Mimsy Were the Borogoves

World Chancelleries—Friday, March 6th, 2015
Premier Benito Mussolini

“Mussolini is liberator.”

The plaintive thread of these interviews is probably best summarized in this exchange during Edward Price Bell’s interview with Germany’s Chancellor Wilhelm Marx:

“… Heavy wars disarm peoples in their minds; only the abolition of the teachings of war and of the objective symbols of war can keep peoples disarmed in their minds. If we are to abolish war we must forget war. If we are to abolish war we must fill the minds and souls of our young with the gospel, the emotions and the images of peace.”

“Your feeling is that the world’s supreme need is peace?”

“That certainly is my feeling.”

“Do you know of a better way than through a League of Nations to get peace?”

“No.”

Throughout the book, Bell asks everyone about the efficacy of the League in ways that telegraph what he wants the answer to be. And the opening statement in the above quote, about abolishing the teachings of war, is reproduced as the frontispiece quote to this interview. Similarly, the Italy interview has Mussolini’s quote about creating a new Italian pulled out for emphasis:

Fascismo is the Greatest Experiment in Our History in Making Italians.”

And in the China interview, Dr. Tang Shao-Yi argues that…

“Education is the specific for the disease of war, and education works slowly. We must teach our children that to kill in war is precisely as criminal an act as to kill in civil life. Murder is murder. We loathe murderers. People must understand that war killers are murderers.”

The importance of education by the right people is affirmed in Bell’s introduction:

Not only statesmen, but specialists and thinkers of every calling, have a natural allegiance with the interviewer for the education of mankind. Fame is power. Fame is responsibility. Names with hypnotic properties are obligated to kindle, enlighten, and direct an attentive world.

World Chancelleries was published in 1926, and edited by Edward Price Bell, the “Dean of the Foreign Staff of The Chicago Daily News.”

This is an odd book all around. I first found it at a library book sale. I used to work at the University of San Diego, and saw it at their Copley Library discards sale for seventy-five cents. It appears to have arrived there after having been presented by the Chicago Daily News to a Mr. M.L. Hallett.

Liberal Fascism—Wednesday, February 25th, 2015
Roosevelt’s Blue Eagle

That Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration/Blue Eagle program looked fascist wasn’t lost on the Roosevelt administration—or on fascists.

My friends on the left who post on Facebook asking that we import Christian values into government policy would be right at home among the fascists in Italy and Germany, according to Jonah Goldberg. Fascism is, among other things, supplanting religion with government, a “religion of the state”. This is similar to the definition used by early progressives who talked of the “social gospel”.

Progressives like to tout Christian values at the point of a gun for things that sound nice, like forced charity. The first time I ran across this, I thought it was because they hadn’t thought the implications through. But if progressivism is “applied Christianity”, as early progressive William Gladden described it, perhaps they have thought it through and enjoy the thought of aligning religion with the government.

Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism is the story of how the National Socialist German Workers Party and the fascist government takeover of businesses became defined as a conservative movement by socialists, progressives, and leftists who believe governments should control businesses.

Several years ago at a library book sale I stumbled across an old book of interviews by the progressive Chicago Daily News. The interviewer, Edward Price Bell, “Dean of the Foreign Staff of the Chicago Daily News”, openly praised Mussolini. At the time I found it a humorous example of the media getting things very wrong in their quest to suck up to power.

They call him dictator. To the unpatriotic, to the anti-social and anti-civilized, to the lawless, to the bolshevists, he is dictator. To Italy—full of sterling human worth—to Italy, in my judgement, Mussolini is liberator.—Edward Price Bell (World Chancelleries)

Murrow: His Life and Times—Sunday, February 8th, 2015

A.M. Sperber basically frames her 1986 Murrow biography with his 1958 speech at the Radio-Television News Directors Association. That speech was, in her telling, the end of Murrow’s career with CBS. It took a couple of years to wind down, but his friendly relationship with Bill Paley of CBS pretty much ended then.

The speech, if it was original at the time, has been the theme of journalism’s insiders ever since. The same arguments still are made today, and it seems as though there are no solutions.

The problem, basically, was that television and radio needed money. They got that money from sponsors. Sponsors demanded more viewers. So television and radio played what viewers wanted rather than what newsmen thought the viewers needed. In Murrow and others’ view, radio and television were falling down in their primary job of lifting people up to a greater level.

Unlike many who complain that viewers don’t know what they want, however—including many of Murrow’s friends—Murrow was not a socialist. He did not believe that more government interference was a good idea.

“A telephone call or a letter from the proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer.”

Part of the problem was that shows back then were often sponsored by a single company. He didn’t see an alternative to that, and suggested that sponsors should “tithe” a portion of their profits to support shows sight unseen.1

Because Murrow tended to hang out with, and make friends with, people in the political and intellectual elite, he was often disappointed by people. For example, he supported FDR’s “deploring the growing concentration of governmental power” when FDR ran for office. He often, despite his well-deserved courage in other areas, seemed afraid to voice opinions counter to his friends. Murrow grew up in rural North Carolina and Washington, and seems in this account to have been both proud of and embarrassed by his roots. Even back then, provincialism was a go-to insult for journalists.

Jerry@GoodReads—Sunday, February 1st, 2015

On my GoodReads account, you can see how erudite and well-read I am.

I’ve been using GoodReads lately to track the books I’m reading and want to read. I’m not yet sure how useful it is, however, it does seem useful to discuss books with other readers. I’ve added it to my Keep in touch section below the blogroll, and I’ve also added a link to recent books across the top of this section of Mimsy.

The Elements of Journalism—Friday, December 5th, 2014

I wrote a little about The Elements of Journalism, when I hit the section praising David Protess for tricking Alstory Simon into confessing to murder. The thing about that is, it isn’t just that the authors praised Process, and that this praise became embarrassing a few years later, that made this example stand out. It was that Protess explicitly broke some of the rules outlined in this book. This should have been a red flag signaling that maybe they should dig deeper before using the Simon case as an exemplar. But it didn’t, because the rules of journalism aren’t prescriptions, they’re rationalizations. That is, they aren’t scientific rules to guide journalists moving forward, they’re religious rationalizations used to justify what they want to do. They’re used to justify a belief rather than find the truth.

The major problem with this book is that it does little, if anything, to change that. To the extent that it provides justifications that may be chosen from ad hoc, it makes things worse.

When the author started talking about using the scientific method as a guide to better journalism, I thought, maybe he’s onto something. But the bedrock foundation of the scientific method is that you must do your best to explain how your findings can be proved wrong. You must show how to falsify your results.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can—if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong—to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.—Richard Feynman (Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!)

Eucalyptus development ends, removed from app store—Sunday, November 30th, 2014
Jurgen on the iPhone

Jurgen: A Comedy of Justice on Apple’s iBooks.

Jamie Montgomerie of Things Made Out of Other Things has removed Eucalyptus from the app store. Development obviously stopped quite a while ago: Eucalyptus was never updated for the iPad, which meant that not only did it not use the larger screen size effectively but it also never synchronized downloaded books and current locations between iPhone and iPad.

I enjoyed Eucalyptus enough that even without those features I continued using it for Gutenberg books, reserving iBooks for PDFs (mostly manuals) and non-Gutenberg ePubs. Thus reading Gutenberg books on the iPhone only.

While I could technically continue to do this, his comment in the announcement that “I’ll keep the servers going until I can’t.” just tipped me over the edge to switch all of my reading to iBooks. It is nice to be able to use the iPad at home and then seamlessly switch to reading on the iPhone when I have a few extra minutes on the go.

It is easy enough to get books from Project Gutenberg onto an iPad or iPhone. You can go to almost any book on Gutenberg and download the ePub. On your Mac, just drag the downloaded file to iBooks. On the iPad or iPhone, you can choose to “Open in iBooks” after choosing an ePub link.

The one tricky part is that, if you are only syncing “Selected books” in iTunes, iBooks does not assume that if you downloaded a book on a mobile device you want it kept there. The book will sync over to iTunes for synchronizing to other devices, but it won’t be checked. It will, thus, be deleted from the original device. Nor does iBooks yet synchronize non-Apple Store books via iCloud; it will synchronize your current location in those books, however, the book needs to be transferred to each other device through iTunes.

Letters to a Young Journalist—Monday, October 27th, 2014

He starts his memoirish collection of advice where one should start, the beginning, with plucky young reporters, wise old sages, and the inevitably burned-out hacks.

The reporters whom I got to know over the coming weeks seemed drawn in equal parts from the past and the future. There was an old-timer named Forrest who liked to avoid being assigned obituaries by hiding under his desk. One of his contemporaries, Maggie, sometimes fell asleep at her desk, letting her wig slide off. Phil, one of the editors, chewed cigars.1 I couldn’t dismiss the whole generation, though, because it also included Jack Gill, the streetwise skeptic who covered Plainfield, and Hollis Burke, an idealist who had done a midlife turn in the Peace Corps. They had about them not only experience but wisdom.

The youngsters in the newsroom came from hip backgrounds, including disc jockeys and poets.

Sam Meddis, one of the investigative reporters, had talked his way into the paper with a bunch of poems he’d written as a Rutgers undergrad.

Freedman himself always prefers the path less traveled. If someone else is covering the same story, it’s already passé.

If you give me a choice, I will always prefer to write about someone obscure than someone famous. And, as much as I savor the company of fellow journalists at a party or in a newsroom, I feel like I’ve done something wrong if I bump into any of them reporting the same story as I am.

Ah, but journalism has gone to hell since the days before cable television, when television news was a single voice with three heads and the news media in general spoke in unison.

My own bitter joke is that I remember when the New York Post published nonfiction. By that I mean that I remember it before it was bought by Rupert Murdoch. I’m not generally a believer in the Great Man Theory of History, but in Murdoch’s case, his despotic genius has been to infect contemporary American journalism with some of its most pernicious diseases. He transformed the Post from a spunky and serious paper to a gossip-and-sensationalism rag, created the tawdry genre of tabloid television with the show A Current Affair, and bankrolled Fox News Channel, a political movement masquerading as a news organization. No individual bears more responsibility for degrading the profession I practice and adore, and I would feel no differently if Murdoch had been a demagogue of the Left rather than the Right.

Inside the Beltway: A Guide to Washington Reporting—Friday, October 24th, 2014

Unlike the next book I’m going to review, Inside the Beltway is a nuts-and-bolts guide to committing journalism—print journalism—in Washington, DC. Don Campbell covers the various basic kinds of beltway reporting and follows each section with a list of resources.

The number one concern of the new beltway journalist is making contacts. Campbell describes DC as “a company town”, but it’s a company with constantly shifting lines of authority. It is very important to build contacts before the contacts are needed: once they’re needed, everybody wants to talk to them.

The reporters who get their phone calls returned in even-numbered years are the ones who phone you and have lunch with you in the odd-numbered years.

By the time the primaries and caucuses begin in February, much of the fun of covering a presidential campaign is over for print journalists. With the arrival of television crews, campaigns become a blur of photo opportunities and inane press conferences, a battle of TV ads and expectations, upon all of which the voters have the audacity to intrude briefly every week or so.

Campbell gives equal treatment to records searches and archival research as he does to making contacts and knowing people, but,

…Washington is a town of networks within networks within networks, as noted by the Wall Street Journal’s crack investigator Edward Pound: “People are more important here because connections—who you know, whether you know the right lawyers in town, the right investigators—that’s more important in Washington than records.”

Washington is a town of egos, and most people’s egos exceed their grasp. This is true both of reporters and of candidates. “The best political reporters are people who like politicians,” but when reporters are assigned to a candidate, it naturally gives them a vested interest in that candidate. Not only do they tend to start to like the candidate, but the candidate’s success is their own success.

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