June 10, 2005 | 10:47 AM ET | Permalink

Think Again, here.  A Hole in the News (the size of Africa...)

Go ahead, keep believing the Administration about Iraq, in spite of what we really know to be true.  Ignore reporters like Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru who are there, here.

Quote of the Day, from the above:

"I know the party line. You know, the five-star generals, President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld: the Iraqis will be ready in whatever time period," said a named American lieutenant. "But I know I'll be back in Iraq, probably in three or four years. And I don't think they'll be ready then." The mostly Sunni soldiers agreed—and said they're planning to quit. Then they sang odes to Saddam. "We have lived in humiliation since you left," went one line. Of the 107 purportedly operational Iraqi battalions, U.S. commanders say three are capable of acting independently.

Alternative Quote of the Day:  “Fanaticism consists of redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.” --George Santayana, in John Harris, The Survivor, p. 351.

And now this, the result of the war and the tax cuts, from the WSJ (Sub):

The House Appropriations Committee gave initial approval to a domestic-spending bill that would terminate scores of government programs and cut more than $1 billion from current funding for the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

Among the accounts hardest-hit are community-services block grants and health-professions programs important for training minorities in medical fields. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would lose 25% of the government support previously promised for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and the Republican-controlled panel is proposing to rescind $124 million that Congress approved in the fall for President Bush's community-college initiative to improve workers' skills.

Altogether, 49 government programs, totaling $2.3 billion in this fiscal year, would be killed.  A portion of the savings would be reallocated to fund increases in Title I and Pell Grant programs for needy public-school and college students. But on balance, the Education Department's $56 billion-plus budget is effectively frozen, with only a $117 million increase -- the smallest in many years…. within the Health and Human Services budget, funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is increased by $515 million over this year. At the same time, community-services block grants and health-professions programs are cut by more than half for a net savings of $569 million.

Which reminds me: If you want to know why I don’t believe in “principles’ anymore you need to look no further than a collection of essays published by the University of California Press called “A Matter of Principles: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq.”  How very nice for those who believed that trusting this administration to carry out this enormously complex and delicate task in a truthful and culturally sensitive fashion was “a matter of principle.”  I think, generously, it is a matter of naiveté and ahistoricism.  Anyway, the point is, who cares about your principles?  Not the Iraqis, certainly, who are being killed at an alarming rate.  And not the families of the thousands of Americans dead and wounded in a war for which we were lied to.  And these are the people who are considered to be the “tough-minded” liberals.  And Hitchens goes around lecturing liberals on morality.  Reels the mind…  Mr. Orwell, you have a message in your voicemail…

And hey, media guys, look.  He’s about as popular as Chalabi is outside of the offices of people who owe their jobs to Dick Cheney:  “The new Associated Press/Ipsos poll shows President Bush's approval rating at 43 percent, approval of his handling of the war in Iraq at 41 percent, and just 35 percent of American adults saying they think the country's on the right track.  Bush scored low among those polled on a variety of issues, from foreign policy (45 percent approval) to Social Security (37 percent approval), and the economy (43 percent approve). Congress didn't do any better: 64 percent of those polled say they disapprove of the job lawmakers are doing.” Here.

Um, now might be a nice time for an opposition party to say something…

He’s not exaggerating, you know, here.

And what a weirdly interesting Op-Ed by Adam Bellow, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to respond to Ms. Nelsen and Leffy, my Turkish-troops-for-Iraq critics.  OK, major brain cramp on the language mistake (Turkish troops would speak Turkish, not Arabic).  Still, I'm not dissuaded.  The biggest obstacle to salvaging the mess in Iraq is diffusing the Sunni insurgency, not placating the Kurds or lulling Iran to sits on its hands (as-if they are).  Kurdish fears are legitimate.  Heck, Congress couldn't stand up to Turkey even to commemorate the Armenian genocide.  Still, "Kurdistan" is relatively secure, and we wouldn't send Turkish troops there anyway.  Is this really too much to ask from the Kurds?  And does Sistani really prefer seeing mostly Shiite security forces dying in droves in the Sunni Triangle?

Yes, the risks are real, but what is the alternative?  Remember the 2004 debate over the need to internationalize peacekeeping in Iraq?  How is that less true today?  Who else is volunteering to send us 10,000 troops?  In May the Netherlands announced they are recalling their troops, about 1500.  They are mostly stationed in quiet areas in Southern Iraq, but how many cancelled leaves will be needed to make up for them?  Just this week Senator Joe Biden said the military's experts told him that there will be no significant reduction in forces for at least two years.  The army's recruitment is down, backdoor drafts are up, and everyone from the neocons to the NY Times editorial board says we need significantly more troops.  Also remember that we allowed Russian troops into Kosovo even though there were deep, justifiable suspicions of their role as allies of the Serbs.  Finally, if stationing Turkish troops in the Sunni Triangle is too inflammatory, they could be deployed in unpopulated areas like the Syrian border.   Yes, it is possible that there is --no-- solution to Iraq, but Turkish troops (and hopefully others) seem at this point to be a risk worth taking, and at least wouldn't be any riskier than this endeavor was in the first place.

Name: David Ehrenstein
Hometown: Los Angeles, Ca.
Dear Eric:
Thanks for bringing up the anniversary of the climactic moment of the Army-McCarthy hearings.  "Altercation" readers should seek out "Point of Order," Emile de Antonio's superb documentary compilation of the hearing's highlights.  It was a turning point for television -- putting its dramatic power to full display in a manner not seen again until some two decades later with the Watergate hearings.  It should never be forgotten what the Army-McCarthy hearings were actually about.  Roy Cohn was upset that his boyfriend G. David Schine wasn't getting the royal treatment he'd demanded of the Army, so he sicced "Tailgunner Joe" on them, with ridiculous charges of "Communist subversion."  Welch's "Have you no sense of decency, sir?" speech has become the most famous moment historically.  It stemmed from the fact that a lawyer working for Welch had a leftist past and stepped down from involvement with the case to avoid anything untoward happening.  But it happened anyway as McCarthy set out to smear the lawyer on national television as revenge on Welch for an earlier exchange that cut to the heart of the matter.  McCarthy had submitted for inspection a photograph showing Private Schine standing next to a high-ranking officer -- the better to demonstrate Schine's supposed importance.  Welch produced another photograph, showing that the one McCarthy had submitted was cropped for effect.  In the original Schine and the officer are standing in a much larger group, their proximity being of no significance whatsoever.  McCarthy blustered that he didn't know how the disparity between the two photographs could possibly come to be.  "Then where did this photo come from?"  Welch asked McCarthy of the cropped one, "a pixie?"  An increasingly uneasy McCarthy asked Welch what a pixie might be.  "Well, it's my understanding," Welch replied, "that a pixie is a very close relative of a fairy."  And thus the coup de grace, provided by the only bit of gay-baiting THIS "fairy" has ever approved of.

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz 
Hometown: The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Check out this quote:

The sheer scale of consumer debt has made millions of households extremely vulnerable to shocks in the economy, both from fiscal mismanagement and external factors such as oil price rises, acts of terrorism and wars. Debt is a time bomb which could be triggered by any number of shocks to the economy, at any time.

Sounds familiar, right?  It's not what you think -- the author isn't talking about rising U.S. consumer debt.  Rather, that quote is from a report led by Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach of Great Britain's Conservative Party, concluding that banks had made credit too easily available, and personal debt was becoming a problem for 15 million Britons. 

England has been about a year or so ahead of the U.S. in terms of their business cycle. The parallels are eerie, down to the overextended consumer.  (Now all they need is a rewrite of their bankruptcy laws to protect those banks.) 

Here's the full story:   U.K. foreshadowing U.S. Economic Slowdown

Previously, the one bright spot in Europe had been the UK's robust economy.  Now, we see signs that even their retail sector is starting to sputter from consumer exhaustion:

In grim procession, some of Britain's best-known retailers - from Boots to Marks & Spencer - have lined up recently to report or warn of lower profits. But these days, the gloom has an impact far beyond the dwindling profits from sales of digital cameras at Jessops or food at Sainsbury's.

The reduced profits, real and expected, may be signs of a significant slowdown in an economy that has distinguished itself from the sluggish ones in Continental Europe through reliable growth - most of it driven by free-spending consumers.

Like the U.S., the British economy has lost industrial jobs and seen a rise in their service industry.  And that includes (in a big way) retail.

The NYT notes too that "retail spending has taken over as the engine of growth, when personal debt has soared and when the government, bucking its own advice to the rest of Europe, has made its spending a bigger proportion of the overall economy."

Sound familiar?

The similarities don't end there; there's this:  Britain's economy has been enjoying a substantial boom in real estate. And that in turn has caused their Central Bank to tighten rates:

The credit-driven boom persuaded the Bank of England to raise interest rates from a low of 3 percent to 4.75 percent, their level for the last nine months. Now the higher rates are biting on the debt the spending has produced, turning spendthrifts, in some cases, into paupers.

In one sign of the slowdown, the British Bankers' Association said that the number of mortgages initiated in February was down 35 percent from a year ago despite other signs that a slowdown in the housing market might be ending. Not only that, according to the British Retail Consortium, retail sales in April fell by 4.7 percent compared with April 2004.

The slide brought "the most difficult trading conditions in living memory," said Kevin Hawkins, the director general of the consortium. Just last week, the Office for National Statistics said that the economy grew just 0.5 percent in the first quarter, the slowest in two years.

What's the next likely step?  A few economists are forecasting that the Bank of England will "begin to ease rates this summer or in the fall.  Some economists are forecasting that the benchmark rate will decline to 4 percent by the end of this year, and fall further in 2006."

From over stimulated economy to faltering in a few short years.  Don't be surprised if America's slowing economy follows a very similar path:  The Fed, hoping to avoid a bubble in Real Estate (having missed the stock bubble) continues raising rates, ending their tightening cycle this Autumn.  Meanwhile, the economy slides further into anemic growth.  Fearing a recession in late 2006-07, the Fed reverses themselves.  By early Spring 2006, the Fed may be cutting rates to try to stimulate our economy.

Of course, not everything is parallel -- some things are mirror images: The party of Left, led by Tony Blair, supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq, while the party of the Right, including people like Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, are in favor of fiscal discipline and balanced budgets.  (Hey, they drive on the left side of the road over there.)

Despite these differences, Britain may be foreshadowing our future.

While many economists have been scanning for signs in China of a slowdown in the global economy, that may be the wrong place to watch.  We've long looked to England to know what's going to happen next in the U.S. culturally  -- in terms of music, theatre and fashion.  Now, it seems, we are even looking to them economically.

Special relationship, indeed.

Britain Showing Signs of a Slowdown
NYT, June 7, 2005

Name: Gregory Gadow
Hometown: Seattle, WA
I thought you might find interesting a story about an 18 year old Washington man who was essentially kidnapped by Army recruiters, subjected to cult-like brainwashing techniques that included isolation from his support network and food and sleep deprivation, then asked to sign a great many papers while in no fit mental state.  Is it any wonder that many high school students and their parents are resisting the military press gangs?

Name: Jon Gardner
Hometown: Silver Spring, Maryland
Yes, read Kagan's history of the Peloponnesian War.  Just do it.  It may not transcend Thucydides, but it sent me on a Greek history bender that lasted at least two years, and I am richer for it.

Name: Mark Cashman
Hometown: Yonkers, NY
I saw Glengarry last Saturday and, yes, explosive is the word for Liev Schreiber's performance.  I thought the cast was uniformly excellent.  The big difference from the movie, aside from the extra scenes and opening it up, is that in live performance the humor comes out.  It's wickedly funny.  The movie is dark and brooding.  You also get the long view on stage, which can work to great effect.  Example - when Roma is trying to get Lingk out of the office and beckons to him like Lingk is a dog ("C'mon Jim, C'mon").  Then when he gets to the door and Lingk hasn't moved, Roma slowly bangs his head on the door.  A great bit of business that is pure stagecraft.  I believe Mamet wrote the "third prize you're fired" scene for the movie just to get Alec Baldwin in it.  All the information in that scene about the contest is conveyed elsewhere in the play.  I was in a production of Glengarry a few years ago and seeing it Saturday made me badly want to do it again.  There's a cleaned-up version of the movie that I've seen on television that is unintentionally but unavoidably hilarious.  Since just about every other word can't be voiced on family TV, the effort they had to make to dub substitute swear words is astounding.  Roma's ultimate insult to the office manager, Williamson, becomes, "You phony firefly!" I kid you not.

Name: Fishheadsoup
Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
Doc - As careful as you seem to be about giving credit where it is certainly do, I was dismayed to see you proffer the following at the end of your praise of David Mamet's "Glengarry Glen Ross," "The epigram for When Presidents Lie is: 'Always tell the truth. It's the easiest thing to remember.'  Go."  That line is nothing but a two-cent rip-off of America's greatest humorist, Mark Twain - "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."  Thank you, and all who participate, for Altercation.

Eric replies:  Dear Mr. Fishead.  Thanks, I suppose I appreciate the implication, but dude, I can’t know everything.

Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA
What do you get when you cross the Irish dramatic tradition with the Jewish sense of destiny?  According to you, a "revelation" in the person of "Liam Schreiber".  I don't what Sullivan Freud would make of this, but he did aver that there were no mistakes...

Eric replies: “Oy.”

Name: Chris Bowling
Hometown: Slater, Mo.
The best historical narrative hands down is...

Eric adds:  I included that much of Chris’s letter just to illustrate exactly how not to write a letter to Altercation, unless you happen to be God.  And then I’m going to need some authentication…  Anybody else should allow for a few differences of opinion.  Anyway, he was wrong…

June 9, 2005 | 12:07 PM ET | Permalink

"President's George Bush's decision not to sign the United States up to the Kyoto global warming treaty was partly a result of pressure from ExxonMobil, the world's most powerful oil company, and other industries, according to U.S. State Department papers seen by the Guardian," here.

He’s destroying the military , too.

Downing Street?  Never heard of it.  Good column here, too.  “A lazy, timid, intimidated, favor -and status- currying media is not doing its basic job: Covering the news and providing the context for people to make up their minds.”

PBS: The nightmare continues

Moyers’ latest speech is here.

And Todd Gitlin continues to defend reason here.

Josh Marshall, here, asks what’s the best narrative history you’ve ever read.  I dunno.  Off the top of my head, I think it’s volume III of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson books, Master of the Senate.  If you had asked me a few years ago, I might have said volume I.  (I think Volume II to be deeply wrong-headed and in any case, skip-able if you read the other two.  And if he hadn’t written these, I would have picked The Power Broker.)  Anyway, Caro’s magisterial work is one reason to be both proud of what I do and a little ashamed of how I do it; Garry Wills’ too.  Runners up would be Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic and James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom.  Outside of American history, I think I’d pick Michael Howard’s history of the Franco-Prussian war, though I’ve not yet sat down with Donald Kagan’s history of the Peloponnesian War and I’m told that’s the greatest, not including Thucydides, which remains incredibly readable, and everybody ought to read.  (Interesting how military history brings out the best in historians…)

“At long last, have you no decency, sir?”  On this day in history, Little Roy's namesake got what he asked for.

Quote of the Day, from John Harris’s The Survivor:  "’You got it backwards’ joked [Rahm`] Emanuel, a devout Jew. ‘You messed around with a Jewish girl, and now you’re paying a goyish lawyer. ‘You should have messed around with a goyish girl and gotten a Jewish Lawyer.’” (p. 315)


Yesterday I caught the matinee of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” one of the great American plays of the past half century and among the most useful primers I can recommend of just what angry, insecure and generally benighted souls we men carry around in our savage breasts.  I saw the play when it opened decades ago, at the Arena State in Washington with Joe Mategana and I forget who else.  And the movie too, I recall being great.  But I can’t remember if it was this great.  Alan Alda was cloyingly and annoyingly wonderful, but Liev Schreiber was a revelation.  Critics like to say “explosive” a great deal, but, well, that’s the word.  Now I’m annoyed with myself for skipping all the Shakespeare he’s been doing.  The play is nice and short and incredibly tightly wound -like its actors- and beautifully staged and directed.  Again, the only excuses to miss it would be money and geography.  Funny, its best remembered line—at least by me—is not in it.  “Third place is… you’re fired.”  I guess it’s in the movie.  But the epigram for When Presidents Lie is: “Always tell the truth.  It’s the easiest thing to remember.”  Go.

P.S.  Do men talk like Mamet these days because of Mamet or because they always did?  I’m too young to know.  I once had to negotiate with a big-time entertainment lawyer to get the rights to Springsteen’s music and the guy kept talking about “the thing” the whole time.  It took me ten minutes to understand what the hell he meant.

I saw Wynton Marsalis play twice in the last week.  Once at a fancy corporate celebration for a new partnership between Jazz @ Lincoln Center and XM Satellite Radio and once at the Apollo in Harlem.  In the first performance, at the Allen room in the Time Warner Center, which is, as far as I know, the single best room to see/hear music in America, he was preceded by inda.arie, next to whose mother I sat.  She’s cute, but she’s not my thing.  The performances were preceded by a lot of speeches about how wonderful XM is, and I’m prepared to believe it; without satellite radio, most music on the radio would die and certainly most music for adults.  Tony Bennett showed up and made a nice speech and so did Clark Terry.  At the Apollo, it was the annual gala for donors and that is always light on what most people would call "jazz" and heavy on celebrity and fancy, low-cut dresses.  It can be a thrill or a massive disappointment and often is both.  In the past I’ve seen Dylan, Willie Nelson, Stevie Wonder and Clapton play with Wynton and company.  This year the highlights were an incredibly well preserved Tom Jones and the great James Moody.  The blind boys of Alabama are always great.  Lyle Lovett was not bad.  Wynonna Judd was a matter of taste.  And the singing of Robert Downey Jr. requires a far more generous soul than my own to appreciate.  I love the orchestra.  I just wish they could do something about the ticket prices.  Anyway, go here and find out when they’ll be in your town if you’re not lucky enough to live here.

That’s enough. Here’s Siva.

Correspondence Corner:

Siva Vaidhyanathan here.  It's a hot, lazy summer in New York city already.  Temperatures are in the 90s.  Yet we could not be more relaxed and pleased today.  Most of us are celebrating the fact that we don't have to put up with the security and financial nightmare that would be the 2012 Olympics.

Thanks to some rarely high-minded politicians in state government, the city will not be able to throw $600 million in welfare for billionaires to build a useless stadium on the West Side of Manhattan.  The citizens of this city emitted a great sigh of relief at the news.

We have a great city.  Crime is lower than any time since 1962.  We have a budget surplus.  Schools are getting better.  But we still have that big hole in the ground downtown where thousands died.  Our underpaid teachers have been working without a contract for two years.  And we still need to upgrade public transportation.  Our ports and factories are still insecure, just waiting for another terrorist attack.  Oh, and we are still waiting for all that Federal help the president promised us when he so callously used us to make himself look good.  The last thing we needed was a boondoggle of a stadium.  The whole project smelled of corruption and insider deals.

A Reason to Believe

I have to confess.  I don't care about Deep Throat.  When the news broke, I yawned.  I got annoyed when the right-wing media brought out a line of criminals to make some sort of case that Nixon was treated unfairly or that those who pushed on Watergate were somehow betraying this country.  In all the talk about intrigue and unnamed sources, I never heard anyone talk about the real lesson of Watergate: accountability.

Deep Throat did not bring down a president.  The Washington Post did not bring down a president.  The Constitution and the core beliefs of this country brought down a corrupt president.

Watergate was about the Constitution working -- about the system working.  It was not about one FBI agent sneaking around a parking garage.  It was about enough people -- Republicans and Democrats, journalists and lawyers, citizens and statesmen -- choosing the country over the president, the law over the man.

No Democrat benefited more from Nixon's resignation than James Madison himself.  His system of checks and balances, of independent judgment and process prevailed against all odds.

Every time I heard a Chuck Colson or a G. Gordon Liddy consulted last week as some sort of expert on political courage or righteousness, I yearned for the strong, resonant, moral voice of Barbara Jordan.

Jordan, who passed away in 1996, was the first black woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first black woman elected as a U.S. Representative from Texas.  As a member of the House Judiciary Committee she gave the most memorable and patriotic address the Capitol had heard since Lincoln spoke.

I remember sitting on a couch with my mother as we watched Jordan address the committee.  My mother broke into tears during the talk.  I was eight years old.  I knew Nixon was a bad man and was happy he was leaving.  But I had little sense of the larger, historical issues at work.  My mother's tears convinced me there was something much deeper at stake.

Here is some of what Barbara Jordan said that day:

Earlier today we heard the beginning of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, We, the people.  It is a very eloquent beginning.  But when that document was completed, on the seventeenth of September in 1787, I was not included in that We, the people.  I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake.  But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision I have finally been included in We, the people.

Today I am an inquisitor.  I believe hyperbole would not be fictional and would not overstate the solemness that I feel right now.  My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total.  I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the Constitution.

Who can so properly be the inquisitors for the nation as the representatives of the nation themselves?" (Federalist, no. 65) The subject of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men." That is what we are talking about.  In other words, the juresdiction comes from the abuse of violation of some public trust.  It is wrong, I suggest, it is a misreading of the Constitution for any member here to assert that for a member to vote for an article of impeachment means that that member must be convinced that the president should be removed from office.  The Constitution doesn't say that.  The powers relating to impeachment are an essential check in the hands of this body, the legislature, against and upon the encroachment of the executive.  In establishing the division between the two branches of the legislature, the House and the Senate, assigning to the one the right to accuse and to the other the right to judge, the framers of this Constitution were very astute.  They did not make the accusers and the judges the same person.
If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that eighteenth century Constitution should be abandoned to a twentieth-century paper shredder.  Has the president committed offenses and planned and directed and acquiesced in a course of conduct which the Constitution will not tolerate?  That is the question.  We know that.  We know the question.  We should now forthwith proceed to answer the question.  It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decision.

In subsequent years I have reflected on why my mother would cry during such an event.  I like to think she knew that the moment that Barbara Jordan made the issue clear to Americans, we were saved.  We could push on.  We could realize our dream of justice under the law.  Perhaps she was thinking about all her family gave up for this country.  Her father served in the Navy in three wars.  Three of her brothers-in-law served in the Vietnam era.  She was a Navy brat, raised on bases around the Pacific, subsisting on cans of Spam and tuna casserole.  Perhaps she was thinking about all this country gave to her family.  She had married an immigrant, a man severed from his own family by half the world.  She was raising children who would have to negotiate these stories and lessons, who would grow up in a world defined by the way power worked in Washington, D.C.  Perhaps everything that really mattered to her rested on Barbara Jordan's words that day.

The Democratic Party did not win in 1974.  The country did.

Republicans concurred back then.  They have forgotten since.

Two years after she helped the Constitution bring down a corrupt president, Barbara Jordan made me cry.  I cried along side my mother on that same couch as Jordan addressed the Democratic National Convention in New York City.  In this speech she answered the questions that so many readers of this site have been trying to answer for many weeks: What do we believe?  What are we for?  Barbara Jordan, who had lived it, told us:

We believe that the people are the source of all governmental power; that the authority of the people is to be extended, not restricted.  This can be accomplished only by providing each citizen with every opportunity to participate in the management of the government.  They must have that.

We believe that the government which represents the authority of all the people, not just one interest group, but all the people, has an obligation to actively underscore, actively seek to remove those obstacles which would block individual achievement...obstacles emanating from race, sex, economic condition. The government must seek to remove them.

We are a party of innovation.  We do not reject our traditions, but we are willing to adapt to changing circumstances, when change we must.  We are willing to suffer the discomfort of change in order to achieve a better future.

We have a positive vision of the future founded on the belief that the gap between the promise and reality of America can one day be finally closed.  We believe that.

Do we need a clearer set of principles?  I don't think so.

A Reason to Cry

I can only remember one other political event bringing tears to my eyes.  During the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in June 1989, I cried whenever I saw people my age (I was in my early 20s) raising symbols of liberty and democracy in the face of tyrants.  When I saw that young man stand in front of a tank, I broke down. That's courage. That's what it's all about.  That's when I became a fully political person.

That's when I realized how complacent and comfortable we Americans had become.  Who among us would stand up in front of a tank in a public square?  The system had worked so well in my youth that we were now in danger of letting our pettiness and provincialism overrun us.  I started to think about all the ways the rest of the world could come at us to shake us out of our complacency.  And I started to think how easy it would be to launch a tyrannical movement from within this country, encased in the language of liberty, yet intolerant, belligerent, and Millenarian.

In these days of complacency, who will take a stand?  Who will speak for the Constitution?  Who will call tyranny tyranny, before it rises again?

Speaking of tyranny, a few weeks ago this site saw a bit of a discussion about who was the worst political murderer of the 20th century.  Now a new biography claims that Mao killed more  than 70 million people in his reign.  I think we have a winner.

The Sports Page

Whew!  That was heavy.  OK.  Now for some joy.

Early this year I wrote on Altercation that this is the NBA's golden age.  I think events have proven me right.  Ratings are down, but skills are up.  This week we will see the two best defensive teams (emphasis on teams) face off in the NBA finals.  They are led by two of the best coaches of all time, Greg Popovich and Larry Brown.  It's the Rust Belt (Detroit) vs. the Sun Belt (San Antonio).  No coasts are involved.  No big shoe contracts will dominate the proceedings.  Only basketball.  And it will be great.

Some day the NBA bigwigs will figure out how to sell quality instead of flash.

I am especially pleased because my team, the San Antonio Spurs, are certain to capture their third championship in six years.

Hey, Eric. Please make fun of the Yankees again. They need your help!

Eric replies: Naah, too easy.

Name: Barb Goldstein
Hometown: Albany, NY
Dr. A- if you went to Camp Kinder-Ring in the late 60s, that's when I was there.  I was that short-tall-fat-thin-blonde-darkhaired girl.  But I think you're a little younger than that.  Jewish geography is always just a little mitzveh.  A begezint for today, and a little prayer for Mr. Mel Brooks on the death of his beautiful wife.

Eric replies:  I was fired as a counselor at camp Kinder Ring in the summer of 1977.  My head counselor was a fascist who used to share his scratch n' sniff Hustlers with his first graders, but of course I was the one who was fired.

Name: Rabbi Yitzchack Perlman
Hometown: New York, New York
Boychick: The problem with Mr. Rauchway and so many people in today's world is that they want and expect quick and easy answers to everything.  You don't develop the patience to parry rudeness gracefully by asking and expecting others to tell you how.  Patience, and the elimination of laziness (if I may add to the list), must be discovered by study and observation.  As I stated yesterday, I recommend a serious study of the Talmud.  Mr. Rauchway will find the answer to his question there, if only he takes the time to learn for himself instead of foolishly relying on others to answer his questions.  Young men, There are no quick fixes in this world no matter what today's books and television are successfully conditioning most to believe.  G-d bless and may you find the riches this world has to offer.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Presidential hopefuls: if Virginia would change the rules about consecutive gubernatorial terms, Mark Warner would win in a walk.  And when you consider last year's budget fight (got most of what he wanted with Republicans controlling the State House) what he did is even more impressive.  Warner had enough non-wingnut Republicans to carry the day.  And now the local wacky-cons are targeting Republican members of the Virginia House and Senate who voted for the tax increase.  Virginia is a great state, but the only song the wingnuts know is "Cut Taxes and Business will be great."  But why would a business relocate to a state with crappy schools and lousy roads?  Virginia is NOT Texas!  Thankfully, those few Republicans (mostly from the Washington suburbs) realize that roads, schools, and other essential state services cost money, and are worth paying for.

Name: Ace
Doc: You state: "I don't see how McCain can get the Republican nomination, given that he turns out to be a liberal almost any time he decides to give any issue any thought."  McCain may give lip service to liberal positions on a few issues, but when the rubber meets the road he campaigns for Bush, votes for Bolton, and toes the party line.  McCain is justly hailed for his courage while in captivity.  Now, however, he is "all Profile, no Courage" as it pertains to his political life.  You are right that he doesn't have a chance in the GOP primaries, but it's not because he's too liberal; it's that he is too wishy-washy in his essential conservatism to serve up the red meat that the GOP primary electorate seems to require.

Name: Leisa Gunter
Hometown: Boone, NC
Hillary Clinton for President?  Nothing I'd like better, but she won't be 10 minutes into the campaign before the Swift Boat Veterans will have her linked to the mafia and guilty of murdering two or three people with her own bare hands, plus producing two or three "supposed" illigimate children by John Kerry due to affairs aimed at getting back at Bill--not to mention those two "secret" abortions, resulting from liaisons with the head of a drug cartel.  It'll also come out that she's an "atheist" and once tortured three Christian missionaries in some back alley of her mansion and demanded that they renounce their faith.  As much as I love Hillary, I dread going through an election campaign with her and watching the Swift Boat "thugs" convince us she's a murderer and a slut.

June 8, 2005 | 1:07 PM ET | Permalink

So much worse than Watergate
Just ask John Dean.

What these people cannot successfully cover up (and here) or censor, they will happily lie about.  Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing anyone in this administration says can be taken on faith, whether they are telling us about a war or about the weather.  More here.  (And by the way, that settles the issue so far as we at Altercation can determine.  And also, way to go to the Times for linking to a primary source, something that happens all too rarely on the Internets among mainstream newspaper sites.)  Some stem cell lies are discussed here and the Downing Street Memo itself is here.

Sometimes they are forced to resort to using taxpayer dollars to bribe people, too.

From Bloomberg's Ryan Donmoyer

The U.S. Interior Department inspector general concluded that the Bush administration offered in 2002 to overpay a prominent Florida family for oil and gas rights on Everglades land, according to people familiar with the matter.

In a report to the Senate Finance Committee to be made public today, Inspector General Earl Devaney says the department nearly tripled earlier estimates of the value of the mineral rights, the three people said. The agreement wasn't completed and the people familiar with the situation said Devaney's findings would scuttle it.
The report says that Ann Klee, a Bush administration political appointee, led the effort to reach an agreement with the Collier family shortly after she was named in January 2001 to administer the transition at the Interior Department between presidential administrations.

Klee, and two Interior Department lawyers, Barry Roth and Peter Schaumberg, relied on a private sector estimate that recommended the $120 million payment after soliciting several appraisals, all of which were lower, Devaney's report says. It also says at least one career Interior Department official contested the high estimate.

And they promote torture, literally.

Republicans against religious tolerance, continued, here.

Why do West Siders hate America? 

Declaring that opponents of a West Side stadium "have let down America," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the city's Olympic prospects were all but dead and that New York had suffered a blow to its collective psyche.

I don’t get as many chances for schadenfreude as I think I deserve, but this one is proving particularly rich.

Um, murder?

Did I say, “ We told you so”?  I think I did, ad nauseum, if I recall correctly.

Hold the falafel.  Funny, and The Nation seems to be selling out again, even without me.

One minute on 2008
Reading the ABC/WP poll, I do not relish a Hillary Clinton/John McCain race.  Senator Clinton has a 51/46 favorability rating, before being election-campaign slimed.  John McCain’s is 57/32, though I don’t see how McCain can get the Republican nomination, given that he turns out to be a liberal almost any time he decides to give any issue any thought.  At a dinner party last week, we had an argument over whether Connie Bruck’s New Yorker profile was a mash note or not.  I tended to think yes.  But two editors insisted no, it made him seem to be a boorish egomaniac.  Anyway, as of now, it seems that Hillary will get the Democratic nomination unless the opposition coalesces around someone else, rather quickly.  The most obvious choice is Edwards, assuming Al Gore does not run.  Kerry strikes me as hopeless, thank goodness.  But I also keep hearing terrific things about Mark Warner, about whom I know nothing.

Father knows best
Apropos of nothing, here’s a funny story I received from a friend:

At a  funeral for a friend's father today, fourteen-year-old in tow, pissy because he had to put on a jacket and tie.  Lots of old Irish couples in the church.  Just about to start when in walk three scrawny men in their mid-sixties, looking like s**t in tight black suits and boots, and stand just in front of us off on a side pew. 
"See those guys?" I ask my son. 
"Yuh." he mumbles. 
"Know who they are?" I ask. 
He gives me the "no one's stupider than my Dad" snort, and says, "How am I supposed to know who they are?" 
"Fine," I say, and go back to what I was doing.

A few minutes pass.  "Okay," he finally challenges.  "Who are they?" 
"The Rolling Stones," I tell him.  "Without Mick," I add. 
That gets his attention.  He's in a much better mood after that.

Alter-reviews:  Concord Picante

I’m about as far from expert on Latin Jazz as a person can be, I just know what I like.  Fortunately, my friends at Concord Picante have put together a four CD 25th anniversary collection (song list here) that provides just about all the education I’ll ever need.  It’s an extremely catholic collection, including not only the obvious choices like Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri but Charlie Byrd and the great (but inconsistent) Chick Corea.  Read the essay by Mark Holston if your ignorance is anything close to as shameful as mine, and you can feel virtuous about having a great time. 

And while you’re thanking our friend Norman Lear for putting some of those big bucks to work at Concord, check out the new compilation called “Tony Bennett sings the Rogers and Hart Songbook.”  (Really, I don’t think any more information than those words should be required, but just in case, it’s got a great Will Friedwald essay, too.)

Correspondence corner:

Name: Eric Rauchway
But ask the good rabbi, will you, how to develop the patience to parry rudeness gracefully.... Aside from Christian humility, in which I assume we're not placing a good deal of stock 'round these parts.

Eric replies: Or I could just ask Cathy Young/Nick King….

Name: Jeff Hamman
Hometown: Butler, IN
Whenever someone mentions the Africa problem, why is it the most practical way of helping is never mentioned?  The desalinization of salt water would be the biggest step we could take to alleviate the suffering on the African continent.  This would provide for improved sanitary conditions and the ability to irrigate cropland.  The African people want help, not a hand out.  We need to offer them support for all their problems, not just the ones that might affect our economic interests.  This solution could even be applied to some of the biggest problems in our own country.  Forest fires, drought, and crop irrigation are just a few of the ways.  I'm sure there are many more if we would give our scientists more latitude to solve our countries' problems without them being tied down by economic interests of the large corporations and our government.

Name: Chris Choate
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Dr. Alterman, As we see yet another opinion poll showing us that Bush is enormously unpopular two things pop into my mind.  The first is somewhat snarky: I wonder what words were used to describe Clinton during his impeachment, or even during his entire tenure as president.  I suspect words like "embattled," "controversial," "oft-criticized," (okay, I doubt "oft-criticized" would make it into the papers--too "intellectual," perhaps) or even "unpopular" were used with abandon.  'Twould be interesting to analyze, I think. 

The second thought is less snarky: all the negative polls do no good if election day doesn't follow suit.  Bush's approval ratings were, if I recall correctly, never above 49% for the two or three months prior to the 2004 election.  Furthermore, the exit polls that day also showed Bush losing quite handily that day.  (Odd, isn't it, that British exit-pollsters showed Blair keeping a 66-seat majority, which is exactly what he received.  Are British exit polls _that_ much more accurate than American?)  Yet, here we are, with Bush as President.  Short of claiming that the Republicans rigged the election in 2004, which they very well may have done, something is clearly rotten in our political system.  Somehow, the people of this country need to be brow-beaten into accepting that voting against their own self-interests is not somehow in the interest of the country (I believe Mr. Dowd of the GOP conceded on NPR last Friday morning that that happened in 2004); the two are inextricably linked.  One can only hope that the great entropic mass of this country will finally get tired of being bitten in the ass and do something about it in 2006 and in 2008.  Speaking of 2008, which poll was it that showed that 53% of the country leans toward Senator Clinton for President over any Republican nominee?  (How long before we see stories about "the controversial" Senator from New York?)

Name: Peter Chatzky
Hometown: Nothemayer, Chappaqua
Maloney Boy,
Noble and pure as may be your quest to keep "media" plural, I'm not sure the verdict is so clear on that one.  (Or, as you might prefer, "the verdicts are not so clear.")  Your oh-so-esteemed colleagues at the American Heritage Usage Panel indicate that, while an etymological snob might feel otherwise, the single or plural may be appropriate, depending on the context.  To wit:

"Usage Note: The etymologically plural form media is often used as a singular to refer to a particular means of communication, as in The Internet is the most exciting new media since television.  Many people regard this usage as incorrect, preferring medium in such contexts.  People also use media with the definite article as a collective term to refer not to the forms of communication themselves so much as the communities and institutions behind them. In this sense, the media means something like "the press." Like other collective nouns, it may take a singular or plural verb depending on the intended meaning. If the point is to emphasize the multifaceted nature of the press, a plural verb may be more appropriate: The media have covered the trial in a variety of formats. Frequently, however, media stands as a singular noun for the aggregate of journalists and broadcasters: The media has not shown much interest in covering the trial. This development of a singular media parallels that of more established words such as data and agenda, which are also Latin plurals that have acquired a singular meaning. ·The singular medium cannot be used as a collective noun for the press. The sentence No medium has shown much interest in covering the issue, would suggest that the lack of interest is in the means of communication itself rather than in its practitioners."

You could make either claim on the Times headline; I'd have had to, you know, like, read the story.  I think it's a close call, certainly more open to a writer's judgment than you might allow.

Name: Denizen of an Ohio university English department
Hometown: Kettering, OH
Again with the grammar lecture?  You write: 'Um, could someone tell the Times copy editors that media is a plural noun.  "Media Are" not "MEDIA IS."'  You need to take this up with your peers on the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary who correctly state:

"Like other collective nouns, [media] may take a singular or plural verb depending on the intended meaning. If the point is to emphasize the multifaceted nature of the press, a plural verb may be more appropriate: The media have covered the trial in a variety of formats. Frequently, however, media stands as a singular noun for the aggregate of journalists and broadcasters: The media has not shown much interest in covering the trial. This development of a singular media parallels that of more established words such as data and agenda, which are also Latin plurals that have acquired a singular meaning."

Clearly, in the case you quote, TIME is referring to the sheeplike aggregation of the media, not its multi-faceted nature.  Eric, you are so savvy on so many things, but your collective noun crusade is not one of them.

Eric replies: I’ll never give up.

Name: Colin Whitworth
Hometown: Gainesville, FL
RE: "The News Media Is Still Recovering From Watergate" I read this article on a plane home from Canada on Sunday, and what struck me was not the grammatical error that you pointed out, but rather the disconnect between the headline and the content.  It seemed that the recovering that was described was more from the conservative reaction to the Watergate stories and the focus on investigative journalism that followed.  I see it slightly different.  The rich and powerful do not like investigative journalism because it lets people know how money drives politics, and how the rich corrupt the system for their own greed and power lust.  The conservatives, on the other hand, have turned the notion on its head, replacing investigation with lies, propaganda, fear, innuendos and, when all else fails, attacking the messenger of news they don't like. If a right-wing Fox "reporter" says something wildly wrong, you only hear about in the blogosphere, but if any journalists gets any aspect of a story wrong, the right-wingers become apoplectic.  Canada was awesome, by the way, especially Montreal.  There they just call them "fries."

Name: Barb Goldstein
Hometown: Albany, NY
I used to read the Forward with meine bubbe.  She was trying to teach me to read Yiddish.  She was too old, and I too impatient.  And now the Forward is only twice a week, and in Englische!  But I still remember reading "a bintel brief', when I was a kid.  A fabulous history has the Forward.  When I was a kid, we belonged to the arbeiter rung...the workmen's circle -- and went to the summer camp up in Hopewell Junction, NY - anyway - I was also a counselor - and we had the first meetings all at the Forward building before they moved uptown.  Glad I got to participate in that.  Just thought I'd share....

Eric replies: Hey, I went to that camp or maybe I was a counselor.  The years of my youth blend together, these days.  (But I do think I saw Nick King and Cynthia Young there…)

June 7, 2005 | 11:49 AM ET | Permalink

Lowest approval ratings in 75 polls

This just in:  The new ABC News/Washington Post poll, here, shows 52 percent of Americans disapprove of the job President Bush is doing overall, reports ABC News' Polling director Gary Langer — the most in more than 75 ABC/Post polls since his presidency began. His approval rating is 48 percent.

Bush's Iraq approval ratings haven't fared much better:  41 percent said they approve of the job the President is doing in Iraq, while 58 percent disapprove — matching his career-high Iraq disapproval mark.

George W. Bush’s approval rating is now a full twenty points lower than Bill Clinton’s was on the day he was impeached.  Dear media, that means you gotta stop referring to him as a “popular president,” and no less important, stop treating him like one.  If you want to be wimps about everything, fine, just don’t blame it on his ‘popularity.’  Blame it on yourselves.

More on Republican support for religious discrimination against Jews, Moslems and another non-fundamentalist Christians at the Air force academy in Colorado Springs, here.  And while we’re reading the Forward, why not take a moment and educate yourselves about my favorite Jewish theologian, Mordechai Kaplan by this nice graduate from Penn.

Media Bias: A short lesson in how it’s done

There are any number of ways to write a biased an article under the rules of objective journalism, which is one reason I am not really a fan of the practice, even were it possible, which it isn’t.  Anyway, Times reporter Richard Pérez-Peña and his editors give a perfect example in this short article about Sheldon Silver’s opposition to the construction of a West Side Stadium on Saturday, which I am thrilled to report, died yesterday.

Politically, Mr. Silver answers to two small constituencies - his Lower Manhattan district and the Assembly Democrats - and he probably has little cause to worry about whatever decision he makes.  Polls show the public is not enthusiastic about the stadium, after months of negative advertising by opponents.

Excuse me, but

  1. How does Mr. Pérez-Peña know there is a causal relationship between the negative advertising and the opposition to the plan?  Can’t one oppose it merely on its merits?

  2. More obviously, why in hell does he mention only “negative advertising by opponents”?  What about all that ‘positive advertising by proponents,’ as well as the constant campaigning by the mayor and his minions?

This is one case where the clear bias of this example runs contrary to the Times’ editorial position, which was against the stadium, but still, it shows how easily it can be done when nobody on the desk is paying attention.  Anyway, a big “yay” for Mr. Silver, whatever the reason….

And let’s all go to Paris for the Olympics….

While we are lecturing the Times this morning, what about this hed

“The News Media Is Still Recovering From Watergate”

Um, could someone tell the Times copy editors that media is a plural noun.  “Media Are” not “MEDIA IS.”

Just in case our friend Rick Kaplan doesn’t read Media Matters, we’re going to print their letter here too:

June 6, 2005

Mr. Rick Kaplan
President/General Manager
1 MSNBC Plaza
Secaucus, NJ 07094-2419

Dear Mr. Kaplan:

We noted with interest MSNBC's impending launch of The Situation With Tucker Carlson. We thought we would take the opportunity to offer you our input.

Given the current lineup on MSNBC and its fellow cable news channels, the addition of one more conservative as a prime-time host -- particularly one with a penchant for hyperbole, distortion and outright misinformation -- will further skew MSNBC's prime-time lineup and undermine the network's credibility.  MSNBC already features one conservative host in prime time (Joe Scarborough), not to mention Chris Matthews, whose undisguised contempt for liberals and Democrats seems to grow by the day (as Media Matters for America recently documented, despite absurd claims from the right that he is a liberal, Matthews has admitted voting for President Bush "at least once," proudly said he "defended [Bush] against the liberal elite," and echoed conservative talking points on any number of issues).

Even though the addition of Carlson means that you are adding yet another conservative as sole host of a prime-time show, we would like to encourage you to allow some progressive voices to be heard as well.  Preliminary reports indicate that Carlson's program will feature a regular group of panelists to discuss issues in the news.  We are sure that you have a genuine desire that these panels be balanced. Allow us to suggest what true balance would look like.

First, a discussion between two conservatives and one progressive is not "balanced."  On the typical cable news show, the conservative host will be joined by a conservative guest and a liberal guest, making for a 2-to-1 imbalance.  Sometimes, these shows even tilt 3-to-1 against the sacrificial progressive.  Media Matters noted such a panel on MSNBC during last fall's presidential debate and a series of them during the presidential inauguration in January.

Second, a discussion between two conservatives and one reporter for a mainstream news organization is not "balanced." All too often, reporters are brought on as foils for opinionated conservatives, leaving no one to advocate a progressive position and playing into the distorted conservative complaint that journalists are liberal advocates. This is not to say that reporters shouldn't be panelists, but when they are, don't fool yourself into thinking they balance conservatives. Media Matters also noted this phenomenon on MSNBC during last fall's presidential debates.

There are many articulate, interesting, insightful progressives who would be assets to panel discussions -- not just on Carlson's show but on any similar program on your channel.  If you are having any trouble filling the slots, don't hesitate to get in touch with us for some suggestions.

David Brock

Alter-reviews by Sal

John Hiatt, Master of Disaster on New West

1987's "Bring The Family" put John Hiatt on the map.  Writing songs for others and releasing a bunch of decent, but somewhat forgettable albums from as early as 1974, it was Hiatt's collaboration with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, and Jim Keltner on "Bring The Family" that opened the ears of just about everyone.  A near-perfect release, very similar in style to Elvis Costello's "King Of America."

Since then, Hiatt has unfortunately released too many records with too many of the same themes, sounds, and ideas. And his voice has not aged well, becoming more nasal than what is comfortable. At times he makes Dylan sound like Joni Mitchell.  Sure, most of Hiatt's mediocre releases are better than most people's strong releases. And along the way, he has given us some damn fine music.  (Listen to "Crossing Muddy Water.)  But, the fact remains, Hiatt needs a winner.

"Master Of Disaster" is that winner.  Well...almost.  Another collaboration, this time with the Dickinson boys, better known as the North Mississippi All Stars, Hiatt's new record does not break any new ground.  As a matter of fact, on first listen, you wouldn't think it was a new record at all.  But I stayed with it.  I respect Hiatt and I've loved the work of the NMAS.  To quote a friend of mine, "the new Hiatt is oddly terrific."  Still not sure what that means, but I agree.  The record works.

Eric adds. That friend, c’est moi.  This is a weirdly great album in many ways, and as an SACD hybrid, it also sounds just great.

Elvis Costello, “King of America,” re-release on Rhino

Elvis Costello's year, releasing not one, but two of his most cherished works.  "Blood & Chocolate," the rocking swan song with the Attractions, and "KING OF AMERICA," a countrified, roots-rock extravaganza, featuring such legends as James Burton, Earl Palmer, Ray Brown, Jim Keltner, and Jerry Scheff as his backing band.

"KING OF AMERICA" is regarded by many to be Costello's masterpiece.  I don't disagree.  From the sway of the opener "Brilliant Mistake," an instant classic, to such heartbreaking ballads as "Poisoned Rose," and "I'll Wear It Proudly," with such s**tkickers as "Lovable" and "The Big Light" thrown in along the way, KOA was Costello's transition from the British punk who rode in on the mid 70's New Wave, to respected adult, singer-songwriter.  It was a sign of things to come, laying the foundation for Costello to be accepted experimenting and recording all genres of music, from jazz to classical over the coming years.

Rhino Records' reissue campaign continues with this release, adding an additional CD chock full of piano demos, outtakes, and b-sides, all of which are as strong as the finished product.

Sal Nunziato

Eric adds a P.S.:  I caught a show on Saturday night by Marshall Crenshaw at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.  Despite sound problems that left a big buzz coming out of Marshall’s guitar, the majesty of the man’s perfect pop-writing and good natured love affair with Buddy Holly style guitar riffs managed to shine through to an extremely appreciative crowd.  Crenshaw is one of those journeymen who keep the music alive for adults, playing in bars and small halls that remind you of what helped you fall in love with the stuff in the first place. If by some weird chance you don’t have this album, well, trust me.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Chicago
Barack Obama's Knox College commencement speech here.

From: Matt Dana
Rochester, NY
Mr. President,
I just read this NY Times article.

It talks about a multi-national effort to alleviate poverty in Africa.

Only one crucial element is still missing - the wholehearted support of the United States government.  Unless President Bush joins this effort in the five weeks remaining before the summit meeting to be held in July in Scotland, Africa's hopes will be disappointed and America's image in the eyes of a world that once looked to it for enlightened leadership will be further diminished.

How can this be true?  How can we, as the world’s richest nation, possibly justify sitting this one out?  I know there’s probably more to this story, but not in the eyes of people around the world who will look at how America handles this situation, and judge us thusly.  We recently acted too slowly and reluctantly during the tsunami crisis.  Let’s make up for that here, and then some.

Name: Rabbi Yitzchack Perlman
Hometown: New York City
Young Man: I have been reading your work for quite some time and have even used a few of your articles in my classroom.  I don't mean to be cruel, only honest and I must tell you that your comments on Judaism and Anti-Semitism are generally pedantic.  I highly recommend a look at the Talmud and specifically the writings of Baba Kama. This book starts out on a discussion on ethics and I truly believe it will help you mature as a writer.  Also, if you can absorb the Sayings of the Father (in the same book) I also guarantee that you will understand the Jewish view of human rights and the importance of treating those with whom you disagree with more respect and less name calling.  I would also recommend that you tackle these lessons with a Talmudic Scholar, as the lessons are very hard to absorb for the novice.  I am older than you, Eric, and I used to have some of the same immaturities.  You have a good "kop" on your shoulders, and there is hope for you if you will only take the time to seek true enlightenment.  In a few years, G-d willing, you will come to appreciate my words.

Eric replies: You may be right….

June 6, 2005 | 11:52 AM ET | Permalink

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Wartime Relativity or 19,353,577 seconds

Time is relative.

My father, the physicist, would agree.  Though the fact is that I mean this in an entirely different manner than that envisioned by Einstein 100 years ago.  I am not talking about the interrelationship of time and the perception of time according to the relative speed of an observer.  My quandary does not concern the dilation of time as one approaches the velocity of light.  It does, however, involve space.

Specifically it involves the 6,190 miles between here and home.  That is the space which warps how we approach time from here in Iraq.

When you first arrive, the magnitude of what faces you is too much to digest.  Twelve months.  Fifty-two weeks.  Three-hundred sixty-five days.  No matter how you examine it, there is just this huge lump before you, so huge that the only viable avenue is to completely ignore the elephant in the dining room, lest it notice you in turn and crush you.  (The caveat to this is that the Air Force comes here for four month tours, and the Marines seven.  This column, therefore, only applies to the Army.)

There is a vertical climb up a learning curve which starts the very first minutes you set foot in Iraq.  This actually helps.  You are literally too damned busy to notice.  The elephant remains concealed behind the drapes.  You know that he’s there, but you are so busy that you barely care.  I have mentioned that we make homage to the genius of the movie “Groundhog Day” here, it is for this reason, and this too helps a little.

Every day is the same.  Every.  Damned.  Day.  The food is the same.  The weather is the same.  The routine is the same.  Even, after a while, is the fear.  So much so that an ironically easing amnesia sets in.  I have had solid conversations with grown men, all of them with Masters degrees or PhDs, and not a man-jack of us could recall what we had eaten for dinner two nights prior.  Hell, even your memory becomes communal.

The large explosion that ripped a crater in the parking lot?  If it took place more than a month earlier it will now require at least three people to bracket the date within a week.  The USO troupe that came through with Starlet X and Star Y?  Uhhh, lessee, it was cold, wasn’t it?  And rainy?  Yea.  Uhhhh, February…or so?

At this instant there are 32 weeks, 224 Days, 5,376 Hours, 322,599 Minutes, or 19,353,577 seconds remaining on my tour, depending upon how you look at it.

And how do I know that?  Because in the inevitable 21st Century update to the Vietnam-era practice of marking a calendar with “X”s as the days progressed, some geek made an Excel spreadsheet that links to the clock on your computer.  You enter the date of your arrival, and your DEROS (Date Eligible to Return from Overseas), and it presents you with an up-to-the-second update on your time elapsed and time remaining, complete with a nice circular graph which colors TIME REMAINING in red, and DONE in green.

Yes, we play games with how we slice up our time.

In my year here I will get the chance for 14 days at home (this August), and two four-day passes (here in the Middle-East).  Other than that, I work seven-days a week.  So sometimes I chop it up into bit-sized pieces.  I play mind-games with myself.  “I only have three weeks until my four-day pass…” or “When I take my leave I will be eight days past six months… with travel included, when I return I will only have five months and one week remaining…” etc.

And now it’s midnight.  Another day done.

Baghdad Within Earshot:  Rocket did indeed land relatively closely to me quite recently.  Naturally, being the geek that I am, I wanted to examine the casings (it was a large-ish rocket) to determine exactly what it was that hit, so that I can reconcile the memory of the impact with the caliber of the weapon.

My daughter Morgan spoke at her Junior National Honor Society this past week.  My daughter Connor is running for Secretary.  My daughter Ryann contends that most boys are creeps, but some are OK.  I talked to them for 57 minutes this week.  It was a new high.  My father completed his sailing trip with my friend, bringing the boat into Newport safe and sound.  My love has been at her reunion at Middlebury this weekend.

And I remain 6,190 miles from them all.

Write to Major Bob at: Bateman_Maj@hotmail.com           

When Hacks Attack (themselves)
And this week’s Chutzpah award goes to, drum roll, please...  “Mr. Conflict of Interest, Howard Kurtz.”  This morning Howie writes, here,

Three decades later, the use and abuse of unnamed sources is rampant, especially in Washington, and the media all too often protect those with partisan agendas.  It's a long road from Felt telling Woodward to "follow the money" to a Bush adviser telling the New York Times that John Kerry "looks French."  But such potshots have become routine in daily reporting.

And this, under the hed, “Anonymous Attacks":

Radar, the new magazine launched by former Talk editor Maer Roshan, has no qualms about unnamed sources.  TV "insiders" are quoted anonymously in trashing top anchors and correspondents with such comments as "She's so dumb she can't even read off a teleprompter"; "He's a sociopath"; and "Everything has to be scripted for her."  One woman said to report by "flashing her cleavage."  Not exactly courageous journalism.

Too bad he did not have room for this example of the same sleazy practice by one, um, Howard Kurtz. “Privately, some staffers say Whitaker can be too cautious, too predictable, too bureaucratic, 'the ultimate apparatchik,' as one puts it."

We note also for the record that Howie is backing off his previous claim that the Newsweek periscope item was directly responsible for the Afghan riots.  He phrases his words a bit more carefully this time, merely implying it. 

Newsweek apologized and retracted a news item-- attributed to "a senior U.S. government official" -- saying military investigators had confirmed that U.S. guards at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down a toilet.  By the time the source backed off, riots in Afghanistan and elsewhere had killed 16 people.

That’s the Bush spin, of course, but the reality is far more complex.

Our final item on Mr. C-of-I is nonexistent.  We were hoping to be able to congratulate Howie on overcoming his clear conflict of interest by writing about this story.  But you see, Mrs. Howard Kurtz is a former Republican political consultant who used to work for Arnold (and continuesto flack for him on occasion, though I imagine she does so unpaid).  And so Mr. C-of-I’s paper was scooped by the Times on a story despite the fact he clearly would have had the inside line into it.  In the meantime, what’s up at NBC?

And this week’s “shande before the goyim” award goes to Ben Stein, here, for demonstrating that for some Jews, it’s OK to break our laws, and trash our constitution if you sell arms to Israel.  (And nice Nazi comparison, too Benny.)  Thanks to my friend, the rarely-to-be-trusted GaycatholictoryGAPmodel for what bloggers call the hattip.

Jew-disgracing Stein is in a competition with himself for Quote of the Day:

“He condemned a whole subcontinent to genocide and slavery and poverty to please his own wounded vanity.”


“Have you noticed how Mark Felt looks like one of those old Nazi war criminals they find in Bolivia or Paraguay?”


“It's been reported that Mark Felt is at least part Jewish. The reason this is worse is that at the same time that Mark Felt was betraying Richard Nixon, Nixon was saving Eretz Israel.  It is a terrifying chapter in betrayal and ingratitude.  If he even knows what shame is, I wonder if he felt a moment's shame as he tortured the man who brought security and salvation to the land of so many of his and my fellow Jews.  Somehow, as I look at his demented face, I doubt it.”

Reels the mind.

Bonus quote of the day, special Ben Stein's Hero edition:  "Please get me the names of the Jews.  You know, the big Jewish contributors of the Democrats.  Could we please investigate some of those c---suckers?"  -- Richard Nixon

Odds and Ends:

The Piping of the President, here.

Thank God for the Democratic wave that is sweeping the Middle East since the Iraqi invasion, huh?

God flirts with revealing existence; CNN gets creamed after running “All Runaway Bride, All the Time,” news-service, here.

So Betsy McCaughey is all of a sudden worried about the level of health care in this country, here.  It would have been nice if she, together with her gaycatholictoryGAPmodel editor of The New Republic, had done a little fact-checking on her dishonest article in The New Republic, that, more than anything, helped doom the hopes of the more than forty million people in America without any health coverage at all.

What right-wingers do and liberals cannot: punish their apostates, here.

So NASA scientists repaired a flat tire on Mars.  Cool, huh?  Did you know science had progressed that far?

Apparently Bush and company never got to the “love thy neighbor” part of the Bible.  They prefer to let them starve to death, rather than offer them the pennies they need to survive.  Next time you hear some bloviator talk about what a “generous people we Americans are,” remember they are probably talking only about our pets.  When actual people need help, particularly people of color who are not strategically useful. 

To give yourself, and make amends for the moral callousness of your government, go here.

OK, so Tomasky, forever trying to atone for ridiculously including The Washington Post as a liberal paper in that Harvard study, has written a smokin’ column, here, about the right’s misuse of history.  Best line, his description of WSJ editorial page editors: “What shameless, debauched people.”

Todd Gitlin on the Campaign for America’s Future conference and righteousness of practicality at the TPM Café (and follow-up).

Correspondence corner:

Name: Julie Nelsen
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah

Re: "Hey Eric, it's Altercation's first anonymous source to talk Turkey", Stupid from Chicago I hardly know where to begin.  First, Turkish troops would not speak Arabic--they would speak Turkish which is unrelated linguistically and, since Ataturk's reforms, no longer uses the Arabic alphabet.  Second, the extent to which Kurdish support is important to whatever it is that we're trying to accomplish I can think of no faster way to end their cooperation.  I suspect they may hate the Turks even more than the Baathists.  Finally, I can think of no better way to force Iran's hand than to introduce Turkish troops.  Bush and Company have screwed up almost everything, but in this one instance they were correct.

Name: Lefy
Hometown: Westminster, Md

Three points on Stupid's post about Turkish troops going to Iraq.

  1. Most Turkish troops speak Turkish, not Arabic.  And use Western alphabet.
  2. How the Kurds would react could be interesting.
  3. And don't forget that until 1918 the Turks (Ottomens) controlled the area now known as Iraq.  And they were not universally loved.  Though there are probably few, if any, Iraqis alive who remember that rule, institutional memory may also cause an interesting reaction.

Name: Richard P. Greenfield

Eric, Was Leon Trotsky who said, "You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you."

Name: Ken Donow
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
It was Trotsky. He said, "You might not care about the dialectic, but the dialectic cares about you."

Name: William Rabkin
Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Actually, I'm hoping that when Paramount does release The Odd Couple, they skip the first season and go directly to the second.  As you might recall, Season One was a fairly dull attempt to recreate the movie.  It was shot with a single camera, the scripts try to ape Neil Simon, and it even included the Pigeon Sisters.  But in Season Two, the show was transformed.  They started to shoot it with multiple cameras in front of a live audience, the writing loosened up, and the show focused on the brilliance of Klugman and Randall, instead of trying to call up the ghosts of Lemmon and Matthau.  That was the point the show became the brilliant comedy it would stay for the rest of its run.

Name: Willard Russell
Hometown: East Liverpool Ohio

Speaking of the Twilight Zone, well you did.  The very best episode I ever saw is hardly ever shown on TV.  It was called 'Two'.  The only two people in it were Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery long before they were household names.

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