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Notso Slacker Friday

Notso Slacker Friday

May 6 | 12 |

I’ve got a new Nation column, .  It’s called “What Would Dewey Do?” and it’s kind of about Robert Novak and the debate I’m going to be having with him in Santa Barbara in a few weeks. 

I’ve also got a new “Think Again” column called “Instant Democracy.”  It’s about the media’s eagerness to declare democracy a fact when it ain’t.


Isn’t the Wall Street Journal editorial page wonderful?  Earlier this week, they published an editorial explaining that the Brits were supporting Tony Blair because he had stood steadfast with George Bush on Iraq.  Of course that’s exactly what they hate about him and why he fared so badly relative to the popularity of his economic policies.  The edit page, in other words, lives in an alternative universe.  But it is one where you get rewarded with the support of a billion dollar press empire, plus $5 million a year in taxpayer subsidies from PBS/CPB.  Anyway, .

I was watching a panel on foreign policy called "Are We Making the World Safe for Democracy?" at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on C-SPAN and a questioner asked “My conservative friends can enumerate four or five basic principles of what it means to be a conservative, but what are the principles of the liberals?  I would really like to find out what are the basic principles of the liberal worldview…  My liberal friends are not able to elucidate them for me.  I’m serious…. For my conservative friends we can rattle off four or five principles, if you could just rattle off four or five things that are basic.”

Nobody wanted to answer.  David Rieff said, “I think it’s a provocation this question.  If anyone could argue for the ability to rattle off, as you say, four or five principles I would take issue with the seriousness of those principles.”  Reiff is right, but the political problem is real and central.  Anyone want to try and answer?  If you solve it, I’ll credit you in the next book, and you will have made the world a better place.

Alter-reviews:  I have none, but here are some DVDs for which I could use intelligent, expert assessment:

  • Bob Newhart, the complete first season
  • Murphy Brown, the complete first season
  • The Wire, the complete second season
  • The Twilight Zone, the complete second season
  • Classic Comedies Collection
  • The Doris Day Collection

Alter-announcement:  This was rescheduled, but here it is:

The Nation Institute presents: “The Liberal Media on The Future of Liberalism.”Katrina vanden Heuvel, The NationMichael Tomasky, The American ProspectandPaul Glastris, The Washington MonthlyModerated by Eric Alterman, "The Liberal Media" columnist for The NationThis is part of Conversations with The Nation series, co-sponsored by The New School. Monday, June 6, 6:30 - 8 PM, Tishman Auditorium, The New School, NYC66 W. 12th Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues)Admission: $10/students freeFor reservations, go to or call 866-468-7619This event may be televised. Seating cannot be guaranteed after 6:30 PM.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Harry Payne
Hometown: Naples, IT/San Diego, CA
Dear Dr Alterman:
I am really tired of hearing Tom DeLay's lame excuses about corporations paying for this and that and trips paid by lobbyists or on some lobbyist's credit card, but the lobbyist didn't know that his credit card was being used.  Someone tattoo a capital L on his forehead, please.

I work for the US Navy as a civilian and we are required to take annual ethics training where we learn over and over again that we can't even take a gift over $20 in value or an aggregate over $50 per year and shouldn't take any at all.  In fact, if our actions could even hint of impropriety, we are required to refrain, especially when the action is related to a company over which we have some direct fiscal control.

It would appear to me that Congress should be constrained by the same rules.  If I could be discharged for accepting a gift from a contractor, then so should Tom DeLay, and others doing the same thing, be required to step down from their Congressional seat.

May 5 | 12 |

Envy the Brits
-Or how to run an election

Britain’s election today shames our own. It’s not only that Blair has been forced to face actual voters asking actual questions about his deliberate deceptions, and that the voters will make him pay a price for treating them with contempt -- albeit far less contempt than Bush and a complacent media showered on us. It’s also that the election is being held on genuine issues rather than the kinds of questions that would better serve a personality cult. I’ll admit to sheer envy when I read these words in a Times story a few weeks ago:

"The social issues that have proved crucial to Mr. Bush's success in the United States have little resonance in this country. Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Howard has not been able to use abortion and gay marriage to transcend economic matters in appealing to voters, and he voted in Parliament in support of the war in Iraq, the issue on which Labor officials judge Mr. Blair most vulnerable.

As a result, Mr. Howard has been as apt in recent days to talk about increasing spending - at a World Poverty event on Sunday, he called for a £700 million ($1.3 billion) increase in British foreign aid - as he has been to cut government spending and taxes…. And when Mr. Howard appeared in the pulpit at the Tabernacle Christian Center on the outskirts of London on Sunday, he did not mention God or religion once in the course of a 20-minute speech, an omission that would have been unthinkable for Mr. Bush or John Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate….”

How odd it must be to live in a nation with a sensible electorate and responsible political class. If I were a Brit, I’d vote for the hapless Liberal Democrats today, in order to keep Blair’s margin down, and speed his replacement by Gordon Brown. He is undoubtedly a superior alternative to the Tories, but he misled the nation on a matter of fundamental -- nearly sacred -- trust and he should pay the price.

Tina Brown has another fine column on Blair .  She is really quite under-rated as a columnist and is much better at this kind of thing than Ms. Dowd -- who is quite a good writer, but too certain of the superiority of the moral teachings of her Irish Catholic upbringing, and hence quite snooty to those who don’t share it. Tina is, um, wider and contains more multitudes. (Good hed, too.)

Corporate jets are the great unwritten story of the corruption of the American political system. Congrats to Tom DeLay for inspiring a rare story on the phenomenon,  

Todd Gitlin on "Where Have All The Anti-warriors Gone"   And again, on the alleged academic Bill of rRghts,

The Great Man, profiled,


Hank Williams The Ultimate Collection, part of the Chronicles series on Universal, two CDs of greatest hits and the directors cut of the American Masters special, with wonderful footage both old and new, featuring a wonderful duet with, I think Kitty Wells, and Hank on “I Cant Help It If I’m Still in Love with You,” and one with a young Tony Bennett on “Cold, Cold Heart.” It closes with an incredible version of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by a certain Godfather of Soul, plus 15 minutes of extras. You can buy them separately, too. A song list is available   

There’s also a DVD edition of Sting’s terrific Bring on the Night piece, which is, I think, the only terrific thing Sting’s done, and features a terrific band, featuring a pre-Tonight Show Branford Marsalis, on its 20th anniversary. The remix sounds terrific.

Correspondence Corner

Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Mr. Vaidhyanthan's has outlined a brilliant critique of the continuing conservative ideological assault on the legislature, media and academia. The attack is, of course, even bigger than he acknowledges. The right's political momentum has moved the  battle into religion, business, courts and science.  In the words of Molly Ivins "these people(the conservative leaders) don't want to govern...they want to rule".  Perhaps Siva can find solace in his own words..."Anyone who has ever dealt with young people in America should know that they are just about impossible to persuade, let alone indoctrinate.  They resist it when they smell it.  They do, however, yearn to be inspired and challenged"  The right-wing assault force is now in full indocrination mode.  The good news...young people aren't necessarily accepting it!  So, it's time for the left to inspire! Let's speak truth to power about the issues we know and understand... social justice,the environment and class struggle. Eric, thanks for sharing Siva's insights and words of encouragement.

Name: Dennis DeCos
Hometown: Tampa, Fl.
Though Professor Siva and I are no doubt, at different ends of the political spectrum, I believe that banishing someone from earning a living in his or her chosen field simply because they have different beliefs than the per se mainstream is deplorable. I couldn't agree less with the professor's agenda nor positions, but he has a right to the same freedom of speech that all of us hold so dearly. Too many good men and women died for that right. As long as the professor conducts his classroom in a professional manner and encourages freedom of thought and expression and opinions from his students that he so richly defends himself, then there shouldn't be a problem and far-rightwingers ought to mind their own business!!

Name: Richard Rand
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
The reports on a leaked, official Downing Street memo that stated  how "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq.  This is the first official document that I know of that states that intelligence was to be manipulated.  The memo is in general very revealing.  I haven't seen this covered in the mainstream US media but if it is spread around the blogosphere enough then maybe it will get some traction.  I hope you can highlight it in your blog.

Name: Michael Kropp
Hometown: Mahwah, NJ
Wow, Herb Alpert and TJB some of the best music ever recorded?  Now I can see why Sal didn't like REM's underappreciated New Adventures in Hi-Fi!  Herb Alpert was arguably the worst trumpet player ever recorded, I guess it helps to own the record label.

I can only imagine trumpet luminaries like Miles and Diz spinning in their graves upon seeing Herb Alpert and "best music ever made" appear in the same article.

May 4 | 12 |

Hometown: The Ivory Tower
I'm always happy to contribute to Altercation.  But lately I have become a bit worried about whether it's actually a good idea for me.  See, I am a professor at a blue state private research university.  And we have been under increased surveillance of late.  And I have been thinking that some day all the public stands I have taken here and at my blog will come back to hurt me.  Some day a bitter student (or someone not affiliated with my institution) could scour all my public writings and issue a Fatwa against my career.  I am not yet tenured.  So the risks of being loud are high.  As I listen to the rumblings around the academy, I worry.

You probably heard about the frightening treatment of my brothers uptown at Columbia University.  Some activists decided that it would be a good idea to spread a bunch of unsubstantiated accusations against a handful of professors who are experts on the Middle East.  They were accused of being "anti-Israel" and of "intimidating" students both in and out of class.  The reaction against these scholars was vicious.  Anthony Weiner, a little-known Congressman from Brooklyn currently failing to be a slightly-better-known Democratic candidate for mayor of New York, accused the professors of being anti-Semitic and demanded that Columbia fire them.  The New York Times editorial board, ever willing to pile on to anyone who deviates from their stance on Israel and Palestine and score points with their right-wing critics (workin' the refs, again), issued a against the professors and the university investigative process that cleared them of accusations of anti-Semitism.

You can read what Juan Cole, Middle East scholar at the University of Michigan, says about the Times and its anti-intellectual position .  This is the conclusion to Cole's post:

What the editors mean by "anti-Israeli" is not spelled out.  But generally the term means any criticism of Israel.  (You can criticize Argentina all day every day till the cows come home and nobody cares in the US, but make a mild objection to Ariel Sharon putting another 3500 settlers onto Palestinian territory in contravention of all international law and of the road map to which the Bush administration says it is committed, and boom!, you are branded a racist bigot. And if you dare point out that Sharon's brutality and expansionism end up harming America and Americans by unnecessarily making enemies for us (because we are Sharon's sycophants), then you are really in trouble.Personally, I think that the master narrative of Zionist historiography is dominant in the American academy. Mostly this sort of thing is taught by International Relations specialists in political science departments, and a lot of them are Zionists, whether Christian or Jewish. Usually the narrative blames the Palestinians for their having been kicked off their own land, and then blames them again for not going quietly. It is not a balanced point of view, and if we take the NYT seriously (which we could stop doing after they let Judith Miller channel Ahmad Chalabi on the front page every day before the war), then the IR professors should be made to teach a module on the Palestinian point of view, as well. That is seldom done.Academic teaching is not about balance or "fairness" or presenting "both sides" of an issue.  It is about teaching people to reason analytically and synthetically about problems.  The NYT approach would ruin our ability to do this and would impose a particular version of history on us all by fiat. It even implies that some committee should sanction anyone critical of Israel.Universities are about skewering sacred cows. Anyone who doesn't want their views challenged or their feelings hurt should stay away from them. If you can't handle an intellectual challenge, you shouldn't be on campus. And you certainly shouldn't be editing a major newspaper.

Now, skewering sacred cows is one thing this good Hindu boy is all for!

I have been critical of Sharon's brutal policies for years.  I have made my positions clear in a variety of forums and publications.  My firm support of Israel as a democratic nation, concern for its future under such reckless leadership, and are also on the record.  My position on most of these matters does not differ in any substantial degree from what Eric expresses regularly on this blog.  I am generally on record opposing all forms of fundamentalism: Moslem, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, technocratic, militarist, pacifist, collectivist, and free-market.

But here is the thing: I don't teach this stuff.  I am not an expert on the Middle East or religious fundamentalism.  I am just a concerned and educated citizen with access to outlets such as this.  I think it's a civic responsibility for those of us lucky enough to get paid to read, write, and talk to speak out and engage publicly with issues that matter, even if they are beyond our portfolios.  But that's getting riskier every day.

I am different in the classroom.  The classroom is a special place.  It's where we have a special responsibility to be civil yet interesting.  I have to confess, since I left grad school at the University of Texas I have had very few overtly conservative students in my classes.  I had one student drop a class I was teaching on globalization because I had assigned texts that explain global Islam and I had declared my dislike for another of the texts I had assigned, Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations.  She said she could not abide a course that discussed Israel critically or Islam positively.  I encouraged her to stay in the class.  I wanted her to contribute and argue with me, to shake up the discussion and change a few minds -- perhaps even mine.  She would not.  I have had a couple of Howard Stern-inspired shallow libertarians who posited anti-immigrant and homophobic opinions.  And I worked with that.

Most often, at liberal places like Wesleyan, the University of Wisconsin, and New York University, I find myself playing devil's advocate.  I take positions for the sake of challenging lazy lefty thought.  I have voiced approval of Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and Wal-Mart and made the occasional hemp-clothing-wearing student defend her criticisms of them.  I have asked pointed questions that indicate support for television and Web censorship.  I have argued against peer-to-peer file sharing.  In a course on multiculturalism in which every student had inchoate positive feelings about pluralism, I spent the entire semester breaking it down and exposing its weaknesses.  I tried to turn feelings into thoughts and encouraged them to abandon some opinions and strengthen others.  Somebody had to do it.

This, my friends, is what we all do to a greater or lesser degree.  We teach through tropes and tricks.  We go to the rope-a-dope.  We play and tease and draw students out.  Only a handful of bad teachers sermonize or bully.  Most of them don't last at this job.  They certainly fail in their attempts to indoctrinate.  Anyone who has ever dealt with young people in America should know that they are just about impossible to persuade, let alone indoctrinate.  They resist it when they smell it.  They do, however, yearn to be inspired and challenged.

Sometimes, I shake up the class by declaring positions I actually hold.  Just before and after September 11, 2001, I declared myself a firm patriot, a person who would willingly die to defend this great nation. And I asked them, ""

It does worry me that some day a student on the left OR the right will take out of context one of my teaching tricks, my devilish advocations, and use it against me.  It could happen.  Extremist groups have been placing monitors in classrooms.  In a big lecture, I can't be sure that we are all on the same wavelength.

On only one occasion did I launch into a blog-like rant in the classroom.  A student at the University of Wisconsin had questioned my commitment to social justice because I had voted for Al Gore instead of Ralph Nader. I said something about how no one who loved anyone who might some day need to have an abortion could honestly support Nader.  My voice quivered in anger.  My eyes fixed on him.  I stood tall, fists clenched.  I tried my best to intimidate him.  But you know what?  No harm, no foul.

The Naderite student went on supporting Naderite follies.  I went back to real teaching.  He did not feel the need to complain to the administration or take it to the local paper.  No congressman cried for my dismissal.  The student did not do particularly well in my class, but he could have.  We never became friends.  But we never got into it again.  We were cordial and professional to each other.  But he was not paying tuition to make friends.  And I am not paid to be friends with my students.  I might have issued an intimidating message.  But he chose not to be intimidated.  Good for him.

This is what I don't get about the current right-wing attacks on my profession and my peers: Why are conservatives so wimpy, whiney, and weak?

The wimpiest, whiniest, and weakest of right-wing ideologues, David Horowitz, has been encouraging the monitoring and censoring of professors for years.  This year he has been going around the country stirring up conservative students (and non-students) to out liberal professors and pushing his "Academic Bill of Rights."

This week Horowitz gets an amazingly .  It's sad.  It's Time on Coulter all over again.  The article treats him like a harmless gadfly, just another reformer with an ego.  On the positive side, the story lets Horowitz hang himself with ridiculous statements like this:

If he were liberal, he contends, he could be an editor at the Times or a department chairman at Harvard University.  And his life story would have already been told on the big screen.  Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, his autobiography, has been out for eight years.  'Someone would have made a film out of it if I was a leftist,' he says bitterly.He claims he would make more money as a liberal, too, 'at least three times,' what he earns now.  According to the center's most recent available tax form, Mr. Horowitz received an annual salary of $310,167 in 2003.  He declines to give his current income, but in addition to his salary, Mr. Horowitz receives about $5,000 for each of the 30 to 40 campus speeches he gives each year.

Hmmmm. How many liberals does he hang out with?

But the article exposes none of Horowitz's well-documented .  It fails to mention the treatment Horowitz when Berube graciously agreed to engage Horowitz in spirited and respectful debate.  Horowitz, as usual, was far from respectful.

The article has a few quotes from Horowitz's opponents, but none of them reveal the astounding number of manipulative misrepresentations that his campaign has employed.  It gives Todd Gitlin, a sixties New Left veteran who NEVER supported dangerous unAmerican cranks on the left or right (unlike Horowitz, who supported both), just one sentence to explain his opposition to Horowitz's Orwellian "Academic Bill of Rights."

Todd Gitlin, now a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia, also has a problem with the bill as legislation. The actual text of it is fine, he says. "If it came across my desk as a petition, I'd probably sign it." But "the attempt to rope legislatures into enforcing rules of fairness and decorum on university campuses is misguided and perverse."

Gitlin has much more to say about this trend to silence professors.  But the Chronicle reporter did not think his perspective was important enough to let him elaborate.  For more by Todd Gitlin on the Academic Bill of Rights, .

Fortunately, the same issue of the Chronicle offers of how teaching higher ed right now is getting more dangerous thanks to Horowitz's stormtroopers.

If you can't read these articles at the Chronicle site, you can get them .

To echo Juan Cole, universities are places where one goes to be disturbed, not placated.  They are sites of intellectual confrontation, often civil, sometimes uncivil.  They are where the lucky fifth of American young people get exposed to a vast menu or ideas, experiences, and temptations.  They learn to argue and laugh and cry and love and drink and fail.  And most of them emerge from the process stronger and wiser than they would have been otherwise.  Along the way, most of these amazingly smart young people laugh at professors like me.  They see through our games, our cheap suits and lame attempts to talk about hip hop and video games.  I honestly can't think of a single student who has passed through my classroom who I would worry about being intimidated or indoctrinated by the likes of me.

Cries of victimization from those who control the courts, Congress, the White House, most state legislatures, school boards, corporations, and country clubs ring hollow in the underpaid halls of academia.  In our eternal quest for truths, we can't abide so many lies.

End Siva

Quote of the day:  "I am quite surprised and disappointed ABC is devoting an hour of its prime time programming to air tabloid trash," a top FOX executive, according to Drudge.  Left unsaid, “Yeah, that’s our job.”


Sal on Herb Alpert and the TJB

After years of litigation, Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass sees their catalogue get the CD overhaul thanks to Shout Factory.  (stop snickering)  It's been a long time coming, and I for one can finally rest easy, now that some of my fave records of all time finally see the light of day.

Coming in 4th behind The Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra for most records sold in the 60's, Herb's TJB were hardly a band to laugh at.  Sure, Alpert's name almost always go hand in hand with "Dating Game" jokes, but the truth is, no one, not then and not now, had a sound as unique.

The first four in this "signature series"- "The Lonely Bull," "South Of The Border, "Whipped Cream & Other Delights," and a treasure trove of never-before-released rarities called "Lost Treasures," have just hit the stores.  Each has that classic TJB sound- think your favorite Mariachi band playing big band & swing versions of pop hits and standards.

At the risk of sounding like a bad commercial on the Oxygen Network, these records will bring back memories of a better time.  A time when the highest paid player on the Mets was Ron Swoboda.  Back before Coney Island became of victim of urban blight.  Back when "reality TV" was an episode of "Mannix."

All kidding aside, these reissues are a welcome addition to any CD collection. Truly, some of the best music ever recorded. More .
Sal Nunziato

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Ed Tracey
Hometown: Lebanon, New Hampshire

Review: Cream reunion concert (opening night)- May 2nd, Royal Albert Hall in London. After 37 year hiatus, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker got together for four shows this week.

I felt like a young person again last night - cannot remember when I last went to a rock show that was this big; I've been to small jazz and blues shows mostly.

The lads did it!  They played not like 20-somethings (were loose, no posing, laughed a lot, Eric and Jack fumbled some lyrics) but not like 60-somethings, either (crisp instrumental breaks, their voices held up well, Ginger was a dynamo) and played - with encore - just under 2 hours.  I was surprised that they took no intermission; might have been worthwhile to keep their stamina up.

It was just the three of them: no opening act, no guest musicians, playing the Great Cream Songbook, only one song not in their repertoire (Stormy Monday).  A DVD is being filmed of these performances; should be available later this year.

Song list:
I'm So Glad
Outside Women Blues
Pressed Rat & Warthog(!!)
Sleepy Time Time
Sweet Wine
Rollin' & Tumblin' (Jack on harmonica) Stormy Monday
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Born Under a Bad Sign
We're Going Wrong
Sittin' On Top of the World
White Room
Toad (6-minute solo from Ginger)

Encore: Sunshine of Your Love

May 3 | 10 |

Name: Major Bob Bateman
Dateline: Baghdad, Iraq

On the Road to Victory

It is 07:45.  Fourteen officers and twelve enlisted soldiers stand in the parking lot, and with some nudging they start assembling into a rough circle.  The sun is now well up, though it is not yet viciously hot.  The jagged ruins of a bombed-out Baathist building loom over the lot from across the street.  Four HMMWVs and a couple of armored SUVs await us.  Everyone carries a rifle.

"Gentlemen, this is your convoy briefing for today’s mission," the burly sergeant says to the semicircle of officers and men surrounding him.

The Staff Sergeant, a veteran of several years, is a trained artilleryman.  He and the other Non-Commissioned Officers leading this platoon contain within themselves decades of experience in the Field Artillery.  Their knowledge is expansive and professional. It includes everything from the nuts and bolts of how a howitzer works, to the higher-level orchestration needed by professional soldiers to call forth the symphony of high-explosives needed in conventional war.  But there are no enemy divisions here in Iraq, so he and his fellow sergeants lead a platoon of junior enlisted artillerymen doing something completely different.  Here they escort convoys, a traditional Military Police mission.

“If we are hit with small arms or RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and we do not take significant damage, we will take the following actions in response…”

“If we are hit by an IED, and we lose one or more vehicles, then in that case we will…”

“If we experience a mechanical breakdown we will assess the breakdown and if it cannot be fixed in two minutes our immediate action will be to…”

And so it goes, down the list of potential calamities, examining and planning for each possible problem.  His briefing follows the proscribed format of the Five Paragraph Operations Order, common to all the services. We listen, some in tight attention, others with half an ear, at best.  We are about to take a ride down Route Irish, the road that links the Green Zone with Camp Victory, the Coalition base surrounding the Baghdad Airport. Last week, as best we can tell, fifteen people died and seventeen were wounded on these six-and-a-half miles of road.  In the past 48 hours there have been around 30 car-bombs in Iraq, almost half of them in Baghdad.  It is enough to give pause.

The briefing ends.  In silence, we turn to our assigned vehicles.  As each arrives at his assigned seat for the ride, a light banter begins between the officers and the enlisted crews as the officers place their gear inside.  Then each man draws from his ammo pouches a magazine of ammunition.  The rhythm of metallic clicks as we chamber rounds in our weapons lasts for thirty seconds or so.

Leaving the Green Zone via Checkpoint Twelve involves the inevitable weaving through a serpentine.  I am in the lead vehicle, my personal preference, which I indulge when appropriate, though I am sitting in the back seat this time.  I am just a passenger for this ride.  We accelerate slowly to provide the cars and HMMWVs behind us a chance to clear the weave and get on the ramp.  I check my watch.  Red Zone.  It is 08:06:03.

Mostly you get small arms in this first section of the road.  Quadisiya is the name of the section of town we pass first, on the right.  The buildings are moderately well-off structures for Iraq.  They are mostly two story affairs with flat roofs, though sometimes you will see strange architectural flares such as the bright green Japanese-style entry-way roof on one house about a half mile out of the Green Zone.  We drive over a cluster of empty .50 cal shell casings and belt-links in the middle of the road, maybe a hundred rounds worth.  Recent.  We keep accelerating.

The road starts climbing.  I hate this stretch, though it has been peaceful lately.  What unsettles are the guard rails and fencing, all twisted and torn.  Inward for the railings.  Outward for the fencing.  For about half a mile the road is lined with this unmistakable evidence of not just one, but dozens of IEDs in this short passage.  This section of the road is raised and curving, so there is a touch of the claustrophobic as well.  There is no where to go if you are hit.  We pass over railway tracks and then make a sweeping 90 degree turn to the right to merge onto the main highway.

Yarmouk is now on the right, and the Aamel district on the left, across the divide. The four lane highway, is divided by about 75 yards of rutted dirt and forlorn date trees planted intermittently.  This stretch catches the most VBIEDs.  Two access roads parallel the main highway.  There is room to maneuver here.  I exhale.  The housing in this stretch is about a hundred to a hundred and fifty yards away.  We are lucky.  For whatever reason, the roadway is practically empty.  It is more deserted, I realize, than I have ever seen.  We are now at our top speed, about 60 miles per hour.

Each time we pass beneath an overpass running above the highway a complex dance takes place in my HMMWV.  First, as we approach, our gunner squats down into the vehicle from his normal standing posture.  He lets go of the main gun and takes up his rifle.  Then, in the second or so during which we pass beneath, the driver cuts the wheel sharply, jinking our heavily laden HMMWV to one side or the other.  He is taking it to a new lane, fast.  At the same time the gunner pirouettes, spinning his body in the turret while leaving the main gun oriented forward.  As we pop out the other side he is back in his crouch, his rifle oriented upward and backwards. He scans the back side of the bridge, quickly, then stands again.  Turning and setting down his rifle, his attention returns to the main gun and the road ahead.  This is a standard drill familiar to any Iraqi who has ever been near a U.S. convoy.

People on overpasses sometimes try to toss grenades into the open turret hatch of HMMWVs passing beneath.

Ameriya is now on the right, the district of Jihad on the left.  A single Bradley fighting vehicle sits in the median between the two roadways.  One can easily cut across from one side of the highway to the other just about anywhere along this part of the route.  In the distance to the north (right), I see the massive structure of an uncompleted mosque.  The houses here, at least those in Jihad to our left, look like public housing tracts.  They have that same feel.  We pass two flocks of goats, about twenty goats each, shepherded by boys who look about ten years old.  Our luck holds.  Still no cars.  The rise of blast walls on our right ends the neighborhood vista.  Ahead I see the entrance to Victory.  Another run done.

It is 08:14:36.

BAGHDAD WITHIN EARSHOT:  If you have watched the news, you know.  Another one hit while I was smoking my cigarette outside after finishing this passage.  VBIEDs, in waves, are breaking over Baghdad.  I think this is about the dumbest thing possible, but then I am not Arab, only an historian.  On Saturday, the second day, as the reports rolled in of bomb after bomb, what came to mind were the cockneys of London in the summer of 1940.

6,190 miles away my friends took my love to a fancy ball on Saturday night, my daughters are spending a weekend with my mother, and my father is starting the passage from Antigua to Newport.  Here I’ve started reading a new book by an NPR reporter named Michael Goldfarb, Ahmad’s War, Ahmad’s Peace.  I am devouring it and may review it here later.  The explosions continue.

Write to  Major Bob at

Everything you need to know about the Bush Administration in one sentence, :  "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team and I'm here to stop the count."  -John Bolton, Florida, 2000

But here are a few other things worth knowing:

  • Sometimes they do their own torturing, .
  • Sometimes they like to get others to do their torturing for them, .
  • They fight dirty wars, involving terrorist tactics, .
  • And they are weakening the military, , making it impossible for us to face up to genuine threats , like this one, , making us less safe, .

And don’t let anybody tell you the mainstream media is useless.  The blogosphere will never replace The New York Times, for all its flaws, alas.

Speaking of which, don’t miss yesterday’s Times story on the far-right takeover of PBS, .  It comes only ten months after I covered this trend in The Nation, .

I see that Christine Chinlund’s term as Boston Globe’s Ombudsman is up, .

I don’t know if what Henry Kissinger would term a “decent interval” has passed, but now might be a good time for the paper to consider getting its house in order by firing its op-ed editors, Renee Loth and Nick King, both of whom severely embarrassed the newspaper with their combination of incompetence and refusal to shoulder responsibility for that incompetence in their treatment of Cathy Young’s slanderous lies printed about me a few months ago, and replacing them with Ms. Chinlund and her choice of deputies.  (It goes without saying that Ms. Young would be pounding the pavement within minutes of losing her protectors.)  Though Chinlund was clearly irked by the difficult position into which she was placed by the editorial page’s lax standards, she handled herself with professionalism in the service of the highest ideals of journalism.

Me ‘n Lyndon:  There was a LaRouche guy at the L.A. Times Book Festival.  If you watched the panels on C-Span over the weekend, you saw me face down a guy who tried to cite me in favor of a conspiracy theory he had about how Likud controls U.S. foreign policy.  I caught the media panel with David Shaw, Ken Auletta (whose reporting I have come to admire a great deal), Arianna (who Fed-Ex'ed my kid’s jacket home in between setting up her new blog for launch on Monday), and the guy did it again.  His question was ignored, fortunately, but he made it seem as if I had said what he was saying.  I wasn’t.  The column he cited, for the record, is .  (I see he was next on line at the ‘Are We Making the World Safe for Democracy?” panel, but my man Matt Miller ended it just in time.)

Not to put too fine a point on this, but is um, kicking’s ass, .

Let’s hear it for Starbucks; I’m happy to pay for an overpriced cappuccino at this model of corporate /social responsibility, .


I borrowed a section of a review of this important book from the H-Diplo website; they don’t seem to mind when I do that.

Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism. How Americans are Seduced by War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. 226 pages, plus notes, reviewed by David E. Kaiser, Naval War CollegeThe theme of the book is the United States' increasing belief in, idealization of, and reliance upon the American military to solve all our problems, and it explores how this has come about.  Like many officers of his generation, Bacevich credits the post-Vietnam military leadership, led by Creighton Abrams, with checking civilian tendencies to involve American forces in dangerous adventures.  That role, of which he thoroughly approves, began to ebb during the 1990s and now has evidently been abandoned.  Bacevich then traces, angrily and effectively, the growth of neoconservativsm, showing especially how a younger generation of neoconservatives shifted their doctrine's basic principle from vigilant resistance to evil to an aggressive crusade against it wherever it arises after the Soviet Union collapsed.  In the eyes of Norman Podhoretz and Bill Kristol, such a crusade is critical not only to our strategic position, but to the moral nature of the United States itself, and President Bush has evidently embraced this vision as well.  "In America's future," he summarizes ironically, "loomed the prospect of one, two, many Iraqs, and the future at long last appeared bright."  Bacevich is deeply disturbed by the implications of our current national security strategy, which asserts the right to overthrow any regime we deem hostile and dangerous, and which has not gotten enough analysis in public life or in the press.

Correspondent's corner

Name: Tim

Hi Eric,

Developing . . . .

PBS Suffers the 'Fox Effect'

In the last 24 hours more than 30,000 Americans have called on the chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to resign after a New York Times story revealed Kenneth Tomlinson's covert efforts to combat what he considers "liberal bias" at PBS. Tomlinson claims that he is merely trying to make public broadcasting more "fair and balanced." Sound familiar?

What he’s not doing, is following American public opinion. In 2003 the CPB commissioned a series of public surveys to find bias at PBS. The surveys -- conducted by GOP pollsters no less -- found that a majority of Americans believe PBS to be trustworthy and unbiased. Rather than respect public opinion, Tomlinson and right-wing crew decided to discard the poll and charge ahead with plans to fix what Americans say isn't broken.

This top-down partisan meddling goes against the very nature of PBS and the local stations that Americans trust. It's time to let the future of PBS be decided by the people, not by the secret dealings of White House operatives.