Monday, March 29, 2004

Why David Brooks is the stupidest person writing for the New York Times.

A good piece in Philadelphia Magazine, Boo-Boos in Paradise, that does a decent job in pointing out the dumb as dirt mistakes that David Brooks has made over the years. Anybody who's excuse seems to be, "If you believe what I tell you and accept it as fact, that's okay, but if you don't believe it, it's because you're too stupid to recognize satire," deserves to be fired. He won't be.

My favorite part? "'This is dishonest research. You're not approaching the piece in the spirit of an honest reporter, he said. 'Is this how you're going to start your career? I mean, really, doing this sort of piece? I used to do 'em, I know 'em, how one starts, but it's just something you'll mature beyond.'" You'll mature beyond this kind of piece? This advice from the man who, when he said that "neoconservatives" were the imaginings of anti-semitic liberals, claimed that he was "still learning" how to write a column and had simply been applying a literary device? Really? The New York Times provides on-the-job training now? Maybe Jayson Blair should have claimed to have been using a literary device, too.

It's called: Fiction.

The man shouldn't be able to get a job writing greeting cards. And yet, because he says what he wants to believe to be true with only the barest sheen of scholarship to support it, he's getting paid handsomely to be the dolt.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Fiction as truth

I've got a ton of books lying around that I haven't read yet. Stacks and stacks of them. Pete Dexter's "The Paperboy" has been sitting on a shelf, staring at me for years, and I finally grabbed it this morning. On page 14, he writes:
It had occured to me a long time before 1969, though, that there was something else behind my father's admiration of Ralph McGill.

He was famous.

I had been around reporters all my life -- my father had been one once, and he often brought his favorites home for cocktails -- and I saw early on that they were hungry in a way I was not.

His favorites were the most aggressive, but for all their scrambling to the scene, for all the research and investigations and prodding and cajoling and lying they did to get to their stories -- they would brag about these things later -- what they hated most was not to be wrong, but to be silent.

What moved them was not to know things, but to tell them. For a little while, it made them as important as the news itself.

Which is more or less the same point I was trying to make yesterday about reporters getting a scrap of information from the Bush administration and racing off to tell it, with no thought to the agenda behind it or a skeptical inquiry into the facts it contained or was based upon.

For a real-life example, check out the CJR Campaign desk account of CNN's decision to offer continual coverage of the imminent capture of Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Whiskey Bar: The World Turned Upside Down

In the comments to this post -- Whiskey Bar: The World Turned Upside Down -- "four legs good" asks, "I'd love to hear the back story of how Bob Woodward turned to the dark side. He seems not to question anything bushco says. Honestly I just don't get it. You'd think someone who was in the thick of Watergate would be well aware of the capacity for medacity in an administration. Is the money and the social position he holds in Washington that completely corrupting" This, I think, is a small art of a larger question: Why do so many journalists believe everything they hear from members of this administration without skepticism, doubt or question? My theory is that the Bushies have been so tightfisted with the information they do hand out that when someone does deign to speak, the one spoken to runs off, convinced beyond all doubt that he or she is the bestestest investigative reporter EVER, and parrots it without filtering it through any critical thought process.

For Woodward, I suspect it's a little different. What I said above is mostly true, but I also suspect that Woodward has a nostalgic feeling for the way things in Washington used to be run. When Clinton and his team came to town, it was like some internet start-up. Lots of late-night bull sessions about strategy and vision, but in the end it wasn't all that it had seemed, and some reporters felt a little silly for having drunk the Kool-Aid. Then the Bushies are back in town and everyone's wearing a suit and Florsheim's and working banker's hours, the way things are supposed to be. In actuality, it's like the people who ran Pets.com being replaced by the people who ran Enron. It's a superficial change for the better, while masking a deeper and more profound mismanagement that is going to cost everyone a heck of a lot more than they ever imagined.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

This post and this post (along with a little bit of this one) come together here, in something written by someone else somewhere else, but that synthesizes what I think I was getting around to in my own half-assed way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Billmon...again.

I keep linking to him, but he keeps making some sense, so I really have no choice.

Whiskey Bar: In Kaiser Wilhelm's Shadow

Friday, March 12, 2004

Juan Cole * Informed Comment *

Juan Cole * Informed Comment *

Although the Defense Intelligence Agency is saying that the Iraqi National Congress supplies it with good intelligence, I find it difficult to believe that you couldn't get even better intelligence in Iraq by having DIA agents on the ground just use the $4 million for local informants. You worry about the disinformation Chalabi may be supplying them with. Have any of his personal enemies been picked up?

This revelation follows testimony by CIA director George Tenet that he has had to run around asking high Bush administration officials like Dick Cheney to please not hype intelligence to make it say things that are not in evidence. It turns out that Cheney has been recommending the highly questionable Feith dossier on supposed pre-war links between Saddam and al-Qaeda to people. (Wanna bet Chalabi and his people supplied all those supposed anecdotes in the first place?).


It's the Tinkerbell approach to government. If I want something to be true, if I really, really want it to be true, and I believe it with all my heart, then it will become true. And then, if I get even more people to believe it, democracy takes over and majority rules make it a fact.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

"Stop teaching my kid."

Somehow, I think this piece at The Irascible Professor bolsters my previous post a little bit. I don't think it's new, but I do think that there's a growing belief that schools don't provide an education, but an imprimatur. Go to a certain school and it's like getting a celebrity endorsement. Of course the schools are often to blame for it. There's school pride and then there's arrogance. A diploma from Harvard or Yale is nice, but it doesn't mean that you know squat about what you're talking about now. "I have the Harvard seal-of-approval, so you have to believe that everything I say has the full weight and endorsement of all of the smart people who've studied and taught there, and who will study and teach there, for all of time immemorial." Pfft. Nonsense.

Not to diminish the work that people do there, or to make it seem like anyone could get into Harvard. God knows I couldn't, even if I'd been foolish enough to try. This isn't sour grapes. It's just that it's another kind of celebrity association that people fall all over themselves to attain, like being seen in a restaurant with a movie star or getting your picture taken shaking hands with a rock star. It's somehow supposed to complete you and grant you an identity that you couldn't possibly achieve by yourself. And it's the same thing in this teacher's English classes, where competent students who would do OK in a regular (or even advanced) class would rather excel in a remedial one, because the pride of being able to say, "I got all As," is what's going to matter when you try to spin yourself into an upper tier school. I don't think anyone who's taken remedial English is going to get into Harvard, but the idea is that rather than do the necessary work and get an honest grade and a hard-earned education, it's more impressive to get the gold star for jumping over matchbooks and tout your "award winning" achievements.

College for the Home-Schooled Is Shaping Leaders for the Right

Combine this article -- College for the Home-Schooled Is Shaping Leaders for the Right -- with this entry from Pandagon -- Our Farm Team -- and you get an idea of what I've been worried about: A dedicated right-wing ruling class.

Of course, there are all sorts of questions raised by this. Can you really raise a generation of "born" leaders? Is something like this compatible with representative democracy? Wouldn't this essentially destroy the idea of a government of, by, and for the people?

The difference between the left and the right, I think, is their approach to power. The left tends to view power as a means for change. Power for its own sake is useless. The right views power as an end in itself. The current post-modern presidency shows that those in power can believe whatever they want, campaign on one platform and switch to another while claiming nothing has changed at all, and engage in all sorts of sophistry, as long as it retains power. Over what, I don't know. I don't know if any sort of educational mill can adequately prepare leaders to function in the real world, or if they'll end up being as effectual as the remaining royal families in Europe.

Or else they end up being a legion of Dick Cheneys and Tom Delays, the powers behind the throne, only occasionally popping out into the daylight. That's a scary thought.