Update: 12:09 PM ET

This just in!!!  Deep Throat is Mark Felt : He's confessed in Vanity Fair. More TK

May 31, 2005 | 11:53 AM ET | Permalink

Back in 1969, when much of the country appeared to be losing its collective mind, a bunch of black students at Cornell decided to play at revolution by taking over the Student Center with guns.  The Cornell administration caved in to their demands and infuriated a lot of people.  Though many on the left cheered, those committed to liberal thought and free inquiry understood that this was a victory for Leninism over liberalism, and needed to be protested and condemned.  I don’t want to go into the whole mishigas except to point out the law of unintended consequences.  As Jason DeParle reported in Sunday’s Times, it also inspired the creation of the Olin Foundation, whose funding of right-wing intellectuals has more damage to liberalism—and to liberal causes -- than these play-at-revolution types could ever have imagine.  DeParle explains:

In 1969 when armed students took over a building at his alma mater, Cornell University, Mr. Olin was shaken. Four years later, past his 80th birthday, he began pouring time and money into the small foundation he created 20 years earlier, saying he wanted to preserve the free enterprise system that had made his own wealth possible.

Mr. Olin and his wife, Evelyn, gave the foundation about $145 million; riding two bull markets since his death in 1982, it has given out about $380 million. About $6 million is left and will be awarded before the doors of its office in New York close in November.

With William E. Simon, a former Treasury secretary, as its first president, the foundation quickly focused on intellectual elites. "The basic instincts of the American people were conservative, but the intellectuals are moving in an opposite direction," said Mr. Piereson, who joined the foundation in 1981 and became its director four years later. "Our job was to show the American people why they were right."

Read all about it here.

By the way, that quote of Mr. Pierson’s is, um, borrowed from Irving Kristol who said it over thirty years ago:

The job of the Neoconservative intellectual, Kristol once remarked, was "to explain to the American people why they are right and to the intellectuals why they are wrong."

And speaking of which, check out the new look of Media Transparency the people who track this sort of thing and give even the laziest of reporters no excuses for failing to follow the money.

Trashing Mark Whittaker: More on “Mr. Conflict of Interest”
I have to admit, I really don’t get the veneration in which Howard Kurtz is held in some quarters.  Aside from having what may be the single most glaring conflict of interest in all of the elite media, he is also regularly breaks the simplest rules of journalism without sanction.  Take for instance this profile of Newsweek’s editor.  Much of the Newsweek story, you will recall is concerned with the needless overuse of anonymous sources—even when they advance the story.  But even journalists who over-rely on anonymous sources for informational purposes, know better than to allow someone to trash another person with the cover of anonymity.  Doing so is simply to be a hatchet man.  (The Village Voice’s Ken Silverstein—then a kind of mini-Alex Cockburn in training, once wrote a hatchet job on me that included not a single attributed quote.)  In any case, for no good reason in terms of advancing his story—not that that would make it right -- Kurtz writes, “Privately, some staffers say Whitaker can be too cautious, too predictable, too bureaucratic, 'the ultimate apparatchik,' as one puts it."

Now try this: “Privately, some staffers say Kurtz beats his wife, 'the ultimate wife-beater,' as one puts it."

Shame on everyone involved.

Though I’ve got a Nation column coming out on the Newsweek brouhaha this week, I can’t resist adding how funny it is that Howie’s new hero is Jeff Jarvis.   Look what that sensible, level-headed fellow had to say about Newsweek: Its story, he charged, "cost people their lives, put the lives of our soldiers in the Mideast at risk, damaged the American position in the effort to defend itself and spread democracy, and damaged the already tattered reputation of journalism."  Congrats to Newsweek in joining both yours truly and the New York Times in having been accused by this excitable fellow of murder-by journalism.  Bozo.

Just as long as they don’t create any phony blogs, here, that would be really bad.

Did Time go far enough in defending Ann Coulter?  Perhaps not, here.

The Downing Street Memo:  What if?

I have seen the punditocracy’s future and its name is TPM Café.  Wow.  Who knew Josh was this ambitious?  We are indeed breathless.

Registration for "Glory Days: A Bruce Springsteen Symposium" is now available at the conference Web site.

Altercation Anniversary Allocation
One of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in the past year was when I was invited by a class of seniors at DeWitt Clinton High School to discuss What Liberal Media after all of them had read it with their teacher.  The invitation took place because of a program called “Behind the Book,” which matches classes up with the authors they (or their teachers) would like to meet and talk to about their books after the kids have read them.  It is run on a shoestring by its dedicated founder, Jo Umans (who also ferried me both ways) and it could use the help of anyone who thinks New York City public high school students could benefit from reading good books and meeting their authors.  Read all about it here and then click here to reach into your wallet for the cause.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman, Siva Vaidhyanathan submits that "climate change is real, serious, and irreversible" in light of the fact that "all the serious, independent scientists who have studied these issues agree."  With all due respect, I've done the reading and opposite of the suggestion otherwise, it's not even close to being settled, especially "once you get beyond religious kooks and petroleum-company-sponsored "studies," and I might add environmentalists to that list. There is currently serious, vigorous debate as to whether global temperature is merely cyclical and whether or not human activity has had any effect on such cycles.  To suggest that global warming is settled and irreversible is beyond the current state of science, and as astutely pointed out by one of Siva's respondents, closed-minded.

Name: Jordan Landes
Comments:
Hi Dr. Eric-
I am a bit late on this piece of news, but thought I'd pass it on... I got it from the International
Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA).  The president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, has closed all of the country's libraries.  This action appears to coincide with the emptying of bookstores, book burnings, and cancellation and banning of cultural events.  The one library that seems to have avoided closure is the National Library.  IFLA has strongly protested the action, but I haven't been able to find anything about the U.S. Government's response.  (I also read about it in The Guardian, but haven't seen anything about a UK response, either).

The U.S. seems to have encouraged India to get its gas supply from Turkmenistan, rather than Iran, and General Abazaid just met with the Turkmen president last year.  Relations are not chilly, despite a continued record of human rights offenses, leading to the denial of cultural and educational institutions and resources.

Thanks for letting me spread the library news!

Name: Mark Williams
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
I have posted the video of Mr. Alterman speaking at Rep. Conyers' forum on media bias.  I know that Rep. Conyers posted the video clips on his Web site but I thought you guys might enjoy a higher quality version of his appearance.  Thanks for taking the time to read this e-mail and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
-Mark Williams, DEMbloggers.com

May 27, 2005 | 12:09 PM ET | Permalink

Slacker Friday through Monday

I’ve got a new ”Think Again” column here.  It’s my opening statement to the Conyers/House Judiciary Committee forum on media bias.

Also, this from the BBC:  Stupid, Bigoted, Counterproductive Boycott of Israeli Academics called off

Lecturers overturn Israel boycott

UK academics have voted to overturn a boycott of two Israeli universities accused of complying with anti-Palestinian polices.

Members of the Association of University Teachers had previously decided to sever all links with Bar-Ilan and Haifa universities.

The academics' body now says it is time to "build bridges" between those with opposing views and support peace moves.

We told you so.

Definition of the day: “Moral victory” = “loss"

"We won the moral argument. They just won the vote." (from the above).

Speaking of which, here is “Hitchens vs. Young Max Blumenthal: the Bar Mitzvah Tapes, Volume III,” (The authentic bootleg edition).

Speaking of which, this is not all together unrelated either.  Marty Peretz is passing along false information in order to exonerate the U.S. government actions leading to the mistreatment, and possibly murder of, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

In IPF Friday this week, MJ Rosenberg praises President Bush for actually treating Mahmoud Abbas with some respect.  At the White House, Bush said that no change in the 1949 armistice lines will be acceptable to the U.S. unless they are "mutually agreed to."  This has been a bad week for AIPAC.  They come to town bragging about being undamaged and stronger than ever and, a day or two later, Bush embraces Abbas and approves Iran's entrance into the WTO.  The 800 pound gorilla is ailing!

Slacker Friday

From: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: The Enlightenment
Eric:
Ever since I wrote on Altercation that evolution and global warming are settled issues, I have been getting some very interesting responses over on my blog, Sivacracy.net.

A Sivacracy reader named Jeff writes:

With all due respect Siva, you claim to be open to debate and new ideas, yet you close the door to argument on issues as huge as global warming and evolution as soon as YOU are satisfied with an answer.

I am thrilled that we have a bunch of new commenters who do not seem to share the core beliefs of me and everyone else who posts to Sivacracy.  I think that means we must be doing something right.  And yes, I am open to debate and new ideas.  But I am not going to waste my time debating things that are settled.  There are too many interesting and essential questions to be answered.

I wish I could apologize for closing debate on evolution and global warming.  But I didn't really do that.  Scientific consensus (in fact, near unanimity) did that.  That I am satisfied with the answers does not matter at all.  That SCIENTISTS are satisfied does.  See, all the serious, independent scientists who have studied these issues agree:

  1. Evolution is a fact.  Natural selection has been demonstrated time and time again in real time.  And molecular complexity is explainable in scientific terms.  No divine intervention needed.

  2. Climate change is real, serious, and irreversible.

Do the reading.  It's not even close to being controversial once you get beyond religious kooks and petroleum-company-sponsored "studies."

If I had the POWER to close public debate on these issues, I certainly would not.

But let's be clear here.  The true/false debates are over among experts who know something about this stuff.  It's going full force among those for whom faith-based science matters more than fact-based science.  I expect the noise to continue in school boards and blogs for many years.  There is nothing I can do about that.

However, if you mess with my school district, expect a hell of a fight.  If you want to make the students of your town or state a little more ignorant than mine, go right ahead.  Living in a free country means letting people make stupid choices for themselves.

We are lurching toward the dark ages again, people.  Just don't drag my town down with yours.

I will never apologize for declaring truth and defending science.  However, In the spirit of open-mindedness, I invite any of my readers to post comments or arguments on the following:

  • Astrology: Can 1/12 of the world's population share behavioral traits?

  • Wade Boggs' hitting prowess: did eating chicken before every game make him great?

  • Are people who live on the 13th floor doomed?

  • Leprechauns: Men or Myth?

Never let it be said that superstition has no place on Sivacracy!

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to go against conventional wisdom.  This week we saw John McCain ensure that 99% of Dubya's judges will be confirmed AND that the Democrats will get little visibility or credit with voters for opposing them.  This was hailed as a "triumph for the moderates."  I see the same false victory about to happen with immigration reform.  OK, I'm a hardliner against
immigration reform, but here I'm just talking about the Democrats' tone.  A few days ago Howard Dean made some needed comments recognizing how Dems ignore its African-American base.  Unfortunately he was drowned-out by the controversy over Mexican president Vicente Fox's racist remark juxtaposing Mexican "pride" and worth ethic with a quip about jobs "not even blacks want to do."  To me the real story on Fox has been the "reaction to the reaction."  The whole week every African-American columnist in town, from the two major papers to our version of the Amsterdam News (the Chicago Defender), has attacked Fox.  Clarence Page (Tribune/syndicated) and Mary Mitchell (Sun-Times) went further and criticized Jackson for absolving Fox too easily, and made direct arguments that liberalizing immigration -- illegal or legal -- hurts African-Americans.  Predictably nobody else touched the story (nor to my knowledge did any of the NY Times or Washington Post columnists).  The Republicans went so far as to come to Fox' support.  Senator Jeff Sessions blamed the whole thing on a politically correct media.  John Cornyn and John McCain also provided political cover. Democrats, as far as I saw, simply didn't comment.

If the Dems, Dubya, and "GOP moderates" combine to pass reform, I don't think a future anti-reform GOP candidate (hi George Allen) will suffer a backlash.  But I can see this doing to the Dem's base in 2008 what the gay marriage issue couldn't in 2004.  At the very least, I'd urge Dems to honor the anger that is out there.  There's no reason why reform supporters can't insist on an impact study on minority employment, even holding off changing permanent residency eligibility until the study is completed.  Or increase penalty/enforcement against employers who lie on the "we couldn't find U.S. citizens to do the job" statement.

Name: Withheld
Comments:
Eric, Unless you'd care to justify your use of the term, I have to protest that the WaPo editorial board is not conservative but centrist: pro-war and pro-free trade, yes, but also pro-choice, anti-death-penalty, anti-torture, and in favor of judicial and journalistic independence.  Don't collapse the ideological spectrum to two poles just because Post editorials haven't been tough enough on this administration's corruption and dishonesty.  I say this not because they've been tougher on such trends than most, though they probably have been, but because using reductive terminology is inaccurate and even W-like, at odds with your values and your obvious devotion to challenging but careful media criticism.

Eric replies:  Normally, I would not print an anonymous letter without a compelling reason.  I’m printing this one because it offers me the opportunity to make a useful clarification.  True, the Washington Post editorial board is socially liberal.  But on foreign policy it is dominated by old-fashioned hawks and newer-fangled neocons.  It has long been thus, and in this regard, it mirrors much of the elite media (and I believe I make this point, with evidence, in both Sound & Fury and What Liberal Media?  And the letter gives me another opportunity to mock Mr. Tomasky for ridiculously including the Post in his survey of liberal editorial pages, though I guess he is guilty there only of what I did yesterday).  Thanks, Mr. Withheld, for helping me clarify.

Name: Pete Weiss
Hometown: Plainview, NY
Don't know how long you want to keep the music/recording string going, but as a veteran of the "good old days" - or bad old days, depending on your experience - and the father of two working musicians, I felt I had to add my two cents.  I agree with Jay Sherman-Godfrey that the broader availability of home and "project" recording gear, and especially PC-based "virtual" consoles, is a good thing, but like any set of tools, the results are dependent on the skills, judgment, and in this case the ears, of the user.  I have heard some great work (in technical quality) come out of project studios and some really crummy-sounding stuff come out of "world-class" rooms. 

Even though most of my work was as a studio (and sometimes location) recording engineer, with a smattering of producing gigs, I always believed, and still do, that technical quality of a popular music recording is not nearly as important as selection of material and performance (classical and jazz are different, in that the intent of the recording is to capture with great accuracy every aspect of a performance, including the contributions of the acoustical environment).  An engineer has to work really hard to hurt a good performance of a decent piece of music to an extent that would make it inaccessible or distasteful to an audience.  Think back to the late 50s/early 60s and Gary "U.S." Bonds' early hits.  There's no way that anyone can tell me that the technical quality of those recordings was on a par with, say, that of a Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett recording of the same era.  But they became hits anyway.  Certainly, other factors - familiarity of the audience with the artist's work, promotion and PR efforts, etc. - influenced the degree of commercial success a "record" enjoyed back then and to a great extent that's true today.  But as long as the technical quality does not get between the audience and the performance, it can be pretty shaky and still not matter.

There are bad "punch-outs" and "punch-ins" on Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer;" there's partially-erased 1000-Hz calibration tone throughout one of the drum breaks in the middle of Blood Sweat & Tears' "Spinning Wheel."  As I know I did when I heard boo-boos on things I recorded and mixed, I'm sure the engineers who worked on those recordings cringe every time they hear one go by.  But I'm willing to bet that not too many of the record-buying public ever noticed them. 

My credentials:  In the business from '65 to '80, worked with acts as diverse as Leslie Gore, Hugh Masakela, Barbra Streisand, Country Joe & the Fish, Junior Wells, Edgar and Johnny Winter, Weather Report, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Evans Blue Oyster Cult, Johnny Cash, Chicago and Looking Glass (the group responsible for "Brandy, You're a Fine Girl," which I recorded and mixed).  Also taught music recording technology at the New School/Parsons from '76 to '84. P.S. - There's a very talented young man up in Boston who has the same name as me and does engineering, production and plays guitar, but we are not related.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
There's been a lot of chatter about a real estate bubble, but the financial media has been less than stellar in looking into the gritty details.  It's astounding that many of the same people who missed the dotcom bubble last time around suddenly developed an expertise in bubblology.

Rather than just repeat the mainstream banter, here's a "fair and balanced" look at some of the more interesting data points.

Real Estate Wrap up 

Search for the words " real estate bubble" on Google and it returns you 1,720,000 hits.  This past week, we heard a lot of chatter on the subject.  So for the weekend, we are taking a look at a slew of Real Estate related matters for your reading pleasure.

I've dug up some off-the-beaten-path statistics, commentaries, and ideas.  These are well worth your time:

Froth vs. Bubble
Anyone looking for clarity from Fed Chair Alan Greenspan on whether the U.S. Real Estate market is a speculative bubble is probably asking the wrong guy...

How Housing Lowers CPI
Ever stop to think of the impact of ultra low interest rates on CPI? Turns out that they lower the reported inflation due to cheaper rentals.

Real Estate Blogs
An overview of some of the more popular and/or interesting looking Real Estate related Weblogs.

Interest Only Loans, 1.00% Mortgages
HELOC data is far from encouraging regarding home financing.  Some of the statistics are eye-popping.  (Hint: If you take a 1% loan, you are essentially renting with an option to buy.)

Uh-oh: Fortune cover Real Estate Gold Rush
Fortune asks: Is it too late to get in?  Is this another case of the magazine cover indicator at work?

Comparing Real Estate with Equity Market Capitalization
Can you compare RE and Equities to determine when one is too expensive?  Mike Panzner takes a try.   

As Prices Rise, Homeowners Go Deep in Debt to Buy Real Estate
Rising asset class, increased leverage -- why does that sound so familiar?

Be Wary of Anything approaching 140% of GDP
Nasdaq peaked when it passed 140% of GDP; Real Estate capitalization is now a stone's throw away.  What does this mean?

Playboy Bunny or Real Estate Investor?
Is this the most effective allocation of capital and resources?

Bull Market in Real Estate Agents
We can debate whether it's a bubble -- but it's certainly a bull market for the number of new realty agents.

Selling a Home: Best Time?
When is the best time to sell a home to maximize your sale price?  When's the cheapest time to buy?

Don't Buy Housing Bubble Propaganda
There's much more to a real bubble than meets the eye.

May 26, 2005 | 1:38 PM ET | Permalink

How to lose a country in seven easy steps

OK, let’s take this step by step, lest we be accused of sounding shrill, ideological or just plain out of our respective minds.

Point one: The Bush administration is, as this piece in today’s Washington Post puts it, working to “consolidate influence in a small circle of Republicans and to marginalize dissenting voices that would try to impede a conservative agenda.”  Here are some of the inescapable details:

The campaign to prevent the Senate filibuster of the president's judicial nominations was simply the latest and most public example of similar transformations in Congress and the executive branch stretching back a decade. The common theme is to House Republicans, for instance, discarded the seniority system and limited the independence and prerogatives of committee chairmen.
...
The result is a chamber effectively run by a handful of GOP leaders. At the White House, Bush has tightened the reins on Cabinet members, centralizing the most important decisions among a tight group of West Wing loyalists. With the strong encouragement of Vice President Cheney, he has also moved to expand the amount of executive branch information that can be legally shielded from Congress, the courts and the public.

Now, the White House and Congress are setting their sights on how to make the judiciary more deferential to the conservative cause -- as illustrated by the filibuster debate and recent threats by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and others to more vigorously oversee the courts.
...
Bush has demanded similar loyalty from GOP lawmakers -- and received it. Republicans have voted with the president, on average, about nine out of 10 times. Critics and some scholars charge that the Congress now seldom performs its constitutional duty of providing oversight of the executive branch through tough investigations and hearings.

Point Two: They are doing so with a historically unprecedented, at least in this country, degree of secrecy, and therefore lack of accountability.  From the same article:

This has coincided with a dramatic increase in overall government secrecy. In 1995, the government created about 3.6 million secrets. In 2004, there more than 15.5 million, according to the government's Information Security Oversight Office. The White House attributes the rise in information the public cannot see to the security threats in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

But experts on government secrecy say it goes beyond protecting sensitive security documents, to creating new classes of information kept private and denying researchers access to documents from past presidents.

"We have never had this kind of control over information," said Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of history at American University. "It means policy is being made by a small clique without much public scrutiny."

Now, the Republicans, with the support of the White House, are looking to reshape the courts in their image. The Senate's bipartisan compromise on judges will cost the president a few of his nominees to the appeals court but will require him to secure only 50 votes for future picks for the Supreme Court and other openings. If Democrats filibuster, Bush and Republican senators can move again to pull the trigger on the "nuclear option" and, if successful, prevent the minority party from ever again using the filibuster on judges. "I will not hesitate to use it if necessary," Frist said this week.

Point Three:  These same people, acting with unprecedented centralization of power, and secrecy, have taken it upon themselves to suspend the most basic rights enumerated in our constitution, and are carrying out the functional equivalent of a police state on Guantanamo Bay, and at various prisons around the world.  It is a police state in which torture is condoned and prisoners are, on occasion, murdered.  According to Amnesty International, the United States is operating a “gulag” that “has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding 'ghost detainees' (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the 'rendering' or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practice torture,”  More here.

Point Four:  While they pay rhetorical tribute to “democracy,” they side with tyrants whenever convenient.  From Today's Papers

The LAT and WP front pro-democracy demonstrators being beaten in Cairo.  They had come out to protest yesterday's referendum on election "reforms" that actually bar most opposition politicians from running.  The beatings were mostly meted out by pro-government thugs.  But that doesn't give the full picture.  The WP: "Journalists and witnesses at the scene of several incidents, including this correspondent, saw riot police create corridors for stick-wielding men to freely charge the demonstrators. Women were particular targets." The only U.S. government response TP sees came from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during an interview yesterday, "I've not seen the reports that you're talking about." 

And this, from the conservative profoundly prowar editorial board of The Washington Post:

LAURA BUSH'S tour of the Middle East was cast as a way to earn badly needed goodwill for the United States in a region that her husband seeks to transform.  Mrs. Bush duly promoted women's education in Jordan and the peace process in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  Yet when the first lady arrived in Egypt she chose to lavish her own goodwill not on that country's struggling pro-democracy movement but on 77-year-old strongman Hosni Mubarak.  Mr. Mubarak plans to extend his 24-year tenure in office through a September election from which most of his opposition is excluded.  Hundreds of political activists have been arrested in recent weeks for trying to peacefully protest that plan, and even legal opposition candidates have been forcibly prevented from campaigning.

The Bush administration says that it is committed to supporting such dissidents.  But Mrs. Bush sided squarely with Mr. Mubarak, who frequently condemned the U.S. democracy initiative in the Middle East before abruptly announcing elections on his own terms.

Point Five:  In response to even the most carefully documented evidence, the White House simply refuses to engage and, instead, impugns the character of those who present it, like this:  “In response, Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said, 'I think the allegations are ridiculous, and unsupported by the facts.'"  They also take Orwellian doublespeak to a level that would have embarrassed Orwell. “'We've also - are leading the way when it comes to spreading compassion,’ Mr. McClellan said."

Point Six:  And one reason they get away with it is that many in the media, even alleged “liberals” are eager to help.  And I don’t mean just Fox, Rush, and the entire structure of the conservative echo machine. (See below)

Quote of the Day:  "All of Newsweek's penitential protestations notwithstanding," he said, "what emerges from this episode is the image of a profession that is complacent, self-righteous, and hopelessly in love with itself," Martin Peretz, here.

(Yes it’s the same Martin Peretz who hired, promoted and encouraged the work of the fabulist Stephen Glass and the plagiarist, Ruth Shalit, to say nothing of the McCarthyite gaycatholictoryGAPmodel, Andrew Sullivan.)

Point Seven:  No less important in allowing it all to take place, is that the so-called “Gang of 500,”—the insiders of the mainstream media, do not really care about any of the above.  Here, according to the (functional, but not intentional) commissars at “ The Note” are the top concerns of the day:

  1. Waiting for the Rosen verdict (and wondering if it will have any political impact either way).
  2. Watching the filibuster deal starting to fray over some of the ambiguities.
  3. Measuring George Voinovich's emotional state as the Bolton vote approaches.
  4. Calibrating if Sen. McCain's political stock is up or down since Monday in a macro sense, and in which direction it is headed.
  5. Picking through the tea leaves on stem cells and the highway bill and trying to figure out what will happen.
  6. Potential French rejection of the EU treaty and its effect on trans-Atlantic power balances (permit us a brief moment of wonkiness).

Call me shrill, ideological, or whatever you like, but I think we’re losing our Constitution, our civil liberties, and in many significant respects, our country.  When future historians look back on this period, they will wonder, most of all, I think, how we let it go without a fight.

Correspondence corner:

Name: David Rubien
Hometown: San Francisco
Re your precis of the WSJ story on corporate jets, you may be interested to know that there's an entire chapter devoted to that very subject in David Cay Johnston's indispensable book, Perfectly Legal.  Reading the excerpt you ran from the WSJ, one might get the impression that deductions for executives' PERSONAL use of the jets is improper.  That's not true.  They're perfectly legal.  In other words, a CEO can fly his family to a Bermuda vacation in the company's private jet -- and let's say the cost of that flight is $20,000, which includes cost of the plane, fuel, maintenance and crew -- and the company will only have to pay taxes at the rate quoted in the WSJ article.  The primary cost of the PERSONAL flight is borne by you and me, as it would be in a business flight.  Perfectly Legal is an incredible book that explains the funding of our economy on a fundamental level.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ
Thank you for the space to occasionally expound the Torah perspective on various issues to your audience.  I am moved by Mr. Britt's letter, as well as Michael Kinsley's article, to detail some of the Torah's attitudes towards stem cell research.  Simply put, as we say when learning Talmud in the original Aramaic, lo kasha (not a question).  While there is no question that abortion is normally prohibited, if the mother's life can only be saved by terminating the pregnancy, there is no choice: you must abort, punkt, up until the fetus/baby takes a breath.  First, second, third trimester makes no difference.  Also, an embryo has the status of water (i.e., nothing) until the 40th day of gestation.  To use embryos to save lives that would otherwise be discarded would appear to fulfill the Mitzvah (Commandment) of Piku'ach Nefesh, saving a person's life, in my humble opinion (see your local learned, Observant Rabbi for a formal ruling if desired).  The unlearned rabble who have never read a single word of the Bible need to be combated at all levels; I have found real knowledge of the Bible to be the best weapon available.

Name: Tonio Loewald
Hometown: Santa Barbara, CA
I  heard you on KCLU Santa Barbara this morning, so you now have another reader.  You differentiate between the -- let's call it a fact -- that many people working in the media are liberals and the -- let's call it an idea -- that the media has a liberal bias, by arguing that these people are professionals and, at least in the case of NPR, try to be professional and objective.  This is an interesting point, and your little link on the Santorum profile points to a parallel among politicians, many of whom are considerably more liberal than the platforms they pretend to represent.  So we have gay Republican anti-gay rights crusaders and pro-abortion Republicans pretending to be anti-abortion.  Recently we had an anti-death penalty Democrat who allowed a retarded criminal to be executed in order to avoid being seen as soft on crime so he could be elected president.  One of the constant failings of today's media, and probably of all reportage throughout history, is failing to differentiate between what people say and what they think or do.  Obviously, it is often impossible to know the latter, and so the former is allowed to take its place.

Name: Jay Sherman-Godfrey
Hometown: Astoria, NY
Eric, I write in response to Stephen Anderson's addendum to Barry Ritholz's music biz piece.  As a musician who has had a few brief opportunities to record in so-called "world-class" studios, I also mourn their downfall.  And while I empathize with Mr. Anderson, I think his conclusions are wrong.  I think he is particularly wrong in his assessment that the trend away from large, high-end studios to project and home studios is "the Wal-Martization of the recording business."  It is in fact closer to the opposite.  For instead of a business dominated by a New York/LA cartel of established rooms with exorbitant day-rates fed by bloated record company budgets, you have a flowering of small flexible independent studios available to musicians of little means and, more and more, the preferred choice of those with ample means who have grown up with the new paradigm or simply want the time to create without the overhead.  Mr. Anderson states that this has led to an erosion of quality, the acceptance of a "lesser product."  By some measures I would agree, but the fact is that you no longer need seven-figure capital to make great sounding records.

At first, with some notable exceptions, only the record companies could afford to build and maintain commercial recording studios, at which their artists were contractually obligated to record.  Even with the rise of the independent studios in the early 70s, the cost of entry into the recording business was still high.  Tape machines, recording consoles, and related equipment were expensive, costly to maintain, and often rare.  Many of the first independents had to custom design and assemble their own equipment.  Up until the 1980s, it was still a relatively exclusive business.  The advent of affordable recording equipment and the revolution in home recording that ensued was for Mr. Anderson and the like-minded no doubt the beginning of the end.  You heard it decried with the same vitriol as sampling and file swapping, and still do.  Cassette four-tracks and the early cheap digital recorders did sound bad, but with the barriers down people started recording like mad and a whole new generation of passionate sound recordists was born.  And the gear got better, and the recordists more skilled.  He is right about the string session.  You still need a large well-designed space, a bunch of great mics, and engineer who knows what he or she is doing.  And there will certainly always be a market for big-league purpose-built recording, mixing, and mastering rooms.  Although, just as certainly, many more major studios will close as this market gets tighter.  It is a shame, but I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Anderson's implication that it's bad for music.

May 25, 2005 | 11:50 AM ET | Permalink

Private Jets: The Ongoing, Unspoken Scandal

The Wall Street Journal proves again why it is the most independent-minded national newspaper in America with a front-page takeout on the steal-from-the-poor-give-to-the-rich tax scam that is the corporate jet.  Here are a few of the highlights, in no particular order, available only to subscribers, here:

For a 2,000-mile round trip from New York to Orlando, Fla., aboard a luxurious $43 million, 12-to-14-seat Gulfstream V flown by the likes of J.P. Morgan, a senior executive would get an extra $1,500 tacked onto his taxable income -- under IRS rules. But the incremental cost of that same flight would be more than $11,000, according to tables published by Conklin & de Decker Associates Inc., a company that tracks flight costs.
...
TAG Aviation USA, which offers charter jets, says hiring a Gulfstream V would cost about $7,000 an hour plus taxes, crew fees and other charges, or about $43,000 for the same New York to Orlando journey -- nearly four times the incremental cost and 28 times the extra amount that would be added to an executive's income for the same flight, under the IRS rates.
...
General Electric Co., where three top executives are "required" to use company craft for personal travel, all three racked up jet-perk bills of more than $100,000 last year. The biggest user was Vice Chairman Dennis Dammerman, at $504,000. A spokesman says GE's security program "meets the requirements that permit the designated executives to pay the taxes at the lower rates allowed by the IRS."
...
The bottom line: At the reduced tax rate, an executive traveling alone on a 2,000-mile round trip from New York to Orlando, Fla., could pay less than $300 in federal income tax for a trip with a market value of more than $43,000. Put another way, at the reduced rate the IRS pegs the value of travel on a Gulfstream V at about 36 cents a mile per person, less than the 37.5 cents per mile Uncle Sam allows for personal use of an automobile.
...
Since his company switched to more-extensive disclosure of this perk three years ago, Mr. Diller has received free travel on the company jet that IAC valued at nearly $2.2 million. The amount would have been even higher, except that in 2004 he reimbursed the company $169,000 to cover "certain personal use" of the plane.
...
Among the benefits Mr. Welch received after his 2001 retirement was unlimited access to GE jets, a benefit the SEC later valued at $1.2 million in Mr. Welch's first year of retirement. GE settled SEC charges over the matter in September.
...
Some make sure their executives don't pay anything for their personal use of company jets, by adding to their income to cover any taxes they owe. Among those offering this perk: Eastman Kodak Co., Citigroup Inc. and ConocoPhillips. At eBay Inc., where Chief Executive Margaret Whitman took home $2.5 million in cash compensation last year, the company also granted her a $128,000 "bonus" to cover any income taxes on her $229,000 of personal jet flights.

Note that the difference between the real cost of these flights and the amount for which they are taxed is borne by you and me.  Note also that one big reason why Congress allows this to take place is that they are very much on the take themselves; the unreported cost of corporate flights for politicians hopping around their state to campaign or the country to raise money is one of the biggest scandals of our already scandalous campaign finance system.  (Lest we forget, those protesters demanding that no fair count of the vote be allowed in Florida in 2000 were ferried there on Enron jets, care of Kenneth “Kenny Boy” Lay, of whom George W. Bush has never heard.)

I’ve never actually set foot on a private jet, so I guess I’m ignorant when it comes to the fantastic attraction of it, but I’m amazed at how important it is to some people.  When I profiled the environmental activist Laurie David, whom I like very much, I made it absolutely clear to her over and over that she had better come up with a good answer as to why someone who professed to be dedicating her life to forcing corporate America improve its commitment to fuel economy in order to reduce greenhouse gasses gave herself a pass on taking private planes.  (I hate SUVs too, but I don’t call their drivers terrorists.)  There is no good answer for this, to be fair.  David had either to swear off the private plane or look like a hypocrite (and by extension, make all wealthy Hollywood environmentalists look silly too.)  I felt awful about this, but really, I went as far as I could in good conscience in seeking to make her problem clear to her, and I was not about to leave it out of the story.

In the end, I wrote a single sentence about “Gulfstream liberals,” it was picked up first by Greg Easterbrook in TNR and then (uncredited) in an article in The New York times Week in Review, with Laurie as Exhibit A in both places.  In both cases, the point was used to make wealthy environmentalists—and by extension liberals—look ridiculous.  A lot of people in Hollywood felt betrayed that I would write this at all, since I am obviously sympathetic to the project, and I liked most of the people about whom I was writing, including especially Laurie.  Whether this was right or wrong is a question for another day—and to tell you the truth, I’m not terribly conflicted about it.  But still, the question is why is it so damn important?  And why, more to the larger point, do we have a tax code that encourages this, the world’s most wasteful form of transportation and one that benefits only the super rich?  (The Atlantic piece, by the way, is here.)

What was missing from the Times Magazine’s Santorum profile, here.  Um, what liberal media?

Quote of the Day:

Nowhere is intellectual debate and rigorous discussion more intense than on the Israeli campus.  And nowhere is the pursuit of peace and the necessity of a two-state solution more forcefully articulated than in the gardens and canteens of the Israeli universities.... It is on these campuses that the peace movement is most active, so for the AUT to single out these institutions is totally misguided.

--Labour peer Lord Mitchell, here.

Bruce’s CBS segment is here.

I’ll be on NPR in Santa Barbara today, in lieu of debating Chicken Novak...

Altercation Anniversary Allocation

I’m sorry to report that my friend Rosanne Cash, after losing her beloved dad and step mom, Johnny and June Carter Cash not long ago, lost her mother Vivian Liberto Cash Distin to lung cancer yesterday.  (She was just 71 and a non-smoker.)  Rose had to cancel her 50th birthday party to be with her mom in L.A., and to tell you the truth, I don’t know if she made it to the fundraiser in which she was being honored at Cipriani for PAX, since I did not get back from D.C. in time to go, but I’m guessing she didn’t.  PAX is an organization devoted to stopping the epidemic of gun violence in America, particularly as it relates to children.  I also don’t know yet what form of tribute Rose would like her friends and fans to make to her mother, but we can all give more than once and I wanted to take this opportunity to send you over to the Web site for PAX, here, and determine if that’s a cause you’d like to support.

Alter-reviews
Columbia Legacy is following up its recent release of all of the individual albums that made up the beautifully cleaned up and produced box set of Seven Steps, with a double CD “Legacy” edition of “Round About Midnight.”  Featuring four bonus tracks and a second CD of live material from the great quintet recorded in Pasadena in 1956, and a collection of other tracks that were previously only obscurely available.  It’s also got George Avakian’s original liner notes and too much other stuff to mention.  Read all about it at Miles-Davis.com.

I saw the terrific quartet Joe Lovano led last year that featured the great Hank Jones, Paul Motian and George Mraz. They put out “I’m All for You” last year and have now followed up with part II of that work called “Joyous Encounter.”  The song selection is particularly thoughtful, and takes particular advantage of the Jones/Lovano interplay on tunes by Coltrane, Monk and classics like “Autumn in New York.”  You’d have to be kind of weird not to like it.  You wouldn’t have to be so weird if you didn’t like Amos Lee, who is being marketed like Norah Jones, and who was given the opening slot, for some reason, on the Dylan/Merle tour.  He’s not bad and kinda likeable, but if he is one of those transcendent talents, I’ve not yet discovered it.

(The kid is also enjoying the Jib-Jab DVD which is out now from Razor and Tie, here, but it makes me sad.)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Earl Britt
Hometown: Wayne, Ohio

One of my siblings wasn't able to have children.  They attempted in vitro fertilization.  Ultimately, medical problems forced a complete hysterectomy.  In the meantime, I am an insulin dependent diabetic and have suffered a series of near-fatal, disabling heart attacks.  Once heart muscle has been destroyed, medical science has no way to restore it.  My sibling or spouse could donate a kidney to me, if that was what I needed, but they could not donate those fertilized egg cells.  No one is proposing the elimination of in vitro fertilization.  No one. And those procedures will always produce fertilized egg cells that will NEVER, EVER be implanted.  This is despite the fact that stem cell research offers hope for reversing both diabetes and cardiac dysfunction, along with other destructive and fatal diseases, including Alzheimer's and spinal cord injuries.  Despite this hope, in a cynical and calculated effort to exploit "cultural conservatives" the Shrub has banned [most federal funding for] such research.  In the name of a "culture of life" many lives are being lost to a ploy for political gain.  Some day soon, one of them will be mine.

Name: Lee Fuller
Hometown: Portland Oregon
I find it strange that statements reported in interviews with officials do not always get reported here in the U.S.  One thing I saw in an interview in the Daily Yomiuri Online really got me to thinking about all of the high prices we are paying for energy.  The interview was with James Connaughton, the U.S. Council Chairman on Environmental Quality.  He was interviewed by the Daily Yomiuri and had this to say about the cap and trade program:

"Now, the cap and trade program will also drive significant efficiency improvements in our electricity generation sector, which will translate into CO2 reductions.  So, by capping pollution that has an immediate human health effect we will also produce a benefit in reducing CO2 over time.  However, if we put a cap on carbon, the utility executives will find it more attractive to shut down coal plants and go to other energy, such as natural gas, which is cheaper, or to other energy systems, and we would not have the ability to expand our technology investment in clean coal.  So, it would create an unintended effect.  So, whenever you talk about a carbon cap, you have to be very careful because you have to look at it in terms of your overall portfolio and what you're trying to achieve.  We want to go from clean coal to zero-emission coal."

So in other words it is the policy of the U.S. to work on zero-emission coal even though natural gas and other energy systems would be cheaper.  Sounds like it is all about the money to me.  The entire text of his interview can be found at the Daily Yomiuri Online under the Science Section.  [ Direct link here, Ed.]

Name: Stephen Anderson
Hometown: Los Angeles
Eric,
Barry Ritholtz is mostly right today and in his original post, "What's Wrong With The Music Industry." However, he hasn't parsed the data finely enough.  As I mentioned here, the recording industry is indeed a separate entity from the music industry, and is in clear trouble through no real fault of its own.

As costs rise and profits fall, all for reasons Barry clearly outlines, recording studios are being pressed to provide more services for lower costs that ever before.  The hourly or day rate for world class studios here in L.A. is lower than at any time in the last 25 years, yet expenditures continue as artists & labels demand new technology.  $30K computer systems for recording are considered "state of the art," and while studios could charge for rentals a few years ago, today the new technology is demanded.  Yet the studios that 3 years ago could routinely charge $1500/day are now being pressured to sell time for sub-$1000 prices, while keeping services constant.

Budget studios abound, and, while often great places, they typically offer a lesser product. One quasi-legendary studio here in L.A. still attracts a wide variety of clientele, yet recordings are sometimes aborted because truck noise from the nearby busy street intrudes into the session.  It costs money to adequately sound proof a building, and they skimped.

Artists are tending toward recording at homes, either their own, or rentals, to keep costs down, and that affects studio rates.  Renting a McMansion for $20K per month is still more cost effective than paying $1200/day for a conventional studio.  For some recordings, that is fine. But when the same artist needs to do a "string date," they might come to Capitol, my old home, and then gripe that they no longer get the service they are used to.  That's because the studio, in an effort to lower costs, doesn't replace key personnel who leave, or who are laid off as costs are cut.

Imagine going to the Toyota dealer and demanding the newest Prius, but then only being willing to pay for a '81 Corolla.  And getting away with it, because the Nissan dealer down the street is selling cars at a loss with no warrantee.  It's the Wal-Martization of the recording business, and it's really sad.

May 24, 2005 | 11:19 AM ET | Permalink

The first “nuclear option”

I’m traveling back and forth to Washington today.  Luckily, I’ve horded Eric Rauchway’s thoughtful review of Kai Bird and Marty Sherwin’s magisterial biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, just published by Knopf.

Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus:  The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.  xiv+722 pp.  Illustrations, notes and index.  Cloth, US$35; here.

by Eric Rauchway

Albert Einstein thought Robert Oppenheimer was a fool for love, and an especially worthless kind of love at that:  "he loves a woman who doesn't love him -- the United States government."  (pp. 503-4)  To love one's country -- certainly this was worthwhile.  But to love a government, when it is going to destroy your reputation?  That, Einstein, said, made Oppenheimer a grade-A "narr [fool]." (p. 495)  Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin's life of Oppenheimer makes a good case that Einstein was right.  They thus raise the difficult question, what kind of society makes a martyr out of a fool?

1.  Physics
No matter what else happened, Oppenheimer was always going to be an important physicist.  Casual readers of American Prometheus might miss this point, because Oppenheimer was a scholar of a kind that other scholars don't fully appreciate, and Bird and Sherwin salt their text with cutting if not catty comments even from Oppenheimer's friends:  "He never did any great physics," said his first-ever doctoral student, Melba Phillips. (p. 89)  Murray Gell-Mann said, "He didn't have Sitzfleisch.... Perseverance, the Germans call it Sitzfleisch, 'sitting flesh,' when you sit on a chair.... He didn't have patience for that...." (p. 375)  And that is what most academics have, and what we will, if asked, say we most respect -- the ability to apply yourself single-mindedly to a problem until you can deliver an authoritative answer no matter how long it takes.  The cult of Sitzfleisch reinforces the myth of the lone scholar pitting his genius against the puzzles of nature.

In truth academic progress occurs within a community, and such communities need their Oppenheimers.  For although he did do some good physics himself he had a much more important capacity for coaxing better work from other scholars.  A seminar produced sharper insights when Oppenheimer was in the audience, because he could sum up the speaker's main points better than the speaker himself, and make the right links between the matter at hand and other issues. 

In an academic environment, an Oppenheimer is to other professors as the conductor is to an orchestra. The conductor can play several instruments, at least a little, and perhaps has potential to play one superbly.  But he rejects mastery of one instrument in favor of an overview of them all.  He becomes a complex and opaque figure to the other musicians, who cannot understand how he can keep so many different parts of the score in his head at once.  They convince themselves he cannot.  He doesn't write the score or play the music.  But he develops the talent around him and the symphonic performance bears his unmistakable imprint:  even if the first violins think that really, they could carry on just as well without the guy tapping his baton at the podium, they're wrong. 

So with Oppenheimer, who was a great interpreter, clarifier, and assembler of other scholars' ideas, and who brought out the best in them.  And in the end, he got the job best-suited to his talents and in which he could best serve civilization.  After the war and almost until his death in 1967 he directed the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and apparently conducted that rarefied collection of scholars in the historical and hard sciences with a deft hand. 

It was where he always should have been.  But as a physicist will tell you, while it is easy to figure the path and destination of a body in motion if you're allowed to ignore outside influences, it becomes a little harder when you add an external, attractive influence.  If you add two external attractive influences, it becomes impossible, the body's motion grows chaotic.  Even if you can tell generally where it will go, you can't be sure how it will get there.  And Oppenheimer the important physicist fell prey to two external influences.  Before becoming the conductor of the IAS, he responded to the call of patriotism and demonstrated his ability to catalyze groups of academics by orchestrating the Manhattan Project.  And before that, he fell under the influence of communism.

2.  Communism
In 1928, after completing his graduate work at Cambridge and Gšttingen, Oppenheimer accepted simultaneous appointments at Caltech and UC Berkeley, spending half the year at each.  And in about 1934, according to Bird and Sherwin, he began associating with communists.  Oppenheimer's landlady in Berkeley was a communist.  In 1937, Oppenheimer's brother Frank (a physics grad student at Caltech) joined the Communist Party.  So did many of Oppenheimer's friends, and in particular one girlfriend, Jean Tatlock, whom he went on seeing even after his wedding to Kitty Puening, and after his appointment to Los Alamos. 

As American Prometheus tells the story, Oppenheimer came to communism for non-communist reasons.  The news from Oppenheimer's grad-school friends in Nazi Germany was bad and getting worse; in the Bay Area, the longshoremen were striking and the governor was calling out the National Guard to break heads; by 1935 the communist party was aggressively pursuing its toned-down, "popular front" strategy in which it played down its revolutionary intentions in favor of alliances with other, non-Marxist leftists.  Frank Oppenheimer never found communist theory compelling but "he was deeply moved by the deplorable condition of local [California] farm laborers and Negroes," and he had heard about "'some of the terrible things' that were happening in Hitler's Germany, and he was inclined to support any group determined to 'do something about it.'"  (p. 132)

Robert Oppenheimer, touched by all these considerations also by the Spanish Civil War, gave money regularly to the Communist Party through two of its members, a Stanford physician named Tom Addis and an organizer named Isaac Folkoff, for aid to the anti-Franco Republicans in Spain and to refugees from Hitler's regime.  "I doubt that it occurred to me that the contributions might be directed to other purposes than those I had intended, or that such purposes might be evil.  I did not then regard Communists as dangerous, and some of their declared objectives seemed to me desirable," Oppenheimer later said.  (p. 123)

As Bird and Sherwin note, after years of listening at keyholes and wearing out shoe leather, the FBI "would never resolve the question of whether or not Robert [Oppenheimer] was a CP member -- which is to say there was scant evidence that he was."  (p. 142) Certainly, if even the G-men couldn't bring themselves quite to condemn Oppenheimer as officially Red, nobody could.  And yet he was embedded in a communist milieu:  "his associations with Communists were a natural and socially seamless outgrowth of his sympathies and his station in life."  (p.  136)  So much so that, despite the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939, he stayed close to the Communist Party and continued making his sizable donations to the party until April 1942.  In May 1942, he became a research director for the S-1 Committee, created by Franklin Roosevelt to report on the possibility of making an atomic bomb.

3.  Patriotism
As a research director, Oppenheimer's talent for conducting emerged:  he "showed a refined, sure, informal touch," Edward Teller said.  "I don't know how he acquired this facility for handling people."  (p. 181-182)  General Leslie Groves, appointed by the Army to supervise S-1 spotted this talent in Oppenheimer, and in October 1942 had Oppenheimer appointed director of what was soon known as the Manhattan Project.  Oppenheimer picked Los Alamos as the place.

There is more on the physics and engineering of the atomic bomb in Richard Feynman's casual talk (pdf link) "Los Alamos from Below" than in American Prometheus.  And perhaps this is as it should be:  in Bird and Sherwin's account, the bomb was something that Oppenheimer "organized into existence" (p. 314) and Oppenheimer's success was therefore one of organization, not science.  When the Allies smuggled the Danish physicist Niels Bohr out of Copenhagen, he thought an atomic bomb intriguing but unlikely, Bird and Sherwin write:  "the engineering necessary for separating out U-235 [the explosive isotope of uranium] would require an immense, and therefore impractical, industrial effort."  (p. 269)  But on his arrival in the United States, Bohr realized that America, properly motivated, was more than up to the task. 

And so were Americans, which is why Oppenheimer -- who in 1940 had been ghost-writing non-interventionist briefs for the Communist Party (pp. 144-145) -- took the job, and took it wholeheartedly.  Alone among the scientists going to Los Alamos, he wanted to wear a military uniform, and had one made up.  (The other physicists swiftly dissuaded him from putting it on.)  "There was," Bird and Sherwin persuasively argue, "a lot of apple pie in Robert's psyche."  Robert Wilson said "Oppie would get a faraway look in his eyes ... and tell me this war was different from any war ever fought before; it was a war about the principles of freedom.... a people's army and a people's war... It's the same kind of language [he used before the war], except that now it has a patriotic flavor, whereas before it had just a radical flavor."  (pp. 210-211)

Partly because his patriotism shone so purely, Groves and the Army discounted any suggestion that Oppenheimer was a security risk to the project, from which the Soviets were excluded -- even when Oppenheimer mentioned that he had been approached by a Communist friend, Haakon Chevalier, about passing information to the Russians.  Oppenheimer said that he replied, "But that would be treason."  (p. 196)  And for the duration of the war, that was good enough. 

4.  Chaos
The bomb exploded as advertised.  Bird and Sherwin present a version of the decision to drop the bomb in which the war "would surely end" prior to the planned invasion of Japan (p. 301); this is controversial (as Altercation readers know) and they admit the controversy in their endnotes.  But it accords with what Oppenheimer came to believe about the bomb, and he lobbied hard for a nonproliferation policy and refused to work on the proposed hydrogen bomb.

Yet he also loved what the bomb did for him.  "[H]e had grabbed a metaphorical gold ring and he was happily waving it aloft," Bird and Sherwin write.  (p. 316)  He "grew comfortable with the adulation."  (p. 323)  So, to assuage his guilt, he quit as director, but to satisfy his zeal for insiderhood, he stayed on as a consultant.

Oppenheimer wanted to wear the uniform but he hated killing people.  He had proven immeasurably useful to the U.S. government but he did not want to go on being useful.  From this point forward, it was inevitable that the fallout from the volatile combination of Oppenheimer's past communism and present enthusiasm for insiderhood would poison his career.  Bird and Sherwin make it happen in good, brisk prose.  A villain, hostile to Oppenheimer for personal or no reasons, arises.  A committee forms.  Old allegations resurface.  In a crisis some old friends -- Teller, Groves -- prove useless or worse.  The committee strips Oppenheimer of his security clearance.  Humiliated, he goes back to where he always belonged, in the Princeton idyll.

Other friends stand by him, even though they agree with Einstein.  I. I. Rabi said of Oppenheimer that "[i]n addition to being 'very wise, he was very foolish.'" (p. 211)  Rabi thought Oppenheimer fatally afflicted with the desire to remain himself, yet to have a status denied to people like him:  "He was East German Jewish, and what happened to them was that they began to value the German culture above their own.... I think he had fantasies thinking he was not Jewish," Rabi said.  If he meant Oppenheimer had fantasies about not being an outsider, then in Bird and Sherwin's telling he was correct.  But neither could Oppenheimer make the sacrifices necessary to become an insider -- either during the war or after.  "God knows I'm not the simplest person," Rabi said, "but compared to Oppenheimer, I'm very, very simple."  (p. 77)  Bird and Sherwin's story, littered with insights from acute observers like Einstein, Feynman, Rabi, and Wilson, peopled with the powerful, has at its center this complex figure.  A simpler man might command more sympathy and might have evaded destruction.  But a simpler man might not have led so many talented people to build the bomb so fast.

Alter-Reviews -- Two Broadway Shows:

There’s really nothing not to like about “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Circle in the Square.  It gets a little too cute sometimes, but for most of the ninety minute show, it’s exactly cute enough.  It’s a finely observed send of adolescent angst with decent joke after decent joke and some extremely inventive staging and audience participation.  I wouldn’t argue that it wasn’t great art, but neither would I argue that it wasn’t great at all.  It is, for what it is, which is a clever little musical, and a feel-good night at the theater.  The unknown cast is especially impressive as well.  It’s nearly perfect—again—for what it is.

On the other hand, there’s plenty to dislike about “The Pillowman” at the Booth Theater.  It is after all, a play about torture, child molestation, child-murder and parent-murder.  On the other hand, it’s incredibly funny.  No really, it’s scary and funny and through-provoking and brilliantly original, and for all those reasons, quite hard to explain.  It’s written by Martin McFonagh and stars Billy Crudup and Jeff Glodblum, among others, taking place exclusively in the jail cells of an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship, that otherwise sounds a lot like the here and now.  I don’t want to give much away, except to say, go—if you can afford the prices.  This is what theater is supposed to be.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown: The Big Picture

Hey Doc,
I thought you might appreciate the different approach between the recording industry and the music industry (they are two different animals).

Concert attendance and ticket pricing

Although I sometimes lump them together, I really shouldn't: The "Recording Industry" is a very different beast from the "Music Industry."  One is relatively healthy, the other is in bad disrepair, primarily due to self-inflicted wounds and awful mismanagement over the years.  The latter is responsive, the former desperately stubborn.

The latest example: Concert attendance and ticket pricing:

"Many in the music business called 2004 the worst summer concert season in memory: fans were stuck with high prices and promoters lost money and canceled shows.

With this year's season about to kick off, event promoters and artist representatives have vowed to turn things around.  So, they are offering a variety of inducements, including lower prices and offering more bands for the money by packaging big acts together at one show.  Promoters are also blitzing fans with e-mails and text messages to try and generate interest in coming shows."

Wow.  Where did they ever get the crazy idea that you could respond to decreasing demand for a product by lowering prices; Shouldn't they be conspiring to illegally fix prices, or lobbying Congress for some protective legislation?

This isn't saying that prices have become cheap -- they are just lower than last year, by about 10%.  "A big priority this year is making sure that the cheap seats are actually cheap.  Last year, the inability to put fans in those back-of-the-house seats contributed mightily to a string of underperforming tours and concert cancellations.  So this year, for example, the Eagles have aggressively promoted $25 seats at some stops on their coming tour; top-priced tickets are selling for $175."

The WSJ further notes that:

"Punk-pop trio Green Day -- one of the few young bands that can fill a stadium -- are seeing strong sales with ticket prices mostly held to less than $50.  The Dave Matthews Band is charging less than $60 at most shows on its summer trek.  Among the other big acts on the road this summer: Coldplay, Avril Lavigne, Nine Inch Nails and Alicia Keys.

The emphasis on affordable tickets is a big change from last season.  Last year, according to Pollstar, a trade magazine that follows the concert business, the average ticket price for the 100 top-grossing tours hit a record high of $52.39, more than double the average seat in 1996.  Even mediocre seats for acts like Van Halen and Cher were on sale for up to $80 a ticket.  Unfortunately for the industry, the fans balked at the spiraling prices.  Weak sales forced the cancellation of shows by artists including Christina Aguilera and Marc Anthony."
Imagine that: Responding to your customers, pricing your product competitively, maximizing revenues.

Where do these people ever get their wacky ideas from?  Perhaps they accidentally stumbled across an Economic 101 textbook somewhere...

Source:
Summer Concerts Try New Tactics to Fill Seats
After a Dismal Last Season, Industry Lowers Some Prices;
Seeing the Eagles for $25
By ETHAN SMITH
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 19, 2005; Page D1

Name: Paul A. Stark Jr.
Hometown: Canton, Ohio

In the May 23 edition of Altercation, Oliver Dawshed urges readers to follow the exchange of letters at Tompaine.com on the topic of vote fraud.  That is an excellent suggestion, in particular the first two paragraphs of Russell Baker's reply to Dawshed: "Mr. Dawshed criticizes me for citing 'many Democratic officials, election reform advocates and analysts' who aren't convinced from the evidence that a large-scale "theft" occurred in Ohio-as opposed to individual acts of incompetency, obstructionism, etc. "Appeals to authority are always questionable, but anonymous ones are laughable," he declares.  Well, that's a good one.  Because "Oliver Dawshed" is not this person's real name.  For whatever reason, the person behind the fictional "Dawshed" employs a pseudonym.  So much for "laughable anonymous appeals."  Perhaps that explains why Mr. (Ms.?) Dawshed's hometown is listed as "Declined."  No kidding.

May 23, 2005 | 1:53 PM ET | Permalink

Since Novak, chickened out, I’m not going to Santa Barbara, I can do this, instead, and I don’t have to see Novak:

Congressman John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Member, U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Dean, Congressional Black Caucus announces:

FROM THE NEWSWEEK CONTROVERSY TO THE DOWNING STREET MEMO, CONYERS HOSTS FORUM: "MEDIA BIAS AND THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM OF THE PRESS"

PANEL: Al Franken, the Al Franken Show on Air America Radio, author of Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
David Brock, founder of Media Matters
Randi Rhodes, the Randi Rhodes Show on Air America Radio
Joe Madison, The Black Eagle Radio Show
Justin Webb, Senior Washington Correspondent of BBC News
Eric Alterman, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress
Steve Rendall, media watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting)
John Aravosis, America Blog
Mark Lloyd, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress


WHEN: Tuesday, May 24, at 1 p.m.
WHERE: 2226 Rayburn House Office Building

In his final Public Editor’s column, Dan Okrent addresses two issues about which I repeatedly hassled him but never received a satisfactory answer.

Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

(Okrent’s attack on Paul Krugman, however, is over the top and unsupportable on its merits.)

And

Last July, when I slapped the headline "Is The New York Times a Liberal Newspaper?" atop my column and opened the piece with the catchy one-liner "Of course it is," I wasn't doing anyone - the paper, its serious critics, myself - any favors.  I'd reduced a complex issue to a sound bite.

Indeed, when I appeared on a panel at the ASNE convention, this statement was asserted by a conservative columnist following the assertion that the accusation of liberal bias against the Times was “a fact.”  The lady did not know what the word “fact” means, but her self-satisfied assertion and thousands like them is Okrent’s fault.  (What he meant, as he explained in another interview, “is that the Times is on certain issues, social issues, a liberal newspaper as a result of the place that it is published from and the nature of the people, the backgrounds of the people who work at the Times.”  That’s true, by the way.  Reporters are more socially liberal than most of the public and more economically conservative.  Editors and owners are however, not any more liberal socially, but are also economically conservative.  Both are afraid of Republicans and vulnerable to right-wing working-the-refs tactics, which is why bias works largely in favor of the far right.  (Would a “liberal newspaper” invite Judith Miller to cover national security?)

Reading Around

John Conyers' report on voting irregularities in Ohio, is here.

Paul Starr on liberalism, here and Dave Denison, here.  We note from Denison’s piece, the following insight on the Republicans’ “nuclear option” hypocrisy:

Already, Republican judges are in the majority in 10 out of the nation's 13 federal appellate courts.  By the end of President George W. Bush's term the count will likely be 12 out of 13, and about 85 percent of those circuit court judges will be Republican appointees, according to a March report in the National Law Journal.  Seven of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices (and 16 out of 22 appointments in the last 50 years) were put forward by Republicans, as well.  All of which lends a certain antic quality to House majority leader Tom DeLay's description of the federal courts last month as ''the left's last legislative body.''  Federal judges are appointed for life; it could be a generation before the political balance shifts again.

We can kill people, and send people to be killed, as long as we don’t have to look, here.

Right wingers say, “Jump,” Hacktacular Howie says “How high, sir?” here.

Women in the news, um, not all that much, here.

Horowitz's blog likes Nazis, here.

Local news breeds racism, surprise, surprise, here.

Wash. Post repeated baseless claim that CPB ombudsman is a "liberal," failed to question contradictory claims by Tomlinson, here.

Mike Kinsley on one more reason—rather personal for him—as to why “pro-life” in this country only applies to people who’ve not been born yet, here.

Quote of the day:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things.  Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

--President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954 (source:  Eisenhower Presidential Papers, Document #1147; November 8, 1954 The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, Volume XV - The Presidency: The Middle Way Part VI: Crises Abroad, Party Problems at Home; September 1954 to December 1954,) Chapter 13: "A new phase of political experience"

From the Benton Foundation:

THE FALLOUT FROM THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS ACT OF 1996: UNINTENDED  CONSEQUENCES AND LESSONS LEARNED

Nearly a decade after Congress approved the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and with Congress once again set to make major media and telecommunications policy, Common Cause Monday released a report showing how the Act failed to deliver on its promises of competition, increased diversity of viewpoints and lower prices for consumers. The report details how consumers and public interest groups were excluded from the process of writing the 1996 law while media industry lobbyists were deeply involved. Media companies have since increased their influence in Washington. Eight major companies alone, their corporate parents and their three trade groups have spent more than  $400 million on lobbying and federal campaign contributions since 1997, raising fears about the media policies Congress will adopt this year.

[SOURCE: Common Cause, AUTHOR: Celia Viggo Wexler]

Press Release for report

* Twenty million Americans demand a seat at the table when Congress makes
new telecomm policy [ link]

* Common Cause President Chellie Pingree on Media Bill of Rights [ link]

Altercation Anniversary Allocation, from Dan Zanes:

In January of this year there was a fire which destroyed the Agape Orphanage in Valley of A Thousand Hills, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.  It had housed 50 children orphaned by AIDS.  It is in an area thought to have the highest HIV infection rate in the world - 38%.  It's estimated that Africa alone already has 12 million AIDS orphans.  I found out about the orphanage from my friend Leigh Blake who runs an organization called Keep A Child Alive which provides antiretroviral treatment for children and families with AIDS across Africa.

Six of the children of Agape were just in New York for ten days.  During their time here Nasi (14), Slindile (14), Snethemba (10), Peaceful (10), Siwapiwe (12), and Mbali (8) became Keep  A Child Alive Ambassadors and were able to put a face on the AIDS crisis in Africa by representing to many of us the 12 million orphans who are the tragic result of the pandemic. Over thirty thousand dollars were raised while these girls were in New York.  More is needed to rebuild their orphanage.  If people are able to contribute this is the place to go.

It was incredible to see how quickly and effectively Keep a Child Alive became involved in the Agape Orphanage but I think it's important to recognize their main mission which is to provide antiretroviral drugs to children and families with AIDS.  One dollar a day can keep a child alive.
Or a parent alive, so that more children than the already hallucinatory numbers, are not orphaned.  Thirty dollars a month.  Their organization provides a direct and simple way for all of us to participate in helping those in desperate need and to consider their well being as we would the well being of children in our families and communities.

KeepAChildAlive.org

Alter-reviews:

The Springsteen show at the Meadowlands on Thursday night was a very strange one.  I don’t begrudge Bruce his experiments and I’m more than happy to sit through the only semi-successful parts.  This show went from sublime to ridiculous and back to sublime again more times than I could count.

In the first place, we were pretty much gypped on the hall, which, instead of a cool, intimate theater like the Tower in Philly (Tuesday) or the Orpheum in Boston (Friday), all they did for this show was cordon off half of the hockey arena.  This meant that no matter how close you were, you weren’t really that close and the sense of intimacy for which Bruce worked so hard proved extremely elusive.  The sound where I was sitting, in about the ninth row, wasn’t bad, but it went out completely for some people sitting in the 200s somewhere, setting off a kind of tragicomedy of the hitherto unknown. 

Here’s how Backstreets described it:

In what proved to be the main story last night, a bank of speakers on the upper left column (stage right) blew out very early-on and many in the low 200 sections were left without sound.  One fan said, "It felt like you were watching the show from outside."  What happened next was pretty ugly as disgruntled fans called out with shouts and chants of "We can't hear you!"...which Springsteen misunderstood for disrespectful idiots who might as well have been crying out for "Rosalita."  Bruce pulled out a couple STFUs, and told the screamers pointedly that if they had a problem their "money's at the door."  (No word yet on if that's going to hold up!)  One attendee reported that "it was like a Jerry Springer show broke out" in those sections.  Apparently, all equipment worked just fine at soundcheck when Springsteen tested out "Local Hero," but that song, and the good sound that accompanied it, were not present during the first third of the show.  Somewhere around seven songs into the set, the problem was identified, fixed, and Springsteen was informed of the reason for the ruckus.  Softening the edges and calming some nerves, Springsteen joked about his family causing the disturbance and called the show "Attack of the Relatives!"  During his intro to "The Wish," Bruce offered this: "It's kinda boring without the shouting."  Hey, some reviewers have felt that way about the whole tour!  Maybe the five-song encore, with both "Ramrod" and "I'm on Fire," was his way of saying, "All's well that ends well."

Anyway, some of the show worked well, and some didn’t.  I thought “Reason to Believe” a catastrophe, but I loved “The Wish” which people more sophisticated than I—or who love their mothers less—found impossibly hokey.  I also was able to hear the lyrics on the Devils & Dust songs clearly for the first time, and they clearly reward a non-casual listening with many layers of complexity, sensitivity, and dammit, poetry.  Sadly missing from this show was “Incident,” but other highlights included a beautiful “Real World” and that strange, haunting closer, “Dream, Baby Dream,” originally done by Suicide.  You can find Bruce’s mix tape here.

Richard Harvey Brown did not live to see his book, Culture, Capitalism and Democracy published this year (by Yale University Press, and the manuscript had to be touched up during the editing process by his graduate students at the University of Maryland.)  It’s a tour de force of an extremely opinionated kind, tying together any number of topics from the making and unmaking of national social movements to the economic basis for trends in marriage and family planning.  I learned a lot dipping in and out of it, as his reading and understanding are both vast and deep.  I highly recommend it.

Alter-Correction:  The New York Observer, the newspaper that takes pride in its celebration of Ann Coulter’s jokes about the mass murder of journalists and carries a feature advising its readers to punch people it doesn’t like in the face, was more consistent in its reporting of alleged book advances for New Republic editors than I previously allowed.  I think that almost all reporting of book advances is nonsense and a waste of everyone’s time, and I also think the words “six figure advance” to be ridiculous, as they merely narrow down the number to somewhere between $100,000 and $999,999, but a series of letters from Tom Scocca has demonstrated that the Observer’s relentless reporting on these earth-shaking matters to be, at least consistent.  (Whether it’s accurate no one can really say.)  I apologize for creating the opposite implication—something, by the way, the Observer has never seen fit to do, in its repeated misreporting of the actions of yours truly on at least three separate occasions, including the time one of its alleged reporters professed to read my mind.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to make a first-ever plea to readers to help pass a piece of legislation.  This week the Illinois state legislature voted to divest state funds from Sudan to protest the Darfur genocide.  If the Governor signs it, it will be the first such law in the nation (other states, including California, have similar bills pending).  It is vitally important that this law passes.  Dubya has not only given up on Darfur, he's joined the other side, something that went criminally unreported during the whole "Newsweek/Koran flushing" brouhaha.

Only a grass roots divestment movement will prevent the genocide from reaching Rwanda-level death tolls.  The situation is very similar to the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980's, when everyone knew Reagan was only giving lip service to opposing the Botha government.  Except today the world is less interested and Congress is controlled by the Republicans.  The Illinois law would be a triumph over inertia.

So, virtual hat-in-hand, I ask that you all call or write our governor, Rod Blagojevich ("bluh-GOY-uh-vich") and ask him to sign the bill ASAP.  The guv has national ambitions, so calls from non-constituents will not be ignored.  He can be contacted here or phoned at (217) 782-0244.

Name: Oliver Dawshed
Hometown: (declined)
Eric, you were kind enough to let your readers know about our website on electoral studies.  There has been a recent exchange of letters in TomPaine.com regarding the Ohio exit polls to which you may wish to draw their attention.  The URL is given below.  What I hope people will take away from this the exchange:

  • It is not unusual that two or more competing models offer an explanation. 
  • With the Ohio exit polls, scientists and academics are trying to unravel what happened.  As any serious intellectual understands, this takes time. 
  • People who lack the qualifications to understand the issues without translation tend to inflame, rather than inform the debate.

The basic issues, as I see them, are these:

  • One could explain the Ohio exit polls either as evidence of fraud or as incompetent exit polling.
  • The person who could do the most to resolve the issue, Warren Mitofsky of Edison/Mitofsky has not made the data freely available.  Failure to share data raises alarms among those, notably academics, who have confronted intellectual fraud. That concern may not be justified, but failure to share data will inevitably raise suspicions.
  • The main model explaining the exit polls as pollster error (called the "Shy Republican" or "Reluctant Responder" model) has problems, points that are not easily explained, and that its proponents have an obligation to fully explain before asserting their model to be preferable.
  • There are reasons external to the exit polls, such as the Conyers Report, that make fraud a more plausible, but not an exclusive, explanation.  Regrettably, those who choose to dismiss concerns about the election as "conspiracy theories" will not even mention the Conyers report or the concerns voiced by both former presidents Clinton and Carter.

When science and politics intersect, as we have seen with the controversies over tobacco and global warming, the science often seems to lose out to the spinners, at least for a time.  But reality will not be denied.  I urge your readers to read both sides of the exchange.

The URL is here.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

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