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Strange Victory, Strange Defeat | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Strange Victory, Strange Defeat

We've got a new "Think Again" column herecalled, "Thank God for Gitmo."

I've also got a new Nation column called "War is Over (If You Want It)here. Ireally like the hed of the Nation column, though I'm guessing a tinynumber of people will get the (relatively) old farty historicalreference. Had I wanted to appear hip to the young folk, I could haveused "Strange Victory, Strange Defeat" which is a pretty excellent songby the Silver Jews, one of the few newish bands for whom I've developedan appreciation. But I guess I yam what I yam...

I read this at Today's Papers this morning: The WP's David Broder writes that Obama's speech on Tuesday "was a dramatic reminder of theunbelievable stakes he has placed on the table in his first month inoffice." Veteran lawmakers know how difficult it is to get one ambitiouspiece of legislation through Congress, but on Tuesday they heard howObama wants them to overhaul energy, health care, and education. Ohyeah, and there's that little problem with the economy and some warsbeing fought on foreign soil. "Is he naive? Does he not understand thepolitical challenge he is inviting?" writes Broder. "When we electedObama, we didn't know what a gambler we were getting."

Broder is always interesting, even when boring, because he is so reveredby the people called the "villagers" of Quinn-Broderville. (Hey, they, Imean I, even named it after him.) Anyway, what's interesting about theabove--aside from the annoying faux gee whiz style--is the fact thatBroder does not seem to grant reality any role in the story. Is Obamabeing forced to do all these things because maybe they've been allowedto fester for the past eight years while Broder and company weretoasting Bush's leadership (and later imminent comeback)? Is he agambler or does he feel a responsibility, as president, to respond to analmost unprecedented set of crises--crises that, apparently have madelittle impression on one David Broder.

Anybody happen to see this story on the front page of the Wall StreetJournal over the weekend? "Can He Save Rock 'n' Roll? Irving Azoff Wantsto Concentrate Power in the Music World Like Never Before; BruceSpringsteen Objects." You can read it here. Meanwhile, it contains this paragraph:

People in the industry say the Eagles may have earned as much as $50million from the Wal-Mart arrangement, which sold 3.2 million copies. Atraditional record-label deal might have yielded less than $10 million,they say.

"People in the industry?" "they say"? "as much as" "might have." Comenow. Why not just? "My cleaning lady..." or "The drunk who lives on thestreet corner near my office...." Or "as much as a hundred bazilliongazillion dollars" or "less than a pack of peanuts."

The weasel words above allow a journalist to write absolutely anything without any hard information whatever and not have it be false. Whatthe hell is it doing in a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal?I wouldn't accept it from a freshman...

I am also not so crazy about this paragraph in a TNR story about ThePolitico, here.

As traditional newspapers jettison staff, Politico is holding steady.This month, Allbritton told me the venture will turn a profit in sixmonths. "We're way ahead of budget," he said. "It wouldn't surprise meif the profit this year would count in the millions of dollars."

Excuse me, is there any indication that there is any substance to thisclaim. Has anyone seen the books and done the calculation? I'm guessingthat, in fact, Mr. Allbritton would be damn surprised. I'd be surprisedif the thing is turning any profit at all. Perhaps it is, but let's seesome evidence, rather than accepting the word of the one person in theworld who most wants it to appear profitable. What's particularly funnyabout this is that if you go back through the history of coverage of TheNew Republic, its erstwhile ex-owner has told reporters over and overthat it is just about to start making a profit, any minute now, as hehas been on his way to losing tens of millions of his ex-wife'sinherited wealth and destroying what was once America's most importantand influential liberal weekly magazine.

Speaking of TNR, in my column above, I mention that hey maybe it's gota neocon bent in foreign policy and it might have been wise of Mr.Goldfarb to take note of that had he wished to enjoy a proverbial iotaof credibility. I see Marty Peretz is kvetching about something orsomeone here. I support whatever or whoever as a result, but what isreally interesting is who are the sources Marty recommends, here: "One of these comments is by GabrielSchoenfeld in this morning's Wall Street Journal. The next two are fromthe Weekly Standard. The last is by Jeffrey Goldberg in his AtlanticMonthly blog." Nope, not a neocon in sight...

This week on Moyers:

Who wins and who loses in the economic stimulus package? Bill Moyerstalks with economist Robert Johnson, who decodes this week's news on thebank bailout, with a hard look at the international ramifications of theplan and a discussion of why nationalization has become a flash point.Johnson is former chief economist of the Senate Banking Committee,former managing director at Soros Fund Management, and currently serveson a UN Committee on International Financial and Monetary Reform.And, scholar John McWhorter weighs in on whether the US is "a nationof cowards", as Attorney General Eric Holder suggests, on racial issues.

Alter-appearance: C-span 2 is broadcasting a bookstore panel I didrecently on Barack Obama as a reader and a writer. It's at noon onSaturday.

Alter-reviews:

Jazz@ Linclon Center celebrated the 70th anniversary of Blue NoteRecords last weekend and they did what they do best, which is to breathnew life into old classics, and teach you something about music youthought you knew. The history of the label--insufficiently appreciatedin this country given its role in creating and preserving our culturalheritage, particularly when one compares its relative anonymity comparedwith say, Motown or Chess--began in 1939 as Dr. Wynton explained, by "two German Jews, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, who fled to America"and created a company espousing a new music that was just beginning togrow up. The concert focuses, for a while anyway, on pieces by mastersthat were not so well known--at least to yours truly--but featured newarrangements by the members of the Orchestra; highlights included SidneyBichet's "Weary Blues" and Lou Donaldson's "Blues Walk," which featuredSheman Irby's on alto sax. The guests included Joe Lovano, who iswelcome anywhere, so beautifully measured are his takes on anything andeverything; in this case he did a wonderful version of Horace Silver's"Steamroller Blues," among other things.

But the real revelation of thenight was the voice of Ms. Dianne Reeves. I've always appreciatedher--especially since I picked up the soundtrack to Good Night and GoodLuck--but what I heard Saturday evening wasn't just beautiful it waschilling. (I was also going to say it was "thrilling" but I can't bringmyself to be that cheesy.) The woman shook the room with her quietpower, her combination of control and effortlessness and the beauty ofher instrument. She is truly peerless at what she does and we all feltpriviledged to be under her spell in Rose Hall. You can look up the J@LCschedule here and I see Amazon has created a Blue Note page here.

On Sunday afternoon, I saw the Anglo-American Bridge Project'sproduction of The Winter's Tale at BAM Together with The Cherry Orchard, it is directed by Sam Mendes and features a proverbial all-star cast. I was particularly taken by the luminous Rebecca Hall, who played the other girl in Vicky Christina Barcelona) but the real reason to go was Simon Russell Beale's Leontes about which people who saw this performance will be talking and ruminating for years. It's a curious play--one of Shakespeare's last, and it is haunting and deeplyflawed, but also deeply affecting and a real actor's showcase. EthanHawke does a goofy TK that I've seen referred to as Townes VanZandt-like. That is dead on and a great deal of fun, though pretty muchstops the action for a while.

The mail:

Name: Thomas W. Rodd
Hometown: Moatsville, WV

I was glad to read your nice words about Harvey Pekar. I've enjoyed his recent books about the Balkans (Macedonia); about a super-smart New Yorker (Ego and Hubris); and Students for a Democratic Society -A Graphic History. These stand-alone books are unlike Pekar's earlier "American Splendor" autobiographical stories -- and the drawing is pedestrian/minimalist -- but they work well, and feature real, believable folks doing cool and interesting things. Pekar is building a unique body of work -- comics fans, check it out!

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric--

Art Spiegelman was the keynote speaker at the AWP convention in my town a week or so back. His talk, at the stunning Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, was brilliant--a remarkable blend of erudition and entertainment. Spiegelman is not just a comic book writer/artist and raconteur, he's an historian of the art form. I'm not a comics/graphic novel fan, but I came away much more informed.

The conference also featured a great reading by Scott Blackwood, whose new novel We Agreed to Meet Just Here I highly recommend.

Name: Randy Beever
Hometown: Hope Valley, RI

Eric -

After reading your mini-review of Leonard Cohen's Beacon show, I found this on the NPR Music site:

February 26 (Thursday, 12 p.m. ET): Leonard Cohen Live at The Beacon Theatre Stream And Podcast On NPR Music Recorded live from the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan on February 19, 2009

I thought you might like to pass it along to other Altercators.

P.S. I'm pretty sure tickets for the national tour go on sale tomorrowmorning at leonardcohen.com

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