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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Slacker Friday

Our new "Think Again" column is called "Sex and the Single Justice" andit can be found here.

(It also contains an update on George Will's environmental reporting...)

1959: It was a very good year.

I came this close this year to writing a book about 1959, which is funnybecause Fred Kaplan actually did, even though we never talked about ituntil my publisher decided that I wouldn't be. I planned a chapter onBuddy Holly, one on Goodbye Columbus; one on "The Tragedy of AmericanDiplomacy," one on Twilight Zone; one on Kind of Blue and one on "Shape of Jazz to Come." I forget what else, though I remember the politics(Cuba, Vietnam, the Commies in Disneyland, etc).

Anyway, it turns out itwas an even better year than I knew, jazz-wise, and Columbia Legacy istaking advantage of that coincidence by following up its massive Kindof Blue with Legacy Editions of Dave Brubeck's Time Out, Miles Davis'Sketches Of Spain and Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um. They'll be out in a couple of weeks and feature two CDs and a DVD for the Brubeck, includinga new 30-minute documentary on the making of Time Out, and an entiresecond disc of previously unreleased live recordings from the NewportJazz Festival from 1961-'64. Sketches Of Spain was recorded in '59but not released until 1960, has a second CD of alternate takes whichyou have already if you have Miles Davis & Gil Evans: The CompleteColumbia Studio Recordings, but not, if you don't. There's also the onlyever live performance by Davis with Evans, "Concierto De Aranjuez"performed at Carnegie Hall on May 19, 1961. And the Mingus releasegives you two seminal albums on the same not just Mingus Ah Um but alsoits Mingus Dynasty, and four bonus tracks/alternate takes.

Booker T. Jones-Potato Hole

It's been a long time since we've heard a Booker T. record; fifteenyears since the last MGs record and over 30 since his last solo release.But 2009 sees the Memphis legend back in action with Potato Hole.Jones, along with southern country grungers, the Drive-By Truckers and aguitarist from up north, Mr. Neil Young, has taken his signature organsound and the grooves that he no doubt invented, and created a brilliantcollection of real Memphis grease. (Booker T. & MGs toured with Neil inthe early 90s, so this collaboration is not that weird.)

From the opening Stones-inspired power chords of "Pound It Out," Jonessets the table for a twelve-course meal that is all meat and no filler.There are some choice covers alongside Jones' originals including theslinky strut of Tom Waits' "Get Behind The Mule," and a fun take onOutkast's "Hey Ya!". But the centerpiece of "Potato Hole" is the titletrack, a funk workout with a pocket so deep, you'll need help climbingout. Buy this record now and throw a party! It's THAT good!

A Slightly Gushing Sal
Burning Wood

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"Now Christ had twelve apostles/and three he laid away./ He said 'Watchfor me one hour, while I go yonder and pray.'/ And tell me who's thatwritin'?/John the Revelator."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "How Blue Can You Get?" (Jeff HealeyBand)--Once again this week, I failed to hack into the Interpoldatabase and send out a worldwide alert on the subject of how much Ilove New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: To break the tie, I am inclined toward the Landlord'sposition. This is the loosest and most engaging work by The Master inyears. (I even forgive him the alliance with Robert Hunter, and theimplied connection with the most overrated--non-Jim-Morrison-employing--band in the history of the known universe.) One of the tremendouslyoverlooked facets of The Master's genius is how damn funny he is. Thatis what puts "Went To See The Gypsy" from New Morning--Tell it, Sal!--on all my top ten lists of his individual songs. ("He did it in LasVegas and he can do it here!" cracks me up every time.) And, on the newone, "My Wife's Home Town" checks in as his best little picaresque inabout four albums. He's doing it in Milawaukee and he can do it here.

Part The Second: The only rational explanation for this is that everything is a talk show now. All that matters is phony outrage, the more the merrier,and the more people complain about giving a contract to thisbloodthirsty apparatchik, the more firmly convinced will be the peoplewho hired him that they have succeeded.

Part The Third: Yes, the new one is more fun than playing stickball with a Regulan bloodworm. Be advised,though. Apparently, there's going to be a helluva lot going on in Iowacome the 24th Century. We're going to have to determine whether Vulcanscan vote in the caucuses, I think.

Part The Fourth: The Further Adventures Of Waldo The Drunk SecurityGuard, Part XXIX: The management team at Salon scoured the offices,looking for the hiding places in which Waldo secreted his nightly supplyof Sterno, but Waldo was too smart for them. He hung it outside thewindow by a rope, like Ray Milland did in The Lost Weekend. After theyall went home, he hauled it up and, sitting down on a sofa, he hadd ahigh old time. Alas, he passed out and crazy people from the alleyslipped in through the heating ducts again. Why, it was just last March when the crazy woman from the alley was sticking up for a giant of thetalk-radio genre against the attacks of the president and his fellowfrat-boys. Now, though, she's shocked, shocked that the genre itself is a festival for fruitcakes. Butnot so deeply that she couldn't dig real deep and come up with a shinynugget-like nutball. "The degree to which Obama is or is not a stealth socialist remains to be seen." Yes, and the degree to which I am or am not the answer to Maggie Gyllenhaal's prayers remains to be seen.

Part The Fifth: Gaze in awe at the single dumbest thing ever said by a sitting United States Senator. (Please recall this clown's lofty rhetoric duringthe Great Fellatio Hunt of '98 and be prepared to bust a gut.) WhySenator Huckleberry seems to be pleading the case, not only of DickCheney, but also of the Spanish Inquisition, is something best left forDan Brown to ponder, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had some curiousbranding somewhere on his torso, not that I'm eager to find out.

And this is the kind of person to whom President Obama regularlydefers because Huckleberry is alleged to be one of the "sensible ones."Good Screaming Christ In A Camaro, what has the Republican party donesince January that would make any thinking human being accord it thetiniest smidgen of a modicum of respect? Laugh at them and then do whatyou want to do. I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Presidentof the United States is something of a political coward. The flip-flopon the Rumsfeld Porn Collection is just the most recent example. He'swalked back much of what he said during the campaign on rendition and onthe Military Commissions Act. Gitmo is still open. His Department ofJustice is pleading state secrecy. He has lifted not an obvious fingerto put pressure on anyone to get qualified people like Dawn Johnsenconfirmed. (LBJ would have had Harry Reid hanging by his entrails in theMural Room by now.) Even when his administration does somethingcorrectly, it turtles in the face of hissy-fits tossed by adiscredited political movement adhered to by less than 30 percent of thepublic.

I think the source of the president's timorousness lies in thefact that, for all his new-politics bombast, he's pretty much decidedthat he's a critter of the respectable Beltway center. We should haveseen that coming when he supported Weepin' Joe Lieberman over Ned Lamontor, at least, when he took that ungainly dive on FISA and the issue oftelecom immunity. His financial team is straight out of the Retired WallStreet Hiring Hall, and his complete disinclination to call crimes whatthey are bespeaks an unseemly lust for a middle ground that liesomewhere between Oz and the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Politicalcowardice has many sources, and its effects are not always uniform orpredictable. Lyndon Johnson was brave enough to stuff the Voting RightsAct down the gullet of American white-supremacy, but he lost his nervewhen confronted by a bunch of Harvard intellectuals with a jones forSoutheast Asia. It took a great deal of courage for Barack Obama to getto the White House last January, and a great deal of courage to want thejob at all during this period of history. It's too bad he seems to haveleft that courage back in Iowa some place.

Name: Jordan Weltman
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Eric, Did you see here from Nate? Chart didn't copy, but it'sfascinating.

Richard Posner has a fascinating read:

My theme is the intellectual decline of conservatism, and it isnotable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largelyby emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectualgroundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largelyfailed in execution, and are political flops is thereforeunsurprising. The major blows to conservatism, culminating in theelection and programs of Obama, have been fourfold: the failure ofmilitary force to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives; the inanityof trying to substitute will for intellect, as in the denial of global warming, the use of religious criteria in the selection of public officials, the neglect of management and expertise in government; a continued preoccupation with abortion; and fiscal incontinence in the form of massive budget deficits, the Medicare drug plan, excessive foreign borrowing, and asset-price inflation.

By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

Now, take a look at this chart; this is the share of the vote of those with post-graduate educations won by Democrats:

The 1980 figure is extrapolated based on Jimmy Carter'sperformance among all college graduates. Carter won only 35percent of college graduates in 1980, but Democrats have generallyperformed better among those with postgraduate educations thanthose with "just" a college degree; we estimate Carter's share ofthe postgraduate vote was 40 percent. Other figures are taken fromNew York Times exit polling.

Obviously, this data is far from perfect: Having attended theUniversity of Chicago, where there are plenty of booksmart peoplethat you wouldn't consider particularly bright, I can tell you thatthe correlation between intelligence and educational attainment isconsiderably less than one-to-one. Still, Republicans have graduallybeen losing the egghead vote. I wonder how that translates into theirability to recruit strategists and "thought-leaders" who can work onthe campaign, policy and media sides and help to lead them out oftheir current slump.

Name: Steve Gregoropoulos
Hometown: Montecito Heights, CA

Re: "the repetitive accordion riff of 'If You Ever Go To Houston'makes the 5:49 song about two minutes too annoying"--just which"Bob Dylan" has Sal been listening to for the past 40 or 50 years?That's the most classic part of the album (from the guy who, as Irecall, did stuff like "Desolation Row" and "Sad Eyed Lady of theLowlands," right?)

Name: Debra Beller
Hometown: Chapel Hill

I misread this line from your May 7th 'Altercation': "...thetelepathic abilities of conservatives to discern Obama's realintentions to destroy America with his pick." I added an 'r' to thatlast word--and then realized that I was actually spot on--that'sexactly what conservatives are most afraid of. Morons.

Name: Arthur Swalley
Hometown: Santa Barbara

Eric, at the end of your fine (yet tedious because it seems no matterhow many times or how nicely it's explained the punditocracy stillwon't get it) Supreme Court column, Reagan said "Facts are stubbornthings..." The correct quote actually fits your column better.

As an aside, my Republican friends won't even try to talk politicsanymore. Couldn't shut 'em up till the financial meltdown. They aresmart enough to realize that account balances are factual.

Name: T. O'Dell
Hometown Port Angeles, WA

Just when you thought they couldn't dig any deeper into the cesspoolof disgraced former political operatives, last night Fox brought outCol. Oliver North to froth at the mouth about the closure ofGuantánamo. Hannity showed a Republican scare ad in its entirety withno comment (well, maybe he said "if that didn't scare you, maybe thiswill, bringing on the Colonel"). Then North raved about how some detainees are going to be released (to attack us again?), how they were all al Qaeda trained suicide bombers and other nonsense. It would be hilarious if they weren't so serious. Not to mention the irony of a guy like North criticizing anyone for anything.

Funny spam department:

Name: Mihnea
Hometown: Bucharest

My house from Bucharest was robbed again by the romanian GYPSIES, socalled "ROMA" or "ROMANI population" and one of my beloved watch doghas been murdered : first beaten to death, and second poisoned withsome local salami called PARIZER! I do hope the State Department willnever lift US VISA for ...THE ROMANIAN GYPSIES!!!

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