Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

February 28, 2008

Must Reading:Part 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:11 pm

From the newly revived World Affairs Journal which also features important essays by George Packer and Alan Wolfe, the must-read is called “Backbone, Berman and Buruma”, a polemic that skillfully puts paid to the cowardly moral relativism that uses terms like “Enlightenment fundamentalism” to bash brave activists like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and liberal political historians like Paul Berman.

It turns out, in the account by Peter Collier of the near-pathological need for certain British intellectuals to attack and/or condescend to Hirsi Ali that their reflexive intellectual appeasement is not shared by all European intellectuals.. “The Swedish intellectual Lars Gustafson,” Collier writes, “was disturbed by the rancid implication [of “Enlightenment fundamentalism” as a term of abuse] that the Enlightenment was just another set of dogmas, in no way different from, and no more universal than those of Islam.” (or of any religion, I’d add).

It’s sad there are so few defenders of Enlightenment values to be found especially among those who most benefit from it. The essay is heartening but also dispiriting in the sense that one knows it is the exception rather than the rule and to my mind, the fatal weakness of the Enlightenment, the license it gives to deaf, dumb and blind moral relativism that excuses the stoning of women and the hanging of gays under the banner of multiculturalism, will doom the brief reign of the Enlightenment to defeat by fanaticism.

Must Reading:Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:41 am

If you haven’t yet read Eric Ambler’s pre-World War II espionage novels, the ones that created the sophisticated political and literary spy novel genre, now’s the time to start. And %%AMAZON=0375726713 A Coffin for Demetrios%% is the place to start. I’m writing a longer essay about the political prescience and sophistication of Ambler’s work, but I want more people to have read him. His four pre-WWII novels–which include Background to Danger–<Epitaph for a Spy and Journey Into Fear will make you realize where latecomers like LeCarre and Furth got their sensibility, the ability to fuse the complexities of politics and ideology with the spy genre.

But Demetrios is the essential one, even more relevant now with Balkan intrigue–Kosovo, Serbia, Albania et. al.–once again a flashpoint for international tension. The secret, though, of the subterranean profundity of Demetrios is Ambler’s use (in 1939) of the word “Holocaust”, the earliest reference I know, and how he links the Turkish/Greek/Armenian mass murders of the teens and twenties, to a shockingly prescient vision of the one to come. Hint: the master criminal, Demetrios, whose involvement in Balkan fascist intrigues is a key focus of the book, was born in 1889.

I’d like to hear if there any fellow Ambler fans out there.

February 24, 2008

The Media's Dunkin' Donuts Distortion

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:35 am

Readers of this blog know I’ve “dis-endorsed” Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t mean I agree with every cheap shot taken at her and her campaign. Consider the Dunkin Donuts distortion.

I’m speaking of all the stories about her campaign’s fiscal recklessness that–in addition to legitimate examples–cite as some wild extravagance the fact that her campaign spent $1300 on Dunkin’ Donuts in the month of January.

Not to make a fetish of DC insider-bashing (see posts below) but I’d suggest this is the political reporters’ version of George H.W. Bush’s “cash register moment”, the one that suggests just how out of touch they are.

Do the math: that’s 42 dollars worth of donuts per day for campaign competing in some 24 states in the January leading up to Feb. 5’s Super Tuesday.
Now in the Dunkin’ Donuts across the street from me in Manhattan I pay 99 cents for a cinnamon sugar-dusted donut (best evs!). If you go creme-filled, sprinkle-topped or jelly-filled, you’re going to pay more. Considering that Manhattan prices are probably among the highest in the land, let’s cut that in half and say that cost-per-donut nationally is half that: 50 cents.

So that’s 84 donuts for 24 states. In other words 3 and a seventh donut per state, many of which had hundreds, if not thousands of campaign workers. Extravagant? I don’t think so.

I think beltway bound reporters are so out of touch with Dunkin’ Donuts culture they may be missing the real machiavellian purpose of Hillary’s campaign reporting $1300 in Dunkin’ Donut expenditure. They probably paid thousands more (and thousands more in Starbucks lattes went unreported) because they counted on DC reporters to mention the donuts. Which would serve the campaign’s purpose in identifying Hillary with the blue collar Dunkin’ Donuts demographic as opposed to the caricatured latte drinking Obama supporters. Dollars to donuts that’s what was really going on.

Poor Hillary, if it was ploy, it failed. Or maybe it succeeded in building Hillary’s donut brand identification, but it just didn’t matter to the Dunkin’ demograhic. But of course the real scandal was not the donut expenditure but the millions of dollars wasted on the “strategists” and “consultants” who have been revealed to be Dunkin’ Dunces. With brains as empty as donut holes.

February 23, 2008

"One of The Strangest Blog Posts of All Time"

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:29 am

Aw shucks. I’m honored, but not sure I (or the blog post in question–even now with “added salience”) deserve such a superlative compliment. I think you need to have a sadly sheltered beltway wonk mentality to believe it’s strange at all, considering all the genuinely strange blog posts in the astonishingly strange world we inhabit. But here’s the context for the strange hyperbole as you will find it in this guest post by Reihan Salam on Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

Pandora’s Box
22 Feb 2008 05:03 pm
by Reihan

Gabriel Sherman’s take on the NYT’s McCain story:

“Beyond its revelations, however, what’s most remarkable about the article is that it appeared in the paper at all: The new information it reveals focuses on the private matters of the candidate, and relies entirely on the anecdotal evidence of McCain’s former staffers to justify the piece–both personal and anecdotal elements unusual in the Gray Lady. The story is filled with awkward journalistic moves–the piece contains a collection of decade-old stories about McCain and Iseman appearing at functions together and concerns voiced by McCain’s aides that the Senator shouldn’t be seen in public with Iseman–and departs from the Times’ usual authoritative voice.”

Here’s my question[this is Reihan now]: does this mean the Los Angeles Times is going to pull the trigger on yet another “scandal,” this one involving the spouse of a leading presidential candidate? Ron Rosenbaum wrote one of the strangest blog posts of all time on exactly this subject in October, and it seems to have added salience now. [Emphasis added]

Now, here’s Reihan’s notion of one of the strangest blog posts of all time. It certainly was controversial, largely because I refused to disclose the nature of the scandal-rumor, because I had no way to judge its truthfulness, something that didn’t stop the insiders spreading it from assuming a pose of certitude.

Perhaps it seems “strange” because those inside the beltway bubble don’t realize how strangethey seem to outsiders: anthropologically like Stone Age tribesmen brandishing rumors like shiny beads to prove their self worth. The post. as anyone who reads it and my subsequent thoughts on the subject (such as the post just below this). was meant to be about D.C media insider psychology, the way D.C. political journalists puff up their self esteem for each other by parading supposed inside knowledge of–for instance–presidential candidate rumors. The sort of “knowledge” they can’t or won’t share with their readers.

My contention was that even, especially, if they don’t publish their self-promoting “inside knowledge”, it exerts a subtle but demonstrable “dark matter” influence on what they do write.

By the way–note to Reihan–I made clear in the story that I did not know for a fact that the LATimes was sitting on a sex scandal story, but that DC insiders were buzzing that it was. There’s a difference! In the comments and subsequent posts I’ve repeated denials from an LATimesman that they have such a story. As for the rumor itself I still have no way of knowing whether it’s truth or folklore. Or whether it would have been right to publish it even if it could be proven true. And that’s why I did not publish the details, but rather discussed the dilemmas such a rumor would pose.

It was a complex question I know, but–second note to Reihan–complexity isn’t always “strange”. It’s the stuff of life.

February 21, 2008

New D.C. Insider Rumor is About…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:36 am

This is the January 14 revise of a January 2 post I decided not to run (either version). The dates can be verified from the time stamps on the original unpublished drafts in the internal records of the blog. I hesitated posting it when I first drafted it on January 2, because of the complexity of the rationale for the story, of writing about rumors, in general. My point has always been that DC based campaign reporters too often allow unpublished rumors to affect what they actually publish about a candidate. But to make that point you have to allude to the rumors and perhaps give them more weight than they deserve. I thought about it again on January 14 and did another draft, the one you see below. I still felt conflicted about it, consulted a friend who suggested the problems in writing about rumors outweighed the value. And so I left it unposted. Now that the Times has published at least part of the rumor–and I’m not yet ready to make a judgment about the wisdom of that decision–I post it because the questions it raises–particularly about insiderism and timing–are still valid.

And because–on balance–I’m still satisfied with my decision not to run it at the time. And because I happen to know there are more such rumors still out there and we need to find a way to think about how to handle them.

Here’s the January 14 version with the original title, only the date stamp changed (because if I didn’t it would be buried back amidst the January posts). I’ll enable comments but only post intelligent reflections on the journalistic questions raised, not partisan venom:

Think of this as another anthropological report on the culture of DC media insider rumorology.

Washington insiders are like a small Stone Age tribe who trade reputed inside knowledge they can’t print like shiny beads to advance their prestige and self esteem.

I think some people don’t quite get that when I report on D.C. insider rumors I do so as anthropologist. Which is why some misinterpreted my November 30 report here that the L.A. Times was sitting on a sex scandal involving a Presidential candidate. I wasn’t asserting the L.A. Times did, in fact have such a story, but rather that from a single visit to DC I learned of three separate “insiders” from bigtime publications who said that they had heard something to that effect.

It’s my belief that the trade in unsubstantiated rumors that may well affect coverage of candidates unbeknownst to readers of these publications deserves to be exposed. I believe that the public deserves to be informed what the people who control the flow of information about who will rule us are really thinking when they write about certain candidates.

And so I’m back from DC with another insider rumor, I heard two nights in row from different sources.

This one has to do with the alleged scandal involving John McCain, a female lobbyist and and a favor involving a special provision of an FCC bill.

You might recall the story surfaced briefly on Drudge in the form of a report that McCain had hired lawyers to try to stop the New York Times from running the story. And then…silence.

Did the lawyers cause the Times to back off? What I was told by a reporter for a prominent DC daily, rival to the Times, was that the story was bigger than a single female lobbyist and an FCC favor. That it was being held in part because it was too hot to handle. At the time I was told (back around New Year’s Eve) McCain’s campaign was still stuck in the doldrums after having cratered over the summer. Was the putative story held because it seemed about a candidacy going nowhere. Now that he’s suddenly back on top will it reappear. or was there never anything to it?

So what I want to know is: was there anything to the story? Did the Times hold it because they thought McCain was going nowhere? Will they revive it now? Was I being spun by a Times rival? It’s something I believe except the other source was not in the media business, but claimed to have worked with McCain.

Anybody have any theories? For anthropological purposes only.

Update/correction: the original controversial post on a DC rumor was posted here on Oct. 29, not Nov. 30 as written from memory in the draft above.

February 20, 2008

Time to Talk About Obama's Veep Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:40 am

I know, I wouldn’t blame you if you got tired of my ceaselessly reminding you about the virtual clairvoyance of my November 19 prediction about the Democratic primaries. Just one more time: my prediction on this blog came at a time when Hillary was way up in the polls, pundits were way down on Obama for being too weak and Stevensonian. But I felt his restraint was strength and that by not being bombastic (Obombastic?) I felt he was building a real connection with voters that would result in–I predicted–his winning Iowa, losing only narrowly to Hillary in New Hampshire; that Hillary might still look strong on Super Tuesday, but Obama would be the eventual nominee.

Okay, now, the morning after Wisconsin I think it’s time to talk about who his vice presidential choice will be. And to suggest PJM open up another contest, somewhat like the one prompted by my primary prognostications: who would be the best VP choices for each presumptive nominee. I’m only going to make a pick on the Democratic side, because 1) I think I have a great one and 2) I just don’t understand Republicans who are on some weird mission to destroy their best and strongest candidate because of what Roger L. Simon was, I believe, the first to call McCain Derangement Syndrome.

So let’s get to Obama’s Choice. I must admit it wasn’t my idea, but at least I immediately saw its merits. This morning, after the Wisconsin blowout, I ran into George Hirsch at our local bodega/newsstand. George was the founder of the much lauded, long lamented new journalism magazine New Times which featured many talented writers including for instance, Pulitzer prize winner Larry Wright (I also occasionally wrote for it under its gifted editor Jon Larsen). Anyway George made what I thought was a brilliant suggestion: Virginia Senator Jim Webb. A military hero with a son in Iraq, he can give ballast to Obama’s judgment on the situation there. he can defuse attacks from McCain on military issues. he can be Obama’s McCain! And he can do what veep nominees are usually tasked with doing: win a big state the nominee might not ordinarily win without his help: Webb’s home state of Virginia.

I think it would be a brilliant choice. But I’ve only begun to consider the matter, so I’d be interested in other suggestions, so I’ll enable comments but only for specific veep suggestions. none of the usual political rants, insults and abuse will be posted. I’ll comment on intelligent suggestions in a future post.

By the way you may have noticed that I have occasionally not enabled comments on some political posts because I’ tired of sifting through the low level rants and cowardly anonymous abuse. One commenter, so eager to share his deep wisdom, appended his response to the post below on de-regulation, to another post in the typically cowardly, afraid-to-use-his-real-name style of ranters and abusers. He asked from behind his fearful shield of anonymity if I “couldn’t take the heat”. The “heat’ he was bringing in this case was the laughable assertion that protecting consumers from tainted beef with stronger regulatory monitoring would ‘lead to the murder of the Jews” (Seriously!) No, friend, it’s not the heat it’s the stupidity.

As someone who has edited an anthology about anti-semitism–and as anyone who has read this blog can tell–I defer to no one in my awareness of the dangers of anti-semitism, but remarks that laughable are an embarrassment to those of us who care about the subject. Nonetheless–with few exceptions–this is the level of comment discourse I have to put up with whenever I do a political post. The combination of anonymity and political partisanship unfortunately brings out the stupid even in otherwise intelligent people. I put my name behind my opinions, why are you anonymous guys–and it’s almost always guys, big brave guys–so afraid? Can’t take the heat?

Anyway limit your comments to thoughtful veep proposals and they’ll get posted. And if you use your real name I’ll be more likely to treat them respectfully.

February 18, 2008

When Will Conservates Recognize the Costs of Their Fetish for De-Regulation

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 10:24 am

The most recent sick cow meat recall–the largest in history–reminds me of one aspect of conservatism I’ve long felt was philosophically superior–or at least more accurate than liberalism: its relatively grim view of human nature. I believe in the “audacity of hope”–but only because I also believe in the degeneracy (or if you’re religious, “fallenness”) of human nature. (Sure, you’re not degenerate, dear reader, but look at the genocidal history of the past century).

So why do conservatives make a fetish of de-regulation which essentially does nothing more than hope that profit-motivated, market-obsessed corporations will care more about the health of human beings than, for example, the profits to be had from peddling disease-prone cheap beef?

Yes the disgusting cow-peddlers were violating existing regulations, but regulations mean nothing, zero, nada unless you finance their enforcement with inspectors and frequent inspections, the first casualty of de-regulators. See for icasualty Effective inspection: small price to pay balanced against the human cost of seeing a child die of e. coli. Or last summer’s de-regulation cuase mining disaster.

And if you say, well ‘the market” will compensate by hurting the companies responsible for the sickness and disease they inflict on us in the future, maybe that works for you, but not for the parents of a dead child.

De-regulation: a stupid idea on every level–economic to philosophical–posing as a conservative principle, when it fact it undermines anyone foolish enough to worship the alleged “wisdom of the market.”

February 15, 2008

Valuable Perspective on Clemens vs. McNamee…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:41 am

…can be found on the pillgirl report the website/blog of my writer friend Naomi Wax who examines the bewildering psychopharmacological and philosphical issues raised by the amazing number of legal medications that people take to “enhance their performance”, enhance their mood, sometimes save their lives–and how often they are confused and shoddily treated by Big Parma and arrogant doctors. Naomi has a sophisticated perspective on these questions that suggests there’s far more here worth looking into than the punitive Congressional expedition against a few physical/athletic “performance enhancers”. What is natural? How happy should we be? What’s the difference between sadness and depression? Illness and melancholy?

Ask Naomi.

February 13, 2008

Clemens vs. McNamee:The Best (Unscripted) Drama On TV

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:49 pm

The writer’s strike is over but it will be hard for anyone to match the unscripted drama of the Congressional steroid hearings today. The one on one, side by side (with just one lawyer in between them at the same table) “You lied!” “No, you lied!” confrontation between Roger Clemens and his former trainer Brian McNamee (broadcast live on MSNBC) over whether the trainer injected the star pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone was riveting.

Dramatic in the sense that, although I pride myself (as a sometime investigative reporter) in being able to tell who’s telling the truth and who’s lying to me, I found myself swayed back and forth, unable to decide. Clemens was so forthright. McNamee was less at ease but convincingly earnest.

And to make it perfect it all came down to the question of what caused a boil on Clemens butt: injection of steroids (illegal) or injection of B-12 (legal). Sometimes the truth is elusive. Did anyone else see this? Does anyone else have a strong opinion on who was lying?

February 11, 2008

Six Word Memoir Contest

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 3:19 pm

So I’d almost forgotten about it, but some months ago my old poker playing buddy Dave Hirshey ,now big shot book editor, asked me if I’d contribute to an unusual anthology. It was going to be called %%AMAZON=97800061374050 Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six Word Memoirs by Famous & Obscure Writers%%, put together by the editors of Smith Magazine.

I think you can figure out the gimmick easily enough from the title. But it wasn’t easy! Try coming up with six words to sum up the rich pageant of your life, the ups and downs, the loves and losses.

I went with:

Explained Hitler, Shakespeare. Couldn’t explain self.

But there were so many efforts I admired more, ranging from the humorous:

Maybe you had to be there.

–Roy Blount Jr.

to the meditatively profound (I think):

Melancholy marvel at how everything connects

–Lawrence Wechsler

to the sly and sexy:

Catholic girl. Jersey. It’s all true.

–Mary Elizabeth Williams

to the shamelessly smug:

I always suffered fools fairly well.

–Richard Ford

to the sadly romantic:

I waste time looking for love

–Sean Gannett

to the rueful:

Left Aruba for Maryland. Pretty dumb.

–Barbara Phillpis-Seitz

to the self effacing:

Well, I thought it was funny.

–Stephen Colbert

You get the picture. i could go on quoting, it’s addictive.

But if any readers of this blog would like to try their hand at a six word memoir, post it in comments and I’ll award a prize (non material, just my praise) for the one (or ones) I like the best.

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