I’ve got a new “Think Again” column called “How to Control Health Care Costs, Conservative Style,” about what happened when Bush and the Republicans tried to “reform” and it’s here.

Now here’s a special Alter-review gift-giving guide, though I’ve not included anything Sal and I have been reviewing before today, so I encourage you to click backward for more recommendations. (Sal will have more tomorrow, and who knows, so may Pierce.)

The Criterion Collection “Golden Age of Television”

This is really something. Back in the early days of television, the networks used to broadcast live theater “teleplays” on programs like “Kraft Television Theater,” “Ford Theater” and “Chrysler Theater” and “The U.S. Steel Hour” on kinescope. They featured the underutilized talent of some of the theater and movie biz but ran only once and were then put away in vaults. (One of the most famous of them, “Marty,” was made into a movie, but by and large, they were lost.) Here, with all of their immediacy and technical glitches, they’ve been rescued and the set is a blockbuster, a real treasure to both enjoy and appreciate.

Here’s what you get:Marty (1953) – . Marty played by Rod Steiger and the woman he meets, Nancy Marchand. Written by Paddy Chayefsky.

Patterns (1955) – Written by Rod Serling, starring Richard Kiley and Ed Begley.

No Time for Sergeants (1955) – Andy Griffith is cast as Will Stockdale. Harry Clark plays the sergeant. It as the basis fof “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C,” which ran from 1964 until 1969. 

A Wind from the South (1955) – Stars Julie Harris.

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956) – Written by Rod Serling with Jack Palance

Bang the Drum Slowly (1956) – Written by Mark Harris and starring Paul Newman in one of his first roles. 

The Comedian ((1957) – Written by Rod Serling and starring Mickey Rooney with Mel Torme and Edmund O’Brien.

Days of Wine and Roses (1958) – Cliff Robertson and Piper Laurie play the alcoholic couple.

This magnificent set includes commentaries by John Frankenheimer, Delbert Mann, Ralph Nelson, and Daniel Petrie and interviews with Frankenheimer, Andy Griffith, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Richard Kiley, Piper Laurie, Nancy Marchand, Jack Palance, Cliff Robertson, Mickey Rooney, Carol Serling, Rod Steiger, and Mel Torme together with an excellent booklet with an essay by curator Ron Simon and his extensive liner notes. A truly magnificent package and priced, as far as I can tell, well below what one would expect to pay for such riches, particular in comparison to other Criterion Collections.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: The First 25 Years and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Live 9-Disc Collection

The book is a collection of induction speeches and stock photographs. It’s not bad but it’s not much. Then again, it’s not too expensive. I’d say it’s worth it to have the speeches all in one place. The nine DVD collection is terrific on the one hand; how could it not be? On the other hand, it’s a weird catastrophe; as if the intern Time-Life instructed to assemble it were deaf, dumb and blind. There is literally no discernable pattern to why one song was included on one disc as opposed to the other, or why one is considered to be a bonus track or not, or why one is cut in the middle and one isn’t. The earliest performances–the ones that were not broadcast–feature the greatest bands ever assembled but with no direction or sense at all. Can you imagine seeing a band with Jagger, Springsteen, Harrison, Ringo, Dylan, Billy Joel, Fogerty, Clapton, etc, and having it get a little boring? The later performances are more polished and to me, totally worth having, but also organized in such a way I cannot begin to explain. The inaugural concert from Cleveland is here at a lousy 52 minutes. You can buy a 3 dvd version from Amazon which probably makes more sense for most people, but if you are a fanatic, as I am, you would want this even though it’s so sloppily assembled. Some highlights include:

The Doors with Eddie Vedder: Light My Fire, 1993

Crosby, Stills & Nash with Tom Petty: For What It’s Worth, 1997

Jefferson Airplane: Volunteers, 1996

Santana with Peter Green: Black Magic Woman, 1998

Crosby, Stills & Nash with James Taylor and Emmylou Harris: Teach Your Children, 1997

The Band with Eric Clapton: The Weight, 1994

Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and Prince: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, 2004

The Byrds with Don Henley and Jackson Browne: Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season), 1991

U2 with Bruce Springsteen: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, 2005

Bo Diddley with Robbie Roberston and Eric Clapton: Bo Diddley, 2005

Eric Clapton with Robbie Robertson: Farther On Up The Road, 2000

Little Richard, Mick Jagger and The Rock Hall Jam Band: I Can’t Turn You Loose (A Tribute To Otis Redding), 1989

Joan Jett, John Mellencamp,John Fogerty and Billy Joel: Glad All Over (A Tribute To The Dave Clark Five) 2008

Chuck Berry with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: Johnny B. Goode, 1995

Ruth Brown with Bonnie Raitt: Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean, 1993

John Lee Hooker with Bonnie Raitt: I’m In The Mood, 1991

Buddy Guy with B. B. King and Eric Clapton: Let Me Love You Baby, 2005

Billy Joel with Bonnie Raitt: Runaway (A Tribute To Del Shannon), 1999

Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Ron Wood, Joe Perry, Flea, and Metallica: The Train Kept A-Rollin’, 2009

Wilson Pickett with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band: In The Midnight Hour, 1999

Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose: Come Together (A Tribute To John Lennon), 1994

John Fogerty with Booker T. & The MG”s: Fortunate Son

Who Shot Rock and Roll: A Photographic History, 1955-Present.

This is a coffee table book based on a show that’s currently up at the Brooklyn Museum. Again, if you’re anything like me, you’d want the photos on your coffee table or your shelves. There are some real finds here. (There’s a wonderful photo of young Bruce I’ve never seen before surrounded by admiring young women, though the alleged date of the photo, 1973, cannot possibly be right.) But again, the organization of the photos escapes me. And there’s not much context. From a historian’s point of view, this is a lost opportunity, though not quite as egregiously as the RRHOF set. But from a purely enjoy-the-photos, standpoint, it’s pretty great.

Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux.

Gary Giddens may be our most learned Jazz critic. He has strong opinions, with which I often disagree, but his writings enrich the experience enormously. (I am not familiar with Scott Deveaux.) Together they’ve written on of the most valuable, useful, knowing, and intellectually versatile books ever published on Jazz. Not only is the story told almost as well as it ever has been, but the listening guide to various classics (and some obscurities) was a terrific idea and vastly enhances both the value of the book and of the recordings themselves, at least for someone with my limited knowledge and musical understanding.

Robin D. G. Kelly Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original.

I have to say, I am enormously impressed by this book. Kelley is a historian and political activist. I have no sympathy at all for his ultra-gauchist indentity-based academic leftism in the arena of real world politics. That said, he’s written a brilliant book about Monk; it’s subtle, sensitive, intensely researched and thoughtfully and sympathetically argued. It’s a model of engaged and polymathic scholarship. And it’s the only book I’ve ever read with blurbs on it by both Chick Corea and David Levering Lewis.

I’m also impressed with Nextbook’s Jewish Encounters series. The most impressive one of these that I’ve read so far is Adam Kirsch’s biography of Benjamin Disraeli. They’ve also done a major mitzvah by issuing a paperback of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza. A real highlight, though is David Lehman’s lovely study, A Fine Romance, about Jewish songwriters of the so-called Great American Songbook. If you’re a David Mamet fan, and I am, though not of his essays about Judaism, you can read his essays on Judaism, in The Wicked Son. Feel free to skip Elie Wiesel’s disorganized ruminations on Rashi. Somebody was unfortunately not hard enough on the old guy and let him get away with the most cursory (and badly organized) of first drafts. You can read more about them here.

Finally, the New Yorker on your list, both literal and psychological, might like New York 400: A Visual History of America’s Greatest City with Images from The Museum of the City of New York, another coffee table book pulled together from the museum’s collection to celebrate the 400th birthday of the greatest g-d city in the world. Read about it here.

Finally, my favorite novel of the year was Everything Matters!: A Novel by Ron Currie Jr. It’s the dude’s first novel, and you can read about it here.

The mail:

In re: Saving Journalism (It’s Not Academic)

Eric Alterman gets only one thing right in his recent column. On November 12, I gave a talk at the CUNY Grad Center about the strong resemblance between academic idioms and cinematic representations in the late twentieth century. Otherwise he’s wrong about what happened there.

In the Q and A that followed the talk, I responded to Alterman’s question about Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker by saying, “It’s a lie,” and then, when pressed, I said, “OK, it’s a fabrication.” My point was that this movie betrays the actual experience of soldiers and Marines, in their training and in their subsequent engagement with the realities of combat. For it resurrects and glamorizes the very dangerous notion that modern war can be understood as individual acts of bravery, in terms of personal responsibility and honor–and this despite the reassuring epigraph from Chris Hedges to the effect that “war is a drug.”

Alterman attributes to me something I have never thought, let alone said: “Asked about Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, he denounced it as ‘a lie’ because, he said, its portrayal of the American soldiers as decent human beings contradicted the messages they received in training to lay aside their human feelings in the service of their military mission.”

He has inverted my meaning with perfect symmetry. I said that soldiers and Marines are taught, in training and by combat to put aside their personal feelings and to play the roles they’ve been assigned in the division of labor that is the military in a time of war. They’re taught to become more human, not less, by playing these roles, by stepping outside themselves, by understanding how others will perceive them–by acquiring identities that negate what they have been in the relatively small worlds they came from. They’re taught that if they take any of it personally, they put themselves and their comrades at risk.If they are well-trained, in other words, soldiers and Marines know that the personal “authenticity” embodied by the hero of The Hurt Locker–for whom lonely risk of death in soulful combat with intricate evil somehow makes life more meaningful–is the drug that will kill them. Unlike Chris Hedges, Mark Boal, and Kathryn Bigelow, soldiers and Marines know this drug is not addictive. They avoid it, anyway.

I have another vested interest in setting the record straight. That “irrelevant story” I told in response to Alterman’s question was, in fact, a lie. The truth is that my son is a Marine who has been to Iraq and back. So I have seen, heard and read a lot about his training and his experience in combat. I told the story as if it were about a friend’s son because I didn’t want to pull emotional rank on the man at the back of the room.

I can say in all honesty that my son is a better person–if I may, he has become more human–because he knows what war is like. His decency was never in doubt, before or after the rigors of basic training on Parris Island. But the horizon of his humanity now stretches farther precisely because he is a Marine.

–James Livingston,
Cullman Center, NYPL/Rutgers University

Eric replies:

I have to say, I have a hard time seeing what has so upset Mr. Livingston. Rhetoric aside, he does not actually dispute the truth anything I wrote. He did call “The Hurt Locker” “a lie.” He has never witnessed the operations of a US bomb squad in Iraq as the film’s screenwriter, James Boal, did. He does believe that American soldiers are taught to lay aside their human feelings in the service of their military mission. He did respond to my question with an irrelevant story about a friend’s son’s enlistment, though he now says he was lying about the identity of the young man in question. I take no issue with Mr. Livingston’s observations about his son, whose sacrifices I admire and appreciate. I’m glad he’s taken the opportunity to set the record straight. But his remarks here bear little resemblance to those he made at CUNY as he, himself, admits.

Name: Robert

Hometown: Alexandria, VA

Hot Fuckin’ Tuna!

Eric replies: My point exactly…

Name: carl cole

Hometown: muscle shoals

Um, Doc, it’s been quite a while since the 70s but I can’t remember
 marijuana respiratory infestation causing people to act like jerks
 (unless they were manifestly jerks to begin with). Alcohol does and
some others (remember Quaaludes?). However, in my limited and dated
experience, pot makes you pretty much passive.

Name: Mego

Hometown: Seattle

Although it wasn’t totally complimentary to you Doc, Masher is right about the H-1b visas. What he failed to mention is when the issue
comes up rarely the politicians run to the microphones to assure the
public that the Indians are only doing the jobs Americans ‘don’t
want’…kinda like we’re apple pickers. Could we make this a
’sexier’ issue if we told them we’ll be another of the 45 million
 WITHOUT health care??? And on the public dole? They LOVE to talk
about that stuff…