Thursday, March 16, 2006


If it seems like I'm posting less often over the course of the next few weekends, it's because I am pre-occupied with what is undoubtedly the best sporting event of the calendar year. I know you Brits don't get it, but you really are missing out, believe me.

First round is under way, and my alma mater just survived a huge scare in double overtime. Phew.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Of two minds on Souter

Supreme Court Justice David Souter has apparently been spared by his neighbors the unfortunate consequences of his own judicial folly. The residents of Weare, New Hampshire, while clearly lacking a good sense of ironic humor, have displayed a degree of constitutional understanding and, frankly, common sense that is regrettably lacking in the good Judge himself. Yesterday, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, they voted down a proposal that would have allowed a developer to take Souter's own farm under the power of eminent domain and build a hotel in its place, a proposal made legally conceivable only as the result of Souter's own inexplicable interpretation of the fifth amendment.

This result leaves TAE torn. It's a good day for justice in principle, but it sure would have been satisfying to see Souter subject to the same injustices his own bizarre reasoning has inflicted on others.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Over the weekend The Guardian’s Susie Mackenzie did a profile on The New York Times’ op-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd. For those of you lucky enough to remain unfamiliar with Dowd, she is probably the worst advertisement for female punditry around. Her attempts to be bitingly witty more often than not come across like the product of a catty juvenile trying to hide a total lack of insight by being just a little too clever. The enduring question surrounding Dowd remains whether she or Paul Krugman is the biggest embarrassment to America’s “paper of record”. It's a tough call, believe me.

Anyway, despite the sub-header’s promise that Mackenzie “grills” her, Dowd emerges from the piece still looking pretty, er, uncooked. If Mackenzie asked her a single challenging question, we the audience remain none the wiser. But by far the most risible aspect of the piece is the portrayal of Dowd as a dedicated truth-teller. According to Mackenzie, Dowd is “someone who has plenty to say about truth-telling,” who “hates hypocrisy and liars,” and who “despises” “truthiness” – truthiness being a “good story” that “you want to be true” but which “doesn’t correspond to reality.” This particular aspect of Dowd's personality will come as quite a surprise to anyone familiar with Dowd’s work.

Ever hear of the word “Dowdification”? It is blog-speak for the use of elipses in a quotation, thereby eliminating a word or a phrase, and thus altering its actual meaning. Or, in other words, portraying the quotation as something you want it to say, but which doesn’t correspond to the reality of the quotation....just what Dowd apparently "despises". Now, especially observant readers may have noticed that “Dowdification” appears to be derived from the base word “Dowd”. That isn’t a coincidence. Unfortunately, Mackenzie didn’t see fit to include in her profile of the tell-it-like-it-is MoDo her particularly unique contribution to the blogging lexicon.

Indeed, apparently unknown to Mackenzie, Dowd's primary writing style often rests on studious avoidance of a straight up look at the truth, relying instead on simplifying and mischaracterizing in order to facilitate her snarky and clever one-liners. Regrettably the excellent site Spinsanity is no longer in business, but while it was it did a good job of tracking particularly eqregious examples of Dowd's (as well as others) forays into deceit and mischaracterization. Given that Dowd is guilty of journalistic transgressions ranging from withholding relevant information about polls cited in her writing to falsely portraying events, it seems to me that if Dowd portrays herself as a hater of hypocrisy and liars, she's established herself firmly as a self-loather.

Too bad Susie Mackenzie was too busy praising her to notice.

Monday, March 13, 2006

BBC champions Collins dictionary

Back when TAE last received a communication from the BBC, I was assured that an explanation of the BBC's characterization of President Bush as a "champion" of Intelligent Design theory would be soon forthcoming. Last week that promise was (finally) fulfilled:

Further to my email of 28 February, I am now in a position to respond to your email which you sent to our Complaints Website regarding the article entitled: Churches urged to back evolution

I raised your concerns directly with the News Website Team who have asked me to forward the following response to your concerns:

Thank you for your e-mail relating to Paul Rincon's article on intelligent design. According to numerous newspaper accounts and an official transcript of the event, George Bush made the remarks to a group of Texas reporters invited to the White House. The whole point of these conferences is for reporters to question the President about his position on issues that matter to their audiences. Given that, we don't think the argument over whether President Bush made the remarks in response to a question he fielded, or of his own volition, has much bearing on what our correspondent wrote. Those were views he expressed on the record, at a pre-arranged press conference where he knew his remarks would be reported.

We would however concede that to describe President Bush as a 'champion' of ID was misleading. This was not the phrase that our reporter used, but was mistakenly introduced in the subbing process. The sub concerned failed to make the distinction between being a champion of ID and being a champion of the teaching of ID. Incidentally, the word 'champion' is defined in the Collins dictionary as 'someone who defends a person or cause'. This does not necessarily imply the kind of proactive role you talk about, but we agree it could be interpreted as such. We have therefore amended the article, replacing the sentence you refer to with the following:
Intelligent Design has also received backing from US President George W Bush, who has said schools should make students aware of the concept.'

We would be grateful if you would direct any future correspondence about BBC news website output through the normal channels.
[This, presumably, refers to the fact that TAE e-mailed Paul Rincon directly.] This will allow us to deal promptly with any points you raise. Paul Rincon did not ignore your comments; he was away on holiday.

With best wishes,
The BBC News Website

I do hope this response addresses your concerns. Thank you again for contacting the BBC.
Yours sincerely
Denise Tattersall
Divisional Advisor
BBC Information

A new question: What is the "subbing" process? Is that the process by which the opinions of an editor are substituted for the plain facts as reported? If anyone out there knows, please let me know.

Dr. Ansari and Iran's help revisited

Back in January, TAE noted a BBC segment on Radio Five Live in which a Dr. Ali Ansari, of the University of Saint Andrews and Chatham House, claimed that "the war in Afghanistan probably would not have succeeded as it did without Iranian help, and of course the Iranians were rewarded with the 'axis of evil'." When TAE questioned Dr. Ansari via e-mail about this rather remarkable claim, he reiterated the point saying "It is generally acknowledged that Afghanistan would not have been so swift or indeed easy had the Iranians not been on board both during and after - in the Bonn Talks."

How interesting, then, to find The Weekly Standard reporting last week that "Newly released documents provide evidence of Iranian collaboration with the Taliban in October of 2001."
Iran secretly agreed to assist the Taliban in its war against U.S. forces in October 2001, according to the transcript of a high-level Taliban official's tribunal session at Guatanamo Bay, Cuba. The seven-page transcript, as well as thousands of pages of similar documents, was released by the Pentagon on March 3 in response to litigation brought by the Associated Press.
If true, this tends to put a damper on Dr. Ansari's theory, broadcast over the BBC, that Iran extended an offer of detente to the US, and was subsequently "rewarded" with the "axis of evil" label. I've e-mailed the good Dr. about this, and will pass on any response I get.