Just Read It

The Howler on Rosa Parks as exemplar for where we are and how we are broken.

26 Responses to “Just Read It”


  • I don’t think it’s so great. I don’t also think the Pecksniffian nitpickulation he is trying to sell as a virtue is actually that virtuous or his criticism as profound as he seems to think it is.

    Not impressed. TO THE THUNDERDOME. (Second time I’ve used that this week.)

  • I will so Master Blaster you!!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t think it is nitpicking.

  • Lots of Bloggers Enter!

    No Blogger Leaves.
    ~

  • *smacksforehead* I forgot who owns the *Thunder*dome.

    So, what I gleaned from that article, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, is that someone wrote a book about Rosa Parks challenging a common convenient trope and making a conventional “progressive” point, and got an interview from Amy Goodman about it. Somerby is outraged that the book is levered off an incident that, uh, misrepresented, and that Amy Goodman never questioned it. Do I have it right?

    Once again, I am unimpressed.

    You see, my reaction is that what passes for a mainstream left in the USA for once behaved like a Mighty Wurlitzer/echo chamber and self-generated a useful trope, and snuck it by. I haven’t read Theoharis’ book, but I suspect she knew what she was doing, and if she did, I think she did more of a mitzvah than a shande.

    Similarly, I am not impressed by his argument that liberals suffer from the Culture of Close Enough—well, at least not online progressives. Quite the opposite. My online experience has been too much takedown, and not enough wink-and-nod. This is particularly acute in American venues, where a legacy of “Puritan” values apparently filtered down into the progressive side of the spectrum, and a naive belief in the victory of the righteous holds sway. By this post, at least—I don’t read him often—Somerby seems to be one of those people I refer to as the people in whose mouth butter won’t melt, and think there are enough of those around.

  • Mandos, Somerby covered it all week. The theme was beyond Goodman, the entire media tour for this event was such. The entire media apparatus, which presumably has access to actual reporting, just basically did the dust jacket for said book. Additionally, if elite historians could be this lazy about a major figure, a figure about whom much is known, a figure who is extensively on the record discussing her own life and thinking, it seems that we can’t have nice things. He described a nice set of symptoms that seem to describe a disease that goes beyond what was discussed.

    Best use of the butter line: Elsa Lanchester on Maureen O’Hara “”She looks as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, or anywhere else.”" That is pretty mean!

  • If I must get the news… I only get it from 3Bs.

    Hey, where is the 3B New Rahdio??? Hmmm?

  • I had something else to say, but was totally distracted by BG’s white sugar header. God, that sound WRONG!

    Or… maybe it wasn’t the header, but the margaritas…

  • MATH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Nitpickulating Ezra and MattY is like shooting fish in a barrel—I presume fish stays away from barrels for that very reason—but I was a little surprised by how much time Somerby spent mocking Ezra for the “we” or that the whole GPA thing was even an issue that Somerby thought was worth a laugh.

    So, I’m getting the picture that Somerby lacks a sense of proportion.

    I looked at more of the Rosa Parks stuff. There was a LONG post where Somerby attacks Theoharis for *paraphrasing* some stuff that Rosa Parks said about Malcolm X into “personal hero”, and apparently this was a horrible crime against scholarship, etc, etc. And this was the CENTRAL issue of the post.

    It makes it hard to trust the remainder of Somerby’s Rosa Parks oeuvre—far too many blown up trivialities, which are, pace Somerby, emphatically NOT the problem with liberals.

  • Or take his most recent piece, just now, on liberal “sloth” re the education file. He makes it sound like, in a space of 20-40 years, there wasn’t a reason why the issue wasn’t addressed, other than “sloth.”

    There’s a…mode of thinking in the butter-won’t-melt left-wing crowd (I’m thinking Somerby, or dear old Lambert Strether, or…) that liberals make up comforting narratives that they don’t question. Fine. Quite possibly true. I would like to see on their part at least an attempt at their own self-criticism: maybe there is a *good reason* why this apparent groupthink has taken hold, and maybe some of these narratives are *actually true*.

  • Mandos- those are examples, what do you call a million instances of the same behavior? Not anecdata. Somerby was basically saying that Ezra has no special experience or expertise whatsoever. He is suggesting that there is an incredibly low bar for public liberal “intellectual”- being in the right place at the right time. He is suggesting that the entire apparatus for how many people interface with their politics and get news and analysis is a facade. It is essentially an activity. What does it signify? Less than Math It Up.

  • A million trivialities add up to triviality, I’m afraid. The things that Somerby has been complaining about in what I’ve read so far contain far too many trivialities. A self-generous paraphrase is so commonplace and so human, that an infinite number of them is not going to disturb me, or make me feel duped or anything. Shortcut and interpretation are how political theses are communicated—full stop.

    Furthermore, it is not the mediocrity of Ezra’s qualifications—or even his mediocrity itself—that disturbs me about Ezra. Quite the opposite. Have you ever participated on a “real” economics blog? I do from time to time, and these are very smart, highly qualified people who I would not give leave to govern an ant farm. Ezra’s story is quite possibly one of his *redeeming* qualities.

  • It is increasingly clear to me by the pattern of problems that Somerby identifies that Theoharis is trying to communicate a *political thesis* using the biography of Rosa Parks as a medium, but Somerby is reading it as *reporting*. Not that they don’t necessarily overlap, but without reading Theoharis I can still be confident that Somerby is missing the point, and in an important way.

  • Haha. I don’t know if I could disagree with you more. The other expression for using someone’s biography for your political thesis is writing a novel. If you paraphrase but are a historian, will most people discern your Mandosian deeper, more subtle motives (the mind of Eru or what not) or will they presume that you are a historian and that you are reporting history. Since many journalists appear to promulgate the same story as our historian, whether it is true or not, we have to ask about how do we begin to judge supposed basic facts and are these facts ever established in a systematic way.

    If Ezra didn’t also appear to be a careerist of a not very useful sort, the other term for what could be a cool story- regular dork makes good- instead I read (nothing against Ezra) as very low bar for media success, does not include need for expertise, sociopathology likely a bonus. I can’t say that it makes me excited. Harrumph.

  • Er, so you think that the job description of an academic/professional historian is “chronological stenographer of facts”?

  • No, but I think that is how most people view historians. Let’s not fight!

  • You’re both wrong, so vote Republican!

    - David Brooks

  • Let’s not fight!

    I won’t quibble but instead back off to the big-picture…disagreement. I think that people like Bob Somerby simply have the wrong diagnosis for Why We Can’t Have Nice Things and are not willing to subject themselves to the same self-criticism that they may demand from others. Why We Can’t Have Nice Things is not due to some underlying failure to commit to absolute accuracy and objective truth, it’s just for boring old reasons of vested interest and ideological conflict.

  • But is there a value in accuracy in reporting to illuminate issues that many people don’t really understand? I think there is.

  • I’m for the accuracy, but softball questioning on a book tour is not new and isn’t a symptom of liberal decline (for whatever value of liberal he’s using).

  • It’s a slimey slope from softball questioning to the slip and slide decline, S_McG.
    ~

  • ALSO.

    “They [emus] do get killed in roads, but this one died on an emu farm, a very ethical emu farm, during a fight, so it died of natural causes—if you can say an emu can die of natural causes on an emu farm.”
    ~

  • I got lazy. I want to come back to this. Basic idea is that accuracy in reporting is a good in the similar manner as properly-nourished children or combatting homelessness. I mean, I’m not going to answer that think it is *bad* or *unimportant* somehow, after all. I merely think that it is not directly relevant to “where we are and how we are broken,” for the same reason that I think the nostrum “Speaking truth to power” is a silly nostrum.

  • “Speaking truth to power” is a silly nostrum.

    Of course, “Speaking truth to Pinko” would then also be silly.

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