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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 11:25 AM ET |

You can skip this and go directly to Stupid below, and give it up for Major Bob’s schoolroom supplies, I won’t be insulted.  I hear there are some sort of holidays impending, and that’s s'pozed to make people more generous than otherwise….

Ok, if that’s done, I’ve got a new Think Again: The FCC, A New Starr Chamber? .  And a Nation column, Another 9/11? Never Mind... .

We note, in re my previous column, , that “General Kenneth Konz did tell the Washington Post last month in an interview that former CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson exchanged e-mails with Rove and he 'did ask for feedback on some of the candidates.'  Konz denied a request by Common Cause, Center for Digital Democracy, and Free Press to release documents and e-mails related to a report that found former CPB Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson was motivated by politics when he hired Harrison.  Konz declined to release the information because of concerns about violating individual privacy rights and compromising CPB business interests.”

Here’s my question.  CPB, under Tomlinson conspired with Paul Gigot, handed over more than $4 million of taxpayer funds to the Wall Street Journal, owned by the more than-billion-dollar Dow Jones corporation for a show that is now airing on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News.

How about a refund?

Police State Update:  Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, .  Note: This article was delayed a year while the Times negotiated with the NSA.

Quote of the Day:  "This is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans."

Dishonest, Incompetent Update:  Report: Bush Had More Prewar Intelligence Than Congress, .

“In the Kingdom of the Half-Blind" — Bill Moyers addresses the Bush administration's obsession with secrecy and its bullying and manipulation of PBS.  .

In IPF Friday today, , MJ Rosenberg again attacks the Christmas warriors, reserving special scorn for the ridiculous right-wing LA radio host Dennis Prager who is out there denouncing his fellow Jews for upholding separation of church and state.  Speaking of Prager, the night of Tookie Williams' execution, he was on "Larry King" attacking opponents of the death penalty for having "blood on their hands" (nice twist there) and going so far as to say it was only statistically "possible" that innocents have ever been executed.  The show's best part came when actor, and anti-death penalty activist Mike Farrell, seemed utterly repelled when Prager spoke of the upcoming execution of Williams with, what can only be called, bloodlust.  The mild-mannered Farrell lost it and told Prager, "You sit there and lick your lips about the death of a human being.  You disgust me."  He disgusts me too.  In any case, MJ does not address the death penalty issue but rather Prager's right-wing ghetto mentality (scraping and bowing to the powerful) that produces the Pragers of the world.  Also, don't miss the quote from Orthodox rabbi Daniel Lapin in which he praises Hitler (yes, specifically and by name) for understanding the damage liberal Jews did to German culture during Weimar!  He says that Jews like Howard Stern and the folks who made "Meet The Fockers" are just as bad.  A rare statement from a Jew praising Hitler!

Ding, Dong, .  Mr. Downie, your move.

P.S. The 'Novak Chickened-Out" debate at UC Santa Barbara will take place on January 14, with Tucker Carlson stepping in ...

This just in:  "A story Nov. 15 [actually, it ran Oct. 15] about mathematical references on 'The Simpsons' TV show mistakenly said that 1,782 to the 12th power plus 1,841 to the 12th power equals 1,922 to the 12th power.  Actually, 1,782 to the 12th power plus 1,841 to the 12th power equals 2,541,210,258,614, 589,176,288, 669, 958, 142, 428, 526,657, while 1,922 to the 12th power equals 2,541,210,259,314,801,410, 819, 278,649, 643,651,567,616."  .

The cat’s in trouble:  Still no iPod ideas and he owes me $250.  I don’t know how he’s going to repay it unless someone’s got an iPod connection for me.  Remember, I got an extra shuffle… (

Hey, we got .  Congrats!  Can I have a raise?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to ignore the bigger problems in the world and rant about a pet peeve.  But first, a big and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed to Major Bob's Iraq school supplies project through the PayPal account" (And imagine opening your e-mail inbox and finding someone has donated an entire classroom's worth of supplies.") Just to give you a sense of the generosity of your readers, I have received contributions from folks who had --already-- contributed to similar projects of relatives serving in Iraq, but still wanted to show their support for Major Bob, people who made far-from-paltry donations and then apologized for not being able to give more, even a sailor serving stateside who volunteered logistical help (I politely declined but given the level of donations I may reconsider!).  I’ll shamelessly pitch again: and how to send supplies directly.

The PayPal account for contributions is under the name/address

OK, rant time.  I always hear advertisements on the radio for automobile radar detectors and radar gun jammers.  These ads don’t just promise all “leadfoot drivers” that they can evade speeding tickets, they promise to pay their speeding tickets if they buy. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has found both that these devices lead to increase speeding (duh) and that drivers with the ticket insurance guarantee are involved in far more crashes.  Look, I'm not a speeding prude. I rarely stay under the 55mph limit on our local freeways, but at least I'm being "civilly disobedient" about it -- if I'm caught, I'll suffer the consequences.  Plus the fear of being ticketed still has a deterrence effect: I'm rarely more than 10 miles over the limit and I don't jackrabbit between lanes.  These radar detectors/jammers are a product whose only purpose is to break the law with impunity and endanger others.  So why are they still legal?  Because of industry lobbyists, of course.  The "Radio Association Defending Airwave Rights" (RADAR) boasts of having defeated over 100 attempts to ban radar detectors.  That libertarian line is also a bunch of malarkey – when a company in the 1980's tried to sell devices that set off the detectors (potentially making the devices worthless or a giant annoyance), they were shut down within weeks.  If only Ralph Nader had stuck to what he knows!

Name: Jonathan Rintels
Hometown:  Center for Creative Voices in Media

May I respectfully disagree with the conclusion of your column on a la carte, particularly your citing of CURRENT and other small, experimental, or (dare I say it) progressive networks as endangered by introducing an a la carte option?  We think just the opposite – that a la carte will finally introduce a level playing field to cable.  Today, if you’re a CURRENT, you can’t get carriage on cable systems.  Since its launch in the summer, CURRENT has not added one single cable subscriber to the 20 million it had by virtue of its purchase of the Newsworld channel.  You probably heard that they actually held a rally to demand carriage outside Comcast HQ in Philly, where 7,000 people showed up.  Compare that to the number of people who would attend a rally to demand carriage for Sleuth TV, just announced by NBC which will show old “A Teams”, and Comcast’s own G4 network – would seven people even show up for that rally?  Yet both easily get carriage by virtue of their tie to a broadcast network or the cable operator.

Under an a la carte option, people would not have to take the Super Mega Platinum Larded Up Package from the cable operator just to get Current or similar channels.  A la carte would also enable more consumers to access Current, as it would break up the cozy club/cartel of broadcasters and cable operators that eliminate most indie channels in favor of their own networks.  Imagine having a menu of choices where Current is on the same list as, say MTV2 or Fox News – Current would love that!

We go into this in great detail in our report, Cable’s “Level Playing Field” – Not Level. No Field., available on our Web site.  Take a look, it’s an interesting read.

You may also want to check out the amount of money that broadcasters and cable operators have poured into this argument that a la carte would mean the end of minority and niche networks.

Hometown: Homeland of Insecurity
Yesterday rode down New York City’s 5th Avenue to highlight the “war on Christmas.”  Astoundingly, the sounds of warfare were nowhere to be heard.  What the heck is going on in this country?  Is this really important to conservative Christians and the embarrassing comedians who pander to them?  If it is, then by all means, let's surrender this "war" that I don't remember waging.  But let's insist on a few things.

They can have their "Merry Christmas."  They can even have their prayer in public schools, publicly funded nativity scenes, four-story-high granite ten commandment monuments on every street corner, and the public burning of witches.  They can have all of it, if they would just start acting like Jesus Christ wanted them to act.  It's no mystery.  It's in that book.  It goes something like this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are those who mourn,    For they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek,    For they shall inherit the earth.Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,    For they shall be filled.Blessed are the merciful,    For they shall obtain mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart,    For they shall see God.Blessed are the peacemakers,    For they shall be called sons of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,    For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Merry Christmas, indeed.  It's Christmas time in New Orleans, too.  It just ain't very merry.

You know, I might be willing to go right along with this whole "the United States was founded as a Christian nation" bullshit if these alleged Christians would actually obey Christ once in a while.  Could we just please do something for the poor people in this country!

While the representatives of the Christian Right whine all over Fox "News" and hire Jackie Mason to make fools out of them, the poor along the Gulf Coast are getting kicked out of their temporary accommodations and the Republicans are basically stifling any effort to make New Orleans livable again.  Medicare is being gouged.  Taxes cut for the rich, raised for the middle class.  More poor people are being shipped off to war with insufficient armor and support.

Forget about the honesty, integrity, and wisdom.  Where the hell is the faith, the hope, the charity?

It's worse than we even think.  Conservatives might have an (unChistian) argument that the poor must pay the price for our security.  But as it turns out, they don't even care about our security.

My friends Eric Klinenberg and Thomas Frank have a great article in this week's Rolling Stone called .  It's a must-read.  Here is the nut graf:

According to the Homeland Security Research Corporation, a private firm that monitors the "market" in federal contracts, government outsourcing on homeland security has soared by $130 billion since Bush took office. And that's just a fraction of the federal windfall expected in the next five years. By 2010, the firm predicts, "the tragic events that resulted from Hurricane Katrina" -- combined with the administration's "much greater reliance on the private sector" -- will boost federal contracts by another $400 billion.  But what is good for the private sector has proved disastrous for the public. Indeed, what has happened to FEMA and Homeland Security is part of the broader Republican strategy to shred the federal safety net, enabling the administration to claim each case of the system's breakdown as a vindication of its fondest faith, a credo so blunt that it can be expressed in two words: Government sucks.

What would Jesus do?  Indeed.

Name: John Biasatti
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Re Steven Blowney of Philadelphia's letter stating that "I wonder if he realizes that the man who brought the 10 Commandments down from the mountain was a Jew.  You know, Moses?"  Perhaps we ought to remind Mr. Savage that Christmas honors the birth of Jesus Christ, who I understand was also a Jew...

Name: Adam Upper West Side
Hometown: New York, New York
In the spirit of unity, allow me to suggest some year end greeting rules:

  1. "Happy Holidays" is always appropriate because is covers any religious/ethnic holiday plus New Year's.  For all of you fundamentalists out there, please note that Christmas is, in fact, a holiday, and be thankful that your purportedly secular government has chosen to officially recognize it as a public holiday, an honor only your brand of Christianity enjoys.
  2. A religious specific greeting is appropriate only if you know the religion of the person you are addressing.  If you care enough about the person you are addressing to mention religion in the first place, you should at least know enough about that person to get it right.  If you care and don't know, ask.  It will impress them.  If you don't care, then you should have no problem with "Happy Holidays."
  3. "Season's greetings" should never be uttered to another human being.  That meaningless phrase references no holiday at all.  Worse, the phrase could be accurately offered at any time of year.  You might as well just say "have a nice day."  Exception: if you want to show utter disdain for your subject, hit them with "season's greetings," particularly if you know they are religious.  It will upset them.  Finally, to end the tree debate:
  4. It is a Christmas Tree, even if it has nothing to do with Jesus.  But calling it a "Holiday Tree" does NOT secularize the symbol at all.  Rather, it Christianizes public life by adopting its symbols.  That is the opposite of secularization.

Thanks for playing.  Happy Holidays!

Name: Brian Kresge
Hometown: Lancaster, PA
Paul Cavallaro's rant about "whiners" and needing more Pat Tillmans (a member of one of the Ranger Battalions, not a swabby, by the way) is ridiculous.  Even more so, is that he must think his status as a Navy man makes his rant stem from a position of wisdom.  This mother called back to active duty was not collecting a military paycheck from the regular reserves.  She was IRR, Inactive Ready Reserve, which means she was happily entrenched in her civilian life, and in what is an extremely rare occurrence, her name was PULLED FROM A FILING CABINET.  She was not even part time anymore!  Bone up on the argument before you go pontificating and wrapping yourself in the flag, I say.  No, most of us don't want to leave our cushy jobs to go fight this war.  Still, it's a reality for myself, a grunt in the National Guard, my ex-wife, active duty in the Air Force, and our daughter.  We understand the possible sacrifices we'll make, and we assemble our lives around that.  Inactive Reserves, on the other hand, has rarely been tapped, and I can tell you as someone who took a 6-odd year break in service after my active paratrooper days were up, most people would be taken utterly by surprise if their name was called.  This mother did her time, did in fact be a Pat Tillman by signing her name and serving her time.  Cut her and people who might think her situation is worthy of a little compassion some slack.  Or read another blog with fewer "whiners."  By the way, getting off of my butt and out from behind my computer hasn't really won the war yet, so I'm still balancing the whole "complaining vs. being-off-butt as contribution to Victory in Iraq" equation.  Dr. Alterman, an early chag sameach Chanukah.  We're celebrating here by vandalizing a creche or two.  Just joking!

Name: John S. Lucas
Hometown: El Cerrito, Ca
Paul Cavallaro writes "Complaining about the war doesn't make it end any sooner."  As a veteran who vacationed 19 months in Vietnam from 1967-69 and left some blood on the ground there I must take some exception to your remarks.  I have been against this Iraq stupidity from the beginning and sadly everything I foretold has come true.  I will continue to speak out, write letters, demonstrate and do everything in my power to get us the hell out of there.  Jerks like you really piss me off.  If you are a member of the armed services, are against this war and wrote a letter to this blog stating that you would be up for court martial but because you are for it you can talk all you want.  Did this ever occur to you?  I doubt it.  Let me explain the rules about talking about politics while being a member of the armed services.  You can vote and that is it.  You say unless you have worn the uniform you should not speak out.  It always pisses me off when idiots say something as stupid and unpatriotic as that.  I am not proud of my service in the war in Vietnam.  I think the war was a tragic error on our part and if I had to do it over I would have gone to jail in protest before going.  I am, however, very proud of having served in the US Army.  I took an oath to the Constitution of the United Sates which contain the Bill of Rights.  It is easily one of the great documents of all time.  I and millions like me and you were willing to risk our lives so that anyone and I mean anyone can say what the hell they want.  Every time a Jane Fonda (who I like by the way) or anyone of the people you complain about speak out it is because of people like us who were willing to serve.  That is the reason you have a job and for me it is the only real justification for having worn that uniform.  There is only one class of person in this country who are not allowed to participate in politics and they are members of the armed forces.  They gave up that right so that the rest of us can bitch and complain all we want.  My message to you is if you do not like that get out of the Navy.  Otherwise shut the hell up and quit being a propaganda tool for the biggest fools who have ever run our country.

Name: Robert Murphy
Hometown: Seattle, Washington
Dr. Alterman,
A few thoughts on PressThink's recent interview of John Harris and Jim Brady, (editors, respectively, of the Washington Post's national politics and Web edition,) regarding their clampdown on Post columnist Dan Froomkin: I have come across few things in recent months that evince the character (or lack of it) of the Washington press corps to the same degree as this interview.  In the case of Dan Froomkin, here the Post apparently didn't even need the predictable stream (scream?) of right-wing accusations of 'liberal bias'; it seems the impetus for censuring him was primarily internal in origin.  In the interview, the two senior editors do their best to affect a fine show of reasonability and professionalism, as they pile on spurious justifications for their position.  Yet they still can't help letting a little vulgar venom leak out.  (Harris: "Many readers responding to his blog-the ones that prompted my response-hailed what [Froomkin] does as courageous reporting and denounced other reporters as stenographers.  To be blunt: that is total bullshit.")  PressThink reprints an e-mail from Harris to Brady as a further illustration of Harris' indignation: "The very idea of independent reporting, in which a reporter is trying to cover news and institutions without an agenda-in other words, our professional code-is under widespread assault.  That is why I have been up on a horse about Froomkin in ways that probably seem disproportionate to you."  Yes, Harris is certainly "up on a Horse" and has responded in a fashion highly "disproportionate" to any possible wrongdoing on Froomkin's part.  But "independent reporting?!?"  Is that what Harris is so vigorously defending?  Largely at his instigation, he and his paper have publicly and ostentatiously criticized Froomkin, even to the point of expressing a measure of sympathy for (and thus tacitly affirming) what the wingnuts of the world have had to say about him.  (Harris: "Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me.")  Gee, I am sure all of this has filled Froomkin-and any of his peers who might dare follow his example-with the strongest sense of 'independence.'  Wasn't there a time when editors defended their staff publicly and delivered any criticism privately?  Silly me, I thought that that was part of the "professional code" of journalism.  Froomkin violated a code, but it was one of decorum, not professionalism; the decorum of a press corps which has degenerated into a vain, insular, and self-entitled clique, for whom the defense of the public interest ranks a distant second to careerism.  In such a clime appearances are of primary importance.  Thus the affectation of journalistic professionalism so often trumps the real thing.  Accordingly, moral cowardice is passed off as 'objectivity,' and the craven avoidance of any potentially controversial contention is presented as sober, 'professional' detachment.  In short, any act of genuine journalistic integrity is to be shunned, lest it jeopardize the almost consciously calculated illusion of it.  Thus, in America we have journalists covering controversial subjects who are terrified of provoking controversy.  Froomkin's cardinal sin is to create controversy by bringing to light the dread avoidance of it by so many of his peers.

| 12:39 PM ET |

The Pentagon is spying on peace groups and protesters, again .

NBC News originally reported that a sample of about 1,500 "suspicious incidents" listed in the database included four dozen anti-war meetings or protests.  What’s more, they are mishandling the data, failing to delete files that should have been deleted.  We have been down this road before, with both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, with the result that paranoid (Johnson) and paranoid, anti-Semitic (Nixon) demands were made on U.S. law-enforcement to engage in police state tactics against patriotic American citizens.  Does anyone trust the Bush administration not to engage in the same?  Just take a look at how seriously these people take civil liberties.  They insist that there can be no possibility that they would ever abuse the powers they enjoy under the “Patriot Act” and yet, to take one minor example from the recently released—and barely covered—9/ll commission report on compliance, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that is supposed to oversee this delicate balance has was deemed to have “funding [that] is insufficient, no meetings have been held, no staff named, no work plan outlined, no work begun, no office established.”  (And they didn’t even get an “F” for that one.)

Really, thank goodness for Russ Feingold, and Republicans Chuck Hagel, Larry Craig , Lisa Murkowski, and John Sununu, who are at least drawing attention to the destruction of our Constitutional Protection under the guise of national security protection.  They’ve circulated a letter Wednesday expressing their concern about "government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans" and demand further restrictions on provisions allowing government searches and access to private and personal information including medical and library records, .

Quote of the Day:  Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), the lone Senator who voted against the Patriot Act when it was originally considered in 2001, appeared on C-SPAN at 8:00 am ET to discuss where things stand on re-authorization.  He said he could not support the version of the Patriot Act currently before the Senate because it makes "essentially the same mistake" as the original legislation.

When a very angry caller asked Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI):  "If we have another terrorist attack, are you going to say 'it's my damn fault?'"

Feingold answered: "Good morning to Texas."

My girl Arianna has more on civil liberties, .

What Liberal Media, continued?  If NPR leans rightward—and according to its own ombudsman’s tally, it does, then really, where is this dagnabed so-called “liberal media?”  :

Tallying the Think TanksNPR often calls on think tanks for comments.  But NPR does not lean on the so-called conservative think tanks as many in the audience seem to think.Here's the tally sheet for the number of times think tank experts were interviewed to date on NPR in 2005:American Enterprise - 59Brookings Institute - 102Cato Institute - 29Center for Strategic and Intl. Studies - 39Heritage Foundation - 20Hoover Institute - 69Lexington Institute - 9Manhattan Institute - 53...The score to date: Right 239, Left 141.

Tina B. explains Hillary to her compatriots, in the Independent.

Altercation Book Club

Kabbalah in Enlightened Times by Joseph Dan

The Jewish enlightenment movement of the eighteenth century changed the status of the kabbalah and the meanings of the term dramatically both within Judaism and in European culture. This movement, which in the nineteenth century also became associated with religious reform, rejected the kabbalah as an expression of the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages, and strove to present Jewish worldviews based mainly on rationalism and adherence to social ethics. The kabbalah in Judaism was associated with orthodox Judaism, and was studied mainly among the Hasidim and the Opponents, and among Jewish scholars in the Middle East and North Africa. Modern Jewish institutions of higher learning did not find a place for the kabbalah in their curricula. There were a few exceptions. The great Hebrew poet, Hayyim Nachman Bialik, included the kabbalah in his project of assembling, editing, and publishing the treasures of Jewish tradition in a nonorthodox, modern Hebrew context. And, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in 1926, invited Gershom Scholem to study and teach kabbalah at its Institute of Jewish Studies.

In Europe, the rift between science and the occult widened, and the kabbalah was rejected by mainstream culture and thought and relegated to marginalized groups of esoterics and spiritualists. In the second half of the nineteenth century such a circle—the theosophical school of Madame Helena Blavatsky, which spread in Russia and western Europe—attained some influence. Similar groups abounded in France, Germany, and England. The writings of such groups derived a great deal from the esotericist writings of the Christian kabbalists, and became part of popular pseudoscientific culture. Some elements of the Christian kabbalah were included in some rituals of the Freemason movement, adding an aura of mystery and antiquity to its teachings. These writings also served as a basis, for instance, for the psychology of religion presented in some of Carl Gustav Jung’s writings, integrated with many other disparate elements, especially Hindu myths and alchemical traditions. This atmosphere also served as background for the rapid spread of the golem legend in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The New Age

Since the 1970s, kabbalah became a central component of the fast-spreading New Age speculations and presentations. Numerous New Age works, mostly Christian, used the title “kabbalah” and claimed to possess secret knowledge derived from kabbalistic sources. The spread of the Internet in the last two decades has been particularly meaningful in this realm. Hundreds of Internet sites are dedicated to New Age–style presentations of various worldviews that claim to be kabbalistic. Most of them are Christian, but many of them are propagated by Jewish writers. Many of them serve groups and circles of adherents, spread all over the English-speaking world, and penetrating also German, French, and Italian popular culture. Most of the material on these sites is a combination of apocalyptic speculations, astrology, and alchemy; one of the central concepts attributed to the kabbalah is that of reincarnation of souls, and another is the cosmic harmony among the various aspects of the universe and the divine realm.

Some such trends assumed more systematic and structured expressions. Since the 1970s, an author who presented himself as Ze’ev ben Shimon Halevi has published a score of books dealing with various aspects of the kabbalah in London. Ze’ev ben Shimon Halevi is the pen name of Warren Kenton of Hampstead, who established several groups and circles who study his books in England. A more widespread organized phenomenon is the Center for the Study of Kabbalah, founded by Philip S. Berg in California in the 1970s, which is now a worldwide empire. Berg’s starting point was the writings of Rabbi Ashlag; he translated portions of his Zohar commentary and other works, which were followed by his own works. This center achieved wide popularity among different social groups; at its core are some orthodox rabbis who strive to teach the traditional Jewish way of life to secularized Jews, but its centers and study groups attract all kinds of seekers of spirituality, many of them Christians. Most of their teachings adhere to the prominent aspects of New Age attitudes. Its Hollywood center presents many celebrities as adherents, the best known among them is Madonna, who adopted the name Esther, one of the kabbalistic appellations of the shekhinah, thus representing a physical union between the Virgin and the Jewish feminine divine power.

These and similar phenomena placed the term “kabbalah” in the center of the spiritual discourse in Western culture in the beginning of the twenty-first century. The meanings attributed to this term today are, in most cases, vastly different from those that prevailed in traditional kabbalah of the Middle Ages and early modern times. It is impossible at this early stage of these developing trends to present a balanced historical description. The kabbalah that appeared more than eight hundred years ago in medieval Europe and assumed various aspects and meanings throughout its history is still present, in dynamic and variegated forms, in the contemporary world.

Contemporary readers may meet the term “kabbalah” mostly in the following contexts; in each of them, the term conveys a different meaning:

1) In a scholarly-historical context, it is an important aspect of Jewish religious thought, which also includes many of the mystical phenomena in Judaism. The term “kabbalah” in this context appeared at the end of the twelfth century, in the Book Bahir and the Provence circle; reached its medieval peak in the Zohar; and was renovated and reinvigorated in Safed to become the dominant aspect of Jewish spirituality. The key terms by which it is recognized are the system of ten sefirot, the divine tree, and the feminine power in the divine realm, the shekhinah.

2) Between the end of the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, scores of prominent European scholars integrated kabbalah with esoteric speculations, science, and magic. It has been deeply associated with astrological, numerological, and alchemical speculations, and merged with the conceptions of a multilayered harmonious universe that characterize European modern esotericism including spiritualists, theosophists, psychologists, and occultists, from Madame Blavatsky to Carl Jung.

3) In contemporary orthodox Judaism, kabbalah is a central subject in the works of leaders and teachers of various Hasidic communities, and some groups of adherents study it in a traditional manner (mainly the Zohar and the writings of Rabbi Hayyim Vital).

4) In contemporary Israel there are numerous groups and circles that describe themselves as kabbalistic. Some of them are related to exoteric Hasidic groups, especially those of Bratslav and Habad (Lubavitch). Another contemporary Israeli usage is the tendency of magicians and popular healers to designate themselves as kabbalists.

5) A wide variety of groups and movements, Jewish and Christian, associated with the New Age phenomenon also use the term. They range from orthodox Jewish groups, such as the Center for the Study of Kabbalah, to nonorthodox Jewish seekers of a more spiritual Judaism to mainstream Christian New Age writings, which often identify the kabbalah with magic, alchemy, and astrology. In this context the kabbalah is conceived as universal phenomenon, and it seems that today it is the most potent and dominant usage to the term “kabbalah,” despite the wide variety of meanings attached to it.

To read the preface to Kabbalah, visit . You can find the book .


Sal on VARIOUS ARTISTS - "I BELIEVE TO MY SOUL," BETTYE LAVETTE - "I'VE GOT MY OWN HELL TO RAISE," and SUSAN TEDESCHI - "HOPE AND DESIRE."  Three records that could all end up on our Top Ten lists, and all produced by Joe Henry.  The first is an album recorded like the old soul revues of the '60s, featuring Ann Peebles, Irma Thomas, Billy Preston, Allen Toussaint, and Mavis Staples, covering originals and putting their stamp on songs by Bob Dylan and Curtis Mayfield.  Lavette's is a raw soul album much like Solomon Burke's comeback, which was also produced by Joe Henry.  And Tedeschi's "Hope And Desire," while a bit cleaner in production, is by far her strongest record, taking her version of rhythm & blues through songs by Richie Havens, Jagger & Richards, and Holland-Dozier-Holland.

P.S. from Eric:  If you're in town, the Roches' annual Holiday show returns tonight after a too-long hiatus while the women worked out some of their (many) sisterly issues.  It's at Town Hall, and really, you can't have a bad time.  See you there.

Alter-issue:  You can save this cat or...  The cat knocked over the new iPod (40 gig, photo) and it's not covered for that kind of thing, so they're saying it's $250 to fix it.  Anybody got a deal for me?  I bought one too many Shuffles as gifts so I've got one unopened if that's any help (or anybody in the city wants to buy one and will pick it up....)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stephen Cochran
Hometown: Richmond, VA
At what cost?  That is the question that was never properly addressed before we entered into a war in Iraq.  That is the question that the administration deflected at every opportunity, because they knew that the populace, even the hardcore right wingers, would never be able to support the war if the truth were known.  Imagine a poll in late 2002, in which the following questions were asked:

What would be an acceptable cost for the removal of Saddam Hussein as ruler of Iraq?

  1. Less than 10 billion
  2. 11-100 billion
  3. 100-250 billion
  4. 251-500 billion
  5. As much as it takes

What would be an acceptable loss of US Soldiers and personnel to remove Hussein?

  1. 500-1000 lives
  2. 1001-2500 lives
  3. 2500-5000 lives
  4. 5001-10,000 lives
  5. As many lives as it takes

Given the incredibly deflated numbers the administration used to sell this war, you would expect answers in the 1 or 2 range from most people.  I doubt you could find a single "normal American" (not attached to the political apparatus or defense industry) who would support the loss of 3000+ American soldiers, tens of thousands maimed or seriously wounded (with no end in sight), and a cost of more than half a trillion dollars (again, with no end in sight).  And yet any honest assessment of the task would clearly have shown that the cost in our citizens and our dollars would be orders of magnitude higher than we were led to expect. How can anyone really believe that this administration could be trusted with even the simplest of leadership decisions, having proved themselves eager to lie to the American people at every turn to achieve their goals?

Name: Paul Cavallaro
Hometown: Wilton, NY
Whereas I do feel some level of sympathy for the single mother drawn "unexpectedly" to active duty service and subsequently deployed, I also look at it as nothing more than fulfilling her duty.  Is what is being done legal?  Yes.  She has been drawing a check from the US Government while performing in the reserves, and she became legally eligible for a call up last year.  So how did she not think this would happen "in a million years"?!?  As a member of the US Navy, I know many former shipmates who are in the reserves. All of them understand that part of getting to continue making progress towards a military retirement and drawing pay for their "part-time service", that there is the chance their full-time service may once again be needed. As for sympathy over losing $100,000, I have been making a living for 15 years on my military salary because I believe in something bigger than me - this country and everyone else's right to post the crap I read on this blog every day.  If she wasn't being sent to war, you would all be complaining about the poor soldier who has been leaving his or her family back home for months at a time as he/she goes on a third deployment.  Yet I am sure no one posting here wants to give up their cushy day job to do the dirty work.  We need more Pat Tillmans and fewer whiners.  Complaining about the war doesn't make it end any sooner.  Get up off you butt and out from in front of your computer and do something for once.  Otherwise, quit complaining and shut up until you don a uniform and stand next to me to salute the flag during the national anthem, instead of always talking through it.

Name: Douglas O'Heir
Hometown: Waterville, Maine
I practice medicine in a small city in central Maine and have been keeping track of my patients' parting greetings over the past month.  By a ratio of about 5 to 1, they wish me "Happy Holiday" rather than saying "Merry Christmas."  I alternate greetings myself and find that I receive kindness in return regardless of the phrase that I use.  Many of these patients are devout French Canadian Catholics who would be baffled to learn that they had just committed blasphemy in the eyes of the Christian right in this country.  Interestedly, I have also treated 3 nuns and 1 priest in the same time period, and they all said "Happy Holiday". Should they be excommunicated?  Should I report them to the O'Reilly Factor?  Actually, many of my patients have made reference to the true spirit of Christmas - tending to the poor, healing the sick, caring for our elders; and most importantly, honoring the brave and often grieviously wounded veterans who are returning to our shores broken in body, but hopefully not in spirit.  I hope all of those who are railing about "an attack against Christmas" wake up at night with the cold sweat of delusion and panic, knowing that they have mislead themselves and tried to divert our attention from more important matters.  I think Christ himself would have been ashamed by their actions.

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Why did you have to include Michael Savage in your column?  I thought this was the season of good will towards man!  I'm surprised that Mr. Savage (actual last name Weiner) didn't throw a bomb at the ACLU as well.  Maybe he and Bill O'Reilly can merge their acts and call it "Save Christmas from the New York Jews."  And I thought the heartland of Christianity was Jerusalem and Rome. Silly me!

Name: Steven Blowney
Hometown: Philadelphia
I don't listen to Mr. Savage, but irony of his name does not escape me.  I wonder if he realizes that the man who brought the 10 Commandments down from the mountain was a Jew.  You know, Moses?  I'm a goy, and even I know that.

Name: Marty Cobern
Hometown: Cheshire, CT
Eric: ($)

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, Florida
Hello Eric,
Old Navy guy here writing from Michael Savage's "heartland of Christianity" to offer some local observations on things both religious and secular.  On the secular front is the controversy regarding the "rebuilding" of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.  As many folks outside of the region may not know (or perhaps just fear) neo-conservatives are trying to use the rebuilding as a beachhead for the widest application of their most radical theories on U.S. soil.  Conspiracy theories abound because of the unlikeliest of coincidences, but I think it is simply cynical opportunism in the face of human tragedy.  Analogues exist for what is happening here (capably documented in David Harvey's History of Neoliberalism): in the neo-conservative experiments in Chile under Pinoche and the most recent four decrees under Bremer's Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority that violated both Hague and Geneva Conventions through his imposition of a flat tax, the privatization of public enterprises and restrictions on workers' rights to organize, bargain collectively and strike. 

The rebuilding of NOLA was the topic of conversation this week during Diane Rehm's usually excellent talk show on NPR.  Of note was the reaction to one participant's assertion about the rampant racism which is part and parcel of the city's and region's distant and recent history and how that racism is being reflected in the plans for the city's recovery.  From the reaction of the panel you would have thought that the author of the statement had made a ridiculous assertion: an artifact from a bygone era; or perhaps was just a conspiracy nut from an important and sensitive interest group, the response requiring the most diplomatic ju-jitsu to both placate and dismiss the assertions of the poor misguided wretch.  That the racial divide in this country has become so ingrained to the point where there is a collective hardening of the arteries of racial awareness should be cause for much concern.  It is true that we do not (yet) have 21st century equivalents of Bull Connor mowing people down in the streets with fire hoses.  But that is just the point: racism has become subtly intertwined with the fabric of our lives and racists of all stripes have likewise become smarter in their subtlety.  But it makes one wonder how anyone could question the charge of racism when the evidence is all around.  After all, a pre-Katrina 2005 New Orleans study conducted as a result of the wrongful death of a black college student on Bourbon Street showed that African-Americans were either charged significantly more for an alcoholic beverage or required to buy a minimum number of drinks in the city's various establishments.  And there were and are more palpable symbols of putting people in their places: the continued use of the so-called confederate flag of Beauregard on official state ensigns, patches and stationary: an overt symbol of the Klan, the Black Codes and Jim Crow; the public use of the euphemism "ethnic" as a substitute for those who in previous times would have used the "n" word with impunity; and the continued "red-lining" in housing by the real estate crowd. So can there be any question as to why people in this region-both black and white-discern a pattern in the various proposals that simultaneously depopulate the city of most of its citizens of color? But that is not the only pattern emerging here. For the New Orleans tragedy was one not only of race but also of class and it is class that is first and foremost on the mind and in the heart of every neo-conservative. The plans for the city and the region-and the actions in particular of the Bush Administration through the various federal agencies-are to subject it to the most brutal sort of Social Darwinist experimentation in which the most favored classes-especially real estate developers-may prey on those who have lost their homes and livelihoods-forced to either abandon completely their land rights or to sell them at fire sale prices: denied flood insurance claims because of the hurricane and hurricane insurance claims because of the flood. For those with mortgages in this position they are the happy recipients of a system that will require them to hold a mortgage to something that cannot be rebuilt while denied the remedy of bankruptcy. With this unhappy state of affairs all around our citizens lurched toward winter and the holiday season. Anyone wishing the escapism offered by Halloween here could be treated to the "controversy" over the godless devil worship surrounding the tradition (a regional precursor to "Bull" O'Reilly's high profile War on Christmas) or wind up in one of the many ostensibly identified "Haunted Fun Houses" which turned out to be fronts for certain local churches where funhouse goers were subjected to fire and brimstone proselytizing by crazy-eyed fanatics asserting that Katrina was God's judgment.

Thus I am led to the religious topic. Over and over in this region we are treated to assertions of a "Christian" nation (though the plethora of warring denominations ostensibly labeled "Christian" should be enough to undermine it) and the rise of blatant anti-Semitism and general religious intolerance.  These two currents: the rise of American religious extremism and neo-conservatism, I think, are inextricably married in an unholy alliance-the intellectual foundations of both having been discredited long ago individually; they can only survive through the co-dependent relationship that has grown between them. The first was borne of a Know-Nothingist reaction to modernity and the second a product of high finance married to Nixon's Southern Strategy. It is an alignment that is by definition intolerant, anti-democratic and, in its implementation, racist.  It is the moral imperative of our time to do everything we can to oppose it.

Name: Zack
Hometown:  The Garden State
I could not disagree with you more on the "40 Years Charlie Brown Christmas" CD.  I have the original Charlie Brown Christmas and it is terrific the whole way through.  I raced out to get the new one and after hearing it three times through, I have to say it is a smooth jazz nightmare.  I hesitate to use the phrase "turd parade" but nothing else describes it so perfectly.  I will spare you a track by track critique, so here are the "lowlights" as it were.  "Christmas is Coming" was overblown and over produced like most of the tracks.  "Linus and Lucy" really infuriated me.  It is by far the worst track on the CD.  They took a brilliant piece of music and demolished it with a wussy, whiney sounding sax playing the riff.  I honestly thought it was Kenny G.  In fact, it could not have been more awful if he actually had played it.  It sounded like the same half-rate musician played "O Tannenbaum".  It wasn't but it yielded similar results - crap.  The guitar and scat version of "Skating" was beyond awful and did not approach the scintillating original.  The only respite from the assault on my ears was the 67 seconds of "Für Elise".  Apparently they were not creative enough to ruin that too.  Everyone that had anything to do with this collection, especially David Benoit, should be ashamed.  Deeply ashamed.  And he should send me my $14 back too.

| 11:35 AM ET |

The Destruction of Democracy, continued:

"A law that will make democracy all but moot in Ohio is about to pass the state legislature and to be signed by its Republican governor.  Despite massive corruption scandals besieging the Ohio GOP, any hope that the Democratic party could win this most crucial swing state in future presidential elections, or carry its pivotal U.S. Senate seat in 2006, are about to end.House Bill 3 has already passed the Ohio House of Representatives and is about to be approved by the Republican-dominated Senate, probably before the holiday recess. Republicans dominate the Ohio legislature thanks to a heavily gerrymandered crazy quilt of rigged districts, and to a moribund Ohio Democratic party.  The GOP-drafted HB3 is designed to all but obliterate any possible future Democratic revival.  Opposition from the Ohio Democratic Party, where it exists at all, is diffuse and ineffectual.HB3's most publicized provision will require positive identification before casting a vote.But it also opens voter registration activists to partisan prosecution, exempts electronic voting machines from public scrutiny, quintuples the cost of citizen-requested statewide recounts and makes it illegal to challenge a presidential vote count or, indeed, any federal election result in Ohio. When added to the recently passed HB1, which allows campaign financing to be dominated by the wealthy and by corporations, and along with a Rovian wish list of GOP attacks on the ballot box, democracy in Ohio could be all but over."

The rest is .

The Cost of War, Continued:

Medford single mother called back to active duty in Iraq (after twenty years…)

"While most of her friends and neighbors are amusing themselves with Christmas decorations and holiday gifts, Patricia Arndt is fretting over far more serious matters.The single mother from Medford has been unexpectedly pulled from the inactive Army reserve and ordered to report for active duty by Feb. 5....Arndt, a respiratory therapist at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center and a small-business owner, has been called back to active status after 20 years as a reservist. ...Her return to active duty will leave her teenage son without a parent for 18 months,...Officials have said that many of the 172,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are on their second or third tours of duty. The Army has traditionally not sent IRR soldiers into battle....The war in Iraq, now 21/2 years old, has changed that… Arndt, who is also appealing her orders, is far from alone. Almost 8 percent of all current Army personnel -- and 13.8 percent of female soldiers -- are single parents, the officials said."


Quote of the Day:

Michael Savage, briefly hired by MSNBC despite a history of racism, sexism and gay-baiting—or perhaps because of it—became similarly hysterical when Richard Cohen, a Southern Poverty Law Center attorney filed suit to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from an Alabama courthouse.  He put his objections in the following language on November 13, 2004:

"A guy like Cohen, who is obviously a Jew from New York, is going after a decent Christian man.  What am I supposed to do?  Sit here and take crap from him?  I think he is a vile human being who ought to be arrested for a hate crime.  And I am not going to mince words. And I guarantee you that he says “goy” behind the scenes....That’s next, isn’t it?  From these verminous Brooklyn College lawyers, isn’t it?  Go down South and have a tee-hee over the goyim.  Laugh at the goyim.  Go down there and take away their crosses and they can’t touch you, huh, Mr. Cohen?  Mr. Cohen, and you wonder where anti-Semitism comes from....It comes from situations like this, when you have a New York Jew like Cohen going down South into the heartland of Christianity and stealing the religious symbol from Christians."

Excerpt of the Day: “A Platonist Without The Ideas."  Bernard Henri Levi on Bill Kristol from The Atlantic Monthly, . ($)

I have been looking forward to this meeting.

First and foremost because of his surname, associated in my mind with a whole legendary landscape in which the saga of the American extreme left, the secrets of Alcove One at CCNY, the memory of the ideological jousts of Irving Kristol, his father, with Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, and Gertrude Himmelfarb, Irving Kristol's future wife, are all mixed together.

Also because of the idea that such a small magazine, the Weekly Standard—with a circulation that would seem somewhat ludicrous even on a French or European scale, nearly devoid of advertising, gray, printed on bad paper, never shying away from a long, sometimes indigestible text—can have such a significant influence, including, I am told, on the White House and the State Department.

And then, of course, because of the neo-conservative ideology itself, this famous neo-conservative ideology, the mystery of these people whose intellectual journey increasingly fascinates me.  I tell myself that through his status as a journalist, through the autonomy of thought it grants him, through his family origins (although he himself doesn't come from the extreme left), Kristol is, even more than Perle, an archetype of the neo-conservative. Are these neo-cons truly united? How does their thinking tally with Bush's? What is the extent of their influence? What should I think of David Brooks's analysis when he told me the other morning that the media were exaggerating the importance and the impact of this group? What should I think of his notion that this matter of neo-conservative intellectuals' taking Bush's brain by storm right after 9/11 is an invention of the extreme right in general and Pat Buchanan in particular, and that we aren't very far here from the Jewish-conspiracy theory?

In a way I'm disappointed. With his big-boss suit, his impeccably combed hair, his overfriendly showman manners, his laughing blue eyes, his florid complexion, the man opposite me looks more like a leader of the American Enterprise Institute (based, perhaps not by chance, in the same building, one floor up) than like Europe's idea of an intellectual.

But on the other hand, my hopes are rewarded: the conversation is a long one, and as it progresses, in this modern, efficient office more reminiscent of the conference room in a commercial Manhattan bank than of the office of an editorialist or a man of ideas, I get, if not the answer, at least a part of the answer to the question of what it is that links me to, or separates me from, this man and others of his ilk.

What links us: history, intellectual genealogy, a certain number of formative experiences, the oldest and perhaps most essential of which seems to be his long rebellion against the way the West had consented to the enslavement of the countries in "captive Europe." When I hear Kristol talk about how his youth was formed by the great antitotalitarian thinkers of the twentieth century; when I see him get carried away about the cultural relativism and the historicism that were used to excuse the most horrible dictatorships; when I imagine him laying siege, as he did in the 1990s, to America's foreign-policy decision-makers in order to persuade them to intervene in Bosnia and then in Kosovo; and finally when I imagine him pleading against the Taliban and, even more, against our silent assent to the iron rule it imposed on Afghanistan, it's my own history I find. These are the dates of my own intellectual biography I see quickly pass by; I want to say that though our positions diverge, our axioms are shared.

What separates us: the positions, the differing conclusions that we draw from common premises in the Iraq affair. But certainly other subjects as well raise indications, throughout our conversation, of attitudes far from mine: the death penalty, for instance. I find, to my great surprise, that Kristol supports the death penalty; I find, too, that on the questions of abortion, gay marriage, and the place of religion in American politics he isn't far from the most extreme positions of the leading players in the Bush administration. Then there's the copy of the Weekly Standard I found in the waiting room and had time to leaf through before our interview. It's the issue that talks about the dedication of the Clinton Library, in Little Rock. I see that the Weekly Standard is a magazine in which you can read, under the byline of Matt Labash, an article crammed with the vilest gossip about the private life of the former president. Paula, Gennifer, Monica, Connie, Sally, Dolly, Susan—they're all there, the "WOCS," the "women of the Clinton scandals," the Miss Arkansas, the women who aren't quite whores, the ex—cover girls turned into married women, they're all set down in ink, slammed, denounced, in this cartload of filth and accusation that presents itself as an article.

I sense that Kristol is annoyed when I mention it.

I sense that he thinks a European can't accept this mingling of politics with such trash, so he plays it down.

Don't jump to the conclusion that I believe in it, he seems to be saying. That's just the deal, you understand—supporting a crusade for moral values is just the price we have to pay for a foreign policy that we can defend as a whole.

Suppose it is.

Let's agree that his annoyance isn't feigned.

In that case the whole question lies right there, and in my mind it's almost worse.

When you uphold one goal of a given faction, do you have to uphold all its goals?

Because you're in agreement about Iraq, do you have to force yourself to agree with the death penalty, creationism, the Christian Coalition and its pestilential practices?

When I have dinner with someone in a restaurant, do I have to order all the courses on the menu?

Or, on the contrary, isn't it the privilege of what we call an intellectual—isn't it his honor and, at core, his real strength, as well as his duty—to continue to defend his own colors, even the shades of those colors, even and especially when he lends his support to the government on a specific point?

Bill Kristol is listening to me, but I sense I'm not convincing him. And here I grasp, at least for now, the crux of what separates us.

A neo-conservative? No—he is a Platonist without the ideas. An adviser to princes without detachment or reservations. An antitotalitarian who at bottom, and whatever he may say, is not as faithful as he would like to think to the heritage of Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt—and who, for this reason, deprives himself of the necessary freedom that the status of intellectual should imply.

Press Release of the Day:  A Joni Mitchell tribute concert will be held at Carnegie Hall on February 1 to benefit Music For Youth – a national organization whose purpose is to identify and fund innovative programs that make quality music education available to young people, and to create scholarship opportunities for exceptionally talented youth who choose to make music their life's work.  Confirmed performers include Lori Anderson, Ben Folds, Joe Jackson, Neil Sedaka, Suzanne Vega, Michelle Williams of Destiny’s Child and more….

Music For Youth was founded in 1995 by leading members of the music industry to address the dwindling funding for music programs in America’s schools. It has, since its inception, been quietly raising and donating over 2.5 million dollars to schools and scholarship funds to students all across the U.S. and to institutions like the Boys Choir of Harlem, the JazzReach Performing Arts & Education Association, The Perlman Music Program, the Turtle Bay Music School and many more.  More .

Alter-Ripped off Reviews of the Day: Christmas round-up from the Times

"THE MCGARRIGLE CHRISTMAS HOUR" (Nonesuch). Kate and Anna McGarrigle are the modest hostesses for this parlor-style singalong that features their children (Kate's Rufus and Martha Wainwright and Anna's Lily Lanken) and friends including Emmylou Harris. Their parlor holds lots of instruments - organ, trombones, pennywhistle - and an assortment of music, from old carols to Tin Pan Alley to Jackson Browne's "Rebel Jesus" to their own songs. The tone is cozy, with lots of familial harmonies, but except for Kate's "Wise Men," there's too little of the sisters themselves. PARELESTHE BRIAN SETZER ORCHESTRA: "DIG THAT CRAZY CHRISTMAS" (Surfdog/Warner). Mr. Setzer, formerly of the Stray Cats, the rockabilly revival group, convened his orchestra for a second holiday album this year. The title should be fair warning: if you find its manic spirit and ostentatiously old-fashioned slang irritating rather than charming, then by all means steer clear. The new songs have familiar, jokey references to hot rods and peppermint schnapps, and the old ones get revved up with new arrangements. The highlight is the least Christmassy song here, and also, not coincidentally, an instrumental: a restless run through "My Favorite Things," which switches genres every few bars; there's also an appropriately unpredictable guitar solo by Mr. Setzer. SANNEHBRIAN WILSON: "ALL I REALLY WANT FOR CHRISTMAS" (Arista). Beach Boys-style harmonies fill Brian Wilson's "What I Really Want for Christmas," which has five of his own songs amid seasonal staples. Falsetto oohs and ahs and bah-bah-bahs pop up through the old and new songs; Mr. Wilson's arrangements also bring back favorite Beach Boys sounds like bass harmonica, vibraphones and surf-reverb guitar. In the title song (which has lyrics by Elton John's collaborator, Bernie Taupin) and in "Christmasey" (with Jimmy Webb), Mr. Wilson returns to the chromatic chorales and multipart structures he used in "Pet Sounds" - promising portents of non-Christmas songs to come. PARELES  (It’s .)

I don’t know why the Times didn’t include :  40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas — It’s a pleasure from start to finish.  I’ve always loved the original and this one makes me like all these people I’ve never listened to.  Still, if Pierce were here, he’d insist we plug and he’d be right.  Nothing like “We Three Kings” can put you in the mood to steal Christmas from good Christians like Bill O’Reilly.

And while we’re ripping off the Times, don’t forget …

SHIRLEY HORN: "BUT BEAUTIFUL: THE BEST OF SHIRLEY HORN" (Verve). Verve, the jazz record label, had a good run with the jazz singer and pianist Shirley Horn. Lifting her from near-obscurity in 1986 - her career had already completed one cycle - the company treated her slow, lavish, rainy-day music with respect, sometimes giving her strings, sometimes just letting her record with her two longtime backing musicians, the bassist Charles Ables and the drummer Steve Williams. This single-CD retrospective is a monument to second-phase Shirley Horn: only one track predates her 1980's comeback. It was planned before her death in October; subsequently, Verve decided to add three tracks of her final concert engagement, at Le Jazz Au Bar in New York, and they're all medium-tempo or faster. She could swing, too. RATLIFF (.)

And this, also stolen from the Times:

Playboy: Blondes;  Playboy: Brunettes; Playboy: Redheads, Chronicle Books.“In those not-so-explicit days women were photographed in an indulgent, tawny light. Their bodies were curvaceous and softly inflated, with hardly a muscle in sight. They looked like humanoid kittens who'd slipped out of their furry suits and were stretching languorously on cushions or amid fields of wildflowers....Playboy now has released three photo albums from the 50's, 60's and 70's -- sorted by blondes, brunettes and redheads -- that bring these nostalgic images of idealized (and objectified) womanhood out from under the mattresses of memory. A blonde named Joey Gibson, whose bouffant hairdo is topped with a baby-blue bow, is immortalized in 1967, nude and smiling on a sunny beach while leaning on a sand castle. She holds a yellow plastic mini-shovel, her polka-dot bikini discarded by the castle's moat.Brunettes need fewer props: in 1973 Bonnie Large wears a heart locket, while in 1971 Crystal Smith merely stands in a doorway sans locket, sans everything. The redheads are more complicated. Lynn Winchell, in 1967, kneels on a satiny pillow, looking up bewilderedly from a game of chess. An occasional epigram lies among the photographs -- ''It is possible that blondes also prefer gentlemen''-- for those text-crazed aficionados who read Playboy for the articles.

(Sorry.  Lost the URL for this one: Funny, when I did  the search for “New York Times, Playboy, Redheads, most of the hits came up with items about Maureen Dowd…)

December 13, 2005 | 11:44 AM ET |

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

Baghdad Holidays II

For ten minutes it was moderately tense.  It's OK now.

About twenty minutes ago, through my sandbagged window, I heard what seemed like an inordinate amount of fire.  I was just in the middle of writing an e-mail in which I was explaining some elements of revolutionary war and tactical methods on and off the battlefield.  It was nothing crucial or time sensitive, so I ambled outside for a cigarette.

Just outside the door I saw and heard the largest explosion of small arms fire that I have witnessed in my entire time here.  Hell, it was more fire than I have seen in my entire life.  Thousands of weapons going off, it was as though the entire city had exploded into a massive firefight.  Tracer rounds, bright red sparks in wavering lines, arched into the sky near and far across the limited field of view that I had from just outside the door.

It is normal to hear a firefight now and again, and seeing tracer rounds is not unusual.  But these cut into the night from across the whole arc outside our perimeter, to include from the location of the Iraqi Army battalion a few hundred yards away.  I climbed to a higher vantage point and saw tracers whipping upward from all points on the compass, and the flashing points of light that showed where others were shooting weapons without tracers.

This was not local.  With heavy gunfire everywhere, all around the IZ, all across the city, my boss and I both had the same thoughts…five days before the election…light at the end of the tunnel…Tet ’68.  Four of us were here still working.  Our post is pretty close to the edge of the Zone.  At that point we armed ourselves with our long guns.  I closed my e-mail to my fiancée and hit send.  Then I put on my armor and went out.

After about five minutes the fire started to die down.  Every once in a while we would still hear the odd round coming down around us, but nothing serious.  Fewer and fewer tracers lit up the sky.  Inside, a few minutes later, we pieced it together.

Iraq just beat Syria in soccer.

It was a city-wide explosion of what we call "Happy Fire."  You may have heard of the tragic incidents that occurred over the past several years, especially when we were new to the region, when we mistook the celebratory use of assault rifles and machine guns as a hostile act.  We rarely make that mistake anymore, but last night was a new one on me.  This was not a few dozen in-laws popping off a few rounds.  This was a city of six-million, with one assault rifle per home, sending steel-jacketed bullets off into the darkness.  Assuming that each of several thousand people fired just one magazine into the sky (and that is probably the low-ball guesstimate of the year), I would guess that some 20,000 pounds of lead just went skyward.  Gravity being what it is, 20,000 pounds also came down.  The fire is dying away now.

Now it’s gone.

Another night in Baghdad.

10 December 2005: 10:50 hrs (10:50 AM Local)

“Get the other boxes!”  Sergeant Wensink yelled across the parking lot.  Struggling towards the parked car under my own load, I did not reply.  Behind me another officer shouted back.


“Back on top of the lockers!” bellowed Wensink.

It is quite an impressive bellow, given that Sergeant First Class Lilia Wensink stands all of 5’1’’ tall.  The six-foot, 200-pound Airborne Ranger officer to whom she was yelling did an about-face as directed, in search of more boxes filled with school supplies for children.  Ten minutes later, with two cars filled with about twenty boxes, we set off for the schools.

It is a short trip, and a safe one, to the schools.  Unfortunately, our timing was off.  The boys school, home to one of the largest collections of miniature demons ever loosed upon the earth, was in recess.  They spotted our cars when we were still fifty yards away.

“American!  American!  What your name!  What your name!” screamed roughly around four-thousand rabid male hobbits as I opened my door.  Some of the other officers who had never been with us during a visit to the school were, well, a tad bit intimidated.  Even when each munchkin only weighs in at about fifty pounds, that many little boys crushing against you can unsettle.  I waded in.  I love the chaos.

With my pidgin Arabic (not made any more intelligible by the fact that I had to shout at the top of my own lungs) I got their attention, and had a few hundred of them lined up in front of the school for a photo.  That lasted something less than 11 micro-seconds, but it was enough to relieve the pressure on the other Americans long enough for them to dump their battle-rattle and lock up the car.  We hashed out our plan.  Half of us would take 2/3 of the supplies over to the girls Elementary School next door, the other four would descend into Dante’s version of grade school with the boys.  Fortunately, at about that time a bell rang, and the little demons returned to their classrooms.

Ten minutes later, the social necessities having been exchanged with the Administrator and Principal (and several of the teachers), we delivered today’s load on the boys side.  The best materials we personally presented to the teachers, since they are the foundation.  The rest we gave out to the boys.  Then, our duty done, we departed the Inferno and walked the one-hundred yards over to the calm and peaceful refuge of the Elementary girls school next door.

Just inside the door were four officers and NCOs, happily sorting and dividing the supplies into equitable one-girl-each piles.  About ten feet away, standing in a polite double file line, holding hands and happily giggling and waving to each new visitor to their school as they waited patiently for these gifts from Americans, were about thirty neatly dressed little First Grade angels.  This was the first class.  They would be followed, as possible, by more First Grade girls, then Second Grade, and so on until we ran out.  (We had enough for about four classes today, based upon what has come in over the past four days.)

After thirty minutes everything we brought was in the hands of children and teachers.  As we left we were again nearly swallowed in a mob of little boys.  Driving away I saw the smile on one teacher’s face, chaotic happiness among the demons, a little girl waving from the window of her classroom, and nine very happy officers and NCOs.  Two hours later, back at our base, mail call brought in six more boxes.

Today was a good day.

Baghdad within Earshot:

NSTR, unless you count that 20,000 pounds of lead going up and coming down last night.

If you are interested in helping with that school supplies project mentioned last week you can write to Major Bob at .

Correspondence Corner

Letter Unprinted by the New York Times
By Todd Gitlin

To the Editor:
Re:  "Multiple Reality Syndrome," by David Brooks (Dec. 4):

Mr. Brooks writes that earlier in the Iraq war "Sometimes I'd come away from off-the-record conversations and background briefings [with administration officials] feeling my intelligence had been insulted, because even in private, officials would ignore realities that were on newspaper front pages."

I have just reread Mr. Brooks' dozens of columns on Iraq.  He wrote that "senior members of his administration are capable of looking honestly at their mistakes" (Dec. 9, 2003).  He described the Bush administration as "drunk on truth serum," practicing "honesty and candor." (Dec. 13, 2003).  He proclaimed that Mr. Bush has "exceptional moral qualities" (Nov. 23, 2004), and that "two years from now...Bush's [inaugural] speech, which is being derided for its vagueness and its supposed detachment from the concrete realities, will still be practical and present in the world, yielding consequences every day." (Jan. 22, 2005).

But he never informed his readers that Bush and his team insulted his intelligence.  Thanks to Mr. Brooks, 27 months into his column, for finally getting around to telling us.

— Todd Gitlin

Name: Rabbi Samuel Mezvinsky
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
As a Jew and a Rabbi, do you know what I say say to people who wish me Merry Christmas?  I say "Thank you"!  I suggest you start doing the same and quit with all this mishigas.  Life is too short Eric so fight the big battles and have some fun.  Happy Chanukah to you and your family.

Name: Dan Friedman
Although I am not very observant, I'll go on record as a person of Jewish heritage and declare without fear of contradiction that I could not possibly care less if someone behind the counter in a department store wishes me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holidays.  It's one thing for a complete stranger to say it and quite another for someone who knows me to do the same.  That's why I do care about the movement of the demogogues at Fox led by Mr. O'Reilly trying to divide the country even further with this War on Christmas garbage.  It makes you wonder if Fox remembers how the burning of the Reichstag was blamed on the communists as a means of making them persona non grata in pre-war Germany.  I suppose that I'll be taken to task for hinting at a dreaded Nazi comparison, but we have to ask ourselves - with a war on, a major U.S. city decimated by natural disaster, the high cost of energy, and the real danger of a flu pandemic, is this really the issue we want to worry about right now?

Name: Matthew Saroff
Hometown: Owings Mills, MD
I would note that has been doing wonderful work on the anti-Semitic overtones in the entire "War on Christmas" tempest in a tea pot.  He has compared the language of O'Reilly, Mason and the rest of them to Henry Ford's anti-Semitic screed "The International Jew."  They are indistinguishable.  On the more amusing side, if you like slightly sick humor, are his parody news reports regarding an anti-Christmas Jewish/ACLU insurgency, complete with abductions and beheadings.  Check it out.  He is a good writer, and a brilliant polemicist.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
I think my late brother Michael had Christmas and the whole "holiday season" about right.  He would say that it should be like being invited to a big party.  You can spend the whole night sycophantically thanking the host for inviting you, or at some point during the evening, you can sidle up to him/her and say "Hey, great party! Thanks for the invite."  Yes, at some point during the hoilday season, find your way to a church and give thanks to God.  And the rest of the time?  Relax, and enjoy yourself.  It's a party!

Name: Matt
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
I have heard it all now. Clicking through the channels, I stopped breifly on Fox News to listen to Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) talking about his recent trip to Iraq.  He said things are improving daily, and that the reason we don't hear anything about the successful reconstruction effort is that if we announce the successes, Al-Qaeda will seek to destroy them.  NEW TALKING POINT: "Can't talk about the successful projects because insurgents will blow them up, so you'll just have to trust us."  New spin on an old talking point.  Instead of blaming the press for not covering success stories, they blame the insurgents for not being able to tell people about success stories.  Hey, don't we pay journalists in Iraq good money to talk about success stories?  Armed with this talking point that will no longer be necessary.

December 12, 2005 | 12:43 PM ET | Permalink

What kind of leaders do we have?

We have the kind who arrange for dictatorships to torture prisoners into giving them false information so that they can deliberately mislead the nation into a counterproductive, ruinous war.  Do I exaggerate?  I think not, .  Congratulations, again, liberal hawks, for trusting these people with the job of bring democracy to the Arab world.

And yet even with all that, they lie and manipulate evidence anyway:

More than a year before President Bush declared in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear weapons material in Africa, the French spy service began repeatedly warning the CIA in secret communications that there was no evidence to support the allegation.— .

What kind of leaders are we training?  "There is growing evidence that such forces are abducting, torturing and killing Sunni Arabs,” .

Kinsley writes:  “The presentation of Jews and Judaism on these shows deserves a long, ambivalent essay of its own, .”  Quick someone call Rabbi Nick King and Rabbi-ess Cathy Young.

Speaking of the tribe, in his IPF column, , MJ Rosenberg takes on the Fox News "war on Christmas" as a not too subtle attack on Jews.  After all, Rosenberg points out, virtually all of Bill O'Reilly's targets are Jews, starting with George Soros -- and now John Stewart!  And O'Reilly did give the game away last year when he told Jews who don't like Christmas to "move to Israel."  Rosenberg puts it like this:

The fact that the Christmas warriors are talking in code should not fool anybody.  When a political candidate denounces his opponent for receiving campaign contributions from New York and Beverly Hills, we all know who he is talking about.  Similarly, denunciations of secular liberals, especially when coupled with references to, say, George Soros and John Stewart, are pretty unambiguous.

Rosenberg reserves special scorn for O'Reilly's new ally, comedian Jackie Mason, who has gone on Fox to take O'Reilly's side against those liberal Jews who are out there assaulting Santa Claus.  He calls Mason "the Stepin Fetchit of Jewish comedians."  The O'Reilly-Mason alliance is no big surprise.  Mason, who famously called Mayor Dinkins "a fancy schwartze with a moustache" has always trafficked in racial stereotypes.  In his dotage, he has now turned on the Jews.  Bye bye, Jackie.  It says something when the crazy right has Jackie Mason and we have John Stewart.  This is a cultural war we have won!

Wow, is something.  Clear Channel is selling the rights to name their “newsrooms” to corporate advertisers.

Recommended Reading:

The VF Sulzberger is and Ken Auletta’s New Yorker piece is .  I’ve not read either one yet.

Viveca Novak’s account of her testimony is .

Long Times take out on U.S. propaganda offensive in Iraq, .

Todd Gitlin and friend about the meaning of Newspaper staff cuts, .

The VF Arianna profile is .  Guess who the unnamed liberal columnist is (who, by the way, said this on the record, but VF decided to pretend he didn’t).

Umberto Eco on .

Christopher Jencks: What Happened to Welfare?  .

Albert Einstein, .

Kristol vs. Fukuyama .

Caitlin Flanagan, on Mary Poppins .

My open-minded neocon friend, Barbara McGurn, the Oak Room, and the state of cabaret, .  (WSJ, $)

Luke Menand on Tony Judt’s Europe, .

Quote of the Day:  “As tomorrow’s novelists prepare to narrate the private lives of the new élites, they are no doubt expecting the West to criticize the limits that their states place on freedom of expression.  But these days the lies about the war in Iraq and the reports of secret C.I.A. prisons have so damaged the West’s credibility in Turkey and in other nations that it is more and more difficult for people like me to make the case for true Western democracy in my part of the world.” Orhan Pamuk, .


Marjorie Williams:  The Woman at the Washington Zoo.  I was professionally friendly, but not friends, with the late Marjorie Williams who died of cancer not long ago.  That lack of a significant personal connection ought to give me a little extra credibility—compared to those who are personally affected by her loss—when I say that in her day, she was the best magazine profile writer in the world.  But now you don’t have to take my word for it because a bunch of those profiles have been collected and you can see for yourselves.  (The one weakness of these pieces—and it’s not an insignificant one—is that they don’t take politics sufficiently seriously—which is why I hope we get a collection from the current holder of the title of the best magazine profile writer in America, Mr. Charles Pierce.)  Read about it .

Sal on “Our New Orleans” (Nonesuch)

With the bombardment of New Orleans tribute records from so many artists on so many labels, it was easy to overlook the last few, including ","  which came out this week and turns out to be the best of the lot.  We casually mentioned it last week with no fanfare whatsoever.  Oy, votta mistake!  This release from the Nonesuch label features such legends as ALLEN TOUSSAINT, DR. JOHN, IRMA THOMAS, and the DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND, as well as such New Orleans faves as DR. MICHAEL WHITE, THE WILD MAGNOLIAS, EDDIE BO, and BEAUSOLEIL, all performing newly recorded works specifically for this collection.  It is an understated and moving collection of music that completely understands and conveys the feel of the city and the sadness of its loss.

Nellie McCay at “Makor” by Ann Pryor

When I closed my eyes to listen to Nellie McKay sing, “David,” the earth wobbled.  Against the quiet backdrop of a piano, with McKay’s celestial voice and plaintive lyrics, I remembered being 15, sitting cross-legged in my parent’s living room, listening to an a song on a pristinely kept vinyl album recorded by a whiskey-smoothed chanteuse singing about chasms of love created by walls of isolation, spiritual or otherwise.  “David, don’t you hear me at all?  David, don’t you hear through the wall?”  Only a seasoned and heartbroken soul could come up with a line like that.  Yet McKay’s freshly scrubbed face and wide smile confused my senses, making me wonder how she could have such wisdom.

That’s McKay’s double edge.  At her Makor performance in New York Monday night, older listeners appreciated her maturity and her musical references to Bacharach, Mancini, and her idol, Doris Day.  Fans of all ages found her hot.  Her angelic beauty belies the vestiges of serious teen angst.  Yet her lyrics go after the bad guy in the White House, gay rights and animal cruelty (To wit: her song “Columbia is Bleeding” is about the university’s little-known animal experiments… that’s gotta be a first).

As a relative music industry youngster thrown to the lions at Sony Music, she’s proven remarkably capable.  While the media giant finds her a viably marketable money-maker, they weren’t too savvy forcing her to release a 48-minute album.  Her show earlier in the week at LA’s Troubadour found her protesting, and the label appears to have capitulated over the weekend.  At the Makor show, she thanked her supporters and took a victory lap.

McKay’s performance was like a lenticular photograph – at any moment you might see another angle, another image.  When she addressed and amused the crowd, she occasionally stuttered and fumbled for words, her accent reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn.  Singing, she transformed into a luminous, confident star, stilling the standing-room only crowd.  Her best moments were without the band; they overpowered her smart lyrics and drowned her charm.  At one point, she stopped the band mid-song and requested they start the number again.

“I don’t wanna think,” she sings.  “Don’t wanna think about the schools in Bosnia/don’t wanna sing about food in Somalia/I don’t need this, I don’t see this,” she pleaded in “Inner Peace.”  She’s an old soul, more interested in consequences than being inconsequential and a fiercely glamorously presence.  Let’s hope her record label can keep up with her.

Eric adds: Hey, Makor turns out to be a great place to see a show, too.  Good sightlines, cheap and decent (if Kosher) food.

Correspondence Corner:

Name:  Richard Nimmons
Hometown:  Victoria, BC
Apologies for the semantic debate.

I accept William Berry's comments about usage vs. entomology as the basis for definition. I agree that usage should be the basis for defining words and had no intent to limit the definition of Theocracy.

What I was attempting to do was draw a distinction between Theocracy in the sense of being guided by Divine Writ and those who put on the guise of piety to justify what is not in the Scripture - whom I would call hierophants.

The early Puritans tried to use the Bible to guide their actions and tried to live by the whole of its writings.  Saladin was notable for his piety and generally observed the Islamic injunctions to protect non-combatants and to keep faith even when the Christian Crusaders flouted them.

The Mullahs, Priests, Pat Robertsons, et al. selectively invoke Scripture to justify what a full reading of their sacred texts would not allow - killing non-combatants, advocating the assassination of foreign leaders, etc. - and use their position as Mullahs, Priests, or Pastors to gain their own ends.

Rule by such should, I think, be distinguished by being called Hierocracy.

As Berry points out, usage is more important than derivation.  I referred to the entomology as the word Hierocracy is seldom used and I felt the word's derivation might help.

Name: Peter Alaimo
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
The solution to the Christmas wars is for Christians (of whom I am one) to realize that we celebrate the Incarnation by asking God to let Christ be born in our souls.  We do not ask that he be born in department stores or any other public place.  Winter Festivals are secular and can be celebrated by all in the public square.  Religious holy days are for believers and belong in their souls, their churches, and their homes.

Name:  Vincent Daly
Hometown:  Baltimore, Maryland
Stephen Hirsch isn't quite right that "the Orthodox [Christians] have been celebrating his birth in a quiet, dignified manner on 1/6 for hundreds of years."  The Eastern Churches, like the Western Churches, celebrate Christmas on December 25, but some of them use the Julian Calendar, in which December 25 corresponds to January 7 (now, but formerly the 6, and before that the 5, and so on) in the Gregorian Calendar.  But he's certainly right that there is no biblical basis for December 25, and no biblical basis for a celebration of Christ's birth on any day.  Which is why the New England Puritans and some fundamentalist Christians today oppose any celebration of Christmas.  The more fundamentalist you claim to be, the more you should be opposed to Christmas altogether, or so it seems to me looking at it from the outside.

Name: JS Sikes
Hometown: Austin, TX
Dr. A, as much as I enjoy reading Major Bob's accounts from Iraq, and while I know his heart, and Stupid's too, are in the right place trying to get school supplies to the kids, as Stephen Carver pointed out today, our kids are failing math and science.  Why?  I submit a big part of the reason is slashed educational funding for our schools.  Why?  In part, to pay for the miasma in Iraq.  Just think, if the $200 Billion to Iraq had been divided equally among this nation's school districts, our teachers would be paid what they deserve, the libraries would be open for research, there would be a surplus of supplies which could then be sent abroad to the poorer nations.  Heck, I remember participating in just such "supplies fundraisers" when I was a kid...except then the supplies were sent to poorer districts in this country.  As it is, our kids don't have paper to write on, books to study, or chalk.  Charity begins at home, and this year, as perhaps never before, our children deserve the best money can buy so that they can be the best they can be.  So, if it feels right to send dollars for Iraqi supplies, do it, but don't forget to pick up the phone and/or e-mail your local school district, your state representatives and Congress next time there's an educational bill pending which would directly effect the quality of education in this country.

Name: Robert P. Ewing
Hometown: Paoli, Pennsylvania
It appears as if at least one Republican has decided that when you're caught is a good time to develop an ethical sense — and to use the famous "I want a do-over" stratagem.  As reported by The New York Times on December 11, 2005, Congressman Joe Knollenberg, a Republican from Michigan was able to insert a provision into an appropriations bill requiring Amtrak to sharply increase the number of carloads of premium perishable freight it hauls or forego $8.3 million in Federal funding, even though Amtrak, which loses money in carrying such freight, would like to exit that type of business completely.  By the sheerest of coincidences, the only manufacturer of the rail cars used for such freight traffic, a company called ExpressTrak, is owned by a large donor to Mr. Knollenberg.  From the Times article, I offer the following gems: "But Mr. Knollenberg changed course Friday afternoon.  After documents obtained by The New York Times raised questions about lobbying by ExpressTrak and its lawyers to obtain the $8.3 million for Amtrak, Mr. Knollenberg released a statement saying he would work to reverse the legislation . . . The $8.3 million is notable for another reason: it is almost precisely the amount that ExpressTrak's lawyers seem to have identified as a minimum target figure for settling [an ExpressTrak] lawsuit against Amtrak, records show."  Of course, nothing else in Mr. Knollenberg's background suggests any shenanigans with lobbyists (provided one wants to discount the fact that one of the largest donors to his 2004 campaign was Wilkes Corp. - Randy Cunningham's good buddies).