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Altercation archive: September 12-21, 2003

Note: For technical reasons this archive page does not contain the links from the original post.

Sept. 19, 2003 |
Bob Hope Award:
Andy is “not reassured that [Wesley Clark} has what it takes to wage a war on terror.” Well, that changes everything. I mean, Clark is only the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. But Andy, on the other hand, is a Gaycatholictoryredbaitingweblogger. That’s definitely more impressive when it comes to knowing how to wage a war. Well, that’s that for Clark, I guess. Coming next: Andy is not reassured that Isabel has what it takes to wage a Category 2 hurricane.

New Nation column: “ 9/11/01: Where Was George?” Personally, I think it’s a fine column, but I won’t pretend that my column is the best George Bush piece to be published by an allegedly liberal magazine this week. It ain’t. In fact, it ain’t even close. This is. No contest. Bravo. Brava. Bravissimo. Whatever. Bring It On. Congrats to Jon Chait.

Onto Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Eric — RIP Sheb Wooley. Not just for the People Eater, but for hiring Norman Dale at Hickory High School, too.

Good heavens, was that really Ken Starr, talking to his Federalist Society pinochle cronies on the subject of McCain-Feingold, and arguing that, if the law stands, American politics will be hijacked to its disadvantage by extraconstitutional and extra-partisan cabals? That must’ve got them hopping down there at Dozhier’s Bait Shoppe.

They’re all starting to look a bit ridiculous, aren’t they? Tossing the Undisclosed Dick under the bus over Iraq was only the most visible outward sign of a rising panic. All of a sudden, the spells and conjures are turning everything into toads, and Bill O’Reilly (to name one) is starting to look like Emil Jannings at the end of The Blue Angel. On Thursday night, only two days after telling former patent-medicine huckster Michael Savage that “your shtick is to overstate,” Big Daddy No-Spin told his audience: “The left has booked a full roster of character assassins. I mean these guys make Donald Segretti and the Nixon plumbers look like the Muppets.”

So how many psychiatrist’s offices did Franken burglarize last week? And you, you mucksavage, firebombing the Heritage Foundation is a TERRIBLE idea. It would be ... wrong. But I always did think Bud Krogh favored Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, especially around the eyes.

Who knew they were all such delicate flowers? I mean, even my gal Annie Coulter got into a snit this week and threatened Not To Talk if someone —say,from Planet Earth — interrupted her. Lou Dobbs jumped in — possibly because he didn’t want Annie’s head to explode from the effort. They’d have been scraping peroxide off the studio walls until February.

You know what? Tough. Welcome to real politics again. You asked for it. Every damn one of you —even you, John McCain, who has not done nearly enough yet to keep the crazies in line.

Or, as Max Cleland put it in the Atlanta paper yesterday: “Welcome to Vietnam, Mr. President. Sorry you didn’t go when you had the chance.”

Eric replies: Everybody read Pierce in Esquire and Sports Ilustrated this week or your subscriptions to Altercation will be canceled.

Name: Stupid
Eric, it’s Stupid, still in a bad mood (and not just because my White Sox are sinking like a stone and I was mistaken about the premiere date for Survivor). Being from Chicago, NOW’s endorsement of Carol Mosley-Braun is a particular sore spot. She’s worse than insignificant, she’s amoral - a self-described good friend of the late Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha who worked on his behalf while in the senate. I’d chastise Bill Clinton and the Dems for making her an ambassador to New Zealand after she lost her re-election bid (to a far right-winger - guess how the Chicago Nigerian community voted), but if they aren’t troubled by the presence of Al Sharpton in their presidential debates who can be surprised? By the way, next time someone accuses the GOP of being morally bankrupt, remember those two.

It’s “too early to say” whether the war in Iraq was a mistake. “I feel only history will tell.” Donald Rumsfeld? Nope, the Dalai Lama, quoted in the NY Times. Zeesh, it’s been half a year, how long does this guy need? I Guess he wouldn’t rule out voting for Kerry/Lieberman/Edwards just yet.

Speaking of the Times, does the left have something against John Burns that I don’t know about? Why were only conservative blogs talking-up his criticism of media ethics in pre-war Iraq? This was exactly what infuriated us humanitarian hawks before the war: the mere lip service given Saddam Hussein’s evil - a “well, he’s a bad man, but everyone knows he’s a bad man and there’s lots of bad men in the world” attitude. The devil was truly in the details. Admittedly, if you show enough graphic repression you can whip almost anyone into a war frenzy that is ill-advised when analyzed more soberly, but the media went to the other extreme. For the myriad of coverage about Arab opposition to the war, there were scant pieces on Iraqi expatriates (both in the West and in the Middle East) who strongly favored it. I would say that Burns gave you the first meritorious answer to the question “What liberal media?” except the press is nonpartisan in such callousness - just ask Rupert Murdoch.

And speaking of China, did anyone read in the current Harpers the guide for Chinese policemen on how to handle foreigners during the Olympic games? A western journalist caught covering anything but sports is given rougher treatment than an Afghani terrorist trying to kill Americans (who is sympathetically told how would embarrass China).

Name: Kevin Farrell
Hometown: Snow Camp, NC
Mark Armstrong’s letter is very sensible. The electoral math, however has changed since 2000, due to reapportionment. If you check the numbers (which I apologize for not having handy), Bush states now total about 278 Electoral votes, with a corresponding decline in Gore’s 267 to approx. 260. Thus, one small state changing sides will not be enough. Ohio, though, with millions of struggling working families that sometimes vote Republican, would be. Obviously, Florida would do the trick. Missouri might be another good prospect (Dean/Gephardt or Clark/Gephardt anyone?).

It is also absolutely crucial for any Democratic nominee to hold all of the closely fought Gore states. Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon and Pennsylvania are all pretty much must-wins for the Democrats. It’s not a coincidence that Bush travels so often to these places (Karl Rove may be evil, but he’s certainly not stupid). Hold these states, and then pick off a Kentucky, Colorado, NH, WV or an Arkansas, and the electoral math starts looking fuzzier for the right wingers.

Go ahead and forget about most of the south in the presidential race. Put the effort there into the Congressional races, especially the Senate. Run on populist economic themes. Do any of you up in the northeast remember Franklin Roosevelt? Or Harry Truman? They’re still heroes down here in the mostly conservative South. Erskine Bowles did a respectable job of running an unwinnable race against Ms. Dole by targeting the ravages of corporate greed, free trade pacts and fast-track legislation, even though he was hardly a credible spokesman on those issues. He lost in NC in 2002 by far less the than the statewide Bush/Gore margin in 2000. Since then, tens of thousands of NC workers have lost manufacturing jobs while John Edwards has been off working on hopeless self promotion.

On a completely different topic...... Why has so little been said about the 1700 or so wounded or injured in Iraq. A horrendous percentage of these involve major burns or amputations. If you want to find something more positive, focus on the real heroism of the medics and surgeons who have saved so many of these guys’ lives. Instead, the mass media serve up the exaggerated heroism of Jessica Lynch.

We are closing in on 2000 total casualties in Iraq, and most Americans don’t even know it.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Eric, re Sound Check. To my ears, the best sound system in Seattle is at the Crocodile Cafe. Perhaps not coincidentally, Peter Buck’s wife owns it.

Seahawks owner and welfare king Paul Allen bought his favorite childhood downtown bigscreen movie theater when it was about to go out of business, upgraded the sound system for the Tolkien and Star Wars blockbusters and so on, and they pack ‘em in there.

Actually, come to think of it, Paul’s Hendrix Palace and Monument to ’90s Excess (aka the Experience Music Project) has a real good sound system too. And they’ve paid to fly the great band Television here to play — twice!

p.s. I’m with you on Ralph, but nobody could have predicted the criminality of the Supreme Court in refusing to allow Florida to ACCURATELY COUNT THE VOTES, which would have given Al the Win anyway. Ralph’s just a lying egomaniac who, before he went destructively bitter, had done more good for this country than just about anybody since Martin Luther King Jr. The Supremes and the Florida governor and Sec’t’y of State are unindicted anti-democratic criminals. Far, far worse, and nobody called it.

Name: Morgan Tilleman
Hometown: Bloomington, IN
NOT ONLY did Ralph Nader throw the election to George W., but he also apparently hasn’t been to New York City, or any other metropolis in America, in a long time, either. The facts don’t matter to this guy any more, which is sad, because he used to be sharp; people used to take him seriously. Back when the “Old-timers” were in New York, the city was replete with violence, crime, decay and all manner of social ills. Thirty years ago, pundits predicted the end of New York, and other cities, with unrestrained glee. Since then, New York has been revitalized; not just downtown and on the Upper East Side, but all over the five boroughs. New York is far more livable than it was thirty years ago. And I think the New York City public library is still the LARGEST public library in the world. Over half of New Yorkers ride public transit to work, more than any other city in the nation. Health care, education, recreation, all of the necessities for any city, are being provided more effectively now than they were back in Ralph Nader’s imaginary “good old days”. Even in my backyard, Chicago, IL, the quality of life has improved dramatically. I don’t think there’s any question that Chicago under Daley II is better than the last time we had a Daley in charge (so unlike the nation...I’d choose Bush the Elected over the only President we’ve got any day.) Ralph Nader has lost touch with reality, and we all need to stop taking him seriously. Just because “Unsafe at Any Speed” was, and is, a brilliant piece of writing and investigation doesn’t mean that Nader has ANYTHING to contribute to today’s politics. He doesn’t. So let’s start ignoring him like the nothing he is.

Name: Steven C. Day
Hometown: Wichita, Kansas
Here’s some spamming: You were way too easy on Nader. Next time really let him have it (smile).

Sept. 18, 2003 |
How scared are the Republicans of Wesley Clark? You can judge by how dirty their tactics become. Remember Mike Dukakis’ alleged history of mental illness? That one had the Republicans working on a rumor circulated by supporters of Lyndon LaRouche. Remember John McCain’s out-of-wedlock black child? His breakdown under torture in Vietnam? What about Bill Clinton’s out-of-wedlock black child? The gun-running/drug deals and murders he caused at Mena airport in Arkansas? And Al Gore was the serial liar. Yeah, right. Get ready, General.

George Will began it weeks ago. (Here’s the original.) Now check out this op-ed by Ralph Peters in Murdoch’s New York Post. There’s also a cartoon on Page Six, which is not online, that depicts the Democrats in straightjackets. (Meanwhile, my buddy Richard Cohen addresses this issue rather more sensibly this morning, but still edges a little close to the Republican trap for my taste.) Anyway, I sure would like to see Clark kick a little ass on the use of these tactics. Democrats have rolled over for too long.

Speaking of people who need their (metaphorical) butts kicked, but good, Ralph Nader whines, “Old-timers years ago would have wondered what the Mayor means by marketing NYC. Cities were viewed more benignly when they were more livable, more employable at good wages, more replete with public institutions like good libraries, good public transit, good schools, good hospitals and clinics and good recreational facilities in the neighborhoods. New York City is crumbling on these measurements.”

Hey Ralph, no one, and I mean no one on the planet, is more responsible for the deterioration in the quality of life of my city than you are, bud. All you had to do was say, “I ran a great race and thanks for your support but this guy Bush is scary. Vote for Al, not me and we’ll we what we can get at the bargaining table….” But no, you wanted to elect Bush. And you did. Congrats.

All U.S. cities are struggling under the weight of the president’s malign neglect and the costs of his fiscal policies and needless war. And with all the damage you’ve caused the country, you’re worried about Snapple in New York schools. So shut up about my city, fella, and go get some help for that martyr complex of yours. You call yourself a progressive and yet you even tried to defeat Paul Wellstone. Sure, you’ll get your millionaire’s tax cut, but poor and working people in this city have enough burdens to bear without another hypocritical pro-Bush intervention this time around.

Get lost, Ralph. In fact, check with your buddy Dick Cheney. I hear he knows some really comfy out-of the-way, millionaire-only spots to get loose. And boy does that guy owe you a favor…

(Let the spamming begin.)

The Leader of the Free World tells the truth for once and it’s front-page news.

I think I could be talked into an Israel pre-emptive strike here.

Deserting Your National Guard Post Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry: Did you know George W. Bush was a a lieutenant or a captain in the military? It must be true. It’s in that Communist SCLM warrior, The New York Times.

Does this sentence make sense? “She makes no sweeping conclusions about the war or Iraq. She’s too much a reporter for that.”

Alter-Investment advice: Major business opportunity for someone: Corner the market on escort advertising for traveling American businessmen.

If you happen to be taking drugs anyway, try this.

Among the acts/bands I can remember seeing at The Bottom Line include, as best as I can remember: Lou Reed, David Johansen, George Thurogood, John Prine, The Roches, Loudon Wainwright, Southside Johnny, Graham Parker, the Flatanders, Rosanne Cash, Warren Zevon, Emmylou Harris, Buddy and Julie Miller, John Gorka, Joey Ramone, Dr. John, Flo and Eddie, Maria Muldaur, Peter Tosh, Billy Bragg, Cassandra Wilson, Steve Earle, Steve Goodman, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Stan Getz, David Bromberg, Clark Terry, Tony Bennett, Garland Jeffries, Van Morrison, and lots more. (I was turned away in August 1975 because my fake ID was too fake. The owner, Alan Pepper, later told me, if I had tried to come see the guy with the same ID in ’74, I might have had better luck.)

In other words, it is a cultural treasure for the city and the country, and I can’t believe NYU is going to let it die. Pepper, who has done as much for music as Ralph Nader has for the cause of right-wing extremism, asks: “Send a note to John Beckman, assistant vice president of the Office of Public Affairs at or Lynne Brown, the VP for University Relations and Public Affairs at NYU at Please send us a copy at”

And another thing, I don’t understand multimillionaires. Wouldn’t it be fun for Bruce (or someone) just to shell out a few million and buy TBL and the Stone Pony and keep ‘em going, both for the bands and the fans? It wouldn’t be any trouble and the money would not even run the cost of one night’s performance a year. Plus, he could just show up and play whenever he felt he needed to. What’s the problem here?

Alternotes: I debated William Kristol on WNYC on media bias this morning. I think there are archives. The New Yorker panel this weekend is sold out. I will be speaking at the U of Missouri Journalism School on Tuesday night. And I see that in the current Harper’s Gene Lyons thinks What Liberal Media stinks. I don’t think it’s online, but you will not be surprised to learn that I don’t think you’re missing much. (The problem seems to be that I am naïve about the power of money, and hence, an apologist for mainstream hacks.)

This Just In: “Let it Be” de-Spectorized, arrives on Nov. 17.

Most of today’s letters are devoted to the question of whether Dean supporters would rather fight than switch. I chose the most cogent and/or thoughtful responses. I got a few nasty ones, I’ll admit, merely for posing the question. I am not printing any of these, however, because I find that only encourages the beast. Moreover I didn’t think there were really enough of them to be representative.

Name: Mark Armstrong
Hometown: Brooklyn
Hi Eric,
In response to your question about what Deanies are going to do, I offer the following:

We’ll continue to donate our time and little bits of our money to the candidate that we believe can beat George Bush. The people supporting Howard Dean don’t seem to be the protest voters that turn out for Nader or Kucinich. We’re supporting the candidate that we think can really take the fight to Bush and win. A mistaken assumption about the Dean campaign is that supporters don’t think we’re in this to win, only to do a bit of consciousness raising. Dean supporters are actually a very pragmatic coalition and it drives us nuts to hear the people on our own side pushing this tired unelectable/McGovern argument. We believe we are backing the winner.

Dean’s very electable. He’s never lost a race for office and he’s outperformed and outhustled everyone in this race so far. He’d run a national campaign that was just as exciting. The electoral math is there for Dean. He’s a much better candidate and campaigner than Gore and he only needs to add New Hampshire (where he’s killing) to Gore’s total to win. I think he’ll run OK in the South too, especially in Georgia, where his team on the ground is really facile already.

Clark, on the other hand, has never been elected to anything. He says all the right things, but his appeal is mostly to the corporate wing of the party that’s trying to cut Dean off at the pass, so I don’t see him marshalling the kind of volunteer force or hardcore fan base Dean’s working with. (The Bryant Park crew was an amazing group of mostly people who’d never campaigned for anything in their lives.) Dean’s core is largely against the type of corporate Democrats that Clark seems to be throwing his lot in with, so I don’t see many people switching.

We’re in this to the end, but we’d gladly support Wes Clark in the general election. But we’d rather he do that for us.

As always, love your work. Sorry about Warren.

Name: Brian Smith
Hometown: San Francisco
As a Dean supporter I have to admit, I think the notion of a Clark/Dean ticket would be unstoppable.

Clark makes perfect sense as Commander in Chief. Dean can play bulldog on domestic issues (economy, environment, healthcare.) Dean could use experience as VP to become ‘more presidential’ and perhaps continue the legacy in 2012. ; )

This ticket would represent the aspirations of both liberal democrats and security-minded moderates/independents. It would be a great choice for about 70 percent of Americans.

And one Clark guy:
Name: Ed Hayden
Hometown: Sacramento
We had a pleasant little gathering of the Clark faithful on the steps on the West entrance to the California state capitol today... all 12 of us :) Gotta start somewhere. Came down from my office on Capitol Mall to meet with a number of other people I never met. A couple of our number got interviewed briefly by sympathetic a TV crew (they only seemed so after the camera was off... then the camera man and reporter seemed to loosen up and talk like they had opinions of their own).

Clark is a decent, experienced, accomplished, intelligent, believable, and Clark candy-bar honest kinda guy. He’s the smart (but un-obnoxious) neighbor you ask to help you with your taxes, or who’d you’d want to listen to and follow when a neighborhood emergency happened, or to help figure out your kid’s college application.

I know all my veteran pals are kicking it around; Republicans have had a majorty of military and veteran votes for a long, long while. Ask NG/ANG or Reserve families what they think these days; or active duty lifers who give up years overseas... and maybe the worm is turning. David Hackworth is a good barometer of that cauldron if you’ve a mind to check. Check out the infantryman’s letter’s home to his sister in the Sacramento/Chico News & Review if you’d like to see how Army life is these days. Sacramento is a favorite location for advertising demographers. Clark could tap into that line of thinking and turn it to something positive.

Clark promised not to speak ill of the other Democratic candidates, and I hope none of the other candidates speak ill of him. They seem to have honored that pledge for the past couple days. Good for them. When you survey the current field, it almost looks like a good Clark Presidential cabinet.... Kerry, Scty of State; Dean, Scty of Health; Lieberman, Scty of Defense; Gephardt, Scty of Labor; Edwards, Scty of Commerce; Brown, Scty of Education; Kucinich, Scty of HUD, and so on.... it is a good fit. The original nine are all good people. No bad apples in there, just no presidential material. Even Rev.Sharpton has a good place, as spokeperson.... he has experience under James Brown, and his humor even amuses Lieberman. He’s got better singers that that old fart-bag Rumsfled, or that too-tight-to-fart Fleischer.

A little hope, a little imgination, and a lot of work on the part of pundits and precinct walkers.... and who the hell knows ? Maybe something will change this time.

Sept. 17, 2003 |
So Clark is in. Everybody I’ve spoken with in the past few weeks figures that if he turns out to be a decent candidate, he’s definitely the guy with the best chance to save this country from the catastrophe that is Mr. Bush. That’s a big if, I know, but here’s my question. What are you Deanies gonna do? Let’s all admit that, in the abstract, a decorated general, Southerner, and Rhodes Scholar has a better chance to be elected president of the United States during an age of terrorism than the governor of a hippie state, born and raised in upper-class Manhattan (and with a Jewish wife and kids to boot), who has no military or foreign policy experience.

True, Dean “deserves” the support he’s earned. And personally, I find him to be very attractive candidate. But to me, even that means he’s likely to lose; possibly in a wash-out. (George McGovern is one of my favorite people ever to serve in U.S. political history.) Just how much do you want to make a statement and how much do you want to win? Because of the imponderables, it’s not as stark a question as it was for Naderites. On the other hand, few people had much idea how radical a right-winger was waiting in the wings.

So, what’s it going to be, boys and girls? Will the Deanies switch to Clark? Will Dean consider running as Clark’s No. 2? (Don’t tell me it should be the other way around. Perhaps it should, but Clark’s advantages dissipate in the No. 2 spot. Nobody votes for a vice president except the immediate members of his family, and if I were Mary Cheney, I would have thought long and hard about even that.)

I just love this: The Bush administration is charging wounded U.S. troops for meals in VA hospitals. Let them eat billionaire tax breaks.

We don’t like to say her name, but here is a pretty serious expose of the lies of Ms. Coulter. Warning, it’s really long.

The Times is right: If NOW is going to endorse Carol Moseley Braun for president, they have only themselves to blame for their increasing marginality. Nothing about her candidacy is serious. The only conceivable argument for endorsing her is that “any woman” would be better than any man. Wouldn’t a good way of describing such a position be “sexism?”

Bush planned 9/11. Well, not really. I just wanted to pick up a few sully awards (and more significantly, point out the dangers of going too far with this stuff).

The failure of the peace process: an autopsy.

Name: Siva Vaidhyanathan
Hometown: New York, New York
A couple of thoughts that revise and extend Rauchway’s argument: Who says that Baylor University and Brigham Young University are not “elite” universities? They have two of the most talented and respected — and conservative — faculties in the world. Almost every state has an excellent private university with a distinguished and conservative faculty. And within two of the greatest elite private universities, Stanford and Chicago, you can often find a Condaleeza Rice as provost or an Allan Bloom running a search committee.

And there is great diversity among public universities. For every Berkeley, there is a UC-Davis. For every University of Wisconsin, there is a University of Texas (where, I know from personal experience, there are many brilliant and vocal conservative scholars).

Then there is the question of effect. Who cares what Harvard does? More students attend community colleges than research universities. Who don’t conservatives test for bias at community colleges?

Certainly, universities such as my own could do more to encourage intellectual diversity. But it’s sort of a first principle of academia. So we are.

Name: Arik Elman
Hometown: Jerusalem
Eric, frankly, this blog would do much better without long, boring and predictable letter of Mr. Frankenthal. By the way, I refuse to pay any kind of additional respect to his politics because he lost a son, because then anyone who is grieving in this country because of Arab terrorism — and there are plenty — can demand additional validity to their political opinions. I feel sorry for Frankenthal the father; I have nothing but contempt for Frankenthal the politician.

Yes, G-d is our Lord. And isn’t that this G-d explicit command to inhabit and dwell in the Land of Israel? This one, in fact, is the mitzva — of greatest importance. “Be shana ha-baa be-Yerushalaim”, “next year in Jerusalem” — since when Mr. Frankenthal decided to omit this little thingy from his Judaism?

When he chooses to lay a blame for the events squarely on the shoulders of elected leaders of Jewish democracy (distorting the truth in the process), Frankenthal absolves Arabs of all guilt. I can see why a grieving man can think that, if this horror happened to him, it might as well happen to others, but in my Judaism there are no place for justification of premeditated murder. Those who want to make a sacrifice for the cause kill themselves, like those monks in Vietnam. Those who in the process make an effort to kill as many innocents as possible, are killers.

Moreover, it is disgusting that Frankenthal used the murder of Dr. Appelboim, who didn’t share his views (to say the least), in order to promote his distorted vision.

Finally, Judaism is not about living at any cost — it’s about setting certain red lines, beyond which life isn’t worth living anymore. Jew could be made to live a living hell, but he couldn’t be made to renounce his G-d — and Zionism is part of this belief, they are unseparable. Life without G-d and life without Zion are both not worth living, so even if we’ve been guided by the wisest of politicians, it is still incumbent upon us to be ready to die for certain things — Zion one of them. Frankenthal still wears his kippa, but he lost his belief in our right for Zion. He is well on his way to lose his belief in G-d. And he is preaching to fellow non-believers.

But I believe.

Sept. 16, 2003 |
I’m traveling today and so Eric Rauchway has taken the opportunity to effect a temporary takeover of Altercation. Here’s Eric’s Boston Globe piece on terrorism, historical and modern. And here, written just for us at Altercation, is his response to David Brooks’ argument, made in the most recent Atlantic Monthly, about the alleged left-wing tendencies of academia:

Eric writes: David Brooks is all wet in the Atlantic.

Brooks discovered recently that academics tilt Democratic. No, beyond that: He discovered that academics “are drawn from a rather narrow segment of the population,” by which — he goes on to say — he means that thin swath of the populace who are not only not registered Republicans, but people who are not “pro-life, a member of the National Rifle Association, or an evangelical Christian.”

And why this peculiar demographic tilt, you might ask? Thus Brooks: “It’s likely that hiring committees would subtly — even unconsciously — screen out any such people they encountered.”

Now, I know Brooks is the Republican everyone’s supposed to love because he’s urbane and witty and on PBS and NPR and in the NYT. But this is fishy, even pernicious stuff for a couple reasons worth going into in some depth.

First of all, academics surely do tilt Democratic. But, according to political strategists for both parties, so does the entire pool of people from which academics are, of professional necessity, chosen — the pool of people holding advanced degrees. As Karl Rove says, “As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.” (Nicholas Lemann, “Bush’s Trillions,” The New Yorker, 2/19/2001; sadly TNY doesn’t keep this online.)

Second of all, Brooks is not really talking about academics per se, he’s talking about academics at “elite universities,” in which category he includes “Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Caltech, MIT, Duke, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia, Chicago, or Brown” and also, later in the piece, “Penn State, Maryland, and the University of California at Santa Barbara.” Quarrel with the listing if you like; anyway each except Duke and Dartmouth is in a state that went for Gore in 2000. Are the elite universities cause or effect? Well, you may claim if you like that Princeton makes New Jersey vote Democratic, but party politics going back before Boss Jim Smith might have something to do with it too.

Third of all, to demonstrate the bias Brooks relies on a study published a year ago in The American Enterprise (I had to rely on another polite Republican, Eli Lehrer, who kindly told me its whereabouts; Brooks doesn’t say. If you’re interested, here’s the PDF version with numbers and graphs.) People better with numbers and fiercer than I have critiqued this study for various reasons. Let me point out two things that would be obvious even to the statistically disinclined.

Brooks says the study looks at “professors in the arts and sciences who had registered with a political party.” He goes on to note — without pausing to think how odd this is — that “fifty-seven professors at Brown were found on the voter-registration rolls.” If you take Brooks at face value, he’s suggesting that 90 percent of Brown’s faculty are not registered to vote. Unlikely, and in fact, not quite what the TAE study says. TAE researchers didn’t look for all registered professors: “we stuck mostly to major, uncontroversial, and socially significant fields of study.” Brooks’s exaggeration is not an inconsequential mistake — everyone makes mistakes — it’s an important misstatement that makes the TAE study sound more comprehensive than it is.

Which means the TAE study is both narrower and more credible than Brooks’s version of it, but it has problems of its own:

(a) the researchers’ choice of fields varies from one university to another, marring the comparability of data (why include Economics at UC Berkeley but not at UCLA?);

(b) the chosen fields don’t represent the faculties. Among the Crimson crowd in the TAE study 21 are listed as being from Political Science. Therefore this department alone accounts for 40 percent of Harvard’s registered professors found by TAE. Surely this doesn’t represent voting habits in the Yard. (There’s a subsidiary curiosity here — this means that 70 percent of the Harvard Government faculty aren’t registered to vote — which does seem most unlikely for a Government department.)

Similarly, 26 percent of the TAE group found for University of Texas at Austin come from Women’s Studies; again, probably not a representative sample of ‘horns profs. In fact, I couldn’t resist looking it up: Women’s Studies at UT Austin counts about 145 faculty affiliates at a university of about 2700 faculty, for about 5 percent of the total. Which now that I think about it is a huge Women’s Studies program — but still not a quarter of the academic population at UT.

OK, so what — if, as I said in the first point, university faculty surely do tilt Democratic, then what’s the big deal? Well, the study, and Brooks’ article, make it sound like the tilt is maybe 80 degrees to the left of upright — four to one, say, against conservatives. Such a severe slant can be taken to suggest foul play — Brooks says it urbanely, but he does say it, just as noted above: “It’s likely that hiring committees would subtly-even unconsciously-screen out any such people they encountered.” TAE is blunter, calling its findings actionable “discrimination by ideology” and worth a lawsuit.

The truth about politics in academia — as indeed about everything to do with academia — is almost certainly much less exciting. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s brand-new almanac (online only to paying subscribers), faculty at institutions of higher education report their own politics as follows: 42.3% liberal, 34.3% middle of the road, 17.7% conservative, .3% far right and 5.3% far left. This is 52% reporting as either conservative or middle of the road; that’s almost 10% more for the right and center than for the liberals. This is not a wildly lefty population.

There are problems in academia as in any profession. But looking to hire Democrats isn’t a major one. And ultimately this is where Brooks goes badly wrong. From personal experience I’d argue that academics aren’t looking for like-minded people when they go a-hiring. We’re looking for people we find it interesting to disagree with. That’s what intellection is about — worrying over ideas and what they mean — not about signing up as a member of someone’s team.

Notably, the TAE study doesn’t do anything with registered independents who vote Democrat sometimes and Republican others, depending on the tempora and the mores. I myself am proud to say that at the end of each term I invariably get at least one student evaluation accusing me of being a right-winger and another grousing that I’m a bleeding-heart liberal.

Hey, if I’ve confused them by exercising independent judgment, then good.

Sept. 15, 2003 |
I can’t believe after all this time, Dick Cheney is still trotting out this 9/11-Iraq conspiracy crap about Mohamed Atta and the meeting in Prague, and alleged tough guy Tim Russert is letting him get away with it unchallenged.

Here’s what Cheney said yesterday: “With respect to 9/11, of course, we’ve had the story that’s been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.”

Tim changed the subject. Here’s what I would have said: “Sir, with all due respect, that claim is based on the claim of a single uncorroborated informant to Czech intelligence. President Havel informed President Bush that the meeting had almost certainly not taken place. Moreover, when the high-level al-Qaida leader, Abu Zubaydah, was finally captured in March 2002 in Pakistan, he informed his captors, according to a New York Times report, that bin Laden had personally rejected the idea of any kind of alliance with Saddam Hussein. Zubaydah’s explanation was later corroborated by testimony from high-level al-Qaida agents captured later in the spring, including one of the key planners of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Farouk Hijazi, a former Iraqi intelligence operative who U.S. officials allege met with al-Qaida operatives and perhaps bin Laden himself in the 1990s, also has denied any Iraq-al-Qaida ties, according to U.S. officials. Meanwhile, U.S. military forces also captured Samir al-Ani, the very man in question, in July, with no word on any meeting. Do you have any new evidence, Secretary Cheney, or are you simply trying to perpetrate yet another lie on top of all those already perpetrated since you and President Bush planned this ruinous war? ”

Meanwhile, everyone should listen to their dads, dontcha think?

“Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in ‘mission creep,’ and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable ‘exit strategy’ we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome.

We discussed at length the idea of forcing Saddam personally to accept the terms of Iraqi defeat at Safwan just north of the Kuwait-Iraq border — and thus the responsibility and political consequences for the humiliation of such a devastating defeat. In the end, we asked ourselves what we would do if he refused. We concluded that we would be left with two options: continue the conflict until he backed down, or retreat from our demands. The latter would have sent a disastrous signal. The former would have split our Arab colleagues from the coalition and, de facto, forced us to change our objectives. — From George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft,

Also, their dad’s friends: This one’s named “Dick Cheney”:

“If you’re going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?”

I found it all here.

And here are some words of wisdom from the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Should we get out entirely and turn the whole thing over to the U.N. (and maybe NATO)? Jeffrey Sachs sure thinks so, and I am beginning to agree. Sachs writes: “This year Bush asked for only $200 million for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, a sum equal to 1.5 days of spending on the US occupying forces in Iraq. The US annual contributions to fight malaria are less than the costs of one day’s occupation, and as a result, 3 million Africans will die needlessly from that preventable and treatable disease. But who is talking about $87 billion for the 30 million Africans dying from the effects of HIV/AIDS, or the children dying of malaria, or the 15 million AIDS orphans, or the dispossessed of Liberia and Sierra Leone, or the impoverished children of America without medical insurance?”

Name: Teresa
Hometown: Dandridge, Tennessee
Growing up as a little girl with a father that raised me to be strong and wipe the tears from my eyes, to get up and wipe off my knees to keep doing it trying it and achiving it I remeberhearing Johnny Cashes music ringing in my ears. My father a man who didnt have to raise me who could of left me to be moved around from foster home to foster home. To hear of his death saddens me his lates song greatly hit my heart! I just sit there in great dispair remember my mother that talks about her life almost being over. Rememberong me being a little girl and all my love for her! My mother and father are 73 and 75 they have been married for 51 years! WOW! I feel the pain and the joy of death for the Cash family even though I have never met them or even was old enough to name all his music. Sometimes its just the little things in our life that turn us around that store a little part in our memory. I am now 26 yrs. old with 4 children. My husband is active duty in the US ARMY. We currently reside at FT. Polk, LA. My thoughts and prays are with the family and forever fans of J. Cash. God bless you all.

Thank goodness, we found the Lost Pierce tapes:
Name: Charles Pierce
Eric —
OK, so what was the first number Up There? Warren’s doing “Cry, Cry, Cry,” or big John’s doing “Frank and Jesse James”? Helluva jam, whatever it was.

Very high on my list of People From Whom I have Heard Quite Enough, Thank You is Don Imus’s favorite moral theologian, Weepin’ Joe Lieberman. My lord, is there an emptier suit alive? It’s not just his monkey-on-a-stick performance during the late impeachment kabuki, and it’s not the fact that he was next to worthless as a vice-presidential candidate (Remember how he sat there and gurgled while Cheney threw that whopper past him about how Halliburton’s earnings had had nothing to do with the federal government?), and it’s not even the fact that he rolled over during the Florida brigandage (“Thank you, Tim, may I have another?”) Just in the past two weeks, this smug little charlatan has handed over to Karl Rove’s oppo wolverines the “Dean Recession” soundbite and the “Dean Hates Israel” ad campaign. Nice job, putz. You’re the worst thing to happen to the Democratic Party since the Embargo Acts.

In fact, I believe I will decline to vote for anybody up there who voted for either the Patriot Act or for the Iraq resolution because I guarantee it took not a whit of personal courage to vote for either one — in the case of the former, I think poor Russ Feingold may still be the only person who actually read it, and Tom Daschle sold him down the river in about 10 minutes —- so I must conclude that all of these votes were cast so that the folks in question could, in the words of a certain agonized Arkansan Rhodes Scholar, “maintain (their) viability within the system.” I realize that this complicates matters in re: my junior senator, whom I believe would make a fine president. But this is a contest against an offer-them-a-finger-and-they’ll-take-the-whole-arm opponent and votes are forever, kids. My man Jemmy Madison explained it all to you in a speech back in 1794, and I am sure that either Ho-Ho-Ho or General Clark will further illustrate the lesson with a big old tackhammer some time over the next two months.

I changed my mind. I think Warren kicks it off with “Delia’s Gone.”

Name: Alan Pavlik
Hometown: Los Angeles (Hollywood actually)
Regarding this war on terror and the eighty-seven billion now requested and the all the sacrifices involved...

I kind of liked the movie Shrek. And I don’t generally like children’s films. The big speech Sunday night reminded me of the film. I saw Bush but I was reminded of Lord Farquaad (voice of John Lithgow): “Some of you are going to die, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

Ah, the full quote is - “The champion will have the honour, no, no, the privilege, to go forth and rescue the lovely Princess Fiona from the fiery keep of the dragon. If for any reason, the winner is unsuccessful, the first runner-up will take his place. And so on and so forth. Some of you may die, but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

Name: Harley Peyton
Hometown: Los Angeles
Spent a lot of time driving around listening to The Wind, and I remembered an old Rolling Stone issue with a tribute to Ralph Gleason and it was full of various folks whose lives he’d touched, each one penning a tribute, some long, some longer, and then, right in the middle of it, five words from Miles Davis. And only five. This is what he wrote: “Give me back my friend.” I never forgot it, and I thought about it when I heard the news, and while Zevon wasn’t my friend in the usual sense, his music was, and I’m thankful for that.

Name: Pat O’Neill
Hometown: Milmont Park, PA
A further comment on John Shaw’s comments about Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”:

Far too few people know the verse to the song, although the immortal Kate Smith always sang it, along with the chorus —

As the stormclouds gather, far across the sea

We will pledge allegiance to a land that’s free

Written in a time when the US didn’t go to “pre-emptive” war!

Sept. 12, 2003 |
It’s been a week of nothing but death. This morning we woke up to the news that Man in Black has passed, his spirit beaten down by the death in May of his wife of 35 years, June Carter Cash, and his own health problems. This may sound self-serving, but it was in my Nationcolumn, I’m proud to report, that the news of Johnny’s strong opposition to the war in Iraq appeared, as reported to me by his daughter Rosanne.

Here is a statement from singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell, who was once married to Rosanne: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my children’s grandfather and my very dear friend. I loved big John with all my heart. The citizens of the world have lost one of their most enduring guiding lights. As a musical hero to millions, a trailblazing artist, humanitarian, spiritual leader, social commentator and most importantly, patriarch to one of the most varied and colorful extended families imaginable, Johnny Cash will, like Will Rogers, stand forever as a symbol of intelligence, creativity, compassion and common sense. I’m thinking Mt. Rushmore.”

We’ll have lots more about Johnny in the days to come, I’m sure. In the meantime, here’s Rosanne’s tribute to June. You can write her at her site.

Yesterday was Sept. 11. I don’t want to beat that to death here. After all, I am not President Bush and so I do not have to exploit the deaths of those people and the misery it caused their friends and families in the course of “arguing for his energy policy and in response to questions about campaign fundraising, tax cuts, unemployment, the deficit, airport security, Afghanistan and the length, cost and death toll of the Iraq occupation.” What a curse on this nation that we happened to be attacked by a bunch of lunatic mass-murderers while under the leadership of the man who would soon emerge to be perhaps the single worst president in our history. (I can defend that statement, of course. I had to know everything single thing that ever happened on this continent when I passed my orals back in 1993. But it will cost some magazine a lot of money to make me do it.)

Andy is offended by God, for allowing the al-Qaida attacks to take place on the same day that the U.S.-backed coup that killed the democratically elected Salvador Allende and he blames “liberal bias” at the Times for noticing the coincidence of dates. He calls this “moral equivalence.” He has a point. They should have retroactively changed the date. How dare these foreigners die on days that belong to us — even if we help kill them. Oh, and speaking of the Silly One, read this.

Other deaths, we’ve noted of course, is our friend whom we’ve never met, Warren Zevon, who taught us so much about the meaning of death with dignity. (Bruce opened with “My Ride’s Here,” in Toronto a few nights ago, by the way.)

Edward Teller also died this week. I interviewed him a few times when I was out at Stanford. I asked him if he felt badly about turning on Robert Oppenheimer and ruining his life. He did not. We will get something approaching the full story when my friend Kai Bird publishes his forthcoming co-authored biography.

Perhaps Teller was really a great guy. But like Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, it would have been a far safer world had he never been born. I met her once too. At the Time anniversary dinner, everybody got one “cover” person at their table. My table had Dick Cavett, but Leni’s table was next to ours and we were seated back to back. Well, I didn’t actually talk to her. What does one say at dinner in such a situation? “Nice film. Too bad about the death camps, huh?” (Note to moralistic/right-wing hysterics: I am not positing “moral equivalence,” between Teller and Riefenstahl, you idiots. There are degrees of evil. Being a Nazi is one thing; single-handedly driving the nuclear arms race — while destroying honest men’s careers — is another.)

Bad luck for John Ritter, to die on the same day as Johnny He was actually quite charming in that cute movie “Tadpole,” which features scenes in my neighborhood supermarket. Rent it.

Meanwhile, in more death news, U.S. soldiers mistakenly killed at least eight Iraqi police officers who were chasing a car full of armed men through a checkpoint near Falluja. The story is here. I’m sure that will make us even more popular over there, in VietIraq.

The final death news of the week is that before he wrote this terrific column about the horrific condition of this nation’s leadership, here, Richard Cohen wrote a beautiful column about his late father, here.

My parents are fine, but their synagogue — where I was bar mitzvahed and married (and, surprise, surprise, kicked out of Hebrew School), just about burned down right before the High Holy days. I don’t think they are asking for donations, but thanks for asking. Give the money to Seeds of Peace instead. (Update: Actually, my dad informs me there is a fund being collected if you want to help. It’s Bet Am Shalom Recovery and Reconstruction Fund, 295 Soundview Ave., White Plains, NY 10606)


(I seem to have lost Pierce this week, somehow. We’ll have him back soon, I hope.)

Name: Nick Sullivan
Hometown: Upper Darby, PA
Eric - Amen. My friend, the gentlest soul imaginable, a nurturer of abandoned kittens, and a cancer patient, lives within a half-mile of Ground Zero. She cleaned a half-inch of toxic ash from her floors. And now we learn these venal hypocrites let her come back and breathe the poisonous air. I try not to hate but it’s almost impossible. Please let them face defeat next year; it’s almost not enough but it would represent a form of justice.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle
Thanks for your great post on this day of mourning. The immortal “Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by” reminds me of another mythic American chestnut.

I always hated the song God Bless America, until I actually listened to it — again and again and again — after that terrible day two years ago. It’s not a vainglorious boast. It’s a humble prayer for guidance.

God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above. From the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home sweet home.

Written by a millionaire, a formerly homeless immigrant street kid originally from a Russian shtetl. God bless America, please guide her, as our simple complicated hearts sing their unkillable lust and love for life.

Name: Andrew Wilson
Hometown: Spokane, WA
You ask, “Is there a special circle of Hell for those who lie to persuade others to risk their lives while shielding themselves from all danger? If so, I hope they have a special room for the guys who do it dressed up like fighter pilots.”

There is: Dante’s Inferno, Canto 23 (Circle #8, Bolgia (didch or moat) #6). Therein, hypocrites are condemned to eternally walk a circle draped in beautiful cloaks. The cloaks are lined with lead, and the unbearable weight is the hypocrites’ torture. The worst of hypocrites was “crucified” on the ground, stakes through his hands and feet, pinning him to the ground. He was laid across the narrow path the others were forced to take, being crushed as each stepped on him.

A special circle of Hell indeed. Imaginative fellow, that Dante.

Name: Stupid
Eric, it’s Stupid to say Thank God the fall tv season is almost here. Because if I keep watching the antiwar left and the Dubya disministration I’m going to explode in fury.

First of course is Iraq. Can you explain the antiwar left’s position on this for me, because I can’t follow it. It’s as if the war didn’t happen and we’re still debating whether to have it. The war DID happen - yes, Dubya lied about the cost, yes, Rumsfeld & Co. postwar “plan” was abysmal and woefully short of resources - there are a host of things you can justly attack the administration for. But what do you propose to do now? If it’s to spend the money necessary to make Iraq a viable Arab democracy, is there an alternative financing plan? If it’s to cut-and-run per Kucinich/Counterpunch faction, I’ll stay home next November 4. So far all I hear is a lot of gleeful “we told you so!” for Dubya getting his comeuppance for his anti-U.N. hubris and his lies about the war costs. The impression this leaves is that the antiwar left puts politics ahead of the national interest and is rooting for further failure instead of giving voters a well-defined alternatives (e.g., specify exactly what control Dubya has to give up over the rebuilding process concurrent with what you would demand of the U.N. if he does).

Meanwhile there was a host of bad news this week that barely registered on the pundits’ radar. A couple of weeks ago Peter Beinart tried to rally (or shame) the left to support the revolutionary attempt in Alabama to make the state’s tax system more progressive. While this seemed like a small-scale battle, the far right understood what a big deal this was and by absolutely crushing the decent GOP governor’s attempt at reform, they sent a message to any well-meaning republican thinking of trying something similar. I know you linked to it, but in-general progressives got clobbered on this, probably the most important domestic issue short of energy independence and infrastructure investment.

Speaking of which, last week the American Society of Civil Engineers told us that we won’t need terrorists to destroy our infrastructure - it’s rotting away nicely on its own. Their pricetag for the next 5 years: $1.6 trillion dollars. One highlight of their report was the need to rebuild old schools - an under publicized fact about education spending is that while poorer school districts sometimes appear to be well-funded, they have to spend far more money on school repair than wealthier public schools. I guess you can’t buy a lot of school gear when the boiler room keeps exploding. But the Democrats share the blame here for their complicity with the “one party system” that feeds well-connected businesses government contract work. You want to really see the Dem establishment line-up against Howard Dean? Have him lead the charge to ban no-bid contracts for government construction projects and most big-city mayors would have their machines on the street working against him in no time.

Finally there was this little jab-in-the-side: the GOP gutted a change in the tax law that would force charitable foundations to actually be charitable. Specifically, foundations would have been barred from counting executive salaries and other administrative costs as part of the five percent they have to spend on charity. It would have netted an estimated $3 billion (I know, less than a month in Iraq, but still...) The same day I read that, I saw that the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports what we always suspected was true: the rich are less charitable than the poor. Those who make $70,000 give 3.3% of their income to charity, while those making under $50,000 gave 8.9%. This gap is expected to grow if the estate tax is repealed.

I can’t take it - tonight I’m watching Survivor!