We can be heroes, just for one day


I did a Bloggingheads.tv with Bill Scher the other day. Here it is. (The IBM guy is coming to fix my Thinkpad this week and I'm going to get him to install the new gig of memory so this stops happening, and yes, I'm thinking of switching ...)

People have written in to ask, and yes, I have to say that I'm disappointed but not really surprised that everyone associated with The New Republic has maintained perfect radio silence with regard to my Marty Peretz profile/history of the magazine, here. The piece puts the non-Marty acolytes there in a near impossible position. Stripped of his wife's money, Peretz is a familiar but pathetic figure. He could not get hired as an academic. He's never written a book. He's done no serious journalism. He does not even edit the magazine. In his little fiefdom, he's helped destroy much of the magazine's influence, alienate about half its readership, and even destroy its 93-year publishing schedule, while also sacrificing its corporate independence. When forced to discuss him outside the small coterie of people who know and understand this, those associated with TNR must either implicitly acknowledge what nearly everyone believes -- that, as Ezra Klein wrote, "Peretz is rarely held to account, largely because there's an odd, tacit understanding that he's a cartoonish character and everyone knows it," and thereby endanger a man famous for his temper tantrums and petty vindictiveness, or they make themselves look ridiculous by defending Peretz and pretending that there is nothing racist about his rantings on Arabs and Jewish/paranoid about his rantings on everything else.

(The piece is, as I think any fair-minded reader will agree, extremely generous to TNR and the talented people who have written for, and edited it over the years. It is so generous, in fact, that I received an email from the writer Jim Sleeper wanting to know what my conflict of interest was with regard to all the nice things I said about Leon Wieseltier's back of the book -- a section I consider to be the best anywhere. To respond: I have none. Leon and I are not friends. I've never written anything he's published. And TNR has ignored my last five books, and I presume will continue to do so.)

And yet to acknowledge Peretz's failed tenure as owner and editor, as well as his bundle of comical irrational resentments, aloud at TNR would be to risk one's job as well as future appearances in the magazine (as Peretz remains CanWest's preferred agent of influence). I'm sympathetic, I say, because some of the most uncomfortable moments of my recent life have occurred when I publicly criticized The Nation for the anti-Israel animus of some of its editorials and book review -- to say nothing of Alexander Cockburn -- and I only do it when I absolutely feel I can't help it. (And yet I am still accused of being a self-hating Jew only slightly more often than I am of being an AIPAC stooge.) But it's too bad. I'm sure the piece is not perfect and I think it raises issues that many of the talented and thoughtful liberal writers associated with TNR ought to address.

Sillier, I fear, but no less telling, is the absence of my name from Johann Hari's piece about taking the National Review cruise, here.

I finally read the piece and I enjoyed it, but, structurally speaking, it is almost exactly the same piece I wrote 10 years ago. To refuse to acknowledge this in the same week you are refusing to acknowledge a 4,500-word critique on your magazine by someone with some standing in liberal circles in a magazine of some standing in liberal circles is, particularly after that piece has been mentioned in a few other pieces about subsequent Nation cruises -- I remember one at Salon and one in the Forward -- is, well ... small. It's also a missed opportunity to examine how conservatism has changed in 10 years since the two cruises represent a kind of controlled experiment.

All that said, the piece is quite good, particularly on the Buckley/Podhoretz split. If you pay careful attention to the things that Norman Podhoretz says here, and elsewhere, as well as those spoken by his wife, Midge Decter -- author of a Tiger Beat-style book-length love letter to Donald Rumsfeld, of all people -- one almost reaches a point where one can actually feel sympathy with the trials and tribulations of young John Podhoretz, given the forces that made him what he is today. Almost. (And read that profile if you never have...)

Quotes of the Day:

Norman Podhoretz: "There was nobody better than Don Rumsfeld. This defeatist talk only contributes to the impression we are losing, when I think we're winning."

"Nobody was tortured in Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo." Bush is "a hero."

Midge Decter on Donald Rumsfeld:

"The popular 'discovery' of Donald H. Rumsfeld spells the return of the ideal of the Middle American family man. ... In the long run, this change may well be more important to the fortunes of his country than the changes he will have wrought in its armed forces."

"It seems certain that the picture of Rumsfeld hanging on the dressing-room wall of my fashionable dinner companion during that warm New York evening will not be taken down from there anytime soon." (Those are here.)

And look, here is a profile I wrote of Poddy son-in-law Elliott Abrams for the Washington Monthly back in May 1987. I don't know what it's doing there, but there it is. It's pretty good, though I was still older than Young Yglesias is and practically in AARP compared with Boy Ezra.

"We Are Governed by a Moron" Quote of the Day:

After reading Andrew Roberts's "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900," Bush brought in the author and a dozen other scholars to talk about the lessons. "What can I learn from history?" Bush asked Roberts, according to Stelzer, the Hudson Institute scholar, who participated.


We can beat them, just for one day: Here. (Thanks, Petey.)

Speaking of history that many would rather forget, I find it amazing/audacious that Andy would go back to flacking for the pharmaceutical industry on his Atlantic Monthly site since that is what got him in so much trouble with The New York Times when he was writing for them. (Howie Kurtz, acting as Andy's press agent, wrote the story entirely from the "Andy was censored" angle, quoting absolutely no one from the Times or anyone who was not a conservative as sources and without mentioning the discomfort that Sullivan caused the Times in initially accepting for his website -- and then returning -- thousands of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry shortly after he praised the industry to the skies in the pages of the magazine.) But even if you ignore the ethical transgression inherent in Sullivan's actions, his journalism proved entirely unreliable. As Judith Shulevitz, writing in Slate, pointed out in a critique of his "dangerously misleading" paean to testosterone, Sullivan was permitted to "mix up his subjective reactions with laboratory work." She quoted Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky observing, Sullivan "is entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I'm astonished at the New York Times."

Kevin Drum, moreover, takes the guy apart: He writes, here, "No healthcare system is perfect, and the various European national systems each have problems of their own. Pointing that out is perfectly kosher in healthcare debates, but where does Andrew Sullivan get this kind of stuff from?"

From Romenesko's Letters:

From TAYLOR McNULTY: I am writing to you from the office of Alfonso Cuaron, (CHILDREN OF MEN, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN). We want to ask you to help us support a journalist in Mexico who is being prosecuted by the government for exposing the crimes of powerful people. I am sure you are aware of her: Lydia Cacho. In 2005, she published a book called "Demons of Eden". In this book, Cacho uncovers a ring of pedophiles trading in sexual tourism and child abuse in Cancun. Unfortunately for her, one of the people she found to be involved is a very prominent businessman in Cancun: Jean Succar Kuri.

Cacho was arrested for defamation. Soon after, the text of a taped phone conversation between the Governor of Puebla and Succar Kuri was published in La Jornada. In the phone conversation, the two men discuss doing the favor of arresting Cacho and silencing her with violence.

Alfonso is doing everything he can to help bring awareness to this woman's struggle, but we need your help. He feels that this is so important because it speaks to the larger, international problems of child abuse as well as abuse of power from Governments in which we have put our trust.

On Monday, June 18th, Alfonso held a press conference with Luis Mandoki to bring attention to this cause. They have written a letter of petition on behalf of Lydia Cacho. The letter has the full support of many prominent intellectuals and public figures, (the letter is attached).

[A journalist] suggested that a posting on your site might be the best way to get the word out to a lot of journalists and get as much international attention as possible, if one or a few felt moved to write an article.

Here are some links to coverage of the press conference Monday, June 18th:




Alter-reviews: The Week in Jazz

I saw three shows last week. The first was the American debut of a British singer named Claire Martin at the Oak Room at the Algonquin, where she is currently appearing. She's got a new album out of exquisite sound quality and musicianship, and it's a tribute to the late Shirley Horn. I find this touching for some reason. Shirley was one of the few totally excellent things about Washington during the long period I lived there that are no more -- the Key Theater, the Circle Theater, the Biograph, those theaters on 14th Street, etc. -- and she used to play the world's smallest jazz club during her period of semi-retirement. The fact that a white chick from somewhere, I forget where, in England, would do a tribute to Horn says something really powerful about the timelessness of great jazz. Anyway, Martin is a fine, sensitive, and expressive singer, with real power when she needs it. This is apparently her 12th recording on Scotland's Linn Records, for which she has recorded for 16 years. And cool fact about the show: Mr. (and the new Mrs.) Tony Bennett sat two tables down.

The following night, as I mentioned last week I saw the most wonderful, if brief, reunion of Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and Herbie Hancock, with Billy Cobham on drums, doing four songs from Kind of Blue. One wished it could have gone on forever, so confident but delicate was the musicianship -- which, naturally, expanded on the originals quite a bit. The Carnegie Hall show, which was part of the JVC Jazz Festival featured Carter, on his 70th birthday, or so they said, in four settings. The other highlight for me was his duet with the guitarist Jim Hall. Believe it or not they did Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" as well as "Body and Soul" and something else. The rest of the show was fine, though I'm not sure it would have filled the seats of Carnegie Hall. Carter's new Blue Note CD is called Dear Miles and features the band that wrapped up the Carnegie Show: pianist Stephen Scott, drummer Payton Crossley, and percussionist Roger Squitero. It's relaxing and lovely, but I have to put it away for a while because for now, I can only hear what's missing: Wayne and Herbie.

Friday night, Suzzy Roche and I went to yet another birthday JVC tribute at Carnegie; this one for Miss Nancy Wilson. She might have been 70 too; I'm not sure. Anyway, I only kinda like Nancy Wilson. I don't love her. And so the whole diva-soaking-in-admiration thing, into which she most definitely was, turned me off. She's a fine singer. But I thought, by far and away, the highlight was an incredible performance by Dianne Reeves on "Midnight Sun" and "Over the Weekend" backed up by Nancy's trio, that brought the proverbial house down. Herbie returned and did a couple of songs with Nancy. Kurt Elling, whom I've never heard before, had some real chops. Ramsey Lewis, Regina Carter, Michael Wolff were all just fine. Suzzy did not mind the shtick as much as I did and so really loved Nancy's parts of the show. It was, as these things go, a night to remember, but more for its ceremony than for its music; the opposite was true two nights earlier.

Reviews by Sal and Tony:

We are deeply saddened to report that NYCD is no more, either physically, which has been so for a while, but also virtually, on Amazon. Here are two brief reviews the boys did a while back, and we are hoping we will continue to be blessed by their exquisite taste and good humor -- OK, that part was a joke -- as well as unmatched musical knowledge.

IAN HUNTER -- "SHRUNKEN HEADS." The older this Hoople gets, the better he sounds. The followup to "Rant," one of the strongest records in Hunter's career, is just as strong. With lots of help from Jeff "Will Someone Hold My Hair Back?" Tweedy, "Shrunken Heads" sounds like Bob Dylan fronting "Exile"-era Stones. You can't get much better than that.

LEONARD COHEN -- REISSUES. Canadian poet and life of the party Leonard Cohen gets three of his legendary releases remastered with previously unreleased bonus tracks -- "SONGS FROM A ROOM," "SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN," and "SONGS OF LOVE AND HATE."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: LTC Bob Bateman:
Hometown: Washington, DC

You might recall, a month or two ago I included a link to the Mickey Mouse Hamas character they have on their children programming. Well, he's been killed off now. Uh, literally.

He was beaten to death, apparently on screen. Then he was depicted as a martyr.

And then the show was ended.


Name: William
Hometown: Fayetteville, NC

Eric, you're still getting it wrong when it comes to why Dale Earnhardt's death mattered. He wasn't just a celebrity, he was a beloved sports icon. Earnhardt's 7 Winston Cup Championships aside, he was (and probably still is) the most popular figure in NASCAR. He died in a spectacular car crash during the Daytona 500, NASCAR's signature race viewed by millions on live TV.

By comparing Earnhardt's death to Liz Claiborne's, you apparently think Earnhardt's death would have had the same impact if he had died in hospital at 78 after 4 years of a terminal illness. I don't think you need to feel personally broken-hearted about Earnhardt's death or you should pretend to be a fan of a sport you don't really care about. Still, is it too much to ask that you show some sort of understanding of the significance of Earnhardt's death?

Probably the celebrity death most analogous to Earnhardt's would be Jerry Garcia's (if only Jerry had died in an explosion while performing on live TV in front of an audience of millions). NASCAR fans and Deadheads have/had the same sort of tribal, stat-obsessed, traveling carnival mentality. Just like NASCAR is one of the biggest sports in the USA while at the same time being a niche sport, The Grateful Dead were consistently the biggest live concert draw for years and years while at the same time not being a mainstream act. Both are/were so big that it is reasonable to expect that Americans who pay attention to the news will know about NASCAR and The Grateful Dead even if they are not terribly familiar with the specifics.

I'm sure when Jerry died, there were folks whose reaction was "who cares" ... those folks were tools. "Sorry to hear that your beloved icon is dead" would probably be a better response. Someone not getting the cultural significance of an Earnhardt or a Garcia (heck, maybe Claiborne is beloved by millions and *I'm* ignorant) doesn't redeem themselves by acting churlish about the people who do care about those deaths.

That said, you don't have to like sport X or band Y or live in region Z to be a "real American".

Eric replies: Extremely well said, thanks. For the record, I have never disparaged anyone who was saddened by Earnhardt's death nor Earnhardt himself. I just find it kind of funny that William Kristol and company think they can lecture me about what kind of person I am because I don't -- in the slightest -- like NASCAR. But you're down with that and so we're cool.

Name: John Shockley
Hometown: Ames, IA

There's enough ugly comparisons being done by the right wingers and the MSM relative to pitting one Dem candidate against the other. It's rather obvious, Eric, you're not a Hillary person.

Although having Gore officially run for President would cause me to look real hard at him, again, he has not put his name in the hat, and if he doesn't real soon, then I consider it to be less than reputable to do so later, and waste all the millions in advertising the other candidates have spent and waste the out of pocket expense of those who contributed. We are not the party of the rich, save for a few.

I do not care to see these kinds of comparisons in Altercation. Its something I'd expect from Human Events.

Eric replies: Dude, I have no idea what you are responding to, but I've never disparaged Hillary on this site, except in specific instances where she's done something with which I strongly disagree or disapprove. I like Hillary. I think she'd make a fine president. Find me somewhere where I've said the opposite.

Name: Marshall Fraser
Hometown: Ponca City, OK

Dr. Alterman,

Thanks for pointing out the flaws in Dedman's work on the political donations of journalists. Problems occur with a study like this when people without a critical eye and/or a solid working knowledge of statistics read pieces like that, they take face value as fact. I heard a radio host say Wednesday of journalists, "well, a recent study showed over 90% donate to Democrats, so you know which way they're leaning." Without folks in your position calling attention to the flaws of works like Dedman's, more and more people would take the claim that the media is overwhelmingly liberal as fact now backed up by empirical evidence.

Eric replies: This is exactly the danger, and I wonder, without having any inside information, how much the knowledge that this would take place -- and the thrill of a Drudge link -- led to the skewing of this painfully inept study in a direction where it would receive maximum attention from the right-wing propaganda machine.

Name: Bob Tallman
Hometown: Crestwood, KY

Even Rehnquist had the good sense to recuse himself from at least one critical administration court challenge during Watergate. I would think it incumbent upon CJ Roberts to recuse himself from presiding over the impeachment trial of any official from the administration that appointed him to the Court so as to avoid "any appearance of " a conflict or bias. That would leave Justice Stevens presiding.

Anyway thinking does not help much in trying to understand this bunch. Administration officials seem intent on forcing impeachment back on Speaker Pelosi's table.

Name: Ed Weston
Hometown: Port Orchard, Wa.

I remember "impeach Earl Warren" bumper stickers long ago. Any feel for some current members of the Supreme Court in this regard. I seem to remember protests that established decisions would not be threatened by some recently emplaced judges.

Name: J D'Alessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY

It's not like even one person cares about your comparison of Burr with Cheney, but for a more objective view of Aaron Burr, this year saw the publication of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr (2007) by Nancy Isenberg. Ms. Isenberg concluded, based on her review of contemporary sources, that the only real difference between Burr and every single other Founding Father -- who invariably get reverential treatment from the David McCulloughs of this world -- is that Burr, a conventional politician of the time, had the bad fortune to die with no influential friends or relatives. The propaganda put forth by Hamilton's friends well into the middle of the 19th century was conclusive in smearing Burr's name for all time. In any event, a Cheney he certainly wasn't, as Gore Vidal would, in his novel, have been happy to tell you.

Charles Pierce makes me laugh, and then he makes me angry. Why are cable TV and the Sunday gasbag shows constantly offering up the likes of Podhoretz, Kristol and Coulter "balanced" by Big Media journalists, instead of by Dr. A. and Chuck Pierce? So Pierce has this Friday blog gig, and the public radio topical events quiz show. Somehow, it's not enough.

You know, you really should write a book about this.

Name: Jim Kruidenier

A link comparing Cheney and Aaron Burr? Give the guy a break. For one thing, the Colonel was an honest-to-goodness veteran. For another, he helped usher in popular democracy -- much to the discomfort of folks like Noah Webster and quite unlike the current VP. Oh, yeah - there wouldn't have been any shooting accidents on his watch.

Eric replies: Dude(s), once again, I'm being held accountable for something I never said. I rather like Aaron Burr, as rogues go, and I look forward to Ms. Isenberg's book. So far the best account I've read of Burr was in Ron Chernow's Hamilton bio, which I strongly recommend to everyone. (And I've come to prefer Hamilton even to Jefferson, in large measure because of his brave and prophetic work on behalf of freeing the slaves.)

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

Jack Phillips has pretty much answered his own question: The reason why Mike Nifong has been removed as a prosecutor comes down to the specifics of the case: The accused were white men with money in a case that had tremendous media coverage. Slate has a couple of articles regarding prosecutors and how they rarely if ever face any consequences for their misconduct (here and here). A chilling statistics is that of 381 murder convictions in Illinois that were reversed due to the prosecutor withholding information or suborning perjury, not one prosecutor was sanctioned or disbarred.

Name: Don Cybelle
Hometown: Rochester

Hi, Eric,

Can I just speak for everyone and say that after MSNBC offered us their latest wallow in the sewer with Ann Coulter last week, we're really, really glad we no longer have to click on MSNBC's site to read your work?

Name: jrosenb1
Hometown: Watertown, Mass.

I am, in theory, in agreement with your suggestion that race-based affirmative action is less needed than class-based affirmative action. The problem with it is twofold: first, there's a fairly direct correlation between race and poverty, at least for African Americans and Hispanics, historically two of the most economically and politically disadvantaged ethnic groups in the U.S.; and second, a truly class-based affirmative action doesn't seem to have any better prospects--it would be fought vigorously by the same special interests that have aimed to kill racial affirmative action, whether out of racist or economic motives. The historical forces that led to Brown vs. Board of Education were at least fueled by a deep guilt over the damage done to America's black population by slavery and Jim Crow (and by a deep bitterness and determination in the black population itself). But very few in America have felt a comparable guilt over the suppression of the working class or the poor.

What I found especially offensive about the recent Supreme Court decision was its pretense of basing itself on the very precedent it was doing in: Brown vs. Board of Education. The earlier court had reasoned that some of the historical damage done by racial discrimination could be undone by taking race into account in determining the population of schools. This does not entitle opponents of school desegregation to cry "racism" over its implementation. (The recent court's argument is perhaps more complex, but I think it boils down to such a complaint.) I see the same bad faith in my white college students, whom I have found appallingly ungenerous on the issue of affirmative action, and who have often advanced the disingenuous notion that it is "racial discrimination." If you edit history out of the picture, that's surely what it looks like. But that doesn't make it so.

Eric replies: I wrote a piece for the Guardian website explaining in more detail my strong preference for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action. It'll be up shortly.

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