Dec. 5, 2003 | 11:47 AM ET

KERRY CONUNDRUM CONTINUED

What in the world are we going to do about John Kerry? While his numbers were apparently collapsing in New Hampshire yesterday, Kerry sat down for two hours in Al Franken’s living room with about a dozen and a half journalists, writers and the odd historian, poet and cartoonist. It was all on the record and yet, it was remarkably open, honest and unscripted. Let’s be blunt. Kerry was terrific. Once again, he demonstrated a thoughtfulness, knowledge base and value system that gives him everything, in my not-so-humble-opinion-he could need to be not just a good, but a great president. I feel certain that just about everyone in that highly self-regarding room left deeply impressed. But Kerry is not going to be anointed president by a group of Upper West Siders who agree on most things, even if we don’t on the war. If he is to have any chance at all, he is going to have to win back Dean voters, but quickly.

After Al and Rick Hertzberg introduced him, I put this to Kerry as the first question: “Senator,” I said (or something like this), “I think you may be the most qualified candidate in the race and perhaps also the one who best represents my own liberal values. But there was one overriding issue facing this nation during the past four years and Howard Dean was there when it counted and you weren’t. A lot of people feel that that moment entitles him to their vote even if you have a more progressive record and would be a stronger candidate in November. How are you going to win back those people who you lost with your vote for this awful war?”

Kerry and I had what candidates call a “spirited exchange” in which he defended his vote. He said he felt betrayed by George Bush, whom he had believed, had not yet made up his mind to go to war when the vote was taken. He never expected a unilateral war given the way Powell, Scowcroft, Eagleberger and others were speaking at the time. He defends his willingness to trust the president of the United States, but now realizes that this was a big mistake. At one point, after answering somebody else’s question, he turned back to me and pointedly-one might even say “passionately”-insisted, “And Eric, if you truly believe that if I had been president, we would be at war in Iraq right now, then you shouldn’t vote for me.”

It worked for me. But of course, I’ve now spent four hours with the guy and liked him to begin with. He still has the problem-perhaps unsolvable-of how to break through to Dean voters in the short amount of time he has left when the media has their storyline already and no candidate gets to say anything that lasts more than a few seconds. (It’s a hell of a way to pick the guy who could, if he felt like it, nuke the planet out of existence.)

It’s true, I think, that Kerry improves the closer you look-and I don’t mean the guy’s hair. (That’s Mickey’s beat.) He does as well as Clark and better than anyone else in a one-on-one match-up against Bush. And it’s just crazy to say that you want Dean to get the nomination if you don’t believe he can beat Bush. Voting, as I keep having to say over and over to you silly Nader voters, is not therapy; it’s choosing between available alternatives. Dean is not a sure loser in November, but he is a much, much harder sell than Kerry, Clark, Gephardt or Edwards. And fair or not, this ought to give one pause.

After the meeting broke up, Art Spiegelman tried to tell Kerry that he should just stand up, and in a clear, unmistakable fashion say, “I was wrong to trust President Bush with this war. I thought he would do the things he promised before embarking on this war but I now see I gave him more credit than he deserved. I wish I could have that vote back but I can’t. Now the thing to ask ourselves is where do we go from here and who’s the best person for the job?” I second this emotion. Sure, a lot of self-important pundits-a least of couple of them English-born— would mock Kerry for admitting he made such a mistake. But most people would admire it.

Even in the SCLM, one of the things that most infuriates people about Bush is his unwillingness to admit a mistake no matter how obvious it is to the rest of the world. Kerry could simultaneously humanize himself and re-introduce his record and values to the Dean supporters who have deserted him. But time is short. And saying this kind of thing is hard for a proud man. But as Kerry himself pointed out, we have a dysfunctional government and this is the most important election facing America since 1968. America, as many of us know her and love her, may not survive another four years of this administration’s horrific combination of audacity, incompetence, ideology and mendacity.

Just to be clear, I do not endorse candidates. I make observations. Personally, I see much of value in all the major Democratic candidates, though I like Lieberman a lot less than the others. Which one I personally like or even admire the most however, is not really of any concern, even to me. I represent a tiny sliver of the electorate that can’t even elect a mayor of New York City. All I care about in 2004, as a citizen, a father, a patriot, a non-Christian, and a member of the “world community” is saving the country from four more years of a catastrophe I believe to be inevitable should George W. Bush win his first honest election to the presidency.

I have a deeply unrequited love for Mike Kinsley, who is perhaps the best American political columnist of all time, but the charming Mrs. Kinsley-she is charming, though I doubt that’s her name— really ought to rein the boy in when he talks about Salon. It is unseemly for a Microsoft-backed venture to pick on a scrappy independent, whether deserved or not.

Hey, he’s still here, giving new meaning to the term, “new blood.”

Alter-reviews: I’m listening to the new Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings on Fantasy. This fellow is absolutely right when he says,

“The importance of what the MJQ did with this and their following Atlantic albums cannot be over-estimated. They changed the face of jazz. They were in the forefront of the movement to take jazz out of smoky clubs and recreate it in a concert setting - which went a long way toward ‘legitimizing’ a form of music which many still considered disreputable and unfit for polite company. Their music was ‘chamber jazz,’ music you could listen to in a drawing room, but Lewis’s baroque excursions were always balanced by Jackson’s blues-drenched vibes, which could simultaneously weave an intricate counterpoint to the piano’s lines and swing with an element of what would later be called ‘funk’ or ‘soul.’”

The sound is fine and the packaging, OK, tasteful and understated. Amazon has a track listing here.

These Amazon lists can be interesting. People who bought MJQ also bought: Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Beetoven, Bach, The Who, and Duke Ellington, and Cassandra Wilson. Does this tell us something important or trivial? Could just be a random gift list. Or it could mean taste is taste.

Pierce’s Corner:
Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Look, over there! A missing coed! Michael Jackson! Scott Peterson! Look, quick! A fake president with a fake turkey! Look!

Look!

Whatever you do, don’t look over, ah, here, where the Justice Department this week went before its good friends and poker-pals on the Supreme Court to argue that the president has an untrammelled right to announce that the country is at war whenever the president says it is, that he doesn’t even have to specify an enemy — “Evil” or “terror” apparently will suffice — and that, in pursuit of this war, the president can imprison anyone he wants for as long as he wants to, beyond the reach of any legal remedy, and that these powers are not subject to check, balance, or review by anyone anywhere at any time, least of all by the Supreme Court, which has no business interfering with the president’s untrammeled right to create and sustain his own wars. The Bill of Rights exists only at the whim of the Executive branch.

Period.

That is what your government argued this week — and, get this, it did so over the signature of The Merry Widower Himself, Ted Olson, career dirty-tricks operative and Solicitor General of the United States. (Note To Ralph and the Greens: I’m sure that Al Gore would have appointed him, too.) It is impossible to imagine that Olson believes any of this as a matter of principle — He seriously would support similar powers granted to, say, President Hillary Clinton? — especially if one believes David Brock’s account of Olson’s encouraging him to keep the pot boiling under the spurious theories concerning Vince Foster’s suicide. A truthless mouthpiece for a lawless policy. Consistent, anyway.

Mini-AlterReview: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is the gold-nugget highlight of the Concert For George. Eric Clapton gets the same chnce to fool around with the horns that Duane Allman did on “Loan Me A Dime” long ago.

And Stupid’s:
Hey, Eric, it’s Stupid (or at least a little boring) for me to keep writing about Iraq, since by now anyone kind enough to be reading could predict what I will say. But I’d like to mention Leslie Gelb’s NYTimes op-ed, which asked why does Iraq have to be preserved as a federal-style nation? Wouldn’t a confederacy, or even outright split into three nations (Kurdistan, a Sunni-middle and Shi-ite south) make more sense? If nothing else it would reassure the Sunnis that they won’t become a persecuted minority. If given a choice would the Iraqis prefer this? Are we ignoring the lessons of Bosnia and other examples of ethnic partition leading to reduced violence? I don’t know, but these seem to be reasonable questions to ask.

I’ve always been troubled by gambling. I think it should be legal (people should be allowed to do what they like as long as they aren’t hurting others), but is there anything more socially regressive? I don’t know any upper-middle class gamblers but I know plenty of working class gamblers - indeed, I’ve seen the populist dream of working class whites and blacks happily commingling...at the casino. But what nauseates me is how Democrats and Republicans alike have worked this phenomena into a regressive tax. Here in Illinois you have poor people subsidizing rich people’s schools through the lottery and casino taxes. It’s also been our experience that those predictions that legalized gambling will bring corruption proved true.

My wish has always been to require all gambling revenues be spent locally. If someone buys a lottery ticket in a poor neighborhood, the money goes to the school in that neighborhood, not a general fund. This would also help neighborhood businesses, which could make a “shop here and support the community.” But my true wrath is towards all those sports talk radio stations (including ones owned by ESPN/Disney) which advertise for illegal offshore internet gambling. Not only is that as wrong as advertising for, say, a crack house, it’s denying the community ANY REVENUE from gambling. The broadcasters are taking advantage of a Supreme Court ruling that struck a broader FCC prohibition on such advertisements, and until the FCC can get out of the deregulation business and do its job this obscenity will continue. I hate to say it but kudos to Bill Pryor, the only state A.G. I’ve seen that has tried to do anything about this on a local level.

Re: Mr. Dark - hey wait, the Bible has sex, drugs and filthy words and I paid for my own copy. I’ve been had!

Eric writes:

I’ll be away all week beginning today on the Nation cruise. There will be a terrific array of alternate Altercators, but I won’t be checking the email until I return. Please keep that mind when expressing your outrage about any of the above.

Dec. 4, 2003 | 12:45 PM ET

RELIABLY REACTIONARY
So George Bush called up Robert Bartley to congratulate him on his Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Well, he earned it. Not in the sense that he served America or freedom; rather he served Bush and the movement on whose behalf Bush governs; the extreme right. Here are excerpts from an MSNBC.com column I published in July 2001, upon Bartley’s retirement announcement:

“For 29 years, Bartley, together with his large and energetic staff, practiced a form of journalism that is alien to most newspapers and newsmagazines. It was not typical editorial page opinion-mongering. It was not the objective style of reporting to which all national newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, aspire. It was something else entirely. Call it reported polemics, written in a style akin to an old fashioned Sunday sermon on hellfire and damnation As former PBS host Alex Jones once noted, Bartley’s pages had become “perhaps the most influential, most articulate, most ferocious opinion page in the country.” Moreover, he added, they were “without question the prime mover of conservative thought in America.”

Under the curiously soft-spoken Bartley’s direction, the Journal’s edit pages did more than make journalistic history; they made political history. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the economic historian Wayne Parsons has written, the Journal “had an absolutely vital role to play in disseminating and legitimating the ideas which became associated with Ronald Reagan and without its support it is difficult to see how the supply-side argument could possibly have achieved such a leading position in the economic policy debates.”

And during the 1990s, the same pages could take responsibility for keeping virtually every anti-Clinton rumor alive, no matter how far-fetched or lightly sourced. When White House aide Vincent Foster committed suicide in 1993, he left a note saying “the WSJ editors lie without consequence.” No indictable wrongdoing was ever found by a host of special prosecutors relating to Whitewater and its related “scandals,” but the Bartley’s team managed to write enough about them to fill six fat collections, which it proudly sells as if had discovered Watergate or Iran-Contra, rather than a non-scandal. Politically, having the imprimatur of the Journal allowed these stories to remain alive far longer than they otherwise would have, and may have been instrumental in fanning the flames that allowed Kenneth Starr’s investigation and the impeachment process, eventually, to take place.

Bartley and company are so deeply committed to their far-right view of the world that they are willing to contradict the reporting in their own newspaper. For instance, in 1980 a Journal reporter broke a story proving that an alleged $100 million administration cost offered up by a group of California oil firms protesting a new state tax, was, in fact, a wildly exaggerated estimate of the expense of administering the tax. Two days later, the editorial page noted that “according to one estimate, enforcement of the tax would cost taxpayers $100 million....”

Four years later, Washington bureau reporter David Rogers discovered that the CIA had been illegally mining Nicaragua’s harbors. The story ran on page six and was picked up by The Washington Post. Six days later, the editorial page, standing foursquare behind the contra war, criticized members of Congress for leaking the information to the Post. More recently, the paper’s reporters won a Pulitzer prize for exposing the misleading statements of tobacco company officials, leading to massive jury awards in tobacco liability cases. Meanwhile, Bartley and company ridiculed tobacco regulations as “further government-imposed nuisances, whose chief direct effect will be to make millionaires of a few more lawyers.”

When it comes to Bartley’s ideological opponents, all gloves come off and most journalistic rulebooks go out the window. During the 1984 election, as the Los Angeles Times has reported, the edit pages ran a story rejected by the newspaper about alleged connections between Geraldine Ferraro and the Mafia, based exclusively on the alleged connections between the mafia and her father. In the following election, it published rumors about Democrat Michael Dukakis’s psychological state; rumors that originated with Lyndon LaRouche, suggesting a “family history” of mental problems because his brother had experienced a breakdown.

While many marvel at the clarity of his vision and the eloquence of his voice, the people charged with policing journalistic ethics have never approved of Bartley’s tactics. In a lengthy profile in the Columbia Journalism Review, author Trudy Lieberman examined six dozen examples of disputed editorials and op-eds in the paper. She discovered that “on subjects ranging from lawyers, judges, and product liability suits to campus and social issues, a strong America, and of course, economics, we found a consistent pattern of incorrect facts, ignored or incomplete facts, missing facts, uncorroborated facts.” In many of these cases, the editors refused to print a correction, preferring to allow the aggrieved party to write a letter to the editor, which would be printed much later, and then let the reader decide whose version appeared more credible.

Frequently, the language one reads in Bartley’s pages is much closer to a Rush Limbaugh or a Bill O’Reilly television broadcast than to the Olympian tone employed by the editors of say, the New York Times or the Washington Post. Citizens committed to strengthening the protection of the natural environment find themselves lumped together as “cocktail party environmentalists in places like Cambridge and Sausalito.” Those who support consumer and safety regulation are termed “no-growth specialists, the safety and health fascists who try to turn real and imagined hazards to some political end.” As one critic has pointed out, this name-calling approach is not be limited to people. For example, one anti-regulation editorial referred to “so-called acid rain.”

While Bartley and company do not have many imitators in the world of newspaper journalism, (with the possible exceptions of Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times and Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post), they can take credit for spawning an entire form of argumentation that is now the rule, rather than the exception, on cable TV.

There’s a new “Think Again” column up over at American Progress. It’s by Husain Haqqani, and it details the catastrophe that the Bush administration’s neglect-together with the media’s-has brought to Afghanistan, as well as unhealthy effects on Pakistan; two very worrisome nations. Husain is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He has served as adviser to Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif and as Pakistan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka.

If you’re checking for it on Thursday, it’s should be here but if you need the archived version, its here.
To sign up for the Center’s amazingly comprehensive “Progress Report,” go here.

Alter-reviews:
I hesitate to recommend a book by a friend, but what the hell. Michael Waldman was Clinton’s chief speechwriter (and it’s true, he himself did not have sexual relations with that woman, so it wasn’t a lie). He has edited a terrific book, called My Fellow Americans: The Most Important Speeches of America’s Presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush great for putting under the Menorah.

It’s an anthology of the greatest presidential speeches, with a lot more than that. He wrote essays explaining the “backstage” story behind each one, and there are some fascinating photographs (like Lincoln getting ready to speak at Gettysburg - did you know that existed? I didn’t) and reproductions of speech drafts. One jumps out, from the Cuban Missile Crisis. For years, Kennedyphiles have claimed that JFK’s aides drafted only one speech - the one announcing a “quarantine” of Cuba. The book reproduces the other, long-missing draft, announcing the attack on Cuba. (My friend Mike says this would have been the last speech in the book - given the likelihood of World War III - a great line that he left out of the text for some reason.)

Ted Sorensen probably didn’t write it, but it’s there, anyway in cold type. The book also includes two CDs (narrated by George Stephanopoulos) with the voices of the presidents going back to the late 1800s. Some of the tapes are really fascinating, like a Truman whistle stop speech recorded in Iowa in 1948.

I have quarrels with various judgments in the book, but one sticks in my throat. Waldman includes Bush’s speech announcing the imminent invasion of Iraq. When I read an early draft of the book, I told Waldman that I thought his intro read like it was written by Karl Rove. Now that the war has turned out as it has, just reading Bush’s words are damning to him. For all the “revisionist history,” the stated reason for war was weapons of mass destruction. You can hear it on the CDs. I wish Waldman had been more forthright in calling Bush out, but close enough.

There is a sweeping idealism in the speeches of many of the Democratic presidents that we rarely hear today. I think some of that is a good thing (we don’t need another Wilson). But it’s hard to read and hear these without missing the ambitious optimism about government and even the strong presidency that these guys had. In this age of blinkered expectations, there is history of which we can all be proud.

Correspondents’ Corner:
Greetings,
Long-time reader, first-time e-mailer (altercater? Whatever). In re: the Warner Brothers cartoon DVDs, I went poking around when the Golden Collection set came out and found this site — http://looney.toonzone.net/ — which has a discussion forum on it — which has a long thread about the Golden Collection, including input from a cartoon historian (a historian of cartoons, not a ... ah, never mind) named Jerry Beck who was also a consulting producer on the set. He mentions definite plans for more DVD collections, presuming the first one does well.
This is the thread with the info:
You’ve got to go through it quite some distance, but he does mention that all the Warner Cartoons are going to be restored. In other words, whatever’s missing on the current set will be out at some point in the not-too-distant future. There’s mention of a “wave two” coming next year, and when someone asked if even the ‘censored 11’ — the racist toons mentioned by one of your correspondents — would be eventually released, the response was a straight-ahead “Yup!”
Check out Beck’s site at http://www.cartoonresearch.com/index.html; there’s an informative thread about restoration work on his own forums here. Hope this helps.
And a bit about music: let me recommend checking out a band called the High Dials, who have a CD out called A New Devotion. It’s tight, energetic, well-written mod rock with a nod to psychedelia here and there. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of High Dials supporter Little Steven Van Zandt, who picked out the band’s name. The band’s website may be found here  — with a link to Little Steven goodness here.
Take care,
Matthew Surridge

I’m sure you’ve heard about Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie “The Passion,” which tells the story of Jesus Christ in the original Jewish. According to Newsmax, America’s most trusted news source, Mel’s in trouble. He’s made some ivory tower Hollywood Big Shots angry, and now they want to burn all prints of this fine film about our Lord. In other words, it looks like Barbra Streisand is at it again! First she writes and directs that smear-job against Reagan, and now this!
You may think that the people complaining about Mel’s movie are just a few loudmouths expressing an opinion. Well, you’re wrong. According to Newsmax, these people have a “hidden agenda.” In other words, IT’S A CONSPIRACY!!!
Poor Mel! He needs our help! And pronto!
If we all get together and raise some money, maybe we can buy back “The Passion” from the money grubbers and save it from being burned. I say church groups across the land should have bake sales and give the proceeds to Mel Gibson!
We can also have book sales. I can donate copies of “See, I Told You So” and “The Late, Great Planet Earth” along with some Tom Clancy stuff. I also have a copy of Ann Coulter’s “Treason” which I spilled coffee on, but I bet we can still get $3.
We can’t expect Mel to carry the burden alone. He’s done so much for us and it’s time we did something for him.

Like me, you’re probably “mad as hell” because Hollywood liberal marxists have forced you to pay for movies containing sex, drugs and filthy words. Seems the only thing they want to censor is our Lord. We can’t let them get away with it this time!
Right now, here are three things you can do:
1. Send whatever you can to Icon Productions (Mel’s outfit), 5555 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038. Every little bit helps!
2. And while you’re at it, send a message to Barbra Streisand, c/o Martin Erlichman Associates, Inc., 5670 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 2400, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Tell her “Mel is swell! Leave our Mel alone!”
3. If you go to the Drudge Report, the Newsmax “Passion” pole will pop up. Newsmax is going to make sure that George Bush and Congress will all see their pole. Climb aboard! Mel really needs a pole like this behind him.
If you have any further ideas, send them to me or to Icon. And pass this message along to your friends. Let’s do it for Mel.
Yours in Christ,
John Dark

Dec. 3, 2003 | 12:45 PM ET

PARANOIA STRIKES DEEP

Paranoia Strikes Deep in Hollywood Heartland: David Horowitz is apparently so busy being paranoid and hysterical that he has to pay other people to do it for him just to keep up. Writing about Horowitz on his website FrontPage, someone named Jamie Glazer writes:
“Pretending Horowitz didn’t exist was not unique to Chomsky among leftists and took many forms. Eric Alterman, a commentator for MSNBC and a columnist for the The Nation, wrote a scathing review of The Politics of Bad Faith, but failed to discuss a single idea in the text. Instead, he passed on to readers Paul Berman’s unhinged claim that Horowitz was a ‘demented lunatic.’”

Just one problem. I never wrote a “scathing review” of the book in question or any review of any kind. Horowitz is really not worth the trouble of a “review” these days. What I did, actually, was refer to the book in an aside to a Nation column about something else. This is the third or fourth time I have read this complaint about the imaginary “review” from one of Horowitz’s acolytes on his website. I’ll quote the rest of Glazer’s paragraph just to give you a flavor of the level of demented lunacy that seems to be transmitted at the FrontPage water cooler:

“These attitudes towards Horowitz’s political deviance paralleled those that had caused Soviet dissidents, such as Andrei Sakharov, to be force-fed drugs in psychiatric hospitals. Alterman and Berman, of course, did not have the power to put Horowitz in an asylum-but it is clear from their own words that they wished they did. “When Horowitz finally dies,” Alterman wrote in the same review, “I suspect we will be confronted with a posthumous volume of memoirs titled ‘The End of History.’” The operative word here is finally. Leftists like Alterman evidently regret that Horowitz is still with us.”

Horowitz, by the way, seems to be in a contest with Norman Podhoretz to see who can wring more memoirs out of their allegedly heroic lives, and has apparently managed to farm out the job to a few of his minions as well for the purposes of promotion. This newest volume was published by something called “Spence Publishing,” where conservatives go, I guess, when it’s not good enough for Regnery. (And when you see your therapist Dave, you might want to mention that you keep bringing up this Berman quote for people who might have missed it the first ten times or so. What’s up with that?)

And here is Horowitz’s latest attempt to claim the mantle of Joe McCarthy from that upstart in a miniskirt, Ann Coulter. I see, though it’s not online, that my prodigal comrade Hitchens endorsed Horowitz’s latest missive in the pages of the L.A. Times Book Review. Sad, that. I wonder if Hitch will resign from Vanity Fair now that Graydon Carter has signed up to write an anti-Bush book, based on editorials that could have run in The Nation, except for the fancy paper.

Speaking of which, I think I forgot to mention this “Stop the Presses” column on Robert McNamara.

Not enough poison in our air and water. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Makin’ stuff up because you’ll believe anything.

Drudge has standards, it’s just that they don’t have much to do with those historically associated with journalism.

Neoconservatism: Helping others to Help Themselves to the Stockholders Cash…

Israel declares war on peace.

USA Today answers the burnin’ question, “Just what does the Lynch family eat for Thanksgiving?”

Quote of the Day: “What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label ‘Liberal?’ If by ‘Liberal’ they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of ‘Liberal.’ But if by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal,’ then I’m proud to say I’m a ‘Liberal.’”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy accepting the New York Liberal Party Nomination, September 14, 1960

Alter-reviews: I caught the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine with special guest Branford Marsalis at The Blue Note last night. Years ago, Leonard Feather wrote of Elvin: “His main achievement was the creation of what might be called a circle of sound, a continuum in which no beat of the bar was necessarily indicated by any specific accent, yet the overall feeling became a tremendously dynamic and rhythmically important part of the whole group. Jones moved away from the old concept of swinging toward a newer freedom...” At age 76, surrounded by musicians barely a third his age, Jones (who lives half the year in New York and half in Nagasaki) showed both chops and timing that had better not ever go out of style, Jones paid more tribute to Ellington than Coltrane, but swung the big, crowded room, just as God intended when he invented jazz. The music was both relaxed and precise, with each of the four horn players (Marsalis, Robin Eubanks, Duane Eubanks, Mark Shin) paying close attention to what came before and after, and building on it. And the bass player, Gerald Cannon, as Tom Waits used to say, “ought to be chained up somewhere.” Go, if you can.

In the CD Player: Capitol has put out a lovely new four cd box set of 101 Nat King Cole singles. Packaging and sound are both first rate, with more than decent liner notes. It’s called The Classic Singles, and it’s make-out music par extraordinaire. Is it any wonder that Tony Kushner’s “Caroline” can’t stop pining after the guy? Anyway, you should know about the Nat if you don’t. There’s a short bio here. Sinatra learned a lot from this guy and so could you.
(I see there’s a Blue Note tribute to him the week of Christmas with Monty Alexander, Freedy Cole and Clark Terry. See you there.)

Correspondence Corner:

ALTER-REMEMBRANCE OF A LOST TIME
Angels in America retrospection/anticipation edition

Early one evening in the autumn of 1994 we walk up from Union Square to Sutter Street and the Marines Memorial Theater where American Conservatory Theater is staging both parts of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. You can see part 1, “Millennium Approaches,” one night and then part 2, “Perestroika,” a week later. The whole megillah runs seven hours. If like us you are poor and in graduate school you can just about afford the cut-price tickets to the last dress rehearsal before the grand opening, which is what we are doing.

It is early in the evening as we hike up Mason Street because curtain time is 7:30, as ACT has scrupulously reminded all us patrons. There is so much to even one half of Angels it has to start half an hour before the traditional curtain-up, which yields the night’s first big belly-laugh: Roy Cohn bellows over the telephone to a tourist, “Cats! It’s about cats. Singing cats. You’ll love it. Eight o’clock, the theatre’s always at eight.” And, it is San Francisco — a city which, Angels in America tells us, heaven is much like — where in 1991 “Millennium Approaches” made its premiere and then left for parts East. When Kushner’s epic last graced a San Francisco stage it had only one part and ended with The Angel crashing through the ceiling of the theater to announce, “The Great Work Begins: The Messenger has arrived.” Then, three and a half years elapsed: so you can imagine the city, or anyway the theater-going part of the city, delighted finally to see the second half making its San Francisco premiere.

What follows, over two nights a week apart, is great spectacle and grand drama: Flying angels! Flaming Alephs! Heaven! Hell! The Mormon Migration! Ethel Rosenberg says the Kaddish, and looks pretty lively, considering.

The action in the play runs from Christmastime 1985 through the hint of a spring thaw in 1986, with an epilogue in 1990; this attention to the calendar — the calendar of seasons, of religious ritual — is important. So too is the attention to history, and to the theory of history: this play has a dialectician or two among its dramatis personae.

And in the course of the drama we are vouchsafed a second-hand glimpse of the millennium; Prior Walter, freshly minted a prophet, peers for the first time into the future and shouts, “OH! OH GOD NO! OH... That was terrible! I don’t want to see that!” — which apocalypse of the millennium year do you think he foresaw? — but it ends in hope, in a hopeful yet realistic request for a blessing, a limited blessing that is all a world too much in motion can expect. So we walk out into a fine autumn evening with a sense that maybe this small blessing at least, is something we deserve.

  • In 1994 Steven Culp played closeted gay Republican political operative Joe Pitt; Culp now plays the Republican House Speaker Jeff Haffley on The West Wing. (In the HBO version, Joe Pitt is played by Patrick Wilson, who was I believe four years behind me in school; go Chargers.)
  • Ben Shenkman played Louis Ironson, as he does again in the HBO movie.
  • I recall that just before curtain-up for “Perestroika,” director Mark Wing-Davey remarked that Kushner was still revising the script; he must have done something to it after that performance because the San Francisco cast appears in the published paperback.

Was it excessively innocent to feel cheered by such a play, by such a prognosis for a planet sick with AIDS and environmental degradation? Well, the millennium was still a long way off; it was still October of 1994 and you could read Tony Kushner in the paper glibly claiming that Bob Dole was the devil. Oy, Tony, if that’s what you think of Senator Dole you should see who’s waiting in the wings to eclipse him come November....

But possibly Angels’s limited hope amid the undeniable persistence of wounding history is still about all we can ask. Here’s hoping HBO does it justice. And, in 1994 Kushner said he’d someday write Angels part 3. More life....
—    Eric Rauchway, Associate Professor
       Department of History, University of California
       Davis, CA 95616

Dec. 2, 2003 | 3:15 PM ET

RALPH NADER AND THE ABYSS

Ralph Nader, the single individual on the entire planet who could have saved us from the presidency of George W. Bush simply by asking his supporters on election night to do the prudent thing, appears ready to do it again.

This website has been formed the Nader 2004 Presidential Exploratory Committee, which means Ralph is, at a minimum, flirting with ensuring Bush’s re-election. What was it Scotty used to tell Kirk vis-à-vis the Klingons? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

There can be no excuses for any intelligent progressive supporting Nader in 2004 after all we’ve seen from the White House for the past three years. Ignorance? Idealism? I did not put much faith in these arguments in 2000, but now, well, really war, tax cuts, Medicare, Kyoto, abortion.

Remember what Ralph said. “Not a dime’s worth of difference.” If Nader - who could not even bring himself to support Paul Wellstone in Minnesota - wants to further destroy what little remains of his reputation as a progressive leader with this Quixotic race, that’s his prerogative. But let’s be clear. The man is a menace to everything he once professed to represent, which makes him either delusional or hypocritical. I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t really care which explanation holds. Perhaps he’s both. I just hope the only damage he does is to himself, and not, once again, to his country. (via.www.politics1.com)

On this historic day, when the Israeli government is asking the U.S. government to ignore a historic Geneva ceremony that outlines for all to see the terms of a peace agreement commanding majority approval from majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians, let’s take a moment to contemplate these words:

“Continuing to build settlements is to threaten the Jewish character of the state and is to undermine the Zionist dream… My fear is that very soon, it is going to be too late.… Israel will need to choose between a democratic state with an Arab majority, or an apartheid state, and this is not what Zionism is about. We didn’t dream of Zion for 2000 years in order to be a minority in somebody else’s state.”

An Altercation contest? Who’s going to be the first to call Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, an anti-Semite? Of course he speaks for 900 affiliated synagogues across the U.S. and its 320,000 households, and 1.5 million American Jews-the largest affiliation in America, but it’s not as if he’s a gaycatholictoryweblogger or anything.

Speaking of which, David Remnick made this comment in response to an idiotic editorial in The New York Observer attempting to accuse John Updike and The New Yorker -yes, The New Yorker! - of anti-Semitism.

But it holds true for any number of discussions of this vexing issue, and the manner in which it is consistently manipulated by dishonest partisans for their own ends: “There is genuine vigilance, which is real and necessary, and then there is self-admiring nonsense that pretends to be vigilance.… In recent days synagogues were being bombed in Istanbul and defaced in France; many Jews in New York now worship in synagogues ringed with concrete barriers; and, meanwhile, the centuries-old tenets of anti-Semitism are thriving for countless people. …his is a serious situation requiring the .serious attention of serious people. And yet the editorialists of The Observer exercise concern about the phrase ‘rich Jew’ in a book review. Next week they will surely race to the barriers over a ‘poor Catholic’ or a ‘middle-class African American.’”

Reading list:
Bruce Cumings on Korea
Matthew Caserta on Joe Klein.

Alter-reviews: I saw Bruce Cockburn do a strong, too-short first set last week preceding an acoustic Hot Tuna show. Tuna were their old selves; not a lot different than when I saw them at the Colony Theater in White Plains in the winter of 1975; pretty much the same set list as well.

Cockburn, on the other hands, does not have Jorma’s chops (who does?) but he writes interesting, politically-tinged songs that are both musically interesting and stylistically eclectic. Cockburn is a first-rate guitarist with a calm, steadying stage presence. On Wednesday night at the Beacon, he even rated an enthusiastic encore from a crowd of diehard Tunaheads. (Tuna-ites? Tuna-ists? Tuna-teers?) I used to find myself in agreement with his politics, particularly when the Reagan administration was (undeniably) arming terrorists in Central America. Now I find myself indulgent of them because, well, he’s a folksinger (and a Canadian), which is more than a bit condescending, but there you are.

Anyway, if you like smart, sensitive, politically astute, musically interesting stuff, give Cockburn a chance. You can start with the greatest hits if you like. Go here.

I’ve been thumbing through my copy of According To The Rolling Stones. It’s a combination of interviews with Mick, Keith, Charlie and Ronnie Wood and some terrific photos. It is not quite as elaborate as the Beatles Anthology book, but that is as it should be.

The photos are great, and there are 350 of them, and the history is, well, like the way they contradict one another’s memories and don’t try and clean up the messy parts. I can’t see any Stones fan getting one for the holidays and being disappointed. If you’re in need of cheering up, you might want to get it for yourself. And as we all know, ”you can’t always get what you want...”

Gift-giving: Greatest Hits Packages that came out this year that you can feel perfect OK about giving people you don’t know that well, in say, an office Santa thing:

  • The Eagles (two CDs), the whole career, from Rhino;
  • Bonnie Raitt-the later stuff beginning with “Nick of Time,” in 1989, from Capitol;
  • Steve Miller Band, the whole career, pretty much, from Capitol;
  • Sheryl Crow, ditto, from A&M; and
  • Peter Gabriel, two CDs, one of hits, one of misses, from Geffen.

Here’s something to buy them if you want to do a little educating: Robinella and CCstringband; a little Emmylou, a little Alison Krauss, and a smidgen of Billie, read about ‘em, here; The Blind boys of Alabama, “Go Tell it On the Mountain,” with Tom Waits, Solomon Burke, Chrissie Hynde, etc; Diamond Jubilation: 75th Anniversary. If they don’t like this, they don’t like music (and you don’t like them).Surprised, but I really like this: Cyndi Lauper, “At Last,” on Sony, where she does more than justice to terrific set of eclectic choices. Take a look at the songlist here.My single favorite album of the year: Joe Strummer, “Streetcore,” on Epitaph.Correspondents’ Corner:
Dear Eric,
I hope you’re having a great holiday.
I’m not terribly concerned about the Warner Brothers marketing plan for the Looney Tunes cartoons on DVD — I think it’s safe to say that several more collections are on the way. What does concern me is that Warner Brothers likely intends to continue its policy of pretending that its “politically incorrect” cartoons don’t exist. These cartoons basically fall into two categories, those that contain stereotypes of blacks and the World War II cartoons which lampoon the Germans and the Japanese. While bootlegs of many of these titles can be found, Warner Brothers doesn’t like to talk about them. Some of the racial Looney Tunes cartoons are:

  • Goldilock and the Jivin’ Bears
  • Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
  • Tin Pan Alley Cats
  • Uncle Tom’s Bungalow
  • The Early Worm Gets the Bird
  • Jungle Jitters
  • Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time
  • All This and Rabbit Stew
  • Clean Pastures
  • Angel Puss
  • Confederate Honey

The World War II cartoons include:

  • Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips
  • Falling Hare
  • Scrap Happy Daffy
  • Daffy the Commando

Ominously, none of these titles are included in the Golden Collection.
Warner issued several collections of Looney Tunes cartoons on laserdisc in the early nineties. The first volume included “Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips,” but it was deleted when the collection went to a second pressing.
I appreciate the fact that some of these cartoons are offensive to many, but they have artistic and historical value and it’s a shame that Warner Brothers seemingly doesn’t want anyone to see them.
Rich Gallagher
Fishkill, NY

Dec. 1, 2003 | 3:15 PM ET
AIDS, U.S. POLICE STATE, MEDICARE, REVIEWS

Sure, terrorism is not chopped liver, but it is pales besides the level of threat humankind faces from the AIDS pandemic. Call me a bore on this topic. I can live with it. Tens of millions of people in the world cannot. In a BBC interview, Kofi Annan complains that the forty million people who are HIV positive may die in “a world where we have the means, we have the resources, to be able to help all these patients - what is lacking is the political will…. For people in some of the countries we are talking about, AIDS is a real weapon of mass destruction - and what are we doing about that?”

How is this story from Time qualitatively different from the treatment that one could expect in a genuine police state. In Gitmo, under us Government authority, “660 suspects from 44 countries, scooped up in the war on terrorism-cannot challenge their arrest or plead their case or even talk to a lawyer because the U.S. government denies that they have those rights: they are not U.S. citizens, and the base, while under total U.S. control, is not on American soil; since 1903 it has been leased from Cuba for 2,000 gold coins a year, now valued at $4,085 , in perpetuity.”

And did you know “U.S. officials said last week that they are holding roughly 5,000 “suspected terrorists” in Iraq, including 300 with foreign passports. But the officials won’t say where they are, frustrating Iraqis who are desperately looking for friends or family members who have disappeared. The last time Raed Karim al-Ani saw his brother Mohammed, 27, was in mid-May, when the taxi driver climbed into his battered 1983 Volkswagen and chugged out the driveway of his parents’ house. In early July two men came to the door to say they had seen U.S. soldiers pin Mohammed to the ground at a checkpoint, then haul him away.” (Also in Time.)

I did not do much on Medicare because I had nothing to add. This weekend Jeff Madrick wrote me of the awful bill Congress passed: “I am ticked about how so much of the media and others represent the benefits. It is not 75% of first $2250 of annual out of pocket drug costs. It is a maximum of 50 percent, and then only if you spend $2250. It is 40 percent if you spend $1500, 30 percent if $3,000 (no reimbursement after $2250 until $3900, I think.) The press leaves out the $250 deductible and the monthly fee of $35 in their calculations. Amazing. It is a modest benefit for the large majority, and good only for catastrophic cases.”

Let us now praise famous men: Socialist, gay and so very Jewish (according to his friend Maurice Sendak) that “it hurts your eyes,” Tony Kushner is the most talented, most original, and among the most humane artists working in American mass entertainment today.

“Caroline, or Change,” opens at the Public Theater today; the first half of Mike Nichols’s six-hour, star-filled, $60 million adaptation of Mr. Kushner’s epic “Angels in America” has its premiere on HBO next Sunday.

About Angels, I feel the way I felt when I first heard Prince’s “Dirty Mind” back in college. The thought I had then was, “Wait ‘till America finds out about this.” It’s an amazing, entirely alternative world that Kushner inhabits and one that will shock the kind of people who can take George Bush seriously. And to compare it to shlock like “The Reagans” is to demonstrate the wide gulf between what’s possible when artists take genuine chances to reach for greatness and when network television seeks to amass the greatest numbers it can in the cheapest, schlockiest way imaginable. I don’t object to the “history” in “The Reagans” any more than I object to it in Angels. Anyone who gets their history from a network miniseries deserves what they get. It’s not just Kushner’s script that makes Angels so amazing; it’s one of the single most impressive and inspiring works of theater-used in the widest possible sense-ever to make it on television in this country. I know they say “it’s not television,” but as my hero Larry David puts it, “you turn on the TV, it’s on, that makes it television.” Anyway, Mike Nichols has had a hell of a dry spell and Merryl Streep and Pacino have had some rough spots but, I’ll shut up now. Except about Parker Posey.

In the meantime, listen to me about “Caroline and Change.” It’s really something new. I haven’t had much time to go to the theater recently. But way back when, I saw “Rent” before it opened at the tiny New York Theater Workshop performance in the East Village and I saw “Ragtime” at dress rehearsal. This play is a step in a new direction just like those productions were, if not more so. Tony Kushner is brave, brilliant and ballsy American artist. He makes me proud to be an American Jew-if not a homosexual. The play-it’s an opera really—is somewhat autobiographical. Kushner was, like 8 year old Noah, brought up in Lake Charles, La., in a house that looks very much like the set of “Caroline, or Change.” The character of Caroline, the black maid, herself is modeled, in part, on that of the Kushner family’s own maid, Maudi Lee Davis. Noah, is part Kushner and part his brother, Eric. Kushner’s father is a clarinetist and his late mother was a bassoonist. But what he does with this material, well, we should all be so self indulgent. This Jeanine Tesori woman, who wrote the music, is some talent too-or must be. Hurry, while it’s still at the Public. You can read about the plot there.

The New Yorker is all over Tony today.John Lair is down with me about “Caroline and Change.” Nancy Franklin is down with me -and about a million other people- about how great “Angels in America” is. So too, the Times Arts and Leisure section. This is as it should be.

Quote of the Day, from the Rev. Moon’s Washington Times: “Despite the Pulitzer Prize it was just awarded, this play is not for White Bread America. It’s for people who eat bagels and lox, dress in drag and hate Ronald Reagan.”

Packer’s piece is finally online. It’s only 20,639 words.

It’s here! The Orgasmatron! Female Altercation readers are encouraged to undergo the trials and write about it in this space, exclusively, of course.

Correspondents’ Corner, if this were still Friday:
Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Eric — Because Every Day — even Thanksgiving Day — is Slacker Friday. Part XXIII.
During the extended JFK obsequies last weekend, I had one of those toss-the-remote moments when I heard Gerald Posner explain the stubborn persistence of conspiracy theories concerning the events in Dealey Plaza. It happened when Posner’s speculated that conspiracy theories survive because We — you know The People, see Madison, James: The Collected Works — find it hard to believe that a nut with a $12 rifle can take down a major historical figure.

I’m sorry, but this is all bollocks, as my cousins say. It is a perfect statement of the kind of infantilization that is central to our devalued national discourse. You heard the same sort of thing during the extended mishigas in Florida three years ago. “We” had to short-circuit the constitutional process because “We” couldn’t stand the length of time those processes would have taken. This, despite the fact that the country was doing just fine, and it had a president who, you know, really liked the job and likely would have worked the extra couple of hours it would have taken for Tom DeLay to steal the election in the House, the way the Founders intended. Instead, we had Tim Russert holding our binkies for us while Nino and Silent Clarence threw the Constitution under a bus.

Look at the pathetic doings in Washington this week. The Republicans passed a campaign commercial.There is not a single serious person who believes that the new Medicare feedbag — Subsidies for HMO’s and the Democrats couldn’t beat that? — will affect no change on any public problem at all. (And I will bet Bill Frist a dead cat that, when the prescription drug benefit is supposed to kick in in ’06, “budgetary considerations” will call for it to be “postponed.”) It has to do with positioning for the 2004 race, because all “We” are interested in is the horse race. The Congress passed a myth, a fairy tale, the equivalent of a Sense Of The Senate resolution that Unicorns Shall Be Preserved On All Federal Lands. But we got coverage of The Big Win and The Big Loss.

Bad things are making themselves permanent, and it’s time for people to notice. Barney Frank, who does not easily panic, has looked around himself and has seen the “end of parliamentary democracy” in America. HRC sees it, too. A general says one more bad terrorist episode and we’re Pinochet’s Chile. Mainstream political journalism is bad kabuki theater at best. We are spoken to like children, and we deserve (and should demand) better. Grow up, the lot of you down there. We’re already there, waiting.

Name:
Comments:

Eric, it’s Stupid to respond to Tomas Inguanzo’s challenge regarding the effect of ending the economic sanctions. And to wish everyone a great Thanksgiving.

Mr. Inguanzo criticizes my comparing the deaths of Iraqi children caused by 4 months of sanctions to the combined Iraqi war casualty figures because Iraqi children didn’t magically stop dying of disease and malnutrition the moment the sanctions were ended. This is true, but I wrote that by —accelerating— the removal of the sanctions (or should I say “genocidal sanctions”?) we saved those lives. In fact we probably saved even more: my “reality check” is that Iraq under Saddam was always a poor nation, even before the 1991 war. That’s what a militaristic state will do to you (see North Korea). Yes, my comparison involved a bit of time-shifting, and I’ll grant Mr. Inguanzo that we humanitarian hawks can’t assume arguendo that these gains will be achieved. But the history of Kurdish Iraq pre vs. post-Saddam augers well for the future. (Mr. Inguanzo also insists that violent crime deaths should be included in comparing the pre and post-Saddam mortality rates: no objection, but I count Saddam’s political assassinations as violent crimes). And I truly give him credit for hitting this question head-on: if there is more death and less freedom in post-Saddam Iraq, I’ll eat every pro-war word I ever spoke or wrote.

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