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The Bell Curveball, Part III

The Bell Curveball, Part III

August 31, 2005 |11:26 AM ET|

You were wondering why we had a “National Guard?”  You were wondering why we have a gummint?  "We need a ton of help.  We could use National Guard units," said one Biloxi officer who said he was not authorized to give his name, .  Sorry sir, but I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that the Guard is doing its new job over in Iraq; that is killing people, getting killed themselves, creating more hatred and terrorism, as well as an Islamic Republic, and finding no weapons of mass destruction.  Oh by the way, you’re not going to get much money either.  That’s over in Iraq too.  Why do Biloxi officers who are not authorized to give their names hate America?  More and .

, say Messrs. Bush and Cheney.  You won the election and these guys paid for it.  It's “their due.”

Oh and here’s a guy that NPR thought worthy to use as a replacement for Daniel Schorr the other day; I’m sure it’s got nothing to do with political pressure from the folks at CPB:

I think it's time to face facts.  That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours.  My advice is to prepare yourself now.  Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents.  While you're working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he's not expecting it beat him senseless.  Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen.  It's never too soon to be prepared.— .

(That Limbaugh is a classy guy, too .)

More Quotes of the Day, (thanks to Barry R.)

"Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation.  No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam."
— Iraqi Constitution supported by Iran-backed Shiites and the Bush Administration (but opposed by Sunni leaders)

"Fortunately, after years of effort and expectations in Iraq, an Islamic state has come to power and the constitution has been established on the basis of Islamic precepts.  We must congratulate the Iraqi people and authorities for this victory."
— Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of Iran's powerful ultra-conservative Guardian Council

"This is the future of the new Iraqi government - it will be in the hands of the clerics.  I wanted Iraqi women to be free, to be able to talk freely and to able to move around.  I am not going to stay here."
— Dr. Raja Kuzai, an obstetrician and secular Shiite member of the Assembly who met President Bush in the White House in November 2003.

Katrina/New Orleans Disaster Relief Aid

Also thanks to :

Relief Organizations

  • 1-800-HELP-NOW

  • 1-800-SAL-ARMY

  • 1-800-919-9338

  • 1-800-334-7626

  • 1-800-554-8583

  • Also worth reading is FEMA's

The Bell Curveball, III.

The criticisms came in two waves. The first, largely from journalists and published in mass-market publications, focusing largely on the book’s political implications; all they could do, really, was invite readers to accept their worldview as superior to that of Murray and Hernstein’s. But because the authors were presumed by most to be far more expert in their chosen field than their journalistic critics, these criticisms enjoyed precious little authority to dent The Bell Curve’s argument’s impact and almost none in damaging the book’s popularity. But the second wave of reviews, which did not arrive until much later, was comprised of expert opinion in the relevant field and provided a belated substitute for the peer-review process to which Murray and Hernstein were originally unwilling to submit.

Once experts in the fields of psychometrics, dysgenics, and genetics began to weigh in on the book, not much of it was left. Scholarly examination repeatedly demonstrated that the statements that form the very core of The Bell Curve’s arguments were either highly questionable or demonstrably false.  For instance, Hernstein and Murray insisted, "it is beyond significant technical dispute that cognitive ability is substantially heritable". But as a group of British geneticists and psychometricans pointed in response, “Research in this field is still evolving, studies cited by Herrnstein and Murray face significant methodological difficulties, and the validity of results quoted are disputed. “ [1]

The mistakes grow even graver.  They actually seek to quantify the degree to which such intelligence is heritable. “Half a century of work, now amounting to hundreds of empirical and theoretical studies,” they write, “permits a broad conclusion that the genetic component of IQ is unlikely to be smaller than 40 per cent or higher than 80 per cent. ... For purposes of this discussion, we will adopt a middling estimate of 60 per cent heritability." They appear to the unsuspecting reader to be the soul of caution in this regard. Alas, as Nicholas Lemann reported in Slate, another study by three scientists at Carnegie Mellon University employing exactly the same data base, suggested “a narrow-sense heritability of 34 per cent and a broad-sense heritability of 46 per cent,” a far cry from the figures employed by Murray and Hernstein.

In perhaps the key test of the honesty of the underlying science of the book, trained experts in the field found they could not reproduce its results. For instance, one chart in The Bell Curve purports to show that people with IQs above 120 have become "rapidly more concentrated" in high-IQ occupations since 1940. But Robert Hauser and his colleague Min-Hsiung Huang retested the data and came up with estimates that fell “well below those of Herrnstein and Murray." They add that the data, properly used, "do not tell us anything except that selected, highly educated occupation groups have grown rapidly since 1940." In another example of same, also unearthed by Lemann, Herrnstein and Murray attempted to measure socioeconomic status by averaging four factors of equal weight: mother's education, father's education, father's occupation, and family income. Since the last two were missing from their data sample, however, they simply substituted an average for the entire sample. But six scientists at the California at Berkeley recalculated the effect of socioeconomic status, using the same variables but weighting them differently. They found the book’s estimates of the ability of IQ to predict poverty suddenly appear profoundly exaggerated--by 61 percent for whites and 74 percent for blacks.[2] Robert Hauser notes, "To begin with, several of the numbers in [The Bell Curve] are simply wrong. There are no fewer than five copying or multiplication errors in age- and test-specific entries in the body of” a single table. These mistakes, he noted, led the authors to “understate both the initial black-white differences and the changes in test scores across time." Rerunning the data with a more accurate standard deviation, Hauser came up with a significantly higher black-white IQ convergence.[3]

In fact, the entire study is built on a faulty edifice. In this final summary statement of his TNR essay, Murray wrote, “In study after study of the leading tests, the idea that the black-white difference is caused by questions with cultural content [i.e, that the tests are “biased” against the culturally deprived,] [has been contradicted by the facts.”[4] If this statement is false, then virtually everything else in the book must also be false.  But Jared Diamond, the celebrated professor of physiology at the UCLA School of medicine and extremely-highly regarded expert in evolutionary biology and biogeography is one of many experts who insists that this statement—at least in its descriptive sense regarding “study after study” cannot be justified. In his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Guns, Germs and Steel,” Diamond explains:

Even our cognitive abilities as adults are heavily influenced by the social environment that we experienced during childhood, making it hard to discern any influence of preexisting genetic differences. Second, tests of cognitive ability (like IQ tests) tend to measure cultural learning and not pure innate intelligence, whatever that is.  Because of those undoubted effects of childhood environment and learned knowledge on IQ test results, the psychologists’ efforts to date have not succeeded in convincingly establishing the postulated genetic deficiency in IQs of nonwhite peoples.[5]

Diamond’s observation seems particularly relevant given the apparent carelessness to which Murray and Hernstein applied their false assumptions to the scientific studies they professed to assess. For instance, to take just one small example, Murray and Herrnstein note that South African "coloureds" have about the same IQ as American blacks. This helps to prove their case, they argue, because, "the African black population has not been subjected to the historical legacy of American black slavery and discrimination and might therefore have higher scores."[6]

But their claim of extremely low IQs for Black African--”very dull” in the authors’ words--derives from tests conducted in South Africa before the end of apartheid, a circumstance that could hardly be more relevant. And yet this qualification is nowhere to be found in The Bell Curve.[7]  Nor do the authors find space to mention the racist assumptions of the scientist who conducted the research. And to top it all off, they misread the data upon which they were relying, and thereby screw up their own calculations.[8]  Other scientists found countless other incidents of the authors either ignoring data that conflicted with that which they cited or unaccountably failing to include or address important studies that would throw a monkey wrench into their reasoning.[9]

As  a result of the above, more than a few members of the expert community denounced the book as a kind of scholarly swindle; Writing in a special issue of The American Behavioral Scientist[--exactly the kind of journal that would have offered a peer review-reading of the Bell Curve had the authors been willing to submit to one—Michael Nunley, a professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma charged:

I believe this book is a fraud, that its authors must have known it was a fraud when they were writing it, and that Charles Murray must still know it's a fraud as he goes around defending it. By "fraud," I mean a deliberate, self-conscious misrepresentation of the evidence. After careful reading, I cannot believe its authors were not acutely aware of what they were including and what they were leaving out, and of how they were distorting the material they did include.[10]

“The Bell Curve “would not be accepted by an academic journal. It’s that bad,” added Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.[11] They was joined by many scholars, perhaps most notable among them, Leon J. Kamin, a noted professor of psychology at Northeastern University and author of The Science and Politics of IQ, who had been pointedly excluded from the AEI press-release gathering, lest his expertise get in the way of the book’s publicity campaign. Kamin warned, “To pretend, as Hernstein and Murray do, that the 1,000-odd items in their bibliography provide a ‘scientific’ basis for their reactionary politics may be a clever political tactic, but it is a disservice to and abuse of science.”[12]

But Murray and Hernstein’s research raised even more troubling questions about the authors’ agenda than mere incompetence or even ideological fervor. Charles Lane discovered that seventeen researchers cited in the book’s bibliography were contributors to the racist journal, Mankind Quarterly. Murray and Hernstein also relied on at least thirteen scholars who had received grants from the Pioneer Fund, established and run by men who were Nazi sympathizers, eugenicists, and advocates of white racial superiority.[13]

The racial problems with The Bell Curve’s sources went way beyond mere guilt by association. Many of its most important assertions rested on the work of the Pioneer Fund/Mankind Quarterly group of “scholars.”  J. Philippe Rushton of Canada's University of Western Ontario, for instance, is cited eleven times in the book’s bibliography, and receives a two-page mention in its appendix (pp. 642-643). Rushton professes  to believe in the existence of a hierarchy of "races" in which "Mongoloid" and "Caucasoid" are at the top, and "Negroid" at the bottom. "Negroids,” he argues, are younger when they first have intercourse, have larger penises and vaginas, increased sex hormonal activity, and larger breasts and buttocks. He judges that these factors, combined with the fact that black women produce more eggs and black men more sperm, lead to increased fertility, poorer parenting and sexually-transmitted diseases, including the AIDS virus. Rushton once summarized his views on black/white difference as follows: "It's a trade off, more brains or more penis. You can't have everything."[14]

Also the acknowledgements in “The Bell Curve,” include an authors note indicating that they have "benefited especially" from the "advice" of one Richard Lynn, whom they identify as "a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences." A professor of psychology at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, Lynn is also associate editor of Mankind Quarterly, and has received $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund.  He has expressed the scholarly view that "the poor and the ill" are "weak specimens whose proliferation needs to be discouraged in the interests of the improvement of the genetic quality of the group, and ultimately of group survival."  Leon J. Kamin describes Lynn’s work as riddled with “distortions and misrepresentations of the data which constitute a truly venomous racism, combined with scandalous disregard for scientific objectivity.”[15]

While some innocence on the part of critics, a category that would include the vast majority of the reading public is excusable in the book’s early reception, this caveat begins to evaporate with time as more and more of the book’s flaws became evident.  At that point, support for the work begins to look much more like ideological solidarity than intellectual rigor For instance The New Republic editors’ decision to champion the book cannot be justified by the book’s scholarly value. It must therefore have appealed to its editors own beliefs about race and intelligence—beliefs, as Murray suggested previously, that they had hitherto felt uncomfortable admitting in public forums. Why else lend the magazine’s credibility as the voice of the center-left to a project riddled with racist sources and reactionary recommendations?

If The Bell Curve were actually a respectable scholarly contribution to the debate over the place of race and genetics in our society, then closing one’s eyes to its conclusions would have been a cowardly and ultimately self-defeating response. But as Mickey Kaus pointed out, the question isn't whether it is possible that some ethnic groups have, on average, higher mental abilities than others, it's whether Murray is a reliable guide when it comes to exploring this possibility.”[16] The question of whether Murray and his late co-author Richard Hernstein are themselves racists is a pointless and ultimately insoluble debate. What is unarguable, however, is the fact that they were willing employ sources infected with racist underpinnings in pursuit of arguments custom designed to appeal to racist inclinations on the part of their readers and reviewers.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Dan C.
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
In the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, our initial thoughts are of course with those who died, were injured, or have lost everything.  As we rebuild and help the survivors, however, let's be on the lookout for reprehensible behavior.  This means that we don't want to hear from religious conservatives that God punishes decadent people.  These are the reddest of red states, the heart of the fundamentalist movement, and they just got nailed.  I have not heard anyone say that God is punishing them (nor should any sane person believe such idiocy).  But this silence means that if an earthquake hits San Francisco or Seattle gets flooded or Minneapolis has a killer blizzard or terrorists strike New York, there better not be one word about how the liberals had it coming. 

We also don't want to hear that global warming is a myth.  It was a record year for hurricanes recently, and scientists believe the change in ocean temperature is at least partly to blame.  In addition, one of the chief objections to theories about global warming (that weather balloons record no changes), has been proven to be false.  So accept that this is an issue that has a real impact on the weather, which has a real impact on us.  Lastly, we don't want to hear about the infallibility of states rights.  Is Mississippi going to pay for all the damage it suffered?  Of course not, nor should it.  I assume that many of the people who scream and yell about the evil feds will hold their tongues long enough to cash their FEMA checks.  So let's have no more shrieking about how the government should be cut off and strangled.  Right now, federal disaster relief is the best game in town for Alabama. 

And while we're on the subject, let me point out that it is a well-established fact that the blue states pay more in taxes and get less in services than the red states.  In other words, the blues support the reds, and have for years.  Chipping in a few billion to clean up Louisiana will further that discrepancy, so no more complaining that liberals are ruining the country when, in fact, we pay the bills.  And we will gladly continue to do so for the benefit of all Americans, not just those who share our religion or are from our region or agree with our politics.  With those concepts in mind, be sure to donate to disaster relief.  New Orleans is an amazing city, and I'm sure I speak for many people when I say that I can't wait to visit it again.

Name: Nicholas Pisano
Hometown: Destin, Florida
Hello Eric,
Old Navy guy still dodging hurricanes on the Florida Panhandle.  I couldn't help notice this excerpt from one of the stories coming out of New Orleans over AP and given much attention on MSNBC:

Denise Bollinger, a tourist from Philadelphia, stood outside and snapped pictures in amazement.  "It's downtown Baghdad," the housewife said.  "It's insane.  I've wanted to come here for 10 years.  I thought this was a sophisticated city.  I guess not." 

I couldn't help but wonder if downtown Baghdad was her previous or her next destination, and then I pondered the ridiculous, insensitive and disconnected manner in which the facts and the story were presented.  I couldn't help wonder what type of person stays in a disaster area on vacation and what further level of degradation in character is needed to snap photos and insult the residents for not being "sophisticated" in the face of total disaster.  I could not help wonder if the story was apocryphal.  This is not to say that looting has not happened.  It happens in every disaster area, and is a particularly sad bit of human behavior here where hurricanes seems to be springing up like weeds on a rich Texas oilman's prairie.  But most of the photos I saw showed desperate people abandoned in a sinking city taking food, canned and other goods that would be necessary for a few days of survival.  It is just that this place-largely African-American- with a long heritage of open mindedness and tolerance (and in the mind of racists and puritanical hypocrites of unforgivable miscegenation and other licentious behavior) is singled out as if the victims are somehow worthy of their predicament.  It is the typical bait and switch of what has become symptomatic of America in 2005 as described by Cornell West in "Democracy Matters" and by your recent posts concerning the Bell Curve pseudoscience.  We must be sociologists to explain these reactions -to separate ourselves from the culture itself, if possible, to lose our cultural pretences.  It is only then that we can see that this need, subconscious but pervasive, is to take our attention away from the issue staring us in the face. 

What happened here is not just a natural disaster but a socio-economic crime.  The poorest part of our society could not leave New Orleans: they could not afford the gas, many are undereducated and without support systems, many were without automobiles, they could not afford a hotel room, many were fearful of public shelters and others just plain had nothing else but their uninsured home and their few possessions and stayed there, hoped for the best and died.  It is not as if no one knew that New Orleans could not withstand such a storm.  Hurricane Ivan last year was but a forewarning.  Where was Homeland Security to invest in the infrastructure to mitigate the risk to a major American city from the ravages of this storm?  Has our leadership, our collective imagination and our basic decency for the public welfare fallen so far out of favor that something as simple as using the public transportation systems to get people out of harm's way was not availed upon?  The people would next expect to be paid living wages and come to expect an increasing standard of living. 

But I must admit that I cannot be objective about these things. My connection to the city of New Orleans is as palpable a connection as you have expressed for your native New York.  Yet, I am neither a son of the south (unless you count south Jersey) nor a New Orleans native.  But I believe strongly that every city has a soul of sorts -some places speak to us from some non-verbal place that will always be with us- and for me New Orleans has always been that place.  Thus I sit helplessly by and am horrified by what I see and hear, unable to comprehend the extent of the human tragedy, unwilling to accept the death of the place that lives in my psyche and in my heart.


[1] This statement was developed by the [British] National Institutes of Health - Department of Energy (NIH-DOE) Joint Working Group on the Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Human Genome Research (ELSI Working Group) and was by the National Society of Genetic Counselors.  It was written by Lori B. Andrews and Dorothy Nelkin and purblished as a letter to the editor of Science, January 5, 1995.

[2] Nicholas Lemann, “The Bell Curve Flattened,”, January 18, 1997

[3] Nicholas Lemann, “The Bell Curve Flattened,”, January 18, 1997

[4] Charles Murray and Richard Hernstien, “Race. Genes, and IQ – An Apologia,” The New Republic, October 31, 1994

[5] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York: W.W. Norton and Co, 1997), 20

[6] Bell Curve, 288

[7] WAQAR AHMAD, “Race is a four letter word,” New Scientist, July 22, 1995, 44

[8] Nevertheless, Murray and Herrnstein venture an estimate of African IQ, drawn mainly from an article by Lynn that appeared in Mankind Quarterly in 1991. It should be noted, for a start, that the authors of The Bell Curve misreport Lynn's data. They say he found a median IQ of 75 in Africa (p. 289). But in his article, "Race Differences in Intelligence: The Global Perspective," Lynn said that the mean African IQ--not the median--was 70. (26)

[9]For instance Howard Gardner noted that the authors admit that IQ has gone up consistently around the world during this century—15 points, as great as the current difference between blacks and whites, which is obviously not a function of genetics. “The Bell Curve” does admit that when blacks move from rural southern to urban northern areas, their intelligence scores also rise, which would seem to contradict their thesis as well, but they glide over this challenge. So too, the fact that when black youngsters are adopted in households of higher socioeconomic status, they too demonstrate improved performance on aptitude and achievement tests. Again, this is an unanswered challenged. And the education professor Nathan Glazer pointed out that during the second world war, a US army study found that Northern black recruits not only scored higher than southern black recruits on intelligence exams, they also scored higher than southern white recruits. The study was detailed in Otto Klineberg’s easily available “Race Differences,” but nowhere is it mentioned in The Bell Curve. See Nathan Glazer, “Scientific Truth and the American Dilemma” in The Bell Curve Wars, Stephen Fraser edit, (New York: Basic Books,1995) p.145. Even Thomas Sowell, the conservative black sociologist writing in the conservative publication, the American Spectator, while, pointedly defending the authors against the charge of racism, found its scientific shoddiness impossible to defend. “Perhaps the most intellectually troubling aspect of The Bell Curve,” he wrote, “is the authors' uncritical approach to statistical correlations. One of the first things taught in introductory statistics is that correlation is not causation. It is also one of the first things forgotten, and one of the most widely ignored facts in public policy research. The statistical term "multicollinearity," dealing with spurious correlations, appears only once in this massive book. See Thomas Sowell, The American Spectator, February 1995, “Ethnicity and IQ”

[10] Michael Nunley, “The Bell Curve:: Too smooth to be true “September/October 1995"

[11]Quoted in Tim Beardsley, Scientific American, January 1995, Vol. 272, #1 BCW,, 244.

[12]Leon J. Kamin, “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics,” R. Jacoby & N. Glauberman (Eds.), The bell curve debate: History, documents, opinions. (New York: Times Books. 1995) pp.81-105

[13] See Charles Lane, “The Tainted Sources of the Bell Curve,” The New York Review of Books; New York; Dec 1, 1994; See also New Scientist July 22, 1995, 44  According to the book’s bibliography and to back issues of the Mankind Quarterly, the seventeen are W.J. Andrews, Cyril Burt, Raymond B. Cattell (eight citations), Hans J. Eysenck, Seymour Itzkoff, Arthur Jensen (twenty-three citations), Richard Lynn (twenty-four citations), Robert E. Kuttner, Frank C.J. McGurk (six citations), C.E. Noble, R. Travis Osborne (three citations), Roger Pearson, J. Philippe Rushton (eleven citations), William Shockley, Audrey Shuey, Daniel Vining (three citations), and Nathaniel Weyl.The ten who are or were either editors or members of the editorial board are: Cattell, Eysenck, Itzkoff, Kuttner, Lynn, McGurk, Noble, Pearson, Shuey, and Vining.

[14] See Charles Lane, the Tainted Sources of the Bell Curve, The New York Review of Books; New York; Dec 1, 1994; See also New Scientist July 22, 1995, 44  “Race is a four letter word” by WAQAR AHMAD

[15] Leon J. Kamin, “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics,” R. Jacoby & N. Glauberman (Eds.), The bell curve debate: History, documents, opinions. (New York: Times Books. 1995) pp.81-105

[16] Mickey Kaus, “October 31, 1994"

August 30, 2005 |11:13 AM ET|

Will Bush become the most unpopular president in the history of Gallup Polling?  .  (And will the mainstream media continue to refer to him as “well-liked” by the country?)

Thanks very much to Major Bob for .

More on the Bruce Conference .  (I can’t make it.)

Is Bush having recruitment trouble to fight his war?  No problem, the time-tested Republican solution...

Wait, don't answer yet.  If you enlist now, you get to hear Sean Hannity sing .

Quote of the Day, Peter Carlson:  “Kristol's zeal for battle is truly inspiring.  In fact, it inspired me to think: Maybe he should join the fight.  He could emulate Theodore Roosevelt, who proved his zeal for the Spanish-American War by quitting his cushy desk job and organizing his own regiment to fight in Cuba.  It was called the Rough Riders.  Kristol's regiment could include other war-hawk opinion slingers in the Murdoch empire, guys like Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly.  He could call it the Tough Talkers.” .

The Bell Curveball, Part II.

Despite the success and continuing influence of Losing Ground, Murray soon shifted gears.  Race is largely absent from “Losing Ground.”  But Murray had a chance meeting with Harvard professor Richard Hernstein, who had been arguing in various places—including the ‘liberal’ Atlantic Monthly, that, “In times to come, the tendency to be unemployed may run in the genes of a family about as certainly as bad teeth do now.” [1] Murray was clearly excited by arguments like these, and decided to redirect his own research toward it.  In 1990, the Manhattan Institute decided that it did not want to associate itself with this kind of research and informed Murray to find another home for his work on what he termed “the genetic inferiority stuff.” [2]

Fortunately for Murray, Michael Joyce, who had been so instrumental in supporting him at the Olin Foundation, had now taken over the Bradley Foundation.  Murray’s $100,000 grant was moved from the Manhattan Institute to the American Enterprise Institute, after a brief—and failed--attempt to place him in the more centrist and establishment-oriented, Brookings Institute.  Murray was, once again, extremely fortunate in his choice of sponsors.  By the time he completed his second book, he had received more than $750,000 since the Bradley foundation had begun its support, with more than $500,000 coming during the four years he worked on The Bell Curve. [3]

The publicity campaign for “The Bell Curve” mimicked that of “Losing Ground.”  It is safe to say that most scholarly books containing hundreds of pages of regression analyses and primary source-based historical, economic and sociological claims would first be published, at least in part, in academic quarterlies that vet submissions by scholarly peer review on the part of an editorial board.  But Simon & Schuster did not even send The Bell Curve to reviewers in galleys and neither did its authors.  A Wall Street Journal news story reported that the book had been "swept forward by a strategy that provided book galleys to likely supporters while withholding them from likely critics."  The Journal suggested that AEI "tried to fix the fight when it released review copies selectively, contrary to usual publishing protocol."  Murray and AEI also hand-picked a group of pundits to be flown to Washington at the think tank’s expense for a weekend of briefings by Murray and discussion of the book’s arguments.[4]  This strategy would pay off when the book was released and the publicity machine put into action, long before the scientific establishment could garner a look and form any coherent judgments.

Couched between an endless array of tables, charts and ten-dollar words, the Murray/Hernstein thesis, at its core, was nevertheless disarmingly simple.  The book’s first sentence is:  “This book is about differences in intellectual capacity among people, and groups, and what these differences mean for America’s future.”  The authors blame many of the nation’s social problems, including the persistence of an “underclass” characterized by high-levels of crime, welfare, and illegitimacy, on the fact that black people are just not as smart as white people.  After all, they argue, all racial barriers to advancement have been removed from American society; hence, we have arrived at a near perfect consequential relationship between IQ and socioeconomic achievement.  And because, the authors believe IQ to be largely the product of one’s genetic inheritance, it is futile for society to try to boost those doomed to failure beyond their natural stations in life. In addition, high-IQ women are now entering the workforce at record rates and refusing to reproduce a comparable rate to that of poor and stupid women, who rarely work and collect lots of welfare money.  These trends are "exerting downward pressure on the distribution of cognitive ability in the United States," with its resultant increases in crime, welfare dependency and illegitimacy.  Because those under siege will not simply sit tight and let their society slip inexorably into anarchy, the authors predict a future semi-fascist “custodial state” for America, not unlike “a high-tech and more lavish version of an Indian reservation.”  Unfortunately, the dumb ones among us will lose such cherished rights as “individualism, equal rights before the law, free people running their own lives,” according to the authors, but such measures will become unavoidable lest we taken to address the coming crisis of a national dysgenic downturn.

Interestingly, while The Bell Curve sets out to achieve the same aims as “Losing Ground”— the reduction and eventual elimination of all transfer payments to the poor and indigent--it does so by directly contradicting Losing Ground’s central argument. In “Losing Ground,” Murray placed the lion’s share of responsibility for the creation of the American underclass at the feet of government anti-poverty programs, primarily welfare. "Focusing on blacks cripples progress," he declared in a 1986 op-ed piece (titled "Not a Matter of Race"), as Mickey Kaus later noted, traditional explanations of the special problems facing blacks nearly all begin with the assumption that blacks are different from everyone else, whether because of racism or because of their inherent qualities. [5]  But in “The Bell Curve,” Murray attributed the existence of an underclass to the “true” difference between blacks and whites—the intellectual deficiency of blacks (among others), whose IQ scores averaged fifteen points below those of whites.  Moreover, in The Bell Curve, Murray argues that entry to the welfare rolls almost qualifies as prima facie evidence of a low IQ, while in Losing Ground,” he purported—albeit using cooked statistics—to demonstrate that in many instances, it was a perfectly rational choice over certain job choices and even sometimes marriage.

Though he contradicted his earlier argument, Murray marketed his book by relying on the same psychological insight he made in his proposal for the first one: namely that many people worried that, privately, they were racists who yearned for expert reassurance that the rest of the nation shared their prejudice. “The private dialogue about race in America is far different from the public one,”[6] he wrote in The New Republic. The Bell Curve aimed to replace the public dialogue—the one in which all peoples were deemed created equal, their genetic makeup considered to be only a portion of their destiny—and replace it with the private one in which blacks and Latinos were understood to be inferior to whites and Asians.

Aided by another brilliant marketing campaign, The Bell Curve inspired a media firestorm.  The book entered the public discourse as one writer commented, “like a noseful of cocaine.”  It spent fifteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, outselling “Losing Ground” by a factor of ten to one, and even this was only a tiny measure of its spectacular success.  Magazines published special issues; talk shows offered up two-part editions, and four separate collections of essays were published, devoted entirely to arguments about the book.  As Chester Finn asked in January 1995, “Is there anyone left with access to a microphone, television camera, or printing press who has not unburdened himself of an opinion of The Bell Curve?” [7]

Much as Blanche DuBois depended of the kindness of strangers, Charles Murray depended on the ignorance of pundits. The initial debate on the Bell Curve was conducted almost entirely by people who had no professional capacity to assess its science.  "I am not a scientist. I know nothing about psychometrics," wrote Leon Wieseltier, one of the most learned and least retiring members of the elite media, in The New Republic.[8] Even The New York Times Book Review, unchallenged as the most influential book review on earth, assigned the book to a science reporter, rather than a practicing scientist, much less a biogeneticist. As a result, the early reactions to the book proved to be a kind of Rorschach test for pundits on what innocent reviewers assumed to be the scientifically proven conclusions relating to the genetic intellectual inferiority of blacks and what might be done about it, rather than the more fundamental question of whether Murray and Hernstein had, in fact, proven anything. For instance Time called the book "845 pages of provocation with footnotes," while Newsweek defended its sourcing as “overwhelmingly mainstream."[9]

Not surprisingly, Murray’s oddest claims about The Bell Curve and the controversy it provoked, related to race. Over and over he insisted that the claims he made about Black genetic inferiority were both unimportant to the book’s central thesis and generally uninteresting and unimportant. He wrote in his 10,000 word essay in The New Republic:

Here is what we hope will be our contribution to the discussion. We put it in italics; if we could, we would put it in neon lights: The answer doesn't much matter. Whether the black-white difference in test scores is produced by genes or the environment has no bearing on any of the reasons why the black- white difference is worth worrying about. If tomorrow we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what role, if any, were played by genes, the news would be neither good if ethnic differences were predominantly environmental, nor awful if they were predominantly genetic.” [10]

Yet Murray could hardly claim to be unaware of the explosive potential of his work and likelihood that it would anger many people of good will. After all, he had been asked to leave his professional home at the Manhattan Institute over its subject matter. Murray noted in The New Republic that the subject upon which he was writing tended to leave people “scared stiff about the answer.” He admitted to a reporter that his investigation for The Bell Curve  “was a case of stumbling onto a subject that had all the allure of the forbidden. Some of the things we read to do this work, we literally hide when we're on planes and trains. We're furtively peering at this stuff." [11] One wonders if this is one place where Murray took Glickes’ advice, as David Brock described it, to call black “white” and “deny a political agenda” as "the price of media credibility.” [12]

Whatever Murray’s reasoning, it worked. The New York Times Magazine made him its cover story. In a deeply sympathetic review in Forbes, Peter Brimlow, who had attended AEI’s pre-publication conference, hailed the book’s “Jeffersonian vision.”  (Brimlow was apparently innocent of Jefferson’s views of the allegedly physiological basis of what he deemed to be Black intellectual inferiority in his famous 1787 essay, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”) [13] Ben Wattenberg gave Murray an extremely generous hearing on a special two-part version of “Think Tank.” The American Spectator assigned the book to the extremely conservative African-American sociologist Thomas Sowell, who also proved notably sympathetic with the authors’ goals as well as their motives. The review published in Commentary was authored by Olin-funded and Manhattan Institute-housed writer, Chester Finn, who also proved quite sympathetic, though disappointed that the authors did not go even further in their conservative prescriptions to solve the dysgenic crisis they diagnosed. And the magazine also offered Murray the opportunity to speak directly to his critics in a lengthy riposte to the reviews elsewhere.[14]

Undoubtedly the biggest political boost “The Bell Curve” received was from The New Republic. The editors of this once liberal magazine’s decision to carry Murray’s arguments at such length was symbolic to say the least. At more 10,000 words, it proved to be one of the longest articles ever published in the magazine’s nine decade life.  When added to the seventeen responses published with it, it’s safe to say that no topic had ever galvanized the editors of what was once America’s liberal flagship quite to this degree, save perhaps the Arab peoples from time immemorial. Then editor, Andrew Sullivan argued in his unsigned editorial, “the notion that there might be resilient ethnic differences in intelligence is not, we believe, an inherently racist belief. It’s an empirical hypothesis, which can be examined.” This defense of Murray and Hernstein’s  speech right to free speech rather than the validity of their argument, sounds plausible until one remembers that Holocaust denial is also an empirical hypothesis that can be examined. Clearly the magazine’s editor and owner sought to give Murray’s arguments the magazine’s imprimatur. )Today Sullivan says he believes the book to be “one of the bravest, smartest books of the decade.” [15])

Aside from Sullivan’s editorial, the only essay resembling an outright endorsement of Murray’s arguments came from Peretz himself. He devoted his essay to the alleged injustices perpetrated in the name of group-admissions to universities and (somehow) compared the United States unfavorably to Israel’s ‘ingathering of the exiles” on this point. A few New Republic editors have been known to play a game with one another in private whereby they try to insert favorable references to Israel in places where they clearly do not belong. Here Peretz seemed to be playing too.

It would be difficult to think of another prediction which sounds so innocuous but would prove to be quite so wrong-headed…


Alter Reviews:

Good news for time wasting.  We’ve got new DVD box sets from Larry David, CYE (4th season), the much under-rated and sorely missed “Mind of the Married Man” (First Season) and the Simpsons (Sixth Season).  If you missed MotMM, now would be a good time to catch up.  As for the other two, well, if you’re in a bad mood, and you want company, there’s Larry.  (In the best episode by the way, "The Car Pool Lane,” in which Larry brings a hooker to a Dodger game, set an innocent man free.  Unused footage from the show, entered into evidence by the defense attorney, confirmed his client's alibi that he couldn't have committed a murder because he was at the game.)  If you’re not in a bad mood, or you just don’t want to be—or you want to meditate on the contradictions of the universe regarding the fact that it’s the evil Murdoch who gave it to us, well, just watch it.  It comes in a cool Bart box too.  (Because the episodes are so packed with visual information, it rewards watching over and over with a seven-year-old who can explain what you’ve missed when you were only half paying attention.)  Among the highlights are shows inspired by Hitchcock's Rear Window ("Bart of Darkness"); Michael Crichton's Westworld and Jurassic Park ("Itchy and Scratchy Land"); and Stephen King and Ray Bradbury ("Treehouse of Horror V").

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Paul A. Stark Jr.
Hometown: Canton, Ohio
Brad from Arlington is--once again--wrong in his lame defense of this administration's policies with regard to Iraq. He writes: "The UN had essentially, if not actually, approved military action."  No, it had not.  The Bush Administration knew this full well--that was precisely the reason it went back to the U. N. for the requisite resolution, and why it had to pick up its marbles and go home red-faced when no such resolution was forthcoming.  The reason for that diplomatic failure is clear as crystal: contrary to Brad's assertion that "the 'simpleton' Bush managed to somehow dupe Congress, the UN, the majority of Americans, and countless foreign nations into believing his contrivance.  His 'lies' convinced dozens of countries to send troops and equipment for the effort," very few countries were actually convinced.  Think that Micronesia and the Marshall Islands were lining up on the basis of ideology or security concerns?  There is a reason that this pathetic gaggle of hangers-on have become known as the "Coalition of the Bribable." 

As for Congress, the American people, and the U. N., they certainly WERE deceived--deliberately; the Downing Street Minutes demonstrates that beyond all doubt, and let us be clear: they were not deceived by "lies" but by LIES, i.e., the real McCoy, no ironic quotation marks need apply.  Finally, he writes: "it is truly sad that this country is so bitterly divided over the removal of a brutal dictator."  More smoke-and-mirror misdirection from the my-GOP-president-right-or-wrong right wing.  We are NOT divided over the removal of a brutal dictator.  In fact, that is about the only aspect of this administration's abysmal Iraq policy on which there is little or no disagreement.  Rather, the division is over the extent to which that removal was a smoke screen to cover other objectives, the incompetent way in which those objectives have been pursued, and the administration dis(as)sembling over those objectives and their mistakes in relation to them.  On that, there will continue to be what Brad regards as regrettable division as long as this administration has defenders of those policies.  And there is nothing sad or regrettable about that.  Get used to it.

Name: Matthew Saroff
Hometown: Owings Mills, MD
Here is a heads up on what Murray was doing when he was still in Iowa, according to Steve Perry on Minneapolis/St. Paul citipages: .  According to the article, this was cited in a 1994 NY Times article, and on the Donahue show, but went nowhere.  Murray acknowledged the act, but said that he "had no idea as to the racial significance of cross-burning."  Shouldn't this at the very least make it into any story about the guy before the 3rd paragraph of a story?

Name: John DAlessandro
Hometown: Yonkers, NY
Dear Mr. Alterman:
Now that it's fashionable to promote ten-step programs for 'honorable withdrawals' from Iraq, I want to be the first to promote The Ronald Reagan One Step Program, which has the advantage of already been successfully implemented in Lebanon in the 1980's.  As you'll recall, over 200 marines were blown up in their barracks in Lebanon, and almost immediately thereafter it was announced that the survivors would be "re-deployed."  Which they were.  They were put on a boat and brought home.  Smartest thing Dutch did in eight years.


[1] Irene Sege, “’The Bell Curve’: The Other Author,” The Boston Globe, November 10, 1994, p. 91.

[2] Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado, No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and foundations Changes America’s Social Agenda (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996), 58

[3] Jason DeParle, Times Magazine, 32.

[4], Posted Friday, Jan. 17, 1997, at 4:30, m. PT

[5] Mickey Kaus, The New Republic, 1994

[6] Charles Murray and Richard Hernstien, “Race. Genes, and IQ – An Apologia,” The New Republic, October 31, 1994

[7] Chester Finn, “For Whom it tolls,” Commentary Review, January 1995

[8] Leon Wieseltier, , “The Lowerers,” The New Republic, Oct, 31, 1994, p. 20

[9] Geoffrey Cowley, “Testing the Science of Intelligence,” Newsweek, October 24, 1994, p. 56, (Ryan BCD, 29?), Richard Lacayo, “For Whom the Bell Curves,” Time, October 24, 1994 and Measured Lies: The Bell Curve  Examined, Joel L. Kincheloe, Shirley R. Steinberg and Aaron D. Gresson III (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996)

[10] Charles Murray and Richard Hernstien, “Race. Genes, and IQ – An Apologia,” The New Republic, October 31, 1994

[11] Jason DeParle, "Daring Research or Social Science Pornography?" The New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994, 51.

[12] David Brock, Blinded, 107.

[13] Among other beliefs, Jefferson held that blacks “secrete less by the kidnies and more by the glands of the kin, which gives them a very strong and disagreeable odour. This greater degree of transpiration renders them more tolerant of heat and less so of cold, than the whites. … They seem to require less sleep… They are at least as brave, and more adventurous. But this may proceed from a want of forethought which prevents danger their seeing a danger till it be present. When present, they do not go through it with more coolness or steadiness than the whites. They are more ardent after their female; but love seems with them to be more an eager desire than a delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation. … In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection. Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia” (1787) in Thomas Jefferson, Writings, (New York: Library of America, 1984), 265

[14] Brimlow in Forbes, Finn in Commentary, Wattenberg,

[15] Email to the author, 2/21/01

August 29, 2005 |10:39 AM ET|

The Bell Curveball

What Can I add to ?

I'm told that several reporters expressed squeamishness about last night's event, particularly as the press-pool vans drove by antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan's "Camp Casey" site. And later, a small handful watched askance as the rest fawned over Bush, following him around in packs every time he moved.

You gotta hand it to .  He’s got the whole blogosphere buzzing again about his weird combination of ignorance, arrogance, malevolence and incompetence, this time in re his misguided—to be generous—defense of Charles Murray’s racist pseudoscience published under the title, The “Bell Curve.”  rounds up some of the reaction from and , , as well as the report of a task force established by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association, .

It being the last week of August, I think I’ll indulge myself and take three days to lay out the case I made in as I think it illustrates a part of the story that has gone insufficiently noticed—the pre-Fox, pre-cable, pre-blogosphere power of the right-wing media food chain to push forward even the most degraded—both morally and intellectually—forms of scholarship into the larger political discourse.  Andy was but a cog in this machine, but an important one.  It continues to amaze me that even he could take pride in this role.

Anyway, today’s entry concerns Murray’s first work, “Losing Ground.”

Perhaps the most successful publishing foray into the world of ideas by a combination of right wing funders and their compatriot intellectuals is the amazing public relations achievement undertaken on behalf of the work of the formerly obscure Charles Murray.  How many 800 plus page nonfiction books featuring over a hundred pages of graphs and source materials have managed to sell upwards of 300,000 copies in hardcover in recent years?  How many have inspired Vanity Fair-type celebrity coverage in virtually all major news magazines, as well as a special issue of the New Republic, which featured no fewer than seventeen responses?  How many authors of such books have been featured in major Hollywood films, carried by characters wishing to demonstrate intellectual toughness? [1]  The answer to all of the above is precisely one: Murray’s The Bell Curve. [2]  Back in 1982, however, Charles Murray, was still a “nobody” in the words of William Hammett, president of the Manhattan Institute, and about to be Murray’s chief patron.  Murray’s ascendancy would never have been possible without the patient, far-sighted investments in his work by a conservative network of funders and foundations, including the reclusive billionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife, the Olin Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and perhaps most significantly, Milwaukee’s Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.  They not only supported Murray when he needed time to research and write his books, they funded elaborate publicity campaigns to ensure that Murray’s argument would dominate media discourse.

The story of Charles Murray’s rise in just one decade from being a public nobody to being America’s best known and perhaps most influential public intellectual is an odd but instructive tale with regard to just how easily conservatives can manipulate the SCLM, and legitimate views once considered unspeakable in polite society.  As a writer, Murray displayed an uncanny ability to offer what appeared to be a reasonable and scholarly-sounding voice to opinions and arguments that had hitherto been considered beyond the pale of respectability.  Indeed he has been quite self-conscious regarding this purpose as evidenced by the fact that in his book proposal for “Losing Ground,” he explained to potential publishers that his work would be welcomed by people who secretly believed themselves to be racists.  "Why can a publisher sell it?" he asked.  "Because a huge number of well-meaning whites fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not.  It's going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say." [3]

Trained as a Ph.D. in political science but without any formal credentials in economics or psychometrics --the two fields in which his work managed to incite national debates--Murray’s work has met with little but vituperation and disgust among those experts competent to judge its scientific merits.  Yet owing to a series of brilliant and extremely well funded marketing strategies, and an unarguable genius for locating the g-spot of the political/intellectual marketplace, Murray somehow managed to transform public debate on issues where he lacked what most in the field would consider basic professional competence. 

Back when Murray was still in Iowa, he became friends with a well-connected Reagan Administration official named Michael Horowitz.  Horowitz secured an invitation for Murray to speak at a lunch sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, convincing William Hammett that he had discovered a star.  Meanwhile, Murray sent a copy of an article he wrote for the Olin Foundation-funded neoconservative journal “Public Interest,” co-founded and edited by Irving Kristol.  Kristol called Michael Joyce, whom he had helped hire to run the Olin Foundation, and explained that Murray wanted to turn his article into a book but needed money to do so, as no commercial publisher would pay a living wage for a wonky right-wing study of welfare policy by a nobody from Iowa. A series of quick phone calls resulted in a $125,000 grant from three conservative foundations.[4]

Viewing Murray’s work as a potential antidote to Michael Harrington’s The Other America, which helped inspire the War on Poverty, Hammett wrote, “Every generation produces a handful of books whose impact is lasting; books that change basic assumptions about the way the world works,” in a private memo at the time.  “Charles Murray’s Losing Ground could become such a book.  And if it does it will alter the terms of debate over what is perhaps the most compelling political issue of our time: the modern welfare state.” [5] Right again.

According to Murray’s formulation, welfare did not ameliorate or attenuate the ravages of poverty; it perpetuated and entrenched them.  Instead of empowering poor people, it created a dangerous dependency on federal handouts that sapped their energy and destroyed their initiative, thereby preventing them from acquiring the productive skills they need to achieve success in America’s market economy.  “We tried to provide more for the poor and produced more poor instead,” Murray lamented.  It was time to scrap the entire system and let the poor fend for themselves.

Unfortunately, Murray’s assertions were based on a series of internal contradictions, specious arguments and outright phony claims unsupported by his data.  For instance, his assertion that that the hope for welfare payments was the main source of illegitimacy among black teenagers posited no evidence for this claim, and failed to explain why the rate of illegitimacy rose for everyone—and not just welfare recipients--after 1972, while the constant-dollar value of those welfare benefits declined by twenty percent.  While continually insisting on the impotence of the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration, Murray never once explained the development of the Black middle class during this period.  Moreover, why blame the welfare policies of the late sixties and early seventies on for the decline in participation of Black males in the labor market when the decline actually dates back to the late fifties? It turned out that Murray’s calculations relied on the highly disputed figures of an obscure economist named Timothy Smedding.  Using more traditional and widely-accepted measurements, Christopher Jencks calculated that contrary to Murray’s central claims, the percentage of the population defined as poor in 1980 was only half the size it was in 1965, and one third the size it was in 1950.

Much of Murray’s argument was taken up by a “thought-experiment” based on a fictional couple he named Harold and Phyllis who lived in Pennsylvania, who made what Murray argued was an entirely rational economic decision for the woman to remain unmarried after having a child in order to collect welfare benefits.  But Murray screwed up his math.  While Pennsylvania was indeed atypically generous to welfare recipients in 1980, the couple’s income would still have been over thirty percent higher if Harold had worked at a minimum wage job rather than Phyllis collecting welfare as the sole means of support for the family. [6]

Despite these weaknesses, Hammett’s prediction proved prophetic.  Nothing so trivial as fundamental flaws in both reasoning and calculations managed to interfere with the Manhattan Institute’s plans to turn Murray’s blame-the-victim argument into the nation’s new conventional wisdom on welfare.  The publicity campaign for “Losing Ground” was planned and executed with impressive discipline and imagination.  Surely it had no precedent in the world of welfare wonkdom.  Before it began, Hammett informed his colleagues “any discretionary funds at our disposal for the next few months will go toward financing Murray's outreach activities.”  He then mailed out a massive number of copies—over 700-- to academics, journalists, and public officials, sent Murray on a national speaking tour (funded by $15,000 grant from the Liberty Fund) and he raised another $10,000 to “gather twenty of the nation’s leading scholars from both the conservative and liberal camps, along with some of the best writers on the subject, for a two-day discussion,” according to an internal memorandum.  Hammett explained in an internal memo.  Well-known columnists and other members of the media were paid between $500 and $1,500 a piece to participate, something that was unheard of at the time, and remains extremely rare.  Taking advantage of the economic illiteracy of the punditocracy, Murray was able to sell his idea to these opinion-makers without having to respond to difficult queries that might have been posed by a competent economist.  (No one, for instance, suggested submitting any part of “Losing Ground” to a peer-review professional journal.)  The pundits who liked it did so because it reinforced their own worldviews—along with the arguments necessary to support Reagan Administration’s assault on the welfare state.  Reagan liked to tell stories about “welfare queens” buying vodka with their food stamps.  Most people understood these to be apocryphal, but conservatives repeated them in the belief that they contained within them a “larger truth.”  Now here was Charles Murray with a book full of graphs and economic data that appeared to “prove” the larger story that Reagan’s imagined anecdotes hoped to impart.  For conservatives seeking to weaken the welfare state, and for liberals and moderates seeking to make themselves appear more “relevant” in a period of conservative ascendancy, there was no sense in looking this gift horse too closely in the mouth.

In spite of the book’s errors, or because his readers were oblivious to them, Losing Ground quickly became a cause celebre for pundits and politicians alike.  "This year's budget-cutters' bible seems to be ‘Losing Ground,’" noted a New York Times editorial early in 1985.  “Among movers and shakers in the federal executive branch, the newspaper reported, “’Losing Ground’ had quickly become holy writ: "In agency after agency, officials cite the Murray book as a philosophical base" for proposals to slash social expenditure.” [7]  The book was the subject of dozens of major editorials, columns, and reviews in publications such as the New York Times, Newsweek, the Dallas Morning News, and The New Republic.  “As Charles Lane observed in The New Republic, its success could be viewed as “a case study in how conservative intellectuals have come to dominate the policy debates of recent years." [8]  Even once the book’s obvious weaknesses had been identified, as experts began to weigh in from professional journals, they barely made a dent in its effectiveness as a weapon in the ideological wars.  A decade or more later, conservatives were still wielding Losing Ground like a sword against the scourge of more money for the poor.  When Murray was invited to be a guest on ABC's “This Week” during this same period, host David Brinkley lavishly praised him as "the author of a much-admired, much-discussed book called “Losing Ground,” which is a study of our social problems."  Minutes later, Murray was explaining his solution: "I want to get rid of the whole welfare system, period, lock, stock and barrel -- if you don't have any more welfare, you enlist a lot more people in the community to help take care of the children that are born.  And the final thing that you can do, if all else fails, is orphanages." [9]  More than a dozen years after publication, the Philadelphia Inquirer accurately recalled that Losing Ground "provided much of the intellectual groundwork for welfare reform,” and just as the new House Speaker Newt Gingrich was suggesting that children in poverty be put in orphanages. [10]

More tomorrow.


Universal Music Group has a new "Chronicles" series of "Three Classic Albums” boxed together in a long slipcase with individual booklets recalling the originals.  Nothin’ fancy.  For instance the Eric Clapton set includes "461 Ocean Boulevard," "There's One Every Crowd," and "E.C Was Here."  Aerosmith's set features "Permanent Vacation," "Pump," and "Get A Grip."

Other sets available are the Allmans, John Mellencamp, Lynyrd Skynyrd, B.B. King, Tears For Fears, and Marvin Gaye.  All feature music worth owning, but how much of it you already have will determine whether this format works for you.  What worked for me was the Skynyrd and the Mellencamp, but if by chance you don’t have the Clapton and the Allmans, you really should.

My favorite song of all time right now, sappy as it is to say so, is Bob Dylan’s slow, mournful and unspeakably beautiful 1961 version of “This Land is Your Land” recorded live at the Carnegie Chapter Hall on “No Direction Home,” an amazingly rich collection of live and alternate takes. (Almost as sappy, my second favorite song in the world is a 1963 Town Hall performance of “Blowing in the Wind.”)  You can check out the songs , but you should probably just take my word for it.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Matt Shirley
Hometown: Gurnee, IL
Mr. Alterman,
A number of your readers seemed to be taken with Lindsay Waters' essay on nihilistic deconstructionism, as was I.  I have not delved into the subject to have much of an opinion on the specifics, but the "vibe" of the piece had the ring of truth to me.  To be more specific, I think it captured a part of the truth about why it is so easy to demonize academics, particularly those in the humanities.  Let's be honest, President Bush and the philistine wing of the conservative movement have made a living for years deriding academia.  Their argument, which does not bear up under much scrutiny, is that University faculties are leftist to the point of being kookie, and tempermentally un-American.  Why does this lame argument persist?  The Waters essay argues that the deconstructionist school of criticism and other trends have made academics inwardly focused to the point where they don't try to say anything useful about anything.  (This abuse of the method reminds me of Plato's comment that no one under 30 should be taught the Socratic Method because people lacking in mature judgment will use it destructively, merely for showing off; I'm paraphrasing.)  So, I'm thinking even if there are only a few deconstructionists similar to what Waters describes, even if there are only a few "blame America first" lefties like the Bushies describe, combine that with the galloping escalation in tuition costs (and somehow the middle class never seems to quite qualify for financial aide or relief), and textbook prices that are more and more difficult to justify, and perhaps one can understand why the Universities and their faculties are such easy targets. Just my stream of consciousness on this subject.

Name: Brad
Hometown: Arlington,VA

Dr. Alterman,
Stupid suggests that the focus of the deception argument regarding Iraq should be on building people up.  What about focusing on the context, perspective and facts surrounding the decision to remove Saddam?  Right or wrong, the decision was not made in a vacuum.  Even if selectively chosen, there were numerous facts supporting the decision.  I truly loathe trying to defend the administration, but the rampant ignorance regarding the build-up to war and the intelligence upon which it was based defies reason.  A significant amount of the intelligence relied upon by the administration came from the UN of all places.  Russian and British intelligence bolstered and complemented domestic intelligence.  The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Saddam was acting like someone who was hiding something, as noted by Stupid.  Virtually all of Congress was on board (and in a fit of political cowardice had abdicated their Constitutional duties, no less).  The UN had essentially, if not actually, approved military action.  The burning question in the UN at the time was not whether to remove Saddam, but the time table to be applied.  But somehow, those espousing the "Bush Lied" theories have morphed Iraq into a baseless diabolical plan hatched by the administration.  However, the "simpleton" Bush managed to somehow dupe Congress, the UN, the majority of Americans, and countless foreign nations into believing his contrivance.  His "lies" convinced dozens of countries to send troops and equipment for the effort.  Apparently, none of the guilty parties were smart enough to realize what the "Bush Lied" crowd sees so clearly in retrospect.  Or just maybe, those guilty parties did see something that has long since been obscured and ignored by those prone to ideological hatred and second-guessing.  Maybe buried in the "lies," was a larger, long-term plan for dramatic change that was worth the risk and sacrifice.  Whatever the reasons or motivations, truths or lies, it is truly sad that this country is so bitterly divided over the removal of a brutal dictator.

Name: Thomas Turner
Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida

I sent this letter to Don Wyclif, the "Public Editor" at Tribune today (9/29).  I also sent a copy of this to the editors at CJR at the same time.  Best wishes!

I was hired as a reporter for Deerfield Beach, Florida-based Forum Publishing Group (FPG), a Tribune company, in August of 2002, and was promoted to editor by the middle of October of that year.  FPG was, and is, managed by former Sun-Sentinel employees, an important Tribune asset.  Soon after I moved into the editorship of two of the papers, The Boynton Beach Times and the Deerfield Times, I wrote a few editorials on national subjects, mostly pegged to the ideas of professors at Florida Atlantic University, including Walid Phares.  In March of 2003, I wrote an editorial piece, which I reprint below, which prompted a strong reaction from the Assistant Managing Editor.  I was forbidden to write about any national issue, she told me, or any military action the US was currently involved in, or would later be involved in, for one year.  I suspected the directive concerned the content of the editorial, but we did not discuss it.  It was an outright prohibition.  Furthermore, she made it clear I would lose my job if I did not comply.  She also tacked onto the prohibition that the management wanted me to focus on local issues, because that was what our readers cared about.  Being an editor for all of three months, I did what I was told.  I wrote about local issues and I never again wrote about a national issue.  I signed up for embed duty, through the Florida National Guard, but was not included, wrote about the deployment of troops from Broward County, chronicled the return of soldiers to their families and their old jobs, met a number of very decent and giving people who ran family support services for their soldier partners and friends, and stayed out of pressing any opinion of my own about the war and the administration.  Lo and behold, by the spring of 2004, long after critics of the war had found their voice and many of the shortcomings of the Bush administration's planning for the war had been revealed, I noticed another editorial writer at FPG questioning the war effort.  If another editorial writer could take on national issues, had the policy changed, or was it the same, just that I had been censored in the run-up to the war?  I e-mailed my new supervisor, in April, asking for a written policy about whether or not editorial writers could focus on US foreign policy and I did not receive a reply of any kind.  I quit in late 2004 and I'm not in the journalism business.  I have a few questions: Was this censorship?  If it was not, what was it, and what policy does the Tribune follow for the direction its editorial writers must take?
Thomas Turner
5240 12th Ave. N St.
Petersburg, Fl. 33710

Deerfield Times editorialMarch 13, 2003 Volume 30, #11 Wolfowitz Was Right, Way Off The Mark In late 2001, Cal Thomas, the long-time conservative columnist, wrote a piece he called "George McGovern was right."  It was notable for several reasons, not the least of which is that Thomas as a commentator has not been very cozy with liberal political views.  The column, in short, came about after historian Michael Bechloss published "Reaching for Glory: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1964-1965" in early November.  The tapes, as Bechloss demonstrated, showed what many historians and commentators had concluded in the intervening years, that Lyndon Johnson knew the Gulf of Tonkin resolution was based on a fabrication, that he really didn't believe the US could win the war in Vietnam, and that he was planning on escalating the war anyway, after the election of 1964 was finished.  The Thomas column, many years after the fact but in a genuine spirit of appreciation, applauded McGovern and other (Morse, Hatfield) for their "principled opposition to the war" during the period when they were routinely characterized as unpatriotic.  Thomas is also careful to point out that the Bechloss project teaches us that "no president should have exclusive power when it comes to committing so many American lives and resources to a war."  The circumstances are different, of course, in this era, after US (and other) citizens were killed on US soil.  The US also stands alone as a superpower.  The president holds a different type of mandate at this point, and has, at least for a time, a political and moral foundation to act in a way that is nearly unprecedented in modern history.  And yet, this lack of institutional sanction that could check the US from acting in a way that actually increases instability in the world is what troubles me and those who question what the US is embarked upon.  As an American, I've been presented with the justification for changing this Middle East regime from disarming a renegade dictator, to seeking out and destroying weapons of mass destruction, to protecting ourselves from an imminent threat from Iraq, to bringing democracy to the Middle East.  It is this last justification, presented in Bush's February 26 speech to the American Enterprise Institute (a lengthy two weeks ago), that leads me to think that a small group of professional pols have been pursuing a political and military policy that was crystallized in the aftermath of 9/11 (the now-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz paper from 1992 is often cited as the nexus for the operating theory) and the nation is being dragooned into an ambitious venture with little opportunity - or consideration - for debate. This goes way beyond overthrowing a dictator: but Bush and those on board couldn't be direct about this until late in the game. This strategy of creating a democratic state in the middle of the Middle East, and that a new state would be a model for other nations in the area, so that "people can fully share in the progress of our times" (from the February 28 Bush speech) is radical in its reach. And, it seems, it is a strategy that this country's leaders are determined to pursue in a unilateral way. It is the possible misuse of power that seems a possibility with this current administration. Bruce Jentleson, the director of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University, was quoted as saying "that American power by itself can be a long-term loser." At some point, he thinks, power doesn't work unless you can convince people that what you want for them is in their interest too. I'm all for using American ideas to help other people live more freely, and to help them build lives that reflect their ambitions, but I'm not sure how tolerant the US people will be when the difficulties of building democratic institutions - police, judges, a constitution - in a distant land begins to produce unforeseen consequences, including a possible rise in instability and resentment against the US.  In the narrow debate of today, the "fringe" voices seem to be those who are opposed to this venture. There are some in the media (not very many) and some on the street (there seems to more every weekend).  Someday, their concerns might turn out to be prescient and this policy will be seen as a short-sighted (and strong-armed) policy that the US could not endure alone or without greater diplomatic efforts. Then again, I might be so wrong about this that I'll write a column years from now - gladly - and call it "Paul Wolfowitz was right." —Tom Turner


[1]  This was 1994’s "With Honors" starring Joe Pesci, about a homeless man at Harvard, released by Warner Brothers.

[2]  The book was co-authored with the late Richard Hernstein, who died shortly before its publication. Its full title is The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (New York: Free Press, 1994).

[3]  Jason DeParle, "Daring Research or Social Science Pornography?" The New York Times Magazine, October 9, 1994,, 51.

[4]  Sidney Blumenthal, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power (New York: Times Books, 1986), 293

[5]  Sidney Blumenthal, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power (New York: Times Books, 1986), 293

[6]  Regarding the various flaws of Losing Ground, see Michael Harrington, “Crunched Numbers,” New Republic, January 28, 1985, pp.7-10, Robert Greenstein, “Losing Faith in ‘Losing Ground,’” New Republic, March 25, 1985, Michael B. Katz, The Undeserving Poor: From the War on Poverty to the war on Welfare  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1989) pp.153-155, Michael Lind, Up From Conservatism: Why the Right is Wrong for America (New York: The Free Press, 1996) pp. 180-183 and Sidney Blumenthal, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: From Conservative Ideology to Political Power (New York: Times Books, 1986) pp. 292-295.

[7]  The New York Times editorial page, February 3, 1985.

[8]  The New Republic, 3/25/85.

[9]  ABC News’s “This Week,” November 28, 1993.

[10]  Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page, October 13, 1997.

August 26, 2005 |10:47 AM ET|

Slacker Friday

I’ve got a new Think Again column called “ Missing Contexts: Turning Right on K Street,” , and a new Nation column, .  It’s called “The Red State 'Times', Continued."

Now this:  From Today’s

“Mick Jagger, in an interview, says he preferred Friedrich von Hayek's laissez-faire economics to Bill Clinton's more Keynesian views at the time,” 

Oh really?  And Madonna likes threesomes in the basement with smelly, nerdy high school guys, too, I suppose, .

P.S.  I met Weld at a party a month or so before the election.  I told him he had my sympathy for being a reasonable person and having to support such an awful man as president.  He thanked me and did not try to argue in the least.  A very likeable guy, but he did support him.  No person in the world, save Osama bin Laden has done as much damage to New York City as George W. Bush.  And yet Weld supported him.  I don’t care what his excuse is.  I’m not voting for him.

And this: 

"I actually think that both are culture magazines," he said in an interview.  "You can't judge Vanity Fair by its cover," adding that the title is "equally as intellectual as The New Yorker." 

That was , the publisher of Vanity Fair, who is leaving his post to be the new publisher of The New Yorker.  Excuse me, Mr. Cona, but I’m afraid you just made everybody at your new job hate your guts.

And this:  Worst excuse for an item of all time, :

“Candace Bushnell, the author of "Sex and the City," is in talks to turn her new book, "Lipstick Jungle," into a television series, Reuters reported.  "I haven't signed any deals yet, but there's a lot of interest," Ms. Bushnell said.

In other words, nothing at all happened anywhere but Bushnell wanted her name in the paper in a way that made her sound cool and the Times obliged.

Well that does it.  We are, seriously, never going to trust on a media-related issue again.  “After all, there already is an effective anti-Bush opposition party in America.  It's called the media.  We don't need two of them!"  More in sorrow than in anger …but a little bit of both.

My city is so much better than your city, continued:

CHARLIE PARKER JAZZ FESTIVAL — The death of Charlie Parker a half-century ago closed the book on an outsized jazz talent.  But in the months and years that followed, new footnotes kept cropping up, as a generation of musicians strove to emulate both his dazzling saxophone heroics and his gargantuan narcotic habit.  Fifty years of hindsight have reaffirmed the singularity of Parker's genius; this summer, Uptown Records released a newly discovered live recording, "Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945," that added luster to an already luminous discography.  Musicians have long been aware of the futility of the task; today's jazz mainstream is bebop-tinged but rarely Parker-shaped, so that even the 13th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival shows no trace of simulacra.  The lineup tomorrow at Marcus Garvey Park includes two alto saxophonists who have each absorbed Parker's style into his own: Bobby Watson, a commanding soloist schooled in hard bop; and Soweto Kinch, a bracing young player who also draws on myriad contemporary sources.  The concert Sunday in the East Village features an excellent post-bop piano trio fronted by Geri Allen; a probing quartet led by the powerhouse drummer Cindy Blackman; and a group led by the pianist John Hicks and featuring the tenor saxophonist David (Fathead) Newman, who studied with Parker's mentor but mainly eschews bebop for rhythm and blues.  Both concerts will feature Odean Pope's Saxophone Choir, an audacious assemblage of nine saxophones plus a rhythm section.  The group's aesthetic connection to Parker is circuitous but deeply inscribed.  (Tomorrow at 3 p.m. at Marcus Garvey Park, between Mount Morris Park West and Madison Avenue, from 120th to 124th Streets, Harlem, free. Sunday at 3 p.m. at Tompkins Square Park, between Avenues A and B, from Seventh to 10th Streets, East Village, free.)

That’s lifted from .

And this:

DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER (Sunday) Ms. Bridgewater is a singer with a penchant for dynamic contrast and expressive drama; she brings her full arsenal to this performance, featuring a program of standards with an Afro-Latin tinge. 8 p.m., Damrosch Park, 62nd Street near Amsterdam Avenue, Lincoln Center, (212) 875-5766; free.

But seriously…  In IPF Friday today, MJ Rosenberg raises the strong possibility that Ariel Sharon is reverting to form.  Yes, he got out of Gaza but now he is extending the security wall to both encircle Jerusalem and divide the northern West Bank from the southern part.  The bottom line:  Sharon is pushing ahead with his plan to make a viable, contiguous Palestinian state impossible.  No big surprise here.  Sharon is just being Sharon.  Why were any of us naive enough to think that his decision to get out of Gaza was anything other than part of his grand plan to secure the West Bank and all of Jerusalem for Israel?  Will Bush protest Sharon's hatchet job on his Roadmap "vision?"  Not likely.  AIPAC may be on trial for espionage but it still fills those campaign coffers.  .

Things that are so important ABC News thinks I need to know them in a special news alert e-mail:  ""

Slacker Friday:

Name: Stupid
Hometown: Chicago
Hey Eric, it's Stupid to win elections.  I've argued that when the left talks about Iraq it is blind to the power of cognitive dissonance.  When they yell Bush Lied! people who voted for Dubya or supported the war hear and we told you so, you dupe!  Nobody likes to admit they were wrong, so they look for alternative explanations (the war is making progress, we had no choice, the people against the war are distasteful, etc.).  The focus of the deception argument should be on building people up.

Remember the post-election focus on talking to religious voters?  I looked to see if Jesus was ever deceived.  It happens in one of the strangest passages of the New Testament: Mark 11:11-26.  Jesus, hungry, spots a fig tree in the distance.  But when he reaches it he finds that though the tree appeared to be in-bloom, there were no figs, "for it was not the season for figs."  In response, Jesus curses the tree so that it will never bear fruit, and the next day Peter notices the tree has indeed withered.  At this Jesus exhorts his disciples about the power of faith and that when they pray, if they have "anything against anyone" they must forgive.  This passage has troubled Christian theologians: it makes Jesus appear petty (and there's a conflicting time frame in Matthew).  One popular interpretation is that the story must be read in the context of the more famous one which it is intertwined with: Jesus angrily cleansing the temple of moneylenders.  The fig tree symbolizes the deceptively faithful who don't actually produce any good works.

With this in mind, ask a deep red stater to reconsider the Iraq war.  In 2001 it was not the season for Saddam to seek out Muslim fundamentalists or sponsor terrorist acts against the U.S.  He had successfully kicked out the UN in 1998 and the restoration of the army was proceeding nicely.  Nonetheless, you were presented with a convincing image.  You heard Dick Cheney, the State of the Union speech, Colin Powell's U.N. dossier, etc.  (In fairness, you also witnessed Saddam Hussein acting like someone who was hiding something.)  One can't be blamed for trusting their perceptions.  But what happened when you got up close?  You saw it was a purposeful illusion.  Why should your reaction be different than Jesus?  Why allow the deception to continue?  The story in Mark teaches us to be hard-nosed against a deceptive government, while at the same time give an honest government breathing room by forgiving its mistakes.  This Administration asks forgiveness for nothing arguably a blasphemy in itself.

Name: Chuck Tomlinson
Hometown: Florence, SC
Dinosaur Jr. would have been much better suited for the Rhino '80s compilation — that's when their legendary cult-favorite albums were released.  And yes, Mr. Gordon, J Mascis might have had a weak voice on the first couple of albums, but by "Bug" you can hear his voice improving.  He sounds infinitely more confident.  His voice was honest and part of the band's allure, in my opinion.  No one considers Kurt Cobain a hero for his singing, although his vocals were powerful.  His songs were what made Nirvana legendary.  By the way, I saw (the recently reunited) Dinosaur Jr. in Chapel Hill, N.C., last month, and while they're not Nirvana-caliber mainstream legends, their following is nothing at all to be ashamed of.  The show, at the venerable Cat's Cradle, had been sold out for weeks and the place was packed.

Name: Adam Skillin
Hometown: Netcong, NJ
Here's my submission for Quote of the Day:

And before following the tried-and-true liberal formula of cut-and-run, we should consider: If Iraq breaks up in civil war, and the Sunni triangle turns into a terrorist haven and training camp, and America is perceived by her enemies across that region to have been defeated, the consequences will be devastating -- for us and for the people who put themselves on the line for us in Iraq.—Pat Buchanan.  On MSNBC. 

No, this quote isn't 2 and a half years old.  It's new.  This is today's news.  If the Sunni triangle turns into a terrorist haven?  If America is perceived as having lost the war?  Why not start an essay with "If we ever discover a vaccine for polio...?" or "If man ever achieves sustained flight?"  When's the last time this crusty old dude picked up a newspaper?

Name: Robert Young
Hometown: Waltham, MA
Thanks so much for the Lindsay Waters excerpt.  I still believe, despite qualms and the pressures of a (thankfully) traditionalist, anti-deconstructionist department, that Derrida and Rorty have something important to say to us.  However, a stating of those qualms that avoids reactionary hostility to radical thought, that in fact celebrates the old-fashioned, Sartrean, "ideas matter, and matter a lot" tradition, was a most welcome introduction to my afternoon.  More of this would be nice indeed.  Speaking of that Sartre fellow, the BNF's centenary exhibit was profoundly moving--it closes soon, so if you needed an excuse for a weekend in Paris in late summer, I'm happy to have obliged.  Really, if you are nostalgic about when thinkers mattered (in both our proudly right and embarrassingly wrong modes), it will bring real, salty tears.  And Fish is just not interesting in that way, even when he's right.

Name: David Lewin
Hometown: A few miles outside the Beltway, MD
Perhaps it is the practical fields such as medicine that are looking beyond disciplinary boundaries.  Take current research in patient safety, a field that has brought together physicians, nurses, engineers, social scientists, and architects to find ways to reduce injury to patients (and to health care workers) during health care.  They are examining the safety processes (such as team training) developed for the aviation industry as ideas to be adapted to surgical and emergency care units.  Or take cross-disciplinary scientific thinkers such as Jared Diamond, who has investigated the role of geography and other factors on the uneven economic/technical development of peoples.  It seems that literary antitheorists are like those late 19th century physicists who felt that there were no big, new discoveries to be made. An then came Einstein and relativity, Planck and quantum mechanics.

Name: Charles Perez
Hometown: Marion, NY
Re: Lindsay Waters' essay/book adaptation.  Haven't we had enough of so-called "deconstructionism?"  Sure Stanley Fish says some really bone-headed things, but who in the humanities, most especially in literary studies, hasn't?  But Waters' criticism reeks of the same convoluted, self-referential, nonsensical rhetoric as the best in the field.  Please.  I know you want to widen our reading horizons, but slogging through even this short adaptation reminded me of most of the excerpts of Derrida I've read.  Or perhaps she's criticizing in the Alan Sokal mode?  (.)  Good thing it's Thursday and I can Drink Liberally tonight.

Name: Brent Kabler
Hometown: Jefferson City, MO
I read with much interest the essay by Lindsay Waters re the state of theory in academia.  One part of me agrees wholeheartedly - anti-theorists have embraced a sort of nihilism that denies the almost universal longing for transcendence, and, I would argue, the necessity of fixing our place in this world with meaningful fingerposts, maps, and legends.  However, theory itself shares a portion of the onus of the decline of theory.  I remember delving into pomo texts that were the rage at the time in grad school.  After slogging through the insular jargon and the self-referential allusions, in the end I found nothing but a profound (and nihilistic) void at the center of it all.  While much that has been leveled at Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard is little more than caricature (the straw-man that Waters suggests), much is not.  Pomo theory has divorced itself from any real world engagement with tangible and pressing problems, and has singularly failed to produce a viable politics.  As Baudrillard himself preached, there is no "deeper meaning" to the structure of reality beyond its immediate appearance- the flat one-dimensional existence of Madison Avenue is all there is.  The dominant theory has thus virtually completely rejected the Enlightenment project and criticality, and has abandoned reason altogether for a nihilistic irrationalism.  Everyone knows about "Le Affair Sokal:" a piece that put forth the thesis that gravity was a linguistic construct was published in a preeminent journal of social theory.  This fact requires no additional commentary.  Are students to take this nonsense seriously?  How does contemporary theory engage in any kind of meaningful way with current real-word problems?  Theory used to be concerned with the systematic production of poverty and human immeseration, but now has concerned itself more with the "oppression of linguistic constructs of everyday discourse."  And while I reference "theory," I of course mean specific theorists.  Perhaps this kind of theory has more to do with legitimizing academics who have come to believe that spinning words in obscure journals (and thereby subverting the "linguistic reality") is now a radical act.  It's political impotence trying to masquerade as something more; and it's truly sad.  My response to Waters, then, is to place the blame where it belongs: theory has failed us, and won't be resurrected via attacks on anti-theorists.  Metaphysician, heal thyself.

|11:29 AM ET|

Altercation Book Club

The Humanities and The Slide into Negativism
by Lindsay Waters

Adapted from Enemies of Promise: Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship, Prickly Paradigm #20.  Waters is a longtime editor at Harvard University Press.

These last few decades (since the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., since the oil crisis, since Reaganomics, since Thatcher) have thrown the humanities into a mood of unshakeable despondency and negativism.  In literary studies much of this negativism has been focused upon attacking theory.  In a long series of essays Stanley Fish, for example, has sought to kill­ and even claims to have slain ­“Theory Hope.”  Here I would refer you to Fish’s essay, “Consequences.”  Those opposed to new ideas, like Fish, defined the quest for them in a way the suited their own will to power, but not the way most theorists would understand what they are doing.  Because they want to characterize theory as an impossible project, what they talk about as theory has nothing in common with the Kantian idea that theory is what emerges when our ways of constructing the world crash up against the world.  Fish, a straw man himself like Dirty Harry or the Terminator, builds a straw-man version of theory and burns it on a bonfire.  If this debate had been conducted by my high school debating club, this would all have been really amusing.  But we are not talking about high school, and this situation is definitely not amusing.  Theory, despite what Fish says, exists at the border between mind and world, and that shoreline constantly shifts.  The hope for theory is the hope that something new will come into view and that we will find the words to describe it.  To choose theory is to choose life over and against death.  Fish crows that his little deconstruction operation has demolished theory.  He claims that after his expert demolition, it should be apparent to all that “now theory has been deprived of any consequentiality whatsoever and stands revealed as the helpless plaything” it really is.  But all he has revealed is the workings of the will to power clearly unconcerned with the goal of understanding.  Fine for the courtroom or the basketball court, but not for the university.

I think that what Fish has really sought to slay is not just theory but the academic youth who explore it and who hope that theory or anything else we might consider as if for the first time could make the slightest bit of difference.  He is not so much opposed to theory as consequentiality itself, the idea that anything could make a difference in our lives.  Here a kind
of fundamentalist religion morphs into cynical sophistry, as happens so often in the American marketplace where the preacher and the snake-oil merchant share the same platform, even the same body.  It is just this sort of alliance that produces the chemistry that is necessary to dissolve, or hollow out and undermine, the humanities.

The war against the young and the new might take as its motto the line “be lowly wise.”  Attempts to match or evade the gods of the profession are doomed.  The energies people feel when they are young are wonderful but they need to be dispelled, because even though they are protean, they are illusory.  If the young find Fish and his ilk dispiriting (and believe me, some do) it is no mistake, and it is what such “experienced” professionals mean to convey to them­ for their own good, so they’d claim.  One young man wrote, in 1913:

More and more we are assailed by the feeling: our youth is but a brief night ... [which] will be followed by grand “experience,” the years of compromise, impoverishment of ideas, and lack of energy.  Such is life.  That is what the adults tell us, and that is what they experienced…  The philistine has his own “experience”; it is the eternal one of spiritlessness.

That young man was Walter Benjamin.  Another young man wrote, in 1965,

They say sing while you slaveand I just get bored.

That was Bob Dylan.

Both Fish and Rorty represent a major trend towards negativism within the academy over the last thirty years, and their anti-theory position marks them so more than anything else.  The idea that now pervades the academy is to avoid ideas.  The most devastating put-down we have is that someone is a “Big Picture” thinker.  Big ideas and grand narratives of liberation ­those are all passé now.  Abbott writes, “Theory and methods have very little to do with each other in the discipline [of sociology] today.”  And this is the field of Max Weber, Theodor Adorno, and Talcott Parsons!  The key is reducing the role of the individual to nothing.  Our ruling orthodoxy calls for the systematic eradication of the individual, whether scholar or civilian.  Fish is explicit about the rejection of the individual (as is Rorty).  Fish explains the pedagogy he urges upon us thus: “Students are trained first to recognize and then to ‘discount’ whatever was unique and personal in their response [to artworks] so that there would be nothing between them and the exertion of the text’s control.”  My real concern is what is the effect of such behavior upon the young.  I can see that the effect on the aged and aging has been destructive, but what effect upon future generations?  One way of understanding our predicament is to say that what a Fish or a Rorty does is to make the case that there will be no paradigm shifts.  There will be no times of revolutionary science.  What they seem to be saying is really more soul-destroying than that, because what they are saying is that, if any of you by any chance ever think you have a glimpse of some idea or fact that is new, you are kidding yourself and you need to squelch any such impulse.  These Last Men want to kill off subjects, not open them up, to have the last word, not the first.  They “would rather be present for the funeral than the birth,” in the words of Greil Marcus.  As satirist Frederick Crews says of such people, they believe the job of humanists is just to keep cranking out insignificant publications “so that the presses can keep humming and we can all (well, most of us) retain our jobs and keep making the conference rounds.”  Don’t concern yourself with big issues, theoretical issues, issues that cause you to peek over the fence of your discipline.  No.  Think small.  Think inside the box.  As Derrida might have said: Il n'y a pas de hors-boîte.  “Learn but to trifle,” as Pope has one of his characters put it in The Dunciad.

The modern university takes the present organization of knowledge into separate disciplines, all those gated communities, as inevitable and natural as the categories of  niche-marketing.  The blinkered professional who has become the norm is not an intellectual who reads promiscuously in the hope he or she might come upon a book that will change his or her life.  In his or her reading and writing, this modern scholar knows it is best­ as publisher William Germano advised book writers in an essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education­ to “think inside the box.”  Curb your enthusiasm!  Fifty years ago, even as recently as thirty years ago, scholars thought it a virtue to be widely read outside one’s own field.  Not any more.  A lot of the innovation that took place then occurred because people tried out the ideas from another field than their own.  They made mistakes, of course, but there was then a tolerance for experimentation that is unacceptable in our more professionalized era.  Now we accept the idea that each field is separate and that the professional has little to gain by intellectual promiscuity.

These last thirty years have indeed been our Babylonian Captivity, but it is time to escape it.  Fish has proclaimed again and again that all of us in literary studies are part of a system that prescribes in advance what we can know and think.  The way of life of the professional is its own justification:  “The pressure of professional life leads to the proliferation of work (research projects, publications, etc.) that has no justification in anything but the artificial demands of an empty and self-serving careerism.”  Is this Fish?  What’s your problem with that?  Would you like professors of literature to read outside their field?  Nice, but not essential, and probably even detrimental to their careers.  In fact, it seems that nothing is more reprehensible in a good academic to Fish and his progeny than curiosity, following will’ o’ the wisps, chasing ghosts.  Kills cats; will kill you.  Will certainly cause you to not get tenure.  Good professionalism is marked by a blinkered and cloistered virtue.  If you think the academic should be an intellectual, you are just plain mistaken.  The good academic hunkers down in one limited domain and pays no attention to what else is going on in the realm of ideas and the arts.  Fish: “It is perfectly possible for someone wholly ignorant of one [field] to operate quite successfully in [his or her own field.]”  The young who hope that learning some new theory or reading some new book will spark some new thought are wrong, wrong, wrong again.  Theory can have no consequences because any question that can arise within literary studies has already been imagined by our predecessors.  Fish again: “Theory is an impossible project which will never succeed.”

For more, go .


I never saw before last night at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.  He and his band came out and did a wonderful, uplifting “Ticket to Ride,” followed by a just-about-as-terrific “Respect Yourself.”  The rest of the show had its ups and downs, with a long acoustic section in the middle.  I loved his version of “Till I Gain Control Again,” and songs form the new record at the end worked real well.  “Tobacco Road” was a lot of fun too. The band was really on, though, and one guy in it, as the opener, did the funniest, coolest song about Yo-Yo Ma ever written, I feel certain.  You can listen to cuts from the new CD, .

P.S.  If you want to compare Rosanne's husband/producers, as I had planned to but can't owing to a certain parental unit's 50th anniversary party, John Levanthal will be playing with the wonderful Joan Osborne at the Talkhouse on Sunday night, but tickets are a hundred bucks.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Sean Hertzberg
Hometown: Austin, TX
Dear Eric,
A note to Dave Maddox's comment about Austin being "Bush Country."  As a northern California native transplanted to Austin about 11 years ago, I can say that Austin, while the capital of Texas, is not the rest of Texas.  We are the home of Lloyd Doggett, our Liberal Democratic congressman that kept his seat despite the manipulations of the Delay crowd (his district is one of the strangest looking things you have ever seen now...stretches all the way down to the Rio Grande Valley).  Hell, if the rest of Texas followed Austin, Georgie would have never been Governor, let alone President.  I always tell people that Austin feels much more like Northern Cali, say Davis, with more of an attitude and less PC idiocy (think Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower), while Houston and Dallas are L.A. with cowboy hats and more humidity...and it does not make an improvement.  Houston or Dallas or Waco may be Bush Country...Austin ain't.  Y'all.

Name: Fishheadsoup
Hometown: Boulder, Colorado
More on the Mavericks.  As a bartender at Tobacco Road, Miami's "Oldest Bar & Cabaret," I got to see a young Raul Malo and the band weekly while they cut their teeth back in 1990.  They were all local Miami kids (Columbus High School I think), and it was always an odd pleasure see Raul (for free) in his black Stetson and too tight black jeans, doing a Patsy Cline tune better than Patsy herself.  The staff of Tobacco Road knew the Mavericks (and especially Raul) were bound for glory.  Tobacco Road owner Patrick Gleber attended Columbus high school as well.  Two other Miami Cuban boys, contemporaries of Raul, that must be noted and deserve attention are Nils Lara (sorry couldn't find a link to his tunes) and (Juan Carlos Guardiola).  As Raul is to nuevo country, Nils is to nuevo cubano folk, and Johnny is to reggae.  Check it out, and if ever in Miami, forget the plastic South Beach scene and head to Tobacco Road for good tunes and an authentic watering hole.

Name: Bob Gordon
Hometown: Palatine, IL
Dinosaur Jr. didn't break big like Nirvana did because:

A. j. Mascis has a pretty crappy singing voice.  Cobain had an incredibly good and flexible voice.  B. j. Mascis never had the charisma Kurt Cobain was blessed with, and C. Dinosaur Jr. never had a hit song like SLTS to break into the charts.  The Lemonheads had a much better shot at stardom than DJr...

August 24, 2005 |11:07 AM ET|

Turning up the heat on Judge John Roberts

Here’s another edition of Scoring SCOTUS by Jeralyn Merritt of .

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) Tuesday on Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts.  In a four-page letter, the Judiciary Committee Chairman told Roberts he would face tough questions about his views on judicial activism and on what Specter perceives as the Court's disrespect for laws passed by Congress.

Specter won't be the only one presenting Roberts with tough questions.  Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and on congressional authority to pass laws that set social policy.  The fight here is over the Court's use of the Commerce Clause and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause to strike down or weaken laws passed by Congress.  Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass) can be expected to sharply question Roberts on views on civil rights.  Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Charles Schumer will take active roles as well.

Activist groups are also turning up the heat on Roberts.  held a press conference this morning and unveiled a series of reports on Roberts on the Web site, .  It may be the most comprehensive compilation of information on Roberts to date.  Their central report is .

Lawyers, too, are jumping into the fray.  Erwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk, in an Op-Ed in , take issue with Republican insistence that judges must not legislate from the bench.  They argue that passing judgment on laws passed by Congress is precisely their role -- and has been for eons.

With three weeks to go until the confirmation hearings begin on September 6, all sides are burning the midnight oil.  That includes John Roberts, who is spending August to prepare for the opening rounds.

A small cadre of administration lawyers—several of whom are former Supreme Court clerks—have been quietly meeting to quiz Roberts on constitutional law. According to three sources familiar with the preparations (who would not be identified because of the confidential nature of the process), this week Roberts will formally start his "murder boards"—practice sessions before a team of outside legal and congressional experts playing the parts of Judiciary Committee senators.

While confirmation may seem assured, it shouldn't be taken for granted.  Robert Bork seemed like a shoo-in until his twelve days of confirmation hearings.  A few major slip-ups or too many moments of arrogance and all bets are off.

End Jeralyn

Only 5,000 songs?  How does survive?

From today's Progress Report:

STATIONS EFFECTIVELY IGNORE DARFUR: Since the major networks seem to have their hands full covering stories like Michael Jackson and the Runaway Bride, the ad does what the media won’t -- puts the spotlight on Darfur, and suggests that genocide warrants increased coverage. ABC News broadcast just 18 minutes of Darfur coverage in its nightly newscasts in all of 2004 -- “and that turns out to be a credit to Peter Jennings,” as NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof . NBC News featured five minutes, and CBS only had three, “about a minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths.” This past June, the three networks aired 15 segments on Darfur. During the same period, they aired 863 segments on Tom Cruise.STILL WAITING FOR AN EXPLANATION: Not only did the networks refuse to air the ad, but they did so without offering any explanation for their decisions. All three in terse, one- or two-line e-mails. NBC wrote, "WRC-TV has chosen not to accept the submitted commercial advertisement, 'Genocide is News,' sponsored by" The CBS affiliate said, "Management did not approve the airing of the “” spot." An official at ABC told us, "I just got word that WJLA-TV will not be able to accept the creative for Be a Please let me know if there may be any alternative creative that we may run."EVER HEAR OF GLASS HOUSES?: If only cable news networks would be as critical of their own coverage as they are of others'. Earlier this month, CNN anchor Andersen Cooper launched an on-air critique of his “cable competitors” for their “” obsession with the Natalee Holloway kidnapping case in Aruba. MSNBC host Dan Abrams hit back the next night, slamming Cooper for trying "," and noting that Cooper himself had run numerous segments on the "disappearance of the newlywed on a cruise ship ... women who love killers and the Jackson jurors.” Today, CNN President Jonathan Klein also lashed out, this time at cable ratings leader Fox News. "Fourteen Americans dead, and they have Natalee Holloway on," Klein said of the Fox program hosted by Greta van Susteren. "There are an awful lot of things you can cover if you don't have people ." Note to Kline: one of those things is .


This was a great idea.  Shout! Factory released a few of the great musical editions of The Dick Cavett show, so you can watch the whole show (once, I’m guessing) or flip through the music, a lot.  This first version has a post-Woodstock show with the Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, Stills and Crosby.  Later we get three shows worth of Janis, talking rather more intelligently than I ever remember her (Um, it’s not "all the same damn day" dear.), and early 1970s versions of Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, George Harrison and David Bowie.

I sat next to Cavett at the Time 75th Anniversary dinner and he was a real nice guy (and one seat over from ), but it’s just amazing how cool people once thought he was.  He dresses pretty funny in these shows.  But the performances, particularly from Janis, are just great.  It’s called “The Dick Cavett Show - Rock Icons,” and there’s more .

First Run Features has released a DVD of Claire Bloom delivering soliloquies by Juliet, Portia, Rosalind, Imogen, Emilia and Volumnia.  The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “This charming film is a model of how to present high art to a broad audience without losing either the art or the audience.”  FRF is also releasing a documentary about George McGovern’s 1972 that will probably be much enjoyed by devotees of that time and place, but in truth, I found its interviews with a bunch of smug, self-satisfied, celebrity liberals off-putting and could not get that far into it.  McGovern is a great man, however, and so I hope he likes it.  It’s called, “One Bright Shining Moment” and you can find information about both of them .

And while we’re on the subject of the luminous Ms. Bloom, the former Mr. Bloom, a guy by the name of “Roth” has been named the third living American to get the full Library of America treatment, after Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow.  The first two editions are Novels and Stories, 1959-1962 and Novels, 1967; they are 960 and 672 pages respectively.  Volume One has "Goodbye Columbus" and the stories that were included with the novella and the much underrated "Letting Go."  Volume Two has "When She was Good," Roth’s only bad book—until "The Plot Against America."  It also has "Portnoy," "Our Gang," and "The Breast."  The first is obviously a classic and latter two are minor exercises but worth a single read.  Really, what’s the problem?  His most fully realized achievements, by the way, are the Zuckerman Trilogy and The Counterlife, which together really do constitute the Great American Jewish Novel, but be patient.  More about Library of America and all its good (and great) works .

Name: Dave Maddox
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
As a long-time fan of The Mavericks (and naturally, Raul Malo), I completely agree with your review.  We've had the pleasure of attending three different 'Mavs' concerts in the past, and wish they would stay together enough to tour at least occasionally.  I highly recommend their Live DVD, even though it was filmed in Bush country (Austin).  And I don't know if you remember, but in the summer of '04, Raul participated in a number of 'Kerry-oke' fundraising concerts in Nashville.  Talent, sense of humor, and common sense...go figure.

Eric replies:  Dear Dave: Who told you Austin was Bush country?

, 2004, Kerry: 196,780 (56%), Bush: 147,625 (42%)

Nashville, too, by the way:

, 2004, Kerry: 132,362 (55%)   Bush: 107,618 (45%)

“Blue” is a state of mind.  (Thanks Jordan)

Name:  Ed Tracey
Hometown:  Lebanon, New Hampshire
Professor:  (And it took the Canadian Press to publish it).

Name:  Carl Conetta
Hometown:  P
roject on Defense Alternatives
Dear Eric
The Project on Defense Alternatives has just added one thousand full-text links to its public access Internet Library pages.  These links lead to online documents, reports, and articles published in 2005 by more than 200 official and NGO sources.  Our libraries include:

August 23, 2005 |1:22 PM ET|

What Red States?

From Scott Lilly of the :

The new has bad state-by-state news for Mr. Bush.  Essentially, the only states where Mr. Bush is popular right now are:Alabama [+7%]Idaho [+23%]Montana [+5]Nebraska [+13%]North Dakota [+6%]Oklahoma [+4%]Texas [+11%]Utah [+19%]Wyoming [+20%]He's below 50% even in Mississippi, though his approval rating is still two percentage points higher than his disapproval rating in Mississippi [49-47 percent].Mr. Bush is most unpopular in these states:California [-30%]Connecticut [-29%]Delaware [-32%]Illinois [-19%]Maine [-18%]Maryland [-28%]Massachusetts [-32%]Michigan [-20%]Minnesota [-20%]Missouri [-20%]New Jersey [-26%]New York [-28%]Ohio [-23%]Rhode Island [-39%]Vermont [-30%]Most surprising results:-16% in Arkansas-4% in Georgia-4% in Kansas-11% in Kentucky-20% in Missouri-7% in South Dakota-9% in Tennessee-10% in Virginia*Clearly, this goes beyond the blue/red state divide.  When Bush is down 20 points in Missouri and well below 50% in places like Kentucky, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia, there is a lot of discontent in these here United States of Amurrica.

What Secular Democracy?  From the new Iraqi constitution, Article 2, paragraph. 1: “Islam is the official religion of state, and is a fundamental source for legislation.”

Eric Rauchway showing good sense on Yalta, from my favorite new Web site.


(mav-er-ick) n. (1). An unbranded or orphaned range calf or colt, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it. (2). A horse or steer that has escaped from a herd. (3. a.) One who refuses to abide by the dictates of his group; a dissenter. (b). One who resists adherence to or affiliation with any single organized group or faction; an independent. Seth Regovy once called the band’s music “Roy Orbison balladry and Tom Jones lounge-pop, with brief stopovers in Byrds-derived jangle-rock, Memphis soul and a bit of vaudeville-inspired surrealism.”  I think they may be the world’s most under-rated band.  Or were.  They seem to have broken up.  That was, anyway, the impression I got listening to lead singer Raul Malo, who is still maverick, though perhaps no longer a Maverick, sing a beautiful acoustic set last weekend at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett.  The man’s voice is a marvel, and his intelligence and good humor shine through.  For me the highlight was a chilling “Hot Burrito #1” “Dance the Night Away,” “Blue Moon,” and some covers from a solo album he says will be out in January.  The audience was quiet throughout and when it was over the guy next to me said “That’s the best forty bucks I ever spent.”  Indeed.  We were all very lucky to be there.

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Instastupid
Hometown Chicago
Re: the 90's box -- Evan Dando is the Nils Lofgren of the 1990's -- It's a Shame About Ray is a terrific album and Dando was poised for megastardom just like Lofgren was after Grin and his eponymous debut.  And like "Cry Tough," Dando's follow-up "Come on Feel the Lemonheads" was half-baked and his career nose-dived from there.  Still, "The Turnpike Down" is a great, great song and I've listened to the entire album dozens of times (OK, I have a decade long
crush on Juliana Hatfield and she plays bass, but it's still great).

That said, this box is deeply flawed on the rock side -- it picks the right bands but bombs with song selection.  To take one example, Dinosaur Jr. is an incredibly important band (they really deserved to be the breakout act that Nirvana was), and Rhino should have the rights to their stuff since they put out a compilation last year, but instead of a classic like "Freak Scene" or
"The Wagon" they put on a lame track from late in their career.  Just skimming the track list shows a lot of that.  They do much better on the pop/danceable stuff.

Name: Michael Glassman
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Usually you are pretty good when discussing Dewey.  I am afraid in the case of saying the Bramwell article you are a little off target.  It is true that Lippman and Dewey had a long term debate over the role of the public in government decision making, but Dewey in no way agreed with Lippman's major points as Bramwell suggests.  The mistake that Bramwell makes, and that you tacitly endorse, is to consider The Public and Its Problems the last word on the subject.  I think most Dewey scholars would consider this a quickly written response at a time when Dewey had other issues on his mind.  I would also suggest that he was still missing his student (and antagonist) Randolph Bourne, who should have been an important influence on his thinking.  He gained a stronger foothold in his political arguments as he became closer to Bentley, a Pragmatic political scientist.  Dewey's best responses to Lippman's points can be found in DEMOCRACY AND EDUCATION (of course published a decade before THE PHANTOM PUBLIC but still Dewey's most definitive work), EXPERIENCE AND NATURE and what may be his most important work on a larger scale KNOWING AND THE KNOWN, which he wrote with Bentley (even though they wrote most of the chapters separately, Bentley's influence is there).  My reading of the Bramwell essay suggests that he has read none of these.  You must consider Dewey and the larger scale of his philosophy.  You cannot isolate one aspect.

Name: Shelley Hanson
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Doesn't taking a convoy of 15 super-sized SUVs to a fundraiser kinda stick in your craw when the rest of us are trying to figure out how far we can go on $15.00 worth of gas a week?  And now it's AF1 to Utah to remind everyone that Iraq attacked us on 9/11?  The man has no shame, no humility, no empathy, not one human cell in his body.

Name: Tom Fischer
Hometown: Buffalo, NY
As an admirer of your work and a life-long Buffalonian, I'm curious by your comment after "Cool places to live, and not." - (Um, Buffalo?).  Are you finding it hard to believe that Buffalo is a cool place to live because you have never been here and are surprised by its placing?  Or have you been here and can't believe it made the list?  We have our share of problems, but rather than getting into a long-winded defense why it's a nice place to live, I'd like to invite you and your family to stay with our family for a weekend and let us show how cool it is to live here.  That's how cool we are.

Name:  Kris
Hometown:  Buffalo, NY
Yes, Buffalo!  Liberal, inexpensive, working class - we are the "City of No Illusions."  You should pay us a visit.  Without a doubt, the best place to live in these united states.

August 22, 2005 |11:15 AM ET|

Rolling back the tape:  Gore won

Here’s a first, actually two:  One, the Executive Editor writes in to his own newspaper to attack an article in published, and two he (sorta) agrees with yours truly, .

Guess who served in the military, , and who didn’t.

"Dog Bites Man," or "Headlines written by the Irony Impaired, ABC News Division: "."

is a pretty interesting essay, with a nice deployment of Lippmann/Dewey.  One thing about it, however, this sentence:  “As Nixon put it, the Democrats became the party of acid, amnesty, and abortion,” is wrong.  The quote belonged to a still as-yet unnamed Democratic colleague of George McGovern quoted by Evans and Novak.  McGovern told me he suspected it was Scoop Jackson.  I think Novak made it up.

We’re number 21!  Cool places to live, and not.  .  (Um, Buffalo?)

I am always happy to point out that this president’s political allies helped him steal the 2004 election, and it’s a double pleasure to be able to say that Mickey is right about something, , too, particularly when it’s just a couple of days after his sneering at journalists generally.  Paul Krugman does not sneer at journalists; he does their job for them, in between doing his other job, as a professor of economics at Princeton.  And per usual, he’s dead right , which is obviously not as big a deal as Mickey being right, since it’s nothing unusual.  Anyway, here is the graph of his that has right wing bloggers’ panties in a bundle.

In his recent book "Steal This Vote" - a very judicious work, despite its title - Andrew Gumbel, a U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, provides the best overview I've seen of the 2000 Florida vote.  And he documents the simple truth: "Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election.…Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida's ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.  This was true despite a host of efforts by state and local officials to suppress likely Gore votes, most notably Ms. Harris's "felon purge," which disenfranchised large numbers of valid voters.  But few Americans have heard these facts.  Perhaps journalists have felt that it would be divisive to cast doubt on the Bush administration's legitimacy.

Really, it’s not controversial at all, unless facts have no meaning.  The only counting method through which Gore would have lost was the one his profoundly incompetent legal team happened to choose to argue, not that it mattered.  The media seized upon this coincidence to try to protect Bush’s legitimacy.  But the fact his, Gore won Florida by any sensible standard.  Let’s roll back the tape a moment.  (And thanks again, Ralph.)  This is from

Following the Court’s announcement, a group of eight newspapers invested nearly a million dollars to hire the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago to undertake a detailed study of the Florida vote, to discover, if possible, who really won. The Bush administration always opposed this action and treated the ultimate correctness of the court’s intervention as all the legitimacy it needed. And, during the long period before the results of the count were announced, the news outlets who funded the study communicated a decided impression that they were not terribly eager to call the president’s (and hence the system’s) legitimacy into question either.  September 11 made this impression unmistakable. Top New York Times correspondent Richard Berke admitted as much when, shortly after the attacks, he declared the outcome of the recount to be "utterly irrelevant."[1] Shortly before the September 11 attacks, a Gallup Organization poll found that nearly half of Americans surveyed remain convinced that President Bush either "won on a technicality" or "stole the election."  And they were right, though this would have been difficult to discern based on the coverage the eventual release of the recount report received. The headlines read: “Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote,” (The New York Times) and “Florida Recounts Would Have Favored Bush,” (The Washington Post). These were misleading at best. What the NORC researchers really discovered was the Gore legal team’s incredible incompetence. They happened, it turned out, to choose just about the only counting argument that would have lost Gore the election even had the Court ruled in his favor. Lead member David Boies had explicitly ruled out a more inclusive recount of Florida’s votes—one that not only would have elected his man, but would have been immeasurably more fair to the people of Florida.  Instead Boies asked the court to count “undervotes” but not “overvotes.”  Using that method, Bush did indeed outpoll Gore and the Court’s intervention did not ultimately make a difference.  It was, perhaps, a perfect coda to a perfectly awful campaign. But buried beneath the misleading headlines was the inescapable fact that Al Gore was the genuine choice of a plurality of Florida’s voters as well as America’s. As the AP report put it, “In the review of all the state's disputed ballots, Gore edged ahead under all six scenarios for counting all undervotes and overvotes statewide." In other words, he got more votes in Florida than George Bush by almost every conceivable counting standard. Gore won under a strict-counting scenario and he won under a loose-counting scenario. He won if you count “hanging chads” and he won if you counted “dimpled chads.”  He won if you count a dimpled chad only in the presence of another dimpled chad on the same ballot—the so-called “Palm Beach” standard.  He even won if you counted only a fully-punched chad. He won if you counted partially-filled oval on an optical scan and he won if you counted only a fully-filled optical scan.  He won if you fairly counted the absentee ballots. No matter how you count it, if everyone who legally voted in Florida had had a chance to see their vote counted, Al Gore is our president.[]But by the time of the release of the report, the mainstream media had grown so protective of President Bush’s legitimacy that many were willing to tar as crazy anyone who took the trouble to read the report carefully. To this reader anyway, they put one in mind of a husband who is doing everything he can to try to get his wife not only to forgive, but also to forget a past infidelity. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz reported, “The conspiracy theorists have been out in force, convinced that the media were covering up the Florida election results to protect President Bush…. “That gets put to rest today.” Kurtz scoffed as well at the notion that anyone still cared about whether Bush had stolen the presidential election. “Now the question is: How many people still care about the election deadlock that last fall felt like the story of the century – and now faintly echoes like some distant Civil War battle?” he wrote.[]   Following suit, the Associated Press even rewrote its own history. In September 2002, the news service carried a story from Florida that read: “"Some unofficial ballot inspections paid for by consortiums of news agencies showed Bush winning by varying margins." But when the recounts were initially released in November 2001, the news service’s editors acknowledged, "A full, statewide recount of all undervotes and overvotes could have erased Bush's 537-vote victory and put Gore ahead by a tiny margin ranging from 42 to 171 votes, depending on how valid votes are defined."[] Meanwhile CNN’s Candy Crowley fell back on that old reliable, “Maybe the best thing of all is that messy feelings at the Florida ballot have only proved the strength of our democracy….”In fact, had the Supreme Court not intervened for the man, it seems quite likely that Gore would have won the count despite his own side’s incompetence. Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis informed an Orlando Sentinel reporter that he had never fully made up his mind, but he was considering the “overvote” standard that would likely have given the count to Gore.[]  Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff also discovered a contemporaneous document demonstrating that Lewis meant what he said.[] Hence those newspapers who reported even the narrowest victory for Bush without a Supreme Court intervention, may have been wrong. Once again, the so-called liberal media was spinning itself blind for the conservative Republican.  But to point this out was to be termed a “conspiracy theorist” by the same “liberal media.” Let’s give the last word to the editors of the conservative London Economist, who, unlike their American counterparts, managed to read the results of recount with a clear eye, and hence, felt duty-bound to publish the following correction of its earlier coverage:  “In the issues of December 16, 2000 to November 10 2001, we may have given the impression that George W. Bush had been legally and duly elected president of the United States. We now understand that this may have been incorrect, and that the election result is still too close to call. The Economist apologizes for any inconvenience.”

P.S.  Krugman follows up again, today, .  Good for him.  Following up on history; how un-journalist-like is that?


If you read the Amazon reviews of Rhino’s Whatever: The '90s Pop and Culture Box, , you get pretty strong feelings across the board.  I dunno.  (The Amazon editorial review itself is just stupid.  Nirvana would not part with “Teen Spirit” and that makes the whole thing a failure?  Grow up.)  I kinda like this thing, but I don’t feel strongly about it.  It’s way better than the eighties box, “Like, Omigod,” , but nowhere near as sublime as the seventies box, “Have a Nice Decade,” .  Now this may be a function of age—such judgments usually are—but I’ve come to think that that seventies were actually a terrific time for pop music, if you include only the really great disco songs.  The '80s really stank and the '90s were dominated by hip-hop, which I pretty much don’t get, and this horrible metal sounding thing I don’t even know what it’s called.  Still, if you keep your remote in your hand, it’s rather fun and educational to discover great music on this seven CD collection.  And yes, I’m sure licensing issues forced them to leave out a lot of important music, but if it’s so important, you should already have it.  These Rhino boxes are for stuff that you’d never buy otherwise, or forgot was great, or never heard before.  And this one does the trick.  (How many people already had “I Touch Myself,” and how did anyone ever live without it?)  Anyway, I don’t pretend to understand contemporary “pop music” anymore, but putting this thing on puts me in a good mood.  Plus, I like the smell of the coffee.  Other highlights discoveries include:

BALL AND CHAIN – Social DistortionBABY GOT BACK – Sir Mix-A-LotI’M TOO SEXY – Right Said Fred (R*S*F*)CALLING ALL ANGELS – Jane Siberry with k.d. langRUNAWAY TRAIN – Soul AsylumLITTLE MISS CAN’T BE WRONG – Spin DoctorsWALKING IN MEMPHIS – Marc CohnIT’S A SHAME ABOUT RAY – The LemonheadsGIRLFRIEND – Matthew SweetHERE’S WHERE THE STORY ENDS – The Sundays

And that’s just on the first two discs….

Correspondence Corner:

Name: Kate Ingold
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Mr. Alterman,
I took your cue and e-mailed Henninger.  Here's what I wrote:

As a wife of a national guard soldier currently serving in Afghanistan, I am deeply offended by your slander against Cindy Sheehan, a woman who has had the courage to share her loss and speak for the majority.  This country has been divided politically since Bush took office under shadowy events in 2000.  It was not Cindy Sheehan who divided us.  In fact, she has spoken for the majority of us who are disillusioned with our leadership and are disgusted by our morally bankrupt, tragically flawed strategy in Iraq.  The reality is that Bush's "bring it on," "flypaper" strategy is one that guarantees perpetual war -- there are not a finite number of terrorists, and therefore there is no way to win by "bringing the fight to us."  Sadly, every day another American soldier patrolling the streets of Baghdad is reminded of this.  Meanwhile, we have shortchanged our operation in Afghanistan, our one legitimate front on the war on terror, leaving that country nearly as unstable as it was when we first invaded four years ago.  Men like my husband, national guardsmen whose contracts have been involuntarily extended, are in Afghanistan under-supported and under-equipped because all of our resources have been thrown into our nightmarish quagmire in Iraq.  It has gotten so bad that many of us military families feel it is impossible to both support the troops and support our president's failed policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, because his policies are breaking the military and bankrupting our country.  I expect such smear and slander from ignorant men like Rush Limbaugh, but from the Wall Street Journal?  Have you no shame?

Name: Bob Mangino
Hometown: Seattle
Hats off to Reuters in this article about Bush, 9/11, and Iraq.  (The old conflation issue again.)  The best line: "Critics say Iraq had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington..." .  Since when are facts critics?  Since when are the CIA folks critics?  And just about every open-minded person on the planet?  They might as well have said "narrow-minded, America-hating, lefty Brie-eaters say that there is no connection."  Way to go SCLM.  Four more years, four more years, rah rah.

Name:  J. Landes
London, England
Hi Dr. Eric,
After reading Dr. Vaidhyanathan’s writing about libraries, I couldn't resist.  If it is in any way
redundant or off-topic, just ignore me.

I would just like to respond to Dr. Vaidhyanathan’s bit on libraries and Google’s digitization process.  I am happy to see such a wonderful argument for the place of the library in the community.  (I am heading out to find his book, too.)  The threats of closings of libraries in Salinas, California, and Bedford, Texas, for the two most publicized cases, as well as reduced hours at many public libraries, are at odds with the verbal support of libraries by the administration.  The , an independent grant agency, offers federal grants to libraries, but the closings and reduced hours continue.  This tension between the support of libraries we profess and the continued funding problems brings the question to the federal, regional and local levels, maybe even to the personal level.  Author James Michener called libraries a representation of the "individual's right to acquire knowledge," reminding us that libraries really are an extension of our freedoms and rights.

The politicization of libraries, well, many may argue that’s the American Library Association’s fault, or liberal librarians’ faults.  We can all say we support libraries and education, but can we re-arrange our priorities to ask Congress to apportion money to libraries instead of, for example, $500 million in subsidies for deep-water oil and gas drilling?  (See 2005 Energy Bill)

As for Google’s project, I don’t see it as attempting to replace libraries, nor do I see it as particularly negative.  Google recognizes it: "My guess is [it will be] about 300 years until computers are as good as, say, your local reference library in search."  [Craig Silverstein, director of technology,]  In my opinion, 300 years is awfully ambitious at that.  Access to works that many would not be able to see physically is the obvious positive.  I am also watching the questions arising about copyright law, which can use the additional examination in the face of new technology, new creator interests and new user needs.

Thanks so much again for letting write about libraries.

Name: William Johnson
Hometown: Bath, MI

Dear Eric,
Siva's article on Friday was very interesting.  A couple of counter points.  While the gay teen in Boise may have a strong library, the geeky teen in Ionia, MI had a small library, where he did find a few who shared his loves of different books and ideas, but only a very few.  He didn't see a "real" library until he enrolled at the University of Michigan.  Therefore dismissing out of hand the attempt to digitize the collections at the U of M I think is perhaps showing the "urban" bias of Siva's current lifestyle.  When one has access to libraries in state capitals, or "world" capitals as is the case for Siva, one can interact with many different and people.  At that small library in Ionia, the selection was OK, but nothing like what is available through the U of M's million's of books.  I believe that a library not only is a place for the exchange of ideas, but also a place for those ideas to be stored for easy and basically unfettered access to those that are interested.  Google's process helps, in it's way, this to occur.

Name: Terry Moore
Hometown: Austin, TX

Thought I'd drop a line to let you know some very sad news from Austin.  Randy Turner, known to most as "Biscuit," dynamic leader of punk pioneers "The Big Boys" died yesterday at his home here.  As a band the Big Boys put Austin music on the map and helped spread the gospel of punk music across the country.  In addition, Randy was a stunningly brilliant visual artist in addition to being one of the most lovely, gentle and kind men I ever had the pleasure to know. The sadness here is Austin is palpable today because we realize someone who made our special city a better place has left us.  Check out their compilation CD "Skinny Elvis and Fat Elvis" and you'll see just what "fun, fun, fun" could mean.
Terry Moore

P.S.  Please say hello to Siva for me.  We were classmates at the University of Texas and I love to see him appear in your column.

Name: Daniel Reading
Hometown: Sugar Land, TX
Dr. E:
I live in the midst of Tom Delay land.  So I want to share a quick story about how things are changing down here in Sugar Land, TX.  I'm at one of my local merchants the other day and lamenting at the cost of filling my tank ($72.00) and the owner chimes in and says she's not driving anywhere other than to work and back home.  Then laments that those folks in Washington, D.C. don't seem to care about the price of gas (this coming from a staunch Republican / Delay supporter...)  She then tells the story about how she got a call other night from one of the local patrolmen who is chauffeuring Mr. Delay around town.  The patrolman wants to know if he could stop by with Mr. Delay and visit for a few minutes.  She responded by saying that she was angry with Mr. Delay and he wasn't welcome in her store.  The officer responded by saying "yea - everybody I've called is saying the same thing..."  See - even the sheared sheep get backbones once in a while!  I'm just hoping that it lasts till the next election.  Keep up the good work.

Eric adds:  When I was recommending histories of the settlements last week, I neglected the late Robert Friedman’s "Zealots for Zion," also quite pro-Palestinian, but reliable and well reported.


[1] Richard Berke, “Aftermath; it’s not time for a party but for how long?”  The New York Times, September 4, 2000 Week in Review, 3

[2] Eric Alterman, “Florida Speaks, Media Spins, World Turns,”, November 12, 2001

[3] Howard Kurtz, “George W. Bush; Now More than Ever,” The Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2001, C1

[4]  “,”, August 26, 2002

[5]  David Damron and Roger Roy, “Both Sides Guessed Wrong,” Orlando Sentinel, November 12, 2001

[6] On December 9, just the US Supreme Court stopped the counting, Lewis authored a memo instructing  canvassing boards to isolate "overvotes" that demonstrated clear intent. “If you would segregate ‘overvotes’ as you describe and indicate in your final report how many where you determined the clear intent of the voter,” he wrote  “I will rule on the issue for all counties.”  Overvotes were clearly legal under Florida law, as a few counties had already included them in their counts.