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Not slackin'

Working on a holiday Slacker Friday

November 26, 2004 |   (Updated: 1:55 PM ET)

This just in:  New York Magazine Reporter has Superhuman Power!
Is New York’s Chris Smith, like, the world’s most brilliant journalist?  He must be.  Just look at this incredible bit of reporting, .  “When Bloomberg mentions the property-tax rebate, he says he hopes everyone has received their check, adding, “I got mine.”  You can practically see 500 brains process the same thought: Yeah, like a billionaire needs $400!” 

All I can say is “Wow, dude.”  When I go into a room, I can’t “practically see” anyone’s brains process any thoughts at all.  After all, I don’t have x-ray vision and am not telepathic, much less able to x-ray 500 brains—um, did he count—for telepathic communication all at the same time.  I don’t even think Superman can do that.  And yet Smith does it without even calling attention to his superhuman powers.  I sure hope the CIA doesn’t read this article; they will no doubt kidnap Smith and force him to use his incredible gifts to cause new wars with non-terrorist supporting, non-WMD possessing, non-nuclear weapons producing nations.  (And a hat tip, as they say, to the magazine’s fact-checkers.  How in the world did they get all 500 audience members (I’m assuming someone counted) to confirm what they were thinking at the moment Smith put his Krypton-like powers into action?

  Should Andy’s mind ever make a return appearance, someone might wish to explain to him the difference between a comparison and an equation.  Example: “Andy's blogging reminds me of the antics of a to the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin" to "Andy is a to the late Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin."  Different, huh?

I’ve got a new Nation column , with some reporting left over from my Atlantic Hollywood piece, on celebrities and politics.

Correspondents Corner:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid.  I think closest analogy for Dubya's presidency is President Franklin Pierce.  Like Dubya, Pierce was wealthy, accused of cowardess during wartime, hand-picked by others to assume the Presidency, didn't show much interest in governing, was easily influenced by extremists (including Jefferson Davis), and further divisions between the blue states and the red, er, I mean grey.  The analogy even holds for Kerry -- Pierce's opponent was the war hero General Winfield Scott. 

I want to urge Democrats to stop thinking about 2008 and start thinking about 2006.  It was just a decade ago that the party that was completely out-of-power pulled an upset and took control of Congress under the nose of an overconfident President.  There's some revisionist history on the GOP's 2004 triumph, attributing it to an inexorable GOP trend in the red states and the galvanizing effect of the gun control issue.  I won't argue that those factors weren't important, but Newt Gingrich's genius is hard to overstate.  Gingrich got the Republican Party "on message."  The Contract With America benchmarked the party's platform in language that made the Republicans sound like the defenders of Democracy itself.  Meanwhile he trained Republican officeholders and candidates in public speaking, purposefully ratcheting up emotional and inflammatory language.  I've written about Democrats Attention Deficit Disorder before, but it's more important than ever that the party present America with a clear, succinct message of what it stands for.  Try this: replace "Contract With America" with Bill Clinton's "New Covenant" and run under the banner of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." 

Life: Democrats believe health insurance is a right of American citizens.  Our first priorities are to guarantee health insurance for all children and to provide money-saving preventative care for all.  Liberty: Democrats believe that the federal government should increase local police forces and domestic terrorism infrastructure while protecting civil liberties (include abortion rights here). 

Pursuit of Happiness: Democrats believe that every generation owes the next generation a society where social mobility exists for anyone who does honest work  This means budget sanity and honest government (you can fit everything from the Iraq war to Pell Grants here).

Name: Randy Cauthen
Hometown: Bloomsburg, PA

Eric -
I'm a member of the Public Doublespeak Committee of the National  Council of Teachers of English.  Thought you'd want to know that this year's winner of the NCTE Doublespeak Award -- given every year "to American public figures who have perpetuated language that is grossly deceptive, evasive, euphemistic, confusing, or self-contradictory" -- was The Bush Administration as a whole.  Pride of place went to W's phrase, "weapons of mass destruction related program activites," closely followed by Rumsfeld's opinion that the Abu Ghraib torture was really just "the excesses of human nature that humanity suffers."  This year's winners of the George Orwell Award, which honors those who are fighting for honesty in public language -- and which was taken home in 1993 by Sound and Fury: The Washington Punditocracy and the Collapse of American Politics -- were Seymour Hersh and Arundhati Roy.
Congratulations to all the winners.  More details are .

Name: Barry Ritholtz

Hey Doc,
This past June, I saw at , an intimate little venue -- about 1200 people -- just under the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was a special evening, with Mann's performance perfectly in sync with the audience's expectations.  All told, a great concert.

By coincidence, the show I saw was video recorded, and just came out on .

Here's what I cannot understand: The DVD is $15 -- but it also comes with a CD of the concert.  Will someone explain to me why major labels release 45 minutes of music for the same price as a small label's DVD and CD?  Indeed, why should anyone pay $15 for a CD when this 
alternative is available?

Perhaps it's Mann's notorious dislike of her past labels.  The New York Times' Jonathan Van Meter wrote:  "Mann is known for writing clever, disappointed love songs that can also be read as damnations of the music industry."  The Album "" was a thinly veiled reference to Geffen (What label are you with?  I'm with Stupid ...) as were numerous songs on that disc (Choice In The Matter, Par For The Course, You're With Stupid Now) as well as the song "Nothing Is Good Enough" off the CD which was reputedly based on a conversation with a music exec.

Mann subsequently dumped Geffen, negotiated the purchase of her master recordings, and set out for her own label: Superego Records is part of , a cooperative, artist owned label.

I doubt that Mann is losing money releasing a DVD/CD for the same price as a major label CDs.  But it just goes to show ya how corrupt and out of touch the major label $15 CD business model is.

Maybe someone with basic math skills can show the major labels what they are doing wrong.

There's more here: 


Rather Over
Rather Resigned
Rather Humiliated
Booked, Dan-0

What’s the Frequency, Mr. Unemployed?

Forgive me, but I’ve got no sympathy for Dan Rather, and I don’t think it’s only because I’ve met the guy maybe ten times and he’s never once remembered.  As a rule, I make it a practice to dole out my sympathy only to people who make less than say, ten million bucks a year.  What’s more, it was Rather’s sloppiness and arrogance vis-a-vis the National Guard story that removed Bush’s still unexplained absences from his Guard duty from public scrutiny, giving the president yet another of his myriad free passes on issues of simple morality as he hypocritically preaches what he only pretends to practice.

Rather’s departure removes a bogeyman target for the Right that will likely result in a diminution in its hysteria about the So-Called Liberal Media.  Rather was never much of a liberal insofar as I could tell.  The three or four unmemorable times we were seated at dinner together he never said anything to me privately that would indicate he had any particular politics, save those of being a Network Man.  The right’s objection to Rather is not that he is a liberal—they have no way of knowing that—it’s that he reported the news.  It’s the news they don’t like, or as the genius Stephen Colbert put it, “It’s the facts Jon, that are biased.”

Rather used to complain all the time about the direction that CBS News was taking in chasing after ratings with tabloid-driven definition of news and wimping out to conservative pressure.  See , for instance.  He was right, of course, but he never put himself on the line—at least not in a way anyone could ever make any sense of.  Perhaps you or I wouldn’t either, if we had to risk that kind of money in doing so, but if you want us to feel sorry for you bub, foggetaboutit.

Anyway, now that they’ve lost their symbol, the right wing anti-Rather warriors can claim a scalp—just in time for Thanksgiving—but they better enjoy the celebration because they won’t be able to raise funds and blood pressures with Rather-based appeals.  I’ve never seen this John Roberts fellow, but I’m guessing his mug won’t do the trick nearly as well for the “Director of Development” for places like Accuracy in Media (Think “Holy Roman Empire”), and the "Media Research Center,” (ditto).

Meanwhile, let’s offer a tip-o'-the-hat for this year’s Inscrutability Award to The Times’ Jim Rutenberg for this observation: 

Mr. Rather has allowed his personality and emotions to show through in ways that those two men, and the anchors who preceded all three, did not, and he wins credit for presaging the new, attitudinal anchors of cable news who push the limits much farther.-. 

Um, did he say “wins credit” in a sentence in which he refers to the likes of Messrs O’Reilly, Matthews, Hannity, Scarborough, Savage, Cavuto, et al?  Perhaps we can all try this at home during the long holiday weekend, like Mad Libs: And [the mad cow] wins credit for presaging the new epidemic of [fatal brain-destroying disease] that pushes the limits much farther.

Speaking of which, I see Chris Mathews plunked down $4.35 million for a new in Nantucket.  Lord knows, I have no problem with journalists owning vacation homes, but I do find it ridiculous that the multimillionaires like Matthews and O’Reilly—to say nothing of that live druggie, Rush--pretend to be populist-voice-of-the common-folk types.  As Noam Scheiber noted in The New Republic a few years back, these pundits’ self-styled populism contains no economic component whatever.  Using the article as a source, I wrote in :

For both O’Reilly and Matthews, the term "working class" is defined “not by income but by cultural values such as hard work, devotion to family, and respect for authority and tradition.”  It’s fair to point out, as Scheiber does, that such values go a good distance toward explaining the hostility felt in many middle-class areas toward the Clintons and the Gores, why welfare retains the ability to inflame and why George Bush did so well with voters whose economic interests Democrats more fairly represent.  Both men would much prefer to talk about personalities rather than issues.  Here, for instance, is Matthews’ evocation of George W. Bush’s leadership skills in the wake of the al-Qaeda attack: There are some things you can't fake.  Either you can throw a strike from 60 feet or you can't.  Either you can rise to the occasion on the mound at Yankee Stadium with 56,000 people watching or you can't.  On Tuesday night, George W. Bush hit the strike zone in the House that Ruth Built.  He did it sporting the most revered insignia in America today: that of the New York Fire Department.  This is about knowing what to do at the moment you have to do it -- and then doing it.  It's about that "grace under pressure" that Hemingway gave as his very definition of courage.  (Based on Matthews’ criteria for presidential leadership, it’s a wonder how the nation made it through World War II, when, readers may recall, the country was led by a man who could not have thrown a strike if his life depended on it.)

Also I can’t resist this.  I see Matthews is quoted in the above item explaining, “Nobody turned on Stevenson.”  Excuse me, this guy actually wrote a book on John Kennedy, the man who dedicated himself—together with his brother—to destroying Stevenson’s career and pretty much succeeded, through a series of carefully placed lies in the media.  It’s one of the lowest points of Kennedy’s presidency and I describe it in considerable detail in .  It’s one thing to be a typically historically illiterate pundit, but goodness, to be ignorant of a major event in the life of someone about whom you claim to have written a book?  Reels the mind…

Paul and I take on the DeLay Rule in a new "Think Again" column, .

Moron at the Forward
As all Altercation readers ought to know by now, I’m a big fan what editor J.J. Goldberg has done with Forward, and so when a reporter I had never heard of, named Gabriel Sanders, asked me to speak to him on deadline for a ten millionth version of a story on magazine cruises, I agreed without much thought.

When I spoke to him, Sanders buttered me up a bit, by telling me that my piece in the Nation on the 1997 National Review cruise was a “classic” of the genre, and then asked me if it had caused me to do any “” and shouldn’t I have written an article making fun of the Nation’s cruises?  “What the hell?” I wondered.  The piece was awfully generous to the conservatives I met on the boat, I told him, (and rather kind to Buckley, given the fact that he once hurt my mother’s feelings).  Well, he said, The Nation had cruises, and I usually go on them, and wasn’t I feeling terrible about all the mean things I said about them.  Like what?  I asked. Like the fact that I wrote about the guy (quote below) who pushes the button on the coffee machine.  My answer was as follows, (I paraphrase):

  1. That was a perfectly accurate description of how the cruise ship serves its coffee, bub. Why would I apologize for that?

  2. When was the last time you, Mr. Sanders, wrote an article critical of your employer?

  3. It just so happens I did write such an article, making fun of the Nation’s first cruise for The New Yorker.  Why don’t you look it up before suggesting I do my “soul-searching,” bub?

Sanders included nothing from my response and went with his original misbegotten idea as if we had never talked and he had never heard me mention the New Yorker piece or even respond to his silly ideas.  Here is his already discredited notion, published, I’m sure, without informing his editors of the shoddiness of both his thinking and research:

The history of the modern magazine cruise began in 1994, when William F. Buckley Jr.'s National Review set sail with a crop of that year's newly elected Republican Revolutionaries, including Newt Gingrich. The National Review cruise, which became an annual event, proved an irresistible target for Nation scribe Eric Alterman, who, in 1997, climbed aboard and wrote a withering 5,000-word piece describing his experiences."The great thing about being a right winger, so far as I can tell, is that you get to exploit people and feel good about it," he wrote. "There is a man who stands by the coffee dispenser so you don't have to move the lever up and down with your index finger."But the piece, in a sense, came back to haunt Alterman, as just one year after it ran, The Nation started offering cruises of its own — ones just as lavish, just as comfortable and just as politically incorrect as the one Alterman lampooned so savagely.

And to think that some people don’t trust journalists…..

Altercation readers, Valerie & Walter Crockett, and the Oxymorons, have a “Long Live Album” which, if you like bluegrass, you’ll like.  Check out Valerie & Walter Crockett's Primitive Web site .  And here’s Sal on this interesting new 80’s Box from Rhino, called “Left of the Dial.”  Buy it from him if you want it:

A box set from Rhino Records is usually an event.  Meticulously put together, with gorgeous packaging, a wealth of information, and sparkling remastered sound, such past hits as the "Nuggets" series, the "Doo Wop" collections, and the ridiculously out of print "Beg, Scream, & Shout" soul and R&B set, have all been masterworks.  And the new "Left Of The Dial: Dispatches from The 80's Underground" is another winner.

Collecting over from early 80's punk and new wave, this box is a wonderful history lesson and is certainly a precursor to the monster success of such acts as Nirvana, as well as the current crop of retro-darlings as Clinic, Franz Ferdinand, and Interpol.

The sequencing is genius- Echo & The Bunnymen into the Bad Brains into The Sugarcubes (Bjork's early band).  Just when you think some Bauhaus Goth might not be your cup of tea, you're bouncing around to some 2 minute punk from Minor Threat.

My only complaint, and it's really small, is the choice of songs to represent certain bands.  "A Pair Of Brown Eyes" by The Pogues is a beautiful lilting waltz.  Great song, but does that represent the post-punk era as much as the pounding Irish-punk of "The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn."  Or "Message Of Love" by The Pretenders.  Great song, and a huge hit, but does that represent "80's Underground" as much as say...1980's "Precious" from their acclaimed debut. 

As a whole, this set is awesome.  A great listen.  Just needed to make that point.


Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: David Rubien
Hometown: San Francisco
Re your alter review of Weatherbird, the new Gary Giddins collection -- I share your dismay that he's no longer writing for the Village Voice.  I grew up on the guy and learned so much about jazz from him.

I must beg to differ, however, that Giddins is obsessed with "going after" Wynton Marsalis.  In fact, he has words of high praise for Marsalis in the new book.

But if you know Giddins, and what he stands for, you'll have no difficulty understanding why he has frequently been a harsh critic of Marsalis. These matters have been hashed out at length elsewhere, so I'll just say briefly that it has to do with power and how it is wielded.

As probably the most powerful figure in jazz, Marsalis has used his bully pulpit to denigrate and dismiss entire schools of jazz, many of whose practitioners are greatly admired by Giddins.

Marsalis has helped steer jazz in an extremely conservative direction, much as what has gone on in politics in the past 20 years.

Name: Richard Warnick
Hometown: Draper, Utah
You know what the Russians used to say about Pravda (The Truth) and Izvestia (The News)... "There's no news in The Truth and no truth in The News."

November 23, 2004 | 12:06 PM ET

The new Politburo

What does the new Bush team remind you of?  Funny you should ask. To me, the closest historical parallel would be the Soviet politburo under Brezhnev, where loyalty to the faultless was placed above competence and ideological fealty to a discredited belief system held trump over reality.  Think about it. John D’iulio, Anthony Zinni, Eric Shinseki, Paul O’Neil, Christy Whitman, George Tenet, Colin Powell, etc.  What do the people—all of whom have been forced out of the administration in one way or another--share with one another?  Each has, whether you agree with them or not, a certain degree of competence; a willingness to examine the realities of a problem before arriving at the solution; the respect of some of the professionals with whom they work; and a commitment to working with those around them who share their goals, regardless of party or ideology.  Sure some of them screwed up, Tenet being the most obvious example, but even his screw-ups pale besides those who have been promoted or asked to stay, including, particularly Ms. Rice and Messrs. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Hadley, and of course, Cheney.  The new rules for Mr. DeLay are another symbol of Soviet-style governance, as is the apparently immaculately conceived law to allow apparatchiks to examine our tax records whenever the spirit moves them.

How long can we expect this Soviet style regime to continue to stumble onward, normative failure after normative failure?  I have no idea.  The Brezhnevites eventually gave way to Gorby, but it took the humiliation of Afghanistan to drive the point home.  Iraq will, I think, eventually provide a similarly shock to our system, but it’s going to take quite a while; particularly when they get Pravda-like coverage like and Izvetsia-like criticism like .

Reading assignment: Michael Massing, “Iraq, the Press and the Election,” from The New York Review, c/o

Check out p.A23 of the national edition of the New York Times for the new full-page "Open Letter from American Jews."  (Let’s see if Andy goes to the trouble of taking down everyone’s name to instruct them about how to be better Jews.)

There’s a World Hunger Year auction with a guitar signed by Bruce and the entire E Street band, among other stuff.

And you can pick your religion .

One of the great losses from my weekly reading for the past year has been Gary Giddins’ now defunct Voice column on jazz.  I never went for his obsession with going after Mr. Marsalis, but I never read such consistently knowledgeable and thought-provoking criticism about anything anywhere as Mr. Giddins used to produce on a regular basis before the Voice let him get away (as they have so many of their best writers).  I believe the first volume of Giddins’ collected criticism was the first work on jazz ever to win the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.  The second collection is and it’s called “Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century.”

And speaking of Marsalises, Branford has recorded a DVD of “A Love Supreme,” in Amsterdam.  Given the fact that you are not going to find a DVD of Mr. Coltrane doing it, this will have to do—and it does just fine.  The band includes Joey Calderazzo (piano), Eric Revis (bass) and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums) with bonus material featuring Michael Brecker, Ned Goold, David Sánchez and Miguel Zenón.  It’s on rounder, and there’s more .

Alter-review addendum:  I should have mentioned yesterday when discussing the new Tony Bennett box on Concord, that it includes the two classic albums he recorded with Bill Evans, which ought to be either an argument for or against, depending on whether you've already got them.)

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Tom Andersen
Hometown: Pound Ridge, NY

Have you ever noticed on cold nights at Yankee stadium, when the TV camera focuses on Joe Torre, he's sipping a hot beverage?  That hot beverage is green tea.  Joe drinks it because he's been treated for prostate cancer, and green tea has antioxidants that are believed to be protective against prostate cancer.  John Kerry, that green-tea-drinker, also has been treated for prostate cancer.  I drink green tea for the same reason.

Next time someone sees Candy Crowley, can you pass this on?

Name: Dennis Croskey
Hometown: Kansas City, MO

The Candy Crowley piece on Kerry's disconnect with the heartland because he drinks green tea is about the stupidest thing to come out of the press coverage of this campaign, and that's saying a mouthful.  The slightest bit of research would reveal that Kerry's father died of prostate cancer, and Kerry himself had surgery for prostate cancer a year or two (?) ago.  Green tea is one of the best things you can put in your body for a healthy prostate.  Modifying your diet for health concerns?  Just another one of those liberal elitist things, I guess.

Name: Paul Goode
Hometown: Redmond, WA

Hi, Eric,
Michael Kinsley's observations about the absence of an anti-war movement and your belief that a draft is in the offing are connected.  My guess is that the popular view about the troops in Iraq is that -- at the end of the day -- they are there because they chose to join the all-volunteer service.  This dynamic prevents either of Kinsley's schools of anti-war thought (Kissinger and Powell) from coalescing into a movement.

Sould the time come when Americans who have chosen not to join the service are compelled to and are sent to Iraq, an anti-war movement will materialize.  And, it will have its share of conservative members as well.  Even good Republican parents will wonder why in the hell *their* kid has to risk his or her neck while the Bush twins party on.

Name: Oliver T. Dawshed
The following detailed analysis of the voting patterns of 22 Florida counties, with general application to any state, is now up :

This follows up on our analysis of 2000, .

To give the gist of it, we looked at how many votes got spoiled and how many people crossed over from the Democratic senatorial candidate to vote Republican in the presidential race.  We showed how spoilage and crossover are exactly what would change if someone were fiddling the vote.  We showed that 22 counties have some truly amazing numbers... and that all except perhaps one or two would have advantaged the Republicans.  The analysis is much, much stronger than any that has appeared so far.  It identifies not just counties, but precincts where cheating probably took place (I haven't released the precinct information yet). 

Were enough votes involved to reverse the count?  I don't know.  What it should do is reverse the perception that this election was clean.  And the 2000 election... there is, in my opinion, no chance George Bush was legally elected then.

I've supplied the paper to academic statisticians such as Michael Hout (Berkeley), Jasjeet Sekhon (Harvard) and Walter Mebane (Cornell). 

And I will make the raw data available to anyone who asks for it.

Name: Chris Harlow
Hometown: Virginia
Why do French people get to eat all that fatty food, stay trim, and avoid heart disease?  I stumbled into those answers a year ago when my health was declining.  Despite constant exercise and a relatively low-fat diet for many years, my weight was a steady 220 lbs, and I was diagnosed pre-diabetic.  I got fed up with what the doctors were telling me (I wasn't getting better with their advice) and started digging into some things on my own.

I was fascinated when I read that a number of top researchers in diabetes ate low-carb.  I dug into Dr. Atkins, but something didn't seem right, so I started reading a number of other books both pro and con for low-carb dieting.  When I started finding actual answers (which I applied to myself to successfully eliminate diabetes and trim down to 185 lbs), I was rather shocked at the state of affairs in the health care industry regarding dietary recommendations.

The answer to your dilemma (eating fatty food yet staying trim and healthy) is based on something you probably don't want to know.  Politics is not just for the politicians.  The AHA (American Heart Association) and NHLA (National Heart & Lung Association) controls about 80% of the funding into dietary research, and if you don't agree with the hypothesis that fat and cholesterol a) kills and b) makes you fat, you aren't going to get funding into your research.

It would take a very, very long letter to explain in detail why fat isn't bad for you and why you can eat very high fat diets and stay trim.  To summarize, the research that says fat is bad for you is based purely on statistical analysis (think of the Benjamin Disraeli quote: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."), and not on experimental data.  The scientific method (remember that from school) has never been applied to this concept, and we are left with a fattened America as a result.  The French stay thin simply because they eat fewer calories and walk 3 to 4 times the distance we walk on a daily basis.  As to why they don't have as much heart disease, there are 2 factors:  American doctors tend diagnose heart disease much more often, and much more of their diet comes from unprocessed and lightly processed food.  Go to your local supermarket and try looking for food that isn't highly refined (i.e. vitamin/mineral depleted) -you'll be lucky if you find more than 20%.  There are actually many books that delve into health and eating, but for this specific issue I would highly recommend "The Cholesterol Myths."

So, despite what seems obvious to a dispassionate observer, why do the AHA and NHLA insist on such draconian cuts in dietary fat?  The same stubbornness that rules the administration today.  They believe they are right despite all the facts surrounding them.  They take very weak statistical data and make it look bigger than it really is (do you know what relative risk really means?  A lot less than you think).  They readily present all the studies and arguments that support their case while quietly burying those that do not support their case.  Does that sound familiar?  (Think about why we are in Iraq and that great article in the New York Times that showed how little evidence the administration had that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.)

And here we are today, stuck for 4 more years with a president that should have been impeached for leading a pre-emptive strike on a sovereign nation when he knew his evidence was weak or even non-existent.  How could sensible people believe in someone that has led us so far astray?  We want to trust our leadership the same way we want to trust the health experts to give us the right answers.  But most of us simply aren't willing or able to determine if either the leadership or the health experts are wrong.


A War for Malnutrition?

Mike Kinsley makes the point that a war this counterproductive really ought to inspire an .  We don’t have one because everyone likely to be concerned with the reality of just what the war is doing to this country, to Iraq, and to the rest of the world, was busy trying to get rid of George Bush for the past two years and the war, as awful as it was, was really a second-order priority.  Kinsley, per usual, makes some strong, original arguments, but when he published his editorial, he was not aware of in The Washington Post that explains,

Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the United States led an invasion of the country 20 months ago, according to surveys by the United Nations, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.  After the rate of acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent two years ago, it shot up to 7.7 percent this year, according to a study conducted by Iraq's Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the U.N. Development Program.  The new figure translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from ‘wasting,’ a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein.

So the next time some one asks you if you’re glad that we’ve removed Saddam Hussein from power, you might want to ask them if they’re glad that, after we’ve spent 200 billion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people, 400,000 Iraqi children are now suffering from acute malnutrition.  That and oh yeah, the world hates us and the pool of Al Qaeda recruits has been vastly increased.  And oh yeah, I’m .

Josh Marshall caught this incredible development during the Congressional negotiations before they left town:  “At the last minute, Republican leaders tried to slip in a provision that would give certain committee chairmen and their staffers unlimited access to any American's tax return, with none of the standard privacy protections applying,”

They call themselves “conservatives” but these are really police state tactics; when you combine them with their willingness to put themselves above the law and declare other laws “quaint,” it’s hard to exaggerate just how dangerous this unchecked power may prove in the next four years.  (Yeah, I know, just pointing that out makes me one of those “alarmist” liberals who won’t get with the new program.  I guess I better make sure my tax returns are pretty damn clean, huh?)

This is annoying.  Why do French people get to eat all that cheese and pate, never go to the gym and ?  What’s up with that?

Reading assignment: On .

And . 

Hey , you promised to trim his beard.  (And what’s with the tie?)

I’m down with on this.  Because John Kerry likes green tea, he had no business running for president.  Congrats to CNN for maintaining their usual high standards of commentary.

Quote of the Day

It is one of the ironies of history that Jews—whether in the US, Europe, or Israel—who were disproportionately involved in struggles for universal human rights and civil liberties should now be supporting policies of a right-wing Israeli government that is threatening to turn Israel into a racist state.  For if Sharon leverages his promised withdrawal from Gaza into an Israeli presence in the West Bank that is impossible to dislodge—a point that some observers insist has already been reached—a racist regime is surely what his policies will produce.-- , former executive head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America.

I’ve not seen it mentioned anywhere, but Concord Records, the tiny jazz gem, has just released a four CD set from Tony Bennett, titled “The Complete Improv Recordings,” and it finds Tony in fine fettle, as they say, following his own muse without worrying about what the major record companies or massive audiences might like.  Much of it has never been released before, and some only on 45s.  And I love it.  There’s more .  Tony will be doing four nights—I think—at the new Jazz at Lincoln Center soon.  His was the first show I saw after 9/11, and, just as he always does, he made me glad to be alive.

Books Jews can use:  I see from an add in the Forward that Jonathan Sarna’s American Judaism: A History, has won an award for being the best work of Jewish history for the year.  Of course, I’ve only seen a fraction of what’s been published but it strikes me as an excellent choice.  The book is certainly the most valuable one volume history published so far.  Augmenting it nicely is Hasia R. Diner’s The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000 (Jewish Communities in the Modern World) , which is more people-centered and a bit less historigraphically rigorous.  I also found quite interesting an exploration of Jewish mythology called “Tree of Souls,” by  Howard Schwartz and Caren Loebel-Fried, .  All are handsome books that make nice presents for the person who already has .

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name:  Stephen Hirsch
Hometown:  Passaic, NJ

Oy, boychik Mr. Steve Sykes, you made my night!  Ok, this is what Sh'mos Parek Chaph Aleph, P'sukim Chaf Bais-Chaf Gimel actually say (with the  Ashkenazi pronunciation, transliterated): V'chi yinatzoo anashim v'nagfoo eeshah harah viyatzoo yiladeha v'lo yiheeyeh ahsool ahnosh yayahnaysh ka'ahsher yashees ahlahv ba'al haeesha v'nasan beeflilim. V'eem ahsohn yeehyeh v'nasatah nefesh tachas nefesh.

You see, Mr. Sykes, that is really what Exodus 21:22-3 says.  It's in HEBREW.  LOSHEN HA'KODESH, not American English, or King James' English, or Greek for that matter.  Here is the translation from R'Aryeh Kaplan's The Living Torah, simply the best translation of the Chumash into English ever (accept no substitute): [This is the law] when two men fight and [accidentally] harm a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry.  If there is no fatal injury [to the woman], then [the guilty party] must pay a [monetary] penalty.  The woman's husband must sue for it, and [the amount] is then determined by the courts.  However, if there is a fatal injury [to the woman], then he must pay full compensation for her life.

R'Aryeh drew on Rashi's commentary on the Talmud's Tractate Bava Kama, page 43a for sentence 22, and on Chidushey haRan's commentary on the Talmud's Tractate Sanhedrin (which, by the way, also contains the Pharisees' story of Jesus), page 79b.

My Sykes (and anybody, left or right, who's serious about the Bible), I invite you to learn Biblical Hebrew (Modern Hebrew won't help) and Aramaic, dive into the texts, and learn exactly what it is you profess to believe in. Parshas Mishpatim (which contains that passage, as well as the atrociously translated "eye for an eye" verses) will be chanted at your local Orthodox synagogue the morning of Feb. 5th, 2005, if you want to check up on me.

I invite anybody interested in exploring this and other Torah issues outside of the Good Doctor's limited blog real estate to contact me at