Eric Alterman | The Nation

Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

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

Slacker Friday

We've got a new "Think Again Column called "Mice, Playing: The Declineof Skeptical Journalism," and it's here.And I did a post for the Daily Beast on the contretemps over Vanity Fair's profile of Arthur Sulzberger called "Stop Picking on Pinch," here.

I don't think there's been enough talk about how great GershomGorenberg's big piece in the Weekly Standard on why there's never been aPalestinian Gandhi. It's here...

As someone who has immersed himself in the literature of this conflict,it's the best piece I've read in years. I sent it to my friend Kai Bird,who is finishing a memoir of his life growing up in the Middle East andso reading everything about the conflict everywhere and he said the samething. Anyone with even the slightest interest in Israel and Palestinewould not want to miss it.

And the fact that, whatever the circumstances, it is in the Standard isweird beyond words. It's the strangest thing since they published JohnDilulio complaining that Bush stole the election from Gore, though ofcourse it's a far more substantial piece than that.

Things not to buy: I had a gift certificate at Border's and used $40 ofit to buy the audio version of Philip Norman's John Lennon biography.The writing and research were much better than the reviews had led me toexpect. It's quite solid and only a little cheesy. But people, just asnobody told me there'd be days like this, I didn't notice how abridgedthe thing was. Ten cds and still all the important parts are leftout.Who could imagine leaving out when John met Paul and they formed agroup together. Who could imagine leaving out all of The White Album,Abbey Road, Let it Be and the Beatles' break up? Now I have to read the damn book anyway. Lesson is look before thousest leaps, alas.Happy Birthdays Diana Roberta Silver and Eve Rose Alterman!

That's all

This week on Moyers:

The financial industry brought the economy to its knees, but how didthey get away with it? With the nation wondering how to hold thebankers accountable, Bill Moyers sits down with Bill Black, the formersenior regulator who cracked down on banks during the savings and loancrisis of the 1980s. Black offers his analysis of what went wrong andhis critique of the bailout.

Slacker Friday:

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA.

Hey Doc --

"The man says, "Get out of here. I'll tear you limb from limb"/ Isaid, "You know they refused Jesus, too"/ He said, "You're not Him."Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "You Ain't The Only Oyster In The Stew(Fats Waller)--I was just about to ask Robert Gibbs about why he likesto make little Richie Cheney cry but then Chip Reid got up, the bigshow-off, and I was reduced to telling everybody on JournoList how much I love New Orleans.

Short Takes:

Part The First: My apologies to the extended Alter-family. Therewas some surgery, and then a reaction to the prescribed antibiotics thatleft me crawling around my living room floor moaning like a dog. I mean,David Vitter usually has to pay people to get him to make the sounds I wasmaking. So I was gone for a while. Managed to do some reading, though,which leads us inevitably to...

Part The Second: Well, this explains a lot. All the way from the rugged coldwater flats of The District to...David Geffen's breakfast table! What a grand country itis, mother.

Part The Third: They're losing their minds. And there are a number of reasons--none of which I choose to think much about, thanks--why this is a really bad joke for this particular person to be making.

Part The Fourth: Not that I should expect anything more than thisfrom Ye Olde House Of Mulch For Brains, but this is one of the most disingenuous pieces of offal that has been burped up there for a while. Michelle Obama was never at any point a liability to herhusband's election chances. I was in the hall in Milwaukee when she made the"proud of my country" remark, and I can assure you that the roof nearly cameoff the place. Everybody there knew exactly what she meant and, even whenthe crackpot righties got a hold of it, it never had any legs. The other twothings he mentions don't, you know, actually exist. This used to carrysome significance in journalism, but I guess I just don't understand the newparadigm.

Part The Fifth: Speaking of Wisconsin, this Paul Ryan fellow seemslike a comer. Of course, he's the economic equivalent of a flat-earther,but he's young and enthusiastic about his idiocy, so we'll be seeing alot more of him. I think he's just the ticket for the GOP's glory trainback to power. More Bush economics, but with Grandma eating cat-food, too!The Jack Kemp of the new millennium!

Anyway, Call me Kreskin, but I will guaran-damn-tee you that this "Mark Begich Must Resign" thing will gain traction in the mainstream media, if not over theweekend, but certainly by the beginning of next week. The groundwork'salready been laid. It began when the Senate gave an ovation to Ted(Grabitall) Stevens upon his departure from the floor, and it continued tobe fortified last week when people looked at Eric Holder's decision to letStevens off the hook not as the king irony that it was, but rather as anexoneration of a guy who would steal soup if you gave him rubber pockets.

Now, not only has the Alaskan Republican Party called for Begich to stepdown, but Princess Dumbass of the Northwoods herself has gotten herselfinvolved, and where the Princess goes, people who should know better will follow.Begich seems merely amused by this whole thing and, as has been pointed outby John Cole and others, the whole notion is flatly bizarre. Which is whyit will gain the traction that it will gain. Look at this clown college ofa party. Michele Bachmann (R-Butterfly Net) got thirty co-sponsors on a bill addressing a non-existent threat to the sovereignty of American currency,or some such nonsense. The entire Republican congressional delegationproduced two "budgets" that bordered on self-parody. Because it is contraryto the Beltway media ethos to point out that a major American politicalparty self-evidently is losing its mind in public--not "objective,"doncha know?--we will have these notions taken seriously.

If Chris Matthews isn't doing a show on the Alaskan senate "controversy" by themiddle of next week, I'll eat his desk. Someone will have to present bothsides of the "debate," and more poisonous bullshit will be injected intothe national dialogue right at the time we don't need it.

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

In his most recent presser, President Obama answered a ratherpointedly politicized question about the effect of his income taxproposal to limit charitable deductions for taxpayers earning over$250,000 to the 28 percent marginal tax rate rather than the 36 percent rate; a tax increase for wealthy givers. The question included whether he wantedto rethink punishing charities in his budget. Obama denied thatcharities would be hurt, saying that people don't give for taxpurposes in general and that what would help charities most is animproved economy with people getting back to work. Naturally, Iapplaud his answer, but is it accurate?

For the first time charitable giving in 2007 broke through the $300billion mark, with a total of $306.39 billion contributed byindividuals, foundations, and corporations. Individuals continue tocontribute the lion's share of all donor dollars - more than $229billion for 74.8 percent of all donations. Adding to the individual total isanother $23 billion in bequests (gifts by Last Will), bringing thetotal of individual giving in 2007 to $252 billion plus or 82.3 percent ofthe total. Individual giving actually increased by 2.7 percent from 2006 to2007. No figures are available for 2008 yet, of course. (Through theRoof! Trends in Philanthropy for 2008, by Joanne Fritz, About.com)

In a report published by Giving USA Foundation, written andresearched at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University andfound in Giving USA Spotlight, Issue 3, 2008, total giving hasincreased in every year, but one, since recording began. However, thepercentage of income gifted falls during every recession by 2.5 percent to5.3 percent (defining recession according to The National Bureau of EconomicResearch). This was true for two very big recessions in 1970 and 1974where individual giving fell off by 3.9 percent and 5.3 percent respectively. Wecan compare these to the 2001 recession when individual giving alsofell 3.9 percent.

Why is this important? Because in 2001 the highest marginal incometax rate was 39.1 percent for earnings starting at $297,350 and theeffective capital gains tax rate was 18.2percent. In 1970, the highestmarginal tax rate was 70 percent on income starting at $200,000 and theeffective capital gains tax rate was 15percent. But, let's be fair, in1970, you only needed an annual income of $45,750 to equal thespending power of $250,000 today. Okay, the marginal tax rate in 1970on $45,750 was 50 percent. (See TheTaxFoundation.org) This example is fullysupported by Indiana University's research; if you need more proofsee GivingUSA.org to purchase the report.

So, even considering inflation, higher taxes don't affect thepercentage of charitable giving like a recession does. The best thingObama can do for charitable giving is, indeed, to lead us toward animproved economy and get our people back to work. Targeted taxincreases as a component of his recovery plan and in future annualbudgets will help.

Name: Steve Nelson
Hometown: Seattle

Why We're Liberals is out in paperback huh. Even in the currentfinancial climate I have no excuse and will now have to pick up a copy and assuage my guilt of free loading on your blogs.

Eric replies: It's here

Name: Richard Paddock
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC

I recall that, especially as portrayed in Shakespeare, it was commonfor the jester to be immune from retribution for "speaking truth topower" to coin a cliche. Now Stewart and Colbert are funny, so that'swhy they get a pass. Limbaugh is not; the only thing that saves himis that he is the jester to the Right, and the Left apparently doesnot believe in capital punishment (at least for self-styledcomedians.)

Name: Steve Snyder
Hometown: Dallas, TX

Uhh, Victor Archer is wrong, way wrong, on Obama being the second-youngest president.

First, since Jack Kennedy wasn't the youngest, an error made by manyAmericans ignorant of the youthful Teddy Roosevelt. Second, you don'tneed to go back even that far to prove Lynch was wrong. Without a bitof Googling, I knew Clinton was younger when he took office.

And, with a bit of Googling, it turns out Grant was younger too.

And, although not quite as young, four other presidents assumedoffice before turning 50.

So, let's quash that little bit of Obama hagiography.

Name: Don Hynes
Hometown: Portland OR

Just a big shout out for the fine interview on TPM. Not enough beingsaid about this critical issue, not only to the US and Israel and thePalestinian population, but to the western world. Your comments werespot on and I really appreciated your endorsement and support of theyounger journalists coming up.

Name: Jim Peale
Hometown: Swanzey, NH


Was it just the first year of "Paper Chase" that didn't work for you,or the entire series? I was a contemporaneous law student and we usedto watch it in order to laugh at the mistakes and pretensions. Inhindsight, they actually did a pretty good job of passing along whatsomeone once described as the combination of arrogance and depressionendemic among law students.

Please, please, please keep throwing us an occasional Slacker Friday!

Name: Corky Bucik
Hometown: Atlanta, GA


Steve McCrady of Philadelphia wrote that if Hillary Clinton werePresident "she would probably be on her third Treasury Secretary!"Well, I think that may be true that she'd be on her third Secretaryby now but only if the Treasury Secretaries were women.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new Think Again here. It's called "Cable News Blues." My Nation column, comparing Jon Stewart with yes, Edward R. Murrow, is here, and I did a post about Obama's press conference for The Daily Beast, here. Oh and I did an interview with TPMTV about the Israel Lobby here. Oh, and if you didn't make it into the Nation column, here is the key line:

PS: Don't tell my publisher, but Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals is out in paperback.

Josh Silver

Hi Eric,

Internet issues continue to take the spotlight in Washington. The $7.2 billion in stimulus that was directed towards broadband buildout has produced an incredibly complex and rushed process to close the gap for the more-than-40-percent of Americans who still do not have broadband at home. The three agencies charged with allocating the funds have to do so in a short timeframe--within 18 months--and with inadequate staff to manage the process. This is a scenario that could easily result in poorly allocated funds to the largest incumbent phone and cable companies, so we are spending huge amounts of time bird-dogging the process. Last week, two of our staff testified at official roundtables, and we just released a broadband stimulus grant scorecard to help agencies determine whether projects are in the public interest.

Also on the Internet front, we put out a white paper exposing a dangerous technology known as "Deep Packet Inspection," (DPI) which allows phone and cable companies to spy on their customers' Web activities and block any application or content they want. For many years, Internet service providers have been clear about their desire to violate Net Neutrality--DPI is the technology that makes that possible. Many Internet service providers already have DPI technology installed in their network, and all they have to do is flip a switch, and the open Internet as we know it will be a thing of the past. We're raising awareness about the dangers of DPI, and pushing for more government oversight.

With the demise of commercial journalism, public broadcasting--or public media--becomes an increasingly critical piece of the long-term reform puzzle. There is simply no way that philanthropists and innovative commercial media alone can provide the news and information that an informed electorate requires. There's good news and bad news on this front. The bad news is that current funding levels are absurdly low--roughly $1.35 per capita--compared to over $100 in some European nations. And the system is dangerously politicized because of a faulty system for appointing board members to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)--the agency that distributes public monies to noncommercial media.The good news is that the current leadership at PBS, NPR and CPB is stronger than we've seen in a long time. Recently, they have made a commitment to producing more enterprise journalism, more educational and local programming. This is a huge change from the Bush era, when journalism was a swear word of sorts for public broadcasters. In the short term, while public broadcasters' stimulus requests did not gain traction, they are pushing for $300 million in supplemental funding this year and we are supporting the effort. However, their long-term success requires the kind of policy changes in Congress that Free Press must lead: creating a new funding mechanism that moves away from the highly-politicized annual congressional appropriation; reforming governance nationally and locally; and broadening the definition of public media to include more independent media producers.

Name: Ben Miller

Mr. Alterman,

I keep hearing critics say "What has Obama done," and has therereally been change. Should we take a second to compare what PresidentObama has done to what President Bush did in his first 100 days ofhis second term (when he had similar majorities in the House andSenate). Remember, President Bush had political capital and he wasgoing to spend it. Let's see, there was the Bankruptcy Bill right outof the gates. Had to help the credit card companies because we knowthey were struggling. There was the failed attempt to privatizeSocial Security. Should we even imagine what would be going on rightnow had that attempt been successful? Oh and there was the Presidentracing back to The White House at night for Terry Schiavo - a certainurgency in the President's actions that night that stands in starkcontrast to his response to a hurricane hitting New Orleans or atsunami devastating Southeast Asia.

With all of that, do we really need to compare or can we just tellPresident's Obama's critics to shut up on this point.

Name: Victor Archer
Hometown: Columbia, SC

I was watching the Q & A session with the president the other nightwith a good friend of mine, a twenty something who has until recentlyavoided the ugliness of politics. Bright guy...

Although I picked Obama early and even worked briefly on hiscampaign, I try to "curb my enthusiasm", so to speak, and not forgetwhere I disagree with him, but it was hard not to look at the manwith a muted awe, and a formerly a-political twenty something agreed.

Here's this guy, the second youngest president in history, of Africandescent, who thought he was on a test run when he ran for theoffice...who finds himself in charge in the middle of the nastiestpolitical-economic situation our country's seen in many decades.

There he stood, calm and collected, responding thoughtfully, usingsentences chock full of multisyllabic three dollar words perfectlypronounced...addressing issues...making sense...

And I have to say I stand by my choice for president. The only imagecriticism I have (really more of a warning) is that he should bewarethe folksy cheerleading stuff. There's a danger of over familiarityand dignity dinging.

Name: Frank Lynch
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Not sure if your use of "the guy from Univision" portends adegenderization along the lines of "actor" now being for menand women, but Univision's correspondent (Lourdes something...)is a woman.

Best always,

Eric replies: Whoops, thanks, bub.

Name: Dominic Umile
Hometown: Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Hi Eric,

I'm going to band with the regulars here and say that I'm sorry tosee you're unable to blog more frequently, but I have a deep, deepunderstanding of the unpaid/stretched-too-thin thing, so I'll takewhatever Altercation I can get. Liked the Daily Beast column, and Ithink that you and your peers have done a great job of tracking thepress's indulgent, fantastical gripes re: the recent budget pressconference. Rather than lamenting the lack of inquiries about theAfghanistan strategy review or commenting that "Jeez, it's quiterefreshing that the non-traditionals get called on when the Presidentaddresses the nation these days," the talking heads prattled on abouthis "long answers" (transparency? God forbid) and general "boring"discussion.

In other news, I'm sorry to have missed Mr. Leonard Cohen, and Imentioned in brief your assessment of the Beacon show here. But most importantly, you saw both The Whoand The Clash in one week? Spill it.


Eric replies: Second American tour; Warm-ups were the Undertones and Sam and Dave, at the Palladium. The Who were doing their first-ever post Keith Moon tour. Didn't suck either, but it wasn't the Clash.

Name: Steve McGady
Hometown: Philadelphia

Good for you, taking charge of your life. I read Altercation almostdaily 2004-06, then stopped keeping up. You see, I'm a conservativewho was looking for somebody to put a dent in the Republican Partyfor me. I often chastised you "weenies" for never really getting afirm message to fight back. (Of course, that still leaves me aRepublican. whoop de damn doo) I still don't think you guys ever gotyour stuff together, but I think we have a keeper in Obama. (Couldyou imagine a Clinton adminstration - yikes, she would probably be onher third Treasury Secretary!) Best of luck at your new part timejob. You'll be happier, your posts will be better, and maybe you'llfind time to listen to some good music. And your loyal readers willbe just fine. More or less...

Name: Puthecode Varavanjanapour
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA


Re: Jack Cafferty--not all statements require evidence or back up--there are such things as simple opinions, of which I have one--yourThursday blog was terrific and this is a fact even though I have noempirical evidence.

I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues…

We've got a new Think Again here. It's called "Cable News Blues." My Nation column, comparing Jon Stewart with yes, Edward R. Murrow, is here, and I did a post about Obama's press conference for The Daily Beast, here. Oh and I did an interview with TPMTV about the Israel Lobby here. Oh, and if you didn't make it into the Nation column, here is the key line:

PS: Don't tell my publisher, but Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals is out in paperback

The Beast piece comes up in this interview with CNN's Jack Cafferty here:

MACNICOL: There's an article in the Daily Beast today by Eric Alterman that, sort of, suggests that Obama has a tendency for long term thinking, which, I think we saw in the press conference last night. And the press is so trained to report on, sort of, snap judgment that they're not equipped to report well, sort of, on how he's thinking and the big picture.

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't know if it's the press. We're a nation of people who are very impatient. This is the only country in the world where you stand in front of your microwave oven and say hurry up. You know, we have no patience when it comes to almost anything. We expect the answers to our problems yesterday and we don't want to be bothered with the fact that it might take some time and require some hard work. And the media simply are a reflection of the way people think about these things. It's- I'm not so sure it's the media. That's convenient for everyone to say, "Well, it's the media." But the fact of the matter is the American public is an impatient group of people and always has been.

What I find so funny, and so revealing about Cafferty's statement is that he is just making shit up. When he says "You know, we have no patience when it comes to almost anything. We expect the answers to our problems yesterday and we don't want to be bothered with the fact that it might take some time and require some hard work. And the media simply are a reflection of the way people think about these things." He offers nor presents a shred of evidence and yet for him the question is solved. The quality of cable news sucks, his colleague Ed Henry asks a series of stupid questions of the president which, if taken seriously, would make it impossible for anyone to govern this nation correctly, somehow it's our fault. In fact, polls demonstrate that Americans are a great deal more patient with Obama's efforts to fix the mess he was left by the Bush administration than is anyone with cable mike, but Cafferty's got it all solved on the basis of…um what?   Even scarier is the fact that, as Matt Yglesias points out, these guys think they're doing a great job. One silly gotcha after another and not one question about Iraq, Iran, Pakistan or Afghanistan; only the guy from AFP asks about the Israeli Palestinian issue and the guy from Univision asks about Mexico and here, these guys are doing advanced yoga to pin a bunch of medals on their own backs. It would both sad and funny, were it not dangerous.  And it's one more reason that "our" Ed Murrow is a comedian, not one of these so-called "journalists."

From Danielle Ivory, American News Project

Upwards of 39,000 contractors may have unauthorized access to military bases, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On March 12, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and Rep. C. W. "Bill" Young (R-FL) of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense grilled army officials about a recent audit by the Inspector General at the Department of Defense, which found that contractors had been granted Common Access Cards (CACs) after undergoing inadequate background checks. 

The IG reported that checks did not comply with Homeland Security standards, which require all contractors seeking access to military installments to have at least the equivalent of a National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI).  KBR hired Kroll Background America, Inc. to perform background checks on some contractors deployed to Southwest Asia.  In most cases, these contractors were not subjected to an FBI (or equivalent) name check, or even asked to provide police or employment records.  And they received CACs anyway. 

The DOD insisted this wasn't a serious problem, and told ANP that all contractors were fully vetted (paper worked, fingers printed, eyeballs scanned, and so forth) by the military.

But Pratap Chatterjee, author of Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, told ANP in an email exchange that thoroughly vetting most contractors in Iraq would be a difficult task, regardless of whether the job is outsourced to KBR or performed by the military itself.  For one thing, there are so many contractors, "It is important to note that the government simply does not have the capacity to do this anymore even in the US," Chatterjee wrote.  "Today it would be impossible for the government to do this without nationalizing the company or canceling work worth hundreds of millions of dollars and hiring thousands of new workers.  Or they can tighten up the contracting rules, auditing and oversight."

During the past decade, the Department of Defense has more than doubled its spending on contractor services, promising about $200 billion for the fiscal year 2008 alone. As of October 2008, the DOD estimated that there were more than 230,000 contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, far exceeding the number of military personnel stationed there and still growing.  And while the number of contractors has exploded to more than three times what it was eight years ago, the number of contractor oversight officers has remained constant. 

"Well, if you don't oversee a contract properly, you will have problems," Chatterjee wrote. "In any case, it would have been impossible for KBR to do security clearances of most of their staff as they were from countries where police records are non-existent.  No military agency could have done this and hired 40,000 third country nationals."

In other words, doing a thorough background check can be tricky when there's no official background to check.  The bulk of KBR's contractors are third country nationals, recruited from places like India, Sri Lanka, and Fiji, where police records aren't always dependable.  So, even with strict rules (or even a biometric scanning policy, which the army has claimed to enforce), vetting potential workers is a problem.

"If you have impossible rules, like you can only hire someone who has a five year police record, you are inviting fraud," Chatterjee wrote.  "Anyone from India can pay $20 to get a clean police record."

To view the multimedia ANP/Huffington Post story by David Murdock and Danielle Ivory, click here.

In case your wondering what not-blogging leaves time for, here's a recent list of this not-blogger's activities, in this, alas, the greatest musical week of my life, or at least since 1979 when I took a week off from school, and saw two No-Nukes shows, the Who and the Clash.

My Musical (Nine-day) Week:

Thursday: Clapton, Allman Bros, Beacon, Row D
Friday: Clapton, Allman Bros, Row C
Saturday: (Nephew's Bar Mitzvah in DC, DJ,)
Sunday: (asleep by nine on account of having to be at nephew's bar mitzvah in DC early in the morning, having seen Clapton and the Allmans the night before)Monday: Neil Diamond at a benefit at NYU
Tuesday: Bruce in Asbury Park (!), 3000 seat hall
Saturday Allman Brothers with Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, Row A

(P.S. Does not include Fleetwood Mac at Nassau, previous Friday, which was ok, but only because I'd never seen them before. You can save your money on that one if you want my recommendation.)

Want to see some setlists? Here is what Clapton and the Allmans did Thursday night:

11. Key To The Highway w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
12. Dreams w/ Eric Clapton, guitar
13. Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
14. Little Wing w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals
15. Anyday w/ Eric Clapton, Susan Tedeschi, vocals
Encore: 16 Layla w/ Eric Clapton, guitar & vocals; Danny Louis, piano

For Friday substitute "Stormy Monday" and "Elizabeth Reed" for "Anyday,"

Here is what Bruce did Tuesday night:

Outlaw Pete
My Lucky Day
No Surrender
Out in the Street
Working on a Dream
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Good Eye
Darlington County
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day (with Jay Weinberg)
Radio Nowhere (w/ J.W.)
Born to Run (w/ J.W.)

* * *

Hard Times
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Neil Diamond sang "I am, I said," "Sweet Caroline" and one other song I forget.

Ok let's see what's in the Alter-review file.         

Depending on the kind of person you are, I'd say it's a close race between the release of the expanded Collector's Editions of the first three Radiohead albums by EMI and the release of the first season of Rhoda from Shout! Factory. Radiohead is the best band of the nineties and while you should already have the non-collectors' editions of these albums--Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer--the extras are particularly generous in each case. Pablo Honey's "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and demos, rarities, live performance recordings and a 1992 BBC Radio One session on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds four promotional music videos, the band's 1993 debut Top Of The Pops performance, and nine live recordings from their May 1994 London Astoria concert. The Bends' "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and EPs with rarities and a 1994 BBC Radio session on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds five promotional music videos, 1995 and ‘96 TV performances from Top Of The Pops, Later with Jools Holland and 2 Meter Session, and eight filmed performances from their May 1994 London Astoria concert. OK Computer's "Collectors Edition" features the original album on disc one, and EPs with rarities and live recordings and a 1997 BBC Radio One "Evening Session" performance on disc two. The "Special Collectors Edition" DVD adds three promotional music videos and a May 1997 TV performance from Later with Jools Holland.

We never got this stuff with the Beatles--at least not officially, and these extras more than justify the cost of these cds. I guess the folks at EMI are more generous--or more desperate foryour cash--than they were in the days of the FF.

As for Rhoda, well, there was not enough of her on MTM; here she moved back into the city and helped bring funny, Jewish to America decades before Seinfeld--not as funny, just as Jewish…) This first season won Golden Globe Awards for Best Comedy Series and Best Actress in a Comedy. Valerie Harper won the Emmy Award for Best Actress in a Comedy that year. And she's waited too long to come back. It has the typical featurette extras and the like but the show itself is the real attraction. SF! Has also brought back the first season of The Paper Chase which did not work for me at all, and a bunch of shows I've never heard of. They must be expanding their operations in a big way. I had hoped to review the three DVD set of Pete Townshend's "Other Ball" concerts but they've not shown up yet. You know what is great, though, speaking of that? The Who's 1977 show at Killburn, wherever that was. The show was one of Keith Moon's last and filmed for the movie The Kids Are Alright but it's much better than the movie. I got this on blueray and got rid of all my old Who DVDs. This was the only one I needed.

Also, Cassandra Wilson has released a collection of her pop covers called Closer to You. It's genuinely sublime. The range this woman has is breathtaking.

The mail:

Name:    P-A Panon
Hometown:  Vancouver, BC

Hi Eric,

I don't know if you've read Dan Conover's thought on the future ofnews journalism. While I appreciate and agree with your assessment ofthe need in a democracy for an effective and accurate news-gatheringfourth estate, Dan comes up with some interesting prognosticationsbased on the economic realities facing new reporting. I'd beinterested to know if you'd read his musings and what comments youmay have regarding his observations.


Regarding your less frequent updating, while I'm also disappointed,I'm not too surprised. While there's certainly plenty happening inthe news, there's probably less egregious yellow journalism andExecutive constitutional violations that need to be exposed. For atleast the next little while, the abysmally poor reporting on the Bushadministration's activities has led to an American populace that isfinally somewhat more skeptical of what they read in the mainstreampress. Some of the MSM finally realize that their "trustiness" fundwith the public is badly over-leveraged and are trying to improve their balance sheets. I won't be doing any more crying over any Rupert Murdoch properties than I did over Lord Convict Black.

Name:    Corky Bucik
Hometown:  Atlanta, GA


I was extremely surprised to find out that you write Altercation forfree. I thought for sure you would have to pay The Nation something.

Name:    Stephen Carver
Hometown:  Los Angeles

Dr. A,

I don't worry about you being lazy when you're not being paid forwriting. Hell, we're all lazy when we're not getting paid. However,you always bring an insightful view to the issues of the day, andthere are many of us who appreciate your insights. If I could pay youfor them, I would, but you're waaaay too expensive for me.

Name:    Terry
Hometown:  Cheyenne

Is there a way you could have a subscription situation going on thatwould be lucrative enough to sustain your writing here? I think thereare a lot of us who would support it.

Eric replies: I've gotten a lot of mail of this sort and I very much appreciate it. The truth is, I never really considered trying to restart Altercation on my own. Even if I could raise enough money to justify the time--which I frankly doubt in this economic atmosphere--the fact is that I am burned out on this blogging thing.  I did it virtually every day for six and a half years, and while I miss the money, I'm much happier person not to have a deadline breathing down my neck every single day. I also think the rest of my work--my columns, my books, my teaching, and I suppose my parenting--suffers from trying to do everything at once. And I'd like to smell a few more roses--or at least go to a few more movies in the afternoon. Anyway, in addition to what I've been doing, I think I'll be contributing a post or so a week to the Daily Beast from now on, so that will fix me for whatever is burning in my gut and pay for a few Bruce shows on this tour. I'll keep doing AC once a week, to round things up, review stuff and, I hope, provide Pierce (and others) with the platform for the excellent readership I've accumulated over the years. But again, thanks for caring. 

Name:    Timothy Barrett
Hometown:  Louisville, Ky

I am compelled to talk about Fox News, and this troubles me greatly.I have watched many more interviews lately that elevate playgroundtaunting than ever before. Laura Ingraham of Fox Business News (apathetic affair in every way) is a coarse and horrid person. Sherecently interviewed Caroline Murray, whom Ingraham described as a"Washington activist". Murray is actually much more than that. She isa bona fide community organizer.

According to The Valley Advocate's Maureen Turner, Murray is aveteran community organizer, the executive director of Alliance toDevelop Power, a member of the Center for Community Change, andinvolved in United for Hire. All these organizations promoteeconomic justice and push for national policy changes in areas likeaccessible health care, immigration reform and economic equality.They are apparently based in Springfield. Ma. What Ingraham thinksshe has to do with Washington must be related to her recent workwith the Obama administration. Personally, I just think Ingrahamlinks people with Washington because she perceives that to be anegative with her viewers.

To Murray's credit, she had a purpose and was not going to allowIngraham to control the conversation. Ingraham apparently had heragenda and was not going to let Murray even speak. It was a mess ofparallel conversation with Murray trying to state her positions andIngraham rubbing her forehead in faux exasperation while sheconstantly interrupted Murray with contemptible non sequiturs.

Another horrible interview was held by Fox News Megyn Kelly whoinsulted ACORN spokesperson, Scott Levinson, by continuouslyconflating individual voter registration fraud by ACORN employeesseeking to pad production with fake registrations. About 20-30individuals in several states, independently and in collusion, whichare paid per registration, created false registrations to pad theirproduction. It has been widely documented that this voterregistration fraud involved no actual voters or actual voter fraud.Yet Kelly couldn't help conflating voter fraud, which involves actualcast votes, with this much more minor, and completely unrelated,criminal activity.

The real issue for me, since conservative news mistreatment of ACORNis well documented, is her treatment of Scott Levinson. She talkedover him constantly, taunted him with outrageous questions andthreatened to cut his mike when he insisted on answering the questionshe asked while she, apparently, was more interested in simplylisting misleading questions without his input. It was obvious shejust wanted her viewers to hear her abuse him.

Why anyone would want to go on Igraham's or Kelly's show with its mind-boggling bias and open contempt is beyond calculation. Why anyonewould want to watch a program featuring such interviews is equallychallenging. Murray and Levinson are veteran spokespersons thatwelcome all opportunities, but is going on Fox News really helpingthem get out their messages? All reasonable people should boycott Foxand all the other networks should speak of it only in terms of itstrue nature. We know this! Why the hell do we keep forgetting it?

Name:    Ben Miller
Hometown:  Washington, DC

Mr. Alterman,

Am I the only one bothered by all the news about President Obama'sresponse to CNN's Ed Henry question. Not the question, or theresponse, but the response to the question and the response. Inparticular, CNN.com putting up a story with Ed Henry's reaction.

Really? You are a reporter. You aren't supposed to be the story. Itwas a single question, and a single response. I don't really believe that warrants a response, let alone nearly 700 words.

Is there any journalistic integrity left anywhere. If someone elsewants to write about this, fine. I don't really think it is a story.But I don't think a journalist should ever be writing an articleabout reaction to his own one question. These networks and companiesare so desperate for ratings, that they will jump all over anything.Journalism ethics be damned.

Name:  Ed Tracey
Hometown:  Lebanon, New Hampshire

Professor, when you linked to that 2008 article in the New Yorkerabout the financial empire of former Met/Phillie Lenny Dykstra: I wasstruck by the part about the thriving car wash business he founded(due to the "automobile-centric culture in California, and because itwas a business that couldn't be replaced by a computer chip."). Ifound it suspicious that - for a business that he noted could not beoff-shored--"he recently divested, owing in part to a rise in theminimum wage".

Now, according to a former New York Post sports photo editor that he hired for his magazine....the wealth that he seemed to flaunt may nothave been entirely his, and his social attitudes may have been asretrograde as one could be.

  New Yorker link

  GQ link

Name:    Tim Burga
Hometown:  Dallas, TX

Please explain to Dr. Zuckerman the difference between a diagnosisand an insult. I'm reasonably certain that Mr. Pierce wasn'timploring the "sociopaths" to take medication and get better; he wascommenting rather forcefully on their antisocial, sometimesinexplicable behavior. And that's why we love him so.

Name:    Brian Clark
Hometown:  Ames, IA

I must confess I am still waiting for one Mr. Charlie Pierce topublicly eat some crow over his abysmal Slate piece decrying thesupposedly unworthy Arizona Cardinals.

Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Big Alter-media week: We've got a new called "Think Again column called"Remember Real Journalism," and it's here.

We did a BHTV episode with our new conservative buddy Reihan, calledWhat's on a Man's Mind?" hereand we appeared on a panel at the 92nd street Y on Monday night called "Why WeNeed a Liberal Israel Lobby," and that's on video here and Phil Weiss has agreat deal to say about it here and then I gave a few quotes to MichaelCalderone of Politico for this story--note the only fellow in the cartoon scowling--which has the right wing internetzbuzzing with much enjoyable hysteria. Were one to read too much of it,one would lament the fate of western civilization, such as it is. Oursmart new conservative friend Reihan, has a good post here as does Peter Suderman hereand, oh, this one is funny too. I have nothing much to say though. I proposed it as a column for my editors. They said no. You getwhat you pay for, literally (See below). Suffice to say that if we werereally conspiring to run the world, we'd do a better job of things.

Siva found this: Merle Haggard & Johnny Cash

Quotes of the Day: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll stay plastered."*

*See William F. Buckley Jr., "On Experiencing Gore Vidal," in Harold Hayes, edit, Smiling Through the Apocalypse, (New York: The McCall Publishing Company, 1969) pp.911-965.

Also this, to those who complain about my infrequent blogging:

"I'm very lazy about writing when I'm not getting paid"

Why does love got to be so sad? I dunno, if you're going to be in rowD, tonight, or row C tomorrow night, for the only, ever Clapton/ABB performance, do come by and say "hello."


Well, let's see. I don't have much to say about John Cheever that hasn'tbeen said by John Updike in The New Yorker, Chip McGrath in the TimesMagazine, James Wolcott in Vanity Fair, but you know I'm a sucker forthose beautiful Library of America volumes and they've just done twoCheevers. It's a bit of a conundrum though, because while the shortstory volume is handsome and functional as ever, if you're anything likemy age, you remember those big beautiful orange "Stories" that everysuburban parent had on their shelves, and damned if when you took themdown, they weren't pretty great. My favorite one was the one about theradio. I hated the one about the swimmer that everyone seems to love somuch. I don't know if you can buy the big orange book anymore, so if youcan't, I guess everybody who doesn't have it should buy it and begrateful to LOA for being there. On the novels, it's a pretty easy call.They are wonderful books all of them; as economical as Updike isexpansive and so knowing. I've not cracked the new Blake Bailey biopublished by Knopf yet. I don't know how much self-loathing I can take.I'll probably dip in a few pages at a time and switch real quick to theshort stories.

I may have forgotten to mention, also, the most recent LOA Rothcollection, Novels and Other Narratives, 1986-1991. It contains fourbooks of which one, The Counterlife, receives my unqualified vote asRoth's best ever, and one of my half-dozen favorite novels of all time. I ran into him at a party a few months ago and a friend asked him if hehad any thoughts on Mr. Madoff. He said "Evil." That was it. TheLibrary of America website is here.

The mail:

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, Ky

After watching Jon Stewart skewer CNBC and Jim Cramer (who, by theway, was profoundly accurate in his self description--"I'm just aguy trying to do a business entertainment show"), I found myselfruminating as to why I didn't see the fall coming myself.

I remember discussing how, when Bear Sterns imploded in March 2008 towhen the first bail out bill was in Congress in September 2008, thatthe stock market was heading south. However, I kept thinking, I am inthis for the long time horizon. I buy stocks and hold them. I am 20years from retirement, after all. This is a business cycle and I amnot a market timer.

Elizabeth Stanton, on Bloomberg (09/01/08), wasn't alone inreporting: "Investors should sell stocks following the rally aseconomies in the US and Europe remain weak....The rebound isunlikely to last because the US housing decline will continue,while Europe and the U.K. are 'close to recession'," Credit Suisse'sLondon-based analysts, including Andrew Garthwaite, said in a reportdated yesterday.[S&P 1282]

Then Jim Cramer (09/26/08): "The lack of confidence inspired byLehman's demise, the general poor health of many banks, this is goingto turn this into an intractable moment, if someone in the governmentdoesn't start pushing for more deposit insurance." [S&P 1213]

On All Things Considered from NPR on October 28, 2008: John Makin,chief economist for the hedge fund Caxton Associates, "What we'reseeing here is what I'd call a rolling and accelerating adversefeedback loop...The world is heading for a very sharp recession. Thattends to feed back again on hurting credit markets more, which inturn can feed back and hurt the real economy more." Makin thinks theUS recession will be deeper and longer than normal. He's expectingunemployment of around 8 percent and a shrinking economy through2009. [S&P 940]

Then, "Congratulations, It's A Recession" by Joshua Zumbrun forForbes, 12/01/08: NBER says, it's been a recession since December of2007.... Why is it good news? We've already gotten through one year,and now the question is not "are we in a recession?" but the slightlymore optimistic "are we in a recovery?"...The fifth largest investmentbank, Bear Stearns, collapsed in March. The fourth largest, LehmanBrothers, filed for bankruptcy in September. A few weeks later, thestock market crashed. Consumer confidence plummeted.

News for the history books, but not for policy makers. "I've known wewere in an economy that's slowed down significantly. The Americanpeople know that," said Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, "I don'tthink this is going to be big news." ...This is the 11th recessionsince World War II, and at twelve months, already among the worst. Theprevious 10 recessions lasted an average of ten months. Only recessions in 1973-75 and 1981-82 were longer, each lasting for 16 months....So when is the recovery likely to begin? ...Typically, the stock market bottoms out a little after halfway through a recession and then starts its climb back up. If the indicator holds, and the market's lowest day proves to be Nov. 20 [2008], when the Dow closed at 7,550 and the S&P 500 at 750, then the recession would endsometime next year.

Unemployment, on the other hand, is a lagging indicator. The economytends to be well on the road to recovery before unemployment startsto fall. In 1990-91, it was 15 months after the bottom of therecession that unemployment peaked. After the bursting of the dot-combubble in 2001, unemployment peaked nineteen months later. That means theunemployment rate of 6.5 percent is likely to get worse for some monthsbefore it gets better....it's nice to be talking about "recovery"instead of tip-toeing around "recession".[S&P 816]

So, some people did warn us to sell. But, really, should the media,like Cramer or CNBC, really warn people when to go to cash? Whatwould happen to the market if even a third of retirement investors,who pay no taxes for trading in their qualified retirement accountsand IRAs, jumped in and out of the market to ride the crests andavoid the valleys every business cycle? Could these people actuallybeat the market? Or would they, ultimately wreck it? Is Jon Stewartright, in other words, that we long term investors "capitalize"market traders' "adventures"? Must the backbone and legs, trudgingonward, bear all the weight, in order for the beast to live?[Today: S&P 751] Isn't that really the sort of thing the rest of usalways just do?

Name: John Moore
Hometown: San Francisco

Dear Dr. A,

First of all, congrats on your new(ish) digs. I do hope, though, thatyou'll go back to posting daily as you did at MediaMatters.org. Someof us need our fix every single work day.

Second, let me commend you on your Nation piece "It Can Happen Here."It never ceases to amaze me how little shock and outrage has beenexpressed over the Bush administration's all too successful effortsto scrap key provisions of the Constitution. The MSM are capable ofdevoting endless hours to pretty young white girls who've gonemissing and to Republican complaints about earmarks, but for them,deliberate subversion of the nation's founding document just doesn'tmake the cut. In the world of Beltway journalism, things truly areupside-down.

Finally, kudos to the great Charles Pierce for calling out HowardFineman for his ridiculous Newsweek piece on the "establishment's" concerns about Obama. Fineman defines thisestablishment as "a three-sided force, churning from inside theBeltway, from Manhattan-based media and from what remains ofcorporate America." Presumably he's alluding to DC politicians andpundits, the MSM, and big business. In my view, it was theineptitude, malfeasance, and plain stupidity of this establishmentthat got us into the mess we're in now. Perhaps Fineman shouldconsider the track record of his beloved establishment and askhimself whether its opinions retain any credibility. It's certainlyunclear to me why, as Fineman puts it, "the rest of us" should beconcerned with what these folks think. In any rational world, peoplethat had demonstrated such disastrous incompetence would not belistened to at all.

Name: Brian Donohue
Contact: http://dailyrevolution.net

This ex-AIG worker has a tantalizing idea for the AIG Bonus Boys: dosomething to make yourself a guest ofthe next (and first) SOTU. All you have to do is give back enoughof those mega-bonuses to get me and others hired back, and I bet youguys will be sitting in the hallowed halls of a joint session besidethose glorious bare arms of the First Lady, hearing yourselvespraised to the skies by the Prez. Then, once you've been made famous,Oprah and Katie and the girls at The View will want you. All forhanding back a fractional piece of a 7-figure bonus. Or is insurancethat exciting by itself?

Name: Charles H. Thornton
Hometown: Reisterstown, MD

I tell you Eric, I saw that Fleischer-Matthews confrontation, and forme it exemplified all that's been wrong with public discourse for thepast fifteen years: Strict adherence to one's own preconceptions commentsslanted to promote those preconceptions, intolerance for anotherview, total lack of gained information, since both engaged in so muchsimultaneous blather that neither could have possibly learnedanything from the other.

Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly, Ann Coulter, Ariana Huffington, DavidHorowitz, David Corn. These people, and those like them, representThe Problem.

And, oh yes, Ari and Chris too.

The sooner the public is rid of their one eyed view of the world thebetter off we will all be.

Name: Dr, Morton Zuckerman
Hometown: Brentwood, CA


I am tired of laymen, including Charles Pierce, calling others"Sociopaths" when I would wager large sums of money that the namecaller has absolutely no idea what a true sociopath is. I have beenin the business of diagnosing mental patients for over threedecades and believe me when I tell you that novices can't make adiagnosis from watching someone in a television interview. It takesyears of practice and many times a battery of tests. Even then,seasoned professionals like I can still get it wrong. So let's stoppromoting the armchair psychiatrists and leave the art of diagnosisto the experts.

Name: Ann Donahue
Hometown: Shelburne, VT

Ah, Pierce. Would that everyday were Slacker Friday. Still, Isuppose, to paraphrase the great man himself weighing in onOlbermann's special comments, that would make Slacker Friday lessslackerish. I sure don't want that!

And since Georgetown has been out of it since January 1, GoMarquette!

Name: Carl Kolbet
Hometown: New York, NY

Please help a local bookstore!

Dear Eric,

You have periodically let your readers know about local bookstoresthat need their help, and I am hoping you will do so again. I justlearned over the weekend that a great little bookstore near me isfacing some hard times.

Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books at 34 Carmine Street (btw.Bleecker and Bedford) is a little bookstore that carries a wideselection of overstock books at amazing prices. The selection isalways changing, and the prices are very low (new hardcovers areoften under $10). Several months ago, they had to reduce their spaceby half (their motto used to be "0.18 miles of books" in a play offof The Strand), and they have had to let staff go as well. It isreally an institution worth saving, so I hope you can help.

Their website is here: http://unoppressivebooks.blogspot.com/

And more information is here:http://www.indiebound.org/stores/unoppressive-non-imperialist-bargain-books

And here: http://nymag.com/listings/stores/unoppressive-non-imperia/

I hope you can help. Thanks.

Name: Terry
Hometown: Cheyenne

I'm always attuned to your musical sensibilities. The Chris Isaac'sshow is the kind of performance and music talk I dream of. I hadfound some four-disc compilation of Glen Campbell last year, and itwas stunning to listen to his body of work on it chronologically.I wish he'd talked about the song Gentle on My Mind. My favorite songof all is called I've Got You, though it might be obscure to some.The Stevie Nicks episode was a real treat. From an Altercator forwhom, music, too, is another best friend.

Name: Michael Bartley
Hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado

Eric, I am writing this while listening to the new Buddy and JulieMiller record Written in Chalk. It is simply wonderful. I just wantedto give 'em a plug. Also, I'm looking forward to Pierce's book thisspring. He is a dam fine writer whose willingness to speak truth topower gives me hope that journalism is not yet dead here in the landof bread and water. Speaking of Pierce's new book, yesterdaySilverman from Des Moines called you Jerry. I don't know why exactly,I'll leave it to the mystery of funny, but I have not laughed thathard in a long time. Your simple response put me on the floor.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new Think Again: Whose News Is It, Anyway? and a new Nation column called "It Can Happen Here," here.

Speaking of music on TV, I know we've crowed a great deal about Elvis Costello's Spectacle, on Sundance--all of whose episodes are available if you get "Free Movies on Demand"--but what is also really great is The Chris Isaak Show on the Biography show; it's got an ever-so slightly more relaxed feel than Elvis's show  but otherwise it's pretty much exactly the same deal, except with commercials. And it appears to be produced by my long lost friend and Cornell Daily Sun editor, David Wild. This week's guest was the great Glenn Campbell.

Ok, that's enough of me, here's Pierce.

Charles Pierce
Newton, MA

Hey Doc:

"When time's were good/all your lovin' was the same/When the goin'got rough/you hardly knew my name."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "Busy Bootin'" (Washboard Chaz) -- Hey,it's fundraising time on the airwaves of the city I love more than ChrisSmith loves snowflake babies. Help 'em out.

Short Takes:

Point The First:  The execrable Ari Fleischer had a session withMatthews on Hardball the other night that was a clinical experiment inwhat happens when a simple crackpot is confronted by an out-and-outsociopath. Fleischer lied and lied and lied some more, and Matthews satthere with the most curious look on his face. You could almost hear thescales falling from his eyes as loudly as the pennies from a dead man's.When he was desperately trying to pin down Fleischer's bloody revisionism,did Matthews hear echoes of himself back in the day, joviallydiscussing the president's package with Gordon Liddy as C-Plus Augustusstrode across the deck of the aircraft carrier in that yummy flight suit?Did he finally see the results of his having been such a fool? By theway, Bush revisionism is not going anywhere. He's completely radioactive toRepublicans now, too. There's no energy out there to defend his miserablefailure with the kind of vigor that Grover Norquist brought to the ReaganProject.

Part the Second: The best month in American sports, and the leastproductive month in American business, begins Sunday. As much as I love them, though, Alma Mammy's squad isn't going to recover from the loss of the senior point guard. One win and out. I'm thinking.

Part The Third: The Continuing Misadventures Of Waldo The DrunkSecurity Guard: In which Waldo, after washing down four Percocets with apint of Sterno, goes comatose at his desk in the offices of Salon, andcrazy people from the streets sneak past him, make their way to computerterminals, and post screeds that would have embarrassed an undergraduate student, even if she'd typed them while puking into a trash can on the Friday night before homecoming. How in the hell Waldo keeps his job, I have no idea. He must know someone.

Part The Fourth: Oh, look. Lisa DePaulo's back. Those of us whose memories stretch beyond lunchtime will recall la DePauloas the hard bitten scribe who spent the summer of 2001 all but accusingformer congressman Gary Condit of having murdered Chandra Levy. She wrotean extended magazine treatment for Talk  that, now that the actualmurderer's turned up, can be used as a textbook example of what happenswhen you combine sub-tabloid hyperventilation--"Chandra was waiting forher man." Hubba-hubba!--with the professional standards of the nitwit onthe next barstool. Get an account of a ballgame as wrong in a25,000-circulation daily as she did the biggest story of that summer, andyou're sweeping out the print shop by dawn. Anyway. here's the lameass mea culpa.

Part The Fifth: When I say that Ross Douthat is the best possible candidate to fill the Ideological Affirmative Actionslot on the NYT op-ed page, I really mean it. Die horribly, Grandpa,because there are empty moral gestures to make. It is, after all, a fieldof $10,000 claimers.

Part The Last: I have been trying to come up with a calm, reasonedposition on the current crisis among our bankers, but all I can really dois tell them all, quite seriously, to bite me.

Don't look now, Howie, but you've written the Sally Quinn opus of the new millennium. By the way, this is not a compliment. This is a guy who admitted he "shamelessly lobbied" the Clintons to send Chelsea to Sidwell Friends, where his daughter went. This is a guy who later memorably wrote that George W. Bush was as comfortable in ermine as he is in denim, or some such brain-swill. Why the night-time lefties on MSNBC still tolerate this courtier yahoo remains a mystery.

The real substantive dry rot in this piece of slowly moldering lumberis that, by far, the most substantive criticisms of Obama have come fromthe Left, and from people who are pretty far distant from Howie and his"Establishment" Kool Kidz table. That would be Glenn Greenwald, DahliaLithwick and the ACLU on the administration's inexcusably dilatoryapproach to unraveling the Bush-era constitutional atrocities, and anyoneof a dozen economists who have slapped the Obama economic plan as beingeither a) insufficient to the current crisis, and/or b) far toobanker-and-broker friendly. Hell, Krugman didn't wedge himself into theA-list punditocracy--and he's barely there now--until he had a Nobelmedallion with which to pry open the door. Howie, you are not me. Neitherare you any journalist I respect. Neither are you a member of any"Establishment" worthy of the name. You're an ass-kissing embarrassment topublic letters.

America's Weapons of Wit

Think Again: Whose News Is It, Anyway? and a new Nation column called "It Can Happen Here," here.


America's Weapons of Wit: Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, (Rhino) reviewed by Zoe Zenowich

From groundbreakers Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and HaroldLloyd and convention-shattering Mae West, Moms Mabley and Lucille Ballto anti-establishment jesters Groucho Marx, Lenny Bruce and JonStewart, American comedians have a rich history of informing andentertaining, upsetting the order, drawing attention to hypocrisy anddelivering influential commentary on political-thought and social life.Recently released on DVD, the PBS documentary series, Make 'Em Laugh:The Funny Business of America, celebrates the twentieth-century pioneersof American comedy.

Written and directed by Michael Kantor, hosted by Billy Crystaland narrated by Amy Sedaris, the program is organized into six parts,each with an occasionally awkward, but thankfully short, introductoryroutine by Billy Crystal, meant to highlight the theme of the show tocome. An ambitious project, the short history of around a dozendifferent comedians is piled into each episode which exemplifies adifferent genre, character trait, or recurring theme present throughoutthe funny business of America; the oddballs (from Harold Lloyd andWoody Allen to Robin Williams), the trailblazers (from Abbott andCostello to Bill Maher), the wise guys (from W.C. Fields to LarryDavid), domestic comedy (from The Goldbergs to Seinfeld and TheSimpsons), satire and parody (from Will Rogers to The Colbert Report)and slapstick (from Charlie Chaplin to Jim Carrey).

Make 'Em Laugh features over six hours of funny clips from oldtelevision sitcoms and stand-up acts, (including the The Goldbergs, TheMarx Brothers and Woody Allen), along with interviews with culturalhistorians and comedians (from Sid Caesar and Johnathan Winters to JerrySeinfeld and Chris Rock). Incorporating rare footage, such as Mort Sahland Steve Allen on a televised debate about comedy and censorship, thedocumentary is an eye-opener for those unfamiliar with the history ofAmerican comedy. Those with more viewing experience, may be disappointedthat the program barely mentions the influence of radio comedy, andfails to so much as make a nod in the direction of comedians such asHarry Langdon or Bill Hicks. Episode fours kick-starts with a Family Guymusical score poking fun at the FCC, before a brilliant interview withcreator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening who recounts how "Bart Simpsonis Eddie Haskell's son." Conspicuously lacking, however, is even theslightest reference to Mickey Mouse, Looney Tones or one of the mostinfluential and controversial television series currently being aired,the Peabody award-winning, equal opportunity offender, South Park.

Despite its shortcomings, what Make 'Em Laugh lacks in detail, itmakes up for in message. Every one of the six episodes pays ode to thehistorical, cultural and political importance of comedy and politicalsatire; Lenny Bruce's testing the barrier of speech and artisticfreedom during his numerous trials for obscenity, the SmothersBrothers' censorship battles with CBS and the 1964 Supreme Court victoryfor MAD magazine, which established the rights of comedians to parodypopular songs. George Carlin says in episode six, "I like doing whatmakes people feel uneasy. I find out where they draw the line,deliberately cross it, take them with me, and make them happy they camealong."

Comedy's importance lays in its ability to mock institutions,social manners and cultural norms, while making the audience laugh atthe same time. As television producer and director George Schlatter saysin episode four, "We must nurture these people, protect and shieldthem, because what they say is valuable. You hear things presented toyou through humor that you might never hear otherwise." And value themwe should, throughout history it is often comedians who are theforerunners in battles against censorship, hypocrisy and establishedauthority.

Zoe Zenowich is a student at Brooklyn College. You can read more aboutthe DVD here.

The mail:

Name: Candy Delacourte

Last week, the First Lady visited a soup kitchen that sits seven blocksfrom the White House and helped serve food. Someone in the soup linephotographed Ms. Obama with a cell phone camera, and conservatives wentnuts, writing in that anyone who can afford a cell phone should not geta free meal. Apparently, free meals should be reserved for those whohave absolutely nothing to their name.

Such comments display a profound misunderstanding of being down and out,especially these days. Not everyone in a soup line is a career homelessperson. Many had jobs until recently, and many had homes until recently.Many are hoping for a call, a call from a potential employer, or a callfrom a friend offering a place to stay, or a call from a family memberoffering an option to start a new start somewhere else. If there is anytool a homeless person needs, it's a cell phone and a way to be reached, away to believe that the next incoming call might bring an end to thisnightmare.

But of course, to conservatives, the homeless are not human, but rather,piteous lesser beings who should wear there shame at every opportunity.

Name: Norman Gravely
Hometown: Woodbridge, Va

Dear Eric,

Did you notice Howard Kurtz's front page article in theWashington Post?

He stated that Rush Limbaugh's ratings had nearly doubled. How did heknow? Apparently Talkers magazine related to Kurtz anecdotal infothat was hardly verifiable. Then the Post editorial staff says theWhite house is talking about Rush too much, even though they the Postrun hearsay on their front page. Ugh!

Name: Sandip Silverman
Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa


I want to personally thank you for only posting your blog once everyweek or two. I've been reading your stuff for years now when you wereat Media Matters and before and your column once a day or even two orthree times a week was way too depressing and too much for any saneperson to handle. So, thanks for cutting back.

Eric replies: Jerry?

Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: Satellite Beach, FL

Greetings Eric--I am interested if you have any comments on RetiredAmbassador Freeman who made these comments as he withdrew fromconsideration of the post of National Intelligence Council

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails showconclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent anyview other than its own from being aired, still less to factor inAmerican understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. Thetactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor andindecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and ourgovernment other than those that it favors.

Eric replies: I think I'll do a column for "Moment" on this.

Name: Michael Kelly
Hometown: Wichita, KS

I have enjoyed several of Prof. Polenberg's 'Key to the Highway'presentations, but he should check the archives and make surethey all work.

I was particularly intrigued by one titled 'War and Blues' , but thesupposed download link gave me a 612-byte file that is not an mp3.

Here's the broken link: http://slopemedia.org/podpress_trac/web/343/0/463.mp3

Rush and Coulter = Howe and Harrington? Really?

We've got a new Think Again column here and it is called "The Other Meltdown: Conservatives." And I've got a new column in Moment called "Israeli Films Boldly Go Where Few Politicians Dare," and that's here

Take a look at this video and ask yourself how stupid the Neocons could have been to think that the best thing for the Iraqis would be for the United States to tell them what to do with their country. You can't even blame the guy in it. He's doingthe job he was trained for; he just wasn't trained for this job.

Speaking of war supporters who call the rest of us stupid, on The NewYorker's blog, George Packer writes:

This clip from the weekend'sConservative Political Action Conference reminds me exactly of whatmeetings of the Democratic Socialists of America sounded like in thenineteen-eighties. Just substitute "free-market capitalism" for "biggovernment," "the New Deal" for "the era of Reagan," and everythingelse--the defensive contempt toward popular rule, the retreat into thecomfort of a purified "philosophy," the denunciations of unnamedappeasers within the ranks, the call to "stamp out" middle-wayweaklings--is the same.

I wonder if Packer might want to revisit this one. He may have traveledquite a distance from his former friends and political values,personally, but does he really wish to equate Rush Limbaugh and AnnCoulter with Michael Harrington, Irving Howe, Cornel West, Ron Dellums,Harold Meyerson, Marc Levinson, JoAnn Mort, etc. It is not an uncommontrait in political pilgrims to heap contempt on their former selves, butI think Packer might wish to rethink this one.


My old friend and Cornell American history professor, Richard Polenberg,has been devoting himself to creating these wonderful musical historyprograms on his web-based Slope Radio program. It's called "Key to theHighway" and it is on at a new time: from 8 to 9 pm on Wednesdays. Theshows are archived, though, so you can hear them whenever you wish. Allthe programs from the first and second semesters are also stillavailable.

You can log on at the following site. No username or password isnecessary: http://slopemedia.org/category/all-shows/current-shows/key-to-the-highway/

This season's first three programs are up and running:

• The first (Episode 25) is devoted to the well-known song, "Houseof the Rising Sun." First recorded in 1933, there are now nearly 400different versions by singers as diverse as Leadbelly, Nina Simone, andthe Animals.

• The second looks at the life and music of Nehemiah "Skip" James,the blues singer, guitarist, and pianist whose classic 1931 recordingsinspired covers by the likes of Buddy Guy, Ry Cooder, Rory Block, andBob Dylan.

• The third tells the true, tragic story of "Frankie and Johnny",and includes versions of the song by Charlie Poole, Anita O'Day,"Little" Stevie Wonder and Doc and Merle Watson.

• The fourth program, "Got the Cotton Mill Blues", which will be broadcast this week, discusses songs written by and about cotton mill workers, and music inspired by the 1929 strike in Gastonia, North Carolina.

Future programs will deal with "Chain Gang Blues", songs that described--and also exposed--that notoriously brutal form of imprisonment, and with such musicians as Dinah Washington, John Lee Hooker and Django Reinhardt.



Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles:

I caught a short performance by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles theother night. I actually discovered Borges though Amazon's "If you like..." feature. I forget what the connection was exactly, but it wasdefinitely more folkish/Americana-ish than Borges turns out to be. Atleast in the bar, she was pretty much a straight-ahead rocker, but withsmart, pretty songs sixties-style singles that wouldn't sound too outof place in a Tommy James and the Shondells set, if Tommy James and theShondells sang much smarter songs than they ever did.

Amazon wasn't wrong. Borges first two albums. 2005's Silver City and2007's Diamonds in the Dark were much folk-friendlier than the newone, called The Stars Are Out. It boasts five originals plus fivecovers including a song attributed to Smokey Robinson (a radicallyreworked "Being With You"), Stiff Records act Any Trouble ("Yesterday'sLove," penned by Clive Gregson)--and one of the best bands almosteveryone's forgotten I can think of--the Magnetic Fields' "No One WillEver Love You," and Evan Dando's "Ride with Me." Smart stuff, as I said.And she's pretty sexy too, I guess I should add, though her hair makesher look more like Sarah Silverman than I'd like.

Tonight marks the opening of the Rendezvous with French Cinema, at theFilm Society at Lincoln Center, which is one more reason my city isbetter than your city, unless your city is Paris. I've seen four of thefilms--one with Gerard Depardieu, one with Gerard Depardieu's daughterand Catharine DeNeuve, playing her mom, and two with I forget who. Theywere all way more honest, stylish and emotionally complex than virtuallyanything Hollywood produces, including those movies that get AcademyAward nominations, and my advice would be to look at the schedule here and see what you can see.

This week on Moyers:

He's played heroes, villains, saints, sinners, a ballet-dancingelephant, and a space alien, now actor and children's author JohnLithgow--best known as Dick Solomon from NBC's hit show 3rd Rock fromthe Sun--reveals a new side of himself... poetry lover. Theaward-winning stage and screen star Lithgow shares his favorite poems,insights into acting, and thoughts on the enduring power of art.Lithgow currently stars in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's AllMy Sons. He has penned several children's books, as well as compiledpoems for Poets' Corner: The One-And-Only Poetry Book for the WholeFamily. Then, Bill Moyers celebrates poetry at the Geraldine R. DodgePoetry Festival, which included renowned poets Coleman Barks, W.S.Merwin, Stanley Kunitz, Kurtis Lamkin, among many others.

The Mail:

Name: Timothy Barrett
Hometown: Louisville, KY

Obama's proposed budget will raise the top tiers of the marginalincome tax rates to 36 percent and 39.6 percent while leaving those who earn under the $250,000 MAGI at today's rates. To get a clear perspective, a salaried person filing married joint and earning $100,000 a year compensation (with attendant deductions but not itemizing) will pay about $13,600 in federal taxes. That is, of course, less than a 14 percent actual tax rate. If this taxpayers has some kids, a mortgage, and gives to charity, his actual tax rate will be more like 11 percent.

Now, if you do make a lot more than the average joe, say $250,000 and up, the average joe makes about $30,000, you will pay a lot more intaxes. No doubt about it, you are the tax target and you will paymore for your success. This is what a progressive tax plan does, it progresses. But you must make over $250,000 to get targeted.

But even if your $300,000 salary puts you into the 36 percent margin (you currently have to make more than $373,000 to reach the 39.6 percent margin)your actual tax rate is a little under 25 percent. If you earn a whopping $500,000 a year, you will pay an actual 31 percent in federal income tax.

Now let's assume Obama gets his whole package, unlimited SocialSecurity/Medicare tax and a the return to the top marginal rates of2001, and you live in a state that pays 10 percent state and local taxes. Then you are not a happy camper. At $500,000 a year MAGI, you will pay, OMG, 43 percent in taxes ($216,778!).

Oh well, would it make you feel any better to know that if we appliedthe 1965-1980 tax charts, when the highest marginal federal incometax rate was 70 percent, you would have paid about 70 percent in actual total taxes, counting FICA, state and local ($352,460!).

And if we went back to 1964 and prior, there was a 79 percent top rate. So if you think the tax rate increases will be at an unprecedented level, you are very, very wrong! You're getting off easy, Bub!

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL


I thought of Charlie Pierce when I read this blurb on DailyKos aboutMichael Steele's email to RNC faithful asking for support of NormColeman's seemingly futile effort to hold onto his Senate seat. Itwasn't Steele's pitch that got me (it's his job after all to supporthis candidate) but that his opening paragraph describes hisresponsibilities as RNC chair in language that channels the oldBaltimore catechism no.3 that Sister Mary de Sade used to drill meon. Steele writes:

As you know, my mission as the new Chairman of the RepublicanNational Committee is to...remind voters that our party is the *oneand only true party of the people.*

Political ideology and religion share many similarities for some, butI can remember when JFK had to attest that he wouldn't be takingorders from Rome. Now Steele, a Roman Catholic, frames his jobdescription co-extensive with the Baltimore Catechism creed.


Name: Spyder

Anybody happen to see this story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal over the weekend? "Can He Save Rock 'n' Roll? Irving Azoff Wants to Concentrate Power in the Music World Like Never Before; Bruce Springsteen Objects."

On the original accompanying photo that is identified in the captionas a young Eagles with Azoff circled in red (one of the majorcorrections that was made after the physical paper was published andcirculated). Those of us from that era would clearly recognize theblatant attempt to denigrate and negate reality as the one personthat mattered in the photo was refused identity by Rupert's WSJ. Itested this by showing the picture to several people and asked themto see the problem. Only those who knew Bill Graham, or cared forwhat he did, or worked for him, would know the insult. None of thoseyounger than 50 had any clue whatsoever. Yes, Bill Graham is thecentral figure, with the band and manager standing around himbackstage at a CA venue (for some reason they all wear stickers allaccess passes except the guy in the center). Bill Graham, thegodfather of the concert business that has manifested today, isnegated by nary an identity. The correction is typically silly andneeds an apology!!!

Name: Beth Harrison
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Eric (and all other Altercators), are you enjoying the Republicancircular firing squad as much as I am? Sure, Michael Steele may beChairman of the RNC, but the leader of the conservobots is Rush "I wantObama to fail" Limbaugh. And I'd have a lot of respect for the firstRepublican who tells Rush to shut the hell up, that he is hurting theirchances of picking up seats in two years, yadda yadda yadda. Theirkowtowing to El Rushbo is sickening (but in an entertaining kind ofway). And Rush, I'll tell you what women find attractive in a man: a soul.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new "Think Again" column here called, "Thank God for Gitmo." I've also got a new Nation column called "War is Over (If You Want It) here.

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA.

Hey Doc:

"Here come the Wild Tchoupitoulas/ Here come the uptown rulers."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "My People Need A Second Line" (Dr. John)--Laissez les bon temps and all that. It was Mardi Gras, and my friendWright Thompson rode a lead float through the streets of the city I love more than David Brooks loves the sizzling of the suburban barbecues in his head.

Short Takes

Part The First: Erratum etc. I did indeed vapor lock on James Arness, and probably because I did confuse him with his brother, Peter Graves. But Big Jim McLain nonetheless remains an unjustly ignored Komedy Klassic! I also agree with my former running mate on Gardens Of Stone, although I liked the Nicholas Profitt novel better than the movie. (Coppola lards up his film with weirdly off-kilter soundtrack music, and it apparently was edited with a riding lawn mower.) And this is probably not the right place to mention that, as far as I'm concerned, Leonard Cohen always has been the skeevy aging grad student whohangs around the campus bars and says he's a poet in order to seduce everywoman in the freshman class. However, it may well be the right place for anargument about it.

Part The Second: Holy mother of God. Nullification? I rememberwhen Pat Buchanan was running for president, and he kept talking abouttariffs and Smoot-Hawley, and I told people I was glad to be revisiting allthose political controversies that were settled when I studied history inschool, but were now coming back like a kind of ideological ColonialWilliamsburg. Now, though, I mean, really. Nullifcation? As my buddy RoyBlount is fond of pointing out, this was a bad idea at the time and lookseven worse in retrospect. These people are all crazy.

Part The Third: Well, that 2012 GOP primary race became a wide-opencontest this week, didn't it? Because there's no point in drooling over thecarrion that once was Bobby Jindal, Boy Wonder, let me just say that Ifound thisto be perhaps the most useless reaction. I am particularly struck by thissection here:     

Maybe it's because I get motion sickness on bandwagons, but I'malmost tempted to disagree. Almost. Sure, Jindal seemed to alternatebetween telling a creepy bedtime story about the magical gumdrop Land ofTax Cuts and a creepy bedtime story about the evil Democrats who lurk underyour bed. But Democrats gave their share of creepy responses over the pasteight years--I can't be the only person still scarred by Nancy Pelosi'sunblinking delivery in 2004.

Yes, Amy The Brave Liberal God Botherer is back with us again.Jindal's policy prescriptions were nuttier than a fox squirrel but NancyPelosi once was Bad On Television, so ATBLGB gets to play theon-the-other-hand game. Jindal's response wasn't creepy because the opticswere so bad. It was because the optics were so bad on a defense ofpolitical and economic notions that empirical reality have demonstrated tobe utterly worthless. And he's damned lucky nobody mentioned the exorcism. Then again, I'm guessing Amy's a fan of medievalist rituals.

Part The Fourth: Let us stipulate at the top that Harold Ford has noidentifiable constituency beyond the MSNBC Green Room. He's sort of a foofand, as the NFL draftniks say, he missed his window three years ago anyway.But the folks at Hardball are going to have to have a more serious answer for their continuing use of this guy.

The man is under federal indictment, for pity's sake. Can anyone else remember someone with a federal charge hanging over his head who's regularly called upon to opine upon the affairs of the state against which he's accused of committing his crimes? This is nuts, Matthews. Who books the crooks?

Part The Last: No. You're idiots and yourmothers are embarrassed by every single one of you. It's almost rush hour.Go panhandle outside the Heritage Foundation now. And Accuracy in Media remains one of the most blissfully ironic names in the political lexicon. Once, when writing about John McCain for Esquire, just at the verybeginning of the Full Monica, I went to CPAC. (In those days, it should benoted, McCain didn't have three votes in the hall.) What you had there thenwas what you have there now--the distilled essence of what Krugman wastalking about when he mentioned Beavis and Butthead in relationship tothe conservative movement the other night. It was at high tide back in '98.They were smug in the knowledge that their political ascendancy waseverlasting, because all their congressional idols, superstar columnists,and important radio hosts told them so. Now, the bag of tricks is empty,the country hates them and what few ideas they have, when it thinks of themat all, which is not often, and the "movement" is a slab of rotting meat bythe side of the road that even the vultures won't touch, blackening in thesun and drawing flies.

Look at this decaying lump of abject fail. Kids, in every place save his own mind, Newt Gingrich ended up a profound political failure. Rick Santorum lost. Badly. Global-warming denial? At least invite some UFOlogists to really liven things up. Election fraud? From the party of Katherine Harris? Citizen-led reform? In a country that has demonstrated its revulsion toward all you stand for in two consecutive elections, and that's now lining up at almost 60 percent behind a huge big-gubmint stimulus plan that makes Arthur Laffer cry like a child every night? And The Fairness Doctrine--boogedy-boogedy--is not coming back. Squint Scarborough is a no-hoper but, Jesus Christ with a hockey stick, is there anything Tucker Carlsonwon't do for a buck?

You want to rebuild your "Movement," such as it was? Then get it outof the f**king Phantom Zone. Come to the sad conclusion that it's not 1998any more, that the country's in actual trouble, and nobody of any substancetakes you and your "issues" seriously. You want to rebuild the Republicanparty? Lose the phone numbers of every one of these clowns. These arepeople who never learned that a sneer is not logic and that a string ofadjectives is not an argument. All that matters is Pissing Off TheLiberals. Do that, and they'll adore you. That's how a public Froot Looplike Michelle Bachmann gets a featured speaking role, and that's why anysensible Republicans would look at this gathering and feel the cold, deadhands of Zachary Taylor and the rest of the Whigs settling ominously ontheir shoulders. FWIW, Sarah Palin declined to attend. Maybe she is thefuture, after all. 

Name: Greg Panfile
Hometown:  Tuckahoe NY


Apologize ye not for that Lennon hed...it's a classic that even the young'uns hear every Christmas and trying to be more faux contemporary is just faux hip condescension. It was great in '72 and just as apropos when we had bombers in the air at Xmas in '90, which is when I tributed it with 'Love All Around,' which despite me writing it does not suck and is audible for compare-and-contrast purposes at my Beta Records site.

I do wonder how many college freshmen write better than the pseudoscribes at the WSJ...over/under is around 75 percent I'd guess. Albeit the 'villagers' led by Broder are almost as bad... is his picture in the dictionary under "incapable of getting it?" Methinks yes. 

Name:    Dan Garfinkel
Hometown:  Pittsburgh, PA

Hey, Eric--the mystery of the near maniacal obtuseness of the denizens of Broder-Quinnville is easily explained. The problems besetting so many of their fellow citizens simply do not touch them. The Villagers continue to live in their lovely homes, "earn" their lovely incomes, partake of the loveliest foods, take advantage of lovely healthcare insurance, send their children to lovely private schools, vacation in lovely places and second (or third) homes, etc., etc. They are concerned that the peasants are revolting only insofar as it may impact their lovely lives, but are incapable of considering how the various issues may impact the lovely lives of those "others." They don't actually know any of them personally, except perhaps for the ones who mow their lawns and clean their houses. And they don't really socialize with those folks. Or pay their various tax obligations for employing them, for that matter.

Name:  Bob Seymour
Hometown:  Tampa, FL

Hi, Eric--I'm a follower for years, through various venues, & appreciate your work. I do jazz on radio for thirty years, and second your notion on Dianne Reeves. She is jazz royalty. Saw her on the Playboy Jazz Cruise in January, and she confirmed everything I've thought for years. I played her Lincoln Center version of "The House I Live In" on 11/4 and 1/20 (from "Higher Ground" concert). And MLB should keep her number handy for the Series (playoffs look like Rays/Boston) instead of booking the latest Idol screamers. Dianne is the one. Thanks for what you do.

Name:    Martyn Luberti
Hometown:  Madison, WI

Thanks for reminding me about Leonard Cohen. I checked the web after your review and found that dates for North America had just been released. I got fan early bird tickets for Minneapolis in May. My gift to you is a link to youtube "The best Leonard Cohen song you've never heard" with Laura Branigan as backupsinger  recorded live in Paris in the 70's. Never released in North America or performed live for about thirty-five years. It's called " Do I have To Dance Allnight?" Enjoy!

Name:    Michael Albert
Hometown:  Scotch Plains, NJ

Contrary to your instinct, we young folks (at least those in the know) absolutely get your "old farty historical reference." And while the Silver Jews are pretty good, there's plenty out there among the younger, perhaps lesser known artists that a foagie like you coulddefinitely get down with...

Bonnie "Prince" Billy comes to mind. Best stuff around. I See a Darkness, Arise Therefore, Master and Everyone, Superwolf, and Sings Greatest Palace Music are all great starting points to his long and consistently great discography, released under several monikers including Palace, Palace Music, Palace Brothers and his given name, Will Oldham.

Cat Power is perhaps a bit obvious, but check out her older records, especially You Are Free and The Covers Record (not Jukebox, which is disappointing; she should never have quit drinking, bad for the music, as we have learned repeatedly througout the history of rock music).

Of course, Radiohead is the greatest band on the planet, if only somewhat foagie-friendly, but I'm sure you've heard of them...

Yo La Tengo has been around forever. Everyone loves Yo La Tengo. Check out Electropura, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One, andAnd Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-out are among their best.

The Magnetic Fields never disappoint. Check out 69 Love Songs, I, and Holiday, not even to mention Distortion, which is not so representative of their older stuff...

Dirty Three, PJ Harvey, Portishead....

I'm skimming the surface of great music we (smart) young people prefer, truly classic stuff that is tragically overlooked among people my parents' age, even by the NPR crowd.

Of course, there's a ton of great music I won't even begin to try selling to anyone over 40, hard stuff that just falls on deaf ears...or maybe it's that you're not deaf and I am.....

Name:    Michael Green
Hometown:  Las Vegas, NV

Wasting away in Quinn-Broderville, Searching for my lost self-respect, Some people say that there's an ego to blame, But I know, it's someone else's fault.

Sorry. For a moment I had a delusion that I was Charlie Pierce.

Strange Victory, Strange Defeat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week on Moyers:

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

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


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

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

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

The mail:

Name: Thomas W. Rodd
Hometown: Moatsville, WV

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

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL


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

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

Name: Randy Beever
Hometown: Hope Valley, RI

Eric -

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

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

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

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

Leonard Cohen Takes Manhattan

We (Danielle and I) have a new Think Again up here.

It's called Media To Climate: 'Drop Dead.'

"There is a crack; a crack in everything. That's how the light getsin."

Lucky me, continued: In one of the hardest tickets to get I've ever seen in New York, I saw Leonard Cohen at the newly restored Beacon theater last night and it was one of the most wonderful shows of my life; theconcert was like being in church but in some imaginary church, (or shul)that actually does what a church or a shul is supposed to do. Leonardwas magnificent, during the course of three hours and twenty minutes ofclassic after classic after classic as was the band and the singers. Hethanked and recognized virtually everyone who helped make the show. Theaudience was rapt, perfectly quiet and deeply appreciative. An argumentfor age, wisdom and grace as powerful as any I've ever seen. A nearlyperfect evening--and a truly transcendent experience. Is Mr. Cohencoming to your town? You'll kick yourself if you don't go, unless itturns out to be impossible. (I noticed on CL here that there was a realdanger of counterfeit tickets.)

This week on Moyers:

Robert G. Kaiser has been following Beltway politics for The WashingtonPost for nearly 50 years. This week on the Journal, Bill Moyers talkswith Kaiser about how our nation's Capitol has succumbed to lobbyistsand turned government into big business. Kaiser is author of So DamnMuch Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of AmericanGovernment. And, Bill Moyers sits down with Parker J. Palmer, founderand senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, for aconversation about maintaining spiritual wholeness even as the economyand political order seem to come apart.

Name: LTC Bob Bateman
Hometown: Capitol Hill

I have been holding something back, something in my pocket,for a little while. It is knowledge about a show that will hit thescreen tomorrow, and not the big screen mind you, the little one.

Normally I don't much hold with watching television. Sometimes it sucks me in on a lazy and rainy Sunday afternoon, but by and large I have missed most of the television events which form the touchstones of passing years. Seinfeld? Nope, barely ever saw an episode. Friends? No again. Desperate Housewives, Lost, American Idol and all the rest are vaguely familiar as concepts, but I can honestly say that I've never seen any of them.

This is not cultural superiority. It's just how my brain works. It's anomalous and purely a function of biochemistry in my opinion. If it makes any difference I would note that I also don't (hold on to your hats Altercators) listen to music. Not of my own volition. I am as likely to listen to a song as I am to watch the television, so those cultural touchstones of hundreds and hundreds of years of human music-making are pretty much lost on me as well. I can recognizedifferent singers and different bands, but for the overwhelming majorityof my life music (except when I have tried to make it myself) has beenwasted on my ears. And who would admit that? By any measure that is adeficiency. I know that. Like I said, I think it is just the way my mindworks.

But I do acknowledge, in both cases, that there are stories that can be told through both mediums, as well as on the silver screen, which can lift the soul...or tear out one's heart. The best "war" movie ever made, in my opinion, showed not a single gunshot, not a single scene of war. It was set not on a battlefield, but in Arlington Cemetery. It did not address issues of war and peace, but ideas of love and courage and conviction. It was not set among tanks and artillery and machine guns on a smoking battlefield, but among the men of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, our Kabuki Soldiers, burying our brothers during theVietnam War. It was a movie which made you think, made you smile, madeyou cry, and made you consider the nature of human-ness. The movie wasGardens of Stone. This, I believe, is the purpose of art. That purposeis noble.

And so I recommend this to you. It airs tomorrow night, on HBO: Taking Chance. It is not about war, or politics, or right and wrong, or any of the other host of issues whichpeople here in the United States so passionately disagree about and overwhich you argue with one another. It is merely the story of us, the oneswho do your bidding. If you want to know more about who we are,then Taking Chance might help you understand, at least a little bit,why some of us follow this path.

I do not anticipate that it will be easy to watch.

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

P.S.: If these things matter, then I recommend you follow up with thisbook since, well, I think it does. (Watch the trailer.)

Name: Kevin Matthews, Editor-in-Chief, Architecture Week
Hometown: Eugene, OR

"Save the News, Not the Newspaper" is an unusually clear and fully-scoped discussion of the familiar issue of precipitous decline in US daily newspapers, very much worth reading for anyone concerned about or interested in the future (even the near-future) of our news-gathering and sharing institutions.

It includes a number of really important potential solution categories that are usually left out.

It also accepts as a given one key assumption that I suspect is not sound, even though it is almost universally included in such discussions.

"...while the number of Internet readers is rising, they are no replacement for print readers from the standpoint of advertisers, who must pay the freight. To ad buyers the worth of an Internet reader is barely 10 percent of that of a print customer. ..."

Contrary to such thoughtfully pessimistic perspectives, I think it's most likely that there's going to be a very large increase in the amount of marketing dollars flowing online, instead of into print.

New media are in current caught in the classic "crossing the chasm" situation of technology product introductions. However, there are a couple of key differences from the classic form of that model. First, the "technology product" caught in the chasm is the whole approach to interacting with information media online, instead of on paper--not just a single product line. Second, the split between early adopters and conservatives has played out to the point where readers or end--users of media are rapidly making the move to new media--taking the relative role of early adopters - while the advertising community are dragging their feet, in the relative role of the conservatives.

In other words, the readers are moving to new media much faster than the advertisers. The bulk phenomenon of fear of change on the part of the advertising community (amply supported by most print publishers, who remain caught in the middle like deer in headlights) has the whole industry in a state of severe distortion: advertisers are overpaying for dwindling print audiences, and under-paying for burgeoning online audiences.

That standoff of the last couple of years is of course now radically intensified by the economic crisis.

Like those headlights for the deer, the light at the end of our tunnel is ultimately big and bright. In the long run, the amount of money going into marketing overall isn't likely to change all that much - not by the current 10x+ differential between print ad spending and online ad spending. Companies still need brands and branding to differentiate products in the marketplace. The dynamics of competition largely determine how much ad buyers can and will spend.

Essentially, at the moment, the weight of business as usual and other classic impediments to change leave ad buyers spending the bulk of their money in all the wrong places - where their end users used to be. That is an unstable situation which will change. Eventually.

And once the agency/client complex - the ad buyers - finally drags its sorry ass over the chasm (or perhaps is pushed by economic desperation) that will largely shift the majority flow of marketing dollars. Online will see 5x increases in overall spending. At that point, print will experience its "final lurch", needing its own new models to survive, but the new media will at last see the realistic funding levels that can sustain ongoing well- layered professional/participatory publishing.

Across the chasm, where we're slowly headed, the skies are blue and the hills are green. Serve your readers, stay hungry, stay innovative, to survive the crossing and get eventually to those greener pastures for journalism and publishing.

Name: Paul Kingman
Hometown: New Bern, NC

I'm "jonesing." I have to wait 5 days every week to read two, only two Altercations.

Will you please help my addiction and have "Altercation Lite", even with guest hosts, so I can get my daily fix? I'm sure I'm not the only one looking for the "Altercation Patch", to wean me off of my addiction. I just haven't found anything that takes the edge off.

This cold turkey thing is so difficult.

I know, life isn't fair, but it seemed fairer with Altercation everyday.

Eric replies: Show me the $....

Name: Cheryl Haaker
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Comic Book Respectability

...Sorry, "graphic novel."

Your discussion reminded me of a battle I had with my English lit teacher back in high school around 1970. I've forgotten the man's name, but he's dead now, unfortunately. In most respects, I felt he was a great teacher and one of my favorites, but he absolutely hated science fiction, describing it much as the 1950s people talked about comic books.

One day he gave an assignment for teams to produce a report and then argue the case orally with him. A friend and I selected defending the literary value of science fiction. Hopped up with Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, and Robert Silverberg, we fought the case and read excerpts. He responded with various bigoted remarks about pulp.

We fought to an eventual stalemate, wherein the teacher admitted that yes, it was not impossible that a gem or two of literature-quality might be found in the vast dung pile of science fiction. I don't think I helped the case by citing Theodore Sturgeon's law that "90% of everything is crap."

I haven't revisited the state of English lit classes in about 35 years. Is sf still crap?

Name: John Covington
Hometown: Renton, Washington


When 9/11 happened a local TV station was going to play the movie: "Wrong is Right"

The days of 9/11 stopped them from showing it. Here is a wiki about it.

One thing the wiki entry doesn't say is that the two suitcase nukes end up in New York, on top of the WTC.

Rove is known for using movies as models for his politics. For the last eight years, it sure looks like they used Wrong is Right as a training film.

Now Obama is the President, it seems they are using Blazing Saddles as the training film.

Name: Bob Lane

Whenever your name is mentioned, people invariably respond by saying,"Who cares about that clueless, self-hating pseudo Hebrew?".

They obviously know you all too well.

However, if you had a nickname, perhaps the response would be somewhatmore positive.

How about this one:

Eric Alterman: The Will Rogers Of Anti-Semitism...He never met a Jewhater he didn't like!

Work for you, Yasser?

Eric replies: That's a pretty lengthy nickname, dude....

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