Archive for December 3rd, 2007

Bear Cares

It may be dawning on even the dimmest of you that I am not much of a fan of the Guardian these days. I used to buy the international version of it when I lived abroad, and I bought it regularly enough in the days when I would have to wander out for a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. What with the car and the weekly shopping in the supermarket, I don’t buy it any more, but I do look at its website daily.

It is almost a rite of passage for a certain sort of voluble middle-aged malcontent to start complaining about the Guardian, normally as testimony to the fact of political fallen arches, of youthful idealism substituted by the reality of real life. Well, I’m not complaining about it in that way. Rather, I just think it’s an awful newspaper, though it does have the odd decent op-ed from time to time. At least the Telegraph, the Times, the Mail and the rest of them don’t attempt to market themselves as something they are not. The Guardian positions itself as a sort of liberal, centre-left, establishment-hostile organ of truth, but in fact spends quite a lot of time venerating all sorts of corporate and imperial adventures in its reporting. Its smarmy Saturday edition in particular makes me wanna blow chunks.

The Turner Prize has been announced, and the Guardian is celebrating.

The prize was officially given, in fact, not for Sleeper, but for State Britain, his meticulous re-creation of peace campaigner Brian Haw’s anti-war protest in Parliament Square. The work was praised by the judges for its “immediacy, visceral intensity and historic importance” combining “a bold political statement with art’s ability to articulate fundamental human truths”.

Ah, so that’s why the title of the Guardian piece is

Bear man walks away with Turner prize

and the front page of the website shows Wallinger standing in front of a bear suit. The omission of the important detail from the main photo, the headline and the opening paragraph makes it hard for me to believe that this is a simple case of a bungled report.

When I make jokes like the one in the last sentence, should I point them out? Or should I just convince myself that you readers pick up on these things?

Update: in fairness, the Times is reporting on the bear angle as well. But it says that Wallinger got the prize for the bear. The Telegraph gets it right in the first paragraph, however.

Via EFE, here is the winning exhibit:


Ass Backwards

This is funny, at least for those familiar with the work of the individual described.

Dershowitz generally employs one or two full-time researchers, three or four part-timers, and a handful of students who do occasional work—all paid at $11.50 per hour. (Since Dershowitz doesn’t get enough in the $7,500/year research budget the law school accords him, he often has to pay that hourly rate out of his own pocket.) Several students who have worked with him describe his hiring practices as almost arbitrary—barely looking at résumés, hiring anyone who asks him for a job, sometimes having his wife interview applicants, and often forgetting those who’ve worked with him in the past. One long-serving researcher was a local high-school student.
Several of his researchers say that Dershowitz doesn’t subscribe to the scholarly convention of researching first, then drawing conclusions. Instead, as a lawyer might, he writes his conclusions, leaving spaces where he’d like sources or case law to back up a thesis. On several occasions where the research has suggested opposite conclusions, his students say, he has asked them to go back and look for other cases, or simply to omit the discrepant information. “That’s the way it’s done; a piecemeal, ass-backwards way,” says one student who has firsthand experience with the writing habits of Dershowitz and other tenured colleagues. “They write first, make assertions, and farm out [the work] to research assistants to vet it. They do very little of the research themselves.”

Via. (Say, I should do that hyperlinked Via. thing. It makes me feel like a real blogger.)

El ‘No’ Ya Lo Tienes

Which means, you’ve already got ‘no’ for an answer.

The Guardian’s shamelessly bad reporting of the Venezuela referendum has ended with a flourish, perhaps in the manner of a referee who awards a dodgy penalty to make up for a similarly dodgy prior decision:

  • Venezuelans back leader’s attempt to extend powers
  • Exit polls predict victory but turnout is low

President Hugo Chávez appeared to have won a narrow but convincing victory yesterday in a referendum on constitutional reforms which would cement his power in Venezuela.

Two government exit polls suggested most voters approved sweeping revisions to abolish presidential term limits and enshrine socialism. The opposition was sombre but did not immediately concede defeat.

That’s what it read first thing this morning anyway.

In fact, Chávez lost, and conceded defeat. I await the updated Guardian verdict. Something along the lines of ‘that’s the mark of a dictator, see: you hold a referendum, the people vote against you and you concede defeat.’ seems appealing. GUARDIAN UPDATE: Chávez loses bid to rule until 2050 The boy done good.

Personally speaking -and this does not make me any less correct on this if I decide to change my mind in future- there is a bright side to the ‘No’ vote, which is more a product of abstentionism than of any radical change in the course of Venezuelan politics.

Many of the proposed changes seemed like good ideas (reducing voting age to 16, strong anti-discrimination provisions, six-hour working day, prohibition on obligatory overtime, equal attention in special needs educational provision, autonomy of universities, greater local power in politics) but I also think that presidential power in any form should be constrained as far as possible.

In so far as the proposed changes gave the office of presidency greater powers -but still lesser institutional powers than those of the president of the United States- the ‘No’ vote is a good result, and there will be further opportunities for the introduction of the good ideas.

Had there been a marginal ‘Yes’ victory, there would have been a consolidation of US-approved pressure on Venezuela (the CIA funded the opposition for the purposes of the referendum, to the tune of $8m: that probably did not have much of an effect, but a reciprocal move would be to allow Chávez to donate $300m to his US presidential candidate of choice), with potential for further crippling oil strikes, destabilizing violence and stagnation – events that only serve those who wish to bring the Venezuelan poor -whom Chávez mainly represents- to heel.

But what of Chávez? Although he has recognised the No vote unreservedly, his international image as a sort of ranting dictator, thug, clown, demagogue, and so on is unlikely to change much, if the English-language coverage of Latin America is anything to go by. Internally, it is hard to tell at this distance. He isn’t going anywhere for another six years, and he is intelligent enough to successfully turn circumstances to his advantage.

Here’s an example of the quality of coverage of Venezuela in general and Chávez in particular. Pre-referendum outcome, British MP Denis MacShane, who predicted a victory for Chávez, had this to say:

To submit Chavez to the same critical analysis that other leaders have to put up with is to produce instant denunciations from those who search for the shining path to socialism in Latin America.

Denis MacShane is member of the British Labour Party, whose leader came to internal power uncontested and now enjoys the post of unelected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

There is an old rule in writing pieces about Latin America, one which I never tire of citing. To affect a greater deal of expertise about your subject than you actually have, you should make a reference to Gabriel García Márquez. This one here, – the president in his labyrinth – has the virtue of being germane enough, since it’s about Chávez and Bolívar, referring to GGM’s novel The General in His Labyrinth, despite the fact that the content of the piece is hysterical. MacShane is more direct:

Probably Gabriel Garcia Marquez got it right when he wrote that there are ‘two Chavezes’. One might perform wonders for Venezuela. The other was ‘just another despot.’

For Gaba, whose left credentials are unchallenged to describe Chavez in such Jekyll and Hyde terms shows the deep doubts across the Latin American left and intellectual world about the Venezuelan president’s credentials and ambitions.

A critical reader will recognise the appearance of ‘unchallenged left credentials’ or similar phrases as a bad faith argument from authority. And anyway García Márquez -a friend of Castro, (and, ah, Shakira)- wrote that piece eight and a half years ago. His broader ignorance of García Márquez is manifest in the use of ‘Gaba’: supposedly the Colombian writer’s nickname. But it’s Gabo, as anyone remotely acquainted with that writer’s public persona, let alone his books, will know.

I on Twitter

December 2007