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Showing posts from July 19, 2015

the mystery of the NYRB's article, the mystery of ISIS

These are times that try men’s ribcages – due to the laughter the bigwig journals provoke. Case in point is an “analysis” of Isis that was published by “Anonymous”, in the NYRB. We are assured by the editors that Anonymous is a very serious person. In fact, so serious that the editors seem to have blithely given him carte blanche to say things and give references that have the same relation to fact as, say, the figures of monsters on medieval maps have to zoology. At least the medieval cartographers were cute. But where to begin? Reading the hopeless mess of the article, I was struck by one passage. “The movement’s behavior, however, has not become less reckless or tactically bizarre since Zarqawi’s death. One US estimate by Larry Schweikart suggested that 40,000 insurgents had been killed, about 200,000 wounded, and 20,000 captured before the US even launched the surge in 2006.”   I asked myself why such a toll hadn’t attracted much more world wide attention. Then I look

jim holt's review: witches, slaves

I’ve been pondering Jim Holt’s review of a biography of Sir Thomas Browne. You don’t often see Browne, who is a mandarin’s mandarin writer, given space in the NYT. The review was evidently launched from the side that does not appreciate Browne as a writer.  So be it. Yet there was an emphasis on Browne’s belief in witchcraft that I found troubling – notably this paragraph: :Browne harbored some foolish beliefs himself, even by the standards of his time. Notably, he believed in witches. Worse, he acted on this belief. In 1662, the supposed savant offered expert testimony at a trial in which two elderly widows were convicted of practicing witchcraft and hanged. The trial at which Browne testified cast a long shadow, serving as an exemplar for the infamous Salem witch trials in America 30 years later.” Foolish belief it may have been, but Holt’s paragraph has a certain positivist peremptoryness that is unfair and distorting. Sir Robert Boyle, Browne’s contemporary and certainly one o