If I had ever been here before, I would probably know what to do ...

One of the many perennial problems with media at virtually every level is the lack of historical memory displayed by reporters and editors. News is all but meaningless out of context but that is almost always the way it's presented to us. Here are three examples.

First, regarding Iran, I read in Today's Papers, here:

The NYT emphasizes that at yesterday's news conference, Bush said Iran couldn't be trusted with the knowledge of how to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, “explicitly declaring for the first time what has been an underlying premise of the administration's policy.” Bush acknowledged that he had first been told there was new information about Iran in August, but insisted he didn't know the details until last week. Many found that hard to believe. “If that's true he has the most incompetent staff in modern American history,” Sen. Joseph Biden said. Regardless, Bush made clear that even if he had known the new information, it wouldn't have changed his views or his World War III talk.

So, is it even possible that Bush didn't know about this new analysis of Iran's capabilities? Most of the papers skirt the question, although the LAT suggests it could be. In a separate Page One piece on the intelligence, the paper says that keeping “unvetted intelligence” out of the hands of senior administration officials was one of the key lessons learned from the Iraq WMD fiasco. The LAT goes on to say that “it wasn't until about two weeks ago” that Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials “received initial briefs on the pending findings,” although it's still unclear when Bush got word of the developments. But that still really doesn't answer the question of whether Bush wasn't even given a heads up on how the thinking was changing inside the intelligence community.

Look people, Bush, Cheney, and their neocon allies in and out of government don't care a fig for evidence one way or another, any more than they care about the limits on their power as enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. They divide the world up into good guys and bad guys and do whatever it was they wanted in the first place. Remember August 2001? Bush was given a CIA memo reading “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” He told the briefer that he had “covered his ass” and spent the rest of the day fishing. Back then, Bush was interested in Star Wars, not terrorism. Obviously, the Iraq example is relevant; plenty of evidence came in that would have dissuaded a more cautious man from his chosen path but Bush showed not the slightest interest. Today he says the Iran NIE makes no real difference to him -- big surprise there -- and check out how deeply it has affected the analysis of say, Norman Podhoretz. It is a dangerous mistake to pretend that these people are on the level, and many hundreds of thousands of people are dead today as a result. And yet it is the media's determined lack of context that ensures that it keeps happening over and over.

Many bloggers are linking to Stephen Metcalf's tough-minded takedown of Will Saletan's carelessly racist-friendly investigation of black genetic inferiority that Slate published last week. Patti Cohen did a Times story and then bought me lunch in the Times cafeteria, which costs only about seven bucks, which is hardly even close to the cost of links on this page these days, but just this once.... (OK, she spoke to my class, but still ...) Anyway, back in the early days of Slate, when I thought it was pretty decent publication, Nicholas Lemann wrote what may have been the longest article ever published there which went through the academic responses to the racist pseudoscience of The Bell Curve -- something that had been absent in the reactions to Andy Sullivan and Marty Peretz's championing -- that was published in academic time, two years or more after the book's publication. Had Saletan or any of Slate's editors been aware of Lemann's articles in his own publication, the article would never have seen the light of day. I relied on Nick's articles -- going back to the original sources of course, in writing my own study of The Bell Curve, most of which can be found here.

And finally, this story is just breaking now. If Mike Huckabee were Mike Dukakis, his campaign would be over today, owing to Murray Waas' report. This intervention of his is far more objectionable than anything Dukakis did with the infamous Willie Horton. All discussions of the issue should include that context, since it will obviously be relevant in the general election. It also raises the question as to whether Democrats can be as nasty as Republicans -- Lee Atwater was a pussycat compared to his protégé, Rove, and worse is coming. Will the Democrats play tit-for-tat?

Alternative Universe Quote of the Day: What if Marty Peretz had been born a Muslim?

Marty Peretz, 2/22/07:

Jew society is, well -- how do I say this? -- hidebound and backward.

Posted by M. Duss

From TomDispatch:

Once again, as has been true for most of the Bush era, nuclear weapons, fictional and all too real, as well as nuclear fears and fantasies, are again in the headlines. And yet the global shape of our nuclear crisis is seldom considered. Several days after the publication of his latest nuclear book, The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger, Jonathan Schell sat down with TomDispatch.com, which asked him to take readers on a little tour of our nuclear landscape, of what he calls the “nuclear archipelago.” In the latest TomDispatch interview, he considers why the Cold War was but a nuclear “adolescence” ; why “we're just beginning to face the nuclear danger in its inescapable, quintessential form” ; why nations even want nuclear weapons; and why some of their leaders are, in his term, “nuclear romantics.” As could only a man who has, since his bestselling book The Fate of the Earth was published in 1982, been essentially a one-man campaign against nuclear annihilation and nuclear “forgetfulness,” as well as for the abolition of such weapons, he offers us some striking ways of considering our nuclear conundrum.

Here's just a taste of this interview:

You know, when I wrote The Fate of the Earth, back in 1982, I said that, first and foremost, nuclear weapons were an ecological danger. It wasn't that our species could be directly wiped out by nuclear war down to the last person. That would only happen through the destruction of the underpinnings of life, through nuclear winter, radiation, ozone loss. There has been an oddity of timing, because when the nuclear weapon was invented, people didn't even use the word “environment” or “ecosphere.” The environmental movement was born later.

So, in a certain sense, the greatest -- or certainly the most urgent -- ecological threat of them all was born before the context in which you could understand it. The present larger ecological crisis is that context. In other words, global warming and nuclear war are two different ways that humanity, having grown powerful through science, through production, through population growth, threatens to undo the natural underpinnings of human, and all other, life. In a certain way, I think we may be in a better position today, because of global warming, to grasp the real import of nuclear danger.


Alfred Kazin: A Biography (Yale University Press)

Richard M. Cook has the first biography of Alfred Kazin, due out in January 2008, though mine arrived yesterday. The book draws mainly on Kazin's personal journals that he kept for over 60 years, along with private correspondence and conversations with Kazin. Personally, I'm not so crazy about it. In the first place, I don't agree with the author's decision to focus so much on Kazin's personal and family life. He was not a public figure, and the women with whom he slept and the disagreements and feelings he had about his children are not germane to the reasons he was important. While the journals are obviously a rich source for a biographer, the insights Alfred published in them do not, in most cases, warrant repetition 40 or 50 years after the fact. They are not that interesting, thoughtful or historically significant, at least in my view. He was a literary critic, and a great one, but not a philosopher or a politician. Still, it is extremely well researched and solid, though it never sings as a biography of Alfred really ought to have ... More here.

Disclosure: Feel free to dismiss my view owing to my personal connections to Kazin and his family, if you like.

PoPsie: Popular Music Through the Camera Lens of William PoPsie Randolph by Michael Randolph

I never heard of this fellow before, but William “PoPsie” Randolph left behind 100,000 negatives, chronicling the postwar music scene in America, and particularly New York. Photos from the swing scene in the '40s to the 52nd Street jazz scene to the British Invasion of the '60s are collected in this volume, published by Hal Leonard. The book is edited by PoPsie's son, Michael, and text accompanies each photo and provides context. It's really a wonderfully put together project, and anybody with any taste and interest in this kind of thing would be grateful. More here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Lou Cabron
Hometown: San Francisco, CA

It's worse than we thought, according to this new timeline chronicling every incursion on American civil liberties since 2001.

Within days of taking office, President Bush sealed records from the Reagan Administration -- signaling the launch of a seven-year war against the Bill of Rights. The timeline notes the passage of the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act, but also identifies less-known incursions. (Like the new ability to station U.S. military troops anywhere in the U.S. and take control of state-based National Guard units without consent of a governor or local authorities.) It even includes the relevant Supreme Court decisions and Acts of Congress.

It's 2007, America. Do you know where your Civil Liberties are?

Name: Junius Brutus
Hometown: Rome

James P. Young's book is indeed a fine one. However, for an even better analysis of Walzer from one of the best political theorists out there, read Ian Shapiro's Political Criticism. Shapiro is very sympathetic to Walzer but rightly demonstrates how Walzer's relativistic approach is ultimately unsatisfactory and unacceptably conservative.

Eric replies: This may be true. I found Shapiro's book a bit abstruse and it is not historically-minded as Young's is, but I sympathize with the criticism.

Name: Bill Skeels
Hometown: Raleigh

Back after he had become famous, but before Snake River, I was walking down a relatively deserted concourse in the Atlanta airport (off hour biz travel if memory serves) and I walked past Evel K. He was surrounded by a little posse (3 or 4), and was carefully combing his hair to get that 'do in the reflection of the glass of one of those “Welcome to Atlanta” signs that dotted the walls. The posse all waited attentively.