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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

| 10:53 AM ET |

I’ve got a new Think Again column called “Change the Tone” .

And the National Security Archive Update has an update on its suit to rescue the FOIA law from the Bush administration .

Why I might be wrong about Gore:  “Despite the rousing release of "An Inconvenient Truth," 42% of Americans still view Al Gore unfavorably, reports the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire.”

Just what the world doesn’t need now:  “Bloomberg News will launch a new weekend television show from Washington this Saturday, June 17: "Political Capital with Al Hunt."  It will feature analysis of the top political, economic and international stories from Bloomberg reporters in Washington and around the world; "Simon Says" -- a political debriefing from Roger Simon, Bloomberg's chief political reporter; an interview with a prominent newsmaker - Sen. Obama this week, and a "Last Word" debate between Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson or Michelle Cottle.”

Does mean I’ll be getting a new editor?

For those of you who are wondering what changes are in store with parenthood, I’ll be seeing “” tonight at Town Hall, with the kid instead of and I feel fine.  Next week will be another guest Altercator week with Eric R, Siva and Jeralyn (and maybe Boehlert, I’m not really keeping track) stepping in.  I am making a stopover in Paris (to get my instructions for the year) on my way to Venice, where my new friend, Mikhail Gorbachev has invited me to speak at a conference on media and citizenship, I think, back in time to catch the last show of the Seeger Sessions tour if all goes well.  Yes, I know, but someone has to…

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to be a union buster.  Here's arguably the most important news story of the year: by the Education Trust found that the quality of teachers in high-poverty schools makes a stunning difference in student performance.

The high quality teachers (defined by ACT scores, college selectivity, knowledge test scores and experience) **doubled** the number of students in impoverished schools who passed their state’s basic skills tests.  "The research shows that kids who have two, three, four strong teachers in a row will eventually excel, no matter what their background, while kids who have even two weak teachers in a row will never recover" concluded the group's president, Kati Haycock.  This is consistent with results when kids from failing schools are allowed to transfer to good schools: they make quantum gains despite the burden of longer commutes.  Think of all the John Stossel-like things you’ve heard from conservatives who have talked about ineffectual past education spending initiatives (the results are muddier than they portray, but still disappointing).  Here’s an approach that liberals and conservatives might unite behind.  As the Education Trust study unsurprisingly showed, "high quality" teachers rarely go to the schools they're needed at the most.  That requires higher salaries and safer school environments.  Hey, here's a thought: assign half of the troops in Iraq to the Mexican border and assign the other half to hall monitor!

Seriously, these kinds of reforms -- indeed, even some large scale experimentation -- can only happen in a meritocracy.  I have infinite respect for teachers, and if anything I think they need strong unions more than most professions (the unspoken sexism is that teacher = woman = has a husband and/or loves to be with kids regardless of salary).  But time and time again they seem like a protectionist obstacle to honest reform.  About fifteen years ago I toyed with a career change and went to night school to get certified as a K-9 public school teacher.  The number of obstacles put in college graduates' paths was shocking.  I had engineering and law degrees from a major university, yet I had to go to community college to fill-in "deficiencies" in science and history.  Conversely, when I took the embarrassingly simple basic math skills test, at least a quarter of the room of education majors (mostly) was struggling.  Today there are more alternative teaching tracks, but teacher unions still oppose any significant changes from the traditional longevity system and this has to change.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC
How about a George Aiken award?  Apparently there are a few sensible Republicans left who carry on willing his tradition.  From

Some House Republicans have complained that their party has taken flight from its responsibility to debate and oversee administration policy. "I can't help but feel through eyes of a combat-wounded Marine in Vietnam, if someone was shot, you tried to save his life. ... While you were in combat, you had a sense of urgency to end the slaughter, and around here we don't have that sense of urgency," said Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (Md.), a usually soft-spoken Republican who has urged his leaders to challenge the White House on Iraq. "To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on. If you're raising money to keep the majority, if you're thinking about gay marriage, if you're doing all this other peripheral stuff, what does that say to the guy who's about ready to drive over a land mine?"...But Gilchrest, who won the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his Marine service in Vietnam in the 1960s, believes political considerations have already played too large a role in the debate. In November, after Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) announced his support for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, Republican leaders hastily pushed a resolution to the House floor calling for immediate pull-out. But the cursory two-hour debate was noteworthy less for serious policy discourse than for the suggestion by the House's newest member, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), that Murtha, a decorated war veteran, was a coward."It was ludicrous," Gilchrest said. "It had nothing to do with saving lives. It had nothing to do with the war. It was one-upsmanship against the Democrats."That sentiment spurred Gilchrest and four other Republicans to break with their leadership this spring and sign on to a Democratic petition pushing for debate. Boehner pledged to do so weeks ago. ...But Gilchrest acknowledged he has ambivalent feelings about the way forward to success in Iraq. Citing his own battlefield experiences, he said this uncertainty is all the more reason for a full debate. "How many members have in their life [experienced] putting the barrel of their gun on another man's chest and pulling the trigger?" he asked in an interview this week. "How many members have experienced the chaos of a 3 a.m. battle, pushing your bayonet through another man's body?  How many members have wrapped themselves around a fellow soldier who just lost his legs in a land mine and you feel the last breath and he's dead, calling in airstrikes on a village and walking through, seeing dead babies and others who are still alive, being with someone who's been shot and you can't move, you can't do anything because you're under intense fire and he dies right next to you?"

I guess the Coulterites and Dittoheads already have Mr. Gilchrest their sights.

Name: Kirsten
Hometown: Berkeley, CA
The argument against allowing the definition of marriage to be expanded to include same sex couples runs along the lines of "it's not natural", "marriage has always been between a man and a woman", etc. These to me are religious grounds and definitions. The legal status, rights, responsibilities and privileges of marriage and family should be a separate thing and available to many different people who want to define their families.  I would vote for civil unions for everyone and leave marriage to the churches. That would require religious people to marry in a church and then go to the courthouse to legalize it in a civil union, but that doesn't seem like much different than already happens. The added complexity here is why stop at same sex couples? If we are simply talking about the rights and responsibilities of family, what if two elderly unmarried sisters wanted to form a civil union to define and legalize their bond in the same definition?  Not in a perverse sexual way, but just to codify and obtain the legal aspects of marriage.  In my opinion, when the state uses an entirely religious definition confer specific benefits upon a certain group of people just because they happen to be lucky enough to meet that category, it discriminates against all others.  The discrimination is not just against gays, it is also against many single people of all sorts who live together in various family organizations without these benefits.

Name: John DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
The best piece of irony coming out of the Juan Cole/Yale affair is Professor Cole's opposition to the movement in Britain to boycott Israeli academics. That'll teach him to have honesty and integrity, something sorely lacking in the Neo-Con world.

June 15, 2006 | 12:28 PM ET |

They hate us.  They really hate us.
Plus the Altercation Book Club

“America's global image has again slipped and support for the war on terrorism has declined even among close U.S. allies like Japan. The war in Iraq is a continuing drag on opinions of the United States, not only in predominantly Muslim countries but in Europe and Asia as well.  And despite growing concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the U.S. presence in Iraq is cited at least as often as Iran - and in many countries much more often - as a danger to world peace. A year ago, anti-Americanism had shown some signs of abating, in part because of the positive feelings generated by U.S. aid for tsunami victims in Indonesia and elsewhere. But favorable opinions of the United States have fallen in most of the 15 countries surveyed." 

More from Pew, .

Peretz Agonistes:  Marty Peretz’ attacks on Edward Said were the stuff of farce.  A man whose primary accomplishment is marrying two incredibly wealthy women, using that money to buy a magazine, which he then has to sell over and over to new investors because of massive losses both in his personal investment portfolio and in the magazine, should not spend his time attacking someone who has earned his reputation as among the most accomplished literary critics and theorists in the world by dint of his own talent and hard work.  Since taking over TNR, Peretz does not appear to have much in the way of achievements either.  I defend the magazine frequently and it’s certainly published many worthwhile articles during that long history—though none of them have been by Peretz—but if we’re going strictly by the numbers, his ownership has been a catastrophe.  When Peretz bought TNR its circulation was three or four times that of The Nation; now it’s not even a third of it, and Peretz owns barely a third of that.  And, while I don’t judge people by how much money they make, when it comes to scholarship Marty Peretz’s accomplishments equivalent to those of Menachem Begin in physics.  (An Israeli physicist at Bar-Ilan University once nominated Begin for the Nobel Prize in physics.  His explanation: “Well, he won the peace prize and his accomplishment in physics are at least as impressive.)  In other words, Peretz has no significant scholarly achievements to his name whatever.  Whether he has any journalistic achievements to his name at all is arguable, but let’s just say if he did not use those wedding dowries to buy a magazine way back when, it’s pretty damn unlikely anybody would have heard of him at all.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because Peretz is at it again, making a jerk of himself with attacks on Juan Cole.  I’ve not written anything about Yale’s decision to refuse to offer Cole a position despite the recommendation of its faculty.  I tend to stay out of tenure arguments, because nobody knows the real story except the people in the room and because I have no scholarly qualifications in Cole’s field of Middle Eastern studies and hence, cannot set myself up to judge.  That said, it does smell like a case of successful McCarthyism undertaken by the very same Neocons who helped cause this catastrophic war.  And if you want to see a prime example of what such tactics look like, read Peretz’ blog item about the controversy.  I thought this quite sympathetic TNR reader offered up an appropriate response in the comments section so I’m borrowing it below:

“Please lock up Marty's keyboard posted by CJM3712 on 2006-06-13 06:57:58This time he's gone way beyond a level of gratuitous crankiness that can be shrugged off as the price of reading TNROnline.  I disagree with much of Cole's take on Israel-Palestine but I've never caught a whiff of anti-Semitism when Cole's raving about Sharon et al. Cole's views wouldn't seem out of place within the "peace" segment of Israeli political opinion. But the anti-Semite crack is par for the Peretz course.The real calumny is calling Cole "the popular left-wing point man for the current Muslim atrocities in Iraq." How in the world could anyone who reads Cole's anguished reports about the violence that is tearing Iraq apart -- which he writes to try to help us figure out who is doing what to whom and why, and how the US could change its policies to help avert further spiraling into civil war -- consider Cole a "point man for Muslim atrocities." Cole has been extremely critical of the decision to invade Iraq and the BushAdmin's conduct of the occupation, but he hasn't even been in the "withdraw now" camp! Peretz might as well accuse Spencer Ackerman of the same.This is the stuff of littlegreenfootballs.  Peretz owes Cole a formal retraction and apology.” 

You can read the rest of the comments .

Meanwhile, Jonathan Steele on the phrase itself, .

Kissinger’s memcoms, .

Anonymous?   “An anonymous source close to Rove tells the Washington Post: "He did nothing wrong, he was not involved, he did everything right and owes nobody any apology."

Altercation Book Club:

Americanism: New Perspectives on the History of an Ideal
(University of North Carolina Press, 2006). By Michael Kazin and Joseph McCartin

(For details go .)

Our anthology demonstrates how scholars are coming to terms with one of the most controversial, as well as more contested, ideologies in the modern world. Yet we are not just scholars of a phenomenon that has attracted, repelled, and intrigued millions throughout its history. We are also citizens concerned about the future of our nation. We cannot, therefore, avoid taking a stand ourselves.[i]

In our opinion, the ideals of Americanism deserve not just to endure but to be revived and practiced as the foundation of a new kind of progressive politics. The quality of our democracy, the health of our pluralistic culture, and the role our nation plays in the world all hinge on our ability to recreate Americanism in the years ahead.  The national ideology will continue to flourish, whether or not it is embraced by the left. But if progressives – as scholars and citizens -- wish to play a significant role in shaping this nation’s future, they must learn again how to speak in terms of ideals they share with other Americans.

When intellectuals on the left abandoned this project – believing it was an obstacle to achieving a humane, democratic society – they also lost the ability to speak convincingly to their fellow citizens and thus to pose convincing alternatives for the nation as a whole. While these intellectuals can take credit for spearheading a multicultural, gender-aware revision of the humanities, their record outside the academy has been far less impressive. The right set the political agenda, in part because its partisans spoke forcefully in the name of American principles that knit together disparate groups – anti-union businessmen, white evangelicals, Jewish neo-conservatives, traditionalist Catholics – for mutual ends.

In the face of such evidence, many progressives would respond that civic idealism should not be confined within national borders. In a provocative 1994 essay, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum argued that patriotism is “morally dangerous” because it encourages Americans to focus on their own concerns and minimize or disregard those of people in other lands. “We should regard our deliberations,” she wrote, “as, first and foremost, deliberations about human problems of people in particular concrete situations, not problems growing out of a national identity that is altogether unlike that of others.”[ii] Echoing her words, activists and intellectuals muse about challenging global exploitation with some form of global citizenship.

Nussbaum certainly stands on solid ethical ground. As we have seen in recent years, smug insularity is a grave danger, both to Americans and to the people of other lands. Americans ought to take a massacre in Africa as seriously as one that takes place in lower Manhattan – and demand that their government move rapidly to halt or help to prevent it. But Nussbaum offers no guidance for how global progressives can get the power to carry out their laudable objectives in a world in which political power still resides with nation states and their governments. No planetary government is on the horizon.  Nation states---and therefore nationalism---will be with us for quite some time.  Instead of raging against their persistence, we should view them empathetically, doing what we can to help realize the best rather than the worst possibilities of faith in a country and its people.  That project is most pressing, it seems to us, in the world’s most powerful nation-state.

Progressive intellectuals need not parrot the Pledge of Allegiance or affix flag pins to their lapels or handbags. But we must do more than rail against patriotic ideals and symbols.  For to do so is to wage a losing battle – one that marginalizes us and sets us against the overwhelming majority of Americans for no worthwhile intellectual or political purpose. As Todd Gitlin wrote soon after the attacks of 9/11,  “It’s time for a patriotism of mutual aid,not just symbolic displays, not catechisms or self-congratulations. It’s time to diminish the gap between the nation we love and the justice we also love. It’s time for the real America to stand up.”[iii]

In this spirit, progressives should claim, without pretense or apology, an honorable place in the long line of those who demanded that Americanism apply to all and opposed the efforts of those who tried to reserve its use for privileged groups and belligerent causes. This  narrative includes visionary activists from Frederick Douglass to Eugene Debs to Martin Luther King, Jr.  During the height of the Vietnam war, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize spoke in a way that can still inspire those who would nurture a progressive national faith.  “I criticize America because I love her,” King said, “and because I want to see her to stand as the moral example of the world.”

Today, it’s difficult to strike such a balance between affirmation and self-criticism. Those who trumpet an Americanism of self-righteous expansion struggle against those who view anti-Americanism as the only virtuous posture. But two other national icons suggest how one might embrace Americanism with humility and mobilize behind patriotic ideals without succumbing to a martial spirit. In the fall of 1862, Abraham Lincoln told Congress why emancipation was in the American grain: “In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.” As historian Ronald C. White comments, “Lincoln shared with his contemporaries a belief in the special destiny of America.” But “Brooding over the honor and dishonor in his nation’s actions, he was unwilling to reduce political rhetoric to national self-congratulation.”[iv]

Almost half-a-century later, William James took issue with a warrior’s definition of Americanism. “The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes,” he wrote, “And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does its saving day by day.”[v]  Lincoln and James provide both a useful resource and a  point of departure for those who hope to revive that “civic genius,” a generous Americanism free of patriotic vanity. Never has our nation or the world  been in greater need of such a revival.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Julie Marie Totsch
Hometown: Racine, WI
This is for Kyle Childress.  As a lesbian, I really don't care if they call it marriage or civil union.  All I want is the right to inherit without paying taxes on a home we purchased together.  I don't want us being on different floors in a nursing home.  And, when one of us is sick, I want the other to make the necessary decisions -- just like a straight married couple.  I'll put up with separate but equal, if it means I get some rights now.

Name: Heshy Ben-Tov
Hometown: Postville, Iowa
Bubbala, Did you see the Bill O'Reilly last night?  He lumped you and a bunch of other people from the far left together as people who hate America and people he would never interview because it would be impossible to have a dialogue.  He branded you one of the "Hate America Crowd."  I thought it was completely unfair because I read you every day and I don't think you hate America as much as the others he cited.

Name: Andrew Milner
Hometown: Bryn Mawr, PA
With all due respect to Yetsuh Frank "the single greatest essay on baseball ever written" is actually Roger Angell's 1975 portrait of ill-fated Pirates pitcher (and Roberto Clemente teammate) Steve Blass, "Gone for Good," which appears in two Angell collections, FIVE SEASONS and ONCE MORE AROUND THE PARK.
[i] Some sentences in this coda are adapted from Michael Kazin, “A Patriotic Left,” Dissent, Fall 2002, 41-44.

[ii] Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” in For Love of Country (Boston, 1996), 7.

[iii] Todd Gitlin, “Varieties of Patriotic Experience,” The Fight Is For Democracy, ed. George Packer (New York, 2003), 138.

[iv] Ronald C. White, Jr., Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (NY,  2002), 159.

[v] William James, “Robert Gould Shaw,” in Memories and Studies (NY, 1912), quoted in Jonathan M. Hansen, The Lost Promise of Patriotism: Debating American Identity, 1890-1920 (Chicago, 2003), x.

June 14, 2006 | 12:05 PM ET |

All the world’s a stage…
Iraq-o-rama or Who needs Fox when you’ve got the Times?

Two things I'm really tired of are the president of the United States sounding like a total moron about matters of life and death and the so-called liberal New York Times indulging his moronic-ness as if it were a Neocon version of Tiger Beat.

Bush sounding like a moron can be found :

Mr. Bush told the prime minister that he had come "to look you in the eye."  He repeated the phrase later at the palace, when he told troops and other Americans he had come "to look at Prime Minister Maliki in the eyes and determine whether or not he is as dedicated to a free Iraq as you are."

Excuse me bub, but that’s not the way life works.  You can’t fly across the world, have a couple of photo ops for a few minutes with a guy whose language you do not speak and whose country’s history you know nothing about and “determine whether or not he is dedicated to a free Iraq.”

Remember back in June 2001, when Bush met Putin in Slovakia, he declared, "I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. ... I was able to get a sense of his soul."  That one didn’t turn out so well did it, bub?  Maybe you better ask your handler, you know, the guy who in Vilnius not long ago “criticized some unnamed 'empire' but pointed out that it borders such 'frontline' democracies as the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Georgia.  When he switched from a rather informal description of what a vibrant civic society is, he did not waste time placing Russia on a firing spot to show that it does not meet the grade.  Being unsatisfied with general criticism, Cheney proceeded with specific concerns ­ namely, the Russian use of trade sanctions for political ends and its support of ethnical separatists that he claimed put Russia at risk of becoming an international pariah.”

More .

Really, it’s too dumb to have to even discuss;  One day the media is all excited about a phony turkey; the next day it paints lipstick on a real one.

But anyway, let’s go to the stats on the Times coverage, shall we:

People quoted favorably about Bush in Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s alleged “News Analysis”:

  1. Karl Rove, presidential adviser who purposely reveals CIA agent’s identity and then lies about it.

  2. Kenneth M. Duberstein, a former chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan,

  3. Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster,

  4. Dan Senor, a former adviser to the American-led coalition in Iraq who is now a crisis management consultant in New York

  5. Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired Army commander (Bush supporter, accused of a massacre in first Gulf War)

People quoted neutrally:

People quoted negatively:

She adds herself, “It was powerful political theater, choreographed by an experienced team that played up the drama and secrecy of the moment.”  Read all about it .

Everybody’s drinking the Kool-aid today the Washington Post's Peter Baker:  "Bush took full command of the political stage with his five-hour appearance in Baghdad,"

People, it’s not a go**am stage.  It’s a war.

Oh never mind…

Thomas DeFrank writes that after yesterday, Bush has the "Big Mo" back .

Oh and he’s destroying the military, by the way, by (neocon Fred Kagan).

Two things by Ezra Klein stolen from Tapped:

  1. LESS SUBSTANCE, PLEASE. Sigh. From Ana Marie Cox:

    Considering the lavish party Mark Warner had thrown for them the night before, perhaps bloggers should not be so hasty with accusations of schmooze. Still, schmoozing is basically harmless if it doesn't affect what one writes — and if bloggers are re-inventing the journalist wheel, they're still getting around to that one. At the Q&A Warner held with bloggers after his speech, the questions were respectful and sincere. The first one was about whether Warner was correct in asserting that Iran is a greater threat to our national security than Pakistan. A better question might have been, how valuable is the opinion on such matters when it comes from a one-term governor of Virginia?

    How could that possibly be a better question? Because it's unanswerable, guaranteed to teach you nothing about the candidate's views or thought processes, and slightly more likely to provoke an embarrassing gaffe or awkward response?

    So that's how the pros do it.

  2. "In 2004 and 2005," Boaz writes, "Cuomo had more than $1.5 million in adjusted gross income. And he gave a total of $2,000 to charity. He made no charitable contributions in 2003, when his income was a bit less than $300,000. It’s no wonder that Cuomo believes passionately in taxing Americans to support all manner of welfare and transfer programs. Looking within himself, he quite understandably fears that in the absence of coerced transfer programs there would be no support for the poor. Yet in fact Americans gave about $250 billion to charity in 2004, or an average of about 2 percent of income."

    Oh boy, 2 percent of income! You hear this quite a bit, that liberals support large welfare programs because they fear their own selfishness. It's a nifty bit of ideological jujitsu. Liberals, who want to codify sufficient support for the poor, are actually less generous than conservatives, who would fund a parallel welfare state out of the goodness of their own hearts but are continually foiled by progressive taxation. Since paltry amounts of unprompted giving are considered somehow purer than a willingness to support large coerced contributions, conservatives are better people. QED.

    But let's look at the data a bit more closely. In 2004, charitable donations totaled $248.5 billion, a 2.3 percent increase over 2003. Given that the growth rate in 2003 was 3 percent, charitable donations grew more slowly than the economy. How generous. Of that $248.5 billion, $187.9 billion came from individuals, $28.8 billion from foundations, and $12 billion from corporations. So for individual contributions, which Boaz is talking about, the operative amount is just shy of $190 billion. But even that vastly overstates how much money is donated to aid the needy.

    Remember that charitable donations don't necessarily equal food and roofs for the poor. A disproportionate amount goes to the arts, much to foreign aid, and a ton to local churches, through tithing and bequests and old cars and so forth. In fact, religious institutions absorbed the bulk of 2004's charity, with $88.3 billion -- a bit over a third of the total. Next came education -- think alumni giving -- with $33.8 billion. The health sector (disease research and so forth) ate up $21.9 billion, while "human service" -- which is to say, charity supporting the poor -- took $19.7 billion. Arts, cultures, and humanities received $14 billion, animals and the environment $13 billion, and international affairs $5 billion. So what the poor are really getting is some fraction of the religious giving through faith-based outreach programs, and the $20 or so billion going to so-called "human services." Some riches.

    Nor is all giving equal. Rich families funnel a couple million to charity before the estate tax kicks in so they can dodge the penalty. Many more -- particularly at the high ends of the income bracket -- donate for deductions, seeking lower marginal tax rates. And I'm not certain that charity in service of lower taxes is really morally superior to coerced redistribution. Even if it is, it's clearly insufficient to replace the welfare state. The patchwork couple of billion going to aid the poor simply can't fund the alternative structures necessary to deal with society's needs. Boaz may like to mock Cuomo's stinginess, but in the final analysis, one of them is willing to ensure the indigent have health care, the other isn't. And I know which record I'd prefer to flash before St. Peter.

Quote of the Day, Joe SCARBOROUGH:  “And you know I sat down with Senator McCain after that interview in his office and I'll tell you what, he is a straight shooter.  What a straight-talker and truly our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world have no greater champion than he.”

From Tomdispatch, :

The history of war-atrocity snapshots did not start with the Abu Ghraib screen-savers from hell -- plenty of war-trophy atrocity snapshots came out of the Vietnam War, for instance -- but the digital camera, the cell-phone camera, and the capacities of the computer as well as the Internet have lent the trophy photo new power in our latest war of frustration, making it so much more available to the non-war-making public and the world at large.  If the enemy are barbarian beheaders (as some of them are), when you consider the trophy snapshots that have emerged from our latest imperial expeditionary campaign in Iraq, as David Swanson does at, you need to ask, what exactly are we?  Just what is it that we are actually spreading to the world on the tips of our Cruise missiles or via Hellfire-missile armed Predator drones, as well as up close and personal from Abu Ghraib to Haditha?  What kind of screen-savers are we really creating for posterity?


John Wayne-John Ford Film Collection:

The films included here are The Searchers Ultimate Edition / Stagecoach Two-Disc Special Edition / Fort Apache / The Long Voyage Home / The Wings of Eagles / She Wore a Yellow Ribbon / They Were Expendable / 3 Godfathers.  That’s eight of the 14 they made together.  The Searchers, one of the greatest movies ever made, is dressed up as a 2 CD edition with American Masters documentary John Ford/John Wayne: The Filmmaker and the Legend reproductions of press materials and a 1956 comic book.  Ditto Stagecoach, though the second disc differs of course.  Of the eight, those two and Expendable and Ribbon were previously available on DVD.  The others were not.  They are all pretty great in their own ways, though like most great things, they have great flaws.  The price seems pretty decent to me, however and if you buy movie collections on DVD, you really have to buy this one.  I had the previous John Wayne collection and I’m getting rid of it even though it has two of my favorites, “Rio Bravo” and “The Cowboys,” because of the new Searchers and Stagecoach.

The John Ford Film Collection is another story.  It contains The Lost Patrol, The Informer, Mary of Scotland, Sergeant Rutledgem Cheyenne Autumn, and a bunch of extras and trailers and the like.  I don’t know why they picked these films of Ford’s.  They span about twenty five years of his career from 1935-1960 and they don’t have much to do with one another.  All are pretty interesting, from a historical perspective, but they take a little more patience than I have to watch, though I do like and admire “Autumn,” where Jimmy Stewart plays a bad guy, sorta.  Your call.  Read all about both of ‘em, and .

Speaking of Cheyenne…

Correspondence Corner

Name: Eric
Hometown: Cheyenne, Wyoming
Several people have recommended completely ignoring Ann Coulter, depriving her of the attention she so desperately craves.  I must disagree.  First, because ignoring extremists like Coulter is impossible when the conservative institutions that support her ideology and practice -- Fox News, etc. -- will continue to give her airtime.  A lie told often enough becomes the truth: the conservatives know this and we'd better learn it.  Second, Ann Coulter is not necessarily a "problem" for Democrats, progressives, or any other brand of decent human being.  She is a hateful extremist who could be made into a problem for the conservatives because she is their ally, she is supported by their institutions, and she is a example of their hateful propaganda tactics and authoritarian philosophical outlook.  Our task is to demonstrate how her outrageous and disgusting statements are a product of her hateful, conservative ideology, and how all conservatives share her ideology.  For example, she prefers character assassination to reasoned debate, she prefers slander and name-calling to evidence, she prefers division to unity, and she has no shame.  Admittedly, a rather mild description of her evil, but also a list of some fundamental of modern conservative politics and ideology.  For example, on Larry King last night, I saw David Horowitz argue with a straight face that Ann Coulter was brave for "finally" calling out these widows for their partisan attacks on our beloved, war-time president.  He claimed, without any evidence, that the 9-11 widows had blamed President Bush for their husbands' deaths and had called the president a murderer -- and all this when we were at war.  The horror!  Then, he smoothly connected these supposed sins to the Democratic Party's alleged willingness to give up in Iraq -- again with little evidence and an unreasonable portrayal of his offered evidence.  Horowitz's response contained the same attributes as Coulter's commentary -- no shame, no evidence, extreme partisanship, authoritarianism, and name-calling.  While I agree that engaging expert propagandists like Coulter and Horowitz on their own terms is pointless, I believe constantly pointing out their tactics and constantly connecting these tactics to conservative ideology and the Republican party is an important political response.  If you're good at comedy-jokes, make fun of them.  If you're not funny, refuse to let any reference to them go by without mentioning their lying, authoritarianism, and hypocrisy.  But, no matter what, fight.  It is an uphill battle because the conservatives have been working at this much longer than we have, but ignoring Coulter is a form of giving up and that is exactly what she wants.

Name: Steve
Hometown: Chino
Brad is absolutely right.  Bring back a JFK Democrat and maybe just maybe you can win an election.  I would never vote for a Democrat but a least you would stand a chance and America would feel comfortable with them.  Keep running farther to the left and you will never win another Presidential election again.  I have no use for many items of the Republican agenda either ( i.e. Gay Marriage, Prescription Drug Plan, Abortion Rights and a few others) but voting for a leftist would be even more counter productive.  Leftists not only want prescription drug plans they want universal health care ( a true disaster in the making).  They not only want higher taxes they want even more spending than even the Bush Republicans have issued (and believe me Bush is no conservative, Ronald Regan was a conservative).  They not only want to pull out of Iraq but they want to do it yesterday ( A huge huge huge mistake).  We have to stay until the job is done weather you like it or not.  Give me Evan Bye or Lieberman and I can live with it (I still would not vote for him as I am a libertarian but at least he makes some sense).  The more left you run the less likely you are ever going to win a Presidential election.

Name: Cliff Hutchins
Hometown: Rochester, Wa.
Dr. Alterman,
The proposal for a Strategic Redeployment by the Center for American Progress is a gigantic illusion, if not an outright falsehood.  It claims that "an immediate and complete withdrawal ... would only serve to further destabilize and embolden our terrorist enemies". This sounds like a statement that Senator Joseph Biden would propose and endorse.  As Congressman Murtha has pointed out, it is the U.S. presence in Iraq that is inflaming both the insurgency and the activity of the terrorists against the coalition forces.  The big idea by both CAP and Murtha is redeployment so that, as both of them say, the U.S. troops can be called back at a moment's notice.  Eric Alterman thinks that this plan will "save a gazillion lives."  Perhaps on the American side, certainly not involving loss of life and those grievously wounded by the Iraqi population.  Why is that?  Because, like a game of three card monte, the Pentagon wants people to believe that because there will be less combat troops in the area, there will be less violence, neglecting to mention that there will be more air strikes against the Iraqis to compensate for the lack of troops in the region.  This air war will be designed to bomb the hell out of the Iraqis, which will have the effect, if not worse, as before, which is to keep the violence at a high level while almost insuring that Iraqi fatalities, if not antagonism at the U.S., will increase if the U.S. is not careful where those bombs will be dropped.  Given the consideration that the United States has had in the past for Iraqi civilians, it is quite doubtful if the U.S. will undergo a drastic change of heart now.

Name: Kyle Childress
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
While Matt Gurley makes very good arguments regarding why gay folk should settle for civil unions and leave "marriage" to the straight folks, his plan would do so at the cost of our civil liberties.  Let us suppose that civil unions are approved throughout the land and such civil unions are identical in every way to marriages: they provide the same rights and the same obligations. Then why, pray tell, call it something different?  Here's why: To keep reminding folks that gays are second class citizens.  It's separate but equal all over again, and we've had centuries of experience to learn that separate can never be equal.  To turn Matt's argument back on him, should interracial couples have settled for civil unions prior to Loving v. Virginia, reserving marriage only to "pure" unions between persons of the same race?  Of course the idea is offensive and it remains offensive with regard to gay folk.  By relegating gay folk to civil unions, you are conceding that it is okay to treat them differently, that there rights are not as important as other folks' right.  That is discrimination, regardless of how pretty you dress it up.  Of course, politically, it would likely be more expedient to accept civil unions (I know I have taken advantage of California's domestic partnership laws), but when civil rights are at play, doing what is right should trump political expediency.

Name: Steve Milligan
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO
Just curious--why does the MSM have no trouble ignoring Chomsky who does have a lot of substantial critiques, (I know you don't like him, and I understand why) but can't seem to quit Ann Coulter who has nothing but baseless vituperation.  Damn that liberal media.

Name: Yetsuh Frank
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
While you are recommending baseball books don't forget about the collection of Roger Angell's work, Game Time.  (There are cut-rate hardbacks at the Strand.)  The long essay on Bob Gibson is worth the price of admission all by itself.  The single greatest essay on baseball ever written.  As an added bonus- somewhere in there he compares the concourse at Fenway, with it's loose bundles of overhead wires and sloping floors, to F Deck on the Titanic.  Genius.  Go Mets!

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire
Professor: You won't go wrong reading the new David Maraniss biography on Roberto Clemente. As a sidenote: in the "mercifully, how times have changed" category is when he writes of the 1960 World Series shifting from Pittsburgh to Yankee Stadium.  Coinciding (I would believe) with the opening of the UN General Assembly session, both former President Herbert Hoover and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made an appearance.  Concerning Nehru's clothing, Maranniss writes that "one fan supposedly mistook Nehru for a hot dog vendor, in his white cap".

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
(Maybe I should have read the whole column before I responded.) Re: the greatest song, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman."  Gerry Goffin was the lyricist of the Goffin-King songwriting pair, so it is quite likely that the lyric guys can't sing was written by a guy!  And guys such as Rod Stewart, James Ingram, Bobby Womack, and the Letterman have tried, recording versions of "A Natural Man."  Now, whether or not it sounds OK ...

| 1:03 PM ET |

Time to declare victory?

You know, with Zarqawi dead, —not that he was ever what they said he was or couldn’t have been gotten before— and a new cabinet in place —not that it can be expected to last— and Bush’s popularity on an uptick —not that it exceeds the poll’s margin of error— and Rove off the hook —not that he did not deliberately blow a CIA operation, waste millions, and endanger the lives of patriotic Americans— now would be a great time to .  I don’t know when Bill wrote that, but there’s never been a more precipitous time to pull out.  Democrats would be silenced and there’d be some complaining on the left and right —even some from me— but still, it’d be a political masterstroke.  And it’d save a gazillion lives, so I’d happily take political consequences.  is one “strategic redeployment” plan.  .

Changing the tone, part XXVII or “How to Get a Job in this White House:”

  • Bill Clinton is a "virtuoso deceiver" and Hillary Rodham Clinton a "true chameleon" guilty of "self-serving behavior, comparative radicalism, and dubious personal morality."
  • Al Gore is a "mad dog" known to "foam at the mouth." 
  • John McCain is given to "showboating."
  • And Jacques Chirac, Nelson Mandela, Gerhard Schroeder and Kofi Annan are all "feckless fools."

Joe Klein?  Ms Coulter?  No, President Bush's new chief domestic policy adviser, Karl Zinsmeister.

P.S.  Peter Baker of the Washington Post calls this man a “formidable thinker…”  Judge for yourselves, .

And was nonsense when the Boston Globe reporter read it in The Washington Post last week.  Saying it again doesn’t make it any truer…

Quote of the Day: 

Military officials on Saturday suggested that the three suicides were a form of a coordinated protest. "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed," Admiral Harris said. "They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own.  I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."


Also, but unmentioned:

  1. Crying
  2. Begging for Mercy
  3. Getting Tuberculosis
  4. Forcing Us To Torture Them
  5. Not Being A Terrorist
  6. Being Four Years Old

lifted from .

This just in, really:


Alter-reviews: Baseball Books

If everybody could get paid for whatever they wanted, I’d get at least a part-time job watching baseball while reading about baseball.  What would I be reading today?  Well, I’m a historian, so I’d start with The Best of Baseball Digest, here, so I could put to rest the decision of where to begin both player-wise, and writer-wise.  (Murray, Leonard Koppett, Al Hirshberg, Furman Bisher, Dick Dozer, Joe Falls, and Jimmy Cannon, etc.)  If I knew I had a lot of time, moreover, I wouldn’t have to chose between new biographies of and .  (Both have been extremely well-reviewed, and Maraniss is kind of a sure bet, no?) And when I was finished with the new stuff, I’d return to the wonderfully cerebral but also quite reader-friendly collection by Allen Barra, Brushbacks and Knockdowns : The Greatest Baseball Debates of Two Centuries, , which has endless fodder for arguing with myself and may be slightly superior—or it may be a matter of taste, when compared to his later collection Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century, .  (I don’t even mind that one of these is blurbed by George Will.  The guy should have been a baseball writer in the first place.)  When I was done thinking, I’d pick up The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo-chasing, and Championship Baseball with Straw, Doc, Mookie, Nails, The Kid, and the Rest of the 1986 Mets, the Rowdiest Team Ever to Put on a New York Uniform--and Maybe the Best, , but mostly for the dirty stuff.  If you were 9 years old in 1969, the 1986 Mets are just not up to the job of bringing tears to your eyes.  (And I say this as someone who enjoyed the exquisite pleasure of being locked—literally—in a room by a Red Sox fan—and forced to watch a game I wanted to turn off.  That’s a guy who’ll never want to hear the words “Buckner” ever again.)  Anyway sorry Sox fans, you’re over all that by now.

Anyway, maybe some of the above is useful for Father’s Day for non-music loving dads…

Greatest achievement in human history?  Don Larsen’s perfect game?

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington, VA
Dr. Alterman,
Mr. Stark from Ohio notes that "a not-so-empty truth is that the first step to solving any problem is to admit that you have one."  Indeed.  The other mantra I keep hearing is that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Ergo, if the Democratic party (or at least its leadership) should pursue the tired recitation of the current administration's many mistakes as the basis of the mid-term campaigns (or even '08) without offering any real and tangible solutions beyond "we're not them," I respectfully submit that the results will be very similar to the '02 and '04 elections. No more, no less. It never ceases to amaze me how many blindly disparage my comments with the ludicrous assumption that I am defending the Bush administration (or Republicans in general) while failing to address the underlying issue. Does pointing out a perceived problem with the current Democratic strategy immediately qualify one as a Bushie? For the party's sake, I would hope not. I have very little use for either of the current major political parties. It is my belief that we have a broken system in DC perpetuated by these very parties. More particularly, the maintenance of the status quo (and its associated power) has become more important within the Beltway than addressing the needs and concerns of our country. A problem for which I hold both parties equally accountable. That said, I fully agree that Republicans, as the party in power, deserve to be held fully accountable for the laughable manner in which they have conducted the affairs of the federal government the last few years. So if I appear to come down hard on Democrats, it is likely more the result of the audience than any actual biasness on my part. I, for one, would be happy to see JFK's Democratic party make a return. However, a party that considers universal health care a mainstream notion (ask Clinton about that one) and is more concerned with the Plame affair than the nation's energy policies (see YearlyKos) has very little draw to me. However, neither does a party that is more concerned about a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, increasing FCC fines for indecency, and impeding a vaccine for cervical cancer than pursuing a balanced budget or moderating (or, god-forbid, reducing) federal spending.  So feel free to continue to label me as you see fit.  However, it is not out of animosity toward Democrats or unity with Republicans that I offer my opinions. Unfortunately, that "appears" to be the root of the problem.

Name: Michael Rapoport
The Coulter problem is that at this stage, even posts like yours and stories like David Carr's, which make it clear how despicable she is, give her exactly what she wants: attention, publicity and book sales.  The only solution, it seems to me, is to ignore her, no matter what the provocation - because clearly, attacking her and demonstrating what a raving nutjob she is has only fanned the flames.  Responsible reporters and commentators should simply refuse to write anything about her - anything - on the grounds that what she says is far outside the rather broad boundaries of acceptable discourse, and wouldn't be indulged for a second were she not who she is.  (You yourself have essentially been trying this approach, as you noted.)  I realize that refraining from saying anything about her is going to be difficult, the next time she says something outrageous and it's all over the media and the blogosphere.  But it's the only approach I can think of that might rid us of her once and for all.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
As a gay man, I would like to add my two cents to the comments made by Don from Rochester.  While it is true that the GLBT community almost always has differing viewpoints about issues, including the marriage issue, that is because of our incredible diversity.  When as a community, we come from every country, ethnicity, class and religion, with many different backgrounds, it is not unusual that we tend to disagree about issues like gay marriage. Considering how different we all are, it amazes me that we can put all that aside and agree about anything at all.  If you ask random GLBT individuals about gay marriage at this month's many Gay Pride events, you will get the whole spectrum...everything from "marriage is an outdated heterosexual concept that we should do away with." to "Bring on the white-picket fence and the 2.5 kids!!" What they will all agree on though, is that the choice should not be forced on them by the government.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
I see the current level of discourse on the gay "marriage" issue, and I sigh a big ole' Al Gore level sigh of exasperation.  There's a reason why Republicans so crassly and with such transparent insincerity bring this up every Federal election.  They can count on it firing up social conservatives, and even more satisfying for them, they can count on progressives tearing each other to shreds over it.  Last weekend I heard on NPR a debate between a progressive, religiously observant African-American and a progressive gay rights advocate about whether gay "marriage" was really a civil rights issue.  I cried out to the Lord in frustration.  A word to the gay rights movement about tactics: your goal of equal rights and status UNDER THE LAW for your committed relationships is noble and admirable and I fully support you.  However, your political tactics are as dumb as dirt.  Civil unions can be crafted to give you every single one of the legal rights and the status you want.  However, your hijacking of the religious term "marriage" sets off alarm bells even with your progressive brothers and sisters who might otherwise support you.  Trust me, if you folks in your lawsuits hadn't insisted on wanting the term "marriage" applied to your relationships, social conservative demagogues would have attributed it to you to frame the issue.  These people are such benighted bigots that they discredit themselves if you let them talk long enough without interruption.  (BTW, could someone please start another rumor about gay and lesbian teenagers adopting as their mascot some harmless, asexual cartoon character?  It's been a while since Messers Falwell and Dobson warned us about the evil Tinkie Winkie and Spongebob Squarepants.  Pat Robertson is looking particularly unbalanced lately; he might be an easier target.)  The term "gay agenda" Mr. Dobson used had no resonance whatsoever with the general public, until you handed him a cause on a silver platter.  A word for religious progressives about terminology: we can argue about the civil rights angle to gay and lesbian unions for decades, and not even notice when the last Democratic candidate for Federal office is defeated in an election.  Yes, you are correct only African-Americans have suffered the institution of slavery and lived with its legacy.  But Puhlease, is it a distinction that matters?  Are you telling me that for any practical purpose Matthew Sheppard wasn't lynched for being gay?  Doesn't the current inability of gay and lesbian couples to obtain legal recognition remind you just a little bit about old laws that prohibited interracial marriage? Yes, the gay advocacy community has put forward its message counterproductively.  That doesn't mean we have to help Republicans out by fighting with our own over it.  Look folks, the 2004 Democratic Platform had a perfectly reasonable position on this: civil unions yes; marriage no. It was drown out by a made to order "issue" for social conservatives.  (I actually had to point out to a progressive, African-American brother the Party's official position; he was toying with the idea of voting for Pres. Bush because he did not know what that position was.)  Everyone repeat after me: civil unions yes; marriage no.  We can all put our own gloss on that position to make it palatable to our respective communities, but we have got to stop letting this issue be the gift that keeps on giving for our opponents.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Dear Eric,
I thought about Ann Coulter while I was watching Mel Brooks on 60 Minutes on Sunday night.  He had this to say about responding to a demagogue:  "Hitler was part of this incredible idea that you could put Jews in concentration camps and kill them.  And how do you get even?  How do you get even with the man?  How do you get even with him?  There's only one way to get even.  You have to bring him down with ridicule.  Because if you stand on a soapbox and you match him with rhetoric, you're just as bad as he is.  But if you can make people laugh at him, then you're one up on him.  And it's been one of my lifelong jobs has been to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler."  Perhaps the rest of us should just shut up about Coulter and leave it to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to deal with her.

Name: Brent
Hometown: San Antonio TX
The greatest song ever is "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" by Aretha Franklin.  But it's also one of the most frustrating songs ever, because guys can't sing it.  No way to substitute "man" for "woman" and have it sound OK ...

| 12:30 PM ET |

Zarqawi’s capture:  You expected the truth?
The deplorable Ms. Coulter (and the journalists who love her..)

As is typical of absolutely any story out of this war the details of the first version of the Zarqawi death are already beginning to blur and shift. Did a child die in the rubble? Was Zarqawi really alive in that devastation? Did American soldiers find him and try to administer first aid, as a military spokesman reported? Or did American soldiers beat the wounded terrorist to death, as CBS reported a witness saying Saturday?

Or could our troops have kicked him repeatedly in the chest while shouting for him to reveal his name, as Hala Jaber, Sarah Baxter, and Michael Smith report in the London Sunday Times? Did he mumble a few unintelligible words and quickly expire, as the first U.S. military reports had it? Or did it take him, as other witnesses reported, an hour and 15 minutes to die after Iraqis living near the house in which he was hiding pulled him from the rubble? Was he really turned in by someone in his own organization, as some American reports have had it, or is that just a nice little piece of U.S. disinformation meant for whatever is left of his movement?
Was he tracked down by Jordanian intelligence or turned in by some part of the Sunni resistance which loathed his tactics? Good questions all, taken from John Brown's "The President Addresses the Good American People about Total Victory, Evil WMD, and VNTME"

I tend to avoid everything about Ann Coulter, since having to work with her at MSNBC 10 years ago: In the summer of  2002, I broke my rule and wrote: “It's degrading to have to write about Coulter again. As a pundit, she is about on a par with Charles Manson, better suited to a lifelong stay in the Connecticut Home for the Criminally Insane than for the host's seat on Crossfire.
Her books are filled with lies, slander and phony footnotes that are themselves lies and slanders. Her very existence as a public figure is an insult to our collective intelligence…. [Her success is] baffling phenomenon of the bestselling Barbie-doll terrorist-apologist, who continues to be celebrated by the very media she terms "retarded" and guilty of "mass murder" while calling for their mass extinction by the likes of her ideological comrade Timothy McVeigh.” that’s here And I gave her about half of the first chapter of What Liberal Media?
I feel kind of done with her as a result. But still, she won’t go away. Because I pointed out what a danger she posed to sensible, honest debate, she told her New York Observer brown-noser George Gurley I was obsessed with her. The idiot editors there ran an enormous photo of her in the idiotic profile he wrote of me.

Now why do I think the English press is more intelligent than our own? Take a look—if you must—at the piece  in the Guardian/Observer, here. and in Time, where the frightfully lovestruck John Cloud—who, much like that idiot Gurley, won’t shut up  about the girl of his dreams. (Um John, one clue: Ms. Fallaci had a few accomplishments under her belt before she began her career as an anti-Moslem agitator… for starters.) Henry Luce rolls over in his grave for the bazillionth time. (David Carr demonstrates the problem with the likes of Cloud, but of course is a lot nicer about it than I could ever be.)

What’s wrong with liberalism, Part XXXVIII.

Paul Krugman’s excellent column is per usual, right on the money, and will be familiar to “Altercation” readers and especially readers of this post (originally on Altercation, reprinted on Huffpo) after this post and this Nation column. The Beinart quote appears below. (Hey Paul, we love you, we appreciate you; we admire you, but mom likes to see her boy’s name in the paper…) 

Actually, I imagine the above was a space issue—I face them all the time in the 1006 or so words I get in The Nation. Still, this might be one of those moments when we pause to examine the blogosphere/opinion magazine/respectable op-ed page nexis, too, in light of Maureen Dowd’s self-satisfied smirking here about Yearly Kos  (PS. I wasn’t above going as a letter writer or two inquired, I just wasn’t invited….)

While we’re patting ourselves on the back, we told you so about Jersey Boys too. (But one thing: I loved “History Boys” also, but I worry what’s going to happen in cable/radio/crazyland when they find out that it’s most sympathetic character is a homosexual molester, sort-of.  I had the same fear back in college  when I first heard Prince. But on the topic if “History Boys,” Alan Bennett has a terrific essay about his writing of the play in his generous new collection, Untold Stories just published by FSG. In it, he has a few interestingly critical words to say about Niall Ferguson … Most of the essays are quite British, though, depending on how you might feel about that. Britain’s other greatest living playwright is profiled here. 

Bring them home (If You Love Your Uncle Sam), dammit.

Greatest song ever? Maybe “Layla…”

How about Those Mets?!

Police State Update (Lifted from the Benton Foundation):

[SOURCE: Reuters, AUTHOR: Peter Kaplan]
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday upheld the government's authority to force high-speed Internet service providers to give law enforcement authorities access for surveillance purposes. The court rejected a petition aimed at overturning a decision by regulators requiring facilities-based broadband providers and those that offer Internet telephone service to comply with U.S. wiretap laws. In a split decision, two of three judges on the panel concluded that the 2005 Federal Communications Commission requirement was a "reasonable policy choice" even though information services are exempted from the government's wiretapping authority. The FCC has set a May 14, 2007, deadline for compliance,
and the ruling drew praise from the FCC and the Justice Department, which sought the access. "Today's decision will ensure that technology does not impede the capabilities of law enforcement to provide for the safety and security of our nation," the department said in a statement. But the chief author of the 1994 wiretapping law, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), criticized the court's decision, saying Congress had deliberately excluded the Internet when it wrote the wiretap law. "The court's expansion of (the wiretapping law) to cover the Internet is troubling, and it is not what Congress intended," Sen Leahy said in a statement.

*FCC Chairman Martin's statement:
Enabling law enforcement to ensure our safety and security is of paramount importance.  Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the Commission's decision concluding that VoIP and facilities- based broadband Internet access
providers have CALEA obligations similar to those of telephone companies.  I am pleased that the Court agreed with the Commission's finding, which will ensure that law enforcement agencies' ability to conduct lawful court-ordered electronic surveillance will keep pace
with new communication technologies.

*Appeals court upholds Net-wiretapping rules
*Court Ruling Threatens Civil Liberties, Technology Innovation
[SOURCE: Center for Democracy and Technology]
A federal appeals court today ruled 2-1 that telephone regulators and the FBI can control the design of Internet services in order to make government wiretapping easier.  The decision, which is damaging both to civil liberties and technology innovation, came in a case in which
CDT joined with a coalition of universities, libraries, public interest groups and Internet companies, to oppose an August 2005 ruling by the Federal Communications Commission. In that ruling, the FCC expanded the reach of the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law
Enforcement Act (CALEA) -- a law intended to apply only to the telephone network -- to the Internet.
CALEA Ruling:
More on CALEA.

[SOURCE: Reuters, AUTHOR: Daniel Trotta]
The National Security Agency's domestic spying program faces its first legal challenge in a case that could decide if the White House is allowed to order eavesdropping without a court order. Oral arguments are set for today at U.S. District Court in Detroit at which the American Civil Liberties Union will ask Judge Anna Diggs Taylor to declare the spying unconstitutional and order it halted.
The case goes to the heart of the larger national debate about whether President Bush has assumed too much power in his declared war on terrorism. President Bush said he authorized NSA intercepts soon after the September 11 attacks, allowing the NSA to monitor the
international phone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens without first obtaining warrants if in pursuit of al Qaeda suspects. The ACLU sued the NSA on behalf of scholars, journalists and attorneys, claiming that warrantless wiretaps violate the U.S. Constitution and the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA.

NSA TRAIN WRECK[SOURCE: Washington Post, AUTHOR: Editorial Staff]
[Commentary] Since news first broke of the National Security Agency's warrantless domestic wiretapping, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) has fought for greater congressional and judicial oversight of the program. He's to be commended for that. But the bill he's introduced is not the right remedy. Legislation that authorizes and limits necessary surveillance is surely the ultimate goal. But many key lawmakers, including Sen Specter, have not been briefed fully on what the NSA is doing, so it is way too early to be legislating — and all the more dangerous not just to tinker but to fundamentally alter the rules.
(requires registration)

* Specter seeks results on surveillance rules

This is interesting too:
A broadcasting giant that swallowed up more than 1,200 radio stations across the country after Congress relaxed ownership rules a decade ago is once again at the center of controversy over offensive programming. But this time, Clear Channel's ongoing tolerance of
"shock-jock" programmers resulted in on-air threats of death and references to sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl on one of the New York City's highest-rated urban stations. New York City police last month arrested Troi Torain, also known as DJ Star of the nationally-syndicated "Star & Buc Wild Morning Show."
They charged him with harassment and endangerment of a child. Torain's tirade about a rival DJ's family also included racial and sexual slurs against the deejay's wife. Clear Channel then fired the top-rated personality, who has a reputation for hateful, racist programming, but only after city leaders held a press conference denouncing his behavior.
The company issued a statement apologizing "to those who may have been offended by his remarks." Long-time critics of Clear Channel, including media diversity activists and community
organizations, are using the event to reignite a national movement against the company and remind people about the responsibility of broadcasters to serve the public interest in exchange for their free use of the public airwaves. Activists say that despite millions of dollars in federal fines and settlements, and promises to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to "indecency," Clear Channel continues to use "hate radio" as a business model, supporting derogatory programming because it attracts advertisers. Last month, media reform, training and access groups launched the "No Hate Radio" campaign. Groups, including New York-based Radio Rootz, San Francisco's Youth Media Council and the national organizing groups Prometheus Radio Project and Free Press, are urging people to file complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about Clear Channel's broadcasts through the website. They are also asking the agency to consider the need for more diverse, local voices on radio stations.


Soul Brothers and Sisters

OK, drop everything and buy two old/new records. They’re not only unbelievably great, they’re also incredibly cheap. I’m talking about Rhino’s ATLANTIC UNEARTHED: SOUL SISTERS and ATLANTIC UNEARTHED: SOUL BROTHERS. Both albums feature remastered versions of hard-to-find singles-some making their CD debut; B-sides of hits and previously unreleased music and even if you thought you had all the great soul music there was, you don’t. Each one has 16 cuts recorded between 1967 and 1973 featuring music by Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bobby Womack and Percy Sledge, Arthur Conley, Percy Wiggins and James Carr., etc, on the one hand, and between 1964 and 1974 by Aretha, Irma Thomas, Patti LaBelle, Barbara Lewis, Doris Troy, Judy Clay and Baby Washington.

I have all those Rhino soul and Atlantic R &B box sets, but I never heard many of these. We get "Can't Stop A Man In Love,"by  Pickett, Percy Sledge covering Aretha’s "Baby, Baby, Baby"; "What A Woman Really Means," and "Rome (Wasn't Built In A Day)," a Sam Cooke cover recorded in 1967 by Arthur Conley. On “Sisters,” there’s  Margie Joseph's cover of The Temptations' "It's Growing," Patti LaBelle & The Blue Belles' 1969 recording of "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count The Days," and "I Ain't That Easy To Lose" by Bettye Swann.  The killer is Aretha’s “My Way.”

All praise to Ahmet Ehrtegun and Jerry Wexler.

Trust me. ... or else read all about them here and here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA

Dr. Alterman. There is a stark difference between acknowledging and correcting mistakes and whitewashing the past with glib references of looking to the future and "We need ideas!" While most educated people see the merit of the former, the conservatives appear determined to pursue the latter. A failed strategy for all of human history.
The only way to figure out what the solution should be and why is to acknowledge and atone for what went wrong and where with a full and complete accounting of those mistakes, without fear that it would some how "embolden our enemies" or "make us look weak." Quite simply, reality craves comprehension.
So when someone comes out only with a litany of "mistakes were made" and "nobody could have predicted" with no indication of recognition that the mistakes were easily preventable and that everybody was making those predictions, it rings hollow and bitter when the proposed solution is "stay the course." Further, most people in the "reality-based community" are also astute enough to recognize that admitting you were wrong doesn't make you a bad person, though it might mean you have to step down because of your demonstrated failure.
The repeated disasters at the hands of a single ideology has proven that repeatedly. The natural corollary is that Americans love success such as what we had 10 years ago when the fruits of hard labor and creative ideas were allowed to flourish for all rather than kept in the hands of a few conglomerates to "trickle-down" to the masses. In this era of diminished success, those that have supported the very machine that has turned our economy into the most deficit- and debt-laden in history fail to comprehend this simple idea and are shown to be angry, arrogant, and deceitful, thinking they are deserving of the labor of others while they, themselves, make no actual contribution.
In general, Americans are inherently optimistic and those who would exploit that by saying a tax cut in a time of war is a good thing, to "go shopping" as a response to a terrorist attack, and that they don't have to make any sacrifice in order to achieve a greater good don't care much for the goodwill of the American people. Perfection, while ideal, is not attainable. And while mistakes and failures in any enterprise are inevitable, it is impossible to progress beyond the setbacks until you have a full and complete accounting of that setback so you can change course and not repeat it in the future. That is the only way any society has ever become successful.

Name: Michael Kropp
Hometown: Mahwah, NJ

Eric, Whether you realize it or not, you have a frequent humorist on your blog, Brad from Arlington. It was an absolute hoot when he wrote,"There is a stark difference between acknowledging and correcting mistakes and dwelling on them." The Bush Adminstration acknowledged and corrected their mistakes in Iraq (not to mention everywhere) Yet Brad uses this as an opportunity to blast the left.
A note to Brad, Republicans control Congress, Republicans control the Senate, Republicans reside in the White House, Democrats are supposed to enact The fact remains that many Democrats have forwarded responsible plans to have the military complete the job in Iraq and come home. None of these plans have a chance in a GOP Congress.
And Brad conveniently forgets that the GOP loved to complain about Clinton's actions, whether they were successful or not. Who was dwelling then? Cue to Brad, time to jump in and claim, "but I'm not a Republican!" Yet you never complain about some of the hideous actions of the right, so any claim you make about being non-ideological will fall on deaf ears.

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL 60302

Eric-- Brad from Arlington explains the Republican control of government by noting that "Americans love success." Let's tally it, shall we. The Bush administration has brought us successes like 9/11, Iraq, crimes against humamity, crimes against our most revered constitutional values, indifference to the fate of the earth, an 8+ trillion dollar national debt, record mortgage foreclosures, government corruption to rival the 19th century, election fraud, govenment propaganda, and Coutleresque incivility in the name of Christian love.
No wonder those Republicans keep winning the contest of ideas; how could we begin to compare their magisterial performance with the ho-hum period of 1993 through 2000. If it's success Americans want, there couldn't be a clearer choice.

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

Brad from Arlington piously reminds us of the meaningless truth that "there is a stark difference between acknowledging and correcting mistakes and dwelling on them. While most Americans see the merit of the former, the Democratic party appears determined to pursue the latter."
The operative word here is "appears", and this is also the reason that this "reminder" is useless and empty--the Democrats' purported obsession with "dwelling" on the mistakes of the Bush administration did not occur in a vacuum. Had this administration been willing to forthrightly admit its mistakes and correct them, regardless of political advantage, Brad might have a point. He does not, however, because after unconscionable budget deficits, near to 2500 American lives wasted, somewhere between 38,000 and 200,000 Iraqi lives wasted (and we are unable to pin it down any more accurately because, in the obscenely, imperially indifferent formulation of Tommy Franks, et. al., "we don't do body counts"), this president, when asked to name his biggest error, could do no better than "bring it on." If this administration had governed competently and decently, and been willing to fairly face up to its shortcomings, then Democrats would have no need to keep harping on them, and would indeed look petty for doing so.
As it is, they look so only to Brad and other defenders of this administration's lies, duplicity, and treachery. As to Brad's "we need a solution" mantra, which has become this administration's chief tool for avoiding culpability, a not-so-empty truth is that the first step to solving any problem is to admit that you have one. Thank heaven the Democrats are at least trying to take the first step--that's more than we can say for this administration and its amen corner.

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Dear Dr. A, As a gay man, I'm distressed that you posted Mark McKee's comments about gay people. Like so many straight people, he chooses to trivialize gay relationships. I guess I just didn't realize that the proper term for my partner was "bimbo," but then I seem to know a whole lot less about gay men than Mr. McKee does.
Mr. McKee says that gays are the most politically apathetic group he's ever encountered. I guess he must have missed the Human Rights Campaign, the Victory Fund, NGLTF, ACT-UP, Queer Nation, and the Log Cabin Republicans, not to mention marches on Washington that brought hundreds of thousands of gay people to the capital to demand equality as well as the legions of grassroots organizers around the country who fight antigay initiatives in state after state. He also uses the kind of generalization for which you've so often criticized journalists when he claims (without evidence) that "most gay men couldn't even tell you the names of the candidates."
I wonder, has he surveyed "most gay men" on their knowledge of politics? I somehow doubt it. Mr. McKee's views are based on just another stereotype of gay men -- we're frivolous, empty-headed, and uninterested in anything serious. And as for gay men making seven figures, in my more than two decades as an out gay man, I've never met a single one, so I can't tell you what their political views are, and I suspect Mr. McKee can't either. I can tell you that I do know a fair number of high income gay men who don't vote Republican, who loathe Bush, and who would like nothing more than to be able to marry their significant others. (Oops, I meant "marry their 'bimbos.'") I realize, Dr. A, that Mr. McKee's comments are his own and do not represent your views.
I am nevertheless disappointed to see them posted here because they are so fundamentally disrespectful. I don't think you'd provide a forum to someone who wanted to post comments that stereotyped African-Americans, Latinos, women, or Jews. I think gay people should be treated no differently.

Name: Don Cybelle
Hometown: Rochester, NY

The difference between the two letters on gay rights posted Friday couldn't be more telling. On one hand, we have Tom from Seattle, who implies that gay activists are asking for too much, and should speak only of civil unions, rather than marraige. On the other hand, we have Mark from Albuquerque, who implies that gays are asking for too little, and are "the most politically apathetic group [he has] ever encountered."
But which is it? Are gays too politically demanding, or do gays just not care about politics? We know there just has to be a problem somewhere with gays and politics, but how best to define it? Give me a break. I think Eric is personally fine on issues of gay rights, but if these simplistic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" views of gay issues are as prominent with Altercation readers as some of these letters suggest this week, then it really might behoove Eric to occasionally go into more depth on the civil rights issues involved here. It doesn't have to be frequently, and no one expects Eric to morph into John Aravosis, who does a thorough job with these kinds of gay issues and activism over at Americablog.
But considering that the one gay rights activist whose name and activities constantly appear on the Altercation blog is Andrew Sullivan, and that readers like Mark believe that "most gays who make seven figures" tend to "vote Republican" and "love Bush," I'd say some comparative perspective is desperately needed.
With Eric's interest in history, maybe a recent history of the gay rights movement or the marriage debate could one day appear as the week's Altercation Book Club selection. That could be a painless way of dispelling absurd generalizations that gays and lesbians are politically apathetic, and open up a more intelligent, context-driven discussion on these matters.

Eric replies: Thanks, but I know what I know. And therefore I like to think, I know what I don’t know. And I don’t know this stuff and so I tend to keep (mostly) quiet about it, though yes, I'm a pretty old fashioned liberal and put economic issues before social issues whenever possible.  I do, however, recommend Paul Berman’s essay on the history of the gay rights movement in “A Tale of Two Utopias.”