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Slacker Friday

Altercation: Slacker Friday

August 25, 2006| 2:10 PM ET |

Let’s start the morning with a song, shall we?

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to say "goodnight nurse!" Have you compared the number of items on Altercation discussing foreign affairs (Iraq, Lebanon, etc.) to the number discussing jobs and the economy? I had to search for the latter, even having the computer search the page for keywords (economy, jobs, deficit, housing, interest rates, etc.) but I didn't find much. You're far from alone, and given that the war involves immediate life and death issues the focus is understandable. But I'd be cynical about the polls that say the most important issue to voters is Iraq or the war on terrorism: people tell pollsers that because the economy isn't in a full recession. I overhear more conversations about money issues than anything relating to Iraq or geopolitics. These issues are interrelated, but when the left talks about the war it usually plays up the human aspects and ignores the financial costs. This is myopic, especially when Dubya's deceptions about the war's costs are easier to show than the ones on WMD's.

For example, currently there is an immensely important battle going on before the National Labor Relations Board. Known as the "Kentucky River cases," it involves big hospitals attempting to de-unionize nurses by reclassifiying them as "supervisors." Previous Boards were hostile to such efforts, but persistence has been paying off. The Supreme Court upheld a much narrower reclassification in 2001 by a 5-4 margin. Of course this is a different NLRB and, more importantly, a different Supreme Court.  The outcome isn't limited to nurses: it is estimated that 30% of workers would lose their union rights if the new definition of "supervisor" is accepted, in professions ranging from construction workers to nuclear engineers. Here you have an issue that could hit tens of millions of Americans directly in their pocketbook and nobody is talking about it. You'd think the Dems would see this as a chance to energize another part of their base, especially when the notion that the GOP is a shill for big business interests resonates with the electorate as much as the GOP is more trustworthy on security issues does. It's time to recognize the anxiety that is out there on the economy and put it back on the political radar.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo
Dear Eric: I wanted to thank you for directing me towards Norm Birnbaum's piece on Monday. I would have to say that it contained some of the best analysis concerning current politics that I have yet read. It was efficient, short yet breathtakingly brilliant. To my knowledge, I had never read him before, but I will be looking out for everything I can get from him. First I must say that Birnbaum's piece reminded me why I am so sympathetically fond of things Jewish. Having grown up in a Jewish neighborhood, with lots of Jewish neighbors, I've probably been to as many Bar/Bah Mitzvas (spell?) as any non-Jew, but my affinity has always been deeper than that. It's the realization that the need for plurality to protect the Jewish community lead the Jewish people to apply their influence, skill, intellect and support to helping create and implement Roosevelt's New Deal social contract - which provided plurality, but also distributed wealth more evenly creating the great post World War II economic boom (which doubled global productivity in 30 short years). My father was an uber-mechanic with only a high school education, who gained a supervisor position in a factory that gave him an upper middle class wage - something his father could only have dreamed of, and allowing for him to send me to private schools and college. And my father's siblings did much better than he. Birnbaum's piece reminded me of all these things and renewed my appreciation for the Jewish community in America and while I am glad of where I grew up. And for those who have never had Jewish educators, perhaps it’s harder to appreciate the contributions they make. As Americans, they have been the greatest Americans and all of us have benefited immensely. It seems to me that Birnbaum's piece reflects a reasonable, rational dissent in the Jewish community. Again, the skill and efficiency of his assessment simply amazed me, creating an irony whereby in trying to debunk the myth of Jewish intelligence, he manifests it all over again in the process. Brilliant really.

His assessment of the situation of American Jews and Israel helps me understand Spielberg's movie "Munich". Munich presents a case of Game Theory gone awry. According to Robert Axelrod's "The Evolution of Cooperation" the best, most rational strategy, where two parties are in an iterative relationship with no discernable end, is to cooperate. This phenomena explains why I can trust the person who cuts my hair but not the person who sells me a used car - one represents and ongoing relationship with no foreseeable end, the latter does not. The second best strategy is "tit-for-tat": I punch you in the nose, you punch me back. The thing about tit-for-tat is that it should lead the parties back to civility and cooperation - that is unless one likes ones nose broken. The dark side of Game Theory is that if a party learns that the game is going to end, even many moves from now, it pays to stop cooperating immediately. This phenomena is illustrative of Chamberlain's Munich circa 1938 - to the Western allies (France and Britain), cooperation was rational. By bending over backwards, Chamberlain was trying to send a strong signal to Hitler his intent to do the rational thing, participate in cooperate, civil diplomacy to avoid war. What Chamberlain couldn't grasp is that Hitler saw the game of European diplomacy coming to an end. Hitler saw himself vanquishing his (or being vanquished by) opponents and so logically wasn't interested in diplomatic civility or cooperation. Of course this was both irrational and yet logical - Irrational in seeking an end to the game, but once arriving at that position, became logical to end cooperation and civility in diplomacy. (This same lack of civility and cooperation, by the way, is what really frightens me about Bush and the Neocons in American politics.) This brings us to Spielberg's Munich. He demonstrates the insanity of a continued game of tit-for-tat. The refusal to cooperate suggests that the game is being played by extremists who propose to end the game, as Hitler attempted, by vanquishing their opponent. This view exists on both sides, and as the assassination of Rabin by a fellow Jewish Israeli suggests, not only are their extremist on both sides, but they are willing to cooperate to eliminate moderates on both sides. I have no doubt that this phenomena contributed to Arafat not cutting a deal back when Clinton oversaw our politics. What I now see, from viewing Spielberg's film and reading Birnbaum's piece is that there is a dissenting school of thought in the Jewish community that suspects that the on going tit-for-tat strategy is insane, destructive and perhaps has a nihilistic end - which could never be good for the Jewish community, even if it somehow succeeds, and that salvation lies in pluralism, strictly construed and rigorously applied; In other words, coexistence.

At the end of Spielberg's Munich, the protagonist turns his back, not just on the game of 'tit-for-tat' and the insanity it imparts upon him, but also upon the non-pluralistic premise behind Israel, choosing instead to live the life of a Jew in pluralistic America. To Spielberg, this is much more rational. As Birnbaum suggest, the homeland for American Jews, is not Israel, but America. Spielberg's Munich and Birnbaum's piece make excellent bookends for making the case of a dissenting opinion in the Jewish community. Birnbaum correctly points out the security that comes with functional plurality, for Jews, of course, but also for all. He also points out that the Neocon-Jews are making a Faustian bargain with the evangelical Christians who could turn on them the minute they realize that Christ's second coming is not occurring and perhaps is stalled, and hung up because Jews refuse to convert to Christianity as prophecy says they will on the eve of the second coming. (The evangelicals propose, by their actions, to manipulate God into implementing the second coming simply by recreating the conditions so prophesied in the book of Daniel and Revelations, conveniently ignoring Christ's commandment "though shall not test the Lord thou God). He also points out that the Neocon movement is a reaction against modernism and a refutation of the enlightenment and all its fruits, one of which being our pluralistic constitution and all the protections it affords and has built into it. By aligning with the Neocons one signs up for a brave new world yet to be defined. For a community known for its shrewd business acumen, this is a notoriously and intrinsically bad bargain) By definition, though powerful but still relatively small, in a world of tribe-against-tribe, the Jews just don't have the numbers that would suggest they would succeed long term. Then there is all that blood shed and misery that comes with the tribe-against-tribe paradigm. Wouldn't it be better to just opt for functional pluralism, and get back to the game of making money, making babies, and pursuing knowledge and enjoying everything that comes along with those pursuits? Thanks so much for pointing me towards Birnbaum's piece. That was great stuff. 

Name: Chris Schell
Hometown: Milton PA
Eric, Maybe it’s because I agree with you so often I only write when I disagree. But I fail to see anything wrong (at least seriously) with the media because a news anchor (more accurately host of a news discussion show that tries to be entertaining) doing a dance contest show - especially compared to reasons 2 and 3 in your list. About Woody and Roth: Maybe Woody is merely jealous that Roth mines the comic vein of American Jewish angst better than Woody does. Or that Roth is actually a "serious" writer while Woody is a "humorist". And speaking of Roth you linked to the Nation article "Is Isael Good for the Jews?" Reminded me of Roth's novel of visiting Israel and the Roth impersonator who was advocating that all Jews leave Israel in a new Diaspora.

Name: C. L. Murphy
Hometown: Shawnee, KS
Eric, In theory, your idea that the large salaries made by the anchorperson could save jobs and run more news bureaus is true. However, do you really think that if the networks paid the anchor less, that they would use that extra money to do better reporting? Highly doubtful. That money would probaby be funneled into a more "extreme" finale of "Survivor" or more likely end up in the CEO's pockets.

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman, I have a couple of responses to your comments on Haditha and Vietnam. You have correctly quoted the headline from the article. However, that headline wrongly leaves the impression that the Marine Battalion Commander thought the intentional killing of unarmed civilians was routine. The rest of the article makes it clear that is not at all what he said. He said that based on the reports he received about the incident, he thought the deaths were unfortunate consequences of combat, but not unlawful. Based on what he was told at the time, he thought there was no need for an investigation. If you are arguing the U.S. Armed Forces should be more careful about how we operate around civilians, and should be more curious about the deaths of significant numbers of civilians, I'll agree we can have a reasonable discussion. (And some of the investigators seem to agree with this point of view about Haditha. That is noted deep in the article.) On the other hand, I do not agree that the intentional, unlawful killing of civilians is "routine," and I resent the implication. Moreover, by the action of the military disciplinary system, the Marine Corps is now treating the Haditha incident as anything but "routine." Now that all the facts are out, the Marines accused of unlawful acts are facing possible courts-martial and lengthily prison sentences if convicted of the more serious charges. Second, and more important, I take exception to juxtaposing incidents from the Vietnam War, over 30 years ago, with the Haditha incident as if that means anything. The Armed Forces today are not same as at that time. Indeed, I am one of the oldest people at my command, and I was 14 years old when the Vietnam War ended. Most people on active duty now were not even born at the time of that conflict; check the demographics. Picking out two data points separated by over 30 years and trying to argue they represent a trend line is specious reasoning. As always in a forum like this, the views I have expressed are solely my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Dept. of the Navy, DOD, or the Federal Government. Matthew Shirley LCDR, JAGC, USN

Name: Dan
Hometown: Greer, SC
Doctor, not often I disagree with you on just about any point, except for some musical tastes occasionally. And, I did find the case of the Israelis holding their leader's feet to the fire with rapidity a nice counter to America's glacial slow accounting for Iraq. However, you say that Israel has a vibrant democracy, and to some slight degree I fear I must differ. I do not think it wise to have the military or military reservists that occupied in protests and day to day politics. I think the vibrancy of democracy involves the separation of the military from a civilan leadership, where lack of military service is not, in of itself, evidence of being a chickenhawk. I did not serve, and am not a chickenhawk, would be too scared to be one if I fancied such a thing. I worry that the too close involvement of the military in the leadership of Israel might give one pause. I say this understanding the roles played in American history by military folks, from George Washington, to Andrew Jackson to Ike. I know you cannot wall off politics from former military, but for folks directly exposed to the fight, I do not think political campaigning and the like is really healthy, in my humble opinion, for a democracy.

Name: Brian Donohue
Eric, please forgive me if I'm the 976th MoJo subscriber to write to you about this chrono piece you mentioned. According to an email from Jay Harris, the online version of that outstanding timeline should be available by the end of this month. I'll see if I can get it into a "page-turning" Flash media format that I can keep at the top of my blog, and let you know how it turns out.

Name: Simon
Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Eric, I hadn't seen any mention on your blog of Michael Franti's album 'Yell Fire', so I thought I would write because I think you and many of your readers would be interested. It is an amazing record, a fusion of reggae, rock, and pop, and is every bit as anti-Iraq as Neil Young's recent album. And though I haven't seen it, he also released a documentary dvd with the album of his trip to Iraq and Palestine. Love your blog Eric, thanks for keeping the light on the last few years, I'm sure it hasn't been easy.

Name: Scott
Hometown: Denver
As an American reservist, I can answer your question of why we aren't protesting. It is simple: Haji would kill our families if he had a chance. Whether in Bagdhad, Zareh Sharan, or the Sheeba farms...they want to kill us, our friends, and anyone that gets in the way. Guess what? I for one am going to the beat them to it. If ranting on a blog is your contribution to this war then more power to you. Please don't presume to question those of us that are actually sacrificing something in this fight.

Name: Bill Skeels
"8) Todd Snyder, "The Devil You Know" 7) Caroline Doctorow, "Follow You Down" 6) Rosanne Cash, "Black Cadillac" 5) Johnny Cash, "American V" 4) Dave Alvin, "West of the West" 3) Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, "Under the covers, Vol. I" 2) Raul Malo, "You're Only Lonely" 1) The Hacienda Brothers with Dan Penn, "What's Wrong with Right?"" Damn, when I first started reading Altercation some time back I 'accused' you of not paying enough attention to a certain strata of music; I think I (incorrectly!) accused you of not knowing who Steve Earle was or some such stupidity. This list proves, again, that at least for the kinda stuff I like, you are, indeed, the man. I have only heard clips of the Alvin thing, but it sounds drop-dead wonderful. I think I'm off to order it right now, thanks for the reminder.

Name: Dan
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Dr. A, In response to LTC Bateman's idea for a print journalist "conspiracy" against their TV brethren, I say, "Welcome to America (at least what the other 99% watches)." LTC Bateman, you have just stumbled onto a debate that has been raging for several years. I don't believe it's possible to engage in any discussion about the state of our Union without calling out the failings of the Fourth Estate - including print media. I don't know if we can trust print media to police television journalism: there's too much joint ownership and they have a common goal - selling more advertising. Newspapers are in the titillation business as well. I think I read several JonBenet articles this week in the Oregonian. Dr A regularly includes references the So Called Liberal Media (SCLM), which you may dismiss as simply partisan grumbling, but in my opinion, the SCLM meme is really about the failings of "traditional" American journalism. By the way, there's already a conspiracy underfoot, but you won't find it in your mainstream media outlets. Try reading blogs. The ones I read may represent liberal points of view, but they call out the failings of "news" organizations on a daily basis. And they even prompt their readers (successfully) to write letters to these media outlets to voice their displeasure. Just ask John Harris, Washington Post Political Editor...

Name: Hal Carpenter
Hometown: Kingston, RI
Thank you, LTC Bateman, Your article is on the money. I can't watch it either. I made an abrupt break with all the screaming a few years ago and don't miss it a bit. The friends I have who still watch seem deluded and out of touch. The Press must battle Cable TV. Why does Bill O'Reilly get a free pass? Would Billy Sunday get a free ride? What's going on in American heads, that as long as race and gender isn't insulted, beating war drums, bending reality, shilling for industry, boot licking party politics is allowed to call itself; Fair And Balanced. And, call itself, NEWS!!!! The print media is letting itself get kicked around by these screaming heads hawking entertainment/news on television. It's a mistake of the Left to think the Press is going easy on the Bush administration out of fear of the Bush administration, boogeyman that Dick Cheney might seem to be. They are retreating from the criticism of TV commentators. It's understandable that the press was in retreat after the beating they have been taking from TV for so many years. A few shouts of "elitist Eastern media" and the Press backed off from the likes of Rush, but we have to remember that in our new TV reality many presses have been stilled by jerks like Rush. It's up to us to let them know that many of us see the harm that this 24 hour a day scream, fear-monger and hate TV is damaging our national mentality. The Press has both the right and duty to attack this social and political malfunction, Cable News. The fact that they are economic rivals opens the Press to fairly easy counter-attack. But they have to attack. A good chunk of our nation is half hysterical from fear that some Arab terrorist is going to kidnap their daughter on a tropical island after meeting her in an internet chat room, when she was 12. Cable News should be under a microscope both for what lies it tells and also for what effect it has on anxiety levels in viewers. Can they make people afraid not to watch them? If you don't watch FOX, whose gonna cut away from Tiger Woods if the Rapture arrives? Thanks again, we should all let the Press know that attacking Cable TV as harmful is fighting a righteous fight.

August 24, 2006 | 1:40 PM ET |

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Dateline: Duck, North Carolina


The plain fact is that I do not watch much television.

That is not pretension, or something that I deliberately intended.  It is not an intended affectation, used to establish moral superiority during cocktail parties.  Indeed it is sort of embarrassing.  But it just happened.  Over the course of time, for no particular reason at all, I stopped watching television.

I was six years behind in seeing the infamous “Bet” on Seinfeld, I am only vaguely aware of the existence of “Reality” shows, and much to my dating detriment, I had never seen Sex and the City  (or is it “in” the city?) when I became single and moved to Washington. 

OK, true, I am a geek.  I read obsessively.  I read at work, I read in my local (Tunnicliffe’s Tavern, on Capitol Hill), I read on my comfy couch at home.  But the fact that I have three daughters contributed to this state of affairs at some point as well, I am sure.  There are only so many times that one can watch Barney or Sponge-Bob Squarepants for example.  Of course, that was when my daughters were much younger, but this probably played a part as well.

The bottom line though is that over time it came to pass that I just was not watching TV much at all.  When I caught the “Major’s Disease” (officer self-deprecating slang for a divorce), I did not ask for the television.  My kids disabused me of that position, however, and so I eventually picked one up.  It stays in the basement though because Kate does not watch television either.  The upshot is that I generally know jack-shit about the latest programs, I probably miss some entertaining material, and I almost never see cable news in action.  I am on leave (read: “Vacation”) now.  I am with my daughters and my parents. The equation is changed.  My parents watch Fox News, exclusively and constantly.  I have my own opinions about their selection, but my observations about a recent event apply to all of the major round-the-clock “news” channels.

Last week there was a story about a plane diverted to Logan International Airport near Boston.  The storyline, generically, was that the pilot reported a problem aboard the aircraft, requested a military fighter-plane escort, and aborted the flight.  The plane was flying from the UK to Dulles, in Washington, DC.  It diverted to the nearest landing point, which was at that instant, Logan.  That was the bottom line.  

I was eating brunch at the time, and as is usual, Fox was on the television at the end of the counter, so I caught every breathless announcement.  What I witnessed was a travesty, a cruel mockery of journalism, and I think it was damaging for our Republic.  Instead of reporting the “bottom line” quickly, and then checking out the story and determining the facts, Fox, and MSNBC, and CNN, stayed with the story more or less continuously.  Because they did not yet have any facts, they instead reported every single rumor, as it occurred.

This is important, at least to me, because I happen to think that journalism is crucial to a democracy.  But what I witnessed that day, live, on-air, was the antithesis of journalism. It was mere entertainment, masquerading as journalism, and it was mostly wrong.

Now I am the first to note that in the military we know all about the phenomena of "initial reports" and how they are often wrong.  Indeed, I've noted how this occurs (within the military) in letters here in the past.  But we don't broadcast "initial reports" all that often. When we do, we're often burned ourselves.  This inhibits, and hopefully our Public Affairs folks learn. But to my eyes what happened with this diverted-plane-to-Logan story was a nadir.

In the event, all the news stations broadcast every single rumor, as each rumor arrived.  In this case, initial reports broadcast on Fox included breathless assertions that "it is being reported" that two “Arabic looking” men are in custody, or that the woman had "prohibited items and a note about al Qaeda," on her person.   The items were later excitedly reported as "Vaseline, matches, a screwdriver and a notebook with information about Al Qaeda" until, finally, they reported the first version of what appears to be the facts, that it was an elderly American woman, Caucasian, from Vermont, and that she apparently freaked out with a case of claustrophobia.

This inclination, to air every version of every rumor, is a bad thing.

In polling my own family several hours later, two family members (of six who had seen some of the news) were under the impression that it was a terrorism-related event and were surprised to discover the later news.  In other words, because all of these news organizations were willing to put rumors on the air, rumors became “facts” to those who did not watch the whole program. That is not reporting, or journalism, it is rumor-mongering.

My question was initially: How do we end this?  How do we stop the decline of television "journalism" so that those making decisions no longer feel compelled to broadcast each rumor but instead have the courage to take the time needed to gather the facts, discern truth from rumor, and then go on the air?  I ask because what we got in this case, was tripe. If the "news" was this inaccurate, yet still made it on the air, why should anyone believe anything they hear now?

My solution is sophomoric, but it is the best I can think of. We should initiate a conspiracy.

This would be a conspiracy among print journalists, and particularly among print journalism’s editors, which has the objective of assaulting the television news industry whenever and wherever they play upon this culture-of-the-immediate.  What if, for example, the Wall Street Journal took Fox to task for this crap? What if the New York Times, in repeated and thundering editorials, assaulted MSNBC, when they too put forward images and rumors instead of doing the research that the craft of journalism demands?  What if the New Yorker, and Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire for that matter, took it upon themselves to commission articles about why, and how, such tripe reaches the screens?  What if you, all of you, when you saw rumors broadcast as “news,” wrote in to protest?  Forget left and right for the moment. Focus instead upon the content of the news at the most raw stage of development.  I believe that our national experiment cannot survive without the involvement of the people.  But if the people are misled by our own Constitutionally protected establishments, how can we move forward? 

Would it work? I do not know, but I have hope. Any editors out there reading this?  I know that I am ready to write.


Duck, North Carolina, is as close to heaven as I believe I will ever come.  I am back in DC as of last night, but heartily recommend that area to anyone considering leisure. 

You can write to LTC Bob at

August 23, 2006 | 3:42 PM ET |

This article is by no means a great piece, but it does raise the question: If Israel can ask itself hard questions during wartime, why can’t America?

Of course, it does not compare with the catastrophe cooked up here by Bush, Cheney and co, but look how badly the war went here, and look at this Israeli Reservist Protest here. Why aren’t more American reservists protesting? They were treated far worse.

The same thing happened in Israel as in the US, by the way, which is that the nation’s leaders were faced with a political problem and they used war to try to solve it. The war made everything about the problem far worse. Two differences are that in Israel, with a far more healthy and vibrant democracy than ours, the people admit this and will be held accountable. In America, they are trying to get us involved in another two wars simultaneously. Another difference is that in Israel the people agitating for war at least served in the military themselves. Here they were almost without exception, chicken hawks. In both cases, however, the war strengthened the terrorists, made Iran and Syria even more powerful, wasted billions and got lots of people killed for nothing.

The new Mother Jones has a terrific timeline of Bush Administration lies about Iraq, but I can’t find it anywhere online.

Meanwhile, what does it mean for the culture of the military — and our worship of the culture of the military that, as this headline indicates, “Officer Called Haditha Routine: Marine Said Deaths Didn't Merit Inquiry.” After all, we are talking not only about mass murder but also a guarantee that we will lose the hearts and minds of all Iraqis as well as the rest of the Arab world. This war has turned out to be perfectly counter-productive. I think everyone who supported it should either apologize, resign, or both.

Now look at how the military handled allegations of no less criminal actions in Vietnam, here:

“Now, declassified records show that while the Army was working energetically to discredit Herbert, military investigators were uncovering torture and mistreatment that went well beyond what he had described.The abuses were not made public, and few of the wrongdoers were punished.Tufts' agents found that military interrogators in the 173rd Airborne repeatedly beat prisoners, tortured them with electric shocks and forced water down their throats to simulate the sensation of drowning, the records show.Soldiers in one unit told investigators that their captain approved of such methods and was sometimes present during torture sessions.In one case, a detainee who had been beaten by interrogators suffered convulsions, lost consciousness and later died in his confinement cage.Investigators identified 29 members of the 173rd Airborne as suspects in confirmed cases of torture. Fifteen of them admitted the acts. Yet only three were punished, records show. They received fines or reductions in rank. None served any prison time.”

Something is rotten in the military when it comes to dealing with its own. Calling every single person who serves “a hero” does not help the problem, much as the right-wing chicken hawks would like to think.

Wanna draft Al Gore for 2008? I do, sorta, though I’m a little internally divided about this, as is Gore, alas. Anyway, this strikes me as the most serious of the efforts that are out there so far. So I dunno if he’s the ideal candidate or not, but let’s find out. Get to work, making democracy work, again.

Back to the current catastrophe: “How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians …” That’s just what I would say if I had supported this catastrophic endeavor. Thanks for the Iraqi Civil War. Say, Mr. and Mrs. Liberal Hawk, what country would you like to invade next?

Quote of the Day: “My boyfriend thinks it’s cute that I’m a liberal Democrat,” Ms. Soifer, 27, said. “I think it’s disgusting that he’s a Republican.”

Back to Lebanon: With a tenuous truce, it seems our media might soon be turning back to the situation in, and carnage in, Iraq.  As they do, Michael Schwartz offers seven striking facts that help explain why the lethal brew our invasion let loose in that country in 2003 will have no hope of "solution" under present conditions. Among them are the fact that the present central government, located in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, is "little more than a group of talking heads," that there is no Iraqi Army (only Iraqi units intergrated into the U.S. occupation forces), that the recent decline in American casualties is not a result of less fighting, and that there is a growing resistance movement in the Shia areas of Iraq as well.

From his set of underlying facts, he concludes: "There is still some hope for the Iraqis to recover their equilibrium. All the centripetal forces in Iraq derive from the American occupation, and might still be sufficiently reduced by an American departure followed by a viable reconstruction program embraced by the key elements inside of Iraq. But if the occupation continues, there will certainly come a point -- perhaps already passed -- when the collapse of government legitimacy, the destruction wrought by the war, and the horror of terrorist violence become self-sustaining. If that point is reached, all parties will enter a new territory with incalculable consequences."

Back to Israel:

I saw a marvelous movie the other night at Synagogue called “The Syrian Bride.” It was an Israeli film, released in 2004, about a Druze family on the Golan who must say goodbye to their daughter forever because she is marrying a Syrian. Once she crosses the “security zone,” she can never come back. Everybody in the place identified with the shame and hardships inflicted on these brave and proud people by the occupation—even though there was never any violence in the film. And yet in the very same room, weeks earlier, I felt like I would have been run out of town had I mentioned that Israel was killing innocent civilians for no good purpose. This sort of thing drives me crazy. Anyway, see the film if you can.


Legacy is beginning the process of doing justice to the um, legacy of Roy Orbison’s incredible recordings on Monument Records, which is where Roy first found his um, voice. The first three are 1961’s “Roy Orbison Sings Lonely and Blue,” 1962’s “Crying” and 1963’s “In Dreams.” These have most of the songs you love by Roy and a bunch most of us have never heard before, including four bonus tracks on each cd.

Lots of folks are also no doubt eager to know that Bonnie Raitt has a new retrospective — sort-of — it’s a live cd/DVD combo, with the latter having a few more songs than the former. Bonnie sings with Norah Jones, Ben Harper, Alison Krauss and Keb Mo and relies heavily on her later catalogue. The band is excellent too, featuring Jon Cleary on key boards. It’s a new series done by Capitol for VH1 Classic.

I also want to let people know about a new photo book called “Johnny Cash: Photographs” by Leigh Wiener. Leigh is dead now, but his son, Devik Wiener has put these beautiful photos from five sessions in April 1960 to April 1962 on location near LA, during Johnny’s recording of “Hymns From the Heart.” Graham Nash did the forward. You can find the book as well as some really handsome stuff from Five Ties Publishing here.

August 22, 2006 | 11:55 AM ET |

“Sometimes, I’m happy, sometimes I’m sad…” Bush sings silently, but as long as I have the MSM in the tank, deceiving people on my behalf, I’ll be glad.

This is from Media Matters:

“During an August 21 press conference, President Bush faced a question regarding whether he is -- as The New York Times recently reported -- "frustrated" by news from Iraq and the lack of gratitude among the Iraqi people. Bush responded, "Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. You know, this is -- but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times." In an August 21 article on the press conference, Washington Post staff writer Daniela Deane included this answer, but removed from the middle of the quote Bush's admission, "Sometimes I'm happy." Deane offered readers no indication that she had edited the quote.

And from Boehlert, we get confirmation that the NYT held off publishing its NCA eavesdropping story during the 2004 campaign probably shouldn't come as a surprise. There are lots of similar examples from the fall of 2004. Like when "60 Minutes" shelved an Ed Bradley report examining the administration's faulty claims about Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons capabilities. Shelved because it was "inappropriate" to air the report six weeks prior to the election, according to CBS news chief Andrew Hayward. Or when Time magazine decided in 2004 not to press Karl Rove for a waiver so Time's Matt Cooper could testify in the CIA leak investigation. The magazine delayed the legal action, according to one published report, because "Time editors were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year."

Examples of a few other things that are really wrong with the American media:

  1. News anchor does dancing show.
  2. MSNBC Considers Alleged JonBenet Killer's In-Flight Beverage Consumption 'Breaking News'
  3. Katie Couric, getting paid $15 million a year, plus CBS’s $10 million PR offensive on behalf of its new star. You could run a pretty good network news station for $25 million methinks. Peter Jennings left his family $50 million when he died. My guess is that ABC News could have run a few news bureaus on that, no? Anchor greed is rather rarely covered, for some reason. Remember that great moment in “Broadcast News” when the Dan Rather figure says he could save all those jobs if he cut a few mill off his salary? Not so funny.

Fun Altercation Facts: Spike Lee and Woody Allen are, say what you will, perhaps the two great American directors of the modern era. Guess what? They also both named a kid, “Satchel,” though I think one’s a boy and one’s a girl. What’s up with that? Did I mention, last time I wrote about Woody, that in that interview he gave The Washington Post, he was obsessing about exactly the same things that Philip Roth obsesses over in “Everyman?” This even though he made a whole movie about how much he hates Philip Roth?

Old Jews. Go Figure.

Republicans Play Better Poker, so sayeth Professor Edsall.

Alter-reviews by Sal, NYCD:

Various artists, “From the Big Apple to the Big Easy, the Concert for New Orleans” (DVD). On Sept. 20, 2005, Madison Square Garden hosted one of the first benefits for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Featuring such New Orleans greats as Allen Toussaint, Buckwheat Zydeco, Irma Thomas, Dave Bartholomew, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Neville Brothers, and the Original Meters, as well as pop heavyweights Elton John, Simon & Garfunkel, Lenny Kravitz, John Fogerty, Jimmy Buffett, Cyndi Lauper, and, of course, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall, or as we like to call them, "Elvis n' Di."  Two DVDs worth of musical gems, featuring amazing performances by New Orleans giants you may not be familar with, plus inspired sets by the people you know and love. The proceeds from the DVD go entirely to benefit the victims of Katrina, so when you buy it, you're not only getting some great music, you're helping out people in need. What's not to love? More here.

Short-takes: The Clash, “Rude Boy” (DVD). Partly a documentary, partly... not a documentary, this features great live footage of the Clash at the peak of their career.  First time on DVD! Various artists, “Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ball.” Producer Hall Willner, along with an all-star lineup that features Bono, Sting, Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed, Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams, and Rufus Wainwright, sing sea chanteys and more about pirates' treasures, the horror of the sea, and barnacle glue.

Sal’s ten best of the year so far:

10. Twilight Singers, “Powder Burns”
9. Linda Ronstadt & Ann Savoy, “Adieu False Heart”
8. Corrine Bailey Rae, “Corrine Bailey Ray”
7. Dirty Dozen Brass Band, “What’s Going On” (out on 8/29!)
6. Raconteurs, “Broken Boy Soldiers”
5. Bobby Previte, “Coalition of the Willing"
4. James Hunter, “People Gonna Talk”
3. Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint, “The River in Reverse”
2. Stanton Moore, “III” (out in September!)
1. Bruce Springsteen, “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions”

Eric endorses Sal’s #1, his #4, and his #6, though not at #6. He expects to endorse #9 but he doesn’t have it yet. He would add, (including new music only):

8) Todd Snyder, “The Devil You Know”
7) Caroline Doctorow, “Follow You Down”
6) Rosanne Cash, “Black Cadillac”
5) Johnny Cash, “American V”
4) Dave Alvin, “West of the West”
3) Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, “Under the covers, Vol. I”
2) Raul Malo, “You’re Only Lonely”
1) The Hacienda Brothers with Dan Penn, “What’s Wrong with Right?”

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mike Brooks
Hometown: Eugene, OR
Lieberman For Sec/Def. Oh, cut it out! I'm as much a Democrat as you are and I am unalterably opposed to "Bush's Dirty Little War". But I can certainly understand why Joe Liberman supports it, even though he is wrong. For all of that, he is pro-labor, pro-choice, and very much a traditional "Scoop" Jackson Democrat. I also take him at his word, he will support the Democratic leadership in the Senate, giving us control and neutralizing Bush and the insane criminals associated with him. So, let's run a campaign of support Ned Lamont based on the issues and leave the Rovian campaign tactics of "Fear and Smear" out of it.

Name: David Simon
Hometown: New Haven, CT
For Brad in Arlington: We are the world. Specifically, when he chastises "Kofi and the rest of the world", he ought to have noted that the United States tends to be as reluctant to do anything in Africa as anyone else. True, China and Russia are more in the way of a UN force in Darfur than the US is (and don't think Bush doesn't know that this fact gives him more latitude to say things he'll never have to follow through on). However the historical analogy to Rwanda falls apart badly. In 1994, it was the US, in concert with Belgium and France, that led the charge -- er, retreat -- in recalling UNAMIR, the UN force on the ground at the onset of the genocide. Only the Czechs, Kiwis, and Nigerians -- each holding a rotating spot on the Security Council -- argued for augmenting UNAMIR. The US showed its true global citizenship colors again in the formation of UNAMIR II: first by arguing for a design that would have favored the genocidal government, then by delaying the release of the equipment it had promised to the force, and by delivering non-functional equipment and incompatible spare parts. Thanks to this "effort," UNAMIR II finally showed up in August, a month after the genocide ended.

Name: Frank Filipo
Hometown: Medford, NY
Eric, So that WAS you at the Talkhouse! We've never met, but I thought I recognized you sitting at a corner of the bar. Jorma and Jack were great, and I really wanted to follow up on your comments re Jorma's Fur Peace Ranch. I just got back from my second visit to FPR, this time bringing my wife along for the annual "Couples Weekend". Jorma and his wife Vanessa create an absolutely magical experience there. I highly recommend that any interested musician, regardless of skill level, check it out. You will meet fantastic people, eat great food, hear phenomenal music, and enjoy a communal feeling that is all too hard to find nowadays. Plus, there's no TV and no newspapers on the Ranch, providing sweet respite from the daily disasters put upon us by the absurd policies of our dear President.

Name: Bill Ladd
Hometown: Bensalem, PA
Hey Doc, I saw your review of the Steely Dan show and I couldn't agree with you more regarding the lesser-known member of the band. Becker is very much an underappreciated musician. If you haven't checked it out already, I highly recommend his 1994 solo release "11 Tracks of Whack". Funky, in a slow groove kinda way. Excellent fret work. An absurd lyrical sense. All in all the record is a hell of a lot of fun. After a couple of listens, Becker's strengths become obvious and you begin to get a feel for his true contribution to Steely Dan.

Name: Jim Ludlam
Hometown: Decatur, GA
Apologies for doubling the error and making myself look foolish. At times I think the MSNBC formatting could be clearer on where your words end and Sal's (or anyone else's) begin, this wasn't one of those cases and I'm rightly a fool for it. You should check out Bachmann and Crooked Fingers anyway.

Name: Greg Costello
Hometown: Dallas, TX (via Westchester)
Eric: What is it about the Mets that makes them "far superior" to the Yankees? Is it the two teams' identical win-loss records? No, that doesn't make sense... The fact that the Mets play in an inferior league? Wait, that doesn't help... The fact that the Yankees have coped with severe injuries all year long and are now gearing up for the return of Sheffield and Matsui, while the Mets just lost their two Hall of Fame pitchers? Wait! I got it! The Yankees are paid more money than the Mets! Now it makes sense.

Name: J D Alessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
I have no problem with Met fans getting a little frisky [and I would contend that real Yankee fans of a certain age want Willie Randolph to have nothing but success, against every team but the Yankees] but jeesh, the best team in NY? Kindly check your standings in today's paper, and do the math: the American League utterly destroyed the National in interleague play this year, in unprecedented fashion. In fact, if it wasn't for interleague play, the Bosox, to cite an obvious example, would be about 12 games out of first place, instead of contending. The Senior Circuit has utterly deteriorated to something like a Quadruple A Minor League. Of the best ten teams in baseball, at least eight, conservatively, are in the AL. The players know it; the GM's too, and it's a given amongst those who make trades for a living that many pitchers simply cannot handle the more powerful American League lineups. To make matter worse, as I write this, the health of your two most reliable starters, Glavin and Pedro, is called into question. I hate Steinbrenner too, but please forget the Yanks for now; you best worry about the Dodgers.

Name: Alex Swingle
Hometown: NYC
Eric, this liberal Yankee fan has to take you to task on a few points. Like my wife and some very close friends, you suffer from the same bizarre Yankee-hatred as they do. I mean, if I root for the Mets, I would imagine I would dislike the Phillies (especially in the late 70s & early 80s) as well as the Braves (through most of the 90s and early 00s) a heckuva lot more, after all they play in the same division. Do you all think Steinbrenner has some secret powers to force the Mets into making deals like, lets say, Dykstra for Samuel and Kazmir for Zambrano? I think not. Anyway, with regard to the Mets being a "better" team, while they are certainly good, who plays in a tougher division? We have the Red Sox and Blue Jays, while the Mets have little competition in the East. You guys looked awful against the Sox, and after watching that, I still say no matter what team it is, the World Series winner is coming out of the AL. And as far for the old Yankees "buying their team" gripe, last time I checked Pedro, Glavine, the Carloses and Wagner didnt come up through the farm system. And while the Yankees have certainly bought there share of players, isn’t that an intelligent busines practice, to re-invest your $$ into improving the team? Not to mention some of the biggest contributions over the years have come from Jeter, Mariano, Bernie and Posada, and more recently, Wang, Cano and Melky. Lastly, as far as the "less-obnoxious" charge, perhaps you should add "The Bad Guys Won" by Jeff Perlman chronicling the classy exploits of the '86 Mets. And by the way, where was Doc Gooden during the festivities at Shea this weekend? The announcer also left out why Wally Backman was the Diamondbacks manager for only four days.

August 21, 2006 | 2:15 PM ET |

Frank Rich writes here of these same folks who gave us the catastrophe that is Iraq and cheered Israel toward its folly who now “apoplectically fret that Mr. Lamont’s victory signals the hijacking of the Democratic Party by the far left (here represented by virulent bloggers) and a prospective replay of its electoral apocalypse of 1972."

Rich continues:

"Whatever their political affiliation, almost all of these commentators suffer from the same syndrome: they supported the Iraq war and, with few exceptions (mainly at The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard), are now embarrassed that they did. Desperate to assert their moral superiority after misjudging a major issue of our time, they loftily declare that anyone who shares Mr. Lamont’s pronounced opposition to the Iraq war is not really serious about the war against the jihadists who attacked us on 9/11. That’s just another version of the Cheney-Lieberman argument, and it’s hogwash. Most of the 60 percent of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq also want to win the war against Al Qaeda and its metastasizing allies: that’s one major reason they don’t want America bogged down in Iraq. Mr. Lamont’s public statements put him in that camp as well, which is why those smearing him resort to the cheap trick of citing his leftist great-uncle (the socialist Corliss Lamont) while failing to mention that his father was a Republican who served in the Nixon administration. (Mr. Lieberman, ever bipartisan, has accused Mr. Lamont of being both a closet Republican and a radical.)"

Here’s my prediction: If Lieberman wins the election, he will not switch to the Republicans, as some fear. But he will do the functional equivalent, which is accept Bush’s appointment to replace Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, resign his seat and allow the Republican governor of Connecticut to appoint a Republican in his stead. That is the implicit deal between the Lieberman camp and Rove, Cheney, Bush etc and the reason, that alone, in the entire country, this is the only race where this most partisan of political operations, refuses to support the Republican in the race. Bush, Rove and Cheney do not make political decisions on the basis of what they think is good for the country. They care only about their party and themselves. If Lieberman supporters are genuinely supporting him as a Democrat, is it not enough for him to pledge to vote with the party in the Senate. He must pledge that, under no circumstances, will he accept an appointment from Bush or resign his seat, so long as a Republican occupies the state House.

Trivia: Lamont’s great great grandfather, or something, I couldn’t pin it down this morning, was editor of The Nation. That’s one more reason for Marty Peretz to hate him since, as we all know, when Peretz took over TNR, it dwarfed the Nation’s circulation by something like four to one, but not only has he squandered his wife’s inheritance to the point where he has had to cut salaries and sell off controlling interest in the magazine, it’s circulation is now barely a third of the magazine he considers to the too “reflexively guacheist” with which to compete.

The news in the Times Hillary poll here IMNSHO is the fact that her negatives are so high with independents and that Edwards’ negatives are so low with everyone. That’s his “electability” argument right there. I’m internally divided about whether Gore’s high negatives would stay high negatives if he ran. If he ran as the new Al Gore, he’d wipe them out. If he reverted to the old Al Gore, well, that’s why they’re there. Nobody knows what would happen if he became a candidate again, but people tell me they think he’s not running, as of now…

John Irving defends Gunter Grass. Another view, from Peter Gay, here. My friend Norman Birnbaum has also written an extremely provocative piece called “Is Israel Good for the Jews?

“Said balding, hen-shaped power-broker Fiorello La Guardia, 62” Just read it, here.

Alan Brinkley reviews Randall Woods’ thousand-plus page biography of LBJ, here. Woods, I am proud to say, is one of the historians who participates in the H-Diplo symposium on When Presidents Lie, here.

In the “Freedom is Slavery” department, during the course of an 11,000 word essay, Norman Podhoretz, argues that the Iraqi insurgency is “itself a tribute to the enormous strides that have been made in democratizing the country,” here. He also hates Fred Kaplan. How’s this: I propose that the entire Podhoretz family moves to Iraq to enjoy all of those enormous strides in person. I’ll even take up a collection to pay for John-boy’s bar bill and Pilates classes.  Send the money directly to me. I’ll take good care of it. What’s left after expenses, I will donate to The David Horowitz Savings Center.

Could someone please tell the Times sports section that the Mets are also a hometeam baseball club, and are, in fact, better than the Yankees. I dare someone on the staff to count up the front-page Yankee coverage vs. that of the far-superior, far-less obnoxious, and less-imperialistic (and George W. Bush-like) Mets. Sure they beat the Sox, but still, what’s that dollar-per-win ratio again?

Speaking of which, one of the few happy moments of a horrid-weekend from a baseball perspective was a flash on the screen of Peter Gammons sitting in the Sox owners box. And hey, guess what? No wait, you’ll never guess. It’s this. Before he got sick, obviously, Peter recorded a totally excellent, extremely literate album of blues and rock standards. Is life unfair or what that this great writer gets to have so much fun with a strat as well. He does a lot of Chuck Berry, some Zevon, some Clash, though he changes the line about the results of having sexual intercourse with nuns, and a bunch of other stuff. And he gets Hatfield, George Thorogood, Little Feat's Paul Barrere, to play too, as well as a bunch of Red Sox, and Theo Epstein. The money goes to the Epsteins’ Foundation To Be Named Later, which raises funds and awareness for non-profit agencies serving disadvantaged youth in the Greater Boston. The whole thing is kind of amazing. Read all about it here.

Also on Rounder, I really enjoyed this old Johnny Adams album. I don’t know much about the guy, except he delivers the proverbial goods.

I saw Steely Dan at Jones Beach last week. I’ve never seen them before, except at a television taping for their “Storytellers” show.  The challenge for Messrs. Becker and Fagen is simultaneously to recreate the incredibly complex and intricate arrangements of their studio work, while giving you a reason to feel you got you concert dollar’s worth — in this case, $98 for orchestra seats — worth. Naturally, it requires a crack studio band with a killer horn section and a couple a really sexy chicks, scantily-clad chick singers. Did it work? Well, it worked in the sense that the music sounded just as impressive as it does on the records. And the song selection was really generous too. Given that it was a beautiful, starry night with a perfect 75 degree or so breeze coming off the water, nobody really had much about which to complain. The added ingredient that helped make what was for me, the 170 mile round-trip justifiable was the presence for the second half of the set of Michael MacDonald in the band. He was the warm-up act and gave a half-Doobie, half-soul review show, but he was almost a member of the band before they first started recording and it was fun to see them all together again.

Anyway, Fagen is the front man, which I think is a mistake, because his stage-patter is unbelievably annoying; kind of like Jon Stewart’s imitation of Dick Cheney doing hep-cat stage patter. Becker, on the other hand, turns out to be not only a first-rate guitarist — and an inventive one at that — plus, when he introduced the band, he was funny, likeable ironic, and well, it’s not that big a deal, but he doesn’t get the attention he deserves, methinks.

Alas, Steely Dan playing mostly great songs — no “Reelin’ in the Years” though — under the stars with two great chick singers. Really, what kind of a jerk would complain about that?  There’s a new single cd on Geffen Records with a songlist here. It’s pretty generous and a perfectly decent introduction to the band, if that’s where you are in life.

Speaking of which, I came across a surprisingly satisfying new single cd Hot Tuna collection, which nicely samples everything that makes their casual-sounding-but-impossible-to-reproduce country acoustic and jammy electric music so unique. (Like Becker and Fagen, they’ve been at the center of a band that’s been changing around them for more than thirty years.) I caught their show at the Stephen Talkhouse over the weekend and it was so jammed (at $80/$95 per ticket) that you couldn’t cough without knocking over the drink in the hand of the person next to you. Anyway, it was just “Bare Bones Tuna” Jack and Jorma picking at that acoustic guitar and playing with a marvelous meticulousness that was all the more amazing because we were all close enough to watch his fingers on the frets. Listening to them, I couldn’t get over how unlikely it was that this band survived so long, when the world made such a big deal about the Airplane, but nobody listens to that kind of music anymore. While Tuna plays music for the ages. (There’s a little tourbook for sale at the shows that recounts the decades of twists and turns in the rest of the band.) And what an appreciative audience by the way. People were almost entirely silent for the entire two-hour show — I guess they knew how lucky they were to be seeing the masters in so small a place. The new collection, “Keep On Truckin’” is here and lots of shows are available for download here. I’m told we should also be on the lookout for a new Jorma cd on Red House with lots of new material on it. You can also go to Jorma's Fur Peace Ranch Guitar Camp, located in scenic Meigs County, Ohio, just north of the Ohio River or take guitar classes from him online. No really. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner
Name: Brian Donohue
20 seconds of video that I'm sure is being repressed in the MSM, here: There's your leader of the free world, in such a pit of psychosis as would incite a commitment order from the most "liberal" of psychiatrists. The technical terms for this demonstration, by the way, include word salad, derealization, perseveration. And here's an offering for the quote of the day; it's from a journalist whose halcyon days go back to my childhood years, Jimmy Breslin (found on Alternet): "The obligation of reporting is to tell and tell and tell of the deaths and great injuries of young Americans sent to die by old draft dodgers in Washington."

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA
Dr. Alterman, Stupid had the most poignant and profound statement I have seen in a long while. He noted if 1701 had "linked a UN resolution sending troops to Lebanon to one sending troops to Darfur, [it] would have saved countless more lives and brought some much needed perspective to the world media's coverage (let alone Kofi Annan's faux outrage at the security council's delay in Lebanon)." I can only shake my head at the ridiculous level of (forced/feigned?) shock related to the relatively tame violence in the Israeli conflict which has claimed maybe a thousand lives (as tragic as that may be). When Kofi and the rest of the world wake up to the daily tragedy on the African continent, I might be a little more inclined to listen more seriously. Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were slaughtered without so much as a fraction of the current outrage and concern surrounding the menial conflict in southern Lebanon. In the meantime we have such great diversions as JonBenet (who cares?) and claustrophobic airline passengers (ditto).

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY
This seems to have flown under the radar, or at least, it evaded mine: In The One Percent Solution, Ron Suskind writes [pgs 302-305] that CIA sources came to believe, prior to the election, that not only did Bin Laden want Bush to be reelected [hence the OBL 'commercial' released just prior to the vote which put Bush over the top] but that he currently did not want to attack the US, but sought to attain his goals through other means, such as the Spanish bombing and attacking the soldiers in Iraq. This means that the entire basis for Bush's support - both in 2004 and right now -- i.e. that he is keeping us safe, and that's why there has been no further attacks in the US, is known by our government to be rubbish, since we know that the terrorists are purposely passing up the opportunity to hit the many unprotected targets that Bush has failed to secure. The 911 commissioners have consistently pointed out what has to be done, but the administration knows that it won't be punished, yet, for its venality and incompetence. So bin Laden just doesn't think we're worth the trouble yet. Feel better?

Name: Mark Yokomizo
Hometown: Westlake Village, CA
Eric, Just read Eleanor Clift's article re: GOP bringing out OBL for political purposes (i.e., comparison to Hillary). Seems to me that the Dems, IF they were smart, would toss that back in the face of the GOP and remind bush that he was going to get him "dead or alive". Another flip-flop? But it is a viable counter-argument why OBL has not yet been captured, especially since the Dems have not been in power. They need to counter-attack this approach with hard questions as to why the GOP admin has not captured him, as well as why they are cutting the budget to find him.

Name: Kerry Morrison
Eric, a friend of mine has made a movie called Shadow Company, it's a documentary about professional soldiers (mercenaries) and the role they play in Iraq and other conflicts around the globe and I thought you might be interested in taking a look. We recently screened the film for members of the US senate and Congress (it was a special event organized by Senator Kennedy's office) and the discussion panel after the screening was quite involved to say the least -- members of Amnesty International discussing the use of so-called "mercenaries" in the Darfur alongside representatives from Hart Security and the director Nick Bicanic. We think it's important for as many people as possible to see this movie and get a better look at how these private military corporations are changing the face of modern warfare and more specifically how involved they are in spreading "democracy" in Iraq. Read all about it here.

Name: Jim Ludlam
Hometown: Decatur, GA
Uhh... Mr. Alterman, you did write the exact words Steve in Winston Salem attributed to you. In fact all it took was for me to scroll down a little to see that Steve precisely cut and pasted your own words, in full. ..

Eric replies: Hey, doofus, I didn’t write those words. Sal did. Got it? Steve precisely cut and pasted Sal’s own words, in full, not mine. I, on the other hand, cut out the rest of your letter as a penalty for your inability to read and wasting my time by forcing me to write this when I could be watching the Gilmore Girls or something …

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I’ve got a new Think Again column here:  "Are the Times A-Changing?”

Darn, this is funny, though of course it's killing America

Who killed Jon-Benet?

Who cares? Kids I don’t know die all the time. Why should I care about one just because she’s blonde and her parents dressed her like a hooker. One of the many things I have on my conscience as an MSNBC “friend” in the old days was having to watch the parents beg for information from people and then sit there while my colleagues ignorantly and shamefully speculated about whether they had murdered their own daughter. I’m pretty sure I didn’t say anything awful, but it’s kind of pukey just to think about it. Thank God for Jon Stewart, huh, here but I can’t find the actual segment.

What’s up with Andy Young? These stupid comments confirm everybody’s prejudices. Here’s another way of putting it: “We Blacks are always victims. First the Jews victimize us. Then the Koreans victimize us. Then the Arabs victimize us. We can’t do anything for ourselves. We just blame others for our troubles.” Young’s comments will not only set back black/Jewish relations, they will confirm the worst qualities of Black victimization addicts and white racists, as well as people are not racists but are tired of Black leaders who portray themselves as victims even in cases when they’re not. And this from a guy who took money from Wal-Mart and Nike to flack for them. Go away, Andy. You’ve done enough damage to last a lifetime. 

Wars always incite war crimes but this war is a crime itself and the guilt goes way higher than discussed in this piece. It goes all the way to Bush’s office with plenty of stops along the way.

The Gary Webb Story, 10 years later.

John McCain: “Remember that campaign finance stuff I was so excited about? Never mind. The media love me already. Who remembers “The Keating Five” today….” And here.
Slacker Friday:

(He’s back)
Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to compare war to VCR's.  I know this is going to sound arrogant, but it seems to that people are missing the major lesson of Israel's war in Hezzbolah: technology is so quickly outracing politics in the Middle East that the world has about two decades to impose a solution on the region.
The evidence?  Think about your first VCR.  My parents bought ours a year before Israel invaded Lebanon (in 1982).  It cost about $400, was big and heavy, had twist-knobs to tune the channel (no remote), and you could only program it to record a single show.  Today you can buy a VCR for 1/10 the cost and it will do ten times as many things (though you’d
probably opt for even better DVD/DVR technology).
The same thing applies to missiles. Afshin Molavi wrote in Salon that we tend to overstate Iran's influence on Hezzbolah because it only funds the group $100/year (half a day’s oil revenue).  Perhaps, but that buys so much more and better weaponry than it did in the 1980's. Hezzbolah had thousands of stockpiled missiles which reached farther into Israel than
ever. Extrapolate 20-25 years into the future: shouldn't we expect that terrorist groups will have the ability to reach Israel's major cities?  And that Israel is drawing battle plans for the same?
Accordingly, the most important thing now is the success of U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon.  If the current troops fail, the U.S. response has to be to immediately strengthen and bolster them, not “we told you so” and another deferral to Israel.  Israel has always been hostile to
international forces as part of a solution to the Palestinian conflict (who would be needed to enforce demilitarized regions in the West Bank), so the value of a positive precedence now in Lebanon can’t be overstated.
My other thought was that if Dubya had linked a UN resolution sending troops to Lebanon to one sending troops to Darfur, he would have saved countless more lives and brought some much needed perspective to the world media’s coverage (let alone Kofi Annan’s faux outrage at the security council’s delay in Lebanon).

Name: David Ehrenstein
Hometown: Los Angeles, Ca.
Comments: Dear Eric: Forget about Oliver Stone. The best movie about 9/11 to date is "WTC View." Written and directed by Brian Sloan it's about as big as a matchbox but packs quite a wallop. No, it's not a Constpriacy Extravaganza, but it's not a Big Ol' Crying Towel either. Look for it.

Name: Uncle Walt
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Comments: I disagree with Ruth Rosen's review of the movie World Trade Center. In the theatre where I attended one could have heard a pin drop during the final minutes, right through the credits. Audience members seemed moved by the human drama that was portrayed. From a historical standpoint it was, indeed, a sanitized and completely apolitical treatment of the events. But to Ms. Rosen that apparently was the movie's flaw. Stone did not choose to use his movie to refute Bush-Cheney misdirection which followed the events, and for that she found the movie lacking. Perhaps if Ms. Rosen made a 9/11 movie of her own, the audience would become somewhat more educated on the politics, but that was not Stone's motivation nor his duty, in my opinion. I gave the movie 3 stars from 4, slightly too sappy for my taste but worth the time on a rainy day.

Name: Steve Hedgpeth
Hometown: Bristol, Pa.
Comments: "Kentucky Woman," not "Kentucky Rain." The latter is an Eddie Rabbitt penned-song made a hit by Elvis.

Name: Steve
Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC
Comments: Doc, You wrote: "'Someone named Charles P. Pierce?'" Them's fightin words. Gee, that was hard." Then later on, you wrote: "Some other stranger choices include the band Crooked Fingers (who?)." Gee, that was hard.

Eric replies: Nice work dude. Point would be stronger if I had, like, actually written the words you attribute to me. Alas I did not. And for the record, comparing Pierce to “Crooked Fingers” is like comparing the Stones or the Who to Jeff Gannon.

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This just in

Quote of the Day, Time's most liberal pundit, Joe Klein: "People like me who favor this program don't yet know enough about it yet," he says, "Those opposed to it know even less -- and certainly less than I do." Here. (Nice, tough reporting job there, fellas.)

I hadn’t planned to see Oliver Stone’s movie for a lot of reasons. Now I have one more. Former San Francisco Chronicle and LA Times columnist Ruth Rosen recently went to see Oliver Stone's reverent new blockbuster film, World Trade Center, which inaugurates the fifth anniversary flood of 9/11 films heading toward the various screens in our lives.  She explains just why September 11th, which brought out so much that was positive in those who rushed to the scene to help, still brings out so much of the Bush-era worst in so many of the rest of us -- and why Stone's film, by what it omits as well as what it choses to show, manages to support the Bush adminstration's Big Lie about Iraq and 9/11. In a film that, as she says, may end up being "the definitive cinematic record of what it felt like to be inside the hellish cyclone known simply by the numbers 9/11," this is no small matter. She concludes:

"How could Oliver Stone leave it up to viewers to discover for themselves who committed this crime? And how could he leave the audience with the impression that there was a connection, as Dick Cheney has never stopped saying, between 9/11 and Iraq? This is the tragic failure of Stone's World Trade Center. It undercuts the historical value of the film and reinforces the Biggest Lie of the last five years, still believed by far too many Americans -- that in Iraq, we are fighting those who attacked our country."

Can Mel play first base?

Why does Joe Scarborough hate America?

“Someone named Charles P. Pierce?”  Them’s fightin words. Gee, that was hard.

The rejected rejection letter is one my favorite genres.

The Senate WMD report: A critical appraisal by Roberg Jervis in the Journal of Strategic Studies.

Why do you think they call me blow? (Thanks Petey)

I’ve always said The Washington Times is garbage.

Buzz-building Sneak Previews Section: I saw the pilot for the Aaron Sorkin and the Tina Fey backstage-at-Saturday-Night-Live shows. Aaron’s show was terrific; Fay’s show was quite good. I don’t know if “quite good” is good enough to survive when your network has a “terrific” show on the same network. It’s not my problem, but I would have preferred it if the one that was terrific were about NY and the other one about LA, rather than vice-versa.

On the topic of buzz, I was thumbing through the new Vanity Fair last night, and I noticed that many of the ads were glorifying junkies and pimps and violent-looking rappers who might as well be pimps, getting oral pleasure in front of their homeys. As a parent, as well as a human being, I’m deeply disgusted. I think liberals should make a bigger deal out this kind of thing. Look at this awful company, which is one of the aforementioned advertisers. Why are right-wing hypocrites like the smut-peddling Rupert Murdoch the only people who are comfortable voicing their anger about this kind of thing? (One possible reason: Are these guys going to come beat me up now?)

If someone is going to pay so much attention to a three-year-old book, the least we can do is give him a link here. It continues here.

And while we’re on the topic of three-year-old debates, someone sent me a link for my Charlie Rose debate with Hitchens on the war, back then, here.

Alter-reviews by SAL, NYCD.

Randy Newman & Neil Diamond are two songwriters whose material has been covered by artists ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Two fairly recent releases collect a bunch of those sides.

"Forever Neil Diamond," is the better of the two, even though none of the 14 tracks are new. There is of course, "The Monkees" with "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You," a great pop hit, but oddly chosen over the bigger hit, "I'm A Believer." Also included are the somewhat obvious, but no less wonderful "Kentucky Rain" by Deep Purple, the Pulp Fiction-fan fave, "Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon" by Urge Overkill, and the 80's hit "Red Red Wine" by the now aptly named UB40. Some other stranger choices include the band Crooked Fingers (who?) and The Four Tops version of "I'm A Believer." Plus, you get the awesome, sorta-punkified version of "Cracklin' Rosie" by Pogue Shane MacGowan. Little to complain about with this collection, although if I had my hand in it, I would have made it a little better and a little longer.  More here.

"Sail Away: The Songs of Randy Newman" is a newly recorded collection that has a bit of a country theme to it. The stellar line-up includes such faves as Steve Earle, Sonny Landreth, and Joe Ely, as well New Orleans newcomer Marc Broussard. Some tracks work: the aforementioned Steve Earle's version of "Rednecks," as well as his wife Alison Moorer's gorgeous version of my fave Newman track "Marie." But, some just don't come close to the originals, or even some earlier covers. Landreth, hailing from Louisiana, seemed like a good choice for "Louisiana 1927," but it just doesn't pack the whallop of Aaron Neville's heartbreaking version. Other artists involved include Sam Bush, Kim Richey, Del McCoury, and Tin O'Brien. It's not bad. Not great. Just, not bad. More here.

Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by Peter Ames Carlin (Rodale, 2006)

The people in flight from the terror behind—strange things happen to them, some bitterly cruel and some so beautiful that the faith is refired forever.
— John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

Brian Wilson is sitting in a little room somewhere deep in the recesses of the Austin Convention Center, staring intently at the green linoleum floor. His face is blank; his mouth, a thin, unmoving line. His biographer-turned-friend-turned-advisor-and-documentarian, David Leaf, sits nearby, next to Van Dyke Parks, the musician/arranger/songwriter whose career has been inextricably bound to Brian’s for nearly four decades, though they’ve rarely seen each other most of that time. David and Van Dyke are chatting mildly—about restaurants, friends in common, their plans for the weekend. But the man who brought them together is silent, examining the universe beneath the toes of his black suede Merrell shoes.

Soon the three of them, along with a couple of music journalists, will sit on a stage in front of a jammed conference room to discuss Smile, the album Brian and Van Dyke wrote and recorded most of in 1966 and 1967. At the time—just when the Beach Boys’ early stream of surf/car/girl-focused songs had given way to Brian’s ambitious song cycle Pet Sounds and the smash pop-art single “Good Vibrations”—Smile was envisioned as a panoramic commentary on America’s tangled past, ambivalent cultural inheritance, and spiritual future. Simultaneously nostalgic, sad, dreamy, and psychedelic, the songs struck those who heard them as a whole new kind of American pop music. Some observers called it the harbinger of a new era in pop culture.

Then something happened. Exactly what that something was -- static from the other Beach Boys, interference from Capitol Records, the corrosive effect of drugs, Brian’s own neurological problems, or some combination of the above -- has never been resolved. But the aftermath was all too clear. Brian gave up on his musical ambitions and spent most of the next four decades adrift. The Beach Boys faded from the scene, only to return as a kind of perpetual motion nostalgia machine. And Smile became a folk legend: a metaphor for everything that had gone wrong with Brian, the Beach Boys, and the nation whose dreams and ideals they had once transformed into shimmering waves of harmony. End of story.

Except the story wouldn’t end. Even as the years turned the Beach Boys small and dispirited, the passage of time seemed only to enhance Smile. Hundreds of thousands of words came to be written about its creation and demise, including a science fiction novel whose hero goes back in time and helps Brian finish his masterpiece. Televised biopics and theatrical documentaries told the group’s story in various shades of personal, creative, and cultural melodrama. But all came to focus on Brian’s dramatic rise and crushing fall, and this story always pivoted off the lost glories of Smile, what it was, what it could have been, why it never came to be. Eventually Smile, in all of its glorious absence, became something else altogether. And that is why we’re here today.

David Leaf wants to get something going. “So Van Dyke,” he says, his eyes gazing past the short, stocky man in the foreground to the taller one sitting just past him, “did you ever think you’d be here at South-by-Southwest talking about how you finally finished Smile?”

Van Dyke smiles broadly. “It has been a wild ride,” he declaims in his storybook Mississippi drawl. “And I do need to thank Brian for the opportunity to take it with him.”

Both men look over at Brian, wondering if he’s going to toss in his own observation, perhaps priming the pump for the onstage discussion they’re about to have. But Brian is still gazing down at his toes, his face stony and empty. The two magazine writers on the panel—Alan Light from Tracks and Jason Fine from Rolling Stone—come in, but this only makes Brian seem more disconsolate. He shakes hands. He says hi. But he doesn’t even try to smile, and when the festival organizers come to shepherd the gang upstairs to the stage, Brian moves with the dark resignation of a man headed for the gallows.

Upstairs the room is crowded, buzzing with excitement. The ovation begins the moment Alan Light steps onto the stage, then grows more intense when Van Dyke steps into the light. The crowd jumps to its feet when Brian emerges, but he either doesn’t see this or doesn’t care to acknowledge it. Instead he moves robotically to his seat, sits, and stares stone-faced into the darkness beyond the footlights. The applause continues, now mixed with cheers, and finally the taut cast of his face loosens. He mouths a silent thank-you, and then, finally, his lips slip into a small, shy smile.

Light, serving as the event’s moderator, leads off with some background on Smile’s history. Then he throws the session open to questions, and the first one comes instantly, from a man whose eyes glisten as he addresses the stage. “Brian, I just want to thank you,” he says. “Your music has saved my life so many times . . .”

Brian nods. “You’re welcome.”

“I just want to ask, why did you decide to finish Smile now, after all this time?”

This is the key question, of course. You could write a book about it.

The room is silent, waiting to hear what combination of internal and external phenomena has led this man—so often described as a genius, just as often dismissed as a burnout or pitied as the victim of untold spiritual and physical torment—to make this unexpected leap back into the creative fires.

“Well, I knew people liked watching TV,” he begins. Brian is talking out of the side of his mouth, both because he’s nearly deaf in one ear and because this is what he does when he’s extremely nervous. “And, uh, Smile moves really quickly, right? So I figured people could hear it now.”

This is puzzling. But another hand shoots up, and another man stands to ask Brian about his decision to perform “Heroes and Villains” at a tribute concert in 2001. “Heroes” is one of Smile’s key songs, and Brian had refused to play it in public for more than 35 years. Was he frightened to take it on again—particularly on a show that would be broadcast on national TV?

“Oh, it took me about half an hour to prepare for it,” Brian says, shrugging. “But then it was great.”

“Oh. Well.” The man sounds a bit deflated. “It meant a lot to me. Thanks for doing it. And for bringing Smile back to life.”

“Oh, sure. Thank you,” Brian says.

Someone asks Van Dyke about how it felt the day Brian called to ask him to help him finish their long-lost masterwork.

“You must be talking about November 16, 2003,” he says. “Obviously, the day means nothing to me.”

This gets a laugh, and the glimmer of feeling behind his words prompts Light to ask Brian about the recording of “Fire,” the cacophonous instrumental piece that represented both the heights of his creative daring and the start of his emotional devolution. How did he get such a vivid, scary sound out of the drums, cello, violins, fuzz bass, guitars, and theremin? Did he really think the music had sparked a rash of fires in downtown Los Angeles? And did this inspire his decision to not finish Smile at all? Brian listens and nods—and once again refuses to provide an answer. Instead, he retells the story of how he had an assistant build a fire in a bucket so the studio musicians could smell smoke while they played. They all wore plastic fire hats, too. And the song came out great, he adds. “But then we junked it.” He shrugs. Light seems pained. But he smiles at Brian and nods. “Great. Thanks.”

This goes on for 45 awkward minutes. Throughout, two things are obvious: the depth of the audience’s feeling for Brian and his music; and Brian’s near-total unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone engage, that feeling. What it comes down to is this: The people who love him the most need Brian to be something that he is no longer able or willing to be. The journey was too difficult, the price too steep. He shed that skin a long time ago, and he has no intention of looking back. Which may be one reason he engenders the passion he can no longer abide.

Brian Wilson’s music became a part of the American cultural fiber not just because it was innovative and instantly memorable or even because it was so often set in a dreamland of open space and windswept horizons. It’s the desperation that inspired those visions—the darkness that ignited the flight to freedom—that tugs at people’s hearts. Like all of Brian’s best work, Smile tells the American story in those same visceral terms: innocence, pain, flight, joy, corruption, desolation, redemption. It’s in the music. It’s in the story behind the music. It’s in the sorrow that haunts Brian’s eyes even when he’s smiling.

This feels important, like something that should be talked about and understood, particularly while Brian is still alive, still able to put his thoughts into words. Only that’s not where he likes to put his thoughts. It’s the sound that matters to him. The feelings, the emotions, the vibrations, are all in the sound.

Eating lunch in Los Angeles a few weeks later, he addresses the same questions. Only now Brian is in a good mood, feeling the sun warming his back and sharing a piece of cheesecake with a friend and a writer he has come to know a little bit. He speaks easily and illustrates his thoughts with occasional bursts of song—a line of melody; a rhythm pounded out on the tabletop.

“Sometimes I think I sing too sarcastically. Like I get worried I can’t sing sweet anymore, so I sing it rough.” He’s talking about Smile again, contemplating the dozens of times he’ll perform the once-lost work for audiences during his summer tour. “I worry about that all the time, like I’m losing the sweetness in my soul or something. But then I hear myself singing sweetly and I think, Hey! Listen to me! A sweet sound, all full of love!”

He laughs and shakes his head. “Listen to me! Just listen!”

For more, go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

16 August 2006 Eric-- Mark Ace is right on target in laying the failure of passing the Clinton health care bill on Gingrich and Dole. For an interesting book about the missed opportunities of the Clinton administration, Haynes Johnson interviewed Gingrich who told him point blank that the defeat of the Clinton health plan was politics plain and simple--claiming that if it had passed foreseeable generations would owe a debt to the Democrats that would put the Republicans out of business. However, Gingrich's shameless power play doesn't redeem the Clinton plan from a fatal flaw: its excessive reliance on insurance companies. The waste and excessive costs are largely attributable to the bureaucracy of the insurance industry. When will corporate America realize that they can't afford the current system either, and that it's time to go national with Medicare for all?

Name: John
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Dr. A, That Fred Barnes column on Lamont/Lieberman was absolutely priceless. I have never seen so many conservatives and their media lapdogs, take such an active interest in a Democratic primary. Well the good news is: all the love that Lieberman is getting from Cokie and the gang, should be very helpfull for his chances at winning the Republican nomination in 2008.

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A Question: How do the Liberman-is-wonderful people who are attacking Lamont for appearing with Al Sharpton—whom I detest by the way—explain the fact the fact that Lieberman asked for Sharpton’s support and was turned down?
This is the funniest of those I’ve read so far, by the way.
Joe has won a Kristol/Barnes/Broder/Peretz/Weisberg
/Barone/Roberts landslide; no wonder the voters don’t want him.
Another question: What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?
Insert your own joke here.


I've recently been looking to literature to understand a little more about radical Islam, particularly its violent component. I can strongly recommend The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany for some insight. The Egyptian author uses the residents of a building in Cairo to illustrate endemic government corruption against the political backdrop of the last fifty years and the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism there. But just as importantly, he uses the sex lives of his characters to bring the place to life, and in doing so, creates a complex portrait of the ties between sex, Islam, and political corruption. It was hailed by no other than one of Egypt's most respected dissidents, Saad Eddin Ibraham, in Foreign Policy not long ago, as well.  There’s more here.

Rockin’ Bones:

This four-CD box features 101 tracks recorded from 1954 to 1969, by the people, mostly forgotten now, who made rockabilly. ROCKIN' BONES: 1950s PUNK & ROCKABILLY doesn’t skimp on the basics: You get Link Wray's "Rumble," Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Jerry Lee
Lewis’ "Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On," Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm.” From Elvis we get uncensored version of “One Night of Sin.” But you’ll have to be one hep cat daddy (or mommy?) to know most of this stuff. From the great Wanda Jackson down to the Poe Kats, and Elroy Dietzel and the Rhythm Bandits, there’s a lot of otherwise lost history here. The packaging is handsome, and there’s a useful essay by axman, Deke Dickerson. We also get excellent liner notes that include an introduction by the collection's producer, James
Austin; a song-by-song commentary by rockabilly expert Colin Escott. One more thing. There’s a lot of sex. Read all about it, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Mark Roderick
Hometown: Moorestown, NJ
Comments: You barely scratched the surface regarding the stupidity and evil inherent in Rabbi Gelman's Newsweek piece. The wise Rabbi chastises "the Jews" for failing to support Joe Lieberman. Apparently blind to the meaning of his own words, he thereby advocates a system in which a man's politics are defined by his religion. This is precisely the cause of the butchery today in Iraq and, over the centuries, has been the cause of so much butchery as to have been repudiated, with monumental effort, by all of Western civilization, including the founding fathers of this country.
That Rabbi Gelman would let the virus out of the test tube because it suits his narrow political interests as of a given moment in August 2006 reveals a breathtaking ignorance, or shallowness, or something. It's that much worse that he suggests this behavior on behalf of "the Jews," as if that group, above all others, has a single interest so superficial as to be implicated in the choice between a Joe Lieberman and a Ned Lamont. From Rabbi Gelman's position regarding "the Jews" it is a small step, a tiny step, to the world view of Mel Gibson. And Joe Lieberman's support of the war in Iraq, thereby empowering Iran, has been so good for Israel. . .but that's a different story.

Name: Rich Gallagher
Hometown: Fishkill, NY
Comments: Dear Eric, I share your reservations about Wes Clark as a presidential candidate, but I can't shake the feeling that he would be a great vice-presidential candidate. Imagine how much buzz it would generate if John Edwards were to announce before the primaries that, if nominated, he will choose Wes Clark to be his running mate? If Clark realizes that he can't win the nomination in 2008, he might be convinced that his best route to the White House is through the office of vice-president. His military credentials would go a long way toward neutralizing the Republican strategy of making the 2008 election a referendum on national security. His presence on the ticket would be particularly helpful if McCain gets the Republican nomination. It's an unorthodox suggestion, to be sure, but these are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary tactics.

Name: Mark Ace
Hometown: Portland, Or
Comments: Here's another legacy from the Republican ascendancy that Dems have not effectively figured out how to communicate: broken healthcare. Exhibit A is this article from Fortune in which Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is taking up the cause from the private sector side.
And why is it so broken? "It's the cloud Hillary created when she tried to change the system," he says. "People burned her so badly, and everyone remembers that. It's a subject people don't want to touch." So Hillary "created" it? Isn't it more accurate to lay blame squarely on the Republicans, led at the time by Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, who were in power? They saw an easy way to thwart Hillary and Bill, gain points for themselves, and, further consolidate their hold on the legislature. The result? Byzantine healthcare finances, double digit percent increases in premiums year after year, crushing costs for business, reduced access and quality, the list goes on. Another Republican success story. Throw the bums out.

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Comments: Hello, Dr. Alterman. Just to pick nits, contrary to Brian Geving's claim, the leading cause of death among pregnant women is not murder. Yes, CNN said it, but that doesn't make it true. No doubt CNN was simply parroting the Washington Post's claim in a three-part series by Donna St. George, but Jack Shafer did a wonderful job dissecting the math involved in that story in Slate. Basically, the study being cited is counting women who are "pregnant or recently pregnant" with "recently pregnant" being up to 365 days after delivery, miscarriage, or abortion. The study found 247 "pregnancy-related" deaths of which 50 were homicides. But of those 50, only 23 were during pregnancy, all the others were in the one-year after period. Of the 27 remaining, only 3 were within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. St. George's piece goes on to say that 10% of all murders of women between 14 and 44 were pregnant or recently pregnant. But by Shafer's counting, 10% of all women between 14 and 44 were pregnant so any random sampling of women from this group would find that 10% of them were pregnant of recently pregnant.
In short, being pregnant makes you no more or less likely to be murdered than not being pregnant. Not to discount the very real problem of violence against women and the particularly heinous way it can befall women who are pregnant, but this claim of murder being the leading cause of death among pregnant women is nothing more than media hype.

Name: Greg Wortman
Hometown: Studio City, CA
Comments: Dear Dr. Alterman, Re: "Pure 80s: The Ultimate DVD Box.". How can you possibly deny that Disc #3 (Headbangers Rule) is just as "wonderfully awful" as the first two DVDs? You may not like or understand heavy metal, but like it or not, it was an integral part of what gave 80's popular music its identity. To assume your readers would want to s**tcan that entire genre as well is a mistake. As someone who watched MTV from the beginning, I find this entire compilation quite kitschy and nostalgic as well, but to my ears, nothing at the time was cooler than the sound of a loud, searing, overdriven Marshall stack.
Yes, most of the heavy metal here is cheesy, but it is no more so than the synth-laced pop on the other discs. I'd personally rather bang my head against a wall than be subjected to "Mr. Roboto", "Relax", or "Luka" (or most of Springsteen's catalog, for that matter), but to deny their place in that "wonderfully awful" decade's musical pantheon would be criminal. Also, where did all the quintessential '80s black (and rap) artists go? Donna Summer, Lionel Ritchie and Tina Turner had all been long since established at the onset ot the '80s, but Run-DMC, Whitney Houston, MC Hammer and even Michael Jackson are nowhere to be found here. Go figure.

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Comments: Hey, Eric: Your review of the Chuck Berry DVDs really piqued my interest, in part because I produced a two-hour music and interview radio show with Charles for NBC Radio in, I think, 1979. The man is strangely friendly and off-putting at the same time. He had just released a new record, Rockit, at the time, but he was the only artist I did shows on who demanded to be paid-$2,000-for the interview.
My partner and I interviewed him in his studio near St. Louis and he charged us for the tape stock. His lawyer, a wonderful man named Bill Krasilovsky, warned us to have the $2,000 in cash when we went to meet him, but Chuck didn't demand it at that time. I have often said to friends that I think the root of much of his difficult nature is an obsessive fear of getting screwed by the White Man. He was just getting ready to head for Lompoc on a conviction for tax irregularities when we met. He wouldn't talk on tape about that or his previous jail time.
But speaking of Lompoc, he did volunteer that he'd been in tougher joints. He was very forthcoming on other matters, although I don't know how honest he was in his responses. I think Chuck tailors his stories to suit his current needs. When Johnnie Johnson died last year, Chuck was widely quoted as saying that Johnson inspired Johnny B. Goode. He told us back in 79 that he envisioned Johnny B. Goode as a young white boy. But whatever his idiosyncrasies, he was and is a rock and roll icon. I think he'll be 80 in October and he's still playing gigs and probably getting more pussy than any of the rest of us.

Name: Uncle Walt
Hometown: St. Louis
Comments: Regarding your review on the Chuck Berry docu-concert recorded in 1986 (holy crap, has it already been 20 years...) I attended the filming of that with my youngest brother at the Fox Theatre in STL, and the music was great. Berry has always been well known here in STL for "backing out" of gigs until the promoter sends somebody over with a bag of cash. He also had that incident some years back when a hidden camera was discovered at one of his properties taping women in a dressing room. And then there was that time... well, you've got him pegged. He still plays about ten times per year at the basement bar at Blueberry Hill in University City, and by all accounts still puts on quite a show for the peoples.

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When Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean in 2004 right before Dean’s campaign imploded, taking $40 million with it, everyone treated Gore as if he had gone even crazier—what with growing a beard, pointing out that Iraq was a mistake and George W. Bush was a liar. My thought was that Gore was positioning himself for 2008. Hillary was already remaking herself as the DLC candidate and Gore was fitting into his role as the candidate. Those were the party’s two national power bases, and their strength varies from region to region, but they both produce money and Moveon produces money and volunteers. (I am using these two organizations as a short hand for all of the organizations they represent. Another way to do it would be “Establishment” and “Insurgency.”)
If both Gore and Hillary do run for the presidency, I still think that’s the way the race will shake out. With these two heavyweights in the race, there will be no “oxygen”—i.e. money and media attention--for anyone to cut-in on this meta-and mega-grudge match.

If Hillary runs and Gore does not—as seems most likely today—then the race is all about being the un-or anti-Hillary. Since she has so much money, organization, her husband, and about a third of the party sown up, if all the other candidates divide up the opposition and the “electable” vote, then it’s already over. Mark Warner is the favorite of the professionals right now, but he is new, untested and unknown outside the beltway. He may be terrific but he’d better be really terrific if he wants to have a chance, particularly given his lack of appeal to the netroots beause of his hawkishness on Iraq. Ditto, nearly, Joe Biden. He certainly has impressive support among Sunday talk-show hosts and bookers, but that, as far as I can tell, is it.

If you look at who is best placed to emerge in Un-Hillary role, then right now, it’s gotta be John Edwards. Edwards is quietly running a brilliant strategic campaign. He has a message “optimistic populism” that resonates with the middle of the country and appeals to the netroots. He has deepened his connection to labor in a way no other candidate has, which means a ton in terms of GOTV operations, and he is acceptable to both the Moveon—he apologized for his Iraq vote--and DLC wings—he made the vote in the first place--though he is neither’s favorite. Yes he was a massive disappointment as the VP nomination, but most Democrats accept the excuse that everything about that election was John Kerry’s fault., which, by the way, makes his candidacy hopeless and a little sad, however well-financed. Most important perhaps, the primary calendar was written as if by an Edwards staffer. First comes Iowa, where they loved him in the first place, and where he always seems to be. Next comes Nevada, where Hillary is not going to appeal, and after that, South Carolina.  By the time we get to New Hampshire, he already has the un-Hillary role locked up and then it becomes a battle over “electability.” 

Sadly, for Edwards and for common sense, the biggest question is whether he looks old enough. Last time around he looked to be barely 30. People need to be reassured by a candidate’s face since for many of them, that’s all the information they need to know to chose their favorite. Edwards needs to start dying his hair a little gray and have some plastic surgery to add a few lines to his face. Maybe he should hire Nora Ephron as an aging consultant. Alas, I’m not kidding.

One candidate I’ve left out of this calculation because I don’t know where he fits in is Wes Clark. I dropped by a Clark event out here at the beach over the weekend, and I was mighty impressed. He was articulated and moving and had a strong grasp on the issues as well as the kind of requisite personal charisma one needs to do this kind of thing. He made a few mistakes, however—I can’t describe them because the event was not really open to the press; I was there as a friend of someone else; and these are the kind of gaffes that can cause a candidate real trouble. Clark’s problem last time—in addition to not being ready as a politician—was lacking the kind of organization that could keep him within the bounds of the mindless media discourse so that saying something a little complex would not rebound against him. I wonder if that’s still a problem. I also wonder if he’s running. I do think he’d make a fine president and his relationship with his fellow soldiers and veterans who have been so viciously abused by this administration—would go a long way toward healing some of the wounds Bush has opened up in this country.

But again, where’s the oxygen? As I see it, he’s competing with Edwards. With Gore out of the race, Feingold is going to get the lefty activist support, even though Clark was quite good on the war, and he probably deserves it. So if Feingold gets out early and endorses someone that could make a big difference. So could Gore’s endorsement if he doesn’t run. Clark could be there as the un-Hillary if Edwards implodes—or as the Hillary if decides not to run—but right now, it’s hard to see how it works. (And in the extremely unlikely event that Obama gets in the race, ignore all of the above.)

Now, to Connecticut. It’s really too bad that Lamont did not trounce Lieberman and thereby strengthen his Democratic friends’ arguments that he not act a spoiler. It was a healthy thing to tell the Establishment that they do not speak for voters, particularly on the war—and a healthy thing to tell Democratic representatives that only so much betrayal can be tolerated, and Lieberman was well over the line. So good triumphed there, for once, but not by enough for comfort. Now that there’s going to be a real race in Connecticut, political professionals have to decide where their priorities lie. If Lieberman wins and keeps his word to his Democratic supporters by remaining part of the Democratic caucus then it really doesn’t matter so much who the senator from Connecticut is. What matters is who controls the House and the Senate.

And possibly, there is no conflict between those two priorities. But Connecticut is an extremely expensive state. If you think money is infinitely expandable in an election, then fine; the same people who give to the DSCC and DCCC will also give to Lamont and nothing has been lost. Popular Democrats will stop by Connecticut and Moveon will raise some money for advertisements, but not at the expense of the close races elsewhere. The argument for this being the case was the fact that Dean blew $40 million on his campaign but that didn’t hurt Kerry’s fundraising one bit. George W. Bush is the Democrats’ greatest fundraiser ever, and he’s still there.  But this may be wishful thinking, and if resources grow scarce, than I think, even Ned’s strongest supporters would have to agree that they need to be allocated in a way that does the greatest good for the country.

While we’re on the topic of Lieberman/Lamont, this being the Internets, a great deal has already been written about Chuck Roberts amazing assertion that Lamont was the candidate of Al-Qaida. On CNN’s “Reliable Sources over the weekend, our girl Arianna got to the proverbial meat of the issue, when she told Mr. Conflict of Interest, “I mean, you had your own headline anchorman, Chuck Roberts, describe Lamont as the al Qaeda candidate. This is an equally deceitful, fraudulent, fabricated statement. There should be zero tolerance for all those deceits, whether in images or words.” Kurtz, who is after all, paid by the people whom Arianna is trying to hold accountable, does his best to wimp out of the controversy wihtout angering his bosses:
KURTZ: "Well, what Chuck Roberts said, according to the transcript, was that some are calling Ned Lamont the al Qaeda candidate. But it's certainly not a formulation I would have used.” But the woman is indefatigible. She comes back at Mr. Conflict.
HUFFINGTON: "You cannot find a single person who called Lamont the al Qaeda candidate, except Chuck Roberts. And what have been the consequences when it comes to Chuck Roberts? Has he been demoted to be covering Paris Hilton or entertainment news?”

There are two points here, lest they get lost in focusing on the egregious stupidity of Mr. Roberts. The first is that journalists can, and do, say anything they want about someone and refuse to take responsibility for it, by putting in the words “some people” or stating it in the passive voice. If I wrote, “some people say Chuck Roberts is a chicken-molesting axe murderer” it would be just as true as the statement he made on CNN. But because the right-wing controls the airwaves, these slanders are almost always directed at liberals. The second point is that there is little or no accountability in the media, save for the blogosphere—which is one reason the MSM is so invested in calling everyone in the blogosphere ipso facto, lunatic. Here we have a rare example of someone demanding accountability from the network that allowed this slander to take place on that very network, but only because Arianna is the kind of celebrity that appeals to Howie and his producers. And yet even in an example this egregious, Mr. Conflict can not even bring himself to agree. Some media cop. Some media. anyway, Arianna is here and David Brock’s letter to CNN is here.

Still in Connecticut, I happened upon perhaps the dumbest sentence of the year: Liberman “lost because Barbra Streisand's highly publicized contribution to Lamont.” Hey “Newsweek Rabbi Marc Gellman," maybe you should stick to theology.

Lord help him, it gets worse: “if you asked me to explain why Jews did not vote for Joe the way blacks voted for Barack Obama…” Um, Rabbi dude, the same blacks who voted for Obama deserted the um, black Alan Keyes. There was no white candidate in the race] ..or Catholics voted for John F. Kennedy I would not know what to tell you. [Um, Rabbi dude, one more time, that was 46 years ago. In the last election, Catholics went for the non-Catholic candidate George W. Bush over the Catholic candidate John F. Kerry by a small plurality. Is your editor at the Vineyard or is he perhaps a secret anti-Semite who is enjoying this?]

Most amazing sentence yet: “So he supports the war. So what?” Really what is one to say? “So what?” About this war? This Rabbi is arguing that Jews should put Israel’s interests ahead of America’s, up to and including getting their fellow citizens killed for no good reason. This is not even “dual loyalty.” It is disloyalty and thank God, if you’ll excuse me bubbela, that most American Jews have the good sense to ignore you.  And Newsweek, perhaps it’s time to find a new rabbi. .

“There are fewer more devoted adherents to that strain of American foreign-policy thinking than Lieberman himself. Call this perspective what you like -- puerile, misguided, even paranoid -- but don't call it strong on defense.” Excellent piece by TNR editor Spencer Ackerman here  (I wonder why it’s not in the “proudly schizophrenic” TNR, don’t you? Maybe I should ask my rabbi…)

Quotes of the Day: “Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."”

Why does George F. Will hate America?

What happens when a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago reads a book by Ann Coulter.

In the wake of the Reuters photo-doctoring scandal, here's a look back at efforts by warblogs such as Little Green Footballs to tag journalists for being soft on terror and staging phony battlefield photographs


Chuck Berry - Hail! Hail! Rock N' Roll. (4 DVD edition)
I have always found Chuck Berry a hard guy to like and the more I read about him, the more I feel that way. Kudos, therefore to Taylor Hackford, for constructing this endlessly fascinating and illuminating document around a truly complicated but incredibly important figure. The film, which was originally released in 1986, is pretty great, albeit uneven. The band, led by Keith Richards, features Robert Cray, Chuck Lavell  and Johnnie Johnson, and features guest shots by Clapton, Linda Rondstadt, Etta James, and Julian Lennon, among many others.
The bonus material—three discs worth—is a must for all amateur rock historians and perhaps most documentary film-makers. It includes:

-- 54 minutes of rehearsal footage
-- The Reluctant Movie Star making-of documentary
-- Trailer
-- Witnesses to History documentary Parts 1 & 2
-- "Chuckisms" - a collection of classic Chuck Berry remarks
-- "The Burnt Scrapbook" - Chuck Berry reminisces over his musical memories with Robbie Robertson.

Among the highlights from the documentary part: In the words of Amazon’s Sam Graham, “But if you're the type who can't turn away from car wrecks, don't miss "The Reluctant Movie Star," an hour-long "making of" documentary, for it's here that Hackford and the others who worked on the film tell their war stories. The Chuck Berry they know demanded to be paid every day, in cash, or he'd refuse to be filmed. He showed up for a dinner meeting at L.A.'s posh Le Dome with a bag of McDonald's takeout. And two days before the St. Louis concert, he announced that he was leaving town for a gig in Ohio, where he proceeded to blow out his voice--so his vocals all had to be overdubbed after the fact (an extra payday, natch).” There’s also an hour-long sitdown between Chuck, Little Richard and Bo Diddley and interviews with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, Bo Diddley, The Everly Bros, and Willy Dixon. There’s lots more here and there’s also a two-disc version for the less obsessive.

I am also enjoying a three-cd box called “Pure 80s: The Ultimate DVD Box.” It also appeals to the historian in me because it’s got so much of that wonderfully awful stuff so many of us watched in the early days of MTV. The music doesn’t hold up too badly. I still love “Rapture,” “Tainted Love,” “Safety Dance,” “Our House,” (Madness, not CSNY, no cats in the yard…) “Centerfold,” “She works Hard for the Money,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” “Luka,” “She Drives Me Crazy,” etc. And the videos are fun in a trashy sort of way. One warning, however, the music on the third disc, “Headbangers Ball” could not be worse if it were the sound of my head being banged against a wall. I’ve never understood the appeal of this stuff but now I understand it even less. So you may want to buy volumes one and two individually. Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: MB
Hometown: Jackson, MS
Comments: While I think you made a very cogent argument why supporting Lieberman for VP in 2000 but not supporting him now is not necessarily hypocrisy or idiocy, I think you missed a key reason why Lieberman is persona non grata now when he was, arguably, a party leader just 6 years ago. That reason is that, Joe's highly public denunciation of Clinton's peccadilloes notwithstanding, many, many Democrats did not really know much about him until the 2000 election. We got to know him through that campaign and, speaking for myself, I was less than impressed.
His refusal to give up his Senate seat made him seem self-serving and unsure of his running mate's campaign. His performance in the Cheney debate was abysmal. It was hard for me to listen to it and not believe that Lieberman simply threw the debate. He was, pretty much at every turn, a poor campaigner (at least in his run to be the VP, he managed to be easily re-elected to his Senate seat -- Yay him!) The VP candidate is supposed to have his running mate's back and should be empowered to make a spirited defense -- to say things the Presidential candidate cannot. As the wild-eyed Right attacked Gore at every turn, we didn't hear much from Lieberman. Joe's too nice for that, I guess, or maybe he just believes that elections should be bipartisan as well as governance.
As the election ended in the Fiasco in Florida, Lieberman could barely contain his inclination to concede early and often. His performance was sickening; especially in retrospect as we've seen him become Bush's favorite Democrat over the succeeding 6 years. It leaves me wondering what team Lieberman was really playing for. The intervening 6 years have seen Lieberman moving closer and closer to the Right. For example, while he may be nominally pro-choice, he enabled and facilitated the ascension of Bush judges who will undo Roe at their earliest opportunity (not to mention the assault on other civil liberties.) It's Lieberman who is the hypocrite. He's been a pretend Democrat too long. There was at least one good thing that came out of the 2000 election -- and that is that Joe Lieberman never got (and never will get) anywhere close to being President of the US.

Name: Bob Rothman
Hometown: Providence, RI
Comments: What is it about the truth that makes neocons so allergic to it? Last week, after the British airliner plot was broken, Dick Cheney sneered something about liberals wanting to look at terrorism as a law enforcement problem. On Sunday, Joshua Muravchik repeated the charge.
According to Muravchik, presidents from Nixon to Clinton refused to face up to Middle Eastern terrorists, instead "shaking a symbolic fist or issuing some subpoenas.... This led to the Sept. 11 attacks." By contrast, Bush "set forth the enormous goal of destroying terrorist groups; cutting off government support for terrorists, if necessary by regime changes." Bush has had five years now; let's look at the record. The Taliban are no longer in power in Afghanistan, but they are far from gone and are consolidating power in the south of the country.
Iraq is now the breeding ground for terrorists it wasn't before our invasion. There have been more incidents of terrorism since 9/11 than before; in 2005, there were 11,111 incidents resulting in more than 14,000 deaths, according to the State Department.
And of course there have been major devastating incidents in Western capitals like Madrid and London. And oh yes, there might have been a major attack on American airliners, but it was thwarted--by law enforcement. Yes, while we were bomnbing, MI-5 issued some subpoenas. And they succeeded. Why does the truth hate America?

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Comments: Dr. E., could the "guns of 1948" refer to the splinterist Henry Wallace candidacy? It still doesn't make sense: you have been consistently vociferous against Nader's splinterism and now Lieberman's. Wallace latered renounced his connection with the Soviets, but a lot of what he stood for in 1948 is now mainstream, especially desegregation and full voting rights for all; unfortunately, his call for universal government health insurance is only "mainstream" in that the majority of Americans agree with it, though no major politicians do.

Eric replies: Yes, it does. Perhaps I should have spelled that out, though of course, it still makes no sense.

Name: Brian Geving
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Comments: Eric, A local paper recently ran this list of our ranking among the world's developed countries in many different areas. I've seen a few of these before, but seeing them all together is very depressing to me. It would be interesting to compare how these statistics have changed since 2000. A few lowlights that jumped out at me:
- The United States is 49th in the world in literacy (the New York Times, Dec. 12, 2004).
- Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth.
- Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day (The Week, Jan. 7, 2005).
- The leading cause of death of pregnant women in this country is murder (CNN, Dec. 14, 2004).
- As of last June, the U.S. imported more food than it exported (NYT, Dec. 12, 2004).

Name: Wanda Marie Woodward, M.S.
Hometown: West Chester
Comments: Is anyone paying attention to this? China, Russia, Iran, India, Pakistan, et al. forming an OPEC like organization? All they need is to ask Venezuela to join and America is screwed. With Russia and Iran being two of the top 10 providers of oil to the U.S., with Russia and Pakistan currently having nuclear bombs and with Iran and India racing to make them, and with China's gargantuan rise to superpower status in the next few years, this is a nightmare on the horizon.