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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday


Not Uniformly Horrible (Well, almost but not quite) … One argument you often heard from liberal hawks before the Iraq invasion was that, "well, we did a nice job in Afghanistan, so what’s so hard about Iraq?” We heard the same thing from those smart liberals, like Jake Weisberg, who wish to argue that Bush can’t possibly be as bad as stupid liberals like yours truly argue. Well, this Washington Post piece on Afghanistan would argue that these liberal hawks/liberal “Bush Ain’t So Bad” types are jes’ whistlin’ Dixie when it comes to Afghanistan, which now betrays all of the symptoms of Bush/Cheney malign neglect.

Still, we are generous folk at Altercation and we’ve decided to do our opponents’ work for them. It is true, as they would have it, that not absolutely everything Bush and his advisers do is uniformly horrible. Here are two pretty decent things of recent times. Really. Let’s all add to the list. It will show how reasonable we are about this fellow whom we’ve frequently proven (not argued, but proven) to be a liar, an incompetent, and an ideological extremist.

1) Ben S. Bernanke appointed as head of the Fed

2) Condi Rice throws away her schedule and negotiates a deal to open up Gaza

(OK, that’s two. See, I’ll bet you thought that was a setup.)

Still, you can’t keep up with the lies, part XVIII here:

“According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said… The White House, for example, ignored evidence gathered by United Nations weapons inspectors shortly before the war that disproved Curveball's account. Bush and his aides issued increasingly dire warnings about Iraq's biological weapons before the war even though intelligence from Curveball had not changed in two years.

At the Central Intelligence Agency, officials embraced Curveball's account even though they could not confirm it or interview him until a year after the invasion. They ignored multiple warnings about his reliability before the war, punished in-house critics who provided proof that he had lied and refused to admit error until May 2004, 14 months after the invasion.”

Congrats to Drogin and Goetz on this report. If only we had gotten this kind of thing when it might have prevented a war.

Some 2,000 U.S. troops dead, 15,000 wounded, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians killed, world hates us, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted…. Thanks again, Ralph.

I realize it’s too much for so strong a war supporter to admit that his arguments have led to a human and strategic catastrophe, but just what is David Brooks smoking when he writes, “Re-enlistment rates are high because most American troops believe they can create a better Iraq.”

Here is a the lead sentence of an article that appeared in his newspaper two days before his false and unsupported assertion was published: “The military is falling far behind in its effort to recruit and re-enlist soldiers for some of the most vital combat positions in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new government report.”

This is consistent with what has been happening ever since the Iraq war began. “Facing its worst enlistment crisis since the all-volunteer army began in 1973, the shortfall in manpower grew so acute that beginning in 2005, the military began accepting new recruits with criminal records and pending criminal charges -- and to offer them enlistment bonuses ranging from $14,400 to $20,000 in addition to as much as $70,000 towards college loan repayments. To retain soldiers already enlisted, the army was forced to offer as much as $150,000 to some soldiers in key areas as a means of retaining them. The Pentagon also asked Congress to lift the age of military recruits to 42, a full six years older than it had been three years earlier. [i][i] Despite all of these inducements, all three services continued to miss their recruiting missions.”

Once again I ask Gail Collins and the rest of the Times op-ed team: Is a Times column considered a license to lie?

Liberal hawks can’t admit they were wrong, part XXVVI: I usually admire Jonathan Chait,  but not here: “I believe that liberals loathe the war because they loathe Bush, rather than vice versa. What they want above all is for Bush to admit he made some huge mistakes in Iraq.”

Now try this:

“What was I thinking? Transforming an Arab, Islamic dictatorship like Iraq with an unstable population make-up and thousands of years of cultural isolation into a democracy, whatever the reason -- and we were consistently lied to about those -- would have been a Herculean and possibly impossible task under any circumstances and with the most enlightened of leaders. To try to do it with virtually the entire world against us and with the likes of these dishonest, incompetent, torture-justifying, ideological extremists running things was the height of folly as I now realize. In any case, I apologize to all my liberal anti-war friends for (occasionally? Consistently? Obliquely?) doubting your motives. You were right. I was wrong. I will never place my trust in these people again.”

The rest of you smart guys have that one for free too.

The scandal continues here. It would have been too  much to expect Kit Seeleye and the Times Business section to really go after Howie Kurtz’s various conflicts of interests and the myriad examples that Mickey Kaus and I have detailed here and elsewhere over the years. And I admit it would have been a lot of work. I am quoted at the end of the piece, only to be pooh-poohed by a journalist from the City Paper in Washington, who can expect a friendly call from Howie soon, with an invitation to lunch sometime no doubt, and maybe the suggestion that he really should be working at the Post… . Still, a phone call or e-mail from Ms. Seeleye to me would have put her on course to at least judge some of the case against Kurtz, instead of ignoring so much of it. And man, does Downie get off easy…

Speaking of me and Howie, look at this from the now infamous Gigot/Tomlinson e-mails:

From Gigot to Tomlinson (Aug. l3, 2004): btw, the Alterman column won't hurt. He's the guy who continually writes that howard kurtz is a right-winger.

From Tomlinson to Gigot (same day): Paul -- oh, I agree. You cannot touch this. But I will try to get someone interesting in laughing at these clowns.

And here is the Nation column that pissed them off:

“It still may call itself investigative journalism -- and so it once was -- but now it's really just a glittering and carefully choreographed waltz in which all the dancers share the unspoken agreement that the one unpardonable faux pas is to ask who's calling the tune.”

Excellent piece by the LAT’s Tim Rutten, here.

Money for Nothing? Is this fair? The Times Sunday Styles section plays this story as famous rock stars cashing in on nouveau riche a**holes with too much money paying for insanely expensive weddings and bar-mitvahs. But could we please make a significant distinction between Paul McCartney, Elton John, and others who to do this kind of thing in order to support charitable causes, and those stars who are just slumming to line their own pockets? The Times did the same thing to Dave Eggers a few years ago. It is a noble thing to separate well-to-do people from their wallets in order to support charitable causes. It is not money-grubbing as the Times so frequently wishes to portray it. (To be fair, this “Today’s Paper’s” description makes the article appear far worse than it is. Here is its entirely indiscriminate description: “Even more venerable acts like the Rolling Stones and Elton John will play a wedding reception if the price is right -- and the guests promise not to tell anyone.” 

And speaking of which, Little Roy is all upset about this McCarthyite attack on the Democrats. Seems to me it’s not nearly as bad as his hysteria about Fifth Column decadent elites in the very same city that had just been attacked. Methinks that Andy deserves his own “Malkin” award permanently tattooed on his forehead; what he certainly does not deserve, particularly since he is getting paid by AOLTimeWarnerCNNETC, is your money, for which I see he is still trolling. Give the money instead to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa. (If Andy disagrees, this space is his to make a counter-argument.)

How messed up is our political system? A Republican woman who calls decorated Marines cowards defeats a Democratic soldier who served in Iraq by playing the hyper-patriotism card.

Gore/Obama, 08.

Tramps like Frist, McConnell, Santorum  -- they were born to run away.


Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings
Catalog of the exhibition by Colta Ives, Susan Alyson Stein, Sjraar van Heughten, and Marije Vellekoop
An exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, October 18–December 31, 2005.
Metropolitan Museum of Art/Van Gogh Museum/Yale University Press, 380 pp., $65.00; $45.00 (paper)

I’m not sure I have a lot to add to what Mr. Updike writes here except to note the comparison he makes to the Vermeer exhibition, which was the greatest art exhibition of all time, so crowds are crowds for a reason. In this case, the night I saw the Van Gogh (who was my lifelong favorite painter before I saw the Vermeers and now it’s like no contest), it was comically crowded. And the funny thing about Van Gogh’s drawings is that, while they are terrific, the definition he was able to achieve is awe-inspiring; they are also, in this extremely unlettered (when it comes to art) opinion, besides the point. Every so often the exhibition will include one of his paintings and it just serves to remind that his true genius was his use of color, not his drawing ability. So actually, this catalogue really does the trick, since you can examine the drawings up close without half of New Delhi in your way.

I’m also grateful to my new friends at Yale for publishing Masters of American Comics, which is something I’ve needed for a long time: thoughtful essays about the great comics of the past century, placed in historical context, alongside samples of the work itself. Some of the essays are more cute than informative, alas.

But it really fills a void, at least insofar as I am aware. The exhibition is traveling now, so pay attention.

Finally, I am so far from qualified to review Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph Dan, just published by Oxford, that I won’t even try, but it looks to be a lot more useful for these purposes than say, a Madonna album. PW says it “offers deep history in succinct fashion, resulting in a fascinating and highly readable effort." Of course that guy might not know what he’s talking about either, but I found it highly readable and informative, too. If some smart Kabbalah-ist wants to send in a short review, I’ll print it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Jeff Myhre
Hometown: New York, NY

Dear Eric, I would just like to know why Mr. Bush has decided to Cut and Run in Afghanistan! There are 20,000 Yankee troops there now, and this spring 4,000 are leaving with more out later in the year. With the Taliban still carrying weapons, with the druglords now producing 80% of the world's heroin there and with President Karzai's writ barely making it to the suburbs of Kabul, there is no way the Afghans are standing up so we can stand down. A couple of links to back up this take on the Murtha-like "surrender" in Afghanistan:,5673,1643584,00.html
Sorry, but the American press doesn't seem to have anything on this.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
Your friend Stupid refers to the Rove Republicans, facetiously (or maybe ironically), as the party willing to do "whatever it takes" in their war on terrorism. But if they really are the ones willing to do "whatever it takes", then why are Osama and Zarqawi still at large? Could it be that "whatever it takes" doesn't work? Maybe someone should ask them.

Name: Alan Breslauer
Hometown: Los Angeles CA

Does it offend you when Paul Gigot sends an email to Ken Tomlinson stating, "I don't know anyone who takes alterman seriously, and all his accusations are years old." Just one of many outrageous and funny things in their released email exchange. Take a look if you have not already.

Name: Larry
Hometown: Denton, TX

Hi Eric, In your review of Woodward's book, you wrote: "That's too bad, because unfortunately Cheney is nuts." It reminded me of this lyric from a Dylan song: The next day everybody got up Seein' if the clothes were dry. The dogs were barking, a neighbor passed, Mama, of course, she said, "Hi!" "Have you heard the news?" he said, with a grin, "The Vice-President's gone mad!" "Where?" "Downtown." "When?" "Last night." "Hmm, say, that's too bad!" "Well, there's nothin' we can do about it," said the neighbor, "It's just somethin' we're gonna have to forget." "Yes, I guess so," said Ma, Then she asked me if the clothes was still wet.

Donald L Feinberg
Naperville, IL
Apparently putting human rights at the top of his agenda, President Bush tried to promote religious tolerance and freedom in China on Sunday, by attending church services before meeting top leaders. In an object lesson we are all supposed to emulate, in the church's guestbook the President wrote: "May God bless the Christians of China." In his quest to promote religious freedom, Bush clearly prefers that the Christians (4% of the population) of China be blessed, while he feels that the (96% of the population) Chinese of other faiths are not so worthy of God's blessings.

And I had thought the President was an evangelical?  Just four days previously, police in central China arrested 130 members of an underground Christian evangelical group, including three American citizens.  The church members were seized in an afternoon raid in Henan province's Xihua county, in central China, and have been detained at the county jail, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy has reported.

Uh, Mr. Bush?

Mr. Bush also said nothing about the Buddhists - another "tiny" sect in China.  Perhaps he could have asked the Chinese to stop persecuting the Buddhists?


Page 1A
Soldiers re-enlist beyond U.S. goal
Troops help offset recruiting shortfall
By Dave Moniz
USA TODAY , July 18, 2005


Army Boosts Benefits for Recruits Taking High-Demand Jobs
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005; A09

Pentagon Proposes Rise in Age Limit for Recruits
By DAMIEN CAVE, NYT, July 22, 2205,

| 12:53 PM ET |

Two new columns:  “Why not, Messrs Sulzberger and Keller, rescue the Times by rescuing the news as well?” — "The Lies That Bind," and Think Again: "The New Rules of the Game," .

Another day, Another ‘Mission Accomplished’:  "Suicide bombers killed 65 worshippers at two mosques in eastern Iraq on Friday while in Baghdad two car bombs targeted a hotel housing foreign journalists and killed eight Iraqis," .

Inadvertent Quote of the Day;  Why we may be in Iraq forever: "As parents of young children and dog owners know, it takes longer to clean up a mess than to make one."  ()

Ideologues, incompetents, crooks and thieves, :  (I’m sure this guy “has a good heart” and that Bush has “looked into his soul,” so no worries...

A clarification in re Noam Chomsky from the Guardian to which we had previously linked, .

Bush's War on the Press by (but um, hey, guys, we used that title ).  And congratulations to me on that essay being included in this year’s Best American Political Writing, 2005, .

Speaking of Dick Cheney’s other best friend, I reviewed Woodward’s first, awful book on the war, , and wrote a column about his much better one .

Neocons next target:  Jordan.  In today's IPF Friday, MJ Rosenberg quotes from an editorial in the neoconservative New York Sun, the day after  62 innocent people died in the hotel terror attacks in Amman -- endorsing Israel's annexing of.....Jordan, Yup.  Not just the West Bank but the East Bank, the entire country of Jordan.  At least Doug Feith is no longer at the Pentagon to sell the idea to Cheney and Rumsfeld.  These people are truly mad.  On the other hand, Condi Rice did actually produce the Gaza agreement which is an important step toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.  Maybe Rice understands that the neocons who produced the Iraq war are the same folks who pushed the administration into backing Israel's hardliners.  Maybe Bush is pissed and has decided to dump the whole lot of them for getting him into the Iraq quagmire.  And all their "policies" too.  Let 'em work for Netanyahu! Here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it’s Stupid to be Machiavellian (again).  Recently with generally good news for the Dems.  The public trusts them more than the Republicans to do a better job on nearly every issue, including taxes.  There is only one exception: terrorism.  Presuming Karl Rove has the same information, ask yourself why the Administration fights so hard against Congressional moves to ban torture.  Do they really believe torture is a reliable and vital tool to our intelligence effort, worth the damage caused to our public image, or do they figure that somewhere down the road we’re going to start to see terrorist attacks at home and the public will remember which party is willing to do “whatever it takes”?

Am I saying the left is wrong to protest the Administration’s tolerance for torture?  No, but for every word they say about torture, they should be saying ten about preparedness.  This week saying there is effectively –nothing– to stop a terrorist from blowing up an airplane:  legions of cargo containers are left unguarded.  Moreover, the Administration, at the behest of the cargo industry, blocked a bipartisan move to address this.  Bet you dollars to donuts that most voters know something about the torture debate and don’t have a clue as to the cargo fiasco.  Where’s a Move-On TV campaign when you need one?  Let’s look where we are: gerrymandering makes winning the House an uphill struggle, the Senate is naturally tilted to the GOP, and remember Osama bin Laden’s “Hey America, I hate Dubya!” October Surprise in the 2004 election?  Those aspen roots aren’t connected on purpose, but they’re still connected...

Name: Jason
Hometown: Germantown, MD
One thing that many people (including one of your respondents) seem not to grasp is the regular jargon of Washington.  What the Robb-Silberman report and the White House Web site both correctly state is that LEGISLATORS (congressional intelligence committees) saw the same intelligence (NIEs) that the President (PDBs) and the senior POLICYMAKERS-i.e. cabinet level administration officials (SEIBs) saw.  The report, in fact, makes it clear that senior policymakers (heads of IC and other cabinet-level agencies) were not presented with evidence of dissent between the intelligence community's analysts.  Also, as the report makes plain, the PDB (president/vice president level) and SEIB (senior executive level-secretary/deputy- and under-secretary level) claims were even more insistent on Iraq nuclear/chem/bio ambitions than were the NIEs that the Congress saw.

Name: Dave
Hometown: Albany, NY
When Dr. Breland and others talk about intelligent design, I'm reminded of Richard Feynman's 1974 commencement address at Caltech.  In explaining the scientific method, he contrasted it with "Cargo Cult Science."  Criticizing pseudo-science, he said:

We really ought to look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science.  I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science.  In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people.  During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now.  So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land.  They're doing everything right.  The form is perfect.  It looks exactly the way it looked before.  But it doesn't work.  No airplanes land.  So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

He went on to explain that what was missing was scientific integrity - doing all one could to enable others to test your theory and possibly prove it wrong.  It's impossible to imagine any proponent of ID displaying that kind of scientific integrity.  You can find his whole speech .  There's also an excellent discussion of intelligent design, creationism, and science, titled " Intelligent Design Has No Place in the Science Curriculum," .

November 17, 2005 | 11:33 AM ET |

The thing about Bob Woodward is that he long ago ceased to be a journalist.  I’ve pointed out in the past that in bragging in the prefaces of his two books about the war that he received copies of classified notes from NSC meetings, and having the contents of those meetings leaked to him by participants, Woodward is participating in the commission of exactly the kinds of crimes Mr. Fitzgerald is now investigating.  Nobody thought to investigate Woodward because he was so obviously acting as the chosen Bush administration vehicle for getting this information out the way it wanted to see it.  (The only reason the Fitzgerald investigation took place was because of how much the Plame leak pissed off the CIA.)  In any case, Woodward acted as a quasi-official propaganda minister, whose practices were above the law.  Now we know he no longer even thinks of himself as a journalist, nor believes he has any professional or moral obligation to his employer or profession, much less to informing the public of the truth.  No wonder he is the most “successful” journalist in the profession, and really, how depressing.  and are today's developments.

Altercation Book Club:

Edmund Wilson by Eric Rauchway

Lewis M. Dabney, Edmund Wilson:  A Life in Literature, New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.  xiv+642 pp., illustrations, notes, index.  USD 35.00, cloth.

In the 1920s it was easy to believe that the world had entered an American era, when for the first time a civilization that made its home in the New World would dominate the globe -- and we are speaking here of a civilization, mind you, not merely a culture; a real set of defining and superior achievements, not just a way of life.  Never mind that American civilization would win mainly by default, the other great civilizations having blown each other up or fallen into revolution:  the United States stood at the forefront of architecture, art, cinema, commerce, music, and even writing, as its scribblers dispersed themselves to the cafes of war-cheapened Paris and moved into an international eminence.  You could omit mentioning the boodlers and bunglers at the peak of the American political heap, so long as you could point to American preeminence in every field of human endeavor that had a connection to other civilizations in ages past.  The literature of the era was supposed to have been defined by disillusionment, and maybe for the British it was, but not for the Americans: underneath Ernest Hemingway's war-weariness and F. Scott Fitzgerald's glitter-guilt lurks the ill-concealed glee of writers who know they are world-beaters working not only at the top of their form but at the forefront of their craft.

Read those writers now, move along the titles on the shelves, and you watch them fall apart in the 1930s.  The New Deal drove the sharp-eyed journalist H. L. Mencken and the hard-boiled historian Charles Beard something close to crazy.  Hemingway plunged into self-parody.  Fitzgerald cracked up.  Something went wrong; someone had blundered.  Somehow American civilization failed quite to materialize, let alone lead the world into a new era.

Possibly the most painful exhibits of that period are the hitherto businesslike figures who suddenly got it into their heads that the Soviet Union provided the most plausible picture of humanity's future, and who went in big for Uncle Joe's socialist paradise.  It is a sad spectacle to see them sink into the pink, exceeded only by the sad spectacle of their inelegantly wriggling out of it, usually some belated decades later, and too often by turning some other shade of zealot.  You can of course understand it -- capitalism had evidently collapsed, one required an alternative; certainly fascism would not do, and the Soviets -- if one avoided reading the fine print -- seemed to be doing rather well out of their system.  Yes, you can understand it:  but it makes unedifying reading in retrospect, this great wrong turning of people in their otherwise right minds, and it left too many of them permanently addled.

Not so Edmund Wilson, who weathered well a set of bad choices in both public and private life.  The man's political wrong-turning of the thirties was only one of a series of catastrophic mis-steps that included more than the usual allowance of bad marriages and misunderstandings with the IRS.  Even liquor didn't do him in; Lewis Dabney argues that Wilson "the only well-known literary alcoholic of his generation whose work was not compromised by his drinking."  (p. 4)  Wilson maintained a clear view of what mattered in writing, and how good writing carried forward the cause of civilization.

1.  Wilson and the 1920s

Wilson was two kinds of things there aren't many of in evidence anymore:  an old-fashioned Republican principally concerned with individual liberty and a literary critic outside the academy.  He was born the former, and worked hard to become the latter.

Embedded in books, Wilson kept himself aloof from his classmates at Hill School and Princeton, establishing the posture he would preserve into the wild party of literary Manhattan -- aloof, judgmental, without time for small talk or inclination to clubby loyalty.  He went to the Great War as an enlisted man in the ambulance corps.  Like Hemingway he heard something honest in the unadorned language of the fighting and the wounded.

In the 1920s, Wilson discovered booze and sex.  He dealt better with the former than with the latter.  I first read Wilson when I was an undergraduate and taking an interest in these phenomena for myself.  His "fierce protracted drinking" (p. 128) while writing impressed me.  The man had a veritable wooden leg.  Sex, on the other hand, threw him for a loop.  Even as a youth not unconcerned with physical sports, I found his fixation on the flesh a little much.  Dude, I wanted to say, it's just sex.  You don't need to talk about it that much.  Seriously.

But here perhaps the historical sensibility must enter, and Dabney's biography provides a useful aid to this end.  Sex was emphatically not, in the 1920s, just sex, just as booze was not, in the 1920s, just booze.  Both were, in a way they never afterward could be -- perhaps not even in the 1960s -- serious social rebellion.  For not only was booze against the law, as pot later would be, nor did it merely offend those whom Mencken would sum up as the Methodists and the Ku Kluxers.  Booze and pleasurable sex went against the better idea of society that the Great and the Good of the previous generation had promulgated for decades.  Conspicuously virtuous Americans like Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, and John Dewey earnestly tried to  persuade the young that they ought to devote themselves to noble and selfless ideals of community.  In gestures representing his generation's response, Wilson had illicit sex while visiting Addams's Hull House and derided Dewey as John Doughy.  And he drank like a fish.

Yet unlike so many literary New Yorkers of the era (and after) who wasted their wit on drunken flirting and failed repeatedly to write, Wilson preserved the highly useful talent for social ineptitude that kept him at his desk.  Wilson rejected community and championed individualism not as a way to self-satisfaction, but as a larger social purpose in itself.  At least three of his books still clearly argue variations on this theme and are still worth your time; Axel's Castle, The Wound and the Bow, and Patriotic Gore.  In laying out the merits of these books Dabney is at his best, supplying excellent introductions to Wilson's thought.  Dabney is especially good on Patriotic Gore, Wilson's brilliant survey of Civil War literature, in which, Dabney writes, he "wears the toga of the old republic."  (p. 432)

Wilson argued, more or less consistently, that an artist had to proceed from "loose and subjective" concerns to "impersonal" ones.  (p. 123)  Intellectuals had to "identify themselves a little more with the general life of the country."  (p. 144)  Which meant, really, learning "to stand on their own two feet and make sense of commercial society."  (p. 134)

Dabney makes a good case that this interest in the impersonal critic led Wilson to Marx, whom he admired more than Marxism.  Wilson identified Marx with his own "preacher ancestors" and thought of him as "the great secular rabbi of the 19th-century."  Even though, as Dabney writes, "the prophetic role is entwined with a delusive mythology," it still had its definite appeal in the 1930s. (p. 260)

In The Wound and the Bow, Wilson seems to have shed his systematic Marxism while clinging closer to the enthusiasm for outcast prophets that led him to Marx.  This little book is almost certainly the key to understanding Wilson and why he is still worth while.

2.  The Wound and the Bow

Here, Wilson argues that artists are "[t]hose who do not get through life so easily"; that geniuses "stood at an angle to the morality of society and defended their position with stubbornness, [and] have suffered from psychological disorders."  The vulgar version of this idea is a blister on our culture.  It encourages the confusion of hormonal imbalance with the artistic temperament, and is responsible for any number of self-regarding pests who are better known for pitching fits than for painting pictures.  As Lionel Trilling noted, "many people are better off with therapy than with the illusion that their wounds can make them artists."  (p. 270)

But Wilson was striving toward a more specific relationship between "genius and disease," between "superior strength [and] disability."  When he says artists stand at a tangent to the "morality of society," he doesn't mean their society, he means society, period, and he means a particular kind of disability.  He makes this clear in the opening two essays, which take up more than half the book, on Dickens and Kipling.

Dickens is, for Wilson, the good artist who rages against the machine.  As a child he saw his father suffer in debtors' prison and had, himself, to work in a blacking factory.  Caught in the web of credit, he was "crushed by the cruelty of organized society."  Dickens developed his talents to compensate.  Dickensian comedy produced a particular kind of laughter -- "a real escape from institutions."  Dickensian tragedy dramatized the social machinery that had rolling unthinkingly over him.  Dickens understood that "to the ... governing classes the people they govern are not real."  Even when he had become a success and those governing classes wanted to embrace him, Dickens refused, remembering his rejection at their hands.  He was, Wilson noted, "one of the very small group of British intellectuals to whom the opportunity has been offered to be taken up by the governing class and who have actually declined that honor."

By contrast, Kipling was the bad artist who spent his career praising the machinery of society even though it had crushed him too.  Beaten as a child and subject to the most sadistic impulses of English child-rearing, he curried the favor of his abusers.  Despite his real talents, despite the persuasive individuality especially of his character Kim, Kipling betrays the integrity of each and every one of his characters, who "yield themselves unresistingly to being presented as part of a system."  Kipling committed what Wilson regards as the cardinal sin:  he "resisted his own sense of life and discarded his own moral intelligence in favor of the point of view of a dominant political party."  He sacrificed his immeasurable all, his great talent to tell the truth as he saw it, for "the promise of mental security," and became a propagandist for the empire.

It is not merely the infliction of injury that makes a Wilsonian genius, but the realization that the injury necessitates a thoroughgoing rejection of social convention in favor of individual truth.  Like Jonah, the injured can reject this revelation only at their peril; if like Kipling they suck up to the society that hurt them, if they devote their real talents to false and harmful causes, they wind up full of hate, especially for themselves.

The Wilson of The Wound and the Bow, a determined enemy of systems and social machinery, made a lousy Marxist.  He also dealt poorly with all kinds of institutions, including marriage -- his partnership with Mary McCarthy, on which Dabney is as diligent and careful as one could hope, was especially ill-starred -- and of course the US government, which in the latter part of the twentieth century resembled less and less the ideal of his youth.

For a while I was assigning Wilson's 1963 to undergraduates, so they could wrestle with the idea that someone could have opposed the IRS for employing jack-booted thugs (which sounds to them like familiar right-wing rhetoric) while also opposing increases to the defense budget and American stockpiling of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons (which sounds to them like familiar left-wing rhetoric).  We today have a hard time hearing that voice aright, because no major public voice sounds its reckless devotion to individual liberty anymore.  Dabney's biography brings to life the man behind that voice, someone who flourished in a less-institutionalized America, someone who took advantage of the freedom to shoot off his mouth, to make bad decisions, to err; who shed insights like sparks from a Roman candle, and who stuck by an essentially vanished idea once associated with old Republicans:  only individuals know the truth about what they want, and a just society would leave off haranguing them about their values and let them pursue happiness as they know it.

For the book, go .


DVD: BEYOND THE FRINGE (1963), Acorn Media by Andrew Milner

Four cute, clever young men in matching suits stun their native Great Britain in the early 1960s before  crossing the Atlantic to storm America, forever altering pop culture in the process ... and all this several years before The Beatles.  Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore brought social and political satire to the revue format with Beyond the Fringe, lampooning the Church, higher education, race relations and even nuclear war.  Some of the initial critical raves seem embarrassingly over-the-top today (one review expressed "gratitude that there should be four men living among us today who could come together to provide, for as long as memory holds, an eighth colour to the rainbow"), but that's the kind of effect Beyond the Fringe had.  After this revue and the simultaneous development of Chicago's Second City troupe, watching Lucy Ricardo getting her head stuck in a loving cup or Jerry Lewis wrecking a department store suddenly seemed old hat.

This once-presumed lost kinescope of Beyond the Fringe's closing London performance from 1963 opens with the four offering thoughts on JFK's America (Miller:  "You've got the Republican Party, y'see, which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party, and there's the Democratic Party...which is the equivalent of our Conservative Party";  Moore: "I gather the Negroes  are sweeping the country!" Miller: "Yes, so they are -- it's about the only job they can get.") followed by one classic sketch after another -- "Words and Things" skewering deconstructionism before the term had any currency ("Are you, in fact, using 'yes' in its affirmative sense...?").  "The Aftermyth of War," targeting England's stiff-upper-lip response to WWII ("I want you to lay down your life, Perkins.  We need a futile gesture at this stage.") and Shakespeare gets a definitive spoofing in "So That's The Way You Like It."  ("Get thee to Gloucester, Essex.  Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.  Fair Albany to Somerset must eke his route.") Each of the four gets a moment to shine -- Miller as a black African leader in "Black Equals White," Bennett as a clergyman basing a sermon on the Biblical text "My brother Esau is an hairy man but I am a smooth man," Cook introducing his E.L. Wisty character in "Sitting on the Bench" and Moore sending up Beethoven, Weill and Benjamin Britten at the piano.

The disc has a pdf file of the Playbill from the Broadway engagement as well as cast bios, but no other DVD bells and whistles.  Anyone wanting more information should seek out Humphrey Carpenter's definitive history A Great Silly Grin: The British Satire Boom of the 1960s.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian Donohue, M.A.
A comment on Dr. Breland's observations: if people could understand that when Einstein wrote about god, he was making intrinsically scientific statements from the perspective of a scientist, then we might see this entire teapot-tempest of ID "vs." evolution disappear.  Granted, it takes some intellectual effort and a particular exercising of the imagination to connect with what Einstein really meant when he talked about god, but it's worth the attempt.  In fact, I wrote part of a book about it.  But I'd still recommend any of Brian Greene's published insights over my own.  Let's read what the actual leaders in science are saying about these issues and we might find that this war over what to teach kids is, like Iraq, not really worth fighting.

Name: John R.
Hometown: Pennsylvania
With regards to Dr. Breland's writing on the misconceptions concerning intelligent design, some of the misconceptions seem to stem from the perceived similarities between ID and creationism.  Both hold that the universe and life as we know it could not have occurred on their own, that some outside agent had a hand in their genesis (no pun intended).  The only significant difference that most people tend to see is that ID makes no specific mention of who created it all.  Also, when such folks as Marion "Pat" Robertson proclaim that the expulsion of the Dover, PA school board that had proposed ID was tantamount to a rejection of God, it certainly does not help the case of ID's proponents.  Indeed, even many religious institutions see no inherent contradiction between the word of God and the concept of common descent by natural selection.

Name: Sarah
Hometown:  A suburb of Chicago, IL
I would like to respond to Dr. Michael Breland's letter.  I am a high school biology teacher.  The most important thing I can teach my students about science is that it is based on the scientific method.  You come up with a theory, you test the theory, and either prove or disprove the theory.  My gripe with teaching intelligent design in a science classroom is that there is no way to test it.  We can see through observation and DNA analysis that organisms do change over time in response to their environments.  This is what the theory of evolution says in its most simple form.  This is testable.  Intelligent design says that some of these changes in organisms were so drastic that they could not have happened without some higher being's assistance.  I cannot test this.  I cannot create a God-free room to test this hypothesis.  Therefore, I cannot teach it to my students as science.  While I myself believe that it is possible that God occasionally blows on a chromosome, I admit that this is a matter of faith.  Once again, I can't test it.  My mother honestly believes that the gaps in the evolutionary record are because aliens visited the planet and modified organisms.  I cannot test this either.  From a science standpoint, her theory is as valid as mine.  What I can prove is that evolution happens.  This is what I will teach my students in science class.  Everything else is a matter of faith.

Name: Randy
Hometown: Austin, TX
Hello, One thing that I think that has gone largely unreported in this whole "the war critics saw the same intelligence that we did" debate is that the White House Web site (for some reason which is beyond my ability to fathom) quotes the Robb-Silberman Commission Report where it is states that the legislators WERE NOT SHOWN THE SAME INTELLIGENCE as the White House.  They were only shown the intelligence that supported the administration's case for war, and were not shown the dissenting information that cast doubts about the intelligence that was being pimped by the White House.  : From the White House web page: 

The Robb-Silberman Commission Reported That The Intelligence In The PDB Was Not "Markedly Different" Than The Intelligence Given To Congress In The NIE. "It was not that the intelligence was markedly different. Rather, it was that the PDBs and SEIBs, with their attention-grabbing headlines and drumbeat of repetition, left an impression of many corroborating reports where in fact there were very few sources. And in other instances, intelligence suggesting the existence of weapons programs was conveyed to senior policymakers, but later information casting doubt upon the validity of that intelligence was not." (Charles S. Robb And Laurence H. Silberman, The Commission On The Intelligence Capabilities Of The United States Regarding Weapons Of Mass Destruction, 3/31/05, Pg. 14)

Name: Samuel Knight
One odd thing that's happening on the editorial pages is that they keep hiring right wing nuts despite the fact the public is turning against them.  Jonah Goldberg with the LA Times, Joe Tierney with the NY Times, A. Sullivan with Time magazine, and Hinderaker (sp?) in the Post.  This is NOT market driven.  If you compare the hits, you, Josh Marshall, Kos, just crush any of the people mentioned above.  And it's not to counterbalance all those "liberal" voices.  Will, Krauthammer, Broder, Brooks, etc. are already there.  But as you say in What Liberal Media? the major papers have either internalized the conservative carping completely, or they just think kowtowing to the corporate interest outweighs readership.  The funny thing was that Josh Marshall congratulated Li'l Roy, ignoring the pretty obvious fact that Sullivan was forced to get a corporate savior.

Name: Dennis McLaughlin
Hometown: Germantown, Ohio
Thanks for posting the Rocky River Times article on 2004 voter fraud in Ohio.  You should expect to see more on Ohio voter fraud in the coming months.  There were 4 constitutional amendments on our 11/8/05 ballot packaged as Reform Ohio Now.  Based upon polling throughout the campaign I expected 2 of these to pass easily, with the others being close.  All 4 were defeated by a large margin.  It looks like we will have to fight for our democracy in Ohio.  I'm expecting a long, hard struggle ahead.

Name: Rick Gerwin
The Blasters broke up in the late 80s.  Dave and Phil Alvin have been doing their separate things since then.  For reasons unknown to me, Phil tours under the Blasters name.  The original group (with Dave and Phil) got together for a reunion tour a year or so ago, but it was never intended as anything more than a short-term gig to promote the Blasters retrospective CD set that was coming out.  You can pretty much assume that any "Blasters" concert you hear about will include only Phil and his new band (which has only one other original Blaster, I think).

| 11:33 AM ET |

Was the election stolen? I’m beginning to think so, .

And does it really surprise you that everyone they appoint is either a liar, a crook, an incompetent, a lunatic or all of the above.  Today’s exhibit, .

It’s official, is one of them.  might have been a good time to mention it if you cared, sir, about the um, public’s right to know…

The United States of Torture:  We Knew Nothin’, .  Calling Sergeant Shultz.

These Republicans are ... for what?  No really.  God, I hope there's a Heaven and Hell, sometimes.

More lies, :  Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force.  It’d be boring, if it weren’t so important.

Blogs vs. Books: On singing the non-tenured blues online

The problem with figuring out whether blogs help or hurt tenure is that in re tenure, unlike say, torture, nobody really knows nothin’.  The process is confidential.  Chicago turned down Dan Drezner who has two masters degrees, a doctorate from Stanford and a Princeton published book.  Well, that’s good, but hardly sufficient.  I have two masters degrees, a doctorate from Stanford, and two Cornell published books and I feel pretty certain I wouldn’t get tenure in history from the University of Chicago.  And it wouldn’t be because of the blog.  Rob Boynton has a lot of intelligent things to say, .  But I remind everyone.  One massive advantage that academia has over journalism is how much more carefully its conclusions are drawn.  Causality not coincidence needs to be established.  We don’t have it with blogs.  (And so it’s no surprise that people in the blogosphere are jumping to conclusions.)   another view, and is an example of a first-rate academic blog doing just what academic blogs should do: raising questions for scholar and layman alike about important questions that relate to both simultaneously.  There are many of these and it’d be a shame to lose them.

I sure hope my friend Nick Goldberg, editorial page editor of the LA Times, and Bob Scheer are having a nice time on the Nation cruise…

Quote of the Day:

At various times since 9/11 members of the administration have acted as if catching Osama bin Laden, or changing Social Security, or saving Terri Schiavo, mattered more than any possible other cause.  Creating an Iraqi military actually matters more than almost anything else.  But the people who were intent on the war have lost interest in the only way out.

— James Fallows, "Why Iraq Has No Army," in the December Atlantic.

Quote of the Day, II: 

The Bush Administration must understand that each American has a right to question our policies in Iraq and elsewhere and should not be demonized for disagreeing with them.  Suggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy, nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years.

—  .

Alter-advertisement:  I lost my clerical help, which, typically, is an exploited graduate student who is somewhat media savvy but is willing to do mostly boring work like filing and searching out a few sources and making plane and car reservations and stuff.  The pay is bad but the hours are easy.  Send a resume, but not as an attachment, to please if this is of interest.  (If it turns out you are a talented historical researcher of the kind that finds so hysterical, we can talk about that too, but for now I am covered.)

This just in:  Bruce is on today.

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad Within Earshot

The other day an e-mail came in from Lieutenant Colonel Andy, he worked here and just returned home at the end of last month.

First off I can't describe how happy I am that I’m home.  The weather is perfect autumn.  The leaves down here aren't in full color yet (compared to New England) and haven't started to pummel the lawn and fill the gutters.  You know what I first recognized when I was sitting on the couch was how quiet it was.  No A/C, no generators, no talking, no nothing.  I'm not sure if all the generators and A/C have helped but my tinnitus seems to be going strong.

I guess being here I had not noticed the contrast. So this is what Baghdad Within Earshot really sounds like.

The predominant sounds in the areas where I spend the most time are sounds of helicopters and gunfire.  All of these come in different flavors.  There is the light buzzing of a private security helicopter, reputedly Blackwater Security, which buzzes over the city at 50-100 foot altitudes.  There is a pair of these aircraft; they look like McDonald-Douglass 500’s to me, but I am not sure.  They only carry three or four people and are very maneuverable.  Usually you see them whipping by at high-speed, one guy hanging out of the door with a rifle in his lap and his leg dangling in the air as they execute 90-degree high-banking turns every mile or so.  But during the day the majority of the noise comes from the Blackhawks of the Army.

Technically the Blackhawk is the “Utility Helicopter – 60” (UH-60), which is the successor to the Vietnam-era UH-1 “Huey.”  Although it is quieter than the old Hueys, the UH-60 is a much more powerful bird.  It does not make the distinctive “whop-whop-whop” that the old two-bladed Huey did, but its four blades provide far more thrust.  When the Blackhawks pass overhead (and here in Baghdad that is always at low-level) they shake the building with a steady vibration.  Usually you see them in flights of two, though of course several times a day a single-ship flight passes overhead.  You always prefer to see those flights of two.  Two means the aircraft are on a mission carrying people from somewhere to somewhere else.  The only aircraft allowed to fly solo have large red crosses on them.  One aircraft means it is a Medevac flight heading out to a hot LZ to get a severely wounded troop.  With night come the heavy whop-whop-whop of the cargo birds, either 36 passenger Army CH-47s, or the smaller 18 passenger USMC CH-46s, both of which have two propellers.  Given that the CH-47 is literally the size of a Greyhound bus, the fact that a low pass by one of these will rattle your trailer is not surprising at all.  It takes an awful lot of downward thrust to keep that many tons in a hover.

Just about every day you are likely to hear a whining buzzing sound from the sky as well.  It sounds like an ultra-light, or one of those propeller-driven parachute-with-a-lawnchair things you might see at the beach.  It is a UAV, an “Unmanned Aerial Vehicle”, flown by remote control by one of the Army units here in the city.  Because they are so small, and fly pretty high, I can almost never spot the damned things, even in broad daylight.

Then there are the sounds of gunfire.  This comes and goes, but I don't think that there has been a day since I arrived during which I did not hear at least some shooting, near or far.  After a while you can tell what is happening by the sounds alone.  It is, I suppose, like learning a new language.

A single sharp report is an M-4 or M-16A2.  Where I am this is usually fired about 200 yards away, over at the Assassin's Gate.  One round, or sometimes two, is a warning shot.  Nothing to worry about, and indeed I don't even notice this anymore unless I am trying.  A deeper sounding pop is an AK-47.  The weapon fires a bigger bullet and is not designed the way ours are, so the sound is distinctive.  But these are usually, at a minimum, three-to-five shots if they are a "warning."  Then there are the firefights.

Usually those erupt at least half a mile away from me, often on the other side of the river.  Anything up to about 20-30 seconds, even of heavy firing (5-10 weapons going all at once, at nearly automatic fire levels) is usually "panic fire."  First you hear three or four shots, then ten or twenty, then a burst of several weapons for up to half a minute.  The firing climbs, peaks, then ebbs.  You often hear this sort of firing in the wake of a car bomb, when the police and the Iraqi Army arrive on the scene.  They are all, understandably, jittery.  The enemy now tends to use more than one car bomb at once if they want to kill the police.  They set the first bomb off, and then when the police arrive, send in another.  The police are justifiably nervous when they arrive at the scene now, and their sporadic firing reflects that human reaction.  This sort of firing pattern can come and go, in waves, for several minutes, but it's not really a "firefight."  Those are longer, and much louder.

The ambush of an American unit sounds distinctly different.  American weapons sound sharper, of course, but the sudden crashing volume of fire really tips you off that there are Americans in this fight.  There is no slow increase, the response is unified, disciplined and direct. Then, almost as suddenly, the fire ceases.

Of course there are the sounds of mortars whispering overhead, and the strange low-toned warbling whistle of a rocket, let alone their explosions.  But Hollywood does a pretty good job getting those sounds right, so there is no need to describe those in depth.  I have described the thumping feeling-sound of car bombs and suicide-vest bombers before as well.  The odd thing in all of these attacks, I guess, is their sense of timing.  We never seem to get mortared really late at night, or before seven in the morning.   It is like the enemy works banker’s hours.  Instead of hitting us in the cool quiet of pre-dawn, they wait until the sun is well up and the day has begun.

Anyway, that's what it sounds like here. The traffic noise, really, where I am.  Except when they switch out the Bradleys or Abrams over by the gate, but those are sounds for another time.

Baghdad Local:

People often write to me and ask what they might send to support us here.  I generally redirect them, or decline.  We are well provisioned, and what we want (sleep, beer, sex), we cannot have anyway.  But now I do have a request.  A direct plea.  We need school supplies.  Well, we don’t need them, some Iraqi kids do.

In the past some of us in this unit have taken supplies to various schools in the Baghdad area.  One very generous batch came from an Altercation reader as a matter of fact, some months ago.  But it has always been on a haphazard basis and generally only when we can fit it in as an adjunct to a mission we might be doing in the same area.  It has also been dependant upon what happened to come in from various unorganized donations from friends and family back home.  I want to change that.

There is a school nearby, three schools actually, and as with all elements of the Iraqi educational system, they could use help.  We think that the total enrollment is somewhere in the vicinity of one-thousand.  I want to flood this school with all of the pens, paper, notebooks, erasers, chalk, and any other school supply you can think of, as well as any toy you think that kids might want.  The ages range from 6-13, but we think that one of the buildings nearby is a high-school.  Optimally, if there is a benevolent somebody upstairs (FSM anyone?), some Altercation readers are in a position to establish a “sister-school” program as well.

If you are interested in helping you can write to Major Bob at .


I caught a show by the Blasters at B.B. King’s in Times Square. I was expecting both Alvin brothers but it was only Phil. They’re a great band, but to be a transcendent band, they need Dave too, though I guess they’re not getting along again.  Read all about ‘em and listen before you buy.  I really love “King of California,” and “County Fair,” .

On the DVD front, I did not discover the wonderful show, “Home Movies” until they stopped making it but I’m mighty pleased they have been releasing it on DVD.  I just got seasons two and three, .  The promo material says it “towers as one of the greatest in the history of animated television.”  That’s not completely crazy, though I’m not sure they’re entirely serious.  It is unspeakably clever and you should try season one if you’re unfamiliar. 

Self-styled Pop culture and Beatle historians will want to muse on new Dick Cavett DVD collection with John and Yoko, which aired, a little weirdly, on September 11, 1971.  It is a time piece to be sure, but they were pretty loose and less regal than Yoko has tried to make them seem in retrospect.  The second appearance is a bit darker.  They are dressed quite conservatively this time, not like sixties radicals, and devote most of their discussion to Yoko’s wrenching attempt to find her daughter and regain some sort of custody, while at the same time fighting J. Edgar Hoover’s politically-inspired deportation attempt.  Then comes a big to-do about their playing “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” which Lennon is eventually allowed to play, though fascinatingly, John quotes Ron Dellums about how most of the people in America are niggers.  It was quite a time, and really interesting to see.  (The beginning of the show is an interview with a cute-but-nutty Shirley McLean.)

John also talks about how much he loves New York, which is nice.  Now would be a good time, I suppose, to mention two new books about the guy.  One is by his ex-wife Cynthia Lennon, called “John” with a forward by Julian Lennon.  It's nice and dignified and not uninteresting, if not exactly literature.  It’s also really sad.  You can read all about it .  Larry Kane’s "Lennon Revealed," however, , really bites.  It’s awful in every way.  It’s got a DVD with John and Paul’s final joint interview together.  I enjoyed that.  The rest of it is about as much fun as one of those songs where Yoko never stops screaming.  Cavett’s cutesy questions can be annoying too.

Remember, you can support the musicians of New Orleans by buying particularly if, like me, you missed Sal’s big benefit last night (I know, I know… lotta help that was…).

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Leila Abu-Saba
Hometown: Oakland CA
I'm a liberal woman whose personal values are pretty far from Arianna's - I've never gone in for makeup, couture or social climbing.  But I totally forgive her.  In fact, I think that makeup -and couture-wearing, social-climbing, brilliant intellectual women are just what we need on the left.  Really.  Just because I don't act like her and wouldn't hang out with her, doesn't mean I think she's "wrong."  She lives in a particular world - the Vanity Fair world - and I'm delighted that she's turned to truth, justice and environmental sanity.  Admittedly, I ignored her for a long time after her conversion, but now that she's got this blog (which I also ignored at first) I am quite impressed.  Regarding her past - what's to forgive?  People can change their minds.  And regarding the marriage to the gay millionaire - you know, who are we to say what someone else's marriage contract should look like?  Everybody gets to make their own choices.  Really it's none of our business.  Go Arianna!  Susan Estrich's criticisms of her mothering were completely uncalled for, anti-feminist, retrograde, and provincial.  Get over yourself!
P.S. - Arianna's right about the sex.

Name: Marilyn
Hometown: Deep South
Kansas, why stop with intelligent design in biology?  I mean, why should ANY high school classes get away without discussing divine inspiration?  Math theories, works of art, scientific discoveries--they can't be merely human, can they?  PE?  Well, the body is the temple.  Chemistry?  Well, water into wine and all that.  As for literature and political science--why, the possibilities are endless.  Why should biology teachers have all the fun interactions with parents, courts, & school boards?

Name: Michael Breland, M.D., Ph.D.
Hometown: Walla Walla, WA
Dear Eric:
I agree with JC Golding's suggestion that churches should cover evolutionary science in their religious studies.  However, the difference is that JC was making the suggestion to show "why teaching pseudo-science creationism in public schools is just ridiculous."  I am making the suggestion because I think it is a good idea.  Obviously this is a Hot Button for huge numbers of people.  However, only through seriously addressing it in a public or more hopefully an academic setting will there ever be any sort of resolution to this conundrum.  I also note that JC Golding implies that intelligent design, a philosophical theory, is the same as creationism, a religious belief.  They are not the same thing, and serious misconceptions continue to arise from assuming this.

November 15, 2005 | 1:03 AM ET |

Prague Agonistes

In an otherwise totally excellent argument, The New York Times editors write,

The Bush administration was also alone in making the absurd claim that Iraq was in league with Al Qaeda and somehow connected to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  That was based on two false tales.  One was the supposed trip to Prague by Mohamed Atta, a report that was disputed before the war and came from an unreliable drunk.  The other was that Iraq trained Qaeda members in the use of chemical and biological weapons. Before the war, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that this was a deliberate fabrication by an informer.


We hate to be a party-pooper.  Really we do.  But we cannot help remembering that this phony meeting was persistently said to be an “undisputed fact” on the page opposite this one by columnist William Safire.  What’s more, the Times, like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, has repeatedly refused to issue a correction on this point, (and I personally hassled the Public Editor about it).  Is a columnist’s job at the Times a license to lie?  If you read the above excellent editorial, and then read ‘Stupid on Purpose’ David Brooks column, you’d have to conclude it was.  (And if you top it off with , you’d have to conclude that Bill Keller is saying the job of “critic” at the Times amounts to the same thing.)  Really, I appreciate all the hard work that goes into making that paper great, as well as the Sulzbergers’ all-but unique commitment to good journalism among owners of such institutions, but something is very rotten in Times Square and wishing it away won’t make it go away.

Iraq is spreading terror around the world, .  We told you so!  (And thanks Ralph.)

Liars, ideologues, and philistines everywhere in our government; they are causing untold misery in the lives of women and children and pretending it’s science.  (Thanks again, Ralph.)

Credit where it’s due:  Good for Condi, , for once.

Slate asked a bunch of us to name the most important book we read in college. 

Damn!  I was supposed to go home from the Clinton conference —David Greenburg has it — in a car they provided with Arianna.  They got us a stretch limo with a bar, but the Greek temptress had her own car and driver and we got our signals crossed.  I went home five minutes before her panel ended, and so blew the opportunity to make this before the amazing Ms. A flew out for her Nation cruise.  Amazing really.  Read Vanity Fair.  It’s pretty fair and does justice to her many mysteries.  (One thing I’ve noticed about A.H. lately vis-à-vis cocktail party chatter is that liberal men are far more eager to forgive her past than liberal women.  True?  Discuss.)

Lots of lawyers think the suspension of Habeus Corpus is un-American, .  So do I, of course, but they matter…

This just in from Gallup:  A majority of independents, 58%, believe the United States made a mistake in invading Iraq.  Got that?

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.  The Weekly Standard has a cover story by Michael Fumento about what it calls the “Pandemic panic over the avian flu.”  .  A long time ago, Fumento made his name in the world with an argument called “The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS.”  Since heterosexual AIDS is now the world’s single biggest problem, and the worst human catastrophe the world has experienced since the Hitler/Stalin/Mao mass murders, if Fumento says this bird flu thing ain’t a problem, believe me, I’m scared.

Congratulations to both and Little Roy on their deal; to Time, for hiring a blogger who perfectly comports with a magazine whose columnists range from the liberal Democrat-hating Charles Krauthammer all the way to the liberal Democrat hating Joe Klein, (now that that nasty commie Margaret Carlson has been sacked), and that thinks Ann Coulter’s work is mostly accurate.  That gosh-darned liberal media again, huh?  And congrats to Little Roy for keeping the deal secret long enough to bilk his readers by asking for cash when he already knew he had the Time deal in the works.  (Seems like he still is, amazing.)  Give the money to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa instead.  .

Nice articles on The Band box ($) and the Bruce box here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Lou Schuler
Hometown: Allentown, PA
Hi Eric,
Al Franken also gives an account of the January 2003 meeting between the president and Iraqi exiles.  It starts on page 241 of The Truth (with jokes):  Bush's failure to look reality full in the face extended to even the most basic facts about the country he had chosen to invade. There is one anecdote in particular that I keep coming back to.  David Phillips, a former State Department official, tells the story in his book, Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco.  Phillips was in charge of the Democratic Principles Working Group of the Future of Iraq Project, where he convened a variety of Iraqi exiles to envision how Iraq would be governed after the fall of Saddam.  The most prominent exile in the group was Brandeis professor Kanan Makiya, one of Ahmed Chalabi's chief deputies.  Makiya was the man who had famously told Bush that Americans would be greeted in Iraq with sweets and flowers.  In late January 2003, less than eight weeks before the war began, Phillips wrote: Kanan was invited to watch the Super Bowl at the White House; he told me later that he had to explain to the President of the United States the differences between Arab Shi'a, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds. I talked to David Phillips over breakfast and asked what Makiya had meant by this. Did he mean that Bush didn't understand the fine points of their cultural and religious differences? No. PHILLIPS: What Makiya told me was that he didn't know there was a difference.  That among Iraqis there were Arab Shia, Arab Sunni, and Kurds. ME: He didn't know that there existed those three groups? PHILLIPS: That's right. This is pretty basic. You're going to go to war in a country, you should know who lives there. Franken also includes this footnote to the story: When I emailed Makiya about this, he denied the story.  David Phillips stands by his account.  Is it possible that Phillips was also the source for George Packer?  If not, then we have at least two sources for the same anecdote.

Name: Ben
Hometown: New York, NY
I Googled: and a Google answers page with the Packer NYT quote was .  Nice job, Matt!

Name: JC Golding
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

In regards to 'intelligent design,' how about equal time?  Perhaps Kansas (Christian) churches should be required to teach evolutionary science with their religious studies?  Maybe then, it would become a bit more clear to proponents of this why teaching pseudo-scientific creationism in public schools is just ridiculous.

Name: Linda Ginsburg
Hometown: Huntingdon Valley, PA

Hello Eric --
Oy. Every time I see Ron Silver I want to bang my head against the wall.  I have pictures from the first Clinton campaign in 1992 of Silver emceeing a Bill Clinton campaign stop in South Philadelphia (the platform was placed equidistant between Geno's and Pat's.)  And I could understand if he felt a little insecure after 9/11 but he has gone over to the Dark Side completely.  But if he's now squiring Ann Coulter then his punishment is even greater than I would have meted out.

Name: Steve Elworth
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

I agree with you totally about the significance of Bill Charlap at the present moment.  Though the hat I think that he is filling is that of the magnificent pianist and accompanist, Tommy Flanagan.  Another amazing recent recording of his, is his accompanist role to the wonderful tenor, Scott Hamilton on "Back in New York," which is also Hamilton's best since his CD with Flanagan.  Charlap has also taken over Dick Hyman's gig hosting the great summer jazz fest at the 92nd street Y.  The tribute to the magnificent guitarist Jim Hall was one of the best concerts of this or any year.  The guests include such wonderful musicians as Tom Harrell and Joe Lovano.  Charlap's late father was the song writer, Moose Charlap and yes, he is a nice, Jewish Boy.

Name: John S. Ransom
Hometown: Carlisle, PA
I wonder sometimes if you realize how valuable your work is.  The thing about Rob Reiner -- look, while I'm reading it in its original form in the magazine I am already disagreeing with the author, already thinking that I see some bias in the way the article is being written, but nevertheless I was totally taken in by the Rob Reiner trick; the one that you have exposed.  That is, I went along with the idea that Rob Reiner was maybe an idiot about something specific concerning Bush and Iraq.  But I was wrong!  And I was willing to give that one to them!  I must be more careful, and I thank you again for showing me that you really cannot be too careful these days and simply must not trust one darn fact that's reported as such and take it on faith.  Not one.

| 11:59 AM ET |

Hollywood homies hammered

I don’t have the energy to explain everything that’s annoying about Matt Bai’s Sunday Times Magazine article on Hollywood and the war.  It struck me as a near perfect illustration of what I was talking about , replete with a pullquote from as if those people are not nuts:

The constant refrain that Hollywood is "out of touch" and filled with "political dilettantes" is offered as evidence of the illegitimacy of Hollywood's political participation in a way one never hears about, say, Wall Street, Grosse Pointe or even Silicon Valley....Media machers would have a far stronger case for complaint about the role Hollywood plays in our politics if the very same media outlets weren't begging for each star's latest pronouncement.  As the Irish actor Daniel Day-Lewis notes, "The media are sick and tired of people in my profession giving their opinion, and yet you're asking me my opinion.  And when I give it, you'll say, 'Why doesn't he shut up?'"

Anyway, Bai seems awfully angry at Rob Reiner and company for being righter about the war than most of his colleagues in the mainstream media.  He quotes him, saying,

"To me, the death of people at somebody's hands over the stupidity of this man is astounding!" he shouted at me.  "When I hear that on the weekend of the Super Bowl an Iraqi expatriate was explaining to him the difference between Kurds and Sunnis and Shiites, it makes me want to cry.  I want to cry!"  (Reiner said he recalled hearing this anecdote on cable news or talk radio, though I wasn't able to find any reference to it subsequently.)— .

In fact, Bai (or the Times fact-checkers) could have found the incident described on p.96 of George Packer’s book, Assassin’s Gate.  (A friend adds:  Eric - Matt Bai's negligence is even worse than you note. The bit about the exiles having to explain Sunni-Shia conflict to Bush, which you correctly attribute to George Packer's book, originally appeared in a piece that George wrote for the NY Times Magazine!)

UPDATE:  This just in:  The Packer quote in the Times is:

Bush is a man who has never shown much curiosity about the world. When he met with Makiya and two other Iraqis in January, I was told by someone not present, the exiles spent a good portion of the time explaining to the president that there are two kinds of Arabs in Iraq, Sunnis and Shiites. The very notion of an Iraqi opposition appeared to be new to him. War has turned Bush into a foreign-policy president, but democratizing an Arab country will require a subtlety and sophistication that have been less in evidence than the resolve to fight.

From , By GEORGE PACKER (NYT) 7730 words, Published: March 2, 2003

It’s just amazing to me the distance that the MSM will go to try to make it appear as if those in favor of this impossibly idiotic war were right and those of us who understood its foolishness were wrong. 

Our man Tom Tomorrow has something to say about that .

Meanwhile, the other guys can be a real pain in the ass as well.  Lefty William Arkin fell into a trap set by the likes of Hitchens and others when, in mocking me, he wrote, “Civility  was also the subject of Eric Alterman's 21 November column in The Nation that I read on the plane.  Okay, maybe in a column where you call O'Reilly/Limbaugh/Scarborough toxic and a certain peace group ‘Stalinist android,’ it's tough to make too much of a case that you are being civil,” .

Hitchens is absolutely right, for once, when he writes, .

“International ANSWER," the group run by the "Worker's World" party and fronted by Ramsey Clark, which openly supports Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic, and the "resistance" in Afghanistan and Iraq, with Clark himself finding extra time to volunteer as attorney for the génocidaires in Rwanda. Quite a "wide range of progressive political objectives" indeed, if that's the sort of thing you like. However, a dip into any database could have furnished Janofsky with well-researched and well-written articles by David Corn and Marc Cooper—to mention only two radical left journalists—who have exposed "International ANSWER" as a front for (depending on the day of the week) fascism, Stalinism, and jihadism.

So I guess I don’t know what “peace group” Arkin had in mind…

Quote of the Day, Geraldo Rivera on Michael Jackson: “"He's a lot more normal in person. And more normal as a dad than you would ever, ever expect. He's really just a normal person once you get past the packaging."  .

Irony: I skipped a friend’s Halloween party, because I don’t like costumes, but stupidly, as it turned out, because I missed the sight of Ron Silver showing up with Ann Coulter on his arm…  And yes, finish the joke about her costume yourselves…

Alter-review:  I’ve been returning over and over to my admiration for Bill Charlap on this site; he’s a kind of mini Wynton Marsalis as both a brilliantly talented and thoughtful soloist, but also a tireless innovator and promoter of  music that, alas, sorely needs promotion, in a commercial world dominated by hip-hop and metal.  This year Charlap has released Bill Charlap Plays George Gershwin on Blue Note, , with his great trio of Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, joined by Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Slide Hampton on trombone, Phil Woods on alto saxophone, and Frank Wess on tenor saxophone.  What’s not to like? 

Also on Blue Note is this nice (I’m assuming not Jewish) young man’s new album with his mother, Sandy Stewart.  Love Is Here to Stay, .  (Again, note the Marsalis analogy.)  I was thrilled to be able to catch the two of them at the Algonguin’s cozy and elegant last week.  (An aside: With a $50 music charge and a $50 prix fix three-course, pretty-decent dinner, this place is actually a bargain of sorts, and especially for Barbara Carroll at brunch, when it’s $55 for the whole thing.)  It was a sterling show, perfectly pitched to the room, with lots of nuanced, quiet reading by both mom and son.  There’s time and wisdom in Stewart’s voice, and controlled but bursting pride in seeing her son the brilliant-but-modest phenom carrying on in the family business.  Highlights were Charlap’s amazing solo interlude and Stewart’s "Someone to Watch Over Me" and her meditative version of Johnny Mandel/Alan and Marilyn Bergman unsung classic, "Where Do You Start?"  I wasn’t there the night that Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Diana Krall were.  But I’m sure they all learned a lot.

Correspondence Corner:

Minneapolis Star Tribune - 11/12/05

The naive bleeding hearts who oppose Vice President Dick Cheney's efforts to secure an exemption to the ban on the use of torture when interrogating those who are a threat to our security need to wake up to reality.  This is the post-9/11 world.  If some evildoer needs to be squeezed a little to obtain information that will potentially save American lives, we need to do it.

The torture of Lewis (Scooter) Libby should begin this minute and continue until he gives up every neocon-man, war profiteer, misguided zealot, shock-and-awe peddler and lying politician who participated in the conspiracy to manufacture this war in Iraq.


Now ours:

Name: Cheryl Benge
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
In response to your friend's post about college applications from Kansas I'd like to add another thought.  If these people are going to ignore science when it suits them then I say they get no science at all.  No medicine or medical treatment, no electricity, refrigeration, television, transportation, etc.  You can't choose the science you want and reject the science you disagree with.  That's like saying you accept the theory of gravity but reject the theory of relativity.  So I propose we let them have their way but insist that they take it all the way.  What idiots.  Sadly, they should say, due to the state's publicly expressed preference for mythology over science, they no longer can be confident that students from Kansas are sufficiently grounded in the basics for those students to succeed at these extremely competitive universities.

Name: Don Collignon
Hometown: Chicago IL
To question authority and investigate the murky claims of why we went to war is unpatriotic, says the president.  "These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will," Bush said.  However, it is apparently perfectly all right to direct the enemy to one of our West Coast cities:  "And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it.  We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco.  You want to blow up the Coit Tower?  Go ahead."  Now, you're a soldier from San Francisco, and you hear this.  How do YOU feel?  Can Bill be arrested for treason?

Name: Kevin in the middle
Hometown: Madison, NJ
So, "intelligent design" has nothing to do with religion, right?  That being the case, why then is Pat Robertson so exorcized over folks in Pennsylvania pulling the plug on teaching it?  Calling down God's wrath over a school board election?  Wow.  Time for Pat to take a sabbatical, don't you think?  And the next time someone argues that intelligent design isn't a quasi-religious charade, just point to Pat and say "there."

Name: Fasty Eddy
Hometown: Edmonton, Canada
Dr. A,
While I enjoy reading the stuff you write, which is always worth reading, it's gotten to the point that I'm really addicted to the letters you publish.  Where do you get this incredible melange from?  Are you writing it yourself?  Man, your correspondents are actually better than you!  I was amazed by the quality of the letters today.  Terrifically honest, erudite, well-written, and most importantly, from the heart.  Hard to beat.

November 11, 2005

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again column called, "Cheney and the Intel Reporting: What's New, Pussycats?”

More Recommended Reading:

On Michael Walzer, .

Look how great my friend Kai (and Marty Sherwin’s) book is, .

on Garry Wills’ great—it’s the only kind he writes—new book on Henry Adams.

David Glenn on Philip Rieff, .

And did you see Obama on Kos, ?

My (Jesuit) friend Ray Schroth is smart fellow, ?


Been There Seen That: Good Night, and Good Luck a Month After Its Release
By Mickey Ehrlich

Newsweek reported in its September, 19 issue that after Hurricane Katrina, Dan Bartlett, White House PR counselor, resorted to a DVD compilation on the storm to show the president.  Apparently, television news, like newspapers, is too filtered for a man with his hunger for truth.  The rest of us, however, have relied heavily on television to keep us informed for generations, whether See It Now in 1954 or Hardball with Chris Matthews today.  Likewise, we relied heavily on movies for our history, whether Birth of a Nation in 1915 or George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck.

Still, as Hollywood history lessons go, “Good Night…” has high aspirations.  The record was certainly “cherry picked” as one reviewer wrote.  However, it does a disservice to the filmmaker (and to Murrow himself) to assume that it falls short because it is not more complete.  We must always regard art, history, and the news critically.  To the extent that it starts a new conversation about McCarthy’s era, or ours, Clooney's film is successful.

The film is a snapshot of an era and of men so deeply veiled in enigma that we will forever speculate on their contributions, beliefs, ambitions, guilt and innocence.  Within the concise borders of this snapshot we see men (and some women) drawn together by the backdrop of the Cold War.  Some important players - Roy Cohn, Bill Paley, President Eisenhower - appear in the background while the foreground is dominated by a manic and broad-shouldered Joseph McCarthy and Murrow, with his uncomfortable halo of cigarette smoke.

This confrontation allows us to recall vividly the inspiration behind fetishism of both opponents of McCarthy and his eponymous legacy, as well as those like Ann Coulter and William Buckley who have worked to clear his name.

Film of Cohn and McCarthy gives us the most convincing portrayal of these figures yet.  James Woods' Cohn and Joe Don Baker's McCarthy in “Citizen Cohn,” come across as caricatures.  More recently we saw the Tony Kushner's Cohn in “Angels in America” played by Al Pacino on HBO; it was a great performance, but it wasn’t Cohn.

So what of these characters playing themselves?  Seeing them shape the rhetoric and the methods of McCarthy’s subcommittee helps Clooney tell the story he wanted to tell.

Other “real” characters also do their part.  In a portion of the March 9, 1954 episode of “See It Now,” President Eisenhower himself says, “This is America's Principle: Trial by jury, of the innocent until proved guilty, and I expect to stand to it.”

McCarthy and Cohn never felt bound by conventional guidelines.  In his 1968 biography of his friend and boss, Cohn said:

...the [state] department felt that any reasonable doubt as to an individual's loyalty should be resolved in favor of the Government.  We thought that this was sensible and fair and adopted it as our guide.

This "tie-goes-to-the-runner" justice suited the committee perfectly.  Cohn wrote:

As McCarthy once told me, “The test is not whether a man or woman is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of espionage or Communist party membership, but whether the circumstances are such that we cannot take a chance when we are dealing with a sensitive post in a sensitive area."

With no burden of proof, no lines drawn meant none crossed.  McCarthy called his targets "Fifth-Amendment Communists" while Cohn acknowledged:

… the excessive powers placed in the hands of unscrupulous and self-seeking prosecutors, particularly when engaged in personal vendettas.

This is irony bordering on self-parody.  Cohn complained in his book that the subcommittee was continually frustrated by recalcitrant government officials and that those who helped “risked verbal attack and sometimes even political ruin.”  In “Good Night and, Good Luck” McCarthy associate, Don Surine threatens “See It Now” reporter, Joe Wershba with alleged information possibly damaging to Murrow.

For figures as vilified as McCarthy and Cohn, it is no stretch for Murrow, or me, or countless others to find contradictions between their words and actions.  They were not stupid, they weren't perhaps wholly insincere, but they were dangerously arrogant, obeying laws only when it suited their narrow interests.  Again, a clear line can be drawn from the McCarthy era to the present.

Critical praise is showered upon Good Night, and Good Luck for the same media whose work it criticizes.  This phenomenon is echoed in unending acclaim for “The Daily Show,” lampooning the way the news is reported rather than news itself.  However, it is not just enough that the media be good sports.  Eventually they must learn from it.  The 1950’s Clooney has created is certainly romanticized, and it may be in black-and-white, but it makes these characters very human, and it is shaded with period context and perspective.  Taken together it may also have something to teach us today.

is a sophomore at Brooklyn College. He writes songs and performs them all over NYC. He is playing on 11/15 8pm at 169 Bar, 169 E. Broadway.

Slacker Friday:

A friend writes:

These are two things I believe:

Thing One: It is time to march virtually every high-priced reporter in Washington D.C. out across the Key Bridge and deep into the Virginia hills, where they will be incarcerated in a re-education camp until they begin making sense in their profession again.  (I specifically exempt Jack Farrell from Denver and the entire Knight-Ridder D.C. bureau.  They all can stay.)  I was going to exempt Jonathan Alter until I heard him complaining that the Democrats were wrong in resisting the ballot initiatives sponsored in California by Governor Anabolic J. Goosestep.  The ultimate "good government" initiative, Jon, you lovable doof, is to break the power of the Republican party everywhere until it comes to its senses and disenthralls itself from its Jesus On A Taco Shell element.  Sorry, Jon.  Pick up a shovel and start marching.  There are swamps to be reclaimed.

Thing Two:  I think that the presidents of MIT, Cal Tech, the University of Chicago, and all the other major universities with high-priced investments in the physical sciences should call a press conference and announce, much to their regret, that they no longer will consider any application they receive from any high school student in the state of Kansas.  Sadly, they
should say, due to the state's publicly expressed preference for mythology over science, they no longer can be confident that students from Kansas are sufficiently grounded in the basics for those students to succeed at these extremely competitive universities.  Disappointed?  Tough.  Go to Bob Jones University.

Name:  Barry Ritholtz
Hey Doc,
Altercation pal Charles Pierce lays a smackdown on Creationism: Greetings from Idiot America.
(I get the sense he's had just about enough), .

Name:  Bob Bateman
Hometown:  Baghdad
Some clarification:  My primary objection to Ms. Tyson’s reporting is that it is sloppy journalism.  She very obviously had a story already completed (the interviews predate the release of the data), and then tried to make the data work to make it sound as though it supported her thesis in the story she was writing about soldiers enlisting.  But that still does not become page A1 breaking news.  We recruit from people who would consider the $1.87/hour we pay a Private First Class to fight in lethal combat an economic step up, and always have.  (Based just on base pay, not including enlistment bonus or any other perks.)  Did Ms. Tyson’s page A1 story really contain new information for anyone?  Seriously challenge anyone’s previous assumptions?  Revise how or who you thought the military recruited?  (Or, in the words of some, “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”?)  No.  So what was the point?

I expect that next week she will report the news that either A.) The Ocean is Wet or B.) Concrete is Used to Build Many Buildings.

Now I do agree with Steve Reynolds that there were important bits of news one could find in the data that was released… the plummeting numbers of African American recruits alone is significant.  I should have highlighted that myself.  But with regard to Ms. Tyson’s reporting, she missed that (burying it low in the story in just a single line) as well as sliding past (with just one sentence) the fact that there was a change as shown in the data… the data showed that the median income of recruit households…went up.  (— use your Find function for, “larger than usual number of recruits from higher income households joined the military.”)

I understand James Polewski’s point about “newness,” but he misses mine (which is my fault.)  If there is new information about events that took place in the White House in the past, information that changes how we previously understood events to have occurred, then you report on the new information.  The emphasis is “new” and “change.”  Thus reporting on My Lai and Abu Graihb, events which occurred months or years before the stories broke, was news.  Ms. Tyson’s report contained neither.  But I do apologize for not presenting the data to support my contention as pointed out by Mr. Evans.  This information, which has been online and available for years, demonstrates that other elements of her “new” story, were not in fact new.  Say, for example, the “news” that most recruits now come from the South and West.  (Note that the DoD has gathered regional, state-by-state, and even general area of the state recruiting data for 30 years.)

In 2003 most of the recruits came from the South and West. .  In 2001 most of the recruits came from the South and West.  .  And that online report cites back to 1996.  I am sorry that I am away from my books at home to give better references, but this is what I could find in a few seconds to support my point.

Finally, reporters, as Eric points out, are supposed to be neutral.  Seriously neutral.  And that means calling a spade a spade, on the right, and on the left, and (very rarely nowadays) in the center.  Ms. Tyson, instead of using the GAO report of this data, used the “National Priorities Project,” which she describes as “a nonpartisan research group.”  Out of curiosity I went and checked.  Here are their “local partners.”  You decide to partners.  Maybe it is just me, but this does not look non-partisan. Which is fine, but should be noted.

Yes, when something that happened in the past is newly discovered, then it is news.  And when there are new revelations about the past, that too is “news.”  But when you’re reporting on things that have been true, and available for years already, and trying to make it sound new because that fits the interviews that you previously conducted…then I don’t think that’s good reporting.  It’s not left, it’s not right, it’s just plain old poor reporting.

Best from Baghdad,

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to turn into Michael Moore.  Even back when I supported the war, I enjoyed some of the anti-war protest songs.  My favorite was Billy Bragg's "The Price of Oil" ( and probably elsewhere on the net).  Catchy as heck (seriously, you won’t be
able to get it out of your head) and one of the few protest songs to directly respond to the humanitarian argument for the war:

Now I ain’t no fan of Saddam HusseinOh, please don’t get me wrongIf it’s freeing the Iraqi people you’re afterThen why have we waited so long?Why didn’t we sort this out last time?Was he less evil than he is now?The stock market holds the answerTo "why him?", "why here?", "why now?"

Still, I was completely turned-off by this conspiracy theory nod.  Come on now!  It’s one thing to look the other way at some war profiteering and another to go to war to help the (then) beleaguered oil industry.  Besides, once the sanctions were removed wouldn't Iraqi oil cause an oil glut and depress prices?

I'm reconsidering all of that since "Darfurgate" broke a couple of weeks ago.  What’s “Darfurgate”?  You may (or may not) recall earlier this year the Administration brought the alleged organizer of the Darfur genocide, Sudan Major Salah Gosh, to America for consultations about Al Qaeda.  At the time it seemed he must have coughed up some good intelligence, because shortly thereafter Dubya ordered a tough anti-Sudan bill killed in the House (after it had unanimously passed the Senate).  But several weeks ago we learned the Administration granted Robert J. Cabelly a waiver from existing sanctions so Sudan could pay him $530,000 per year.  (Bipartisan congressional letter protesting to Condi Rice, .)  Who is Cabelly?  A former Bush I state department official who now flacks public relations for African dictatorships (his past clients include Angola and Ethiopia).  It’s bad enough selling out the fight against genocide out of a misguided zeal to go after Al Qaeda (why expect that they would stop at condoning torture?)  But selling out the fight against genocide to enrich your friends?!  Hard to believe, but the Administration has hit a new low.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Dear Dr. A,
Charles Westmoreland criticizes liberals for not having a solution to France's current woes.  But the pervasive conservative Schadenfreude over the problems highlighted by the rioting in France seems seriously misplaced to me.  It is true that the rioting and violence that have shaken France recently make it clear that France's approach to issues of racial and ethnic integration has not worked.  But at the risk of some oversimplification, I would point out to conservatives like Westmoreland that France's approach to these questions has been a rigidly "colorblind" one.  (The government is forbidden, for example, from collecting statistics based on race or ethnicity.)  It strikes me as ironic that *conservatives* should criticize France on this point, because this inflexibly colorblind policy is precisely the one that conservatives have advocated in this country, as they seek to dismantle affirmative action and all other race-conscious attempts to remedy racial discrimination.  Am I wrong in detecting an inconsistency here?  And by the way, you're right to point out that Mr. Westmoreland doesn't seem to realize that France has a conservative government.  But then, when have conservatives ever allowed themselves to be confused by the facts?

Name: Susie Scaldino
Hometown: Houston, TX
This response is to Mr. Westmoreland of Houston, Texas.  One possible reason for not addressing the problems in France is that, courtesy of Bush and Company, we have plenty of problems of our own to deal with.  Record prices at the gas pump (which big oil blames on increased costs but goes on to report records profits - go figure), increasing poverty (both number and rate rising for four consecutive years - 31.6 million people below the poverty level in 2000 to 37.0 million in 2004), total lack of respect worldwide, the Congress debating whether or not we should TORTURE PEOPLE (possibly the most un-American thing I could have ever imagined), a war that the current administration flat out lied to get us into that is costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives...gee, I just can't imagine why no one is talking about the problems in France.

Name: Jerry Jasperson
Hometown: Temple, NH
Alright already.  Listen up people, especially you Tom - who give us on the Left a truly bad image, Major Bateman deserves the space he has here.  Period.  If you don't like it, leave.  His opinions are just that, no greater nor larger than our own.  He is, however, worthy of respect because of his duty to country; to disrespect him either because of his leanings, profession or his status as an officer is downright Repugnant, so everyone just back off.  Let him be and move your irritation/hatred/disrespect to those that truly deserve it.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Your respondent Tom's diatribe against Major Bateman is quite telling.  Rather than rationally approach Major Bateman's opinions and views, he facially challenges Major Bateman's mere presence on this blog.  Tom apparently does not believe in affording alternate views their due, regardless of the source.  He simply discounts Major Bateman as a military propagandist who could not possibly mean what he says.  Then, in a fit of political correctness run amok, claims that Major Bateman's questioning of a reporter's news-sense "crosses the line, even for a blog."  What line would that be exactly?  Last I checked, blogs were about the unfettered exchange of views, ideas and opinions (lines be damned).  Tom's response makes one wonder if he even read the disputed article.  The Post story laid out some statistics and then pre-supposed the motivations of thousands of military personnel based on interviews with a few enlistees from one region of the country.  I'm sure many in the military were (would be) offended by Ms. Tyson's conclusions and implications.  There are at least two sides to every argument.  Those that ignore opposing views merely surround themselves with walls of ignorance.  Far too often, people allow their natural intellectual curiosity to yield to ideology and self-righteousness.  Tom should let go of his indignation and pursue some diversity of thought.  I, for one, am grateful for Major Bateman's contributions (to this blog and our country) and thank Dr. Alterman for providing valuable space for Major Bateman to waste.

Name: Mike Sinclair
Hometown: Kalamazoo, Michigan
As a former infantry officer (a Cold War warrior, mind you), I have found Major Bob's blogs interesting and often erudite.  I served in the military via the ROTC route -- which certainly paid my education -- because I wanted a career in the Army.  I didn't do it for the cash (right) or the fame (hahahaha) or the glory or the medals or the possibility of advancement (I was NEVER going to make general, believe me).  I served for my country and my desire to do something worthwhile.  Although conservative in much of my outlook, I am neither a registered Republican nor a Democrat (and I do vote both ways on occasion; I pretty much place myself in the radical moderate camp).  I support a strong military and the right to bear arms and fiscal responsibility but I am not a supporter of anti-flag burning amendments (I consider all such nonsense as stupidly simplistic) or pre-emptive war (especially Iraq which has been scared shitless of us since the first Gulf War) or patently false pseudo-patriotism (so generously exhibited by the most chickenhawk of both parties).  I came from a LONG line of NCOs and my dad and uncles reminded me constantly that military law required officers be saluted but to be respected as a "superior" officer, you were required to earn it.  In all my 4 years of active service and +13 in the Reserves, my primary responsibility was to my men; my NCOs continually saved my ass and I made of point of saluting them first (tradition be damned) as a point of respect.  Major Bob nicely (and lovingly, in my opinion) touches on much of military life today, but he sometimes misses the in his diatribe against the article on military recruitment.  So what?  If it's news to some, it's news.  Even if he doesn't like it.  As a military officer, he serves the public, not the other way around.  If he wants to rant to other admin officers (majors and above!), so be it.  I don't want to hear it.  I can catch more than my fair share of that nonsense from conservative pundits, who wouldn't know truth from spin on their best day.  Please, Major Bob, dial it back a bit.  There are many other things to be more concerned IEDs and suicide bombers and a war without a mission (or end).

Name: Todd
Hometown: Pleasenton, CA
From the book "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right," by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon.

When President Bush and his advisers were faced with an unimaginable attack by a terrorist group that was more capable than most states, they determined that a state must have been behind it.  They refused to allow the facts dent their strategic understanding.

Understanding?  The author assumes that the Bush administration simply committed an error in their theory, and ignored the facts that were in contradiction to their theory, "much like scientists do"!  I believe this is an error in itself.  A more reasonable explanation is that they knew all the facts and their meanings.  In fact not only did they ignore the facts, but they created new ones (forged), they just lied, and exaggerated, in order to start a war they wanted to start.  It was not an error.  It was not an "intelligence failure."  It was part of their strategy to get re-elected, keep the country on the edge, mobilized, unified, busy, and distracted, in order for them to stay in power and push their ultraconservative agenda.  What is better than a war for that?  Of course they achieved their short-term objective.  It is the rest of the world that has to live with the long-term consequences.  I wish all these smart people stopped explaining this away as an honest or stupid mistake.  It is laughable.

Name: Jim Hassinger
Hometown: Glendale, CA
What struck me about the letter from Judy was how she tried to make it a matter of principle!  Apparently, Custer died for a federal shield law.  Can anybody enlighten me as to what that might consist of?  If it would have sheltered Judy's shameful performance, then it's obviously a bad idea, because it would also have given a permanent hiding place to Libby and perhaps others: leak your story to a pet journalist and then pretend to have found it out from them!  Perfect, no?  I'm afraid we'll have to rely on common sense from prosecutors, adherence to the DoJ's own guidelines, and, if need be, an act of courage by a journalist who stands up for the truth.  And that doesn't mean providing cover to someone who apparently witnessed a felony.  Oh, and by the way, does anybody notice a decrease in any stories sourced from "high government officials"?  Just asking.

November 10, 2005

I would say something about Judy, and I may, in the Nation, but as far as blogging goes, I can’t compete with Arianna and I won’t try:  Just look at this, um, hed,

Judy is Out; Wants It Made Clear She Didn’t Screw Libby (Just the American Public)

A journalistic oddity:  In Vanity Fair this month, Arianna is lovingly profiled and she gets off a great line whispering in the ear of a “liberal columnist” at her house that she switched sides “of the sex.”  I said this on the record.  I’m just as happy not to have my name attached to it, to be honest; I’m a professor and all.  But it’s weird that a magazine would put someone on background when they were on the record.

P.S.  Mickey is being “stupid on purpose” again about Times Select.  $6.1 million is $6.1 million, bub.

Here’s Yossi Beilin in Ha'aretz today:

Less than three years ago, New York Times star columnist Thomas Friedman proposed a test for the success of the war in Iraq: if the price of a barrel of oil, which was then less than $30, drops to $6, it means there was a terrific victory, and if it rises above $60, it means defeat.  Friedman, who supported the war, has not since mentioned the scale that he invented but even without it, the overall feeling is that the U.S. has lost a large part of its influence as a superpower.  The awakening of the Chinese giant creates a feeling that someone else is going to take the lead in the near future.

What’s Jack Abramoff’s favorite song? 

  I don’t wanna leave the Gabon,I don’t wanna leave Gabon,Bongo, Bongo.

Oh and congrats to the writers on “Boston Legal” for finally breaking the bestiality barrier.  I was waiting for that…

Altercation Book Club:

"The Bush Administration's Theory of Everything?"
by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon

A core part of the case that Bush and his advisers made was that Saddam might collude with terrorists because it would allow him to hurt the United States "without leaving fingerprints," but it appears that a large part of the reason Iraq—like Iran and Libya—stopped targeting the United States was the belief that it could not carry out an attack without detection.  (Iran, under its newly elected president, Muhammad Khatami,  may have also changed its policy after the Khobar Towers attack because terrorism was not advancing its goals.  The Iranian regime appears to have supported the attack because of a desire to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but the bombing’s only effect was to cause Washington to move the troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to a more secure location.)  Since detection carries with it a strong likelihood of retaliation, as Iraq learned in 1993, when U.S. cruise missiles destroyed the country's intelligence headquarters, the calculus did not make sense—it was just no longer worth the risk to attack America.  That cruise missile strike was derided by conservative critics of the Clinton administration as a “pinprick,” but Saddam seemed to have gotten the message.[i

Beyond the matter of whether the Iraqi regime was likely to attempt a terrorist attack against the United States, the administration's argument raised the further question of whether Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden were likely to collaborate.   In fact, Iraq and al Qaeda were anything but natural allies.  A central tenet of Al Qaeda's jihadist ideology is that secular Muslim rulers and their regimes have oppressed the believers and have plunged Islam into a historic crisis. Hence, a paramount goal of Islamist revolutionaries for almost half a century has been the destruction of the regimes of such leaders as Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, President Hafez al-Assad of Syria, the military government in Algeria ,and the Saudi royal family.  To contemporary jihadists, Saddam was another in a line of dangerous secularists, an enemy of the faith who refused to rule by Islamic law and who habitually murdered religious leaders in Iraq who might oppose his regime.  Perhaps the best summation of the jihadist view of Saddam’s Iraq was given during the Persian Gulf War by Omar Abdel Rahman, the radical sheik now imprisoned in the United States. When he was asked what the punishment should be for those who supported the United States in the conflict, he answered, “Both those who are against and the ones who are with Iraq should be killed.”

The interests of Baathists and jihadists were too divergent for them to collaborate against America while Saddam was in power.  But that does not mean they had no contact or did not at times sniff around each other to see if they might become allies.  The Middle Eastern tradition of keeping tabs on all groups, friendly or not, persists, and the U.S. intelligence community was aware of a few meetings between bin Laden's men and Saddam's.   Most of these contacts occurred in the first half of the 1990s, before al Qaeda's destructiveness had been demonstrated by the August 1998 Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings, though some meetings occurred as late as 1999.   While bin Laden was still in Sudan, Hassan al-Turabi, the country's Islamist leader and bin Laden’s local patron, brokered a truce between al Qaeda and Saddam.[ii]  But by the standards of state sponsors, there were few contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda.  In reality, Iran had many more contacts with the jihadists, but these too seemed to be aimed primarily at giving Tehran some insight into what al Qaeda was up to.   The conclusion of the intelligence community in the 1990s was that neither country had a collaborative relationship with al Qaeda.  In 1998, in an effort to ensure that the U.S. government was not becoming complacent in this judgment, Richard Clarke asked his staff to evaluate the available intelligence to see if these conclusions were justified.  After reviewing a large amount of intelligence, they too endorsed the intelligence community's verdict. After a lengthy investigation of its own, the 9/11 Commission arrived at the same understanding in 2004 and noted in its final report, "We have seen no evidence that [the contacts] ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.  Nor have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States."[iii]

The argument that all of our enemies will inevitably find common ground should always be treated with caution.  This is the kind of thinking that prevented American policy makers from recognizing the Sino-Soviet rift in the 1960s, a period in which the Soviet Union and China were more likely to wage war against each other than against the United States.   But if the claim that Iraq and al Qaeda had cooperated or might collaborate was questionable, the idea that Saddam Hussein would give a weapon of mass destruction to al Qaeda was even more dubious.  

About the underlying premise of this argument—that Saddam had such weapons—there was little doubt among the security professionals in the West. [iv]   Saddam had used chemical weapons against Iran in the brutal war of 1980-1988.  He had also used them against his own people in the notorious case of the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja.  He had failed to account for large stocks of nerve agents, such as VX, and biological weapons materials, such as anthrax, as required by the terms of his surrender in 1991 and subsequent UN resolutions.  

Whether he had weapons of mass destruction was clearly an important question, but the crticial issue was whether he would use them.  In a sense, the question was whether it was true that September 11 had changed everything.   The attacks certainly showed that catastrophic terrorism on American soil had become a reality.  But that is not the same as saying that anyone other than al Qaeda or terrorist groups like al Qaeda would carry out such attacks.  In a 2004 interview, Douglas Feith explained that after September 11, the administration asked the question, “Was Iraq involved in 9/11? We found no hard link. What about Iraq-Al Qaeda links in general? Well, there were some, but that wasn't the essence of the Saddam Hussein threat. The danger of Saddam's providing W.M.D. to Al Qaeda or another terrorist group— there you had a real problem, because his record on W.M.D. was indisputable.” [v

But was it?  Did Saddam’s weapons pose a greater threat after September 11 than before?  Did al Qaeda's attack tell us something new about Saddam Hussein's behavior? The answer to these questions is the same:  no.  Saddam is an execrable man and one of the most loathsome national leaders in a century in which there was plenty of competition.  He had miscalculated badly on a number of occasions, most notably by invading Kuwait in August 1990.  But he was not insane.  He wanted to avoid obliteration.  As far as the United States and its vital interests were concerned, he was deterred. 

The “indisputable” record on WMD does not prove what Feith believed.  In January 1991, during the runup to Operation Desert Storm, Secretary of State James Baker had sent Saddam a message.  In a meeting in Geneva with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, Baker said bluntly:

If the conflict involves your use of chemical or biological weapons against our forces, . . . the American people will demand vengeance.  We have the means to exact it . . . this is not a threat, it is a promise.  If there is any use of weapons like that, our objective won’t just be the liberation of Kuwait, but the elimination of the current Iraqi regime, and anyone responsible for using those weapons would be held accountable. [vi]

At that time, Iraq possessed enormous stocks of chemical and biological weapons, but Saddam never used them during the war. In the twelve years thereafter, he never used them, although, characteristically, he implied that he might use chemical weapons against Israel. 

There is also no record of his having given such weapons to any terrorist group.  The Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had provided training to al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare has never been confirmed.  When it was asserted, senior intelligence officials privately expressed discomfort with the report, suggesting that it was an overstatement. The 9/11 Commission noted that the source who made the most detailed allegations on this case later recanted them.  Two top al Qaeda members who were subsequently captured—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda—also "adamantly" denied that there had been cooperation between Iraq and al Qaeda.[vii]  Before the war, CIA Director George Tenet publicly declared that only when Saddam believed he faced the end of his regime was he likely to use weapons of mass destruction or give them to terrorists.  Saddam obviously believed that James Baker's threat about overwhelming retaliation was one that remained in force after Baker left office in 1992.  That he declined to back al Qaeda or any other terrorist group in conspiracies against the United States indicates that he believed prudence was his best course.  And he remained true to the unwritten rules of state sponsorship of terror: Never get involved with a group that cannot be controlled and may get you into much more trouble than you want; never give a weapon of mass destruction to terrorists who might one day use it against you.

The lesson is important: in an age of catastrophic terror, deterrence remains a viable means of keeping rogue states in check.  There are, of course, no guarantees; statecraft is not a natural science with immutable laws.  North Korea, for example, has a record of provocative behavior, including involvement with drug dealing and counterfeiting, blowing up South Korean airliners and killing South Korean cabinet members.  It is hardly inconceivable that the Pyongyang regime, in its desperation for cash, might sell a nuclear device to al Qaeda.  But the hypothesis that Iraq would do so was never a strong one.

Possibly the best explanation of what the Bush team did in developing its hypotheses about Iraq and al Qaeda collaborating in an attack with weapons of mass destruction is the one provided by the great historian of science Thomas Kuhn.  He observed that when new data threaten established and strongly held theories, scientists tend to explain them away. Though the scientists “may begin to lose faith and then to consider alternatives, they do not renounce the paradigm that has led them into crisis.  They do not, that is, treat anomalies as counter-instances, though . . .that is what they are.” [viii]  In other words, they try to shoehorn new facts into old ways of understanding.  In the same manner, when President Bush and his advisers were faced with an unimaginable attack by a terrorist group that was more capable than most states, they determined that a state must have been behind it.  They refused to allow the facts dent their strategic understanding.

From The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right, (Times Books).  More .


The New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley calls the Frankie Valli-playing star of “Jersey Boys” John Lloyd, a “genuine star-in-the-making.”  After seeing the matinee with the kid yesterday—who as one person in the audience commented to me, was “learning a lot of words she probably never heard before,” I’ll sign on to this.  The guy has that something extra that leads to think you’re seeing him when…  More interesting, however, and even kinda spooky, is something else Brantley mentions: “the real, mostly middle-aged crowd at the August Wilson Theater, who seem to have forgotten what year it is or how old they are or, most important, that John Lloyd Young is not Frankie Valli.”  The whole play was like this.  People were applauding for the real-life, post-play accomplishments of the people the actors were playing—as if it didn’t matter that these were just the actors, or else they couldn’t tell the difference.  This is something that has been hinted at with tours of the Four Tops and Temptations, sans any actual Tops or Temps, but it opens up all kinds of ghoulish exploitative possibilities.  (In the music biz?  Nahh.)

Anyway, about the play.  It’s not much, but just sufficient to hang what Brantley also aptly terms “exasperatingly infectious” tunes.  Those are great.  And the performances are also wonderful.  And there are moments you a get lump in your throat that totally eludes your brain.  But you gotta like the Four Seasons in the first place.  And you gotta have a high tolerance for cliché of the post-Sinatra/pre-Springsteen Jersey boy sort.  Really high.  But hell, if money’s no object, it’s a fun two hours.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Tom
Hometown:  Shawnee Mission, KS
I'll dispense with all the politically correct qualifications and praise for Major Bob: he gets entirely too much space in this column for writing subtle--or not so subtle--propaganda.  So he's an erudite officer in the military, big deal.  My brother is an erudite Marine grunt on tour three of the Sand Box, who has nothing but contempt for "ring knockers" (aka service academy graduates).  Why don't you simply link to Bateman's reporting instead of wasting valuable space?  Or are you simply showing off that a man from a traditionally conservative profession, the officer corps, is contributing to a progressive blog?  Admit your lapse in judgment and move him.  His diatribe against the Post reporter crossed the line, even for a blog, as many of your readers have already pointed out.

Name: Jim Morgan
Hometown: Elizabethtown, KY
Did I miss something?  Why do we enlist?  A little background first.  Born and raised in a coastal town outside of San Francisco to a stay at home mom and professional carpenter.  Never went hungry and had what I needed.  As young as I can remember, I listened to my father speak of the Army in a manner in which grabbed my interest, and regardless of the story new or old, I sat, rapt, with attention.  He spoke of Soldiering as the most proud and honorable experience.  He told us it was our choice, but made sure we understood our responsibility was to register to vote and sign up for selective service when we turned 18.  I bounced around for a few years until I made the choice.  No, not in trouble!  As soon as I arrived for Basic at Ft. Knox, I knew I had found a place in which I could excel.  I do not believe I ever thought of money or lack of, I only wanted to be a proficient Soldier and attain the next level of challenge.  As a private, I trained hard and competed for all coveted titles in a Tankers world, As a Corporal, Sergeant and Staff Sergeant.  From Ft. Knox to Germany to Desert Storm to Drill Sergeant duty, I relished it all.  Money was not a concern, along with Soldiering, the Army taught me how to do more with less and how to be a Man.  I have been out for 7 years and 5 times a Staff Sergeant's pay and still miss the life, war or no war.  Soldier On!

Name: Charles Westmoreland
Hometown: Houston
When is liberal groundhog day is going to end?  It's all a repeat of the same things.  You're not really changing policy here or influencing many people.  The diehard leftys are still with you and everyone else thinks you're obsessive and not much help.  So you really haven't changed anything.  But I know you want to change things, because every editor/journalist has a bit of Woodward/Bernstein in them.  I find it strange that you don't have the solution to France's dilemma.  I mean, the creative juices don't even seen to be flowing (as if they ever did with liberalism).  Same with Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Carter, etc.  All you Save the Worlders have suddenly gone quiet when a Bush hating, liberal, socialist country is in a jam.  If you can't find a way to blame it on Bush, then you apparently can't come up with an answer.

Eric replies: “Socialist?”

Name: Eric Larsen
Hometown: Salinas, CA
On your quote of the day it's too bad you forgot to mention that around a year or so ago Dennis Hastert had the gall to lecture John McCain about torture.  Please rectify your omission so as to remind your readers that Cheney isn't the only Republican draft dodger trying to lecture a veteran of the Hanoi Hilton.
P.S. - Keep up the good work.

Name: Bruce Kuznicki
Hometown: Alta Loma, CA
Congratulations on what you helped accomplish yesterday.  I admit it-- you saw stuff going back a while that I didn't see, that a lot of us didn't.  I don't know if the reason people like me couldn't see it is that lingering anger over 9/11 coupled with a desire to know that SOMETHING was being done against Islam was the problem, or if it was a desire to see the moral stance we believed in affirmed after the Clinton years.  Whatever it was, we let the Bush White House get too comfortable in the idea that we would defend it against any attack.  I don't know if that sort of lack of fear of consequences would have brought out the worst of anyone with that much power, or if these are people who have so much darkness in them that its manifestation was merely a matter of time no matter how much or how little they were watched.  None of that much matters, now, though. They've had their chance and they've squandered it.  Like I said a month or so ago, I think I pretty much have to vote Democratic in the next election or two, not because I have become liberal in my thinking but because my party needs to be punished if it is to grow and because the Republic needs new leadership if it's to regain some self respect.  Since there's really no one else, that means voting Democratic.  And I'm not going to say "I'll hold my nose and vote Democratic," that is untrue and a useless expression of bitterness that I don't really feel.  In reality, it's people like you who have a legitimate right to feel bitter-- you worked hard to make people like me see the problems you saw, and speaking only for myself, I chose, most of the time, to not see it.  In any case, hat's off to you for your efforts and your vindication.  I'm not saying you needed an election win to be right, because you were right about a lot of stuff even when the votes didn't follow.  But the affirmation of an election obviously means a lot.

Name:  Steven Hart
Re: The new Beatles book by Bob Spitz.  I'd give a little more weight to those critics if I were you.  I haven't read the Beatles tome, but I can attest that Spitz's Bob Dylan biography is sheer hackwork.  On the scale of Dylan biographers, Anthony Scaduto ("Dylan: An Intimate Biography") is recognized as the pioneer, but his book breaks off at the early 1970s mark.  The recent bios by Clinton Heylin ("Behind the Shades") and Howard Sounes ("Down the Highway") are the most up-to-date and comprehensive: Heylin is superb on the actual music, drawing on the sea of Dylan bootlegs to chronicle the ups and downs of his performing career as well as his recordings; Sounes is a clunky writer with no analytical skills, but he is an invincible fact-hound and had the inspired idea of tracking down William Zanzinger, who's still seething over being called out by Dylan in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll."  Robert Shelton's "No Direction Home" is a sad story: he lost his way in the material, was forced by his editor to cut the book from a two-volume project to a single crowded and hurried tome, and ended up covering only about as much as Scaduto.  What should have been the crowning work of his life was left unfinished by his death -- considering that Shelton's New York Times review made the young Dylan into the king of Greenwich Village, the man deserved a much better fate.  And way way way down at the bottom of the heap is Spitz, whose book is read only by those hardcore Bobcats who must pass their eyes over every piece of paper with Bob Dylan's name on it.

Name:  Maureen Holland
Hometown:  South Venice Beach, FL
Dear Doc:
Since I implicitly trust your cultural instincts - and as a reader of Altercation from day one, how could I not? - I humbly seek your counsel.  A beloved niece is marrying an adorable Irishman, who's just become a citizen.  He's a denizen, devotee and resident of NYC.  I'd like to get him a wonderful book about the city, perhaps a history.  I've already given him some Pete Hamill.  If you find that minute to reply for which I ardently hope, it will no doubt result in one smilin' Irishman becoming yet another fan.  Can't Pierce use a nom de plume?

Eric replies:  E.B White's "Here is New York" is wonderful, but also Thomas Kessner's "Capital City" if something more straight history, less literary is called for.  There’s also the magisterial The Power Broker by Bob Caro, and a personal favorite of mine, Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City, which is short and beautiful.  Volume one of Edwin G. Burrows NS Mike Wallace’s (so far) definitive “Gotham” is available, but it’s got another hundred years to go and is already about a thousand pages.

A source writes:

The Israeli Labor Party tossed out Peres in favor of an old-time lefty, a Moroccan (Arabic speaker, no English) who ran as the anti-Barak, anti-Bibi (and I'd add: anti-Tom Friedman).  Stick it to the Right.  The left is coming back in their favorite country.  Will they still like Israel even when it fulfills the destiny Herzl and B-G envisioned?


[i] It is an interesting question whether our opponents in the future will have the same respect for American intelligence capabilities after the debacle over Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.  It would deeply ironic if the push to war in Iraq weakened this aspect of our deterrence.

[ii] 9/11 Commission Report, 61.

[iii] Ibid., p.66

[iv] One of the authors had written speeches for President Bill Clinton on the issue, including a joint radio address he had delivered with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

[v] James Risen, “How Pair's Finding on Terror Led To Clash on Shaping Intelligence,” New York Times, April 28, 2004.

[vi] The Politics of Diplomacy, James A. Baker III with Thomas DeFrank (G.P. Putnam and Sons: 1995) p. 359.

[vii] 9/11 Commission Report, 472.

[viii] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 77.

From the book "The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right," by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. Copyright (c) 2005 by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon. Published by arrangement with Times Books/an imprint of Henry Holt & Co.

November 9, 2005

$44 billion; Torture ain’t cheap

—remember that?— calls for “a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time,” but the CIA—indeed the entire intelligence community—has decided they are exempt.  Well, never mind.  “In San Antonio last week, Mary Margaret Graham, a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and now the deputy director of national intelligence for collection, said the annual intelligence budget was $44 billion," .

A lot of this stuff is pork, .

So far, the republic, such as it is, has survived…

What, you thought torture ?  Republicans want to investigate the leak, , but not the torture itself, .  Surprising, huh?

The New York Times editorial board writes ,

After President Bush's disastrous visit to Latin America, it's unnerving to realize that his presidency still has more than three years to run.  An administration with no agenda and no competence would be hard enough to live with on the domestic front.  But the rest of the world simply can't afford an American government this bad for that long.

Thing is, guys, you’ve been acting like Judy Miller is a hero, and yet she was doing the lying for these guys, in your newspaper.  Maybe even helped him get re-elected,… weird, huh?

And then there’s “A history of the Iraq war, told entirely in lies,” .  Judy couldn’t have written it better herself…  (Really, how did Judy go from being this unimpeachable hero to someone about whom ,

Meanwhile, executive editor Bill Keller told Mr. Sulzberger that he was not prepared to accept Ms. Miller’s return to the newsroom in any form, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations.The rank and file shared the executive editor’s stance.  “There is a quiet rebellion in the newsroom,” a longtime staffer said. “They don’t want her back.”

What’s changed except the fact that the Times has been forced by outside events to recognize the truth?  [OK, I know it’s in the Observer, but it sounds true.]  And you know how we know it’s the Observer—aside from the fact that maybe it’s not true, we get this crap:  "An orange sweater was draped over her shoulders, and she wore her preferred oversize tortoiseshell sunglasses.  She had a Treo holstered at her right hip, and a dime-sized compass clipped to her watchband.”)

Surprise, Surprise: , “'Keller got snowed by Wolfowitz,' says a source. 'That's [Keller] who gave Miller the green light' to keep writing her piece.”  This is true.  If you read Keller’s loving profile of Wolfowitz in the Times magazine, you’ll see that the idea of a “liberal” New York Times picking an editor like this is a contradiction in terms.  I tried to point this out on a TV chat show once, but of course, it was a complete waste of time and energy.

Losing Roe would not be the worst thing in the world.  It’s already mostly been lost, .

I’ve always wondered what Michael Ledeen had to do with these Niger forgeries, , too.  And really, would anyone put it past Cheney’s guys or even the CIA to have tried to make this up?  (But start a blog, never!  How dare I…)

A minute on the elections
It’s important to understand that the public is not merely rejecting Bush; it is rejecting the entire ideological, incompetent, and dishonest Republican establishment.  Bloomberg won because he was able to distance himself from everything Republican—and he better stop funding them ASAP.  The media will treat this as a contest of personalities but the Democrats need to understand that they need to hammer on these issues, beginning with Alito.  I still support a filibuster, particularly one that loses, to demonstrate just how out of line with the majority the Republicans have flown.  They can’t even win support for (the few) decent things they support.  Read Mickey today, .  I would have supported any honest anti-gerrymandering initiative, but nobody trusts Republicans anymore, quite rightly, and so it failed in CA.  I think it’s that simple.  Democrats should seize the issue.  This Virginia thing, however, is a big boost for Mark Warner with the media, which comes at the expense of both the junior senator from New York as well as the ex-junior senator from North Carolina.  (Sorry, but I can’t take a Kerry or Biden candidacy seriously.)

Also look what Mickey does to Kristof.  I had lunch with a Times editor the other day.  He/she said “Jayson Blair was a rogue cop.  Judy Miller is ‘Chinatown.’”  She’s right.  The institution is fundamentally corrupt and Kristof’s shenanigans are but a small part of that.  On the other hand, it’s also fair to say that every one of our significant political and media institutions are fundamentally corrupt and the Times, given its company, is among our best.  Still, they annoy the crap out of everyone, because they act as if they are the holiest of the holies, and hey, guess what…Jayson Blair, Wen Ho Lee, Judy Miller, your Whitewater coverage…  Something stinks…  (You know you’re in big trouble when the PR industry thinks it gets to lecture .

Life’s Little Ironies, I:  A couple of years ago, I tried to get the Nation to partner with Yale University Press to publish a series like the below, instead, this from Publisher’s Lunch:

In other announcements, Yale University Press is partnering with The New Republic on a Yale/TNR books line that will "present a range of perspectives on American and international politics as well as the world of arts, letters, and culture.

Life’s Little Ironies, II:  Last year, another university press, just as tony as Yale —maybe even a little tonier, publishing-wise— asked me to write a book about Zionism and American Jews, which I spent a year doing my thesis on in grad school before switching over to what became WHEN PRESIDENTS LIE.  I wanted to do it, but my other contractual obligations precluded it.  Now Marty Peretz is writing the same book, albeit, one that will be a lot different, I promise.  “Among the three launch titles, due 'as soon as fall 2006,' is magazine editor-in-chief Martin Peretz's Choosing Jerusalem: Zionism and the Transformation of the Jews.”  It will be Marty’s first book and will preserve his perfect streak of only being able to be published by entities he happens to own…

Golden Oldie:  You know, I remember the very first day of Altercation.  Marty was an item that day:  Roll the tape back to May, 2002 on which day I noted that “in a May 20 New Yorker, David Denby, the magazine’s excellent film critic, referred to New Republic (now partial-) owner and one-time Cramer-backer-now-Cramer-enemy, Martin Peretz as “the Harvard political theory professor.”  This annoyed me—then as now—“because the key thing to know about Peretz is that his entire position in the world of politics is due to the fact that he purchased TNR with money his wife inherited from her Singer Sewing machine fortune.  Peretz is always viciously attacking people who have earned their intellectual or journalistic credentials, rather than purchased them, and I wonder if his own precarious position in this world is the key to the frequent slander to which he subjects those with more genuine literary accomplishments.  (Peretz has never written a book, or any other significant work of scholarship or reportage.)  What’s more, he’s no political theory professor at Harvard.  He has never been affiliated with the Harvard Government department—which is what they call political science there-- and is no longer a lecturer in its Social Studies department, which is as close as he ever came to being a professor of political theory.  The New Yorker reference troubled me in part because the fancy title would appear to give Peretz’s usually baseless attacks on his many enemies an undeserving patina or respectability…” to say nothing of its legendary reputation for fact-checking.  And you know, it was in The New Yorker, yes, The New Yorker…

back when any Jewish guy had a chance with her…

Alter-appearances again:

I’ll be on Al Franken’s show on Thursday afternoon, at 1.  It will be live at the New School in New York and I hope there will be details .  I’m doing it to plug the paperback of .

That evening, I’ll be back at the New School to interview Navasky.  The information is below. We will both be signing books afterward, but he will be signing more of them.  You can go to that if you’re at

Swayduck Auditorium65 Fifth Avenue6:00. Friday the 11th

I’ll be giving one paper at a panel on Clinton and the media, and commenting on three more on a panel on Clinton and the culture at the Hofstra Conference entitled, WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, The "New Democrat" From Hope.  Everything you need to know is .

“Stiff Little Roy/Give to AIDS in Africa Week” continues:  Little Roy is still trolling for $.  Stiff him.  Give the money to UNICEF to fight AIDS in Africa instead, .

Speaking of , note the quote that appears at the top of his blog from Dick Cheney about “freedom.”  It reads a like a joke, doesn’t it?  And yet, I’m pretty sure that when he put it up, he meant it.  What does that say about the rest of what he told us and all of his judgment about these guys?  Same thing goes for his comrades, Hitchens and Horowitz.  If you admit now that you were wrong for most of your life, why should we take what you say now seriously?  Isn’t it likely that you’re going to turn out to be wrong again?

One more thing about that.  All you (beautiful) “first rate minds” hanging out at Packer’s over in Brooklyn: anything to say about how smart it was to put your faith in the Vice-Torturer in Chief?

Quote of the Day:  Jon Stewart to John McCain on Dick Cheney, last night: “Man, where does he get the balls to lecture you about torture?”

Oh and congrats to Georgetown for giving a “Distinguished Professor” title to the 'first rate mind,' General Tommy Franks terms, ‘the dumbest fu**ing guy on the planet,’ former U.S. defense policy chief Douglas Feith, whose prewar role in cooking the intel books the Pentagon Inspector General has been asked to investigate, and believe me, it won’t be pretty.  How about a little protest, people?

You can find the quote and the story .

Alter-reviews:  The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz. 

One problem with 1,000 page books is that they are hard to review, at least honestly.  I intended to read this book and review it here, but, hey, it’s 1,000 pages.  I’ve read about a hundred so far, but I really need to wait for the unabridged audio version, because, um, I have work to do.  Still, I can say this: It’s extremely well-written, though sometimes over-written, and crazily well-researched.  The section on John’s childhood is terrific and quite moving.  And it hurts my head to think how hard it must have been to locate those interview subjects.  Over at Amazon, , a bunch of people are complaining about the book’s many mistakes.  But none of them name them.  Perhaps they are there, but mistakes are endemic in a thousand page book, and I’d be more concerned if someone would point them out.  Anyway, if anyone deserves a thousand pages, it’s these boys, and though Spitz is not a professional historian, he seems to have done his homework.  Once we get the New York or London Review of Books verdict, we’ll know of the mistakes are overwhelming, but so far, my sympathies are with the guy who did all the work.  Salon has a good review .

Speaking of books on tape, I’ve got an unabridged version of Zadie Smith’s on Beauty, and it's providing a million excuses to go to the gym or walk to Zabar’s or something.  It’s really wonderful, as all the reviews have attested, (Amazon has PW’s ) and much easier for me to follow than White Teeth, which everyone thought was so terrific but lost me.  The audio is read wonderfully by Peter Francis James, but Amazon doesn’t even tell you who it is.  Is that right, guys?

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Mark Kraft
A March '05 publication by the US Army confirms that US soldiers used white phosphorus offensively in the Battle of Fallujah. This directly contradicts statements made by the U.S. Department of Defense and by the US State Department.

on artillery use from the March/April edition of the US Army's "Field Artillery Magazine."

Here are the relevant mentions of WP in the article:

"The munitions we brought to this fight were . . . illumination and white phosphorous (WP, M110 and M825), with point-detonating (PD), delay, time and variable-time (VT) fuzes."

"WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired 'shake and bake' missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out."

What the article does not say, however, is that there is no way you can use white phosphorus like that without forming a deadly chemical cloud that kills everything within a tenth of a mile in all directions from where it hits. Obviously, the effect of such deadly clouds weren't just psychological in nature.

This claim of "shake and bake" is further confirmed in a news article by an embedded journalist at the time.  .

"Bogert is a mortar team leader who directed his men to fire round after round of high explosives and white phosphorus charges into the city Friday and Saturday, never knowing what the targets were or what damage the resulting explosions caused. . . they ran through the drill again and again, sending a mixture of burning white phosphorus and high explosives they call "shake 'n' bake" into a cluster of buildings where insurgents have been spotted all week."

This directly contradicts a previous US State Department statement, located at , that WP was used "very sparingly in Fallujah, for illumination purposes."

You can also direct people to the video of the Italian broadcast, which made the original claims, which is online and .

Name:  Bob Hawks
Carpentersville, Illinois
As much as I respect Major Bateman and appreciate his service (and speaking as a veteran myself) I think his overreaction to Ms. Tyson's story is telling.  The fact that he finds it offensive to think that the underemployed (or worse) might be more inclined to enlist for a job or college money than devotion to duty, their country, or the idea of service don't change it from being true.  And the reason that becomes "News" during a war is, duh, because we're at war.  But don't take my word for it, there's an easy way to check: What's the demographic breakout of newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants?  And while you're at it, what's the demographic breakout out of newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenants who were not obligated to take the commission via the ROTC scholarships (read as: did it for financial assistance thru college...)  And exclude as well the service academy grads, because although they probably are more motivated, the demographic breakout is tainted because of the appointment system from each state's congressional representatives.  My obvious point: there won't be a lot of poor rural officers, because even rural college grads have other options.

P.S.  As noted, I served for eight years in the USAF as a Staff Sergeant and just for the record, we saluted most officers because we didn't want to go to jail.  Military courtesy in the real world is a one way street...think military justice and military music...

Name: Rich Kokoska
Hometown: Mansfield, Conn.
I enjoy Major Bob's correspondence, but it must have been a hot and weary day in Baghdad when he wrote this scathing criticism of poor Ann Tyson's Washington Post article about rural recruiting. I thought the article was outstanding journalism, giving facts and numbers like no one in journalism makes the effort to do any more, and interviewed people in a lot of situations to get a rounded picture. The only thing she seems to have done wrong is not make some acknowledgement to Bob's existential insight that soldiering has always been a poor boy's job, but hey, Bob, Ann is coming from the perspective of Women, who, you may remember, suffered their own oppressions up until recent times and doesn't need to tip her hat to that father-son thing behind your complaint. I also want to tell you from the perspective of someone who's worked on college campuses for 25 years that I never heard an ROTC candidate mention any reason for joining the military other than financial aid: not once, ever, in 5 student generations. If Major Bob is meeting all kinds of young recruits who are talking about joining for patriotic duty then he's talking to them well after the front-end recruiting has worn off...

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Major Bateman may be an historian, but he needs some work on his analysis skills. His point seems to be that the trend for recruitment into the military has always been the West and South. However, he provides no evidence for this assertion. I realize that he's not exactly in a place where he can do the research to come up with the numbers, but that doesn't excuse his outburst. Argumentation is predicated upon evidence and if you don't have it, it doesn't matter if your point is correct: Nothing you have said or done provides any justification for your point. Ms. Tyson has numbers. Where are Major Bateman's? Considering that the ZIP code data was applied to the recruitment numbers for the very first time in 2004, it would be interesting to know where the Major is getting his information. And just as curious is his casting of those who are in poor financial circumstances and are looking for ways to improve their economic lot as "deadbeats." Like it or not, one of the reasons people join the military is because of money. It isn't the greatest money in the world, but it is steady work, provides training, and includes health care and pension benefits. If there is no work where you live, then the military becomes a more attractive option. Perhaps the Major is forgetting that there are towns in this country where there is a single employer (the mill, the mine, the factory, etc.) and quite often that employer shuts down, shutting down the town in the process. What are the people in such a situation supposed to do? Considering the alternatives, why not join the military? I had always thought the definition of "deadbeat" was someone who didn't want to work for a living and would put out the least amount of effort. Is the Major suggesting that military work is trivial? What is insulting is the Major's insinuation that Mr. Deal, a new recruit profiled in the article, is being insincere when he comments, "It's something to make a life of." Is that the sound of a "deadbeat" or someone who is doing what he must not to be one?

Name: James Polewski
Hometown: Madison WI
Major Bateman is wrong to label a reporter a fool just because she reports on something that isn't a recent event. Newness ought not be the determinative factor in deciding what appears in a newspaper's news reports. It is a clear fallacy to hold that recency is more important than significance. The notion that anything that happened yesterday has more claim to newsprint than what happened the day before is what keeps the citizenry spectacularly ill-informed. Following Maj. Bateman, there is no reason to report on the lies that took us to war, or suspicions of treason in the WH: no, that was so "last month". It is newsworthy, and will continue to be newsworthy, that in this Republic the people who choose war do so in the comfort that none of their children will ever be at risk of injury, or even inconvenience. It does no dishonor to those who choose a military career to point out that we have a system that overwhelmingly selects that choice for people on economic grounds, and to suggest the question of why it is that the rich and powerful so rarely serve. If the military is an honorable choice, then it is entirely fair to point out that the people who make that honorable choice rarely come from the upper classes. Is the Major willing to accept the implication that the rich are less honorable because they do military service so rarely in comparison with the poor and middle class? Finally, what does it matter that the poor have historically been more honorable than the rich in this respect? Our Republic is supposed to be different from, and better than, the nation states that preceded it, if not the others that exist today. The reporter who continues to point out truth is not foolish, but merely persistent. Perhaps one day, with enough repetition of and attention to truth, the rich will be required to be as honorable as the poor and middle class.

Name: Steve Reynolds
Hometown: Hamilton, Ontario
I like Major Bob's contributions to Altercation, but he missed the boat in his reaction to the WaPo story on the disproportionate representation of rural people in the military. Major Bob says that there is nothing new in the story, but there is: · In fiscal 2005, the Army took in its least qualified group of recruits in a decade, as measured by educational level and test results. · The current analysis of 2004 data is the first time that recruitment patterns have been presented by zip code, making all kinds of new analysis possible. · Fiscal 2005 was the worst year for recruiting since 1999. · Blacks fell from 22.3 percent of Army recruits in fiscal 2001 to 14.5 percent this year; Hispanics rose from 10.5 percent to 13.2 percent, and whites, from 60.2 percent to 66.9 percent. Women dropped from 20 percent to 18 percent. I agree with Major Bob that this was not the best-written story. The above bits of info should have been more prominent. However, to call the story "the most offensive and ignorant piece of pseudo-news I think that I have seen in years" is out of line. Myself, I liked Doonesbury's recent treatment of the whole subject better.

Name: Jimmy Camp
Hometown: Arlington, TX
How refreshing it is to hear that someone else appreciates the talent of Rosanne Cash. I've heard more screechy women with over-emphasized accents in the country genre than I'll ever be able to forget (no matter how hard I try). Ms. Cash, on the other hand, can not only sing, but has a beautiful voice for doing so. Quite a songwriter to boot. Very soulful.