Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday ("Welcome Back Carlos Beltran" edition)

You may have heard—actually, it was here last week—that I published a 17,000 word essay on our political system and the problems any president, Obama in particular, but any potential progressive would face in trying to move it, on The Nation’s website last week. That’s here.

For my Think Again column this week, I round up some of the responses it has so far received. It’s called “Kabuki Democracy: The Responses” and that’s here.

Also, my latest Moment column is called "Israel's Greatest Enemy: Israel" and it's here.

I don’t feel like writing much on this long lazy afternoon, but I saw three shows last week when I was back in town and here are the world’s shortest reviews.

1)  Jill Sobule and Julia Sweeney at City Winery:  Incredibly fun and moving, I had no idea, and neither, probably do you. So see them if you can, trust me. (But Jilly, dahlink, Leslie Gore does not know your song.  Wouldn’t an impromptu “It’s My Party” singalong have been fun?) What wonderful women….

2)  Steve Earle and Allison Moorer and Rosanne Cash at City Winery: I know you’re jealous already. Steve and Allison are doing two more shows, the next two Thursdays. One with Greg Trooper and the other with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Tickets are appropriately scarce, so move on it.  He’s also touring with Hot Tuna. It’s nice of Steve to share my musical taste so intensely this summer.

3)  Cheap Trick and Squeeze at Radio City. How much does Cheap Trick suck, particularly if you get there late and miss “Ain’t That A Shame” and “I Want You to Want Me”? A great deal alas, and “Surrender” does not come close to making up for it, great as the studio version may be.  Anyway, they sucked.  Squeeze was just fine, though, so it was ok. Interesting how both bands can sound like the Beatles and nothing like each other.

Slacker Friday:

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA 

Hey Doc:

Let me take you baby down to the river bed/Got to tell you something go right o your head.

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Check Yo Bucket" (Eddie Bo)—I love New Orleans with all the mechanism in Dick Cheney's heart.

Part The First: I am glad that Dick Cheney once again was able to take advantage the benefits of single-payer, government-run health care. For some reason, his plucky battle against his failing heart reminded me of this piece I wrote for Esquire a few years back.

Part The Second: How Mark Halperin gets from his front door to the sidewalk without trading all the money in his pockets for a bag of magic beans continues to mystify and amaze. Again, I ask—why are these clucks never at my poker table?

Part The Penultimate: A question. Control of the U.S. Senate is hanging by a thread, given what may happen next November. It is possible that the balance of power in that body next year may well be in the hands of an ultraconservative claque made up of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, and Sharron Angle, among others. (DeMint's already talking about it.) That being the case, do liberals really want to get rid of the filibuster? Really?

Part The Ultimate: The Landlord doesn't need me to defend his work, but he's getting a bad rap in the saloons along the docks of Blogistan for one line in his recent magnum opus: "Few progressives would take issue with the argument that, significant accomplishments notwithstanding, the Obama presidency has been a big disappointment.” This has been interpreted by some people to be the policy equivalent of Mrs. Lincoln's opinion about Our American Cousin. Roger Simon got the ball rolling, but Roger Simon is pretty much a clown, but then the folks at Balloon Juice chimed in. Actually, what The Landlord said there is neither contradictory, nor particularly unmoored in history. Legislative accomplishments, in fact, can be significant while, at the same time, hallmarks of a disappointing presidency. For example, the 1957 Civil Rights Act was unquestionably "significant." (It was the first such bill passed since Reconstruction). But its passage certainly was not proof that the Eisenhower Administration—or the Congress of the time—were not "disappointing" in the area of civil rights. This is why we had to have seven more years of violence and bloodshed before the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were proposed and passed.

Now it will be argued that the Obama administration's achievements in health-care reform and financial-regulatory reform can be seen as "stepping stones" to better legislation down the line. In fact, that's the primary argument being made in favor of both of them since, on their merits, they're pretty weak beer. If so, then ask yourself fairly—has the White House demonstrated that its treating these significant accomplishments as important way-stations on the road to Something Better? Are they campaigning for more and better Democrats so as to have a Congress that will build on the foundation already laid? Are they making the case for the measures already passed in an effective and meaningful way, so as to make sure the foundation isn't smashed to rubble come next January?

(The history of the 1957 Civil Rights Act is instructive here. Having passed it, the political establishment took a deep breath and tried to declare victory. The forward momentum didn't become irresistible until Dr. King and the rest of the movement made it impossible to ignore.)

Not to mention the fact that, handing over the "reform" of entitlements to a former Morgan Stanley tea-sipper, and the implementation of the health-care reform to a former Max Baucus staffer who once was the vice-president of Wellpoint, don't reassure me at all that this administration considers its achievements as important steps toward a more equitable economic system or a more sensible health-care system. But to argue that an administration cannot pass "significant" legislation and nonetheless be "disappointing" is pretty damn silly. Under Richard Nixon, we got OSHA, the EPA, and the Clean Water Act, and I still think his presidency was something of a letdown.

P.S.—Despite this adminstration's "significant accomplishment," the continued employment of a yutz like Tim Geithner in a job wherein he can mess with Elizabeth Warren makes this administration a "disappointment."

Dave Richie
Birmingham, AL

Dr. A,

I finally got finished with your lengthy piece on the Obama presidency. I have tried to stay away from this, especially with my fellow conservatives, given the short period of time Obama has been our president. But it is, I think fair to say that liberals are somewhat if not bitterly disappointed. What do you expect of a man who is simply media driven? He has no idea how to make an executive decision. Therefore its all left to underlings and "90's style bureaucrats to get the job done. At least Clinton had the good sense to appoint competent people and then let them do their job before groping another intern. You have to give "..ole sticky britches.." credit. He got a few things done. But look at the incompetent boobs Obama has appointed. This gang makes Bush's idiots look positively brilliant. It is useful in my business, chemical manufacturing on a relatively small scale, to assess problems as though the perpetrator of a mistake is simply doing what I told him to do. This isolates the solution to my responsibility alone. You cannot solve problems of this magnitude without full engagement. That is something you will never see from this president. Neither the left wing media (Rachel (god, am I smart) Maddow nor Bill (god, am I smart) O'Reilly have much to do with this. Reagan and the '80's democrats proved you could move things forward if you didn't care who got the credit. In the last 4 presidencies and several congresses we simply haven't seen a constructive approach. Good to see your still capable of throwing some truly sharp elbow.

Konstantin Doren
Boiceville, NY

You only use the word "unemployment" once in your "Kabuki" article. It is a winning issue for Dems. If they push through all sorts of ways of helping unemployed, especially the extension of unemployment payments, without the 60-vote majority, I very much doubt most Americans will punish the Dems at the polls in November. Do you think Americans would vote against the Democrats if they had passed legislation that extended unemployment benefits and created a jobs and retraining program? Voters do not really care about Senate filibusters and other Senate rules. Let the GOP forcefully support cutting off unemployed and see how far that gets them. It is clear that the Dems and GOP and Obama are simply waiting for the private market to recover; that is the only jobs creation program underway in Washington. The Dems only want to allow unemployed a few more unemployment checks, but only if they can get 60 Senators to agree. Failing to end the wars, doing nothing to get people back to work and pushing through a health care program that forces middle class people to purchase the shitty insurance policies that the health care industry offers only reinforces the thinking that Obama and the Dems are no different than the Republicans. I never got on the Obama bandwagon, so am not surprised that the difference between the Bush and the Obama administrations is mainly in the change of the White House stationary. That The Nation has acquiesced to this obvious folly does not make the pill any less bitter to swallow.

J.R. Taylor
Washington D.C.

From your latest Think Again: My guess is that Noonan never made it to those arguments, but I can’t be sure. Methinks Peggy no thinky when too many drinky. Keep giving 'em hell . . .

Fr: Eric Alterman
To: Carlos Beltran

Welcome back, bub.

To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

More Kabuki-ism

You may have heard—actually, it was here last week—that I published a 17,000 word essay on our political system and the problems any president, Obama in particular, but any potential progressive would face in trying to move it, on The Nation’s website last week. That’s here.

For my Think Again column this week, I round up some of the responses it has so far received. It’s called “Kabuki Democracy: The Responses” and that’s here.

Also, my latest Moment column is called "Israel's Greatest Enemy: Israel" and it's here.

The Mail:

When I write about Israel, I tend to focus on its political issues with the Palestinians and the rest of the world. But right now, there’s an enormous storm brewing between Israel and American Jews; one that calls into question the legitimacy of reform, reconstructionist and conservative  Judaism in the official eyes of the Israeli state. My friend (and rabbi) David Gelfand wrote a letter to Bibi Netanyahu about it and gave me permission to print it below.
The Honorable Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister of Israel
Office of the Prime Minister
Jerusalem, Israel 
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu,
I am writing to you with urgency to quickly and passionately request your immediate intervention to prevent passage of the legislation being brought forward by MK David Rotem which challenges the authenticity of tens of thousands of people who have and who will yet choose Judaism and become active Jews, committed to the perpetuation of Judaism and thereby supporters and lovers of Israel.

My congregation in New York City is surely overwhelmingly and deeply concerned about the intention to grant the Chief Rabbinate sole control over conversion in Israel.  This is truly a hot button issue in our community and one that people care about with much intensity and concern. Such legislation would be an open attack on the legitimacy of non-Orthodox Jewry, which composes the vast majority of world Jewry.

While we are supportive of efforts to create greater accessibility to conversion courts in Israel, the overall impact of the Rotem Bill will seriously set back these efforts. Should this bill be enacted, it will exacerbate a widening gap between Diaspora and Israel communities, which we are working very hard to avoid.

Temple Israel of the City of New York where I serve as the Senior Rabbi firmly and strongly believes that it is imperative that you, as leader of Israel, and as one who cares deeply about the well-being of  Klal Yisrael,  the unity of the Jewish people, intervene and urge immediate withdrawal of this bill.

I look forward to your serious consideration of this matter which could rip apart Diaspora Jewry from what is too often a tenuous connection to the State of Israel.  I write to you not only as a congregational rabbi and an ohav Yisrael, an ardent Zionist, but also as Vice-President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism which represents some 1.9 million Jews around the world in over 30 countries, as well as a communal Jewish leader who also sits on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew Union College that remains fully committed to this issue and is a vibrant and visible presence in Jerusalem.

Wishing you well and seeking your cooperation and the withdrawal of this damaging piece of legislation.

Rabbi David Gelfand
Rabbi David Gelfand
Temple Israel
112 East 75th Street
New York, NY

Jeffrey Steinberg
Leesburg, Virginia


If Obama had not, himself, been so wedded to the Wall Street and hedge funds for funding of his campaign, he would have taken a much more FDR-modeled approach to the crisis, which, as you undoubtedly understand, bears many striking similarities to the crisis FDR faced when he came into office in March 1933.  There was a mood in the Democratic Party, during the post-2004 period, briefly, of combatting Bush and Cheney, by reinvigorating the FDR legacy. This was true during the successful campaign to defeat the privatization of Social Security, and, at one point, I recall, a group of Democratic Senators and Congressmen (I recall Dick Durban being one) showed up at the FDR Memorial, to proudly proclaim that they were "FDR Democrats."  Unfortunately, the policies from the Obama White House, particularly the economic policies, have been dominated by a Wall Street-oriented, anti-FDR faction (Summers and Geithner, to name just two).  There was no job creation or infrastructure investment, to speak of, in the $800 billion stimulus package, the core element of health care reform--the Independent Payments Advisory Commission--is a direct assault against Medicare and Medicaid, and care for the elderly and chronically ill. And the financial reform bill, as you catalogued in your lengthy Nation piece, was so much of a compromise with Wall Street that it did nothing to alter the way the game is rigged. The White House aggressively intervened, through Dodd and Frank, to kill off the efforts to restore Glass Steagall separation of the banks, which would have forced a write down or write off of the speculative portion of the debts on the books of the banks. So I don't despair over the inability to impose a progressive agenda.  I despair that Obama has proven to be such a fraud, when held up to the best standards of the Democratic Party--FDR, some of the JFK impulses, and LBJ's Medicare/Medicaid before he got destroyed by Vietnam. I have not yet read your book on Obama, but have recently read, and greatly appreciated your book on FDR. So you know the difference! Hope for a reply.

Eric replies: Well, I’ve not written a book about Obama and Jonathan Alter, not me, wrote the one about FDR, but OK…

To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called,"‘No Opinions Except Ours,' Says the Washington Post,” and that’s here.

Also, I did this insanely long piece for The Nation, just under 17,000 words, and it’s called “Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now.” This is the main url, and this is the single page version.


Hey Doc:

"Do you really think I care/what you read or what you wear?/I want you to/join together with the band."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "He Will Understand And Say Well Done" (Tommy Sanction)—If people understood what miracles really are, and now often they really can happen, they would have a smidgen of a slice of a portion of an understanding of how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First: Occasionally, the wish for tumbrels becomes nearly irresistable.

Part The Second: Oh look, Morning Dead Intern is on mushrooms again. And there's a push to move Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods into the chairmanship of the RNC. And, oddly enough, Levi Johnston picks just this moment to issue an enormously believable spontaneous apology. Which prompts only one serious question—how much, exactly, did the apology cost?

Part The Third: I am happy that Adam Serwer has his own blog now, mostly because he's the go-to guy for stories like this one. However, once she's confirmed, during some lull in some proceeding, Justice Kagan probably could ask Justice Thomas about that "shameful and morbid sexual response" business.

Part The Fourth: The one thing that has worried me the most about the Obama Adminstration is its transparent devotion to the Golden Age of the Pericles of the Ozarks. They are now about to ride off the cliff with it. This is not going to be pretty.

Part The Fifth: Note to all editors, and this especially includes you op-ed editors: any piece that comes in seriously using the phrase "ClimateGate," or referring to the "controversy" over global warming spurred by some hacked e-mails, forthwith should be sent back to the author for a major rewrite.

Part The Penultimate: Go ahead. Elect her. I freaking quit, is all.

Part The Ultimate: Just this week, several specimens of the Asian Longhorned Beetle were found on the grounds of the Faulkner Hospital in my old neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in Boston. The Faulkner is directly across the street from the Arnold Arboretum, which is one of the city's great treasures, and the place where my wife and I went last year to hear about the threat that the ALB poses to hardwood trees everywhere. In Worcester, where I grew up, they already have cut down nearly 28,000 trees because of ALB infestation. If they cross the street, the Arboretum can be destroyed. If they get into the massive hardwood forests that extend from the Adirondacks and upper New England into Canada, well, that's pretty much the ballgame. What the hell, you always wanted plastic living room furniture anyway, didn't you?

And I guarantee you, somewhere in this country, somebody who makes their living talking on a radio program thought this was just the funniest damn thing. Or perhaps several somebodies.

That's all we do now. Laugh at stuff. Make fun of things. Cheer our side. Boo the other side. Meanwhile, the actual problems keep piling up. (It's not just the ALB. The bats are dying off, and nobody knows why, except Welcome To Malarialand! some day soon.) We argue about nonsense. We encourage irrationality and we enable insanity. We take the following things as gospel, despite the fact that they are all demonstrably, dangerously and (in many cases) laughably wrong: that giant corporations have consciences and any concept of the general good; that to win the political argument means that the problem, whatever it is, has been solved, or never existed in the first place; that elections cannot be expected to have meaningful consequences, and that, because there are two sides to every argument, they both must be right or, at least, equally worthy of respect. Meanwhile, we don't vote, and we engage as citizens largely vicariously, and the problems, unsolved, worsen. My lord, Yeats was a helluva poet.

I have no solutions for all of this. The forces arrayed on the other side are too strong.


Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV

Your wonderful vivisection of the journalistic equivalent of Prince—the Washington Post, formerly known as a newspaper—as great as it is, also needs to emphasize more strongly that if David Weigel writes those things privately about conservatives, he is following in a wonderful tradition.  Phil Potter, a Baltimore Sun reporter renowned for his toughness—and I believe considered a conservative—used to start his news stories about Joe McCarthy by writing, "Joseph McCarthy, the no-good lying son of a bitch from Wisconsin," then rip it out and write his real story.  Weigel should have known better, but the Post long, long since should have known better.

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

Obama, At Length

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called,"‘No Opinions Except Ours,' Says the Washington Post,” and that’s here.

Also, I did this insanely long piece for The Nation, just under 17,000 words, and it’s called “Kabuki Democracy: Why a Progressive Presidency Is Impossible, for Now.” This is the main url, and this is the single page version.

Danielle Ivory is back here. Companies with a financial interest paid for thousands of studies federal regulators are using to assess the health risks of a widely-used herbicide -- while independent studies documenting potentially harmful effects on humans have not been included in research the EPA deems relevant. 

EPA records obtained by Danielle Ivory at The Huffington Post Investigative Fund show that at least half the 6,611 studies the agency is reviewing to help make its decision were conducted by scientists and organizations with a financial stake in atrazine, including its manufacturer, Syngenta. More than 80 percent of studies on which the EPA are relying have never been published. This means that they have not undergone rigorous “peer review” by independent scientists. At the same time several prominent studies by independent academic scientists in well-respected scientific journals – showing negative reproductive effects of atrazine in animals and humans – are absent from the EPA’s list.

EPA Senior Policy Analyst William Jordan told the Investigative Fund that industry-sponsored studies tend to be "scientifically more robust than are the studies generated by people in academia" because "companies spend more money on their studies and can attend to details that are potentially important that people in academia just can't afford to do."



I’ve had this theory about Clint Eastwood for a while. I even considered writing a book about him. That’s not gonna happen, so I’ll give it away for free. Here’s the thing.  The second half of Clint’s amazing 35 year/35 movie career can be read, and may very well be intended as penance for the first half. Young Clint glorified violence and treated it as not only fun but also redemptive. They were fun but in many instances, morally repulsive. (Paul Newman turned down the “Dirty Harry” role, but suggested Eastwood instead of himself.) The second, brilliant, auteurist half of his career is all about the shattering power of violence and the stultifying culture of machismo that sustains it.

Think about it. And if you get a chance, and live in the city, go see some of them at “THE COMPLETE CLINT EASTWOOD” festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, beginning tomorrow. (Clint will be appearing by Skype on the 10th  with a Q&A following a screening of A Fistful of Dollars.) For more information, visit www.FilmLinc.com. (You can also buy the new box set. I found one on 18th Street for only $100, but still, it’s the movies and it’s not the same.)



Ed Tracey
Lebanon, New Hampshire
Professor, When they lost their team captain Michael Ballack to an injury a few weeks ago, few gave Germany much of a chance to win the 2010 World Cup. But its young players have stepped-up, and they are now in the semi-finals as I write this. Interestingly, Yossi Sarid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote, "Now more than ever, it's okay to root for Germany." In no small part, he observed, because nearly half the team was either born in a different country or are the sons of immigrants (from Nigeria, Turkey, Ghana, Poland, etc.) - all due to a change in the nation's immigration laws ten years ago (shifting away from bloodlines as the determining factor in granting citizenship). In much the same way that France's 1998 multi-cultural World Cup championship team upset right-wingers like Jean LePen, Der Spiegel reports that Germany's Neo-Nazis are not amused. More importantly, a University of Hannover professor was pleased that when a first round game-winning goal was scored by German-born Mesut Özil (of Turkish descent) an old man was (politely) corrected by a shop-keeper after he complained that a Turk won the game: "That is not a Turk, that is a German”.


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

Slacker Friday

My new “Think Again” column is called "A 'Very, Very Bad' Article" and it is about the comical, but enormously worrisome reaction to Michael Hastings’ brilliant takedown of ex-General McChrystal. It's here.

I did a Daily Beast post for this morning, which, in their inimitable fashion, they named, “Sock it to Em! Obama,” and that’s here.

My new Nation column, “A Conspiracy So Immense” is about the nuttiness surrounding the firing of Dave Weigel and the end of Journolist.

Also this: on April 30, 2010, Columbia University hosted a conference on opinion journalism in American intellectual history. The conference was organized by Eric Wakin, the Lehman Curator for American History at Columbia University, and featured several notable speakers and panelists, including Victor Navasky, Michael Kazin, Andi Zeisler, Eric Alterman, Stanley Crouch and more. Video of the entire conference is embedded here

Hey Doc:
"You're going to Sodom and Gomorrah, but what do you care?/Ain't nobody there would want to marry your sister." 

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "All Kinds Of Crazy" (Abita Blues) -- I don't need any of that Bud Light Lime to bring out how much I love New Orleans. 

Part The First: Ol' Squint seems to be off the reservation a tad these days. However, Clio, the Muse of History, demands that we point out that, as hard as he may have been working, Newt always managed to find time to work on his Comely Aide hobby. 

Part The Second: Have I mentioned that the GOP in Alabama has a congressional candidate who is insane? Hang in there for the whole commercial, by the way. Very much like "Layla," it's not over when you think it is. However, this is just very funny.

Part The Third: The least surprising thing about the Dave Weigel rumpus is the involvement in it of Tucker Carlson, who bravely published Weigel's private e-mails, just as he once bravely put my private e-mail address out on the air during The Spin Room, one of Carlson's several failed television projects. Luckily, this being Tucker Carlson on television, almost nobody saw it, but one person who did sent along the first death threat of my daughter's life. (To be fair, the guy said he was going to take us all out.) Of course, when a mere blogger did something to him, Carlson whined like a scalded schoolgirl. When you're walking into the National Press Club in D.C., Tucker Carlson is pretty much what you have to scrape off your shoe.

Part The Fourth: For my money, the only guy we should be listening to right now. Well, him and Krugman.

Part The Fifth: So what do we care if BP ruins the entire Caribbean? There's a new ocean coming for them to despoil. And in only 10,000 years!

Part The Penultimate: Holy crap! Fired at last from Salon, which installed a surveillance camera on which he was filmed passed out at his desk with a half-pint of Virginia Gentleman in his teeth while crazy people came in the windows and started posting things on the Intertoobz, Waldo The Drunk Security Guard apparently has landed on his feet with a job at the NYT. I mean, really now: "American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts." Woofers or tweeters, Camille, sweetie? 

Part the Ultimate: As it happens, about 13 years ago, while working on a profile for a national magazine, I ran into something of the same situation vis a vis Tiger Woods that Michael Hastings ran into as regards his infinitely more important reporting of Stanley McChrystal's intemperate remarks, the ones that have bunched the undies of so many of our elite reporters. FWIW, and speaking from my own experience, I think Hastings has acted throughout with impeccable professionalism, which is sadly lacking in almost all of his critics. This was a freakish situation. A commanding general and his staff were forced to take a bus ride from Paris to Germany because of a volcano in Iceland. At any point prior to departure, McChrystal could have told Hastings, "Look, dude. We're going to knock a few back on the trip because why-the-hell-not? Anything said on the bus is off the record. Period." At which point, Hastings could have agreed, or he could have taken another bus. (He also could have agreed, and published the remarks anyway, but that would be fundamentally dishonest, and he has not shown any predilection for that.) McChrystal is not five-years old and he did not arrive in Afghanistan on a turnip truck. Unlimited access means unlimited access. Period. In such settings, there is no such goddamn animal as informal off-the-record.

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

A Raise, Please...

My new “Think Again” column is called "A 'Very, Very Bad' Article' and it is about the comical, but enormously worrisome reaction to Michael Hastings’ brilliant takedown of ex-General McChrystal. It's here.

My new Nation column, “A Conspiracy So Immense” is about the nuttiness surrounding the firing of Dave Weigel and the end of Journolist.

Also this: on April 30, 2010, Columbia University hosted a conference on opinion journalism in American intellectual history. The conference was organized by Eric Wakin, the Lehman Curator for American History at Columbia University, and featured several notable speakers and panelists, including Victor Navasky, Michael Kazin, Andi Zeisler, Eric Alterman, Stanley Crouch and more. Video of the entire conference is embedded here.

Sometimes I wonder if my readers appreciate the crap I put up with to do my job. Yes, give me a few glasses of pinot noir, followed by a Corvoisier or two (VSOP, please) and I start to cry in my beer about how tough I have it, and how sad it is that nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.

Take for instance the mail. I used to have more jobs than I do now, and hence more money, and double hence, a full-time assistant to shield me from jerks and crazies. But no more. I do it all on my own now, and just look what I am forced to read.

The first jerk below, a Mr. Ranier Mack of Washington, DC, wrote me recently to explain to me that owing to my views of the Israel/Palestinian conflict—I support an independent state for the Palestinians, believe Israel should return all lands conquered in 1967, remunerate Palestinians for lost property, apologize for the occupation, end the siege of Gaza, negotiate immediately with Hamas despite, etc.—I am the moral equivalent of terrorist murderer Baruch Goldstein, among other awful things. See below if you doubt this. When I received this brilliant missive, I immediately asked the letters editor of The Nation to print it, in order to demonstrate the quality of the attacks to which one is subject if one takes any position outside of the extremes on the conflict. But Mr. Mack refused. What is he afraid of? He said he planned to publish something on the anti-Zionist website, supported by the Nation Institute, “Mondoweiss.” Well, if that’s true, so much the worse for Mondoweiss, but to tell you the truth, I have a hard time believing any of Mr. Mack’s claims.

The second jerk below, Aaron Perhach, thinks that the existence of “Journolist”—described above in my column—somehow negates the 400-or-so-page book I published seven years ago about the not-so-liberal nature of the mainstream media. He would like me to “apologize for writing that ridiculous book, etc., etc.” I would like Aaron (and his parents) to apologize for his ridiculous existence.

But thanks for the opportunity to show the world the hardships of my world.

Happy holiday, and enjoy the below:


Hamas doesn't have to conform to the effete standards of a superannuated second-rate Jewish intellectual to earn a seat at the table. They're no different than Irgun or the Stern Gang. In fact, considering the murderously racist nature of the "Settler State" they're fighting—they're morally far superior to those Jewish "freedom fighters." Cling anxiously to your Jewishness if you must, but it puts you in the same camp as Ted Belman, Melanie Phillips, and Baruch Goldstein.

Ranier Mack, Washington, DC

Dear Dr. Alterman,
In light of the recent revelations concerning Ezra Kline's "Jurnolist 400", which seems to be a left-wing cabal of journalists bent on proping up the Democrats and destroying the Republicans, will you now admit that there is, in fact, a liberal media? I'd like you to apologize for writting that ridiculous book which denies the existence of a liberal media and I'd like you to publish a full retraction of its contents in every major newspaper in the country.

Thank you.

Yours truly,

Aaron Perhach
Forty Fort, Pennsylvania

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Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again column called "Foolish Loudmouths in the Military and in the Media."


John Mellencamp: On the Rural Route 7609, Special Edition (Four cds)

A friend once said this about Jackson Browne, "He thinks his catalog is bigger than it actually is."  This is how I feel about John Mellencamp. The man's got heart and determination, but can sometimes be a bit clumsy when turning his points of view and life experiences into song. Maybe that's just his style, but I don't have to love it.  I don't mind it, though. The man has written some wonderful music.

I like some of his hits, "Pink Houses," "Jack & Diane," but not all of his hits. Some I find less appealing than most, "I Need A Lover" and "The Authority Song," the former conspicuously absent from this set. [Editor’s note. Sal is totally fu**ed here. “Authority Song" is one of my favorite songs evah. The video is great too. It’s just what rock n roll should be.]  His later work tries hard to impress with its "less is more" approach, and serious subject matter. I don't buy all of it but I must admit, records like 2007's "Freedom's Road" and 2008's "Life, Death, Love & Freedom" showed Mellencamp maturing nicely, and made me more of a fan than I had ever admitted. And "The Longest Days," a song I first heard when Mellencamp performed it on Elvis Costello's Spectacle, really moves me. It opens this 4 CD set.

A career-spanning boxed set is not exactly what Mellencamp wanted to release. "I know what happens with boxed sets. You go to the hits and skip the rest."  That won't happen here. On this elaborate new 4 CD set, "On The Rural Route 7609" you get some hits, but not all of them. The set isn't chronological and it doesn't rely on rarities. It's an impressive body of work that John Mellencamp hopes will remind people that he wrote other songs than "R.O.C.K. In The U.S.A."   If you're a fan of the man, you will be impressed by the packaging,  which is elaborate and admirably historical and, one imagines, satisfied with the 17 previously unreleased songs.  Here’s a setlist. Everybody gets to decide for themselves.

Disc 1

1. Longest Days 2. Grandma’s Theme 3. Rural Route 4. Jackie Brown 5. Rain On The Scarecrow 6. Jim Crow with Cornell West 7. Jim Crow 8. Big Daddy Of Them All 9. Deep Blue Heart 10. Forgiveness 11. Don’t Need This Body 12. Jenny At 16 13. Jack And Diane (writing demo) 14. Jack And Diane

Disc 2

1. The Real Life with Joanne Woodward 2. Ghost Towns Along The Highway 3. The Full Catastrophe 4. Authority Song (writing demo) 5. Troubled Land 6. To Washington 7. Our Country (alternate version) 8. Country Gentlemen 9. Freedom’s Road 10. Mr. Bellows (remix) 11. Rodeo Clown 12. Love And Happiness 13. Pink Houses

Disc 3

1. If I Die Sudden (live) 2. Someday 3. Between A Laugh And A Tear 4. Void In My Heart (acoustic version recorded at Chess Studios) 5. Death Letter 6. Sugar Marie (acoustic) 7. Theo And Weird Henry 8. When Jesus Left Birmingham 9. L.U.V. (remix) 10. Thank You 11. Women Seem 12. The World Don’t Bother Me None  13. Cherry Bomb (writing demo) 14. Someday The Rains Will Fall 15. A Ride Back Home

Disc 4

1. My Aeroplane 2. Colored Lights 3. Just Like You 4. Young Without Lovers 5. To M.G. (Wherever She May Be) (acoustic) 6. Sweet Evening Breeze 7. What If I Came Knocking 8. County Fair 9. * Peaceful World (writing demo) 10. Your Life Is Now 11. For The Children 12. Rural Route (acoustic)

Now here’s Charles.



Hey Doc:

"Don Quixote had his windmills/Ponce de Leon took his cruise/It tookSinbad seven voyages/To see that it was all a ruse."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click:  "Larideaux a six temps" (The Zydepunks)

I believe I have rounded up 60 votes in support of the resolutionwhereby I confess my love for New Orleans. (Also: Folks at Treme? Killing off John Goodman was a bad idea.)

Part The First: I think we can put to rest any notion that Barack Obama cannot be annoyed. Stanley McChrystal's spectacular flameout should be proof enough of that. The larger question, of course, remains what in the hell are we trying to accomplish Over There? Nobody has that answer.

Part The Second: When did Rolling Stone become the go-to publication for general officers who want to vent?

Part The Third: I'd pay almost any amount of cash money to almost anyone if they were all depicted playing poker.

Part The Penultimate: Hey, remember, you used to be the smart one? Then, your brother happened to the country. Then Terri Schiavo happened to you. Ain't no comeback. If the phone don't ring, you'll know it's us.

Part The Ultimate:  I'm not going to go all-in on either side of the Shouldn't-Obama-Be-Doing-More? debate that's roiling up the saloons along the docks of Blogistan. (Although I have to admit that I never thought I'd see Neustadt, that fathead, cited again in my lifetime.) Here is where I stand on the issue: remember a few years back, when some Wall Street cats devised a funky accounting system whereby they would agree to sell some commodities six months down the line for a certain amount of money, but they would then enter the profits immediately on their company's books. When the actual day of sale came, the broker would push it down the line, all the while keeping the profit on the books. (This "phantom trading" was central to a terrific episode of Law And Order, with Courtney B. Vance as the perp.) I think I'm seeing a lot of political phantom trading on this administration's books. Right now, I'm a bit biblical with these guys. I want to see the nail holes in the palms and the wound in the side. I will give them credit for repealing don't-ask-don't tell when it's actually, you know, repealed. I will give them credit for closing Gitmo when Gitmo is closed. I will believe we're getting out of Iraq when we're out of Iraq. I will give them credit for "moving us toward" a sensible health-care system when I feel that momentum to be continuous. I will give them some credit for trying on these and on other issues, but not more than they deserve for it. I don't think this is entirely unreasonable.

Moreover, the fight over "primary-ing" useless Blue Dogs like Blanche Lincoln strikes me as the wrong argument. My question would be why would the White House get involved in these races at all. (And those people making the "weak presidency" argument are uniquely required to answer this question.) Certainly, it isn't because they were backing the favorite; neither Lincoln, nor Arlen Specter before her, were strong candidates in their respective general elections. (In fact, IIRC, both of them fared rather worse in prospective final elections than their primary opponents did.) Certainly, given their records, the White House could have lived with either Bill Halter or Joe Sestak just as easily as with Lincoln and Specter. So why even bother to get involved? The only answer, to me, would seem to be that the White House preferred Lincoln and Specter for its own reasons. Be nice to know what those are.

P.S.—I am occasionally overjoyed by some of the young talent that has poured into The Biz since the kids got their hands on the Intertoobz. This, however, is just freaking embarrassing to everyone. Apologize for wanting Matt Drudge to light himself on fire? Apologize to the several Byron York readers out there? My god, children, get out of that town now, before it's too late and, whatever you do, don't fall asleep.

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

Fighting Words

I’ve got a new Think Again column called "Foolish Loudmouths in the Military and in the Media."

And I gotta say, I think the Nation editors' response to my letter about Gaza is kind of funny. First they write, “as Alterman must surely know, three years ago in a lead editorial, we said, 'We cannot accept Hamas's ideology, and we reject the idea that "Islam is the solution" to political problems (the common formulation of Hamas and other Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movements). But the United States and Israel must finally acknowledge that Hamas is a popular movement with deep roots in Palestinian society, and for that reason should be engaged rather than ignored.’" I’m sorry, but I’d be impressed if anyone on earth remembers three-year-old editorials in The Nation, including most of the editors. And second, my point is not to say that The Nation has never made its disagreements with Hamas explicit; my point was Hamas’s ideology as well as its practices cause real problems for Israel that need to be addressed. I think the embargo should be lifted, and I think Israel should engage Hamas in discussions as well. Great. But what exactly should Israel do about the acts of terrorism, the kidnappings and the rockets? If anyone at The Nation can find me any useful suggestions for addressing the security threat posed by Hamas—other than Kumbaya style “negotiations”—I’d be mightily impressed.

For instance, what would be the Nation editors’ reaction to this article that appeared shortly after their response be?


Late June is a nice time in the city in part because of the weather, in part because of the subway series and in part because of what for many years was the Kool, then the JVC, and now the CareFusion festival organized by the great promoter George Wein, who is also responsible for the Newport Jazz Festival, among others. Last night was a bit balmy, but to go to a free show in Central Park by a band fronted by the great McCoy Tyner who is 71, and sure as hell still has it, joined by Ravi Coltrane—a nice sentimental touch but also a fine, intelligent musician—and the extremely exciting Esperanza Spalding on bass and Francisco Mela on drums, thousands of people, both inside and outside the ampitheater, got to experience what makes New York so great. Tyner was followed by a funkish group put together by Stanley Clarke—which was odd since it should have been the other way around, and a lot of people got there late expecting it would be, but he was fun too, and threw in some “RTF” material for the codgers in the audience.

Earlier in the week it was almost as much fun to see a complete full Carnegie Hall for a wordless but unspeakably beautiful and constantly (and quietly) impressive show  by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette. These guys have been playing together so long they don’t even have to look at one another, though even when I knew all the songs, I wasn’t sure what they were. (Like Dylan and the Allman Brothers combined. Anyway, it’s another great thing about my city that these guys can fill a Carnegie-sized hall. And the sound, for once, was great.)

Here’s the setlist:

1. It Could Happen to You

2. My Funny Valentine

3. When Will the Blues Go Away

4. Answer Me My Love

5. Sandu

6. Someday My Prince Will Come

7. Autumn Leaves

8. All the Sad Young Men

9. Last Night When We were Young

10. Once Upon A Time

11. God Bless the Child

12. I Thought About You

Tonight Carnegie has Herbie Hancock’s 70th birthday celebration. Should be an unforgettable performance.

The mail:

Name: Michael Green
Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

I wasn't sure this posted to comments, so I am sending it here as well:

I love you, Brother Pierce, but you need to go a little further.

First, the main reason that the left acts like a bunch of whiny children who cry whenever they don't get what they want is that many of them are a bunch of whiny children who cry whenever they don't get what they want.  This battle has gone on since the days when LBJ was majority leader and said his greatest achievement was convincing Hubert Humphrey that half a loaf was better than none.  The real problem here is that the left, like many others, projected onto Barack Obama what they wanted to see in him.  He talked about changing the culture in DC, a spirit of bipartisanship.  He actually meant it.  Not that I think it can be changed that easily—as he said, it's hard to vote with him when his opponents question his Americanism.  But that means that he is less liberal than I would like, and it's time for people to grasp that he is not a prisoner of ideology.

Now, for my part the second, I don't disagree with a word in the Sarah Palin section of Pierce's screed, but he misses a key point.  It is not that we have to make nice with tinpot Elmer Gantry types.  But we DO need to press the point that what we advocate fits "family values" and the Judeo-Christian ethic, and the best teachings of The Bible, and force the other guys into a corner on that point.  If we don't do that, we don't win, and then we don't get to do ANYTHING that we know this country needs.  Ideological purity is wonderful, but I notice that Keith Olbermann, for one, spent months blistering Obama on the health care bill, then went on about how wonderful it was that this bill passed.  When we look and are hypocritical, we deserve what we get.

Name: Joe Coen
Hometown: Houston, Tx.


Tangential question: Are Sunday morning news shows really “the most influential perches for opinion making in American politics” anymore as you state in your Think Again column? I stopped watching years ago, not simply because Republicans dominate, but because the alleged journalists hosting the shows rarely challenge anything said. No wonder the right wingers flock to those shows to parrot their talking points. Sunday morning news shows are gliding ever closer to Tiger Woods press conference territory.
Not-so-tangential comment on Pierce’s take on the Palin thing in Newsweek:  The way that man weaves phrases together to surgically eviscerate is amazing and flat-out, roll on the floor funny.  Wow. A tip of my faded black, back to the one season the Astros were World Series good baseball cap to him. My favorite thing from the linked story about the blond big foot sighting in North Carolina was when the bumpkin said he poked at the creature with a sharp stick to chase it away.  If it were only that easy to chase Carly Fiorina, Meg Whitman, Sarah Palin and the rest of those surfing the Year of the (White, Rich) Women back into the shallows, I’d start whittling.

Name: Clarissa Smith
Hometown: Norfolk, VA

Mr. Alterman, this part of your article I find very interesting. If only someone in the media would ask her to provide proof because she uses this pregnancy for political gain.  Thank you for writing this.

"So the idea that her spiritual life is any deeper than her political philosophy—and that includes what I, in my constitutionally protected opinion, believe is that complete fairy-tale about the dark night of the soul that Palin experienced after finding out she was pregnant, an episode that this piece finds so revealing—requires a offer of proof far beyond her simple say-so."

Name: Carl Jung
Hometown: Ether

For Mr. Pierce:

What you resist, persists.


Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column on the relative dearth of women and progressive perspectives on Sunday morning gabfests is called “Networks to Women: Never on Sunday” and it’s here.

I’ve got a newNationcolumn called “’Cutthroat’ Crybabies” about the White House press corps silly fights over Helen Thomas’s seat here.

I wrote an letter to the editor in response to The Nation's editorial "Free Gaza," and that's here.

Now here’s the man.


Hey Doc:

"An' all these voices keep on askin' me to take them/To Grand Central Station."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: Need Her So Bad (Ainsley Lister)—I am taking bids now on a project by which displaced sharks are repatriated to the fountains outside of BP headquarters over which I will erect a banner on which I will explain how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First: Dear DNC, They are writing your ads for YOU. Also, please remember this when the greasy homunculus runs for president in 2012.

Part The Second: Yeah, no shite, SHERLOCK. Which leads me to wonder whether or not this country would have the balls to establish a series of these inquiries about the activities of various government entities in the years 2000-2008, even 38 years after the fact. Actually, I don't wonder about that at all. Of course, some Serious People are afraid that British fee-fees may be HURT by the truth. Folk memory? After 38 years? Jesus wept.

Part The Third: Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Republican party has a candidate in Alabama who is clearly INSANE.

Part The Fourth: By a factor of about eleventy billion, Andrew Ferguson is the best writer produced by the early days of Mr. Murdoch's startlingly advertising-free little political fanzine, and one of the best ones working in any magazine anywhere. But as soon as I read his lengthy fluffing of the dazzlingly unlikeable Mitch Daniels, I said to myself, "Well, I'm a stranger here along the docks of Blogistan, but I know one person who's coming down the alley with a pipewrench in his hand." Here he IS. Gaze in awe.

Part The Fifth: Two of my favorite people are making me SNEEZE. Turns out I'm very allergic to certain kinds of straw.

Part The Penultimate: THIS is an interesting development, and probably is the start of something in the world of politics, but sportswriters will tell you that the notion of subjects' speaking only in a self-selected media universe happened in sports years ago. Witness the handpicked participants in Tiger Woods' "remorse" press conference a month or so back.

Part The Ultimate: This week, there was a faint, twinkling moment in which I harbored the notion that Parson Meacham might not be completely beyond, well, redemption—in the journalistic sense, anyway. There he was, on the panel of Bill Maher's show along with Dr. Maddow and Bill Frist, the latter of whom apparently has climbed out of the politician's remainder bin. Anyway, Frist was bloviating on about one thing or another, and reminding people why they'd got so sick of him in the first place. And the Parson, gently, but unmistakably, made a snarky reference to the absolute nadir of Frist's public career—his execrable long-distance meddling in the prolonged death of Terri Schiavo. I'm not even sure Frist heard it. (Dr. Maddow appeared to be trying to calculate exactly now many IQ points she had on her fellow panelists.) But I did. And I gave the Parson a little bit of a golf clap for his efforts.

Then I saw this week's edition of the Parson's struggling magazine.



First of all, why would you willingly offer space in a respectable publication to Karl Rove? (No linky, Karl. Go beg for food.) It's not like there aren't other conservative commentators in the Parson's rolodex. This is a man who never has drawn an honest breath in his entire public life. His public career has been wholly dedicated to cheating and deceit. He isn't to be trusted on anything at all. Why give a by-line to a career ratfucker, Parson?

And then there is the Palin thing.

THIS may be the most singularly credulous piece of national reporting I've ever read. I believe that this author regularly comes home having purchased a bag of magic beans. I sincerely believe she could be mugged through the mail. I am in awe of this piece of work, if only for the almost limitless vista of simple common sense that it chooses to ignore in its plucky search for a coherent narrative. This is not journalism. This is Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Let us all open our hymnals and turn to page 1. Sarah Palin is a self-evident twit. This is obvious in almost every single public pronouncement that she's made since 2008. She has not gotten smarter, more politically deft, or, if most polls are to be believed, more popular generally in the two years since that happened. She knows virtually nothing about any major issue; witness her performance in the wake of the presidential address on the crisis of the Gulf, in which her complete lack of knowledge about any aspect of what she was talking about gobsmacked, of all people, Bill O'Reilly, whose gob is not easy to smack, not that somebody shouldn't have tried years ago. And this was concerning an issue on which John McCain assured the nation that Palin knew more than anyone else in public life.

If you're going to argue that she's a "king—or queen—maker," and you cite her endorsement of Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman as exhibits for the defense, you really are obligated to point out that it's likely that the personal fortunes of both those women played a bigger role in their having won primary elections in California than did their anointment by Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods. (You might also want to mention that her record in congressional races is pretty spotty, and that, last week, when she endorsed Terry Branstad for governor of Iowa, her fans revolted and Branstad jumped as though he'd seen a snake.) If you're going to argue that attitudes on abortion may be changing, you really should take into account the nearly four decades of legal and political assault—and the three decades of armed terrorist assault—aimed at "changing minds" on the issue. That is, if you're doing journalism, and not writing from a cave on Patmos.

When Palin talks about anything of substance, there is no evidence that she knows anything about verbs, let alone the topic at hand. So the idea that her spiritual life is any deeper than her political philosophy—and that includes what I, in my constitutionally protected opinion, believe is that complete fairy-tale about the dark night of the soul that Palin experienced after finding out she was pregnant, an episode that this piece finds so revealing—requires a offer of proof far beyond her simple say-so. That video of her being prayed over by Rev. Thomas Muthee didn't just give "the left"—oh, God, no—"the willies." It shook up mainstream (or, perhaps, "lamestream") Christians as well. This was not because these people distrust public prayer. This was because the Rev. Muthee is a pretty good facsimile of a public LUNATIC. The man is an actual WITCH-HUNTER. This might have been worth a sentence or two.

And, if you're trying to make the case that Palin's appeal to a fringe group of American Protestantism represents a sea-change in "feminism," you might at least remark upon the fact that an awful lot of the women to whom Palin is a role model seem to be upper middle-class white people with disposable income and a lot of time on their hands—like the woman from Colorado Springs "with four grown daughters" who has the time and money to travel "a thousand miles" to hear Palin try to get from a subject to a predicate without turning an ankle. Must be nice.

That Palin an idol to a group of people whose religious ideas are, shall we say, a bit unconventional requires that the journalist exercise at least a modicum of skepticism, if only to demonstrate that the journalist was not, at the time of the interview, unconscious. For example, when someone—a marketing executive with a Palin fan-site to pitch, mirabile dictu!—tells the journalist that, "The anointing on her is so strong," then the journalist should at least point out that the Christian marketing executive has the same amount of empirical proof behind that assertion as does the guy who says he saw a UFO over his barn. Or the journalist could decide not to use the quote, because it's plainly batshit. We are not required to give various ignorama the benefit of that much of a doubt just because they happen to be good at making noise.

And then, inevitably, we have this passage: "Palin has her faults, but the left is partially to blame for her ascent. Its native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills." That is all my balls, lady. It is not the fault of The Left that there are people in this country so bone-deep ignorant that they'll follow a transparent grifter because they see in her a vessel for their own personal religious and cultural neuroses. It is not the fault of The Left that an entire political party has lost its mind. It is not the fault of The Left that it has not made sufficiently nicey-nice to political preachers and their easily sheared flocks. And, not for nothing, but most of the people that I know who distrust "conservative believers" do so because the latter have been committed for decades to crackpot religion and retrograde social policy that, in combination, have hurt far more people than they've ever helped. When did my business get so utterly corrupt? I'm telling you, THIS is by far vastly more believable reportage.

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

Can't Trust That Day

My new Think Again column on the relative dearth of women and progressive perspectives on Sunday morning gabfests is called “Networks to Women: Never on Sunday” and it’s here

I’ve got a new Nation column called “’Cutthroat’ Crybabies” about the White House press corps silly fights over Helen Thomas’s seat here


I saw James Taylor and Carole King at Madison Square Garden last night.  She’s 68 and he’s 62.  He doesn’t sound even the tiniest bit older than he did when I first saw him in 1974. King doesn’t have the voice she did when she sat with that cat on the cover of “Tapestry,” which remains a kind of perfect statement of both pop and singer-songwriter hippie quasi poetry. There were a few slightly painful moments on her high notes, and it takes a little getting used to watching a 68 year old bubbe dance like a maniac on stage, but overall, the concert was a triumph and a joy. The band, which was pretty much the same band that appeared on JT’s brilliant early, post-Apple records, Russ Kunkel, drums; Leland Sklar, bass; Danny Kortchmar, guitar, was smart, supple and precise. The songs, with few if any exceptions, were wonderful. And the vibe was warm and without guile. These two really do like love one another—platonically, I learn from this morning’s Times—in a way that could not have been fake. The support they provided one another on songs like “Carolina in my Mind” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and the final encore “You Can Close Your Eyes”—along with a beautiful, shared “Up on the Roof”—could bring tears to your eyes if you’re right age. And I am. A beautiful night … (There’s a Times review here of the previous night’s show.)

I saw Loudon Wainwright at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Saturday night. I go every year (except last year, when he played the same night Rosanne played at Guild Hall) and it’s always great, since Loudon has a house on Shelter Island and it usually turns into a friends and family affair. This show was fine; Loudon’s material is endless at this point and he takes it all seriously. And he loves singing that “Grammy Song” now that he’s got one (for the terrific Charlie Poole sessions). But to be honest, Loudon did not really “bring it” this weekend. He played solo, without accompaniment and for the first time, did not bring any “product” to sell for the post-show meet and greet.  He came on later than usual and did not do as full or as warm a show as I’ve seen in there in the past. His new song about the chick who messed with his guitar at the airport in Durango was funny, and his rendering of “Krugman Blues” was nice and spirited.

Earlier that day, however, I was lucky enough to see an amazing performance of “Equus” at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall in East Hampton. It’s a 40th anniversary limited run, and it stars Alec Baldwin, along with a really strong, attractive cast.  I’ve long made an argument that Baldwin is the world’s greatest actor right now. He’s under-rated because he actually acts. Unlike say, Pacino or DeNiro, who always give powerful, energetic, often sweaty performances as themselves, Baldwin actually plays the character he is cast as. And he inhabits it to a degree that you forget he’s a real person and see him as the character no matter how disparate or different that character might be from others he’s played.  The role of a lonely child psychologist in some British backwater town who is obsessed with the lack of passion in his life could hardly be more different than the wonderfully funny Jack Donahue he plays on “30 Rock,” but his performance is so quietly compelling you forget all about the show, and everyone else Baldwin has played in his career.  Sam Underwood does a fine job in the extremely demanding role as the troubled young man. The rest of the cast gives him room, and does what’s necessary with this still deeply difficult material in such a small, intimate setting—the theater was only about half full on the afternoon I saw it—and it made a marvelously haunting experience and one not to be missed, if you’re in the area.

I'll be seeing  Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette at the opening of the CareFusion Jazz festival tonight, and will try to report back tomorrow, with Charles' appearance.

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

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