No Irony Please

March 7, 2005 | 1:30 PM ET

My old friend Nancy Soderberg snagged a “Daily Show”  appearance last week flogging her new book, The Superpower Syndrome and made an obvious joke about being a Democrat and therefore there's "always hope we'll fail" in Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. She was obviously making fun of the Democrats’ predicament as well as the way Republicans and conservatives tend to discount liberals’ patriotism. Guess what? I saw the interview and she is clearly nodding when she makes her comment to what Jon Stewart is saying, and laughing and say "noooo" to indicate she's kidding.  But not only are the denizens of the conservative media too dumb to get the joke, they embarked on an immediate media jihad to boot. They now have their proof that Nancy, indeed, all liberals, hate America.

James Taranto transcribed the interview and insisted that Nancy didn't make a convincing case for the book. (Gee, on “The Daily Show?” That’s surprising) That’s here. The next day, the Washington Times covered it here.)

Then Rush Limbaugh read about it in the Washington Times and goes on a rant about it even suggesting, without having read the book, that Nancy argues that we should cede our role as a Superpower. He also reads from the transcript instead of playing it, because if he played it, you'd see she was joking.
Apparently Laura Ingraham was on it the next day, with her typical commitment to accuracy and journalistic integrity. Now it’s all over the web and will follow Nancy around like gob from Cathy Young. Look, for instance, at this doofus (who at least had the good grace to recognize his mistake and apologize—making him far more of mensch that Rush or Laura.)

Anyway, that’s the way it works; not an ounce of truth in it anywhere, but nobody involved could care less.

Quote of the Day, "Transparency" is one of the blessings of democracy that President Bush is proud of having brought to Iraq -- right up there with voting and somewhat less torture than before.” Mike Kinsley.

Speaking of Kinsley and the formerly sane—as far as we know—Susan Estrich, Hacktacular Howie is only about two weeks late on this story. And thank goodness Mr. Conflict of Interest is still hosting CNN’s Reliable Sources—remember, he gets a paycheck from the guys on whom he reports so disinterestedly—otherwise, would anyone know what’s up with Martha Stewart. 

By the way, has anyone heard any news lately of Michael Jackson?

If Ron Brownstein says Alan Greenspan is a right-wing hack who are we to argue?

Bush to World: "Drop Dead." More here and here and more here too.

From Benton’s Headlines:

On Jan. 28, a couple dozen high-profile House Democrats sent the White House a letter asking for information on all public relations and advertising contracts with government agencies. They requested a reply by March 1, but there has been no reply at all from the Administration. The request cited "secret publicity campaigns to promote administration priorities" including an investigation that "revealed that the Department of Education paid a conservative commentator [Armstrong Williams, though the letter did not name him] to support the No Child Left Behind Act in television and radio appearances," plus another contract with a commentator unearthed following the Williams revelation. President Bush has said the
play-for-pay practice must end; the FCC is investigating the Williams broadcasts for possible payola violations.
(SOURCE: Broadcasting&Cable, AUTHOR: John Eggerton. Free access for Benton's Headlines subscribers)

This is weird. One SNL sketch from the olden days I remember fondly involved an inconsequential conversation between Steve Martin (or was it Chevy Chase—I think Steve) and Gilda Radner in which he explained of his wife who was dying of cancer in the hospital, that Gilda was the only woman whom, his wife would not object, if they got together before she actually died. Lo and behold, in today’s Times Review of Gene Wilder’s autobiography, he reveals that years later, he fell in love with Karen Webb, while Gilda was succumbing to cancer. It’s here.

This is also weird. This smart guy, who knows so much about Trotsky writes in The Nation, “(One of the most interesting and curious documents of this period is Their Morals and Ours, an exchange about violence and political morality with John Dewey, who had taken it upon himself to investigate, and eventually reject, the accusations made against Trotsky at the Moscow trials of the late 1930s.)”

That one sentence, however, is a slander against Dewey. He did not, as anyone familiar with the history “take it upon himself.” He was asked by a committee investigating the topic to lend his name and tremendous prestige to the investigation and if I’m not mistaken, he traveled all the way to Coycan, outside Mexico City, where Leon Trotsky was living with the famous artist Diego Rivera, in April 1937. Dewey's involvement was negotiated by Sidney Hook, and was joined by Max Eastman, James Farrell, John Dos Passos, Reinhold Niebuhr, Lionel Trilling, and the principal, George Novack. Dewey was 78 at the time. Anyway, it's here. 

Know what else is weird? Chris Rock was right. I saw “The Aviator” this weekend and it turns out Jude Law was in there somewhere, doing what I have no idea. (I was pleased to see, however, that Martin Scorcese has finally made a decent movie again.)

One last thing. I see The Economist has a special section on China and India and I dimly recall reading, oh, 15 years or so ago in another Economist special section on China and India that those two countries together represent 40 percent of the world’s population. I briefly wondered how long it would take this special section to make that impressive point, opened it up to its opening words, “Home to nearly two-fifths of humanity….”

Public Service Announcements:

I. The Frank Lutz Republican playbook strategy memo is here.
II. A History of the Bush Administration in One Sentence here. 
III. Mommas, don’t take your "genital stimulating devices," to Alabama. (Could we rethink that whole not letting the South thing go again. Give us another chance, guys. You won’t even have to fire on Fort Sumpter this time.)

There are a bunch of important stories in Time this week, but I am too tired to blog about them. Feel free to send me items/letters about them, though.


Ever heard of the show “Home Movies?” I hadn’t until I happened a copy of the Shout Factory compilation of its only season, which, apparently took place  on UPN a few weeks ago. Golly, is it funny, and clever, and knowing, and even cute. Filmed in the same weird squigglevision that characterized those wonderful Dr. Katz shows on Comedy Central, this show features a trio of eight-year-old filmmakers Brendon, Mellisa and Jason, seven, their families, friends, teachers and soccer coach, who is dating one of their moms.

One critic described it as “sweet, subversive and entertaining as all get out,” and I suppose I concur, though I’m not much on the expression, “and all get out.”  The DVD package includes interviews and commentaries with creator and its stars Loren Bouchard, Brendon Small and Jon Benjamin make the viewer part of the gang. “ I’ve only watched three episodes so far but every one has put me in a good mood.  Read all about it here.

Correspondence Corner:

Barry L. Ritholtz
The Big Picture
Hey Doc,
Back from California -- beautiful but kinda odd place for a NYer. Anyway, wanted to pass this along: What does the World Think of U.S.?
Watching America is a fascinating web page showing what most of the world thinks of America (primarily through their media). They not only link to, but also translate, much of the foreign media.
This is a rather fascinating subject for me professionally. It has implications for both the equity and fixed income markets. Our debt -- government bonds -- are so widely held by other country's central banks and foreign private investors -- its simply foolhardy to ignore their concerns.
We don't have to kowtow to them, but ignoring and or grossly offending them kinda seems like a bad strategy.
I recall a NYT article from last year, where a senior Morgan Stanley analyst had just returned from an overseas trip. He was highly agitated over the decaying global opinion of the U.S. In the past, we may have not have been loved, but the nation was at least respected. Now, he saw disdain and outright hostility towards the country as well as its corporate products. His biggest fear: a backlash leading to a boycott of "Brand America." One possible negative scenario was reduced global sales, adding to the balance of trade deficit, reducing corporate revenues and -- potentially -- dramatically weakened profits.
The uglier (but less likely) worst case scenario is a coordinated dumping of US bonds and dollars. A dollar crash and US credit collapse then follows. This is not particularly likely, given our economic inter-relationship with Japan and China, but it is still ugly to think about.

Source: Discover What the World Thinks About U.S.
Name: Dan Riley
Hometown: Vista, CA
Thanks for the link to Rosen's decertifying the press piece. It was nice and comprehensive. But here's the thing: As long as the media keeps treating Bush's treatment of the media as a media thing, no one really cares. Right? Because that's all been part of the "decertification" process, and people hated the media to begin with. The crux of the matter is this: we have a Commander in Chief who can send 20-year olds half a world away to face gunfire on an hourly basis, but he can't stand up to hard, honest questions--not only from journalists but from school kids in France and Germany. The man is a rank coward, perhaps the most cowardly president in our nation's history. And it's time somebody called him on it.

Name: James Toney
Hometown: Columbus, OH
I must correct a frequently recurring misunderstanding regarding Syria, which Stupid repeated in his recent letter : that Syria is a Sunni or Sunni-dominated country. It is true that Syria is a Sunni-majority country, but the ruling clique comes largely from a Shiite sect sometimes called Alawites. This fact helps to explain why Syria, alone among Arab countries, sided with Iran against Iraq in the 80s Gulf War and why it has close connections to Lebanese Hizbullah. It also clarifies the hostile relationship between the Syrian and Iraqi Baath parties during the last several decades.

Name: Jay Stebley
Hometown: Emeryville, CA
Dr. Alterman:
I would like to provide and answer for your correspondent, Torch from Kingman AZ: All you have to do to secure your future and that of your children is work hard, be frugal and conscientious, invest wisely in the countryâ?Ts hard-working stock market, put the rest into a savings account, buy bonds, buy American (if you have the choice), report honestly to the IRS, observe and obey the Ten Commandments, vote your conscience, Love Your Country and its flag but do not question your leaders, Support Our Troops, counsel your children against the evils of abortion and homosexuality, don't read subversive materials, look at obscenities purporting to be art, or watch liberal television programs produced by anal sex-loving Jews, keep your guns clean and kept in a safe place away from children, observe and obey the Constitution unless state and local ordinances or the Attorney General of the US prohibit you from doing that, wash your car on Sundays after Church, dispose of hazardous household materials properly, remember that lust in the heart is as bad as acting on that lust, avoid people who do not share your beliefs, do not keep the company of people who espouse negative possibly harmful views of the current administration, report those who do to the appropriate authorities, honor your wife, be patient with children and old people, always use your turn signal to indicate lane changes, make complete stops at stop signs, attend night school to better yourself and prepare for the possibility that you may have to take a second job, always have an interesting hobby to keep you busy in your old age. Then you and yours are set for life!
Kind regards,
Jay Stebley

Name: Paul Ketley
Hometown: RedBank, NJ
The whole Dan Rather / Martha Stewart obsession boils down to this. If a citizen tells a lie to, or about the government, they will either lose their job or go to jail (Martha was imprisoned for lying and NOT for any insider trading). However, if the governement tells a lie to its citizens, (a far more serious crime as it impacts almost 300 million people), not only does the government NOT take responsibility, but those people who perpetrated the lie actually get promoted.
It is these double standards that infuriate those that see it (ie everybody on the planet excluding Republicans and people waiting in vain for the rapture some time soon.

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA
Is it possible that a music fan such as yourself has not yet discovered the 'Global Electronic Music Marketplace' (aka GEMM)? Here's a link to their main search page.
They currently list three copies of your "L-Ranko Motel" CD. $10 to $18, plus shipping.

March 4, 2005 | 1:30 PM ET

Not Exactly Slacker Friday

Dueling headlines: The little one
“AIDS could kill 80 million Africans by 2025”; the bigger one: “Stewart to be released early Friday."

Public Service:
I saw “Spamalot” last night. One word: “Go.” Cathy Young will hate it. All other Altercation readers will thank me, Tickets are difficult now; they will be impossible once it opens, two weeks from now.

Here’s my new “Think Again”  column, “Losing the Loose Nukes,” here. 

Hacktacular Howie flacks for the Bush administration and Jay Rosen calls him on it here. (But hey, Jay Bubbela, have you never seen a Rob Coddrey interview before?)  Our man Boehlert offers a valuable correction to Mr. Conflict of Interest’s own preening before his masters’ whims.

More on Larry Summers: (if you can stand it. Are women lagging in math and science professions because , um, guys shirk their parenting responsibilities? Who needs Katha when we have my buddy Jon Cohn? (Oh yeah, the little missus has a PhD in applied mathematics.)

Call me an “enthnocentrist” but these people make Cheney and Rummy et al look sensible….

Still, I wouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves on this “We’re the sane folks, over here” stuff.

Shocker of the Day? MoDo dated Carl Bernstein? Katha, can smart women really be that stupid? Alas, no. Following an exclusive Altercation investigation, we have determined that this part of the story is false. (We don’t comment publicly on Mr. Sorkin, however, until he gets back to me on that um, script.)

Army recruitment has fallen off to dangerous levels here. If you saw Frontline this week, you’ll see plenty of good reasons why.

Defintions: USURY: An excessive or illegally high rate of interest charged on borrowed money. Source: American Heritage Dictionary. USURERS: 74 Republican and Democratic U.S. Senators who yesterday voted to kill legislation "to limit consumer interest rates at 30 percent" and to limit predatory lending practices.

Source: Associated Press, 3/4/05. (Thanks to David Sirota.)

Onto Slacker Friday

Eric Rauchway
Davis, CA
If neither the right nor the left will stick up for our civil liberties, who will?  And why should they?  Let me give a little background explanation, first from across the Atlantic.
This week the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair put a bill to the House of Commons allowing the Home Secretary to issue "control orders" against an individual up to and including that person's detention under house-arrest.  The evidentiary basis for such orders need be no greater than that the Home Secretary have "reasonable grounds for suspecting that the individual is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity."  The opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have noticed that this would diminish to the vanishing point basic rights:
"The Bill removes, for the first time in modern times, the presumption of innocence of the accused. It also removes the right of the accused to see the evidence and charges against them."
A number of Labour MP's revolted in the Commons, to the point that the government's normal majority was reduced to 14 -- had the 17 absent Liberal Democrats shown up to say their nay, the Today Programme reported on the 3rd, the government would have lost the vote. The government has made one concession -- that the Home Secretary will have to talk to a judge to order a house arrest -- but in the main the bill appears set to chop away at basic common-law liberties. Nor is this the first time for the Labour government. As the Independent reminds us the Blair government tried to take a bite out of the right to trial by jury well before Sept. 11 -- on the ground that it would save money -- and though it lost in 1999 it went ahead and got the right diminished in 2003.

On this side of the Atlantic we know that, at least according to Justice Scalia our government has been eroding similar rights, despite the courts' sometime opposition.

Now, this observation raises two questions. (1) Do the center-left government of the UK and the center-right government of the USA have some essential common antipathy to civil liberties?  And (2), as I suggested above, if neither the left nor the right will stick up for our civil liberties, who will?

You could answer (1) glibly by saying that well, power likes power and whosomever is in power will do this sort of thing if they can get away with it.  Or, more charitably, the people in power think they can be trusted. As the Telegraph paraphrases UK Home Secretary Charles Clarke, "those powers would be kept in reserve and would be used in only a few cases." Cue James Madison: "Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm." Which is why we have separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution.

But do we really believe Blair and other present-day statesmen are truly enlightened?  If so how could they savage such basic enlightened products as these rights?  Are there no more real liberals, either of Mill or Hayek flavor?

There is a philosophical problem here, that I think will not -- with all due respect to your friend Mr. Tomasky  -- be solved if more Democrats read Dewey and Lippmann. Liberalism was always a philosophy embedded in a particular historical context and any liberal case for rights today needs embedding in our context, today.
If I were presuming to assign readings, I might conclude that even Rawls strikes me as dated.   I would suggest perhaps reading John Gray's Two Faces of Liberalism from 2000 (a nice short book) along with Alan Ryan's critique of that book in the New York Review of Books on May 17, 2001. This might get us a little further on the way toward what we want a state for, and a public culture for, and a foreign policy for.
It's terribly offensive to have to return constantly to first principles and to argue out battles one would have thought already won (e.g., ca. 1935, how do we reconcile the basic structural issues of industrial unemployment with American cultural values?  How about this thing we could call Social Security, which isn't a dole yet provides.... but I digress), but possibly now would be a good time.  It's still an off-year in the election cycle.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago

Hey Eric, it's Stupid to fear (but still desire) Middle East democracy. Listening to all the crowing about recent glimpses of democracy in the Middle East, a few thoughts come to mind.  First, has anyone notice all of these moments are taking place in non-Sunni Muslim areas? In Iraq, Sunnis, out of anger or fear, boycotted the elections. Lebanon is a majority non-Sunni
nation (Shia Muslims and Christians each have a larger plurality) controlled by Syria, which is Sunni. There was also a story last week on public unrest by repressed Shia communities in Saudi Arabia.
Second, historically speaking, elections in this region haven't favored moderates or pro-Western governments (Algeria, the most recent election in Turkey, Iraq (Sistani) -- even in Palestine one wonders whether Abbas would have beat the imprisoned terrorist Marwan Barghouti in a fair election).  Finally, consider this from a recent USA Today story on border patrol:

"Most of the illegals are poor Mexican laborers looking for work. But officials are alarmed that a growing number hail from Central and South America, Asia, even Mideast countries such as Syria and Iran. In 2003, the Border Patrol arrested 39,215 so-called "OTMs," or other-than-Mexicans, along the Southwest border. In 2004, the number jumped to 65,814." 

In other words, Islamofascist terrorists can strike us at will -- just cross the border and head to the nearest bus stop.  Why something like that hasn't happened yet is what I think ties all this together. At present, the Islamofascists largely prefer the status quo.  Radical Sunnis still have power through a cold peace with the non-religious dictators in the region. The Shiite theocrats still run Iran. I don't know if we're witnessing real stirrings towards democracy or just some "natural corrections" in areas where Sunni power has overreached. Don't get me wrong -- I bought the neocon guff about using a "secular" Iraq as a necessary example to the rest of the region and I still think liberalizing the Middle East is crucially important [this is where we part, right?]. But did the neocons really buy it?  Abandoning the Greater/Broader Middle East Initiative wasn't a good sign, but we''ll only know for sure if and when the war comes home. 

ps. I found Ms. Shore's Web site but I couldn't find L-Ranko Motel for sale (found used copies for sale on, where the only dissenting review is from Mr. Bell himself, though I think his buying advice gives him away -- judge for yourself:

I wrote these songs...beware, April 15, 2002, Reviewer: Nathan Bell (Chattanooga, TN. U.S.)  Yes, I am the guy who recorded this album. If it was actually any good, I'd still be in the music business instead of working a straight gig. There are a couple of decent songs on it that don't [stink], so for 5 big dollars used, what the [heck].

If you buy it, good [darn] luck. If you are still on the fence, and I have anything to say about it, I would suggest that you go buy something like "Gary Stewart's Greatest Hits" or one of those boxed sets of 70's crappy hippy rock. You will be happier, trust me.

Eric replies: Stupid is referring to a CD we discussed on my jaunt to Evantston, Ill., last week where he acted as my guide and took me to this excellent Sal-esque music store with “Vinyl” in its name. I bought a bunch of stuff and told Stupid about my favorite CD I could never find anywhere and he researched it and came up with the above. It’s called “L-Ranko Motel” by Bell and Shore and I like a ton more than Mr. Bell apparently does. The greatest album unavailable on CD, in this country anyway, it’s rumored to be available in Japan but if you try to order via Amazon, you won’t get it, is the single, self-titled,S album by David Foreman.

Name: Darren Franzen
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Good morning, Dr. Alterman!

Regarding torture of prisoners inside the US, did you hear the reports from NPR's Daniel Zwerdling back in November 2004?  He details the abuse of prisoners in a New Jersey facility.  Here's a link...

Name: Torch
Hometown: Kingman, Arizona
I enjoyed reading your blog the last year. I am a Democrat, I am a welder by trade, and I don't understand where you are going with your blog.
People are talking about whatever but it that has nothing to do with me having a job tomorrow or the next day. How we can get health insurance for our familes at a reasonable cost?  How can I afford to send my children or grandchildren to collage?

Name: Linda Ginsburg
Hometown: Huntingdon Valley, PA
Eric -
You might have missed that Daily News story (as did I) regarding the torture of so-called detainees at a prison in Brooklyn, but the "Law & Order" writers didn't. The "Criminal Intent" episode that featured the return of Chris Noth used that story as the basis for the plot. And it lead to a great line by Noth's character who, when told that these off-the-books detainees were legal under the Patriot Act, replied, "The Patriot Act? I read that in it's original version, '1984.'"  Grudging props to Dick Wolf, a known conservative who gave employment to the execrable Fred Thompson, for hands off.

• | 4:30 PM ET

Torture Is Us

The U.S. media is filled with heartwarming stories about the alleged global spread of Western-style democracy, but in much of the rest of the world—including particularly the Arab world—the image of America is that of a torturer.  It is certainly arguable whether the former is true, but the latter is undeniable. At Abu Ghaib, it was Americans themselves who proudly carried out the dirty work. Most of the time, however, such unpleasant tasks are subcontracted out to third parties for purposes of legal deniability, though this fools no one. Today, as a follow-up to Jane Mayer’s incredibly disturbing report in The New Yorker,  Washington Post reporter Dana Priest offers us further incontrovertible evidence that the United States—as represented in this case by the CIA—is deep into the torture business. Just read the story’s opening paragraphs, here.
“In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.
The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.
As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature.
By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.”
After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.
"He just disappeared from the face of the earth," said one U.S. government official with knowledge of the case.
The CIA case officer, meanwhile, has been promoted.” What’s more, Senate Republicans are determined to insure that no honest investigation of US torture practices ever takes place, here.

Now take a look at this story buried, weeks ago, deep in the back pages of the New York Daily News but only recently brought to my attention. It documents the abuse “tantamount to torture”of 79 Muslims andfive Israeli Jewish! “terrorist suspects;” not in  Guantanamo or Iraq, but in a federal prison in Brooklyn, a stone’s throw from the D’ train and within sight of the Statue of Liberty. This one brings the issue of torture home, here in America, for the first time.
The mistreatment included sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, exposure to freezing temperatures for extended periods, and frequent unprovoked beatings.
Many of the abuses were recorded on video tape. None of the suspects were ultimately found to have any relation to terrorism. Yet, despite the video tapes, the Justice Department has decided no one will be prosecuted. A separate administrative
investigation by the Bureau of Prisons appears to be a sham. Of 12 prisoners I interviewed, none had been interviewed by Justice Department prosecutors or Bureau of Prison investigators.

So ponder this, whatever your cable buddies tell you, so long a tortured Afghan freezing to death remain a true face of US foreign policy—and no investigations are ordered and no one is made to pay—no one is going to believe any American official who speaks of our desire to spread “democracy,” … and no one should.
(Jeff Jarviz writes in: “Hey, what’s the big deal. It’s not as if they’ve started a phony blog or anything.”)

As Sweeney turns back Andy Stern’s challenge to the current direction of of the labor movement’s leadership, we might ponder some of the facts in this TNR editorial. 

“According to a study of 400 union election campaigns in manufacturing plants by Cornell sociologist Kate Bronfenbrenner, 51 percent of employers in 1998 and 1999 threatened to close a plant if a union won an election, and 25 percent fired at least one worker for union activity. Bush's nlrb has balked at penalizing such companies--even though it is exactly these tactics that the Act was created to outlaw. In 2000, a judge determined that Smithfield Food used 36 different illegal tactics in trying to block unionization at its plant--including firing eleven organizers--and ruled that the company would have to hold a union election, allow union organizers to post notices on workers' bulletin boards, and let them talk to workers in "nonwork" areas of the plant. On appeal, however, Bush's nlrb ruled that the union should be denied what it termed "extraordinary access" to the company's workers.”

Wonder why private sector unions are disappearing? Wonder why Republicans keep winning elections even though they are opposed by a majority of voters on a majority of issues. Well, there’s part of your answer anyway.

Alter-reviews: potpourri

I’m having a little trouble keeping up with all the Dead-related releases of late. The last two Dick’s Picks, have both been from my favorite period, the mid-late seventies with Keith and Donna, and both sound great, with the slight nod going to #33, Oakland, ‘76 over #34, Rochester, Sets list here and here There’s also a bunch of new “Pure Jerry,” most prominently, this set from the Keystone, 1974 with Merle Saunders, which comes with a cocktail napkin. It meanders, but in a good way. Setlist is here. And close your eyes and listen to this new band I just discovered called “The Mix,” and it’s like hearing a new Dead studio album, sort-of, which is both a good and a bad thing, but still pretty cool to hear. It’s got two songs co-written by Robert Hunter, and a really strangely Jerresque version of “Lennnon’s Days Lie These.”
Strange Days Indeed.

Other stuff that’s crossed the CD player lately include two early DBT re-releases from New West, Ganstability and Pizza Deliverance. Read all about ‘em here and don’t miss the classic “18 Wheels of Love.”) I also find myself really enjoying the extremely unpromising idea of a bluegrass tribute to the Moody Blues, which just sounds great, on Rounder, here.

And don’t miss the re-release of John Lennon’s classic first album sounds even greater in its new, high-fidelity release.

Finally, Rhino has just released the really good Ramones documentary, called, “End of the Century.” It is light on music but excellent on context and story-telling; the best history of the band across which I’ve come. Don’t mistake it for the official Ramones DVD release, “Raw” which is a form of torture to watch and hear and I could not sit through the whole punishing mess even though I paid Sal my hard-earned $ to buy it.

Correspondence Corner:
Name: Mike Foulk
Hometown: Providence, RI
Dr. E,
RE: Dave Richie
I thought I needed to respond to Mr. Richies' poor argument in which he claims that Liberals said there would never be elections in the Arab world. This is just false. We said, and continue to say, that invading the Arab world would never produce a pro-American democracy (let alone a pro-Israeli one).  Do not forget that one time elections do not a democracy make. For example, while it is true that the elections in Afghanistan choose Hamid Karzai, the pro-American candidate, he only really controls Kabul and the surrounding area. The rest of the country is controled by opium producing war lords and many reports have the Taliban resurging. Hardly a model of democracy. In Iraq the elections show every sign of putting pro-Iranian Shiites in power.  Hardly the pro-American democracy the architects of the conflict advertised.
In addition, both these elections took place under American occupation. The true test will come when we leave.
Finally, I just want to say that it is really easy to defeat your opponent when you make up their argument. You posit that Liberals said something that they did not.  Furthermore, you imply that this means that Liberals were wrong about the whole thing.  Look, I'm a scientist and I know that in the real world you have to follow a line of reasoning to the end before making any conclusions. The occurance of elections do not prove the theory that democracy will flourish in the Arab world. I hope it does, but it is still a far way off. I wonder how well your business would fare if you called it a success after just taking orders for your product? I advise you to grow up.  You do have a choice if you will be honest about it.


Re-inventing the "Race Card"

It would be funny, except that it might work: conservatives  deploy traditional liberal identity politics arguments that have been largely discarded by most (though obviously not all) liberals in support of Republican political victories. E.J. Dionne took notice of it a weeks ago, but I’ve been noticing it more and more lately. Here are a few examples:

"Every Hispanic in America is watching," Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch declared ominously as most Senate Democrats voted to oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.
(EJ also notes “When [Clarence] Thomas was fighting charges that he had sexually harassed an employee, he declared his opponents guilty of a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves.")

To reject [right-wing judicial nominee, Miguel] Estrada, said Sen. Charles Grassley, "would be to shut the door on the American dream of Hispanic Americans everywhere."
“If Estrada were rejected," Hatch said, "it would close the door to any nominee who was, "number one, Hispanic, number two, Republican, number three, possibly conservative and, number four, may have some ideas of his or her own."

Others include, George W. Bush claiming: "African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people."

On Jan. 28, Charles Krauthammer made a similar argument in support of Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to be Secretary of State, noting that it would a terrible mistake for any Democrat to oppose her, “because of her race.”

Really, is there anything more pathetic than a Neocon making such an argument about a secretary of state?  Aren’t secretaries of state supposed to be judged on the merits of their foreign policy judgment and experience? Of course, Rice would not even get a job as a secretary to the Secretary based on her performance vis-à-vis pre-9/11 terrorist policy, 9/11 itself, and the Iraq war, so I suppose it makes a kind of political sense, but one would think it would invite at least a little embarrassment. Alas, one would be wrong.

Liberal bias continued: 'N.Y. Times' Picks John Tierney for Op-Ed Page' here. I have heard for years that Tierney was being groomed for Safire’s job, but I hoped that the David Brooks appointment obviated the need. I guess not. The conservative working of the refs claims yet another victory. Despite the above, quite compelling CJR analysis—and more significantly, his egregious suggestion during the Republican convention that Upper West Siders--specifically Zabar’s shoppers; the greatest food store in the world, by the way, and I lived to live on the same block with Fairway and Citarella-- should be examining their consciences for the crime of being ideologically out of step with the delegates to the Republican convention  we will do our best to try to reserve judgment on Tierney’s column.

After all, we note that that we welcomed the choice of Brooks and have regretted that ever since. But we would like to note that the WSJ page is far more extreme in its conservatism than the Times editorial page is in its rather wishy-washy liberalism, and not only does the Journal not have an equivalent of a Nick Kristof/even the "liberal New Republic”-type liberal, but it has no liberals at all. While the print punditocracy is not nearly so stacked as cable TV, nor, of course, Talk Radio, which are almost uniformly dominated by right-wingers, neither is it a fair fight. The Times leans liberal but not by very much; the Post leans conservative—as evidenced in part by the fact that Robert Novak is still employed there despite his willingness to compromise national security for purely political purposes—and the Journal is off the map. Just how this translates into a “liberal media” perhaps the smart guys at The Note can explain once again. I still don’t git it.

Discover Your Momma's Network.

"Roosevelt: Wheelchair-Riding, America-Hating Terrorist," Richard Leiby has an “Name Ann Coulter’s next book” contest here. (Hey Richard buddy, you should not have published her Soros slander. There’s nothing funny about implying a Jewish Holocaust survivor is anti-Semitic, particularly, need I add, when the implier is a shiksa.)

Quote of the Day: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Social Security’s got to go.” Drexel University students meeting Pennsylvania Republican Senator Rick Santorum, here. 
(No word on what the students chanted with regard to “man on dog” sex.)

Hey Howie, Have we got a job for you.

Think Progress does Hitchens’ research for him. Here’s Hitchypoo in Slate: "I haven't actually done a Nexis search on this, but my strong impression is that the term has been, without any formal interment, laid to rest."
Here’s Think Progress: Had Hitchens “done a Nexis search, he would have seen the term remains widely in use (and not just by "glib pundits").

More importantly, he might have come across an article in last week's Gulf News, which recaps a study by the Center for Strategic Studies and the University of Jordan. The title of that study? "Revisiting the Arab Street: Research from Within."  The report, which, unlike Hitchens' article, actually involves research and survey data from within the Arab world, concludes Arabs remain broadly and increasingly opposed to virtually all the things Hitchens says they are now for. "It is important to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem," the report says. "Most specifically, attitudinal data from youth, university students, and national sample populations suggests that there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction… Improving Arab-West relations vitally depends upon changing Western, especially US, foreign policy, particularly as it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the war in Iraq."

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Bill Strachan
Hometown: Enfield, CT
I hope you took note of today's pronouncement from Sen. Stevens of Alaska that he wants to include cable companies, pay channels (HBO Cinemax Showtime Playboy, etc.) and satellite companies in the indecency fines proposed by the now radical right wing FCC.
What's next? Will the Internet be monitored? How about cell phones? Maybe I won't be able to call the fanatics by the various f***ing names and other colorful epithets I use for them over my own cordless phone without getting one of those $600,000 fines they are so eager to levy!
Imagine, I can't even pay for a food f***ing movie on HBO without them sticking their noses into my transaction.
Gee, do ya' think this is an attempt to muzzle Bill Mahr?

Name: Arthur C. Hurwitz
Hometown: New York, NY
Hi Eric:
I'm happy to see that once again you were ahead of the W. Administration's
spin curve.  Now their propagandists, lead by David "Mr. Dissembler" Brooks, are trying to take credit for the resignation of the pro-Syrian government and the popular demand for the withdrawl of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Actually, the first salvo in the events which lead to yesterday's developments was actually thrown by Ehud Barak when he withdrew the Israeli Army from Lebanon in 2000, an action opposed by the neoconservative cabal which has hyjacked U.S. foreign policy and their ideological brothers in Israel. Prior to that event, the majority of Lebanese, and opinion-makers in Lebanon would speak publically about the Syrian presence and control of politics in their country. The principal reason for this was that the Syrian presence was considered a necessary evil to balance the Israeli presence and occupation of the southern part of their country. The Syrian presence was felt to contain Israel which considered military action in their country as fair game. Without it, it was believed that Israel would and could be more reckless in its military activities on Lebanese soil. Moreover, Syrian-supported groups like Hizbollah were considered a legitimate resistance to the Israeli control and military occupation of the southern part of their country.

Syrian legitimized its presence in Lebanon by claiming that it was protecting Lebanon from Israeli aggression. Regardless of whether it is true or not, Israel is understood to be an expansionist state and Syrian Troops were present to defend the "Arab Homeland" from a potential Israeli takeover of all of Lebanon.

The Syrian regime and state often called for a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon as a necessary condition for the withdrawal of its own forces from The Land of the Cedars which they never expected to actually happen.  So when Barak took the Israeli army out of Lebanon, the political balance was underminded at the expense of Syria. The international community stopped focusing on the Israeli presence and abuses in Lebanon because there was no longer anything their to point to. When Israel or Israeli civillians were attacked within their borders, Israel no longer could be seen as a cause of the violence lauched against them. Instead, the international community's head, so to speak, was turned towards the Syrian presence in Lebanon and its abuses.

A similar sensibility started to prevade the opinion makers and the public alike in Lebanon.  Certain Arab nationalist elements, which traditionally had been pro-Syrian, started to call for the withdrawl of Syrian troops from the country. Furthermore, the Syrian military presence, rather the no longer existing Israeli military control of the south, was seen as the principal obsticle to the realization of the "good life" in their country, i.e. a high standard of living and a booming economy.

The Lebanese, like Americans, are business-oriented people and therefore understand that the ideological fight between Arab nationalism and Zionism, which was being fought by Syria and Israel on the soil of their country, caused much distruction and unstability, not the prime conditions on which economic prosperity could be developed and encouraged.
All of these actions and opinion streams reach a catharsis in the past few days. What occurred in Lebanon actually runs against the claims of the W. administration foreign policy ideologues:  The demand for Democracy, an end to the Syrian occupation, and the realization of a free,  independent, aspiring-for-economic prosperity Lebanon, was the result of internal forces and political changes in that country which started to occur when Israel withdrew its army from that country, and took itself out of its Chess game with Syria, which led to a complete change-of-attitude towards the other player from the hapless natives on their board.

Name: Dave Elley
Hometown: Seattle
An addition to your '14 points' from Feb 28th about 'Selling a War Honestly':
15. And we'll put in place an Iraqi government dedicated to free expression, free determination and the rule of law. Then again, maybe we won't:

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al.
Dr. Alterman,
As I glimpsed at the "Think Progress" link it ocurred to me why the liberals lost guys like me and stand little chance of getting us back, condemned to lose election after election.
While it is way too early to be declaring victory for democracy in the greater Arab region, it is utterly disingenuous to ignore the progress. Just think of your dire predictions. Elections in Afganistan? Ridiculous! Elections in Iraq? Absurd! Elections in Egypt? Unthinkable! Israel and the Palistinians in dialogue? Unheard of! (Methinks, I have the makings of a song!)
And last but not least, Reagan on the sidelines while Mikhail (OK, I'll tear down the wall) Gorbachev cheers on a budding democracy movement led by Solzhenitsyn and a few million hungry Russians.

Surely this gives pause to a man such as yourself who has studied history. We out here in reality land just see things a little differently, I suppose. You see we have to be grounded in reality or our businesses fail and our jobs go away.
I once observed that the liberals couldn't be that stupid. A friend allowed that it was not a question of stupidity, "... they just think different..." Someone once said something like, all that intelligence without a smattering of common sense is useless.
Meanwhile, we are left with the insane rantings of the Coulter's and the Buchanan's of the world. For God's sake grow up and give us a choice.
Your's from the Red States,
(waiting patiently)

Name: Jane Elizabeth Dougherty
Hometown: Boulder, CO
Dear Eric,
Although "My Son The Folksinger" has not been released on CD, Rhino put out a compilation of Allan Sherman's greatest hits a few years ago, entitled, "My Son The Greatest." It's got some good stuff on it--including one I hadn't heard, "Harvey and Sheila," which is sung to the tune of "Hava Negeleh"--although it misses some classics like "oh Boy" and "The Drapes of Roth."  I grew up listening to Allan Sherman in the 1980s when none of the other kids knew who he was, so I was thrilled when Rhino released the CD. Maybe we can put pressure on them to release a sequel.

Eric replies: Dear Jane, I find the collection very unsatisfying. “Harvey an Sheila” is OK, but everything else on it is vastly inferior to everything on “Folksinger,” and for me at least, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Finally, a campaign to NOT complain about non-obscene broadcasts that Brent Bozell and company use to raise money from rubes.  I borrowed the following from ) and :

Viacom's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is the latest target for the Parents Television Council which objects to an episode that dealt with infantilism (please don't ask).  "Apparently, CBS has learned ABSOLUTELY nothing [emphasis theirs] from the record-breaking $3.5 million fine levied against parent company, Viacom, in an effort to settle scores of indecency complaints," said PTC.  CBS declined to comment on the complaint.  However -- a Web site launched one month ago to fight back against the Federal Communications Commission's indecency crackdown -- did respond quickly.  It has set up an online form on its opening page for surfers to submit a letter of "noncomplaint" to the Commission to counter the PTC complaint.  "Our members feel that, while not every program is appropriate for every age group, neither is it appropriate for a small-but-active segment of the population to control the airwaves," site founder Amanda Toering said.  "Because their mobilization has led to fear and self-censorship at the broadcast networks, the PTC has become the nation's de facto censorship board." [SOURCE: , AUTHOR: John Eggerton]

Hooray!  We still have a constitution.  “The president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold petitioner as an enemy combatant," wrote the judge, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003.  .

Remember when Ari Fleischer was Bush’s chief liar?  He’s flacking his memoir and Howie Kurtz is wondering what he thinks about having lied so much, .  Ari replies, “I said what the government was thinking at the time," says the former presidential press secretary.  "I accurately articulated what we believed."  But since that turned out to be untrue, wasn't his own credibility tarnished? "Everyone recognizes the press secretary is not the finder of facts."

Missing from Mr. Conflict of Interest’s piece, however, is his own role as the president’s flack’s flack.  Remember this from

Dubbed the "flack out of hell,” in GQ magazine when he was still a Congressional staffer, Fleischer does not merely spin reporters, as is customary in the job he holds, but rather, treats them with unmasked contempt, answering their specific queries with condescending civics lectures that would fail to satisfy a four-year old.  Michael Kinsley described his technique as the employment of “a sort of Imperial Court English, in which any question, no matter how specific, is parried with general assurances that the emperor is keenly aware and deeply concerned and firmly resolved and infallibly right and the people are fully supportive and further information should be sought elsewhere.” But with what appears to be the journalistic equivalent of the Stockholm Syndrome, everything about Ari Fleischer comes up smelling roses to Kurtz. During the 2000 campaign, he was, “well liked by journalists.” Even after he had deliberately misled a gullible press corps about the level of alleged “vandalism” undertaken by departing Clinton administration staffers, Kurtz judged him “by most accounts, [to have] nearly played error-free ball as Bush's spokesman.”  Kurtz also marveled at Fleischer as “a star… accustomed to the pressure cooker life of White House flackery,” who “isn't shy about elbowing those who got out of line.”  (This was Kurtz’s way of describing Fleischer’s attempts to threaten reporters who asked uncomfortable questions, and are hence “noted in the building," along with his censorious comments about the comedian Bill Maher.)

Ways to call the new White House Spokesperson a liar, without admitting it: "… her words aren't necessarily backed up by metrics of which we know.” -

David Brooks offers up a seemingly convincing case that the White House Iraq policy is responsible for the recent uprising in Lebanon.  We, at Altercation, find this arguable, and so do my friends at .

How strange are the Allmans?  Leave aside kicking Dickie out of the band.  I understand that.  What about releasing a double DVD with only one song on the second disc?  What about releasing a CD of the same performance a year later, but with fewer songs?  All they had to do was make it a slightly different performance and people like me would have bought both, but nooo, they couldn’t be bothered.  But while we’re on the topic, anybody got an extra, really excellent Beacon ticket for me?  First week only, thanks.


I was also lucky enough last weekend to catch Jazz @ LC’s  “Full-Steam Ahead” show, with special guests Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) and Rodney Whitaker (bass).  It was both foolhardy and brave for the LCJO to explore “how the locomotive onomatopoeia was reflected in the developing rhythms of jazz in the first half of the 20th century in songs by Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Wynton Marsalis.  Given everything he manages to accomplish at one time, Marsalis would have to be twice the genius of Ellington to compose half as well.  Well, he’s not, but the band was terrific, per usual, less powerful than it was precise and um, swinging.  But hell, I love trains and I love Jazz and the Rose Hall has wonderful acoustics, so, once again, what’s not to love?  (Well, ticket prices, $10, $40, $75, $100, $115 and $150…) But what are you going to do?  They saved the best for last:  a really, believe it or not, original version of “A-Train,” as an encore.

II: Disco and Jews
I was one of those closed-minded white guys who hated disco, at least until I was dragged to a Chic concert in the early eighties.  Shows how wrong you can be.  Well, actually, I wasn’t entirely wrong.  The clothes were idiotic and the cocaine made people act like idiots.  Overall I’d say the entire era produced about three discs worth of songs I’d be happy to hear over again.  How thoughtful of the folks at Shout Factory to put just about every one of them into their new collection, “Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion.”  Take a look at the set list and you’ll admit that there was something to this disco thing, and just about all of it is here.  For me the highlights are: Hot Stuff - Donna Summer, It's Raining Men - The Weather Girls, Turn The Beat Around - Vicki Sue Robinson and Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry.  But that’s hardly it.  And amazingly, given that it’s disco, almost none of it sucks.  .

Another Shout Factory release that’s about as far from disco as Cathy Young is from common sense is its single disc, “Now That Sounds Kosher!”  It’s a hodgepodge that is recommendable to those of us with skip buttons on our CD players.  Yes Allen Sherman is here, but represented only by “Sir Greenbaum’s Mardrigal.”  (When in the world is someone going to release “My Son the Folk Singer” on CD?  I’m also pleased to have a handy copy of Tom Lehrer‘s "(I’m Spending) Hanukkah In Santa Monica" and "What I like about Jew’s (It’s Good To Be) A Jew At Christmas.”  What finally tips the balance in its favor is Yi Rock’s "Take A Walk On The Kosher Side.”  Still, I wish Adam Sandler had parted with all three Hannukah songs, but why should I complain?  .

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: This thing about why there are no guitar goddesses, well, it's difficult for a woman, esp a young woman to be in a band with straight men.  All great guitarists had some kind of mentoring.  Can you see Eric Clapton or Keith or whoever mentoring some chick, no matter how good she was?  Not vertically, no.  Anyway, here are my vocalist thoughts on the subject.

I don't have any hard data on why there are no guitar goddesses but I do have some thoughts from being a chick singer for a while in the 1980s.  Just from those limited experiences, it seems that unless you're a good-lookin' really good singer (which is another set of issues), musicians are hard on each other.  There's a struggle to make this take, this tune, this performance the best it can be, if not better, and it's a little like a cavalry charge; get with it or get stomped.  So, it's a tough environment from the git-go, add the male-female vibe to that (except for good-lookin' really good singers, esp if she's a good front lady, and nobody wants to piss her off) and you have that squared.  If it's any consolation, female tenor and baritone saxophone players seem to have a worse time of it.  I've only seen one in LA, a Berklee (Berkeley? I went to Grove) School of Music grad, too, and she was so sick of being either patronized or dissed, she was about to go back east again.

It's all about survival on limited resources in music.  There can only be one best and only a handful of greats.  That's hard enough without having to be extra brilliant and dealing with musician sexual energy, which affects everyone, but can be extra challenging for the female in the band.  And if you think about it, there usually is only one female in any band.  I kind of blame it on the telepathy that musicians have when the music is going right... excuse me, but it's hard for that not to get sexual, and then it gets really weird working together.

So, it's not your fault there are no guitar goddesses, Eric, it's just how it is.  Although you'd think with your readership, someone somewhere could recommend a decent list of really hot guitarists who happen to be female.  And if not, all anyone can do is ask where they are, until they show up.

Dear Eric,
Perhaps you meant electric guitar goddesses.  As a classical guitarist, however, "guitarists" means guitarists -- classical included.  Two of the finest rising stars in the classical guitar world are my friends and .  Not only can they play faster and more accurately than any male guitarist, but they are also expressive and frightening on their instruments.  Is it too much to add that they are beautiful as well?
Patrick Durek

Name: Dude, don't you read Altercation?  It's a good Weblog, and a while ago it had a piece about Clint's deeper history of ambivalence about violence.  It's on , scroll down (btw when did they start keeping archives?)

Eric replies:  We have archives?

Name: Rita Gretchen Cormulley
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois

Eric, that journalist Andersen may be brilliant, but the one article I've now read by him addresses the wrong issue.  It's not a matter of whether the election in Iraq must be discredited by Bush-haters.  It's whether that election leads to a better quality of life for those poor souls, and whether the election alone was worth the invasion and subsequent toll in lives and money.

Meanwhile, you must not be watching Hardball any longer.  Coulter was banned from that program about a year ago after she made such outrageous comments (even for her) that Matthews remarked, "Ann the truth means nothing to you" and went to commercial.  She hasn't appeared since.

Now, I'm as aware of Matthews' increasing slide to the right, dictated to by the corporation that owns his hide, as anyone, but I do give him credit for axing Coulter.

Name: Kevin Bartner
Hometown: Alpharetta, GA

I'm glad to see you recognize Goodbye Columbus.  Long my favorite Phillip Roth story.  Must have read it about 25 times.  The film is quite good and having grown up Jewish in the Long Island suburbs, the film is quite perceptive about upper middle class Jewish suburban life.  Great performances by Ali McGraw, her debut and probably best performance, Richard Benjamin and especially Jack Klugman as Ben Patimkin.

2 things about the film.  The Roth novella took place in the 50s but the film was updated to the late 60s.  Thus changing Ron Patimkin's, Brenda's brother, line in the book from "The Yanks took two" to "The Red Sox took two" in the film.  This also required changing the line from "saving a place at the table for Mickey Mantle" to "saving a place for Carl Yaztremski."

Also, this was the only film role for Michael Meyers, the actor who played Brenda's Ohio St attending, Montovanni loving older brother.  Big Ron Patimkin.  He became a physician in real life.

One more thing.  He eats like a bird.

Eric replies: I hate to admit this but they filmed the tennis scenes at my high school...

Name: Brian Jacobsmeyer
Re F Scott Fitzgerald "second acts" quote.

I always thought it was a stupid thing to say as well until someone explained to me that Fitzgerald, the author of plays and screenplays, naturally thought in terms of a three act structure, and so this was his way of saying American life skips over the messy, complicated, character-building stuff which is what happens in Act Two.  In other words, we're shallow.

Don't know if this is really what F. meant, but it at least makes sense.