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Altercation archive: October 20-26, 2003

Oct. 24, 2003 |
Slacker Friday Quote of the Day: “If the president is not a complete moron - and he probably is not - he is a hardened cynic, staging moral anguish he does not feel, pandering to people he cannot possibly agree with and sacrificing the future of many American citizens for short-term political advantage.” Mike Kinsley.

Slacker Friday Good Laugh of the Day: Nyuck, Nyuck, Nyuck.

And the Fiction Can't Keep Up With Reality Department.

In the DVD player: “Concert for New York City." I avoided this for two years because the good parts make you cry and the awful parts make you furious. I had the CD but not the DVD and never listened to it, even though I remembered terrific performances by Mick & Keith, the Who, and David Bowie, opening it up with “Heroes.”

But the DVD has one of those buttons that allows you to skip all the speeches and just play the music, and while that can make you cry (and furious) too, it’s too great to be missed and the money still goes to a damn worthy cause. My most amazing discovery, watching it this morning, was a song by The Backstreet Boys that didn’t suck at all. Of course, it was 45 minutes ago and I’ve forgotten what it was.

This one's even better, though, but (and?) for me, the feelings it evokes are even more raw, as it came so soon after the tragedy. Don’t buy them used, please. In fact, see if you can buy them from Sal at

Name:  Charles Pierce
Hometown:  Newton, MA
Eric: Caught your appearance on CNN with Rich Lowry of National Review. (Can I just say that the drop from Bill Buckley to him is like waking up one morning and finding out that Ferris Bueller is the pope?) I notice that Rich has paid a visit to Ye Olde Regnery Costume Shoppe and will be going out for Halloween dressed as A Historian. I guess all the Power Ranger suits were booked. Anyway, my favorite moment was he offered to show you the "documentation" that there was no plan to combat al Qaeda presented by Sandy Berger to the Gumball Rally when it took office. I'm sure that he's delivered that documentation already, so I'll be able to give him some candy when he stops by next week.

Speaking of The Legacy of bungled Middle East policy, and of being soft on terrorism, I was really touched by the anniversary pieces that everyone did on the 20th anniversary of the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut. Of course, certain elements of the story were, ah, downplayed - most significantly, the fact that, two years later, Ollie North and the rest of the NSC's crack Unicorn Pursuit Team began selling missiles to the people that sponsored that particular act of mass murder. They were sort of overly nice to ol' Dutch, too, who cut and ran, the better to keep the hemisphere safe from Cuban construction workers in Grenada, and who, anyway, has enough trouble these days, what with that CBS movie and all, and Peggy Noonan still wishing she'd rubbed his feet. Gorp.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Speaking of France, if Dubya lied about privately rebuking Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir, at least he didn't run interference for Mahathir at the EU, as Jacques Chirac did. More important, what's surprising isn't the lack of outrage by some in the West over how the Muslim world greeted Mahathir's screed - what's surprising was how much outrage it did receive. Consider how

silent Muslim religious leaders and Muslim governments were about the ethnic cleansing of Christians in East Timor and southern Sudan. How much of the pundicracy got in their faces about that (Gary Bauer and Nat Hentoff notwithstanding)? If Halley Barbour is to be despised for palling around with Klansmen (which he should be), why should most of the attendees of the Indonesia be treated differently?

I wonder how the left will react to news that political support for Dubya is dropping with senior citizens. Usually this would be good news, except the reason it's dropping is that seniors are worried about their entitlements (either losing them or not getting more). That's just what the country doesn't need: a race to pander to elderly voters over who can suck the next generation the driest. It's not enough for the Democrats to note (with much truth) that the GOP has endangered social security with their reckless economic policies, they need to propose how they are going to save social security without abandoning Iraq (repeat newsflash: the war happened) or sticking it to the rest of us.

Friday I'm driving up to Madison for the main event of the Wisconsin Book Festival (best collection of author readings in one place this side of a New Yorker event). I'm particularly looking forward to Stuart Dybek, who used to be a big name on the literary scene but kinda fell of the radar when he didn't put any books out for an extended period. I think his two excellent short story collections have been re-issued and he has something new out this fall.

I'd kinda like to see the White Sox sign Bobby Valentine, just because we've had a sonambulist manager the last couple years and he gets under Dusty Baker's skin.

Name: Stephen Anderson
Hometown: Granada Hills, CA 91344


While Sweetheart is indeed a great work (although pretty universally despised at the time), even though Parsons' vocals had been replaced, and Gilded Palace of Sin has a place in history, Parson's International Submarine Band Safe at Home predates as well as predicts Sweetheart. Also, Hearts & Flowers, The Dillards, and other groups, while not selling in the millions, were tremendous influences on the emerging alt country scene here in Southern California. I was here, watching most of these bands play at one time or another, and man, it was exciting.

But the place it arguably started, at least on vinyl, is Buffalo Springfield's first album in '66. Go and Say Goodbye is a riff 'borrowed' straight from the bluegrass chestnut Salt Creek, and A Child's Claim to Fame in the second Album, Buffalo Springfield Again, in '68, is full of dobro & steel guitar. And, of course, everyone knows the principles of the group, messrs. Stills, Young, and Furay, all went on to find moderate success while making country influenced pop/rock.

For more great info, see John Einarson's two great books, Desperados: The Roots Of Country Rock (Cooper Square Press), and For What It's Worth: The Story Of Buffalo Springfield (Quarry Music Books).


Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA
Re the Dylan remasters, they sound fine in and of themselves, but the package as a whole leaves much to be desired:

The "box set" is merely the individual CDs (in their wrappers, no less) crammed into a box. Such a deal.

No session annotations. I for one would love to know who played what and on what songs. This is a staple of rereleases, and not including it for the some of the most significant sessions in popular music is a fumble, to say the least.

No booklet reassessing each CDs historical place. The Dead set the bar by including individual notes for each album, as well as a booklet with articles by experts. Surely Dylan merits this treatment as well.

No bonus tracks. Huh? This guy has more outtakes, live cuts, and unreleased tracks than Hendrix, and Columbia couldn't spare 3-4 for each CD.

Questionable selection. No, we don't need a remaster of Self Portrait, but more attention to chronology was in order. I'd sure rather have "Bob Dylan" than "Street Legal" and "Basement Tapes" over "Infidels." For that matter, where's "New Morning"?

Don't get me wrong: This is a great step by Columbia. But couldn't they have done as much for Dylan as, say, Santana?

Eric replies: Dude, “Bob Dylan” is not so hot. I think John Hammond was asleep during those sessions. “Street Legal” is pretty good, though not quite as good as “Desire.” “Infidels” ain’t bad either. Where is “New Morning?”

Name: Steven Hart
Hometown: Highland Park, N.J.
Even on my car stereo, the remastered "Blood on the Tracks" sounds greatly improved. There's much more detail in the musicianship, particularly on "Meet Me in the Morning," which sounded a little blurry on the original. On the home stereo it all sounds fantastic. I fantasize a double disc "Blood on the Tracks" combining this version with a remastered edition of the original recording (bootlegged as "New York Sessions"), which goes to show what a dreamer I am.

The acid test comes this weekend with a house-stereo session with the remastered "Street-Legal." This is an underrated album: Dylan's first attempt to record with a big ensemble, and critics trashed it. It came out during the crest of the New Wave, and nobody was in the mood to hear a Vegasy-sounding record from Dylan when Talking Heads, the Ramones and the Clash were retooling straight rock and roll. The trilling backup singers didn't help, either.

The sound of the album was severely damaged by Dylan's reluctance to deal with recording technology on its own terms. According to Clinton Heylin's masterful biography (unjustly ignored by reviewers when its release coincided with the David Hajdu and Howard Sournes books), Dylan insisted on throwing up a few microphones and recording with a minimum of preparation. The result was that several instruments would be "stacked" on certain tracks, which meant that when one instrument was brought up in the mix, all the others came with it. Will the new mix be able to overcome this damage? The world waits with bated breath.

I'm also looking forward to hearing the new mixes on "Infidels" and "Shot of Love." "Infidels" is another coulda-been-a-contender undone by Dylan's last-minute substitution of low-quality songs and 11th-hour mucking around with Mark Knopfler's mix. Putting Sly and Robbie together with Knopfler and Mick Jones was inspired thinking -- anything that brings out more of their instrumental interplay is a good move.

I've picked up three of the Dylan remasters and on a very modest, very vintage system with Boston Acoustic speakers the discs sound cleaner, with more distinct elements. Just enough, with the upgrade in package design and the SACD as a future option, to justify buying them at sale price. I picked up the Holy Trinity - Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, and I'm wondering if anyone has landed on any others that offer noticeable advantages on a standard CD player.

But mainly I'm writing with a question for any tech-savvy Altercator - was Blonde On Blonde put on 2 CDs to accommodate the SACD version? I know that the original CD version of Blonde actually snipped a bit of instrumental tail on one song - I think Sad Eyed Lady - but I believe that was fixed in a later edition. I sort of like the presentation of the new version - it satisfies my nostalgic, with the two discs and the more authentic packaging. I even like the feel of the cardboard "album cover." But were the two discs necessary? My only real issue with it is that I'm keeping my old single CD copy for travel.

Eric replies: “Shot of Love?” You serious? Sal thinks “Oh Mercy” is “great.” Yes, “great.” Oh well. Fred Kaplan, care to clear up this Altercation mystery?

Oct. 23, 2003 |
I’ve signed up to be a (nonresident) Senior Fellow of the Center for American Among other things, I’ll be editing, occasionally writing and generally overseeing a column called “Think Again.” The idea is to examine unexamined assumptions in the media about issues that I-and my ever-expanding team of media watchers-believe to be misperceived or wrongly framed, in the hopes of improving things a little. Here is the first one. The main item here, “Who’s Driving this Train?” takes a rather straight, ‘media-unfair-to-Dems’ line regarding the debate over the war and the $87 billion. In the future, I plan to give the Democrats a hard time too, when necessary or even salutary.

What’s really frightening about this Rumsfeld memo is how clueless it is. Hello, Saddam had nothing to do with terrorism against the U.S. until you invaded his country. The “war on terrorists” was weakened, if not entirely abandoned, in Afghanistan, and homeland security has always been a sick and frightening joke for this administration. I thought at least they had a cynical strategy behind their actions. But I see they really are blinded by their radical ideology-so blind, in fact, that they think they can see what the CIA cannot - like, for instance, imaginary WMDs and the certainty that happily “liberated” Iraqis will embrace the crook Chalabi as their rightful leader. Terrifying really; these people are almost akin to Bolsheviks.

(Then again, this memo was handed-out, leaked, obviously on purpose. So perhaps it’s a mistake to read anything at all into it except as a PR exercise. Reporters love leaks like this one and love to make a big deal out of them. That’s one reason they are so easy to manipulate by those in power. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an entirely cynical exercise in elite-opinion management. “See. We’re not as silly as we seem when we say ‘Everything is hunky-dory. Things are only hunky…”

Jew-Baiting Krugman:  One problem with anti-Semitism - the genuine problem - is anti-Semitism is the easy, anti-intellectual smear. This has become so effective a tool, that it is now frequently used by non-Jews against Jews, witness Sully’s obscene comparisons of my MSNBC columns to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Anyway, I don’t know if Donald Luskin is Jewish, and I guess I don’t even know if Paul Krugman is, but I do know this is a slimy, intellectually fraudulent attack, designed to silence the man he terms “America's most dangerous liberal pundit.” First David Frum, now this. National Review, which has a long history of publishing genuine anti-Semites, often in combination with McCarthyism, should really think twice before playing this transparently phony card. Note, by the way, the complete refusal to deal with the substance of Krugman’s column. That, indeed, is the point.

ps: More proud Know-Nothiningism here.

The drug war like the war in Iraq, is a miserable failure. Do I detect a pattern here?

As of Oct. 20, Since the war began in March, 1,927 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq, many quite severely. Who cares? Not the SCLM, that’s for sure. ps. Tom Friedman gets this wrong today by a factor of 100 percent.

This story got me teary-eyed. This is, the kind of thing Jesus had in mind when he began that new Jewish faith of his (or so he thought).

More voting worries.

Murdoch Vs. The Beeb, a Mediachannel Report.

We set a record for swearing on C-Span last night during my interview with the editors of The Onion. Let me know, people, if you find out when it’s being broadcast.

Don’t miss the great Mr. Pierce In Slate. Allen Barra is excellent too; he’s nuts about Bobby Valentine though.

And Jazz for Young People has a new website here. Check it out, young people.

In the CD player: The Dylan Remasters. I think they sound great, even given how carelessly he produced them originally. But let’s hear what you people think, on a case by case basis. Assume for the sake of our audience that nobody is listening on an actual SACD player.

Name: Glenn Lambert
Hometown: The big ballpark in the Bronx, home of 26 well-earned world championships
You sent your kid to Yankee Appreciation Day in red socks? What, no "kick me" sign? I didn't realize that Sox fans' masochism was drilled into them by their own parents as well as by the humorous antics of the hapless Sox themselves - but evidently so. Well, since you and yours so enjoy suffering, here are two of the more enjoyably miserable Sox fans' reactions I've seen...

First, a fine piece of hitting by Keith Knight. Second, as an accompaniment, a song my brother Gary mailed me with this well wrought description...

My dear - and only slightly embittered - New England friend Chandler Travis, founding member of such legendary cult bands (meaning nobody's heard of them and they're broke) as Travis, Shook and the Club Wow, The Incredible Casuals and his own Chandler Travis Philharmonic, has once again harnessed the awesome power of music to give voice to the deepest, most profound human emotions, and to provide catharsis in a time of pain. His latest instant pop masterpiece, recorded by the hastily-assembled Grady Little Philharmonic, is the poignantly titled "F**k The Yankees Anyway."

It can be downloaded in all its mp3 gorgeousness at: (this site.)

Eric replies:  I am actually a Mets fan, and only a Sox fan when, a) the Mets are so out of it it’s no fun to watch b) I need an American league team for which to root c) they have the opportunity to strike a blow for universal justice against the Evil Empire d) they briefly had Tom Seaver. All of those conditions, save d, applied this year.

Oct. 22, 2003 |
Yesterday we refused to accept the White House’s word that President Bush gave Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad a hard time about his anti-Semitic tirade. We think the White House a liars’ den, Bush an unlikely tribune of moral education, and Washington reporters, more than a bit credulous. Well, the prime minister confirmed our suspicions and specifically denied that Bush had rebuked him at all. Mahathir reported that, "All he said was that I regret today to have to use strong words against you."

"Unless my hearing is very bad," he added. "But it is still very good. I can hear very well. He did not rebuke me at all and after that, we were walking practically hand in hand." Perhaps he’s a liar too, but he could hardly have a worse track record than a guy who claims we’ve already found the WMD in Iraq.

Fox News Declares Bush Winner of 2004 Election: Fox News Host Tony Snow derides Democrats who "refuse to accept the will of the people." If only we could tell if this were really a joke….

Quote of the day: “You know, a lot of our guys in Iraq carry around pieces of the World Trade Center. The chattering classes are talking about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. These guys are under no illusions. It’s all part of the same war.” Richard Perle in the Jerusalem Post.

Read Jay Rosen on O’Reilly and Greg Easterbrook. On the latter, we concur. “Everyone needs an editor.”

Today’s “I-don’t-feel-so-sorry-for-Rush” item. Oh what the hell, let’s do two. Scroll down on my buddies from The Onion "Friends, all I can say is 'I told you so,'" said Limbaugh, from an undisclosed drug-treatment facility. "Were it not for Bill Clinton's loose policies on drug offenders and his rampant immorality, I would not have found myself in this predicament."

“My 57-year old wife beat the crap out of me and now I want $10 million bucks." I dunno, sounds like a pretty tough sell to me. If I were David Gest, I’d blame Saddam and declare war.

I gotta say, I don’t mind at all being called a “humorless liberal” by a newspaper that devotes an editorial to calling Chris Matthews “brilliant.” I wonder what the pay-off is here. Did Chris, for instance, recently buy a sculpture from a would-be newspaper magnet? Did CNBC agree to take out 12 pages of advertising a la the Saudis and The New Republic? Did Chris promise to get an incompetent Observer writer a date with his bosom buddy, Ann Coulter, to talk about vaginas? Inquiring minds want to know. (We can’t use all the words we’d like to here, but we could if we lived in England.)

I think David Frum needs to cut down in a big way on his meds. I’m not sure what he’s accusing me of here. The only thing I wrote about Easterbrook was that I thought we should accept his apology and move on. As to blood libel that my words-like those, apparently of Mickey Kaus and Josh Marshall-were “almost calculated to fuel anti-Jewish fantasies,” forgive me for the Abe Rosenthal-like sin of quoting myself (from the very column that so upsets Frum): “If something is ‘toxic’ merely to talk about, the problem is probably not in the talking, but in the doing.”

Alter-reviews: I celebrated Dizzy Gillespie’s 86th birthday last night just where everybody should: at the Blue Note with Jon Faddis, James Moody, Slide Hampton, Jon Lee, Dennis Mackrel, Billy Childs Roy Hargrove, Clark Terry and, for some reason, a young Italian singer named Roberta Gambarini. What is touching about these old codgers, is how easily they combine studied musicianship with a sense of whimsy.

The combination of Faddis, Hargrove, and the great Mr. Terry all on trumpet was incredibly powerful in such a small room, and while the joking around threatened to overwhelm the music at times-as it used to do in late career Dizzy shows-- it never quite did. The multigenerational rapport between the likes of Terry and Hargrove was also quite moving. My only complaint was the crowd. How is it possible that people can be so jaded to a combination like this that a small club like the Blue Note can only be half-full, here in jazz’s world capital? But it was an appreciative crown nonetheless, even if they didn’t actually give us any of the birthday cake they brought out. What the hell, we did get “Salt Peanuts.” (If you’re in town, they are playing, though without Clark, for the rest of the week. Also do yourself a favor and get tickets for Steve Tyrell, the perfect post-Sinatra lounge singer, at the Note, Nov. 4-9. I’ll be reviewing Abbey Lincoln’s show, along with her new CD “It’s Me,” next week.)

In the CD AND DVD player:
'Live & Swingin’: 'The Ultimate Rat Pack Collection' is a CDDVD set containing the boys in action from a 1962 show at the Villa Venice nightclub. The DVD features the only complete Rat Pack concert performance ever filmed - a 1965 show at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis. A deluxe booklet includes archival photos and liner notes by Sinatra biographer Bill Zehme. Boy is it funny. What a great mimic Sammy was. And Johnny Carson hosts because Joey was sick or something, which is good, I think. Anyway, it’s on Reprise.

Alter-fashion notes: Today is something called “Yankee Appreciation Day” at a certain kindergartner’s New York public school. Kids were instructed to wear blue and white. At least one of them, I can promise you, is proudly wearing red socks.

Correspondents Corner:

More on Dr. Kurtz's “Trauma” diagnosis: Eric,

Name: Jim Belshaw
The quoted passage below comes from a Jan. 18, 1999, interview of Andrew Kohut by Margaret Warner on the PBS Newshour.

"ANDREW KOHUT: Well, to answer, that you could pull old tapes ... And, again, we find only a third of the American public saying that the President should be removed. I think we have a slide on that. That's almost identical to the percentage we had in December, and it's been that way for some time. Only 28 percent want to see him resign. There's no -- there's a very robust two-thirds of the American public that wants to see the presidency of Bill Clinton continue."

Here's the url. Trauma? What in the world could Howie Kurtz possibly be talking about? Howie's "trauma" reminds me very much of my baseline measurement for all pronouncements made about the traumatized provinces -- "The Day After," a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a nuclear attack on the U.S.

I remember the hysteria well, but the hysterics weren't out here in flyover land. They were in the major media centers, where all manner of dire warnings were being given about how Americans' knees would buckle on the appointed evening. It was a grand time for all, especially shrinks, who found themselves much sought after as "experts" to explain how the brains of the hoi polloi would implode shortly after their knees disintegrated.

Then the night came, and we watched, and wouldn't you know it, the damn thing turned out to be a TV show.

p.s. Given that I share Stupid's affiliation with the White Sox ... Never mind. I don't want to think about it anymore. Please don't tell Howie.

Name: Charles Kinbote
Hometown: Athens, GA
Glad to hear that you've got the new and hugely expanded Sweetheart, Eric. I'll have to pick it up, but then, I guess, I'll have to first find some new shelf space for my existing copy. Which brings me to my point: I've multiple copies of so many different albums, on account of CD reissues, remasters and the like, and -- as much as I welcome new remasterings or generous expansions of existing material -- I'm starting to put off purchasing CDs that I don't yet own (say, The Replacements Tim, for example) because I want to wait for the remaster. (Tim, recorded in the late 80's, sounded gawdawful on cassette and probably sounds even worse on CD). I put off buying the first two Television CDs (I'd heard them, FWIW, and they sounded über-crappy) until 2002, when, low and behold, they've been remastered and revamped substantially in 2003. There's a method to madness of this kind: I've got seven copies of the Who's Who's Next (original MCA CD issue, Steve Hoffman-remastered original MCA Canadian CD issue; MCA gold disc reissue; 1994 MCA remaster; 1999 Japanese remaster; Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 1999 remaster; 2003 MCA Deluxe Edition), almost as many of Live at Leeds, and three, four and five copies of as many as 100 additional albums.

Crap, I'll soon have three copies of Aimee Mann's Lost in Space (a deluxe edition comes out in November) -- and that was released in August 2002! Fanaticism of this kind should be worth something, shouldn't it? Can't the nice record companies start printing UPCs on these things that a person can trade in in exchange for a discount on this year's remaster, so to speak? I simply can't afford to keep buying this stuff. Or, at least, my wife won't let me. Speaking of which, want to buy a copy of Who's Next?

Name: Tim Hunter
Hometown: Philadelphia

Sweetheart of the Rodeo is the second most important alt country precursor disc. The Flying Burrito Brothers' Guilded Palace of Sin is the first, and the real deal, especially because the original release of Sweetheart had Roger McGuinn doing a (remarkably good) Gram Parsons imitation on the Parsons tunes, due to "contractual issues" which kept them from releasing Gram's own vocals.

Also, re Johnny Winter and the Allmans' live discs: It seems bizarre now, but "Johnny Winter And" (with Rick Derringer) was actually the top bill at the Fillmore East shows released as "Live at the Fillmore East." Having seen one of the late shows, I can tell you that Johnny and Rick were actually pretty great, if completely over the top in the "licks-vs-substance" department. (Johnny atoned on the Muddy Waters discs you mention, by the way).

Oct. 21, 2003 |

"diplomacy". Must be another of those dastardly Franco/German plots to turn us all into atheistic homosexuals.

If the White House bans reporters from covering their return from Iraq, did our soldiers really die?

Today's Papers has some good stuff today, comparing the coverage of Bush’s alleged bawling out of the Malaysian Prime Minister, which-given the way this administration lies as a matter of policy-may or may not have happened. (Remember Ronald Reagan taking David Stockman “to the woodshed?” That never happened.) Anyway, scroll down and read the comparison with the Times coverage to that of the IHT. If this is conservatives idea of a “liberal media,” biased against this administration, then my goodness, they are not simply “working the refs,” they are secretly killing them and replacing them with Pod Reporters. (Or is it “Stepford Reporters?” Either metaphor works. I could even do a “Soylent Green” thing here, but I’ll avoid it on account of the fact that I didn’t really like that movie.)

Seen one Jew.  Page Six apparently never heard of Harold Bloom, the world’s most famous literary critic, or else they think all Jews all look alike, since “Howard Blum” is a not only a different person also an entirely different name, with different spelling and everything. Maybe Rupert Murdoch could hire the Prime Minister of Malaysia to help them ID Jewish celebrities. (Insert unfair/tasteless Easterbrook joke here.)

What I learned reading Sy Hersh this week: “Chalabi’s defector reports were now flowing from the Pentagon directly to the Vice-President’s office, and then on to the President, with little prior evaluation by intelligence professionals. When INR analysts did get a look at the reports, they were troubled by what they found. “They’d pick apart a report and find out that the source had been wrong before, or had no access to the information provided,”

Greg Thielmann told me: “There was considerable skepticism throughout the intelligence community about the reliability of Chalabi’s sources, but the defector reports were coming all the time. Knock one down and another comes along. Meanwhile, the garbage was being shoved straight to the President…. “A routine settled in: the Pentagon’s defector reports, classified “secret,” would be funneled to newspapers, but subsequent CIA and INR analyses of the reports-invariably scathing but also classified-would remain secret.”

And this: Two former C.I.A. officials provided slightly different accounts of what happened next. “The Embassy was alerted that the papers were coming,” the first former official told me, “and it passed them directly to Washington without even vetting them inside the Embassy.” Once the documents were in Washington, they were forwarded by the C.I.A. to the Pentagon, he said. “Everybody knew at every step of the way that they were false-until they got to the Pentagon, where they were believed.”

Today’s “I’m Not Feeling So Sorry for Rush Anymore” Item: What if Bill Clinton had gotten himself addicted to illegal drugs?

How to be a Bush Republican: Tom Tomorrow Explains It All in just six panels.

Congrats to the brilliant, hardworking folks at The New York Review of Books celebrating their 40th anniversary this week. The Bottom Line still needs saving, people. If you are an NYU alum, or know one, send them this petition.

ALTER-REVIEWS I: In the DVD Player: I was in a record store a few weeks ago, and I had one of those moments where I felt like someone, somewhere had been listening to my thoughts and delivered to me at least one of my (smaller) wishes. Piled up in the back-and apparently released with zero fanfare - at least so far-was a five-DVD box set of the best of Saturday Night Live music covering 25 years of performances, including the funny stuff. For people my age, it’s kind of a diary of one’s late adolescence and early adulthood, in addition to being a thrilling historical document and lots and lots of fun, even with the many drugs that were consumed making them.

Together with my Times on Sunday morning I sat down with Volume One and happened across 1976-1977 versions of Billy Joel, Ray Charles, the (Keith and Donna-) Dead, Simon and Garfunkel, Patti Smith, Joe Cocker almost blown away by John Belushi, Steve Martin doing “King Tut,” Bull Murray doing “Star Wars,” and Akroyd and Belushi as the Blues Brothers. That was just in the first 35 minutes or so. Scanning the rest of the box, there’s the Band, the Talking Heads, Clapton, Roy Orbison, Jagger with Peter Tosh, REM, Nirvana, McCartney, U2, Neil Young, Aretha; you name it. It’s wonderful. And you don’t have to wait through those awful commercials. I’ve not seen it advertised anywhere but it’s available from Broadway Video.

In the CD Player: "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo," originally released in 1968 and featuring the Byrds' only work with Gram Parsons, is arguably the first great country-rock record. It's now been expanded to include fifteen unissued performances and eight newly discovered Gram Parsons vocal takes, a whopping 39 tracks in all. Influencing everyone from the Black Crowes to Wilco to Emmylou Harris, this is one of the most important records in rock n' roll history. Muddy Waters' "Mississippi' Waters Live," produced by Johnny Winter and originally released in 1979, now includes a bonus disc featuring eleven previously unissued tracks recorded for the album, but left in the vaults until now. Both are available on Sony Legacy.

By the night-table:  Politically Inspired In the “dynamite opener” Kirkus reports,"The President’s New Clothes," by Anne Ursu. Using the familiar gimmick of the body-switch, Ursu has Dubya waking up in the body of a Minnesotan kid. What follows is sunny, upbeat and lethal, the perfect fable for an empty-suit presidency."

I also love the Charles Baxter story and am looking forward to ZZ Packer, whose literary talent is matched by her charm, joi de vivre, good looks and good taste in books on the media. I’m looking forward to the rest. It’s a brilliant idea for an original collection and all royalties from the book are donated to Oxfam's humanitarian efforts in Iraq. Buy it, please. If you don’t like it, give it away."

Oct. 20, 2003 |
I see from the TV listings that CNN had a program on Sunday night in which “former President Bush returns to the island where his aircraft was shot down in World War II.” The members of his son’s cushy National Guard unit are still waiting for him to return and complete his term of service.

From “Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers expressed concern Thursday over a survey suggesting major morale problems among U.S. troops in Iraq, saying he was worried that he and other top officers were sometimes allowed to talk only to 'all the happy folks' when they visited service members. 'I want to see the folks that have complaints. And sometimes they won't let them near me,' Myers said when asked about the Stars and Stripes newspaper survey in which half of 1,939 troops responding said morale in their units was low or very low and that they did not plan to re-enlist.

The newspaper, which receives funding from the Pentagon, also said that a third of the respondents complained that their mission lacked clear definition and that they would characterize the war in Iraq as "having little or no moral value.”

Another My-Lai? Another reason war is usually a bad idea: It turns decent people into criminal mass murderers.

Why are we not surprised? Howie “Conflict of Interest” Kurtz flacks for Bernie Goldberg. Wait, there’s more. Here Howie flacks for Rich Lowry.

ps. Scroll down and stop the presses: Howie flacks for Andy, recounts travel woes.

Coming up next: Howie gives us the play-by-play the back seat during one of Matt and Andy’s car dates. Nahh. He’s not “conservative.” That’s just a “liberal ideologue” speaking, one who doesn’t understand why - with all the great reporters at The Washington Post - the only one they can find to cover cable TV and the publishing industry is a guy who takes a paycheck from them. (And hey, I didn’t even mention his wife flacking for Arnold.)

No Rest for the Weary.  One more Kurtz item. The conflicted conservative writes, “In a broader sense, the country still hasn't gotten over the trauma of the Clinton years and the tawdry Oval Office conduct that later prompted Hillary to say she wanted to wring Bill's neck. Was it about the sex or the lying? Wasn't his conduct with Monica consensual? Was impeachment a legitimate political response or a one-sided partisan witchhunt?”

Oh really? “Yes, the country “still hasn’t gotten over the trauma of the Clinton years.” Hospital emergency rooms and psychiatric wards are filled to the brim with people still trying to work their way through those traumatic times.” Me thinks think Howie has oral sex confused with a needless war in Iraq.

The Wit and the Wisdom of Rush Limbaugh: “Jerry Garcia? "another dead doper." What to do with junkies? "Send them up the river". More here. But we liberals are a compassionate bunch. Rick Hertzberg writes here: “Limbaugh may be a Chicken Hawk in the war on drugs, but that doesn’t mean he deserves to be cannon fodder.”

I’ll drink to that. “My name is no longer Bill O'Reilly. It's "gasbag," "bully," "liar" and "blowhard." Bill O'Reilly. It's "gasbag," "bully," "liar" and "blowhard.’”

The “funny” detail that David Carr left out of this love letter to The New Republic is the fact that the man who “saved” TNR after the entire Stephen Glass episode found out that he was fired in a call from a reporter asking him for a comment. Classy guy, Marty Peretz. (Oh, and let’s all give a shout out to then-editor Andy Sullivan for showing his usual good judgment and appointing said Mr. Glass as-you guessed it-head of fact-checking.)

p.s. circulation update. TNR, 65,000. The Nation, 140,000 - even with Cockburn!

p.p.s. Lest I be accused of picking on TNR - which I can do, by the way, forever - but you’ll have to pay me, when my students at Columbia asked me for an exemplary reported opinion article, I gave them all copies of Jonathan Chait’s incredible article on homeland security earlier this year, and I don’t even know the guy.

Meanwhile, check out this idiotic Editor's Note: is delighted to be offering stories from two distinguished new partners, The New Republic and The Weekly Standard. TNR and the Standard are the two most influential, interesting and, most important to us, fun political magazines in the country (and they both have handsome Web sites, too). Not coincidentally, they inhabit very different sides of today's ideological spectrum, with TNR headed left and the Standard going right. " Repeat after me:

Now here’s today’s main event: An Altercation special-event: on the history of “The Curse.”

Now that the Harry Frazee/Bambino curse is confirmed, let me address a historical matter. Lots of folks, especially Red Sox partisans and Frazee family members, have been busy debunking the curse recently. If I believed in curses, I would say these guys spent this summer tempting fate by dissing the curse story, which has more in it than all the debunking would make you think.

The story goes that Harry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees to finance "No, No, Nanette." Hard-headed skeptics took this year's Red Sox success as a chance to dispute this; for example the Boston Herald mentions "Harry Frazee's sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, which, by the way, had nothing to do with staging the Broadway musical "No No Nanette." ("Teams Deserve Classic," 10/8/2003, p. 120.) (See also here.) The reasoning is that "the money from selling Ruth did not finance its

(Nanette's) production, as the lore of the curse goes, because it opened five years after the sale.

Not so fast. Let's go back to October 1919. Frazee's denying rumors that the whole club is for sale, though he simultaneously is reported "willing to part with the club if he could get his price." The main reason he's not gonna sell? "(He) considers his star slugger, Babe Ruth, as the greatest attraction to the national game." (“‘Red Sox Club Not on Market'--Frazee," NYT 10/23/19, p. 15.)

About eight weeks later, "Harry Frazee has been quoted as saying that he would include any player on his club in a deal with the exception of Harry Hooper, whose major league career has been entirely with the Boston club." ("Baseball Briefs," NYT 12/28/19, p. S4) And just over a week after that: "he had sold 'Babe' Ruth to the New York Americans because he thought it was an 'injustice' to keep him with the Red Sox, who 'were fast becoming a one-man team.'" At first there's no report of how much money he got, or what he'll do with it - but he says "that he would use the money obtained from the New York Club for the purchase of other players and would try to develop the Red Sox into a winning team." ("Frazee Discusses Sale," NYT 1/6/20 p. 16) A couple days later it's said that he got $125,000; later reports vary and include mention of a loan in addition to cash. ("The High Cost of Home Runs," NYT 1/7/20 p. 18)

What's Frazee's financial situation and business plan in 1919-1920? Back on Oct. 23, 1919, when he was denying selling the club and especially denying getting rid of Ruth, he was a week away from defaulting on a $262,000 note to J. J. Lannin, from whom he bought the Sox in 1916. ("Court Enjoins Frazee," NYT 2/17/20, p. 10; the Red Sox scholar par excellence Glenn Stout has an explanation for this default here though it doesn't sound like good business practice to me.) In December, Frazee sells

Ruth, gets some cash, and eight weeks after that, he moves back into the business of Manhattan theater-owning, which he'd left some time before: he buys the Harris on 42nd Street and renames it the Frazee. What's he going to do? Invest in "extensive alterations" for his own theatrical productions. ("Frazee Buys the Harris," NYT 2/27/20, p. 18)

Looks like not so much post-Ruth Frazee investment in the Sox, lots in theater. Because, see, back in December when Frazee's negotiating Ruth's sale, he's producing the debut of a play on Broadway. It's "My Lady Friends," by Frank Mandel, opening at the Comedy on Dec. 3. It runs to the next summer, when the death of one of its stars precipitates its departure, but it goes on tour and into a London production. ("Clifton Crawford, Actor, Dies in Fall," NYT 6/4/20, p. 11; "News and Gossip of the Rialto," NYT 6/20/20, p. X1 and 8/8/20, p. 70) Evidently the show is enough of a success that Frazee decides to produce a musical version of it. Know what the musical version of "My Lady Friends" would be called? "No, No, Nanette."

(The New York Public Library's description says, "Based on: My Lady Friends, by E. Nyitray and F. Mandel, produced in Engliand (sic) under the title: His Lady Friends," which explains the listing in the Internet Broadway database.

News of Frazee's investment in the "musical version of "My Lady Friends" came early in May, 1923 -- amid fresh rumors he was going to sell the Red Sox. Two weeks later, he confirmed a deal was in the offing, and seven weeks later the Sox were sold. Frazee's about to enjoy the fruits of his post-Ruth focus on theatrical investment; "No, No, Nanette" will be an enormous success, bringing in a net of $25,000 a week. (Although it apparently did not make a Broadway debut 'til 1925, it was on tour elsewhere by at least 1924.) The Sox, at time of sale, are also showing results of his investment strategy -- a 1922 season finish "in last position." ("News and Gossip of the Rialto," NYT 5/6/23, p. X1 and 5/17/1925, p. X1; "Frazee Admits Deal is Pending," NYT 5/24/23, p. 16; "Red Sox are Sold for Over a Million," NYT 7/12/23, p. 15)

So I'd say that Frazee's "No, No, Nanette," the sale of Ruth, and the Red Sox' ill-luck are about as interconnected as "curse lore" says. Sometimes debunking is bunk.

New Nation column: Abrams and Novak and Rove? Oh my!

Though it's a deeply depressing Slacker Friday, and I'm in no mood for anything. What do they pay a manger for, gawd....ammit, if not to take the pitcher out when he tires, whether he wants to come out or not? But I want to put in a quick word and say let's accept Greg Easterbrook's apology.

A big problem with blogs is that everything happens too quickly. I see this has already blossomed into a New York Times story.

Action frequently gets the better of thought. Greg could have used an editor before he wrote those silly words, but apparently he didn't have one. He is, as he said, willing to defend the thoughts behind his anti-Semitic-sounding post, but not the words themselves.

Many bloggers could and should say the same, but don't do so often enough. TNR is guilty of many things, including selling what's left of its soul to the Saudis, no slouches in the anti-Semitic department themselves. (I wonder when TNR will be selling sponsorships and giving censorship rights to this guy.)

That is one of many scandals of its present owner/editorship. But all Greg did was express himself poorly and, goodness knows, there's more of that in the blogosphere than anywhere else. I don't like his views on Bush's environmental policies, either, but at least let's argue about what he truly believes.

ps. I see in the current Forward (not online, but here) that TNR editor Peter Beinart tries to defend the magazine by pretending the Saudi scandal is about TNR editorial policy. But nobody has made that claim, and Beinart should speak to the actual charges for once.

I see also, in the same letters section, that Alan Dershowitz uses Altercation to attack Alexander Cockburn as an anti-Semitic Stalinist. I am actually quite impressed by this, since there are no archives, and I must have written what I wrote over a year ago, meaning Dersh reads and archives me on his own. Anyway, the two are having a spat over accusations of plagiarism. I don't know who's right, and I've had a rather public spat with Dersh, where he proved himself to be more than a bit nuts and denied comments he made directly into my tape recorder, thereby making an idiot of himself, but I also know that however misguided I often find him to be, his mistakes are honest ones.

One cannot say the same of Cockburn, whose writing reeks of personal dishonesty as well as moral and ideological perversity. For that reason I'm hoping Dershowitz wins out. Though I must admit, I don't mind seeing a bit of mud splattered all around.

One more thing. There's been some argument on the "imminent threat" case made by the administration. This comes from the new Center for American Progress, where I am now a senior fellow. I think it puts the question to bed.

IMMINENT THREAT ARGUMENT: The Administration has tried to defend itself from charges of misleading the public by claiming it never said Iraq was an "imminent threat." (Powell told the BBC that he should be absolved because he never used the phrase "imminent threat.") But the fact is, the Administration repeatedly said Iraq was an imminent threat.

On May 7, 2003, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked, "Didn't we go to war because we said WMD were a direct and imminent threat to the U.S.?" He replied: "Absolutely." On Nov. 14, 2002, a mother of a U.S. soldier told Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld that she was not convinced that Iraq was an imminent threat. He replied: "I would look you in the eye and I would say, go back before September 11 and ask yourself this question: Was the attack that took place on September 11 an imminent threat the month before, or two months before, or three months before or six months before? When did the attack on September 11 become an imminent threat? Now, transport yourself forward a year, two years or a week or a month...So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something?"

The administration also made the "imminent threat" point in other ways. On Jan. 29, 2003, Rumsfeld said: "The president has stated that he considers the Saddam Hussein regime a danger to the United States." And Vice President Dick Cheney said on Jan. 30, 2003 that there was a "grave danger posed by the outlaw regime in Iraq," adding that Saddam "threatens the United States of America."

OK, even one more thing: In the CD player, The Allman Brothers live at the Atlanta International Pop Festival, July 1970. I have been collecting these old Allman Brother CDs as they come out. This is the fourth one, I think.

There's one on Grateful Dead records and two on their own label. This is the first to get a major label release, coming as it does, on the heels of their incredibly good studio album of earlier this year, Hittin' the Note. The sound quality is excellent. The playing comes and goes. It's two separate shows with similar sets, and Johnny Winter, who was considered a much bigger deal back then, joins them on one of the versions of "Moutain Jam."

If you've already got the Fillmore concerts and Eat a Peach, then this is probably your best bet, when you combine price and sound quality, but I could make a case for any of them. And the touring band, even without Dickie Betts, is still remarkably good, though Warren Haynes is the worst singer on earth. (I was angry about Dickie getting kicked out, when he was the heart of the band, until it was explained to me that he was the only one who refused to go into rehab.)

OK enough rambling, man, this is one of the great bands in all history; either you appreciate them or you don't. (They've got a new DVD out from the Beacon too, but I've not heard it yet.)

No Joy in Newton (or W. 98th Street):
Name:  Charles Pierce
Hometown:  Newton, MA.
It struck me, after my shoe struck the wall after Aaron Boone struck the ball, that this was about the same time of night when things started to go South in Florida in 2000. I had the same doomy sour taste in my mouth, and the overwhelming feeling that the bad guys always, ALWAYS win. I don't even mean to take it out on this particular bunch of Yankees, most of whom are quite amiable as baseball players go. It's just I'm real tired of 'Forces Beyond My Control' rigging and arranging and manipulating fate so that I do things like throw shoes at the wall.

The triumph of grotesque plutocracy is everywhere, and our side is full of nothing but Grady Littles, who can't see that eight innings out of Pedro was freaking enough. Gawd, what a chucklehead. Lift the pitcher. Walk Bernie Williams. Get the hell out of Dodge and into your bullpen, whom the Yankees couldn't have hit with an ironing board. I kept waiting for one of the umpires to unmask and reveal itself to be Katherine Harris.

Nightmarish. Great game, though.

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to believe that I time-traveled into the future and heard the following lecture (with the help of a futuristic universal language translator). But you should!

Professor Emeritus
Tokyo University
Oct. 17, 2133

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why America didn't recognize the forces which drove its sudden decline in status from the world's only superpower to an almost second-world economy. Perhaps America was too busy honoring its so-called "greatest generation" - those Americans who lived through the great depression of the 1930's and fought in the Second World War in the 1940's - that it didn't notice what its worst generation, the "baby boomers," were doing.

The first blow came in 2003. America had been in a long recession precipitated by the end of the "dot-com boom" and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Recovery had been delayed by the war to depose Saddam Hussein, civil unrest in Venezuela and coordinated action by the OPEC oil cartel, all of which kept oil prices high. President George W. Bush sought to time an upswing in the economy to coincide with his 2004 reelection campaign. He gave large tax credits to wealthy Americans and kept government spending levels high (particularly in Iraq, where rebuilding costs exceeded 400 billion yen per month. What's that? Yes, I did say "per month.").

By late 2003 the economy was showing signs of life, and really took off when oil prices began to dip. (America never weaned its economy off of its dependence on oil and such price fluctuations were keenly felt).

This recovery hid the seeds of America's demise from the electorate: an unprecedented budget deficit, large private debt loads and a crumbling infrastructure. Elected officials and the America punditcracy were aware of these things, but their protests were lost in the wave of good feeling that came with the growing economy. The American electorate was also distracted by seemingly trivial issues, such as the right of homosexuals to marry and the criminal trial of a popular athlete.

Thus America was unprepared for blow #2. In 2006 two terrorist attacks - a handheld missile launched at a Boeing 757 and a coordinated suicide bombing at four shopping malls on major American shopping holiday in November - sent the economy spiraling. Unlike in 2001 there was no government budget surplus to cushion the blow. In fact the government went further into deficit when reduced tax revenues were combined with long-overdue domestic security expenditures to respond to the new threats.

Blow #3 was less visible but the worst of them all. The baby boom generation was now well into its retirement years. An antiquated law entitled elderly Americans with a government grant regardless of their needs. This program had already created a deficit which had been kept hidden from the general budget figures, hiding the coming peril from the nation's aging demographics. Even worse, America did not have the infrastructure to care for its elderly (as many of you know, it is not the social custom in America for the elderly to live with their adult children, but rather to live independently with hired help or in institutions designed to care for the aged).

Older Americans demanded even more government assistance with health care costs and vouchers for institutional care. Because older Americans voted with greater frequency than the population at large, they held much political power, and politicians were afraid to take positions against their interests.

This led to what Americans call "the Great Homelessness." Unlike the last recession, American homeowners could not cushion the recession by refinancing their mortgages at lower interest rates. Many two-income households who lost one of their incomes soon looked to bankruptcy to shed their debt burden and start afresh, but they discovered that "bankruptcy reform" successfully pushed by the credit industry in 2004 stymied such plans. Mortgage companies soon became massive landlords - effectively renting back these homes to the former owners.

America witnessed two horrific phenomena. The first was the culmination of concentration of wealth trends which had decelerated in the late 1990's under President Bill Clinton but returned with a vengeance in the 2000s. Ninty-five percent of the nation's wealth was owned by a tenth of its populace. The next was what one American expression calls "eating the seed corn" - money that should have been spent on repairing its infrastructure went to the care of its elderly.

Still this does not answer why America did not bounce back as it has in the past. For that, you must look to the rest of the world. For example, take our experience in Japan.

By 2003 we were coming out of our own recession, but with less debt and much more investment capital than the Americans. In 2004 Prime Minister Kozumi made major inroads in reducing some of the protectionist special interests that had always hampered our economy. With 2005 came the great "Stem Cell Miracle" where Japanese researchers won a race to cure Alzheimer and Parkinson's disease. It should be noted that American researchers were hampered by government restrictions on the use of stem cells, else they may have made the discoveries first. These proved to be not only a milestone in medicine but the most profitable biotechnology patents in history. Japan also took advantage of America's recession to buy-up prime real estate and other opportunities. (Interesting sidebar: a popular myth in America, both during the 1980s and today, is that Japan "bought it out" - when actually Japan's acquisitions lagged behind that of some European nations.)

It was probably inevitable that a populist movement arose in America. By this time wealth had become so stratified that it made more sense to cut the economic pie more equally than it did to try to expand the size of the pie: voters demanded national health insurance, housing subsidies and other entitlements funded by large taxes on the wealthy. Many of the wealthy, being no dummies, saw what was coming took a lesson from rich Britons and became "tax refugees," moving overseas. This is why the world's tallest building is in Gatesville, Argentina. America also enacted protectionist barriers to protect its remaining industries.

The end result of all of this has been a restored social stability for Americans and a significant rise in the median standard of living, but at a cost of an economic anchor that has weighed down America's economy ever since. Even when the economy is growing, much of this wealth must go to servicing its national debt, and much of the rest goes into coffers overseas.

{At this point I was teleported back to the present.}

ps: Eric, Stupid -I can't resist a note on the Boy Scouts. I once tried to get someone at Scout HQ to answer whether they bar Native Americans if they insisted on a traditional polytheistic belief and would only say an oath if they could substitute "Spirits" for "God" or somesuch thing. Never got an answer - so next time you hear the Scouts defend themselves that they don't discriminate between religions, don't believe 'em!

Great as Marquee Moon is, the conventional wisdom is wrong: Adventure is just as good, if not better. (And though the eponymous reunion LP pales by comparison, some of the tracks were stunning live - not a big surprise with these guys...)

Oct. 15, 2003 |
Don’t forget what almost all the coverage of the presidential election wants you to forget. Elections in America are about money more than anything else.

During the 2002 election cycle, Republican candidates outspent Democrats by nearly $200 million. That’s the most important reason everything ended up breaking their way, though I’ll be amazed if a single network’s coverage even mentioned it. Bush has now collected $83.9 million. He has done so in part by aggressively selling government at the cost of zillions to you and me. The totals of his current kitty “driven in large part by just 285 men and women, who collected $38.5 million or more, which was at least 45 percent of Bush’s total take. This fund-raising elite, many of whom were beneficiaries of Bush administration policies, included 100 “Rangers,” who raised at least $200,000 apiece, and 185 “Pioneers,” who collected at least $100,000 each.”

Harold Meyerson on the new Fox slogan: “We Lie, You Support Stupid Wars.”

I like my colleague Glenn Reynolds but he should learn to take more care with his sources. A certain hysterical, frequently McCarthyistic blogger got upset (So what’s new?) because Ed Asner said he would like to play “Stalin” whom he considers to be a “misunderstood” historical figure.

Glenn is all bent out of shape over this. Well, hey bud, come and get me too, because Stalin is a misunderstood historical figure. I got a doctoral thesis and a book coming out next year that makes the same argument, among many others. The word “misunderstood” is, dare I say it, being misunderstood here. gives us the “past tense and past participle of misunderstand” which means “to understand incorrectly; misinterpret.”

Well, he is. Most historical figures are, simply because most people are not historians and lack both the knowledge and tools to reach a sophisticated understanding of what, after all are extremely complex phenomena. To say that Stalin is “misunderstood” is actually to utter a truism. It is not remotely the same thing as saying that Stalin was not history’s most callous mass murderer. He was.

It is not the same thing as saying he shamelessly manipulated history to suit his own ideological purposes, as do some bloggerz I could name, though obviously in a manner far more consequential and detrimental. But in When Presidents Lie, I will argue that Stalin’s role in the Cold War is “misunderstood,” and I’ve got literally hundreds of sources to back up my claim. I may be wrong, but no-nothing attacks serve only to shut down intelligent discourse.

Perhaps Ed Asner is genuinely confused about Stalin’s evil the way, say, Nation columnist and Stalinist apologist Alexander Cockburn is. Perhaps he sees Stalin’s lying about history that does not comport with his own goals as a model the way say, Glenn’s friend a certain blogger with the initials “AWS” does. But I see no evidence for that. Ed Asner is a great guy, he was wonderful as Lou Grant, he’s got “spunk,” and this kind of red-hunting/red-baiting serves the interests of no one, particularly in the context of discussing artistic roles. If Glenn is going to uphold the honor of the blogosphere, he ought to have higher standards.

Addition: 2:20 pm ET: It seems that Sullivan’s source for the Ed Asner quote has retracted, and therefore so have Sullivan and Glenn. I don’t see that it changes much, however. There was nothing remotely objectionable about the original statement. Stalin was “misunderstood.” There’s no stigma attached to re-imagining history on the basis of new insights or new evidence. Deal with it.

Moreover the original source appears to have been, the nutty Scaife publication, Worldnet Daily. It demonstrates how desperate Andy was to smear a liberal like Asner that he would jump so far on so pathetic a source.

Ashcroft’s assault on the Constitution, part XVIII. And the Christopher Ricks Dylan book is finally out, but in England.

Great moments in librul media dominance: USA Today says in a job posting: “Looking for a conservative who ca (sic) work to achievie (sic) consensus with a diverse editorial board.” Experience covering business and health care is helpful, too.”

Alterreview: Sal N. does not like the new Elvis. He writes:

“We’re among the most rabid Elvis Costello fans on the planet. Defending his oft-maligned dabblings in jazz and classical, we have stood by Elvis’ most adventurous, yet not always successful, achievements. But even we must draw the line somewhere.

“And that line is the U.S.-Canada border, which was the inspiration for “North,” Elvis’ latest album. It’s all well and good that he’s in love with Canadian chanteuse Diana Krall, and it could have made for interesting subject matter on this album. Lush-sounding and ballad heavy, not unlike a Diana Krall album, could have been a fine change of direction.

“The only problem is that he forgot to write a single memorable tune before going into the studio. Even his most demanding records (“The Juliet Letters,” with the Brodsky Quartet, and the Burt Bacharach collaboration “Painted From Memory”) had moments of spine-chilling beauty. “North” just leaves us cold. Getting rave reviews in most publications, let’s hope for Elvis’ sake that this is a huge success, and no one listens to us, including you, our readers.”

The History Channel debate I did with Pat Buchanan will air again this Sunday at 9:00am.

Here’s the man.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, Mass.
Eric —

Because every day, even one on which I fly to North Carolina, is Slacker Friday, Part The XVII.

I ask this out of deep concern, mind you, and I hope dearly it is not the case, but did David Brooks choose to celebrate his elevation to Times op-ed pundit by taking peyote? What in the name of giggling god is going on with the man? First, we get the Bush-haters column, and now this bizarre entry about the Sox and Yankees in which Brooks goes deeply into his Cool Papa Pop-Cult Conservative mode to craft the following sentence:

“A few years ago, some singers from the Pacific Northwest tried to pioneer something called grunge rock.”

In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, “Exsqueeze me? Baking powder?” TRIED TO PIONEER grunge rock? What can Brooks possibly mean by this? Was Kurt Cobain really in the insurance game? Do Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder, and the rest of them have to give all that money back? Did Brooks spend the 1990’s in a steamer trunk in the basement of the Heritage Foundation? More proof that we must keep popular culture away from modern conservatives lest they do themselves a public injury, poor dears.

ps: To dispel this scurrilous rumor about my inability to hype myself, two of my Globe pieces — the Teddy Kennedy 30-years -in-the-Senate piece and what (I think) is a fairly prescient view of Howard Dean (From a year ago, Broder, you slacker) — now available to the Altercation family at

Name: Jim Cullen
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Ronald Reagan also summoned news media from the hinterlands to reach beyond the Capitol newsgroup. When I was political reporter for the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise I was invited to D.C. in 1987 for a briefing in the Old Executive Office Building with a bunch of other reporters and editors that included an appearance by the Gipper who fielded (mainly softball) questions.

Name: Phil Obbard
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Hi Eric,

Amusing Ourselves to Death also served as the basis for Roger Waters’ better-than-you’d-think solo album AMUSED TO DEATH (and that’s coming from someone with only two Pink Floyd records in his collection). Years ago, I got Postman to sign my copy of the CD, which gave him a good laugh.Transcript of lecture by Professor Chiaru Kodama

Name: Steven Hart
Hometown: Highland Park, N.J.
There’s a pretty good independent film from 1997 called “Love and Death on Long Island,” in which a fussy English author named Giles D’Eath (John Hurt, amazing as always)accidentally stumbles into a low-rent teens’n’tits movie and becomes hopelessly smitten with its cheeseball star, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley, who’s much better than you’d expect). The writer’s crush expresses itself as absurdly inflated judgments on Ronnie’s untapped talents and how his halting performances are really hidden gems of subtlety and wit. Ronnie, who dreams of escaping the B-movie corral, gets caught up in Giles’ fantasy until he realizes that Giles is just an old gay guy having a crush.

That movie came to mind as I read the swooning love note to Arnold Schwarzenegger from Andrew Sullivan. Unlike Ronnie Bostock, the Governator is too smart to get caught up in Andy’s fantasy life. But whatever were they thinking at Time magazine?

Oct. 14, 2003 |
From Limbaugh to Miles Davis
Did Rush deafen himself? Well, he’s still got Howie.

Damn that librul media! Always trying to portray our president in the worst possible light.

Here’s another brilliant plan to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis.

Don’t these people ever get tired of parodying themselves? CNN reports: “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to change its policy to permit the importation of endangered species, their parts and products from countries that promote wildlife conservation programs... “

Bush vs. Cheney Which side are you on? (Amazing that a guy could be corrected by George W. Bush on anything.)

The Israel/Palestine deal: Everybody knows what it is, but no one has the courage to insist on it. That’s the saddest part. The Israelis and Palestinians are both to blame for the current crisis, but Israel as the stronger party, has more of a responsibility to break out of the cycle of nihilism. Bush, of course, is a lost cause. Beholden to the Christian fundamentalists, he lets Sharon get away with murder, winking and blinking when he should be showing a little backbone and/or political smarts. A brave U.S. or Israel leadership would simply implement the above plan and give the Palestinians a chance to prove, once and for all, whether they are really ready for statehood. Fat chance.

“The Senate stopped the FCC in its tracks. There are enough votes to do the same in the House. But then, General Electric, owner of NBC; News Corp, owner of Fox; Viacom, owner of CBS; and Walt Disney, owner of ABC, brought on the hired guns — the lobbyists — to wage a Trojan War on Congress.

“A passel of former insiders moved through the revolving door, Rolodex in tow, trading their influence for cash — top aides of the Senate majority leader, the House majority whip and of John Ashcroft himself. Now the most powerful Republican in Congress, Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, won’t let a vote happen. The effort to reverse the FCC is dead in the water, sinking the democratic process with it.” Moyers on the FCC (from Salon.)

Precedented: Most good newspapers bar the use of the word “unprecedented” because who really knows. Dana Milbank shows why here. He writes:” Yesterday, Bush granted exclusive interviews to five regional broadcasting companies - an unprecedented effort to reach news organizations that do not regularly cover the White House.” In fact, Sidney Blumenthal wrote this exact story about the Clinton White House efforts to do much the same thing back in 1993, in The New Yorker, if recollection serves.

Jay Rosen remembers his mentor, Neal Postman, whose great (short) book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” is one of the founding works of the study of the modern National Entertainment State.

I won’t see “Kill Bill” and I even skipped “Reservoir Dogs“ because I just can’t stand to witness excessive violence in movies, but Greg Easterbrook is just out of his mind in saying, “All of Tarantino’s work is pure junk,” when it comes to “Pulp Fiction.” But that is not what is even interesting about this post, which - given the fact that this is in The New Republic, and he’s warning Jews to behave - is “interesting” to say the least. Check it out and see what you think.

Bruce news: The Barcelona DVD (scroll) is now scheduled for Nov. 18, and the Essential 3-CD set planned for Nov. 11.

P.S. Bruce is very rich. The tour grossed $172.7 million in 2003, playing North American and Australian arenas in the spring and European and U.S. stadiums during the summer. With last year’s barnstorming arena tour, the gross comes to $221.5 million from 121 shows. The Giants Stadium gigs alone grossed $38.8 million and drew 566,560 fans, a world record for one engagement.

P.P.S. For people who call me a fanatic, I was actually in Madrid the night of the Barcelona show, and in Barcelona two days later. I coulda made it, but you know, I had ‘other priorities.’

I saw Radiohead last week at Madison Square Garden. Here’s what I thought.

Alter-reviews “Miles Davis: The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions” by Sal Nunziato.

New York drum-legend Bobby Previte and everyone’s favorite musical target, Sting, have something in common. They both hate labels. Mr. Previte was once asked early in his career, “What do you play? He replied, “Music.” Recently, Mr. Sting was asked about the sound of his new CD.

“Is it jazzy?” Mr. Sting replied, “Maybe to you.” It is a no-brainer labeling Miles Davis a jazz musician. The same could be said for Keith Jarrett, Dave Holland, John Mclaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Jack DeJohnette and Wayne Shorter. But after listening to the recently released “Complete Jack Johnson Sessions,” I find it difficult to call this “Jazz.” Or “Rock.” Or “Funk.”

Quite simply, this is music!

Hot off the heels of the ground-breaking “Bitches Brew,” Miles went back into the studio in February of 1970. This resulted in the single lp release, ‘A Tribute To Jack Johnson,’ two very long songs, not unlike the electrified fusion of “Bitches Brew.’ What most didn’t realize, was that those two songs were the creation of producer Teo Macero, patching together pieces of music recorded over a four-month period, by a revolving group of musicians. This box set gives us EVERYTHING! Every take. Complete. Hallelujah!

Many find boxsets featuring multiple takes on the same songs, off-putting. But listening to these guys work through grooves that would make James Brown jump back and kiss himself, I only wish there were 10 takes of “Go Ahead John,” instead of five. Miles’ playing is crisp and inspired, but the real stars of the show are the bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Youngsters into the funk/metal sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or baby-boomers who think they’re hip because they saw Phish “jamming at Red Rocks” should invest in this landmark recording.

Aside from the melancholy, ‘Yesternow,” which is presented in three takes ranging from 10-25 minutes each, none of the music in the set is reminiscent of Miles’ most famous recordings. (save the aforementioned ‘Bitches Brew.”) These are songs that would not be out of place on a mixtape featuring Sly & the Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, The Ohio Players, Funkadelic and- DARE I SAY IT, The Grateful Dead. Knowing that these guys created some the greatest jazz records in the history of music and now, convincingly run through five hours of...well ...I ain’t gonna label it!

Do yourself a favor and buy “The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions.” It’s the right thing to do.

Eric replies: Wow. An argument for consecutive multiple takes. Who’d a thunk it? Not me.

Correspondents’ Corner:
Name: Jason Cianciotto
Hometown: New York, NY
Eric, I thought this AP article on CNN might be of interest to you:

Apparently, education funding in Junction City, OR., has been cut so much, that the farmers there have decided to sell a nude calendar of themselves to raise money to fund their local schools. While AP chose to frame this article as something funny and “offbeat,” I found it very disturbing in light of recent debate over federal education funding levels. How sad is it that citizens of a world superpower that can spend $81 billion in Iraq have to resort to selling nude calendars of themselves in order to ensure that their children receive a constitutionally guaranteed public education?

Name: Billy Ralph Bierbaum
Hometown: New Braunfels, Texas

I drove 1,200 miles roundtrip this weekend to see Rosanne Cash perform in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the homeland of her father. It was one of the first concerts she’s done since Johnny Cash died and it was so beautiful and true and emotional that I just don’t have the words to describe it. Rosanne was overcome while performing “September When It Comes,” the duet she wrote for her father, but she regained her composure, and became absolutely transcendental and mystical in that creaky, sweaty old Auditorium deep in Ozarks. The people adored Rosanne, and she gave it back in spades. A local reporter tried to capture the scene, which you can read here.

Eric replies: Thanks BRB, Rosanne saw that loverly review for the first time. Irony bonus points: She accused me of too much kibitzing when I requested “I Still Miss Someone” at Joe’s Pub and she was asking for requests! Artists, sheesh.

Oct. 13, 2003 |
Columbus Day Slacker & Mr. Sullivan’s daydream
I was planning on slacking today, but Pierce is always working, and this Andy thing was too funny to pass up. It came in a press release for Time Magazine. ‘That kind of complicated but real candidate has been my dream for most of my adult life,’ Sullivan writes.” Arnold Schwarzenegger, an Austrian-born Mr. Universe married to a Kennedy, a multimillionaire movie star who gropes unsuspecting women at will and apparently admires Hitler, is the kind of politician that has been Andy’s “dream for most of his adult life.” And Time prints this, proudly. Reels the mind at the many obvious one-liners, both tasteful and not, that such confessions inspire, though one suspects, few of these would be suitable for a “family” website. Take it away, Frank Rich.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Because every day, even Lost Venetian Navigator Day, is Slacker Friday. Part XVI.

In case you didn’t hear the train whistle as the Democratic candidates debated in Arizona the other night, the Great Free Ride Of ’04 has begun.

“How We Got Into This Iraq Mess” is now beside the point, at least as far as the cool kids are concerned, replaced with “What Would You Guys Do Now?” “We know you are going to use this as an opportunity to be critical of the president,” sniffed Judy Woodruff, deep into character as Miss Broooodie, before asking for some “daylight” between the positions of the various contenders.

Well, what, in a functioning democracy, is wrong with all nine of them just whacking C-Plus Augustus around on this issue for the laughing hell of it? God knows he and his Big Ship Of Fools deserve it. (“Gee, Judy. I can’t tell you today what my position would be a year from now, but I guarantee I’ll run things better than these idiots.”) But, no, kindly Miz Woodruff is going to make sure they all behave. Watch it happen. The “uncivil Bush haters” theme already has sunk its hooks into this campaign and it’s going to dominate the coverage.