I'm in love with rock and roll, and I'll be out all night


Siva V. is back today, but first, we have a new Think Again column here, "You Don't Know Jesse," about the media coverage of Sen. Jesse Helms' death. Also, Raymond Schroth has a very thoughtful review of Why We're Liberals at NJ.com, here.

Hi. Siva Vaidhyanathan here again. As long as Eric is in his undisclosed location, we guest hosts will continue to churn up the superlative claims and resultant silly arguments.

Thanks to Altercation readers for all the nice words about my patriotism post that ran in this space over the weekend. It was nice to get all that out there and even better to see that folks liked it.

I received just as many responses from testy Okies who took umbrage to my dismissals of their home state, which, even their license plates declare, is merely "OK."

So I feel I must clarify Oklahoma's place in our great nation. It's not like Oklahoma has never produced wonderful people or work. Several folks wrote to remind me that Mickey Mantle came from Oklahoma (although he chose to live out his life and die in Texas because he could choose). And, of course, America would be poorer without the brilliance of Will Rogers and the Flaming Lips. By the way, ever notice that the face on the tailfin of an Alaska Airlines jet looks like Will Rogers? Why would you remind people of the most famous person to die in a plane crash in your state? Iowa doesn't have an airline with Buddy Holly's picture on the side of the planes. Oh, that reminds me -- Oklahoma City has an airport named after that most famous resident to die in a plane crash. Again, not wise.

Still, many great people left Oklahoma as soon as they could and went on to do great things. Woody Guthrie was perhaps the best example. Merle Haggard has certainly achieved greatness and brought pride to his people, although he was born in Bakersfield, California, to a couple of Okies from Muskogee. And the author of the greatest 20th century American novel, Ralph Ellison, was born in Oklahoma City. So I suppose that all more than makes up for Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth.

But enough picking on Oklahoma.

Let's pick on Boston. I can't believe that readers and writers in this space are seriously lauding the J. Geils Band as a significant contributor to American music. Yawn. They certainly are the most forgettable American band of the 1970s and 1980s. Well, probably not; I would have forgotten the most forgettable. I think I had forgotten about them until Pierce brought them up again.

Sure, picking the greatest band from Boston is sort of like celebrating Tulsa skyscrapers (do those praying hands count?). Boston has produced about as many great bands as it has World Series championships. I would nominate Aerosmith if we are only counting bands with big hits. I would choose the Pixies if I had to choose songs for which I still scroll the iPod.

But seriously, does anyone come close to the superiority of the Modern Lovers? I think not. I'm a Roadrunner, honey.

And Georgia bands? All due respect to the Allmans, but R.E.M. has left a far bigger mark for far longer and has produced a much better catalog. Please don't tell me I am the youngest person reading Altercation.

On to serious matters. It's been two days since the presumptive nominee of a major political party declared the most popular and successful government program in American history to be "a disgrace." Pierce brought it up first yesterday here on Altercation. But I thought we should take another moment and reflect on what a monumental statement this was.

Here is what John McCain's declared: "Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."

Is McCain's statement about Social Security any more stunning, revolutionary, revealing, and just plain wrong than, say, President Ford declaring that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination?

Yet still, two days later, I have yet to see McCain held accountable for these statements in a major media outlet. The Washington Post, in its typical cynical voice, focused a four-inch inside story on the gaffe on McCain's feeble attempts to back off the comments. But where is the front-page attention? Where is the 24-hour-news obsession? When his opponent made a reasonable statement that he would revise his plans for withdrawal from Iraq after visiting with commanders -- something that we would expect any semi-competent commander to do -- he generated searing headlines in every major newspaper in the land -- as if he had actually said anything different from what he has been saying for a year. But McCain, never one to decline the benefit of the doubt on misstatements and gaffes, got a free ride on a declaration of war on Social Security.

No, it's beyond an attack on Social Security. It's a revelation that McCain has no clue how Social Security works and is willing to reveal his stunning ignorance in a public forum, knowing he will pay no price for it. Once again, the watchdogs are sleeping.

Read the great Todd Gitlin on the matter here.

Our good friend Boehlert already told us about the Dittohead fluff job that The New York Times Magazine did on Rush Limbaugh last Sunday. But did you notice the section on Rush's sensitivity to being labeled a racist? Apparently Rush takes accusations of his racism very seriously, if we are to believe the article.

Amazingly writer Zev Chafets never mentioned the incident in 2003 when Rush, sitting in with his pals Chris Berman and Steve Young on ESPN's NFL GameDay, said of Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donavan McNabb:

Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.

Limbaugh said this about a first-round pick who had already made three Pro Bowls, been to two NFC Championship games, and had been the runner-up for MVP. He said this years after Doug Williams had won a Super Bowl and earned the MVP award. He said it years after Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham had excelled at every level. After Rush's diatribe, which left Young and Berman speechless (they criticized him later that night after their partner, Tom Jackson, scolded Limbaugh harshly), McNabb went on to beat the Buffalo Bills and a season later lead his team to the Super Bowl, only to lose barely to a team that illegally spied on opponents' signal systems.

Limbaugh? He got busted for drugs. Nice work.

How could you write a comprehensive account of Limbaugh's influence on American culture and politics and slight his overt racism? How could the Times' editors have allowed this?

Are you as exhausted as I am of fighting for some basic intelligence and fairness in this media environment?

This Week on Moyers:

What's happened to the conservative movement in America? Conservatives Mickey Edwards and Ross Douthat discuss why they believe their movement has gone off track during the last eight years and what it means for the Republican Party. Douthat is senior editor at The Atlantic Monthly and co-author of Grand New Party, and Mickey Edwards is a former Republican Congressman and author of Reclaiming Conservatism. Also on the program, Bill Moyers introduces "Deepening the American Dream," a Web-only project here that features essays and videos of some of Moyers' notable guests laying out their vision for the future of the American dream.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Mr. Pierce:

Your complaint, along with those of many others, that McCain gets away with gaffes like the recent one on Social Security, just remind me that Barack Obama is making a mistake in rejecting early debates with McCain. People would pay attention if he said these stupid things in a debate, which he certainly would. The town hall format that McCain wanted would allow for back-and-forth exchanges and immediate challenges. In that setting, I'd put my money on Barack.

Al Gore made the same mistake in 2000. He rejected Bush's pitch for early debates, which would have been wide open and in which he could have shown W up for the moron he is. Instead, when he was constrained by the formal rules of the three presidential debates he couldn't confront Bush directly, or even question him face to face. On Larry King or somewhere he could have torn W a new one.

Name: Karl Huf
Hometown: Chicago

Siva -- first off, thank you for sharing your experiences with us in your inspiring 4th of July post.

Now, to the much larger issue -- if Yankee Stadium is the greatest baseball stadium in the country . . . why are they going to tear it down?

You would do yourself a favor by coming here and visiting the TRUE greatest baseball stadium in the country over at 1060 W Addison . . . and watch the game the way it was meant to be played, not with that DH aberration.

Go Cubs!

Siva replies: I concur that Wrigley is one of the finest houses of sport in the world. But it lacks glory and fails to generate awe. Wrigley's greatest charm is the joy one feels while skipping work to guzzle Old Style sans shirt. Plus, unlike that horrendous old barn on the Charles River, Wrigley has nice, affordable seats that have good sight lines. The only moment of glory that still rings in Wrigley is that moment in 1932 when the Bambino called his shot. So without a dose of Yankee glory (perhaps re-ignited this year by that great Yankee, Lou Piniella), Wrigley would be a lovely haunted house. Still, it's a wonderful place. Let's play two! Save Ferris!

Name: Brad Beckett
Hometown: Ft. Thomas, KY

Robert Johnson may well be the most influential blues artist of all time but to suggest there would be no rock & roll without him is ludicrous. Robert Johnson's records were out of print from the late 30s until 1961 when Columbia issued King of the Delta Blues Singers, just in time to influence the people mentioned by Jim, the second wave of rock performers. The suggestion that the rhythm and blues that Elvis grew up on would be substantially different without the influence (virtually nonexistent) of Robert Johnson's solo acoustic blues is unwarranted.

Put me in the J. Geils column.

Credit Smokey Robinson, who wrote "First I Look at the Purse," which I'm sure Pierce used because of the J. Geils version.

Siva adds: Johnson was largely shunned by the Son House school of Delta Blues artists. House's protégé, Muddy Waters, deserves much more credit within the mainstream lineage of rhythm and blues. House and Johnson were rivals of a sort. For more on this, check out contrasting versions of "Walking Blues," which House called "My Black Mama" and Waters called "Country Blues." You can also check out an amazing and informative interview with a very young Waters done on his porch in Mississippi by Allan Lomax in my first book, Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (NYU Press, 2001).

Name: Steve Thorne
Hometown: Wouldn't You Like to Know

I hereby submit my name for Director of Central Intelligence in the Bateman Administration. I will not say why, of course, nor should you ask. I know why and that's all that matters.

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