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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 Thursday

I did a "Think Again" column about the Supreme Court decision oncampaign spending called "Cour Disposes, Media Yawn" and that's here.

And here's my Nation column on Game Change.

And here is my discussion last week on Bill Moyers' program with MelissaHarris-Lacewell about Obama's first years.

Death is not taking any holidays...

A story from the olden days of publishing:

Then he said, "Bill Shawn has recommended you, and I'd like you topublish my novel." I said, "What novel?" He said, "Oh, it isn'tfinished. It's about a kid in New York during the Christmas holidays." I said, "Listen, you've made a contract, let's shake hands." So we shook hands on it.

So in the past week, we've lost J.D. Salinger, Howard Zinn, Louis Auchincloss, Robert Parker and Kate McGarrigle, all of whom meant a great deal to me at one point or another in my now quite long life. A few days before that, Eric Rohmer, who, after Woody Allen and perhaps Truffaut, was my favorite director ever. I'd have to admit that my most intense relationship was with Salinger, coming as it did in adolescence. In my current life, it was Parker, who dependably, published one fine novel a year to be read on audio by the great Joe Montenega and people say he was on his way downhill but I never noticed. I wish I had gotten a chance to meet him and thank him. I'm glad I never met Salinger. I did spend an evening one night talking about him with Joyce Maynard and he sounded kind of scary. Now that he is gone, I eagerly look forward to finding out what he's been doing for the past half century. I sure hope it was writing. Thanks to Rick Hertzberg, I got to have dinner with Kate and her sister Anna a few years back after he interviewed the two of them for The New Yorker festival. She told very funny stories about Bob Dylan. What more could you ask of a dinner companion? And those early albums hold up wonderfully well, as does their terrific Christmas cd and video. I also loved Mr. Auchincloss, in part because he was also a deeply dependable writer and in part because I have this weird fascination with rich WASPs, and most of what I know about them comes from him. His novelistic take on the life of Walter Lippmann is also invaluable to me, though it's a long way from his best book. (I'd say Rector of Justin or Honorable Men.) And of course I admired the grit and generosity of spirit Howard Zinn tremendously, even though I obviously had my differences with him on historical matters.

Here's Dave Zirin on Zinn.

Because I'm too lazy to look beyond The New Yorker for the rest:

 Here's Luke Menand on Holden.

 Here's Rick Hertzberg on Kate M.

Here's Jon Michaud on Auchincloss.

Here's Richard Brody on Rohmer.

And here's Megan O'Rourke on bereavement.

The mail:

Name: Larry Rasnick

Hometown: Clawson, MI

Doctor, I am not the sharpest tack in the crayon box so please help me. If corporations are headquartered in a mailbox in the Bahamas or other tax friendly country, can they still dump tons-o-bucks on their Republican pals during elections?

Eric replies: Short answer, yes.

Name: Robert Calloway

Hometown: Lebanon, TN

I fear the corporate take-over of America is complete with this latest Supreme Court ruling. Can you see any environmental or social responsibility legislation being passed now, forget health care. I see OSHA out the window, mine safety, any kind of workplace safety eroded, then gone, control of water, food production, energy. They'll complete the take-over of public education, privatize everything and impoverish working people of this country and give corporations the third world workforce they have always longed for, right here at home. Bush's legacy complete. With media muffled, dissipated, and fractured, most people won't even notice, until it is too late. Thank you for your journalism.

Name: Steve Thorne

Hometown: Somewhere in California

Thanks to a 5-4 majority of the United States Supreme Court, I can apparently now form a corporation and register it to vote. Why not? It's the next step in humanizing corporations along the lines of the robot in Asimov's "Bicentennial Man."

The Board of Directors will hold a meeting during each election cycle, decide how the corporation's vote shall be cast and designate an officer to carry out the act at the polling place where the corporation has its primary business offices.

On a related note, the Democratic Party should take heart from this decision in that it shows what great deeds a majority of only one person can accomplish.

Name: Darryl Phillips

Hometown: Sallisaw, OK

Yesterday's SCOTUS decision is being decried as an end to participatory democracy, as big corporations can now buy elections with limitless company money.

But I think we're missing the bigger picture. What the Court did is make a forceful statement further giving corporations the exact same rights as natural (human) people. So let us carry that idea to the logical conclusion and in the process put an end to the idea of corporate "persondom." When that concept is ended, democracy for all the real human people can blossom.

If a corporation is a person, then can one corporation own another? Worse yet, can it buy another corporation with the intent of shutting it down and selling off the parts?

If a corporation is a person, doesn't it follow that laws can be passed to send it to prison? This would have the same effect as a human being imprisoned: loss of freedom to function in society, loss of ability to work and earn income, etc.

If a corporation is a person, does it have a sex? Even the most balanced hermaphrodite declares a gender for societal purposes. If corporations can join others of the same gender, then natural persons could too. And then we get into three-way arrangements.....!

If a corporation is a person, then the same bankruptcy rules must apply. Ditto for "too big to fail" and bailouts. Under the 14th amendment, equal protection must be provided to all persons, thus you or I should be eligible for bailouts, for pre-arranged bankruptcy and all the other perks businesses enjoy.

Obviously this could go on and on. And it should. I think the Court may have had in mind the need to declare that corporations are not persons at all. They weren't faced with that question here, so could not answer it. But if we follow the paths above, we soon come back to the root question and corporations must lose their personhood.

And then, we're back on the path toward freedom and democracy.

Name: Megan Williams

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Dr. A! Finally saw Moyers on Sunday afternoon. You were pre-empted for Haiti and the internet kept buffering. Gotta say you were positively CHARMING. Generally, I see you with an adversary and you are much more stern than you were with Moyers. I am part of the electorate that WANTS to listen to two professors discuss democracy but the biggest take-a-way was that I, too, took a breath because we had a president that was the smartest guy in the room. OK that's over. I'm now out there fighting. Thanx!

Name: Bob Tallman

Hometown: Crestwood, KY

Eric,

Nice job on Moyers. I would just point out that though Obama's first year strategy must be changed, as you stated, I believe Obama's "strategy" is policy for many of his appointees.

Until we see someone like Geithner, Summers or Rahm given the boot I will take the President's populism with a grain of salt. The Administration's continued support of Ben Bernanke despite the announced opposition of several Democratic Senators does not bode well.

Speeches are nice but Obama needs to demonstrate some forceful action with respect to Wall St. It won't be easy given the fact Chris Dodd appears to view his political liberation as an opportunity to focus exclusively on the interests of bankers, freed as he is now from the concerns of those pesky voters. A Democrat might have thought that as Banking Committee Chair Dodd would be using his new found freedom to do the opposite.

Name: Bill Reed

Hometown: Keaau, HI

I saw you with Melissa Harris-Lacewell on Moyers. You're right on the money about the Democrats letting the other party frame the debate. George Lakoff has been making this point for many years, and they haven't paid close enough attention to him. Keep after them, please.

Name: Mohan Sagar

Hometown: Denver, CO

Mr. Alterman

I saw your discussion on Bill Moyers by webcast this morning and it "was just what the doctor ordered." At the time that this program had originally aired, I was, at what was supposed to have been a quiet dinner with friends, hearing an "I told you so" soliloquy by a Republican guest.

It was nice to hear a more rational perspective on the President. Here's hoping that he sees the program, too, and takes the hint. I doubt, however, that my Republican buddy will.

Name: Ed Tracey

Hometown: Lebanon, NH

Professor,

Years ago Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim asked his old Orangemen roommate when would he enter politics.

When he finally did at age 66, he went for a post not for thefaint-hearted: mayor of Detroit, with his old Pistons teammate BobLanier asking "What are you thinking?"

It's too soon to tell how he will fare, but Dave Bing even makes a second pot of coffee for his office (hazelnut) for those who drink it.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Tea Party/Fox Party" aboutsome of the implications of Massachusetts here.

And I don't actually defend John Edwards here on The Daily Beast, but I do wonder exactly what the big deal is.

Finally, I'll be on Bill Moyers' show tonight, which is rebroadcast Sunday night, talking about Obama's first year. They have an excellent website, which is here.

I didn't get a chance to talk to Bill about the Supreme Court decision of yesterday, which is too bad, because it's really worrisome. And what really sucks about this decision is not only lack of control of the money but also the fact that this is the most irresponsible andunaccountable kind of money. The Willie Horton ads were produced by this kind of expenditure, at an arms length from Lee Atwater and the Bush campaign (though Roger Stone now says Atwater asked him to do it...). So the court has done real injustice to the quality of our democracy.

The Mail:

Name: Brian Donohue

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

I was amazed at Egan's "center-right" claim in today's Times,in part because of the data amassed by the author of this very blog (in Why We're Liberals) that proves we are far more center left. Anyway, I have more on all that here. Note the true story about Bolton making the same claim inside the BBC studio as the '08 election returns came in.

Name: Eric Gebert

Hometown: Montrose, NY

That was a great lecture you gave at the Center for Inquiry NYC. There is a great article at Washingtonmonthly.com by Mariah Blake titled "Revisionaries"...Texas Conservatives are trying to re-write history...This quote depressed me..."'Evolution is hooey'....'The secular humanists may argue that we are a secular nation,' McLeroy said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. 'But we are a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan--he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.'" Well, Mr. Alterman you said you were depressed last night...well now I am depressed after reading this article...Thomas Paine is rolling over in his grave!

Name: Tony DeSantis

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

What happend in Massachusetts was a superior candidate working his butt off to beat an inferior candidate who took a two week vacation after the primary. In special elections, the superior campaigner always beats an inferior candidate. That's all there is to this.

If we can't get health care reform passed with the still overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate, then we don't deserve to be in the majority.

Next time, I'm voting for Howard Dean.

Slacker Thursday

We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Tea Party/Fox Party" about some of the implications of Massachusetts here.This week on Moyers...

Oh look, it's me. Everybody watch...

Faced with the increasing global demand for oil and the threat ofclimate change, America needs a new energy policy--but what are our options? Bill Moyers sits down with Public Agenda analysts Jean Johnson and Scott Bittle to discuss how we can power America's future and why we should "work the problem" rather than listening to extremes on either side. Johnson and Bittle are the co-authors of Who Turned Out the Lights?Your Guided Tour to the Energy Crisis. Then, the Journal assesses Obama's first year as President in the wake of Democrats' defeat in Massachusetts' special election for Senate with Princeton politics and African American studies professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell and journalist Eric Alterman.

Alter-reviews by Eve Rose Alterman:

Make It or Break It, Volume one, extended edition

Make It or Break It is a show about four main teenage gymnasts competing and training to be in the Olympics. Each girl has a weakness, not always a physical weakness, but one that creates drama in each episode. I easily became addicted to this show because I felt I related to them in one small way or another. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger having you begging for more. I watched this entire season in two days. I guess that means something.

I give this show five stars and it is a definite buy for a teen from theages 10 through sixteen. (You can see the included extras here.)

10 Things I Hate About You, Volume one

10 Things I Hate About You is a show about two sisters that have completely different values. (Sorry folks, the kid stopped there. She had too much homework and I made her go to my lecture last night.) Anyway, I watched the first episode of the show with her and we both liked it, at least I did, almost as much as that show about Why You Can't Date My Daughter, or whatever it was called. It's well written and well acted and the girls are cute in all the right (and wrong) ways. While we were in Punta Cana, she stayed up till 2:30 watching what she said was nine episodes of the show in a row. But I couldn't get the review out of her. It's got a bunch of extras that you can look up here.

CHARLES PIERCE

NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc: "Don't push me/'cause I'm close to the...edge/I'm just tryin'not to lose my head."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Hello Stranger" (Walter WolfmanWashington)--RIP Bobby Charles, one of the major reasons why even a feckless political elite can't stop me from loving New Orleans.

Part The First:

The Spectacle two-parter with Elvis interviewing that promising kid from Jersey got off to a terrific start. Springsteen's an interesting interview. When he starts talking about politics, or the country in general, there's almost a kind of, well, diffidence about him. It's not there when he sings about those things--just when he's talking about them. It's almost as though, like a lot of self-taught folks, he's reluctant to bring out his ideas unless he can couch them in a kind of modesty--or, in his case, string them out on his Fender. It's really charming. And the version of "Radio, Radio" that they teased from next week's Part Two looks like a roof-blower.

Part The Second:

We'll get to the news from the Bay State down below, but this made me summon another pint. The president calls the winner on election night. Now, ask yourself why. ("Because the president is a class act" is really sweet, but it's irrelevant in this context.) He gains nothing politically from it, and if he's still delusional enough to believe that any Senate Republican wants anything less than his head on a stick, maybe it's time for a long rest somewhere. In 2006. (And if he thinks Scott Brown wants anything less than that, I'll pay the plane fare.) I don't recall any congratulatory phone calls from the president to any of all those Democrats who got elected. ("Hey there, Jon Tester. Nice job out there in Montana. Best of luck fucking me up for the next couple of years!") Along with all those anonymous "White House aides" and"Democratic activists" who were bad mouthing the Democratic candidate while the polls were still open, these are Exhibits MCMVII through MCMVIII of Things Republicans Never Do.

Part The Third:

None of these should have a place in decent society ever again. Nicepanel, MSNBC. Squint. The Meat Puppet. An MBA rush chairman. A serial plagiarist and fabulist. And the Crazy Dolphin Jesus Queen. It's sheer dumb luck that the entire planet didn't tumble into a black vortex of aggravated asshattery.

Part The Fourth:

I'm no seismologist, and I'm sure there are good reasons for the jargon being the way it is, but it strikes me that, when you've been hit with a7+ event on the Richter Scale, a subsequent 6.2 event is not an"aftershock." It's another earthquake.

Part The Fifth:

Corporations are people. They have rights. I'd like to stop at this point and congratulate the Democrats whose bipartisan efforts gave us Roberts and Alito for the next 20 years. Good thing that civility counts so much in Washington or else the truly disgusting David Bossie might have to work for a living. And my friend Jack Beatty continues to be right--the Supreme Court's Santa Clara decisionfrom 1886 is one of the great unacknowledged malignant viruses in American history.

Part The Sixth:

Good, talented people are being laid off by the truckload at local TV stations and at newspapers. Magazines are folding. Network TV news is as hell of itself. The public is ill-served and underinformed. (Someone should write a book about that...and it should come out in paperback next June!) But, luckily, we get Louis The Simple ascending to his father's throne.

Part The Penultimate:

It appears that Waldo The Drunk Security Guard has gone off to rehab again, and that the folks at Salon have hired a diligent, sober replacement to keep the crazy people from sneaking in and posting whatever is rattling around in their heads. That said, relax, Camille.

Nobody was asking. Trust me.

Part The Ultimate:

Hi, I'm from Massachusetts.

We suck.

Sorry, America.

Now that the Commonwealth (God save it!) apparently has elected Scott Brown to be King Of The Universe, we all really ought to take a breath here. I spent election night at Doyle's Cafe, my old local in Jamaica Plain, back when I was living on the top floor of a three-decker and writing for the alternative press. Doyle's has turned into something of a Hiberno-American political theme park in the years since and, on electionnight, it was taken over by the MSNBC crew--specifically, the Hardball gang and Dr. Maddow. Schmoozability was at high tide, despite what was going on generally all over the state. Three things stuck out specifically.

1) The unexpected land mine in the race turned out to be MassCare, the state health-care plan conceived and passed a while back by the then-largely-still-sane Mitt Romney and Sal DiMasi, the then-Speaker of the state's House Of Representatives who is currently awaiting trial on a number of different counts. (Will Mitt be tarred by his "connection" to DiMasi when he's bragging on the campaign trail about MassCare, the way Coakley was ripped here for not yet disemboweling DiMasi personally on the State House steps? Are you kidding?) The plan isn't perfect. But people really like it. So Brown, shrewdly if irresponsibly, used it as a club on the president's plan. He did so in two ways. One--he intimated that the president's plan would damage the Massachusetts plan. (Would it? Whoreallyknows? At this point, for all I understand it, the president's plancouldbe written in Urdu.) More disgracefully, Brown made a very neat, and very subtle, I've Got Mine, Jack argument. He asked--sincerely, of course--why other states haven't done what Massachusetts has done and,if they can't or won't, why should Massachusetts taxpayers be asked to subsidize those layabouts in the other 49 states. (Sorry down there in theMississippi Delta, you don't have a Sal DiMasi so you'll have to dienow.) It worked very well.

2) Brown won in my part of the state, dammit. If you look at a map of Massachusetts, and you draw a vertical line on the western border of Framingham and another one at the eastern border of Springfield, Coakley didn't win a single city or town except tiny Harvard and the city of Worcester. The town where I grew up went 60-40 for him. I'm thinking of rewriting my birth certificate. And Doc's friend, the great Jim McGovern, better had get hustling because that's his district.

3) Most distressing of all, the Massachusetts electorate came out in favor of climate-change denialism and emphatically in favor of torture. In fact, his enthusiasm for waterboarding was probably the clearest and most unambiguous position that Scott Brown took on any major national political issue. (Some of the people interviewed here seemed to believe that Brown was going to D.C. to lower their property taxes.) Having spent years developing a foreign policy for the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex state senatorial district, Brown concluded that he doesn't consider waterboarding torture--which, of course, makes him a liar and a coward, hiding behind semantics. And this from a guy in the JAG corps--which elsewhere employed some of the only heroes produced during the years in which the country degraded itself and its ideas, largely through the techniques that Scott Brown is so proud of, which is only another reason why we suck here in Massachusetts.

I have long been an adherent of Berube's First Theory Of Politics--"I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I'm outraged by Chappaquiddick. "As such, I would like to propose a corollary to those lefty wankers who think that I should have this pipsqueak as my junior senator for three years so that they can all do the Superior Dance around the campfire at the Circle Jerk Ranch--I am never so outraged at Rahm Emanuel that I will be complicit in torture."

Like I said, sorry, America.

p.s. -- It seems Tim Noah noticed the same thing I DID (http://www.slate.com/id/2242075) about the role played by the current Massachusetts health-care plan, although he gives less weight to the I'm All Right, Jack argument.

The Mail:

Name: Ed Dufilho

Hometown: Arlington, TX

Dr. Alterman,

Only Molly Ivins could properly describe a campaign involving Rick Perry (Gov. Good Hair) and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (The Breck Girl). As for the Tea Party/Libertarian/Republican/Gun-Totin'/ChristianFundamentalist/Keep-Your-Gummint-Hands-Off-My-Medicare candidate, Molly would be the one to assign her her proper place in the political loony bin that is Texas.

God, I miss her.

Name: Steve Nelson

Hometown: Kent, Wa

Thank you for the Molly tribute. I admit to my chagrin that I had not remembered even though such memories are hard on the soul.

Name: Michael Green

Hometown: Las Vegas, NV

Brother Pierce and I share a love for Law & Order and it would be nice for it to go back to the beginning. I liked Moriarty as prosecutor, was aware of his political views and wonder whether his train has chugged around the bend. But I also miss Steven Hill, one of the great actors ever. He didn't write the line, but no one other than Adam Schiff could have said it: "She could convince a jury that Jeffrey Dahmer had an eating disorder." Now, the Halperin comparison might have worked even better with Dahmer replacing E Coli. Just a thought.

Slacker Friday

First things first: We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Blame Gitmo" here.

My new Nation column is called "What Would Molly Say?" and that's here.

Also, I keep forgetting to mention this lecture/discussion in honor of Tom Paine I'm doing next week at the Ethical Culture Society in NewYork, which is naturally free and open to the public. Here's the invitation, (with apologies for the excessive degree of self-promotion, even by Internet standards, but thanks to the Center for Inquiry for the kind words). It will take place Wednesday, January 20 at 7pm at the New York Society for Ethical Culture headquarters:

 

What Would Tom Paine Think? Liberal Values In Obama's First Year

 

A special event with Eric Alterman

Please join the Center for Inquiry-NYC and the New York Society for Ethical Culture for the annual Thomas Paine Memorial lecture, featuring Eric Alterman.

Alterman is a media columnist for The Nation and Distinguished Professorof English and Journalism at Brooklyn College, and a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress, the World Policy Institute and the Nation Institute. This event takes place exactly one year after the inauguration of President Obama, and Paine's views--on issues ranging from economic justice to freedom of and from religion--are highly relevant to some of the most significant political controversies that have emerged during the first year of the new administration.

The event is co-sponsored by the Center for Inquiry-New York City with the New York Society for Ethical Culture and will be held at the Ethical Culture headquarters, 64th Street & Central Park West, beginning at 7p.m. A question-and-answer period and author book signing will follow.

Alterman, widely praised for his incisive criticism of the media, is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Reviving America's Most Important Ideals (2008) and What Liberal Media?:TheTruth About Bias And The News. He is also a regular contributor toThe Daily Beast. For more information visit www.ericalterman.com.

Alterman's passionate, persuasive, and polemical writing--always backed up by scrupulous research--is in the best tradition of the independent  journalism of Thomas Paine, the preeminent propagandist of the American Revolution; radical economic thinker, and passionate advocate for the separation of church and state. Following a tradition established by freethinkers in New York in the early 1820s, the Center for Inquiry always celebrates the anniversary of Paine's birthday (Jan. 29, 1737) with a talk by a distinguished journalist or scholar.

OK, enough (finally) about me...

CHARLES PIERCE

NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc: When you're troubled and you can't relax/Close your eyes and think on this."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Mon Reve" (Eveline Michel) -- You can move me anywhere in the NBC late-night lineup and I'll still love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First:

I believe that Martha Coakley will managed to fall across the finish line ahead of Ayla's dad up here in the special election next Tuesday, but probably just barely,and by a lot less than John Kerry beat Bill Weld back in the day. Tedium to apathy and back again, as Mr. Roberts writes to his old shipmates.

Part The Second:

I have a running feud with TNT because they never run enough old-school Law And Order episodes to suit me, and never run any at all with the original cast, including Michael Moriarty's Ben Stone, the most righteously indignant Catholic character in the history of TV. This is even more unfortunate since Moriarty seems to have gone, in the immortal phrase of the late George V. Higgins, as soft as church music. "Gentlemen, your business is politics. Mine is running a saloon."

 Part The Penultimate:

I have enormous respect for The Landlord, so I will moderate my commentary on the Drudge 'n Grudge book written by his pal and the execrable Mark Halperin, who is to political journalism what E.coli is to steakhouses. The sourcing is laughable. The anecdotes petty, where they are not trivial, and indecent, where they are not petty and trivial. It exists, apparently, to dish dirt about the Clinton and Edwards marriages, thereby providing Andrea Mitchell with her quadrennial orgasm.It reeks of access-whoring of the $5-blowjob-under-the-overpass sort, whereit does not reek of cheap, frat-boy sexism, and I include the Palin passages in this. (Hey, Steve Schmidt. You're done, pal. She's still famous and you're still a hack. Get over it.) There is not a single, solitary ounce of substance anywhere in these 200-odd pages. Go ahead. Look up"health-care"in the Index.

 I'll wait.

Back so soon?

(It's in there, but only in the context of political strategy in the individual campaigns. Nice, fellas. Have David Axelrod take out your appendix some time.)

You will also note that the war in Afghanistan -- indeed, the country of Afghanistan -- gets three mentions: the first in the context of Hillary Clinton's having gone there, the second a passing mention o fBarack Obama's having gone there and how icky that made John McCain feel, and the last one as a measure of how hard people had to work to make Sarah Palin look like less of a dope. There's one mention of al Qaeda, probably because there wasn't room for any more, what with recycling a 10-year old quote from an anonymous woman who said of John Edwards, "I like that he's got a fat wife." (A two-fer of sniggering middle-school half wittery!) Actual voters? Forget it. Giving a fuck about them won't get you a table at The Palm, or chuckles from the assorted elderly fools and plagiarists on theset of Morning Joe. The book should make every serious, decent journalist want to take a shower from now until the Horsemen ride. But, as I said,out of respect for the Landlord, I will decline the opportunity to make my real feelings known.

Part The Ultimate:

Simply put, this judge is out of his mind. This defense got laughed out of court in Florida a few years back, when the late Paul Hill was running amok, and it was laughed out of court for good legal and political reasons. Allow evidence of justification to be presented as a legitimate defense in these kind of cases and you are declaring open season on health-care providers in this country, whether the defense succeeds at trial or not. I have heard a lot of easy outrage about how we can't try Islamic extremists in our criminal courts because their super-human terrorist rhetorical mind-tricks will convince juries to let them loose, where upon they will move in next door and use their thought-beams to bring down airliners atop nursery schools.(Scott Brown, the empty suit running for the Senate up here, has been notably full of shit on this issue throughout the campaign.) If that's true, then isn't allowing a terrorist like Scott Roeder to espouse this defense in open court running the risk of having him convince the next unbalanced armed god-botherer to conduct high-caliber missionary work? After all, Roeder will get up and explain that, yes, he actually killed someone. Stalked George Tiller and shot him down, not at the clinic, whereTiller worked, but in Tiller's church, where Tiller was no imminent threat to anyone. Salim Hamdan, to name one person we tossed into Gitmo and declined to bring to trial, never killed anyone, but Republicans are worried that, if we allow Hamdan to come before a civilian court, he might spread the message of the international caliphate by telepathy. To hell with the judge, this whole country's gone crazy.

Name: Michael Rapoport

Hometown: Montclair, NJ

Re: Molly Ivins - Don't know if you've mentioned this before, but Kathleen Turner will be portraying Molly in a one-woman show set to premiere in Philadelphia in March.

Eric replies: Thanks Michael, I forgot to mention that.

Name: John Manning

Hometown: Cleveland, OH

Eric,

For another view of Haiti, and a great book, check out Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Slacker Thursday

We've got a new "Think Again" column called "Blame Gitmo" here.

My new Nation column is called "What Would Molly Say?" and that's here.

As I wrote in my previous Altercation this week, devoted to "Game Change," I'm in the Dominican Republic with the ambition of turning 50 in relative privacy. My family and I happen to be staying at the Club Med in Punta Cana, where between 50 and 60 percent of the staff is Haitian. It's morally complicated enough to come to one of these places in the best of times. Now, obviously, the irony is almost unbearable. I've made friends withmy tennis instructor, Elie, a great guy, who heard third hand that his family's house was destroyed but that his mother and sister were able to get out. He can't reach them and is understandably desperate to find away to help them. Instead, however he is giving tennis lessons to wealthy Americans and Europeans. This situation is multiplied many times over and I don't pretend to be able even imagine what it must be like.

I don't know anything about Haiti beyond what I've read in Graham Greene (and Amy Wilenz). A friend wrote to recommend charity in Haiti called Hearts with Haiti. It started 25 years ago as a home for 5 boys - now it has three orphanages including one for handicapped children, one of which was destroyed. You can find out more about them here

Also, since I'm 50 today, a friend on Facebook--one of my few actual friends among my Facebook "friends" Julie Bergman gave me the gift of a bottle of potable water for Haiti by clicking on something there. If we are Facebook "friends" or should be, that's what I'm asking for. If you have other friends, who'd be touched as I was by Julie, you might want to do the same.

And if you send me more suggestions, I'll print them up with Pierce tomorrow.

Thanks

The mail.

Name: Cervantes

Postal: Cambridge, Mass.

In re: "The idea that what Harry Reid said is genuinely offensive to anyone is comical. And if you see anyone acting like it is ... then you can conclude that that person is purposely full of shit and ignore everything he or she says for the rest of your life."

Or if you had already drawn that conclusion, then you can bask in the confirming glow of the TV screen.

Name: Bill Dunlap

Postal: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Hi, Eric: Maybe African-American should be sub-Sahara-African-American-except-for-white- Afrikaaner -Americans (if any). Also, I remember a Muhammad Ali press conference before a tune-up fight that would precede his rematch with Ken Norton. All the questions were about Norton, not the upcoming fight. Someone finally asked, "What if you lose?" Ali responded: "Lose? Lose? You're not talking to any ordinary Negro." The fight was with Leon Spinks who beat the hell out of Ali.

Name: Ilene M. Wolf

Postal: Fox Lake, IL

Thank you so much for your last comment about Harry Reid. It is the most "right on" assessment of this made up kerfuffle (have no clue how to spell it!).

 

You Can Cut the Pressure in 'Game Change' with a Butter Knife

Since my poker buddy John Heilemann was good enough to drop off a copy of his embargoed book, Game Change, on Sunday night and I got picked upby the Carmel car at 5:15 Monday morning to make a 7:50 a.m. flight to Punta Cana, and I read the book for the entire four hour flight, my guess is that it's a safe bet that I was the first person in all of South America to have read its first 200 pages, and certainly the only one to report back to you all on it.

Well?

It's kind of like crack. I am a fan of Heilemann's writing and reporting, though not quite in sufficient quantities to offset how much of an unfan I am of Mark Halperin, his co-author. But while the pair have not been able to shake off the kind of clichés that made Halperin almost unreadable in the past--"like a ton of bricks to their psychicsolar plexus" occurs within about a page of "John Kerry was saddled with more baggage than a curbside porter at Dulles airport," Heilemann, a former New Yorker staff writer has clearly massaged this prose so that nobody needs to be embarrassed about having his or her name on it.(Interestingly, and undoubtedly significantly, Heilemann's name precedes Halperin's on the cover, though alphabetically, it should be the other way around.)

Anyway, most of us probably thought we were sick of election stories. And you read either Richard Wolffe's or David Plouffe's book, then you damn well knew you were. (I did not read Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson's book, much less the insta-Newsweek books, etc.) But this book not only rips along like a Superman comic, it answers lots of questions that have been lingering in our minds for a long time. And what's more, it blows away lots of things you thought you knew were true--even if you thought you were among the only people who knew them. Everybody talked to these guys and while there are a few incidents where they read people's minds in ways I cannot accept, it appears solidly sourced as this kind of journalism goes (and blame Bob Woodward for 'this kind of journalism').

Anyway, it's amazing how good both John and Elizabeth Edwards were at appearing good when they were apparently such lunatics. And Jesus, what a catastrophe a Hillary presidency would have been. And goodness, what a cool cucumber this Obama fellow is, even if he can't be bothered to bring his "A Game" until the final half of the final quarter of any contest.

In any case, if you want the gossip, it's all over the Internet. I'm just telling you you'll enjoy reading this thing, even if, as it should, it pisses you off lots. And I should add, if it's not obvious, that there can hardly be any question, after reading this book, that the best person won, and that's really, really, lucky as we have one hell of a weird way of picking our leaders in this country. Also, don't believe too much of what you read, except here...

An update:

Ok, all that wine, sun and cappucino has caused havoc with my sleeping habits and now I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in all of Latin America to have finished "Game Change." (Ok, its unputdownableness helped.) Here's who comes off horribly: Bill Clinton, Mark Penn, John and Elizabeth Edwards, Reille Whatshername, Cindy McCain, Rudy G., Sarah Palin. Here's who comes off pretty bad: Hillary Clinton. Here's who comes off OK: John McCain, Patty Solis Doyle. Here's who comes off great: Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, David Axlerod, David Plouffe, Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis. Here's who gets a free pass: Everybody in the media, pretty much, but especially ABC News, CNN, and their lobotomized debate questioners.

What does that tell you about their sources?

He who controls the future controls the past.

Also, I gave up on this years ago, but I have always felt the phrase of"African-American" to be a ridiculous one. Barack Obama is genuinely African-American, but hardly anybody else who goes by the phrase is. I counted myself, ever so briefly, a foot-soldier in Stanley Crouch's movement to bring back the honorable (and accurate) name "American negro" when it was accurate and whatever was accurate when it was not. I gave up on that, as it caused too much trouble I didn't need. So now I say "black" which is also often inaccurate. But "negro" has never been a slur, it is just not the preferred term of the alleged spokespeople for linguistic correctness. The idea that what Harry Reid said is genuinely offensive to anyone is comical. And if you see anyone acting like it is, even if they are merely asking the question on some dumb cable show, then you can conclude that that person is purposely full of shit and ignore everything he or she says for the rest of your life.

Slacker Friday

 I've got a new "Think Again" column called "Money for Nothing" and it's here.

 This month's Moment column, on Jewish McCarthyism, is here

My idea of a good movie: "One more thought. If you've been looking for a film whose hero uses the subjunctive frequently and correctly, 'Youth in Revolt' is it." (from the WSJ) Just saying.

Here's Charles

CHARLES PIERCENEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc:

"There's a port on a western bay/and it serves a hundred ships a day."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click -- "Woman Named Trouble" (Bernard Allison)--- Just because Byron Dorgan's leaving the Senate doesn't mean I loveNew Orleans even less.

Short Takes:

Part The First: If there's a less excusable Democratic politician alive than Harold Ford, Jr., I'm not sure who it is. Not to mention the fact that he's one of the most singularly inept campaigners to climb the stump since John Ashcroft lost to that dead guy. As the GOP imploded, and Democrats got elected in places like Virginia and Montana, Ford ran in Tennessee on the What-A-Friend-I-Have-In-Jesus platform and got race-baited out of the job by an non-entity named Bob Corker. So much for being a Rising Star and all. James Carville sure can pick 'em, can't he? (More than one person has told me that Ford looks at Barack Obama the way Salieri looked at Mozart.) Now, though, with some Wall Street grifters behind him, and his support running from one side of the MSNBC green room to the other, this clown is bringing his act to New York. All of that is shameless political opportunism. However, this is different. This vote hurt people, many of whom you can read about in a book I can recommend. This vote made a painful situation infinitely worse.This vote should have disqualified him forever, not merely from participation in our national legislature, but from participation indecent society. This vote makes him a grasping, conscience-free moron.

Part The Second: Courtesy of Mr. Bogg, this may be the worst writing in English I have ever read. Added fun -- see if you can count how many really cool names for indy-rock bands are concealed by the dense undergrowth here. I'll start -- "Put your hands together, Milwaukee, for The Resonant Qualifiers!"

Part The Third: From Herself, talking to Bill O'Reilly -- "Palin: I believe that I am because I have common sense. And I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that has to be me." "Fact resume"? Priceless. Go to Memorial church at Harvard some time read the names on the wall there of all the Harvard students who've fallen in this country's wars. Then, go back to Wasilla and tell the apparently fathomless reservoir of local tweakers to sign up. And then go play in traffic, you vapid, mindless freak.

Part The Fourth: One. Million.Dollars.

Part The Fifth: The new sports-bar along the docks of Blogistan. Stop on by. First one's free.

Part The Pentultimate: My friend, Kevin Cullen, a great reporter who's forgotten more about the Irish Troubles than most people ever knew, reminds me that, the next time Rep. Peter King (R-Sputum) starts bellyaching about inadequate responses to terrorism, someone should remind the congress critter that he spent most of the 1980's and 1990's as a starry-eyed, wet-lipped groupie for every Provo in Northern Ireland.

Part The Ultimate: Is it just me -- "It's just you, dummy!" -- or are our fellow humans in foreign lands beginning to lose their minds a bit here? This is bad enough; exporting our toxic god-botherers seems to be the uniquely American equivalent of shipping off lead-painted toys and flammable jammies. However, now comes the land of my ancestors. My fellow Rings end cowboy makes a compelling case that the case of the Irish anti-blasphemy law is more nuanced than it might appear to be on the surface, and he gives both Richard Dawkins and the American public a good boot in the arse a piece for their smugness. (The Dawkins quote is proof enough that, if you give them the chance, even the most open-minded Brits can be counted upon to say something stupid about Ireland.) And Thers's point about the crackpot Irish Constitution is well-taken. That said, however, I'm a little less sanguine on the notion that a country that so recently has seen the institutional church of an overwhelming percentage of its population paying out a whopping settlement to the victims of horrendous child abuse can be trusted to administer this kind of law sensibly -- particularly given the fact that, absent aggressive reporting and blazing public outrage, the whole scandal likely would have been lost to history. Considering the serious damage that the institutional church in this country did to the health-care reform bill here, it seems that the bureaucrats in the red-beanies have picked themselves off the floor, dusted themselves off, and are back in the ring. This is not a good thing for any country's politics.

Name: Howard M. Romaine

Postal: NASHVILLE, TN

Erich, Enjoy your column, but would like to suggest that your 'funeral list' failed to pick an appropriate place, and I would like to suggest the Ryman in Nashville, as counter intuitive home for such diverse artists as Cash and Dylan. B.B. King, Kristofferson and Aretha Franklin, (this spring!!) and which has great space for viewing 'the body' - from the Confederate Gallery!!! keep up the good work, postpone the passing, HR

Name: Rebekah Diller

Postal: Brooklyn

Not that I condone preparing for a birthday this way but ... if you're looking for more Springsteen material for the mix, I think "Don't Look Back" from Tracks would be a good closer. "Long Walk Home" from Magic would work before the service.

Closing Time

I've got a new "Think Again" column called "Money for Nothing" and it's here

If you read this article in the Forward, you'll see that every single leader of every major Jewish organization has chosen to side with the government of Israel over the representative of their own government when it comes to the government of Israel's right to attack American Jewish organizations. This is not surprising, but it is disturbing, to nothing of revealing. And were this any other country, it would be impossible. Here is the key quote: Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued a statement praising Oren and criticizing Rosenthal: "As an official ofthe United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community." Really? Who appointed Solow Pope of the Jews?

I wrote a column about a similar controversy in Moment this month here I actually don't like the title of this column. It's not really about J Street, it's about the insistence by Abe Foxman, et al that American Jews have no right to free speech should their views disagree with those of the Israeli government. It's about Jewish McCarthyism, whether one agrees with J Street or not. (And Oh, look, here is the root of my anti-Palin animus. Who'd a thunkit?)

All this reminds me of something funny that happened with my previous two columns. What happens when you criticize the "pro-Israel" neocons? You get attacked on a website called "Israpundit" as "Eric (I Never Met An Anti-Semite I Didn't Like) Alterman" and put on a list of "Five American Psuedo Jews I Would Like To Outfit In Chabad Lubavitch Garb And Parachute Into A Meeting Of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades." And whathappens when you write a sympathetic column about Israeli cinema twoweeks later? You get attacked on a website called, I kid you not, "The Angry Arab" as"callous and insensitive toward the Palestinians" as " all his writingson the Palestinians and Arabs in general drip with racism and contemptfor the natives."

And speaking of that first column, people think I pay a lot of attention to Marty Peretz. This is only a half-truth. I don't really care about Peretz. I don't ever recall speaking to the man and he has done me nopersonal harm in any way. True, I can't really respect a man whose only accomplishments in public life are negative ones and whose entire career is based on his exploitation of two ex-wives inherited fortunes, but he's hardly important in an of himself. What I do care about are the respective fates of American liberalism and American and Israeli judaism. I judge TNR's contributions to both of these phenomena to be decidedly destructive in large measure because of the writings of its editor-in-chief on these topics, both in the The New Republic and elsewhere. Peretz's racist screeds, published on his blog pretty much speak for themselves. And as far as I can tell, nobody in aposition of authority anywhere will defend them. But defenders of TNR lately have been arguing that however objectionable Peretz's writings on the website of the magazine may be, they are irrelevant to its overall quality because they are shunted off to a ghettoized blog where everyone understands they are to be tolerated, but not taken seriously. I disagree about the meaning of "everybody" but even accepting it for the purpose of argument, the fact that TNR thinks Peretz's complaint that Obama is too nice to Arabs in his Cairo speeches was one of its "Best of" articles for the year undermines that excuse as well. It's one thing to tolerate racism, reaction and ignorance because the guy owns the printing press. It's quite another to celebrate it, here TNR's Best of 2009: Peretz on Obama's Cairo Speech.

I'm turning 50 next week and I'll be filing from somewhere funny. Since the actuarial tables are looking darker and darker--what exactly is a"herniated disc" anyway--I thought I better start preparing to make my final exit, since I'm clearly on a downhill slope. (And I've not even mentioned the "angry arabs" and Jews who want to dress me up in Chabadclothing.)

With that in mind, I thought I do the world the favor of printing the funeral mix I've been working on for a decade now, just in case. It changes a little bit over time, but if either plane goes down.... You can the mix in my itunes file--it's the only playlist I've made.

Eric's Funeral Mix:

Before the service:

Bruce Springsteen, The Fever, Winterland, 1978

Allman Brothers Band, One Way Out from Eat A Peach

Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias, To All the Girls I've Loved Before...

Clapton, Harrison, Dylan, etc, My Back Pages from the 1993 Bob Dylan tribute concert

Played low during the service:

Van Morrison, The Band, Roger Waters Comfortably Numb from The Wall, live

Eric Clapton with the Allman Brothers Why does Love Got to be so Sad? From the Beacon show of 3/20/09

Any post 1973-live Dead beginning with Help/Slip/Frank...

Following the End of the Service:

Elvis Presley, A Little Less Conversation, (A Little More Action, Please) remixed version

Leonard Cohen, Closing Time, from Live in London

Allman Brothers Band, Ain't Waistin' Time No More from Eat A Peach

The Clash, I Fought the Law (studio)

The Mail:

Name: Don Hynes

Postal: Portland OR

Hi Eric,

In regard to your column on Israeli film, I'm one of those blogosphere types referred to who has perhaps regrettably "placed (Israel) in the pantheon of leftist bugbears out of all proportion to the size of the country and the (undoubted) wrongs it has committed."

I take some flack on my blog for one-sidedness but it is hard to see beyond Gaza, Lebanon, etc. Perhaps its what we'll come to know as "the Obama effect" or in biblical language "to those whom much has been given much is required."

This is all a long winded way of saying thank you for your very fine column. We've got to get the fuel off this fire collectively without taking the ostrich route and your analysis is spot on.

Name: Charles Rossi

Postal: Media, PA

Mr. Alterman:

I admire your work and your commitment very much and always enjoy reading your columns and your blog.

In the matter of Martin Peretz, who is often a target of your criticism, I thought you might enjoy this post from "The Philosopher's Stone," a blog written by the eminent professor of political philosophy Robert Paul Wolff (now retired).

Friday, December 25, 2009 AL GORE -- AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH All of us, I imagine, have a soft spot in our hearts for Al Gore. Robbed of the presidency by a judicial coup worthy of a banana republic, he sucked it up and made himself the international voice of global warming, winning, along the way, a Nobel Prize, an Academy Award, and a Pulitzer Prize -- surely a feat never to be matched.

This morning, I was idly surfing the web [yes, yes, it is Christmas morning -- I must get a life], when my eye fell on a startling phrase: "Martin Peretz, Al Gore's mentor and one of his closest advisers...." "That can't be right," I said to myself, but a bit of googling confirmed that Peretz had been one of Gore's undergraduate Government instructors at Harvard, and had gone on to become a close advisor to the future Vice-President.

Let me tell you a story about Marty Peretz. This goes back a ways. It starts half a century ago in Cambridge, Mass, when I was a young Instructor in Philosophy and General Education at Harvard, and part of an informal group of left-leaning young academics who called ourselves, rather self-importantly, The New Left Club of Cambridge [for those too young to remember, The New Left Club was an important left-wing organization in England and the founder of The New Left Review.] It was an interesting group: Gabe and Joyce Kolko, who went on to do really interesting writing on the left [it is worth looking up Gabe Kolko's early book, Wealth and Power in America.]; Michael Walzer, a political theorist who taught Government for many years at Harvard before relocating to the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study; Gordon Feldman, Nadav Safran, even, believe it or not, Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, later to become fanatic rightwing neo-cons. I was friendly with all of them, and in fact we used to gather every so often for bag lunches in my office. In those days, Marty Peretz was an obnoxious sycophantic little wannabe who hung around with us trying to get accepted into the group. He had gone to Brandeis, where he had attached himself to the columnist Max Lerner.

The defining moment for our group was Kennedy's invasion of Cuba. We had all supported Kennedy enthusiastically [despite Barrington Moore's cautionary warning to me one day that there was not a dime's worth of difference between him and Richard Nixon]. Kennedy, after all, was a Harvard graduate, a liberal, an author [we did not then know that it was Ted Sorensen who had actually written Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage], and to top it off, his wife spoke French. What was not to like? But when he invaded Cuba, each of us had a dark moment of the soul. Kennedy was a liberal. If liberals invaded Cuba, then we were not liberals. But what were we? Faute de mieux, we decided we were Radicals, even though that notion had very little content for us beyond "not a liberal like Kennedy."

Max Lerner the next day wrote a column in the New York POST defending the invasion, and Peretz, ever the suck-up, sided with Lerner, which pretty much finished him, in my eyes anyway.

Time passed, and we scattered. I went on to the University of Chicago, then for seven years to Columbia, and in 1971 to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In 1973, when I was living in a lovely federal style brick house on a quiet dead end street in Northampton, I got a call one day from a young man who introduced himself as a political scientist in New York City. He was part of a group called Political Scientists for Impeachment who wanted to place an ad in the NY TIMES calling for the removal from office of Richard Nixon. The TIMES, not surprisingly, wanted the money for the ad up front, and he was calling to ask whether I could get in touch with Barrington Moore, Jr. and Martin Peretz. Peretz by this time had married rich and had bought himself The New Republic magazine, which until then had been a pretty good left-liberal journal of opinion.

I told the caller that there was no use getting hold of Moore -- he never gave money to anything, even though he was, in a modest way, independently wealthy. [The caller knew that I knew Moore because Barry, Herbert Marcuse, and I had published a little book together in 1965]. But I thought I could reach Peretz through Walzer. I hadn't talked to Mike in a while, but I knew he was at Harvard, so I found his number and gave him a call. We spent a little time catching up -- I asked him how his wife and daughter were, he asked about my wife and two small sons -- and then I explained why I had called.

There was a long pause -- so long I was afraid the connection had been broken. Then, in a soft voice, Walzer said, "Well, you see, we are supporting Nixon." I was so stunned I was sure I had misheard him. I had never even met anyone supporting Nixon. I spluttered and protested for a bit, asking in a dozen different ways what on earth he was talking about. There was another pause, even longer than the first, and then, in that sweet, soft voice that Jewish men use when they are explaining sadly why they are stabbing you in the back, he said, "Well, you see, Israel."

Suddenly, the scales fell from my eyes. Despite his anti-semitism [now well documented by the White House tapes], Nixon was, for geo- political reasons, a strong supporter of the state of Israel, and that fact, apparently, trumped all other considerations in the eyes of Peretz and Walzer. I was so embarrassed for Walzer that I made a few inane remarks and got off the phone as fast as I could. That was thirty-six years ago, and despite the fact that Michael Walzer and I are both prominent American political theorists, I have never spoken another word to him to this day.

So that Martin Peretz is Al Gore's old instructor, mentor, and close political advisor.

It makes one think. Posted by Robert Paul Wolff at 6:03 AM Labels: Al Gore, Israel, Martin Peretz, Michael Walzer

Name: James Wiseman

Postal: Downingtown, PA 19335

Hi Eric, While I'm sure you don't really need any additions to your collection, nevertheless I present you with yet another vapid Maureen Dowd quote:

"Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe." (NYT, 12/29/09)

To what "wondrous Philip K. Dick universe." was she referring, I wonder? The ultra grim ones displayed in "A Scanner Darkly" or "Martian Time-Slip", or the only marginally less grim "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"? Perhaps the melancholy alternative history of "The Man in the High Castle"? Dowd has obviously never read a word of Dick, who perhaps more than any other major SF writer focused on how technological advancement , without concurrent advancements in human values and culture, was a recipe for disaster. Jessh! Even to an amateur like me, she consistently comes across as a total lightweight.

Name: Marc Foster

Postal: Indialantic, Fl

Maybe Mr.Pierce should consider a resolution of his own not to be such a schmuck. First, that Ms.Hamsher is a cancer survivior has Jack shit to do with whether she is right about HCR. Second, if you have an argument, make it. Calling the bill a POS is not an argument. I've read what Nate has to say and what Mr. Pierce has to say and I'm going with Nate. Especially since Ezra K.,Paul K.,and Matt Y. agree with Nate.

Name: Charles Hinton

Postal: Satellite Beach, FL

This is for Charles Pierce - Please speak plainly. Don't assume I have all the knowledge you have. If I did I wouldn't have to read your stuff.

I have read this piece and I can only guess at the inuendo of what is meant. Please write in a straighforward way/

"The SSI program was largely destroyed because a Democratic president facing re-election willingly took a dive because a revived Republican congressional majority made him nervous. The frenzy was stoked by the misuse of a graduate school homework assignment by some of the biggest names in elite American journalism, including ABC News and Bob Woodward. One of the central figures was the office crank in a local Social Security office in Pennsylvania. Because of this heedless, reckless political overreaction, a lot of broken lives were made immeasurably more painful, including that of one little boy in Mississippi who had a malformed heart"

Name: Cheryl Haaker

Postal: Albuquerque

Misc. Pointless Gripes (but not about you!)

All week, NPR, The Nation, and other media have been talking about "the end of the decade."

Where are the whinging purists who were everywhere at the end of 1999, telling everyone that no, Jan 1, 2000 was NOT the end of the century/millenium; Jan 1, 2001 was? Where have THEY gone?

(Note: I'm for the "odometer-style" decade designation myself.)

Also, when can we hear an end to the stale, antiquated discussion of whether "we" need to call that decade the "Aughts" or the "Naughts"? Where do they find those words, anyway? Certainly not in contemporary speech or writing. "Aught" & "Naught" went out in 1910, as far as I know.

The best part of the end of year celebrations, in my opinion, was AMC (American Movie Classics) all-day Three Stooges Marathon, featuring newly restored film from those American movie classics, Moe, Larry, Curley, Curley Joe, and Curley's other replacements.

Let's also shed a New Years' tear for the short lives of the funniest fat guys - the Curleys, Belushi, Candy, etc.

Name: Don Hynes

Postal: Portland OR

Hi Eric,

I thought of you last night as Bruce Springsteen was honored at Kennedy Center. Bruce received a wonderful tribute from John Stewart as I'm sure you heard, funny, poignant and spot on. Stewart's joke about Bruce born a child of Dylan and James Brown was close to the truth, Dylan and the Godfather having fathered the wave that Bruce rode to glory. You've written on several occasions how you felt the generation before yours spoiled the well with the 60s and early 70s protests and the like, even recently with gross behavior at the Beacon. There are a lot of broken bones in our crowd Eric, but Ron Kovic really said something in his words to Bruce. Kovic wheelchair bound symbolizing the many, many who were so wounded during the wars of the sixties, at home and abroad, acknowledging how Bruce picked up those who had fallen in his run during the 70's, gave voice to the many tragic stories (and continues to) while lifting us all, and as only Kovic could say with such authority, made us proud to be "born in the USA." I'm much more a "Nebraska" fan than the Boss's arena rock, but I'm so thankful for his music, for his inspiration, and last night, sitting there beside another tribute to what we all hope is "rising up," our first African American President and his beautiful and intelligent wife. Your generation is at the helm now Eric, and many of us are truly glad. I never liked Clinton or Bush and if any of my generation are proud of that legacy so be it. Like Pierce, I've got my edge, and proud of it. I'm not retiring, not just yet, and I am saluting along with Ron Kovic, the new wave of leadership.

Slacker Holiday Week

My new Nation column is called "Focus on Israel" and it's on Israeli cinema, here and it's I wrote a short plug for Chip Taylor on the Beast, here

And here again is the most recent think again column, "How to Control Health Care Costs, Conservative Style," about what happened when Bush and the Republicans tried to "reform" Medicare.

Quote of the Day: Sean "Puffy" Combs, to Playboy:

If I'm not inspiring you at this point, you're a lost hope. I'm one of the baddest motherfuckers to ever do this shit, and I'm not saying that in an arrogant way. That's a fact, in black and white. I dare you to write down all my achievements. It will be overwhelming. Break it downand then say who's number one in hip-hop. Who else has conquered television? Who else has conquered fashion? I don't want to hear you have a fashion line. Do you have a Council of Fashion Designers of America award? I need to know. Have you run a marathon? If you all still want to fuck with me after I ran the marathon, I don't know what else to do.

Here's Charles.

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc: "Natum videte/Regem angelorum."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Jesus, Joy Of Man's Desiring" (The Classical Jazz Quintet)--Because I love New Orleans, if I close my eyes, I can see the lights in Jackson Square.

Happy, merry and peace to all the extended Alter-family, especially the Landlord who, against all scriptural precedent, first offered room at the Inn.

Part The First: As always, the Christmas message comes from Scoorge's nephew, Fred:

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,Christmas among the rest. But I amsure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind,forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!''

Part The Second: I don't know if I can support President Ben Nelson in his bid for re-election.

Part The Third: For New Year's, I think Nate Silver can resolve to be slightly less of a schmuck. There are legitimate reasons to call this bill out for the POS it actually is, many of them political and undreamed of in your calculations, big guy.

Part The Penultimate: I'll take Worthless Nitwit Opinions I Can Safely Ignore for $500, Alex. New Media!

Part The Ultimate--Just as an addendum to last week's episode, in which I expressed my disbelief that we will see any progressive "fixes" to the POS that is about to clear the Senate. Back a few years, I wrote this at Esquire and, you may recall, among its other merits, the piece got a plug in The Nation from a certain Springsteen fan in academia about to open a joint of his own along the docks of Blogistan. Anyway, I post it again to make the following point--just because an entitlement exists, and because it is largely doing what it is supposed to do, it is not immune from the uniquely lethal modern combination of idiot politics and bad journalism. The SSI program was largely destroyed because a Democratic president facing re-election willingly took a dive because a revived Republican congressional majority made him nervous. The frenzy was stoked by the misuse of a graduate school homework assignment by some of the biggest names in elite American journalism, including ABC News and Bob Woodward. One of the central figures was the office crank in a local Social Security office in Pennsylvania. Because of this heedless, reckless political overreaction, a lot of broken lives were made immeasurably more painful, including that of one little boy in Mississippi who had a malformed heart. At least he was born with his. The same cannot be said of the politicians who made his death more grievous. So tell me, again, all you folks out there in the liberal blogosphere who are hammering Jane Hamsher--a cancer survivor herself, and a dauntless voice for reform -- how, once we pass the POS, we can work to make it better. Please do that. I'll pass it along to the Stephens family. They should get a laugh out of it.

God bless us all, every one.

Slacker Sunday

I've got a new "Think Again" column called "How to Control Health Care Costs, Conservative Style," about what happened when Bush and the Republicans tried to "reform" and it's here. (And I did a short post for the Daily Beast on the health care bill, here.)

Ok, now are some Alter-reviews by Sal: The new Elvis Presley box, the new Genesis box, and the new Elvis Costello "Spectacle" DVD/Bluray box.

ELVIS PRESLEY: ELVIS 75: GOOD ROCKIN' TONIGHT

It's really hard to get behind the just released "Elvis 75: Good Rockin' Tonight" Presley boxed set. No other artist in history has had their body of work repackaged, reconfigured, remastered, and "re-foisted" upon his fans as much as "The King." All of Beatles' boxed set naysayers, take note. Aside from this truly annoying fact, it's hard to fault the music on this 4 CD set. As a matter of fact, this seems like the only set you might need. 100 songs, beginning with his very first recording, "My Happiness" and ending with the remix of "A Little Less Conversation" that became a hit after being used in the Steven Soderbergh remake of "Ocean's 11," this boxed covers every key track. Yes, it is also nicely packaged, but the question remains, why do this again? I know Elvis would have been 75, and that is a pretty big birthday. But I think if he were alive, he'd have bought this set for all of us, instead of making us pay again.

Eric adds: And yet, for all the people who, unlike Sal, do not have every Elvis cut they might need, or are looking for a gift to give someone in need of not only an education but also a little less conversation and a little more actionwhich is pretty much my favorite song right nowits a lovely package.

GENESIS: THE MOVIE BOX

The 4th and final (?) box in the Genesis 5.1 upgrade campaign is a collection 5 DVDs starting with a 1982 concert film supporting the then released "Three Sides Live," LP and finishing with a VH-1 episode of "Behind The Music." Also included are three more concert films, the previously released documents of the 1987 and 1992 tours, as well as a film of the "Mama Tour of 1984," which makes its DVD debut. Like the previous sets, the third of which I'd still love to get a hold of, packaging is wonderful and the content is stellar. I am not a fan of the later, MTV Genesis. I pretty much stop at 1981's "Duke." But for those who prefer Phil Collins over Peter Gabriel, "The Movie Box" is a nice addition, especially the 1981 film, which includes some older chestnuts that the band dropped when the hits started to pile up. I should also point out that the episode of "Behind The Music" has been updated with current interviews. Nicely done.

Elvis Costello: Spectacle

Season Two of Elvis Costello's wonderful show "Spectacle" began last week, with special guests Bono and The Edge. Here is what was performed for the show:

01. Please EC & The Imposters

02. Dirty Day EC & The Imposters

03. Mysterious Ways EC & The Imposters

04. Stay (Faraway, So Close!) Bono & The Edge

05. Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad Bono with Davey Faragher & Pete Thomas

06. Alison EC, Bono, The Edge & The Imposters

07. Stuck In A Moment You Cant Get Out Of EC, Bono, The Edge & The Imposters

08. Pump It Up / Get On Your Boots EC, Bono, The Edge & The Imposters

Here is what we got to see:

03. Mysterious Ways EC & The Imposters

04. Stay (Faraway, So Close!) Bono & The Edge

05. Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad Bono with Davey Faragher & Pete Thomas

07. Stuck In A Moment You Cant Get Out O EC, Bono, The Edge & The Imposters

08. Pump It Up / Get On Your Boots EC, Bono, The Edge & The Imposters

I guess we'll have to wait for its DVD release to see the unaired footage...or not.

And so it goes with the first season's release on DVD. Every episode in its 5.1 glory and barely any additional material, 4 songs, over 650 minutes, to be exact. Really a disappointment. Isn't this the type of thing DVDs were made for?

That not-so little complaint aside, Costello and his guests ranging from President Bill Clinton to The Police to Kris Kristofferson and Smokey Robinon, sit around for an hour of truly compelling conversation and even more wonderful music collaborations. The "guitar pull" episode featuring Rosanne Cash, Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Norah Jones was one of my favorite television moments ever. (Check that out HERE.) Elton & Elvis performing the David Ackles' masterpiece "Down River," is just one more of many highlights of this brilliant series. Even guests like Renee Fleming, a major star but not someone I have much interest in, made for incredible television. The "Spectacle" DVD set could have been my favorite set of the year, but with so few extras, it just annoys me. Sorry for whining, but I'd like some answers.

Eric adds. Like Sal, Im pissed about the lack of outtakes. But Im also pissed about the fact that you cant watch only the music. That would have been easy. Even the crappy RRHOF collection figured out how ato do this. Here they took this terrific TV and then just slapped it on the discs without giving it any further thought. Ill live, but this is really a missed opportunity. (Oh, and I was there for that guitar pull at the Apollo. Its sad to think about whats missing)

Finally, you can check out my 20 favorite records of 2009 here.

SAL

BURNING WOOD

Now here's Pierce.

CHARLES PIERCE

NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc:

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine. Bring me pine logs hither/Thou andI will see him dine when we bear him thither."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "He Calls That Religion" (Maria MuldaurAnd Her Garden Of Joy) -- Angels I have heard on high, most of them doubling on sax, told me to tell you how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: Oh, Lord. Here's a COLUMN presenting the wholly original argument that TV is causing our civilization to go off to hell in a handbasket from the author of the upcoming, The Tyranny Of Cliche. And irony swallows 50 Dilaudid with a stiff slug of Virginia Gentleman, ties an and iron around its neck, and leaps into the river below.

Part The Second: Here's the latest from the day JOB().

The woman is not kidding, either.

Part The Third: So, while wrapping some presents, I was watching Hardball the other night because I'm in one of my infrequent "Tweety Is Actually A Mensch" periods, and he and Chuck (Grow A Real Beard, Dammit) Todd were talking about the drop that the president had taken in that days NBC/WSJ numbers. And, I swear, the first thing Matthews thought to ask was whether Todd believed the drop was because people believed Obama was "too left." (To his marginal credit, Todd mumbled something about how he believed the decline was not "ideological," whatever that meant.). But, Jesus Mary, almost the entire remainder of the program concerned how the president was being slugged from the left over healthcare. I swear, sometimes watching these dolts is like watching a monkey perseverate with a football. And that, friends, is how one of those infrequent "Tweety Is Actually A Mensch" periods ends.

Part The Penultimate: Throughout this whole mishigas, I've been looking for the perfect illustration of what our elite political classes have been doing vis a vis healthcare reform. Well, I found IT. We're all the John Cleese character, BTW.

"Single payer?"

"No."

"Public option?"

"Sorry."

"Medicare buy-in?"

"The cat's eaten it."

Part The Ultimate: My new favorite futile argument for passing the current POS is that, in our politics, simply by passing the aforementioned POS, we forever will have established, banners aloft, the notion that healthcare is a right or, at least, an affirmative obligation of the national government. As a result, we will be freer to move forward as the years go by. This is a fine argument, provided that you were cryogenically frozen in 1958. Let me explain to everyone holding this particular view what is going to happen. The POS is going to pass. The Republicans are going to oppose it and run against it. The Democrats are going to look ridiculous for a year defending it, and the Democrats who most opposed it are going to look the most ridiculous, because it is going to be politically impossible for a Democrat to run against this bill. The prevailing media narrative will prevent it. Millions more American will have health insurance, but millions of Americans will be forced by law to fork over their money, during a grisly recession, to the greediest and least popular industry the country has seen since the railroads were running amok in the 1890's. These people will go broke a little more slowly, depending on how sick they get. The industry will jack up its rates until we all have to put in new attics. The subsidies will fail to keep up. And then the industry will lie about doing any of it, and the White House will send out a sternly worded letter. The industry will be stopped by the new "consumer protections" approximately as effectively as a butterfly stops a freight train. By the end of 2009, these "reforms" will be thoroughly despised by a healthy portion of the electorate. The Republicans will then use the weaknesses of the reforms to assume control of the Congress, where upon they will leave the mandates in place, gut the regulations, and laugh their way to the bank doing it. And that is what's going to happen.

Where does this optimism come from? Do the people pushing this argument honestly believe that, once this bill passes, there will be a general political consensus that we are all on the right track together and must continue to move forward to improve a system in which we all are now personally invested? Exactly what United States government have these people been watching for the past three decades, in which the notion of "government" as a political commonwealth has been spat upon and ignored? Fix it later? We can't bring ourselves to spend money to fix roads and bridges that are falling into rivers, let alone improve what has become the most contentious--and arguably, the most successfully lied about--issue of domestic policy of the past two decades. This bill is going to suck a little until the rest of us aren't watching that closely, and then the people who hate the whole notion of reforming the "system" of health-care are going to work to make it suck a lot. Bob Cesca is a smart guy, but if he thinks we're going to add a public option before 2013, I wish he'd tell me where he buys his mushrooms. (So we "mobilize around" the idea. Who's even going to listen, let alone act on it? The White House? The Democrats? Please.) Ezra Klein has forgotten more about this debate than I'll ever know, but if he and Paul Starr believe this FANTASY, then they need to get out more.

How can anyone seriously look at the past 30 years of how we've governed ourselves and believe that anything will succeed simply because ithas established a new entitlement? Hell, this president is already halfway to signing on to a SCHEME aimed at "adjusting" an enormously popular 70-year old entitlement program that's beloved by everyone except the bond merchants and financial-service grifters of whom this president is so unnaturally fond. If he's willing to do that, how firmly is he going to stand behind a brand new one, no matter how "historic" he can convince himself it is? I have no faith at all at this point. The president is going to sign the POS because this is what he's wanted to do all along. Has there even been a rumor of his displeasure with what Joe Lieberman--his one time mentor--pulled this week? I hadn't read any and, now, we read that the president thanked Weepin' JOE, while sending out his gunsels to attack Howard Dean on shows hosted by squinty former wingnut CONGRESS CRITTERS. It is impossible for any thinking human being now to believe anything except that this White House pretty much got the bill it wanted.

And, please, let us not hear any more about the Civil Rights Act of 1957, OK? There simply is not a consistent political continuum between tha tbill and, say, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. There is a general historical thread. The latter two laws came into being most directly because enough people were beaten bloody to sicken the nation, and because not a few people--including an incumbent president ofthe United States--were murdered in the streets in the interim. And even if there were a parallel, which there isn't, this is such a radically different political culture as to render the comparison moot. Put the Voting Rights Act up to a vote today and it would get pecked to death by a thousand Beltway ducks and this president likely would spend several months finding a bipartisan compromise to render its toughest provisions impotent. Pass the POS. Don't pass the POS. But don't tell me we're all moving forward together through a historic moment. Y'all sound like idiots.

From Tom Waits

The interesting thing about vultures is that, well, the reason they spend so much time in the air is because they're so light because they eat so infrequently. So they're mostly feathers, so a lot of times you'll see them doing this and you'll think Oh, he's probably going to land soon and eat, but a lot of times he's thinking to himself How the fuck am I gonna get down there? Now here's the sad part and imagine if you had to make the same choice yourself. After dining, and frankly most vultures that are injured, this is according to the Bird Rescue most vultures that are injured were injured while dining. That's kinda sad to be hit by a car while you're eating, but the problem is that once they've landed and they'd eaten a lot, they eat so much cause they eat so infrequently, they eat so much that they can't take off without throwing up. I know, that's tough so what a choice, you know, you just had a big meal and you have to lose the whole damn thing just to get back up in the sky again. I think of that all the time when I'm having hard times.

Name: Mark Bagby

Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.

Eric wrote: "(One of the most famous of them, "Marty," was made into a movie, but by and large, they were lost.)"

Ahem...as were 'No Time for Sergeants' (filmed with Griffith), 'Requiem for a Heavyweight' (with Anthony Quinn), 'Bang the Drum Slowly' (with Robert De Niro and Michael Moriarty), and perhaps most famously, 'Days of Wine and Roses' with its classic Oscar-winning Mancini and Mercer theme song, and starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, both nominated for Oscars as well.

Eric replies: noted

Name: Rory Downward

Hometown: Oakland, CA

Dr A,

It please me greatly to see the Criterion Collection of these TV gems.

Some years back, PBS had a series showing many of the same programs. I was able to watch "Marty", "Requiem" and "Patterns", all of which I feel are far superior to the film remakes. I do not mean to say that the film versions were bad, but in fleshing them out to the theater release lengths, they seem flabby. The could not capture the feeling in up to 2 hours what the TV versions could do in 50 minutes. I wish I had taped them at the time. I'm glad now that they can been see by a wider audience.

As for the R&RHoF, they showed potions of this during pledge breaks last week on PBS. It seem quite a jumble, but that may just have been the smarmy Paul Schafer doing the intros to each some or clip. I do hope that he is not on the DVDs.

Thanks as always.

Eric replies: Well, yeah, he looked kinda smarmy on that broadcast, but his memoir, which came out this year, is really wonderful. I would not have expected it, but it is.

Name: Jeff Weed

Hometown: Denton, TX

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2010

Dr. A, This years class turned out to be a complete catch-up year. ABBA is the newest act on the list of inductees. No artists to debut since the mid-70s made the cut. One wonders if the youth-oriented Fuse music channel that signed a deal to televise the next few induction ceremonies is having second thoughts. They probably expected the Red Hot Chili Peppers to get selected in their first year of eligibility, but that didnt happen. Here's the full list of 2010 inductees:

Performers: ABBA GENESIS JIMMY CLIFF THE HOLLIES THE STOOGES

Ahmet Ertegun Award (nonperformers): DAVID GEFFEN BARRY MANN & CYNTHIA WEIL ELLIE GREENWICH & JEFF BARRY JESSE STONE MORT SHUMAN OTIS BLACKWELL

ABBAs inclusion is sure to be the most controversial--especially since equally-reviled finalists KISS didnt make it (I kinda wish they had). I think ABBA is actually among the best melodic pop acts of the 70s. I really have nothing against any of the selections. Like you, Doc, Im not a big Stooges fan (I tried, though), but I do recognize their importance and influence. I like Genesis more than you do, though maybe not quite as much as Sal does. The big catch-up was with the songwriters, all of whom probably should have been inducted much earlier.

I'm glad the Hollies finally got their due. Little Stevens advocacy probably helped. Ive read interviews with him saying Hermans Hermits is his next project for induction. I hope he decides to focus on a better group from the eraThe Moody Blues, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, or even The Zombies. Heck, I'd prefer Tommy James & the Shondells, Donovan or The Monkees over Peter Noone and company, but maybe that's just me.

ALSO: A side note on the illustrious Junior Senator from CT. The late Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.s Journals: 1952-2000 recounts his observant remark to Hilary Clinton that Sen. Lieberman was a sanctimonious pr**k. The then-First Lady agreed with Schlesinger on the sanctimonious part but refrained from additional comment. I'm glad Pierce does NOT refrain from his.

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