I've got a new Think Again called "Think Again: Glenn Beck and the Uses of Anti-Semitic Propaganda."
Also, I did this Beast piece about Jews and the midterm elections, "Jews Snub the GOP Again."
Then, this week I did this piece for the Beast, which they called "The Left's Outrage Deficit," and it's about the awful Bowles/Simpson Commission.
(In honor of the arrival of the Darkness box)
These are apparently endless:
LTC Bob and Reed follow, and they are followed by the Alter-reviews and the rest of the mail, below.
Letters from a Semi-Foreign Land
VOL. I, Issue 3.
I am back in the United Kingdom now. The events below occurred on Thursday. Around the 11th Hour, of the 11th Day, of the 11th Month.
11 November 2010
This is the home of the "Joint Warfighting Center" for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is the place where higher level NATO headquarters elements come to be trained to fulfill their wartime role. Only rarely, in the past, has this place trained men and women who are actually going to go to war. The fact that the men and women I am with right now will be in a war, just 80 or 90 days from now, is an immediate fact that few can ignore completely.
Today Stavenger is cold and blustery. I do not understand Norway's weather patterns, but it seems that when the wind shifts to the north, or slightly to the east, we freeze. This is not a bad thing, only an observation. Norway in November makes you appreciate the sun. I must say though, that the dawns here are magnificent slow rolling affairs, so there is that slight compensation.
10:00 hrs (Local): The capstone event of this whole exercise is a small briefing being given by a nearly newly minted major. But that major is one of my majors, and what he is briefing is the analysis that he and the planning group I gave him came up with. Their topic: Plan for 2011. You have five days. Go. I have something of a vested interest. Not out of fear for my own career; in general I could give a toss about that, but because I want this young Padawan to do well in his first real test.
In the real world, a few dozen people worked on this effort, and it took them months to complete. But this is training, and so some things are artificially compressed. The young major did well. Guiding his team through the shoals, he helped them drive forward to a conclusion. That sort of thing is a skill which can only be learned by doing, and not all personalities can pull it off. I knew that he could though, or at least I thought that, and therefore took the seeming risk of putting one of the junior officers in my shop in charge of the biggest assignment for the entire exercise, instead of doing it myself or assigning one of the other Lieutenant Colonels who work for me to the task. "It is training," I thought, "if he fails, I can take the bullet, and he will have learned. If he succeeds, I have one more man capable of leading the most challenging tasks, and that man will have the confidence that he needs to do this for real." Training for war is not war. Nobody dies if you make a mistake. But planners at my level are aware that in the real world, when people at our level screw up, tens and hundreds of thousands might pay some price over time.
The audience for his effort this morning, however, is as real as can be. My young major is stepping out in front of, as near as I can tell, about sixteen stars worth of general officers inside that small room, as well as the entire headquarters, which is listening in to the briefing through computer links into that small chamber.
10:20 hrs (Local): The briefing was designed to last 20 minutes. After a seven minute introduction by higher ranking officers, my Major started. (We'll call him MAJ T, for future reference.) Smooth and swift in his delivery, MAJ T demonstrated that he and his team had laid the intellectual groundwork one would expect of a multinational team of professionals. The much-feared voice of rebuke from on-high never appeared, and by ten minutes into the briefing it was clear that the bear was happy, and my Major succeeding. Listening in, from a distance, I was happy for him. To this important general, Major T was now a known commodity, and one that could be relied upon. One cannot overstate the importance of building those sorts of relationships between the men who make the plans, and the men who make the decisions.
10:55 hrs (Local): The five minute warning. The briefing is still going on, although another briefer is now giving his presentation to the general.
11:00 hrs (Local): I am outside. I prefer this moment to come when I am outside. Although what happens next is a British Commonwealth tradition, I have observed it myself for many years. My great-grandfather, you see, was also an infantryman. Once upon a time, July 1916 in fact, he went "over the top" near a river known as the Somme, in France. He was, at that time, a British enlisted man. Within a month he was an officer.
My watch tells me that it is time. I come to the position of attention. Four others in my immediate vicinity see me and do the same, as I am the senior ranking officer in the area. I am facing towards the colors. It is, perhaps, forty degrees and the wind is blowing off the water of the fjord. The sun is hidden behind low hanging clouds and the wind is moderately strong. It is cold. None of this is apparent from the appearance of the five men standing stock still, at attention, remembering and imagining.
11:00:30 hrs (Local): By now all pedestrians in the immediate area have spotted us. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, from fourteen countries, have all stopped, come to attention, and faced the colors. The men standing at attention here in Norway, paying silent respect to a generation passed, are the great-grandsons of men who, around ninety years ago, tried their level best to slaughter each other using every fiber of their beings and the combined industrial might of their respective nations. Twenty years later, they tried again. That time it was my grandfather in the fight. Europe ripped itself apart twice last century, and it did so in ways so vicious that few Americans can even imagine the wreckage today. But that is the past.
The officer standing to my left is French. There are now two officers to my right, both are German. There is a Brit in front of me. There is a Czechoslovakian officer to my right-rear. We are standing together at this instant. The historian in me is acutely aware of the moment.
11:01 hrs (Local): Two cars, travelling on the few roads through the exercise area have come to a stop. One has a military man, the other a civilian. Both pull their cars to the side, exit the vehicle, and do as everyone else is doing. No sound is heard but the rustling left by a gust of wind passing through the fading pines. My eyes are watering. Even now I am not quite sure if this was entirely because I was facing directly into the freezing wind, or because as a historian and a soldier, I have an appreciation for what my great-grandfather, and my grandfather, experienced.
11:02 hrs (Local): I have counted the seconds. One hundred and twenty. Two minutes. I take one step back, and say clearly, "Lest We Forget." Then I get back to work, preparing my men, as best I can, to face another of the wars that have come after the War to End All Wars.
Feel free to write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com
Now here's Reed:
Other than a love of baseball, I'd guess that Ty Cobb and Keith Olbermann wouldn't have a lot in common. But this past week, the latter joined the former in a somewhat exclusive club—those public figures that have been "indefinitely suspended." As we now know, Olbermann's indefinite suspension from his MSNBC show "Countdown" actually lasted all of two workdays, which, it turns out, was only eight fewer than Cobb's ultimate sentence. But then again, American League President Ban Johnson had indefinitely suspended Cobb in May of 1912 because he had jumped into the bleachers during a game to assault a defenseless, race-baiting heckler who had lost all but two fingers on one hand. Olbermann's transgression, by comparison, is pretty weak tea and seems to have only involved his failure to gain the express written consent of MSNBC President Phil Griffin before making three political donations, since several, similar campaign contributions by other MSNBC commentators, which didn't trigger indefinite suspensions, have quickly came to light.
Of course, this being America, one might easily guess why both of these ominously sounding "indefinite suspensions" ended up being so definitively finite. A subsequent walkout by the rest of Cobb's Detroit Tigers teammates for the first game of his suspension threatened the financial viability of the AL, and Johnson quickly caved to keep his league turnstiles spinning. And though there is no excuse for Cobb's behavior (as was often the case), there was a beneficial side effect to it—the solidarity shown by his teammates strengthened an already existing resolve among them to press for what ultimately became the player's union.
MSNBC's ethical principles look to have succumbed to a similar bottom-line logic, as having their network's top-rated primetime host off the air for more than a few days right after a heated election probably didn't make much business sense. And maybe there's a long-term silver lining to this suspension as well. Already, the incident has reignited debate and occasioned some bracingly healthy discussions about the anachronistic and often draconian nature of these ethics policies from some surprising corners within journalism. I sincerely hope Olbermann himself follows through on his comments from Tuesday night that this is a topic in need of more refined debate, especially since he somewhat inscrutably argued that these policies are "probably not legal," yet at the same time "not stupid." Of course, he's a little late to the party, since some of us have been debating this topic for a while now and it didn't take losing a few days' (very lucrative) pay for us to figure out something's wrong. Now, I certainly don't expect his recent awakening to the problems with these policies to alter the conventional wisdom anytime soon. Nevertheless, at the end of his segment, Olbermann made an additional and important point about the role of transparency in the discussion.
As journalists, we are among the most strident advocates for transparency in politics and make no apologies about doing so. But in the wake of the Citizens United case, journalists can now exploit a gaping loophole in both the law and these ethics policies to actively participate on the "playing fields of politics," as the New York Times puts it, while keeping all these individual biases secret. To win back the public's trust, journalism simply can't continue to stake its authority on a hidebound policy of "what the public doesn't know about us can't hurt them." That's intellectually dishonest and self-defeating. What's more, if you extend that thinking out to its natural conclusion, all individual political activity, including voting, ultimately presents a potential conflict of interest and should therefore be prohibited. And that's a world that, I submit, no media organization or journalist wants to inhabit.
So instead, what's needed are more open, flexible ethics policies, which, actually, would somewhat resemble the policies that NBC News, MSNBC TV and MSNBC.com already have in place. Policies that allow for political advocacy among newsroom employees on a case-by-case basis and according to rather limited, commonsense guidelines, while simultaneously mandating disclosure both inside and outside the news organization, would be fairer to journalists and better inform the audiences they serve. After all, a healthy democracy needs both if it is to survive. Or, as even Ty Cobb once observed, "The crowd makes the ballgame."
One additional thought today, apropos of it being yet another Veterans Day commemorated during wartime. Whatever your political views about the legitimacy of the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it should be a sobering thought that we have now gone a full decade since we last marked a Veterans Day during peacetime. In fact, our nation has now been at war longer than any other period in its history, except for the Vietnam conflict. And we may yet surpass that ignominious record, since we learned just yesterday from the White House that our nation will likely have to endure at least four more Veterans Days before we can say otherwise.
As the son of a veteran and a veteran myself, the fact that, more than nine years after 9/11, the continued combat deaths of American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen overseas served as little more than inaudible background noise in our recent midterm elections was, to me, a national tragedy. To blithely ask so much of so (relatively) few for so long for so (relatively) little speaks to an alarming obliviousness within our Republic, one that has already proven to have little patience or pecuniary interest in healing the massive number of long-term physical and psychic scars that inevitably accompany said sacrifices. Platitudes about freedom and parades, I'm afraid, are never enough.
However, let me humbly offer one relatively easy way to help honor all of our veterans—past, present, and future—in the here and now. All it takes is a phone call to your respective Senators, particularly if he or she happens to be one of these ten profiles in political equivocation, to tell them you support the long overdue repeal of our military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. But rather than just take my word for it, or those of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Secretary of Defense, or, for that matter, this soon-to-be-released, 370-page Pentagon study, I'll let retired Navy Capt. Thomas Kelley, a veteran who knows firsthand a thing or two about the costs of serving his country, have the last word:
'When I was commanding a ship more than 25 years ago. There was no secret about who was gay... and it didn't matter. What mattered was that they were good sailors, trustworthy and reliable people you could depend upon...
'You hear this nonsense about gays threatening unit cohesion,' Kelley said. ‘The real threat to that kind of cohesion, that sense of family, is when people are forced to acknowledge a lie. You have to be able to trust the soldier precisely for who he or she may be. That's the only way cohesion takes place. It's called integrity.'
The Apple Box, by Sal
As far as boxed sets go, the recently released "Apple Box" is just about perfect. I'll get to the one minor imperfection later.
In 1968, The Beatles launched their own label, Apple Records, with the intent of releasing not only their own music, but music by the artists that were striking their fancy at the time. Collected here for the first time, is everything, excluding of course, The Beatles' output, and it's quite the package.
Mostly everything here has been released before, but the new remastering, handled by the same team that remastered last year's Beatles' boxes, is stunning. Here's what you get:
James Taylor (1968) by James Taylor
Magic Christian Music (1970) by Badfinger
No Dice (1970) by Badfinger
Straight Up (1972) by Badfinger
Ass (1974) by Badfinger
Post Card (1969) by Mary Hopkin
Earth Song, Ocean Song (1971) by Mary Hopkin
That's The Way God Planned It (1969) by Billy Preston
Encouraging Words (1970) by Billy Preston
Doris Troy (1970) by Doris Troy
Is This What You Want (1968) by Jackie Lomax
Under The Jasmine Tree (1968) & Space (1969) by The Modern Jazz Quartet
The Whale (1970) & Celtic Requiem (1971) by John Tavener
The Radha Krishna Temple (1971) by The Radha Krishna Temple
Also included is a single CD collection called "Come & Get It," featuring the best of the Apple singles, as well as a 2 CD set of rarities and alternates from Badfinger, Mary Hopkin and Jackie Lomax.
With the exception of the John Tavener two-fer of avant-garde classical music, something I've yet to embrace, everything here is worth having. Sure, some are better than others.
Badfinger's tragic career was consistently uneven, with the good being great and the not-so-good being awful. But both "No Dice" and the Todd Rundgren produced "Straight Up" are essential. Also essential, the wonderful Doris Troy album, which features 4 songs co-written by George Harrison and special guests Billy Preston, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, Peter Frampton and Eric Clapton. This record is a gem, full of upbeat, gospel-fueled soul. I'm feeling that way about both Billy Preston records, as well. His A&M output which followed, seemed to spawn the hits, but I feel that these two records are far superior.
While no jazz fanatic would consider the two MJQ releases as their finest work, both "Space" and "Jasmine Tree" are beautiful collections and completely satisfying. The Jackie Lomax record, another where Harrison is featured prominently, is considered by some to be essential. I like it a lot more now than I ever remembered. You may not go back to the Mary Hopkin's CDs as often as the others, but there is something very charming about both.
My point is, if you're going to attempt a box filled with the entire output of one label, this is the way to do it. I'd ike to also point out that the bonus tracks on several of these new remasters are new to the albums, but EMI wisely included the bonus tracks from the earlier reissues, as well. Smart move.
So the one imperfection? Given the price tag, the packaging is pretty prosaic. Still, if you've got the money and nimble fingers, the Apple Box is a fantastic set.
Clapton Xroads, 2010, by Eric.
Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, 2010 is out on DVD and bluray from Rhino. It's the first of the three festivals to appear on bluray. It's also probably the most diverse in terms of the artists. (It was an eleven hour show.) The emphasis is on interesting combinations, and in that regard, it's an embarrassment of riches: Sonny Landreth with Eric Clapton, Joe Bonamassa & Pino Daniele with Robert Randolph, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughn & Hubert Sumlin, Sheryl Crow with Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Doyle Bramhall II & Gary Clark Jr, Stefan Grossman with Keb Mo, Vince Gill, Keb Mo, James Burton, Earl Klugh, Albert Lee with Sheryl Crow Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi Band featuring Warren Haynes, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, Chris Stainton, Buddy Guy with Jonny Lang & Ronnie Wood, Eric with Jeff Beck, Eric with Steve Windwood, and a finale with Eric, BB King, Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughn, Joe Bonamassa. As I said, interesting. David Hildago et all doing Allman songs sounds great—Greg missed the show because he was getting a new liver and so the band cancelled—and the Buddy Guy/Ronny Wood/John Mayer version of Miss You is interesting because nobody at all knows any of the words. I don't recall Buddy Guy agreeing to play second fiddle, as it were, to BB King before. But the Clapton/Beck pairing is anti-climactic and the Winwood/Clapton part of the show is too brief to really get going, though it's a great version of "Dear Mr. Fantasy." While there's nothing really transcendent here, it strikes me as not worth not having. So many great players in one place doing great songs, that look and sound, at worst, really good.
Greetings Dr. Alterman,
A couple of quick observations before I get to my main point. First, as a long-time reader of your blogs, going back years now, I have been successfully indoctrinated. So, for example, I can't see Marty Peretz's name without thinking of how he wasted the fortunes of two wives. Similarly, when I saw a headline the other day—Huffingtonpost, I think—that said Howard Kurtz was critical of Keith Olbermann for the political donations Olbermann had made, the phrase "Mr. Conflict-of-Interest" came immediately to mind, and it wasn't referring to Olbermann.
Secondly, I often follow your musical recommendations, from Marshall Crenshaw to John Eddie to Paul Thorn, but less often your literary recommendations, because I already have a stack of books I can't find time to read. But I did pick up Operation: Shylock a couple of weeks ago, after you talked about it. It was as good as you'd said, but more surprisingly, genuinely shocking. Could anyone else have written it? (Leaving aside the plot hinged on the two Philip Roths.) It required a level of confidence, talent and chutzpah that I can't think is possessed by anyone else. So, thank you.
Anyway, my main point, which is about Rahm Emanuel. I think too little attention has been paid to his quote that "The only nonnegotiable principle here is success." (And too much attention paid to the one about not letting a crisis go to waste.) I strongly believe this principle is shared by Obama. It is probably born, in part, out of a frustration that no progress has been made on too many problems for too many generations (healthcare, Israel, Afghanistan).
Where the principle fails is that there are times when failure is worth it, because people (allies, enemies, everyone) need to know there is something on which he will not compromise. I think these opportunities are rare. I don't often disagree with progressives on issues of substance, but I do disagree on how many times these opportunities present themselves. Most of the time, I'm glad the president has taken half a loaf. It's the difference between the horribly flawed social security that first passed (with its denial of benefits—at the insistence of Southerners—for domestic help and field hands) and Ted Kennedy's rejection of Nixon's healthcare compromise.
Nevertheless, I think if the White House can grasp a couple of these opportunities to publicly fail as a matter of principle, they will be glad they did. In soundbite television, it is much more fun to assert that you stand for something other than just the passage of legislation, rather than explaining the compromises you had to make. And the American people enjoy a president who is enjoying himself.
Las Vegas, NV
Dr. A., since you were kind enough to include my comments when I said you were wrong, I think you are entitled to include them when I am saying you are right. And to invoke the late, great Red Smith (Walter Wellesley Smith, whose editor once called him the only person he knew with three women's schools for a name—there was a school called Walter, too), when it comes to David Broder, you are as right as a second martini at lunch. Broder wrote a column saying the Democratic Senate caucus planned to oust Harry Reid. Every member of the caucus signed a letter to the Washington Post saying that was wrong. Broder's response? They were lying. Well, gee, Reid is still leader. But whenever he can, Broder takes a shot at Reid, often gratuitously.
By the by, Reid's reelection was also at the expense of a supposed newspaper. The Las Vegas Review-Journal hired a former Associated Press reporter whose slanted accounts of the campaign were a textbook example of how not to slant a news story, because they were so ham-handedly obvious. The publisher wrote a piece saying Reid had suffered a stroke and clearly lacked the health to do the job (the publisher who wrote this had a double bypass and prostate cancer, and both of those involve side effects that affect the brain). On election night he said there had to be fraud to elect Reid, and now he's saying there must have been coercion. You don't have to be a onetime Pulitzer winner to be a journalistic fraud.
You are just like Jon Stewart. It is a disgrace to be of the same ethnic group as you two. We see right through you and what we see is disgusting.
The Nation's Eric Alterman is even more brazen, blaming the population for its failure to understand Obama's supposedly far-reaching social agenda. "Well, this being America," he writes, "a great deal of easily exploitable ignorance is fueling the fire. Obama's healthcare reform, his financial reform, the stimulus, the saving of the auto industry, etc. make these two years among the most consequential in the past half-century." In reality, all those initiatives were carefully crafted anti-working class measures which have strengthened the most powerful sections of the ruling elite and worsened conditions for broad layers of the population.
Alterman is typical of the well-heeled liberal element that makes a profession of spreading illusions in the Democrats. A 2003 piece in the New York Observer described an encounter with the Nation journalist at a fashionable Manhattan restaurant. "Mr. Alterman reeked of success," the author wrote. The Observer went on to note that Alterman "ordered foie gras, the Kobe beef and a glass of pinot noir. Earlier, he'd said he liked his lunches ‘expensive.'"
Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.