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Altercation

May 28, 2004 | 11:51 AM ET

Matt Yglesias has a fine “Think Again” column entitled "The Return of the 'Stab in the Back,'" which notes that a number of conservative pundits, including one employed to write a blog by MSNBC.com, are not all that attached to freedom of the press when it means freedom to disagree with a right-wing president.  (“Nice little First Amendment right you have there, be a shame if anything happened to it…”) 

Remember the archives are here and you can navigate the Center’s site from here.  If you want to read the Iraq plan cited by the Times editorial page as the way to begin to end this quagmire, start here.

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Why Slate might want to invest in a few fact-checkers:  Christopher Hitchens:  “I first met Dr. Ahmad Chalabi in the spring of 1998, a year when George Bush was still the governor of Texas and when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were talking at a high volume about the inescapable necessity of removing Saddam Hussein from power because of his continuous connection to terrorism and his addiction to weapons of mass destruction.”

So it’s all their fault, huh?  Well, where is evidence?  Where did either Clinton or Gore ever say, “We must invade and occupy Iraq against the will of the international community and without UN sanction even though the inspectors are dong their job?”  Keep reading.  Hitchens is now shilling for the “deep background” sources who deliberately misled the nation into this ruinous war and seems rather proud of it.  Can the world stand two David Horowitzes?  Where it all ends, knows God.

It never ends.  I watched a tape of Stanley Hoffmann opining brilliantly for forty minutes on Charley Rose —exactly the kind of informed, intelligent analysis TV (this side of Bill Moyers) almost never provides-- and then fast-forwarded to my tape of Charlie with Tony Kushner.  Instead I got Tom Ridge for what looked like a whole hour.  The way these warnings have been going, if Ridge and Ashcroft tell me to worry, I feel safer.  (Think I exaggerate?  It’s almost impossible to exaggerate when it comes to this bunch.  Anyway don’t take my word for it, get a subscription to the Wall Street Journal and take theirs.) (Why does the Wall Street Journal hate America?)

NEC admits to stealing money from schoolchildren.  I love capitalism.

Quote of the day:  "There is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House."
- Kelli Arena

There is also "some speculation" that Kelli Arena is the secret love child of Michael Jackson and Ahmad Chalabi.  I suppose that's up to CNN's standards of news verification as well....

Alter-review:  I know I’m already working too hard for a pre-holiday Slacker Friday, but I saw a wonderful “Down from the Mountain” type show last night at the Beacon.  The big thrill was my first-ever glimpse of Ralph Stanley as well as the never-get-tired-of-it loveliness of Alison Krauss’s voice.  The discovery of the evening, however, was the New York based Ollabelle, whose CD I’ve had on a bunch lately and who managed to combine so many influences in such an interesting fashion that you can listen over and over without hearing the same thing.  Another Americana band I’ve recently discovered but was not featured last night is Amelia who appear to hail from the Pacific Northwest and are more bluesy than bluegrassy.

Ever hear of Howard Tate?  I don’t remember if I ever did.  But look how great the guy is.  I’ve got “The Legendary Verve Session” on Hip-o-Select and I’m listening to it every day.

Meanwhile, when I want to hear black people talk dirty with music in the background, I generally skip the entire world of hip-hop and go right to source.  Sony Legacy has made this much easer by releasing “Shave ‘Em Dry,” a collection of the best of Lucile Brogan."  I kinda like Outkast, but I don’t think they’ll outlast this “lady,” who made these wonderful records between 1933 and 1935.

Onto the main event:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Doc --
I don't know about you, but I rather like Al Gore when he gets into that gravelly alt-rock thing he does when he's speaking now.  Reminds me of the voice The Master came up with for "Nashville Skyline."  Good speech, too.  Exactly what needed to be said, and about damned time, too.  Someday, when the historians study how someone as accomplished as Al Gore was effectively marginalized by a party without a conscience and kept press, they're going to be amazed that any of us had opposable thumbs.

Speaking of the latter, I was all in favor of the Junior Senator's notion about not formally "accepting" the nomination, so as not to give the Avignon Presidency five free weeks to whack him around.  After all, it was the R people who pushed their convention back so as to a) gain the fundraising advantage in the first place, and b) nominate C-Plus Augustus as close to Ground Zero as he can get without actually breathing the air down there.  And my feeling always has been you can't fight these bastards with conventional weapons.  Alas, bravely said was not bravely done, but it did give us a week of amusing howls from people like Little Russ and Dean Broder, which latter got into exalted dudgeon about Kerry's lack of respect for political institutions, especially ones with limitless vistas of open buffets. Tough luck, boys, said I. Buy your own damned shrimp.

Yesterday, prior to watching the Sox get vivisected by Oakland at Fenway last night, I was listening to The Radio Factor on my way home from work.  Now, I've followed Bill O'Reilly's career since he was just a baby megalomaniac on Boston TV.  It would not now surprise me in the least if, one night on TV, right there during The Memo, O'Reilly declared himself to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  So, I was not entirely shocked to hear him declare to a caller that he'd "destroyed" three institutions: Jesse Jackson's political operation, the ACLU, and rap music.

Well, I can't say as I've ever seen the books on Operation PUSH.  But I seem to recall that the ACLU now has about 400,000 members, and that it picked up 50,000 of them right after Sept. 11.  And I also note that, according to the Nielsen folk, the best-selling album of 2003 was recorded by 50 Cent, and that it sold almost 7 million units and, as far as I know, 50 Cent is rarely confused with Bobby Short.  So, what can I say, except, destroy me like you did them, Big Guy.  I can use the money.

Name: Stupid
Hometwon: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid that confession is good for the blog, so let me detail some of the wrong presumptions I made for supporting the war.  But first, I want to ask why we can't repeat history and have a "Resolution 1441" for Sudan -- i.e., stop the genocide in the west (just as you're ending the civil war in the south) or we'll start bombing government buildings?  Isn't this what the United Nations was for in the first place?   

Ok, my first mistake was thinking that a Republican administration would not be this fiscally reckless.  (I forgot David Stockman…).  I didn't buy the neocon argument that Iraq's oil would "fund the war," but the fact they even made this argument led me to believe that the costs were at least containable.  Freeing Iraq at the cost of ending the "Pax Americana" would be tragic, and I don't think that's overstating the budget implications: the deficit will eventually make us more isolationist.  As I mentioned, I never envisioned how poor postwar security would be, let alone the prisoner abuse scandal and the tone-deaf ear we reacted to it.  Or that the kow-towing to Ariel Sharon would be this complete. 

Worst of all, I was guilty of the hubris Nicholas Pisano discusses, including the failure to appreciate the horrors a real war brings (maybe that's something that post-Viet Nam generations share).  Some of my writing was disturbingly cavalier about that.  But Mr. Pisano's (seeming) call to isolationism is what I still react against.  The war does seem to be having a reforming affect in the region and that shouldn't be dismissed.  When I hear General Zinni talking-up the effectiveness of the sanctions, it doesn't sound to me like the war critics were putting Iraqis first.  Michael Soussan's piece in the New Republic supports that.  Many of us yearn for Plan B but it's not there yet.  Kerry needs to be more specific in what he would offer to garner international assistance (giving up Haliburton's inside tract on rebuilding contracts would be a good start), and frankly other nations need to stop being coy and lay out their terms.

Eric replies: “Ow.”

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Dear Eric,
The DVD of "Love Happy" is due out in a couple of weeks.  It's more of a quasi-Marx Brothers film, because Groucho never appears on screen at the same time as Chico and Harpo, but it does include an appearance by Marilyn Monroe at the age of 23.  Supposedly, Groucho told her that he had a role for "a young lady who can walk by me in such a manner as to arouse my elderly libido and cause smoke to issue from my ears."  She apparently met those criteria.

May 27, 2004 | 1:24 PM ET

There’s too much news today.  Everything you ever wanted to know about Judy Miller is available, one way or another, on Romenesko and here where you can also find the Pew survey which we’ve not discussed much either, but I think is pretty consistent with What Liberal Media if you are not an idiot. 

And then there’s the problem of the cover-up at the top regarding the torture scandal, coupled with the point that torturing didn't work very well even when judged on its own terms.  Coupled with the fact that Iraq seems to have turned into Heritage Foundation Happy Hour, Mid-East Division --talk about “torture”-- and noting that Al Qaida has fully reconstituted itself (and here), it’s everything I can do not to want to slam my friends who supported this bit of extended insanity against the wall and demand to know if they’re any better now.

Anyway, John Kerry's foreign policy is another big problem, particularly in light of Al Gore’s

Taken together, it’s all too much for a guy with a new (Sony) computer, which now needs a new printer, since mine doesn’t seem to connect, and has to completely re-load his iPod, and try to find a whole bunch of software discs that may never have made the move, without much help from Sony customer service, I might add.  Good thing for all of us that a number of people thought to write me about something other than lists of their favorite hip-hop records.  (Thanks for nothing, Siva.)  As Eric B. has been too busy with Rush to contribute much lately, Let’s begin with Dr. E, II.

From:  Eric Rauchway
Hometown:  Davis, CA
Amid the many portents of doom frolicking through the headlines you might have missed this particular True Sign of the Apocalypse:  the French -- the French -- are trying to explain Pragmatism to us.  Jacques Chirac told the president yesterday that "le transfert de souveraineté doit être réel, et perçu comme tel," which (unless I mis-heard my radio) NPR translated as "the transfer of sovereignty [to Iraq on June 30] must not only be real but must be seen to be real."  To which I confess my initial reaction was, "snarky Gaul."

But a moment's reflection forced me to realize this lesson in basic philosophy is exactly what someone needs to explain about this U.S. administration.  Its members habitually claim privileged knowledge of the essential nature of things, knowledge that is independent of (when not actually contrary to) empirical evidence.  I.e., in the administration's epistemology one may incontrovertibly be a superb Secretary of Defense without doing a good job as Secretary of Defense; one may truly be the sort of people who would never torture Iraqis while in fact torturing Iraqis.

Considering this epistemology, Chirac had evidently imagined that the president might plan to declare that a real transfer of sovereignty would take place on June 30th, even though the available evidence of our senses -- let us suppose, the evidence of an Iraqi constitution or lack of one, of a continuing American presence in Iraqi civil and military affairs -- might suggest to the ordinary mind, the mind privy only to empirical data, that no such transfer had occurred.

And so (one suspects while gritting his teeth) Chirac undertook to explain to the president and, over the president's head, to the people manning the media filter, that an event that is called the transfer of sovereignty that lacks evident consequences of a transfer of sovereignty is, however sadly, not a transfer of sovereignty.  Or, as William James put it, "There can BE no difference anywhere that doesn't MAKE a difference elsewhere -- no difference in abstract truth that doesn't express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen."

President Chirac must have hated descending to Philosophy 101 for the benefit of the president and the press corps.  It must be especially galling to realize that almost nobody noticed.

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle
Eric,
So we're safer, Dubya?  From the U.S.-hating commies over at the IISS.

Name: Nicolas Watson
Hometown: San Diego
Published on Tuesday, May 25, 2004 by the Long Island, NY Newsday

Watchdog Group Report
by Peter Goodman

Despite a perception that National Public Radio is politically liberal, the majority of its sources are actually Republicans and conservatives, according to a survey released today by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a left-leaning media watchdog.

"Republicans not only had a substantial partisan edge," according to a report accompanying the survey, "individual Republicans were NPR's most popular sources overall, taking the top seven spots in frequency of appearance." In addition, representatives of right-of-center think tanks outnumbered their leftist counterparts by more than four to one, FAIR reported.

Citing comments dating to the Nixon administration in the 1970s, the report said, "That NPR harbors a liberal bias is an article of faith among many conservatives." However, it added, "Despite the commonness of such claims, little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR."

The study counted 2,334 sources used in 804 stories aired last June for four programs: "All Things Considered," "Morning Edition," "Weekend Edition Saturday" and "Weekend Edition Sunday." For the analysis of think tanks, FAIR used the months of May through August 2003.

Overall, Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 61 percent to 38 percent, a figure only slightly higher now, when the GOP controls the White House and both houses of Congress, than during a previous survey in 1993, during the Clinton administration.

Name: Sara
Hometown: Chicago
Dr. Alterman,
Here's a link to the excellent Chicago Tribune piece by Michael Tackett concerning Nader's egotistical campaign.  My only complaint is that Tackett neglected to mention the rationale of many Nader supporters the last time around, that siphoning votes from Gore would lead to Bush's election.  This, in turn, would cause things in the U.S. to go downhill so precipitously that everyone would vote for Nader in 2004.  Believe me, I heard this argument from many a Naderite.

Name: Michael Johnson
Hometown: Santa Monica
Greetings Eric,
Regarding the Marx brothers movies. Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, as well as their first one, Cocoanuts, have been released separately.  All their films are now in DVD format except for their last, Love Happy.

Sender: Frank Lynch
Hometown: Really Not Worth Archiving
Dear Eric,
Amid the discussions about Kerry potentially deciding to delay his acceptance of the nomination for financial purposes, I thought the reaction of the Bush-Cheney campaign dripping with hypocrisy.  Their response -- "This is just the latest example of John Kerry's belief that the rules are for other people, not for him" -- conveniently ignored the fact that their own campaign needed to work around election laws in Alabama, West Virginia, Idaho, California, and the District of Columbia for Bush to be on the ballot.  The timing of their convention is too late to meet the requirements of those localities' original election laws.  Rules are for other people, not for Bush.

Importantly, the Republican Convention was scheduled late with the financial implications in mind -- an advantage they don't want to see eroded by Kerry's potential maneuver.  An April 22, 2003 article in the New York Times made it clear that while there was a desire to maximize associations with 9/11, this was not the only reason:

"By scheduling the start of the convention for Aug. 30, a month after Democrats choose their candidate, the White House has put off the imposition of spending ceilings that take effect when the parties officially nominate their candidates.

Under campaign spending laws, candidates who accept public financing will have about $75 million to spend between the nominating conventions and Election Day. Because the Democrats scheduled their convention for late July, the party's candidate will have to stretch out the same allocation over a longer period. The nominees of both parties are expected to accept public financing."

This was not merely the Times connecting the dots, because a caption under a photo of Karl Rove read as follows:

"The iron-willed and hard-nosed master strategist, his plan is to emphasize national security, show the president hard at work on the economy and use the calendar to maximize President Bush's fund-raising advantage over Democrats."

So let's be clear about this: the Bush campaign is complaining that Kerry might make an unanticipated move which would erode an advantage; their claims of principle and that Kerry is begging for special consideration are silly.

Can we look forward to the press picking this up?

Name: Chris Johnson
Hometown: Fullerton, CA

I am beginning to wonder if the real enemy to our way of life in this country is not the Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, but rather the extremist hedonistic democrats who want to see the tax-exempt status pulled from every Christian church that does not perform gay marriages and who also want it to be illegal to be an evangelical Christian in this country like our

Let me also add Mr. Alterman that Jesus died as much for you as he did for me.  He is crying out for you.  He is knocking on the door of your heart if you would only choose to open the door and let him in.  I am a sinner just like you ... no better, no worse ... its just that I have hope in a future with a relationship with Christ.  My future is my eternity ... and my desire is to help serve Him and expand His kingdom.  Be thankful that I am not God, because His kingdom would have returned already.  Instead, He wants as many as possible to come to faith in Him so that they can enjoy eternity with Him.

Press Release Corner:

TheNaderFactor.com Launched to Harness Power of Nader Supporters to Fight Right Wing Agenda in Washington

Today a group of former Dean, Clark and Gephardt aides launched TheNaderFactor.com, a dynamic online grassroots movement designed to help unite progressives, Democrats, former Nader voters and current Nader supporters to take this country back from the radical right-wing Republicans.

“More than 2.8 million Americans voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 because they – like millions of progressive Democrats today -- believed in what he stood for:  a clean environment, universal health care, equal rights and a sane foreign policy,” said Tricia Enright, founding member of the group and former Communications Director for Dean for America. “But four years of Bush’s radical agenda have undermined those very beliefs; that’s why we want to bring Nader supporters together with Democratic progressives with one goal – to fight the right wing agenda in Washington.”  

The Oxford American magazine OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT
May 25, 2004

THE OXFORD AMERICAN co-signs innovative plan to publish as a nonprofit based out of COLLEGE CAMPUS in the heart of the mid-SOUTH.

Subscribers, newsstand buyers and the countless champions of all literary Davids facing commercial Goliaths rejoice: The Oxford American magazine (The OA) has been saved.

May 26, 2004 | 11:40 AM ET

Sivacation
Hi. I’m Siva Vaidhyanathan.  You might remember me from such Web sites as OpenDemocracy.net and Sivacracy.net.

Eric has let me guest-blog today as part of my virtual book tour.  I am promoting my new book, The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System (Basic Books, 2004).

It’s a tough time to sell a book NOT about Dubya’s screw-ups and conservative arrogance.  So I appreciate the opportunity Eric has offered me here.

The Anarchist in the Library is about global information politics, and the ways we are all responsible for the threats to creativity democracy engendered by radical changes to law and technology in recent years.  Basically, I am concerned that the raw material of creativity and democracy is getting more expensive for responsible non-elites to use.  Here is an FAQ about the book.

Arnold vs. Democracy
Most of my work addresses such questions of democracy and its resources.  I am a capo in the nascent site of activism known as the Free Culture movement.  It takes its name from the title of Lawrence Lessig’s brilliant new book and fights the absurd oligarchic trends in law, practice, and attitudes about copyright, trademark law, communication regulation, and other cultural policies.  We are a growing force that includes teachers, artists, librarians, church members and computer programmers.  Despite its breadth, the Free Culture movement faces some formidable foes (including the two companies that host this blog).

Every once in a while, an enemy of openness gives our movement a gift. Last week, it was the governor of California, who – get this – decided that his image should not be public.  He is suing a company that makes Arnold bobblehead dolls.  It’s bad enough that Arnold is getting widespread praise for breaking his most important campaign promises.  Now he wants to shut down attempts to make fun of him.  Incredible.  Hey, doesn’t the governor of California have to swear to uphold a constitution or two?  Maybe he should read one.

The Real Times Scandal: Will Someone Get Fired Over This?
The editors of the New York Times finally admitted they blew the weapons evidence stories that led up to the Iraq debacle.  Unfortunately, this huge correction points readers to Michael Gordon’s weak defense of the Times’ reporters (chiefly Judith Miller’s) sins of omission, commission and gullibility that Michael Massing outlined in an important piece in the New York Review of Books.  A more honest correction would have directed readers to consider Massing’s brilliant reporting on the subject.

BTW, what would life be like today without The Daily Show and the NYRB?  Both bring sanity in troubled times.  Check out Scott Sherman’s article about the passionate work coming from the NYRB.

Tired of “media bias” bickering?
So am I.  So is Jay Rosen.

Have you Ever Seen Dallas?
New York is once again the safest big city in America.  Dallas is the most crime-ridden.  So why is the CSI franchise starting a NYC-set show (not to be taped here, of course) instead of CSI-Dallas?  Well, at least the crime rates help explain why the Republicans wanted to meet here this summer.  It’s too dangerous in Republican states with high execution rates.

Not All Buffalonians are this Vapid
I grew up in Buffalo, New York.  And we are generally proud of other Buffalonians who have made good. But Tim Russert is really getting on my nerves.  Buffalo has produced many important thinkers and writers (we still claim Mark Twain, who did his best work only AFTER moving to Buffalo.  Sadly, Russert may be the most high-profile Buffalonian working today.  Not only is he not as tough an interviewer as everyone in the punditocracy claims, he now merely self-servingly feigns the populist working-class values of Western New York. 

If Russert were half the populist and journalist he claims to be he would have asked our unelected president how privatizing social security would help working people, how tax cuts for millionaires and effective tax increases for working people is going to help most Americans, and how a place like Buffalo is supposed to cope with the outsourcing trends and anti-immigrant policies of the current regime.  Buffalo is the canary in the coal mine of blue-collar America.  Things don’t look good for its future.  What’s Russert going to do about it?

No Guitar Zone
Shhh.  Eric is gone today.  So now we can talk about hip-hop.  I love the music Eric discusses on this site.  I lived in Austin for years.  I read No Depression magazine.  And have everything Bruce and Dylan ever released.

But let’s face it: hip-hop is the dominant form of global youth culture.  And it’s only getting more exciting and important every day.  And you can dance to it.

So for those of us who read Altercation every day, let’s have some fun here.  How about using that comments box below to answer two questions:

  1. What is the most important hip-hop album of all time?

  2. What is the most important hip-hop song of all time?

  3. What is the best hip-hop album since 2001?

Just to get things started, I nominate: Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back; Run DMC, King of Rock; and OutKast, Speakerboxxx/the Love Below.  OK.  Discuss.

Pushing the Panic Button
OK.  My government greeted me this morning with another non-specific, non-helpful warning that terrorists might attack the United States.  Question for you: how do you change your behavior when you hear such warnings?  If you change your behavior at all, do such changes really make you or us safer?  Has anything this administration has done made you safer?

May 25, 2004 | 12:20 PM ET

That Sinking Feeling…  Bush polls numbers are at the lowest of his presidency.  A 47 percent approval rating if you believe the Washington Post/ABC and just 41 percent if you believe CBS News.  In an irrelevant straight-ahead national match-up, Bush has to depend on his little friend Ralph Nader to stay even with Kerry.  Last night demonstrated, as if this were necessary, that a man who cannot admit a single mistake over the course of three-and-a-half years is not going to admit that the entire centerpiece of his presidency is one massive big screw up; something that Washington Post reporters seem to notice but is over the head of the New York Times' Elisabeth "I’m too scared to ask a tough question of Bush” Bumiller.

This seems as good a place as any for our Quote of the day from General Zinni:  "To think that we are going to, quote, stay the course — this course is headed over Niagara Falls,"  The speech, meanwhile, is here.

And hey, Mr. President, whatever happened to that Iraq Stabilization Group Condi was supposed to be running?  Is it anything like the Iraqi Constitution, which, um, you forgot to mention last night? (And while we’re at it, when’s that trip to Mars, again?)

Say what you will about this president, he could have coasted to re-election on a trumped-up economic recovery, based, to be sure on fiscal irresponsibility and the continued exploitation of the fear of terrorism, despite his incompetence in battling it.  But his fanaticism about overthrowing Hussein overcame his [and Karl Rove’s] political good sense.  If he loses the election, it will be entirely due to his insistence upon invading a country that posed no threat to us and doing so on the basis of false arguments to the American people and false assurances from his advisers that it would be an inexpensive cakewalk.  Call it brave.  Call it foolhardy.  But there it is.

An aside: Assuming clairvoyance, does this mean I actually should have supported the war?  Is saving America and hence, the world, from another Bush term worth screwing up our relations with the entire Arab Middle East, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars, causing more terrorism, killing thousands of civilians, along with (so far) many hundreds of American soldiers, the torture and sexual humiliation of who knows how many innocent Iraqis and destroying America’s good name in just about every nation on earth?

Well, don’t forget, all this happened during a first term, when they were still worried about re-election.  Just what will they think they can do if not faced with the checks and balances of a second election. (Remember, Cheney is not going to run and couldn’t care less either.)  Here’s hoping we’ll never know…

If you read Richard Cohen you’ll see why the media reaction to Kerry’s floating of the idea of holding off on the acceptance of the nomination for a month is being universally reviled. Conventions have been meaningless for a long time.  I remember watching thirteen or so Washington Post reporters scurry around their bureau at one and I asked an editor just what they were all covering.  “The speech!” I was informed. “Well,” I said, “why don’t they just print it?”  They didn’t like the question.

The Kerry conundrum on money points to another problem with the media—they like to pretend that money doesn’t really matter.  When the Republicans swept the 2002 elections, how many anchors covering the victory pointed out that they had outspent Democrats by roughly $200 million—which is more than enough to tip a few close elections?  My guess is none.  That would have detracted from the phony storyline of this being an endorsement of the Supreme Court’s thief-in-the-night election plan to prevent a fair count in Florida, etc… (The June 30th deadline in Iraq is another of these phony storylines; there will be no significant handover of power of any kind.)  Anyway, the Democrats were wholly incompetent in dealing with their convention this year.  They should never have picked Boston, which is a Republican political consultant’s dream city even without the legal gay marriages—New York deserved it and would have welcomed it—and they should have waited until the Republicans announced when theirs would be in order to avoid this wholly predictable month of limbo.  Now they are stuck with putting themselves at a significant financial disadvantage or making the media feel like losers and idiots and paying the price for that.  Neither is a good option.  I’m not sure which is worse.

What, nothing about how things went in the bathroom?

Don’t tell anyone but:

  • We're taking your guns away.
  • I voted for one world government so that you don't have to.
  • I'm a citizen of the United Nations.
  • My other car is a black helicopter.
  • Terrorists are people too.
  • Free abortions for everyone.
  • Ask me about the homosexual agenda.
  • Soft on crime, soft on the causes of crime.
  • These colors run.

More here.

Alter-reviews:  Warner Brothers has released a five DVD set of Marx Brothers films featuring the two masterpieces, “A Day at the Races” and “A Night at the Opera.”  There are five other movies, which, if I recall correctly, are good in spurts but hard to justify on the whole—which is, I guess, a good argument for owning them on DVD.  (Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup, alas, are not among them.)  The extras include the odd documentary, cartoons, audio commentary, shorts and audio outtakes—all of which I’d say, just about justify the thing, though the packaging is not so hot, so you can buy them separately if you like.  The transfer is nice and the Amazon listing has everything you could want to know about them.

Alter-review II:  Last week I said I discovered Billy Joe Shaver because he was Jimmy Carter’s favorite singer.  As I think about it, I think I confused him with James Talley.  Both are great though, and James Talley has a new collection out on Cimarron Records called “Journey.”  Seems to me that it’s a heckofalot like a James Talley collection I bought two years ago, but Jimmy Carter had good taste in music either way, and you should have both if this kind of stuff is to your taste.

There will be a service today for Elvin Jones at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home 1076 Madison Avenue @ 81st Street

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Laleh Ispahani
Hometown: NYC

At a time when voter participation is chronically low, and racially polarized voting a harsh reality, Florida is embarking on a purge of voters from its rolls that is beginning to look starkly reminiscent of the grossly inaccurate purge of 2000.

On May 5, the Director of Florida’s Division of Elections, Ed Kast, circulated a list of nearly 50,000 names to Florida’s 67 county supervisors of elections advising them to remove these individuals from their respective voter rolls.  Kast instructed the supervisors to notify these persons that they are potentially ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction.  In Florida, felons cannot vote unless they have had their right to vote restored by the Governor.

Concerned about the accuracy of this list, certain groups sought access to it but were told that the list is off limits to them.  Florida says its secrecy is sanctioned by an exemption to the State’s public records law and refuses to allow more than quick inspections of this list, and prohibits note-taking or photocopying.  According to this less than pellucid law, while the list may not be released to the general public or the press, the law does allow such lists to be dispensed to candidates, political parties, political committees, and public officials and that those allowed access to the list may only use it to conduct political campaigns. (Query what good a list of persons ineligible to vote is to a political party or campaign?)  Is it not also foolish that such lists may be used for political purposes (whatever that means) but not by groups trying to verify their reliability (so that only those actually disfranchised are kept from voting)?

Granted, this list was generated by a database the state itself recently created, and not by an out-of-state vendor as in 2000.  Still, the groups’ concern is well-founded.  In 2000, the list then Secretary of State Katherine Harris used to purge voters turned out to be rife with errors that resulted in the disenfranchisement of misdemeanants and persons who had received ‘withholds of adjudication’, non-felons who are not barred from voting.  And Kast has himself on previous occasions acknowledged the flaws inherent in the new database, known as the CVD (Central Voter Database).  The database’s own user’s manual concedes its potential for error. The May 2004 CVD Training Workbook: “The CVD serves only as an informational ‘tool’ to assist the supervisors of elections in the identification of ineligible registered voters.  At its best, it serves as a starting point in this identification process…we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the data.”

Mr. Kast’s memorandum to the Supervisors nevertheless instructs them to notify the individuals on the list that they are potentially ineligible to vote before verifying their identity and the CVD criminal conviction data, or whether they have had their rights restored.  This places the onus on the individual to prove otherwise.  All this does in a nation where as little as 50% of the population voted in the last presidential election, is to further dissuade an already apathetic and racially polarized electorate.

Given the CVD’s propensity for error and the abysmal rate of voter turnout, it is imperative the list be checked before letters are sent.  If the State is simply seeking to avoid burdening its county supervisors with the task of verifying the accuracy of the data, it should release the list to groups willing to do the leg work to do so.

After all, according to the CVD manual, the “paramount responsibility [of elections officials] under Florida law [is] to ensure that no eligible voter is erroneously removed from the voter registration rolls.”

Eric replies: More here.

Name: Thomas Koch
Hometown: Leavenworth

Why is there no such thing as Slacker Monday? The entire world is not Monday through Friday. I have been saying TGIM for over a year now. My work-week is Thursday-Monday. For a number of years I had my own business, which meant a six day week in the store and five days, or seven part-time days, at my other job. So a slacker Monday would not be any more imaginary than a slacker Friday.  Finally, I have worked twelve hour shifts and ten hour shifts, where Friday was no more the end of the workweek than any other day.

May 24, 2004 | 10:59 AM ET

I know there’s no such thing as Slacker Monday, but Bateman, Pierce, Stupid, and Dr. E, II and others have inspired so many interesting responses that I’m happy to admit my superfluousness this morning as I have to rush to appear on this panel on bloggers, journalists and politicians at the New School this morning. (But we cannot help but noting that Altercation readers did not have to wait until it was too late to heed the words of General Zinni.  I guess we can safely assume that President Bush is not among us.)

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: SSG Van
Eric,
Its amazing the way views differ in the military of how things look on the ground. I can't imagine what civilians are getting from this. I read the way (rank?) Bateman wrote, and my view as a Staff Sergeant, currently in the infantry, is that yes, the officers do share a part in the blame, but 99% of it falls dead on the Non Commissioned Officers, the Sergeants, just like myself. I am responsible for everything my troops do, or fail to do. Officers hold the title, but they come and go every 18 months. The days of them being gentlemen and directing the fight from the sides of nice straight ranks are gone. They give me an objective, my left and right limits, and I execute. It's the NCO that is out in front, tappin joe on the boot telling him to move, shift fire, increase/decrease rate of fire...

I am not stealing any thunder from our Officer Corps, we have some really awesome leaders, but an LT doesn't have years of experience, that Staff Sergeant did.  He took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, and he failed.  Bored, pissed off, or God forbid, following orders, he had a moral obligation to do the right thing.  Just like it's always preached, the hard right over the easy wrong.  He had control over his men, and was with them, constantly.  If stuff was ordered that wasn't right, he had the power and the right to say no.  If they told him to do it anyway, he could have refused and had it taken care of further up the chain of command.  Same situation Bateman was talking about, refusing an unlawful order.  That Staff Sargeant is the direct link where the metal hits the meat and he failed the Corps of Non Commissioned Officers. There is another saying you may or may not be familiar with, that the Corps of Non Commissioned Officers is the backbone of the Army. That NCO lacked any backbone. He needs to fry for dishonoring everyone of us.  

Eric replies: It’s Major Bateman, and if you missed his “Think Again” column, it’s here

Name: Tim Wilkins
Hometown: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Eric:
I'm having a very difficult time writing this note; I don't frequently find myself so angry as to be unable to put together simple sentences to express myself.

I cannot imagine anything that would be adequate punishment for anyone who would offer or accept the advice that America should not abide by the Geneva Conventions, or not listen to the ICRC about prisoner abuse.  Let me explain my thoughts.

My only uncle, Major James V. Wilkins, was a USMC-Reserve fighter-bomber pilot in Korea.  He was shot down during a bombing attack in the first months of the Korean War.  He was badly injured parachuting from his plane, and was captured.  He was tortured both physically and psychologically, and forbidden any communication with his family for most of four years.  Many, if not most, of those imprisoned with him died in captivity.

After his release, he told us that one of the few things that kept him sane and alive in horrific conditions was receiving some of the packages sent to him by the family through the ICRC, and infrequent inspections of his prison camps by the ICRC, which pressured the North Koreans to comply with the Geneva Conventions.

He, along with the others who came home, only returned to us because of the influence of the ICRC and international pressure.  He was proud to know that no U.S. prisoner could ever have been treated as savagely as he was.

What sort of "quaint" punishment would be appropriate for those traitors who would advise the country to weasel out of the Geneva Conventions, and thus put our soldiers forever at risk of torture, abuse and worse?  And would it be "quaint" enough punishment for political leaders who accepted such advice to lock them in stocks on the Washington Mall so passers-by could spit on them and otherwise abuse them??   Probably not allowed by some "quaint" convention.

Vote them out of office, one and all.  Root out the corruption.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, FL

Hey Eric,
Old retired Navy guy here.  I don't get Stupid’s sort-of mea culpa on whether the Iraq war was a good idea.  He seems to ask the wrong questions and then gets wrong answers that really are not relevant to the reality of the situation--and seems to understand their lack of relevance in an oblique way.  It’s  not that "those people" are different (a typical neo-conservative reaction when faced with the discrediting of their beliefs), it’s  just that, in the words of blues guitarist Robert Cray "you can't fix something you don't understand."  Some suggested reading: The War for Righteousness by Richard M. Gamble. 

If the political rhetoric in the wake of 9-11 and through both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions is any indication, the Baby Boom belief system seems to be that our birthright as Americans makes us omniscient when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world.  That this comes at a time when we seem to have little concern for domestic democratic processes, republican institutions or the social and economic welfare of our fellow citizens is hypocritical and an indication that our elites possess a hubris that is about ready to set us up for a big fall--as if Vietnam wasn't bad enough.  That these elites have learned to take advantage of their own tremendous self-righteous and self-serving miscalculations and scandals to further erode civil institutions and democratic virtues is even more galling and perhaps an indication to anyone paying attention (including Stupid) that it may be time for the public to bring democracy back to the United States and concentrate on applying our own principles and living up to our own promises at home.

Name: Jim Dwyer/The Bisbee Observer
Hometown: Naco, AZ

For whoever is assigned the life-long task of writing Sy Hersh’s  3-volume biography, here are some tidbits of Sy in the '60’s :

  • Sy rushing into the Associated Press Chicago Bureau in dead winter, his scarf streaming behind, all hands looking up as he began non-stop chatter, questions, telephone calls.
  • When nothing was happening, Sy would bounce a tennis ball off the AP Bureau walls, all the while making biting comments about some Chicago politician or Washington bureaucrat, as the old hands in the bureau looked at one another, wondering what they had on their hands.
  • One night shift, after Sy and the rest of us had enjoyed a midnight dinner at a downtown Chicago saloon, the union teletype guy had got so drunk that he essentially collapsed across his keyboard, while the NY office was messaging desperately what the hell was going on in Chicago.  Sy didn't miss a beat.  He moved the drunk operator away from the teletype and began sending the story himself, knowing that he was breaking the rules of both unions involved, but not letting that stand in the way of getting out the news.
  • Listening to Sy do a telephone interview was sometimes startling, as he would pose questions that could only be answered in one way, or suggest that he had already talked to some other scoundrel involved in his investigation, and if the guy didn't talk, it would be in the morning newspapers. He was, and is, very persuasive.
  • And the time Sy and I were coming back from a major 5-ll fire in a northside casket factory.  While driving down Rush Street, Sy announced: "I'm hungry."  He stopped the vehicle in a no-parking zone, but we had a press pass, so that wasn't a problem.  Then he jumped from the car and marched into a fairly fancy Rush Street restaurant.  Within a minute, he was headed back to the car and gnawing on a chicken leg.  And this was before fast food.  I asked Sy where he got the chicken leg.  He snarled: "I just told this guy I was hungry."  And as we drove back to the Bureau, I visualized a restaurant patron absolutely stunned into passivity by some wild man who grab a chicken leg from his plate.

Name: Ron Kampeas
Hometown: Arlington
Dear Eric,
You’ve probably opened up an unwanted can of e-mail by publishing Eric Rauchway’s Sopranos letter.  He’s right that the Slate people don’t know what they’re talking about.  Picking through the Sopranos for real life references, reading it like a roman-a-clef (a fusil?), is conspiracy theory-lite.  It misses the point of watching a great work of literature unfold the same way fantasy sports enthusiasts miss the point of why the stars, the wind, the clouds are just as crucial to what makes a game exciting as the averages.  The same way the press multitudes pick through the significance of a transparent dress or an ancient DWI citation and ignore the grand moral questions of the day (which is why your blog is a daily breath of fresh air for me, whether or not I agree with your conclusions.)

Rauchway gets it, almost (and I know that sounds presumptuous).  The Sopranos is great not only in how it addresses conflicting definitions of masculinity, but in how it is about conflicting loyalties and that’s where Rauchway’s analysis comes up short.  By me, the most compelling character is Carmella, and how she reconciles her own loyalties.

First, just to get it out of the way, conflicting loyalties as a theme, if American filmmaking (or the much-maligned “Hollywood” if you like) did not invent it, it now owns it.  This country and its history have provided heaps of material for a literature of how one reconciles competing loyalties: to family, to tribe, to nation, to ideology.  Its best vehicles are the Western and the mob movie.

The best American filmmaking makes it clear that the competition is rough on the individual because each loyalty has merit.  In “The Searchers,” John Wayne’s fierce loyalty to tribe almost destroys a family and an idea (coexistence) but is key to keeping the family alive.  In “High Noon,” Gary Cooper’s loyalty to an idea (law and order) is undermined by the betrayal his townspeople deal him and competes with his loyalty to his family but it triumphs, because without he would lack definition.  Other classic examples:  “Mean Streets” (family vs. tribe), “Face/Off” (family vs. an idea, law and order), “Reservoir Dogs” (two tribes, and two ideas, the American dream vs. law and order), “The Godfather” (family, tribe, old world order, new world order).

David Chase, armed with the luxury of a six-season novel, packs the Sopranos with a wealth of competing loyalties.  Tribe, parental family, married family, extended family, the American dream, old world order, new world order, faith and significantly, self (the neglect of which has led Soprano into the shrink’s chair).  The series’ texture is so damn supple that almost every line is infused with the interplaying loyalties.  When a frequenter of a standing card game asks Tony to retrieve his older brother’s Merc, heisted from the card player’s daughter’s wedding, he clinches it when he explains how miserable his older brother (memorably cameoed by Leon Wieseltier) is making him.  Would Tony have taken action had it simply been a matter of a favor to a sometime client?  Would loyalty to a client outrank loyalty to the colleague who managed the heist, Feech LaManna, just out of prison?  Not likely.  But something about the card player (otherwise a civilian) taking a risk out of loyalty to a difficult relative reaches Tony and he gets the car back.

A recent postmodern wrinkle in some “competing loyalties” filmmaking is to make us, the viewers, complicit in the choices made onscreen.  In “Goodfellas,” Martin Scorcese uses a narrative device: a killing satisfactorily resolves a plot element, we think we’re moving along, then Scorcese, suddenly shifts back and re-shoots the killing from a different, more harrowing perspective.  Having essentially approved the violence as a motor driving the movie forward, we are forced to confront its awfulness.  (The “second look” device in “Goodfellas” is essentially a flip of the same theme Scorcese addresses in “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull."  In those movies, he establishes the amorality of the violence before he announces the redemption it brings: the saving of a little girl; the beauty of a boxer in his prime.)

In The Sopranos, again blessed with a novel’s proportions, our complicity travels through Carmella through a long, slow buildup.  She is our anchor, set in the most familiar surrounding, the suburban home, the open kitchen, the slightly dowdy bedroom.

Yet she is also complicit, and her complicity emerges brilliantly in the third season, in the session she and Tony have with Dr. Melfi.  Again, it’s slightly manipulative, but it works: Melfi gently guides the session to how Carmella feels about Tony’s line of work; Carmella explodes but because she misunderstood; her anger at Tony’s immorality has not to do with his being a murderer, but with being an adulterer.  Her loyalty to herself, to her family absolutely trumps her loyal to the moral order.

In a subsequent episode, she appears to get it:  She consults with a visiting African priest on how to deal with her husband’s dirty money.  We, the viewers, are nudged into sympathizing with Carmella -the one figure attempting to track a moral path out of the degradation (at least until Tony B’s dalliance with a Korean launderer this season).  The African priest, as “outsider” as you can get in this series, is a nifty device: she’s reaching out of her family, her tribe, even her nation.  And then, toward the end of the episode, this stunning encounter with another shrink, recommended, significantly, by Dr. Melfi (transcript courtesy of IMDB):

Carmela Soprano: He’s  [Tony’s ]: a good man. He’s a good father.

Dr. Krakower: You tell me he’s a depressed criminal, prone to anger, serially unfaithful.  Is that your definition of a good man?... You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him.  You'll never be able to feel good about yourself.  You'll never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about, so long as you're his accomplice.

Carmela Soprano: You're wrong about the accomplice part, though.

Dr. Krakower: You sure?

Carmela Soprano: All I did was make sure he’s got clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.

Dr. Krakower: So "enable" would be a more accurate job description for what you do than "accomplice."  My apologies... Take only the children - what’s left of them - and go.

Carmela Soprano: My priest said I should work with him, help him to become a better man.

Dr. Krakower: How’s  that going? ...

Carmela Soprano: I would have to get a lawyer, find an apartment, arrange for child support.

Dr. Krakower: You're not listening.  I'm not charging you because I won't take blood money.  You can't either.  One thing you can never say: You haven't been told.

Boom.  This scene, set in a dark office, Krakower played by an accomplished bit actor, Sully Boyar, in his last role, defines the moral center of the Sopranos.  (And how and why Jews have become moral arbiters in American literature and filmmaking is a whole other essay.)  Her loyalties to family, to her faith and to her ambition are rebounding on her; by forsaking her loyalty to an established order, she is destroying herself and her family and making a mockery of her faith.  This is playing itself out this season, as she discovers that, even separated from Tony, his crimes continue to define her.

It’s about why every choice we make matters.

Damn, what a fine series.

Eric adds: I have always felt that Carmela is, morally speaking, the least defensible person on the series.  Everyone else faces up to the consequences of their behavior to one degree or another.  Only she considers herself pure, while sharing in the benefits of her ill-gotten gains.

Name: Ron Legro
Hometown: Milwaukee
Tony Randall cannot be replaced.  He was urbane, he was accessible, he was willing to mock himself, he was versatile, he was a gentleman.  And what staying power.  It’s  amazing to look at old-movie channels and see him opposite, for instance, Rock Hudson in an early '60s love farce, then flash forward 35 years and see that he hadn't visibly changed all that much. 

Mr. Randall’s main claim to fame will of course always be "The Odd Couple," and a nice little resonance occurred here the day after his death.  It happened that 82-year-old Jack Klugman, an actor who’s missing his larynx, was doing a one-man show in town.  It also happened that a local theater troupe was rehearsing for a revival of "The Odd Couple."  And so, according to the local daily, Mr. Klugman visited the rehearsal hall, watched his part being done by a man half his age, and chatted up the actors afterward.  Life goes on.  And the show must go on.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle

Eric and Charles Pierce,
Some day, a mini-glossary or something similar may be in order to help translate some of the great Pierce references.  Some are current political, some sports-related, some historical, some cultural.  As a trivia nut, I get 85-90%, but a little help would be appreciated.

And regarding the late great Felix (or "Frederick Ungman" as he was known on "Let’s Make a Deal"), just knowing his oeuvre, I am "Happy and peppy, and bursting with love, dancing and prancing to heavens above" (the Jaye P Morgan episode), November 13ths will never be the same.


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