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Eric Alterman | The Nation

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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

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.

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON, MA

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.

Oy.

Squared.

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

Alter-reviews:

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.

Slacker Friday

I got a new Think Again column. It’s called “Perception, Reality, and Responsibility in the Gulf Oil Spill” and it’s got a lot of stuff in it that I’m betting you don’t already know, here.

Here's Pierce:

Part The First:
I'm in Chicago for the Printer's Row book festival this weekend. (My panel's Saturdat at 1:30. Stop by.) This morning, I saw the top rim of thr Stanley Cup go by and tonight, at the Chicago Blues Festival, I will help celebrate the centennial of the birth of
Howlin' Wolf. Much smokestack lightning is predicted.

Part The Second:
On Thursday night, Chris Matthews brought on Harold (Fail) Ford to discuss inconvenient DFH bloggers and their effect on hacks like Harold and Blanche Lincoln. There was much deploring.

Part The Third:
Just when you think Joe Lieberman couldn't possibly be more of a weasel, he grows a longer tail. This is a guy who never shuts his yap when it comes to the corrosive affect of modern American popular culture. It bothers him, always, more than do spurious wars in which 4000 Americans, many of whom listen to that rappity-hop music that Joe so deplores, get killed. He also really hates the idea of people taking drugs on which his campaign contributors do not burn a buck.  Now, though, faced with a candidacy bankrolled almost exclusively by money made in an enterainment enterprise built on mock violence, raging sexism, half-nekkid people, and anabolic steroids, Weepin' Joe suspends judgment. You could keep the man's conscience in a thimble and  have room for another pair of shoes.

Part The Fourth:
You're telling me that 94,000-odd allegedly sentient human primates thought Mickey Kaus should be in the United States Senate? I would have been willing to bet you couldn't find 94 people who thought he should be serving them their appetizers at Olive Garden.

Part The Penultimate:
I think the Democrats may well find that campaigning is easy when the other guys write the damn ads for you.

Part The Ultimate:
Our fundamental indecency as a self-governin people is going to be on rather vivid display over the next few years, I fear. There simply is not one branch of government now that is not totally comfortable with the current state of corporate oligarchy, and the media is so thoroughly a part of it that most major outlets are now indistinguishable from BP or Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, real unemployment is pushing 20 percent, and the talk out of this administration is about austerity and about giving that old fool, Pete Peterson. his twilight dream of destroying the pitiful shreds of what used to be a barely adequate safety net. This all started when Bill Clinton lost his nerve and committed the Democratic party to deficit reduction. (The nostalgia for the days of the Pericles of the Ozarks, particularly among the members of the current administration, is both baffling and destructive.) Now, remarkably, the Obama folks are giving us back a government-as-bond-trader with a massive recession, and not a techno-fueled boom, in their immediate future. It is very hard not to give up these days.

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

Feeling Groovy...

All I got today is this Think Again. It’s called “Perception, Reality, and Responsibility in the Gulf Oil Spill” and it’s got a lot of stuff in it that I’m betting you don’t already know, here.

Alter-reviews.

I went to this Summerstage show in Central Park the other night, in which Michael Dorf of City Winery corralled a whole bunch of performers to do Simon and Garfunkel songs, almost exclusively as duets. (Both Paul and Artie were present but did not play.)  I had a better time than the Times’ Ben Ratliff did.  First off, Ollabelle is a great little band. Second, the songs are almost all uniformly great. Third, some of the versions were too.  My favorites were “Baby Driver” by Jorma and Larry Clark; “The Only Living Boy in New York” by Aimee Mann and John Roderick, Loudon Wainright and Lucy Wainright Roche singing “Bleecker Street" and Livingston Taylor and Jill Sobule who were "Feeling Groovy".  Actually, I have more favorites than that. Look at the setlist here and be jealous. The money went to City Parks Foundation. (And hey, look, Paul Simon has my exact hat; but I don’t wear it to hide any bald spots; not yet at least.)

Also, I’m reading this really fun book.  Here’s a quote  you could use on the paperback if it weren’t already published. “Sitting shiva was never so much fun, or so dirty (insofar as I am aware…)” Here is how the publicity material describes it:  “The death of Judd Foxman's father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years.  There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd's wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio-shock-jock boss has recently become public.  Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his family as they reluctantly sit shiva-and spend seven days and seven nights under the same roof.  This is Where I Leave You is the story of a dysfunctional family who learn that while death does bring us together, it doesn't always bring us closer.” 

I never heard of the guy buy my new friend the  much admired chick (dog) novelist Alison Pace says she knew he was great. Anyway as you know, you can trust me, totally. 

Slacker Friday

My new Think Again column is called "Springtime for Hitler" and it's here.

My new Nation column," Israel Agonistes" is here.

CHARLES PIERCE NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc:

"I can tell, the wind is risin'/the leaves tremblin' on the tree." Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "The Storm's Passing Over" (The Campbell Brothers) -- I am conducting a seance in which the ghosts of 10,000 brown pelicans rise from the dead, sit on Tony Hayward's front lawn, and caw in unison how much I love New Orleans.

Part The First:

This woman is considered to be important by a very large chunk of our political and journalistic elite. Remember this before you ever say anything snotty again about Louis XVI.

Part The Second:

Nobody notices New Hampshire between presidential elections, but the state has gone purple-towards-blue in the past over the past decade. Former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte was supposed to reverse that trend in the Senate race. Except that all hell has broken loose in a scandal that really is very hard to follow. However, stories about it do contain the phrase, "missing e-mails," which is never a good thing.

Part The Third:

Thanks to Thers at Whiskey Fire for bringing me the best of all possible news. And if Gleeson doesn't himself play the Pooka MacPhellimey, I'm going to be very sad. All together now -- "In times of trouble and lousey strife/you still have a darlint plan/you still can turn to a brighter life/ A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN!"

Part The Fourth:

I probably don't agree with this guy on any possible issue but, my friends, gaze in awe at the greatest name in American politics. (He immediately goes into the historic Hall Of Fame with Elihu Root and Thurlow Weed.) And he's a winner, too!

Part The Penultimate:

I know the president can't stop the oil spill, and I don't want him to be as angry just so Maureen Dowd can get moist, either, but, dammit, he can step in and tell BP to knock this shit off.

Part The Ultimate:

I don't know if anyone else missed it, but the previous president of the United States admitted to complicity in a war crime the other day In fact, he bragged about his complicity in a war crime the other day. (He also announced that his greatest disappointment was that he didn't get to wreck Social Security the way he helped wreck the rest of the economy and the constitutional order. The man remains an almost limitless vista of ignorance. He's also a sadistic pig.) This, of course, is in no way a scandal on the order of The Sestak Affair or anything. This, of course, is what you get when all you want to do is Look Forward, Not Back. (And also what you get when you -- shh! -- pretty clearly want to keep your own options open.) I was thinking just the other day what towering lies we tell ourselves everytime a major, genuine scandal comes to a conclusion about the lessons we all have learned from the events in question. Bullshit. We learn nothing. Ever. Watergate is almost 40 years ago now, and a guy named Andrew Breitbart hires a smarmy little arachnid and turns Donald Segretti's ratfucking into a career. He even draws an overly laudatory profile in Time magazine. Do we even have to count the number of ways Iran-Contra taught us next to nothing? Hell, the only people who learned anything were the criminals themselves, and all they learned was how not to get caught the next time, which can fairly be defined as The Bush Administration. We didn't even really learn anything from the useless pursuit of Bill Clinton's libido. We still fall for the same kind of grifters and poltroons who were the grist for The Arkansas Project. (Watch what happens if the Republicans regain the majority in the House.) We are progressively less mature as a self-governing political commonwealth almost by the hour. And now, a guy we elected twice can get paid big money to brag about his complicity in crimes for which we hung Japanese generals, and nobody bats an eye, let alone calls a cop. Donald Segretti, alas, died too soon.

Springtime for Hitler (and Conservatives)

My new Think Again column is called "Springtime for Hitler" and it's here.

My new Nation column," Israel Agonistes" is here.

Also read Kai's Bird's new book.

I left a few examples out of the Think Again column because I'm not sure the folks matter so much, but for those who remain interested, here are a couple of outtakes:

Meanwhile, I never heard of Ben Shapiro, but if I may be so bold as to hazard a guess based on his name and general hystericism, I should imagine that he is a Jewish right-wing columnist. Whatever he is, he is no historian. In his "Open Letter to American Jews," he insists that President Obama is "openly anti-Semitic" and who consistently sides with Palestinian and Iranian mass murder-supporters and goes on to compare Rahm Emanuel to a "kapo"--the infamous concentration camp Jews who rounded up other Jews for the Nazis in exchange for special treatment.

And I'm guessing that the American Family Association's (AFA) Director of Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy, Bryan Fischer is probably not Jewish, and again, is pretty much definitely not a historian. Fischer explains apropos of what I cannot tell you, that "Hitler discovered that he could not get straight soldiers to be savage and brutal and vicious enough to carry out his orders, but that homosexual solders basically had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after. So he surrounded himself, virtually all of the Storm troopers, the Brownshirts, were male homosexuals."

I may need to return later, should the above columns cause any controversy that leads people to say things that require responses, but in the mean time, here's ...

The mail:

Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Highland Park, Illinois

Thanks to Pierce for providing the link to the article in Foreign Policy about Mikey Weinstein's campaign against evangelical proselytizing at the military academies.

When Weinstein first started his group I traded e-mails with him to ask if he was receiving aid or even encouragement from any of the mainline Jewish organizations. Not a bit of help, he said, not even from Abe Foxman at the ADL.

The evangelical right has been a key ally for the mainline organizations' support for the Israeli right-wing. Who could forget AIPAC inviting the nut case Pastor Hagee -- who fervently prays for the destruction of Israel as a sign post toward the Rapture -- as one of the keynote speakers at its annual DC conference a few years ago?

So, following the thesis Beinart presented in his NY Review piece, add this data point: not only are the mainline American Jewish organizations bad for Israel because they encourage the Israelis to pursue an ultimately destructive policy, these organizations can't even muster the energy to protect Jews from religious harassment within a unit of the federal government.

Oy.

Name: Tim Hunter
Hometown: South Philly

Here's a corporate governance proposal for companies with the ability to cause catastrophic harm to the environment or fatalities to humans. I'm pretty sure it would have assured sufficient safeguards and redundant fail safes at BP's gulf drilling rigs:

Upon the occurance of such catastrophic harm arising from the company's negligence, all senior officers shall immediatedly tender their resignations and any rights to severance packages of any type. They will also ask the board of directors and the relevant regulators for permission to commit ritual suicide.

Slacker Friday

My Think Again column is called “Chafets and Limbaugh: An Army of 1.1.” It’s about what this horrible new Limbaugh biography says about allowing the refs to work you. I see it as a cautionary tale and it’s here.

Have you noticed that The New York Times obeys its own rules of journalism except when it decides it doesn’t feel like it? Take a look at this story on Elena Kagan which appeared on the front page of Wednesday’s paper. The Times rightly has a rule against allowing people to make negative comments about people anonymously. In the first place there’s no way to prove they actually happened. In the second place it removes any sense of responsibility from the speaker who can get away with making up stuff as well, since there’s no way to verify it. Now look at this of some anonymous individual characterizing Larry Summers’ alleged view of Elena Kagan as Harvard Law Dean: “He wasn’t entirely sure he could trust her to make the right kind of scholarly judgments,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.” I have no brief for Kagan, but there’s no way that should have been allowed into the story. Ok, that’s all. It just annoyed me when I saw it. Now here’s Charles. Happy weekend.

CHARLES PIERCE

NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc --

"Who took on the Standard Oil men and whipped they ass/Just like he promised he would?"

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Last Of The Hobo Kings" (Mary Gauthier) -- I would like to enlist an army of oil-sodden hermit crabs to gather along the shores of the Gulf for the purposes of carving in Tony Heyward's living flesh a testimony to my love for New Orleans.

Part The First: Scratch any Brit and you get a snob. It's truly remarkable. Pay no attention and watch the show.

Part The Second: In the interest of bipartisan amity, we should all sign up and have some fun.

Part The Third: Outside of all of those involving oil and the sea, this was, in its own way, the most terrifying story I read this week. Where are all the people who are so damned concerned about "unit cohesion" as regards to gay soldiers when something like this is going on? Just what we need -- militant unchurched religious fanatics, in uniform, with guns.

Part The Fourth: I appeal to my fellow citizens -- my friend, Dave Neiwert, needs a break. Please can we just knock this off for a couple of weeks?

Part The Fifth: I believe that the only question remaining about "Lost" is: "was it about a bicycle?" (Shout out to Ringsend Cowboys everywhere.)

Part The Penultimate: Oh, for the love of God. Why not just slap a big BP logo on the entire Gulf Coast and be done with it?

Part The Ultimate: There's only so much bullshit I can stands and I can't stands no more. The president's lackluster press conference yesterday is exceeded in its anger-making only by the smugness of his defenders who now deplore as fundamentally unserious anyone who suggests that the president might act a little perturbed on behalf of the rest of us over the ruination of the Gulf Of Mexico. No, his getting angry won't "clean up the oil faster." But here's something he can get angry about. Eleven people are dead. This has somehow gotten lost in all the attention being given to the unfolding environmental calamity. (Of course, the attention is not what it should be because the Coast Guard is being used as bouncers by British Petroleum to keep working journalists from doing their jobs. The president could get that stopped, too.) It is not an exaggeration at all to say that, based on what we already know, BP executives at a number of levels are complicit in 11 counts of negligent homicide. That investigation should begin immediately, and the president could climb down off his high horse and put the full weight of the federal investigative apparatus behind it, and at the disposal of the local authorities in Louisiana. Eleven people are dead because it was cheaper for the company than keeping them safe was. That might get anyone a little peevish.

The Mail

Name: Rich Gallagher

Hometown: Fishkill, N.Y.

Dear Eric,

It's mostly been ignored by the media outside of Nashville, but the recent flooding there seriously damaged and/or destroyed millions of dollars worth of guitars, including many which are considered by music fans to be priceless. The damage is still being assessed and it remains to be seen how many of the waterlogged instruments can be repaired.

To send a letter to Eric Alterman, click here.

Slacker Friday

I've got a new "Think Again" column about the election called "The 'Tea' Swallows the Party" here.

My Nation column is called "Ain't That America…" and it's here.

And I did a Daily Beast post last night on the passage of the Senate’s FinReg bill here.

I went to the Apollo last night for the annual “A Great Night in Harlem” gala of the Jazz Foundation of America. To be perfectly honest, I can’t really review the evening’s performance because they were just getting started when I had to leave to do that Beast FinReg piece above. It was already about ten and Roberta Flack (introduced by David Johansen) was just coming on. Jesseye Norman sang a tiny bit, as did a few people I never heard of. I saw the Nighthawks with a few guests, but the rest of what I missed, you’ll have to read about here. The reason I’m bothering to write this though, was that as impatient as I may have been sitting in my seat for so long and just hearing speeches about apparently wonderful people, they really are, um, wonderful people. Read about what they do here and then do us all a favor and give them some money. I love Wynton but he can’t get all the money people give to support Jazz. If I didn’t have to make a living, this is the kind of cause to which I would want to devote all my time. What’s a better cause then sending old jazz people to schools to teach young kids? What’s more heartwarming than seeing it happen? And the health and hsopitalization stuff, and the feeding old peoples’ cats, and taking people to the hospital, it makes you tear up, even at the length we heard about it last night. The donation page is here.

Alter-recommendation: If you love newspapers and novels, then you will have no choice but to love The Imperfectionists. Now look who’s (finally) back. (I hope the technical problems have been worked out…)

CHARLES PIERCE NEWTON MA.
Hey Doc:

"When the wagons leave the city/for the forest and further on/Painted wagons of the morning, dusty roads where they have gone."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Crying" (The Versatiles) -- The world would be a lot better if everyone loved New Orleans as much as I do.

Part The First:
Whew. Bad week for Parson Meacham on several "platforms," as the kids say. I am profoundly glad that Jonathan Alter has taken to the parapets in the Parson's defense. It's not fair to leave Sally Quinn to fight such a lonely battle.

Part The Second:
One thing I did not want to see -- I did not want to see see Bill Clinton come tromping on his big elephant feet into this Arkansas Senate run-off, especially not in defense of Blanche Lincoln (D-Wal-Mart). The historical record of the Pericles Of The Ozarks is due for a major revisionist overhaul, and the effect of his several Myrmidons on the current administration has not been a good one. Let Arkansas Democrats hash this one out without your help, sir. They've got enough problems.

Part The Third:
Newsweeklies Gone Mad, Part Deux: Hey, Rick Stengel, that Time 100 was bad enough, but, really now, Newt Gingrich is no more a historian than he is an astronaut. I know he says he is. He's a megalomaniacal crackpot and he always was. Stop it, OK?

Part The Fourth:
Like those of us in the Commonwealth (God save it!) need another reason to believe we're the Center Of The Known Universe, what with the Celtics back on the rampage and all, but there's our own Senator McDreamy, gnawing off his own foot on financial reform in order to escape the trap of belonging to a party full of lunatics. Also, if you want some real fun, try to give a listen to the radio commercials that the Republican Governors Association have aimed at our state treasurer, Tim Cahill, who's running as an independent for governor up here, thereby screwing up official GOP candidate Charlie Baker who, as a candidate himself, so far otherwise has made Martha Coakley look like Huey Long. My favorite is the fake 911 call where the breathless woman tells Dispatch about the "crimes" Cahill has committed by being "just another Beacon Hill politician." Yes, the RGA, home of Bobby (Help!) Jindal, Haley (It's Just A Sheen) Barbour, and Rick (Secesh) Perry. Nice to have you boys on board up here.

Part The Penultimate:
Bastards. That's all, just bastards.

Part The Ultimate:
By now, it's become fairly clear that Rand Paul is pretty much a nut -- and no, folks, his putative opposition to overseas adventurism does not make him less so. (Jesus, liberals can be stupid.) Watching him try to outmaneuver Rachel Maddow the other night was like watching a hippo try to outrun the rain. Quite simply, if we ever needed a living, breathing, stuttering example that "libertarianism" is a fashion statement and not an ideology, that its basic tenets cannot apply to any society composed of human beings, we saw it that night. For a long time, I was perfectly happy to agree that libertarians were simply rightwing fringe players who liked to smoke a lot of dope. Here, though, we see the ugly truth. Libertarianism is stuck forever in its own incoherence. Paul's knowledge of the history of his own time is so profoundly wrong that it's makes one wonder if the man was raised in a jar. And he believes that government can act vigorously to end discrimination in public institutions, like public housing and the public schools. He does? Really? Without judging them on their merits as public policy, does Rand Paul favor the fundamental constitutionality of, say, busing, or affirmative action in government jobs? Because, if he does, I think he's got some 'splainin' to do to his base.

Jim Crow existed to formalize racism in the thousands of transactions of daily life so that it would be easy to enshrine it in the law. Is Paul's position actually that he believes a country can be segregated by custom and practice and culture and daily life, but not in its law, and that the former can be kept from perverting the latter? Was this man hatched a week ago? Is he, you know, high?

The mail:

Name: Maureen Holland
Hometown: South Venice Beach, Florida

I've been following you all over the damned intertubes lad, which at my age is not getting any easier. So I feel able to ask that you drop a word to the fine folk at The Nation and remind them their readers are probably not young. Or not many of them anyway. Bad enough that they feel nine or ten point is sufficient for the newsmag, but really - there's no paper bill on the website -can we go for a nice big sans serif or at least Times Roman font. Eleven point? How about going all rock and roll and using twelve point! I get here and go right for the CTL+ so I can read.

That being said, however, it's always worth the trip.

Editor's Note: Check back in a few days for a new text size adjustment tool, which will give you a larger, more readable font in one click! Send letters to Eric Alterman here.

Oil Spill? What Oil Spill?

I've got a new "Think Again" column about the election called "The 'Tea' Swallows the Party" here.

My Nation column is called "Ain't That America…" and it's here.

Anybody else see this (thanks to Donald L)?

Stephen F. Hayward wrote in the April 26 Weekly Standard:

The two main reasons oil and other fossil fuels became environmentally incorrect in the 1970s—air pollution and risk of oil spills—are largely obsolete. Improvements in drilling technology have greatly reduced the risk of the kind of offshore spill that occurred off Santa Barbara in 1969. There hasn’t been a major drilling related spill since then, though shipping oil by tanker continues to be risky, as the Exxon Valdez taught us. To fear oil spills from offshore rigs today is analogous to fearing air travel now because of prop plane crashes. Hayward is identified as "the F. K. Weyerhaueser fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of the forthcoming Almanac of Environmental Trends," but I think he has a future as the Standard’s editor in chief and a future Fox News analyst.

Alter-reviews:

I did not understand when Criterion Collection released its 50 disc Art House Essentials Collection for only $850. I mean does the world really work this way, with people spending so much money to let other people pick out their entire film libraries? Are these all films that people want to see over and over? To own? I dunno, but I get the business logic of it now, that I see they’ve been releasing the films in sets of six and individually at the same time. Each has that special Criterion touch which I think matters most when you read the notes and get the intelligent, nuanced introduction that can be so hard to find surfing the net. The newest collection, Volume 5, is blessed with two movies that need to be in everyone’s library. Truffaut's "Jules and Jim" and Fellini’s "8 ½," both of which I believe belong on any list of the top ten (Jules and Jim) or twenty (8 ½) movies of all time. Of the others, well, David Lean’s "Brief Encounter" is watchable, though I feel like I’ve seen twenty versions of it elsewhere, and Milos Foreman’s "Loves of a Blonde" gives just a hint of where he’s going but it’s a pleasant couple of hours. You can check out the rest of them here but you might find that you want to go through the earlier ones and pick out the individual films you want. In any case, take my advice vis-à-vis Truffaut and Fellini.

Mail:

There is no new mail because the new website design moved my letters section.  You can now find it here. It has also screwed up delivery of this blog, and I imagine others, to one’s Google Reader. To read this blog in your Reader, please go here to resubscribe.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this in Afghanistan, give a look out for Major Bob, who, I hear, is coming to save the world…

Hesitation Blues

I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “Kagan Gets the Kitchen Sink” and that’s here.

And I did another Kagan piece for The Daily Best and that’s here.

Alter-reviews:

What a piece of work is this Elizabeth Cook. Take a look at her bio here. As with last week’s Americana discoveries, Cook is this quiet treasure whose talents have eluded massive numbers of people in yet another indication that unfairness is the way of the world. I saw her Monday night at Joe’s Pub where the charm and the talent (to say nothing of those looks) just overflowed from the small stage. I’ve been spending some time with “Welder” is out this week and I’m going back that “Balls” cd too. It’s smart, diverse and equal parts moving and funky—which in country music, is all to the good.

Late last week, I had the extraordinary good luck to see a club show by Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg joined by Barry Mitterhoff at City Winery and what a night it was. Two guys I’ve been seeing since high school, but never once together, in an unassuming, comfortable setting (and the great food and drink that makes CW unique in this respect), showing off their stuff to one another, but also speaking to one another with their acoustic guitars in a language that is both unique and uniquely beautiful. The vibe was like a family reunion, if you had a really great family. (For family reunions See under Thorn, Paul: “I Don’t Like Half the Folks I Love.”) We all sang “I like to sleep late in the morning” without any help from David and it was his first song.  And I admired Bromberg’s attitude toward requests, which reminds me a great deal of the role of the Almighty as described by the author of Ecclesiastes. “I take requests, I just don’t play
‘em.”

Anyway, it was all old blues with a country feel and it went on and on for hours, because you knew these guys would be doing this even if they weren’t getting paid. There’s doing some more dates but you’ll have to do your own research, starting here.

No mail today…

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