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29 December 2007

Most Idiotic Paragraph of the Year

And the award for the most idiotic paragraph of the year to appear in an opinion column in an America newspaper goes to... David Brooks!

One of the best pieces of career advice I ever got is: Interview three people every day. If you try to write about politics without interviewing policy makers, you'll wind up spewing all sorts of nonsense. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote an entire book on the Israel Lobby without ever interviewing any of their subjects.

There are hundreds of newspaper reporters and columnists who write about politics on a regular basis, and thousands of academics who write and talk about politics as well. And there are bloggers, students, and just plain folks who write and say things about politics as well. Are they supposed to "interview[] policy makers" before they write anything down? Do "policy makers" have nothing to do all day but sit down for interviews?

If one is trying to write a book about the folkways of congressional committees, or trying to fathom how the Office of Management and Budget has changed in the past generation, then, yes, interviewing those who make policy is important, because only they know the quotidian aspects of the subjects in question.

But many, if not most, political discussion involves policies per se, and the voluminous output of modern government is more than adequate for that sort of thing.

It says volumes for the vacuousness of modern political conservatism that David Brooks is one of its most visible representatives.

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Posted by Tim W at 12/29/2007 04:53:00 PM

One Silver Lining

There may be one positive thing in the United States from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto&8212;the realization in the popular media that its usual sources are useless and that talking to actual experts might be useful.

Imagine if that had been the case in the run-up to war in late 2001 and early 2002.

Anyway, Harper's has posted a lengthy interview with Barnett Rubin on the situation in Pakistan.

If the main threat is the kind of terrorism that the US experienced on 9/11, then the administration has gone about it in a totally wrong way. The problem is not "terrorism" or Islamist extremism. Hamas and Hizbullah are no more interested in attacking unserere beliebte Heimat than are the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (which I think invented suicide bombing) or the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. Al-Qaida's headquarters used to be in Afghanistan and now is in Pakistan. Their main source of recruitment is Western Europe. So what are we doing in Iraq?

There is another kind of argument that might justify a focus on Iraq: it is possible that 9/11 type terrorism is not in fact the major threat we face. Maybe al-Qaida got lucky once and could never do it again. Maybe they could be contained with a stable government in Afghanistan and some smart intelligence and police work, and the real threats are the traditional ones of access to resources, managing changes in power (the rise of China, recovery of Russia), nuclear proliferation, etc.

He also had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that is, alas, behind the paywall. Fancy that: contrarian thinking seeing the light of day. May wonders never cease.

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Posted by Tim W at 12/29/2007 04:43:00 PM

04 December 2007

Great Moments in Advertising

Just when I thought that I was not part of a cohort that stores really wanted, I was proven wrong.

A local sporting goods chain has an advertisement on the backs of city buses that reads, "Hey, you on the bike. Need a tune-up?"

(For the record, no.)

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Posted by Tim W at 12/04/2007 10:23:00 PM

Not-So-Great Moments in Advertising

There are exactly 21 days until Christmas. Why four different catalogs have needed to remind me in the last week that "It's Not Too Late" to order presents before the holidays is beyond me.

I wonder if the inevitable slew of catalogs to arrive next week will admit "Okay, It Is Too Late Now."


Posted by Tim W at 12/04/2007 10:18:00 PM

01 December 2007

Great Moments in Journalism

The Boston Globe recently devoted a slew of column-inches not to the presidential campaign but to the meta-campaign. In other words, why waste time analyzing campaign positions when one can analyze campaign signs.

Republicans who have not already declared that "I'm with Fred" might be enticed to "ask Mitt anything" at a town hall meeting or to explore a webpage devoted to answering the question, "Why Rudy?"

Democrats have the opportunity to join Team Hillary, perhaps as Hillblazer youth activists or, if they have deep pockets, as HillRaisers. High school students are signing up to be Barack Stars.

Never have so many presidential campaigns so aggressively branded their candidates with their first names, and none more so than Hillary Clinton's. Even in her detailed 15-page healthcare reform plan, it is difficult to find her last name. Staffers, advisers, and friends generally speak of her as Hillary, not senator or Mrs. Clinton.

Republicans Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney also lean heavily on first names for signs, websites, and slogans, while Democrat Barack Obama's campaign uses his first name more selectively.

This would be a more interesting article if the reporter had realized that the Romney campaign was insisting on using Willard Mitt Romney's middle name.

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Posted by Tim W at 12/01/2007 10:59:00 PM

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