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Selling a war (honestly)

February 28, 2005 |

Today’s horrific seems ideal to take a moment to pause and assess our progress in Iraq so far.  One keeps seeing and hearing the argument that because 58 percent of Iraqis under conditions of civil war turned out to vote (and chose a pro-Iranian, theocratic leadership) this somehow justifies Bush’s war.  The argument has become almost conventional wisdom on cable and you can find it made by New York magazine columnist and famous smart guy, Kurt Andersen.  Yet to justify the decision to go war two years ago and the colossal loss of life in which has already resulted with even a remotely honest pitch, Bush would have had to come before the country, and argued the following:

  1. We really have no idea whether they’ve got WMDs or not.

  2. We will, however, make no attempt to guard the sites where we say we’re so sure they can found.

  3. We’re pretty sure they don’t have nukes, and they’re probably not anywhere near getting them, either.  Again, we’re not going to check very carefully once we get there.

  4. They’ve barely even met anyone from Al Qaida, and if they did, they didn’t like them very much.

  5. It’s going to cost, oh, I dunno, many, many hundreds of billions of dollars, over 1400 American soldiers dead, well more than 11,000 wounded, and who knows how many tens of thousands Iraqis.  (We don’t know because our government will make no attempt to keep track of Iraqi loss of life.)

  6. Iraq will be in a state of continual chaos as far as the eye can see.

  7. Every Arab country will henceforth hate our guts.

  8. It will, even by the CIA’s own estimate, inspire more terrorists to want to come here and kill us.

  9. It will divert our attention from genuine military threats deriving from North Korea and Iran.

  10. We will be hated across the globe as never before in our history and we will lose influence with our allies and all the really important countries in the world.

  11. Our soldiers will pick up innocent people off the street, torture them, proudly take pictures of themselves doing so, and these will become the new image of the American solider across the world.

  12. We will deplete our military resources and reserves and send untrained recruits into battle, inadequately armed, who have been forced to re-up owing to previously mentioned shortages.

  13. We will continue to lie to you about all of the above.  (Here by the way, is Republican Rep. Chris Cox introducing liar Dick Cheney at CPAC last week:  "We continue to discover biological and chemical weapons and facilities to make them inside Iraq."  .)

  14. Finally, we would have to accept the principle that it’s OK to mislead the country, deliberately, into war, so long as the outcome of the war turns out OK.  (I’m not saying it has turned out OK; it hasn’t.  But even if it had, I don’t think it justifies a president deliberately undermining his sacred democratic duty to tell the truth on matters of war and peace.  Um, I have more to say on that topic .)

And to give one an idea of just how little understood this election actually was in our media—remember, one day 72 percent voted, the next day 58 percent--check out :

The caption on Feb. 14 for a picture by Reuters with the continuation of an article about the Iraqi elections misstated the reason Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric, was weeping.  He was participating in a mourning ritual as part of Ashura, a holy Shiite festival - not reacting to results showing that his political alliance had won a slim majority of seats.  A second caption for a Reuters photo misstated the reason a Shiite was shown flagellating himself in a Baghdad procession.  He was taking part in the same mourning ritual, not celebrating the election outcome.

OK, one minute on the Oscars.  Chris Rock stunk, the production numbers bit, and the whole thing was about as exciting and as much fun as a colonoscopy.  It id did not come close to justifying a bump for “Desperate Housewives” or even “Boston Legal,”—the only non-HBO shows I watch—(not including “TWW" and Mr. Stewart).  That said, I couldn’t agree more about “Million Dollar Baby.”  The movie is so searing I almost had to leave the theater a few times.  And Hillary Swank’s performance was, I think, the most powerful performance by a film actress I’ve ever seen.  And what a thrill to see Clint’s development as an artist over time. 

Has everybody else noticed that his late career as a director has been an atonement for his earlier career as an actor?  Every film, just about, has had at its core, a lesson in the destructive power of violence—the same violence “Dirty Harry” so glorified.  Thank God nobody was ever more wrong than F. Scott Fitzgerald when he stupidly said this is a country of  “no second acts.”  It’s a country of nothing but second acts and that’s one of our most redeeming virtues.

Isn’t Ann Coulter’s combination of and age-ism adorable?  No wonder she is used as a regular commentator by the likes of Chris Matthews and Bill Maher.  Here, in case you missed them, are a few more resent quotes from adorable Annie, at CPAC, reported on .

On Liberals

“They don’t have any ideas, we have all the ideas.  We are sweeping the youth of America and they are going the way of the Whigs.”

“In addition to racist and Nazi, how about adding traitor to the list of things that professors can’t be?  And yes, I realize I just proposed firing the entire Harvard faculty.”

“That’s your mission.  These institutions can be shaken” –talking about college campuses.

“Liberals like to scream and howl about McCarthyism, I say let’s give them some. They’ve have intellectual terror on the campus for years.”

“It’s time for a new McCarthyism” – followed by big ovation.

Hactacular Howie quotes Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan saying Hillary Clinton is getting an “easy ride” from the media.  For balance he quotes, um, never mind.  (We wonder, does Mrs. Kurtz have a PR contract with the White House, Mr. Conflict of Interest?)

A song for Air America:

They were stranded on the dialThey took a little riskSend lawyers, guns and Boss, get them out of this.

Tommy Chong’s song he wrote while staying nine months in prison and sang at the Aspen Comedy Festival:

“I hear the train a-comin’It’s rolling ‘round the bendI hope it’s full of women cause, I’m tired of fu**ing men.”

(P.S.  Rosanne calls that “genuinely funny” so no need to feel guilty about laughing.)

Speaking of Aspen, the big discoveries of the almost uniformly great festival were this brilliantly funny and brave 26-yea-old Jewish lesbian named “Rebecca Drysdale,” and a couple of guys from New Zealand who call themselves the “Flight of The Conchords” and claim to be the “fourth-biggest thing on the New Zealand folk-parody scene.”  I actually blew off the Jim Carey performance to see these two acts a second time, they were so great the first time.  (Third time, if you count the cameos at the Catherine O’Hara late-night show.)  The films shown were also terrific, particularly “The Aristocrats,” which will be released soon; "Bad Situationist," my friend Sam Seder’s hysterical takeoff on being Joe Lieberman’s (fictional) ne’er do well son taken in by terroristic Jewish postal workers in a bid to get on “Charlie Rose,” which is still being edited, and most of all, a Beverly Hills Bar Mitzvah movie called “Lucky 13,” which is, I swear, the best Jewish movie since “Goodbye Columbus.”  (You guys can have that quote free.)  I loved this movie so much I was practically engaged to the woman I was sitting next to by the time it was over.

One of the interesting things about almost all of the above, by the way, is how Jewish almost all comedy is, and how easy it would be for certain clueless idiots to portray it as

Speaking of the Magic Dolphin Lady, an oldie but goodie via ,

And too, which I think, may be the single greatest blog entry of all time. 

On really knowing how to hurt a guy:  "If people are confused about what left-wing means, there might be a reason for that.  If you can call both Leon Trotsky and Eric Alterman left-wing and be technically right in both cases, then clearly the word is doing injustice to one of them.  They have nothing in common; Trotsky had a much better sense of humor."  (.)

Double irony:  One of my best jokes is actually about Trotsky, but in truth he was quite funny.  In fact, he killed…

And those of you ladies who’ve been added to the blogroll, don’t thank me, thank Ginger Mayerson.  (And maybe thank the fact that it was a week I chose to notice, once again, the glaring lack of guitar goddesses...)  For those of you already on it, thank ; she of Koufax winning fame.

More pandering: ?

All Hail Halle Berry, impossibly sexy, classically beautiful .  (Thanks, TP)

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, FL

Hey Eric,
Old Navy guy here.  I really didn't want to jump in on this whole Harvard controversy.  After all, your readers may find it of note that the phrase "politically correct" was coined by liberals to critique the more radical (and literally-minded) members of the academic community who tend to inflict their own forms of mind control and frame every intellectual pursuit in terms of relativity.  (Let's forget for a moment that Einstein himself would probably have laughed this entire group -along with their intellectual conceits in extending his theory to the social sciences- right out of the room.)

But now the blonde idiot, Ann Coulter, has jumped in to stretch the bounds of common sense and intellectual honesty so in the words of Pierce: Bejesus Christmas it's time to throw my two cents into the mix, particularly with your comments on female guitarists.  (An unfortunate juxtaposition).

So what was Summers' sin when he suggested that the fair sex (archaic expression intentional) may not be predisposed to science or math after "all this time"?  It was the sin of making believe he just popped out from under some rock somewhere; as if he -an educated man in supposedly the premier American institution of advanced education- had suddenly become ignorant of the entire history of human events.  What he proposed was only a viable hypothesis (or contemplation) if you are an uneducated and ignorant cretin.

Let's start with some basic facts.  (Creationists and Intelligent Design types need read no further).  Homo sapiens has been around for about a million years give or take a couple hundred thousand.  Human civilization may have begun about 100,000 years ago with early hunter-gatherer societies.  Agriculture developed about 10,000 years ago; urban society about 6,000 years ago.  Modern formal education was not introduced to Western Civilization until late in the 12th century and consisted mainly in reintroducing the lost classical knowledge from the Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilizations.  Public education was a concept unknown until the mid-19th century -and it is still under attack in many ways.  The education of women was not accepted in the most advanced Western societies until the early-20th century and even there it was not uniformly applied (and still not widely accepted in the world).  Modern mathematics and science as we would recognize it today weren't even introduced until well into the 19th century in those same societies and -as in my side comment on Creationist and Intelligent Design non-science- also under continuous attack.  Women were banned from advanced education and certain professions through de jure and de facto discrimination well into the 1960's -and it's not as if we've achieved in the year 2005 the perfect egalitarian and non-discriminatory society in terms of sex, race or class.

So the question why there are not as many women as men in the disciplines of math and science seems ludicrous on its face.  We learn more about the cultural constructs and prejudices of 18th century England than we do about Rome from Gibbon, written in a day when practicing history was more an exercise in cultural chauvinism, myth-building and fiction.  Modern education and the math and science curriculum within the academy are cultural artifacts only recently introduced.  They have held a tentative hold among men, least all women.  (Rock guitar isn't even a blip on this radar.)  It's comments like this that give aid and comfort to Murrays and Hersteins (and Coulters).  These are the types of people who "contemplated" that your people had a natural propensity for making money and that my swarthy ancestors, who couldn't possibly be the descendents from those noble Romans, were by nature emotional, violent and intellectually limited -and not said just over a couple of glasses of wine.

So we can forgive Summers his humanness and limitations.  On the other hand, he should just think before opening his mouth again -and use that high priced education to ask more compelling questions.


Slackeresque FridayI’ve got a new Think Again” column , on the coverage of John Negroponte’s nomination, and a new Nation column , on bloggers and CNN.  Archived columns are and .  The American Prospect has a review of by Paul Waldman, .

With friends like these...   is to feminism as Cathy Young is to ‘Semitism’; so shrill, silly, and self-righteous that one suspects she is a plant for the “anti” side.  Really, insisting that Kinsley’s Parkinson’s is affecting his ability to see the world Estrich’s way is just about as low as a person could go, though her anti-feminist swipe at Arianna may have been the previous record.  If American political discourse had any standards that would be the end of Estrich.  We needn’t, alas, worry about that.

Really, this Horowitz fellow has to be seen to be believed.  Read the excellent Michael Berube on him .  P.S. I am a .

Pimp Daddy?  Sean Hannity is trying his hand as matchmaker with Hannidate 2005, a dating service hosted on his Web site.  Here's a sample entry from Mark, location unknown: "I am a 49 year old truck driver.  Divorced, one daughter, 18, looking for a LADY, 45 to 55 years old, no tatoos, no body piercings except ears, but most importantly NOT LIBERAL (lady and not liberal kind of go hand in hand, don't they?)."  Oy.  .

Another Announcement:  On Wednesday, March 2, 2005, from 6 to­ 9 p.m., the Center for American Progress will launch a new progressive film series, , with a screening of WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception, a 100-minute nonfiction film. The film explores this story with the findings of media insider-turned-outsider, former network journalist Danny Schechter, who is one of America's most prolific media critics. The event will be moderated by Mark Lloyd, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and will feature Schechter along with Eric Alterman, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Dr. Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy.

(P.S. Why is Steven Kull a “Dr.” and I am only an “Eric?” Is he a friend of Kissinger’s?  Zbig’?  Condi’s?)

Congrats to our friend Jeralyn for her well-deserved . Go read her .

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Michael Press
Hometown: Somerville, MA

Dr. Alterman,
Re Cathy Young's "duplicity":
One point you have not yet brought up is Ms. Young's editing of your original post in her column.  The ellipsis leaves out one brief sentence -- 'They call this the “Nakba” or the “Catastrophe.”-- but changes the entire meaning, for when she does quote you talking about "their catastrophe" in the next sentence it appears to be YOUR OWN view vs. the Palestinian view which you are clearly referencing.  Without this sentence, any reader -- particularly one not familiar with the Palestinian name for this event -- would think that you had come up with the label 'catastrophe' yourself.  Using an ellipsis for such a small but critical sentence seems a deliberate choice of editing, for it becomes a crucial element of her argument.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,
As a red state conservative there is much you put forth in your writings with which I disagree.  But the spirited defense of your good name is a refreshing breath of fresh air.

I cannot imagine that a sincere apology has not been forthcoming from the Globe, a publication with which I have no familiarity.  Would it not be simple just to admit an error and get on with the business of publishing?  Your "ps" was a beauty.  Alas, we red staters may have to admit that Alterman has a little more audience than we suspected.

Eric Alterman, anti-Semite.

Good grief.

Yours from the Red States,
Dave Richie

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to award the Oscar for "most deluded conservative pundit" to (te-da te-da): David Brooks for his column last Saturday.  It was as if Brooks had been dreaming through Dubya's administration and suddenly awoke to find out the budget is a fiscal disaster.  Sounding just like a liberal, Brooks rails against the "great redistribution" of wealth that is afoot.  "We may as well be blunt about the driving force behind all this.  The living and well organized are taking money from the weak and the unborn."  Brooks cries to the Heavens (or Karl Rove): "Have we entered another world, where up is down and rationality is irrational?"  But then Brooks plunges into the irrational himself: putting his faith in the inevitability of a savior, "some sort of new leader" along the lines of Ross Perot who will take-on special interest groups.  (Brooks apparently forgot John Kerry's debate promises to let the Congressional Budget Office hold his feet to the fire and abandon his domestic spending proposals if necessary).

This reminds me of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," where the hapless politicians let society fall apart, confident that when things get too bad the talented people will step in and "do something."  When pressed, nearly all conservatives have relied on some vague future where domestic (never military) spending will be cut.  They don't even contemplate an alternative scenario: that we will turn into England.  The baby boomers will respond to a call to "soak the rich and Bring America Home," not a plea for noble sacrifice.  Actually they might prefer a call to "soak the poor," but there's not enough there to soak).  Liberals might find this scenario attractive, but the devil is in the details.  A sudden redistribution of wealth and a cutback of the America's global hegemony will create a host of problems, both in terms if inefficiency costs and global politics.  The end effect will be a more stratified/less socially mobile society, an abandoned "empire," but maybe some rudimentary national health insurance.

P.S. Let the record show: before the Weekly Standard ran Max Boot's attack on the neoconfederate "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History," it praised it in "the Standard Reader."  And the guy who praised it appears to be a state appellate court judge!

Name: Rick Frederickson
Hometown: Pembroke, NH

Although I disagree with Harvard Professor Lawrence Summers perception that females have a genetically inferior aptitude for math and science, there may be some merit to a genetic relationship.  Before you female readers get furious with me, please read on.  A scholar, I am not nor am I a psychologist or biologist, however, of all the commentary I have heard and read concerning this matter, none coincide with my opinion on the subject.

The fact which is the basis of this heated discussion is that there are fewer women in advanced math and sciences in high school and college as well as careers in which math and science is a staple.  Professor Summers was merely doing what Professors and academics are supposed to do when confronted with an effect.  They contemplate what the cause might be. As the father of two girls and two boys in elementary school, I reflect on the question as well.

After some unemotional deliberation, my hypothesis is that the reason or cause is not that females have a genetically inferior aptitude for performing these functions.  A more likely cause is that females are genetically predisposed to lack interest in the subjects.  Similar to the reason boys wrestle and girls have tea parties.  Females' likes and dislikes differ partly because of their genetic predisposition.  Because Math and Science have a propensity to be less appealing to females, they are less inclined to pursue success in these subjects.

In conclusion, it is not a genetic inferior aptitude but a genetic aversion to Math and Science.  Most simply do not enjoy it.  Problem solved.  Move on.

February 24, 2005 |

Of Gannon, the Globe, and Guitar Gods and Goddesses...

Conservative strategist Frank Luntz – who MSNBC can't seem to figure out is – has produced a (note: large zip file) detailing exactly how the right-wing should sell their agenda.  Luntz concedes that Republicans are having problems because they "lack factual discipline" when talking about Social Security.  Luntz should take his own advice.  combs through the document and .

All sorts of interesting, and damning, nuggets continue to tumble out of the story.  Yet according to LexisNexis, neither ABC, CBS, Los Angeles Times, nor Miami Herald (just to name a few) have reported on the $200-an-hour male escort who, with no journalism experience and using an alias while working for a phony news organization, was allowed into White House press briefings without having to submit to a full background security check.  Move along folks, nothing of interest here.

My idea of Hell:  Right now it’s neck and neck between paying five grand to go to London with Hitchens and Horowitz or being seated at a fancy New York restaurant next to a cooing Ron Sliver and Ann Coulter.  Developing….

(By the way, that Coulter/Silver thing was found in Lloyd Grove’s column.  Shouldn’t Len Downie switch Lloyd’s replacement, Richard Leiby and Mr. Conflict of Interest?  Richard is a nice guy, but really, he is being wasted on a beat that does not allow him to use much of his talents and Hacktacular Howie has spent the past decade sucking up to just the kind of right-wing sources that make all the news in Washington these days.  What’s more, his wife, the Republican PR woman, could get a government contract and feed him stuff a la Armstrong Williams and it would all be legal—and hardly more corrupt than Howie flacking for CNN who pays him directly.  You’d get a solid media reporter and a natural Page Sixer in one fell swoop, as the saying goes.  Just a thought.

Was this Hunter’s ? 

Does “wax anti-Semitic?”  Call Cathy Young, quick.

The Cathy Young Corner:  The following exchange took place between Renee Loth, the Globe editorial page editor, and myself, this afternoon:

There really isn't anyone else who will "speak for the Globe" on this.

Since Cathy Young's column ran February 7, The Globe has published a letter from you, one from a supporter, and a third letter that agreed partly with you.  We published the ombudsman's report on the dispute which also aired your concerns. We have published your URL address and directed readers to your website,  so they can read more on the matter -- including the original blog that was edited from your letter -- and judge for themselves.
Many of your other questions get into internal editorial operations, which, (much as with the media entities you work for), we are constrained from sharing. We have given you a respectful hearing, understand your complaints, and  believe our response is sufficient.
Thanks very much.

Renee Loth
Editor, editorial page
The Boston Globe

Hello Ms. Loth,
Thank you for your reply.

Why are "editorial operations" of the Globe sacrosanct?  Why are they not a legitimate topic for reporting, just as the operations of the National Security Council or the Disney Corporation or any number of public and private agencies that are reported on, every day, in the Boston Globe? Are newspapers above the same public scrutiny that they, themselves, practice on everyone else?  Couldn't The New York Times have said much the same thing about Jayson Blair and let the matter drop there? (I note that I will be devoting my Nation column to the issue and am asking these questions in that capacity.)

Furthermore, if you examine the fourteen questions I sent you, you'll see that many of them do not in any way address the editorial operations of the Globe, but merely ask you--or someone at the Globe--to express their views on behalf of the paper. If you are unwilling to do so, can you please direct me to someone who will?

Finally, as you know, the letters to which you refer were heavily edited by the Globe itself both to conceal the evidence I offered and to delete the criticism of the Globe contained therein.  Literally dozens of letters were ignored, including many by people with far greater standing in the Jewish community and regarding anti-Semitism debates than your columnist. (Some of them are available at [].) The idea that the Globe "published a letter, one from me, and one from a supporter" is so woefully incomplete a statement that would not pass muster were it being reported in the Globe news section.

I await your response.

Eric Alterman,
Media Columnist, The Nation; “Altercation” weblogger

ps, I don't know if you are a regular reader of Dan Kennedy's fine media column in The Phoenix, but this morning he wrote, "Unlike Alterman, I only have one question: how could a toxic suggestion that Alterman is a "self-hating" Jew make it through the editing process? Young is entitled to her opinion. Alterman’s reflections on the British Muslim Council were pretty provocative, and were exactly the sort of thing I would expect a columnist like Young to react to. But the "self-hating" characterization was an ugly smear that never should have found its way into print."

(end of reply)

One point made by many of the letter writers to the Globe— but so far unpublished—is that the Globe’s sloppy editorial process, in this case named “” allowed Cathy Young to strengthen the cause of anti-Semitism worldwide.  When someone with no particular credibility on Jewish issues, Israel issues, or issues of anti-Semitism is allowed to slander someone with a decades-long history of engaging exactly these complicated issues with the “ugly smear,” it weakens the power of the word, and makes all such accusations sound as if they are merely unprincipled hacks with axes to grind—like Young.  I have written frequently in this space, and in The Nation, of Alexander Cockburn’s proclivity to employ anti-Semitic arguments, and when I’ve done so, he has accused me, I kid you not, of exploiting the Holocaust—exactly as Young did.  It does not surprise me to see Young’s piece republished on David Horowitz’s Web site. Horowitz and Cockburn are peas in a pod, and he is no doubt still smarting from the review I did of his book in The Forward.  (That’s right, Cathy and Dave, the Forward regularly asks anti-Semites to review books for them…)  But that the Globe would allow Young, a self-described “non-observant Jew” to throw around wild accusations against someone with my decades of involvement, both personal, religious and intellectual, on the issues, reflects a real crisis of incompetence on the page.  I am still waiting for a response to my letter as to whether Mr. King or anyone else will be disciplined.

P.S. Why the hell is the Globe editorial page printing op-eds about a tiny blog item anyway?  Isn’t that a bit silly?

I will be speaking to some sort of progressive student conference at U of Penn this Saturday at 3:30 at Logan Hall, and so I will miss the below, but perhaps you shouldn’t.

Saturday with Sal (and Chris Brokaw)
Chris spent the 1990s as drummer for the seminal slow-core band Codeine and as guitarist for the Boston-based Come.  In the past years he has expanded into poppier music, playing guitar with Evan Dando and in Consonant, the band showcasing the songwriting of Mission of Burma's Clint Conley, and helping compose music with playwright Rinde Eckert for the theater production "Highway Ulysses," performed at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge.  Chris' own solo albums feature intricate guitar work, some vocals, and the occasional effects pedal, and a tambourine-duct-taped-to-his-tapping-foot.  Recent releases include his soundtrack to the indie film "I was born, but..." by Roddy Bogawa, and a four-song EP "My Confidante + 3" featuring songs by his pals Liz Phair, Thalia Zedek, and Holly Anderson/Lisa Burns.  He's playing a free in-store solo set this Sat Feb 26 at 3pm at Sals’s 173 west 81st St. (just off Amsterdam), and then later that night at North 6 in Brooklyn with the Rachels.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ

Since your affair with Ms. Young is essentially an intra-tribal thing, it could definitely use a Torah perspective.  First of all, things going good for us/bad for our enemies is the basis for a good chunk of our Holidays.  If the Exodus wasn't a catastrophe for the Egyptians, then what was it?  Also, the issue of perspective is very applicable to Torah.  For example, the Rambam holds that Hashem strengthened Pharoah's heart in order for him to maintain Free Will during the Plagues, while Ibn Ezra holds that Hashem took away Pharaoh's Free Will.  Both are considered Emes (Truth).  How can that be?  The same way that the Earth spins both clockwise and counterclockwise at the same time--it's a matter of perspective.

Name: Maureen Moran
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

So let me get this straight.

Bonnie Raitt isn't a guitar god in your estimation, and women in that business are few and far between, so from this you conclude that men and women are "innately different" and, presumably, women just aren't hard-wired to be great guitar players in the Pinkerian/Summersian way that men are.

Ah.  I suppose it never crossed your mind that, much like the hard sciences, the music industry has systemic bias and enormous barriers to entry against even those women who overcome their childhood socialization and conditioning that boys play guitar and girls want to be with the boys who play guitar?

Name: J. R. "Not the New York Press Troglodyte" Taylor
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
I know what you mean by "women guitar gods"; however.  For most of the '90s I made my living recording classical music concerts, with the help of a long string of college-student assistants.  Most of them were aspiring guitarists, and they could have not have worshipped Sharon Isbin more if she were Andres Segovia resurrected.  At she plays the adagio from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez while you learn more about her. And learning, as all Altercationists know, is good.

Name: John Shaw

Oh Eric Eric Eric -- no female guitar gods?  While she would blanch at the term as blasphemous, Sister Rosetta Tharpe influenced Chuck Berry himself, was a wild blues-jazz-gospel electric lead player, playing ripping fuzztone licks as early as 1941 (making her maybe the first rock and roll guitarist), and could do the solo acoustic blues-gospel thing with a thunka thunka boogie beat and tasty, distinctive fills and runs that would do any guitar god proud.

There's also a kickin' solo acoustic instrumental snapper in the Leo Kottke vein named making the rounds now.  Worth checking out.

These exceptional exceptions aside, there may have been some social factors involved in the preponderance of dudes in the guitar pantheon.  Women have been kicking it on several instruments forever, but as recently as a century ago, musicians were telling their daughters to study harp if they wanted to work in orchestras, because the orchestras just weren't hiring women who played violin.

Name: Mark Hoffman
Co-author of
Dear Eric,
Tell me you were jiving in your comments about Bonnie Raitt (below).  If not, I disagree vehemently with your estimation of her playing.  I think she's one of the greatest blues slide guitarists of our time. She has impeccable technique plus that fabulous singing tone that makes her slide playing instantly recognizable--the hallmark of a great guitarist. Nobody works those microtones more soulfully than she does. I've never heard a better slide player (or singer) in the blues genre; her only equal on slide in the blues genre is Ry Cooder.

B. B. King called Bonnie his favorite slide player. He would know. He developed his hugely influential string-trilling style because he couldn't master slide guitar. If Blind Willie Johnson, Earl Hooker, or Elmore James were alive today, Bonnie could match licks with them. No surprise there. She learned to play by hanging out with some of the great blues slide players ever, such as Son House and Mississippi Fred McDowell. She's also a damn fine acoustic fingerpicker who uses all four fingers plus thumb, which is unusual. And she's a great live performer--a dying art in these days of prefab vocals and canned tracks. I rate her right up with Bruce Springsteen as a live performer, and I don't rate anyone higher.

Why are there are no great female guitar gods? You might as well ask why there are no great male guitar goddesses. Any serious student of guitar can tell you that some of the greatest and most influential American guitarists ever were women, such as Maybelle Carter, Rosetta Tharpe, Mary Osborne, Mary Kay, and Elizabeth Cotton. Many great guitarists today are women: Joni Mitchell, Rory Block, Joanna Connor, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies, Ani DiFranco, Patty Larkin, Sheryl Crow, Susan Tedeschi, Ana Popovic, Nina Gordon, Nancy Wilson, Joan Jett, Deana Carter, Sharon Isbin, and on and on. Two just here in Seattle are Del Rey and Alice Stuart. Del's a powerful acoustic fingerpicker, and Alice is a great electric guitarist. I can't think of better players on acoustic or electric than Del or Alice in this town.

Until the last two decades, women in popular music never got the recognition they deserved as instrumentalists, so most of them gravitated toward singing. But there were always a few women who played guitar, and played it well--often better than the men. They had to play better than men to get any gigs. The classic example in the blues field was Memphis Minnie, who in a famous cutting contest in Chicago soundly thrashed Big Bill Broonzy, supposedly the greatest male blues guitarist of the time. Just as you're going to be soundly thrashed by your irate readers. Don't count me among those thrashers, but please, just admit it: You were jiving, right?

Name: Ron Zucker
Hometown: Washington, DC

Yes, there is at least one female guitar god, at least for this guitar player. Patty Larkin opened for Leo Kottke a couple of years ago in California, and it opened my eyes. She combined the interesting sonic attack of the late Michael Hedges (about whom I know opinion is divided, but who was, IMHO, up there with Kottke, McLaughlin, Hendrix, DeMeola, Django and all the rest) with the rhythmic sense of a drummer and the pure technique, when she feels like it, of a De Lucia or a Wes Montgomery. She is truly one of a kind.

If you've not listened to her, or, better yet, seen her, it's easy to typify her as a new folk artist, like Christine Lavin, and ignore her technique. And, as a rock and roller and blues player, I respect the folkies, but they don't get to be guitar gods very often. But, hey, Fahey and Kottke were both folkies first. In this case, she has earned that level of respect.

It's not speed or technique that makes a guitar god.  It's a sense of the right note, and the right chord and the right rhythm. Patty Larkin has all of that in spade.  The fact that she also writes wonderful lyrics, sings beautifully and is an engaging performer is, for me, as a guitarist, secondary. I go to hear her guitar do things mine will never do, and to try to hear what she hears.

Eric replies:  Look people, I don’t agree with Summers, OK?  I don’t agree with anybody who dates Laura Ingraham on anything, and pretty much agree with Katha Pollitt’s criticisms , something I don’t say very often.  But on the chick guitarist thing:  The idea was inspired by reading ”No Girls Allowed? In the World of Guitar Boasts, Few Women Let Their Fingers Do the Talking,” by David Segal, The Washington Post , August 22, 2004; Page N01,, and I think it’s largely true, though perhaps the reasons are similar—that seems to me more of a stretch.  Anyway, while there are plenty of excellent women guitarists, and maybe a great one with whom I’m not familiar, can anyone really argue that there are any in the pantheon that includes Clapton, Page, Beck, Hendrix, Allman, Vaughan, Santana, Garcia and potentially, young Derek Trucks?  Do you really want to argue differently?  Do you really think that any of those named above, belong there?

February 23, 2005 |

Of plans and planning

Hello everybody, here.  Eric is still sans power cord, and thus communicating via handheld and telephone.  So I thought I would generate some text today.

In local news, there is still time to check out my latest book, .  The paperback will come out in May or so.  But the hardback is pretty cheap right now.  So grab a copy before all your friends do!

My concern today -- and the whole world's concern today -- is Iran.  If you are the sort of person who reads blogs like this, Kos, Eschaton, and Sivacracy, you probably get e-mails from friends like the that quotes Scott Ritter predicting a June attack on Iran.

How could Scott Ritter know what Bush plans to do?  I am not sure there is one American more hated and dismissed by the administration than Ritter.  I doubt he has any contacts in the pentagon these days.  Ritter apparently is basing his conclusion not on any insiders, but on The New Yorker.  He is running with the carefully chosen words of Seymour Hersh, yet choosing them less carefully.  Hersh noted that U.S. covert teams are in Iran.  That's probably true, and Hersh has the best possible sources in both the Pentagon and the CIA.  But that is probably nothing new.  We have probably had teams there since Khatami's government lost its teeth about three years ago.  It would not surprise me if we had covert teams on-and-off in Iran since 1979.  The real big news of Hersh's article was that the Pentagon is now doing all the important intelligence work.  For some reason, most accounts of Hersh's article missed that.  Anyway, it makes sense for Bush to have plans drawn up in the event that Iran melts down or freaks out.  It's only good policy for the president to order up plans to attack many states.  But just because there are plans on the table does not mean that anyone PLANS to attack.  We use the same word, but they carry very different meanings: tactics vs. intentions.

Ritter is rather undependable and unstable.  The Clinton administration had serious problems with his behavior, even investigating him for espionage.  I have never been able to make sense of Ritter.  One month he seems brilliant and principled.  The next he seems frenetic and vindictive.  Ritter was right both in 1998 and 2002 about the lack of weapons in Iraq.  But so were a lot of people.  Broken clocks and Scott Ritter can be right twice a day.  Of course, Ritter had many good sources in Iraq.  So it's not surprising that he knows a few things about it.  But he never served in Iran.  So besides picking up The New Yorker, how would he know stuff?

I don't think that if current conditions continue, the United States will attack Iran.  Here are three reasons why the United States will NOT attack Iran (even if it wants Iran to think it will):

  1. No soldiers left.
  2. No money left.
  3. The Pentagon does not see any way to take that country (and its nuclear facilities are spread out and defended) and understands that Iran has many ways to strike back in places like Beruit, Tel Aviv, and all of Iraq.

There are many big differences between Iran and Iraq: Iraq had no significant weapons or army.  So the first few weeks in Iraq were a rout.  Iran has nuclear weapons (or something very close) and a significant air force and army.  Remember, Iran won a war against Iraq back when Iraq had one of the strongest armies in the world.  Iran is not as ethnically or religiously diverse as Iraq.  We could not divide and conquer the way we did (and everyone has done for centuries) Iraq.

Everyone knows it's a war we can't win, if winning means minimum casualties, quick control of the region, and the establishment of a stable government that has the support of the people.

That does not mean that Iran has no reason to fear the United States.  It is surrounded by U.S. troops and bases on all sides.  And Bush keeps fumbling every opportunity to diffuse tensions with Iran.  Iran does not fear an invasion or a bombing run.  It does fear isolation and starvation.  Sound like any other part of the world that Bush is making more dangerous every day?

Look, we have enough real evidence that George W. Bush can't negotiate his way out of a paper bag and that he can't plan or execute a war even against an unarmed country.  He betrays the trust of the brave soldiers who serve under him by donning a flight suit even though he failed to serve while proposing cuts to veterans' benefits.  With all the real incompetence, we don't need to speculate about the next big mistake.

On Lower Education
Last night I watched my friend Jennifer Washburn perform her television debut on Lou Dobbs' show on CNN.  Washburn, the author of the important new book, was great, and Dobbs was respectful and supportive ... sort of soft, in fact.  But at the end, Dobbs made exiting remarks (giving no response time to Washburn) amounting to support for Harvard President Larry Summers' sexist and ignorant comments about women in science.  "Reasonable," I believe, was one of the words Dobbs used (the transcript is not posted yet this morning).

So I am struck:  How can so many people who read and think through issues think that Summers' comments, despite all available evidence to the contrary, are reasonable?  Summers' comments themselves were devoid of evidence or argument.  Still, he has many important supporters who should know better.  Why is this?

I suspect that Summers was issuing his comments as shorthand for the tangled thought of , the linguist-psychologist whom Summers lured from MIT last year.  Pinker has much support and interest among thoughtful folks.  I don't get that, either.  Pinker is so clearly unscientific in his methods and selective about his evidence that I can't for the life of me understand why people think he is on to something profound.  But people are.  Such people seek simple explanations to complex phenomena and see in Pinker a single simple answer that seems to explain everything from math to militarism: we are hard-wired to do it!

Pinker, like other essentialists, has a hard time explaining how something as stable as "human nature" changes so quickly over the course of a century, but never mind.  Trusting the absolute solution of hard wiring means not having to think historically, or culturally, or even logically.  Things just are.  Go on about your business.

We over at have been posting many interesting items related to science and Summers.  We have encountered many intelligent (and not a few hateful and bigoted) responses.  Come on by and join in!

Eric replies:  Actually, I’m back, with power cord, but Siva’s stuff is so good, I’ll put what I was going to say on hold.  In the meantime, what, and I sort of mean this, if Larry Summers had mused on why there are no great women guitar gods?  Seriously, I love Bonnie Raitt, but Bonnie is a good, not great guitarist, and there are simply no other nominees. (I read this argument in the Washington Post a long time ago. It’s not original.)  (And by the way, if you want to see the most beautiful musical performance you can imagine, try to search out the Boston Pops performance where she performed together with her proud poppa.  It brought tears to my eyes even before I understood what he might be feeling.)   Anyway, I’m far from convinced that Summers is right, and I think it was a very stupid thing for a president of Harvard to say, but I do think men and women are innately different.  Just the same, Little Roy’s calling Summers’ critics “Stalinists” shows that taking time off from blogging really does not improve one’s own innate critical abilities.

Speaking of me, I was big news at Editor and Publisher yesterday and .  Feel free to let Ms. Young know of the ombudsman’s denunciation of the sloppiness and inaccuracy of her work in case she missed it.  (We note that the article has been reproduced on David Horowitz’s Web site, which is where it belonged in the first place, and also, stupidly, in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.  If you live in or near Philly, feel free to let them know how foolish that was, .)

One of the editors who printed it suggested that I get in touch with David Wallis who has been syndicating Young’s column from a freelancer’s syndication site, Featurewell.  I did, noting the fact that when Wallis began his site, he traded heavily on my name as one of his authors, even though I can’t remember anything he’s actually syndicated of mine.  (Perhaps one thing but I don’t remember what it was.)  I let it go because, even though I barely know Wallis, I support any effort to help freelancers make a living.  Anyway, when I contacted him and asked him to stop spreading a false and malicious slander of me, he cried “censorship.”  Really this is such crap.  “Censorship” and editorial judgment are two quite different things, as Wallis ought to know, and I hereby renounce (actually, phony to begin with) association with an outfit that can’t tell the difference.  Wallis can be reached .

There’s nothing cooler in the world than been a jazz pianist, but Bill Charlap adds an interesting twist on the concept by not only looking and dressing like an accountant, but also bringing his mom along to perform with him.  But hell, it works. Charlap directed and executed a nearly perfect night of celebration and exploration of the music of six of America’s greatest writers of pop songs, offering plenty of context and explanation together with inventive and almost flawlessly executed interpretation after inventive and flawlessly executed interpretation.  It didn’t hurt any that his mother is the singer, Sandy Stewart,--father, Broadway composer and songwriter Moose Charlap.  While Sandy was resting, he could call on Freddie King for the honors.  The band was rounded out by the great Frank Wess of the Basie band, a rhythm section of Kenny and Peter Washington, and Peter Bernstein on guitar.  Given that it was all performed in the most beautiful music room in New York, the Allen Room at the new home of Jazz@ LC, we all felt extremely lucky to be there.  The bad news, per usual, were ticket prices, which go as high as $150, and sadden me for all the people who can’t afford to enjoy jazz as it’s almost never been presented before.

Meanwhile, both Sal and I have been failing in our responsibilities lately.  And I have not done nearly what I should be doing with this site vis-a vis book reviews, and helping out authors who need some attention called to their work, as the book space in virtually every major outlet continues to shrink and shlock takes over much of what space remains.  To both of the above ends, feel free to send me reviews of the following.  If they are really excellent, I’ll publish.  If not, you will have been a better person for writing it.  People whose names I know and whose work I can judge in advance will have priority, naturally.

  • Ed Epstein, The Big Picture
  • Wayne Baker, America’s Crisis of Values
  • Nick Kotz, Judgment Days
  • Jason DeParle, American Dream
  • Westeman and Gusterson, Why America’s top Pundits are Wrong
  • Steve Frasier, Every Man a Speculator
  • Sarah Greenough, et al, Andre Kertesz
  • Nick Salvatore, Singing in a Strange Land
  • Clarke and Halper, America Alone
  • Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity
  • John Perkins, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
  • Robert Norrell, The House I live In
  • Charles Mersh, The Beloved Community
  • Richard Paker, John Kenneth Galbraith
  • Paul Khan, Putting Liberalism in Its Place
  • Bill Arkin, Code Names
  • Craig Shirley, Reagan’s Revolution
  • Gil Troy, Morning in America
  • Michael Ybarra, Washington Gone Crazy
  • Ricrd Overy, The Dictators
  • Curtis Cate, Freiedrich Nietzche
  • Stephen Graubard, Command of Office
  • Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism
  • Irwin Stelzer, The Neocon Reader

Books I’ve read but feel free to beat me to the act of actually reviewing them:

  • Godfrey Hodgson, More Equal Than Others
  • Jim Atlas, My Life in the Middle Ages
  • John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism
  • Elizabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt, second edition


  • The Office, complete
  • The Wire, second season
  • Deadwood, first season

Correspondence Corner

Letters to the Boston Globe:

Name: Hilda B. Silverman
Hometown: Cambridge, MA

To the Editor
Boston Globe
FAX # (617) 929-2098
In a Feb. 13 letter, Geoffrey Lewis powerfully defends Eric Alterman against Cathy Young’s allegations of anti-Semitism; but Young’s op-ed (“When Jews Wax Anti-Semitic,” Feb. 7) was problematic beyond its attack on an individual writer, as shown, e.g., in her parenthetical statement, “While he [Alterman] counts himself among Israel’s supporters, he seems to regard the creation of Israel itself” not just the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza” as an Arab “~catastrophe.’”

In fact, although the birth of Israel was regarded as a triumph for Jews worldwide, for Palestinian Arabs it was a catastrophe.  Fully 60% of the Palestinian population at the time "some 700,000 people” fled or were driven from their homes and were never allowed to return.  Their property was “legally” expropriated by Israel and transferred to Jewish ownership.

Well-documented reports of forced marches include horrific descriptions of the plight of thousand of Palestinians on their way to becoming refugees, their villages largely destroyed or depopulated and repopulated with Jews, many of whom were, ironically, also desperate refugees.

That the world had stood silently by while two thirds of European Jewry was annihilated within the previous decade does not diminish the pain of the 1948 Palestinian “catastrophe/Nakba."

Name: Robert Green
To the Editor
I’m surprised that you would print Cathy Young’s utterly inaccurate and slanderous column regarding Eric Alterman.  This sort of hate speech masquerading as…well, I’m not sure it’s masquerading as anything in particular…accusing a fellow Jew of being a “self-hating” “anti-Semite” is loathsome.  Of course, so is completely misrepresenting Mr. Alterman’s views, his words, his inferences, his connotation and so on. 

I happen to be a Jew who lives here in Los Angeles, but one who has read Mr. Alterman’s books, columns, and other work for 15 years at least.  He is at times a polemicist, at times a historian, at times a journalist (and now a blogger), and he is always a serious intellectual and thinker, the kind with whom one needs to reckon.  What you did was not reckoning, it was spreading manure across a field.  Either you are ignorant of Mr. Alterman’s positions and place, in which case shame on you for running a piece such as Young’s without doing your homework, or you are partisan hacks, the kind of people that I loathe. 

Whichever it is, short of an apology and/or an offer to run Mr. Alterman’s full response in the Journal, I will endeavor to get as many of my fellow readers in this town to unsubscribe, both
Yours truly,
Robert Green

Letters to Altercation:

Name: Dave Wieland
Hometown: Buffalo Grove

Dr. A,
Welcome to Chicago and I hope you enjoy your visit.

Although he might not exactly been your cup of tea, I am saddened by the apparent suicide death of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

I first encountered him in college when I picked up his book Hell's Angels. I later read in his two part article in Rolling Stone Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which was later published as a book. Great writing.

His coverage of the 1972 Presidential campaign and ensuing Watergate scandal gave we burned out political workers, anti-war activists and 60's countercultural kids hope that all was not lost and there was an alternative to mainstream journalism and it was more entertaining.

I was camping outside Aspen in the middle 70's when I got the idea of driving to Woody Creek in hopes of meeting the good doctor.  Unfortunately, I did not meet him and fortunately I was not shot at as Hunter was known for doing this to anybody who trespassed on his property.

Strangely enough I was visiting my attorney this past weekend and Fear and Loathing came up in our conversation because of our past trips to Vegas and how weird things have become over the past thirty three years. We were also planning another trip to Vegas this October.

Tonight I will be hoisting a drink of Wild Turkey in honor of the doctor and hopes that he has found the next phase as strange as this world.

Ironically, I saw Hunter live in 1982 at Northwestern University.  The experience is too surreal to describe other than Pick-Staiger Auditorium was packed, the doctor was late, but showed up with a fifth of Wild Turkey and the attendees kept throwing joints on the stage which Hunter declined.  Had he taken all of them he would have been arrested immediately afterward and probably charged with possession with intent to distribute from the sheer number of joints even though I believed they would have been for his personal use.

Thanks for the memories and entertaining myself and millions others over the years with your unique prospective. There certainly will never be another like you in my lifetime.


Cold War's complexity

I'm traveling and teaching today, plus I forgot to bring the power cord for my computer, so I think it's a good day to post the following exchange that appeared in The Nation recently but was not made available on line. The writers are replying to and .  Back tomorrow.

The Court Historian
Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Well, at 96 and 87 respectively, as Eric Alterman puts it ["The Liberal Media," Dec. 27], John Kenneth Galbraith and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. deserve respect.  It was around 1950 that I became upset when Carey McWilliams wrote in The Nation that Arthur spoke the language of McCarthy with a Harvard accent. Fond of McWilliams and a family friend of the Schlesingers, I wrote McWilliams a sharp rebuke, and terminated (victim of my own terror of contamination) my budding relationship with The Nation.  McWilliams was a mild giant, a fine editor at a time of tribulation, what with the Red Scare and accusations that a staff member, Del Vayo, an exiled Spanish Republican, was a Communist.  The Nation offices, then way downtown on Vesey Street, felt beleaguered.  What ticked off McWilliams was the beginnings of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), conceived by Schlesinger and others as a way to maintain center-left New Deal influence by purging Reds from progressive ranks.  A bad time, described by Victor Navasky in his book Naming Names.  I recall American Veterans Committee meetings extending to 2 a.m. with wrangling among factions over "points of order" and "points of information."  Was I right in siding with Schlesinger against McWilliams?  I doubt it.  Even Schlesinger and Galbraith made mistakes, as Alterman notes.  ADA, some labor unions and others curtailed the Bill of Rights and human rights in order to save them (as did President Truman with his loyalty program).  This can be perceived as a Leszek Kolakowski dilemma, in which a principle is threatened with self-destruction from excess consistency; or as cowardice, or outflanking the opposition.

In mulling all this over, it occurs to me that the present is not unlike the period following World War II.  I now doubt that the Red Scare made any more sense than the present "war on terrorism."  In both instances, 1945 and the end of the twentieth century, the United States, in a position of unrivaled power, became frightened of insignificant enemies, leading to a displacement of resources that favored the military-industrial-intelligence-university complex; and invasions of constitutional rights.  Yes, I am nostalgic for the vigorous, disorderly dialogue of the 1930s, Reds included, when we rallied around real issues like the right to organize.  The recent Kerry campaign may well be the unhappy legacy of the ADA and like-minded failings of conscience and virtue.   
James Munves
New York City

I have no quarrel with Eric Alterman's critique of Peter Beinart's call for a new cold war ["The Liberal Media," Jan. 10/17], although his discussion of the need for a Democratic fighting faith takes pretty much the same stance as Beinart but from a liberal cold war perspective.  This perspective also surfaced in his previous column [Dec. 27], where Alterman's appreciation of the tough-minded realism of Arthur Schlesinger is overly selective.  Schlesinger was for the most part critical of US policy only when the Democrats were out of power.  Much of his well-written history is pure hagiography.  In 1950 he was an early supporter of intervention in Southeast Asia. He called for support of the French puppet Bao Dai, and he was certain "American reform would accompany military funds" and "American technical missions [could] easily be organized to combat the social problems."  Is this nonideological, tough-minded realism?

During the McCarthy era, when some professors refused to answer investigating committees' questions, Schlesinger, defending academic freedom while denouncing its practitioners, supported the right to "loathsome ideas" and referred to the professors as "contemptible individuals" and "wretched nonentities" who had lived "a political lie" in the service of a "foreign nation and of a totalitarian conspiracy."  When Nation editor Carey McWilliams, Yale Law Review editor Thomas Emerson and poet Stringfellow Barr called for a conference on the attack on civil liberties, Schlesinger called them "Typhoid Marys of the left bearing the germs of infection, even if not suffering obviously from the diseases." Such "comrades of the pro-Communist left" had no credibility to call for such a conference.  (McWilliams responded that Schlesinger "spoke the language of McCarthyism with a Harvard accent.")  Schlesinger also called Victor Navasky's Naming Names a "tricky," "disingenuous" apology for Stalinism.  As the Hollywood Ten were appealing their convictions for refusing to answer investigators' questions, Schlesinger wrote that Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie had "refused to own up to their political beliefs before a Committee of Congress."

Alterman waxes eloquent about the Milan Conference sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Freedom, funded by the CIA.  Dwight Macdonald reviewed the conference for Encounter, also funded by the CIA, and saw it as a boring defense of Western anti-Communism.  The editors demanded drastic revisions and ultimately superseded his piece with one by the Dickensian-named Edward Shills praising the conference.  Both Schlesinger and Shills defended the covert CIA support.  This was indeed a part of their "fighting faith."  In Alterman's romanticization of the period he writes as if he is unaware of the darker side of this cold war history, when the threat to civil liberties was constant and the liberal opposition a frail reed.  This may simply be due to the current historical amnesia.  Or, it may be a matter of generational historical ignorance.  In either case it is a distorted picture.
Michael Wreszin
New York City

Alterman replies:
I thank James Munves for his reminiscences.  Michael Wreszin's letter is profoundly confused.  He accuses me of being "overly selective" in my "appreciation of the tough-minded realism of Arthur Schlesinger" and then goes on to lay out a series of events in which he has differences with the positions Schlesinger took at the time.  Wreszin would be on firmer ground if he were arguing with the particulars of anything I actually wrote.  The two columns to which he refers were indeed "selective" in that they discussed none of the events in Schlesinger's career.  In fact, they discussed Schlesinger in only a few paragraphs of one column and mentioned him only four times in the course of the 2,600-word total for two columns.  The references add up to far fewer words than Wreszin takes to argue with me.  Perhaps he has a case in some of his particulars, perhaps not.  (I certainly disagree with Schlesinger's assessment of Naming Names.)

Nevertheless, I took no position on the substance of Schlesinger's positions over the course of his sixty years in politics except to note that he and John Kenneth Galbraith "made their share of mistakes, political and intellectual.  But they were not the most costly kind, thanks to an
unyielding commitment of both the economist and the historian to battling the effects of extremism of all stripes."  Wreszin pretends to read in this an endorsement of all of Schlesinger's decisions.  His dishonesty in doing so is patent in his characterization of my work when he writes, "Alterman waxes eloquent about the Milan Conference sponsored by the Committee for Cultural Freedom, funded by the CIA." Here is my reference to the conference in its entirety:  "Mattson's invaluable new study, When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism, quotes Galbraith at a Congress of Cultural Freedom gathering in Milan in 1955, attacking intellectuals who treat their ideological constructs as reality."  Obviously, I did not "wax eloquent."  I did not "wax" at all.  I merely identified the location of Galbraith's remarks, quoting the original source.  Is this somehow objectionable?

The cold war was a far more complex matter than can be appreciated in the course of a polemical letter that offers no context or competing arguments for its angry indictments.  I have neither the time nor the space to be drawn into the complicated particulars of the anecdotes that Wreszin seems to believe prove his point.  This is not due to "historical amnesia."  I assure him that I am fully "aware" of the "darker side of cold war history."  Indeed, I earned my PhD in the  subject. I simply see that history differently from Wreszin.

Nothing in his letter inspires me to wish to reconsider my view that both Galbraith and
Schlesinger served their nation and their ideals quite honorably during the course of their careers.  It is no crime that Wreszin, too, has been "selective" in his choices of anecdotes and the manner in which he portrays them.  Selectivity is unavoidable for both the historian and the journalist.  He would be a better polemicist, however, if he understood as much.
Eric Alterman


The plight of whistleblowers - Gagging the Park Police

I’ll be interviewed on stage at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University today at 4:00, (and will finally get to meet Stupid afterward).  Thanks to everyone who came to say hello at Temple Israel yesterday.  We had a good discussion of media coverage of the Middle East, though by Cathy Young/Boston Globe standards, everyone in the synagogue was either an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew.

Now down to business:

I received this e-mail yesterday, looked into it a bit, and discovered that Tim Noah of Slate has written eight articles about the case, but decided it was worth allowing Ms. Chambers to have her say here.  For more information, you can find an overview and Tim’s articles .

Name: Teresa Chambers
Hometown: Huntingtown, Maryland

You may already be aware that recently I served as the head of one of the top uniformed Federal law enforcement agencies in this country. 

At the arrival of the one-year anniversary of my being permanently silenced in retaliation for speaking with a reporter, I prepared the Op-Ed, copied and pasted below.  It is not an exclusive for any one media outlet; however, the circumstances of this case and the impact on media and citizens across the United States makes that impractical. 

I hope that you will find a meaningful use for the document.  Please feel free to pass it on in its entirety to media representatives in your area, personal friends, and elected officials and to post it on your blogs, Web sites, special interest Internet groups, and other appropriate locations.  Please know that I am available for interviews and that my contact information is included in the Op-Ed.

Please consider keeping this story alive by capitalizing on the "anniversary" of these outrageous actions by Federal officials.  Feel free to reach out to me for any additional information I can provide.

Teresa Chambers
Former Chief, United States Park Police

The Op-EdThe plight of whistleblowers “those employees who sound the alarm about anything from dangerous conditions in the workplace to missed or ignored intelligence regarding our nation’s security" is a story that seems to grow stronger and with more frequency every day.  My guess is that those stories have always been there; I suspect I am just paying closer attention to them now.You see, I joined the “ranks” of whistleblowers more than one year ago when, on December 2, 2003, a major newspaper printed a story in which I confirmed for them what many of us already knew “we, the members of the United States Park Police, could no longer provide the level of service that citizens and visitors had grown to expect in our parks and on our parkways in Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco.  The world changed for all of us on September 11, 2001, and the expectations of police agencies across the country grew exponentially overnight.  As the Chief of the United States Park Police, an organization responsible for some of America’s most valued and recognizable symbols of freedom, I knew it was my duty, as chiefs of police across the country do every day, to inform the community of the realities of the situation.For being candid -- for being "honest" -- while still being supportive of my superiors, I was, without warning, stripped of my law enforcement authority, badge, and firearm, and escorted from the Department of the Interior by armed special agents of another Federal law enforcement entity last December (2003).  Seven months later, the Department of the Interior terminated me.Frighteningly, the issues I brought to light about our citizens' and visitors' safety and security and the future of these American icons have not been addressed -- other than to silence me. In fact, there are fewer United States Park Police Officers today than there were when I was sent home for daring to say that we weren't able to properly meet our commitments with existing resources. Other security concerns I raised internally have also gone un-addressed.Imagine the outcry if I had previously stayed silent and if one of those symbolic monuments or memorials had been destroyed or the loss of life had occurred to someone visiting one of those locations. I did not want to be standing with my superiors among the ruins of one of these icons or in front of a Congressional committee trying to explain why we hadn't asked for help.Despite the serious First Amendment and security implications of my case for each American, there has been no Congressional intervention, no Congressional hearings, no demand of accountability by elected officials for those who took action to silence me and who have ignored all warnings about the perils to which I alerted them.  Following my termination and the publicity that accompanied it, it is unlikely that any current Federal employee will be willing to speak up with straightforward, accurate information about the realities of any danger we face.Our legal appeals continue, and some of the administrative charges placed against me have already been thrown out.  Through it all, it is becoming clear that Federal employees have little protection for simply telling the truth.My story is told , established nearly one year ago and maintained by my husband so that the American people could “witness” the issues in this case.  The website has provided transparency to my situation by making key documents available for viewing, including the transcripts of depositions of top officials and their testimony during a recent administrative hearing.Suppression of information is spreading “gag orders, non disclosures agreements, and the government’s refusal to turn over documents.  In agencies that span Federal service, conscientious public servants are struggling to communicate vital concerns to their true employers “you, the American public.  Is anyone listening?

In re the (permalink to this item)
Ever since the Globe allowed Young to slander me in its pages, I have attempted to clear my name as a citizen, employing the good offices of its ombudsman.  I’ve asked that either the Globe give me the same space that Young used to slander to me respond, or else to print my letter in full, together with the full text of the three original letters sent in by prominent Jews condemning her and the newspaper.  I’m still waiting for an answer, but in the meantime, Ombudsman Chris Chinlund weighed in on Cathy Young’s piece today .  Her conclusion:

Young's column, as written, was not up to op-ed page standards.  Suggesting that Alterman is a "self-hating" Jew was ad hominem and inappropriate.  What's acceptable online, where the aggrieved can respond quickly and in kind, is not necessarily OK on the op-ed page. The column was also blog-like in its narrow, personal focus -- not worthy of an opinion page where readers expect (and usually get) thoughtful analysis and insight.  The Globe acknowledged the situation by publishing the two letters of support as well as a third letter.  It would have been good to also provide access to Alterman's original text so readers could see the basis, or lack thereof, for Young's charge.

Two points: First, the Globe published only one letter of “support” initially, my own, and it was badly truncated to remove all discussion of evidence as well as my criticism of the editors, which the ombudsman shares.  The third letter it published was also truncated to remove yet another request for an apology.  Second, Ms. Chinlund asked me if, instead of the URL that contains all of the Globe/Alterman correspondence, I would simply create a page that had my original Altercation item.  I said I thought this unfair.  I had nothing to hide in this manner and I didn’t think the Globe should be allowed to hide what it wanted to either.  To her credit, she used the URL that points readers to the entire correspondence.  Her intercession, so far, is yet another argument that all serious newspapers need an ombudsman.

The second track I’ve taken however, as readers here know, has been to make use of my resources as a Weblogger, The Nation’s media columnist, and a professor of journalism.  To that end, I’ve not only printed all of the relevant correspondence here, but also contacted Globe Editorial Page Editor Renee Toth with a series of fourteen questions about the op-ed as I plan to devote my next (after this week’s) Nation column to the obvious failures of journalistic standards that would allow the piece to be published.  Here is the letter I sent Ms. Toth, to which I received a reply that she had been on vacation and did not know what had happened.  I replied, both to her and to Ms. Chinlund, that surely someone at the Globe could take responsibility for what was published in its pages and I would appreciate responses from whomever that turned out to be.  I continue to await a response.  Here are the questions.  I renew my promise to publish all of the answers in full on this site, thereby offering the Globe far greater courtesy than it offered me following the publication of the slanderous piece.

Fourteen Questions for Boston Globe Editorial page Editor, Renee Loth, sent care of Chris Chuinlund

Ms. Loth:
I plan to write my regular Nation column on my treatment by the Globe editorial page as well as additional items in my weblog, “Altercation.”  Rather than draw my own conclusions without offering you a chance to explain yourself, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to clear up some matters of confusion.  What follows is a series of interview questions for which I will be happy to print your answers on in full, as well as quote, fairly and accurately, in my Nation column.

  1. Your editor Nick King has admitted that he did not read the blog item to which Ms. Young addressed herself before (or after) editing the piece and in fact, was not even aware of the letter I had sent in that quoted it in its entirety until I called it to his attention days later.  Did you read it previous to publication?  Have you read it since?

  2. The following accusations about me appeared in the op-ed.  Do you presently agree with them?  Did you when you published the piece?  (Mr. King has already told me he did not agree with them and would not even go so far as to call them “true.”  Rather, they were, in his words, “provocative” and “within the bounds.”

    Alterman “not-so-deftly conflates Muslims with Arabs and Arabs with dispossessed Palestinians, and then declares Jews responsible for "much" of the suffering of Muslims everywhere”;

    Alterman blames “the Jews -- all lumped together, including long-dead Holocaust victims.”;

    “Alterman seems to regard the creation of Israel itself -- not just the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza -- as an Arab ‘catastrophe.’"

    “By Alterman's logic, every Muslim is justified in viewing every Jew as the enemy.”

    “Call it self-hatred or something less psychoanalytic; the bottom line is, this is the kind of rhetoric that, coming from a non-Jew, would be clearly seen as anti-Semitic”

  3. If in fact, you do agree with the above, how do we square the fact that the blog item never once mentioned “Moslems?”  I only spoke about “Arabs.”  Are you comfortable with a columnist and an editor who does not know the difference?  Does the Globe plan to run a correction on this point and apologize not only to me, but to—I’m guessing—500 million people who are one but not the other?  And by the way, isn’t it a form or racism to conflate the two?

  4. Young also wrote , “Alterman frets that his words will be ‘twisted beyond recognition,…’” Mr. King quoted these words to me as if they offered some sort of license to twist them. Is that how you view the responsibility of the Boston Globe’s op-ed page?  [For the record, I was expecting the twisting to come from Andrew Sullivan or David Horowitz; or even perhaps from Cathy Young—but never in The Boston Globe.]

  5. Were you aware, when you published the piece, that you were doing so about someone who is not only a committed Jew, but who also who frequently lectures in synagogues—one this Sunday-- and to Hadassah, and writes in The Forward, etc., but also has been writing about Israel and anti-Semitism for more than two decades, beginning with an article in The Boston Globe (for whom I then worked) approximately 20 years ago and continuing with attacks on the magazine for which I work owing to its publication of Alexander Cockburn?  Did this not set off any alarm bells for you or anyone on your staff?

  6. Were you also aware that I am also: [Here I merely recited a few details from my bio. If you really care, it’s available ]

    (I note these things not to brag, but to say, shouldn’t my position in the intellectual/journalistic community have bought me a little scrutiny from your editors before publishing these heinous accusations?  (Note, I don’t expect you to know that I was educated in Israel, that I have a daughter in Hebrew school, that I go to shul, light candles every week, etc.  But the above is all easily available.)

  7. Upon publishing the article, why was my request to offer evidence of Ms. Young’s duplicity denied?  Why was my letter edited to remove all implication of the Globe’s owing me an apology?  Why was it edited without any attempt to contact me or even to verify that I had, in fact written it?  Why was it edited to remove the information that Cathy Young is the only person ever to label me an anti-Semite in the mainstream media and she has now done so twice?

  8. Was Ms. Young asked about any personal animus she may have against me? Was she asked for instance, if she approved of the many things I’ve written about her ex-boyfriend John Fund?

  9. Why were letters from such influential Jewish voices as MJ Rosenberg and JoAnn Mort sent in my defense not published, when they hold positions in the community of considerably higher standing than both Ms. Young as well as the letter-writer you did publish?  Is it because they were also deeply critical of the Globe and its editors?

  10. Why was Mr. Lewis’s article, when it was eventually published—following my conversation with Mr. King--also edited to remove any suggestion that the Globe owed me an apology?

  11. Will Mr. King or Ms. Young be rebuked and/or disciplined as other well known journalistic malefactors have been of late?  (Mike Barnicle, Patricia Smith and Jeff Jacoby come to mind.)

  12. Will the Globe be publishing a selection of letters it has received critical not only of Mr. Young’s articles, but also of the treatment I’ve received in seeking to clear my name?

  13. Will the Globe be apologizing to me and retracting its accusations?

  14. Will you, personally, or Mr. King or Ms. Young be apologizing to me, for the pain you have caused based on unsound journalistic practices?

Eric Alterman

Remember, we’ve created that were also forwarded to me.  If you want to add your voice to the chorus, the relevant parties are op-ed page editor Nick King, (, 617-929-2838) and Ombudsman Chris Chinlund, (, 617-929-3134).  Letters to the editor are  If you want to let Ms. Young know what you think, her published e-mail on Reason’s Web site where she invites letters from the public is

(A number of webloggers have noted that Ms. Young, so proud of her column, has been e-mailing it around.  Perhaps she’d like to e-mail the Ombudsman’s view that the piece was “not up to op-ed page standards… ad hominem and inappropriate…not worthy of an opinion page.”  Finally, Young’s slander has been foolishly reprinted by both Reason Magazine online, and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.  Reason can be reach and the L.A. Jewish Journal .  Tell ‘em what you think.

Dead Journalists: What’s the story?  I’ve written next week’s Nation column about right-wing bloggers and Eason Jordan’s resignation.  For space reasons, I did not address the allegation that U.S. soldiers have killed journalists on purpose.  Naturally I have hard time believing that it would be official policy of the U.S. military, or any part thereof to murder journalists on purpose,  but neither do I think that’s the end of the story.  Journalists are dying in combat needlessly and something needs to be done about it.  Joel Campagna of the Committee to Protect Journalists has written , asking some tough questions and I think they need answers.  See if you disagree.

I received this note at The Nation, regarding the SOTU hug that got Cookie Roberts and so many others in such a tizzy.  It strikes me as worth knowing. 

The Iraqi woman, identified by Bush as Safia Taleb al-Suhail, is a  politician.  She was a long-time Iraqi-in-exile and proponent of a U.S. invasion of Iraq, did not live in Iraq at the time of the invasion, and was appointed last year by the US-approved interim government as  the Iraqi ambassador to Egypt.  I don't have reason to doubt al-Suhail's personal sincerity in that SOTU moment, but nonetheless,  her background makes it clear that she is not some average Iraqi whose heart and mind has been won over by the US invasion.

Michael Crowley wrote in, very politely, to take issue with my use of the word “flacking” on Friday with regard on Iran/Contra criminal/top Bush national security official, Elliott Abrams.  Perhaps I was unfair, I’m not really sure.  The events to which I referred on Friday, and in were summed up in Crowley’s piece with the sentence, “But Abrams undercut his credibility by stubbornly defending the U.S.-backed military regime in El Salvador even after evidence emerged of regime-sponsored massacres.”  To me, if you read the evidence, Abrams’ actions were considerably worse, both morally and politically, than a reader would likely get the impression from Crowley; which is why I laid them out in some detail.  We have other differences, but “flacking” was the wrong word, written in blog-like haste, and I withdraw it and offer my apologies.

More Correspondence:

Name: Joe Wilson
Hometown: D.C.

From one who has spent a good part of the past year being smeared in a campaign of lies run by the RNC, I want to express my support as you go through a similar horrible experience.  The approach of some to win debates by impugning the character of their adversaries is a classic fascist technique.  It must be resisted.  Hang in there. 
Joe Wilson

Name: Maya McElroy
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Mr. Alterman,
I'm forwarding this e-mail to you in the event you may want to post the info on your Web site. I believe the NEH needs all the help it can get.

Thank you for your good work and good words.

Dear colleague,
The Folger Shakespeare Library is one of more than thirty institutions co-sponsoring a Humanities Advocacy Day, organized by the National Humanities Alliance to promote federal support for the humanities.  With events spread over the days of Wednesday, 6 April and Thursday, 7 April 2005, this initiative represents a unique opportunity for scholars, educators and others to communicate the importance of federal support for the humanities to lawmakers.

The event is designed to bring together individuals and organizations working in the humanities from diverse perspectives, including: colleges and universities, libraries, museums, humanities institutes, state humanities councils, historical societies, and other groups.  The goal is not only to inform national policy, but to enable individuals to serve as effective advocates for the humanities at the national level, as well as at their home institutions and in their local communities.  While the primary advocacy focus of the event is funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, participants are briefed on a wide range of policy issues and legislation impacting work in the humanities….

Name: Josh
Hometown: Florida

Hi Dr. Alterman,
Just wondering if the mainstream media or the conservative press is going to go after Bob Novak for being anti-Semitic after comments he made this weekend on CNN's Capital Gang program.  Specifically, the program's panel was discussing the assassination of former Lebanese PM Hariri and the suspicions about Syria's involvement.  Novak's comments were as follows:

NOVAK: There is absolutely not a scintilla, not a shred of evidence to connect Syria with the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister.  None.  Zero.  Nobody even claims there is. Why are we pulling back -- why is the United States pulling back the ambassador from Damascus?  They say to get the troops out. Well, the -- did the troops cause this assassination? On the contrary. Probably, they've been a stabilizing force in Lebanon. The -- you haven't had the -- the Christian and the Muslim militias going head on since you've had Syrian troops.But it's part of the Israeli agenda to get the Syrian troops out of Lebanon. Should they be out of Lebanon? Absolutely, they should be out. Is it high on our priority list? No! And this -- I just see issue after issue in the Middle East where the United States eventually is playing the Israeli game and adhering to the Israeli agenda.

(from the )

Now, maybe it's just me, but it sure seems that Novak is implying that Israel is either a) actually behind the assassination of Hariri or b) there is a massive rush to judgment against Syria for the sole reason that the U.S. is being used as an Israeli pawn.

I have no problem with saying that we shouldn't rush to judgment in finding who is behind Hariri's assassination, but I think the implications of the rest of Novak's comments are rather disturbing.