Our new "Think Again" column, "The Surprising Success of the Right-WingRant," is here. It's an exploration of the weird success of the right's hysterical racist andsexist attacks on Sonia Sotomayor in setting the MSM's agenda for theircoverage.
I also did two columns this week for The Daily Beast; one this morningabout Osama's attempts to link Obama to George W. Bush, here and one on the success of the Christian Right in this country in preventing access to abortion, even without murdering the doctors who perform it.
Regarding my Nation column here, the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square puts me in mind of the death of I.F. Stone, which happened right around the same time. It was one of Izzy's charms that it is entirely believable that, while in a hospital in Boston where hewould finally give out, he awoke briefly from a lengthy period ofunconsciousness to ask his doctors about the fate of the youngprotesters there. (His opposition to Chinese Communist oppression wasof a piece with his brilliant exposes of the abuses of Soviet psychiatryat the end of his six days career. These do not of course "make up" forthe mistakes he made defending Stalin half a century earlier, but theydo provide context for those who would paint his politics asmonochromatic.)
This is yet another column about the attempts to smear Izzy'sreputation. I've written about him quite a lot during the pasttwenty or so years beginning with a profile in Mother Jones back inJune, 1988, which you can find here. I've also done some first-hand investigation of the nature of the charges against him, which I described hereand hereI was a close friend of Stone's during the final decade of his life and so I was pleased when Tina Brown asked me to take a look at charges on the day that theyappeared for her website, The Daily Beast. I was amazed at thedisconnect between the inflammatory language employed by the authors andthe skimpiness of their evidence. That is here.
In my Daily Beast post I also admitted that if the notes wereaccurate, they did require some adjustment of the historical record,noting that Stone must not have been proud, in retrospect of this partof his life, because he never mentioned it to me. I attributed hisreticence to my own strongly voiced anti-Communist sentiments that cameup in our discussions. Consistent with the sloppy tactics of theanti-Stone smear campaign I described in my column, the one-timehistorian-turned right-wing polemicist Ronald Radosh misread mycomment--whether for reasons of stupidity or cupidity I honestly cannotsay--and claimed both here andagain here that I had argued that Stone could not have been a spybecause he never mentioned it to me. This self-evidently phony occasionwas then repeated elsewhere in the blogosphere, including by Michael C.Moynihan on the website ofReason magazine. It is clearly an almost perfect misreading of what Iwrote but Radosh was so careless that he repeated it twice and whetherMoynihan even bothered to read what I wrote before endorsing what Radoshwrote one cannot say. (The above example of the care Radosh puts intohis work is unfortunately representative of much of what he writes. Hewas once a respected historian. But in recent decades, he has chosen toally himself with David Horowitz--whom even the Iraq hawk and Stoneaccuser Paul Berman calls "a demented lunatic"--and Pajamas Media, andbecome just another Neocon ranter in the style of not only Horowitz butalso Martin Peretz, Norman and John Podhoretz and their acolytes on theblogs of The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Commentary and National Review.)
As I note in the column, the only intellectually responsible reaction tothe The Vassiliev Notebooks is one of modesty. The Cold WarInternational History Project has done us the favor of posting them here and to get a fix on just who this fellow is, I urge you to read Don Guttenplan's review of the book here. (Todd Gitlin's review is here and Myra McPherson's is here). And so it was odd that both the Wilson Center and the CWIP agreed to provide a forum for the series of wild allegationsleveled by their authors. Radosh was actually invited to chair a panel.And panelist Max Holland speculated that Stone had received KGB fundingboth for the publication of I.F. Stone's Weekly and his book on theKorean War, again with absolutely nothing in the way of evidence. Otherpanels, including one on the Hiss-Chambers controversy and one thatdealt with Robert Oppenheimer were similarly stacked. (Martin Sherwin,who co-authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Oppenheimer withKai Bird, was not invited to be a panelist even though he lives rightthere in Washington.)
The controversy among historians will continue in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies, edited by Mark Kramer at Harvard University, but as it will apparently contain not only yet another attack by JohnEarl Haynes and Harvey Klehr, but Holland's baseless speculation, andan essay by Eduard Mark, who made some egregious statements during hispanel about historians who happen to disagree with him on the Hiss case.One can therefore hardly be optimistic about the degree to which thescholarship on these issues will actually be advanced, particularly inlight of these authors desire to place their own personal and politicalagendas above and beyond where any careful historian would go based onthe available evidence.
And so this sad saga continues....
Alter-reviews: Sal on new cds by Dave Matthews and Elvis Costello.
About halfway through the new Dave Matthews Band record, Big Whiskey &The Groo Grux King, I realized just what it is that I don't like aboutthis band. Every song is a slice of pizza with everything on it; anexercise in showoffiness that rarely relents. It leaves you with amouthful of mess, with no opportunity to savor the core of it all. Ifit is to be argued by the throngs of DMB fans across the globe thatMatthews himself is a songwriter worthy of your time, at no time doesthe band allow you to wrap your head around his lyrics or melodies. It'skitchen sink production at its worst. And this is something I've beenhearing in their music for years.
Now before all of you DMB fans start violently pelting me withhacky-sacks, let me say that I do indeed recognize many good songs onthis new release. Unfortunately, the band is a distraction on almostevery song, with drummer Carter Beauford being the worst offender. Hejust never stops playing. Even the greatest drummers in the world, BuddyRich & Art Blakey through Keith Moon and John Bonham, all stopped atsome point to just groove while the rest of the band played behind theleader.
On "Groo Grux," songs like the upbeat "Funny The Way It Is," and theSting meets Coldplay ballad "Lying In The Hands Of God," both have somuch going on at all times, they resemble a dysfunctional family allshouting at the same time over Thanksgiving dinner. In the drummerBeauford's case, there is this constant beating that at best sounds likea drum machine gone awry, and at it worst sounds like someone throwing arefrigerator down a flight of stairs. It is too much and it isdistracting and annoying when someone is trying to sing, especially aballad. Beauford's a fine player, but even the notoriously loud TonyWilliams waited for Miles Davis to finish before he soloed.
My favorite tune on the record is the incredibly infectious "Why I Am,"with its killer riff and great sing-along chorus. But the DMB changestempo and time signatures so many times, and to my ears, pointlessly,you are out of breath for all the wrong reasons. "Squirm" suffers aswell. Drums, too many drums, then horns, then strings. Louder andlouder. Seriously, this band makes Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound soundlike folk music. It is an unnecessary assault on your senses. It is notuntil "Time Bomb," which does indeed explode in its second half, thatthe band just flat out rides with some simple four on the floor rock androll. Too bad it's a weak track overall.
I maintain, there are some great songs on Big Whiskey & The Groo GruxKing, and the boys in the band have some excellent chops. But everyonce in a while, a slice of pizza with nothing on it is the betterchoice. I'd love to hear "Groo Grux Light." I bet it'd be a betteralbum. Then again, Dave himself okayed it all. Ironically, the onerecord I liked from the get-go was "Stand Up," widely thought of as adisappointment by DMB fans.
On a Much Lighter Note
Another record and another direction from the always surprising andrarely disappointing Elvis Costello. Recorded in just 3 days withproducer-extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett at the helm, and some Nashvilleheavyweights such as Jerry Douglas, Jim Lauderdale, and Dennis Crouch onvarious stringed instruments and vocals, Secret, Profane & Sugar Caneis Bluegrass Noir. Similar in feel, but not necessarily style as thebrilliant King Of America album from 1986, Costello proves yet again,there is no genre too daunting, and no song he is incapable of writing.He revisits two songs that appeared elsewhere, "Complicated Shadows,"which appeared in a much more raucous state on "All This UselessBeauty," and "Hidden Shame" which was written for and recorded by JohnnyCash on his 1987 release Johnny Cash Is Coming To Town. Most of therest are new to record, but not to Costello fans who have been hearingthem live for years. There is a definite, Nashville round table,campfire feel here that makes this collection all the more special.Really a fantastic record.
Name: Michael Meranze
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
I wanted to write to correct one of the letters in your latest"altercation blog." Proposition 1A was not a permanent tax increase,instead it was a temporary tax extension of taxes passed this year(making the taxes go on from 2-4 years) and proposition 1C was not atax on lottery earnings but a way to borrow money based on thestate's presumed lottery profits. Many people voted against thesepropositions precisely because they would not have helped much withthe present budget crisis (with the exception of 1C although thatwould have increased borrowing down the road). And 1A had thepotential to lock in government spending at a level that would simplybe insufficient for the future. , 1D and 1E would have shifted moneyfrom those who need it to to others who need it but would not havegenerated any new revenue) Given that the press out here has donelittle to combat all of the myths about government spending andtaxation it is not surprising that people are confused.
Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky
Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing will most certainly spotlightthe ignorance of the esteemed panel of elected officials who willset about questioning her. We can all agree that our educationsystem has failed so many, but to have the media constantlycelebrate its own ignorance by smugly elevating childish snarkinessabove actual knowledge ought to enrage its listeners, if they onlyknew enough to see it. But the people of the US deserve to be muchbetter informed.
Yes, I am touting the benefits of education in a patronizing elitistfashion. But, because I actually study constitutional law and carehow the sausage is made, I can't help myself when I am forced toendure media blather like "activist judges", "policy making courts"and "courts that legislate from the bench". None of these idiotpundits could tell you the difference between the common law andstatute, between judicial precedent and dictum, between law andequity, or between de novo and appellate hearings.
They don't understand that prior to the explosion of Congressionalpower, brought about by the Supreme Court's rulings that greatlybroadened the scope of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary andProper Clause, Congress passed few laws affecting an individualstate's authority over its citizens. How Congress all but wiped outthe judge-made law, developed and administered by US state courtssince the early settlements and taken from English common law. Theycan't explain the nuances of how that tension continues today withstate laws on marriage and federal laws like the Defense ofMarriage Act.
Pundits can't take the time to tell you how the Supreme Court battledin the early years to become the final arbiter of constitutional law,a position not actually envisioned by the drafters of theConstitution or entirely agreeable to members of the early Congressor Executive.
Over the years everything changed from the beginnings of the SupremeCourt. The six member court was first in New York City. The justiceseach traveled a circuit hearing local appeals. Each justice wouldwrite his own opinion in every case. Then the Marshall Court's earlymajority opinions soon established the independent power of theCourt. The Taney Court further limited the power of Congress tocontrol the Court's reach and scope. The White and Taft Courts began the process of applying the Bill of Rights to state action. These decisions weren't made in 1776 they stretched across 130 years! The Warren Court fashioned most the individual rights we all talk about today when we discuss civil liberties, including the right to privacy that is the benchmark for protections for parental, reproductive and sexual autonomy.
All of these Supreme Courts wrote opinions that altered theconstitutional interpretations of the time. They were activistcourts. They reviewed the policies set by the federal Appeals Courts.They legislated from the bench. These are all things we want thecourts to do so that our Constitution, laws and regulations remainrelevant to the present and the ever-changing future. It's a shamethat any newly minted naturalized citizen knows more general civicsthan the typical media pundit or, more sadly, college graduate.General ignorance is the reason Americans are so easily distractedfrom what really matters and why they so often vote and act againsttheir own self-interest.