What it is ain't exactly clear ...


Andrew Higgins, meet David Horowitz

I was surprised to see this story ($) by Andrew Higgins on the front page of in the usually excellent Wall Street Journal on Saturday called "Anti-Americans on the March" with the subhed, "Inside the unlikely coalition of the U.S.'s sworn enemies, where Communists link up with Islamic radicals: Hezbollah, Chávez and London's 'Red Ken.' " This notion of a leftist alliance with Islamic radicals is often trumpeted by crazy people like Horowitz, and sometimes even Hitchens, but it makes no sense whatever. Put simply, they hate everything about each other. And while they both hate Bush, so does virtually the entire world -- at least the part that's paying attention. Because I so respect the WSJ's news pages, I looked deeply into the piece for any evidence of this putative alliance -- particularly as it related to London's mayor, Ken Livingston. And guess what? Surprise, surprise, there's no there there.

Here is the entirety of evidence contained in the piece for including Livingston's name in the hed:

Earlier, London Mayor Ken Livingston, once known as "Red Ken," invited a controversial Egyptian cleric to the British capital, arguing that his views have been distorted by the West.

Gee, that really sounds like an alliance with Al Qaeda to me.

Then there's this bit of guilt-by-association:

At a big Islamic festival this summer supported by London's mayor, Mr. Livingston, Islamist activists and left-wing politicians declared their solidarity. "Muslims and the left must and can come together, because we face the same enemies -- imperialism, colonialism and racism," said Redmond O'Neill, a senior aide to Mr. Livingston.

Again, it's only an aide to Livingston, and he's not really saying anything nice at all about Islamic extremists, only Islam. So there's not a whit of support for the headline anywhere in the story.

Since the WSJ makes it easy to contact reporters by placing their emails at the end of every story, I thought I'd give Mr. Higgins the opportunity to explain. My guess was that he would disown the headline, and expand on the evidence -- if he answered at all. So I wrote him thusly:

Hello Andrew,

I am going to write a little something about your piece tomorrow. Seems the hed slandered Ken Livington, since the only mention of him was "Earlier, London Mayor Ken Livingston, once known as "Red Ken," invited a controversial Egyptian cleric to the British capital, arguing that his views have been distorted by the West," plus a quote by one of his aides, which didn't prove much either.

Any comments? It kind of blows a hole in the entire thesis of this being part of the "left," I'd say



Higgins replied:

"i'm not sure who you are but please write away. i'm in lebanon at the moment and would urge you to visit before passing judgement. it's easy to sit at home and thunder."

Now, let's allow for the fact that I could have been clearer in my email, but Higgins' response strikes me as all too typical of the arrogant reporter's smug refusal to engage on, or even defend, his work. OK, so he's never heard of me; fine. What's the relevance of that except as a putdown? More to the point, what the hell does being in Lebanon have to do with my question about the mayor of London and his aides? He's not saying, "I'm in Lebanon and I'm sorry I don't have time to reply." He's saying it is somehow necessary to visit Lebanon before I can judge his treatment of Ken Livingston, who again, I note, is in London. That's just nonsensical. But it is illustrative nonsense, nevertheless. To tell you the truth, I never heard of Mr. Higgins before either. And he doesn't really interest me all that much. What I do wonder about, however, is how his editors let this crap in the paper. I'd expect it from the editorial side, but on the news pages, it represents the kind of intellectual contamination that has made the edit pages such a sorry joke.

Jeff Greenfield is insane. Other explanations? And anyway, why is a reputedly intelligent CNN analyst spending so much time on a (possible) candidate's clothing? Do you think they do that in smart countries (where, by the way, CNN International is not pitched toward idiots, like our CNN is)?

And Michael Kinsley is slumming, sending Marty Peretz an early Hanukah present with this unprecedentedly crappy column. I suck up to Kinsley so often here that I owe it to him to point out a time when he lets us down. Really, Michael, did you write the sentence "Israel is fortunate that, for whatever reason, most of their compatriots fled"? Any number of Israeli-authored histories and memoirs -- including Yitzhak Rabin's -- have documented the deliberate expulsion of Palestinians at the point of a gun during the 1948 war. Are your readers' sensitivities such that they cannot handle this truth? And the obvious point of comparison between the "apartheid" regimes of Israel and South Africa is not what goes on inside the Israelis' minds: it is what the respective oppressed populations experience. This column is so bad it could have been written by Charles Krauthammer. How the hell it got Kinsley's name on it is beyond me.

The McCain Suck-Up Watch, continued and here.

Iraq is a fiasco, but chronically wrong warbloggers have finally found the source of all their woes -- a stringer for the Associated Press. No joke. He's the reason we lost Iraq.

Congrats to Kos for this.

And the whole Vanity Fair neocon piece is up here. It's infuriating on so many levels, I need to go for a walk.


I get sad every year around this time, and so this Sunday I decided to wallow in that sadness by going to Theatre Within's 26th Annual Lennon Tribute is a celebration of cutting-edge theatre, dance, and music in memory of John Lennon, featuring a stellar music lineup, including Garland Jeffreys, Michelle Shocked, Ben Taylor, and Sonya Kitchell, plus three acclaimed New York City dance companies and stand-up performance artist Joe Raiola. I don't really feel like reviewing the show, which had its ups and downs. (I did like this James/Carly progeny, though.) I want to let everybody know about the cause. Builders of the New World, the life-changing theatre and education program for homeless children at the Actors Theatre Workshop. Can you imagine a more worthy endeavor than one that helps homeless kids express themselves through theater and learn all the things that being an actor teaches you? Come on, people, it's December. Give them some money.

Solomon Burke, Nashville, by Sal, NYCD:

Soul legend Solomon Burke continues his comeback with the release of Nashville, a record that doesn't quite match up to the first of his recent releases, the brilliant, Joe Henry-produced "Don't Give Up On Me," but kicks the last release, "Make Do With What You Got," right in the butt.

Nashville producer and musician extraordinaire Buddy Miller is behind the boards for this one, and along with such great sidemen as Sam Bush, Barry Tashian, and Byron House, he gives Burke the perfect setting for his powerful voice.

Burke claims his first love is country music, (although from the looks of things, I would have guessed it was butter) and thanks to Miller's restraint as a producer, Solomon Burke's monster of a voice is the star of this show. He has some special guests such as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Gillian Welch to help him along. But the material, which includes Springsteen's "Ain't Got You," Tom T. Hall's excellent "That's How I Got To Memphis," and Gillian Welch's "Valley Of Tears" is some of the best there is and Burke, one of the greatest living voices in music, handles it like it was written especially for him.

"What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977)

The music industry is without a doubt at the nadir of its existence. As an online music retailer -- for the time being anyway -- I can say the state of the industry has never been sadder. Gone are the days when people would regularly drop good money on new releases, old faves, and rare chestnuts. Now, it's all about ... well ... I really don't know what it's all about. All I know is that a Rhino box set used to be a monumental occasion. And even during these horrible times of label layoffs, record store closings, and Rod Stewart standards albums, Rhino's labors of love continue. This time in the form of What It Is! Funky Soul And Rare Grooves (1967-1977), a 4-CD set featuring lots of people you never heard of, but need to hear immediately!

If you're a fan of Rhino's previous soul sets, "Beg, Scream and Shout!" and "Can You Dig it?," two essential collections of '60s and '70s R&B, this new set is the perfect complement. Where the previous sets were mostly about the famous and near-famous singing their hits and bubbling-unders, What It Is is all about the complete misses that are in many ways dirtier, funkier, and groovier.

Of course, not every track is a winner, but there are so few losers, it hardly matters. Sure, you've heard of the Commodores, but not "Keep On Dancing." You've heard of Sly Stone, but not under the pseudonym 6ix. New Orleans funk legends The Meters? They appear here a bunch of times. Backing Cyril Neville on the super rare, pre-Neville Brothers single "Gossip," on a track called "Tampin'" credited to The Rhine Oaks and featuring Allen Toussaint on keys, and with Dr. John as well.

The list of wannabes goes on. The Noble Knights, Natural Bridge Bunch, Phil Moore Jr., The Gaturs, The Unemployed. It's all so greasey and nasty, it makes James Brown sound like Rod McKuen. (OK, not really, but you get my point.) We do get a few familiar tunes here. "Soul Finger" by the Bar Kays, "Memphis Train" by Rufus Thomas, and "Rock Steady" by Aretha seem to be included to keep the uninitiated interested, although "Rock Steady" is the unreleased alternate version.

There are many blogs devoted to this kind of rare and underground soul, and over the years, I found a handful of these tunes in scartchy vinyl form. Rhino, of course, has cleaned it all up, and I can't recommend this one enough.

More here.

End Sal.

Present suggestions I don't have time to review: A short, continuing series. Everyman's Library has just published beautiful omnibus editions of the short stories of Roald Dahl and Alice Munroe, as well the nonfiction of Joan Didion, who is among the best there's ever been. It's called We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live. It's the kind of present that tells someone you think really well of them.

The history of the Asbury Park music scene, here.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Larry Howe
Hometown: Oak Park, IL

Eric --

Yes, Hertzberg's New Yorker piece has it right. And yes, you're right that there's no one on the ISG who opposed the policy to begin with. But there's a further angle shared by the ISG and the 9/11 Commission that should be cause for alarm. The emphatic commitment by both groups to look forward and not back, as if the members of review panels are like Lot's wife and will turn into pillars of salt should they dare to glance back at the scenes of the Bush administration catastrophes, defies logic. One cannot begin to understand a phenomenon without analyzing the conditions that brought it to bear. But created in the image of the administration, these panels will follow the Bush lead, even though his refusal to understand a complex society like Iraq was the precondition to the disaster he launched.

It's no coincidence that Lee Hamilton has served on both of these panels. He qualified for the ISG by his willingness to sign the 9/11 Commission pledge to not look back at the awesome inadequacy of the president to carry out his fundamental responsibility. And he qualified for the 9/11 Commission by his service as chair of the House Select Committee that investigated Iran-Contra, or rather didn't investigate it. The same complicity he showed for the first Bush administration has made him the appointee of choice in these later posts. If Bush wanted to insure that the ISG would not really study the problem, but offer a range of self-evident options that provide political cover rather than solutions, then Hamilton was his man.

Baker and O'Connor are similarly happy to provide the president with dutiful cover, but they are not simply toadies. Their motives are equally self-serving. If they were to look back at how the president came to be so wrong about Iraq, it would be difficult to draw the line and not look all the way back to the electoral fraud that they participated in. Without Baker's management of the dark days of November 2000 and without the tortured reasoning of Bush v. Gore with which O'Connor concurred, we wouldn't have the conditions that put us on this catastrophic path.

Name: jerry hill
Hometown: tallahassee, fl

Eric wrote about the Robert Gates Senate confirmation hearings in an article, "Think Again: What'd I Say?" for the Center for American Progress.

In comments above, Brian P. Evans discussed that article and the hearings. He wrote:

"He [Dr Gates] included the comment of we're 'not losing' only *after* the lunch break..." In fact, it was before the lunch break that Dr Gates responded affirmatively to Senator Inhofe's question whether he agreed with Gen. Pace's view that we were neither winning nor losing. After the lunch break, Dr Gates did extend and elaborate his views on the subject but his further remarks seem to have been lost to the media. He said:

"And I certainly stand by my statement this morning that I agreed with General Pace that we are not winning but we are not losing. But I want to make clear that that pertains to the situation in Iraq as a whole. Our military forces win the battles that they fight. Our soldiers have done an incredible job in Iraq. And I'm not aware of a single battle that they have lost. And I didn't want my comments to be interpreted as suggesting that they weren't being successful in their endeavors."

One can't help but think of the North Vietnamese colonel's response to Col. Harry Summers's April, 1975, remark that the NVA had never beaten us on the battlefield: "That is true. It is also irrelevant."

Name: Richard Sattler
Hometown: Missoula, MT

I am glad to see that someone else shares my less than reverential attitude toward the late and unlamented Ms. Kirkpatrick. I have gotten rather nauseous of late with all the accolades, even from progressives who should know better. Her work for the Reagan administration supported and gave cover to some of the most bloody, despotic tyrants (including Saddam Hussein, Noriega, Pinochet, the Somozas, among too many others), not to mention fostering the Taliban and other reactionary movements ... I refuse to speak well of her, dead or alive, nor any of her fellow enablers of evil.

Name: Michael Rapoport


This may be going off on a tangent of a tangent, but "I'll Be Home for Christmas" isn't the only Xmas song with a little extra resonance these days. James Taylor has a version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" with the much-more-melancholy WWII-era original lyrics -- "Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow" instead of the more familiar "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough."

Taylor originally released the song post-9/11, but "muddling through" fits just as well today. Here's the story behind the recording, and since then Taylor has put out a full Christmas CD including the song, here.

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