Welcome to the machine (plus the Altercation Book Club)


I've got a new Think Again column, here, called "Defining Civil War Up."

Hey Media, Get a Brain:

Look, the Sulzberger family controls the majority of the voting stock. Nobody can take over The New York Times. This CNBC press release recognizes this fact but still makes a complete idiot of everyone associated with it by hyping something it admits to be impossible with the meaningless phrase "is intent on pushing the envelope on this":

CHARLIE GASPARINO: Yeah, I think this story goes beyond him trying to be an activist shareholder to get the family to produce more profits for shareholders. From what I understand, Hank Greenberg is actively engaged in trying to buy the entire New York Times Company. That he has approached investment bankers and asked them if they would work for him so they could put together some sort of a plan to take over the New York Times Company. Now, investment bankers have told him it would be next to impossible. If not impossible, because let's face it, The New York Times has two classes of stock. The family controls the voting stock, which makes it difficult for Hank Greenberg to come in there or essentially any investor to come in there and buy the company. But Greenberg is intent on pushing the envelope on this."

And guess what? Even that was nonsense. See here.

Drudge is still linking to this idiotic report. Factually wrong and logically impossible. And still it moved the stock market. I wonder if there's a way for me to get rich in here somewhere. In any case, nice job all around.

Brilliant piece by Rick Perlstein: The problem in the South is racism, here. Deal with it.

Quote of the Century:

"It is very hard to be a Jew today..." -- Charles Krauthammer.

If only Charles had been born during the Middle Ages, his life would have been so much easier ...

Almost too-perfect self-parody watch, if a little old: A heroic third-world taxi driver refuses to talk to Tom Friedman ($), and this hero to pundits everywhere still manages to get a column out it. Here's to you, bub.

"We don't get very much actual sex," here. (Thanks, Petey.)

A few words from our sponsor:

Wash. Post's Ignatius cast Hagel as among earliest "national politician[s]" to criticize Iraq war, ignoring his support for 2002 war resolution
In his Washington Post column, David Ignatius asserted that if Sen. Chuck Hagel decides to run for president in 2008, "he can claim to have been right about Iraq and other key issues earlier than almost any national politician, Republican or Democratic." However, Ignatius' claim is undermined by the fact that Hagel voted to authorize military action against Iraq in October 2002, which numerous Democrats vocally opposed at the time.

Bozell suggested vast majority of generals "disagree" with NBC that Iraq is in "civil war," but cited none who have specifically denied it
On Hannity & Colmes, Brent Bozell criticized NBC News' decision to refer to the situation in Iraq as a "civil war," saying that there are "probably 100 generals" in Iraq "who would disagree" with that assessment. Bozell offered no specific examples of any high-ranking military officials who have said Iraq is not in the midst of a civil war.

Time.com headline proclaimed that Bush "Takes Charge on Iraq," but article, and other reporting, suggest otherwise
A Time.com article about the scheduled news conference with President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki carried the headline "The President Takes Charge on Iraq," but the article itself noted only that the White House "is eager to show that the President is focused intently on Iraq." Another Time.com article posted the same day detailed the "five fatal mistakes" in Bush's Middle East policy.

Asserting incoming Senate GOP leader's "conciliatory" tone, Wash. Post article left out GOP's dumping of unfinished spending bills on Democrats
The Washington Post reported that incoming Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "[s]ound[ed] a conciliatory note" and "vowed ... to work with Democrats" when they take control of Congress next year. But the article made no mention of the Senate Republican leadership's reported decision not to deal with several government spending bills for fiscal year 2007 in the lame-duck session, placing the burden on Democrats to finish them.

When they said come down, I threw up. (This is really an amazing find.)

I had no choice, I was born with the gift of a golden voice. (Thanks to Greg Mitchell.)

The only time I feel all right is by your side.

The Altercation Book Club: Special post-Thanksgiving football edition (which was obviously supposed to run last week...)

From Moving the Chains: Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything by the great Charles P. Pierce (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

But first let's take a moment for Charles' kindness in his acknowledgements here (though he has left the nest, he has made us proud, nevertheless):

This book has its deepest roots, oddly enough, in Eric Alterman's Altercation website, which was my adopted home on the Internet for several years, through the good graces and encouragement of Doc Eric I. It was within the extended Alter family that I came to know Eric Rauchway -- Doc Eric II -- who not only taught me how to pronounce 'Czolgosz' correctly, but also introduced me to Thomas LeBien at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who took a big chance on a project that was more than a little amorphous at its beginnings.


In February 2002, it was in the Superdome in New Orleans that the New England Patriots beat the St. Louis Rams, becoming the football team that stood for everything that a wounded country wanted to believe about itself. It was there that Tom Brady first became a mirror in which the wounded country could look for everything it hoped was still there. There was a sad, determined unity surrounding the event. The NFL celebrated, among other things, the remarkable sacrifice made by a member of the Arizona Cardinals named Pat Tillman, who'd abandoned a lucrative contract in the wake of the September 11 attacks to join the army and fight in Afghanistan.

Now, three years on, Tillman was dead, killed by friendly fire in an incident about which the army could not seem to keep its story straight. His angry parents were publicly condemning the government. The Patriots now seemed to embody a unity in the country that was squandered and gone, and the Superdome had come to symbolize a feckless, helpless government, the place where desperate people went as a last resort against the fury of a hurricane. In 2005, a week after the Miami game, the New Orleans Saints came to Foxborough. Every game they played was on the road; their "home field" was in San Antonio. Their stadium was closed, a darkly iconic place in a drowned city, most recently seen on television as the vestibule to a graveyard. It was not a prestige game for the NFL. The wandering Saints were 2-7, while the Patriots, at 5-4, were trying to win consecutive games for the first time all season, their roster as depleted by injury as it ever had been during Brady's time with the team. The Patriots would have to play without both starting running backs and without three wide receivers. They'd be missing three starters from the offensive line and starting tight end Daniel Graham. "You can feel sorry for yourself, and you can be discouraged, and whine and pout and complain, but that doesn't get you anywhere," Brady had said earlier in the week. "And the only way to dig yourself out of it is to realize what it takes to overcome all these injuries and start to think, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could turn this thing around?' That would make for a great year, and it starts this week." Not even Brady, however, could have predicted the kind of emotional freight this conspicuously unglamorous game would carry.

On the Saturday night before the New Orleans game, while watching a college football game at his home, Steve Belichick died of heart failure at eighty-six. He had been a football lifer, an assistant coach and scout who'd been hired and fired several times, the way all assistant coaches are, before joining the staff at the Naval Academy in 1956, when Bill was four. Steve had stayed at Navy for thirty-three years, and Bill had tagged along with his father from the time he could walk. At the end of the Super Bowl the previous January, Steve had been standing next to his son on the sideline when linebacker Tedy Bruschi had doused them both with Gatorade. And, more recently, he'd become famous through the publication of David Halberstam's book about his son, in which the relationship between Steve and Bill Belichick is a pivot.

"It was one of the best moments of the entire Super Bowl extravaganza, filled as it so often was with moments of artificial emotion," Halberstam wrote of the intergenerational dunking at the end of the game, "because this moment was absolutely genuine, father and son drenched together, emotion finally showing on the face of the son, usually so reticent about showing emotion, as if to do so was to give away some precious bit of control, to fall victim at least momentarily to the whims of the modern media trap."

Bill Belichick didn't share his loss with his team before the game, although the news began to filter through the stadium and into the press box not long before kickoff. Brady and the offense started quickly. Beginning at their own 2-yard line, New England launched a ninety-eight-yard drive in sixteen plays. On the drive, Brady converted three third downs and a fourth down with passes to three different receivers, including one each to Branch and to Ben Watson, whose role in the offense was increasing by the week. Brady first went to Watson on a third-and-ten from his own 15-yard line, covering twenty-nine yards with the kind of classic deep-out throw that always made Charlie Weis laugh at the people who'd questioned the strength of Brady's arm. The ball dropped deftly past the fingertips of New Orleans safety Dwight Smith and over Watson's left shoulder, so the receiver would have a chance to turn upfield and run. And it was Watson to whom Brady went on the fourth-down play, waiting and waiting, checking down through his options, until Watson came clear to his left, having crossed the entire width of the formation to get there. Four plays later, Branch caught the touchdown, a two-yarder on which Brady and Patrick Pass sold a play-action fake so well that you could see the New Orleans linebackers dance just a bit, forward and back, like men unsure of their footing, until Branch was alone in the end zone.

Vrabel caught the next one, in the second quarter, after New England had taken advantage of a short New Orleans punt to start a drive on the Saints' 48-yard line. Again, Brady sold the fake, this time to Heath Evans, who folded himself at the waist as though he'd taken a hook to the ribs. Again, the New Orleans linebackers looked as if they'd suddenly stepped into a mire. Vrabel slipped crisply through the confusion and caught the third touchdown pass of his career. The third touchdown, in fact, in as many catches, which prompted more than a few people to wonder whether NFL defensive coordinators didn't have more in common than they'd care to admit with Wile E. Coyote. Sooner or later, one of them had to figure out that Vrabel wasn't a decoy.

The Patriots were riding Brady's arm, more than they would have liked to do, and certainly more than he'd have preferred. On three occasions, with only the most perfunctory attempts at deception, they sent receiver Andre Davis simply sprinting down the sidelines and Brady threw the ball as far as he could. They were straight, schoolyard fly patterns, no chaser. And one did connect, a sixty-yard touchdown, a gorgeous midline incision through the New Orleans secondary that gave New England a 21-7 lead. After Brady's carefully dissecting defenses one slice at a time, this was something akin to a surgeon entering the operating theater waving a scimitar. But the New England defense struggled to hold on, especially the secondary, which was still a hodgepodge. It was made up of untested rookies, such as the speedy Ellis Hobbs, and freeagent acquisitions who looked increasingly as though they'd been drawn from the bad-risk pool. The New Orleans quarterback, Aaron Brooks, a cousin of Atlanta star Michael Vick, threw for 343 yards, the third straight quarterback to light the Patriot defense up for more than 300 yards. He got the Saints all the way back to 24-17, and he moved them all the way down to the New England 22. From there, Brooks took two cracks at tying the game, but Hobbs defended one pass into an incompletion, and safety Eugene Wilson made a leaping interception on the other to end the game.

"I think both teams were playing hard," Brady said. "They have a very physical defensive line. Those guys were playing hard all day. And it is a good group of linebackers." He'd had a solid day -- fifteen of twenty-nine for 222 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, so his quarterback rating -- as always, apparently calculated on an abacus that was a bead or two short -- was 111.6. But the postgame atmosphere was freighted with common grief.

"Personally," Bill Belichick said, "I coached this game with a heavy heart. Yesterday, my father did what he enjoyed doing. He went and watched Navy play and he watched them win. Some of his former players were there. He had dinner, and I spoke with him after the game. And, like he normally does Saturday night, [he was] sitting around watching college football, and his heart just stopped beating. So, I'm sure that's the way he would have wanted it to end. He went peacefully, which was unusual for him." With that, Belichick left the team for most of the following week.

For Deion Branch, father to a handicapped son, and for Tom Brady, the devoted son to a devoted father, the notion of losing a father resonated profoundly. "That just shows you what kind of man he is, the fact that he could still focus on this game and coach the team to victory with all this lingering on his mind. It's hard, man," said Deion Branch, who was learning all the time that playing in pain doesn't necessarily mean the physical. "I guess when I do lose my father, I know how tough it will be," Brady mused after the game. "I just can't imagine, as a person, to not allow that out, to hold that in like he did." They all had one another, and Josiah Royce was right about loyalty to loyalty, that it is both sustenance and balm, and that it is a kind of path through even the most painful distraction. A careful person could follow that path and avoid the force that Royce specifically cited in regard to big-time sport as the primary enemy of the loyalty that teammates must have to the loyalty between them: "Extravagant publicity."

For more, please go here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: L.B.
Hometown: Wallington, NJ

This excellent and detailed article in the current Village Voice, "Death By Dust -- The Frightening Link Between the 9-11 Toxic Cloud and Cancer," discusses the exponentially higher rates of cancer, of uncommon cancers and at much younger ages, that many medical experts believe are clearly connected to those who worked in the WTC site cleanup and to restore services in the neighborhood. As this article notes, one key reason could be due to another one of the Bush lies that kill -- the apparently false EPA test reports in the days after the WTC attacks that the air in the WTC area was 'safe'. It clearly wasn't and apparently the Bush Administration wanted a false report to re-establish businesses in the area, rather than well away from the area until the area was safe and spend the money to make sure workers in the area were properly protected.

Thousands of the heroic and misled workers in the extremely rushed search and site cleanup, re-establishing telephone service and electrical power to reopen businesses, the NY Stock Exchange and other important institutions in the area did so without the use of protective equipment they should have and not until months later due to the now discredited EPA tests. This article even suggests that more people may die prematurely of cancer from their exposures in the area and from the false EPA report than were killed in the 9/11 attacks themselves. One reason for the false report may have been the fear of forcing businesses in the area to establish temporary sites outside of lower Manhattan, including in New Jersey.

Yes, there was a need for important institutions in lower Manhattan to be back in business as quickly as possible for sound economic reasons for the USA and the world. Meanwhile, now many will pay the price for this obscene lie.

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


Near the end of Ahmadinejad's letter to the American people, he writes, "It is possible to lead the world towards aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality, and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets."

In the West, we tried this for about a thousand years. Reflecting on the consistently catastrophic results of that effort, our founders concluded, correctly and irrefutably, that it is NOT.

Name: Tim Shaffer
Hometown: Austin, TX


No doubt you saw this, but it must rank as the quote of the day, if not the week or year.

Regarding James Webb, freshman senator from Virginia: " 'He's not a typical politician. He really has deep convictions,' said [Sen. Charles] Schumer."

Name: John B
Hometown: Des Moines, IA

This is absolutely terrifying, here. Here's the proof that Democrats winning the 2006 elections barely slows the tide that is eroding our freedom. The authoritarians among us will only redouble their efforts to destroy the Constitution. They do not see the "culture war" as finished, they will not play the compromise game, and will never content themselves with being the "loyal opposition." Democrats in the new Congress must focus their oversight on the things that are now the most dangerous to our culture. They must make it clear that this is not just politics, it's our way of life. If the authoritarians within the GOP are not destroyed they will destroy anyone and anything in their path.

Name: Doug O'Heir
Hometown: Waterville, Maine

I have yet to see a member of the media stand up and ask Bush directly why he has the nerve to continue to frame the Iraq conflict as a battle with Al Qaeda insurgents who are trying to destabilize a "democratically elected government." Everyone else in the world sees this as a civil war with indigenous Iraqi forces battling each other, but Bush continues in a fantasy world.

We can tolerate naive stupidity from Fox News anchors and certain members of Congress, but the Commander in Chief should be responsible for the safety and well being of the troops under his command. He also owes us an honest answer, and the media has an obligation to keep asking the right questions until he gives one.

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