You've got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend ...


It's taken me a few days to make up my mind about Lee Bollinger's attack/introduction to Mr. Unpronounceable's Columbia speech. On the one hand, I admire Bollinger quite a bit. On the same hand, everything he said was true. And also on the same hand, while I believe deeply in the value of civil discourse in the age of Rush and O'Reilly, I also believe that civility is easily and all-together too frequently exploited for nefarious and frequently murderous purposes and sometimes needs to be cast aside.

But having watched the TPM-posted video of Bollinger's introduction, I think in this case it demonstrated a kind of boorishness and self-satisfaction that the rest of the world finds so annoying -- and frequently dangerous in Americans -- and represented a significant lapse of judgment on the part of Bollinger. At the end of the event, Bollinger congratulated himself and the Columbia community by once again criticizing the speaker for not answering all the questions that was put to him and adding, "But I think we can all be pleased that his appearance here demonstrates Columbia's deep commitment to free expression and debate." But how in the world can it be considered "free expression and debate" when before the speaker is introduced, he is personally insulted and attacked? It would have been right and proper for Bollinger to ask the Iranian president to defend -- or at least present some evidence for -- his loony view. But that's not what he did. He sought to undermine him before he could utter a word, and did so in extremely personal terms. I have never seen any speaker introduced in this fashion before and I can't believe it did not have a counter-productive effect in the Arab world and elsewhere -- at least if we were seeking to demonstrate our commitment to free speech.

I worry that this happened because of the sustained campaign against Columbia by right-wing American Jews who seek to shut down academic discussion of the Palestinian question because they cannot control it. The insane focus on Columbia in The New York Sun is a real pain in the neck for Columbia and no doubt interferes with its fundraising. It is largely without intellectual merit -- the idea that it is difficult to assert one's Jewishness at Columbia University in the city of New York is among the most absurd notions to be found anywhere in American political discourse -- but it is a given in the Sun, the New York Post, Commentary, Marty Peretz's blog, and lots of places I can imagine but cannot document so I'll keep them to myself. I approved when Bollinger took the lead in denouncing the boycott of Israeli scholars -- which also might have been partially inspired by this campaign. (I don't mean the denunciation; I mean identifying so publicly with it.) But this was tacky and demonstrated, in my view, the opposite of what Bollinger found so worthy of congratulation of Columbia and its community. I thought the following letter to today's Times put the case nicely:

To the Editor:

Lee C. Bollinger's "introduction" of the president of Iran was outrageous. There's a lot to be said about Mideast politics and the Iranian and United States entanglements there.

Certainly, as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany and as a historian of German history, I find Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's approach to the Holocaust execrable.

However, if we wish to take the high moral road on grounds of freedom of speech, we fail by insulting an officially invited guest speaker before he has even spoken. This does not do credit to the principle of free speech.

Renate Bridenthal


Rick Stengel had dinner with Mr. Unpronounceable here.

Last night, I went to a dinner in honor of the new Ang Lee film, Lust, Caution. I was seated at a table with the film's co-author and co-producer Jim Shamus and we had a spirited (but extremely civil and friendly) discussion about the violent sex in the movie, which I found disturbing and morally offensive and altogether too common, even though this was not a Hollywood film. Shamus made a strong case for its inclusion, and I hope we'll get a chance to discuss it further in the future. Also at my table were Craig Newmark -- who was Arianna's date -- and Salman Rushdie. Craig and I discussed the threat he represents to journalism and democracy -- again, in a friendly, civil fashion, and again, agreed to discuss it in more detail in the future. When the dinner ended, Craig took the wristband that Stephen Colbert had given him and gave it to Salman, which he said he was bound to do by the rules of who is more famous. He then took Rushdie's photo and asked his permission to blog about it. I think bloggers should always ask permission to blog about private conversations, by the way, and I salute Craig for doing so. It almost never happens.

Earlier in the day, I did both a breakfast panel and a lunch panel inspired by new books. The first was The Genius of America: How the Constitution Saved Our Country -- and Why it Can Again by Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes, here, and the second was The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing by Greg Anrig, here.

Too many things came up to discuss here, but something came up twice and I've been wondering about it. Why don't the Democrats force the Republicans to do actual filibusters when they seek to prevent enactment of legislation that reflects strong majority opinion? Why do they let them get away with creating narratives about Democrats' inability to win on these issues without forcing the Republicans to take responsibility before the entire nation for their extremism and obstructionism? Why are Harry Reid and company making everything so easy on them? Can anyone explain this?

The Washington Post continues to demonstrate the contempt it has shown for anti-Iraq protests since the war began, here, and as Todd Gitlin's fine book, The Whole World is Watching, points out, has been the rule of protest coverage in the MSM since Vietnam. Repeat after me: what liberal media?

Short takes:

Opinions on shape of Earth differ.

Is Bill Kristol respectable?

Bush is scared of horses.

Marty Peretz Quote of the Day:

Marty Peretz, 2/8/07:

"The Gaza Palestinians celebrated the Hamas-Fatah ceasefire with rifle fire for over an hour. Can these people do anything without gunshots? " Posted by M. Duss.

From our sponsors:

Boehlert notes Dan Rather is right -- the Bush-National Guard story was true. So why are Howie and company so anxious to push Rather off the stage?

From Victor S. Navasky:

Dear Eric:

Some years ago Chris Cerf and I published The Experts Speak: The Definitive Guide to Authoritative Misinformation, a sort of Guinness Book of World Records of experts who were wrong in every field.

Now we have embarked on a sequel -- experts who were wrong about Iraq. We are interested in exact quotations (the shorter the better) from politics, professors, pundits, the military, whomever.

Here are some typical examples of the sort of thing we have in mind:

  • "We shall be greeted, I think, in Baghdad and Basra with kites and boom boxes."

-- Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University, assessing in an interview with The Washington Post the likely outcome of an American invasion of Iraq, October 7, 2002.

  • "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!"

-- George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, assuring President George W. Bush at a White House meeting that the intelligence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was foolproof, December 21, 2002.

  • "British intelligence has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production."

-- George W. Bush, President of the United States, State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003. By the time Bush made this assertion, his administration had already been warned by the CIA that this intelligence was not credible, and, indeed, the claim had been excised from previous speeches about the case for Iraqi possession of WMD.

  • "I will bet you the best dinner in the gaslight district of San Diego that military action will not last more than a week. Are you willing to take that wager?"

-- Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Channel, January 29, 2003.

  • "Ladies and gentlemen, these are not assertions. These are facts, corroborated by many sources, some of them sources of the intelligence services of other countries."

-- Colin Powell, U.S. Secretary of State, offering "proof" before the United Nations Security Council, to back up his claims about Iraq's possession, and surreptitious hiding, of weapons of mass destruction, February 5, 2003.

  • "Speaking to the U.N. Security Council last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell made so strong a case that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is in material breach of U.N. resolutions that only the duped, the dumb and the desperate could ignore it."

-- Cal Thomas, syndicated column, February 12, 2003.

  • "It's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine."

-- Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense, testifying before the House Budget Committee prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, February 27, 2003.

  • "There is a lot of money to pay for this that doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money, and it starts with the assets of the Iraqi people. We are talking about a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon."

-- Paul Wolfowitz, testifying before the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee about the relatively modest amount of money that fighting a war in Iraq would cost American taxpayers, March 27, 2003. As of May 29, 2007, the National Priorities Project estimated that the share of Iraq War costs borne by U.S. taxpayers to date exceeded $430 billion.

  • "Stuff happens."

-- Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, dismissing the significance of the uncontrolled looting of Iraqi institutions following the U.S. military's toppling of the Saddam government, April 12, 2003.

  • "The only people who think this wasn't a victory are Upper West Side liberals, and a few people here in Washington."

-- Charles Krauthammer, Inside Washington, WUSA-TV, April 19, 2003.

  • "Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."

-- George W. Bush, dressed in aviator gear and standing under a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, May 2, 2003.

  • "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we found them."

-- George W. Bush, responding to a reporter from TVP, Poland, who had asked how Mr. Bush could justify the invasion of Iraq now that no weapons of mass destruction had been found, May 29, 2003.

  • "Anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice. There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on."

-- George W. Bush, commenting to reporters at the White House about the incipient Iraqi insurgency, July 2, 2003.

  • "Safety and security have been achieved [in Baghdad].

-- Major General Martin Dempsey, Commander, U.S. First Army Division, at a ceremony officially re-opening the Fourteenth of July Bridge in Baghdad, October 25, 2003.

As you know they were wrong about the civil war (not), the Al Qaeda connection, weapons of mass destruction, the number of casualties, the insurgency (its nature and duration), the military (its numbers and duration), and how to measure success (let alone failure). The experts were wrong about the future, the past, and the present not to mention next week. Our hope is to document all that with short, pungent quotes that speak for themselves.

Any help you can provide will be much appreciated. And any help the readers of Altercation might provide should be sent to

From TomDispatch:

This is the way Middle Eastern expert (and author of Blood of the Earth) Dilip Hiro begins his most recent post at TomDispatch:

Here is the sentence in The Age of Turbulence, the 531-page memoir of former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan, that caused so much turbulence in Washington last week: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Honest and accurate, it had the resonance of the Bill Clinton's election campaign mantra, 'It's the economy, stupid.' But, finding himself the target of a White House attack -- an administration spokesman labeled his comment, 'Georgetown cocktail party analysis' -- Greenspan backtracked under cover of verbose elaboration. None of this, however, made an iota of difference to the facts on the ground.

Hiro then goes on to offer a concise, sharply written "prosecutor's brief" for the position that "the Iraq war is largely about oil." As a man who knows the record, he offers the top hits from the oil dreams of the Bush administration and a brief, vivid account of how they all went so disastrously awry. From the memoir of former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to the observations of former oil minister Issam Chalabi, Hiro paints a dismal picture of dreams of black gold, of greed, and of the sort of mismanagement and incompetence that have become hallmarks of this administration.

As a record of what's on the record, this is a rare and original summary that brings oil into central focus in the story of America's war and occupation of Iraq.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: David A. Snyder
Hometown: Tallahassee, FL

You quote Rep. Rahm Emanuel as saying, "[I]t's a bizarre thing that a president who believes in testing kids for math does not believe in testing kids for measles and mumps."

Indeed. It's also a bizarre thing that, according to the logic of our President's "No Child Left Behind Act", the secret to success in our battle to educate our children is to strictly hold schools accountable to meeting certain benchmarks (with funding to be withdrawn if schools fail to meet such benchmarks), while meanwhile, it's defeatism, if not treason, to demand benchmarks be met for the continuation of funding for the Iraq war.

If liberals who demand timelines and/or benchmarks hate the troops, then it must be the case that this President, who's key educational "reform" is "No Child Left Behind" must hate students and teachers.

Name: Don Cybelle
Hometown: Rochester, NY


I received the American Association of University Professors statement on invitations to speakers on campus that you mention and agree with it up to a point. The problem is, the AAUP use Dick Cheney as a hypothetical example of an invited speaker in that statement, and that's exactly where my agreement with them begins to fray. If the intent is for "open discussion" no matter whether you agree or disagree with the speaker, that's fine, but this administration has made clear that it wants no "open discussion," and routinely banishes anyone with an opposing view either from events entirely or to faraway "free speech" zones. So if Bush or Cheney is the invited speaker, then how does that fulfill "open discussion," rather than simply being a photo-op, private rally, or campaign speech? The AAUP needs to add a caveat that these ideals of invitation stand only if the invited speaker is also receptive to the idea of free speech and discussion. Otherwise, doesn't it render their rationale kind of pointless?

Name: Thomas Heiden
Hometown: Stratford, CT


So Bush is outraged that Democrats want to extend federal health insurance funding to families that make up to 300% of the federal poverty limit. According to MSNBC, that would amount, for a family of four, to $61,842. Bush considers that to be "middle class".

Not where I live. A realistic health insurance premium for a family of four in my area would be $1,400 per month. That alone would be 27% of this putative family's GROSS annual income.

Whatever mythical "middle class" Bush would put this family in, it wouldn't be there for long with that percentage of income going to one monthly bill (among many).

Name: Jesse Zander Corum
Hometown: Portland, OR

I caught part of "Lumo" also and agree with your endorsement of it, but I'd like to ask what you meant by "violence against women in all of its manifestations -- including in our own movie and television industries." Are you simply referring to the porn industry and sleazy casting couch predators, or are you including fictional "manifestations" of violence against women. Forgive me if you intended only the former, but the latter scares me because it suggests that certain topic matters are off limits, despite being just the sort of overwhelming human drama that we need art to understand. Sure, there have been plenty of ugly, gratuitous rape scenes over the years, but there have also been any number of films or television programs that have examined the subject thoughtfully. It seems like most of this line of criticism comes down to an aesthetic decision, where the "bad" movies are misogynist and the "good" movies are examinations of a difficult topic, only nobody can really define "good" and "bad." The female protagonists of '80s slasher films were once widely criticized as virginal pincushions, but are now (quite properly) seen as feminist protagonists, since they defeat/survive the monster without the aid of a man. More than anything, I'm concerned about the grouping of horrible real-life events with similar but entirely fictional stories. No matter how sleazy or exploitive, a movie is just a movie and getting more concerned over how it MIGHT affect society (those are tricky things to prove) than non-fictional violence seems disrespectful, petty, and self-interested.

Name: Stephen Carver
Hometown: Los Angeles

The World Heath Organization (WHO) evidently announced today that there's a cholera outbreak in Iraq. So far 11 people have died out of 2,116 cases and evidently 30,000 are showing symptoms. This yet one more thing that I am sure has helped win hearts and minds in Iraq.

I wonder how the MSM is gonna spin this story for the Bush Administration? "America brings cholera to Iraq!"

"It's something they've never had," Bush is quoted as saying, "and we brought it to them."

Cholera. Is THIS the country our fathers fought for?

Name: Jackson

I was just talking with my dad about Dylan on the Johnny Cash Show a couple of days ago.

Norman Blake was backstage with Dylan prior to the performance. Dylan was walking back and forth playing two variations of the same lick. Dylan turns to Norman and says which one is better, this? [played variation 1] or this? [played variation 2]

Norman Blake looks up at him and says "Don't ask me, you're Bob Dylan," with an irreverence that is rarely found outside of Nashville.

Having heard that story and now this one, I am thinking I will go pick up the DVD and give it a watch.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM

Hello Eric,

Old Navy guy here regarding Iraq and

Not too long ago Lieutenant Colonel Bob Bateman in what was probably his best post commented on a military officer's oath, what it means in very real terms to an officer and how one individual, Oliver North -- and I use this terminology purposely and precisely -- betrayed that oath and as a result, by extension, also betrayed his country.

Now we have this fake controversy regarding and its "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" ad. Our politicians, especially those on the right wing desperate for an issue to deflect attention from their failures and those in the center who seem to be without backbone, cannot fathom that a U.S. Army general could possibly do and say things that aren't true and that curry favor with a particular ideology or political party.

So ridiculous has been this sanctimonious puffery that the Senate was cowed in passing a resolution condemning citizens for publicly expressing -- in strong terms -- their skepticism regarding the prospective testimony of a flag officer before Congress that, from all objective measures from both the previews floated in the press in advance to the actual testimony given, is both intellectually and ethically challenged. Rather than coming together to restore citizens' right to habeas corpus, restoring the rule of law in the case of enemy combatants, and to pass laws improving the quality of life and safety of the military people in the line of fire Congress can only find the votes to support the rhetoric of the police state.

The management of the New York Times has been only too glad to cave in when criticized by these folks by making it appear that they had done something wrong. According to the Public Editor at the Times, Mr. Clark Hoyt, the ad violated public "civility" since it was "a particularly low blow when aimed at a soldier." He goes on to explain in great detail how more money should have been charged to for the ad while in the same article pointing out, without seeing the contradiction that both Rudy Giuliani and were quoted the same lower rate paid by Many liberal commentators and politicians have parroted Mr. Hoyt and have been too happy to criticize for their lack of civility.

Civility. I wonder where civility comes into play when American servicemen and servicewomen are sent to die or are horribly wounded for a lie? Where does civility come into play when innocent people in a far off land are taken from their homes and tortured simply for suspicion of terrorist activities? Where does civility come into play when tens of thousands of innocent civilians that we were supposedly there to "save" are murdered by our weapons and then referred to euphemistically as "collateral damage?" Where does civility come into play when we lecture the Iraqi government we created for failing to stem the sectarian civil war our own actions created? Where does civility come into play when every report from objective sources continuously catalogues failure, abuse, incompetence and the plunder of the public treasury in Iraq while deference is given to a well orchestrated propaganda campaign? Civility is the last thing a government deserves from its citizens. War, after all, is not civil.

It comes as no surprise to career military personnel that there are officers, particularly flag officers, who, in contravention to their oath, are more than willing to do and say anything to advance a political or ideological agenda. Admiral Fallon, Petraeus' superior officer and CENTCOM, identified him as "an ass-kicking little chickenshit" and sycophant at their first meeting. I'm sure it was the lack of civility on the part of the Admiral and not his contrary views on Iraq and Iran that convinced the Administration to tap Petraeus as their spokesperson rather than his superior officer.

I was at the Army Command and General Staff College back in 1992 when a self-congratulatory General Colin Powell advised my class that the world had changed and that for a military professional to be successful one had to prescribe a political rather than "simply" a military solution to his civilian superiors. His credibility now suffers from following that compromising prescription. It is apparent that this dangerous politicization of the military by certain senior officers in the army has continued.

Anyone who suggests that a military officer is beyond criticism is simply misguided. It is silly and smacks of fascism. Part of the territory of taking on the responsibilities of being a commissioned officer is that your actions are always under scrutiny. You are, after all, accountable for what you do and what happens under your command. To suggest that a military officer cannot be criticized by the American people is to remove accountability.

Any military officer who is willing to be used as General Petraeus allowed himself to be used -- which was to whitewash the failures of this Administration and essentially mislead the American public -- is both dangerous and deserving of skepticism, if not outright ridicule. Calling a general to be accountable for his testimony before the people's representatives is no low blow.

So let me add my voice as a former military man without parsing words: General Petraeus betrayed his oath by failing to be totally truthful to the American people, who, after all, are his real employers. The United States Senate is out of line by going along with this kabuki dance and has betrayed us by acting as if they have the right to tell American citizens that they may not question or criticize public officials in a public forum. The violation of the oath of office violated by this President and Administration is simply too long and well documented to cover but the betrayal there is the most egregious that goes without accountability.

Perhaps those former and present military officers like me are simply modern Don Quixotes upholding the code of chivalry in a non-chivalrous world. Accountability certainly seems to have become a quaint concept; along with habeas corpus, the right to vote and free speech.

Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Chicago

Doc --

Publishing the AAUP guidelines for guest speakers at universities reminds me of an event your readers might want to attend.

Mearsheimer, Judt, & Chomsky will be speaking at the University of Chicago on Oct. 12. Somehow, they plan to get through the five-hour event (2 sessions) without Alan Dershowitz or Abe Foxman. Even so, I expect the unexpected.

Name: Jack Hamm
Hometown: Jewell, Iowa


I think there's more to it than Hillary only appeals to the less educated and middle of the road types.

The pendulum was allowed to swing all the way to the far right with a Republican Congress, Evangelical participation, conservative Supreme Court, and all the other monopolizing party tricks Karl Rove helped to orchestrate. We saw the result. Less than 38% of the voters seem to be comfortable with it.

I feel that like myself, the overall majority of voters do not want to see that pendulum swing all the way to the left. It's too radical of change in too short a time. You have to bring it to the center first, then look to nudge it to where the majority want it to be. The idea of swinging too far left too fast sounds like jumping from one chaos to another.

I consider myself to be soundly educated. A baby boomer who was probably considered to be quite radical at an early voting age. This country still has a lot of growing to do before its willing to accept ideas that are further left. (ex. how many still believe Iraq is to blame for 9/11, and so many who voted for Bush A SECOND TIME !!) Plus those who are swayed by Swift Boaters, but ignore war duty dodging. You know, blind hypocrites.

I'm for Hillary because she has experience, she's strong, thinks on her feet, and I trust her to have the ability and maturity to swing that pendulum back to center and beyond.

I also feel she can take on the Republican attack machine and more than hold her own no matter how twisted and morbid they come out after the Democratic candidate. And she has something else I don't see in any other candidate. The ability to turn the tables on her attackers !!

Couldn't it simply be that she is leading in polls because she is the best Democratic candidate and not because of some X factor?

Name: Brian Donohue

Regarding Hitchens, the trump card in the insanity defense for him may have been the reference to Carter as a "complete moron." I continue to be astonished by the publishing industry that somehow raises bent characters like Hitchens into bestselling authors. But perhaps it's not such a mystery, after all: O'Reilly, Coulter, and their ilk are theistic attack dogs; Hitchens is an atheistic attack dog. It's only one letter's difference, and is equally an orthodoxy in its own way -- fundamentalism in a different dress.

Name: Richard Horn
Hometown: Bremerton

Dr. Alterman:

You've commented in the past the mysteries of Van Morrison, and it's true he has this deep-down desire to be a lounge singer, and it's true that George W. Bush likes him (urp!). But The Best of Van Morrison, Volume 3, reaffirms why he's one of the last originals in rock 'n' roll and why so many musicians owe him so much. And his collaborations with John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, James Hunter, Bobby Bland, B.B. King and yes, Tom Jones, will bring joy to one's life. And do we need that these days!

Hope you've heard it, or hear it soon...

Name: John Navin
Hometown: Boulder

When I was music director for WAYS-AM in Charlotte in the mid-70's, Eric Carmen came through to promote his new solo efforts.

He was a little late for the interview though because his girlfriend had to apply his makeup in their limo, according to her when they finally came inside.

For a radio interview.

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