Slacker Friday plus


There’s a new Think Again column about efforts to buy friendly media coverage and an assessment of the SOTU coverage in my new Nation column.

And in today's IPF Friday, MJ Rosenberg describes the horrors Palestinians -- and Israeli soldiers, too -- are subjected to in Hebron, West Bank.  You may think you've heard it all. .

And as our man Boehlert notes...  It's clear the White House, which consistently curbs access to real journalists, the credential rules for a  partisan hack.

"The job is to ask questions -it always was- and to ask them as inexorably as I can.  And to face the absence of precise answers with a certain humility."  We've lost .

Now here’s The Man:

Name: Charles Pierce
Dateline: Cleveland, OH
Hey Doc:
I think, just for laughs, and in keeping with what apparently are the new procedures for credentialing the White House press corps, I will call and request to attend the next press conference as I.M. Hacksworthy, Real American Newsman.  I mean, good God, this baldheaded galoot apparently would've gotten into the White House if he showed up in a wimple and calling himself Mother Superior.  It's harder to get into the press box at Fenway.

And, talking about nuns manque, we come again to the Dolphin Queen...

As a formerly lapsed Catholic, I've always been of two minds concerning John Paul II.  On the one hand, he is a towering figure of history.  (Peggy, my lass, HE'S the guy who won the Cold War, if any one man in the 1980's did.)  On the other hand, he's a profoundly reactionary cleric who's sent the Church spinning backwards on a number of important issues who, as his pontificate lengthened, attached it far too tightly to Catholicism's loopier authoritarian fringes.  If the founder of Opus Dei is a saint, then I'm Martin de Porres.

Now, though, in what are obviously his final days, John Paul II is being used as a talking point.  His acceptance of his suffering is to be a lesson to us, to be an act of witness.  And what shall we learn?  Well, that the church's position on most of the important medico-legal issues is correct.  Opposition to, say, stem-cell research is correct, because John Paul has been so accepting of his Parkinson's.  Some of this is coming from Michael Novak, who has spent several decades convincing America that Christ was a bond-trader.  Now, inevitably, it has been picked up by la Noonan, who is the person Bernadette Soubirous would have been, had Our Lady ever appeared at The Palm.

There are more than a few fundamentalist ethicists who believe that those God made sick, man must not make well.  Many of them are the people C-Plus Augustus listens to on matters of medical ethics.  This is the kind of retrograde nonsense that drove me away from the Church in the first place.  (God, to Whom I speak regularly, did not want my father to get Alzheimer's and pull out his own teeth with his fingers because they hurt him.)  Coincidentally, it is what a great number of those parents told their children about what Father was doing to the kids in the back of the confessional.  God does not make men evil.  He does not make men sick.  He does not cause them to suffer to make a f**king point to the rest of us.  He has a son for that.

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to challenge Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to a duel.  Well, I didn't, Judge Royce Lamberth did earlier this week in the Indian Trust lawsuit.  Lamberth is no liberal judge.  He was appointed by Ronald Reagan, made major rulings against Bill Clinton in Whitewater and has recently upheld the army in a dispute over the "backdoor draft."  And he's just issued the most stinging attack on the Executive Branch in recent memory.  The background: Judge Lamberth had previously ordered the government to stop negotiating sales of land rights owned by Native Americans (but administered by the government) with individual Indians because they weren't giving notice about the ongoing litigation (which logically would drive-up the prices).  In response some in the department (which by-now despises Lamberth) retaliated by stopping all royalty payments.  When this came to the Judge's attention, lawyers from the Department of Justice swore that a mistake had been made and it would immediately rectified.  It wasn't.  The upshot:

The idea that Interior would either instruct or allow BIA to withhold trust payments, and then to stonewall the Indians who dared to ask why, is an obscenity that harkens back to the darkest days of United States-Indian relations.  But this idea, no matter how profane and repugnant to the foundational principles of our government, is amply supported in the record by evidence that remains uncontested by any factual proffer from Interior.  The Court is offended that the individuals responsible for these acts would cite the Court's Orders as justification; but the perniciousness and irresponsibility demonstrated by blaming the Court pales in comparison to the utter depravity and moral turpitude displayed by these individuals' willingness to withhold needed finances from people struggling to survive and support families on subsistence incomes. These actions, whether Interior ordered them taken or merely turned a blind eye and allowed them to occur, are a testament to the startling inhumanity of government bureaucracy.

Interior argued that they had been unfairly impugned.  So Lamberth challenged Gale Norton to personally come to court to offer a rebuttal.  She has about a week left to accept the challenge.  The lawsuit itself has had its ups and downs, mostly thanks to some depravity of the legislative branch.  More to come.

Altercation Book Club Returns: Siva and Eric R. discuss Robert Conquest's Dragons of Expectation.

Eric begins:
Dear Siva,
Robert Conquest's new Dragons of Expectation slashes so deftly at righteous fanatics in politics, sanguine warriors lacking sanguinary experience, and happy-go-lucky followers of continental philosophies that the modern Republican Party must surely crumble in an instant.  Here is Conquest on his chief area of expertise, the Cold War: "the true heroes of the long argument were not so much the committed anti-Communist or 'patriotic' conservatives. They were of course right.... [b]ut much of the heat of the battle was borne by those within the liberal intelligentsia who not only were not deceived [by Communist lies] but fought for the truth over years of slander and discouragement." (20) On the Republicans' eminent anticommunist scourge:  "Senator Joseph McCarthy disgraced and distorted the real and legitimate public concern." (158) On Norquistish government-drowners: "Nor is an abstract 'libertarian' principle of much use in real life.... a political order of a consensual type depends on the maintenance of a strong mediating state...." (29)  On the spreading of democracy abroad:  "Democracy in any Western sense is not easily constructed or imposed," (27) and again: "The world that Americans, and other Westerners full of goodwill, want to mount and ride, feed and pat, is not a sweet-tempered little pony but a huge vile-tempered mule." (57) Here he is, in fact, on mere "democracy" without, say, habeas corpus:

So we are told to regard more or less uncritically the legitimacy of any regime in which a majority has thus won an election. But 'democracy' did not develop or become viable in the West until quite a time after a law-and-liberty polity had emerged.  Habeas corpus, the jury system, the rule of law were not the products of 'democracy' but of a long effort, from medieval times, to curb the power of the English executive.  And democracy can only be seen in any positive or laudable sense if it emerges from and is an aspect of the law-and-liberty tradition." (26)

And here he is on the weak-kneed punditocracy: "All the major troubles we have had in the last half-century have been caused by people who have let politics become a mania." (29) He thrusts at regimes sustained by insistence on unreality, creating a "nonempirical clerisy" to affirm them, and declares they cannot last. (43) If I were allowed in the Halls of the Shrill, I would say that Conquest has become One.

Except, I'm about 51 percent sure he doesn't know that he has. Which is to say, I didn't catch Conquest picking on, by name, anyone on what we presently identify, Conquest would say incorrectly, as the conservative side of the political spectrum. Indeed, through the first third of the book he doesn't identify anyone specific as being the object of these barbs.  It is a puzzling experience.  Later we find out that he doesn't like the bureaucracy-for-its-own-sake aspect of the European Union; nor the metastasizing Tate Galleries (it used to be "the Tate"; now it has shed its definite article and become "Tate Britain," along with "Tate Modern," and at least one other, in St. Ives) and their influence on art; or capital-T Theory in the humanities (Theory, Conquest says, is "not an intellectual but a psychological phenomenon." (53) Discuss.).  But such opinions have been comfortably voiced by people usually identified as being on the left, principally by Gore Vidal, who has relentlessly eviscerated French theory before, during, and since Foucauldianism.

I think the problem in this book is that Conquest is an English Conservative, a Tory, a real-live Burkean with respect for tradition, particularly traditions of liberty. This is not at all consonant with being an American conservative, as Niall Ferguson recently pointed out in the Atlantic Monthly. (.)

Which I think is why there are odd omissions in the book.  Conquest is a liberty-loving conservative, not too keen on interest-group politics, and someone who Was Not Fooled by the Soviet Union.  This, it appears, led him to support Reagan and Thatcher and to have little in common (he thinks) with the Democratic Party of today.  He is very keen on the notion that left and right totalitarianisms overlap, and alike threaten liberty.  He repeatedly credits this observation to Bulgarian dissident and leader Zhelyu Zhelev, who (I say in all ignorance) may be an exemplary and insightful philosopher: but lots of us know the notion from Hannah Arendt (see e.g. ) -- who, of course, is bound up with Heidegger ("ugh!" says Robert Conquest) and the mainstream continental European tradition -- and "do the United States and the United Kingdom have anything much to learn from European political or politico-academic theories and practices of the last three hundred years?  I think not." (37)

There's more to say, including taking up the status of Conquest's linking of radical Islamism with the ivory-tower left ( and ), which though an ill-put aside in his book may be worth some discussion.  But you should have a go, first.

Dear Left-Coast Eric:
Thank you for serving up for me the chance to slam Conquest's most absurd and ill-informed statement.  As you point out, the good folks over at Crooked Timber have already handled it quite well.  Conquest actually claims that people in our vocation have poisoned the intellectual well with fashionable nihilism to the extent that everyone who drinks from it -- Mohammed Atta among them -- could stoop to the most heinous of acts.

Conquest lists several bloody terrorist groups -- including Al Queda -- and reminds us that some members went "to Western universities and there adopted the extreme anti-Western mindset."  Of course, the fact that some of the September 11 terrorists were engineers and accountants, not linguists or anthropologists, does not appear, lest it complicate the grand generalization that indicts us all.  At another point, he invokes the fact that the Taliban were largely recruited from schools -- which seems like a pretty mundane point when you consider that "talib" means student in Arabic.  The nature of those schools is the problem, and I guarantee they ain't reading in the Karachi Madrassas.

Conquest has a quaint and dated vision of the world, one reinforced by his isolation in that most ivory of towers, the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.  He actually believes that "our world can, roughly speaking, be divided into the civilized, the semi-civilized, and the uncivilized."  Yet he keeps his lists private, so we don't get to fight over which George W. Bush's America should be on.  Conquest does not even list the attributes of "civilization," so we must assume that he assumes that we all agree on them.  How about decent health care?  A dependable rail system?  An enforced prohibition against torture?  If we can make up our own list, I am afraid that his native land of England (two of those three) and his adopted home of the United States (zero-for-three) might not quite qualify for civilization any more.  I doubt that was his intention.

Ultimately, Conquest's dragons are extinct.  Like most dragons, they are actually exaggerations and caricatures of lesser beasts. Chief among his dragons are the "English Department philosophers" who hailed from Continental Europe (even if several of them were born in Africa): Georg Hegel, Martin Heideggar, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacque Derrida, and Michel Foucault.  The French stand for special disdain.  His dismissal of French intellectuals is so devoid of subtlety or balanced analysis that at one point he even sinks to -- not kidding -- declaring that some of his best friends are French.

But Conquest never invokes Continental thinkers of recent vintage who might share some (though certainly not most) of his values.  He asks and answers, "But do the United States and the United Kingdom have anything much to learn from the European political or politico-academic theories and practices of the last three hundred years? I think not."  I think so.  Jurgen Habermas has much to teach us about rationality and republicanism (and recovery).  Pierre Bourdieu showed us how to examine the most fascinating workings of society: how it can change mightily while seeming to remain moored to identifiable cultural foundations.  France and Germany, let alone Continental Europe at large, were never monolithic in their intellectual cultures.  But they were never boring either.  Neither Habermas nor Bourdieu are as easy to dismiss as Mssrs. Derrida and Foucault, both of whom have faded from the canon of essential theorists faster than they arrived.  Neither Derrida nor Foucault ever had as much influence as conservative critics protested (and secretly hoped) that they did.  Now, I hardly feel them.  I don't miss them either.

Conquest values the Enlightenment.  Fair enough.  But he decides to invoke simplistic and presentist false distinction between the "English" and "Continental" Enlightenments.  He ignores the most interesting and persuasive recent accounts of Enlightenment thought, and .

As intellectual history, Conquest only offers comic-book level stuff.  He ignores the fact that in Europe everyone reads everyone, that Condorcet needed Adam Smith (William James needed them both) and John Locke needed Immanuel Kant (Thomas Jefferson needed them both), and that ideas have flowed rather easily across borders in Europe since the age of that original Afro-European public intellectual, St. Augustine of Hippo.  That's what's interesting and important about intellectual history: influence, nuance, and revision.  Instead, Conquest, like a common blogger, lurches toward conflict, confrontation, and criticism.  It's shallow on analysis, long on sneers and dismissals.  It's lazy.  It's unbecoming of a historian of Conquest's stature.

The middle section of the book seems sewn together from bits and pieces of short essays on Soviet history.  They seem to have little relevance to the rest of the book.  The book as a whole has few sections that could qualify as extended or even complete arguments. It's as if he were composing a blog for the past decade and simply printed out all the entries and pasted them together in roughly thematic order -- very roughly.

I hope that some day we both will be considered such esteemed and venerated scholars that we may produce a book such as this: messy, undisciplined, devoid of a clear thesis, under-documented, filled with curious and unsubstantiated gestures, and weighed down by sentences in the passive voice.  This book has many grains of insight.  But they are few and far between.  Mostly, it's kind of sad.  It should have appeared around 1994, when Conquest's contemporary dragons still roamed the Earth and he could look back at the Cold War and bellow at the top of his lungs (with much justification), "I TOLD YOU SO."

My dismissive tone in this brief review (not unlike that Conquest employs in his book) is only appropriate for this medium.  But it also obscures the deep disappointment I feel after reading this book.  Conquest is a reasonable conservative, and a wise and knowledgeable one.  He consistently and appropriately appeals to the real: to the record.  He eschews grand theories of all persuasions (although, as you point out, he only names theorists on the alleged left as his targets).  He has no patience for the shallow.  Yet in this book he offers no depth at all.  Worst of all for us -- at a time when we need it very badly -- he offers no wisdom.

Some Random Notes for Slacker Friday

The same week that The New York Times offered us a weak (is there any other kind?) as an explanation for species development and variation, Nick Lemann in the New Yorker Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller explaining the extent of his plans to pander to the Christian right: "Portraying conservatives fairly does not mean equal time for creationism."  Hmmmm.  Bad timing, Bill.  You went way beyond equal time.

By the way, why would an intelligent designer design cancer?  Discuss.

Speaking of the SCLM, everyone should check out in Rolling Stone by my pal Eric Klinenberg (I have even more friends named Eric yet to be publicized).  It's an in-depth portrait of the minds behind Sinclair Broadcasting.  Klinenberg is a brilliant sociologist at NYU who wrote the award-winning book , about his sweet home, Chicago.


Unspinning unemployment

I am staying in the St. Regis in Aspen for the HBO Festival of Comedy Arts, where I will be appearing on a panel on punditry with Joe Scarborough, Joe Lockhart, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Garafolo on Saturday morning.  I will also be doing a signing of and at the Explore Bookstore at noon on Saturday.  It’s a really great place to be, even if you don’t bother with the slopes.  If you stayed up till 1:30 last night—3:30 New York time—you could have seen Sara Silverman and the Silvermen and some of the least tasteful jokes known to humankind.

Anyway, I was traveling all day yesterday, but here are a few items of interest and Barry has come through nicely below:

This just in:  Al Franken his candidacy for Mark Dayton’s MN Sen seat today – broadcasting live from the studio. You go, guy!

Really, there is nothing, and I mean nothing left of save his CNN contract now that Juan Cole appears to be done with him.  I rather like this quote: “Cranky rich people hire sharp-tongued and relatively uninformed young people all the time and put them on the mass media to badmouth the poor, spread bigotry, exalt mindless militarism, promote anti-intellectualism, and ensure generally that rightwing views come to predominate even among people who are harmed by such policies.  One of their jobs is to marginalize progressives by smearing them as unreliable,” but don’t deny yourself the full buffet.

Joe Klein is the only liberal columnist at Time Magazine, which means it has except those who bash liberals and Democrats.  See also “Kristof, Nick.”

In re “Jeff Gannon.,” our man Boehlert notes that conservatives put a journalist with a made-up name working for a fake GOP news organization in the White House press room, and the MSM wrings its hands that liberal bloggers don't play fair.  Meanwhile, yesterday on CNN, Howard “Conflict of Interest” Kurtz apparently described Talon News, as “kind of a straight news site,” and complained, “So the issue here isn't really Jeff Gannon's ideology.  He's the first to tell you that he comes at journalism from a conservative perspective.  The issue I think is, should some of his liberal critics, these liberal bloggers, have started investigating his personal life in an effort to discredit him?”

Is it the air up here or does just reading Hacktacular Howie’s words give you a headache, too?

Did someone say “boycott?”
This from AP:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Wednesday it will close a Canadian store whose workers are on the verge of becoming the first ever to win a union contract from the world's biggest retailer.  Wal-Mart said it was shuttering the store in Jonquiere, Quebec, in response to unreasonable demands from union negotiators, that would make it impossible for the store to sustain its business.  The United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada last week asked Quebec labor officials to appoint a mediator, saying that negotiations had reached an impasse."We were hoping it wouldn't come to this," said Andrew Pelletier, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Canada.  "Despite nine days of meetings over three months, we've been unable to reach an agreement with the union that in our view will allow the store to operate efficiently and profitably."  Pelletier said the store will close in May.

Paul is moving on and so I need another underpaid, over-worked research assistant with writing experience who can help me with assorted media-related research and writing (and perhaps filing) duties that do not include Ph.D. level research.  If you think you might be that person, can start almost right away, and are prepared to be exploited, put a note in the box with your resume or send it to WhatLiberalMedia at

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Barry L. Ritholtz
Hey Doc,
Can we get serious for a minute?  I have to straighten something out that too many otherwise intelligent people are misunderstanding:  the 5.2% unemployment rate.

You would be doing quite a public service if we can help more people to understand the mathematics/economics of the employment situation and unemployment levels.

For those of you who may not have been paying attention Friday, we had another below consensus Jobs number.  It was El Stinko.  Drilling beneath the headlines, we see that the data is actually more discouraging than it appears at first blush.  The latest BLS report is always at ;  The December Jobs data can be found .

For those wanting a little analysis with their data, you can review some recent commentary along with additional sources on the Employment situation and the Unemployment Rate:

  • The unemployment rate is not going lower because people are getting jobs - it's because people are leaving the labor force. This is not a good thing.

  • The WSJ does a nice job rounding up of some of Wall Street’s dismal scientists, along with their lame excuses for being wrong on the employment number -- again.

  • More ragging on the same group, with a table showing how really awful the Econ crowd has been.

  • No big surprises here: W brings up the rear, ahead of Hoover.

  • Back out government jobs and population growth, and we’re still nowhere near 2001 levels.

  • Lastly, NILFs!  The technical BLS/Census dept. definition as to who is considered part of the labor pool.

Professionally, I am concerned with how this information impacts the economy and equity markets down the road.  But I also find it HIGHLY offensive when I see these data points used and abused by partisans for political purposes.

The sooner everyone learns a little economics, the better off Democracy will be!

Name: Don Collignon
Hometown: Chicago

Thought I would let you in on a conversation I've been having with Mr. Hume.

From: "Hume, Brit">To: "Don Collignon" Subject: RE: The Quote, the whole quote, and nothing like the truthDate: Wed, 9 Feb 2005 17:16:20 -0500You are not still not quoting me in full. If you did, you would see that the whole intent of the item was to show that Roosevelt favored the inclusion of personal accounts (voluntary contributor annuities) in his Social Security plan.  I never claimed, and do not think, that he wanted to see the whole thing privatized.What you are working off (which you label "verbatim") is a partial quote from me -- the very thing you accuse me of doing.Please apologize.From: Don Collignon Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 5:02 PMTo: Hume, BritCc: Show -CommentsSubject: RE: The Quote, the whole quote, and nothing like the truthVerbatim:"In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, "Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age," adding that government funding, quote, "ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."Actual FDR quote:In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, non-contributory old-age pensions for those who are now too old to build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps thirty years to come funds will have to be provided by the States and the Federal Government to meet these pensions. Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations. Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age. It is proposed that the Federal Government assume one-half of the cost of the old-age pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.In FDR's proposal, both "mandatory contributions" and "voluntary annuities" would, over the passage of time, eliminate the need for the government's old-age pension plan for those "first-generation" elderly -- those eligible when the program first began.  NOT what you're suggesting.How's that?From: "Hume, Brit">To: "Don Collignon" Subject: RE: The Quote, the whole quote, and nothing like the truthDate: Wed, 9 Feb 2005 15:39:55 -0500how about you using the whole quote of what I said?From: Don Collignon Sent: Wednesday, February 09, 2005 3:36 PMTo: Show -Special; Hume, BritSubject: The Quote, the whole quote, and nothing like the truthHow about using the WHOLE quote by FDR -- not just the snippets you can arrange to fit your situation?Oh, wait, you can't -- because what he said was EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what you're claiming.Playing scrabble with quotes is about as far from journalism as you can get, and you put the rest of us to shame.Ethics?  Accuracy?  Any of these words sound familiar?  Here's one:RESIGN.  If it's good enough for Dan Rather, it's should be good enough for you.

Name: Dave L
Hometown: Anacortes, WA

Heh heh heh...  Ann Coulter on CBC's "Fifth Estate."  If you haven't , click on the "watch video" link.  Also read the letters.

Name: Nick Sweeney
Hometown: Asheville, NC

David Hume demolished the argument from design in a book published in 1776, and yet some people (usually Americans, alas) appear not to have realized.  "Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious." said Michael Behe, a creationist in a labcoat.

No, 'design' should be treated with skepticism because it's so tempting to find.  Hence the Rorschach test.  Lots of people seem to believe there's some hidden order in the iPod shuffle's randomized playlists, too.  Same principle: we appear to have evolved a capacity to impose order where it ain't.

Name: Michael Dietz
Hometown: Chicago

As keen as the right-wing blowhards (your pal Jarvis, Hewitt, the Perfesser) are on proclaiming the triumph of blogs over the institutional media, I thought I'd check up on what they had to say about the Jeff Gannon expose.

You know where I'm going with this, of course ...  Cue the sound of crickets.

But what's really swell is that, in the same time frame as the Gannon story's been developing, there's been a whole "blogstorm" on the right about Eason Jordan's remarks at Davos, where he may have said (or may have said something that could be interpreted to say) that journalists who have come under fire in Iraq have in some cases been targeted and killed by American troops.  (Via Howie Kurtz, Jordan made a statement yesterday that may have put things to rest, at least for all but the wingiest of the wingnuts.)

I noticed Jarvis congratulating everybody and their cousins over having held CNN's feet to the fire, and it struck me as a very telling statement about the limits of righty blog triumphalism.  Here's the meat of my post on it, at :

So, let's see if I understand the difference here between the Gannon story and the Eason Jordan foofaraw -beyond just the fact that CNN's bigger than Talon News, which I'm confident would cut no ice with crusaders like Hewitt and Jarvis:A CNN executive is caught making remarks, possibly imprudent, and bloggers leap in to enforce a speech code on him, wresting a clarification in response;A phony reporter, operating under a pseudonym, is mysteriously accredited to the White House for a shady conservative news outfit with funding ties to the Texas GOP - and bloggers search out his identity and expose him and his organization.Clearly, we have somewhat divergent ideas of "citizen journalism" operating on the two sides here.

Name: Maura
Hometown: Astoria, NY

You know, between the 'silicone implants are good for you' line and his constant fulminating about lesbians taking over the middle-school bathrooms of Oklahoma, it's hard to not think that Tom Coburn has a lot of ... issues.  Not just the psychological kind, either; more like the Penthouse Forum kind.  Blech.

Name: Phil Kaplan
Hometown: Norwalk, CT

Don't know if you listened to Brian Lehrer this morning, but one of his guests was Ami Eden, national editor of the Forward, expanding on the major premise of his recent op-ed in the Times: namely, that the misguided and inappropriate tendency of some Jewish groups to cry anti-Semitism at every turn is retarding the true interests of most Jews.

I thought he did a really good job.  I think they've got a transcript or audio link up .


Duck, duck, goose egg

By :  Siva Vaidhyanathan

We are all too familiar with the that the Bush administration has launched against science, truth, and  rationality.  Bush has stacked advisory boards with ideologues, screened scientific appointees for political affiliations, declared academic expertise in areas such as environmental damage and global warming to be tantamount to a "conflict of interest," pushed lies on federal Web sites claiming that there is a link between abortions and cancer, , spread more lies about the ways people can spread HIV, and had his henchmen threaten scientists who protest these acts with retribution.

Meanwhile, federal policy continues to ignore the facts of global warming and push for the technically unfeasible (and ultimately worthless) boondoggle of missile defense.  And school districts across America are scaling back or dumbing down their science curricula so that people who deny basic facts about the universe do not get  too offended.

Then last week the most embarrassing new member of United States Senate, said:

I immediately thought about silicone breast implants and the legal wrangling and the class-action suits off that.And I thought I would just share with you what science says today about silicone breast implants.  If you have them, you're healthier than if you don't.  That is what the ultimate science shows....In fact, there's no science that shows that silicone breast implants are detrimental and, in fact, they make you healthier.

Alarmingly, Coburn is a licensed physician.  Of course, so is Sen. Bill Frist, who can't seem to tell the truth (or worse -- perhaps does not know the truth) about how HIV is spread when questioned on point.  is Frist making a fool out of himself (and spreading deadly lies) on ABC:

Stephanopoulos: You're a doctor. Do you think tears and sweat can transmit HIV?Frist: I don't know...I can tell you.Stephanopoulos: You don't know?Frist: I can tell you things like, like..condoms.Stephanopoulos: ... You believe that tears and sweat might be able to transmit aids?

We have grown to expect such extremism and willful ignorance from the White House and its allies.  But should we really have to put up with pseudoscience and antiscience from people who should know better?  People we entrust with defending truth?  First, we had to shake our heads in bemusement when the president of Harvard University made up some stuff to excuse his record of driving women away from good jobs in science.  Now The New York Times is bowing down in the Madrassa with the Jihadists.  Where are the brave defenders of the Enlightenment?

On Monday The New York Times Contributors published () a ridiculous defense of creationism (now cynically re-branded as "intelligent design") by a professor at Lehigh University.  He opens the article with unadulterated fiction: "[T]he theory of intelligent design is not a religiously based idea, even though devout people opposed to the teaching of evolution cite it in their arguments."  Uh, yes it is. 

Sorry bub.  Trace its genealogy and ask its proponents about their motivations.  I have interviewed these folks during Texas textbook adoption debates.  Their textbook comes in two volumes.  And it's the same text for every class.  The good professor continues: "The strong appearance of design allows a disarmingly simple argument: if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck.  Design should not be overlooked simply because it's so obvious."

Ah, what fun Ludwig Wittgenstein would have with that claim!  Fortunately, reality and rational thought still have its champions.  Among them is my brilliant wife, who wrote letter to The Times:

To the Editor:I must have missed the concept of "if it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, then, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck" in my studies of the scientific method.Yes, scientists describe their observations, but this is not the scientific method. Employing experiments aimed at discovering the "compelling evidence to the contrary" is.That is the trouble with the design - intelligent or otherwise - theory. Description is not enough in science. That is for religion.Melissa HenriksenNew York, Feb. 7, 2005The writer is a research assistant professor, Laboratory of Molecular Cell Biology, Rockefeller University.

Correspondents’ Corner:

From: Kevin Jon Heller
Hometown: Somewhere in Georgia
Dear Eric,
Given that Paul Volcker released his report on corruption in the UN's oil-for-food program, you'd think would receive more coverage.

Documents obtained by CNN reveal the United States knew about, and even condoned, embargo-breaking oil sales by Saddam Hussein's regime, and did so to shore up alliances with Iraq's neighbors.The oil trade with countries such as Turkey and Jordan appears to have been an open secret inside the U.S. government and the United Nations for years.The unclassified State Department documents sent to congressional committees with oversight of U.S. foreign policy divulge that the United States deemed such sales to be in the "national interest," even though they generated billions of dollars in unmonitored revenue for Saddam's regime.

And notice how the revenue Saddam received from the oil sales condoned by the U.S. compares to the revenue he received from the oil-for-food program:

Estimates of how much revenue Iraq earned from these tolerated side sales of its oil to Jordan and Turkey, as well as to Syria and Egypt, range from $5.7 billion to $13.6 billion.This illicit revenue far exceeds the estimates of what Saddam pocketed through illegal surcharges on his U.N.-approved oil exports and illegal kickbacks on subsequent Iraqi purchases of food, medicine, and supplies -- $1.7 billion to $4.4 billion -- during the maligned seven-year U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq.

CNN International seems to be the only major news outlet that is dedicating a story to what is, by any account, a far bigger scandal than the oil-for-food program -- which, let us recall, "one of the biggest financial scandals, on the humanitarian level of relief scandal, in the history of the world here."  The L.A. Times, for example, in passing 16 paragraphs in to a story misleadingly entitled "All Players Gained From Oil-for-Food."

Name: Lois Fundis
Hometown: Weirton, WV

is one of the main selections of the this month, along with "Sex with Kings," by Eleanor Herman.  An interesting pairing.


Big government is back

."  Previous to this year, George W. Bush increased the size of the federal budget by 27 percent, if I’m not mistaken, busting a budget that had been in surplus when he inherited it and making him the biggest of big government spenders since Lyndon Johnson.  Within that context, he has still managed to cut—or is trying to, almost all payments going to the most vulnerable members of society, children, students, the poor, the working poor and even (particularly) (and ), while vastly increasing the amount given to the very rich and to the military.  Five years ago Bush told us he was something different; a “compassionate conservative.”  We now know he is neither compassionate, nor by any imaginable definition an economic conservative.  Rather he is merely dishonest; effectively so, perhaps, but no less dishonest for being so.

John Heilemann manages to pen one of the few, non-hysterical MSM evaluations of the Dean ascendancy.  It appears in New York Magazine, .

And Jane Mayer does a powerfully reported take out on America’s outsourcing of torture, .  Speaking of said magazine, it’s unfortunate that it did not put last week’s David Remnick take-out on Abbas, Sharon, and the current prospects for peace online.  I’m not saying anything controversial when I say it’s pieces like this that made Remnick, by popular acclimation, the best magazine writer in America. 

About a week ago, I was having dinner with some Peace Now types and we were noting that the last time Abbas became Prime Minister, most media profiles saw fit to mention that he had written a book that calls into question most of the claims we know to be true about the Holocaust, and this would be something that would have to be dealt with, somehow, by either or both parties.  This time, however, everyone has agreed to act so “hopeful” that nobody was mentioning it, particularly in the media.  Two days later, I got my New Yorker and Remnick dealt with at length—virtually alone, as far as I can tell, in the MSM.  (On the other hand, he barely mentions Sharon’s moral culpability for the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla, which would be a fair criticism of the piece, methinks.)

Our friend at is “making every blogger in McDonald’s -- every citizen who dares to speak online -- a suspect in his conspiracy theories and is potentially endangering every one of them."  “Hate McDonald’s, hate America,” I always say.

Happy Birthday, .

I haven’t followed this that carefully, but has my old pal Leonard Garment been eliminated as a choice for ?  Because I have heard he is unfortunately ailing, of late.

From , the world’s smallest violin.

Student Lawsuit: Bob Whitney, a 52 year-old student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is suing the university after losing an appeal over the B- he received in a history class.  Whitney alleges in the lawsuit that a history professor discriminated against him because of his conservative values.  He seeks at least $10,000 for emotional duress, tuition, books and living expenses.

Mickey makes me superfluous, .  (By the Post's logic with Kurtz and CNN, it might as well hire Karl Rove to cover the White House.  Really, so long as he 'disclosed' those conflicts he chose to disclose [and ignored the ones he chose to ignore], just what would be the difference?

Correspondents’ Corner:

Name: Thomas Friedman
Hometown: NY

I realize we've had some disagreements over time, but let me be clear.  What is important is not the Arab street, or the Arab basement, or even the Arab cellar, but a vast underground network of tunnels more than 2500 years old, and at least 275 feet beneath the catacombs of most major Arab capitals.

But what neither the Bush administration nor his Democratic opponents seem inclined to admit, or most of the western media to cover, is that once you're bought you're probably broken as well.

A recent talk with an olive tree in Jordan underscored this fact.

What we need now is a crash course in Lexus independence - a Manhattan Project if you will to end our dependence on certain models of Japanese luxury cars.  Laid off IT workers in this country and call center workers in India will be crucial to this project, and the hope of any moderate outcome almost everywhere.

Name: Stephen Hirsch
Hometown: Passaic, NJ

Oy, boychik, you were doing fine until you linked to Ms. Mirvis.  She's certainly one to talk, having made good money writing a thinly veiled roman-Ã-clef about her hometown.  How do I know?  My ex-girlfriend's ex-husband is her first cousin, and also from Memphis (the Frum world is a small one).  News flash: nobody likes being mocked.  Did I miss The Nation's staff meeting where everyone was rolling on the floors at that stupid South Park movie this summer?

Here's another news flash: some of us who look Torah-Observant aren't, and those of us who are really don't hold fiction writing to be all that important in the scheme of things.

Hey, we're here, we're Frum, get over it!

Eric replies: Oy, bocychick. I am not my sister’s keeper. I liked the essay, that’s all.

Name: Dr. Dave
Hometown: Acworth, GA

Dr. Alterman,
Below is a link to a recent Bill Moyers article.  The article describes a very worrisome scenario but makes much sense of the chaos we have been witnessing for 4 long years.  (Is planned chaos really chaos?)  I believe your readers might find this interesting/frightening.  Keep up the great work.  .


Remembrance of propaganda campaigns past

Welcome to Altercation, the Web site that is proudly “making every blogger in Iraq -- every citizen who dares to speak online -- a suspect in his conspiracy theories and is potentially endangering every one of them."  (If only it also I might have business model.)

Here is another figment of my fevered, blogger-killing, imagination about a little-remembered aspect of the Iran/Contra scandal.  (From which by the way, more of  you people need to buy):

Enjoying a $935,000 annual budget plus eight professional staffers on loan from State, Defense, U.S. Information Agency, and Agency for International Development, Office of Public Diplomacy--under the direction of Cuban émigré Otto J. Reich—also hired by the Bush Administration--the office worked closely with Elliott Abrams,-- a mainstay of Bush Administration national security policy—offered  privileges to favored journalists, placed ghostwritten articles over the signatures of Contra leaders in the nation’s leading opinion magazines and op-ed pages, and generally publicized negative stories about the Sandinistas, whether true or not.In the first year of its operation alone, it sent attacks on the Sandinistas to 1,600 college libraries, 520 political science faculties, 122 editorial writers, 107 religious organizations, and countless reporters, right-wing lobbyists, and members of Congress, according to its own records. It booked advocates for 1,570 lecture and talk-show engagements; in a single week during March 1985, the OPD officers bragged in a memo of having fooled the editors of The Wall Street Journal into publishing an op-ed allegedly penned by an unknown professor, guided an NBC news story on the Contras, written and edited op-ed articles to be signed by Contra spokesmen, and planted lies in the home media about the experiences of a congressman who visited Nicaragua.  Otto Reich boasted of his ability to convince editors and executives to replace reporters he did not like with those he did and warned those reporters who did not cooperate that he would be watching them in the future, a threat that proved effective against National Public Radio, which Reich termed “Moscow on the Potomac.”  Among the lies peddled by OPD agents and employees were stories that portrayed the Sandinistas as virulent anti-Semites, that reported a Soviet shipment of MIG jets to Managua, and that revealed U.S. reporters in Nicaragua to be receiving sexual favors—both heterosexual and homosexual— from Sandinista agents in exchange for favorable coverage.  The latter accusation, published in the July 29, 1985, issue of New York Magazine, came directly from Reich, who denied responsibility.  Accuracy in Media, secretly under contract to OPD, soon began naming these journalists, despite the fact that the charges were entirely fictional.  Following the Iran–Contra revelations, a 1987 report by the U.S. comptroller general would later find that Reich’s office had “engaged in prohibited, covert propaganda activities,” and the office was soon shut down.

But would the USG create a phony blog?  Only a murderous, blog-killing, hate-freedom, hate-America blood libeler would ever think of such a thing, right Jeffrey?  Oh wait, what’s that you say Helga?  DOD is already bribing journalists to write about U.S. military activities in a favorable way?  You mean now?  Wait, aren’t blogs also Web sites?  I must be confused.  Are you saying just because DOD would create a phony Web site to advance its propaganda aims and secretly pay journalists to write for it, it might be conceivable that they would do the same thing with regard to a war in which they have invested much more heavily and have already propagated numerous lies and willful manipulations of journalists in a medium where there are no gatekeepers and hence, no structure to prevent it?

You must really hate America, young lady…..

Relevant Correspondence:

Name: Helga Thomsen
Hometown: Los Angeles

Someone call Jeff Jarvis.  Quickly.  Only he is brave enough to demand that the murderers at MSNBC as quickly as possible.  Why do they hate America?

Eric adds: too.

Name: Rajesh
Hometown: Cherry Hill

Watch out Doc - I can see it coming from Fuzzmachine: Alterman has known to possess several tons of Sarin and VX gas, blog intelligence has proof that Alterman tried to purchase nuclear grade plutonium from Niger.

Name: Dave Richie
Hometown: Birmingham, Al.

Dr. A,
It is incomprehensible to this red state confused conservative, this tax cut loving, degenerate polluter of the environment, how anyone can believe that the very organization that we set up to disrupt our enemies and feed us positive propaganda is not capable of setting up a few Iraqi bloggers.  This is beyond naiveté.

Your very clever scenario describing such an event is not at all beyond the pale.  There are those of us who expect such from our clandestine operations.

However, it is sad that you have let this dumbbell get into your head.  I have learned much about the use of the term "blood-libel" in the past few days.  If I understand your use and what was in the links correctly, you are grossly overreacting to a person who could not carry your intellectual shoes.

Some advice from an old goy: Choose your battles wisely. This guy has little or no audience.  I am fairly well read for a red stater and before last week I could not tell you who this guy is.

Long as they spell your name correctly, right ?  Ooops.  There goes another you know what….  (Another one just died, I’m afraid, too.)

Speaking of Mr. Jarviz, Juan Cole uses the example of Jonah Goldberg to demonstrate the difference between expertise and ignorance.  He writes,

If Jonah Goldberg had asserted that he could fly to Mars in his pyjamas and come back in a single day, it would not have been a more fantastic allegation than the one he made about Iraq being a danger to the United States because of the nuclear issue. He made that allegation over and over again to millions of viewers on national television programs, to viewers who trusted his judgment because CNN and others purveyed him to them.

He’s right about the young blowhard, but the larger point is the important one.  Much of the media, including almost all television, most periodicals and most Web sites, do not discriminate between people who know something and people who know nothing (at the top of their voices).  Cole makes the further point,

If you saw an hour-long piece on al-Jazeerah about the reality of the United States, with English subtitles, and the reporter speaking on the U.S. had never been to America, had never read a book about America, did not know a word of English, and moreover said all kinds of things that were complete fantasy and altogether wrong, would that man be someone you would recommend to others as having an important opinion on the matter that millions of people should be exposed to on NPR and CNN every other day?

Of course taking this kind of thing seriously would put ninety-eight percent of the punditocracy out of business, but would that really be such a bad thing?  Read all about it, .

Times “liberals” hate liberals, Part I  The responsibility to blame “liberals” for the Bush administrations failures and lies may very well be spelled out in Nick Kristof’s contract for all I know.  First, it was we who were the real danger in Iraq.  Now this nonsense is our fault too.  Josh Marshall who deserves the blogger equivalent of a Pulitzer for his tireless and relentless work on Social Security—or more appropriately, Kristof’s job, (perhaps Safire’s),-- one almost left feeling sorry for the Timesman .

Times “liberals” hate liberals, Part II  Give Noah Feldman credit.  He knows how this game is supposed to be played.  HE writes, , “It would be nice if the extremes of the American right and left showed some of the same measured ability to argue against mistaken American policies without impugning the integrity of the other side…”  For his right-wing ideologue, he has as an example, David Horowitz.  Not a bad example, I’ll admit.  And just who is the offender on the left?  Um, no one.  Feldman does not mention any leftist “ideologues."  It’s just that it is against the law in the media to criticize a Wingnut without also thwacking the left, even if there’s nobody there.  (And really, this is just laziness; would it have been so hard to trot out a Chomsky quote?)

Times “liberals” hate liberals Part III  Meanwhile, the reborn liberal hater is also celebrated to the point not merely of the TBR breaking its rule of not reviewing collections of previously published pieces, but here reviewing a paperback collection.  The piece ignores my old friend’s Horowtizian slanders against various liberals and focuses on his more temperate pieces, which is fair, I suppose, but hardly the full picture.  Where, for instance, is the full-throated defense of Holocaust denier David Irving?  If Hitchens could still defend that, he’s even more talented than I give him credit for.  (And while I’m convinced he’s lost his mind, I’ve never doubted his nearly superhuman talents--as a writer and a drinker…)


Times “liberals” hate liberals Part IV  Judy Miller; that’s all.

New Yorker/Columbia Journalism School liberals aren’t so crazy about liberals, either, apparently.  My good friend Nick Lemann takes the opportunity this week to examine conservative hysteria about the New York Times, .  It’s extremely well done, in every way, save for the fact that it purports, for rhetorical purposes, to examine both liberal and conservative complaints about the paper but speaks only to those of the conservatives.  Once again we get the “both extremes” meme, with only conservatives being heard.  Just where are the liberals here?  Hanging out with Noah Feldman?  The liberal case against the Times is, in many instances, stronger than the conservative one.  (Um, Judy Miller?)  Has the world really grown so harsh that liberals cannot expect get a fair shake from my friend Nick in The New Yorker?  Oy.

Ossie Davis, Actor, Writer and Eloquent Champion of Racial Justice, Is (and ).

Budget Cuts: Get Ready to Rumble:  Mr. Bush says he wants a community health center in every poor county.  The budget would increase spending for such clinics by 17.5 percent, to $2 billion.  Budget officials said these clinics would care for 16.4 million people next year, up from 14 million this year.

The president is also seeking $718 million for a new effort to enroll more children in Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.  Millions of uninsured children are eligible but not enrolled.

Budget documents also include these domestic proposals:

  • The budget for training nurses, dentists and other health professionals would be cut 64 percent, to $160.5 million in 2006. The president would cut $100 million, or 33 percent, from a $301 million program that trains doctors at children's hospitals.

  • Mr. Bush seeks a $38 million increase in programs promoting sexual abstinence, which would bring the total to $192.5 million in 2006, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2004.

  • The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, which helps people pay their heating bills, would be cut 8.4 percent, to $2 billion. High prices for home heating oil make this a particularly contentious proposal.

  • The Centers for Disease Control would receive $306 million, a 4.2 percent increase, for global health activities, including work on AIDS.

  • Mr. Bush requests $120 million to deal with the threat of a global flu epidemic. That represents an increase of 21 percent.

  • The budget would also eliminate a $9 million program for the treatment of people with traumatic brain injury and a $9.9 million program to collect stem cells from blood found in the umbilical cord after childbirth.  Scientists say such cells may prove useful in the treatment of many diseases, and do not raise the ethical issues involved in taking stem cells from human embryos. 


, she says.

Why do the Jews ?  (And like anal sex?)

Why do Bush’s best friends ?  (No, really; Jews too, as it happens, though they might dispute the distinction.)

Take a look at The Forward's , while we’re here.  The Jewish stuff, the Dylan piece, the reporting on Eastern Europe and the Middle East, on politics in general: Isn’t it one of the most interesting publications about politics and culture being published anywhere?  And they deserve all the more credit because they are so poor, they a) haven’t paid me the money they owe me; b) hire writers like Gabriel Sherman who can’t get their stories right even after I took the time to explain why his thesis was false.  Still, there’s a certain integrity in my being unfairly maligned in the Forward, however, since I am always saying nice things about them and linking to their articles.  Still, pay up, already.  (Insert slightly but not terribly offensive Jewish/money joke here.)  And I almost forgot, this Tova Mirvis response to Wendy Shalit’s horrifically childish and almost Jervis-like piece is just what the book doctor ordered, .