You got to keep the devil down there in the hole


"We've got to warn the future. So no one gives him a baseball team!" America's greatest pundit, no contest.

If Bush is not the Manchurian President, then perhaps he is in the pay of Satan. Ruhhly, has evil ever had a better time of things than under this guy? We'll get to Iraq in a second. Look at Afghanistan. No wonder bin Laden endorsed him. and hey, Putin's a good man, too. Remember that?

Speaking of which, I had breakfast with Ms. Franke-Ruta the other day in Cambridge, and she sat down and immediately said something profound: "So George Bush is the only person in the world who understands Iraq. Just what do you think are the chances of that?" It was kinda funny at the time, but who would have thought that anyone would actually claim it? Well, guess what? Here is Andy Card saying Bush "knows more than any of these people who are serving on these panels." Good God, what a crazy country this is.

All of this leads me to ask: OK, everyone's pretty much on board with the position that so many of us argued four years ago, only to be called cowards, crybabies, and pacifists by the people who now admit we were right -- and "idiots" by the people who still can't bring themselves to admit it -- How many people who were right in the first place were on the Baker Commission? How many people who were right were interviewed on the Sunday shows this weekend? How many were included in the Sunday Times' op-ed symposium? What is the name of the disease when you keep going back for more advice to the people who screwed you up in the first place? (Hertzberg's good, huh?)

P.S., extra credit: Here's what made me such an "idiot" to those smart, far-sighted folks at The Weekly Standard: "Is Wolfowitz really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as 'their hoped-for liberators'?"

-- Eric Alterman in the April 21, 2003, issue of The Nation. As I recall, O'Reilly ran my mugshot the same week.

While recommendations multiply in Washington on what the Bush administration should do in and with Iraq, we seldom hear Iraqi voices talking to us directly about the hell that their country has become since the invasion of 2003. In his latest TomDispatch piece, independent reporter Dahr Jamail, who covered the front lines of daily life in Baghdad on and off from 2003 to 2005, offers emails from several of his former sources who are still there.

In this moving report from shredded and mutilated Iraq, he creates a collage of the messages of others, giving us a chilling sense of life and death, sectarian strife, hopelessness, and despair in that land. A translator describes hiding under the car he is trying to sell in Baghdad as an attack rages; a doctor finds he cannot respond adequately to the father of a hideously wounded young man ("Those criminals targeted me but hit my boy. Why didn't they just kill me instead?"); a Kurd bemoans the scam of "reconstruction" in his area.

In conclusion, Jamail writes: "I've long since abandoned asking myself the question: How much worse can it get in Iraq? My Iraqi friends and colleagues tell me that one of the more popular sayings in Baghdad nowadays is, 'Today is better than tomorrow.' "

The suck-up watch continues.

Imus on Jewish money-grubbing bastards (are there any other kind?). Sounds like Abe Foxman's going to get another donation ...

Cruel but Funny Department: "Picture a necrotic, sinister, burned-out wasteland -- a vast, dull mound of rubble punctuated by moments of bleak emptiness and, occasionally, smoking. Those of you whose imaginations alighted instantly on the Late Christopher Hitchens have only yourselves to blame, for I was referring to Fallujah." Here.

Speaking of whom, you think Pinochet gave it up because, what with his friend and supporter Jeane Kirkpatrick gone, he had no reason to live? (Well, there was still Henry.)

Happy birthday, mom.

From the National Coalition for History:


The battle in Washington is escalating over a move by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close its nationwide network of scientific libraries. EPA began closing some of its regional branch libraries and one at its Washington, D.C. headquarters earlier this fall. The agency is not only closing the facilities, but also has reportedly begun to destroy documents or shipped them to repositories where they are uncataloged and inaccessible to EPA employees, scientists, and the general public. In addition, EPA has authorized the U.S. General Services Administration to begin selling off library equipment.

This week, four Democrats who will likely chair key House committees in the 110th Congress sent what amounted to a cease and desist letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson urging him to halt the library closures. In the letter, Ranking Members Reps. Bart Gordon (D-TN), John Dingell (D-MI), Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and James Oberstar (D-MN) expressed their serious concerns over the current implementation of "library reorganization" plans and the "destruction or disposition" of library holdings. "It is imperative that the valuable government information maintained by the EPA's libraries be preserved," wrote the Ranking Members.

In September, the four Democrats asked the Government Accountability Office to initiate an investigation of the impact of EPA's proposed library closures. They want Johnson to halt his reorganization until the GAO issues its report. The closure of the libraries was included in the administrations' proposed FY 2007 budget for EPA. The initiative is estimated to save EPA $2 million annually. However, since the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution, Congress has not technically signed off on the proposed cuts.

Alter-reviews by Sal, NYCD

David Gilmour, On An Island (Special Edition) -- It took Sony an excruciatingly long 32 weeks to reissue this not-bad solo release from the Pink Floyd guitarist, which now includes a bonus DVD that features footage from Royal Albert Hall and his AOL Sessions. (Technology has improved dramatically in 32 weeks.) On An Island resembles the moodier style of post-Waters, post-Final Cut Floyd, but Gilmour's signature guitar playing stands out and makes this a better than average release.

Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Hot As a Pistol, Keen As a Blade (DVD) -- Two-plus hours of concert footage and more, captured earlier this year in Toronto. This DVD features Costello faves and Allen Toussaint hits reworked with a New Orleans R&B flavor. Costello material like "Deep Dark Truthful Mirror," "Tears Before Bedtime," and "Chelsea" all sound fresh with the addition of Toussaint's Crescent City horns and arrangements. While old R&B faves like "Fortune Teller" and "Yes We Can Can" both penned of course, by Toussaint, get new life with Costello's inspired vocals. Thirty-one tracks, and not a lemon in the bunch. This is a good one! More here.

End Sal.

If there were more of Sal to go around, we'd be able to do justice to the spate of concert DVDs that have been showing up lately, like for instance, the 1994 documentary Live! Tonight! Sold Out!! about Nirvana, which was apparently edited by Kurt, or so says my source on all things Nirvana. I like Nirvana a lot, but I'd have to like 'em more to like this DVD. Maybe you do, but I don't. Not enough music for my taste, and too much talk that doesn't amount to anything. That's not true of U2's crazy and spectacular Zoo TV Live From Sydney, which I think is also from 1994, and is a wonderful mess of good intentions gone bad and vice versa, saved only by Bono's now-lost ability not to take himself too seriously. I way prefer the band these days, but this thing is fun to watch and mostly sounds great. It's as silly as any great band has gotten, methinks, but I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.

Deadheads should be happy with Phil Lesh & Friends -- Live at the Warfield Theater, which comes as either two CDs or a single DVD, which contains only part of the show. The band cooks as well, though differently than the Dead, and having Joan Osborne do the vocals gives you a reason to put it on over the originals and to keep coming back to it. Personally, I prefer the CDs to the DVD because, like, not much happens, but you can makeup your own respective minds by going here.

Younger Deadheads might also be happy to see and hear The Best of the Jammys, Vol. 1 DVD here. For me, it's a hit-and-miss affair, but with some pretty big hits, including Buddy Guy with Phil Lesh and a terrifically energized Peter Frampton doing that perfect rock n' roll song "Do You Feel Like We Do?" just like it sounded when those on the football team used to get drunk and play air guitar to it. Sound and visual quality are excellent too

I might like the Cowboy Junkies more than is warranted because I have a crush on Ms. Timmins. I really can't say. But their music tends to feel just right to me almost all of the time, both in terms of its intelligence, its (relative) virtuosity and the sultry, sexy delivery of said chanteuse. On this release the DVD is the same show as the CD. I don't know if that's so smart, but that's what it is, here.

Finally, if you didn't buy the Emmylou Harris-Mark Knopfler album a month ago, you lucked out, because you can get the live DVD version of it here. It's is a marvelous piece of work and I like it better live, but it's really a question of whether you want the CD or the DVD. As with Elvis and Allen Toussaint, it's a wonder nobody thought of this before.

P.S.: After I wrote the above, a friend sent me this painful news:

Phil Update (from )

Update: 12.7.2006

Phil had surgery on Tuesday, December 5th at the Vattikuti Urology Institute at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, the leading center for prostate cancer and urology health. The Vattikuti Institute developed the robotic surgery method, treats people from all over the world, and teaches the methodologies they have developed to many other doctors.

His surgery went very well, although he did require blood transfusions. He is already out of the hospital and is healing nicely.

The Unbroken Chain Foundation is asking phans to donate blood this month for Phil. The Unbroken Chain Foundation will donate $10.00* to the Vattikuti Urology Institute for every pint donated through December 31st, 2006.

After you have donated, please send an email to with the subject "I Gave Blood." Please only include your name, city, and state.

Thank you for your love and support and Phil looks forward to be back making music with you soon.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Brian P. Evans
Hometown: San Diego, CA


In your article regarding the media's handling of Gates' confirmation hearing, you rightly point out that the media seemed to overlook his later comment about how we're "not losing" the war in Iraq to focus on his earlier comment that we're "not winning." Yes, it is bad that they didn't point out his full commentary, but you seem to be missing the even more important point:

He included the comment of we're "not losing" only *after* the lunch break during which Tony Snow held a press conference regarding the status of Gates' testimony. Does anybody seriously think that there was no scrambling of the administration upon hearing Gates claim that we're "not winning"? Isn't it interesting that Gates expanded his comments only *after* Snow tells the press corps to pay attention to Gates' comments?

He had, as Kinsley would say, a gaffe: He actually said something true. Can't have that, now can we? Now, given Gates' past history of fixing the intelligence to the policy during Iran-Contra, is it not so difficult to consider that he's doing the same thing here? His restatement that "we're not losing, either" makes no sense. After all, if we're not winning and we're not losing, what on earth are we doing? What is the point of having our troops die if it's just stagnation? Is he truly claiming that whatever this status quo is that we're in means two Americans need to die every single day?

Name: Danny
Hometown: Greer, SC

Doc, I live in and around ground zero for religious fundamentalism in our fair land, Bob Jones University, and where many graduates of this fair school occupy positions of leadership in the community, so I think I know a bit about religious fundamentalism, not to mention I grew up and was force raised a backwoods, Baptist church, though one thankfully short on reptiles or mason jars of poison.

I am struck by the convulsion of the Christian right at the moment, and the resultant irritation from contact with a political party that suddenly seems to have lost its fundamentalist mind, collectively and perhaps unfairly.

I may not be entirely fair about Mark Foley, it has led to gratuitous gay-bashing, it was too easy. The downfall of Ted Haggard coming later was like a blow to the solar plexus of those who are convinced of the absolute goodness of all they do and espouse. Again, gratuitous shots were taken, some perhaps unfairly. Now, the issue of Mary Cheney's child has befallen the true believers, and I can assure you, they do not want to believe what is transpiring before their eyes.

Right about now there are some conflicted, confused and indignant folks on the religious right. I guess gratuitous cheap shots do not help, but gee, Doc, it's so hard not to unload unfairly for cheap political gain.

In a perfect world, where everyone was fair and balanced, perhaps folks like me would abstain from cheap shots, but, then again, it is not a perfect world. In the meantime, this appears to be a time when the religious right might convulse away from politics, at least for a while, and this might spell doom for the GOP in the short term.

When to turn the cheek and when to slap back, I am glad we have reasonable folks like you, Doc, some, like me, struggle trying to restrain my natural instinct to excoriate unfairly, and gratuitously, you are a good influence, thanks.

Name: John Shaw
Hometown: Seattle


Pierce's parable of the prodigal son is sweet, and I'm glad to have him back here, but it's interesting that he came back the same day you posted the thing about confessions. I often skimmed the American Prospect group blog just to find him, and saw that he found himself no longer comfortable there because he made a mildly sexist comment in defense of a sexist comedian, and people understandably took umbrage. His comment about finding himself in a land where people have no sense of humor is a very self-serving non-confession.

A minor sin, Pierce my lad. You should know: confession is good for the soul. Go and sin no more. And welcome back.

He's absolutely right about Meese, about sportswriters, and about "I'll Be Home for Christmas," which was explicitly about the War, the key line being the last: "I'll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams." No wonder grown men wept to hear it. I do too, and I've never lived that situation.

Pierce's right-on encomium to sportswriters reminds me of a scene in Dawn Powell's "The Wicked Pavilion." Roughly, from memory, and take away the setting and it works like a joke:

A man finds himself in some Caribbean climate looking for something to do. He notices a bunch of people lounging around a pool drinking flowery drinks. He thinks that looks interesting and approaches them -- who are you and what do you all do? "We're writers."

"I'd like to be a writer too."

"What would you like to write about?"

"I'd like to write about sports."

"Oh, you lack sufficient education and culture to write about sports. How would you like to be our arts reporter?"

Name: JoAnn Schwartz
Hometown: Detroit, MI

Eric, I hope you did break out the fatted calf for Charles Pierce, I've missed him. Anyone who coins the phrase "C-plus Augustus" deserves a wide audience.

Eric replies: I preferred the "Avignon Presidency," but hey, we here are Altercation are large ... we contain multitudes.

Name: Eric White
Hometown: Madison, WI

Hey Eric,

If you like the Raconteurs, check out Brendan Benson's solo work. Start with "One Mississippi" and just work your way forward. He's not quite as heavy solo, but he's a great power pop guy in his own right. (He was signed before anyone knew Jack White's name.)

On the political front, I was reading "The Best American Non-required Reading of 2003" when I came across this gem, Tales of the Tyrant, by Mark Bowden. It's a fascinating read 4 years after the invasion of Iraq, and really sheds some light on the problems we're seeing today.

As always, keep up the great work.

Name: Brad Polisuk
Hometown: Santa Cruz, California

Dr. Alterman,

I thought the bit on Hannah Arendt was interesting. I studied politics at UCSC in the early '90s and was always an Arendt fan.

But now that I look back on it, my professors were smart enough not to assign entire books by Arendt. What I remember the most, however, is the third part of The Human Condition called "Action."

That section had a huge impact on me because it spoke of the power of human action while participating in public affairs.

During these current times, with all political propaganda and mindless sound bites, the political experts and talking heads on TV defining the political paradigms and limiting debate, the cold isolation of the internet, the dumbing down of broadcast and print media, and the general decline of real human discourse in public affairs, one must wonder where humanity is heading?

In ancient Greek, the word "idiot" meant one who didn't participate in public affairs.

Maybe we are all becoming idiots and losing our humanity, because without politics (as Arendt defines it), don't we just become cogs in the machinery of the capitalist Matrix who become nothing more than commodities to bought and sold in the marketplace.

And hasn't politics today turned into a theater of the absurd to justify the immoral and selfish wants of a small, privileged minority who deliberately use words like "democracy" and "freedom" to intentionally divert us from using both in the search for truth?

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