you haven't seen it or otherwise been alerted to it).

The Grateful Dead has decided to pull the plug on file sharing of its shows on the Live Music Archive.  Shows will still be available for streaming, but fans can no longer download the files.  The band's given reason?  They claim that the one-stop-shopping aspect of the archive diminished the "community" aspect of traders that had evolved over the years.

My guess for what's really happening?  Sales of recent vault releases (Dick's Picks, Truckin' up to Buffalo, the Fillmore '69 run, etc.) were lower than expected and the band blamed the Internet in general (and the Archive in particular), much like the rest of the recording industry. Plus, it turns out that commercial release of concert recordings can produce yet another revenue stream--not a small issue for a band that gained much of its income from touring and yet can no longer do so on such a grand scale.... 

Many of the so-called "jam bands" now release "instant live" recordings of shows (RatDog, the Allmans, and moe. are doing this, just to name a few).  The discs are relatively cheap and they're often available right after the show you've just seen.  Plus, some bands are releasing "vault" recordings through downloads--to be purchased, sometimes with different prices for varying quality (e.g., mp3 vs. FLAC) online (see: Widespread Panic, Yonder Mountain String Band, the Grateful Dead) or offering live recordings that can be ordered exclusively from the band's own Web site (see: Dave Matthews Band).

In other words, it turns out there's actually a market for this product--recordings of live concerts--and so the Grateful Dead is now, contrary to the band's longstanding policy, trying to cash in on the action.  Hey, I appreciate the intellectual property argument as much as the next guy, and I can't blame a band or artist from trying to satisfy a market demand and thereby make some money in the process.  But given the Dead's supposed anti-commercial history--rarely overlooked in their marketing efforts, by the way--I can't help but think this is a major bit of hypocrisy.  I wonder if Jerry is spinning in his grave today....  And if he is, if the remaining members of the band will try and record it and sell soundboard copies of it online....

Eric replies: Relax, ye of little faith….

Name:  Josh
Hometown:  Florida
Dr. Alterman,
In response to Brad from Arlington, I'm wondering if it would be a-okay by him if corporations were to stop investing money in scientific research that may offend religious conservatives?  That's not just a rhetorical question.  I happen to work in finance.  I also have some close friends who work as professional scientists for large corporations, giving me the opportunity to pick their brains about what the thinking is in their culture.  It isn't just about charitable giving or supporting museums.  It's about the larger picture.  Charitable giving, in the form of supporting a museum wins you things in the short term, i.e. tax write-offs.  It also wins you things in the longer term, like interesting children in science--those same children these corporations will be trying to recruit down the road as researchers and thinkers.  With decisions like the refusal to support the Darwin exhibit and the Kansas veto of evolution, my friends in the scientific community are worried about the future of American innovation and competition.  Brad's view that "Personally, I'd rather have corporations simply selling me inexpensive, quality products," is a narrow one, indeed.  If American corporations are to become beholden to a small but vocal group of religious extremists, the future is not promising, economically or culturally.

Name:  Dave Coomber
Hometown:  Wilmington, DE
Dr A.,
Over the past couple of days I have been reading on your site evidence that people do not really understand what is behind the desperate situation defined benefit pensions are in.  I would start off by referring to the NYT's Nov 9th article "Pension Inquiry Shines Spotlight on Assumptions" and "Pension Accounting Rule, Sometimes Murky, Is Under Pressure," in the Nov. 8 NYT.  This is mostly about GM, but it applies to many.  Ken Ward thinks "It should be a crime for Directors and Officers of large Corps to allow themselves to be in such a poor financial position regarding other people's retirement funds." It really goes way beyond that. When a large portion of your income is based on bonuses and stock options, there is a very meaningful incentive to make your company look profitable and have a rising share price. One of the tools available is to manipulate the books (legally) by using phony assumptions about growth of assets in the pension fund and thus your obligation to fund it. You see, this is not the result of incompetent managers.  This was done purposefully in an effort to maximize the executive's income.  Smart people like this deserve a tax cut don't they?  Simple as that for most of the cases where there is a problem. I would also point out that most of these pensions are at union shops. Union leadership have had more than 50 years to force companies into creating pension funds that have no ties to the original company. It would seem that union leaders also had an incentive to ignore this and produce bigger paychecks instead of future security.

Name: John Hopkins
Hometown:  München, Germany
Eric, concerning the piece by Martin van Creveld, "Costly Withdrawal Is the Price To Be Paid for a Foolish War."  Anyone that didn't think this would happen in the end is not much of a student of history.  From the very beginning of this assault upon a sovereign nation that did not have the means to attack the U.S., withdrawal - leaving Iraq weak, open to civil war, dominated by Iran eventually (at least the regions containing oil) and the entire Middle East region much less stable than before - was a foregone conclusion.  Anytime a system in balance is changed the system becomes unbalanced until it finds it's new equilibrium.  But in this case, the new equilibrium will not be good for the U.S.  To me it's always been a no-brainer that this would be the result.  From an American living in Europe who has to continually apologize to my fellow workers for our government's stupidity.

Name:  Isaac Luria
Hometown:  University of Florida
Eric,
I think Steve, like many people, doesn't see the value of blogs because he also doesn't see the most critical failure of the MSM.  Namely that they focus myopically on "the news" and provide zero context or background.  Almost without exception, the people I know who still like Bush do not read the news, while people I know who read the news everyday universally dislike him.  I blame this on the fact that the MSM reports the facts without connecting any dots.  You HAVE to read the news everyday to actually learn what's important about it.  You have to connect the dots yourself.  Blogs are valuable despite Steve's observation that they don't create anything new, they don't investigate, they simply recycle and condense news from other sources.  Blogs provide the kind of context that MSM outlets refuse to and they keep important stories alive long after the gullible MSM has fallen for the latest Paris Hilton publicity stunt.  The "responsible and accountable" MSM would have let the Downing Street Memos disappear into oblivion without blogs to wave the story in their faces for weeks before they picked it up.  Another example, the story of Naeem Khan's outing by the White House.  The MSM reported it, but you wouldn't know that it was anything important without blogs like Metafilter and here is the Wikipedia page on the subject.  The blog coverage of this topic has a unique flavor because they reference older sources and connect the dots to tell the whole story instead of just repeating White House press releases and speeches without pointing out the contradictory things said months ago.  It's as if MSM reporters can't even remember what they wrote 3 weeks ago.  This all wouldn't be so bad if the MSM didn't punish those of us who do read the news everyday by beating the same tired old crap to death (Michael Jackson is STILL a creep and Natalie Holloway is STILL missing, wow.  Don't strain yourself, CNN).  As such, it's hard to blame the uninformed for avoiding the news, it sucks after all.  I think blogs are a step in the right direction for fixing this problem.  Sure they are not always accurate, neither is the MSM, but at least they're interesting, far-sighted, and actually provocative instead of faux provocative like Tucker Carlson.  As for Steve's phantasmal accountability, note today's (Nov. 30) Altercation.  WSJ's op-ed page number 1?  Need I say more?

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments