My new “Think Again” column is called “The Economist’s ‘Happy’ Ignorance,” and it’s here.

My new Nation column is called “The new Congress and the Coming Class War” and it’s here.

And The Nation’s excerpt from my book is called “Kabuki Democracy—And How to Fix it” and it’s here.

My new Moment column is called “I ♥ Israel” and it’s here.

The Kabuki Democracy book tour starts this Tuesday, 1/11/11 on the release date of the book.

I will be on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show at 11:00 (on 1/11/11, get it?) and on Crossfire on MSNBC and Parker/Spitzer on CNN that afternoon/evening. Here is the schedule of appearances:

Tues 1/ 11 New York, NY 7:00 PM Barnes and Noble 2289 Broadway (at 82nd St.)
Wed 1/ 12 Seattle, WA 7:30 PM Town Hall/ Elliott Bay 1119 8th Ave.
Thurs 1/ 13 Portland, OR 7:30 PM Powell’s 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Fri 1/ 14 Corte Madera, CA 7:00 PM Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Sat 1/ 15 Capitola, CA 6:30 PM Capitola Book Cafe 1475 41st Ave

For future dates, you can go here for the schedule and you can buy the book at fine bookstores anywhere. Here is a link to the BN event. Here is a link to the Powell’s event. Here’s a link to the Elliot Bay event at Town Hall. And for lazy, here is an Amazon link.  The damn thing costs less than two lattes.

Now here’s Reed:

Worst. Media. Ever.

Fans of The Simpsons are familiar with the long-running in-joke involving Comic Book Guy. His character, a notably minor one in a vast chorus, often appears as a stand-in for the public, offering up fickle meta-criticism for what is deemed as the TV show’s ongoing decline. Over time, his “Worst Episode Ever” catchphrase has evolved into a broader cultural trope about the perils of the public’s unabashed nostalgia for the bygone days of almost any institution in our society, even the media. But while this fondness for the past is understandable, if left unchecked, it can skew our memories and perceptions of reality to the point where any change or evolution is seen as a betrayal of principles and something to be summarily lamented.

That’s why I found this Boston Globe essay from earlier in the week to be so refreshing and worthwhile. Though the trend in our media toward ever-shrinking sound bites might appear to be yet another unfortunate unraveling of journalistic standards, author Craig Fehrman looks beyond the data to make a compelling case for why this isn’t such a travesty after all.

[Study author] Hallin has argued all along that television news in the 1960s and 1970s, which many take to be the genre’s golden age, was never actually that good. Stories were dull and disorganized; those long quotations would be followed by a couple of seconds of dead air. Early newspapers, in their time, were no different.

I certainly agree. What’s more, politicians’ words are rarely eloquent, frequently misleading and often stand directly opposite of their actions. So why not focus more on covering what they do and less on quoting what they say? But, Fehrman points out, where the problem lies is in what has filled the newshole vacuum once occupied by campaign quotes and candidate’s speeches.

[A]s networks shortened their sound bites, they also changed the substance of their political coverage. They started using more in-house experts, pundits who looked less at what people said than at how they said it. TV news became more about strategy and the parsing of strategy — about buzzwords like ‘expectations’ and ‘momentum’ — than about the issues that presumably lie at the heart of politics. Journalists wanted to turn campaigns into larger narratives, and there was no easier narrative than covering politics as though it were a sport.

In other words, this trend toward soundbite journalism has perversely created a media environment that is even less focused on policy. This preference for “keeping score” is perhaps not surprising since the American mainstream media’s adherence to objectivity tacitly, if not openly, discourages forthright judgments between right and wrong, truth and lies. All those column inches and all that air time has to be filled with something, however, so why not stick to analyzing who’s “up” and who’s “down,” instead. But this silly façade of media neutrality isn’t the prerequisite for a functioning democracy, as this NPR report reminded us this week.

‘I think it’s quite a striking thing about the British press that you get this polemical battle over the basis for what news is, which I feel is to a large extent missing in the American scene,’ [Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan] Rusbridger says. ‘No judgments are free of ideologies, so who you choose to quote and how you structure stories are highly political judgments. I think that’s the problem with trying to place too much faith in something called objectivity.’

That kind of bracing honesty about the sausage-making of journalism is sorely lacking in the American media. Indeed, compare Rusbridger’s comments to those of Leonard Downie, who was quoted in a follow-up NPR story from yesterday:

‘I believe The Washington Post does make clear where we’re coming from,’ says Leonard Downie, the Post‘s former executive editor. ‘Where we’re coming from, in our news reporting, is no partisanship or ideology of any kind. Our reporting speaks for itself. It is not coming from a point of view.’

To cling to this level of institutional intransigence and pious infallibility might be attractive if, say, you happen to have this job, but it simply defies logic in a profession aimed at informing the public in a democracy. In fact, what this cloistered mindset encourages is reporting that does the very opposite of speaking for itself, shackled as it is to a neutral, artificially balanced framework. It’s what permits groupthink and headline-chasing coverage that distorts policy debates and perpetuates myths until, as in the ongoing debate about Social Security, someone has to step in and try to undo the untold damage. The fear of substantial change is, in many ways, paralyzing the media right now, and, as a result, our democracy is likewise suffering. If we don’t put aside the trap of Comic Book Guy’s nostalgic thinking, his criticism will apply all too accurately.

Now here is Ltc Bob and the rest of the (hate) mail:

LTC Bob Bateman
Letters from a Semi-Foreign Land
Vol. I, Issue 5.

Packing Day

So it is here, packing day.

This is a day that every soldier knows, most dread and all must complete. We do not really discuss this day. This is the day when you pack up your ruck, and your dufflebag, with all that you will have, for a year. It is the mundane, the necessary and the sad, all at once. The things that you put into these two containers will sustain you, clothe you, keep you warm and protect you. And after you put all of those items in there, there remains but a sliver of space in which to place the things that define you.

Soldiers, and I should note, Marines as well, experience this day in different ways depending upon where they are in their careers.

When you are young what you will pack is mostly prescribed for you. The Lieutenant Colonel probably has some ideas, because he does not want to be blamed if you do not have something, and these go on the packing list for the whole battalion. The Captain, well, he too thinks about the things that you might potentially need, in every possible contingency, and so he adds things. The Lieutenant, not to be outdone, adds items just for the platoon. By the end of this process there is more material on the list than could ever fit within what a soldier can carry. But that is the list, as laid down by the officers, and so the soldier crams it all in. And there is no more room.

If he is lucky he has a good First Sergeant, or even better, a good Platoon Sergeant. That sergeant will hold what we call a “lay out inspection,” where every man will, in formation, dump all the contents on the ground, nominally so that the sergeant can insure that all of the items are packed. But a good sergeant, who has been to war and who knows what matters, will inspect each man’s assembled pile of goods…

“What is this? You don’t need this.” Toss.

“And this? Are you kidding? Private, you are the SAW gunner, you do NOT need this either.” Toss.

“You ain’t gonna use that.” Toss.

“Or that.” Toss.

And at the end of this process, after three, or seven, or ten items are discarded, to be left behind, he tells the private, “Alright, bag your shit, get some things you need, and then put your A-bag on the pallet. Move out.”

Now that private, or corporal, or young buck sergeant, has a small space, a few square inches perhaps, but it is his. And he will learn.

Because those last few cubic inches may be the most important ones in the bags.

When you are older the process is different. If you are a Sergeant First Class, or a Major, or higher in either category, you know that nobody is going to check your bag. Yes, there is the packing list, but you know from years of experience, going to the “field” and going to war, what you do need, and what you do not need. Yet still somehow you still only end up with those few small cubic inches, because what you need may be different, but it still has to fit into those same damned two bags.

So your helmet and body armor are in there, ammo pouches and tourniquet and blood clotting bandages, a camelback, and the things you need to keep your weapon clean. You toss in some uniforms, and lots of underwear, and a huge number of socks. Then the professional things you need for your job. Things that are not on the private’s packing list, but that you need to do your job just as clearly as he needs some specific things to be a rifleman or a machine gunner. You pack those too. And then there is that last little space.

You pack yourself in there.

One or two professional books that you believe might matter and because you are a professional. One of them might help you think of something that makes the damned war a little shorter, or maybe saves some lives, or both. In my case I also need a specific type of pen, because I write almost everything out longhand first, and for me the pen matters. And then there are the pictures: Pictures of your beloved from that Halloween a few years back when she dressed up as a librarian and accidentally gave you the erotic fuel to last you twelve months, even years later; pictures of your three daughters from that last perfect summer before the war when they were eight, six and four; a picture of your parents, and a picture of the house where you grew up 25 years ago. You pack these because these are the things that you can stare at and use to transport yourself away when you are “downrange” and it has been a very bad day.

You throw in your medicine, of course, because you are not young any more. Then come the toiletries, and in particular at least several months worth of the things that you like: Your favorite kind of razor, or shaving cream, or toothpaste, because you know that once you deploy you will not have choices anymore. You might toss in a specific seasoning that reminds you of home whenever you taste it, and again, you do this because you know you will not be able to get it out there. These are all small things, mostly. You know from hard experience that you only have those inches, and no more. The space fills.

And then finally there is just a plastic baggy with two cotton balls inside. This is your life raft.

The cotton is soaked in your wife’s perfume. It is reserved for the worst days. The days when you need to hold other people up, and yet you do not know where you will draw the strength yourself. The days when grown men cry, and feel that there is no point, and they need somebody to provide a pillar that they can use to pull themselves to their feet again, and it has got to be you, regardless of if you are ready or not, to hold them up, but you are so fucking tired, and worn, and drowning yourself…then, well, then is when these two little balls of cotton come into play. They are your emergency supply of willpower, to be used sparingly, stingily, hoarded, just in case, for those bad days. The perfume is too strong right now, but you know that over a year, it will fade until there is barely more than a memory wafting from that bag. But sometimes, that slightest scent, it is enough. To hold you, and others, up.

And then you are done. There is no more room, nothing more to pack and the only thing remaining is a very long flight to a very foreign land.

You can write to LTC Bob at

Jim Peale
Swanzey, NH

Liked your comments on ROTC, Ivy League, and the growing conservatism of our military. You left out the overt Christian evangelism going on in our military and the service academies.  I’ve been saying for years that an absolute pre-requisite for admission to the academies or OCS should be at least eighteen months service as an enlisted soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.  That would eliminate a lot of the beloved (of closet sadists) chickenshit since they’d already know how to shine shoes and make bunks, and would give them practical experience in following orders.  They’d also have gotten some valuable lessons in deciding what makes a good leader/officer.

John S. Starsiak Jr.
Woodbridge, VA

I was frustrated after reading your Jan. 3th article in the Nation. Why won’t any progressive state the ugly truth. Most Americans are stupid and you can’t fix stupid. That’s why during the era of the Founding Fathers only about 10% of white males (the talented tenth?) were allowed to vote. In other words, progressives need better propaganda (including lies) than the conservatives. To borrow a cliche from computer programming, "Keep It Simple Stupid". The mob will always be lead by the nose. The only question is who will be leading them.

Steve Nelson
Kent, WA

In trying to sort out if Mr. Rosen is humorous or ignorant (or both) I did some research into Ko Lanta Thailand to see if there were clues.  I found on Wiki that it is nice quiet tourist place where there are several divergent religions and people all respect each other.  I now suspect that Mr. Rosen has purposely misstated his home town so that we would not find out his true identity which based on his vicious humor must be Rush Limbaugh.

lee Ro
Ko Lanta Thailand

I check myself in google every once-in-a-while and there I find an email I wrote to Alterman—I certainly wouldn’t read The Nation since it is an arm of the malicious Democratic Party and foolish as well. So why don’t I write some more—I have some spare time here in S. Thailand. I should improve my previous post. Alterman is not "A Vicious, Mendacious, Horrible Monster"—that would give him too much prominence. Perhaps he is something like a small-time, sociopathic punk—just another of many punks that make a living pandering to the "Big Guys". One sees many of this type now lining up to insult WikiLeaks and Assange, support (excuse) Obama and the whole rotten enterprise known as USA. There’s money to be made schilling for the Media (that includes The Nation if you thought differently—check it out, ie. Pollit and Dreyfus as well, etc.)—they (the Media) got the money to spread around, they provide the exposure, they engage in self-serving mutual flattery—I’m talking here about all of the majors like NYTimes, Foxx, CNN, all the newspapers, all TV, even most of what has come to be known as the Alternative Media (Huff, Kos, etc.)—all the same: support the Party’s candidate, support National Security, support Israel, support the economic system, wait for better days, send money—there are a few exceptions. Liberal Democrats are the worst for hypocracy and support for what we used to call "the system", support for Obama, Patriotism—this is the Alterman crowd—totally indifferent to human suffering, Hell Bent on self interest.  No point mentioning the Republican crowd, Same-Same. No point writing too much.  I would like to correct the spelling of assassination.  Alterman is a Jerk but worse than a Jerk because he benefits, encourages, supports Death, Destruction, Fear and Misery—kind of like A Vicious, Mendacious, Horrible Monster but more weak and pitiful.  He would be a sad case if he didn’t lend his hand to so much Evil that is the USA.


can’t you think of anything to write about than your unreasoning hatred of Marty Peretz? I have read that crap from you a dozen times, and I hardly bother to follow your trivial maunderings any more. You’re such a putz. You do good work fighting the Republicans, then show yourself as a total ass with your fanatical love of the fucking arabs, not one of which would pause for a second if you were snuffed out, do you realize that?

Editor’s Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.