Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Varieties of Hatred

My new Think Again column is called “The Hate We Tolerate," and it’s here.

And I did this short piece for the Beast called “Was the Arizona Shooter an Anti-Semite?” and that’s here.

I had to cancel the West Coast Kabuki Democracy book tour, owing to the snow, and most of the media appearances have been cancelled or rescheduled owing to the events in Arizona, and so well, I dunno. But you can buy the book here. And there's an excerpt up from the media chapter on Dissent's website, here.

The Jewish film festival began at the Film Society at Lincoln Center yesterday. I went to the opening film, Mahler on the Couch, by Percy Adlon & Felix Adlon, about Gustav Mahler’s relationship with his tempestuous wife, Alma, and his consultations with Sigmund Freud on matters of creativity and passion. And this afternoon I’m seeing Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness by Joe Dorman who made the terrific Arguing the World.

The schedule is here.

Also, on February 10, 11, and 12, the Center for Public Scholarship at The New School presents the 23rd Social Research conference, on “The Body and the State: How the State Controls and Protects the Body.” It will bring together distinguished experts in many different fields to discuss the body as an international human rights arena in which many forces—religion, science, medicine, media, market—struggle for control over policies that regulate our bodies. Didier Fassin will deliver the keynote address on February 10. More information is available here.

Now here’s Reed:

Sticks and Glocks… 

Politics and sports have long shared a linguistic connection in our nation’s discourse. That our Presidential campaign season is also referred to as “the horserace” is therefore no surprise and that the Super Bowl also begat “Super Tuesday” is decidedly no coincidence. But, boiled down to its essence, the underlying rhetorical thread tying these two arenas together is really a penchant for analogies of another, more battle-scarred and bloodthirsty type. The answer to “War (What Is It Good For?)” frequently turns out to be “Metaphor!”

But our fondness for employing violent imagery and war-like connotations in our language appeared particularly unseemly—at least temporarily—after the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the tragic murders of six of her constituents this past week in Tucson. As is commonly the case these days after such a momentous political event, comity was invoked, civility was championed, compromise was promised and handgun sales went through the roof. (I mean, seriously?!) Of course, at least one of the members of Congress not busy strapping on a Glock decided that perhaps it was a good time to consider “Security for me, but not for thee” legislation. And even Fox News President Roger Ailes advocated for taking a subdued and refreshingly honest approach to covering the fallout from the shooting: “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.” [italics mine] 

Though a part-time employee of Ailes’, Sarah Palin apparently didn’t get his "side's" message and, true to form, came out whinging when critics raised questions about her political action committee’s 2010 electoral targeting map, which had overlaid gunsights onto 20 Democratic Congressional districts, including Giffords's. Displaying their trademark tetchiness, she and other conservative supporters quickly deployed their aggrieved defense mechanisms:

First try: Why, they weren’t crosshairs at all! Really?

Then: “I hate violence.” Hmmmm.

Also: Everybody does it sometimes! Sadly true, but not really an excuse.

Finally, and bizarrely: By criticizing my rhetoric, the media is itself inciting hatred and violence, actions that are metaphorically equivalent to hundreds of years of horrific, Anti-Semitic lies. Wow.

In a contorted attempt at rhetorical jiujitsu, Palin (and others) are arguing that we should reserve the greatest opprobrium not for those who employ and abuse these violent metaphors but for those who question them. As part of their counter-attack, they intentionally conflate criticism with censorship and free speech with freedom from responsibility for one's choice of words and images.

Now, there is a contextual, free-speech defense for using violent, war-like imagery and language that, on one level, I do agree with (minus any egregious and inappropriate dashes of hyperbole added by Palin, of course). And to be fair, there has yet to be any specific evidence presented (and likely never will) that speaks to conservative talk radio, Fox News, Palin or any other Tea Party political figure prompting the deranged gunman to act as he did. So all the right’s talk of “reloading,” being “armed and dangerous,” “Second Amendment remedies” and so on, in the context of the Tucson shooting, could be easily defended as free from blame.

However, there is context and then there is context. This attempted political assassination didn’t occur in a vacuum. It took place in a country that, since the Supreme Court’s Heller ruling on gun rights two-and-a-half years ago, has seen more than 100 incidents involving right-wing calls for open insurrection if not outright violence and mass killing, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Placed within this larger context, it becomes completely reasonable to debate the effect all this loaded language emanating from one side of the political spectrum is having on our democracy’s broader political climate.

Unfortunately, this is not a new debate. Indeed, the American tradition of campaign mudslinging and political violence is as old as the Republic itself. Case in point, Alexander Hamilton, who in 1804 was famously gunned down in a duel by Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President, after he supposedly slandered Burr at a political gathering in New York. Not to be outdone, President Jefferson, wary of Burr’s greater ambitions, later dropped him from the ticket and attacked his character with this devastating, violence-laden soundbite: “I never thought him an honest, frank-dealing man, but considered him as a crooked gun, or other perverted machine, whose aim or shot you could never be sure of.”

That’s why I’m skeptical of these appeals for “restoring civility” that pundits and politicians, including our President, trot out after these tragedies. It’s an easy, intellectual dodge, a way to avoid making hard decisions about what we value more in our democracy. It’s also why the nastiness and amped-up, violent rhetoric always returns, because it was ever thus.

Rather than empty platitudes and meaningless bipartisan Congressional resolutions, a better recourse to the tragedy in Tucson would be to commit to taking actual steps toward improving our political discourse. Since we can’t legislate the tenor of our political debate, we can at least mandate that we know as much as we can about who’s behind the voices. Forget civility, it’s this principle of transparency, which was seriously undermined a year ago by our conservative Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, that is in dire need of restoration in our democracy. After all, does anyone honestly believe that the Founders would have been satisfied with a national election where one-third of the spending by outside political advocacy groups—amounting to $132.5 million—involved organizations that don’t have to disclose their financial backers? (An amount that is sure to skyrocket in 2012 if left unchecked.) Although I’m not convinced legislation like the DISCLOSE Act ultimately goes far enough, I’d submit that it’s ability to rein in the growing influence of the unseen hand on our democracy would be a good first step and a positive way to honor Rep. Giffords’ ongoing struggle.

After all, when increasingly negative and incendiary claims can be outsourced to just a few anonymous donors who, in turn, are able to deluge the marketplace of ideas, our democracy becomes even more vulnerable to misinformation and manipulation, an ominous phenomenon this University of Maryland study found evidence of this past election. The price of speaking out is supposed to be free in our democracy, but when money increasingly equals speech the cost of doing nothing can grow unacceptably high. But in a nation that currently displays no willpower for reining in the physical tools used to perpetrate political violence, leveling the playing field in terms of knowing more about whose words may be fomenting it will have to suffice. 

The Mail

Bill Doyle
Valparaiso, IN

Hello Eric,

I was going to write to your blog about the good columns of late, and especially to share with you my affection for the late great Alan Sherman.  But then I woke up for the night shift to today's dreadful news from Tuscon. During the bizarre summer of automatic-weapons-at-public-gatherings, I sent you a comment about the dangers inherent in parading around with weapons in crowded places full of adults, children, vehicles, bicycles, etc.  I first saw it as a safety issue, since when you have weapons around you must assume that some day one of them will go off.  I also felt that this childish and dangerous behavior with weapons threatened the rights of everyone at such a gathering to peaceably assemble, and to meet with their representatives in a public space to redress their grievances.  Why should anyone have to feel even remotely in danger in order to exercise their First Amendment rights?  You might as well carry around cans of gasoline in a public venue as carry a weapon, and I stated then that these Second Amendment spectacles were in direct conflict with the primal American right of peaceful association and expression.

And now it has happened, and among the dead is a nine-year-old Girl who should never have experienced anything but curiosity, joy and satisfaction in exercising her rights as a citizen.  The new leadership in Washington has been talking a lot about the Constitution this week.  Well those killed and wounded today are guaranteed life and liberty by that Constitution, but those rights are deemed secondary to the Second Amendment (as interpreted by extremists).  And the wise command to promote the general welfare is a permanent underling to the dictates of property.

I have been around tough people my entire life, and I have been working since I was 16 in places that would have these Tea Partiers puking into their luch boxes, if they could carry one.  I am sick to death of fools who think that a weapon makes them tough, or a bankroll makes them wise.

A final irony, by Colonel Bateman's leave.  God speed to you and your Outfit Sir, and your last message was wise and heart breaking. My nephew and Godson ("The Sarge") has been serving his 2d tour in the Sangin region of Afghanistan (looking for IEDs).  He is close to his leave, and near a base where he could call my Sister today.  They spoke for ten minutes, and then she said he called right back and said, "Mom, turn on the TV!"  And that's how my Sis found out about Tuscon--from her Son, a soldier of the empire, calling from an outpost to report bad news from home.  God help our Republic.

Michael S. Haugen
New Richmond, WI

Dear Eric:

As a loyal reader of your blog and your contributions to The Nation, I want to thank you for providing me with a consistent source for thoughtful commentary and refreshingly clear writing. I don't read your stuff because I always agree with your analyses, rather, I read you because I trust you. Your intellectual honesty allows me to contemplate arguments which confront my own preconceptions but not always without a high level of exasperation...and such it is with your piece in "The Moment" about your getting hit by trucks going in both directions when writing or speaking about Israel and the Palestinians.

My level of exasperation approached "critical mass" when you described The Nation interns' inability to provide an answer to the question "what do you do now?". It would appear to me that the interns were questioning your criticism of The Nation for blaming Israel "...for every aspect of the conflict" and you answered them with a tangential question of: "Yes, but what do you do now?".  The Nation questions the powerful bully for abusing its weak neighbor and you want to answer with the question "yes, but what are you going to do about it?". That is exasperating to me.

I certainly understand or at least try to understand the difficulty American Jews have in  dealing with the problem of criticizing the government of Israel or some of its political factions without criticizing Israel's existence. In this case, however, the responsibility to criticize  Israel's behavior can not be avoided with the admonition of "a pox on both your houses".  In fact, the responsibility to criticize Israel's continued occupation of Palestine and the murder of Palestinians falls most heavily on American Jews.

So, if this old broken down, retired Norwegian American can figure this out, why can't you? Thank you for indulging my exasperation, I will continue to read with great interest the glimpses you give us into the soul of the American Jewish intellectual.

Ed Tracey
Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, a few years back (and in a different venue) you wrote of the classic material that Jorma Kaukonen performs (solo and with Hot Tuna) and wondered what all the fuss was about the Jefferson Airplane?

Besides the obvious answers - that it's unclear whether he'd have reunited with his childhood bandmate Jack Casady, nor certain that the two would have the opportunity to be signed by a major label (and thus come to our attention) - listening to the recent release of the final October 1966 performance with singer [Signe Anderson] reminded me of why that band mattered.

I know, I know: the pretense (especially after they hit stardom) could be annoying, and the morphing into Starship was literally that: veering off into space. Contrasted with the classic blues: it was very topical and not always enjoyable.

But at its best - and yes, when the Jorma/Jack faction was the feature of their songs - well, if you were to give "Volunteers" a listen, I think you'd say it holds up well (not to mention the fiery "Bless its Pointed Little Head" live album). Yet even in the more folk-rock (pre-Surrealistic Pillow) show on this new release: you hear the risk-taking that these two men specialized in ... that perhaps just doesn't lend itself to their vision of classic blues? I had forgotten about it, until this new disc came my way.

In the original "Rolling Stone Album Guide" the reviewer I liked the least was Paul Evans; he criticized groups such as the Moody Blues yet waxed as 'rap auteurs' the Beastie Boys (even indicating the album at which "they began playing their own instruments" ... good grief). But he did note one thing accurately: citing Jorma & Jack as "a ferocious guitarist, and the most dexterous US bassist" - yet adding one might not know that listening solely to Hot Tuna recordings.

I should probably add that this is more applicable to Jack than Jorma. It was said that in a Fillmore-era multi-band jam he could carry all of the other bassists; one reason why he was an early role model to me on that instrument. Alas, his 2003 solo album "Dream Factor" was a pleasant album yet - as the All-Music Guide's Hal Horowitz wrote - "those anticipating this legendary bass player's long-awaited solo debut to showcase his considerable instrumental abilities will likely be disappointed".

In sum: for all of the reasons stated, it was good for both men to have been a part of the Airplane and - despite its shortcomings - the best of the band's output merits its R&R Hall of Fame induction.

Steve Milligan
Colorado Springs CO


Having spent some time living and working in Denmark, I can vouch for the fact that it is a country that works very well, and yes, it is true:  the Danes are generally happy and very proud of their country.  It is also true that their system of taxation is  quite oppressive by our calculus.  If you buy a car, you will effectively buy it twice--the second time in taxes.  Nobody is particularly thrilled about paying so much, but I've yet to meet a Dane who doesn't think they get their money's worth.  Any politician (right or left) who suggested paring back the social safety net would not be elected dog catcher.

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Get 'Happy' (and Buy My Book)

My new “Think Again” column is called “The Economist’s 'Happy' Ignorance,” and it’s here.

My new Nation column is called “The new Congress and the Coming Class War” and it’s here.

And The Nation’s excerpt from my book is called “Kabuki Democracy—And How to Fix it” and it’s here.

My new Moment column is called “I ♥ Israel” and it’s here.

The Kabuki Democracy book tour starts this Tuesday, 1/11/11 on the release date of the book.

I will be on Brian Lehrer’s WNYC show at 11:00 (on 1/11/11, get it?) and on Crossfire on MSNBC and Parker/Spitzer on CNN that afternoon/evening. Here is the schedule of appearances:

Tues 1/ 11 New York, NY 7:00 PM Barnes and Noble 2289 Broadway (at 82nd St.)
Wed 1/ 12 Seattle, WA 7:30 PM Town Hall/ Elliott Bay 1119 8th Ave.
Thurs 1/ 13 Portland, OR 7:30 PM Powell's 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Fri 1/ 14 Corte Madera, CA 7:00 PM Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd.
Sat 1/ 15 Capitola, CA 6:30 PM Capitola Book Cafe 1475 41st Ave

For future dates, you can go here for the schedule and you can buy the book at fine bookstores anywhere. Here is a link to the BN event. Here is a link to the Powell’s event. Here’s a link to the Elliot Bay event at Town Hall. And for lazy, here is an Amazon link.  The damn thing costs less than two lattes.

Now here’s Reed:

Worst. Media. Ever.

Fans of The Simpsons are familiar with the long-running in-joke involving Comic Book Guy. His character, a notably minor one in a vast chorus, often appears as a stand-in for the public, offering up fickle meta-criticism for what is deemed as the TV show’s ongoing decline. Over time, his “Worst Episode Ever” catchphrase has evolved into a broader cultural trope about the perils of the public’s unabashed nostalgia for the bygone days of almost any institution in our society, even the media. But while this fondness for the past is understandable, if left unchecked, it can skew our memories and perceptions of reality to the point where any change or evolution is seen as a betrayal of principles and something to be summarily lamented.

That’s why I found this Boston Globe essay from earlier in the week to be so refreshing and worthwhile. Though the trend in our media toward ever-shrinking sound bites might appear to be yet another unfortunate unraveling of journalistic standards, author Craig Fehrman looks beyond the data to make a compelling case for why this isn’t such a travesty after all.

[Study author] Hallin has argued all along that television news in the 1960s and 1970s, which many take to be the genre’s golden age, was never actually that good. Stories were dull and disorganized; those long quotations would be followed by a couple of seconds of dead air. Early newspapers, in their time, were no different.

I certainly agree. What’s more, politicians’ words are rarely eloquent, frequently misleading and often stand directly opposite of their actions. So why not focus more on covering what they do and less on quoting what they say? But, Fehrman points out, where the problem lies is in what has filled the newshole vacuum once occupied by campaign quotes and candidate’s speeches.

[A]s networks shortened their sound bites, they also changed the substance of their political coverage. They started using more in-house experts, pundits who looked less at what people said than at how they said it. TV news became more about strategy and the parsing of strategy — about buzzwords like ‘expectations’ and ‘momentum’ — than about the issues that presumably lie at the heart of politics. Journalists wanted to turn campaigns into larger narratives, and there was no easier narrative than covering politics as though it were a sport.

In other words, this trend toward soundbite journalism has perversely created a media environment that is even less focused on policy. This preference for “keeping score” is perhaps not surprising since the American mainstream media’s adherence to objectivity tacitly, if not openly, discourages forthright judgments between right and wrong, truth and lies. All those column inches and all that air time has to be filled with something, however, so why not stick to analyzing who’s “up” and who’s “down,” instead. But this silly façade of media neutrality isn’t the prerequisite for a functioning democracy, as this NPR report reminded us this week.

‘I think it's quite a striking thing about the British press that you get this polemical battle over the basis for what news is, which I feel is to a large extent missing in the American scene,’ [Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan] Rusbridger says. ‘No judgments are free of ideologies, so who you choose to quote and how you structure stories are highly political judgments. I think that's the problem with trying to place too much faith in something called objectivity.’

That kind of bracing honesty about the sausage-making of journalism is sorely lacking in the American media. Indeed, compare Rusbridger’s comments to those of Leonard Downie, who was quoted in a follow-up NPR story from yesterday:

‘I believe The Washington Post does make clear where we're coming from,’ says Leonard Downie, the Post's former executive editor. ‘Where we're coming from, in our news reporting, is no partisanship or ideology of any kind. Our reporting speaks for itself. It is not coming from a point of view.’

To cling to this level of institutional intransigence and pious infallibility might be attractive if, say, you happen to have this job, but it simply defies logic in a profession aimed at informing the public in a democracy. In fact, what this cloistered mindset encourages is reporting that does the very opposite of speaking for itself, shackled as it is to a neutral, artificially balanced framework. It’s what permits groupthink and headline-chasing coverage that distorts policy debates and perpetuates myths until, as in the ongoing debate about Social Security, someone has to step in and try to undo the untold damage. The fear of substantial change is, in many ways, paralyzing the media right now, and, as a result, our democracy is likewise suffering. If we don’t put aside the trap of Comic Book Guy’s nostalgic thinking, his criticism will apply all too accurately.

Now here is Ltc Bob and the rest of the (hate) mail:

LTC Bob Bateman
Letters from a Semi-Foreign Land
Vol. I, Issue 5.

Packing Day

So it is here, packing day.

This is a day that every soldier knows, most dread and all must complete. We do not really discuss this day. This is the day when you pack up your ruck, and your dufflebag, with all that you will have, for a year. It is the mundane, the necessary and the sad, all at once. The things that you put into these two containers will sustain you, clothe you, keep you warm and protect you. And after you put all of those items in there, there remains but a sliver of space in which to place the things that define you.

Soldiers, and I should note, Marines as well, experience this day in different ways depending upon where they are in their careers.

When you are young what you will pack is mostly prescribed for you. The Lieutenant Colonel probably has some ideas, because he does not want to be blamed if you do not have something, and these go on the packing list for the whole battalion. The Captain, well, he too thinks about the things that you might potentially need, in every possible contingency, and so he adds things. The Lieutenant, not to be outdone, adds items just for the platoon. By the end of this process there is more material on the list than could ever fit within what a soldier can carry. But that is the list, as laid down by the officers, and so the soldier crams it all in. And there is no more room.

If he is lucky he has a good First Sergeant, or even better, a good Platoon Sergeant. That sergeant will hold what we call a “lay out inspection,” where every man will, in formation, dump all the contents on the ground, nominally so that the sergeant can insure that all of the items are packed. But a good sergeant, who has been to war and who knows what matters, will inspect each man’s assembled pile of goods…

“What is this? You don’t need this.” Toss.

“And this? Are you kidding? Private, you are the SAW gunner, you do NOT need this either.” Toss.

“You ain’t gonna use that.” Toss.

“Or that.” Toss.

And at the end of this process, after three, or seven, or ten items are discarded, to be left behind, he tells the private, “Alright, bag your shit, get some things you need, and then put your A-bag on the pallet. Move out.”

Now that private, or corporal, or young buck sergeant, has a small space, a few square inches perhaps, but it is his. And he will learn.

Because those last few cubic inches may be the most important ones in the bags.

When you are older the process is different. If you are a Sergeant First Class, or a Major, or higher in either category, you know that nobody is going to check your bag. Yes, there is the packing list, but you know from years of experience, going to the “field” and going to war, what you do need, and what you do not need. Yet still somehow you still only end up with those few small cubic inches, because what you need may be different, but it still has to fit into those same damned two bags.

So your helmet and body armor are in there, ammo pouches and tourniquet and blood clotting bandages, a camelback, and the things you need to keep your weapon clean. You toss in some uniforms, and lots of underwear, and a huge number of socks. Then the professional things you need for your job. Things that are not on the private’s packing list, but that you need to do your job just as clearly as he needs some specific things to be a rifleman or a machine gunner. You pack those too. And then there is that last little space.

You pack yourself in there.

One or two professional books that you believe might matter and because you are a professional. One of them might help you think of something that makes the damned war a little shorter, or maybe saves some lives, or both. In my case I also need a specific type of pen, because I write almost everything out longhand first, and for me the pen matters. And then there are the pictures: Pictures of your beloved from that Halloween a few years back when she dressed up as a librarian and accidentally gave you the erotic fuel to last you twelve months, even years later; pictures of your three daughters from that last perfect summer before the war when they were eight, six and four; a picture of your parents, and a picture of the house where you grew up 25 years ago. You pack these because these are the things that you can stare at and use to transport yourself away when you are “downrange” and it has been a very bad day.

You throw in your medicine, of course, because you are not young any more. Then come the toiletries, and in particular at least several months worth of the things that you like: Your favorite kind of razor, or shaving cream, or toothpaste, because you know that once you deploy you will not have choices anymore. You might toss in a specific seasoning that reminds you of home whenever you taste it, and again, you do this because you know you will not be able to get it out there. These are all small things, mostly. You know from hard experience that you only have those inches, and no more. The space fills.

And then finally there is just a plastic baggy with two cotton balls inside. This is your life raft.

The cotton is soaked in your wife’s perfume. It is reserved for the worst days. The days when you need to hold other people up, and yet you do not know where you will draw the strength yourself. The days when grown men cry, and feel that there is no point, and they need somebody to provide a pillar that they can use to pull themselves to their feet again, and it has got to be you, regardless of if you are ready or not, to hold them up, but you are so fucking tired, and worn, and drowning yourself...then, well, then is when these two little balls of cotton come into play. They are your emergency supply of willpower, to be used sparingly, stingily, hoarded, just in case, for those bad days. The perfume is too strong right now, but you know that over a year, it will fade until there is barely more than a memory wafting from that bag. But sometimes, that slightest scent, it is enough. To hold you, and others, up.

And then you are done. There is no more room, nothing more to pack and the only thing remaining is a very long flight to a very foreign land.

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com

Jim Peale
Swanzey, NH

Liked your comments on ROTC, Ivy League, and the growing conservatism of our military. You left out the overt Christian evangelism going on in our military and the service academies.  I've been saying for years that an absolute pre-requisite for admission to the academies or OCS should be at least eighteen months service as an enlisted soldier, sailor, airman, or marine.  That would eliminate a lot of the beloved (of closet sadists) chickenshit since they'd already know how to shine shoes and make bunks, and would give them practical experience in following orders.  They'd also have gotten some valuable lessons in deciding what makes a good leader/officer.

John S. Starsiak Jr.
Woodbridge, VA

I was frustrated after reading your Jan. 3th article in the Nation. Why won't any progressive state the ugly truth. Most Americans are stupid and you can't fix stupid. That's why during the era of the Founding Fathers only about 10% of white males (the talented tenth?) were allowed to vote. In other words, progressives need better propaganda (including lies) than the conservatives. To borrow a cliche from computer programming, "Keep It Simple Stupid". The mob will always be lead by the nose. The only question is who will be leading them.

Steve Nelson
Kent, WA

In trying to sort out if Mr. Rosen is humorous or ignorant (or both) I did some research into Ko Lanta Thailand to see if there were clues.  I found on Wiki that it is nice quiet tourist place where there are several divergent religions and people all respect each other.  I now suspect that Mr. Rosen has purposely misstated his home town so that we would not find out his true identity which based on his vicious humor must be Rush Limbaugh.

lee Ro
Ko Lanta Thailand

I check myself in google every once-in-a-while and there I find an email I wrote to Alterman—I certainly wouldn't read The Nation since it is an arm of the malicious Democratic Party and foolish as well. So why don't I write some more—I have some spare time here in S. Thailand. I should improve my previous post. Alterman is not "A Vicious, Mendacious, Horrible Monster"—that would give him too much prominence. Perhaps he is something like a small-time, sociopathic punk—just another of many punks that make a living pandering to the "Big Guys". One sees many of this type now lining up to insult WikiLeaks and Assange, support (excuse) Obama and the whole rotten enterprise known as USA. There's money to be made schilling for the Media (that includes The Nation if you thought differently—check it out, ie. Pollit and Dreyfus as well, etc.)—they (the Media) got the money to spread around, they provide the exposure, they engage in self-serving mutual flattery—I'm talking here about all of the majors like NYTimes, Foxx, CNN, all the newspapers, all TV, even most of what has come to be known as the Alternative Media (Huff, Kos, etc.)—all the same: support the Party's candidate, support National Security, support Israel, support the economic system, wait for better days, send money—there are a few exceptions. Liberal Democrats are the worst for hypocracy and support for what we used to call "the system", support for Obama, Patriotism—this is the Alterman crowd—totally indifferent to human suffering, Hell Bent on self interest.  No point mentioning the Republican crowd, Same-Same. No point writing too much.  I would like to correct the spelling of assassination.  Alterman is a Jerk but worse than a Jerk because he benefits, encourages, supports Death, Destruction, Fear and Misery—kind of like A Vicious, Mendacious, Horrible Monster but more weak and pitiful.  He would be a sad case if he didn't lend his hand to so much Evil that is the USA.


can't you think of anything to write about than your unreasoning hatred of Marty Peretz? I have read that crap from you a dozen times, and I hardly bother to follow your trivial maunderings any more. You're such a putz. You do good work fighting the Republicans, then show yourself as a total ass with your fanatical love of the fucking arabs, not one of which would pause for a second if you were snuffed out, do you realize that?

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“I mean fuck these fancy Upper West Side rabbis”: If you want to feel sorry for the Pathetic Mr. Peretz, then here is your chance. It’s a fine piece, though perhaps a little light on what makes his sourpuss mien more than merely pathetic, but actually destructive. For that might I recommend this. But also a few quibbles. For instance, Marty says he regularly attends the Sheik Jarrah protests against evictions in East Jerusalem. I think he’s lying and it was a mistake of the author to take his word for it. He also says that longtime TNR writer “John Judis "knows zero” about the Middle East. I think it might have been a good idea to signal to the reader that Mr. Judis knows a great deal about the Middle East, more, I imagine, than Mr. Peretz; he simply does not share Peretz’s particularly blinkered view of the place. The greatest weakness, however, of what is a really fine piece is that it lets Peretz off the hook for the manner in which he got himself kicked out of TNR. I mean that is the story, isn’t it. He’s desperately clung to the title of “Editor in Chief” for nearly 40 years after having long ago lost the money from his ex-wife’s inheritance he used to buy and control it. He wrote “the spine” devotedly no matter where he was. And now, nothing? I understand that perhaps nobody wanted to talk about this, perhaps because they feared Marty would pull the plug on his long-awaited exit, if it were to be spun as his getting kicked out in the media.  I would not be surprised if it were a condition of Marty's cooperation with the piece that the subject not be addressed in any detail. But surely an author is entitled to educated speculation on the central question of his essay. Anyway, don’t cry for Marty Peretz. He may have lost TNR but he still has houses all over the world and the undying support and friendship of David Horowitz, who writes on Tablet:

“I am honored to be compared to Marty Peretz who is currently undergoing a purge by the left — one of its periodic witch-hunts of individuals who fail to toe the party line. Peretz sin — like mine — is hardly opportunism. He is being punished for attempting to tell hard truths. In the Middle East, particularly in Gaza and the West Bank where suicide bombers are national heroes and saints, and a death cult has been spawned in kindergartens and the government media, Muslim life is obviously cheap and cheap for Muslims. But Peretz has been crucified for blurting this out. The worst aspect of this public burning is the silence so far of all the writers and editors of the left whose careers he nurtured and launched. It just exemplies, [sic] what I know from my own experience, that the left has no heart for people, for the individuals who serve it. It only cares about the purity of its ideas.”

On the topic of Tablet, their list of the 100 Greatest Jewish Songs does not include what is probably the greatest Jewish song ever, Allan Sherman’s “Shake Hands with Your Uncle Max,” nor indeed, does it include anything at all from Sherman’s “My Son the Folksinger” which is the greatest Jewish album of all time. I believe that is “enough said,” but let’s give Allan the last word(s):  

I sell a line of plastics
And I travel on the road
And I have a case of samples
Which believe me is a load

Every night a strange cafe
A strange hotel and then
Early in the morning
I am on the road again

When the season's over
And my lonesome journey ends
That's the only time I see
My family and my friends

I drive up Ocean Parkway
And before I stop the car
My ma leans out the window
And she hollers, "Here we are!"

Shake hands with your Uncle Max, my boy
And here is your sister Shirl
And here is your cousin Isabel
That's Irving's oldest girl
And you remember the Tishman twins
Gerald and Jerome
We all came out to greet you
And to wish you welcome home

Merowitz, Berowitz, Handelman, Schandelman
Sperber and Gerber and Steiner and Stone
Boskowitz, Lubowitz, Aaronson, Baronson,
Kleinman and Feinman and Freidman and Cohen

Smallowitz, Wallowitz, Tidelbaum, Mandelbaum
Levin, Levinsky, Levine and Levi
Brumburger, Schlumburger, Minkus and Pinkus
And Stein with an "e-i" and Styne with a "y"

Shake hands with your Uncle Sol mein boy
And here is your brother Sid
And here is your cousin Yetta
Who expects another kid

Whenever you're on the road mein boy
Wherever you may roam
We'll all be here when you come back
To wish you welcome home

“All shook up: As Newseum's operating costs soared to $250,000 a day, Freedom Forum's finances sank” Some really good reporting here.

So Judith Miller has finally found her natural home at Newsmax. And yet she was the lead reporter for the New York Times on the Bush/Cheney plans for war. How again, does that fit in with notion that the paper is ground zero of the global liberal media conspiracy? Just asking…

The Mail:

Here’s LTC Bob: you can write him at bateman_ltc@hotmail.com

I am so tired of war.

Some of you say you are tired too, and argue. I will not argue the validity of your positions, back home.

I am 43 now. Not old, but no longer young. I have been a soldier for our nation for 25 years. You, through your elected civilian leaders, have decided where I would go. Sometimes it was to the Middle East, sometimes it has been elsewhere. A few weeks from now it will be to South Asia.

I am tired, but I understand.  What needs to be done needs to be done.

President Obama, like his predecessors, knows that he must send people like me to places we would all rather not go.

And it sucks.

I mean seriously. It sucks.

Adventure is for teenagers. 

But I know why we are doing it. Even though I know, and feel, the cost. See, for me it is not taxes. For me it is not a moral/diplomatic issue. For me it is my friends, my former students, my former soldiers, and they are dying. But what this President, and even the last one, has made clear about Afghanistan, is that it matters. And it matters enough that we need to be, well, who we are. And I mean all Americans.

Yea, who are we?

Let us be honest. Let’s talk big.

We Americans are the most annoyingly belligerent nation of self-obsessed morons that has ever existed upon the face of this planet. We make the Romans look polite. We make the French look chaste. We make the Russians look subtle, and we make the Japanese look normal. We are a country which largely consists of the people who were kicked out of all of the polite countries, and though we seldom mention it, we are actually really proud of that fact. We are a people who look a challenge in the face, and laugh, because we are so collectively argumentative, abusive and combative that we cannot even imagine a problem we cannot beat, solve, destroy or buy our way out of. Seriously.

And so now we have Afghanistan.

I would be depressed. Except. Except that I am like you. With all those other things about us…there is more…I am irrepressibly optimistic, perhaps irrationally so, because, well, because I am an American. I hate being irrational. But then I love being an American. And so, I am trapped between the two. I believe in our goodness, our fundamental intentions, I believe that a country which can rip itself apart, and then come together again matters. I believe that a nation which finds in itself the power to win two world wars has some gumption. And…and I believe that the nation which created both Seinfeld and White Christmas, is good. And so, friends, believe it or not, so does most of the world.

So I trust. I trust that my men and I, the ones who do the sad things, can make this happen. I do know that we are doing it for the right reasons, and I hope that we are doing it in the right way. Only time will tell I suppose. I don’t pray, myself, but if you want to toss one or two our way, that would be sort of cool. Thanks.   

Morgan Sheridan
Albuquerque, NM
In reading your article wherein you noted the "increasing conservative bent of our military's officer corps", I thought of Mikey Weinstein's Military Religious Freedom Foundation almost immediately, since the military academies have been filled with cadets hewing to evangelical, fundamentalist ideologies since the early Reagan era.  As an Air Force veteran (1974-79), I am deeply disturbed over the deliberate suborning of our military leadership wherein they answer to G-d first and country second.

The conservative bent was deliberately cultivated for a long time.  It would be lovely to see ROTC trained officers able to challenge the existing conservative culture in today's military forces.

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV
Dr. A., sorry but you lose me when you say that it isn't enough that Obama wanted to make the system work.  I agree with you that, in an ideal world, we would have seen a lot more legislation passed that would have done a lot more good.  But neither of us lives in that ideal world, and after all that you have written about Kabuki Democracy, it strikes me that, just as all of us can do better, our fellow lefties could do better than form circular firing squads and hold their breath until they turn blue every time they don't get absolutely everything they want, and you can do better than what you wrote in The Daily Beast.

Fred Leonhardt
Portland, OR
Who's the leader?

What Palin said about lame ducks when she resigned as Governor of Alaska:

And so as I thought about this announcement that I wouldn't run for re-election and what it means for Alaska, I thought about how much fun some governors have as lame ducks... travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade—as so many politicians do. And then I thought—that's what's wrong—many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that—I promised efficiencies and effectiveness!

What President Obama said at the end of the most productive lame-duck session in history:

“One thing I hope people have seen during this lame-duck: I am persistent,” Mr. Obama said, with a flash of energy, at a valedictory news conference. “If I believe in something strongly, I stay on it.”

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'A Vicious, Mendacious, Horrible Monster....'

My new Think Again column is called “The Missing ‘Least-We-Can-Do-No-Brainer Act of 2010’” and you can find it here.

I did a Daily Beast column on what I see as Obama’s getting his lunch eaten, (but that’s only if you consider substance to be important), here.

And I recommended the year’s best books, sort-of, here.


There is not much to review in the way of Alter-reviews today. I took a look at a few old movies in the new DVD box set “Cher: the Film Collection.” Here’s what I learned “Good Times” and “Chastity” are unwatchably bad. “Silkwood” holds up pretty well. I skipped “Moonstruck” as I remembered it as a one-time thing. “Mermaids” is quite good until it falls apart. I skipped “Tea with Mussolini” both now and when it was released. Good actress, good sense of humor, if that thing about her removing her rib is true, well, I’m going to have to disapprove of the entire enterprise, though she was funny with Beavis and Butthead, though I see no mention of that here. If that inspires you, you can read all about it, here.

Now here’s Reed:

Credit Where Credit Is Due
The past week, it would be hard to dispute, has been the most productive legislatively in Obama’s two-year tenure as president. Of course, I, like many others, have expressed reservations about some of what’s being produced. And, thanks to five craven Democrats, who are apparently just fine siding with the nativist xenophobes within their constituencies, the week wasn’t without its unfortunate failures. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that this, this and this aren’t successes to be celebrated during a holiday season ostensibly about peace on earth and goodwill toward everyone. (Of course, the Grinch in me must point out that the last two of those legislative victories, issues where Democrats yet again enjoyed a majority of public support, were only achieved after inexplicable compromises like this and this, respectively.)

But, as a proud veteran who served to uphold the Constitution and this nation’s principles of equality and justice, this is, by far, the best present of this holiday season.

While fully implementing the repeal of DADT can’t come soon enough for several obvious reasons, I’ll add to the list this disturbing trend about the eroding quality of our military’s recruits and enlistees. In addition, let me predict right now that the doubts some scholars harbor about ROTC programs reappearing on Ivy League campuses ultimately will be proved unfounded and overblown. To broadly imply that having an interest in attending one of the best academic institutions in the country as well as a dedication to serving one’s country in the military are mutually exclusive is an insult to both of these institutions and is to traffic in tired stereotypes.

In the mid-90s, I earned my Army commission through the ROTC program at Boston University, which had likewise banned the program during the late 60s (only to reinstate it a few years later). If I do say so myself, BU’s ROTC program was, and remains so today, a respected and integral part of the school’s student-life community and one of the most robust and highly regarded Army accession programs in the region, if not the country. All this despite the fact that the school shares many of the same supposedly challenging characteristics—large urban setting, high tuition costs, etc.—as schools like Harvard, Yale and Columbia.

What’s more, the potential reemergence of ROTC on these campuses could also help to counter another worrisome trend, the increasingly conservative bent of our military’s officer corps. As author and Army officer Jason Dempsey detailed in his recent book on civil-military relations, “Our Army,” this trend has been accelerating over the past few decades. “With the end of the draft and the closure of ROTC programs at many elite universities in the aftermath of Vietnam,” Dempsey notes, “the gap between the nation’s armed forces and academia left many on campus with no point of reference for the military beyond the tired stereotypes.”

Over time, as fewer academics and policymakers have remained conversant with the military’s issues and its experiences, this disconnect has leached into the political realm (abetted by a media that is often uneducated, uncomfortable or simply uninterested in consistently reporting on military and foreign policy issues). As a result, those that are, or purport to be, knowledgeable on these topics can gain undue rhetorical power in our press, sometimes egregiously so. The danger this development represents to our democracy was brought into stark relief the past few months by the shameless backtracking and hysterical opposition to DADT’s repeal by Sen. John McCain. As someone continually portrayed by the media as one of Senate’s few “experts” on the military, McCain’s supposed stature not only earned him a bigger megaphone on this issue than was warranted, it provided political cover to other lazy and uninformed lawmakers who couldn’t cite any real legitimate reason for repealing DADT other than “If John McCain thinks it’s bad, that’s good enough for me.”

Still, some in the mainstream media, most notably the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, whom I’ve criticized recently, found it within themselves to finally call out McCain’s increasingly obstinate and outrageous behavior for what it is. That our better angels overcame this demagoguery wasn’t some supposed Christmas miracle, however. Years of hard work and lobbying from tireless advocacy groups, like the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, were the real heroes here, but in navigating the final few steps, I’ll give credit to President Obama, (the often underestimated) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and, though it surprises me somewhat to say it, Senator Joe Lieberman, who revived the bill when nearly everyone else was ready to abandon it.

But even in this unquestionable civil rights victory, one that all Americans should feel proud of, there is an ominous warning sign about the limitations of bipartisanship in serving our democracy. After all, what no reporter apparently thought to ask Sen. Lieberman during the legislative battle to overturn DADT this past week was what the chances for repeal would have been if he actually had gotten his way two years ago. For Democrats who are looking to continue this momentum, maybe that’s the best lesson to take into the New Year. 

The mail:

Edward J. P. Gallagher
Aurora, CO

I just read your comments on Tom Friedman. I also read the complete Friedmman column. You may want to re-write your comments with more info so that they make sense.


Lee Roskin
Koh Lanta, Thailand

I just came across some responses to a comment I made about Eric Alterman.  They were quite insulting and nasty.  I would like to respond to them but you have chosen only to present these self-serving responses.  I would be very glad to debate the worthiness of Alterman as a decent human being.  Alterman is an Obama supporter and an obvious Democratic Party supporter although he does offer some mild criticism.  Obama and the Democrats are murderers, terrorists, destroyers (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan Wars), support torture and kidnapping (Rendition, Black Sites), outlaws (assination, denial of Habeas Corpus), thieves (giving money to support Bankers and Rich people in general, cowards and liars.  I would be glad to have the space to explain but it is all so obvious—you can try to justify it but it is obvious.  Perhaps Alterman is a good Jew in that he supports Israel's depredations and violence but to me he is a vicious, mendacious, horrible monster.

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Haley Barbour is No Martin Luther King or Even Jimmy Carter

My Daily Beast column this weekend dealt with all of these “victories” of Barack Obama and it’s here.

But the reason I’m posting today is because I thought I’d mention a couple of things about White Citizens Councils:

Thing One, Citizens Councils and the Montgomery Bus Boycott: As Taylor Branch notes, one of King’s aims was to “to answer one peevish charge that” had been printed in early stories about the Bus Boycott, namely “that the Negroes had borrowed the boycott tactic from the White Citizens Councils, which had openly adopted a policy of harsh economic reprisal against Negroes who fought segregation.“ As blacks organized to boycott the bus lines, White Citizens Council organized boycotts of those blacks working for desegregation.

Thing Two, Citizens Councils and Jimmy Carter: The Plains area witnessed the formation in 1958 of the violently segregationist “Citizens Council.” The leaders sought Carter out. “They pointed out that it would damage my reputation and my success as a businessman in the community if I proved to be the only hold-out,” Carter recalled to James Wooten. “And because of their genuine concern about my welfare, they were willing to pay the dues for me.” Carter refused.

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Science, Blinding

My new Think Again column is called “Think Again: The Fox Propaganda Train Rolls On" and it's here.

My new Nation column is called “What’s the Story, Mr. President?” and it’s here.

And my Daily Beast column addresses the silliness that is the Michael Bloomberg for president discussion, here.

Now here’s Reed:

They Blinded Me With Science

This country’s scientific community is experiencing a number of dangerous shortages. First off, there’s the alarming underrepresentation of ethnic minorities and women in scientific fields. There’s also a looming scarcity of qualified computer scientists necessary to design and maintain our increasingly complex digital infrastructure. Even in clean and renewable energy technology, the US’s scientific edge over the rest of the world is rapidly eroding. But there’s one other shortfall that sprung to mind this week in lieu of this “dog bites man” revelation concerning Fox News’s ridiculous climate change equivocation: the startling deficiency in clear, concise and relevant reporting about science. 

Scientists themselves have certainly noticed, as this Pew survey from last year shows.

“A substantial percentage of scientists also say that the news media have done a poor job educating the public. About three-quarters (76%) say a major problem for science is that news reports fail to distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not. And 48% say media oversimplification of scientific findings is a major problem.”

Hmmm, injecting a false equivalence between unequal ideas or arguments because analyzing the details and explaining them is too hard, you say?  Where have we heard that before? And let’s not kid ourselves that only Fox News does stuff like this. Lots of mainstream news organizations get sucked into repeating—willingly or not and without a hint of the hypocrisy involved—talking points like the previous administration’s odious phrase about policy being guided by “sound science.” Maybe it’s time that we in the media break free of the same rigidly objective approach when it comes to reporting on science as well?

Nah, says Daniel Sarewitz in this perplexing Slate article. Instead, we need to have more Republican scientists to balance everything out! His argument flows from an apparently startling (to him) statistic found in the same Pew study mentioned earlier. It discovered that the political ideology of the surveyed scientists (who were all members of the AAAS, it should be noted) now runs more than nine to one in favor of Democrats. “This immense imbalance has political consequences,” he soberly warns, before calling for a kind of affirmative action effort to put more pocket protectors on conservatives.

“How would a more politically diverse scientific community improve this situation? First, it could foster greater confidence among Republican politicians about the legitimacy of mainstream science. Second, it would cultivate more informed, creative, and challenging debates about the policy implications of scientific knowledge. This could help keep difficult problems like climate change from getting prematurely straitjacketed by ideology. A more politically diverse scientific community would, overall, support a healthier relationship between science and politics.”

In fact, this prescription for encouraging greater ideological balance within the scientific community sounds awfully familiar to the same remedies many mastheads have undertaken to counteract the journalism profession’s supposed liberal bias. And it suffers from the same fatal flaws. By implicitly endorsing the notion that the legitimacy of one’s work is necessarily a byproduct of one’s private political beliefs stands against the very principles of scientific inquiry. The same logic that says journalists, who tend to be liberal in their personal political beliefs, must propagate a “liberal media” also dictates that liberal scientists therefore can’t help but conduct “liberal science.” The message, in other words, becomes inseparable from the messenger. And from there, its but a short and slippery slope to enforcing an ideological test upon the makeup of scientific academies or government-sponsored research to add “legitimacy,” as Sarewitz suggests. But this will only serve to heighten the politicization of science rather than neutralize it. I mean, take one look at how well this hyperpoliticized approach is working out for our judiciary.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more diversity and I welcome conservatives joining the ranks of our nation’s scientists, mathematicians and engineers, just as I would be fine if they suddenly flocked to journalism. But if I were the deans of MIT and Caltech (or the Columbia Journalism School, for that matter), I’d wait a bit before deciding to double the endowments to handle the oncoming crush of new conservative students. Simply put, some professions correlate more strongly with people of certain ideologies because of the required skill sets of those professions. Careers that necessitate seeking out the unfamiliar, testing new ideas, gaining new perspectives and facilitating change or progress, by their very nature, tend to attract small-l liberal thinkers. By contrast, other professions, like, say, the financial industry or the military (specifically the officers corps), emphasize different values and so they happen to be populated mostly by conservatives. (And, for some reason, I’ve yet to come across an essay bemoaning a lack of liberals among our nation’s hedge fund managers.)

But Sarewitz can’t seem to accept that this self-selection process naturally draws liberals into the sciences in greater numbers. Surely, something else must be going on, and there is, although he stumbles across the reason inadvertently:

“Consider the case of climate change, of which beliefs are astonishingly polarized according to party affiliation and ideology.

A March 2010 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of Democrats (and 74 percent of liberals) say the effects of global warming are already occurring, as opposed to 31 percent of Republicans. Does that mean that Democrats are more than twice as likely to accept and understand the scientific truth of the matter? And that Republicans are dominated by scientifically illiterate yahoos and corporate shills willing to sacrifice the planet for short-term economic and political gain?"

These sound like trick questions. So let me give carefully crafted and qualified answers: Yes and yes.

Time was, Republicans and Democrats could be occasionally counted on to work together to confront serious scientific problems and craft policy solutions to fix them, based on a common acceptance of data and facts on the ground. Take, for example, the Clean Air Act, one of the most effective pieces of environmental science policy ever enacted in this country. Forty years ago, this bill got its start thanks to a Democratic Congress and President Nixon’s signature. It was strengthened and updated 20 years later by another combination of a Democratic Congress and Republican president, George H. W. Bush.

One doesn’t have to wonder too long about this kind of cooperation occurring in the next divided Congress. Not when the recent midterm elections offered Republican voters across the country a Hobson’s choice on electing climate change deniers. Not when a smug, incurious man whose only discernible legislative function appears to be publicly excusing gross corporate malfeasance will be serving as the next chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Not when the new junior GOP senator from Kentucky either doesn’t know or, more likely, doesn’t want to rankle his creationist constituents by publicly acknowledging an incontrovertible scientific fact about the age of the planet he inhabits. And heck, when the senior GOP senator from South Carolina merely wrote an op-ed about wanting to work with Democrats on watered-down climate legislation, he ignited a fierce backlash of right-wing anger so intense that he ultimately found convenient excuses to back away from the bill this year. I mean, it’s simply not a coincidence that this book was also a New York Times bestseller.

Indeed, what Sarewitz doesn’t seem to grasp is that this ideological imbalance isn’t a case of science abandoning Republicans; it’s Republicans who have abandoned science. In the intervening years since the first President Bush, Republicans—first nationally, and now at nearly every level of political office—have executed a broad-based retreat from scientific policy engagement. They can no longer abide regulatory solutions—successfully proven, I might add—like the Clean Air Act, and so complex science and environmental issues now get crudely hammered, like everything else, with the same “tax cuts and free market” cudgel. And so armed, it becomes easy to dismiss something like the overwhelming preponderance of climate change data found by every major scientific research organization, because the facts, as Stephen Colbert famously joked, have a known liberal bias.

So, to try and do for science what the same conventional wisdom has done for journalism would be a tragic case of fixing what ain’t broken. Our nation’s scientific community does have its share of problems, no doubt, but one of them most certainly not worth worrying over is the unbalanced ideological makeup of its practitioners. That’s a lesson I hope we in the media will someday learn as well. 

And the mail:

Bob Tallman
Crestwood, KY

About Bush v. Gore.

What has always amazed me is that the Constitution expressly provides a remedy for disputed national elections. The House votes for President, the Senate for Vice President. Had Florida sent two sets of electors (not the first time in history a state would have done so) Congress would have been required to resolve the election, the Congress sworn in on Jan. 3 2001.

With a solid GOP majority, the House would have certainly elected Bush President. The Senate is where things would have gotten interesting. Democrats had as I recall either a one seat majority or a majority due to Gore being the sitting Vice President. There is no way the Democrats would have elected Leiberman and thereby lost their Senate majority. They could have, and had the choice been available, would have elected Al Gore to serve another term as Vice President under Bush. Why? To maintain their Senate majority (Jeffords had not yet changed caucuses).

I know for a fact at least one Democratic Senator was aware of this as I and another attorney explained it to him in December 2000 just before the Bush v. Gore atrocity was handed down. The election was a near tie and the Constitutional resolution would have had both candidates in office. The Supreme Court decision really elected Cheney VP, thereby providing him with the Constitutional office from which he could safely put into practice his evil plans.

Debra Beller
Chapel Hill, NC

The compromise that isn't—because its really the conservative position through and through—is one bad (and scary) thing. But what really upsets me about Obama is that he is not what I think we expected—the progressive version of Ronald Reagan. Now, no one despises old Ronnie more than I, but he was very successful at shifting the paradigm. Republicans now routinely extol repugnant ideas that would have been unspeakable just 40 years ago. They have changed, I expected Obama to shift the paradigm in the same way. But he has not. He has not proposed huge federal works projects (a national healthcare database and high speed rail would have been nice); he has not proposed an overhaul of the federal tax code; he has not been the champion of the middle class that he could have been. What he has done will be easily overturned by conservative majorities now and in 2012. Obama told the soft-spoken, sometimes tongue-tied Harry Reid that he had a gift—meaning Obama's ability to stir people with rhetoric. I feel somewhat foolish that I actually thought he had some stirring ideas behind those words. Not to be overblown, but I do feel that we are doomed. The only thing I keep telling myself is that if you give a conservative enough rope, they hang themselves. I may not live to see it and what the conservatives accomplish may make my middle class existence a living hell (I'm 56) but they will, some day, go down in flames. Problem is, they may take most of us with them.

Jim Celer

Maybe I'm wrong and just speaking for myself, but I think most "liberals" understand that the tax deal had to be made, given the circumstances. The outrage is that Obama and the Democratic majorities allowed those circumstances to develop. That 57 votes out of a hundred are not enough to pass legislation in The World's Greatest Deliberative Body is ridiculous. It was obvious from the start that would be a problem; and now it's become some kind of warped conventional wisdom that, duh, you need 60 votes to pass anything. If the Republicans win the Senate in 2012, I'll bet that rule is changed the day after they're sworn in.

Douglas Wright
Fort Worth, Texas

The Republicans disgust me, but they never disappoint. Their utter shamelessness and open contempt for the well-being of the United States and its people have become Republican trademarks.

The Democrats constantly disappoint, but they're more pathetic than disgusting. I keep hoping they will stand at last and cast the Republicans' lies back in their teeth, then do what they know to be right and damn the consequences. They never do, of course. You might as well expect courage from clams.

The American people disappoint me and sadden me beyond words. We have proven that we are easy prey for demagogues and for those who appeal to our baser nature. We have become intolerant, cowardly, shallow and selfish. We are willfully and proudly ignorant, quick to judgment and just plain mean. We have betrayed our country and everything noble that it once stood for.

Jim Reuss
Silt, CO


I am extremely disappointed in President Obama's concession to the GOP on extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy and can only hope the Democrats in the House and Senate have the good sense to just let the issue die by the end of the year. When the Republican majority in the next session then brings the tax cuts up as their primary act, I hope that the Democrats will obstruct the bills as the Republicans have done in this session in order to stem the flow of our wealth into the grubby hands of the greedy sons-of-bitches who put millions of people out of work and were rewarded handsomely for their fraud and criminality, rather than being thrown into jail where they belong. Does anyone truly think that the tax cuts will eventually convince investors to put their money back into the US economy in the form of hiring workers? The private sector hasn't shown much willingness to work for the benefit of citizens so far.

The wealthy individuals in our society were given a huge income boost through the actions of Congress through TARP and the grants and loans provided from the Federal Reserve to our Wall Street investment brokers and shareholders. After such a massive plundering of the public treasury for the well-being of an extremely small minority of individuals, it's long past time for the Democrats to say "no" to the voodoo economics that has infested our politics since the Reagan era. We cannot sustain our government on borrowed money, but we equally cannot sustain our government by strangling its revenue sources.

Mike Dickenson
Bluff City, TN

Unfortunately one of the best blogs you ever wrote was a couple of months ago and it is the truth. Fox news is setting the agenda for the whole nation.

They are not only controlling the GOP, they control what the other networks report. Whatever they want to make as the issue of the day, the other networks fall in step. How they want to frame an issue is how the tone is set. There aren't any mavericks in broadcast news anymore. 60 Minutes no lnger exposes corruption, they profile celebrities.

This past election was all about the Bush tax cuts. Do you think they would have pumped all of that money into local congressional races if there wasn't a better return for their money? Fox news acted like the DEMs created this mess and no other major news organization challenged them on it. Unless the DEMs find a way to challenge Fox news, it is going to get tougher.

BTW, if more people are watching Fox news than any other network, aren't they the mainstream media?

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Slacker Friday

I’m all about the atrocity that was “Bush v. Gore” this week. My Think Again column focuses on press and the manner in which the politics of that period presages the crazy political moment in which we live today, and that’s here.

My Daily Beast column over the weekend was about the “Bush v. Gore” decision itself. That’s here.

And I did another Beast column this morning one the Barack/Bubba meeting scheduled for today and that’s here.

Now here’s the mail:

Jack Robinson
Fort Collins, CO

As a self admitted news junkie, I try very hard to read critically, even when reading The Nation and other media and pundits with whom I generally agree. I must say your analysis in this blog was a real breath of fresh air and one of the best articulations of something I have long felt and known but lacked the skill to put forward as you did here. One of the best articles I have read in a long time. Congratulations. Of course, I reserve the right to criticize the hell out of your position in the future if I think you are wrong.

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV

Dr. A., in the world I want to live in, Barack Obama would have told repubicants (as I prefer to call them) to stick it.  In the world I live in, I think this deal helps unemployed people and the middle class, which strikes me as ... liberal?  But we see liberals saying, who cares about them, we can't help the wealthy.  Sorry, but I have a lot of trouble following that.

I share your disdain, if I am choosing the right word, for Mr. Broder all the time, Mr. Milbank some of the time (he writes the occasional good column; his percentage may even be better than the infamous MoDo of The Times), and for the mainstream media in general.  But I was struck by something.  Like Keith Olbermann, I disagreed with Jon Stewart using the same false equivalency doctrine that you so brilliantly outlined.  Then I put on Olbermann the other night and had to turn down the volume because he was screaming so loud in a 10-minute "special comment" excoriating Obama.  Uh, Earth (to promote Stewart's new book) to Keith:  you just proved Stewart more correct than you may have intended.

Because, in the end, you do not dispute how Obama concluded his press conference, and I do not believe it is possible for anyone with a respect for the facts to dispute him.  This is indeed similar to the public option debate, but Obama could have gone further--much further.  Last year, the left merrily concerned itself with demanding a public option and excoriating (I like the word, so I return to it) anyone, especially Obama, for not fighting enough for it.  Ultimately, Congress barely passed a bill that will do a lot of good, though not enough--but note the barely, and someday I think Harry Reid may just get the credit he deserves for getting his entire caucus on board after convincing Obama that no member of the opposition would help (including Olympia Snowe, of whom Reid said that she will negotiate and negotiate, vote for a bill when her vote doesn't matter, and fold in the long run, if I recall correctly how it was depicted).  As this went on, what did the other side talk about?  Death panels.  Socialism.  And the Tea Party formed.  Why wasn't the left concentrating on a message?

So, we can criticize the Obama administration, and should.  But when we do so, we really should start making sure we are looking in the mirror, because we have demonstrated, on the left, an incredible ability to fail at everything but disgracing ourselves

Erich Noll
Kansas City, MO

Not that it really affects the point you were trying to make but if the original statement is "If A then B", the contrapositive is not "If not A then not B" as you said but rather "If not B then not A"

Cheyenne, WY

Eric, Now what are we supposed to do?  I can't see how I can go on supporting the president.  Compromise, shrompromise.  And then he yells at us.  I'll be looking at your articles this week.  This is the final straw.

Eric Alterman
New York,  New York


Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Our Editor-in-Chief President

I’m all about the atrocity that was “Bush v. Gore” this week. My Think Again column focuses on press and the manner in which the politics of that period presages the crazy political moment in which we live today, and that’s here.

My Daily Beast column over the weekend was about the “Bush v. Gore” decision itself. That’s here.

That’s all. Now here’s Reed:

Our Editor-in-Chief President
There’s an old adage about objective journalism: If both sides of the political spectrum are complaining, you must be doing something right. This idea, on its face, seems laudable, essential even, for our democracy to function properly. As inculcated into newsrooms and mastheads around the country, this conventional wisdom has come to mean that the traditional American media pulls no punches ideologically, lays bare the facts without regard for whose arguments are strengthened or weakened, and courageously stands up for the reader by stripping away the spin and talking points. In other words, the truth can always be found somewhere in the middle of a political debate. This week, at his press conference, President Obama defended his tax cut compromise by mistakenly planting his flag firmly in the same middle ground, but I’ll get back to him a bit later.

Within journalism, there are two significant flaws to this outlook, one practical and one philosophical. The first of these derives from traditional logic, which says that if the adage is accepted as true then the contrapositive must also be true (i.e., If a, then b; If not a, then not b.) So, if neither side and/or only one partisan side is consistently complaining about a journalist’s coverage, it follows that he or she must be doing something wrong, whether it’s turning out copy so boring as to be inconsequential or tilting his or her reporting toward one side and betraying a personal bias.

Do either for very long in a traditional newsroom and your days are likely numbered, so what invariably starts to happen is a kind of reverse-engineered journalism, one that works backward from this notion that angering both the left and the right equals fairness and objectivity. Of course, this phenomenon doesn’t occur overtly or even consciously, but instead runs as a background program for most political reporting, embedded in the code, as it were. (Assuming robot voice): Must find ideological equivalence to balance out story no matter how tortured or false the assertions. (Human me again)

This journalistic calculus is partly why so much of our political discourse is artificially colored by he said, she said reporting that is of little use to our democracy. Why it rarely weighs facts, draws conclusions and exposes the dissemblers, prevaricators and liars. Why it more often than not resembles a referee, yes, but one at a pro wrestling match, purporting to be a fair watchdog but completely ineffectual and easily rolled (if not totally in on the joke) when faced with a party who simply refuses to play by the rules. Why a supposedly preeminent member of the Washington press corps like the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank could write the following five years ago:

[A 2004 survey] found that 75 percent of Bush voters believed that Iraq either gave al Qaeda ‘substantial support’ or was directly involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks…

This is not to pick on Bush followers. Many on the left harbor their own fantasies that they consider fact—about how Bush knew of 9/11 in advance, or how he was coached during one of the presidential debates via a transmitter between his shoulder blades.

I’ll set aside any confusion possibly caused by this inconvenient memo to state unequivocally that I’m no crazy 9/11 truther. Nevertheless, it’s still amazing that, in Dana Milbank’s mind as well as his editors, an erroneous belief held by 46.5 million Bush voters, one of whom at the time of the survey was also our Vice President, constitutes as big a threat to democratic discourse as a minority of fringe conspiracy theorists on the left, none of whom have ever gained so much as a toehold within legitimately respected circles of intellectual or political discourse. In fact, it took an astute reader to later corner Milbank on his baldly false equivalence in a subsequent Post webchat, where Milbank's response cast aside his righteous anger at so much political spin and instead became an object lesson about Nietzsche’s abyss: “Let's for now leave aside the question of the % on each side that believe a falsehood. I think the examples cited are actually quite similar.” Wow, wholly abandoning any attempt to defend the logic behind one’s assertion while at the same time confidently re-asserting its veracity.  Ari Fleischer, eat your heart out. (To be fair, Milbank, in that same webchat, says he personally doesn't hold to the idea that if people from both political sides are complaining about your coverage, you're doing it right, but I'd say his own reporting says otherwise.)

I pick on Milbank here because his journalistic style often embodies the second, philosophical flaw I mentioned earlier. This flaw presents itself as a sympathetic bias toward any fellow travelers outside of the media who similarly generate criticism from both political sides. It explains why, just this week, Milbank would expose himself to ridicule by writing an unbelievably contorted profile of Rep. Paul Ryan. Ryan’s upset a few Republicans along with most Democrats in Congress, you see, which, ipso facto, means he’s closer to the truth than the rest of his and the opposing party’s caucus. Never mind that Ryan’s intellectual seriousness and commitment to reducing the deficit are belied by actual facts. Here’s Milbank in full-on cognitive dissonance mode, with two excerpts just three paragraphs betwixt them:

‘The way I see it is if you're getting an inch in the right direction, take the inch even though you can't get the mile.’ [Ryan] acknowledged that ‘this fix to our debt, whenever it happens, will have to be bipartisan, no matter what.’…

But Ryan indicated that he would rather pick a fight than work toward a fix.

This soft spot for go-it-alone, everybody-hates-me, party-bucking explains the long love affair many in the Washington press crops and Beltway punditocracy had for Sen. John McCain. And it is perhaps not surprising that this same constituency in the media seems downright obsessed with the political center and, its natural by-product, compromise as it occupies the same part of the ideological landscape where they think the truth lies.

Indeed, it was no coincidence that long-time keeper of this centrist flame on the Post’s editorial page, David Broder, practically gushed about Obama’s tax cut deal with the Republicans. This was after the Post's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, had wholeheartedly urged Obama to push through the thoroughly regressive and politically suicidal Bowles Simpson deficit reduction plan with this notable endorsement: “I don't think it's perfect, but no plan capable of winning majority support is going to make everybody happy. On the contrary: Every good plan will make everyone unhappy in some way.” Sounds familiar, no?

This, I fear, is the trap our president has fallen into. Indeed, when I read the transcript of his press conference it sounded remarkably like a one-man editorial board pressed by a publishing deadline and kicking around ideas for which position to endorse while castigating those who dare to hold out for more. That his decision was sure to anger a sizable contingent of both Democrats and Republicans (though, tellingly, not the Republican Senate Minority Leader with whom he negotiated the deal) seemed almost like icing on the cake, proof that his was the most reasonable and fairest way forward in the current political environment.

Of course, there are obvious holes in Obama’s argument for kicking the tax cut issue down the road: how will he convince Republicans two years from now to forego further tax cuts for the rich if a public that already strongly supports this position just gave the GOP an overwhelming electoral victory? I mean, how much public support does he think he needs to overcome the Republicans’ intransigence? But what was more ominous than his justifications was his tone.

I’m sorry, but I don’t want a president who qualifies whether or not he’s willing to fight an onslaught of potential GOP legislative fights by saying: “I suspect they will find I am.” (italics mine) I’m still of two minds about what Obama gave and got with this particular deal, but I do know that that wavering resolve and hectoring, a-pox-on-both-houses language ominously left open a lot of doors to compromise down the road. To a future where his speeches, press conferences, and ultimately, campaign stops will have to present half a loaf, a slice or even a few crumbs as the best way, given the circumstances, to satiate the American people, while acknowledging that it actually satisfied no one. Seeking out an intellectually denuded center, whether it’s in pursuit of some falsely contrived sense of objectivity or a quixotic attempt at postpartisanship, is a prescription for more than just poor journalism or a difficult reelection campaign, it’s potentially a recipe for disaster for our democracy.

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column is called “The Post Panders to Conservatives” and it’s here.
My new Nation column is called “The CIA: A Law Unto Itself” and it’s here.
My last Daily Beast column was the joyous, “Sending the Hammer to the Slammer,” and that’s here.
Oh, and I did an IHT/NYT.com piece on Wikileaks which you can find here.

You know, people say that Commentary has declined since the days it published Hannah Arendt and Lionel Trilling, and was given to the unemployable son of Norman Podhoretz to edit so he could stop getting himself fired everywhere he worked. I think that’s unfair. I think Trilling and Arendt, etc, would be thrilled to publish in a magazine edited by a guy who tweets, "Funny, I thought Eric Alterman had already been named the world's only arsenic-based life form. http://goo.gl/jTjah"

Don’t forget to tip your waiters on your way out, folks. (And thanks to Damon Linker…)

Has anyone noticed how anti-Semitic The New Yorker has become? (Which is weird, because I read on TDB yesterday that New York City is fully 9% Jewish….) Anyway, what’s my beef? Well, Patty Marx has a gift-giving guide in the issue dated December 6, 2010. That sounds like a War on Hannukah to me, since it’s pretty much over by December 6. And really, if you read the end of the piece, you’ll see a whole bunch of sentences that end with “Does anyone remember…” Hello, editors? Does anyone remember Robert Plant ruining the live version of Stairway—not that it really needed ruining—with a “Does anyone remember laughter?” in the middle. How come nobody put that in? Is anybody alive out there?

Alter-reviews: Sal on "West Coast Seattle Boy"

Another day, another Jimi Hendrix collection. There are few artists who have been anthologized as often as this great guitar hero. Thankfully, the people behind West Coast Seattle Boy had a good idea. This new 4 CD/1 DVD set is not just another collection. It is chock full of alternates, live tracks and unreleased material. Jimi Hendrix has been widely bootlegged since his death, so many diehards may have heard a lot of this material before. But having it in one set, with superb sound, is really the point.

Disc one is the most fun, covering Jimi's years as a session player, with early R&B tunes from the likes of Don Covay, The Isleys and Little Richard. I don't think this material has ever been compiled before. The rest of the set includes slightly altered versions of the songs you know, a few revelations, like an acoustic version of Dylan's Tears Of Rage and the lengthy jam with jazz organist Larry Young, some of which was found on Nine To The Universe, one of the many uneven posthumously released albums.

What I like most about this set, and it's something more labels should consider when creating these occasionally pricey sets, is that it plays well.  Jazz sets get bogged down with too many alternate takes in a row, and archivists often include tunes for historical purposes, that just don't sound very good. West Coast Seattle Boy offers enough of everything to make it worth your time.


Now Here’s Reed:

Reed Richardson writes:
Exceptions to American Exceptionalism

It's frustrating when a story like this appears in the Washington Post, about an increasingly common Republican criticism of Obama, which grew out of one sentence in a speech nearly two years ago, without providing much in the way of analysis about the president's critics' own viewpoints. (In a fairly representative case of this conservative cherrypicking, leading intellectual light Sarah Palin steps into the president's comments in her new book by citing almost word for word the dialogue from this noted scholarly debate.) Jonathan Chait, over at The New Republic, notes how this transparently substance-free argument is indicative of the closing of the right-wing mind, but I think there's a couple of other things at work here that are even more disturbing.

First of all, despite all this talk of American exceptionalism, it's not really clear that many in the GOP really believe in it. Indeed, everywhere you turn these days, the same conservatives who spout this self-aggrandizing rah-rah cheerleading about America's singularity turn around and—almost in the same breath—display their party bonafides by telling America what it can't do, or afford, or try anymore (some of them, like the governor of my unfortunate state, even get a sadistic kick out of doing it). I mean, imagine a liberal pundit proclaiming the United States a "helpless, pitiful giant" after the release of a bunch of mildly embarrassing, mostly banal diplomatic cables. There wouldn't be enough editorial page wood for all the metaphorical yardarms being erected in an effort to punish the offending commentator. Yet somehow the release of these inter-diplomatic communiques with a Democrat in the White House has neutered our vast, far-flung national security posture to the point of helplessness. Whereas starting and incompetently waging an unnecessary, costly and deadly war under the cover of widespread executive dissembling and thanks to the betrayal of our bedrock Constitutional principles somehow made us stronger and more likely to win over allies to our unique awesomeness? Of course, when rare opportunities do arise these days for the US to take that unique leadership role in foreign policy, our president can't seal the deal because intransigent Senate Republicans are too busy trying to give Wall Street bankers the ability to get that third home in Aspen.

But even setting these patently hypocritical contortions of logic aside, the American exceptionalism argument, as bluntly deployed by conservatives now, has an even more unseemly undercurrent. As the Brookings Institution's William Galston points out in the WaPo story, this patriotic grandstanding is merely another right-wing dogwhistle, one that politely fuels all the "otherness" talk and birther histrionics regarding Obama under the fig leaf of historical analysis. What's more, this argument has as its very core a bracingly honest assertion of elite superiority. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, to see the modern-day incarnation of the Republican Party embrace an eminently malleable critique that, when backed into an intellectual corner, offers its proponents the convenient ability to trump consistency, reasoning and a sense of fairness with the deus ex machina-like hammer of: "We're exceptional, that's why."  I find it particularly ironic that this same notion, writ small, in, say, policies that promote affirmative action, is anathema to everything conservatives say they stand for. But then again, that's really the depths to which the GOP has sunk to these days and history provides plenty of examples that this notion that people of a certain nationality, class or race are due exceptional rights is tailor made for abuse when the goal is gaining or maintaining political power at all costs.

MASS. MARKET: Quirky marketing pitches can be hit or miss - Quincy, MA - The Patriot Ledger
American exceptionalism: an old idea and a new political battle
'Don't Tread on Me' License Plates Become a Growing Trend in the U.S. - FoxNews.com
The "American Exceptionalism" Smear And Epistemic Closure | The New Republic|
WikiLeaks on the Arab Gulf States vs. Iran | The Nation
The Answer Is No
Secession Defended on Civil War Anniversary - NYTimes.com

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

'Tis the Season, Continued

My new Think Again column is called “The Post Panders to Conservatives” and it’s here.
My new Nation column is called “The CIA: A Law Unto Itself” and it’s here.
My last Daily Beast column was the joyous, “Sending the Hammer to the Slammer,” and that’s here.
Oh, and I did an IHT/NYT.com piece on Wikileaks which you can find here.

Alter-reviews and Gift-Giving Guide, II.

If you’re looking for reasons to feel jealous of New Yorkers in general, and Upper West Siders, in particular, then you only need glance at the cinematic riches offered up by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Curmudgeons like yours truly were deeply appreciative of the Thanksgiving weekend series of the films of Suso Cecchi D’Amico. Did you know she wrote over 100 scripts for Visconti, Antonioni and the like, and co-wrote The Bicycle Thief for De Sica. The films I saw were ones I had never heard of but were remarkable in their intelligence and their charm, as well as a Sophia Loren, circa 1954.  It is just this kind of intelligent, inventive programming that casual cinephiles like yours truly feel so grateful to be able to enjoy. An equally interesting notion underlies this week’s series combining the films of Claude Chabrol, one of the bravest and most original directors of all time, with those of Arthur Penn, who, back in the seventies was briefly in the business of re-inventing American cinema. Take a look at the schedule here and see if it doesn’t give you something to which you can look forward every day, whether it is revisiting “Bonnie and Clyde”—or forgotten films that really give life to the old saw of them “not making them the way they used to.” The Chabrol/Penn series is followed by the traditional “Spanish Cinema Now” at which I spend a lot of time every year (along with their French, Italian and Jewish/Israeli counterparts, among a few others), and you’ll have to look at the schedule for that here, to see what appeals. Finally, FSLC has been paying special attention to music documentaries of late too. They recently showed a film about the inimitable Charlie Hayden, Ramblin Boy, about as versatile and intelligent a musician as exists anywhere, along with one this Saturday evening on Dave Brubeck, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, the world premier of In his Own Sweet Way, which will also be shown on TCM next week.

I’m going to try to make it to the Brubeck film, before I go to the Beacon for night two of Hot Tuna’s celebration of Jorma’s 70th Birthday, with lots of great people. The following day by the way, is the Educational Alliance’s all-day Bob Dylan symposium, “What Kind of Love is This: Bob Dylan and the Band,” which has a really interesting lineup of speakers, and is followed by a concert that night of Dylan singing and playing people at Le Poisson Rouge downtown, and you can see that lineup here.

Now here’s a couple of reviews by Sal, one of which I think you’ll find rather surprising, given where it is appearing:

The BeeGees “Mythology” box and “In Our Own Time” dvd/bluray

The new Bee Gees boxed set, "Mythology" takes an interesting approach to anthologizing the Brothers Gibb. Each of the 4 CDs spotlights a brother and his vocal contributions. What you learn very quickly from just looking at this set is that Maurice sang no hits. And if you take the time and listen to these CDs, you will also discover that Maurice had the least Bee Gee-ish voice, keeping the vibrato to a minimum, and delivering some very powerful performances, "Trafalgar" and "It's Just The Way," for starters.  Andy Gibb, who is showcased on Disc 4, is not half-bad, either. Post-disco hits like "I Just Want To Be Your Everything" and "Shadow Dancing" didn't age so badly, and "Starlight" is as good as any of the Brothers' biggest hits.

The early, hip stuff is here, and of course the big hits from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But there is so much more to Barry, Robin and Maurice that is unfortunately dismissed by "cool people" because of a few lousy decisions, mostly in the production department. They may have made history with their now trademark falsettos, but they may have taken that sound a bit too far over a few too many records later in their career. Still the bulk of this 4 CD set is excellent. You can't go wrong with the hits, and hearing the brothers' take on songs like "Heartbreaker" and "Islands In The Stream," hits for Dionne Warwick and Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers respectively, is a treat.

Also out is In Our Own Time, a new 2 hour documentary of The Bee Gees, told in Barry & Robin's own words, with new interviews, as well as interviews with Maurice shortly before his death in 2003. You get a good share of live TV clips and performances, though nothing revelatory. It's a nice companion to the box and wisely available as a separate purchase.

Bruce, The Promise:

There's plenty to like about "The Promise," but I'm not finding so much to love, except for the fact that this set was released at all. Musically, there is nothing on the 2 CDs worth of outtakes that will make you say, "Wow! Why did he leave THAT off 'Darkness...'?" I realize that's not the point of this box.  But, without at least a few songs that hit you in "that way" like so many of the tracks on "Tracks" hit me the first time I cracked open that set, what you then have is a 2 CD set of tunes you won't hurry to play a second and third time. Not even "Because The Night" or "Fire." Both are wonderful, but so ingrained in our live Springsteen psyches, that they are not so much revelations, as much as two reasons to exhale.

The 21 tracks on "The Promise" are a blast through their first pass, though admittedly, the anticipation inevitably led to a let down.  Nothing here rocked my world the way so many of the outtakes on the underappreciated Beatles' Anthology sets did.  An early version of the Gary U.S. Bonds' hit "This Little Girl" is good, but not better than Bonds' single. "Talk To Me" is the identical backing track as Southside Johnny's with different lead vocals. (The piano version found in the documentary would have been a nice inclusion. Same goes for that insane version of "Sherry Darling.")  The alternate and inferior "Racing In The Street" is...well...what I just said.  Still, "The Promise" is a gift, and by all means, necessary if you're a Bruce Springsteen fan. This is not a new Springsteen record, but more like a good deed on the part of the man himself. The fans wanted it and now we've got it.

Also included in this set, and sadly, only in this set, is the newly remastered version of the classic album, "Darkness On The Edge Of Town," which I must say, might be worth the price of admission. There is new power in an already powerful record and the E-Street Band, especially the rhythm section, will surround you and pound you.  The sound is stellar! I imagine this will eventually be available separately. I can't be fair about the DVDs. I just don't enjoy watching music unless I am there, live. I have listened to audio rips of both the "Thrill Hill" outs and the "Houston '78" performance and they are as much fun as you'd expect.


The Altercation Gift Giving Guide, Part II.

I do most of my reading for pleasure on audio, as I’ve mentioned here before, and the problem with recommending them is that it takes a long time to go through them and with audio books, you can’t really sample. I suppose you can, but I don’t. So of the ones I’ve gone all the way through of late, I strongly recommend Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, read by David LeDoux; Keith Richards’s Life, read by Johnny Depp, James Fox and Keith Richards; Tony Blair’s A Journey: My Political Life read by Tony Blair; Sean Wilenz’s Bob Dylan in America read by Sean Wilenz, (though be warned, a great deal of it has nothing to do with Dylan). One audio book I thought was pretty lousy, not lousily read by Stephen Hoye, just kind of tired, cliched and predictable—it’s sort of a sequel, Carl Hiassen’s Star Island. The ones I would like to be able to tell you to read (or buy for someone else) but I’ve not been able to get to them yet include:
James Kaplan, Frank, read by Rob Shapiro
Loretta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter, read by Sissy Spacek
John Le Carre, Our Kind of Traitor, read by Robin Sachs
H.W. Brands, American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900, read by Robertson Dean
Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt, read by Mark Deakins
Joseph J Ellis, First Family: Abigail and John Adams, read by Kimberly Farr
Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia, read by by Ian Frazier
James Ellroy, The Hilliker Curse, read by James Elroy
Steve Martin, An Object of Beauty, read by Campbell Scott

If anyone has any comments on the above, send them along.

Also, there’s a bunch of books I’ve not yet found on audio, with which I plan to take my time, assuming that remains the case. Too many to list, really, but a sampling of Altercation-approved gift books that require actual reading, and have been recently released, would include:

Saul Bellow: Letters
David Grossman: Until the End of Land
William Trevor: Selected Stories
Madame Bovary, (Lydia Davis translation)
Dr. Zhvago, (Richard Pevear, and Larissa Volokhonsky translation)
Duke Ellington’s America, Harvey G. Cohen
Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary
Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson
Jefferson Cowie, Stayin' Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class
Laura Kalman , Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-80
Garry Wills, Outside Looking In
Tony Judt,  The Memory Chalet
At the Fights: American Writers on Fighting
, (Library of America)
Also, Ann Beatie, The New Yorker Stories, about which I have a short review below.

I’ve been a fan of Ann Beattie’s short stories since I started reading The New Yorker in High School and now all those stories that have appeared in The New Yorker are collected in one big (but manageable) book, called, funnily enough The New Yorker Stories (Scribner). It’s got 48 stories and many of them appearing between cloth covers for the first time. Big and red, it reminds me of that lovely John Cheever collection that everybody’s parents had on their shelves when I was growing up. And I think Beattie stands with Cheever as a master of a certain, narrow slice of socio-political geography which, as I recall, somebody once named “the hippoisie…” Great idea, this collection. More here.

Now here’s Ltc. Bob:

Letters from a Semi-Foreign Land
Vol. I, Issue 4

22 NOV 2010

A short one today. I wrote something longer earlier, but you deserve more, so this one is brief.

I was sitting in my “local” the other day after work. It is a pub called the “Lower Lode.” It sits just across the Severn River from the Battlefield of Tewkesbury. I was thinking about the past. The Lode is a fairly old place, though not ancient by the standards of this country. As best as they can figure the first part of the pub/inn was built in the 1400s, or maybe later. But that is not verifiable. Pub history is, like Pub math, understandably, somewhat fungible.  Though as fascinating as this public house might be, that is not its past that I was considering. I was thinking more personally.

I was wondering what my grandfather felt when he drank in small rural pubic houses not too far away from here. (Not “too far away” in American standards, of course, not English. The English seem to think 20 miles is a long distance. I know Texans who will go 100 miles, one way, for a high-reputation Barbeque joint. Split the difference for my mid-western sensibilities.

My grandfather was a bomber pilot in the US Army Air Forces, and in particular in the 8th Air Force. He flew B-17s, and perhaps B-24s. He and his men learned to fly in America, then trained some more here, and then fought from here, in World War Two.

I knew that, but I realized something else that night, this past Sunday, as I thought about a man I had never known: I am the fourth out of five generations of my family to come to England, train for war, and then go to war in a place far from home. You can decide what you take away from this observation. My great-great grandfather was French, who emigrated to England and then America. My great-grandfather was born in London, then emigrated to America. And my grandfather was American.

My great-grandfather, somewhat non-sequentially, started the trend. Like I said, he was born in London and so was technically British, but had moved to New York City by the time the First World War broke out in the summer of 1914. He returned to England and immediately enlisted as an Infantryman at the beginning of the war. It appears that in 1914 he trained for the war in the UK, and then spent the better part of the next three years on the Western Front. Somewhere around the summer of 1916 he did something that won him a commission as an officer, and then the Military Cross from His Majesty’s Government.  Sometime after that he switched to the Royal Air Force. After the war he returned to America. He died before I ever met him.

But by that time, his father, who had emigrated from France, to England, and eventually to America, had also enlisted. It was late 1916 when that happened, and England needed every breathing soul. So my great-great grandfather joined his son in the Infantry, in the Middlesex Regiment. I know nothing else about the man. He too, like his son, trained for war in England and then spent two years on the front lines of the Western Front. He mustered out in December, 1918. This much I know. He died before I ever met him.

When war broke out for us Americans on 7 DEC 1941, my grandfather was affected. It was his turn, I guess, and so he immediately joined the USAAF. He trained in Texas, then he too came to England, where he trained a bit more, then he went to war in the skies over Germany. He died before I ever met him.

This is all from my mother’s side. She was an only child. So it skipped her, generationally, this apparent familial obligation to go to England and then to war. And now, sitting here in Gloucestershire, England, and realizing that I am the fourth, out of the last five generations of my family have come here, I am humbled. My family, for essentially a century, has come to this land, prepared for war, and then gone off still further to wage that war. It makes me wonder. I wonder because I am so acutely aware that I am not the first, or even the second or third…

They just had “Remembrance Day” here in the UK a little more than a week ago. It is a solemn period, held on the Sunday after the Armistice. Our own version has become, perhaps, a little less so. But their solid and restrained response to their losses reminded me of my own history, and of our history as a nation. It reminded me that our current numbers are so small that this will not happen again. That is to say that those of us in the Armed Forces today are so few, when seen on a global scale, that a generation from now we will not matter, nor be remembered, by the children in school today. We are, in America, anomalies. This is, all things considered, probably a good thing.

But I also observed that, being volunteer based, we who serve you seem to come from the same lines, over and over and over again, across decades and even centuries. And I noticed that among the career soldiers, sergeants and officers alike, this trend is even more pronounced.

You have perhaps heard that America’s fighting is done by 1% of the population of our nation. That is an overstatement. That statistic reflects the total size of our Armed Forces, from all services, in and out of combat. The actual fighting is done by about 500,000 (in-country, preparing to go in-country, or just returned, in all branches), and of that number, the overwhelming majority of them have done one year or less in combat.

The core of our national burden falls on a much smaller group. There are the guys, and a few gals, who do repeated combat tours over years and years of time. These are the professional Sergeants and Officers who have ten, and twenty and even thirty years service. Their total number is probably no more than 75,000, give or take. These are the men and women who stick to it through the decades, the ones who know, personally, some years and memories that are best left behind at some level. They are the ones who give the backbone, learn the lessons, and make us better at what we are trying to do. The privates are magnificent, glorious, heroic and largely selfless. The privates and corporals are generally the ones who take the brunt of the damage at the shitty end of the spear…and then most of them who remain, go home and begin new lives after one tour of duty. It has always been thus, and this is right for a democratic republic. But sometimes forgotten is the remainder. This left-over element is those lifers, those 75,000, who remain afterwards and who go back to war again and again, no matter how much they hate it.  They are the ones who do your fighting, when the people you elect decide that fighting must be done.  America’s population is estimated at 310,000,000, more or less. You do the math.

I know that mine is not the last generation to see war. I am too much of a historian to believe something like that. But I do hope that, if I do my job well, I might be the last in my family line that must come to England, prepare for war, and then launch off to an even more foreign land to fight. I hope that my daughters will come here as students, or scholars, or businesswomen, because this is a wondrous Semi-Foreign land. But I do not want them to follow in the family footsteps. In the end, that is what the true professionals all hope for. We detest war, for the same reason that we are good at it…because we know war, and we know it in a way that nobody else can, we know that it is nothing but obscenity. Sometimes a necessary obscenity, we understand and that is why we serve, but one that we know, and one that we hate.

You can write to LTC Bob at R_Bateman_LTC@hotmail.com

Editor's Note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

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