Sept. 16, 2005 | 11:25 AM ET| Permalink

I’ve got a new Think Again column here, “Questioning Mr. Roberts."

I see we may be getting a Clapton autobiography, here.  That’s something I’d really love to read, though I’m betting he can’t remember much and what he does remember probably didn’t happen.  Coincidentally, the most fruitful conversation I had at the reception for the Clinton Global Initiative, here, was with Elvis Costello about the book he is writing for Simon and Schuster.  It’s not, he says, an autobiography, and nothing, he says, like Dylan’s Chronicles--about which we both expressed our amazement—but rather a series of essays about key songs he’s written and the thoughts they inspire.  It sounds a little like Springsteen’s Storyteller’s performance, which is now out in an expanded version on DVD, and which everybody ought to watch, because, like Chronicles, it offers an incredible window into the creative process.  Anyway, I never talked to Elvis before but he was pretty nice.  Diana Krall was also nice, but insists she had no books in her.

(I almost forgot to mention that Rhino has just put out a collection of all of Elvis's videos. You can read all about it here.  It's wonderfully comprehensive, just as you'd expect...)

Slacker Friday

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to empower Mexico.  In 2001 William Greider presciently pointed out in that there has been a "giant sucking" of jobs from Mexico to China.  NAFTA --should-- have produced an economic surge in Mexico, but instead of China's common sense economic policies (save money for bad economic times, greater vigilance against corruption, etc.), Mexico surrendered the gains to a rich handful.  This week the New York Times reported the situation has only become worse.  Not only has China grabbed a greater share of the U.S. import market, Mexico has a trade deficit of its own with China at a ratio of $31-to-$1.

Isn't there a deal to be made here?  Mexico is oil rich.  The worse Mexico's economy, the more illegal immigration we see, along with its associated costs which y'all have heard me rant predominantly affect the poor.  In 2003 Congressional Republicans worked to tie these two issues by only passing liberalized immigration reform if Mexico allowed U.S. investors in its state-owned oil industry (foreign investment is currently prohibited by law).  Instead of that stick (which would mostly benefit big oil), how about the carrot of re-shifting low wage jobs back to Mexico if they make economic reforms, with maybe some guaranteed access to oil in times of crisis thrown in a virtual strategic oil reserve?  Mexico is not a member of OPEC and is free to cut such a deal.  Just how much money do American consumers save at Wal-Mart when an item is made in China and not Mexico?  As Barry's Wednesday snapshot of the economy suggests, for all the post-Katrina talk about attacking poverty the resources won't be there to do it anytime soon (and note to George F. Will, the Clinton era disproved your response to Barack Obama that only cultural change defeats poverty --  provide economic opportunity to the poor and it begets cultural change as much as vice-versa, plus you effectively made the case for Jocelyn Elders).  If nothing else, it will give Dem candidates skittish about the immigration issue a talking point.

Name: Lisa
Hometown: Boston MA
Dr. A,
Thank you from the bottom of my sexually-liberated, bleeding liberal heart for the excerpt from Ariel Levy's "Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture."  It summed up perfectly the bind that women like me are in - after all of our hard work, liberation, education, ambition and struggle, we still live in a world where we have to be considered "f**kable" as she said, according to a particular aesthetic to get anywhere.  And the anywhere we get to isn't somewhere we want to be.  I certainly don't want to return to a world where the fundies put the smackdown on every piece of media, even pornography, that suggests any act but the missionary position in a boring marriage is evil.  I'm not even trying to suggest that women not try to appear attractive because hey, some good-natured flirting can really lighten a heavy day.  But I resent the hell out of the fact that Paris Hilton somehow has more value to society than I do, when I pursued an education and worked in public service for ages and all she did was her boyfriend on video.  (By the way, I know some naysayers will write back and suggest that I'm some dried-up hag.  I'm damn cute and get great service from men at the auto repair shop, deli, bakery, dry cleaner, and everywhere else.  I just don't flash my coochie to get it.)

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY
I've often wondered if the behavior of groups freed from previous societal strictures moves in some sort of sinusoidal way about an eventual steady-state.  I'm certainly no sociologist or anthropologist, but it seems logical that "systems" under tension - as you might assume a repressed or oppressed population would be - when released from that tension would act out in ways they could not before.  I can't imagine that the group behavior would swing back to ways that are more restrictive than they were, so perhaps the lower limit would be near their previous, restricted behavior.  Ariel Levy discusses women's actions that seem to be at one of the high points of that sinus wave without acknowledging that their previous behavior was artificially restricted by society.  Wishing that such a system could move from tension to stability in a single, quantum leap seems hopelessly naive.  Hoping that society will move back to some half-imagined golden age of propriety seems awfully much like stuffing a genie back into its bottle.  Maybe it would help if social scientists took more physics courses.  Just a thought.

Name: Don Cybelle
Hometown: Rochester, NY
God knows I never thought I'd find myself defending Christina Aguilera, but I do have to say it's really strange that it's Aguilera whom Ariel Levy singles out for criticism of negative female stereotypes.  Aguilera might, indeed, like to "wear assless chaps" (as Levy notes), but she also released a video for her hit song "Beautiful" that pointedly challenged precisely some of the conceptions of "hotness," beauty and its results that Levy decries.  Aguilera managed to get a video in heavy rotation on MTV that featured intercut images of a young woman struggling with anorexia, a transgendered person, women of various races, and a gay male couple, all in the context of a song declaring "You are beautiful, no matter what they say."  Sure, Aguilera's music may suck, but at least give her credit-- in one three minute video, she challenged popular ideas of beauty and sexuality in a way that reached more kids than Ariel Levy will ever do, no matter how many books she writes.  Maybe Levy needs to find a different sleazy diva to pick on.  I hear Britney's available.

Name: Mark Shaffer
Hometown: Lancaster OH
I'm afraid that Ariel Levy has mistitled her own book.  The correct phrase is "female chauvinist sow," as coined by the late, great Mike Royko.

Name: Anne Sharp
Hometown: Livonia, MI
If Ariel Levy expects to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere she looks, I have to wonder where she's looking--certainly not in my Middle American suburban neighborhood, where one must go through a door at the back of the video store or ask the convenience store clerk to hand you a magazine from behind the counter in order to publicly view pornographic imagery.  There will always be silly women who willingly exploit their sexuality thinking it's a smart way to earn attention and money.  And as always, the vast majority of women will look away from them with a mixture of embarrassment and disgust and go about our mostly non-sexualized daily lives.

Name: David A Snyder
Hometown: Edison, NJ
Dr. Alterman,
I guess I need to read Prof. Sunstein's book as the review is missing a key criticism of originalism which has implications for our modern economy: at the time of the establishment of our Constitution, the idea of a stock-holder owned corporation was quite controversial.  A significant number of the Framers of our Constitution abhorred the idea of a stock-holder owned corporation -- a later President, Andrew Jackson, criticized them as having "neither bodies to kick nor souls to damn".  A thorough-going originalist would indeed throw out any lawsuit involving a corporation as many of the Framers would have been appalled by a corporation having legal standing to sue or be sued in a court of law.  On the other hand, such an originalist would be quite willing to allow someone who felt he was wronged by a company to sue every single stock-holder in the company given that, as owners of the company, they are responsible for what the company does.  I am sure that the many political conservatives who own stock would not be happy with a true originalist judge who would allow them to be sued for actions of the companies in which they own stock.

Name: Rand Hill
Hometown: Grants Pass, OR
Last weekend the subdudes, a great New Orleans-based roots music band, came through our town and at the Rogue Theatre played their first concert since the hurricane thrashed two of their homes and sent them and their families to live with relatives.  Their show, filled with resilience, optimism, beautiful harmonies, deep emotion, and full-bore rocking, gave me fresh hope for the Crescent City's future.  Our friends had brought homemade strawberry shortcake and after the show we hung out with the band and talked about music, dogs, family, and the future.  It seemed more than slightly ironic that a band coming from the war in our own gulf was able to cheer up folks disheartened by our government's criminal response to Katrina as well as the ongoing tragedy in Iraq etc. etc.  They provided a strong testament to the healing power of music and the New Orleans' spirit.  If you get a chance to catch the subdudes, don't miss them.  And on their Web site they have links to a fund for New Orleans musicians and families.  Also thanks for this site; it provides information and perspective not readily available from the so-called liberal media, who hopefully are regaining some traction and courage in the wake of covering the hurricane's aftermath.

Sept. 15, 2005 | 11:36 AM ET| Permalink

Altercation book club

Timeline to disaster, here.

Some Poll numbers from the NBC/WSJ poll, here , that are relevant to those, who like Dow Jones Chairman Peter Kann, claim that 60 percent of Americans continue to support Bush’s failed war in Iraq.

75% say the US is not prepared for a WMD attack

How do people think the reconstruction after Katrina should be primarily funded?

Reducing spending on the Iraq war: 45%
Repeal tax cuts:                   27%
Cut federal spending               12%
Increase the Deficit:               8% 
Raise income taxes:                 7%


Approve of Bush's handling: 37%
Disapprove:                 58%

Maintain Troop Level:       36%
Reduce:                     55%

A word about “Originalism”

A short while ago, writing on NRO, David Frum was critical of my comments about “Originalism” which took the New York Times to task for taking it too seriously as an intellectual matter, much as conservatives try to get the reality-based world to do with “Intelligent Design.”  He thought the comparison unfair.  I thought of this when I read this fine review of Cass Sunstein’s new book in The Washington Monthly.  I’m sure Sunstein's book is great, too.

There are problems, however, with many of originalism's claims to the theoretical high ground. It is not clear, for example, that ratification can be fairly characterized as a democratic act since the ratifiers hardly included a representative sampling of women and minorities. It is also unclear whether the ratifiers themselves intended future courts to follow their understanding of the Constitution. And in any case, it is problematic to suggest that a 21st-century judge can meaningfully think her way into the 200-year-old mindset of a ratifier in order to figure out how he would have approached a modern constitutional problem. (How would a Colonial-era ratifier answer questions about the constitutionality of wiretapping under the Fourth Amendment? Is that even a meaningful question?)

Sunstein's main objections to originalism don't have to do with its theoretical vulnerabilities, however. His principal objections are about the results that it would produce. Sunstein argues that even if originalism were theoretically unimpeachable, we would still want to consider whether it produces good results before deciding whether to support it. Unsurprisingly, Sunstein's view is that originalism would reach very bad results. If applied in its most literal sense, the theory would force the courts to peel away decades of constitutional law, and return the Constitution to the state it was in prior to the New Deal. Sunstein calls this the “Constitution in Exile” (a term that conservatives generally neither use nor condone, although it was coined by conservative judge Douglas Ginsburg). Because liberals generally have more use for the post-New Deal Constitution than conservatives, some of the resulting changes—for example, cutting back Congress' power to pass legislation pursuant to the Commerce Clause—might be considered positive by conservatives and negative by liberals. But some of originalism's implications may also be difficult for some conservatives to swallow

Sunstein argues that even if originalism were theoretically unimpeachable, we would still want to consider whether it produces good results before deciding whether to support it. Unsurprisingly, Sunstein's view is that originalism would reach very bad results. If applied in its most literal sense, the theory would force the courts to peel away decades of constitutional law, and return the Constitution to the state it was in prior to the New Deal. Sunstein calls this the “Constitution in Exile” (a term that conservatives generally neither use nor condone, although it was coined by conservative judge Douglas Ginsburg). Because liberals generally have more use for the post-New Deal Constitution than conservatives, some of the resulting changes—for example, cutting back Congress' power to pass legislation pursuant to the Commerce Clause—might be considered positive by conservatives and negative by liberals. But some of originalism's implications may also be difficult for some conservatives to swallow.

A rigid application of originalism would, for example, gut the case law on reproductive freedom—not just in actively contested areas like abortion and gay rights, but on relatively uncontroversial issues like the right of married couples to buy birth control. And it would have a bizarre and troubling impact on the law in areas relating to race and religion. Consider, for example, that an originalist reading of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn't prevent the federal government from discriminating on the basis of race. (The equal protection clause only speaks of state action; there's nothing in there about the feds.) And there's pretty much no originalist support for the general idea that the Constitution protects women from discrimination either by Congress or by state legislatures. Also, originalism tends to suggest that states actually can establish their own religions. (Some conservatives claim to think this would be kind of great, but they may not be thinking very clearly, unless they're prepared to accept, for example, the Scientological Commonwealth of Oregon.) Sunstein asks: Does anybody really want to put on this ridiculous straitjacket?

It doesn't seem so because it turns out that when it comes to applying originalism, conservatives themselves go all wobbly. When confronted with the parade of horribles that originalism might spawn, conservatives tend to respond that nobody expects (or wants) the Court to send the Constitution lock-stock-and-barrel back to 1925, and that they only intend to reinvigorate certain elements. And it also turns out that ostensibly originalist jurists are not always faithful to their originalist principles when historical evidence runs contrary to their policy preferences. Justice Thomas, for example, has written passionately that race-based affirmative action programs are unconstitutional even though there's a good deal of widely acknowledged originalist evidence that says otherwise. Indeed, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, Congress had already created a race based affirmative action program—the Freedmen's Bureau, which afforded special benefits to freed slaves. The bottom line is that even conservatives who purport to be originalist stalwarts find its strictures a bit too confining some of the time.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

Quote of the Day:  “I don’t mind getting shot, man.  I just don’t dig being told about it.”  Bob Dylan, in “No Direction Home.”

Arnold to Little Roy: Come and get your love

Altercation Book Club:

From Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
by Ariel Levy

Some version of a sexy, scantily clad temptress has been around through the ages, and there has always been a demand for smut.  But this was once a guilty pleasure on the margins—on the almost entirely male margins.  For a trend to penetrate entertainment, publishing, sports, fashion and taste the way raunch culture has, it must be thoroughly mainstream, and half that mainstream is female.  Both men and women alike seem to have developed a taste for kitschy, slutty stereotypes of female sexuality resurrected from an era not quite gone by.  We don’t even think about it anymore, we just expect to see women flashing and stripping and groaning everywhere we look.

Because we have determined that all empowered women must be overtly and publicly sexual, and because the only sign of sexuality we seem to be able to recognize is a direct allusion to red light entertainment, we have laced the sleazy energy and aesthetic of a topless club or a Penthouse shoot throughout our entire culture.  We skipped over the part where we just accept and respect that some women like to seem exhibitionistic and lickerish, and decided instead that everyone who is sexually liberated ought to be imitating strippers and porn stars (women whose job it is to *fake* lust).

Not so long ago, the revelation that a woman in the public eye had appeared in any kind of pornography would have destroyed her image.  Think of Vanessa Williams, crowned the first black Miss America in 1983, and how quickly she was dethroned after her nude photos surfaced in Penthouse.  Later she made a comeback as a singer, but the point is that then, being exposed in porn was something you needed to come back from.  Now, being in porn is itself the comeback.

You may remember that Paris Hilton was but a blonde teenager with a taste for table-dancing and a reported $30 million inheritance with her name on it when she and former boyfriend Rick Solomon made a video of themselves having sex.  The net result of her adventures in amateur pornography was to make Paris Hilton one of the most recognizable and marketable female celebrities in the country.  And women who are already famous seem to feel the need to add a raunch edge to their success; right before the Olympic games last summer in Athens, several of our female athletes appeared naked in Playboy or next to naked in FHM.

This may seem confusing considering the rise of the right wing in this country, but raunch culture transcends elections.  The values people vote for are not necessarily the same values they live by.  No region of the United States has a higher divorce rate than the Bible Belt.  (The divorce rate in these southern states is roughly 50% above the national average.)  In fact, eight of the ten states that lead in national divorce are red, whereas the state with the lowest divorce rate in the country is deep blue Massachusetts.  Playboy is likewise far more popular in conservative Wyoming than in liberal New York.  Even if people consider themselves conservative or vote Republican, their political ideals may be just that: a reflection of the way they wish things were in America, rather than a product of the way they actually live their lives.

If the rise of raunch seems counterintuitive because we hear so much about being in a conservative moment, it actually makes perfect sense when we think about it.  Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial.  By going to strip clubs and flashing on spring break and ogling our Olympians in Playboy, it's not as though we are embracing something liberal—this isn't Free Love.  Raunch culture isn’t about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality.  It’s about endlessly reiterating one particular—and
particularly commercial—shorthand for sexiness.

Passion isn’t the point.  The glossy, overheated thumping of sexuality in our culture is less about ‘connection’ than consumption.  Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it.  Hotness is not the same thing as beauty, which has been valued throughout history.  Hot can mean popular.  Hot can mean talked about.  But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuc**ble and salable; the literal job criteria for our role models, strippers and porn stars.

And so sex work is frequently and specifically referenced by the style or speech or creative output of women in general.  Consider the oeuvre of pop singer Christina Aguilera, who titled her 2003 album Stripped (the tour was sold-out and pulled in $32 million), mudwrestled in a humping fashion in her video “Dirrty,” and likes to wear assless chaps.  “She’s a wonderful role model,” Aguilera’s mother proclaimed on a VH1 special about her daughter, “trying to change society so that a woman can do whatever men do.”

It is true that women are catching up with men in the historically masculine department of sexual opportunism; trying to get the best and the most for ourselves in that arena as we are everywhere else.  But it’s not true that men parade around in their skivvies as a means to attaining power, at least not men in mainstream heterosexual American culture— they don’t have to.  Jay Leno sits floppy-faced and chunky in a loose suit behind his desk, confident that he is the king of late night (at least until Conan takes over).  When Katie Couric guest-hosted the Tonight Show in May, 2003, she wore a low-cut dress and felt the need to emphasize her breasts by pointing at them and proclaiming “these are actually real!”  Lest the leg men in the house feel understimulated, Couric also had guys with power tools cut a hole in Leno’s desk so that the program could be a more complete peep show— a Google search for “Katie Couric legs” provides links to dozens of porn sites with her calves in close-up, in case you missed it.  Even America’s morning TV sweetheart, a woman who interviews heads of state and is the highest paid person in television news—outearning Ted Koppel, Tom Brokaw, Mike Wallace and her co-host Matt Lauer with her $65 million contract—has to dabble in exhibitionism to feel like she’s really made it today.

Couric later commented that she wanted to show America her “fun” side on the Tonight Show, but in truth she was exposing more than being fun, or even being sexual.  Really, what she was showing was that she was open to a certain sort of attention— which is something that we specifically require if we are going to think of a woman as hot.  Hotness doesn't just yield approval.  Proof that a woman actively seeks approval is a crucial criterion for hotness in the first place.

For women, and only for women, hotness requires projecting a kind of eagerness...offering a promise that any attention you receive for your physicality is welcome.  When Leno did his stint at Couric’s post on the Today Show, he remained fully clothed.  While Janet Jackson introduced Americans to her right one at the notorious 2004 Super Bowl half-time show, Justin Timberlake’s wardrobe managed not to malfunction.  Not one male Olympian has found it necessary to show us his penis in the pages of a magazine.  Proving that you are hot, worthy of lust, and—necessarily—that you seek to provoke lust is still exclusively women’s work.  It is not enough to be successful, rich and accomplished:  Even women like Couric and Jackson and world-champion swimmer Haley Clark, women at the pinnacle of their fields, feel compelled to display their solicitude.  As one Girl Gone Wild put it to me, this has become “like a reflex.”

For more, go to

Correspondence Corner:

From Michael Wrezin to The Nation (printed in full)
Can't the Nation quiet down Alterman's Cold War Hysteria on his blog where he is now calling the editor of the mag's book review a Stalinist for printing a Mike Davis review that contains an attack on Arthur Schlesinger.  My god what has The Nation come too?  I know you had Radosh on your editorial board for a long time.  Victor once told me if a person was in the ball park of Nation values he stays.  Well Alterman has a cheap shot assignment of attacking right wing nuts and lunatics, which is very easy.  But his own neo cold war politics is not in the present Nation ball park and serves no informative or useful purpose.  He should transfer to the New Republic.  But then he doesn't really write that well.  Nor does he know much about Cold War domestic politics as was evidence in a previous exchange I had with him concerning his love of the Cold Warriors.

Name: Dave Van Grunsven
Hometown: Newberg, Oregon
I find it interesting that FEMA apparently will not allow the "evacuees" to be dispersed to locations throughout the nation!  Perhaps by keeping them all together, the local laws for condemnation of their properties by eminent domain methods can be mustered ably.  Also, by maintaining a large contingent of these, better press can show that a bumbling government can look good if enough housing can be provided (in largely backwater swamps drained and repossessed from the wild).  The "evacuees" are pawns in a game of photo ops and a game of vengeance against the poor.

Name: David
Hometown: Sausalito, CA
I'm skeptical about the bona fides of "Rabbi" Shapiro.  The giveaway?  The misuse of the plurals "b'rachot" and "mishpochim" as singular nouns.  Any real rabbi would say a "b'racha" for your "mishpocha".  Hell, it's been nearly 40 years since I graduated from yeshiva and I haven't spoken a word of Hebrew since, and even I know that.  The man's clearly a fraud, so don't fret about his gratuitous mixed-metaphor insults (in left field and incapable of a save? say what?).  As if you would have anyway.

September 14, 2005 | 11:12 AM ET| Permalink

Bush’s solution: Cut their pay

American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission, here.  And look here

In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating what the White House says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.

One of the imagined targets was the World Trade Center.

But remember that Condi Rice said that Nobody ever imagined such a thing?  She sort of says it here, but I couldn’t find the exact quote.  My point:  What you saw in Katrina—that’s what the Bush government is.  Now that he says he is “taking responsibility,” I’d say, watch out.

[Ed note:  The quote can be found here.  "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."  ( Hat tip)]

His first idea:  Cut the pay of poor people, here.

In what may become the next major post-Katrina policy, the White House was working yesterday to suspend wage supports for service workers in the hurricane zone as it did for construction workers on federal contracts last week, administration and congressional officials said.

Quote of the day: 

I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the hurricane. They were abandoned long ago—to murder and mayhem in the streets, to substandard schools, to dilapidated housing, to inadequate health care, to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

—Sen. Barack Obama said last week on the floor of the Senate, quoted in Jonathan Alter’s fine Newsweek cover story on American poverty here (another example of the media’s impressive performance on this issue that came too late to be included in my Nation column, here).

I’ve never been much of a fan of Bill Maher, he who helped spawn Ann Coulter, but this is so good I can’t help it:

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more.  There's no more money to spend--you used up all of that.  You can't start another war because you used up the army.  And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people.  Listen to your Mom.  The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out.  No one's speaking to you.  Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away.  Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team.  It's time.  Time to move on and try the next fantasy job.  How about cowboy or space man?  Now I know what you're saying:  there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in.  Please don't.  I know, I know.  There's a lot left to do.  There's a war with Venezuela.  Eliminating the sales tax on yachts.  Turning the space program over to the church.  And Social Security to Fannie Mae.  Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now.  Why?  Because you govern like Billy Joel drives.  You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal.  You're a catastrophe that walks like a man.  Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire city to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans.  Maybe you're just not lucky.  I'm not saying you don't love this country.  I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you.  What he is saying is: 'Take a hint.'

I don’t recall saying something like this before but what a terrific issue of the New York Times Magazine last Sunday.  The combination of Mark Danner on the war on terrorism and Mary Ann Weaver on the failure to capture Bin Laden at Tora Bora, here, is a lethal one to anyone sufficiently naïve to place their faith in this administration’s competence and/or honesty. 

And Tony Scott’s piece on two extremely promising literary magazines being published by young people, here, is also extremely well written, and as far as I can tell, on the mark.  I enjoy both N plus 1 and the Believer by the way, for different reasons.

While Danner has been consistently excellent in his reporting from Iraq, nobody I can think of off the top of my head has been as prescient as Peter Galbraith.  He’s here

And Newsweek’s talented Michael Hirsh has a smart, tough-minded review of George Packer’s new book here.


Two all-star tributesque records that readers might enjoy include Les Paul and Friends which has people laying down new tracks on old classic tracks, and therefore making for interesting combinations, like Good News by Jeff Beck & Sam Cooke Somebody Ease My Troublin' Mind by Eric Clapton & Sam Cooke, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl by Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Rick Derringer.  It doesn’t all work, but it’s got a good vibe and none of it is terrible.  You can read about it here

Meanwhile, Mad Dogs & Okies brings together artists that are either from Oklahoma or have been major contributors to — or have been profoundly influenced by — Oklahoma music, reflecting the vision of drummer/producer Jamie Oldaker.  It too has Mr. Everywhere,  Eric Clapton, Mr. Ubiquitous, Peter Frampton, a great “Stagger Lee” with Taj Mahal, and a bunch of other people, including Tony Joe White, Bonnie Bramlett, Ray Benson, JJ Cale, and Mr. Really Everywhere, Willie Nelson.  Song list is here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bill
Hometown: White Plains
Dr. Alterman,
Folks should take a close look at what is going on in New Orleans, because they are looking into the future.  Armed mercenaries are now roaming the streets of N.O., hired by the government.  Blackwater Security is roaming the streets of N.O., as though it is downtown Bagdad.  Freedom of the press is being curtailed.  The press is being stopped from video taping the removal of bodies that have been laying and rotting for two weeks, so their families won't be traumatized.  The truth is being suppressed.  Does anyone really expect a true count of the dead?  The former head of FEMA was in the south hired as a consultant to arrange for FEMA funding of the rebuilding efforts, 5 days before the Hurricane struck.  Contracts have been awarded without bidding to Flour Daniels and, yes you guessed it, Halliburton.  Due process requirements for fair bidding have been excused due to the scope of the disaster the south is facing.  160,000 homes in the worst flooded areas, and yes the poorest, may not be habitable and will be destroyed.  Mercenaries, censorship, cronyism, displacement of the impoverished from prime real estate.  We need to do more than rebuild New Orleans.  We need to rebuild this Country.

Name: Rabbi Moishe Shapiro
Hometown:  Rockville Centre, New York
Boychik, I would like to continue the baseball analogy.  Eric, you are perpetually mired in left field and incapable of a save.  I will, however say a B'rachot for you and your Mishpochim.

Name:  Barry L. Ritholtz
Hometown:  The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
In my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking deep thoughts about obscure issues before they become well known trends.  The idea is to anticipate major shifts either before they occur, or at least before they are well known (which for my purposes, is just as good).

The most recent item to catch my attention was almost nearly overlooked amidst all the Katrina-related coverage:  the annual Census Bureau report on consumer income.

I have two key takeaways from the report:  The Middle Class is rapidly diminishing in size, and secondly, the Ultra-Wealthy -- once a small group primarily composed of monopolists -- is a very rapidly growing demographic.

While I have yet to tease out the repercussions of all this, its quite fascinating to observe...

(Excuse the clinical detachment, but its a necessary evil of the work -- like a surgeon, if you become emotionally involved, you suffer and the patient dies.)

The Disconnect and Economic Classes

The aggregate headline economic data shows things are not all that bad, and the recovery is proceeding modestly along -- why then, the disconnect?

Perhaps the answer is found in the annual Census Bureau report on consumer income; it slipped out almost unnoticed last week.  This report may have gotten overlooked, coming out as it did contemporaneously with Katrina.  But it raises important issues, touching as it does on so many elements of our thesis of an anemic and waning, stimulus-driven expansion.

It also is stimulative of discussions regarding the development of income classes in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Here are some of the details, via the WSJ:

Although the U.S. economy grew robustly last year, the income of the median household slipped a bit, wages of full-time workers fell, the number of Americans living below the poverty line rose and more Americans went without health insurance, the Census Bureau said in its annual report on consumer income.

The snapshot suggests that the recovering economy, while adding jobs and showing productivity gains since the recession of 2001, isn't paying dividends to everyone. The economy grew by a healthy 3.8% in 2004, but the new Census Bureau report underscores that one unusual feature of the recovery has been sluggish gains in income for many, particularly at the bottom and middle. The share of all income going to the top fifth of households rose slightly to 50.1% last year, matching the 2001 high and well above the 45.2% reported in 1984, the bureau said.

This explains, in large measure, the disconnect between recent polling data of Americans -- from Presidential Approval Ratings at their lows to weak Economic expectations -- versus a specific sub-group of upbeat Dismal Scientists.

But while historical trends continue -- of course the poor get poorer and the rich get richer -- the really intriguing part of this picture is the middle class squeeze.  Let me remind readers that throughout most of economic history, there have only been two classes: The Rich and the Poor.  Today, we arguably have 4 economic strata: The Poor, the Middle Class, the Rich, and the Ultra-Wealthy.

I find two elements of this to be utterly fascinating: The diminishing Middle Class, as well as the rise of the Ultra-Wealthy:

But I digress.

The relevance to markets, of course, is that 70% of our GDP is consumer related.  Much of that spending comes from the middle and lower classes.  How flush they feel is a key to future spending patterns.

Here's some specifics from the Census Bureau ( via WSJ):

"Median income fell most sharply in the Midwest, where it dropped 2.8% to $44,700, though it remains $300 higher than the national average. The drop -- accompanied by a rise in poverty in the Midwest -- partly reflects the disappearance of high-wage manufacturing jobs.

Across the country, the Census Bureau said, median earnings for full-time workers employed year-round dropped significantly last year. Men's earnings declined by 2.3% to $40,798 and women's 1.0% to $31,223. The data, which don't reflect employer-provided health benefits, measure pretax income.

The fraction of Americans living below the official poverty line -- $19,307 for a family of four last year -- rose for the fourth consecutive year to 12.7% in 2004 from 12.5% the year before, the bureau said. Last year, 37 million Americans were living in poverty, about 1 million more than the year before and 5.4 million more than in 2000 when poverty bottomed out as the economy peaked.

The poverty rate rose for non-Hispanic whites -- to 8.6% from 8.2% the year before -- while falling among Asians to 9.8% in 2003 from 11.8%. Among blacks and Hispanics, there wasn't any significant change, the Census Bureau said. The biggest increase was among people between the ages of 18 and 64, rising to 11.3% from 10.8%. Among those 65 and over, the poverty rate fell to 9.8% from 10.2%. The Census Bureau poverty data don't reflect noncash government benefits, such as health insurance or food stamps.

The Census Bureau also said that the percentage of Americans without health insurance remained stable at 15.7% in 2004. The number lacking insurance increased by 800,000 to 45.8 million while the number with public or private health insurance increased by two million to 245.3 million.

Intriguing developments well worth watching.

UPDATE:  For a fascinating variation on the Meritocracy/Plutocracy discussion, see this post from Dan Gross: Plutonomics.

Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage the United States: 2004
By Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, Cheryl Hill Lee
U.S. Department of Commerce
Economics and Statistics Administration
U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, August 2005

Recovery Bypasses Many Americans
Despite Economic Growth, Median Household Income And Wages Fell Last Year
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 31, 2005; Page A2

U.S. Poverty Rate Was Up Last Year
Published: August 31, 2005

September 13, 2005 | 7:50 AM ET| Permalink

Scoring SCOTUS
John Roberts speaks

by Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft

John Roberts gave his opening statement ( text here) to the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday.  It was short, delivered without notes and in the personable manner for which he repeatedly has been commended.  The New York Times reports:

The first afternoon of at least four days of projected hearings amounted to a kind of scripted political ritual, serial speeches by senators who praised Mr. Roberts or raised concerns about him, followed by his brief remarks, in which he responded just in the most general terms.

Some highlights:  Fond of baseball analogies, Judge Roberts said:

Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

He recognized that judges are bound by precedent.  He defended the rule of law.  He noted his appreciation for those who argue against the United States in court.  He promised to be fair:

I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment.  If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind.  I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented.  I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench.  And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability.  And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

But, as TChris wrote on TalkLeft after the hearing:

…the more apt analogy might have been the Commissioner of Baseball, given the power to issue a final interpretation of the law that comes with a Supreme Court seat.

Democrats aren't buying Judge Roberts’ platitudes.  They are chomping at the bit to grill the nominee.  The Times says Sen. Richard Durbin's remarks summed up the view of many Democrats:

The basic question is this: Will you restrict the personal freedoms we enjoy as Americans or will you expand them?

Liberal organizations were quick to respond after Monday's hearing. NARAL Pro Choice America wrote in a press release,

A troubling theme emerging from today’s remarks included a number of anti-choice senators seemingly laying the groundwork for Roberts to evade or refuse to answer questions....The debate must not focus on what questions Roberts can avoid answering. The American people want Roberts to give clear and candid answers on whether he believes the Constitution includes protection for our privacy.

People for the American Way opined that Judge Roberts is the wrong choice for Supreme Court Chief Justice.

The Senators on the Judiciary Committee will begin questioning Judge Roberts today.  He's been fully prepped, having undergone mock hearings and cross-examination by colleagues.  You can bet he will be fully ready for his starring role.

Yet the Democrats’ tough questioning of Roberts serves a valuable purpose.  It will allow them to make a record and ensure the American people know that critical issues of fundamental freedoms and their right to privacy are at stake.

At least two Republicans, Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter and Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), also plan to grill Roberts.

DeWine is expected to question Roberts about his views on the 11th Amendment, which pertains to the authority of Congress to regulate the states.  Sen. Specter’s major concern is what he calls the judicial activism of the Rehnquist court, which he believes unduly interfered with Congress’ ability to enact laws.

Conventional wisdom holds that barring a major gaffe during his questioning, Judge John Roberts will become the next Chief Justice of the United States and preside over the Supreme Court for decades to come.

The bottom line is this:  Elections matter.  Had Al Gore won in 2000, or John Kerry in 2004, we'd be facing very different judicial choices.  It's something that deserves far greater consideration when 2008 comes around.

Correspondence corner

Name: Ken Gunn
I was somewhat amazed (slap me stupid) when Bush replied to assertions by some that the Katrina response would have been faster if so many of the victims were not poor and black with this gem: "The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort."  Technically the storm didn't discriminate, true.  Storms are neither conscious nor evil.  They simply blow in and destroy whatever, whoever, lies in their path.  But using this technicality exposes once again the President's bewildered lack of understanding of the effects of the storm.  As a causal force the storm did not discriminate, however, its effects were most certainly discriminatory.  And the fault for that discriminatory effect lies not with the storm, but with a government that has allowed a three-tiered society to become entrenched, and made it very difficult to cross over from the lower tiers to the higher tiers; poor to middle class, middle class to the very rich.  Yes, it can be done--in fact, it happens all the time--to a small percentage of very motivated individuals.  Meanwhile, the vast majority of the poor stay poor, and raise poor children that stay poor.  So, to return to my point, Bush used a technicality to ignore a huge societal problem exposed in the raw by the after affects of Katrina.  The poor were most certainly discriminated against because they were left behind to face the wrath of the storm.  Furthermore, we saw the faces of the poor in New Orleans and they did not represent the rainbow of color racial equality brings.

Name: Dave Thornton
Hometown: Edmond, OK
Thanks to Stupid (one of my personal favorites) for bringing up one of the, well, "stupidest" things I've heard come out of Mr. Bush's mouth.  When I heard the him say "If you don't buy it" it really brought home how totally out of touch this guy is.  Gas prices are clearly not an issue for someone who decides fly back to the same place he left from 36 hours before just so he can get another look at the devastation and progress being made in the recovery effort. As the bumper sticker says, "Is it 2008 yet?"

Name: Bill Skeels
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Bush's press conference today referenced a lot of 'second guessing' and not wanting to 'second guess', which is I guess of a piece with the whole blame game thing.  Isn't it the case that the first stage of 'second guessing' was the Bush Administration doing just that to the previous setup of FEMA?  The dramatic changes in FEMA structure were, by definition, based on a theory that the old structure was inadequate, weren't they?  So why does the second guessing stop all of a sudden when that judgment prove dramatically incorrect?

Name: Michael Rapoport
Eric: Interesting story here from the Newark Star-Ledger about the use of Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" in the hurricane coverage, and about how most of the outlets who use it are cutting a verse alluding to poor people's anger at the government.

Name: Dale Wright
Hometown: St. Helens, OR
The "soft on Stalinism" interpretation really does have consequences, even in this day.  I am constantly trying to steer good hearted colleagues away from a simplistic anti-American view of the cold war.  The truth is complex, highly ambivalent in some ways.  But there should be no misconceptions about Stalin and Soviet Marxism as a whole.  It is amazing that to this day there are those who explain away, justify or rationalize the failed Soviet experiment.  They don't realize that they do so to the detriment of the goal of building a more egalitarian and participatory social-democratic form of social life.

Name: Steven Hart
Hometown: The Opinion Mill
R.L. Burnside
The pitfalls that drain the life out of so many contemporary blues records -- excessively clean production, earnestly reverent presentations, deadeningly formal performances -- never slowed down R.L. Burnside.  This northern Mississippi bluesman, who died recently at the age of 78, was as well-schooled in tradition as any blues performer, but he was as apt to throw those traditions against the wall as he was to put them on the mantle.  He also became, late in life, one of the music industry's unlikeliest success stories: one of his songs was featured on "The Sopranos," Jay McInerney wrote him up in The New Yorker and New York Times music critic Robert Palmer produced one of his records.  I come to praise the man and not to bury him, but let's be clear on one thing: R.L. Burnside should not be eulogized as a lost blues giant.  There are traces of real talent glinting through his solo acoustic recordings, but he never really stepped away from the shadows of his two major influences: his neighbor Mississippi Fred McDowell, who got him started as a musician, and John Lee Hooker, who gave Burnside his benediction when the two crossed paths at a concert.  Those are some pretty imposing shadows, to be sure, but Burnside was never the kind of artist who could turn those influences into something his own.  What Burnside did have, however, was tons of who-gives-a-shit attitude and a remarkably bleak (even for an old bluesman) outlook that reflected in his songwriting. 

After decades on the sidelines, Burnside caught two rare bits of luck: he was featured in "Deep Blues," a 1993 documentary that took its title from Robert Palmer's seminal 1981 book and paired him off with rocker Dave Stewart on a musical expedition through the South; and entrepreneur Matthew Johnson, a friend of Palmer's, had the shrewd idea of exhibiting Burnside to the 20- to 30-year-old market as an unreconstructed blues wild man, a musical version of the coelacanth -- a prehistoric fish once thought extinct, but then rediscovered in all its unevolved glory.  Johnson's boutique label, Fat Possum, let it be known that here was the authentic stuff, the white-lightning juke joint essence of blues, still being performed in the hills of northern Mississippi.  Actually, Burnside's best known recordings -- "A Ass Pocket of Whiskey" (chaotic sessions with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) and "Mr. Wizard" (recorded with members of Burnside's extensive family) -- owe more to Iggy and The Stooges than Muddy Waters.  On track after track, Burnside hammers out a riff on his guitar, the rhythm section starts pounding and the whole thing staggers forward for several minutes while Burnside bawls out his lyrics, most them blues readymades about that sweet jelly roll.  The songs don't finish so much as collapse -- the instrumentalists drop away, like kids slipping off a playground carousel, and Burnside wraps it up by shouting "Hey!" or "My my my!"  Then on to the next car wreck.  It's the polar opposite of Eric Clapton and his Smithsonian Institution approach to the blues, which may be why I like Burnside's records despite everything.  There's no earthly reason why I should love "Mr. Wizard," but it never fails to cheer me up.  It also closes with a brutal, slashing rendition of "You Gotta Move," Fred McDowell's signature tune, that rescues the song from cliche.  Burnside might have been a minor talent, but catch him when you're in the right mood and he'll show you a major good time.
(Posted by Steven Hart, 9/11/05)

September 12, 2005 | 12:03 PM ET| Permalink

Four years on

Ever since I read Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article, “The 9/10 President,” here (sub) back in March, 2003, I’ve been amazed at how little the Bush administration has done to protect America against likely catastrophe.  They keep telling us that another attack is imminent and then they go on their merry way, ignoring its implications.  My fears focused on the vulnerability of our nuclear and chemical plants—an attack in the area in which I happen to live could kill tens of millions of people.  Report after report, by the Brookings Institute ( here), Council on Foreign Relations, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Century Foundation, the Federation of American Scientists ( here) and others, have pointed to the near anarchy that continued to plague virtually every aspect of homeland security planning.  The Bush administration did not care much about this and neither did the media.  For Bush, 9/11 existed only for the purposes of political exploitation.  They used it to launch their failed, counter-productive and possibly illegal war in Iraq and to scare people into voting for them despite their profound incompetence at virtually ever level of governance.  What Katrina has done, is blown a hole in their arrogance through which the media have finally begun to grasp this fact.

The sad fact is that the Bush administration has done little about preparing the nation for another terrorist attack in the past four years—just look here and here, while it does plenty to make one more likely—creating more hatred in the Arab world and more support for those who would give their lives to kill us, and less willingness to follow our leadership everywhere else.  I am not saying, as a foolish young blogger named Brendan Nyhan idiotically insists, that Bush has done this because he wants more terrorism.  I don’t pretend to know what Bush wants, but I would be honestly surprised if it included killing lots of brave American soldiers for no good reason.  (Hmmm, Nyhan, the little language cop, professes to know what I think but have not said about what Bush thinks but has not said.  Someone call George Orwell… or Alanis Morissette.)  What I am saying, and have been saying all along, is that George Bush is so blinkered by his ideological obsessions, coupled with his intellectual laziness, personal pique, and professional incompetence, that he cannot see what is plainly before him and hence, has failed in his most fundamental duty as president: to provide for the security of the nation.

His treatment of FEMA confirms this.  As Knight-Ridder reports here,

The Bush administration has filled FEMA's top jobs with political patronage appointees with no emergency-management experience, cut disaster-preparedness budgets and marginalized the agency by merging it with the new anti-terrorism bureaucracy, according to those experts, which include four former senior FEMA officials.  The number of career disaster-management professionals in senior FEMA jobs has been cut by more than 50 percent since 2000, federal personnel records show.
In 2000, 40 percent of the top FEMA jobs were held by career workers who rose through the ranks of the agency, including chief of staff. By 2004, that figure was down to less than 19 percent, and the deputy director/chief of staff job is held by a former TV anchor turned political operative.

But hey, guess what.  FEMA is the Bush administration writ large; it is the EPA, the Department of Interior, the Department of the Treasury and most particularly, the Department of Defense.  Find yourself in need of government aid during this administration and the person in charge is likely to be some version of Michael Brown—an incompetent Bush crony who cannot even be honest about his own resume—a man who had to be told by Ted Koppel on the air about 20,000 people who were on the brink of starvation and anarchy in large measure thanks to his own ignorance and incompetence.  (More here.)  For all the good this government did the poor people of New Orleans, they might as well have been born in Baghdad.

When I walk around my city on the forth anniversary of the attacks, and think about all the sacrifices made on that day—including the rescue workers to whom the Bush administration deliberately lied about the safety of breathing the air—well, I have to stop myself and think about something else just to be able to function.  And the Bush cheerleaders in the media bear a heavy responsibility for the condition in which we find ourselves.

For more some of the above, go here and here and here and here and here.

Katrina should signal a return to the belief that government matters and do for liberals what 9/11 (illegitimately and manipulatively) did for right-wingers.  But it may not for the very reasons it really should--because Bush has looted the coffers of government with his profligate spending and tax-cuts for the rich, as well as punished competence and rewarded ideology, while the media has grown increasingly Foxified, and the political system is dominated by both corporate money and sparsely populated, culturally conservative districts and states where organized Christian conservatives like America-hating Pat Robertson rule-the-roost, I don’t expect this will happen.  It may happen culturally and ideologically, but it won’t matter much politically.  The sad fact is with a right-wing Republican Congress and a soon-to-be far Right-dominated Supreme Court, stripping the Bill of Rights and other protections from our system of government, the majority of Americans have grown increasingly irrelevant to our political system.

This just in:  Times reporter does acid, hallucinates Bush ‘Aura of Competence.’

Either way, how the White House moved, in a matter of days, from the president's praise of a man he nicknamed "Brownie" to a rare public reassignment explains much about fears within the administration that its delayed response to the disaster could do lasting damage to both Mr. Bush's power and his legacy.  But more important to some members of the administration, it dented the administration's aura of competence. — ( Here.)

How Now Dow Jones?  I often wonder what the Dow Jones company thinks of the Wall Street Journal’s crazy and dishonest editorial page.  Franklin Foer’s long piece on the Journal in New York last week ignored the question, but I have a better idea now after reading its chairman, Peter Kann’s op-ed, "A Bad Analogy,” here.  In order to defend this foolish, counterproductive and possibly illegal war, Kann deliberately misleads his audience with the statement:

While it is far from clear that anti-war sentiment actually has been spreading this summer (after all, 60% of Americans indicated continuing support in a recent AP poll), there's little doubt that anti-war rhetoric is on the rise.

Here’s the game that Kann is playing (and he knows it).  True, fewer than forty percent of Americans support the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but that is only because doing so might make a terrible situation even worse.  For eight straight months, according to Gallup, a majority of Americans have told Gallup that the war was a mistake that was not worth the costs, and that has made the country less, rather than more secure.  And they have done so in the face of continuous government propaganda to the contrary.  More Americans, according to one Rasmussen poll, blame Bush for causing the war than Saddam Hussein.  Here is one snapshot reported by Peter Baker in The Washington Post on August 8:

Much of the public appears unconvinced.  Just 38 percent of Americans in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll last week approved of Bush's handling of the war, the lowest point yet in that survey.  More than half of those interviewed in a USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll said they now believe that it was a mistake to send U.S. troops into Iraq and that the war has made the United States less safe from terrorism; 56 percent supported withdrawing some or all troops now.

That’s what Kann calls “support.”  And that’s one reason no one can believe anything that appears on his flagship paper’s editorial pages.

And its newspages—which we continue to admire—are getting a bit dodgier.  Read this from last week’s New York, about Murdoch and Kann’s wife and top employee Karen House:

They share the same politics.  So much so that at the height of last year’s election, Karen House big-footed editors in Washington and published a note retracting an article’s description of Fox News Channel as “a network sympathetic to the Bush cause and popular with Republicans.”  (One reporter from the Washington bureau told me her boss, Gerry Seib, “didn’t know about the correction until it was a done deal.”)

Dick Cheney's Police State? (Thanks, Petey.)  The video is here.

Quote of the Day, today:

Terrorists plant time bombs in our heads, hoping to turn each and every imagination into a private hell governed by our fear of them.  They win only if we let them, only if we become like them: vengeful, imperious, intolerant, paranoid. Having lost faith in all else, zealots have nothing left but a holy cause to please a warrior God.  They win if we become holy warriors, too; if we kill the innocent as they do; strike first at those who had not struck us; allow our leaders to use the fear of terrorism to make us afraid of the truth; cease to think and reason together, allowing others to tell what's in God's mind.  Yes, we are vulnerable to terrorists, but only a shaken faith in ourselves can do us in.

By Bill Moyers from “9/11 And The Sport of God,” which was Moyers' address this week at Union Theological Seminary in New York, where Judith and Bill Moyers received the seminary's highest award, the Union Medal, for their contributions to faith and reason in America, here.

Quote of the Day, Yesterday:  "I think the Clinton administration would have done a better job in handling Hurricane Katrina, but I'm also glad Bush is president and not a Democrat."  —William Kristol, here.

Atrios’ Quote of the Day, Saturday: 

... I went to Florida a few days after President Bush did to observe the damage from Hurricane Andrew.  I had dealt with a lot of natural disasters as governor, including floods, droughts, and tornadoes, but I had never seen anything like this.  I was surprised to hear complaints from both local officials and residents about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handling the aftermath of the hurricane.  Traditionally, the job of FEMA director was given to a political supporter of the President who wanted some plum position but who had no experience with emergencies.  I made a mental note to avoid that mistake if I won.  Voters don't choose a President based on how he'll handle disasters, but if they're faced with one themselves, it quickly becomes the most important issue in their lives.

— Bill Clinton, My Life (p. 428)

Quote of the day, October 5, 2001:

The middle part of the country-the great red zone that voted for Bush-is clearly ready for war.  The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead-and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.

—Andrew “Little Roy,” Sullivan here.

(This quote, from the same piece, is also a beaut, by the way, “In some ways, Bush has already assembled the ideal team for such a task:  Powell for the diplomatic dance, Rumsfeld for the deep reforms he will now have the opportunity to enact, Cheney as his most trusted aide is what has become to all intents and purposes a war cabinet.”)

Speaking of Sullivan, you know his Nation columnist doppelganger, Alex Cockburn, was himself once a media critic—back before his talent completely dissipated in the 1970s--and he might know that the job of a media critic is to write about the media.  In this Guardian profile of Victor Navasky he joins Robert Novak, Ann Coulter, Fred Barnes and George Will in claiming that because I do my job, I am somehow “obsessed” with him.  I might as well be obsessed with termites or cockroaches.

And while I am on the topic, I do wish The Nation’s back of the book would stop publishing pieces that treat opposition to Stalin’s Soviet Union in a Cockburnesque fashion, as this one, does.  Can you imagine anyone—besides Cockburn--so morally and intellectually barren as to refer to intellectuals who told the truth about history’s worst mass murderer, Joseph Stalin, as a “hellhound of the cold war,” as if opposition to evil were some kind of personal or emotional disorder?  Childishly comparing a great historian not merely to a “hellhound” but also to a “hungry shark,” Mike Davis mockingly writes, "Harvard historian Schlesinger accused Kirchwey of 'betraying [the magazine's] finest traditions' by publishing 'week after week, these wretched apologies for Soviet despotism.'"  I say, “Good for Arthur,” and shame on The Nation—then, for failing to discern the truth about Stalin under Kirchwey— and again, today, for printing this morally vacuous crap.  It hurts everyone at the magazine, to be associated with this insane soft-on-Stalinism at this late date.  (To be fair to my friends Victor and Katrina, while it is fair to hold them responsible for Cockburn, the back of the book belongs to literary editor Adam Shatz.  Its turn toward soft-on-Stalinism reviewers—as well as its zealous anti-Zionism--falls outside the purview of the editor and publisher, once he or she has been hired.)

Alternote:  I worked harder than I like to today in part because I have to go to Houston on Tuesday and Wednesday (and teach on Monday and Thursday) and so posting will have to be light, though I expect we’ll be hearing from some regulars.


Two Gentlemen…  Last night was September 11 and lucky me, I spent it in the perfect way to appreciate, once again, this great, unkillable city.  I saw the last performance at the Public Theater of the revival of their could-hardly-be-more-wonderful 1971 version of “Two Gentleman of Verona” at the beautiful Delacorte Theater in Central Park.  Verona, Shmerona.  Everything about it screamed New York.  The cast and the audience were multicultural and obsessed with passion, sex, and love in a way that would drive religious fundies of all stripes crazy.  The music is a hoot and the acting—particularly the overacting- by the cast of unknowns is enormously infectious.  It’s a wonderful play that really ought to be almost as famous as “Hair.”  (The music is better, but not as revolutionary.  I already ordered the soundtrack.)  Anyway, I was particularly grateful to take a moment not only to enjoy a thrilling performance on a perfect late summer evening with my people, but also to remember what we are fighting for—and what the Bush administration shames every day with its lies, dissimulations and incompetence, in failing to protect the multicultural metropolis we have built here and daily denigrating the values of tolerance, experimentation and social solidarity that make it possible.

(Made me sad about New Orleans too, but that’s another story.)

Sonny Rollins, Without a Song (The 9/11 Concert) is a live set from the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, recorded on September 15, 2001.  On the 12th of September, 2001, Rollins, yet another great New Yorker, who just turned 75, evacuated his Manhattan apartment, and drove with his band for their performance, long scheduled for the 15th.  It’s an incredible performance, for all the right reasons, and includes not only the title track (which was on “The Bridge”), "Global Warming," but also "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," "Why Was I Born," and "Where or When."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Adrian C.S.
Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico
Hi Doc,
I'm a daily reader of your column, which I find to be the nearest to good-rooted common sense when it comes to American politics.  I write to comment on the aid of the Mexican military to the victims of this incredible natural, and of course governmental disaster, that has affected so many thousands of people.  I just hope Americans begins to see that Mexico is not a third-rate, third-world country as nearly all Hollywood movies would have the whole world believe.  I don't believe so much disrespect for one of only two neighbors is warranted.  And yet the American youth are greatly infamous for their exaggerated obscenity and arrogance at most of our vacationing spots as compared to South American and European youngsters.  In fact, I've often had to dispell the notions of well educated American engineers and managers, business associates for the most part, who somehow still believe that most of us wander around if not on donkeys at least in sombreros all over the place.  Oh big surprise when they realize even cab drivers speak English, and there's over a million cars in the streets around them!  Anyways, these common assumptions are rather offensive.  I think we should try and be better neighbors.

P.S. Quite frankly, anti-Americanism in the world has been a direct result of the Bush family's forays into government and Republicans in general.  Basically, we don't hate Americans.  We hate "I will invade your country and kill thousands of civilians because you're brown/black/yellow/orange!" Republicans.  But not everyone realizes the difference because it is precisely these Republicans who have been the most 'in our face' ambassadors of the U.S.

Hometown: Edmond, Oklahoma
I live in Edmond, Oklahoma, and it is not surprising to me that Michael Brown was educated and worked in this town.  Your poster, Bill Heber, describes Edmond as a town of less than 70,000.  That's true, our current population is a bit under 70,000.  However, Edmond has experienced tremendous growth in the last 25 years, and in 1980, when Brown worked for the city, the population was around 35,000.  That's way under 70,000.  Oklahoma has strong Southern ties and although not yet a state at the time, sympathized with the South during the Civil War.

Oklahoma has a history of poor race relations, remember the Tulsa riots of 1921 took place just 90 miles up the road from Edmond.  Edmond is a suburb of Oklahoma City, and when the Oklahoma City schools began serious desegregation in 1972, the population of Edmond exploded with parents fleeing the city.  Edmond was founded after the land run of 1889 and a normal school for the education of teachers was opened there in 1890.  This school became Central State University where Brown recieved his bachelor's degree.  The school is within walking distance of the city offices, making it easy for him to work with the city and also go to school.  Edmond has traditionally be majority white (currently over 86%), wealthy, Republican (Earnest Istook is our congressional representative), and racially intolerant.  Indeed, Edmond had "sundown laws", prohibiting blacks from spending the night within to town limits, on the books until 1974, probably overlapping with Brown's time at Central State.  They were not in force at that late date but noone had bothered to remove them from the books.  Is it any wonder that Brown was not very concerned with the poor blacks suffering under Katrina?  Knowing the people of Edmond as I do, it doesn't surprise me at all.  Why do I live here?  Well, Edmond has some of the best schools in the state.  Now that my last child is off to college, I'm looking to move out.

Name: David Firsich
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
How can you have a benefit called Higher Ground without a performance by Stevie Wonder?

Name: Patrick Williams
Hometown: Quincy, MA
Dr. Alterman, Lieberman Democrat?  I have to wonder how Phil the Pornographer found your blog, clearly he hasn't spent that much time here to make that mistake.  I just don't see why he would make that mistake.  Wait a minute Alterman, Lieberman....Holy Crap are you Jewish?

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT
I was disappointed to read your condemnation of pornography.  While it certainly has, like most large commercial enterprises these days, significant undesirable features, market demand clearly indicates it plays an important role in many people's sexual lives.  Few things are more personal than our sexuality, and as long as we stick to the world of consenting adults (otherwise, any part of it is a serious crime), we should all be entitled to sexual liberty - remember that we can never expect to enjoy a liberty we are not willing to extend to others.  As a long-time student of our species (including six years as a psychiatric social worker), I have concluded that a graph of human sexuality, with asexuality at one end and the most unimaginable sexual behaviors at the other, would be a much FLATTER curve than most people realize.  To say the same thing again, humans vary more widely in their sexuality than in about any other dimension of being.  We are ill-placed to judge each other over these matters (again, given the assumption of consenting adults).  Interestingly, much of your criticism of pornography would also apply to the world of sports, where many thousands of people place themselves at great risk, sometimes with minimal if any compensation (consider college football players), of devastating injuries and even death, for the sole purpose of entertainment.  I dare you to suggest we ban sports.

Name: Susan Malerman
Hometown: St. Marys, KS
I just wanted to say that the "Liberal Argument Against Pornography" is one of the best written things I have read in a while.

Name: Larry M. Beasley
Hometown: Pflugerville, Texas
Dear Eric,
The partial anti-porn essay by Ms. Paul on your Web site required a true exercise of will to read.  It was a truly dull piece of sermonizing (I'm being polite here).  And I found it impossible to finish.  What was she trying to propose?  Perhaps, a new government agency charged with regulating our sex lives?

Eric replies:  It’s weird how much “credit” I tend to get for what I publish on this site by other people.  Just to be clear, for me to publish something, other than a letter to the editor (and even then...) it is not necessary that I even remotely agree with it.  (Can anyone imagine that I share Major Bob’s view of this war, for instance?)  For me to share this real estate that has so generously accorded me with another writer, it is merely necessary that I think what is being said is intelligent, interesting and offered in a spirit of integrity and open intellectual inquiry.  Regarding Ms. Paul’s argument itself, while I am not anti-porn per se, I do agree that the ‘pornification’ of society is a genuine problem when it comes to children and teenagers, as well as a political problem for Democrats, and I do wish liberals would find a way to address it, both as a political and moral matter.  But I have written awfully little about the topic.  When I do, perhaps then Phil the Assh…, um, pornographer et al might be on firmer ground in terming me a “Liberman Democrat.”

Name: M. George Stevenson
Hometown: NY, NY
Dear Dr. A:
You're kidding about "Mind of the Married Man," right?  Not only was it a show based on the lamest man-vs.-wife-but-baby-you're-the-greatest cliches for its main thread, but it was about as realistic about newspaper journalism as "Friends" was about Manhattan real estate.  I'll grant you a great cast (exclusive of auteur-star Mike Binder, of course), especially Sonia Walger, but they are misused at best and demeaned (in the case of Ivana Milasevic and especially M. Emmett Walsh) at worst.  I confess I watched the entire first season on HBO, but only because each week was a bigger train wreck that looked even worse because it followed the original presentation of "Band of Brothers" and preceded the ever-more-brilliant second season of "Curb" -- indeed, HBO recognized the problem and switched the order of "Mind" and "Curb" midway through the run, presumably due to viewer complaints.  As I've never discussed the show with anyone who disagreed with me about in anything other than degree, I'd be curious to know what did/do you find interesting and underrated about it?
Best wishes from a usually stauch supporter of your TV aesthetics,
M. George Stevenson

Name: David
Hometown: Scranton, PA
Eric, you say: "The American Spectator assigned the book to the extremely conservative African-American sociologist Thomas Sowell, who also proved notably sympathetic with the authors' goals as well as their motives."  But it needs to be said that Sowell disagrees with a central facet of The Bell Curve.  He says:

Perhaps the strongest evidence against a genetic basis for intergroup differences in IQ is that the average level of mental test performance has changed very significantly for whole populations over time and, moreover, particular ethnic groups within the population have changed their relative positions during a period when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of these groups.  While The Bell Curve cites the work of James R. Flynn, who found substantial increases in mental test performances from one generation to the next in a number of countries around the world, the authors seem not to acknowledge the devastating implications of that finding for the genetic theory of intergroup differences, or for their own reiteration of long-standing claims that the higher fertility of low-IQ groups implies a declining national IQ level.

He has other criticisms of the book in that article as well.  It isn't, then, a piece of purely unadultered praise.

Name: Andrew Milner
Hometown: Bryn Mawr, PA
Speaking of TV shows coming out on DVD, be sure to check out the complete "Buffalo Bill" on September 6th -- the brilliant 1983-84 NBC sitcom starring Dabney Coleman as an insufferable upstate New York talk show host.  It anticipated "Seinfeld" in depicting selfish behavior in its main characters.  Great, great show.  BTW, the Simpsons 6th season boxed set is in the shape of Homer's head.

Name: Dwain
Hometown: Riverside, CA
I eleventeeth the recommendation to bring back Charles Pierce.  I would very much like to hear his take(s) on this catastrophe. Thanks.

Name: Martin
Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI
Hi Eric,
Pierce lives!  I guess it wasn't obvious to everyone whom your 'friend' is.  "Time for the commercial" ... "The Committee For The Foundation Of The Defense Of The Foundation" ... genius.

Name: Adrian C
Hometown: Mty, Mex
I dont want to jinx it or anything, but I do believe Major Bob should be keeping his letters to publish a book, it's that good.

Name: Hedgewick Flemeister
Hometown: Houston, Texas
Dude, You don't recommend anybody coming twice? Trust me, I guarantee nobody will come even once listening to one of your speeches!

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