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The Return of Slacker Friday

The Return of Slacker Friday... and not a moment too soon.

December 3 |

The Return of Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column taking a look at the press controversy in the University of Maryland’s governor’s office.  And we’ve been a “Brokaw’s retiring-free-zone” but because we’re softies, we’re gong to let Eric B note his departure  from the SCLM, .  Otherwise, we’re slacking:

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA
Fort Lauderdale, FLA.
Hey Doc --
Down here to do show a couple of times hard by the more docile end of the Atlantic.  Or, as our good friend Tuckerboy would call it, the "limpid, flaccid" section of the great pond. Catch that the other night, when he talked about the "limpid, flaccid" nature of Canadian society?  This proves two things: a) when he's overcompensating that hard - you should pardon the expression -- Tuckerboy loses his grip on his vocabulary.  (Hint: "Limpid" doesn't mean what it sounds like it should mean.) and, b) Tuckerboy never has met Cam Neely, but I can arrange an introduction so that Cam could demonstrate how to use a bowtie to perform a tracheotomy.

The flap over the United Church of Christ's TV ad reminded me that, just as the rightists used religion to radicalize politics, they more quietly have used political wedges in an attempt to radicalize mainstream religion.  Remember, there was a uniquely well-organized resistance to Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire, and there is similar infighting now among the Methodists over lesbian ministers.  Among my fellow Papists, there's the First Things crew, which often mistakes Robert Bork for Thomas Aquinas.  And the unforgivably chickens**t way CBS bailed on the UCC commercials leads me to believe that there's probably some stirring among the Congregationalists, too.

This is about creating a seamless cloak in which radical rightist religion and radical rightist politics are indistinguishable from each other.  So far, we've concentrated only on the most obvious parts of it.  Progressives should sharpen up because, if their allies in the mainstream churches get beaten into the margins the way progressive politicians have, the list of allies grows very, very thin.

Geez, what are all these ballot boxes doing lying around on the sidewalk?

Eric replies:  Lemme tell you I, I, I ain’t gonna play .

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to play pop psychologist regarding Kristof's attack on the anti-war people who want to "bring the troops home now."  Maybe I'm projecting, but the prospect of vast casualties of children in Iraq from malnutrition deaths weighs particularly heavily on the consciences of those who cited removing the sanctions as justification for the war.  200,000 deaths/year (Kristof's worst case scenario) > 50,000.  I also suspect that Kristof shares my distaste for the "America First" current that runs through the anti-war movement, so they make a tempting scapegoat.  But none of us who supported the war (neocon or not) sold it with anything like the current scenario.  Maybe we should avoid guilt trips for the war's opponents (let alone the participants).  [To be fair, I don't recall if Kristof supported the war or was just ambivalent.] 

Kristof's argument is logically suspect too: yes, you can argue that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq "too soon" the center part of Iraq will turn into Somalia.  You could just as easily argue that building the currently planned federalist Iraq will ultimately turn the center of Iraq into Rwanda.  Recall that the Rwandan genocide began with the assassination of the new--moderate-- Hutu leader (the Hutus taking power after a long period of rule by the minority Tutsis).  The media portrays the Sunni insurgents as being disgruntled at finding themselves out of power -- maybe they are terrified.  You'd think that after Rwanda/Bosnia/Israel-Palestine/India-Pakistan we'd take a historical hint and push to make Iraq a confederacy (with ensured oil revenue for the Sunni provinces).  Also, given the astronomical costs of keeping perpetual troops in Iraq, maybe it would be cheaper to try bribing Turkey again, this time to contribute troops.  I know that's a huge longshot, but I'd offer the moon (or a NAFTA membership) because with this one nation's participation we would have a true coalition, potentially diffuse some anti-Western passion and potentially have a bridge to negotiate UN or other nation's participation.  

Name: Derek Ryter
Hometown: Lincoln, NE

As a rare democrat in Nebraska, I've got to say that dubya made a perfect selection for Ag Secretary.  Johanns is the toady's toady.  He is the dubya junior.  On Johanns' watch hundreds of Nebraska teachers have been laid off, the University of Nebraska has cut entire programs (but did allow Tommy Lee to shoot a "reality" show there) and tuition was raised at unprecedented rates as the enrollment dropped to a 30-year low, social and mental health programs have been cut, and the lock-step hayseed Republicans just march right along.  The only consolation is that hopefully this will mean that he won't be able to run for Senate.  I figure that the top candidate to replace Johanns is the freshman congressman Fortenberry, who fits the mold, with the sculpted hair and smile right off the Lawrence Welk show, and he made his big bucks selling Christian books, so he will never make a mistake, let alone admit to one.

Name: Ed Einstein
Hometown: San Antonio

I'd love and join a good anti-war movement, but how can there be one that isn't simply "bring home the troops, and damn the consequences."  Having liberated and occupied Iraq (basically needlessly, of course), never mind the "Pottery Barn" rule, we're more like the boy with his finger in the dike.  We can go, but it'll only mean more trouble with frightening yet unpredictable consequences.  Heard of a movement that can resolve that concern?  It's a lot like being against the war but supporting the troops.

Also, come on down to San Antonio and next Thursday if you want to catch Robert Earl Keen in his natural environment and one of Texas' most revered showcases.  I'd even throw in a couple of margaritas and some awesome Tex-Mex.  Oh yeah, and I've promised you Bar-b-que (my spelling) here before.

Keep on keeping on.

December 2 |

Impeach Bush... for the children

One of the things I teach my child is that it is OK—brave and important even—to admit your mistakes.  That’s how you learn from them.  Thank goodness her teachers agree and so does just about everyone she knows, so we don’t seem to have much trouble reinforcing this message.  Just about the only place I find sending her a “mixed message” is the White House.  It seems the president and his advisers think it’s the worst thing in the world to admit a mistake.  When asked about it during the debates, the only mistake Bush could admit was hiring people who made mistakes.  He didn’t make any himself.  He gives the same sort of answer much to the amusement of everyone involved.

Now, at the Pentagon, policy makers who planned the most dishonest and predictably counterproductive war in all U.S. history, at a meeting called by Undersecretary Douglas Feith, announced that all the members of the team were despite having a record of nothing but errors and mistakes from beginning to end.  How can I be expected to raise a child in this country if I can’t ask her to look up to the president of the United States?  Don’t we have a responsibility to our children to impeach a president who sets a bad example for children?  Isn’t that what it says in the Constitution? 

P.S. I already know I don’t get to tell her it’s not OK to , even when it’s against the law.  Oh well.  As long as nobody’s lying about sex, or ‘sex-related program activities’ …

December 1 |

Who Killed Christian Engeldrum?

of Ladder Company 61 in Co-op City in the Bronx, was killed while serving with the New York National Guard on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy outside Baghdad.  He lived through the attacks of 9/11 that took the lives of many of his friends and comrades, which took place even though his government was repeatedly warned to be on the alert for just such an attack but took no measures whatever for the protection of the nation.  (He even helped raise the first flag over Ground Zero after the attack.)  He lived through the still-unknown health effects on his respiratory system, after breathing the air at Ground Zero when his government lied to him about its safety.  What he didn’t live through, however, was a war, which his government lied to try to tie to the attacks, in order to win the support of people like Christian, who had every right to be furious at America’s assailants, but whose duty and courage was exploited to attack people who had nothing whatever to do with it.  Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda couldn’t kill Christian Engledrum, but his own government’s dishonesty and incompetence could.  His two sons have lost a father, his wife, a husband, his parents a son, and for what?  Yes Saddam Hussein is in prison, but is anyone really better off for the unending chaos and catastrophe this bunch has unleashed in Iraq?  Most Iraqis certainly don’t think they are and the rest of the world hates us more than ever.  Isn’t it about time we had an anti-war movement in this country to honor the deaths of exploited heroes like Christian Engeldrum and do our damnedest to minimize the number of brave mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters, husbands and wives, must follow in his footsteps?

In the meantime, we’ve got hundreds of billions to make war on imaginary terrorists (and to create new ones) but (including, by the way Christian Engeldrum’s children).  And if you don’t think things are serious, how would you like to see your kids hold their gym classes in the school cafeteria?  (Some of these schools must make do on $200-a-year equipment budgets.)  That article appeared but it’s old, and you’ll have to pay for it.

If you can judge a nation by its “values,” I’d say we’re in a hell of a lot of trouble….
(And remember next time someone complains to you about the so-called liberal media [SCLM].  New York’s horrible governor who is doing his damnedest to starve the city’s schoolchildren of the resources the courts insist they require to receive even a rudimentary education was endorsed by the New York Times editorial board, over a perfectly capable African-American Democratic opponent.)

This just in: I am large, I contain multitudes.

Did you know that I have reared my “ugly head” to “lobby against a Palestinian state”?  Did you know my “goal is to muddy the waters”?  Did you know I am “more dangerous than Krauthammer” (which by the way, is apparently my middle name)?  Did you know I am also “worse that Peretz and Podhoretz who have no clout”?  Did you know I am “threatening to use [my] power among funders to alter The Nation’s editorial policy,” and “also lobbying against a Palestinian state” [again]?  If you already knew all this stuff, then there’s no need to read but if you didn’t, then I must congratulate myself for keeping you in the dark so long. 

P.S.  If you read the , you’ll find that I am “a kinder gentler Chomsky," and I use “that persona to push those Jews back into the arms of the Israel lobby.”  I allow “them to feel good about ethno-particularism, much like Louis Farrakhan or David Duke.”  My best to the guy’s kid sister, though.  She sounds really smart; a looker too, I’m guessing.  (But dude, how do you expect to get your Nation book review assignment if you don’t give your real name?)

All of the above is so magnificently inspired in its lunacy, it threatens to displace my favorite attack of all time, which came from the pen of one Alex Cockburn, early in the days of Altercation.  I noted his long history of anti-Semitic writings including his accusation against the Village Voice (of all places) for “blatant pandering” to Jews by publishing an article on  Holocaust denial.  And what did he reply?  By accurately naming a Stalinist anti-Semite who thinks articles on Holocaust denial constitute pandering to Jews, I was—I kid you not—“cheapening the Holocaust.”   No really. I swear I’m not making this up.  Do the Google if you like.  I don’t link to the guy.

If you can catch it, TCM has the best portrait of Woody Allen I’ve ever seen, in which Woody speaks about all of his movies to Richard Schickel, who is off screen for the entire thing and so it’s just Woody explaining what he thought he was doing in just about all of his films.  If nothing else, he is a truly fascinating character, and it is kind of thrilling to finally understand what he thought he was doing—even if, as he notes—the art takes on its own life.  It originally ran in 2002.  (Don’t tell the FCC, however, because some of the people in the clips say some bad words.  My kid already fined them seventy-five cents, according to our own “Bono” rule.)  Also, PBS, at least in New York, is showing the Clapton “Crossroads” concert tonight and will be showing the wonderful “concert for George” later in the week.

Quote of the Day:    “Black Hawk was a highly effective movie that provided a reasonably realistic idea of what modern urban combat is like for the U.S. Army.”  Tomorrow, Mickey draws on his longtime experience in life after death and pronounces Warren Beatty’s remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” to be “a highly effective movie that provided a reasonably realistic idea of what angel work is like for those who have died and gone to Heaven but have not yet earned their wings to become full-fledged angels….”

back where he belongs.

I bought a SACD player last year when the price came down to below $200 and the record companies began releasing the Stones and Dylan catalogues. The sound is incredible but it’s hard to know if will ultimately pan out as the audiophile’s alternative.  This year, there is no big catalogue release but a steady stream of individual re-releases instead.  So far, in recent months, I’ve been listening to a bunch of early Elton John albums -the best being the first one, named “Elton John” and the terrific and much underrated “Madman Across the Water,” though “Honky Chateau” is quite good and “Captain Fantastic” is much better than I remember.  (I’d like to get “Tumbleweed” and 11/17/70, too, and that one with “Crocodile Rock” and “Texan Love song” while we’re at it.)

Eric Clapton’s seventies work is also coming out, and so far I like “461 Ocean Boulevard” better than ever and most of “Slowhand,” so long as I program it to skip “Lay Down Sally.”  The jewel of the collection, however, is “Layla,” which ought to have been among the first five albums ever re-done—right after “Dark Side.”  Also waiting in the wings are SACD versions of “Eat a Peach,” and “Live at the Fillmore,” all of which are—like Layla—guaranteed to get in the way of your doing anything else, given how powerfully the sound grabs you.  So if you’ve been waiting like me to see what you’ll get to hear next, someone’s been making some good choices.

The quirky, intelligent has managed to get a bunch of his CDs re-released as SACDS, including “Bigger Piece of Sky.”  If you appreciate Mr. Keen, and you should, it’s pretty cool to having him sound like he’s singing right in your face, so to speak (or sing).  More on Robert .

Correspondents’ corner:

Name: Sandra Coppola
Hometown: Short Hills, New Jersey

My mother informed me that yesterday, she watched massive demonstrations against George Bush in Ottowa, broadcast on a foreign news television channel.  I checked the Internet for news stories on MSNBC, as well as CBS and ABC News.  Their stories concerning his visit do not mention massive protests, and indeed MSNBC focused on the praise Bush and the Canadian Prime Minister heaped on each other during the state dinner. 

Is the media so cowed that they cannot broadcast criticism of American policies by people in other countries for fear of being branded "liberals."  It is a sad day for American journalism if that is the case.


Iraq is not Vietnam

Not that it matters as regards to a faith-based foreign policy endorsed by people with real values, unlike those snobby upper-West Side liberal latte swirlers who are ruining everything everywhere, but I read and and being a faith-based Real American myself, I was naturally inspired to consider all of the various ways in which this war differs from the one we fought in Vietnam.  (Sorry I was not up to finding links for the rest, but I imagine they’re not too hard to find.)

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are treating the local populace well and are fighting effectively.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are not torturing anyone or committing any atrocities anywhere.

Unlike Vietnam, our allies are committed to democracy, and are capable and experienced in carrying it out.

Unlike Vietnam, we are backing strong, independent leaders, rather than quislings and puppets whose power base rests with our military forces and economic support.

Unlike Vietnam, we are beloved by the people we are saving.

Unlike Vietnam, our president and his cabinet officers are leveling with the nation about the costs of victory and likelihood of defeat.

Unlike Vietnam, we have the support of the international community.

Unlike Vietnam, it is particularly popular in the region where the war is being fought, and among the alleged audience abroad we seek to impress with our wisdom and resolve.

Unlike Vietnam, our actions are not inspiring anyone to take up arms against us and thereby increase the level of threat we face.

Unlike Vietnam, dissenters within the government, particularly those with expertise in the history and culture of the people we seek to govern, are being heard with care and respect for their views.

Unlike Vietnam, this is also true for experts in academia and with direct experience in these nations.

Unlike Vietnam, our wise leaders have a clear idea of the cultures into which we have inserted ourselves.

Unlike Vietnam, we are not asking the poorest and least well-connected among us to the fighting and dying.

Unlike Vietnam, our troops are well-trained for their well-defined mission, (a particularly hearty congratulations goes to Colin Powell for so effectively preventing the same kind of abuse of grunts he witnessed in Vietnam). 

Unlike Vietnam, our civilian leaders are taking seriously warnings and advice of more experienced military leaders.

Unlike Vietnam, those who point out problems with the present course are not being sullied as “counsels of despair and defeat,” and giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Unlike Vietnam, we have the whole thing well-planned out.

Unlike Vietnam, this is a necessary war against an enemy that had the will and capacity to threaten our lives at home.

I could go on, but you’ll have to take the rest… on faith.

(Author’s P.S. To ed: Please save a version of this column, and we’ll do a “control H” on “Iran” for “Iraq” when that war becomes nothing like Vietnam.)

Quote of the Day:  "I wanted to tell you that you're evil, horrible people.  You're awful people.  You represent horrible ideas.  God hates you and he wants to kill your children.  You should all burn in hell.  Bye."  Well, I respect your

I wrote about Hollywood and politics for The Nation last week, , but truth be told, I think Danny Goldberg makes the case more strongly on Alternet .

And congrats to Steve Shepard for getting the job as the first dean of the and to CUNY for getting Steve Shepard.

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Tim Dunlop
I notice a letter on your blog from the Public Doublespeak Committee of the National  Council of Teachers of English.  They, quite rightly, give their award to the Bush Administration.

However, they say "Pride of place went to W's phrase, "weapons of mass destruction related program activities."  In fact, the phrase was originally used by David Kay in his interim report on Iraq's WMD and picked up by W. in his SOTU.  I noted this fact .

Name: Amanda Beck
Hometown: Bethesda, MD

What I know about the history of Israel I learned from reading two histories written by pro-Israel writers ("A History of Zionism" by Walter Laqueur and "A History of Israel" 2nd revised edition, by Howard Sachar), and on the basis of *these* sympathetic historical accounts I must conclude that the State of Israel is morally indefensible.  I would like to know how you arrive at the opposite conclusion.

What one learns, at least from the two histories I've cited, is that the Zionist project was from the start, one of systematic displacement of the native inhabitants of Palestine.  Sachar writes, on p. 163:  "On one occasion [Max] Nordau evidently was given pause [about the Zionist project].  'But there are Arabs in Palestine!' he said in consternation to Herzl.  'I did not know that!  We are committing an injustice!'".  (To this Sachar adds "The moment of doubt passed quickly", though he doesn't tell us whether Nordau decided to live with the injustice, or whether he found some rationalization to justify it.)  My point here is that the injustice, the moral indefensibility of Zionism, was clear even to its founders.  It was clear to Weizmann, who in 1947 defended the creation of the State of Israel as "the lesser injustice".  It was clear to Ben Gurion, and to Jabotinsky, both of whom at various times made statements to the effect that Palestinian hatred of Israelis was perfectly understandable, given that, after all, Israelis were taking away their homeland.

From the earliest days, Zionists consciously adopted a cynical policy of "faits accomplis," of making sure that every injustice they committed was somehow "irreversible."  What Sharon is doing in the West Bank today is the direct continuation of the same cynical strategy that Zionists have been getting away with for almost a century.

I see no way to defend Israel's existence today without rewarding, yet again, this shameless calculation, and therefore I see no moral way to defend American support for Israel.  One may argue, as one often hears from those supporters of Israel who are honest enough to admit that Israel owes its existence to a gross injustice, that such is the history of nations, and point to the example of countries like the U.S., built by Europeans on the land usurped from Native Americans.

To that I say very well, fine, but don't ask Americans taxpayers to lend Israel a hand in perpetrating one more injustice.

If you can come up with a morally tenable case for U.S. support of Israel, one that does not amount to rewarding the old Zionist strategy of faits accomplis, I would love to read it.

Name: Larry Birnbaum
Dear Eric,
While I don't think Sharon's heart is in the right place, certainly as regards a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, I don't think he's doing any permanent damage either.  As a matter of fact I think he's applying useful pressure.

I believe this because I believe that the Palestinians acted in what they perceive to be their rational self-interest in turning down the Barak-Clinton deal and its sequels in 2000-2001.

Why?  Because they think they can get a better deal later.  Why?  Because they think time is on their side.  Why?  Because of history (it took a while to push out the Crusaders but it was done), logic (they only need to win once), and demographics.

How does one negotiate with an opponent who believes time is on his side?  By convincing him that time isn't necessarily on his side.  How does one do that?  By setting in motion policies that make it logical to conclude that the longer he waits, the worse the deal will be.

I believe that Sharon's policies do that.  In that sense I think they are productive, even if that's not his intent.

Name: Brian Loynd
Hometown: Somerville, MA

Your comments on George Scialabba are misleading.  I hope people take the time to actually read his review of Walzer and maybe some Walzer, too.  I wouldn't accuse you of Cockburn disease but I think you might have a case of the Kristof's.  On the scales of history, the unbalanced support of Palestinians in the Nation, quite apart from the intelligently written Scialabba piece, is a grain of sand in the ocean of myopic pro-Israel commentary in the U.S.  I think most readers are mature enough to understand the polemics of the discourse.  Walzer needs thoughtful critics more than emotional enablers.

Name: Arik Elman
Hometown: Jerusalem

Eric, each time you critisize Sharon, you're taking this very jewish stand of "nu, kick me, you morons, prove my intellectual superiority".  Man, this schtick is old. I'd rather compliment you for your good old-fashioned Zionist tirade against The Nation.

See, here's the problem.  You belong to this goody-two-shoes school of Jewish liberal thinking (two states, common suffering, peace and common sense) which held sway in America in Israel through the Oslo years.  But when buses and coffee shops began to explode, much of this camp collapsed.  Those good people, while holding to their ideas about the end of the conflict, felt the need to affirm some of the basic principles - that is, Israel's right to exist and to defend itself.  Here's when your "fellow travellers" (Nation at all) parted ways with you, because they aren't interested in Jewish national home or the well-being of Israel.  Welcome to the club.

Name: Ron Zucker
Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Hey, Doc.  This is in response to Barry Ritholtz, who complains that Aimee Mann's label can release her CD AND DVD for $15, when the majors charge $15 for just a CD.

"Maybe someone with basic math skills can show the major labels what they are doing wrong," says Mr. Ritholtz.

When that person is done, perhaps they can explain to Mr. Ritholtz that artists with followings and critical notice like Ms. Mann are the exceptions, and are the ways that the labels release the next Aimee Mann's first record, before anybody knows who the next great songwriter is.

Aimee Mann requires little in the way of promotion, and less in the way of production assistance.  Her audience is already accustomed to her music and her style, and, when she releases a new disc, reviewers pick up a copy.  They know that they will hear an accomplished songwriter with a tender voice and vulnerable delivery.  But they don't rush out to pick up the latest by Michael McNevin or any of the other hundreds of wonderful songwriters they've never heard of.  So the others need the labels to release and promote their works.  To get the money they are sure to lose on the first couple of CD's by the little known artists, they make money on Aimee Mann's CD.

Filtering may sound like a harsh word, and G-d knows that I have my doubts about the filters in use by the major labels, but sifting through the tons of dreck in the world to bring you a good debut is a useful function.

Of course, Aimee Mann no longer needs that help.  So she can successfully leave the label and release her own work, giving the fan more than they otherwise would have gotten.  And it's wonderful work, from which I'd wager that she receives more income than had she stayed with her label.

But ask Ms. Mann what she thought of her label the day that 'Til Tuesday got its first contract.  And the day they first started promoting her work.  I think she liked them a lot more then.

Look, I, too, hate the record companies.  As a musician, I've been victimized more by them than any fan could ever know.  And I am offended by the tendency of major label releases these days to release on a CD a lot of stuff that even the artists must know is merely filler.  But before Mr. Ritholtz or anyone else complains about how expensive music is, s/he should explain how we're going to hear new music by artists that we don't already know about without the labels.  While the explainer is at it, perhaps s/he could explain how the artist is going to be able to make a living off of the art.

You see, I actually like music enough to be willing to pay for it.  Those who decry the lack of "value" in music are like those who decry the falling living standards of the working poor but shop at WalMart to hunt for the best bargain on their sweatshop created clothing.  In the end, the complaint is a simple one: my art is too expensive.  Well, sir, so is mine.  But it's worth it to me, or I wouldn't buy it.

Much as I hate them, it's not always the labels that are "corrupt and out of touch." Sometimes, it's the listener.

P.S. - No, I am not the pseudonym of Michael McNevin.  The (I assure you) unsolicited plug is in the note because his first self-published CD, Secondhand Story, remains one of the finest examples of songwriting in my music collection.  If you are interested in "New Folk" singer-songwriters who play beautifully and have wonderful voices, his music is available .

Name: Kathy Suits
Hometown: Lancaster, MA

Walter and Valerie Crockett are wonderful artists, brilliant, talented, and among the most generous performers I've ever heard.  Great to hear them praised.

Name: Tom Sherry
Hometown: Miami, Florida

Eric:  I enjoy reading the blogs, even Pierce.  Just got back from NYC last weekend, saw the Rockettes and the Christmas special nativity scene, (which got 3 rounds of appaluse).  Sat nite I saw Bobby Short, absolutely great!  He just turned 80 and looks fabulous and is sharp as a tack.  How does he do it?  Whatever it is I want some.  Cover is $95, but you can sit at the small bar for $50 which I did.  His last show is 30 Dec.  He's at the Carlyle Cafe.  Stayed at the Hilton, midtown, and complained that the air conditioner in my room didn't work.  I was told that the system in the building was turned off, open the windows!!! for $329 a nite X 2 you should get Nicky & Paris and enjoy the heat.

November 29, 2004 |

The problem is...

The Problem in Iraq is… liberals.  (Just ask a “liberal”)
“These days, the biggest risk may come from the small but growing contingent on the left that wants to bring our troops home now."  Is insane?  The problem with Iraq is the left?  Excuse me.  Right-wingers created this insane mess.  They control all three branches of government and are determined to make everything worse, having admitted no mistakes and thrown out the people who tried to warn them of their delusions.  And Kristof thinks the “biggest risk” comes from liberals?  Just what is it he thinks we are going to do to upset this brilliant war effort?  Write a really nasty folk-song?  (Who would play it?)  Next up: Kristof will blame us for Rush’s drug problem.  (Is a job requirement for liberal Times columnists to say, “As a liberal, I say “the problem here is liberals” no matter how silly the situation?  Did Krugman sign in invisible ink or did they forget this demand because they figured they were only hiring an economist?)

The problem in Israel is... liberals.
The Nation magazine’s back of the book (and occasionally, editorials) continues its single-minded assault on any and every writer or intellectual who begs to differ with Noam Chomsky, my late friend Edward Said, or even, God help us, Alexander Cockburn on what constitutes a realistic settlement of the Middle East conflict, particularly those American Jews associated with the Israeli peace camp, the democratic left, and Dissent magazine.  In recent weeks, we’ve seen essays by Joel Benin, a prominent anti-Zionist who founded an organization calling on all American Jews to disassociate themselves from Israel, Anatol Lieven, whose book I admired but whose contribution in The Nation badly twisted the views of his chosen opponents, Mike Tomasky, Todd Gitlin, Paul Berman, among others, for the purposes of shoe-horning them into ideological camps they themselves would not recognize. 

Now George Scialabba can be found twisting and turning Michael Walzer beyond any Michael Walzer I’ve known and read; much as he did with Paul Berman (with whom, I should add, I could not disagree more strongly about the war). The essay, , trots out that canard that while Israel has always wanted war, Arab nations have been ready and willing to make peace at any moment.  Never mind that in no Arab society, in the officially-controlled media—which is the only kind they have—are Jews and Israelis portrayed as anything but bloodsucking imperialist interlopers who can have no permanent home in the Middle East whatever.  Anyone who believes that these nations would have been willing to turn on a dime and embrace peace with Israel is either fooling themselves or attempting to fool the rest of us—possibly both.  (This is not to say that the Israelis have been willing at all times, to make peace, either.  They haven’t.  But that’s a separate issue.)

I used to defend The Nation when it came to Israel, saying that the Stalinist crank, Cockburn, was a singular, though just-about-impossible-to-defend-exception, and people would do best to just ignore him.  But how can I ask people to ignore this pattern, particularly when you throw in an editorial on Arafat that cannot even bring itself to mention that yes, in fact the guy did support terrorism, and treats his main failure as, um, not demanding enough concessions from Israel?  Not everyone who believes Israel has legitimate security concerns or thinks that the Palestinians have yet to demonstrate that they are politically ready for the compromises necessary to accept Israel’s permanent existence on its borders—with all of the complications that presents for a future Palestinian state’s sovereignty-- deserves to be arrested by the thought-police as an accomplice of Marty Peretz or Norman Podhoretz.  But you’d be hard pressed to guess that from reading this relentless parade of one-sided, anti-Israel attacks.

For a far more nuanced and, to my mind, convincing discussion of Walzer’s new collection, see Garry Wills’ discussion .  And for an extremely thoughtful discussion of the horror that Sharon’s policies are wreaking on both Israel and the future Palestine, I’ve recommended Henry Siegman’s piece .  For a Jewish organization taking a brave, yet sensible position on the conflict, see this .  And keep reading MJ, .  (The Amazon URL for Walzer’s book is .)

(Let the brickbats begin.)

I gave a speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco which is archived

Thanks to you, too, , dear.

Wanna waste some time on the Web?  Perhaps there’s a better place than (if you click around it) but if there is, I don’t know of it.

I saw Tony Bennett at the new Rose Hall on Friday night and he hasn’t lost a note.  He also loves his job so much, it’s infectious.  Tony was joined on a couple of songs by his daughter, but most of the time, he held the stage with just his small four piece band—hey Tony what happened to Ralph?—and filled the hall with nothing but joy, good tidings and wonderful music.  I even love the sappy stories, like the one when “Mr. (Hank) Williams” called to ask Tony to stop ruining his songs.  And the acoustics in the hall really are marvelous, though it doesn't have the intimacy or the view of the even lovelier Allen Room down the hall. 

So what’s not to like?  Well, the price, for one.  Top tickets were $145, Amazing as it sounds, those prices make the Oak Room at the Algonquin a bargain.  For $80 on Sunday night, you get dinner and the venerable backed up by the incredibly versatile doing some of the same songs Tony does, when he’s in town, but with marvelous piano playing, a sophisticated, virtuoso bass back up.  (And hey, it’s the , so it’s just fun being there.)  But hey, someone should tell the hicks from the sticks that just because you got your president in there, it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sing out lout at a night club.  We really need to issue visas to these people and be more careful who gets them.

Correspondents Corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:
Sweet Jaysus, .  There's drinking the Kool-Aid and then there's continuing to take it intravenously.

And here's a tip for the teenagers responsible for the meretricious Matthew Shepard story last week.  Murderous idiots often change their stories after they get convicted.  After all, it's boring in prison and a visit from a network can liven things up.  (Unless, of course, one believes that Aaron McKinney has been whiling away the hours in stir contemplating the constitutional damage done by hate-crimes legislation.)  Also, it's a little late at that point to decide that your original bulls**t tale didn't sell.  Hey, Ted Bundy's last alibi was that porn made him do it.  Also, gang, that Stossel guy down the hall?  He's a corporatist hack who wouldn't know the truth if it fell on him from a great height.  Pass it on.

For about five years, my son's fencing coach was a Ukrainian, and he was not a Russian, and he made damned sure you knew it.  You have to love the folks over there -- jamming the gears on everything until a transparently rigged election gets set right, and laughing and singing and painting up their faces while they do it.  Over here, we only do that for football games.  Of course, it occurred to nobody on this week's parson-stuffed panel shows to comment on the irony inherent in speechifying about the integrity of the electoral process emanating from the Avignon Presidency.

P.S. -- Bravo to the Landlord for plugging my good Worcester pals, Walter and Valerie Crockett.  Too long ago, for Worcester Magazine, I did an on-the-road piece about a band Walter was in.  At the time, Valerie was the woman at the gigs with whom everyone -- myself included -- was half in love.  They got married.  Walter got to be editor of WM for a while, and now our paths cross in the finest saloon in Blogistan.  Life's a funny old dog, as Jack McCoy once said.

Name: Paul Taylor
Hometown: Brentwood, CA

This is a comment regarding Stupid's article on comparing W. to other presidents.  As you and others know, isn't it ironic that W. is a direct descendant of Franklin Pierce through his mother?

Happy holidays, and always, thank you for your excellent articles and 'blog.