The look ... of love


This correction appears on today's Times op-ed page:

In some editions of his column on Monday about the presidential forum at Saddleback Church in California, William Kristol said that there seemed to be no basis for charges that John McCain was not in a "cone of silence" during Barack Obama's interview with the Rev. Rick Warren, and could therefore have heard questions posed first to Senator Obama. Senator McCain was in a motorcade for part of Senator Obama's interview. A statement from his campaign said that he "never heard or saw any of Senator Obama's appearance."

Have Arthur Sulzberger and Andy Rosenthal noticed yet that their genius hire always makes his myriad mistakes in the same direction -- the way, say, an informal McCain adviser who had no allegiance to journalistic mores and practices might. I explained all this here, but do they listen? Sad, sad, sad ...

Have you heard that Obama's running mate will be announced soon? You must have, if you've been watching television news, which is going all-out with feverish speculation. Campbell Brown told CNN viewers last night that, for Obama, "the front-runners are Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, and Senator Joe Biden of Delaware." Of course, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza told viewers of MSNBC's Countdown that "I have been told... from pretty reliable sources that have been pretty good in the past that it's down to three names -- Governor Kaine of Virginia, Senator Biden of Delaware, Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas." Candy Crowley speculated on CNN that "Obama would love to put New Mexico in the Democratic column this fall. And Bill Richardson, the governor, standing there with Obama, might be able to deliver it." Molly Henneberg noted on Fox News that Obama mentioned the name of Sen. Sam Nunn over the weekend, so "throw his name into the mix as well." David Shuster told Hardball viewers that "we hear in Washington some very high-profile supporters of Hillary Clinton saying, you know what, if Barack Obama wants to put this thing away, and guarantee his election, he's got to choose Hillary Clinton." But Bill Kristol, on Fox News, says that a Democratic source told him "You can't pick a woman whose first name isn't 'Hillary.' " Oh, and Harry Smith, on CBS' Early Show, said that "Walking the dog last night, friend of mine says, 'Chuck Hagel, Chuck Hagel, Chuck Hagel, Chuck Hagel.' "

There were a few caveats thrown in, by the way -- Cillizza noted vaguely that "there's very few people who know exactly how these things are going to roll out." And Crowley, at the end of her lengthy report, said that "despite all those names out there -- and, repeatedly, we have heard the same names, Campbell -- I am told not to be surprised if we are surprised. So, that's what we know." So, it could be any of the names they discussed. Or none of them. Got it?

The truth is that Harry Smith's fellow dog-walker probably does know about as much as the vaunted "sources" that are being cited everywhere. Nobody but Obama and a few staffers know who it's going to be -- The New York Times reports the prospective vice-president him/herself doesn't even know yet. All this television noise is just that -- noise. By the way, according to Lexis, nowhere on cable or network news last night were the words, for example, "al-Maliki" or "global warming" mentioned.

Editor & Publisher catches The Washington Post's Tom Shales criticizing an HBO documentary about veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas, which he said unfairly ignored Thomas' "stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies." Shales offered no evidence on that point, but went on to say that "other than a passing reference to Thomas's parents as having been Syrian immigrants, the film never hints at Thomas's anti-Israeli rhetoric." So, Syrian heritage equals anti-Israel? If it weren't Arabs we were discussing, that'd be called racism ...

The extent of Shales' "evidence" is this: noting that Thomas asserted that, because of the strong stands taken by Obama and McCain, "the Israelis have no worries about the November election." (As E&P asks, "Is there anyone in the mainstream media or politics who would argue with Thomas on this?") Next: "Especially during the current administration, her 'questions' at press briefings have been more like tirades, on one occasion prompting Tony Snow, the late journalist who was then press secretary, to respond, 'Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view.' " Ah, well, q.e.d. Finally, Shales writes, "Not for nothing was Thomas recently hailed as 'the epitome of journalistic integrity for over 57 years' -- by the Arab- American News." (Again, E&P: "Imagine an Arab American group hailing one of the most prominent Lebanese-Americans.")

The only evidence I could find of even alleged anti-Semitic comments by Thomas, albeit conducted briefly over Google, was a year-old NewsBusters link slamming Thomas for saying of Jimmy Carter's book Peace Not Apartheid, and Carter's criticism of AIPAC, that "I think that the fact that it's starting up is good. Good. People should hear both sides of the story," and that "I don't think the Palestinian side has ever been told in a way that people might accept it. So I think he's done a good thing.... It's open for debate, and I think he started a good trend." The only other even remotely relevant item I found was a quote from none other than Ann Coulter, referring to Thomas as an "old Arab." If Shales doesn't want to be too closely associated with that kind of rabid, baseless smear, he might want to either strengthen his evidence or retract his charges.

Rosanne is sick of people using her dad to support their political positions and asks that they stop. (He did oppose the invasion of Iraq, though.)

Tim Bella at ProPublica has taken up the story of Aafia Siddiqui, the woman who we noted last week is kinda-in-the-news for either being an imminent New York City suicide bomber, "the most significant capture in the past five years," with connections to the 9-11 architects -- or, rather, an MIT grad who spent years in secret captivity at Bagram and Guantanamo after being "disappeared" by the Pakistani government at the behest of the United States.

The story concerns itself with a key question: "Where has Siddiqui been for the past five years?" The story reveals that Siddiqui has told her lawyers she was at Bagram for this time, "and she was held in American custody; her treatment was horrendous." Also:

Joanne Mariner, director of terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch, speculated that Siddiqui may be a detainee known as "Prisoner 650" or the "Gray Lady of Bagram" -- allegedly the only female prisoner at Bagram.

"Obviously, this is a rare occurrence," Mariner said. Siddiqui "was the only woman on our list of disappeared people. Just the fact that this was a Pakistani woman suggests that this is Siddiqui. It's not proof, but it raises the possibility."

Notably, the government hasn't actually even filed charges against Siddiqui for any of the terrorism-related things that it publicly alleges; and it claims she only came into U.S. custody last month. ProPublica is saying they've placed calls to Bagram and Pakistan's Interior Secretary, and will stay on the story, so I'd stay tuned to that site. Whatever Siddiqui is - dangerous threat or victim of a horrid abuse of justice - the U.S. media still isn't paying much attention.

George Zornick writes: Michael Tomasky has started up a blog at the Guardian, here, and it's worth regular checking. On the matter of Swift-Boater Jerome Corsi, now out with The Obama Nation book, he writes:

I've done a few posts now about scumbag author Jerome Corsi, so it occurs to me that I should devote some attention to his respectable counterparts who've written books on McCain.

There are three: The Real McCain, by Cliff Schecter; Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, by David Brock and Paul Waldman; and McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, by Matt Welch. All three were reviewed positively by this particularly sagacious critic in The New York Review of Books not long ago (all right, it was me).

I would recommend all three books and Tomasky's article. Last week, I wrote that Obama (and public discourse) still kind of lose in this situation, even if Corsi is successfully rebutted. His goal isn't really to convince people that Obama did cocaine in the Senate, but just to have that be a topic of discussion in the first place.

So what's the solution then? Well, as I said, battling Corsi's obvious falsehoods is still the best of available options. Besides that, though... I'm not sure what one would do to stop it, other than hope for a rapid evolution of America's (and the media's) sensibilities. There are these anti-McCain books, but they don't get as much play -- as Tomasky writes, that's "because of the very fact that they're more serious. If they accused McCain of beating his first wife or something salacious and unprovable (and un-unprovable by McCain himself, which is the stock-in-trade of right-wing 'books'), they'd have been all over cable tv." But that's ultimately, of course, a worse option, not a better one. So, sit back and take it, I suppose ...

(Tomasky also notes one can get these three books on McCain through the Progressive Book Club, where, I must add, Why We're Liberals is also available...)

Eric adds:

I saw this silly post appeared under Tomasky's name on the blog, and thought we might have a mini-Altercation symposium. Nobody took my position, however. In fact, Siva begins by mocking it. Ahh well, at these prices ...

Tomasky writes:

Rawls: wrong on baseball

The egghead-baseball connection, a long established fact of life in America, is renewed and deepened with the publication in The Boston Review of a letter John Rawls wrote to a friend in 1981 offering a six-point exegesis (the points were actually another's friends, and he was passing them along in obvious assent) on the superiority of baseball to all other sports.

It's been a long time since I've read Rawls. He's usually called America's greatest philosopher, and I have no quibble with that, although I do remember thinking back when I used to give these questions more thought than I do now that some of his theoretical notions had proven problematic in political practice (surely through no fault of his, I should note).

But he's wrong wrong wrong here. Football is superior. By which I mean American football, about which you'll be hearing a fair amount from me come the fall. For example, Rawls's first rule claims some special equilibrium for the baseball field (pitch, you would say). One hears this from intellectual defenders of baseball all the time; the "beautiful symmetry" of the diamond and so on. But a football field, and the arrangement of the players on it, is no less in equilibrium to my eye. Nor basketball players on a court. Nor soccer players on a pitch, I suppose, although that's a sport I don't really follow except to support my good friend in London who loves the struggling (last I checked) Spurs.

At any rate, the first Saturday of the college football season is a mere 16 days away. Stay tuned -- like it or not!

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes:

In reviewing John Rawls' letter about baseball and Michael Tomasky's response anointing football to be superior I would only add that this is a dumb argument. It's like arguing that broccoli is superior to asparagus ... or something else just as silly.

Like most Americans, I love both these sports. I also love basketball, hockey, soccer, and tennis. And my life is richer for all of it. Baseball and football barely compete for our attention -- at most eight weeks, yet only on weekends. The essence of America can be defined and described by its invention and embrace of its native games: football, baseball, and basketball. Well, I should probably add lacrosse only because it predates the European invasion and subsequent genocide of the original Americans. But now lacrosse is almost exclusively played by rich white kids at elite high schools and colleges. So it can't capture the spirit or interest of the greater nation (them's fightin' words here in the ACC, BTW).

Among the few things I dislike about baseball is the Ken Burns/George Will/Stephen J. Gould position that baseball is somehow the "thinking person's sport." Please. That whole intellectual/baseball connection is silly and wrong. Only people who have never tried to figure out the triangle offense or somehow think that the double switch requires complex math believe that.

When highbrows talk baseball as if it's their domain, I just gag. Look, this is a game in which doofuses like Ty Cobb excelled beyond belief and goons like John Rocker earned a decent living. I mean really. Baseball is the domain of savants like Ted Williams and polymaths like Alex Rodriguez. But it ain't poetic. It ain't complicated. It ain't elite. It ain't rocket science, even to the Rocket.

All kinds of folks can talk together for hours about baseball and football. I remember back in the early 1990s I went to a lunch event at the University of Buffalo. I sat next to one of the vice presidents of the university and discussed the injury situation afflicting the Bills' secondary. The next day I was riding a subway to downtown Buffalo and had the same conversation with a mentally retarded man on the train. That's what's so cool about sports. American sports tend to be democratic in the Whitmanesque sense. And that's why Rawls is so wrong.

This is a big, noisy world. And it's a big, noisy country. And that's OK. William James (who was actually America's greatest philosopher, in the sense that he defined the philosophical position -- pragmatism -- that would actually infuse American culture with a vocabulary and a method) would take strong issue with Rawls' abandonment of his professed respect for pluralism.

Rawls wrote in A Theory of Justice (1971): "... no particular interpretation of religious truth can be acknowledged as binding upon citizens generally; nor can it be agreed that there should be one authority with the right to settle questions of theological doctrine."

That includes, I would add, the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. A Theory of Justice is Rawls' gift to us. And reading it sincerely would dissuade anyone of such claims as to the superiority of baseball over any other theology.

Rawls wrote his tome as the first serious, sustained correction to the dominant Anglo-American political-philosophical position of utilitarianism. We should be grateful to Rawls for his attempt to undermine utilitarianism and replace it with a rigorous yet non-theistic theory of rights-based justice. Alas, Rawls failed all the way around. Utlitarianism rules. Still, Rawls is a great argument starter, in life as he is in death.

In the aforementioned letter about baseball, Rawls' points about the exclusive virtues of baseball are in serious error.

  • Baseball fields are not expressions of geographic equilibrium as a rule, especially in Rawls' home town of Boston, for heaven's sake! Maybe in Oakland, but not in a real baseball park!
  • Baseball does not afford a role for a broader array of physical "types" than football does, as an examination of the long and successful careers of kicker Tom Dempsey or Rawls' homeboy Doug Flutie would attest.
  • Baseball does not have a monopoly on "all parts of the body" or "all kinds of strategies." One never intentionally applies foot to ball in baseball as one does in hockey, soccer, or football. And soccer players use their hands all the time. They use their whole bodies when they flop to draw a yellow card on an opponent. How about that?
  • In Boston, "all parts of the game" are not open to view, as Rawls attests. Every third seat at Fenway has an obstructed view. Where was this Harvard guy watching baseball? Oakland?
  • Baseball is not the "only game in which the scoring is not done with the ball." Cricket, my dear dead philosopher, has the same feature -- yet no one would argue that this is a virtue that raises cricket to the top of any list of distractions. Rawls anticipated my invocation of cricket in the next stanza of the letter, so I am not sure why he retains this on the list.
  • The time thing is great. Baseball has no clock (neither does cricket, although it needs one desperately). But this does not make baseball better than a timed sport. It just makes baseball baseball. It's great on its own, sans comparison.

George Carlin, surely America's third or fourth greatest philosopher, has much more intelligent things to say about both sports. America is the land of diamonds and gridirons. And it's better for it.

The great Charles Pierce writes:

Doc --

I tend to side with Siv, although I suspect that his opinion might be different if Joba's arm hadn't turned to spaghetti a couple of weeks ago. (And, anyway, I'm fencing-giddy right now after the tremendous performance by our lads 'n lassies in Beijing. USA! USA!) I'm loath to compare sports and why I watch them, but it should be noted that, by any reasonable measure, American football is the national pastime. It engages passionate interest at all levels of the game. There are high-school games that draw 40,000 people. When was the last time you saw a high-school baseball game? It rises spontaneously from the communities in which it is played - be that high school (Midland, Texas) , college (LSU) , or pro (Green Bay) -- whereas baseball has been generally imposed upon communities since the demise of the town teams and the industrial leagues 50 years ago. Baseball is an entertainment. In most places, football is something more.

From TomDispatch:

It was a dream of a media story. Bruce Ivins, an anthrax specialist working in a U.S. military bio-war lab, commits suicide by Tylenol and the FBI promptly accuses him of being the anthrax killer of 2001. What a field day the media had -- the questions, the doubts, the disputed scientific evidence, the lurid quotes, the "rat's nest" of an anthrax-contaminated military lab he worked in, the strange emails he sent!

You would never have known that these attacks -- the only actual WMD attacks on American soil in 2001 (or any other time) -- had long fallen off the American radar screen. Once it became clear in late 2001 that the anthrax in the attacks had come not out of Baghdad or the backlands of Afghanistan, but from the U.S. Army weapons labs, there would -- unlike 9/11 -- be no ritualistic reminders of the anniversaries of those attacks. No victims, or survivors would step to podiums and ring bells, or read names, or offer encomiums. There would be no billion-dollar (or even million-dollar) memorial to the anthrax dead for the survivors to argue over. There would be little but silence, while the FBI fumbled its misbegotten way through an endless investigative process.

As Tom Engelhardt read through reams of recent coverage, however, a few questions came to his mind on matters that are so much a part of our American landscape that normally no one even thinks to ask about them -- and in his latest post at, he considers six of them, including why the Bush administration didn't apply it's own modus operandi in the President's Global War on Terror to the case.

He writes, in part, for instance: "Whatever the pressure on Ivins or [Steven] Hatfill [another suspect], neither was kidnapped off a street near his house, stripped of his clothes, diapered, blindfolded, shackled, drugged, and 'rendered' to the prisons of another country, possibly to be subjected to electric shocks or cut by scalpel by the torturers of a foreign regime. Even though each of the suspects in the anthrax murders was, at some point, believed to have been a terrorist who had committed a heinous crime with a weapon of mass destruction, none were ever declared 'enemy combatants.' None were ever imprisoned without charges, or much hope of trial or release, in off-shore, secret, CIA-run 'black sites.' "

He also considers why Army special ops teams and CIA "death squads" were not called in, given the reigning paradigm of the Bush years: Police work was not enough when the homeland was threatened. He explores why the FBI and the media both took as blanket fact that, in the Anthrax case, there could only be a lone killer, no accomplices, no "sleeper cells" in sight; why the military labs, and the history of their essential Cold War work producing bio-weapons, has played such a non-role in this story; whether the anthrax attacks were really less important than the attacks of 9/11; and finally whether "the terrorists" -- especially the anthrax killer or killers -- have so far triumphed in the Global War on Terror.

Alter-review concert roundup:

Last Wednesday, I made the traffic-filled trek from the deepest reaches of the East End to Jones Beach to partake in one of humankind's greatest rituals: a joint Ratdog/Allman Brothers Band Concert in the open air. It had all of the trappings of a Dead show, which, if you don't put yourself in the place of the parents of one of these largely unbathed kids hanging around in the parking lot, is tons of fun. People give each other "miracle" tickets without even asking for a nickel. They get hugs and kisses and sometimes a veggie burrito -- and who knows what else -- instead. Everybody is as nice to everybody else as any place I've ever been.

The Ratdog part of the show was more subdued than usual. Though the Dead did any number of odd shows at odd times in odd places, one gets the distinct feeling that starting strictly at 7:00 was not the usual thing for Bobby and the boys and it took them a while to get warmed up. The set list was eclectic and the jams lengthy, which meant that even with a nearly two hour show, you didn't hear that many songs. Some took off. Some stood still. I still enjoy hearing Bob sing "Jerry" songs but there were fewer of these than usual. For me the highlight was a slow, sultry "Knocking on Heaven's Door," and a rocking "Slip/Frank" to close, which felt like they were just getting started, alas. Had it been anyone else but the Allmans in the on-deck circle, this would have felt like a tragedy, but you know, I'll be dead and in my grave before you hear me complain about these guys onstage. I was concerned beforehand, regarding Greg's illness that forced the cancellation of this year's Beacon run, but they were in fine form, as great as they have ever been in any ABB lineup, as great as Duane may have been and as much as I miss Dickey's mellifluous playing and soothing voice. The closer was a wonderful "One Way Out," which smoked sufficiently to confirm its place as the song to follow "Jungleland" when they lay yours truly to rest.

Ratdog came on at 7:00 and the Allmans ended just before midnight. There's only one value in music that can compete with this, and well, he played just across the river a couple of weeks ago and so it's been a helluva summer. (I see that if we all stayed over for the weekend in Denver, we could see this show at Red Rocks. How great would that be?)

Back in the city for a night after the Ratdog/Allmans show, the kid and I took a "blues cruise" on the Hudson with Raul Malo. Raul is operating right now at close to the highest level of talent/lowest level of fame vector I can think of. He's got a magnificent voice, and unique sense of rhythm, and a real ability to rock a room -- or a boat, even one that's floating around in storm where (virtually) nobody can see him and the sound system is still not so hot -- and he can still rock the house with a "Gunatanamera/Twist and Shout " and get this -- we were getting rained on. Dancing in the rain on the Hudson to Raul Malo (with the kid, I might add). How are things in your city? Seriously, it's probably a better show on dry land, but you can't have a bad time with this (genuine) maverick. Go see him if you get the chance.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Steve Thorne
Hometown: Somewhere in California

As the presumptive DCI appointee in the Bateman/Pierce administration, let me disclose my opinion on the "surge" with respect to al-Sadr's militia:

Our troops were clobbering his militia in the field and killing them by the score. He declared a cease fire in order for his militia to reorganize, retrain and recover. Instead of continuing to clobber his militia until it was destroyed as a military force, as we should have done, we instead declared the surge a success.

There were probably secret pay-offs or power deals made as well, but the presence of al-Sadr and his merry men on the Iraqi political scene continues to be worrisome. When it benefits al-Sadr, he will unleash his militia again. They will much harder to deal with the next time around, especially if rumors about their being trained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards are true. I hope our company and battalion level commanders near al-Sadr controlled areas have contingency plans for that day. I would like those plans to be packed up with the rest of the gear and brought home as soon as we can safely do so.

Name: USinLondon
Hometown: London

An additional response to your query, "What reporters, and what phone records?"

Not long after the initial stories of domestic spying came to light, there were insinuations (quickly hushed up) that Christiane Amanpour's phone might have been tapped. Of course, the fact that her husband is Jamie Rubin and was an advisor to John Kerry's campaign ... well, I'm sure that was just a coinkidink.

Name: J DAlessandro
Hometown: Crestwood, NY

I take your message on the consummate awfulness of a neocon like Ledeen, but "spaghetti with butter sauce and water"? Sounds like the Evil-doers are the recipients of retribution in this world after all.

Name: Bill Dunlap
Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Hi, Eric:

Danny Goldberg's piece on Jerry Wexler was great stuff. I had a brief encounter with Wexler that reinforced all the good things Danny had to say.

I did a radio show with Chuck Berry in about 1980 in which Mr. Berry said he'd love to do some big band versions of his greatest hits, because he always liked the role of the guitarist in those bands, "comping chords," as he put it. I tried to pursue it on his behalf, without any resources to make it happen. His attorney, Bill Krasilovsky, put me in touch with John Hammond, who was running a little independent label then, and one of them got Jerry Wexler to meet with me about the project.

Jerry had an apartment on Park Ave. in New York then and he was a gracious host to a guy who, he must have known, was on a fool's mission. He treated me seriously, got me in touch with Pee Wee Ellis (Van Morrison's musical director at the time) to pull the band together, and was totally encouraging. I think I won him over when he asked me what kind of band I envisioned behind Chuck. Without any pandering I told him what I truly believed - something like the old Ray Charles big band, with Fathead Newman and all.

Even though the session never came together, I'll always remember that Jerry dealt with me seriously and only encouraged me to pursue the project.

Name: Ken Castro
Hometown: Los Angeles, Left Coast

RE: Kurt Weldon's posting mentioning Robert Hillburn of the LA Times, wherein he posts "...which is why I stopped reading anything by Robert Hillburn". Yes, Hillburn had/has an obsession about U2 and Springsteen. I'll never forget his other obsession about Duran Duran, comparing them to the Beatles ..... Duran Duran(!), gimme a friggin' break....

No one reads the MSM for cutting insight into the music scene anyway ...

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Ewa Beach, HI

Dr. A,

I understand your point about the MSM deemphasizing Iraq, but c'mon man, give us swimmers a little love. We only get noticed for one week every four years. Prior to Superman, er... Michael Phelps, the only two swimmers to break out of the Olympic sports ghetto in the MSM are Mark Spitz and Amanda Beard (and she's noticed mostly for modeling and taking her clothes off).

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.