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Slacker Friday

Slacker Friday

December 10, 2004 |

Alter-link round-up:

  • New is up.
  • New column with Paul is up.
  • The Majority Report on Monday.

Correspondence corner:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Ahoy, Doc --
How're things on the Lido deck?  Is it time yet for the swimsuit competition in the annual Emma Goldman Lookalike Pageant?

We continue...

should be sent around to every extremist Jeebus wingnut on your mailing list, so we can have a chorus of Handel's Messiah performed only by exploding heads.  (Although how the glorious David Ortiz wound up as Judas, who can say?)

If you're keeping score at home, this week, speaking on behalf of the home side, Peter Beinart suggests we all jettison Michael Moore, who's never done anything except make a lot of successful movies and support Wesley Clark.  Meanwhile, across the field, not only does C-Plus Augustus do a photo op with an accused child-diddling parson, but also David Brooks uses his prime piece of real estate to popularize a eugenics Creepazoid from deep on the fringes of the fringe.  And there's your national dialogue for you: Democrats must keep their best friends in the attic while Republicans keep the bats**t brigade right there in the front hall.

Moore apparently has become a punchline for "all that social justice stuff," among the DLC corpocrats.  Bruce Reed cited him on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal -- and what a fine place THAT is to find a Democrat.  (I hope Vince Foster's family thinks to call Bruce over the holidays to compliment him on his new pals.)  On CSPAN, I also heard Moore's name used in vain by none other than strategist Jim Jordan who, when we last heard from him, had John Kerry running a strong fourth in New Hampshire, but widening his narrow lead over both Al Sharpton and Trigger.

Thanks for coming back, Jim. Mine's the gray Buick.  Bring it around, will you?

(And while we're at it, the Slate piece about was another prize, especially the blind quotes from an "aide to one of the Democratic presidential candidates," and if the candidate in question isn't Weepin' Joe Lieberman, I'll eat Michael Kinsley's hat.  Note to Slate -- there are any number of rightist groups whose only function is to "excite a finite universe" of hysterical wingnuts, and the Republicans seem fairly cool with it.)

As long as we're cutting people loose, here's a notion.  How's about we start ignoring The New Republic for a while?  I mean, it's been a pretty good 20-year run for the Singer midgets since they signed aboard Ronald Reagan's Excellent Nun-Slaughtering adventures in Central America.  People still take them nearly as seriously as they take themselves -- and this is despite Ruthie Shalit and Stevie Glass, and the Bell Curve, and Liz McCaughey's health-care horsepucky, and Beinart's own defense of on-your-Beltway-duff reporting from a couple of months back.  Turning a highly successful -- would TNR really like to measure itself against the works of Michael Moore using any of the conventional benchmarks of American success?  -- progressive activist into cheap shorthand in order to advance the progressive cause is a strategy that leads me to believe that maybe some of the golden children need to get out into the country more.

As near as I can tell, the worst thing most rank-and-file progressives have said about Michael Moore is that he's a lousy boss.  (And, boy, is THAT not an argument available to any TNR editor.)  Whatever quibbles you may have had against his movie --and I'm not sure that this particular magazine ever will be in a position to quibble about anyone's facts again --the movie showed the country an awful lot that the country's alleged media gatekeepers declined to show it while they went haring after the fantastical grounds of an increasingly bloody war.  If some of the suckers are feeling a little guilty now, that's their problem, not Michael Moore's.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to endorse Howard Dean for DNC chief.  And no, this isn't the newfound zeal of a convert to the anti-Iraq war movement talking.

The Democrats are becoming invisible in the news media.  If an outer space alien visited earth last week, he (she? it?) would think that John Warner and James Sensenbrenner were the loyal opposition -- all the stories I saw played up intra-party squabbling (the occasional Joe Lieberman sightings notwithstanding).  What good will another run-of-the-mill DNC chair do?  The average voter doesn't know who Terry McAulliffe is -- heck, I don't know who the GOP chair is.  Without more visibility the Democrats won't capitalize on Dubya's missteps, John McCain and Chuck Hagel will.

Howard Dean still has star power (thanks Yahoo!) and would be a media magnet. 

The big criticism against Dean is that he is prone to embarrassing flubs.

I'm not worried -- I think a lot of his missteps in the primaries were because, I believe, he really didn't want to be president (see the long profile the Washington Post did on him after he dropped out).  Dean reminded me of Ted Kennedy in 1980 -- both got a lot sharper after the race was effectively over.  And on the merits, Dean ably stumped for Kerry -- I recall his performance in the debate with Ralph Nader combined passion and a quick-intelligence.  My fellow Blue Dog Democrats worry that Dean will drag the party to the left.  To them I'd say that Dean would not be hobbled by an anti-gun rights record, as a doctor he's well-positioned to talk about values, and if nothing else he inoculates you against (justifiable) anger from "the base" of being locked out.  And (this is sneaky), maybe Dean will satiate the party's hunger for Northeastern leadership.  Besides, there are no other good choices: Clinton won't do it, Gore is truly damaged goods, Brazile isn't good on television and Carville has become a cartoon.

Name: Barry Ritholtz

Ilir Topalli, Ph.D. is a neuroscientist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  He put together quite a fascinating .

As Doc Topalli explored the Red State/Blue State issue, he noted that the seeming sea of red on the electoral map is a scam to panic the 49% who voted blue.  The nation is actually .  Delving into the details, he discovered quite a few interesting data points:

Blues are more educated, make more money, are more successful, and have to carry the Red welfare states on their backs:

  • Blue staters graduate H.S. and are more likely to go to college.

  • Red staters are poorer.

  • Blue states achieve higher success rates.

  • The Red states are a tax burden on the rest of the country.

What about that vaunted Moral superiority we hear so much about?

  • Blue staters are more likely to stay married.

  • Blue staters are less likely to get pregnant in their teen years.

  • Red staters get more STDs.

How about abiding by the law?

  • Blue Staters are less likely to shoot each other to death.

  • Blue Staters drive better, and don't let their friends drive drunk

  • Blue staters are less likely to ignore the law

?  Time to loosen that Bible belt another notch -- Red state voters are fat.

And lastly, let's see about America's favorite pastime: .  Blue states kick ass. (OK, now we're just rubbing it in.)

December 9, 2004 |

A quick note to begin today's entry:  I am guest co-hosting The Majority Report on on Monday night.

One of my students, at Brooklyn  College, Deirdre Hart, wrote a piece about the incredibly overcrowded conditions at one New York City vocational high school that I think deserves the widest possible attention, so I asked her permission to reprint it here.  Here it is.

Sardine High, Deirdre Hart, Brooklyn College

Walking through the halls of William H. Maxwell Vocational High School, in East New York, there is a sense of something odd, like you just stepped into a perfect Stepford-like college town.  The hallways are clean and newly renovated, the kids smile and greet each other, and the teachers are motivated.  This is remarkable since this particular high school has been crowned “Sardine High” by the Daily News, for being the most overcrowded high school in New York City.

At 206 percent capacity, it is logical to think that this school would be frenzied, with kids overflowing from the classrooms and the walls busting at the seems, but under the helm of Principal Barbara Elk Duncan this highly publicized school is running smoothly.

“Our school is under control,” said Duncan. “You are not going to see chaos, but you’re not going to see kids getting what they need either.”

In what seems to be an effort to alleviate overcrowding in New York schools, the Department of Education in 1999 proposed a 5-year plan that would help the city to obtain more chairs for students.  One way to relieve the congestion in the schools is by restructuring them.  This means that schools will keep grades 10-12, but ninth graders will have to choose from twelve schools that they want to attend and pray that one of those schools hand picks them.  If there isn’t a match between the child and the school, then that child may be forced to attend a school that wasn’t on his list and that could be as far away as a three hour subway-to-bus ride.

William H. Maxwell is one of three schools that hasn’t been restructured, so kids that weren’t picked to attend one of the schools on their list are being deflected there.  Many of these kids come from as far away as Staten Island.

“All the swimmers were swimming towards us and I couldn’t turn them away,” said Duncan.  “If I have a dozen kids at my table they are all going to eat.  Is it going to affect their portions?  Yes,” she said as she described the effects that the overcrowding is having on her students.

Classes are being held in auditoriums, gymnasiums and libraries.  When the classes are being held in libraries it takes away from the students who need to do research and students suffer when they have to balance books on their laps because they are forced to take classes in the cosmetology laboratories or gymnasiums.

To ease some of the stress, Duncan has opted for longer school days. Classes begin as early as 7 am and the last period ends at 4:45 pm. While some students are leaving for lunch at 10:30 am, other students are just arriving for classes. This system helps to free up rooms for teaching.

Now that the days are getting shorter and kids are arriving as early as 6 am, they are sometimes waiting outside in the dark until security opens the doors at 6:30 and leaving as late as 5 pm when it’s already dark outside.

“Parents are concerned for the safety of their kids,” said Duncan. “This is East New York.  I don’t want to see them outside waiting to get in.”

Last year the school reported the lowest attendance in years.  However, long-term absences weren’t specified in reports from the Department of Education.  A long-term absence is when a child reports to class once and then doesn’t return for the rest of the school year.  When students are forced to go to a school they don’t want to attend, many simply won’t go.

Because of all of the media attention that the school received, 160 students were allowed to transfer out.

“Attendance has gotten much better this year,” said Duncan. “Because we are a career technology school, [endorsed by the state] we offer courses where kids can get jobs after they graduate. The kids that are here really want to be here.”

Still the school suffers.  Since being placed on the SURR list (Schools Under Registration Review) for failing schools last year, The Daily News reports that frustrated staffers feel that enrollment not only needs to be capped, but reduced.  Extracurricular activities are being deleted and instead of teachers attending professional development courses, they develop peer study groups where they have “buddies” observe classrooms to give feedback.

“Our staff is very supportive and respectful.  We want to make sure our ship doesn’t sink,” said Duncan.  “Our kids are getting an education because our teachers are teaching them.  With 30 new teachers, we have a very motivated staff.”

However, the staff is longing to get off of the SURR list so they can get back on a regular schedule. And with all of the media attention geared towards them, The Department of Education is starting to listen to the needs of the school, and that wish may become a reality soon.

“If you have a problem with something, and you go to someone about it, you better make sure you have three solutions to your problem, because if you give someone else the power to change it for you, you won’t like the end result,” said Duncan. “And while they’re listening, I’ve got some solutions.”

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hey Doc,
I've been following the P2P story for now.  I've been fascinated by the migration away from corporate-owned terrestrial radio and towards, well, just about everything else.

This has me thinking about a lot lately, especially given all buzz recently on .  (Recall we this topic over the summer.)

If you are interested in Music at all (and I know you and your readers very much are), this will continue to be a key in its future:  How will people discover new music, and what role (if any) will radio play in that?  I know that has directed me towards numerous bands -- most notably, the Black Keys -- that I don't hear played on the radio.

Its worth thinking about, as shoppers flock to stores to pick up CDs and DVDs as holiday presents . . .

Here's some more on the subject:

Here's a simple question that many people : What does (terrestrial) radio sell?
Think about it for a moment before answering.

If you are like most media consumers, your answer will be "advertising."  Since Radio is media, and most media rely on advertising, it's a reasonable conclusion.

That answer, however, is wrong.

You are the product.  What Radio sells is you.  At least, you, as a member of a larger aggregated audience.  Sure, it's packaged, demographically dissected, cross marketed and sold -- but it's still what Radio sells.  You may think of yourself as a consumer when you listen to radio, trading your time in exchange for music, news, weather, talk, etc.  But that's a false, if common, misunderstanding.  Radio costs you nothing (except time).  Advertisers are the actually consumers.

If you understand that simple perspective shift, then the decline of entities like Clearchannel Radio (previously discussed) becomes apparent and inevitable.  The stock is off some 33% since April of this year - while the S&P500 is appreciably higher.

After the 1996 telecommunications reform act, which gave the green light to Clearchannel's massive acquisition spree, the industry started shifting dramatically.  That the largest player in radio failed to understand this simple concept is rather telling.  The consolidation led to a slow decrease in listenership of their music audience, just as the Internet was gaining penetration.
I suspect that decline will be irreversible.

The Hamburger Helper Effect

Consider the modus operandi of : Purchase assets, eliminate redundant administrative functions, achieve economies of scale.  Clearchannel did this - and more -- by firing local program managers, DJs, eliminating formats, and tightening playlists - all of which ultimately reduced the amount of varied music on the radio.

In effect, they lowered the overall quality and breadth of what they were playing.  Equate this to a hamburger chain introducing meat extender.  It will certainly lower costs, and increase profits - but only short term.  Over time, the patrons of the restaurant simply will stop coming.  Revenue slides, repeat customers go away, so the business tanks.

That's FM radio today.

What's so fascinating has been how quickly the audience's "" attitude has manifested itself.  As noted above, what radio sells to advertisers is their audience.  That audience, tired of Hamburger Helper, has shifted away, easily finding the all beef burger:  , and .

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL

Mr. Alterman,
I'm assuming you will not permit your correspondents to turn your blog into a "Did not--Did too" exchange.  However, I would like to respond to Mr. Simpson.

He alleges I argued that anything short of actual torture is OK.  As I am sure you recall from one of my earlier letters that you posted in your blog, I have argued strenuously that violations of the law of war, such as the abominations at Abu Ghraib, are NOT OK.

My point is this, if you think there are violations of international law occurring at Guantanamo, say what they are precisely.  Don't demagogue the issue by calling it "almost torture."  It's not, and futzing the difference will put off the very people you are trying to persuade.

Complying with international law as we engage in combat is the right thing to do for moral, legal and tactical reasons.  Those of us in the U.S. Military (or at least those who listen to the JAGCs) understand this.  Fuzzy language like the ICRC's little phrase suggests there is no difference at all between Al Qaida and us; it's one reason why I don't have more fellow Democrats with me in the career force.

Name: Larry Finley
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

In Response to "Alter-review: The New Beatles Box by Sal" - "Ringo Starr was the best rock n roll drummer in the 60's...", Ringo was a truly great drummer, but let's get serious, the absolute greatest drummer in Rock 'n Roll history was Keith Moon of The Who with perhaps only Charlie Watts his match.  Listen to the full length version of "The Kids are Alright" for evidence of this.  Listen to some of the instrumental passages from "Tommy".  Keith had it all, talent, drive, a passion for the music, and above all, a uniqueness that to this day, nobody can duplicate.

Name: Mark McKee
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Dr. E:
An addition to Douglas O'Heir's wonderful letter yesterday, I'd just like to point out that Walter Reed's major function is PR for all those "inspiring" media stories of courage, so that the likes of Brian Williams can come out an interview these heroes, usually amputees which are better fodder for those "I shall overcome" stories than paras or quads."  Then they return a few weeks later to interview a new crop of newly injured who haven't even glimpsed what their lives are really going to be like once the camera lights are shut down.  No one ever seems interested in interviewing someone who has been living with that kind of injury for over 7 years because you just don't get those touchy-feely "Jesus will make me walk again" moments of compelling video that drives the ratings and inspires us to, I don't know, get another yellow ribbon.  After they leave world class Walter Reed, and enter the real world, the VA system, many, most in fact, will plunge into poverty and homelessness, where they will be magically transformed from heroes to homeless bums who are ruining our downtown revitalization efforts, and the only people fighting for them once the war ends, will be those anti-American, France-loving, tree-hugging commie liberals.  A sick irony of our hypocrisy, I mean democracy.


Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hey Doc,

Are you donating your money to a party that holds the opposite of your political views?

You may be doing so, albeit indirectly. Every time you spend money somewhere, some of it (a few cents, anyway) ends up as a political donation.  While most companies play both sides of the aisle, some seem to be strictly Red or Blue outfits, donating money to just one side.
It used to be exceedingly difficult to determine who was giving what.  Thanks to recent disclosure legislation -- and a slew of webtools -- it's now quite easy to determine where your shopping dollars are going.

Check out:

Special mention should go to for their incredibly easy to use page.  Choose a shopping category, and their crossed reference menu shows you where your money is going.
For example, GM splits their donations 60/40 GOP/Dem; Ford is 71/29. Toyota was the only Blue manufacturer at 74%.  Progressive Insurance was 91% Blue (no surprise there), while State Farm was 81% Red.

Tech firms were surprisingly Blue (Sun, Cisco, HP and IBM), with Siebel, Intuit and Activision the Red exceptions.

Terrific guide if you want to know where your dollars are going this holiday...

(Worth noting that Target is 72% Red, Wal-Mart is 81% Red, while the cooperative Costco is 91% Blue, by the way.)

Katha Pollitt adds:

In 2004, gave 61% of its political donations to Republicans!  It seems strange to me that a bookseller should support the party of fundamentalists, creationists, book banners and privacy-violators, but that is unfortunately the case.  Click for details.

You can send Amazon a protest e mail by .

Good online alternatives to Amazon are Barnes & Noble, which is on the "good list" of blue companies at and Powell's.  And don't forget your local independent bookstore!  If they don't have the book you want in stock, they may be able to order it.



One thing we know about media bias, other than that it is a Bad Thing, is that it became Bad relatively recently in historical terms.  Asked to guess when, we'd probably say in the late nineteenth century, which would be correct.  Asked to guess why, we'd probably say something about the rise of social science and the ideal of the disinterested expert, which happened at about the same time as the rise of the universities.  Which is all true, but did disinterest really help sell newspapers?  And if it did, why does it seem to work less well now?

To aid you in pondering such matters, you might like to check out "The Rise of the Fourth Estate," an as-yet unpublished chapter by Matthew Gentzkow, Edward Glaeser, and Claudia Goldin in a forthcoming volume from the National Bureau of Economic Research edited by Glaeser & Goldin.  The whole volume is .  (And while I'm writing about what's informative I might as well take this opportunity to say that NBER is one of the great achievements of American civilization, up there with the New York Public Library and a very few other places that truly rank as vital institutions of a free people.  The work tends to be high-grade and the scholars are top-drawer, and this conference volume is no exception.)

And if you don't go in much for downloading academic pdf's featuring statements that start, "A story has ideological content, w, where w...." let me try to summarize it swiftly.

Basically, the authors find the following.

  1. Among daily newspapers in the 100 or so largest American cities: in 1870, only 11 percent of newspapers claimed to be independent.  In 1920, 62 percent did.

  2. The use of loaded words like "slander" and "honest" declined significantly over that period.

  3. Factual information became available sooner to more Americans; the paper compares the press's treatment of the Credit Mobilier scandal in 1872 with the coverage of Teapot Dome in 1922.

And why did this happen?  More competition for the newspaper buyer.  The competition came from lower printing costs, speedier transportation of information, denser populations in cities, etc.  If you wanted the consumer to buy your paper and not the other guy's, you needed to have the facts first.

The appropriately hedged conclusion reads like this:  "The presence of a robust market competing for consumers appears to have coincided with an increase in the amount of information contained in newspapers and a replacement of fact for vitriolic argument."  (p. 18)

You can quarrel with parts of this argument -- Altercation readers will immediately pick on the authors' blithe observation that "allegations of bias today emphasize the liberal views of reporters who supposedly slant their stories to the left."  (p. 11n18)  Given the popularity of the SCLM acronym, I'm not sure this is an adequate statement of the current situation.  Also, there are holes in the assumptions; the authors note the resilient popularity of the New York Herald -- "a remarkably uninformative paper with an astonishingly high circulation" (p. 19) -- which pushes you to wonder whether this model that emphasizes an information-driven consumer is all good.  The market for "hot stories" -- i.e., being firstest with the mostest in fact -- is going to depend on an educated, serious-minded consumer hungry for facts in stories.  Supposing your consumers are less educated and less serious-minded. Then what?  Would, possibly, facts and even competition among news sources come to seem less desirable?

But the basic conclusion looks pretty clear:  you want facts in your press, you oughta have some good competition for audiences.  If you don't have such competition -- if, say, you have market segmentation combined with cartelization of ownership -- well, you might expect a return to what the authors call vitriol.


While I'm writing, I thought I should mention apropos nothing else that one of my favorite radio program(me) has returned.  When I was young indeed, the radio series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (which preceded the books) made me laugh a lot.  BBC Radio 4 recorded a new series, with the old cast, based on the books that followed the original radio episodes.  It started airing September 21 and you can hear it .

Alter-review: The New Beatles Box by Sal

"Why Everyone Should Buy The New Beatles Box Set"
by Sal Nunziato

  1. 40 years later their catalogue still holds up next to just about anything.
  2. No one has a better rock n roll voice than a young John Lennon.
  3. Ringo Starr was the best rock n roll drummer in the 60's, regardless of his bad rap.
  4. Everyone who thinks they already have the material on "The Capitol Years: Volume One" is wrong.  They don't.

In 1987, Capitol finally released The Beatles catalogue on CD, using the original British masters and LP configurations.  This meant no "Meet The Beatles," and no "Beatles Second Album," and no "Something New."  Those records were put together 2 years later by the American label to capitalize on the U.K. success of the moptops, using singles, b-sides, and slightly different mixes than the previously released counterparts "Please Please Me," "With The Beatles," and "A Hard Day's Night."

So now, finally, we see those original U.S. LPs, as well as "Beatles '65" (that's "Beatles For Sale in the U.K.), remastered and put on CD for the first time.  AMAZING!  End of story. The sound will knock your Beatles boots right off and if you have the patience, you will see that the inclusion of both the stereo and mono mixes are really like getting two different CDs.  So, that makes 8 albums in one dandy package.

One can easily accuse the label of milking the catalogue.  Normally, that would be a train I'd love to ride, but I can't honestly say that about this set.  It is worth every penny.

Name: Douglas O'Heir
Hometown: Waterville, Maine

I received my weekly copy of the New England Journal of Medicine today and was floored by the lead article entitled "Casualties of War - Military Care for the Wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan" by Atul Gawande, M.D. (he's written previously for Atlantic Magazine as well as a book on training to be a surgeon).

The article was searing, and I'd like to put it into the hands of anyone forgetting the human cost being paid by our troops (i.e. most members of Congress, most Bush supporters, etc.).  Our military medical teams are doing a heroic job, despite being strapped for numbers and working in hazardous and arduous conditions.  Yet, they can only achieve so much, as this anecdote illustrates:

One airman with devastating injuries from a mortar attack outside Balad on September 11, 2004, was on the operating table at Walter Reed just 36 hours later.  In extremis from bilateral thigh injuries, abdominal wounds, shrapnel in the right hand, and facial injuries, he was taken from the field to the nearby 31st CSH (Combat Support Hospital).  Bleeding was controlled, volume resuscitation begun, a guillotine amputation at the thigh performed.  He underwent a laparotomy with diverting colostomy.  His abdomen was left open with a clear plastic bag as covering.  He was then taken to Landstuhl (Germany) by an Air Force Critical Care Transport team.  When he arrived in Germany, Army surgeons determined that he would require more than 30 days recovery, if he made it at all.  Therefore, although resuscitation was continued, and a further washout procedure was performed, he was sent on to Walter Reed.  There, after weeks in intensive care and multiple operations, he did survive.  This is itself remarkable.  Injuries like his were unsurvivable in previous wars.  The cost, however, can be high.  The airman lost one leg above the knee, the other in a hip disarticulation, his right hand, and part of his face.  How he and others like him will be able to live and function remains an open question.

As if that description doesn't grab your attention, the article is followed by "Caring for the Wounded in Iraq - A Photo Essay" by Drs. Peoples, Jezior, and Shriver.  The photos are intended for a medical audience and not for the squeamish. 

I don't mean to diminish the suffering of Iraqi soldiers and citizens who are treated solely within their country in by a barely functioning medical system.  Their tales will be told in time, and they'll be similarly wrenching.

I hope NEMJ makes these articles widely available.  If our country intends to wage war, we should understand the true costs.

Name: Troy Simpson
Hometown: Belmont, MA
Dear Eric,
I've been following your blog since early this summer, and finding it a refreshing change from the sanitized treatment of events from the SCLM.  I felt the need to vent after reading today's comments from Matt Shirley concerning the ICRC reports on Guantanamo.  Matt seems to have fallen victim to perhaps the lamest oft-repeated excuse for acts that even Alberto Gonzales has warned could be construed as war crimes:  "We might torture people, but at least we don't cut their heads off."

By this argument, any transgression can easily be trivialized by comparison to more heinous criminal acts committed by the alleged enemy (or by others who happen to share their ethnicity, nationality, religion, or politics).  And, as this argument inevitably returns to 9-11, we are reminded that terrorists destroyed buildings without warning, killing thousands of innocents simply because they live in a particular country.  Our soldiers, police, and interrogators get a free pass, therefore, because they are not as bad as the terrorists.  Hence, anything goes in the name of justice and liberty, as long as we don't murder (too many) prisoners or wounded.  If the rule of law is irrelevant to the argument, we might as well return to lynching and mob justice (or perhaps we have).

Also, I found it curious that the Washington Post, in about prisoner abuse, notes only in passing that Gen. Geoffrey Miller has quietly been reassigned to a new post overseeing houseing.  Doesn't this merit greater attention?  This is the man who was put in charge of the entire Iraq prison system, after so successfully "Gitmo-ized" interrogations at AbuGhraib.

Keep up the good fight.

December 7 |

Those biased facts

Hey did you notice that this (and ) fellow, who is the new head of the Gaullist party in France and its likely candidate for president, has a Jewish mother, which makes him Jewish?  It’s no big deal in France, when you recall Leon Blum was the Prime Minister more than sixty years ago.  Given that no major party in this country has ever nominated a Jew—or even seriously considered nominating one, unless you include Lieberman, which was not all that serious—and if we did, it would be a story of enormous political import, how about you American chauvinist types stop lecturing the French about their anti-Semitism.  Around the same time Red state Jew-baiters were talking about the alleged “Franklin. D. Rosenfeld,” France really had a Jewish leader, no big deal.  Yes, there is plenty of anti-Semitism there, but they are well advanced of us in other ways.  (And it goes without saying, they were right about Iraq, but that’s another story.)

Speaking of The Tribe, in the Forward is an interesting specimen of a common species; the article that assumes a “liberal bias” in mainstream institutions but provides no evidence whatever for that view.  What it does provide evidence for, however, is the not-to-be believed nuttiness of some of those who claim it.  Check out this paragraph:

Conservatives are particularly incensed at the paper's coverage of the Iraq War; they are especially critical of its news columns and editorials insisting there were no connections between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein; while it has not been conclusively shown that Hussein colluded with al Qaeda in the September 11 attacks, many believe that abundant connections have been documented in government reports and other materials.  As a result, many conservatives have simply stopped reading the paper.

Note: it does not matter, apparently, to anyone involved that there was no connection between Iraq and Al-Qaeda; nor that many in the Times, like William Safire, joined the administration in pretending there was.  The Times should not have “insisted” on the truth; it should have made it up to suit the administration’s dishonest arguments.

Oh wait.  Yes, you’re right.  It did just that in Judith Miller’s articles that swallowed whole, the administration’s misinformation about Iraq’s alleged nuclear and WMD programs.  And Condi Rice even found herself quoting this evil liberal conspiratorial newspaper on television to make her case.  But even with Raines playing the administration’s game and inviting Miller and others to mislead the country into this horrific war, that’s not enough.  They were supposed to lie about Iraq and Al Qaida too.  (And not just on the editorial page.)  Really, how many times do I have to quote the great press critic, Rob Corddry: “The facts are biased… the facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda.”

I look forward to Mr. Friedman’s history in the hopes that it casts a more jaundiced eye on this kind of nonsense.

And speaking of Franklin D., he does seem to have been a , does he not?

Good blog .

The New Miles Box, Seven Steps: The Complete Columbia Recordings Of Miles Davis 1963-1964 (and VSOP live re-release) by Sal.

In  between the great Miles/Coltrane years and the ground-breaking Miles Quintet that featured Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and a 17-year-old Tony Williams, Miles Davis released a series of LPs that featured a revolving group of musicians, including Victor Feldman, Sam Rivers and George Coleman.  This transitional period gave us such classic albums as "My Funny Valentine," and "Seven Steps To Heaven," which also serves as the title of the new box set that presents 7 CDs covering the complete recordings from 1963-1964.

As usual, there are a handful of alternate takes, so the impatient may find the repetition a waste of time.  But this was an underrated period for Miles, whose brilliance before and after completely overshadowed the brilliance of these sessions.

The records swing.  They cook.  They bop hard.  They also include some gorgeous takes on "My Funny Valentine," and "I Fall In Love Too Easily."  As well as a set list that became a standard on the following year's "Plugged Nickel" release.  Both Sam Rivers' and George Coleman's adventurous playing adds an interesting flavor to an already seasoned rhythm section.  For a set list, go .

This is nicely packaged and is a great listen.

Also released for the first time in the U.S. is "Live: Under The Sky," a 2 CD set documenting a 1979 Japanese performance by V.S.O.P., which is essentially the classic Miles Davis quintet, this time led by Herbie Hancock with Freddie Hubbard replacing Miles on trumpet.  This set will leave you gasping for air, as Tony Williams demonic drumming takes these musicians to new heights.  Set list is .


Eric adds:  And if you’re in the city, and want to make sure your kid learns to appreciate this stuff, don’t forget to check out the terrific Jazz for Young People program at .  Wynton is really a terrific teacher of young people; the kid went on Saturday and loved it.  And now they’ve started WeBop!, a new series of children's music education classes for 2-5 year olds — from January 11 through March 5, 2005 on Tuesdays or Saturdays.  (For adults there’s "Jazz 101.”)  Don’t you wish you lived here?

Correspondents' Corner:

Name: Michael Rapoport
Quote of the Day nominee:

As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.  On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.- H.L. Mencken.

Okay, so he wrote it back in 1920, but it's quoted in this current Jerry Stahl interview in Salon, .

And as far as DVD boxes go, don't forget .  The Marx Brothers' first five films, including "Animal Crackers" and "Duck Soup." (Not to be confused with the other Marx DVD box out there, which is largely made up of lesser, later films, though it does have "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races.").
Michael Rapoport

Dear Eric,
Since you wrote a most evenhanded piece (for The Nation) about my January dismissal from The New York Times, I wanted to share this epilogue.  Granted, it's more of a whimper than a scream, but it is nonetheless telling.  Get ready for journalistic ethics, New York Times style.

First, some backstory.  When I was dumped from the Times, I wasn't the only one shocked.  So was a longtime friend of mine.  Because, like me, he was a former ACT UP spokesperson.  Like me, he had been flacking merely as an extension of his gay and AIDS activism and had repped several organizations.  Like me, he had started as a journalist and ached to return to the field.  And, like me, he was now writing for The Times.

When I was ejected in January, I immediately alerted this friend.  He begged me not to go public with my story, because he felt it would cost him his longtime freelancer gig.  I still contacted the media.  But in all interviews, I refused to finger him.  (My friend, fearful of guilt through association, subsequently distanced himself from me.)

Here's the coda: At a Thanksgiving dinner last month, I ran into a Times editor, for whom my former friend now writes.  This editor was aware of my dismissal and informed me that my former ACT UP comrade was indeed called on the carpet in the wake of my ejection.  Apparently, five years of freelancing for the City and Escapes sections means something; the powers-that-be decided my friend should not be shown the door.  So much for a uniform NYT editorial policy.
Jay Blotcher

Name: Bill Adkins
Hometown: Williamstown, KY

Norm Coleman and FAUX News say Koffi Annan should resign because he was in charge when the Oil for Food Scandal happened.  No allegation that Annan was involved personally, just that he was in charge when it happened.  Fine.  And because George W. Bush was in charge when the Iraq Blunder happened along with the WMD/intelligence failure, let's boot Bush.  It's only fair and an extension of the naval logic that it's the captain's fault when something goes so horribly wrong.  Remember Scott Waddle?  Bush should go to the same isle of exile as Annan.  It's only fair, right Norm "Hypocrite" Coleman?

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
I see and acknowledge your point about the ICRC report on Guantanamo and the WSJ's take on it.  Speaking as an active duty JAGC who has done some practice in this area (BTW these views are my own and not those of the U.S. Government), here is my beef with the ICRC's characterization of Guantanamo.  The phrase "tantamount to torture" is about as slippery and subject to dishonest use by others (if not the ICRC) as "weapons of mass destruction related activities."

What the heck does "tantamount to torture" actually mean?  Obviously, it sounds bad, but it means in part something other than actual torture as prohibited by the relevant international conventions.  Is there some other violation of international law here?  Maybe, but you can't tell much from this phrase or the hue & cry associated with it.

My criticism of the political tactics behind publicizing this report is that, once again, the left is overstating its case of moral equivalence between the Ba'athist regime, Al Qaida, and the Bush Administration.  Much as I dislike the current Administration and its policies, much as I agree with some of the specific, verifiable criticisms you and others have made of them, they are not even close to the same league as the Ba'athists and Al Qaida.  Loud rock music and fostering psychological dependence on the interrogators may be tough tactics, but they are nothing like Saddam's torture chambers or kidnapping and murdering prominent humanitarians merely for the purpose of fostering insecurity.  To suggest that they are is an unwarranted smear, and worse, politically ill-advised if you are trying to persuade people who have not bought into your criticisms.

I can understand if the ICRC felt they needed to use strong language with small words only to penetrate the reinforced concrete in some circles.  However, leaking this kind of report is counterproductive.

December 6 |

Tortured Logic

The editors of the Wall Street Journal appear to have reached a new nadir in the morality—or lack thereof—of media criticism.  In light of reports of the United States military torturing innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and innocents of all stripes in Guantanamo, they are upset not about the torture—there’s nary a word about that—but at the International Red Cross because reporters found out about it.  Red Cross operations are supposed to be confidential, and no large bureaucracy has ever been known to leak before and so that makes the Red Cross particularly evil.  But here is what might be called the beauty part: The Journal editors accuse the ICRC of having “thrown confidentiality aside to attack the U.S., of all countries.”  Too bad,  for their “logic” that, as they admit, “The original leaker in this case may have been in the U.S. government.  Officials at ICRC headquarters were only too happy to confirm the document's authenticity.”  What about that inconvenient little fact?  The editors say, “.” 

Got that?  The U.S. government does the torturing.  The U.S. government does the leaking.  And the Journal blames the Red Cross for its “double-cross.”  Perhaps one of these Journal editors might wish to spend their holiday vacation at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, to see just what a dastardly organization the Red Cross really is; and just how beneficent is the Bush administration, and the topsy-turvy morality it has spawned.

More of the Same:  And speaking of that benighted space, might it behoove Ms. O’Grady, , to note, somewhere, that yes, in fact, the Bush administration was dishonest, ho-hum, again, when it pleaded ignorance with regard to the failed coup in Venezuela.  Take a look .  (Could it be that Condi was asleep at this particular switch too?)  Once again we are left with that age-old question with regard to this administration: Incompetent?  Dishonest?  Ideologically-obsessed?  And we yield to the same answer: All of the above.

Lesson :  Attack us, kill our citizens, and feel free to both run and hide while we make a few macho noises, but by and large let you get away as we waste our time attacking people who had nothing to do with your attack and recruiting more bodies for your holy war against us.  (If Bin Laden really did mean to intervene on behalf of Bush with that videotape, it’s only fair.  He sure owed him one big favor.)

:  Dr. Atrios 

Occasional Reminders This blog does not exist for the purpose of writing about whatever you think I should be writing about.If I don't write about things that doesn't necessarily mean I don't think they're important - I may just have nothing to say, or it may just not interest me at that moment.Surprisingly, the world manages to learn about, say, front page New York Times stories even if I don't link to them.Other blogs exist even if I don't link to them. Linking to a blog is not necessarily an endorsement. Failing to link to a blog is not a non-endorsement. I assume this to be true of other bloggers as well.The opinions expressed by guest bloggers are their opinions. I choose them for a bit of variety, not because I expect them to be just like me. Expectations that I clone myself or do this 365 days per year/18 hours per day are somewhat unreasonable.Particularly strident emails criticizing me for these reasons tend to increase the scope of my spam filter.

Quote of the Day, :  “How much does the rest of the country dislike New York's Sen. Chuck Schumer?”  Here’s a pop-quiz for fans of pundit-technique.  How much does the “rest of the country” live in Mickey’s apartment, sit at Mickey’s computer and eat snacks out of Mickey’s fridge?  Answer: the same number given by Mickey as evidence for justification of his headline.

Um. Somebody owes one big apology.  Anyone care to invest a little research time in figuring out who hung this guy on false evidence in their columns and whether they’ve apologized yet—particularly those in the pay of neocon sugar daddy Conrad Black, whose paper put forth these malicious lies, and whose anomy has not yet spread far enough for my taste.

Speaking of pundits, congratulations to my friends (and fellow members of the usage panel) at the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language for all of the entries on page 1421, but particularly “punditocracy.”  That makes the OED and American Heritage, and those are just the two I’ve noticed.  Henceforth all users of the non-word “commentariat” will be advertising their ignorance of proper English.

Lucky me, Friday night,  I went to a museum I didn’t even know existed—the Rubin Museum of Art on W. 17th street—and I got to see and hear Rosanne Cash and Larry Kirwan (together with Mr. Cash, Maestro Jon Levenathal) do this weird but interesting show that was based on a Buddhist painting I’m supposed to know about and Rosanne’s notions of what constitutes a song about “home.”  They sang together from her song book, her father’s, Black 47’s, and Larry’s pretty successful attempt to put Yeats to music.  Her voice has deepened in the past couple of years and its haunting quality is almost otherworldly.  Larry writes with incredible erudition and sensitivity as well.  It is the kind of show that makes you feel lucky to be alive.  Rosanne will be doing her wonderful version of “Ode to Billy Joe” at the Rose and Briar show, in tribute to the book by Sean Wilentz and Greil Marcus at the Ethical Culture Society on 64th and Central Park West tonight, joined by “Sarah Vowell, John Rockwell, Paul Berman, Joyce Carol Oates, Luc Sante amid illuminating performances by Laurie Anderson, Bob Neuwirth, Jay Farrar, Terre Roche, Shannon McNally, Jenni Muldaur and Rodney Crowell, and others.”  Read all about it .  It starts at 7:30 and if you can’t come, you’ll be able to hear it one day on .  (And if you don’t live here, again, my sympathies.)

Under the Menorah:  If I didn’t already have them, there are quite a few new DVD box sets, I’d be real happy to find there.  One is the long-overdue release of the 1985 Live Aid concert, which I’m hoping Sal is going to review any day now.  Buy that one, which is quite cheap by the way, and a few more starving people will get fed.  That’s on .  I’m also really enjoying the first two seasons of “Star Trek” which are packed in a phaser-like case which makes me feel a little juvenile, but have terrific transfers and beautiful colors.  (See Kirk battle his waist-line in living Technicolor.)  No seriously, there is something timeless about these episodes and that Lt. Uhura in HDTV,  well…. They are a little pricey though.

In addition, I need to mention that last year, when I told you to buy the first season of SCTV, I should have waited to tell you to buy the second one.  Truth be told, it took them a year to get their footing on American TV; the second season is soo much funnier than the first.  Whenever I watch it alone, I feel a little guilty because of all the people I’m not allowing to see it with me.  Am I obligated to watch it twice?  Three times?  What would Jaral Cronkite say about all this?  Seriously, I don’t think anything on TV has been as funny as this, before or since.  It’s available from , which also put out the terrific “Freaks and Geeks” set.  If you don’t want to spring for a box set, there’s a nice little collection of George Harrison videos featuring four songs he did on the Japan tour with Clapton on guitar.  It’s on Capital/EMI.