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Showing posts from January 15, 2006

the shame of the press

Imagine that the entertainment sections of the NYT, the Washington Post, and the LA Times had all devoted most of their coverage to the choice of Jessica Simpson as best actress in the run up to the Oscars. Suppose that they did this in spite of the fact that there was abundant evidence that Jessica Simpson was not considered even an outlying candidate for best actress by insiders. Suppose that she got not a single vote. If this had happened, it would be a major media scandal. There would be questions about the honesty of the critics involved, and whether there had been some kind of quid pro quo with Simpson’s PR people, or some studio. Certainly there would be, at least, some comment to explain the bizarre behavior of the critics. Now consider the Iraqi elections. Again. The results are now, semi-officially, in. In the run up to the election, did we have American papers running big profiles of, say, Abdul Aziz Hakim? He is the head of SCIRI. Or how about Ibrahim Jaafari? The hea

the press corps on the couch

I had lunch with an editing client yesterday – yes, I’m still editing, so remember that, reader! – and we started talking about gender and the reporting of conversations. I brought up one of the things that struck me as remarkable about the transcripts released by Ken Starr back in the impeachment days – the way in which Monica Lewinsky’s telephone conversations with Linda Tripp often included, as a helpful stage direction, the sigh. The whole bizarreness of the Starr crusade was summed up for me in the sighs of Monica. Sighs were never included, that I could see, in the Watergate transcripts. Sighs weren’t part of the Iran-Contra controversy. But sighs, for a person like Starr, go with women. Women sigh. Women don’t like sex. Women are forced to have sex when they have sex – unless of course they are really, really in love. And so on. The sexual subtext of what comes out of D.C. in reporting for the last six years has been quite comic, and quite unremarked. I wrote something a few w

plausible vs. miracle counterfactuals

Richard Lebow has written with Philip Tetlock, whose new book on what is wrong with experts we have referred to in LI before, and he wrote this wonderfully clarifying piece – a real Draino of a scholarly article – for World Politics. What’s so different about a counterfactual is a review of the use of counterfactuals in political science and history, with Lebow’s target being Niall Ferguson. Frankly, we aren’t convinced that all of Lebow’s objections to The Pity of War are valid. But we are convinced that Lebow does everybody a service by clearly laying out the protocols of counterfactual use. What does this mean? For one thing, it demystifies the prediction business. It also helps us understand the blind use of analogies and patterns to explain historical instances – one remembers the nutty use of the occupation of Japan as a template for the occupation of Iraq, which targeted occupation as if all occupations are alike. Perhaps, to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy occupations are alike,
Imagine that Clinton, fearing what Bush’s presidency might bring, shipped all American ICBMs to China. That might raise a few hackles, don’t you think? Which brings LI to the weirdest story we have read in some time. It is stories like these that explain why the left is winning in Latin America. The right is composed, to be plain, of people who will betray their country for a box of Wheaties – and the assurance that the U.S. Military will always love them. “The outgoing interim president, Eduardo Rodriguez, said he had accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Gonzalo Mendez, and fired Gen. Marcelo Antezana over apparent irregularities in the destruction in the United States of a batch of Chinese-made missiles in October. "I have relieved the commander of the army of his duties and accepted the defense minister's resignation," Rodriguez told reporters after a cabinet meeting Tuesday. At the height of campaigning for last month's presidential elections, Morales

when I predict an event, it stays predicted

Henry Maine starts out his classic anti-democracy treatise, Popular Government (one of the great books in the Burkean tradition) by considering the predictability of the French Revolution: “THE blindness of the privileged classes in France to the Revolution which was about to overwhelm them furnishes 'some of the' best-worn commonplaces of modern history. There was no doubt much in it to surprise us. What King, Noble, and Priest could not see, had been easily visible to the foreign observer. ‘In short," runs the famous passage in Chesterfield's letter of December 25,1753, “all the symptoms which I ever met with in history previous to great changes and revolutions in government now exist and daily increase in France." A large number of writers of our day, manifesting the wisdom which comes after the event, have pointed out that the sips of a terrible time ought not to have been mistaken. The Court, the Aristocracy, and the Clergy should have understood that, in

hijincks of America's favorite frat boy

Those unhappy few who care that much of what appears in the American papers about Iraq is composed of half truths or outright lies might be interested in the Washington Post’s account of the death of Army Spec. Jesse Buryj. The article goes through the death and the reporting of the death chronologically, so that one can see how one lie is succeeded by another. And in the middle of this is the frat boy whose science project in Iraq – how much pointless blood can one ersatz hero-president spill – got him the majority of votes from a grateful electorate in 2004. First, the death. Nobody yet knows who shot Jesse Buryj on the night of May 4, 2004. What is known is that he was on night patrol in Karbala. His unit and a unit of Polish troops were coordinated the effort to stifle Sadr’s revolt there. “Buryj was in the turret of an armored Humvee with a trailer on the east side of the circle, while Polish and U.S. units manned several entrances to the checkpoint. At 1 a.m. on May 5, a dump

the fool vs. the fool of fools -- the mother of all foolishness

In 2004, LI made some predictions (hedged by the disclaimer that they were merely extrapolations from present circumstance) about what would happen if George Bush were re – scratch that re, will you – were elected in 2004. In other words, if the 2004 election legitimized the Bush coup of 2000. One of the predictions we made – it was made here, on September 19, 2004 – reads like this: “One thing this [the election of Bush] will certainly mean, given the characteristic bloodthirstiness of this group, is a lot more Iraqi deaths. The Vietnam comparisons are always to the number of Americans killed – not to the number of Iraqis killed. But with the re-installation of an ultra-hawkish wing in D.C. (who will justly take the election as a legitimation of their methods) surely we will see an acceleration of Rumsfeld’s kind of warfare – the terror bombing of Fallujah, the pillage of Najaf, that kind of thing. The Bush people have been pushing a re-definition of the aim in Iraq as ‘working d

the magnetized age

In his entertaining Conducting the Vital Fluid: The Politics and Poetics of Mesmerism in the 1790s, Timothy Fulford writes : BY DECEMBER 1795 PRIME MINISTER WILLIAM PITT WAS WELL ON THE way to crushing political dissent in Britain. he had tried reformers for treason, passed laws restricting the right of association and suspended habeas corpus, all without an outcry from British people about their loss of freedom. To one radical, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the people's quietude was an uncanny sign of a new malaise coursing through the body politic: WILLIAM PITT, the great political Animal Magnetist, ... has most foully worked on the diseased fancy of Englishmen . . . thrown the nation into a feverish slumber, and is now bringing it to a crisis which may convulse mortality!' Coleridge was not alone in seeing Pitt as an animal magnetist, mesmerizing his countrymen into a trance to be followed by the convulsions of war. According to James Tilly Matthews, returning to London in 1

there are no accidents

LI was thinking of taking the day off from Schopenhauer’s essay and writing about the J.T. LeRoy hoax that is currently unraveling around a couple of San Francisco situationalists, Laura Albert and her husband, who made up and animated this faux HIV infected, trans-sexual naïf . And, from the accounts of the hoaxed – Susie Bright, Denis Cooper, etc. – it looks like the hook eventually settled in Laura’s mouth, as late night obsessive phone calls to the famous and titillated started growing their own personality. But then we thought, fuck that. Let others talk literary scandal, at this blog we are all about the bucks and the popularity and the kind of pop stuff that Shirley Mansen and/or Winona Ryder and/or Carrie Fisher just goes crazy for: for instance, the deep probing of Schopenhauer’s more obscure essays . Let’s put this post under a quote from The World as Will and Representation : “Thus, although every particular action, under the presupposition of the definite character, ne