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Spy vs. Spy | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Spy vs. Spy

I've got a new Think Again called "The Mainstream Media Opens the DoortoHate" here.

For those of you who've been following the Izzy Stone imbroglio, youwill have noted that Messrs Klehr and Haynes, along with Ronald Radoshand Max Holland, have, at various points in recent months, takenconsiderable offense at the criticisms I have published of their work asit relates to what I consider to be a rash of unproven accusationsagainst I. F. Stone. I therefore think it would be worthwhile for thelist to take note of the lengthy review essay of Spies, among otherworks, by Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Columbia University School ofJournalism, recently published in The New Yorker. It is not availableonline, but personally, I found it to be an extremely valuablecontribution to the historical debate, particularly with regard to Stone, as they, to my mind, nearly perfectly echo many of the points raised about the book by myself, Don Guttenplan, Kai Bird, Myra McPherson, and many others.

Nicholas Lemann, Books, "Spy Wars," The New Yorker, July 27, 2009, p.70-75

Page 73

"Since the release of the Verona material, the controversy in Stone'scase, as in Hiss's, has been mainly about whom a K.G.B. alias--in thiscase "Blin" (Russian for "pancake")--refers to. Here Spies presents asmoking gun: a 1936 reference identifying Blin as the Post journalistIsadore Feinstein, which was Stone's name before he changed it, thefollowing year.

The problem is that the book sets the bar for being a "spy" or an "agent" awfully low. It doesn't establish that Stone was paid or had more than occasional contact with the K.G.B. In some of its examples, Stone is using K.G.B. personnel as sources for his own work; in another, Stone is passing on what must have been widely known journalistic gossip about a Hearst correspondent's dissatisfaction with his boss with his boss; in the most damning, Stone is conveying messages to and from another of the K.G.B.'s American contacts. By this standard, Chapman Pincher, given all those conversations with Anatoli Strelnikov, might have qualified as a Soviet agent. So might Walter Lippmann, the arch-establishment Washington columnist, who, Spies tells us, had regular, chatty, information-sharing meetings with Vladimir Pravdin, a K.G.B. agent thinly disguised as a correspondent for the Sovient news agency TASS. But Spies assures us that "there was no chance that the K.G.B. could recruit Walter Lippmann as a source" (though it did recruit Lippmann's secretary). Haynes, Klehr, and Vassiliev seem to have letStone's softness toward the Soviet Union--and the ardor of his defenders--enter the courtroom...."

Page 75

"The enduring fascination with what is, rationally, a small part of thehistory of Soviet-American relations can't be explained by whatevermaterial the spies produced. The fascination is with the spiesthemselves. The fierce arguments about Soviet espionage are barelydisguised arguments about the Red Scare of the fifties--whether it wasirrational and hysterical or justified and protective. Even with theCold War long over, the debate has bite. A book like Spies supports aconservative view: America inhabits a world full of dangerous enemies,and liberals are incapable of understanding this. President Bush's"global war on terror" implicitly tapped into a wellspring of suchconservative conviction. When Bush, in his second term as President,appointed Allen Weinstein archivist of the United States, it sent amessage. Bush isn't President anymore, but these issues have hardlybeen put to rest. Although Barack Obama has steered away from thehot-blooded rhetoric about America's enemies, he knows that ourpolitical culture is, quick to charge liberals with a perilous naiveteabout bad guys from abroad.

As for the extent of Soviet spying, Weinstein, Haynes, Klehr, and othersare right to say that their case has been supported by most the evidencethat has emerged since the Soviet Union collapsed. But the record isstill hugely incomplete. Much of what we do have is material fromsources who were unreliable in the first place, filtered throughbureaucracies with their own interests, and brought to us courtesy ofpresent-day sources, like Alexander Vassiliev, who are themselvescomplicated characters. Espionage never ceases to be compelling,because it has the indeterminacy of life itself."

Alter-reviews:

DVDs: "Dollhouse" Season I and "Thirtysomething" Season I:

This was Joss Whedon's latest attempt at actual network TV. I listened toTerry Gross interview the guy and the show sounded interesting andinnovative enough to justify further investigation. Whether it actuallyworks, well, I have mixed feelings, but it is increasingly unlikely thatthis kind of show is going to be funded in the future. It's about Echo,an operative in an underground organization that provides hired personasfor various missions, on three discs. Extras include:

**Episode Commentary by Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen
**Original Unaired Pilot - "Echo"
**Commentary w/ Cast & Crew
**Deleted Scenes
**Making Dollhouse
**Coming Back Home
**Finding Echo
**Designing the Perfect Dollhouse
**A Private Engagement

The first season of "Thirtysomething" is on DVD after they had to fight for along time to clear the rights to the music. It's a show that peopleeither love or hate, and I was one who loved it, though I was alsoashamed to admit it. At least back then, but I was so much olderthen. . . . It can be excruciating and it probably had a bad effect onentertainment in general, but it was damn involving. And they did areally nice job on the transfer. Extras include interviews andcommentaries by cast members Ken Olin (Michael), Mel Harris (Hope),Timothy Busfield (Elliot), Patricia Wettig (Nancy), Melanie Mayron(Melissa), Peter Horton (Gary), and Polly Draper (Ellyn). Edward Zwickand Marshall Herskovitz did a voice-over commentary for the pilotepisode and new interviews. Subsequent seasons will be released to DVDat roughly 6-month intervals (4 seasons total).

Music: Four By DBTs and others, some new classic jazz re-releases andthe Jayhawks.

The Drive By Truckers. So we've spent some time here trying to letpeople know about the Drive by Truckers which is what Skynyrd would havebeen if it had had a brain, ambition, and non-reactionary non-redneckpolitics. Since I think Skynyrd was pretty great, I think the DBTs arereally great, and there's lots of new stuff from them for those of youwho are as yet enenlightened. In no particular order, we have:

1) Live from Austin Texas (CD/DVD COMBO) [LIVE]
Recorded during their Brighter Than Creation's Dark tour, the bandline-up featured is Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Shonna Tucker, JohnNeff, Brad Morgan and Jay Gonzalez. It features Brighter Than Creation'sDark with "Let There Be Rock" and "18 Wheels Of Love" (off their second album Gangstabilly) and "Marry Me" (from Decoration Day). It also features one of the final live performances of the song "The Living Bubba".

2) The Fine Print (A Collection Of Oddities And Rarities2003-2008)
Seven of the twelve songs come from The Dirty South era...plus four covers including "Rebels" by Tom Petty, which the band recorded originally for the TV show King Of The Hill, and "Like A Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan, which provided Shonna Tucker with her first ever lead vocal. It's pretty great.

3) Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)
This is the second solo album from by DBT leader Patterson Hood and long-time producer David Barbe (Sugar). Most of his DBTs join him on the album as well as Don Chambers, Will Johnson and Scott Danbom from Centro-matic/South SanGabriel. This is also the first time Hood's father David Hood, famed Muscle Shoals bass player, joins him on a record. The album was recordedat Chase Park Transduction Studios in Athens, GA.

4) Jason Isabel and the 400 Unit:
Jason had to leave the DBTs owing to divorce and put out this pretty good solo album, which you might really like, or only sorta like, at least.

Jazz re-releases: Lester Young and Miles and Sonny on Concord

Lester Young: Centennial Celebration. This is a ten-track compilation ofsome of Prez's iconic performances draws primarily from recordings madein December 1956, during Young's week-long run at Olivia Davis' PatioLounge in Washington, DC. He is accompanied in these first seven tracksby the Bill Potts Trio, the house band at the Patio Lounge: pianist BillPotts, bassist Norman Williams and drummer Jim Lucht. All three were intheir mid-twenties at the time, and thrilled to be accompanying the 47-.year-old master in residence (Potts called the gig "our six-night laborof love.")

The final three tracks in the collection -- "Undecided," "I Cover theWaterfront" and "Lester Leaps In" -- are taken from the Jazz at thePhilharmonic tours of the early '50s, produced by Norman Granz. AshleyKahn writes in the liner notes, "A time when his powers of eloquence andsubtlety remained undiminished, while his tone had developed a mature --one could say darker -- edge."

Miles Davis & Sonny Rollins: The Classic Prestige Sessions, 1951-1956

These were really early sessions recorded together for Prestige between1951 and 1956. 25 tracks on two CDs, recorded by Rudy Van Gelder inJersey, which also features performances by Art Blakey, Tommy Flanagan,Roy Haynes, Charlie Parker, Horace Silver. The compilation also includesextensive liner notes by veteran jazz historian and journalist IraGitler, a staffer at Prestige at the time. That's really all anybodyshould need to know. . .

The Jayhawks collection by Sal:

The Jayhawks have always been two bands for me. With the departure ofMark Olson in 1997, the poppier songwriting style of Gary Louis seemedto take over and gave the band a little more room to grow. Some feelthey abandoned their country roots and others, myself included, heard aband with a lot more ambition. The new collection, Music From The NorthCountry is about as solid as an anthology could get. Covering all theessentials, with and without Olson, this 20 track compilation is perfectfor casual fans. The deluxe edition, which includes a second disc ofrarities and a DVD with videos and more, is not necessarily asessential, in that most die-hards have all this material, and the newfans won't need to really hear some live tracks and B-sides. Stick withthe single disc and you can't go wrong.

-- Sal: www.burnwoodtonite.blogspot.com

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