November 19, 2004 | 11:57 AM ET

Colin Powell is one of the most charismatic individuals to whom I’ve ever spoken.  He has mesmerizing eyes, a warm nature and a powerful, dignified bearing.  All of this has been useful in his efforts to snow the media into portraying him as a man of unusual competence and institutional fortitude.  In fact, Powell’s position at State has been one of consistent humiliation, and profound incompetence—together with extremely questionable judgment and honesty.  From the day Bush humiliated him just a few days into the administration by publicly overturning his Korea policy, through Rumsfeld’s refusal even to consider the massive amount of State Department planning for postwar Iraq, Powell has found himself cut off at the knees and merely carrying water in the public for those who mock and undercut him behind closed doors.  The highlight or more accurately lowlight of his tenure was his willingness to go before the world and make a phony case for war based on information he knew to be unsound.  He’s been apologizing ever since—and yet, he’s just done it again, laying the groundwork for an ill advised—potentially catastrophic military misadventure, and sacrificing what remains of his credibility in order to do so; a fitting end to a tragic failure.

I see that Ken Auletta and Tod Lindberg, Arthur Herman, Amitai Etizoni, and Natan Sharansky  are being shown twice each on C-span’s Book TV this weekend, but for some reason that remains a genuine mystery to me, the talk I gave at the Aspen Institute in which I was joined by Ben Bradlee and Walter Isaacson has still only been shown once at 4:00 in the morning.  Why in the world did C-Span bother to send a camera man to tape it if they were going to treat it so awfully?  What did I ever do to them?  Ask ‘em HERE booktv@c-span.org, politely, please.

Alter-reviews:  Yes, it’s true. “ Democracy” really is just about everything a Broadway drama ought to be: enthralling, thought-provoking, important and impressively acted and staged.  While not quite as dazzling as Michael Frayn’s previous production, “Copehagen,” it does nevertheless to much to restore one’s faith the dramatic and intellectually challenging possibilities of commercial theater, putting Frayn just one notch below Stoppard and Kushner in my view as the keepers of this particularly crucial cultural flame.  (And what an unpromising idea….)

I spent the morning watching a DVD of “Festival Express,” which is a documentary about a train-tour of Canada by a 1970 festival line-up of musicians including the Dead, the Band, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, and others.  The musical offering is quite generous and the level of performance by Janis may be her best ever.  The backstage stuff is intriguing the first time around and useful as a fair-minded portrayal of a complicated historical moment.  (As with the Isle of Wright festival movie, the bad guys are the selfish kids who demand to be able to see their music for free and are willing to ruin it for everyone else.)  The extras include lots more music and the sound is just fine.  The documentation, however, is terrible and you have to do a lot of figuring things out for yourself.  A pity, but it doesn’t kill the buzz.

On a more serious note, Yale has just published a collection of 50 Years of Dissent, which for me, has always been one of our country’s most inspiring and most useful political magazines, devoted as it is, as Michael Walzer often says, to “worrying.”  (It sure has a lot to do today.)  Anyway, check out the collection, which somehow, is lacking any of the contributions over the years from yours truly.  For more of the magazine, go here.

Correspondents Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --
The Rolling Stone Top 500 list is worth a look, even though it isn't anywhere near as interesting as Dave Marsh's 1001 songs of rock and soul as an argument-igniter.  However, it is damned near indecent, in a week in which all the Capitol Beatles stuff was released, including John Lennon's volcanic cover of Barrett Strong's "Money," to slot in at No. 3 "Imagine," the horrible featherweight nursery rhyme that Lennon is doomed to be memorialized by as long as there are utopian sophomores in the world.  Urp.

I think it's time for Bill Clinton, and his wife, and all the people who worked for him to shut up for a while.  As time has ground on, I begin to realize that his primary accomplishment over his two terms was keeping the real wingnuts at bay -- which is not an inconsiderable one, given the present state of things.  But, let us also admit that, on his best day, Clinton was a DLC Democrat and, even as one of those, he never got 55 percent of the popular vote.  He signed an overly punitive welfare bill and he was the worst president on the Bill of Rights in my lifetime.  He didn't do jack about building the party.  And, for all the noise about how Gore didn't use him in 2000, if Clinton had been able to keep his pants zipped for eight years, Gore wouldn't have had to be so ambivalent about it -- and might not have felt compelled to choose the useless Weepin' Joe Lieberman as a running mate.

This is not a time for triangulation, not a time to cut off our own slice of rotten beef and serve it up as chateaubriand.  The next four months are crucial because it's the only chance the D's have to keep the ducks from being put in a row.  You may recall Contingency Plan A, briefly summarized as:

No.

Here's what I'd like to see.  The entire Democratic caucus of the House of Representatives simply refuses to go to work as long a Tom DeLay is Majority Leader.  Deny a quorum.  Get your best parliamentarian and tie the place in knots.  Sell the hell out of the fact that the House Republicans just used the rules of the institution as a getaway car.  Go to Texas and pose with Ronnie Earle.  But, under no circumstance, do anything of substance until the Tiny Little Hammer is deposed.  And, above all, do not listen to Bill Clinton who, I swear to God, still believes there are reasonable men among the Republicans.

Name:  Fortune Elkins
Hometown:  Brooklyn

Not so fast, Steve Sykes!  The status of the fetus in Judaism is quite a complicated question that can't be derived from one verse alone.

I think the original writer, Stephen Hirsch, may have probably been relying on the well-regarded and well-known interpretations, for example, that of Rabbi Yehuda Ashkenazi.

Meanwhile, I also offer up this:

The Judeo-biblical tradition does not grant moral status to an embryo before forty days of gestation.  Such an embryo has the same moral status as male and female gametes, and its destruction prior to implantation is of the same moral import as the 'wasting of human seed.'  After forty days - the time of 'quickening' recognized in common law - the implanted embryo is considered to have humanhood, and its destruction is considered an act of homicide.  Thus, there are two prerequisites for the moral status of the embryo as a human being: implantation and forty days of gestational development.  The proposition that humanhood begins at zygote formation, even in vitro, is without basis in biblical moral theology.

--Testimony of Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, Ph.D., Stem Cell Research and Therapy: A Judeo-Biblical Perspective, Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research, Volume III: Religious Perspectives, September 1999, p.H-3.

The whole discussion is interestingly detailed as part of a larger discussion on stem-cell research here and here.

Please note that the site referenced above is related to a group that might be called "conservative" politically.  So it's not like I'm quoting "wild-eyed liberals" here.  Even culturally conservative Jewish people see more leeway in this situation than one might guess.

Name: Karl Witter
Hometown: Bloomfield, CT

Eric,
Speaking of Bobby Short and all things New York and urbane, do you remember the old WNEW-AM?  I pretty much grew up on that station and miss it now.  It was a unique music place, not to be duplicated even by channels available with digital cable.

How long before the first generation raised on Clear Channel doesn't know what they're missing?

Name: Pat Healy
Hometown: Vallejo, CA

Speaking of music DVDs and Richard Thompson, Cooking Vinyl has a new disc out of RT and band at Lupo's in Providence, RI in 2003.  The main set is a typically solid performance, with a good selection of material.  The real gem, however, is found amongst the bonus footage - a 1984 interview with Richard from The Old Grey Whistle Test, in which he talks about his Stratocaster, and how players from Holly to Hendrix played one, yet had their own sound on the instrument.

Name: Barry Ritholtz
Hometown:
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
With the elections behind us, we can now get back down to business of mocking the industry everyone loves to hate, the music biz.

You may recall back in July we discussed Radio's wounded business model; how, through consolidation of ownership, the elimination of local program managers and DJs and generally short-sighted planning, radio has lost much of its influence as a "hit maker" to the Internet and P2P.

The labels may not understand that, but according to a new theory making the rounds, the band U2 does.  It seems Interscope Records (Geffen) wouldn't allow Bono & Co. to release their tracks to the P2P networks.  So their master recording "accidentally" got left somewhere (or stolen, depending upon which story you believe).

Lo and behold, 'How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' is showing up on Grokster, Limewire, Acquisition, Kazaa, etc.  Incidentally, the last CD that this happened to was Eminem's, which despite all the file trading (or more likely because of it) was a huge 8 million+ seller.

Eminem's label?  Interscope, also . . .

Here are the details:

Was U2's P2P release a Marketing Ploy?

Some conspiracy theorists believe that a major artist has gotten tired of the big labels' Internet incompetence.  The alleged theft of U2's "How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," and its subsequent release on the P2P networks, is being suggested as not a theft at all.

Here's what Audio Revolution had to say about it:

Critics suggest that the theft of How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and its subsequent pre-release to the peer-to-peer sites might have been done for promotional purposes.  If this is true, it is one of the first truly brilliant marketing moves to promote a big-release record in years.

The RIAA, with the support of the major labels, have been fighting file downloading in all forms while ignoring the media of the Internet and PTP networks as a vastly powerful marketing tool.  Since the 1960’s, FM radio was a make-it-or-break-it medium for new pop music.

In the last 10 to 15 years, radio groups, many of whom own hundreds or in one case over 1000 radio stations in the U.S., have very much lost their power to reach the young GenY, record buying public.  They are better reached via e-mail, on a cell phone or through a peer-to-peer network.

Moreover, as much as the RIAA would argue the opposite, some suggest that the idea of an album getting on the Internet for illegal downloads actually boosts its overall sales.  The last major artist this phenomenon of an “unauthorized pre-release on the net” happened to was Eminem and his record sold like hotcakes.

Expect U2’s How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb to hit store shelves early (but not too early to be the big pop release for the 2004 holiday season) and to sell like wildfire.  Most likely the record will sell better than if there was no scandal over the tracks being available on the peer-to-peer networks and the associated free advertising that comes from the story."   (emphasis added)

Ironically, the labels remain publicly dead set against legitimizing P2P in any way.  Privately, they subscribe to services such as Big Champagne to track what is being downloaded.  BC is the new Billboard.

If the U2 CD sells big, expect to see a spate of other "stolen" master recordings subsequently showing up online.

The only question is how long will it take before some label hires a P2P savvy label exec.  Once the labels finally wake up to what Clearchannel has done to their business model, they can finish off radio's slow death and move fully into the digital age.

Source:
Was New U2 Album Hitting P-2-P Networks on Purpose?
Jerry Del Colliano
Audio Video Revolution, November 9, 2004

November 18, 2004 | 3:10 PM ET

The objectivity crutch

Paul and I have a discussion of some of the failings of the mainstream media’s election coverage in my “Think Again” column, here.  (And I'll be talking about When Presidents Lie tonight for the World Policy Institute, at the New School, in Swayduck Auditorium, ground floor of 65 Fifth Ave, at 6:00 today.)

Meanwhile, blogger/j-school prof Jay Rosen began an interesting argument with David Shaw of the L.A. Times over the question of whether MSNBC or CNN should transform themselves into a genuinely liberal alternative to Fox.  To me this is a no-brainer.  Just look at the ratings for Scarborough or God forbid, Dennis Miller.  How could anyone do worse and liberals could easily do better.  The fact that the Phil Donahue show sucked is no more an argument against the idea than the idea that the Rush Limbaugh show sucked.  (And Donahue was, by the way, the best rated show on MSNBC when it was cancelled.)  What I found interesting in Rosen’s piece was the near hysterical reactions of the network honchos to the very idea—as if even imaging themselves as a liberal network would be somehow contaminating—as if liberal were a synonym for “leprosy” where they live, (which it may be, if they are seeking to appeal exclusively to faith-based America.  In any case, I think Rosen is onto something and Shaw couldn’t be more wrong.  Objectivity is a crutch behind which journalists hide their inability or refusal to take a stand on right and wrong.  Fox is the way to go, assuming it were more honest about news it doesn’t like. 

The market for “liberal news” is wide open and that, for the allegedly more responsible kind, is shrinking fast.  Here’s my own contribution to the debate adapted from Sound & Fury, which I originally published in 1992, and which, by the way, Rosen panned, big time.  Note that I was interested in “fairness” and “balance” long before Fox ruined those words for everyone.  (The longer version incorporates Lippmann and Dewey, but we got some of that in the When Presidents Lie debate.)

The belief in "objectivity," explains the sociologist Michael Schudson, implies that "a person's statements about the world can be trusted if they are submitted to established rules deemed legitimate by a professional community.  Facts here are not aspects of the world, but consensually validated statements about it."  But as Schudson points out, this is an extremely anachronistic notion for a profession that, unlike medicine or law, requires no special training, licensing, esoteric techniques, or language.  What is defined as "objective" in journalism is determined in large measure by market forces.  It is hardly the same thing as such humanly achievable goals as "fairness" or "balance," but it has come to be interpreted as such.  Instead, objective journalism promotes a thoroughly depersonalized version of events based on what Schudson calls "the ideology of the distrust of the self."  Since the "self" in this case, is the composite of the journalist's experiences, knowledge, prejudices, and understanding of the contextual environment of a given event, it is difficult to argue that by attempting to rid himself of either relevant context or commonsense judgments, a journalist has some how served the informational interests of his reader.  Unconscious biases remain, of course, but they become shrouded in the guise of objectivity and invested with a kind of farcical authority.

Objectivity, moreover, is an ideology that, in its most pristine form, has no clear preference for fact over fiction.  It is notoriously easy to manipulate by unscrupulous sources who place a higher value on their own personal advancement than on the value of the public knowledge.  Because politicians tend to fall into this category, the rules of journalistic objectivity are regularly drafted into service on behalf of the most shameless kinds of demagoguery, lies, and outright thievery.  Against the concerted efforts of a high public official to mislead the public, the rules of objectivity render the journalist virtually helpless.  Joe McCarthy understood this better than anyone.  As Russell Baker complained in his memoirs:

Objective journalism forbade a reporter to go beyond what the great man said.  No matter how dull, stupid, unfair, vicious, or mendacious they might be, the utterances of the great were reported deadpan, with nary a hint that the speaker might be a bore, a dunce, a brute, or a habitual liar.

The cult of objectivity is therefore something of a hoax.  It is an unachievable intellectual state for our subjective species even when it is not thoroughly compromised by network pressures, advertising revenues, political influence, and individual ambition.  Its pretense nevertheless narrows the spectrum of allowable interpretations and restricts the possibilities of thoughtful contextual analyses in journalistic reportage.  The net result is the intellectual impoverishment of our political dialogue.

Why, moreover, should only multi-media conglomerates be invested with the power to determine the content of our public dialogue?  Back in the twenties, Lippmann proposed the creation of a daily paper by labor and "militant liberalism."  Conflicting special interests, including those that make up the Democratic and Republican parties, should also be encouraged to participate in this endeavor--not only to inspire increased voter interest but also to try to recreate some of the lost communal bonds within American life.  One can imagine any number of short-sighted objections to this scheme, but there is really no inherent reason why this kind of journalism should be impracticable in the United States.  Europe is filled with politically interested newspapers, and many practice a higher quality journalism than do their objective American counterparts.  The conservative London Economist observes none of the rules of objective journalism, yet by providing its readership with a thorough context for its reporting and respecting their intelligence sufficiently to indulge its many biases, it manages to provide the sharpest and most engaging reporting in the English-speaking world.   In our own political culture, public television journalist Bill Moyers manages the almost superhuman feat of delving into intricate social and intellectual questions while managing to avoid virtually all of the theatricality and reductiveness that characterizes the rest of television's public discourse.  In a small, but significant fashion--if only for demonstrative purposes--Moyers' success  demonstrates that the medium does have the capacity to stimulate debate without paying heed to the twin shibboleths of objectivity or infotainment.

By destroying the prestige of pure opinion unsupported by factual investigation, a more honest journalism could deal a mighty blow to the power of pseudo-language, pseudo-events and pseudo-environments in American politics.  None of these are completely eradicable.  The dilemmas diagnosed by Lippmann predated the birth of the pundit business and they would undoubtedly outlast its demise.  The inanity of television culture, as well as the cozy and corrupt political relationships that help sustain the punditocracy, may still thwart the emergence of a more sensible national debate.  But once we withdraw the prestige associated with the utterance of wholly ignorant pronouncements in the media, the burden of proof in a political argument would come to rest on a writer's ability to marshall his facts into a coherent context.

A second justification for the elimination of the pretense of objectivity is the currently lamentable state of journalistic prose.  This is not a trivial issue.  Many of the country's most prestigious newspapers are also its most boring, resembling what A.J. Liebling once called "Adolph Ochs' colorless, odorless, and especially tasteless [New York] Times."  Newspapers are losing readers in America in large measure because young people do not recognize their relevance to their lives.  This is not only unfortunate for their stockholders, but it has an insidious effects on the quality of our political culture and the nature of the country's "culture of communication."

By attempting to produce an almost scientific representation of political behavior, the cult of journalistic objectivity has plundered the guts out of American politics.  Stripped of an comprehensible intellectual and emotional context for the news, Americans lose their personal engagement with politics.  Requiring some sort of connection to a larger community, they grasp instead for the vicarious emotional fulfillment of the worship of celebrity.  The resulting abdication from politics, coupled with the increasing identification with the culture of celebrity, represents, as much as any single development, the foundation of the punditocracy's opportunity to hijack our national political dialogue and direct it towards goals and ambitions that have precious little relevance to most Americans' lives.  Were contemporary journalists able once again to recapture the hearts and minds of its readership, the reconstruction of our community conversation might follow.

It is possible to imagine, in such a scenario, the rejuvenation of the American political process as national issues once again re-enter emotional and intellectual psyches of ordinary Americans.  The return of a journalism of engagement would not by itself cure American politics of its many ailments.  It certainly will not by itself reverse the nation's long-term economic and environmental decline.  But by undermining the prestige of ignorant opinion, by reducing the element of pure theatrics from our politics, and by expanding the parameters of permissible political thought, a new American journalism could help to break down the barriers that currently frustrate our ability to address the tasks that lay before us.  We cannot begin to solve our problems until we first learn how to talk about them.

Genuinely funny:

Alter-reviews:
In the “Now that you mention it, what took you so long?” department, America’s best music show, Austin City Limits, has teamed up with New West records to release DVDs and live collections from some of their most memorable performances.  The first batch, available on both CD and DVD feature our buddy Steve Earle, the Flatlanders, our buddy Robert Earl Keen, and Susan Tedechi (wife of Derek Trucks, briefly lead singer for the post-Jerry Dead).  I hear Leonard Cohen and Richard Thompson may be planned for the future.  Steve’s performance is from way back in 1986.  Everybody else is from the early 2000s.  You can read all about them here.  I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Also out of Texas and not destroying the country is the release of the DVD from Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival featuring EC, naturally, together with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Eric Johnson, Robert Cray, JT, Carlos Santana, ZZ Top, JJ Cale, and lots of other guys with two initials.  Seriously it’s great, though I’m still angry at the crowd.  I got a new 46 inch DLP TV and hooked it up yesterday and watched this while working on that “ Think Again” piece up there.  I think it helped a lot, though all of a sudden, Clapton has more DVDs than The Who have greatest hits albums.

Correspondents Corner:

Name: Steve Sykes
Hometown: Springfield, IL

How in the heck does Stephen Hirsch get from Exodus 21:22-23 that the Torah doesn't consider the fetus a human being?

The passage reads: ""If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely [5] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows.  But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life."

It seems to me the Torah is saying if a woman gives birth prematurely and neither she nor the baby is seriously injured, the lesser punishment applies (babies CAN be born prematurely and live, you know).  But if there is serious injury (I assume to either mother or child), the Torah requires life for life.

So let's re-examine this game of "I know the Torah better than you."

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Eric,
What a breath of fresh NY air to read about Bobby Short, who absolutely rocks!  I saw him a few times when he was merely 65 or so at the Carlyle, and the last time he was in Seattle, but living out here I have to make due with his great two-disc set from about 20 years ago.  Can't wait to explain to my little ones why "On The Amazon" and "Her Mother Came Too" are so funny, needless to mention why "Lydia The Tattooed Lady" was ever thought of as unusual!  There's so much good music we can give to/share with our kids; I've already explained the lyrics to most of Louis Jordan's greatest hits to my 4 year-old, now it's time to go upscale.  Thanks for reminding me of Mr. Short; I'll have to put his discs into the rotation in my car's CD player tonight.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,
Wow!!!  You sure know how to hurt a righty red stater.  Bobby Short!  I would pay that $95 in a "Birmingham Minute."  My wife and I visited your great city for the first time for pleasure a few weeks ago.  We went with some NYC veterans.  What a city!  Of course we're envious, until we get back home.

Bobby Short.  Wow!  Thanks for the review.

Name: Jeff
Hometown: B'town

Check out the transcript from Now With Bill Moyers and Sister Joan Chittister.  "WOW," is all I could say.  Here is an example of the discourse that took place.

Sr. Joan: "But I do not believe that just because you're opposed to abortion that that makes you pro-life.  In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking.  If all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed and why would I think that you don't?  Because you don't want any tax money to go there.  That's not pro-life.  That's pro-birth.  We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."

Maybe she should be on the Dem ticket in 2008.

November 17, 2004 | 1:34 PM ET

Meet the new boss

The New Rules of Bush II

  1. Only yes-men and women need apply, here.
  2. Experience not necessary; especially in the places where it keeps people alive and protects the nation from threats to our security, here.
  3. Competence also not necessary, here. (See also above.)
  4. Liars and Crooks welcome, here.
  5. Oh yeah, You’ll never work in this town again, here.

When Richard Blow published that tell all book about John Kennedy, I wondered in this space whether it profits a man to have the best-selling book in America and ruin his career at the same time.  But Blow had an idea I didn’t think of.  Meet Richard Bradley.

Speaking of When Presidents Lie, the talk for which is still not scheduled for C-Span Book TV, a Foreign Affairs editor who reviewed it in San Francisco Chronicle thought it was OK.

Dr. Atrios too.  Sorry about that

Reading list:
Sharon and the politics of Palestine, here.
Also Roger Angel on the Sox, here.

Alter-reviews:
After years of trying, I finally got to go see Bobby Short and his terrific nonet last night at the Café Carlyle, and unlike most things to which one looks forward for years, it wasn’t disappointing at all.  It was even better than I imagined.  Bobby is eighty and his gait is not what it once was—perhaps he’s lost a few notes in his voice, I dunno—but as an entertainer, he was all there.  I saw him in anteroom before the show, looking a little depressed, and not all that friendly.  But when he stepped on stage, a light went on inside the guy and he was all of a sudden ageless, timeless, inhabiting the music and making it sing.  I expected a series of standards with a lot of Cole Porter.  What I got was an education on forgotten gems from the twenties and thirties by composers of whom I had only the slightest inkling, accompanied by lovely little lectures on their provenence and context.  (This is one of my obsessions; I hate it when musicians refuse to explain their music, even when they know nobody knows anything about it.  I particularly hate it when jazz musicians won’t even tell you a song title.)  Anyway, Bobby had said he was going to retire this year and, thankfully, decided he couldn’t do it. So I got to see him on the first night of the sixth week of a sixteen week stand of a thirty-six year run. And still it was the special-est of special occasions. (Now here’s the bad news: $95 cover; two shows a night. Check here.)

Along the same lines, I’m enjoying the new five-CD collection of the history of Broadway, on Sony Legacy, which came out to accompany the PBS specials that aired earlier in the Autumn.  They’re the best ones I’ve ever seen, replacing the old Smithsonian collection which I think has become impossible to find, beginning with Al Jolson and ending with stuff that’s playing right now.  It favors belters, naturally, and has decent liner notes, but one weird thing; no place to put it.  It just sits outside the box.  Anyway, I can’t see that anything’s missing and I can’t think of anybody I know who wouldn’t like it.

Finally, while everything related to Teddy Roosevelt seems to be a bestseller, not too many people take the trouble to consult the man’s words themselves.  Maybe that’ll change with the handsome new Library of America editions, containing his speeches, writings and autobiography.  If only they made Republicans this way these days, we’d all be a lot better off.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: A Former Major Bob
Hometown: Somewhere in Southern California

Doctor A,
I have to respond to "Major Bob's" comments that were posted on 11/16.  The Prussian military philosopher Clausewitz enumerated nine principles of war, one of which is "Unity of Command."  Assuredly, the Fallujah offensive was conducted under a unified command.  Command relationships are classified during the course of an ongoing operation.  However, as Fallujah lies in the Marines' sector, it is a safe assumption that the Marines are in charge of all U.S. and Iraqi ground forces that are participating in the operation.

As one who has participated in many joint (meaning multi-service) and combined (meaning multi-lateral) exercises and operations, I can without a doubt say that the leader of the Fallujah offensive is responsible for all units under his command.  He is responsible to fuel up the empty trucks, to feed the hungry mouths, to re-arm the empty weapons, and to evacuate the killed and wounded - regardless of the service or country of origin.

I am convinced that the leaders of the Fallujah offensive do not seek to mislead the American public, however.  Instead, the leaders of the Fallujah offensive are protecting the operational security of the operation and hence the lives of those involved.  The accurate numbers will be revealed in due time, when they no longer pose a risk to the success of the operation.  The responsibility then lies with the free and independent press of this nation to present the results to the American public.  Will they do so?  Dr. A, we can count on you.

Name: Patrick Williams
Hometown: Berwyn, IL

I really wish the quotation-mark-lovin' "Rev." Larry Robinson would stop referring to the Christian faith, as if all of us buy into his peculiar brand of fundamentalism.  I'm a  white, 32-year-old, straight, married, Christian male.  I own my own business.  I attend church regularly where as an elder, I serve on the church session.  I grew up in the Midwest (Iowa) and my extended family all live in the Midwest.  None of us (except my father-in-law) voted for Bush.  I find the "Rev." Larry's politics and theology to be repugnant and disturbing.  If he wants to believe that homophobia, intolerance and hate are what Jesus taught, I would suggest that he may need to spend many more "years studying the Greek and Hebrew texts."  I would also suggest that he stop referring to those of us in the "Christian faith" as if we all agree with him.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ

"Laws have never changed anyone's heart or behavior.  The history of the Jews and their response to the Laws of Moses provide all the proof we need of this case."  EXCUSE ME!  This Ba'al Tschuva only eats strictly Kosher, keeps the Sabbath, and knows a heck of a lot more Tanakh than the Good Reverend.  For example, I know, and the Good Reverend probably doesn't, that Torah does not consider a fetus a human being (Exodus 21:22-3), that no one ever poked out anybody's eye in the name of the Halakha (Jewish Law), that no boy was ever put to death for being a drunkard and a glutton, etc.

I think that I am just about the only Observant Jew who voted for Kerry.  I just can't understand the historical amnesia of the Orthodox communities; these people are the ones who led pogroms, who operated the death camps.

November 16, 2004 | 11:10 AM ET

Too long at the fair

Lucky for me, Colin Powell and William Safire decided to announce their respective retirements on the same day; it saves me the trouble of having to write the same thing twice.  “It is more in sorrow than in anger that I note the retirement of this once much-admired conservative who, unfortunately, sacrificed the respect of liberals and centrists alike with a fealty to right-wing plots and machinations under the Bush administration—including but not limited to—the Iraq war that destroyed a career’s worth of credibility and honest achievement.”  (If you take a look at Sound & Fury, you’ll see that I placed Safire alone with Mike Kinsley as a genuinely interesting and intellectually exciting pundit whose honesty trumped his political calculations.  Boy does that seem like a long time ago.  One wonders if he will acknowledge that Mohammed Atta never met the head of Iraq secret service in Prague in April 2001 or if he will go to his grave having misinformed Times readers of that “undisputed fact” with no apology or explanation.  (New York Times, 11/12/01)  By the way, that “undisputed fact” line is not a “mistake,” it’s a lie.  The “fact” of that non-existent meeting is nothing if not disputed.) 

As for Powell, we recall this vis-à-vis the most important speech of his life, care of Charles J. Hanley, an Associated Press reporter, by way of The Book on Bush.

  • Powell presented satellite photos of various buildings and vehicles and in order to suggest they the Iraqis were shielding chemical and biological weapons, and the missiles with which to launch them.  At two such sites, he insisted the trucks were really "decontamination vehicles" associated with chemical weapons.  In fact, these very sites had undergone 500 recent inspections. Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix had explained a day earlier that no contraband was and no signs that anything had been moved was detectable.  Norwegian inspector Jorn Siljeholm told The Associated Press on March 19 that "decontamination vehicles" found by U.N. teams were actually fire trucks.  No contrary evidence was ever found.

  • Powell played audio tapes of Arabic-speaking individuals speaking about a "modified vehicle," "forbidden ammo" and "the expression 'nerve agents'."  He said they were intercepts of Iraqi army officers.  But there is no way to judge if any of this was true as no context was provided.  Meanwhile, if army sources were searching for “forbidden ammo,” then this makes perfect sense.  The Iraqis had informed U.N. inspectors they would conduct exactly those searches.  When they completed them, they gave four stray, empty chemical warheads to UN inspectors.  Powell also mistranslated his final tape, according to the official U.S. translation.  What Powell translated as "cleared out,” was later explained to be "inspected," which was hardly nefarious.

  • Powell said "classified" documents found at a nuclear scientist's Baghdad home were "dramatic confirmation" of intelligence saying prohibited items were concealed that way.  These never materialized.

  • Powell noted Iraq had declared it produced only 8,500 liters of anthrax before 1991, but U.N. inspectors had estimated the potential to make 25,000 liters.  None, he argued, had been "verifiably accounted for.”  Yet no anthrax was ever found in Iraq after the invasion.

  • Powell said defectors told of "biological-weapons factories" on trucks and in train cars, displaying artistic portrayals of them.  These too, never materialized, despite administration attempts to hype the discovery what were later judged to be weather-balloon fueling stations.  (See below.)

  • Powell accused Iraq of creating four tons of the nerve agent VX.  "A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes.”  But the secretary neglected to note that most of the VX had been verifiably destroyed in the 1990s under U.N. supervision.  The Iraqis showed inspectors where they had destroyed the rest and chemical analyses undertaken by the UN generally confirmed this.  An analysis by the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London found that all-pre 1991 VX would probably have degraded, and none was ever found following the invasion.

  • Powell claimed, "We know that Iraq has embedded key portions of its illicit chemical-weapons infrastructure within its legitimate civilian industry.”  This was never found either.  A September 2002 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, available to Powell at the time, found "no reliable information" on "where Iraq has — or will — establish its chemical-warfare-agent-production facilities."

  • Powell claimed, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical-weapons agent."  The source of this too, remains a mystery given the DIA’s admitted lack of knowledge.  In any case, none was ever found.

  • Powell argued that 122-mm chemical warheads found by U.N. inspectors in January might be the "tip of an iceberg."  He failed to note, however that the warheads were empty, and were assumed by inspectors to be "debris from the past."  The 1980s.  None have since been found.

  • Powell claimed, “Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons. ... And we have sources who tell us that he recently has authorized his field commanders to use them.”  Again, no such weapons were ever found, much less used.

  • Powell claimed, "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear-weapons program."  But of course, had no real evidence that he begun it either. See below.

  • Powell credited "intelligence sources" for discovering that Iraq possessed a secret force of up to a few dozen prohibited Scud-type missiles with a range of 600 miles, and was blocking its test facility from spy satellites.  Nothing to support these claims was ever discovered. (Charles J. Hanley, “U.S. Justification for War: How It Stacks Up Now,” The Seattle Times, August 10, 2003, p. A4.)

Fred Kaplan is kinder and gentler than am I.

The Schadenfreude Starts Here
As for the appointment of Condi, talk about failing upward.  It will be interesting to see how the media portrays her profound incompetence as National Security Adviser (she insisted, recall, that she did not even read the National Intelligence Estimate before the president’s State of the Union), and sorta entertaining to see the world to go hell in its proverbial handbasket at the accelerated pace that her elevation to the top job will undoubtedly ensure.  (Is this a Rovian plot to discredit an ethnic group that voted overwhelmingly against Bush?  Was Gonzales?  Who knows with this bunch?  This evil doctor sure is good at getting us to spend our time thinking up conspiracy theories, though.)  Remember my Kissinger/Zbig rule; though: Any journalist who sucks up to Condi by calling her “Dr. Rice,” has to use the same honorific for Josh M. and me, too--that is if we’re still speaking to you.

As for a “replacement” for Safire, isn’t that David Brooks?  He’s managed to complete the same cycle it took Safire over thirty years to manage in barely one.  Must we really endure another Weekly Standard editor on the pages of the “liberal” New York Times?”  (If we must, I expect it will be either Robert Kagan or Christopher Caldwell.  I can’t think of anyone else who’d be even remotely appropriate.)

Someone else who might want to think about considering the Safire/Powell path is David Broder.  Take a look at this column in which he slaps Maureen Dowd around for being insufficiently admiring of Bush and Co.  Broder’s entire evidential edifice for insisting that those who worry about the extremism of a second Bush administration is the fact that a few unnamed Democratic senators made polite noises about Alberto Gonzales of the kind that absolutely any politician could say about anyone this side of Ted Bundy.  Really, Broder is such an easy mark for these right-wing Republicans, it’s an embarrassment to read him.  A young reader once sent me a first-rate graduate seminar paper on the degree to which Broder bent over backwards to suck up to Bush during the 2000 election.  He sent it to Broder and Broder said he agreed with it and well, he didn’t like Al Gore.  As if that somehow justified the many journalistic and intellectual shortcomings his work manifested as a result.  Not including Ted Koppel, Broder, together with Tim Russert, are perhaps the most admired journalists in all Washington.  If you spend any time examining the biases inherent in each man’s work, you’ll see just how much the conservative ascendancy has done to corrupt the profession at its highest reaches.  I wrote this a while back and then expanded and adapted it for What Liberal Media?

Quote of the Day: “You're as mainstream as anybody.”  
--Tucker Carlson to Amy Goodman, on that terrific PBS show of his, here.

In the Tank: Elisabeth Bumiller of the liberal New York Times manages to write an entire story about the fact that Jacques Chirac did not make his congratulatory phone call until a week after the election, on Nov. 9., without mentioning anywhere that Bush never called Gerhard Schröder after his re-election and Condi bragged about this.

Alter-correction:  Yesterday when I took slight umbrage at Dan Kennedy, I was really reacting to a letter he published from Michael Goldfarb.  My slight umbrage was therefore misdirected, and Dan has been good enough to inform me.  You can read him here.

Alter-review: Chick Corea is large.  He contains multitudes.  The other night, at the Blue Note in New York, I caught a set by his re-united Elektric Band,  playing the new compositions from "To the Stars" (Concord), a new album based on the characters and action of an L. Ron Hubbard science-fiction novel from 1950.  If you think that sounds like an unpromising premise for musical creativity, well, then, boy are you right.  Corea is an impressively versatile musical genius and can play almost anything and make it interesting if nearly engaging, but he was really stretching himself with this material.  The Times review gets it right, methinks.

Meanwhile, I also saw Steve Earle on the Sunday night before the election at the Bowery Ballroom.  It seems like an eternity ago, and while the show had some pacing issues, it closed very strong with songs from the terrific new album, “The Revolution Starts… Now” which will keep us warm on the cold nights ahead.  Steve mention that he is moving to New York.  Welcome, bro, to the capital of the loyal Opposition.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Major Bob,
Hometown: Somewhere in Virginia

Eric,
A quick word from your military advisor, and a salve to your militarily challenged friend "Bob" in Paoli, PA, site of one of our worst one-sided military defeats in American history.

Bob wrote, "Here is what I believe to be both what could be taken to be proof of an already existing "credibility gap" with respect to statements by the military about events in Iraq, and a prime example of reporting which refuses to confront this Administration and its spokespersons (military and otherwise)."

He can relax.  See, "Marine" does not equal "military."

When the Marine general commanding the Marine division spoke of 69 American service members being wounded, he was only able to speak about his Marines.  When the AP also reported a higher number of wounded, that number included the Army servicemen wounded.  (Despite the press, and no offense to my media-saavy Marine brothers) the marines make up a very small percentage of the overall forces in Iraq.  They are, in fact, only half the assault on Fallujah.  But when Marines speak, well, they have this unfortunate tendency to refer to their own casualties as the be-all-and-end-all.  They are magnificent fighters, my Marine brothers.  Some might argue they are even better at Public Relations and self-service-media promotion.

So rest easy, Bob from Paoli.  We are not lying.  Your journalist was not sufficiently clear to his reading audience.  This is common, at times, when you are immersed.  You forget that everyone doesn't know what you know, and so you are not clear enough in your writing.

Name: Judith Wood
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Mr. Alterman,
I just read your reply to the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY and am deeply offended that you would questions this mans honesty and integrity.  When this man, whom I have met and deeply respect, says something, it is honest and true.  This man will only write what he truely feels or believes.

Mr. Alterman, you owe this man an apology.  A few hours of prayer asking forgiveness from God for slandering a godly man would also be appropriate.

Name: Rev. Larry Robinson
Hometown: Moreno Valley CA

I am appreciative of the comments made by "Stupid" regarding whether Christians do or should seek to codify morality.  While I think everyone would agree that we have and should codify certain forms of immorality such as murder, child or spousal abuse, etc., there is real division over the extent to which we should seek to involve government in other areas like abortion and "gay marriage."  I also disagree when he states that "liberals believe that religion should motivate individuals but should not be codified."  Frankly, most liberals I have read or dialogued with are usually ambivalent about biblical morals, hence their lack of conviction or direction about either motivation or codification. 

For quite some time now there has been a dialogue within the conservative Christian ranks (probably not on the radar screen for most non-Christians) on this issue.  Led by more recognized individuals like Cal Thomas the columnist and at a much lower public level by thousands of pastors like myself, we are attempting to change the entire dialogue and understanding for all Christians on these issues.

I confess that in my early zeal as a pastor and evangelist I led many charges against abortion and gay rights issues (to state the more obvious and disputed issues).  As I have hopefully grown as an individual and as someone who is now an elder in my faith, I have gone through some transitions in my understanding of Christianity's role in our wonderful constitutional republic.

It is my current position and in my preaching and teaching to the members of the Christian faith, that in these disputed areas, we will never realize our hopes for all Americans through legislation.  Laws have never changed anyone's heart or behavior.  The history of the Jews and their response to the Laws of Moses provide all the proof we need of this case.

All the noise through the media is on those who perpetuate the debate on whether the conservative Christian right can succeed in legislating against abortion and "gay marriage."  Within our conservative Christian community the debate is more focused on the statements by President Bush.  In my opinion, he understands both the moral basis of our nation's history and the rights clearly defined in the Constitution.  Further, that the real issue is how to balance our moral foundations and strict interpretation of the Constitution. 

For many of us conservative Christians who participate in both our faith and civic discussion, we agree as stated by the President about the abortion and gay marriage issues.  They are clearly defined (I know some will disagree, but I speak from many years of studying the Greek and Hebrew texts as well as historical commentaries) as sinful by our faith.  Judeo-Christian societies have always deemed marriage to be a religious institution sanctioned by God.

The actual course that I would see as best aligning with the Constitution and our moral foundations would be to:

1.  Abortion-Unless the Supreme Court rules that life begins at conception (highly unlikely), they should reverse Roe v Wade and return the issue back to the individual states.  I don't want to see any legal abortions because I believe that life begins at conception.  However, I must be true to my civic responsibilities and agree that this would then fall back into the authority of the individual states.  And again, we Christians should actively seek to bring people into a heart change towards the life of the unborn and the born.

2.  Marriage-As stated above, marriage is a religious institution sanctioned by God.  The term needs to be retained as it was created and intended.  However, I understand from a constitutional standpoint that while I personally and biblically find the relationship of two gays abhorrent, the Constitution does not prohibit the individual states from creating civil unions as they define them.  It will produce a moral breakdown in our society but we've already been on that road for a long time.

Thank you for the opportunity to join in the dialogue.

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle

Eric,
I'm troubled regarding Carl Gottleib's (Managing Editor, Sinclair Broadcast Group, News Central) letter, which ended thusly: "The difference between you and I is that I always seek to air diverse opinions, especially those that are controversial...."

Maybe we can call in some NFL review refs to check on this, but back in my days of journalism, a managing editor was familiar with the English language; in fact, he was charged with enforcing its rules on the authors and column editors.  Maybe that's the difference between "he and I."  Oops, I mean "him and I."  NO:  I mean "me and..." oh, you know what I'm getting at.  I send out plenty of typo-ridden e-mails to friends, but if I want someone to take me seriously in a semi-formal letter, I try to avoid basic mistakes such as nominative/objective or subject/verb disagreements.

Name: M. F. Buckley
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Hi, Eric. I wondered if you'd heard about the Federalist Society's convention here in Washington last week.  As one would expect, it produced some delightful points to ponder, to wit:

In his address, featured speaker John Ashcroft said that "second-guessing of presidential determinations in ... critical areas can put at risk the very security of our nation in a time of war."  Wow.  Second-guessing presidential determinations.  If Congress had taken the time to second-guess Bush's "determinations" about WMDs, 9/11 connection, etc., might over 1,100 troops still be alive?  Hussein would still be in power, but would we accept that criterion for pre-emptively imprisoning North Korea's leader as well as Iran's, while killing thousands of innocent Koreans and Iranians?

Antonin Scalia attacked judges who "turn to their personal values in deciding cases."  What kind of lemonade were these guys drinking?  What kind of values, exactly, did Scalia follow in deciding Bush v. Gore 2000?

He went on to slam judges as having "no greater aptitude than the average person to determine moral issues"; this was, he said, "blindingly clear."  So is that his excuse for his own blindness--that it's the glare coming off of the judiciary population?  (Could someone create a video of Scalia singing "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night"?)

Psychology students should be able to recognize the phenomenon of projection in Scalia's description of "'unelected judges'" deciding issues like abortion and assisted suicide by pretending that they were making legal judgment."  Who has a mirror to put in front of this so-called Justice himself?

Well, we needed something entertaining.

November 15, 2004 | 11:13 AM ET

But enough about you…
Yes, it’s the right room for an argument

First off, take a look at the new column Paul and I wrote about the media consolidation menu for Bush II, here.  Then come back for Altercation-o-rama.

I seem to have started a lot of altercations lately, let’s see where we stand:

To Gary Hart:  Actually Gary, I was kinda pleased when I heard you were doing the TBR review of my book, since I expected a thoughtful, sympathetic, albeit non-expert reading.  Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the Book Review, knows what it is to spend more than a decade on a single work and had no intention of slighting my work.  But I (and I imagine Sam), expected you to stick to your areas of competence, which apparently do not include reading—much less writing—history.  And it’s true I would have felt worse if a “real” historian had hated my book, but you see so far, none of them have.  (Some of those reviews can be found here.)  That’s kinda my point.  If you had spent any time with the recent historiography of the Cuban missile crisis, you would never have made the silly and easily disproved accusations you made in your review.  (My original letter to the Times—which also confined itself to just to Hart’s criticism of the missile crisis chapter, was 1600 words. They gave me 750, which isn’t bad, as these things go.

To Heather Thomas:  I don’t want to get nasty dear, even though you certainly did, and I am sorely tempted.  I point to this, however because I imagine it earns me a certain amount of “cred” to be attacked by what people call the “Hollywood Left” even though I wrote what I feel pretty certain is the kindest and most sympathetic portrayal of this extremely lucky group of people ever to appear in a major national magazine.  And while I met a lot of people I liked and admired, and had a great time doing the article, I must say, I’ve come away with considerably more respect for the people whose job it is to keep them happy.

To this guy, who writes,

For liberals such as Alterman, it’s the gun owners, the religious right, the homophobes and the redneck-tobacco-chewing-beer-swilling WASPs who stole the election from those who truly care about America.  As elaborated in his column, “This was a faith-based electorate and, for whatever reason, their belief was stronger than our reality.”

Together with  Mark Steyn, syndicated in a lot of places, the Wall Street Journal blog guy, the New Criterion blog buy, and far too many others to count, some people have taken offense at my characterization of the election as a repudiation of the “reality-based community.”  All of these people need to reread Ron Suskind’s New York Times Magazine piece on President Bush, “ Without A Doubt."  That’s where the phrase originated and that’s the reference that everybody else seemed to get.

To this guy, who is apparently president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and says this: 

"Normal" people are not deeply committed Christians, explains Eric Alterman.  Alterman is a liberal journalist whose book "What Liberal Media?" is a rejoinder to Goldberg's Bias. Journalists are far more comfortable with the secular-minded, Alterman explains. Their worldview is taken as normal: "Indeed it is so normal, it does not occur to anyone to point it out." At least we know where we stand. And what about the journalists? Alterman reveals that most reporters are "clueless" about what conservative Christians really believe. They just know enough to know that we are not "normal."

To be honest, I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.  Some of my best friends are “deeply committed Christians” and I’m not in the business of deciding what’s “normal.”  If I really said what he says I said, I’d be amazed.  What is more likely, however, is that he is misreading something I did write and taking great umbrage—or pretending to—for no good reason.  There’s a lot of that going around and if you can learn to exploit it successfully, then your client can be president of the United States too.

Next up is Carl Gottleib, who is angry at me for refusing to do an interview with Sinclair Broadcasting because, he suspects, I’ve never seen it.

Dear Mr. Alterman,

One of our producers, Toni Randle, informed me of your decision not to participate in one of our broadcasts pertaining to media bias.  We hope to examine what is perceived to be bias from at least two sides of the political spectrum.

While I'm a bit chagrined by your position, I'm not that surprised.  My guess is you've never seen a News Central broadcast.  Certainly an "enlightened" position from an individual who writes for The Nation, always known as a "fair and balanced" publication.

As an Adjunct professor at Columbia University you surely must understand that freedom of speech should encompass all points of view.  Ours and even yours.

The difference between you and I is that I always seek to air diverse opinions, especially those that are controversial.  Typical of the left, you choose to silence or ridicule opinions different from yours.  Is this what you teach at Columbia?

Carl Gottlieb
Managing Editor
Sinclair Broadcast Group
News Central

Carl’s right about my never having seen Sinclair, but you know, that’s a phony standard.  I’ve never had root canal either, but I know enough about it from other people’s experiences to be pretty certain I’d rather spend a Saturday night doing something else.  I know enough about Sinclair (and here as well).  Anyway, here’s his letter, which I got permission to publish here.  (Let’s not go after the cheap shot response that I teach at CUNY not Columbia and as a full professor, not an adjunct; he can’t be expected to have Googled up my most recent bio.)

Bonus Altercation:  This exchange between Gary Schmitt, Executive Director of the Project for the New American Century, will appear in The Nation next week.  It is in response to this article which is drawn from this book, which you should buy.

In Eric Alterman’s “When Presidents Lie” (Oct. 25, 2004), he quotes a 1999 essay I co-authored with Abram Shulsky (“Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” ), in which we note that Strauss’s teaching about the history of philosophic esotericism “alerts one to the possibility that political life my be closely linked to deception.  Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.”  From this, Alterman suggests that we are licensing presidential dissembling.  In doing so, he turns the point we were making on its head.  As the context makes clear, our complaint is that the intelligence community’s analytic work, resting as it does on the foundations of modern social sciences and American political culture, does not take the possibility of other regimes actively engaging in deception as a normal part of their statecraft seriously enough.  Indeed, it is precisely because Americans believe, as the essay notes, that our politics can dispense with such behavior that we are not sufficiently aware of it in other states.  Maybe if Mr. Alterman worried more about the deceptions of states like North Korea and Iran than the so-called lies of President Bush he would have caught our point.

Gary Schmitt
Executive Director
Project for the New American Century

Eric Alterman replies: 

New York City - I will accept Gary Schmitt's interpretation of the essay he wrote with Abram Shulsky and offer my apologies.  I don't think we have much to learn about his application of it, however.  The genuine threats to the United States from Iran and North Korea have been allowed to fester owing to the focus of so many self-styled Straussian neoconservatives on Iraq, which -despite the Bush Administration's deceptions on this point- presented no significant prewar threat to the United States.  This abject policy failure has come to dominate nearly every aspect of our foreign policy -in addition to providing a recruitment tool for anti-American terrorists the world over.

Those of us who had the foresight to oppose this misadventure are in a far stronger position to lecture war supporters about the failure to focus on the threats from Iran and North Korea -rather than vice-versa. 

Finally, on the topic of Strauss himself, I recommend Mark Lilla's recent two-part examination of his work and its influence in The New York Review of Books.  It is Lilla's contention that U.S. neoconservatives have hijacked the work of a great philosopher to suit their own purposes.  It wouldn't be the first time (see my column, " Stop Thief," October 16, 2000).      
-Eric Alterman

Finally, I like Dan Kennedy's work, but is it really appropriate for him to issue me blog orders on how to do my job?  Do I tell Dan how to do his job?  Do I tell Dan how to do anything?  I could respond on the particulars—Have I ever presented myself as a “shoe leather” reporter?  And you know, Sal does just about all the music reviews-- but the larger point is the more important one.  What is it about a blog that gives people the idea they are all of a sudden qualified to tell everybody how to do everything?  Dan, bubbela, I already have a mother.

And finally, finally, to that guy on Atrios who had me pegged as the Running Dog Lackey of the Fascist State, well, OK you win.  I’ll cop to that one.  When do I get the check?

Like all that fancy grammar up above?  Yes. Mr. Maloney taught me well, and so I’m sorry he’s not here so that I could brag to him about being appointed to the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.  Together with getting “punditocracy” in the OED, I can just about retire to my riches now—once I get Dan’s permission….

Bonus non-altercation item: Is Dubya Barney Fife?

Alter-mini review:
Rhino’s got a bunch of new Christmas collections, and my favorites are Sinatra, Dino and the Beach Boys.  There’s also an interesting new Joni Mitchell collection—the best one yet—called “Dreamland” which catches you up on later stuff if you’ve missed it.  You can check all of them out here.  I’ve also been listening to a lot of the new CD by Eleni Mandell, whom I discovered when Slate noted that someone in The New Yorker had termed her "perhaps the best unsigned artist in the business."  Her new CD is a little Tom Waits, and a little Ella, if you can imagine, with a country side too, all of which is intelligently and elegantly put together. You can read more about her new CD here.

Pierce’s Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
"The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."

And there it is.  Courtesy of a former (you freaking bet!) top-level spook, as relayed by Knut Royce of The Baltimore Sun yesterday, the single dumbest notion yet to leak out from under the Mayberry Machiavellis.  I have enormous respect for the Newsday guys, and I have no illusions that this would ever happen in any major newspaper, but ought not the next piece of the story read something like this?

"Of course, as history and common sense would tell us, this perception no more conforms to reality than it would if the White House perceived the CIA to be a pod of humpback whales, an exaltation of larks, a gathering of the Inuit tribes, or an alternative rock band from Pullman, Washington.  Sources have declined comment on whether or not the White House political operation has stopped its brief experiment with psilocybin mushrooms."

The reality is no joke.  The CIA is on its way to becoming the enforcement arm of whatever the foreign policy fantasts next want to foist on the nation.  Unless, of course, the CIA decides to fight back.  There's progressive politics for you in November of 2004 -- hoping that the spooks will covertly undermine the lunacies of an elected government.  Thanks again, America.

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