We're on a road to nowhere

Why We're Liberals (Barnes & Noble / Amazon), the reviews: This one was in The New York Observer.

I need to apologize to anyone at the Take Back America conference who showed up at my book signing on Monday. I was obviously not there because I was informed by my publisher that it was Tuesday, and so when I showed up, there was nobody there. After no books showed up in New Orleans for that signing -- and the panel I was moderating was taken away from me after 15 minutes by one of the overenthusiastic panelists -- I was beginning to think this book tour was cursed (and this time without anyone calling the stores and purposely sabotaging it, as happened with What Liberal Media?). But it isn't. We had a nice discussion and signing at Borders last night, and I was especially pleased to meet so many Altercators, and (almost) everyone was polite, thoughtful, and looked as if they were in great shape lately.

Thanks, people.

George Zornick here again as Eric continues the official Why We're Liberals tour -- he'll be at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., tonight for a 7 p.m. reading. The full schedule is below again.

Max Follmer at The Huffington Post has an interview with several Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) reporters who were among the few that got the reporting right in the run-up to the Iraq war, producing stories like Bush has decided to overthrow Hussein (February 13, 2002) and CIA report reveals analysts' split over extent of Iraqi nuclear threat (October 4, 2002). One quote stands out from John Walcott, the Washington bureau chief:

I think that a lot of the media have been very quick to accept the notion that the surge has succeeded and it amounts to some kind of turning point in Iraq. And I'm not sure there is a lot of evidence to support the idea that the improvements in security are long lasting, as opposed to temporary. I think there is somewhat greater skepticism, but I think a lot of people still find it very difficult to question what to most Americans is a patriotic enterprise.

Naturally, he's right; it's close to an accepted fact among many journalists that the surge has been a success, as displayed for example in the recent presidential debates. The war has been taking a back seat to campaign coverage recently, but the potential to get the discussion going again is high: Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have to appear before Congress next month to justify maintaining the current strategy, an argument they will base almost solely on the alleged success of the surge. The last time these two had to go to Congress in September it was a major media event (sadly due, in part, to the “General Betray Us” MoveOn.org ad), but as The Washington Post notes, the upcoming appearance has sparked little interest or anticipation. News outlets should take the lessons of this week's navel-gazing about news coverage of the war, and apply the lessons to reporting on the upcoming Petraeus-Crocker hearings. Just follow the rule set out by another one of the Knight Ridder/McClatchy reporters: “I think we approached this by asking the question every time the administration made an allegation, 'is this true?' ” See more on the spinning of the surge here in our recent Think Again column.

You may remember Eric's post last fall about Bono letting the phrase “fucking brilliant” slip on the Golden Globes; Eric mentioned the “Clean Airwaves Act” sitting in Congress that would have officially classified such utterances as profane and therefore punishable. The bill contained a Carlinesque list of bad words that were prohibited, and added that they were also prohibited in any form, “including verb, adjective, gerund, participle, and infinitive forms.”

Eric's post noted that, in Bono's usage, “fucking” was actually an adverb and thus exempt from the law (which hasn't passed anyway); this initiated an avalanche of letters in the Correspondence Corner among competing grammarians. Let's not go down that road again, loyal readers, in part because now the Supreme Court is going to weigh in on the whole matter. It announced this week that it will address the issue of “fleeting expletives,” onetime uses like Bono's of “familiar profanities” on broadcast outlets. The case was initiated when the FCC deemed offhand utterances of profanity during the Billboard Music Awards, by Nicole Richie and Cher, as “indecent.” The Fox network argued it's unconstitutional for the government to be able to ban this type of speech, and a federal appeals court agreed, saying it was “skeptical that the commission can provide a reasoned explanation for its fleeting expletive regime that would pass constitutional muster.” The FCC appealed and the nine wise men and women in Washington agreed to hear the case.

So, the highest court will now debate whether saying “shit” on the air is allowed. One wishes the FCC had better uses of its time (and money -- how much is it costing taxpayers to litigate what Nicole Richie says at the Billboard Awards?), but not much can be expected from Commission these days. (See our recent Think Again column here for more). The Court's eventual ruling does have the potential to reign in the commission's puritanical impulses, though, and could also venture into discussing the FCC's ability to regulate speech in other media besides broadcast radio and television, according to some experts. Stay tuned.

Debating that afternoon cup of coffee? This might wake you up instead -- a startling report from James Hansen, the NASA scientist at the forefront of global warming research: "[Hansen] and eight co-authors have drafted a fresh paper arguing that the world has already shot past a safe eventual atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide ... To avoid a centuries-long slide to conditions profoundly different than those that saw the rise and spread of modern civilization, the paper concludes, humans need to reverse course on emissions rapidly -- no mean feat in a growing world wedded to coal and oil for decades to come, given the slow pace of change in energy technologies." More here.

The Why We're Liberals tour schedule -- stop in and say hi:

Wednesday, March 19, 7 p.m.
Politics and Prose
Washington, DC

Thursday, March 20, 7 p.m.
Ethical Culture Society (Sponsored by Left Bank Books)
St. Louis, MO

Monday, March 24, 7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, 82nd and Broadway
New York, NY

Tuesday, March 25, 7 p.m.
First Congregational Church of Berkeley
2345 Channing Way, Berkeley, CA
Sponsored by Cody's Books

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 - 12:30 p.m.
Stacey's Bookstore
San Francisco, CA

Thursday, March 27, 7:30 p.m.
Powell's Books
Portland, OR

Friday, March 28, 7:30 p.m.
Town Hall Seattle
sponsored by Elliott Bay Book Co.
Seattle, WA

Saturday, March 29
Seattle, WA
Talk/reception in a private home; email below for details if you'd like to come and I will send them to you ...

Alter-reviews by Eric:

Lynyrd Skynyrd -- Street Survivors, Deluxe Edition

Three days after Lynyrd Skynyrd released Street Survivors, the band's fifth studio album, in 1977, Ronnie Van Zant and new band members Steve and Cassie Gaines died in a plane crash. This is their last will and testament, alas, and it's pretty damn good. Naturally, the group would never be the same, and MCA has now re-released a remastered version of Van Zant's final effort with the group together with an alternative version of the record and five songs from a 1977 live performance in Fresno, with disappointing acoustics. More information is here. (Unlike the Allman Brothers, however, they totally suck now.)

Elvis Costello -- This Year's Model, Deluxe Edition

When it came out in 1978, This Year's Model was voted Album of the Year in The Village Voice critics poll, and was eventually ranked 11th on Rolling Stone's list of the best albums from 1967-1987. It was only Costello's second release, and first with the Attractions. Universal Music Group has re-released the album in a two-disc deluxe edition, adding 11 B-sides, demos, live tracks, and alternate takes. There is also a previously unreleased concert at the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C., which is great, but also slightly disappointing on the audio front. More information is available here. It's all great stuff, of course, but Elvis' albums have been re-released almost as often as Tom Friedman has predicted success in Iraq in the next six months. (Did you know that the proud papa of twin boys is going to host a talk show on Showtime?)

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Neil Parry
Hometown: Las Vegas

Dr. A,

I have ordered your book, and can't wait for it to arrive. I have enjoyed all prior, and I'm sure I'll enjoy this one.

For the record, feel no shame for not knowing what “Muggles” are. I didn't know either. I find it somewhat comforting that I'm clearly not the only grown man who is not spending his free time reading about a magical school boy.

Name: Badgercane
Hometown: Orlando, FL

I believe that most economists ARE indeed accurately portayed in Mankiw's NY Times column “Beyond the noise on free trade.” Classic capitalism is conditioned to go along with that old joke about a man who puts his head in a deep freeze and his feet in a roaring furnace. On the average, the temperature is just fine!

Compounded with the fact that we're also getting recent studies that indicate American society is becoming less and less mobile in allowing people to move up and down between economic classes, and we see why the typical American may disagree with trained economists.

If the upper 1% income earners gain an additional $100B and the lowest 10% drop $80B, should we really rejoice in that $20B progress? That's what this “Global Economy” has been generating recently and is the reason why most American (non-economist) “MUGGLES” have come out in favor of “fair trade” rather than “free trade” !!

Name: Chuck
Hometown: Kansas City

In response to Dan from SC, none of us should take advice from the spouse of another candidate on who to vote for. And here's news for everybody, the swift boating right wing noise machine will indeed have plenty of 'information' to sink any large vessel, regardless of who the captain of the ship is. It's what they do, and anyone that can think for themself should be ashamed to use that as an excuse to ask a legitimate candidate, leading in votes and delegates, to drop out of the race.

The real challenge here is to get the press to fairly report and question all the candidates, Hillary, Obama, and McCain, about their spiritual advisors and supporters, whether it's Rev. Wright, Rev. Jackson, Rev. Hagee, Rev. Robertson, or Rev. Graham. You can find incendiary comments from all of them.

Name: Ian
Hometown: Los Angeles

It doesn't appear that this bailout -- and make no mistake White House Mouthpiece Perrino, it's a bailout -- of Bear Sterns has any kind of accountability measures in place. One example would be that senior executives, if entitled to some gross payout by their personal services agreement will still get that payout even though they've run the company into the ground. Another would be that no one is going to be held responsible and somehow punished. No one will be stopped from blithely going on their way and doing it again at a later date -- and being rescued again. I think the government probably had to do something. Swamping these large financial firms could probably bring down the whole woodpile -- then millions if not tens of millions of us would be adversely affected. But any similar rescue of an individual who screwed up that badly would require something to be exacted -- a diminished lifestyle, the loss of a house. Can we at least take away their private jets?

Name: Glenn Peake
Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Dear Dr. A

I moved from Brooklyn to the A-T-L in June 2001, but I have very fond memories of Grimaldi's under the Brooklyn Bridge (Brooklyn side, of course) for some of the best pizza I've ever had anywhere. I haven't been for a few years, but my wife was there last month and reports that it's still as delicious as ever.

Surely you're familiar with Grimaldi's, no?

Eric replies: Sorry, bub, I can't admit to not knowing anything anymore since the Muggles' army got after me here ...

Name: Steve Stein
Hometown: Acton, MA

Time alone will tell, but Potter seems to be about as wide-spread as the Beatles were in the 60s. The Beatles may be THE most influential cultural phenomenon of the 20th century (certainly the late 20th century), but don't underestimate the power of Potter. Think of it this way -- imagine your 6th grade class. Now how many of those kids would have even *considered* reading a 500+ page book? It's remarkable that that figure is over 50% (a guess), in this age of TV and internet and video games, due solely to JK Rowling.

Eric replies: Yes, well, popularity, as many 6th graders are destined to learn, alas, is not everything ...

Name: David S.
Hometown: New Haven (!)

First, thanks for the props to my fair city. Not sure if the burgers are the best, but apparently they were the first. The pizza rocks, though.

Second, Dan from SC is too clever by half in his call for Obama to step down. You think the Republicans aren't be salivating at the prospect that the candidate with a nearly insurmountable lead in delegates, popular votes, and states/territories (actually, with 30, his lead there IS insurmountable) would just drop out? And leave Republican Talking Point Target #1, with a thousand loose ends (be they pardonees and/or library donors) standing in his place? But better yet, listen to Tuesday's speech. I believe the term that describes it is “presidential.”

Third, an anecdote about Harry Potter. I happened to be taking a transatlantic flight the day the seventh HP book came out. I swear that I am not exaggerating in saying that there was at least one person on every row of that flight reading it. (And, to my amusement, it turns out some other guy was, like me, reading Tracy Kidder's Paul Farmer bio, Mountains Beyond Mountains, too.)

Name: Robert Earle
Hometown: Torrance, CA

I like the Shelby Lynne album more with each listening.

But there's that moment in “Anyone Who Had a Heart” when in ALL the other versions the sax comes in. In that spot Shelby and Phil Ramone put ... well, nothing.

I'm all for minimalism, but come on. It doesn't have to be a sax, but something has to go there. It just sounds incomplete without.

(It's like when a TV producer tries to show you a football game or basketball game from a “new” angle. There's a reason all the games look alike - because that's what WORKS!)

IMHO, anyway.