No attempted political smear like an old attempted political smear

March 30, 2012

This New York Times photo feature is making the e-mail and Facebook rounds of Republicans and anti-Obamaniacs:

Obama carrying Zakaria's book, in 2008 - NY Times photo by Doug Mills

Then-candidate Barack Obama carrying a copy of Fareed Zakaria‘s best-selling book on why America has an optimistic future, The Post-American World, on the campaign trail in 2008

Should have noted, it’s making the rounds yet again.

In the note I got most recently, the sender posted this — probably a copy and paste message:

This picture will stun you

If each person sends this to a minimum of 20 people on their address list, in three days,
all people in The United States of America would have the message.
I believe this is one proposal that really should be passed around.
________________________________________________________________

THIS WILL CURDLE YOUR BLOOD AND CURL YOUR HAIR

Description: cid:image001.jpg@01CCB96D.4D1AFD50

The name of the book Obama is reading is called: The Post-American World, and it was written by a fellow Muslim.

“Post” America means the World After America ! , Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal. , Democrat or Republican, Folks we need to be aware of what our president is thinking–or planning
We must expose Obama’s radical ideas and his intent to bring down our beloved America!

Oy.  Where to begin with the factual corrections?

First, Zakaria is not exactly a Muslim extremistHe was born in India, a secular nation which practices religious diversity by law, his mother a former editor of The Sunday Times of India, his father a member of the popular Indian National Congress, the party of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, and Manmohan Singh, to mention four famous Prime Ministers of India.

Fareed Zakaria, Editor, Newsweek International...

Fareed Zakaria, [then

Second, Zakaria is a highly-respected journalist with great experience in international affairs.  He’s a former columnist for of Newsweek, and was editor of Newsweek International (is that American enough?).  Currently he has a column in Time, and a regular slot on CNN, Fareed Zakaria GPS, after a program on PBS and assignments for ABC.  You probably know the man by sight, and he doesn’t scare you in your living room.

Third, it’s not about “after” America — it’s about life in the world after several other nations figure out the U.S. secrets to success (freedom and trade), and apply them to become, like the U.S., a world power.  Not the world “after America,” but the world after the domination of America and Pax Americana.  The note in the New York Times said:

Writing in the Book Review a few weeks ago, Joseph Joffe said about Zakaria’s book:

Zakaria’s is not another exercise in declinism. His point is not the demise of Gulliver, but the ”rise of the rest.” After all, how can this giant follow Rome and Britain onto the dust heap of empire if it can prosecute two wars at once without much notice at home? The granddaughters of those millions of Rosie the Riveters who kept the World War II economy going are off to the mall today; if they don’t shop till they drop, it’s because of recession, not rationing.

“Not another exercise in declinism.” Want to bet the people passing the photo around didn’t bother to read Zakaria’s book?  Heck, they didn’t even bother to check it out on Amazon, or Wikipedia.  Anyone who thinks this photo sinister clearly could use a good read of the book — if they can read.

Fourth, Zakaria’s book has an entire chapter on keeping the U.S. from falling into decline — it’s not a book to”bring down our beloved America,” but is instead a book aimed at doing the exact opposite.  Zakaria outlines how the U.S. can maintain influence and power in a world where superpower influence is problematic rather than an enormous advantage at all times, and a world where trade is better than war.

Fifth, The Post-American World got a lot of praise from conservative, Republican- and Libertarian-leaning people when it was published.  The pedestrian Wikipedia explained:

The Post-American World, at 292 pages long, was described as “a book-length essay”[5] and a “thin book that reads like one long, thoughtful essay”.[6] Written with an optimistic tone, it features little new research or reporting, but rather contains insights and identification of trends.[5] The reviewer for The Wall Street Journal described the tone as “infectious (though not naive) sunniness…but without Panglossian simplicity”.[1] The American Spectator reviewer noted that the prose had a journalistic style[7] while the reviewer for The Guardian noticed the writing sometimes displayed “news magazine mannerisms”.[8]

Zakaria’s view on globalisation was said to be similar to journalist and author Thomas Friedman.[9][10] Friedman reviewed The Post-American World and called it “compelling”.[11] The review in American Conservative compared this book with Rudyard Kipling‘s poems “Recessional” and “The White Man’s Burden“, both written at the height of British power and warning against imperial hubris.[12] The American Spectator review listed it as adding to similar themed books, comparing it to Oswald Spengler‘s The Decline of the West (1918), Arnold Toynbee‘s A Study of History, Paul Kennedy‘s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), and Robert Kagan‘s The Return of History and the End of Dreams (2008).[7] Kagan labeled The Post-American World as “declinist”;[13] however, Martin Woollacott of The Guardian labeled Zakaria an exceptionalist.[8] The Commentary review added the works of Samuel P. Huntington and Francis Fukuyama to the list of comparisons and suggested there is now a sub-genre of books that consider the decline or demise of American hegemony.[14]

Wall Street Journal, American Spectator, Commentary — any self-respecting, halfway well-read neo-conservative would have all of those sources on her desk today.

Having read Zakaria’s book should be an indication of American patriotism.  Dwight Garner’s comment at Art Beat, a blog of the New York Times, said the photo was a “stylish book-ad,” and he meant it as a compliment.  He closed off his note:

Anyone know what book John McCain is — or should be — carrying around?

Grand question.  I’ll wager McCain knows the book, if he hasn’t read it.

But what about Mitt Romney?  I’ll wager he didn’t bother to read it.  Rick Santorum?  Surely not.  Newt Gingrich probably read it quickly, over-analyzed it, found some minor issue of historical interpretation to disagree with, and pronounced it not worthy of actual citation.

The people who try to raise fears with the photo?  They probably don’t read newspapers, don’t have library cards, and they hope to hell you’re too busy updating your Facebook profile to know anything at all about reality and world history.  Would they send the photo around if they had Clue #1?

Sixth, the book came out in 2008.    Even the paperbacks are in new editions with revisions, it’s been out so long.

How desperate are the Obama-obsessed folk?  They’re so desperate they are recycling hoaxes from 2008.  Worse, they find people willing to be hoaxed all over again, forgetting they got hoaxed back then.

Voter identification?  How about a voter sanity check?  Given a choice, a sane person might say “let illegal aliens vote, instead” — they know more about America and what makes it great than the perps of this hoax.

Is it significant that Zakaria has not been shy about criticizing serious policy errors promulgated by Republican candidates for president?  Nah.

More:

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DDT can’t fight bedbugs

September 19, 2010

Newsweek magazine, even in its much reduced form (bolstered by a good on-line site), still provides essential reporting.

A week or so ago Newsweek published a piece of reporting on the politics of bedbugs.  To wit:

  1. DDT doesn’t work against bedbugs, and hasn’t worked against them since the late 1950s.
  2. Astroturf organizations, so-called “think-tanks” set up by corporate interests jumped on bedbugs as another way of attacking the 46-years dead Rachel Carson, environmentalists, scientists and government — falsely.  The Heartland Institute is singled out as one group spreading false claims in favor of poison and against environmental protection.
  3. The recent resurgence of bedbugs is more related to changes in fighting other pests than in the discontinuation of DDT against them.  Had DDT been the magic answer, bedbugs should have made a resurgence in 1960 when DDT use against them was stopped, not 2010, a full half-century later.
  4. The many screeds in favor of DDT are politically driven, not science driven.

Think about that — every claim that we need DDT to fight bedbugs is a planted, political advertisement, and not a fact-based policy argument.  Each of those claims is based in a political smear, and not based on science.

The really weird part is that so many writers and bloggers spread the false claims without being paid.  Selling one’s soul for money is understandable; giving one’s soul away for nothing is stupid, or evil, or both.

Newsweek reported:

DDT “devastated” bedbug populations when it was introduced in the 1940s, says Richard Cooper, technical director for Cooper Pest Solutions and a widely quoted authority on bedbug control. Mattresses were soaked in it, wallpaper came pre-treated with it. It also killed boll weevils, which fed on cotton buds and flowers (by far, the majority of DDT was applied to cotton fields), and, incidentally, it killed bald eagles and numerous other species of birds, the phenomenon that gave Carson her title. In the laboratory, DDT can cause cancer in animals; its effect on human beings has long been debated, but since it accumulates up the food chain, and stays in the body for years, the consensus among public-health experts was that it was better to act before effects showed up in the population. But long before the United States banned most uses of it in 1972, DDT had lost its effectiveness against bedbugs—which, like many fast-breeding insects, are extremely adept at evolving resistance to pesticides. “Bloggers talk about bringing back DDT,” says Bob Rosenberg, director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, “but we had stopped using it even before 1972.”

Resources:


A Jonathan Alter-cation: Teacher pay-for-performance? How about the same for pundits?

November 19, 2009

Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter likes charter schools, and often enough writes about them and his frustration that public schools and their teachers won’t roll over and play dead while charter schools steal money from them (my characterization, not Alter’s).

At Public School Insights, Claus von Zastrow suggested that maybe pundits like Alter ought to be subject to having their pay docked when they screw up, too.  Then he went further, and specifically criticized a recent Alter column, point for point.

A few comments down, who should show up to make his case, but Jonathan Alter.

Go watch, and learn.  Among other things, the discussion is much more civil than we usually see on blogs.  It’s a lesson for Christians and creationists especially.

It’s not much of a conflict of interest, but I have dealt with Alter before, in his previous job at The New Republic (back when it was not so much a bastion of neo-conservatism).  Alter did a major profile of Sen. Orrin Hatch.  Alter strove not to be flattering, and the biggest problem was the Vint Lawrence illustration, showing Hatch draped in the American flag as a cloak.  As I recall from those now-dusty decades, the profile wasn’t exactly correlated with the illustration on any issue.  Over the years, Alter’s been closer to correct more often than he’s been wrong, in my view — his views on charter schools being in that area where I think he errs.

Public schools have never suffered from a surplus of money.  Charter school advocates should not be allowed to steal income from public schools directly.  To shore up GM, we don’t allow GM to take a share of profit from Ford for every GM car sold.  Nor do we allow Ford to take a share of GM’s income.  Competition in education is a foolish pursuit most often, but we don’t need a competitive model that bleeds education on either end, as Alter’s advocacy favors.

In hard economic terms, free market, gloves-off, bare-fisted capitalistic competition has never been shown to work in education.  I never could figure out Milton Friedman’s advocacy for such competition since there is no case ever to be made that competition makes better schools, nor that privately-run schools work better for educating an entire nation than public schools.  I think all relevant evidence runs the other way.

Pay for performance, but links for free:

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Palin: Ignore the woman abusing the flag and look at those gams!

November 18, 2009

Newsweek features Sarah Palin on the cover this week, a couple of weeks after featuring Al Gore.  I thought the Gore cover was interesting, but could be interpreted to make him look sinister.

Palin on the cover of Newsweek

Sexist? Or sac-patriotic?

Palin, on the other hand, is featured in a full photo she posed for Runners World last year.  A flattering photo, it also features a U.S. flag, which we’ll get back to in a moment.

Palin complains that the cover is “sexist.”

Yahoo! News has the story, featuring Palin’s Facebook complaint.

“The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this “news” magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant. The Runner’s World magazine one-page profile for which this photo was taken was all about health and fitness — a subject to which I am devoted and which is critically important to this nation. The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention — even if out of context.

But look at the cover.  Newsweek brands Palin as a problem — for Republicans. Is the sexism charge designed to divert attention from what Newsweek is saying, editorially?

Look at the display of the flag.  Clearly out of flag code on all scores, it appears as if she’s using the flag much as an athletic towel.  Now think of the rage the right worked up to when candidate Obama didn’t wear a flag lapel pin.  Can you imagine the rage had any Democrat posed for a picture, leaning on the flag like that?

The photo reveals Palin and her handlers as ill-informed on the flag code, and willing to do almost anything to get a camera.  I find it interesting that now, more than a year after she posed for the picture, she’s concerned about her showing of leg and not about the political issues raised by Newsweek.

Almost no one worries about the disrespect for the U.S. flag.

_____________

Update: Good commentary at Obsidian Wings — and note the first five or so comments.  Smart readers there!  Much the same at Majikthise.


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