Don't say it ain't so...

››› ››› ERIC ALTERMAN

First things first: Congratulations to me on the occasion of my being named a "CUNY Distinguished Professor of English" at Brooklyn College. Professionally speaking, it's just about the best thing that's ever happened to me. (Though it's not in the press release, I am also a Professor of Journalism at the new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where I'll be teaching the "journalism of ideas" in the fall.) While I [naturally] think I deserve it, I want to publicly thank the amazingly adroit chair of my department, Ellen Tremper, for providing both the spark and the work to make it a reality. Eleven people wrote letters in support of my nomination, none of which I will ever read. It's a confidential process, and so I will have to thank them all privately. The only exception, of course, is Richard Rorty, whom I cannot thank at all. The fact that Dick agreed, while suffering deeply from the pancreatic cancer that would shortly claim his life, to intervene on my behalf means literally more to me than I know how to say. I can only hope I do something so generous for someone someday.

I'll be in the air tonight for much of the All-Star Game, so I hope Barry Bonds gets his home runs late rather than early. I rushed home from Havdalah services on Saturday night, where I attended one of three incredibly interesting and inspirational lectures/Torah study sessions by Rabbi Art Green full of new thoughts, musings, knowledge, etc., just in time to catch what otherwise would have been a full game between the Mets and the Astros, which featured the great Carlos Beltran making this incredible catch and game-winning hit in what was the longest Mets game in 13 years. It reminded me of that wonderful 1986 NLCS game in which the Mets beat the Astros in 16 but even more, it reminded me of being 8 years old and listening to my transistor radio underneath my pillow to the Mets' heartbreaking 24 inning 1-0 loss to the Astros, in a game in which each time enjoyed 79 at-bats. I think it's fair to say that the 1968 Mets were the only team in baseball history who could achieve something like 79 at-bats and no runs. Those two games are described here. (For those of you keeping your Altercation baseball history scorecards at home, 1968 was also the year I watched Bobby Bonds hit his first-ever-at-bat grand slam in the window of a Vineland, New Jersey, television store, thereby accounting for some, but not all of my instinctive desire to defend his son against all the hypocrisy that comes his way, whatever his many faults may be.)

Anyway, the point of this is that I was thinking the following morning after attending yet another terrific Rabbi Green lecture that baseball and Judaism bear roughly the same relationship to me. They have both been a significant part of my life since I was old enough to think, I drift in and out in terms of levels of engagement, I have passionate feelings about countless aspects of each, and I've spent tens -- perhaps hundreds -- of thousands of hours reading and arguing about both. They are, in other words, inextricable from my being, my mind, my character, my soul. The big difference, as I see it, is that when I criticize a certain baseball player, a certain owner, a certain sportswriter, a certain announcer, a certain hot dog consumed in Shea Stadium, a certain No. 7 train on the way there, nobody accuses me of being a "self-hating" baseball fan or being "anti-baseball." Everyone understands that being in love with the sport means having passionate thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative about different aspects of the game. Alas, with Judaism, and particularly with Israel, this is not the case. Every time I evince any criticism of my religion, my people, or the country in which they make up a majority, I am accused of hating myself and all people who have any relationship whatever to the people or the action I am criticizing. And this criticism is often directed toward me by people whose knowledge, engagement, and commitment to the history and traditions of the Jewish people is considerably less obvious than my own, to say nothing of the fact that sometimes they are also goyim. Yes, I know there are significant differences between the two and in most important ways, these differences are more important than their similarities. For one obvious one, Hitler never said, "Let's kill all the baseball players." But the act of intellectual dishonesty in equating criticism with hostility is no different, no less indefensible, and, when you think about it, no less ridiculous.

I should have mentioned the other day that the Sidney Hook essay to which I referred can be found in the absolutely terrific new collection The New York Intellectuals Reader, edited (with excellent introductions) by Neil Jumonville. This morning I re-read Nathan Glazer's brilliant and prophetic essay, "On Being Deradicalized," and found myself amazed to agree, intensely, with almost all of it. Yesterday I came across this terrific passage from Michael Walzer, regarding an argument made by Irving Kristol in the early 1970s: "At the very center of conservative thought lies this idea: that the present division of wealth and power corresponds to some deeper reality of human life. Conservatives don't want to say merely that the present division is what it ought to be, for that would invite a search for some distributive principle -- as if it were possible to make a distribution. They want to say that whatever the division of wealth and power is, it naturally is, and that all efforts to change it, temporarily successful in proportion to their bloodiness, must be futile in the end." [i]

Patti Cohen writes up the Drew Westen phenomenon here. I read Westen's Prospect piece and his book, went to his presentation at the Regency, and spoke with him briefly at Soros' apartment. I'm not sure what I think of the idea as a "big idea," but as a matter of political strategy, I'm pretty much sold on it and recommend it to y'all. (and if you don't want to read a whole book, the Prospect piece is plenty; it's here).

This is such a silly story. Anybody can put anything on the market at any price. The key is to get it. My apartment is available to anyone willing to pay $166 million. There. Now it's the most expensive listing in the History of the World.

I'll be away for a few days, and your guest Altercators for the rest of the week will be: Lt. Col. Bateman, Eric Boehlert and Eric Rauchway. Enjoy.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve Schmandt
Hometown: North Fork, Ca

Many comparisons being made of Clinton-Libby and Fitz-Ken Starr being compared as over-zealous prosecutors of the same stripe. It surprises me not to see any notes on the huge difference between Fitz and Starr. Most notable: Libby had ALREADY LIED to the FBI before Fitz even came to Washington vs. the years and millions Starr wasted on Whitewater before even getting into blow-job-gate, the professionalism of Fitz's very closed investigation vs. the open season continuous slanderous leakage against Clinton all during Starr's investigation.

Especially the latter -- I have been amazed all thru Fitz's investigation at how professional he was vs. Starr. Night and day, there is really no valid comparison between the 2 investigations.

Name: Ralph Sommerer
Hometown: Berne, Switzerland

It appears that a D.C. attorney accidentally learned about his being wiretapped (in a way reminiscent of "Kafka or Brazil", see here), so now there's at least one person who can demonstrate a material interest in the case. The catch may still bite, after all!

Name: Lionel Artom-Ginzburg
Hometown: Philadelphia

Actually, Bob Rothman (letter, 7/9) is incorrect. Bush did grant one commutation of a death sentence while he was governor. Serial killer and/or mentally ill fabulist Henry Lee Lucas was scheduled for execution in 1998, when the Texas Board of Pardon and Parole recommended commutation of his sentence. (Briefly, Lucas "confessed" to as many as 3,000 murders, and it has been strongly suggested that the Texas Rangers used him to clear every unsolved murder in their jurisdiction) W. went along with this commutation (as he should have, given that two former Texas Attorneys General declared Lucas to be actually innocent of the particular murder he was sentenced to death for). This doesn't excuse or in any way comment on the other 150-some death sentences which came up for review while Bush was Governor, but it's interesting to note the level of proof required for him to have taken action.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

Thanks to all who noted that the female inmate in Texas, Karla Faye Tucker, was white. I humbly apologize to all for my error of inadvertently inserting race where it was not an issue. I just knew the story from what I had heard and read and I didn't check the facts before I posted ... which is why I didn't post her name (I left Texas 15 years ago, but still have family there).

Thanks again.

Notes

[i] "In Defense of Equality," Dissent, 1973 reprinted in The New York Intellectuals Reader, Neil Jumonville edit, (Routledge: New York, 2007) 355-369

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