Hitchens and I did a Bloggingheads.tv yesterday on the question, as I posed it, of "Why Christopher Hitchens Has Been Wrong About Pretty Much Everything For the Past Few Years," or something like that. You can find it here. And my President's Lecture at Queensborough College entitled "Liberty and the News" is tomorrow afternoon, and you can find info about that here.
CNN has been running a package about James T. Harris, a black supporter of John McCain who spoke strongly against Obama at a recent rally, and even exchanged hugs with McCain. It's called "McCain Supporter Under Fire" -- but the story never makes clear who is putting Harris under fire, nor what they said. There are no Obama campaign workers cited, nor surrogates, nor any reaction at the rally. The only "fire" comes from Twitter and Facebook messages that producers got from random alleged Obama supporters and read on the air.
During his rally appearance, Harris did say that he's gotten an "ass-whooping" for supporting McCain, but of course that's a potentially self-serving political narrative that CNN doesn't check, but enforces with random Internet communications. Harris, by the way, is a well-known conservative talk radio host in Wisconsin. How did Harris conveniently end up with a front row seat and a microphone? He says: "I just ended up being in this place through a series of events," and added "I am not a shill."
Matt Drudge is already hyping the slim prospect of a McCain comeback, regardless of the fact the polls don't support it. Fox News was doing the same on Monday night. Mark Halperin buys into this -- as noted below, he automatically labeled today's speech McCain's "comeback." (He also featured the Adam Nagourney article discussed below prominently at The Page). Other mainstream journalists are finding the c-word, too: Mike Allen at Politico has a story headlined "McCain debuts comeback speech."
Indictments and comebacks are what a political campaign hopes to create, but that does not make them real.
George Zornick writes: For much of the Columbus Day holiday, Mark Halperin had this as a prominent headline at The Page: "McCain Indicts Bush in Comeback Speech." The cited indictment was this: "We cannot spend the next four years as we have spent much of the last eight: waiting for our luck to change."
That's some indictment. Just because a campaign says it's an indictment, or this, or that -- it doesn't make it so.
Adam Nagourney has a contrarian analysis piece in The New York Times, listing all the reasons he believes the presidential race is not over. He writes: "Campaigns have rhythms, and inevitably swing back and forth for all kinds of reasons, including mistakes by candidates (think Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants) and the news media's desire for a competitive race and tendency to find the 'underdog is surging' story line irresistible. The pendulum theory is certainly one that Republicans are grabbing onto these days."
After noting the media's desire in this regard, Nagourney typifies it. The story is a compilation of scenarios both obvious and unlikely, i.e., "Still, it is one thing to register to vote; which can often be accomplished by filling out and signing a form provided to you on the street or at your doorstep. It's quite another to get them to come out and vote." So, yes, if the record number of new registrants that the Obama campaign signed up decides not to vote, then Obama is hurt. It goes on, but never engages fundamental facts: polls are opening wider and wider for Obama every time they come out; the list of states McCain must defend to win is very long -- the analysts at fivethirtyeight.com show John McCain with a 5.9 percent chance of winning the Electoral College. Only one candidate in the past 72 years has ever overcome a margin like the one McCain currently faces, as Nagourney's colleague John Harwood notes.
It's true that Obama is not guaranteed to win, but honest assessments of the political landscape right now must tangle with objective facts and not far-flung hypotheticals. Overstating McCain's chance for a comeback, paradoxically, can actually create that reality. Our colleagues at County Fair remind us that MSNBC's Howard Fineman admitted the mainstream media "want[ed] a race" in 2000, and was unwilling to allow the last weeks of the campaign to consist of Al Gore's "triumphant march to the presidency" -- invoking the same pendulum metaphor as Nagourney:
HOWARD FINEMAN: The media pendulum swings, as you were pointing out before, Brian. Bill Clinton can resurface in this campaign in a way that might not necessarily help Al Gore. And Al Gore himself has a tendency to begin -- when he's ahead especially, I think -- talking down to the country like he's the kindergarten teacher talking to the class. I think all those factors are at play right now as Bush has really had probably the best week he's had since his convention speech. And Gore has had his worst.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Howard, I don't know of any kind of conspiratorial trilateral commission-like council meetings in the news media. But you bring up an interesting point. And boy, it does seem true over the years that the news media almost reserve the right to build up and tear down and change their minds and like an underdog. What's that about?
HOWARD FINEMAN: Well, what it's about is the relentless search for news and the relentless search for friction in the story. I don't think the media was going to allow just by its nature the next seven weeks and the last seven or eight weeks of the campaign to be all about Al Gore's relentless triumphant march to the presidency.
We want a race I suppose. If we have a bias of any kind, it's that we like to see a contest, and we like to see it down the end if we can. And I think that's partly the psychology at play here.
Siva Vaidhyanathan had an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday defending the McCain campaign against copyright complaints by the likes of Heart and Foo Fighters.
CNN's John Roberts interviewed "Republican political consultant" Roger Stone, who advanced the oft-repeated conservative smear that Sen. Barack Obama would be "dangerous" as president. Although Roberts said Stone is "famous for running some very, very effective negative campaigns over the course of American political history," he didn't mention Stone's recent efforts, such as the anti-Hillary Clinton 527 group Citizens United Not Timid, which emphasized its acronym on its website and on T-shirts.
McCain Suck-Up Watch: Fred Hiatt joins the crowd that believes John McCain's past statements praising Barack Obama are irrefutable proof that his current smears against Obama are being conducted reluctantly.
Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch.com, who always writes in a personal voice but seldom about himself, has just posted a modestly confessional piece. He had the urge to admit something that journalists really can't write -- after all, their job is to report on the pain of others. He wanted to think aloud about the fact that he found himself depressed, that the great crash of 2008 got to him in ways he didn't expect, and to explain just how that feeling crept up on him and just what he thinks it means. Here's how Engelhardt begins -- with the world he knows:
Among my somewhat over-the-hill crowd -- I'm 64 -- there's one thing friends have said to me repeatedly since the stock market started to tumble, the global economic system began to melt down, and Iceland went from bank haven to bankrupt. They say, "I'm just not looking. I don't want to know." And they're not referring to the world situation, they're talking about their pension plans, or 401(k)s, or IRAs, or whatever they put their money into, so much of which is melting away in plain sight even as Iceland freezes up.
"I've said it myself. Think of it as a pragmatic acknowledgement of reality at an extreme moment, but also as a statement of denial and despair. The point is: Why look? The news is going to be worse than you think, and it's way too late anyway. This is what crosses your mind when the ground under you starts to crumble. Don't look, not yet, not when the life you know, the one you took for granted, is vanishing, and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.
The rest of his piece is an exploration of what happens when learned history suddenly becomes lived history, of the difference between reporting on an event and being reported upon.
Engelhardt ends "My Depression -- or Ours?" on a comparison of a walk he took with his daughter, soon after 9/11, to see what would soon become known as "Ground Zero" and a walk in the same area now. He writes: "Today, on a visit to lower Manhattan, there would be no smoldering fires, no smoke, no raw throats, no gaping holes, no smashed buildings, no ruins, and yet, as you walked those streets, you would almost certainly be strolling among the ruins, amid the shards of American financial, political, and even military superpowerdom. Think of it as Bush's hubris and bin Laden's revenge. You would be facing the results, however unseen, of the real 9/11, which is still taking place in relative slow motion seven years later. It should scare us all.
"Hey, I'm depressed, aren't you?"
Rambling Boy -- Charlie Haden Family & Friends
Charlie Haden gives Bruce Hornsby a run for his money as the world's most versatile musician with a past that stretches from Ornette Coleman through John Coltrane and Keith Jarrett to Ringo Starr. Known to most as a great jazz bassist, not many people know that his early musical career was as a country music artist -- he performed with his parents Carl and Virginia Haden (professionally known as "Uncle Carl" and "Mary Jane") led the self-contained Haden Family, which appeared on every major station in the South and Midwest. Now he's returned to country, and everybody wants to play. Roseanne is here, as is his wife and co-producer Ruth Cameron, all four of his children (the triplets Petra, Rachel and Tanya Haden, their brother Josh Haden), and his son-in-law Jack Black. Also appearing on the album are Elvis Costello, Vince Gill, Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs & the Whites, and Dan Tyminski. If you think it sounds pretty great, you'd be right. More information on the 19-track album is here.
Guitars -- McCoy Tyner
McCoy Tyner, a member of John Coltrane's quartet, has a new album that reaches pretty widely, but not as widely as Charlie Haden -- but with results that are no less engaging, if not quite as interesting. Guitars feature the great Derek Trucks together Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Marc Ribot, and Bela Fleck. It's a mixture of classics and originals -- it's not exactly fusion but neither is it Tyner-esque pure jazz. The more I listen to it, the more I find. The CD also comes with a DVD with three hours of multiple-angle viewings - that is, you can choose from which angle you wish to watch Tyner's performances. It's out on McCoy Tyner Jazz, his own label, although President of the Blue Note Jazz Club also oversaw the project. Blue Note, by the way, is out with a album by a group of label stalwarts in honor of 70 years of Blue Note called Mosaic -- A Celebration of Blue Note Records. More info on Guitars is here, and more info on Mosaic is here.
Jews and American Comics, by Paul Buhle
Will Eisner, Jules Feiffer, Art Spiegelman -- all Jewish cartoonists with a remarkably significant role in creating the American comic art form. Jews and American Comics by Paul Buhle features more than two hundred examples of the work of Jewish comic artists going back a century, along with three essays by Buhle, who traces the roots of the comic strip to 19th century Europe, finding parallels with the history of Yiddish literacy culture. It's out on New Press, and more information is here.
Palin's appearance at the hockey game is a contrived political stunt by the part-owner of the Flyers, Ed Snider, who is a maxed out contributor to McCain. He also contributes to Freedom's Watch, as reported by Keith Olbermann last night on his show. I sent an email to the PR department of my beloved Flyers team and basically ripped them for alienating half (if not more) of their fan base.
Here was their response:
"As you are aware, the Philadelphia Flyers held a contest for the ultimate hockey mom. This is not about politics. This is about recognizing her for bringing attention to the sport of hockey. She has brought more attention to our sport in the past two months and is being recognized for her promoting our sport. Her appearance does not mean we support or do not support her political views."
To which I replied:
"Thank you for replying, I do appreciate it. Can you give me an example of Gov. Palin promoting the NHL? As far as I've heard, she's only promoted herself, as a 'hockey mom.' She hasn't said anything to do with the NHL since being thrust into the spotlight. With Ed Snider's political affiliations coming to light in recent days, this promotion has garnered the appearance of a team endorsement of Mrs. Palin. If you would have celebrated just the winner of the contest, there would be no doubt of the sincerity of the promotion. Now it looks like a political stunt."
The whole thing makes me cringe.
At least I've got the Phillies!
I am submitting this on Friday afternoon, and I predict that the Philly Flyers fans will act like all the other fans of teams from Philly -- rude, crude, and violent. The boos will be loud and go on for at least one minute.
George Zornick writes: That's about right.
I agree with your list of songs that puts one in a good mood except for one glaring error. I would have placed "All Right Now" ahead of "Marcella" instead of the other way around. Other than this obvious mistake on your part I agree completely with your list.
Eric replies: There was no order, bub.
I must say I love your list of cool covers, especially The Clash's version of "I Fought the Law". It has such raw, visceral power.
If I may add a few of my favorites:
The Who, "Summertime Blues"
I put this on a par with the Clash.
Sinead O'Connor, "Nothing Compares 2 U"
Joey Ramone, "What a Wonderful World"
John Entwistle, "Cinnamon Girl"
On the CD release of "Smash Your Head Against the Wall"
Talking Heads, "Take Me to the River"
Please tell Pierce that no matter what, we up here in Canada DON'T EVER WANT DAVID FRUM BACK! Neil Young more than covers for Frum. In fact, we figured he was a twofer, so you get to keep Mark Steyn too.